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The Love Life of Lady Long Nose

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“Just as I thought—you have no idea, do you?” Usopp tilted her hat upwards to give a pitying look at the man. Trafalgar stiffened as his eyes landed on her. “Hey, you. You see an alliance as a relationship where we cooperate to reach a common goal, right?”

 

Trafalgar didn’t so much as respond, just kept giving her that same bemused look. Usopp continued, undeterred. “What this guy,” she said, pointing at Luffy, “sees an alliance as happens to be different from what you see an alliance as.”

 

“It’s like being friends, isn’t it?” Luffy chirped.

 

“If you’re thinking of seizing control, that won’t be so easy either.”

 

“That’s what they say,” Luffy agreed, shoving his pinky into his nostril.

 

“Once he sets his mind on something, he won’t back down,” Usopp sighed, shaking her head. “It’s a pain in the ass. His selfishness is as formidable as any of the Four Emperors.”

 

“Must be hard,” Luffy mused, flicking his booger. The dark speck flew into an arc and landed on Chopper’s cheek, who reacted with a start.

 

“Hey, bastard! Don’t flick your boogers at me!” Chopper yelled angrily from his prone position on the ground.

 

Luffy laughed and scratched the back of his head. “Oops! Sorry!”

 

As Chopper continued to snap at Luffy, Usopp pinned Law a “there you have it” look. While she had been rather apprehensive of allying with the creepy warlord pirate, she had a feeling that Trafalgar was going to have a tough time handling someone with Luffy’s level of craze. Well, it was his fault for not knowing what he was getting himself into.

 

Trafalgar blankly stared at Usopp for a few seconds before speaking directly to Luffy, pointedly shifting his body so that she was evidently not in his view. “Fine. We don’t have time for this. You guys go take care of the samurai.”

 

While Usopp was miffed at being treated like this, she brightened up considerably at Trafalgar’s acquiesce, especially when he said, “I’ll look into the drug that was administered to the children.” He then asked, “Who’s your doctor? I need someone to accompany me to research the cure behind Caesar’s back.”

 

A few moments later found Usopp tying Chopper on Trafalgar’s head.

 

“I’m sorry about this, but I can’t walk right now. I’ll be counting on you,” Chopper spoke to Trafalgar.

 

Everyone was laughing at the scene. Well, Luffy was laughing—gut-bursting laughter, in fact. Franky was exclaiming what a cute picture Chopper and Trafalgar made. Nami was giggling furiously into her gloved hand, apologizing for doing so but obviously wasn’t sorry. And knowing Robin, she was watching the process with an amused smile.

 

She couldn’t see Trafalgar’s expression, but Usopp sensed that the man was looking pretty haunted.

 

Never mind his pride. They got a super important mission to do! “Good luck, Chopper,” Usopp said, lifting her chin to look at the reindeer.

 

“You got it!” Chopper said with a confident grin.

 

Meanwhile, Trafalgar was making choking sounds.

 


 

 

As Luffy and the others sailed away to go retrieve Sanji, Usopp, Zoro, Robin, Franky, and their Wano friends boarded Trafalgar’s submarine. The Polar Tang, one of the Heart Pirates had proudly proclaimed. The yellow vessel certainly was something to take pride in—it was amazing to behold!

 

Franky immediately went straight for the Heart engineer, and the two men left together while animatedly discussing the inner workings of the submarine. Zoro followed the talking polar bear after asking if they had any alcohol to spare, as if he hadn’t drunk enough already back in Zou. Momonosuke, Kinemon, Kanjuro, and Raizo were swept into the crew’s revelry; the crew members themselves were quite taken with Raizo’s status as a ninja, demanding to see a demonstration of his skills.

 

Robin, as expected, requested to see the library.

 

Usopp normally would have tagged along with Franky; learning about the fine details of new machinery always piqued her interest. However, she was curious as to how the Heart Pirates managed to have a library in a ship.

 

With its mechanical innards running to recycle the carbon dioxide, not to mention keeping the submarine propelling through the ocean’s depths, this was a rather cramped place to live in. Still, it was very fascinating to Usopp, and she intended to explore every nook and cranny. If permitted, of course.

 

Her first destination was the library.

 

Usopp and Robin ambled after the friendly man who led them deeper into the ship. After several twists and turns, they finally stopped before a dark room. The man took out a flashlight from his pocket and roved the yellow glare across the place, revealing shelved books and magazines. The library, as it turned out, was perhaps smaller than her bathroom back in Syrup Village.

 

“Nothing too impressive, but it’s all we can get in this metal deathtrap,” the man said with a sheepish grin, handing Robin the flashlight.

 

“Oh, it’s perfectly fine.” Robin smiled at him gratefully, and the loveliness of her smile sent the man swooning. Usopp rolled her eyes. Well, at least this guy wasn’t as bad as Bartolomeo.

 

She shot the room one more glance before shrugging. Not what she had been expecting, but whatever. That was that. Curiosity fulfilled, Usopp was about to inform Robin that she was going to take off when she heard the woman go, “Hello, Traffy.”

 

She turned around to see Trafalgar without his ever-present long sword and scowl. Actually, he looked kind of constipated.

 

“Hey, Captain! What can I do for you?” Trafalgar’s crewmate asked.

 

“I’m just here for God Usopp,” Trafalgar said. “I have something that I need to talk to her about.”

 

What? He did? Usopp worriedly looked up at Robin for reassurance. What could it possibly be for the Heart captain to feel the need to talk to her specifically? Robin just smiled serenely at her and said, “It’s probably nothing serious. And no need to fret; I’m sure he won’t extract your heart and put it in a jar for display.”

 

“That’s not funny, Robin!” Usopp cried.

 

Robin chuckled and pushed her along after the captain who was already leaving. Usopp jolted and hurried down the hall, partly to avoid hearing anymore of Robin’s dark humor. Having caught up to him, she was now plodding after him, staring at the back of his head. There was a faint echo of the Heart Pirates’ boisterous laughter and chatter accompanied by Raizo’s ninjutsu declarations. Aside from that, silence reigned on.

 

There was a stifling pressure that Usopp wasn’t sure if she was the only one feeling it. Hoping to ease the tension, she casually said, “You know, you can just call me Usopp. I mean, being addressed as God Usopp is cool, but you don’t have to say the whole thing.”

 

Trafalgar didn’t say anything, but the way his head bobbed could have been a nod.

 

It came to her attention that Trafalgar had never really uttered a word to her. There were times when she had spoken to him, and he had either given a nonverbal response or talked around her. More often, he had barely interacted with her. From the times when he had worked with her crew in Punk Hazard to their arrival at Zou, it had seemed like…he was avoiding her.

 

Wait, that wasn’t quite true. There had been that one time when Trafalgar had used his powers to teleport them to the mink’s fortress gate. When everyone had been falling from midair, Trafalgar had caught her in his arms. Despite him recently getting his arm reattached, he hadn’t dropped her. Instead, he had settled her gently onto her feet.

 

Robin had been shooting knowing looks at the disgruntled Trafalgar in that duration, but Usopp hadn’t understood…until now.

 

It dawned on her. The reason why Trafalgar had been awkward back in Punk Hazard—the reason why he had never said anything to her—the reason why he had even bothered to save her from falling flat on her face—

 

Usopp slowed her steps until she came to a complete stop.

 

“Hey,” she croaked.

 

Trafalgar paused, and turned around to give her a questioning look.

 

“Are you…” Usopp swallowed heavily to get rid of the lump in her throat. She forced herself to continue. “Are you Water D. Law?”

 

His eyes widened. His lips parted in a small gape.

 

Reverberating through the walls, Franky’s “Suuuper!” outbursts could be heard. The crew’s racket that had served as white noise seemed louder than before in this renewed silence. Yet the noisiness almost seemed fuzzy under the palpable tension that they were in. Usopp nervously licked her lips, her stomach lurching in anticipation.

 

But rather than answer, Trafalgar just lifted a hand and encased them in a pale blue dome. Panicking, Usopp was about to ask what he was going to do when he murmured, “Shambles.”

 

In one second, the hall was replaced by a bed. Usopp shrieked when she crashed onto the mattress, the springs creaking under her weight. Next to her were sounds of feet quietly landing, but Usopp nearly couldn’t hear due to the rapid pounding of her heart.

 

“It's not Water D. Law, but close,” Trafalgar said from above her.

 

“What the hell, you bastard?” Usopp screeched, chucking the pillow at his face. Which he caught. Unfair. “You tryna give me a heart attack or something? Why would you do that?”

 

The man’s expression became pinched. “A conversation like that is a private matter. Anyone could have walked in on us. I preferred to have just walked to my room, but you just said that out of the blue, so I…” he trailed off, and he pulled the bill of his hat lower, hiding his eyes.

 

“But you—I just—” Usopp gawked at him. “Couldn’t you just have, I dunno, told me to wait until we get here or something?”

 

“If I told you that and those words happened to be your soulmark, then there’d be no point in doing so.”

 

“Oh. Right,” she embarrassedly conceded, but then she gasped. “Soulmark! You’re my soulmate! Holy cow!”

 

“Hn.”

 

“But why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“Because I didn’t want to bear the brunt of the Straw Hat crew’s reaction in all its entirety,” Trafalgar sighed aggravatingly. “Not to mention have marines and a new pirate fleet be in the know. I’ve been meaning to, but there hasn’t been a good time.”

 

“Oh. I guess you’re right.” In between fighting and partying, Trafalgar would have found it difficult to pull Usopp in for a private conversation without garnering the attention of everyone. Luffy, in particular, would have been too nosy for his own good and force himself between them. And if Smoker’s marines had caught a whiff as to who Trafalgar’s soulmate was, then there’d be no doubt that she would have seen her name making headlines!

 

Former Warlord’s Soulmate Usopp was a terrible epithet! God Usopp was the definite winner here.

 

And as Usopp hated to admit, she knew that her own reaction would have been explosive, and everyone within range would have heard her. It was because of how she had come to her own conclusions that somewhat quelled the volume of her exclamations. Unless the Zoro, Robin, and Franky had heard her just now?

 

(Not that Robin wouldn’t have known already.)

 

Now that she thought about it, Trafalgar had usually appeared bemused and exhausted when he had sailed with them on Sunny Go. Feeling a bit repentant for the quandary that her soulmate—her soulmate—had to suffer from, she said, “I apologize for my crewmates’ lunacy.”

 

“You did warn me back in Punk Hazard.”

 

“To be precise, I warned you of Luffy’s lunacy.”

 

“A captain more or less represents his crew.” Trafalgar sat next to Usopp. When his arm brushed against hers, she felt her heart pound again, but for a different reason this time. He tilted his head as though in thought. “Well, to an extent. My own crew can be exhaustingly effusive.”

 

Usopp quirked a smile. “Sooo, why go by as Trafalgar Law instead of Water D. Law—or whatever your name is?"

 

“My real name is Trafalgar D. Water Law. There were circumstances that led me to shorten my name to just Trafalgar Law.”

 

“Trafalgar D. Water Law,” Usopp repeated, and scrunched her nose. “If I had a name like that, I’d definitely shorten it. It’s a mouthful!”

 

Trafalgar chuckled; it was a deep and throaty sound that Usopp found herself drawn to. She blushed. “It certainly is,” he agreed. “Do you have a family name or are you just Usopp?”

 

“Just Usopp.” She cleared her throat. “I hail from a small land with a small population, so there was never a need to differentiate ourselves outside of our given names. It’s a quaint island full of long pastures and rolling hills! A beautiful and dazzling land befitting for Captain Usopp’s humble beginnings!” she announced, punching the air for emphasis.

 

“Hmm. Usopp,” he tested. “Usopp-ya.”

 

Her cheeks burned again. “No, like I said, just Usopp.” She grinned up at him. “And I’ll call you Law!”

 

“If you go around calling me that, the others will become suspicious.” He sighed again, but his act was betrayed by the smile that tugged his lips. “Might as well break the news to them.”

 

There was a surge of delight within her. Overtaken by newfound boldness, Usopp snaked her arms around his torso and pressed herself firmly into his side. “I’m happy that I got to meet you.”

 

Law’s body had been pulled taut upon contact, but relaxed at her words. She felt his hand, large and strong, cradle the back of her head. “Same here.”

 

The two sat there, wholly at peace and comfort with one another in contrast to the earlier awkwardness that had befell upon them. It was funny how quickly their relationship evolved, but she supposed that was the power of soulmarks. Once both soulmates knew who their fated partner was, the bond—one as strong and true as the tales had expatiated—would be forged.

 

And Usopp felt it. The bond warmed deep within her core and pulled her towards Law. She was saddened to think that Law was one-sided in this union. All this time, Law had been waiting to tell her, to have her know who he was, and now she did. Usopp wasn’t going to have him be lonely ever again.

 

There might be an issue when the Straw Hat and Heart Pirates have to part, but that was what Den Den Mushis were for.

 

Usopp squeezed him one last time before pulling away. She beamed. “I want to see your mark!”

 

“Oh.” Law pursed his lips. “It’s on my thigh. I’d have to take off my pants for that.”

 

“Please?” Usopp stuck out her lower lip and peered at him coyly. It was the same trick that she had seen Nami do whenever she wanted Sanji to do something stupid for her. Not that Sanji wouldn’t not do it, and not that what Usopp was requesting for was stupid. She wanted to see her soulmate’s soulmark. Was that so unreasonable?

 

But Law had no compunction in denying her of this as he flatly said, “No.”

 

“But whyyy?”

 

“I don’t want to strip.”

 

Usopp dropped the façade and huffed. “I don’t see the big deal. I’ve seen the guys in my crew naked a bunch of times.” Except for Sanji because, despite being a huge pervert, the guy had enough decency to not go prancing around in the nude in front of the ladies.

 

He frowned. “You know what? I don’t think I like that.”

 

She blinked. “Don’t like what?”

 

“You’re not allowed to see them naked anymore.”

 

“Hey, it’s not my fault! They just do whatever they want. Nami tries to get them to stop, but Luffy just one day decides that we gotta have a water balloon fight and everyone ends up getting soaked to the bone. Stripping down to the undies is sometimes inevitable.”

 

This displeased Law even more. “They saw you naked too?”

 

“Uh, yeah?”

 

Law cupped her face and leaned in close enough for the tip of her nose to almost brush against his. His face was darkened with seriousness that made Usopp gulp. “From now on, you’re forbidden from taking off a single article of clothing. Even if you’re freezing your ass off, you’re not to show a silver of skin.”

 

She squawked. “Th-that’s impossible! And you’re a doctor! How can you say something like that?”

 

“Doctor’s orders,” he sniffed imperiously.

 

Usopp pouted, but an idea came to her. “I’ll do it under one condition.”

 

“I said no.”

 

“Then I won’t listen to you.”

 

Law sighed. “I’ll go lock the door.”

 

As Law slipped off the bed, Usopp grinned victoriously to herself before staring at him expectantly.

 

After locking the door, he stood in the middle of the room and shot her a long-suffering glare. She gave him a thumbs-up, and he rolled his eyes.

 

He unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, and then hooked his thumbs at the waistband, bringing it down to his knees. Somehow, him un-pants-ing himself looked kind of, uh, erotic. Once again, the blood raced to her cheeks, and she was almost compelled to turn away and hide her eyes if it weren’t for the fact that she caught a glimpse of his soulmark.

 

“Whoa! It’s huge!”

 

“Don’t say it like that.”

 

Confused, she asked, “Say like what?”

 

“Never mind,” he grumbled.

 

She bounced off the bed and walked over to him to get a closer look. Printed on the length of his right thigh in her handwriting were her words.

 

Just as I thought—you have no idea, do you? Hey, you. You see an alliance as a relationship where we cooperate to reach a common goal, right? What this guy sees an alliance as happens to be different from what you see an alliance as. If you’re thinking of seizing control, that won’t be so easy either. Once he sets his mind on something, he won’t back down. It’s a pain in the ass. His selfishness is as formidable as any of the Four Emperors.

 

“I remember saying this to you,” she breathed. “I said a freaking paragraph to you.”

 

“You wouldn’t believe how perplexed I was regarding my soulmark,” Law said.

 

“I bet. At least mine was straightforward enough; I just had to see that Trafalgar Law is Water D. Law.”

 

“When you think about it, you gave yourself your own soulmark.”

 

Usopp paused to register this. “You’re right—again!”

 

“I often am.” Law bent down to pull his pants up. “I want to see your soulmark too.”

 

Despite the fact that they had made their trade, Usopp was excited to show off hers. “Sure!” She spun around and lifted the back of her shirt high enough to show the lower part of her back.

 

“Rather inconvenient place to have a soulmark,” she heard Law say. She felt the tips of his fingers brush against the tattooed sentence, causing her to shiver. “I’m assuming that all your crewmates have seen this?”

 

“Some, not all. It’s not like I’m an exhibitionist!”

 

“Hn.”

 

When he suddenly gripped her by her hips, she squeaked in shock. “Law! What are you doing?”

 

“Hold still,” he commanded. Alarmed, Usopp peered over her shoulder to see Law on his knees. He brought his face close to her back until her felt the heat of his breath ghosting against her skin.

 

The next thing she felt was hot and wet gathering at her soulmark. There was a scrape of teeth and the slurping of lips, and Usopp hadn’t realized that she had been whimpering until cold air hit her skin.

 

She instantly pulled away from his loosened hold and slapped a hand over where he had sucked her. Her palm came out as damp with saliva and she gawked at the smirking man.

 

“What the hell?”

 

“I gave you a hickey, just so you know,” Law smugly informed her. “Now you definitely can’t go naked in front of others.”

 

If her head was a volcano, it would be projecting lava into the skies right now. “I already promised that I wouldn’t!” she squeaked, appalled.

 

“Consider it as a safety measure.”

 

“You—you are so bad.” Usopp moodily pulled the hem of her shirt down and glared at him. “Terrible! The worst!”

 

“Indeed.” Law, in one swift movement, stood up and grabbed her wrist. He tugged her against his chest, leaned forward, and whispered in her ear, “But you’ll find out soon enough just how naughty I can get.”

 

For a grumpy and serious former warlord pirate, Law could certainly be playful. Usopp shivered again.

 

Not that she’d complain.

 

Chapter Text

Instead of a tall and muscular warrior of the seas, there stood in his place was a dainty little lady with curls that cascaded to the swell of her hips. She wore a vest-like tunic where the hanging flaps had been tied into a bow above her naval, and around her waist was a fur-rimmed skirt that fluttered against the plush of her thighs. 

  

Sanji gnashed his teeth at the end of his cigarette, the vein at his temple throbbing. While he rationally knew that he shouldn’t lash out at Usopp for dressing the way he did, seeing the long-nosed sniper like this gave him an unwelcoming reminder of his earlier days at that damn okama island. 

  

Involuntarily, he shuddered. 

  

"What the hell, Usopp?" Zoro said as he crossed the ship's deck. "Why are you dressed like a girl? How is it that you actually look like a girl?" 

  

Usopp momentarily floundered. Before he could gain his bearings and spout out the same inane drivel that he was well-known for, he was cut off by their doctor. 

  

"That's because Usopp is a girl!" Chopper blurted out. He gasped and clapped his hooves against his mouth. 

  

There was a beat of silence. Then Nami, beautiful in her stern and frightening fury, faced Usopp and said, "Everyone is here. Now talk." 

  

Usopp gulped. 

  

Apparently, Usopp wasn't an okama—or a guy who came to terms that he was actually a woman on the inside. Usopp had always been a girl—biologically and mentally and all that.  

  

"B-but we've seen you shirtless," Nami exclaimed, eyes widening. "You were flat as a board!" 

  

But they had never seen Usopp pantless either.  

  

Usopp self-consciously wrapped her arms over her chest, which her breasts were now the size of tangerines. Her pink-cheeked face scowled. "My mom was flat-chested, okay? I can't help it if I inherited that aspect of her!" 

  

"Nami does have a point, Usopp," Robin intervened smoothly. "A girl of seventeen years should at least be showing some breast growth." 

  

Usopp faltered and looked down. "Well, about that..." 

  

Before she had gone into her two-year training, she had been checked by a doctor that her master Heracles had taken her to. After informing the doctor of her background, he had decreed that the certain event that had occurred in Usopp's past had stunted her hormonal growth due to its psychological impact. That included putting her menstrual cycle on hold until she was seventeen and several months old. 

  

"That means that..." Brook trailed off. "Oh my." 

  

"So the blood that Chopper smelled on you back then was because you were on your period?" Franky bluntly said, openly bemused. 

  

"Don't say it like that!" Usopp cried. 

  

"What's a period?" Luffy asked no one in particular. "Like a time period?" 

  

"Why didn't you say anything, Chopper?" Nami asked the reindeer. Chopper startled and shrank under the several questioning looks. 

  

"Doctor's discretion!" Chopper claimed defensively. "I later approached Usopp about it, and he—she asked me to keep it a secret. But I didn't know about the trauma." He then shot a pair of accusing eyes at Usopp. 

  

Usopp rubbed the back of her neck. "It was hard to say at the time, alright?" 

  

"I'm your doctor! I'm supposed to be the one who takes care of you, not this other doctor." Chopper pouted furiously, but the tears that prickled at the corner of his eyes betrayed his anger.  

  

Robin knelt down and gave the reindeer a consoling pat on the back. "Now, now. While it would have been nice if Usopp consulted with you first, you know that she can only go at her own pace when it comes to something like this." 

  

Chopper sniffed. "I—yeah, that's true." 

  

Nami nibbled on her lower lip, casting an uncertain glance at Usopp. "Would it be insensitive for us to ask what happened?" 

  

Usopp shook her head, her curls gently swishing. "I had time to come to terms about my trauma. It's not even something that's been inflicted on me, anyway." 

  

Luffy, who moved past his puzzlement over periods, jumped in and asked, "What do you mean by that?" 

  

"Uhh." Usopp awkwardly shifted on her feet. "Now that I think about it, it's probably not appropriate for Chopper to hear." 

  

"What? I can take it!" Chopper growled. "I'm a pirate and a man! I can take whatever you throw at me!" 

  

"Don't underestimate your crewmates, Usopp," Zoro intoned. "What did you think we did all that training for these past two years?" 

  

She sighed. "Don't say I didn't warn you," she said, and began her story. 

  

Syrup Village, the one place that Usopp had ever known until Luffy, Zoro, and Nami had entered her life, was a quaint hamlet of rolling hills and long pastures. Typical of most East Blue islands, the archipelago that the village was located in usually knew only peace.  

  

"My village suffered for almost a decade of terror," Nami interjected sourly. 

  

"I said most, not all," Usopp snapped. 

  

The navigator waved a dismissive hand. "Fine. Continue." 

  

Anyway, there had been a few instances where terror struck, such as Captain Kuro's near assault on Syrup Village—that had been the second violent incident that Usopp had known as a villager. The first one had happened when she had been eleven.  

  

This incident had been entirely unprecedented because, instead of the cause coming from outside entities, the problem had come from within. No one had saw it coming, perhaps too caught up in the limbo of routine and monotony that tranquility had brought to suspect anything; yet, looking back on it now, perhaps they should have. 

  

"Could you stop embellishing and get to the point?" Zoro drawled. 

  

Usopp paused. Her expression fell strangely blank, and Sanji wondered if the mosshead had ticked off the sniper, but she then said, "I was in the same room when five women were brutally raped and killed." 

  

There was a moment of silence. 

  

"Sorry. Please backtrack." 

  

Residing on the outskirts of the village had been a family of three brothers and a mother. These brothers—Fred, Ted, and Zed—had been social outcasts, the black sheep of the village, like how Usopp had been. But where Usopp had done that to herself with her vandalism, pranks, and lies, these brothers had been treated with disdain because of their... 

  

"I don't know how to say it, but, well, they were psychologically-impaired," Usopp said, her eyebrows furrowing. "I don't know if it's because of their mother—she would beat them regularly until concussed—or because they were, um, inbred." 

  

"What," went the crew. 

  

There had been rumors circulating in the village, but Usopp hadn't paid close attention to them at the time. Although, what she remembered was hearing how the mother had three children with her own brother, and the mother and father had also been children of a pair of siblings.  

  

But the beatings? Definitely true. Usopp recalled when Fred had an episode and had torn his hair off of his scalp, revealing a very noticeable dent on his skull. Zed, who had been an upperclassman of hers, had regularly attended school with a limp and bruises. Usopp didn't know if the teachers had bothered to call out the mother or had given after the first couple times.  

  

"Back then, I felt so bad for these guys. They were broken and sad and... I felt, you know, a connection. They didn't grow up in a good home, didn't have a father." Usopp rubbed her arm. "My mom died when I was eight and my dad left for the seas when I was six. It wasn't exactly the same, but, at the same time, it was." 

  

So, because of that, Usopp had gone her way to befriend Zed. Zed had been five years older than her, but he had been placed in a class that had been one year above hers. In addition to his low intellect, his emotional maturity had rivaled that of an eight-year-old.  

  

It had been easy to secure a friendship with a boy who had been so starved of affection and acceptance. Usopp had somewhat been the same way, but she simultaneously had embraced the prejudice. In a peculiar way, it had made her feel special, almost as much as being the daughter of a pirate had been—still was.  

  

But not Zed. The second Usopp had offered him her hand, he had latched onto it with the fierce intent of never letting go.  

  

Zed had been a regular participant of her pirate games, being a proud member of the Usopp Pirates and eagerly following his Captain Usopp into battle. While she had been the super sneaky sniper captain, Zed had been her loyal muscle man. 

  

"It was because he was big and brawny," Usopp explained. "He easily towered over the adults despite being sixteen." 

  

Soon enough, Fred and Ted had caught on to their youngest brother's recent change in behavior. What had possibly caused him to become so joyful? What had affected him to be so eager to go to school when he had used to loathe going there? 

  

They hadn't attended school; instead, they had toiled at the farm from daybreak to nightfall. Usopp figured that once Zed had left the house, his brothers had tailed after him without him noticing. It explained why Zed had been so surprised to see his brothers hanging around at the edge of the school's field during recess. 

  

Fred and Ted had wanted in on the fun and had demanded that Usopp would play with them too. Zed had been surly about sharing his only friend, but he had acquiesced when Usopp had cheerfully recruited them as her crewmates. Fred had been the navigator while Ted had been the musician. 

  

"Wait, how old were these guys?" Franky asked. “You said that they were Zed’s older brothers?”

  

"Let's see, if I was eleven and Zed was sixteen, then that made Fred twenty-one and Ted eighteen at the time," Usopp recounted. 

  

Sanji cringed. He was twenty-one, and he couldn't imagine reverting as a child to play imagination. Not that he ever had the chance to do so in his childhood, but still.  

  

"That's kinda..." Nami trailed off, a look of discomfort marring her features.  

  

"They were at a state where it couldn't be helped," Usopp said quietly.  

  

As time had passed by, Zed had grown more and more dissatisfied with his brothers hogging her attention. Usopp had noticed, but she had done nothing, hoping that Zed would eventually come to accept the change in favor of all three brothers playing together. Yet, play as he might, Zed had remained unhappy by their presence. 

  

Eventually, that dissatisfaction had evolved into something more dangerous. 

  

From here, whatever had happened was perhaps Usopp's fault. If only she had been more careful. If only she hadn't been so flippant with Zed’s feelings. She might have had been an eleven-year-old child, but she had been Zed’s only friend…just as he had been hers in years. She should have done better for him.  

  

"Oh," Robin murmured. 

  

"What is it, Robin?" Chopper asked.  

  

"Just keep listening." 

  

In his attempt in securing his position as Usopp's best friend, he had asked her what her dream had been. 

  

"To become the greatest warrior of the sea!" she had declared. "To be an amazing pirate just like my dad!" 

  

Somehow, Zed had got it in his head that, in order to help Usopp achieve her dream, he himself had to become more like a genuine pirate, not an imitation of one. After all, the day she would set sail, she would have to bring her best friend along, wouldn't she? 

  

During their games, they had "pillaged villages," "stole from the people," and "killed any marines and enemy pirates." But he had felt as though that hadn't been enough to derive information from. So he had asked his classmates what real pirates did.  

  

"Note that these were a bunch of immature twelve-year-olds," Usopp said. 

  

The boys had told him that pirates not only stole and killed, but they also took women as their own. 

  

"Oh gosh," Nami said, covering her mouth with her hand.  

  

"When Zed told me about his findings, I thought nothing more of it. I just laughed it off and joked about him doing it." Usopp shook her head, regret palpable on her face.  

  

Zed had later invited Usopp over to his house one day. Usopp had been wary because of his ogre of a mother who she had been afraid of ever encountering, but Zed had looked so hopeful that she couldn't bear to turn him down. She had followed him to the outskirts. Fred and Ted had been absent, which had struck her as odd, but she had shrugged it off.  

  

Before they could continue, Zed had told her that he was going to prove to her that he would be a better first mate than any of his brothers. Amused, Usopp had allowed him to do whatever, expecting him to display a bastardized version of kickboxing. That had been what he did when they played together—throwing their limbs out haphazardly as though they had been doing real martial arts.

 

But instead of that, Zed had led her down in the basement. He had then turned on the lights. 

  

"I don't know how he managed to do it, but he lured four women over to the farm, knocked them unconscious, and tied them up. He was a strong guy, so he overpowered them without any problems, I'm sure." 

  

"Four? I thought you said there were five women," Brook said. 

  

"The fifth woman he subdued was his mother." 

  

"Shit," Franky gasped. "That's..." 

  

The women—four of them at the time—had been unconscious when Usopp had stared at their prone bodies in shock. Frightened, she had tried to leave the basement, but Zed had his hand clamped around her arm, refusing to release her until he had showed her what made him a true pirate.  

  

Usopp's behavior had greatly distressed Zed. From his mother, he had learned the only way to calm a screaming child: he had struck her. He had backhanded her, and, not knowing the strength behind that one single action, he had rendered her out cold.  

  

When Usopp had come to, she had found herself bounded and gagged. From her position at the back of the basement, she had watched Zed wrangle his mother down by her hair. The woman had snarled at him like a wild animal, but she had been no match for her son's superior height and power.  

  

"He didn't even need to tie her up. He just—he just did it to her. Right then and there." Usopp absently observed the ground. "He had an axe with him. That was how he killed them." 

  

The women had been awake during the incident. Tears had streamed down their faces as they had screamed through their gags. Zed had then dragged another woman to him with his bloody fingers.  

  

"He kept screaming about this was how a real man did it, this was how a real pirate did it." 

  

She had her eyes closed ever since she had witnessed Zed swing that axe at his mother's neck, but she couldn't block out the sounds. Her hands had been tied behind her. 

  

"He kept repeating that line over and over again." 

  

At some point, Usopp had fallen asleep after Zed's last victim. When she had awoken, her pants had been drenched in blood and urine. The basement had served as a pond of desiccated bodies, and she had been sitting on the bed. Lying on her feet had been the corpses of both Fred and Ted. It had been like a cat delivering prey to its master. 

  

"I was stuck in the basement for one whole day until someone found me. I was later told that Zed was found hung at one of the trees that grew by the cliffs." 

  

Usopp hadn't been okay after that. Zed's declarations of what a real man did, of what a real pirate did, had echoed in her head like a nonstop cycle. Just as his voice had persisted as her own personal ghost, so did the acrid smell of blood and urine.  

  

"I developed a phobia of men at the time. We didn't have brain doctors in the village, so no one could help me. It got bad to the point where I was getting delusions. A way to help escape from reality, I guess." She shrugged. "I was Captain Usopp with eight-thousand followers. I have sailed and defeated men of great power. Yadda yadda." 

  

"Oh, Usopp," Nami sobbed. 

  

"You’d think that I'd be scared of pirates because of that, but it was just men. Boys were fine, but men weren't; it was because Zed resembled a man. I then got so fed up by this crippling fear that I kind of snapped and tore up all my dresses and skirts and blouses. I later got it in my head that if I myself was a man, then no man would do to me what Zed did to those women." 

  

And, so, Usopp had begun her life as a boy. She had dressed like one and behaved like one. She had resumed her vandalism, pranks, and lies, but she had done it in a way where she had been perceived to be an annoying, goofy kid. Boys tended to be goofy, from what young Usopp had believed, so goofiness had been what she had strived for. 

  

She had done it so that no man would want to rape her. It hadn't mattered if men wouldn't go easy on her for believing that she was a guy; as long as they wouldn’t touch her in that way, she had been content.  

  

As unconventional as it was, the facade had helped her move on. Not necessarily move on from her fear of getting forcibly taken, but she had been able to stop flinching and jumping at the slightest things. She had been able to be comfortable to be in the presence of men again, even be touched by them. She had been able to smile and laugh and have fun. 

 

“Usopp,” Chopper whimpered before racing towards her legs, clinging onto them. “Usopp! Usopp!”

 

Usopp bent down and embraced the reindeer, murmuring reassurances in his ear.

  

"I'm surprised that you were still willing to play pirates with those three kids," Zoro commented. 

  

"You mean Piman, Tamanegi, and Ninjin?" Usopp wryly smiled. "Those three just came to me one day and challenged me to a duel to see who got to be captain. I told them a story of how I won against a cannibal warlord, they believed me, and have been my loyal underlings ever since." 

  

Her smile then fell. "They weren't like Zed who was too easy to influence, but it didn't hurt to be cautious. I always made sure to be careful with my wording when I played with the kids. Instead of pillaging, we did saving. Instead of stealing, we did giving. Probably acted more like marines than pirates, but, hey, it was still fun." 

 

“Pirates can do saving and giving,” Luffy stated firmly. “We did those things.”  

 

Usopp nodded. “That’s true. We did all those heroic things before, like helping Vivi take down Crocodile and liberate Skypiea.”

 

“And much more,” Robin added. She smiled at Usopp before her face fell into a solemn expression. “Usopp, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I had no idea…”

 

“No one did. No one knew because I kept it to myself.”

 

“You hid yourself for years. Why decide to reveal yourself now?” Brook gently inquired.

 

“It’s not like I could hide my chest despite being flat. That’d make bathing even harder.” She rubbed her neck awkwardly. “My body was changing to the point where I couldn’t pretend anymore, and I don’t want to.”

 

Usopp lifted her head and smiled wobbly. "Pirates do what they want, right? So...I want to be able to be pretty for once. I want to have long hair and wear skirts and dresses. I—I know that I might not be up to standard. I mean, I'm just a flat-chested, scrawny kid, but I figured that this much—” she said, gesturing to her outfit “—would be good enough.”

 

“Usopp!” Nami sniffled and jumped at the sniper, bringing her into a tight hug and sandwiching a still blubbering Chopper. “You are pretty. Don’t you dare put yourself down like that, okay?”

  

“And if you need any help, we’re more than happy to help,” Robin said.

 

Usopp’s eyes went wide and her lips parted in a silent gasp, but a bright grin spread across her face as tears slid down her cheeks. Her returned Nami’s hug. “Thank you.”

 

Looking at Usopp now without the haze of his previous agitation, Sanji could objectively see what Usopp had meant about not being able to conceal her womanly features. Two years ago, when posing as a boy, Usopp had appeared to be a short and skinny boy. When he had learned that Usopp had been Luffy’s age, Sanji had just brushed it off as Usopp being a late bloomer, not quite hitting that growth spurt yet.

 

Never would he have guessed that Usopp had just been stuck in a perpetual state preadolescence until now. From the times when he had encouraged her to consume more meat to the times when he had joined the other guys in teasing the fuming sniper for her lack of muscles…to the times when he had treated her like a guy and not a lady like how she deserved to be treated.

 

Nami was right; Usopp was pretty. She was petite and delicate and adorable; she was like a sparrow, all hoppity and small and ready to take flight. The volume of her hair emphasized her figure as they cascaded past her thin shoulders. And seeing her like this didn’t make his heart pound in excitement; instead, it made his heart sink to his stomach.

 

From what he could tell as the crew prepared for Fishman Island, only Luffy and Zoro hadn’t changed. They treated her as they always had. Chopper and Nami were still a bit weepy, but they were doing better as they clung onto Usopp. Robin and Brook were noticeably treating her gently despite Usopp’s half-hearted complaints.

 

Franky…was faring okay, but he wasn't taking the news with ease like how Luffy and Zoro were. He kept muttering about having beat up a girl all this time back in Water 7, which triggered Sanji's temper until he remembered that he himself had beat up a girl all this time as well. Certainly not to the bloody extent that the shipwright had gone, but enough to leave welting bruises.  

  

He had hurt a lady... 

  

Owner Zeff would be so disappointed.  

  

With this new shift in the crew’s dynamic, Sanji wasn’t sure how to adapt. Time would help mend things, though, just as it had for Usopp, so he would eventually fall into accordance. He would lavish her with desserts that he had denied her of before; he would sing her praises instead of laying out harsh criticisms; he would kiss her toes and never strike her again.

 

He would go down on his hands and knees and beg for her forgiveness.

 

But, for now, he needed time to gather his thoughts.

Chapter Text

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

Shanks flinched. When he hesitantly turned around, he found himself facing his enraged sniper. “O-oh, hello, Yasopp. Fine weather we’re having, eh?”

 

“Don’t give me that,” Yasopp snarled. “I want to know what the hell you think you’re doing with my daughter.”

 

Beads of sweat formed on his face. “Daughter? You mean Usopp? Wh-whatever do you mean?”

 

There was an ominous click. Shanks immediately noticed the revolver in Yasopp’s hand. “Doll face? Baby girl? Sweetheart? Don’t think I haven’t noticed your habit of giving pet names to all the girls you’ve fancied, Captain.”

 

He gulped. “Come on, Yasopp. It’s just harmless flirting, that’s all.”

 

“She’s just a kid!”

 

“She’s going to turn eighteen in a week!”

 

“That’s not the bloody point! Remind me how old you are again?”

 

Shanks looked down and mumbled his answer.

 

Yasopp leaned in forward. “What was that?”

 

Shanks sighed. “I’m thirty-eight.”

 

“Thirty-eight. Two whole decades.” Yasopp drew in a breath and then bellowed out, “Someone call the marines! We got a freaking pervert over here!”

 

“Shush! Shut up, Yasopp!” Shanks hurriedly moved forward, bringing his hand up. “Would you stop that?”

 

“I’ll stop if you stop trying to make moves on my daughter, you pervy old creep!”

 

“It’s not that unusual! I mean, the age difference between Rayleigh-san and Shakky-san is way bigger!”

 

“Actually, the difference is fourteen years,” said Beckman who was passing by.

 

Shanks startled. “What, really?”

 

“Really.”

 

“But Shakky-san looks so young. How is that possible?”

 

“Cosmetics?”

 

“Yeah, but even with makeup—”

 

“Shanks,” Yasopp growled.

 

“Right, right. But, really, Yasopp, Usopp is going to turn eighteen soon, a full-fledged adult. Hell, I’d even say that she already became one the moment she chose to set sail as a pirate. Don’t you think that you’re, I dunno, mollycoddling her?”

 

“Can you blame me? The last time I saw her, she just learned how to shoot!” Yasopp brought his free hand to his face. “And now she’s—she’s all grown up. My little girl has grown up.”

 

“And with a bounty to boot,” Beckman added, “even though no one knows that she’s Sogequeen.”

 

It was risky, but Shanks nevertheless brought a consoling hand to the sniper’s shoulder. “Look, I understand how you feel. It’s been years since you two were together, but that’s the thing—it’s been years. Usopp has obviously grown up to be a splendid young woman who can make her own choices in life. As a father, you should at least respect that.”

 

Yasopp breathed out a shuddering exhale before slumping. “I suppose you’re right, Captain.” Shanks nodded assuredly. Of course, he was right. “Even if Usopp shows an inkling of an interest in an irresponsible middle-aged drunkard, I should at least honor her decisions. And even if a one-armed bastard starts hitting on her, I should respect her choice in passively ignoring the creep’s advances.”

 

Shanks dropped his hand. “O-oh.”

 

“Yeah,” Beckman agreed solemnly. “If I had a teenaged daughter who had a thing for a red-haired layabout who does nothing but down rum all day long, I’d let it happen because my daughter is a strong independent woman.”

 

“Although,” Yasopp continued in a dark tone, “if said irresponsible middle-aged one-armed red-haired alcoholic layabout bastard tries anything unsavory towards her, he’ll find himself in a very uncomfortable situation.”

 

Yasopp gave Shanks a blank look that somehow managed to speak volumes.

 

“You, ah, sure were descriptive of this particular man,” Shanks chuckled awkwardly.

 

“I have no genuine experience in fatherhood, yet I can vicariously understand,” Beckman said, smiling wryly at Shanks. “Usopp has become like a daughter to us all.”

 

“Except for you,” Yasopp said.

 

“Yeah, sure, I don’t see Usopp as a daughter. Perhaps I see her as something…more than that. However,” Shanks hastily added when he saw Yasopp’s finger twitch on the trigger, “that doesn’t make her any less dear to me. Yasopp, I assure you, I will never do anything to hurt or discomfort Usopp. I will never do anything that she wouldn’t want to do. You have my word.”

 

This time, Yasopp finally, finally, relaxed. He gave the captain a resigned yet believing look. “Alright, Shanks. I’ll put my trust in you. I’m sorry that I—”

 

“Shanks-san!” Usopp called out from the deck. “I brought the lubrication and rope! You said that you wanted to show me something interesting in your room?”

 

There was a moment of silence.

 

Then…

 

“You son of a bitch! I’ll kill you!”

Chapter Text

Dave was an unassuming-looking man—plain face with generic brown hair and average height—yet what he made up for his appearance was his ability in hypnotism. Not many had been interested in the man's talent, and Usopp and Nami in particular had reserved wariness after what had gone down in Syrup Village. Luffy, of course, hadn't been wary at all; in fact, he had been insistent on seeing the man hypnotize someone.

 

"Ooh! Do me! Do me!" Luffy eagerly volunteered himself.

 

"Haven't you gotten hypnotized enough?" Nami snapped, holding him by the collar like holding a dog by the leash.

 

"Is this guy for real?" Kidd turned to Law in bewilderment.

 

"You get used to it," Law said resignedly.

 

Currently, the Kidd, Drake, Hawkins, and On Air Pirates had joined the alliance that the Straw Hat and Heart Pirates had established. Eustass Kidd hadn't wanted to, but he couldn't deny the uses in cooperating with Straw Hat Luffy and the Surgeon of Death Law. After all, both of them had taken on Doflamingo, not to mention how Luffy had entangled with Yonkos and their subordinates and had come out alive.

 

What Kidd had not counted on, however, was what a simpleton the highly lauded "Fifth Yonko" captain was. Luffy was very much so an idiot.

 

"He kind of reminds me of you," Killer murmured. Kidd shot his first-mate a glare.

 

At the moment, Drake, Hawkins, and Apoo had left the island to do their part of the mission, leaving Kidd, Law, and Luffy to do theirs. With all six crews split into two teams, this should—should—help them advance to the next step towards their goal. The only problem was that Team Kidd-Heart-Straw-Hat had yet to do their part because freaking Luffy wanted to stay and chat with the hypnotist.

 

Law was taking this in stride because, after a prolonged exposure to the Straw Hats, he had long accepted the fact that there was no quelling the impulsivity of Luffy and his merry gang of dunderheads. He should have taken Usopp's advice seriously back in Punk Hazard.

 

But Kidd, who had yet to gain such exposure, was gawking at the scene. "I'm sure I looked just like how he does back then," Law thought to himself with nostalgia.

 

"Hey! Straw Hat! What the hell are you doing?" Kidd growled as he marched over to him. "We got a mission to do, in case you forgot."

 

"I knooow," Luffy huffed, "but just let me have fun first!"

 

"Fun? Are you shitting me? We don't have time for fun!"

 

Luffy stuck out his tongue. "Hey, Dave, could you hypnotize Kidd to stop being such a bore?"

 

"Screw you, Straw Hat! I am not a bore!"

 

"It's like I'm seeing double," Killer sighed, shaking his head. Penguin gave him an odd look.

 

"I'll do you one better," said Dave. The man spread his arms wide, causing his cape to be pushed back behind his shoulders. "I can make a person fall madly in love with you!"

 

"Me! Make all the ladies in the world fall in love with me!" Sanji cried out.

 

"Bah, that's boring," Luffy complained. "I don't care for that."

 

"I do! Me! Hypnotize the ladies for me!"

 

"It won't be boring, I assure you," Dave insisted. "How about we do a demonstration and you can see for it yourself, hm?"

 

Luffy pursed his lips, and then nodded. "Alright. Who you gonna hypnotize?"

 

"Don't accept a sketchy deal like it's nothing!" Nami smacked him upside the head. "Why would you do that?"

 

"But Dave said that it won't be boring!"

 

"It certainly won't be," Dave promised with such seriousness that it was as if he was a knight taking an oath to protect the princess of Alabasta instead of a random ass hypnotist who was likely to be a conman.

 

Nami narrowed her eyes. "No."

 

"Free of charge."

 

"Well, I suppose it can't hurt."

 

"You can't be serious," Kidd deadpanned, directing a deadpan look at the orange-haired woman.

 

"What? No one can stop Luffy from doing anything when he wants to do something," Nami retorted defensively.

 

"You stopped trying the moment he said that it was free."

 

"That was when I came to my senses."

 

"Bullshit!"

 

"Come on, Eustass-ya," Law said, stepping up before Sanji could notice that someone was yelling at his precious Nami-swan, "if we just go along with what Straw Hat-ya wants, then this whole thing will go by faster."

 

Kidd huffed in irritation before reluctantly complying (amazingly). "Hurry it up, then. We don't have all day."

 

Nami and Luffy exchanged looks before nodding to one another in silent agreement. Over his shoulder, Luffy bellowed, "Usopp! Get over here!"

 

Kidd watched the Straw Hat sniper, a long-nosed shrimp, waltz over to the group with an expression of innocent curiosity. "What is it?"

 

Nami and Luffy promptly pushed Usopp onto the barrel seat in front of Dave and told him in unison, "Hypnotize her."

 

"What?" Usopp squawked. She tried to get up, but she was held down by her crewmates. "Wait, what is this? What are you guys doing?"

 

"Consider it pay back for the itching powder prank that you pulled the other day," Nami told her gravely.

 

Beads of sweat formed on the girl's forehead. "Wh-what? Itching powder prank? Whaaat? Th-that wasn't me. I would never do such a thing!"

 

"Normally, I'd charge you a five hundred beris for that, but I'll charge you with this instead."

 

"I'll give you ten hundred beris! A thousand! Just don't make me do this!" she cried. "You know how I feel about hypnotists!" Usopp keeled over, desperately gripping her shirt. "Ack! I can feel my deadly hypnotist-phobia disease kicking in! I'm dyyying!"

 

"Not a real disease, as decreed personally by a doctor," Law drawled.

 

"Screw you! I bet you're not even a real doctor! Where's your doctorate, huh?"

 

Law's eyebrow twitched. "I just helped your musician with his broken leg the other day." Which really was rather remarkable seeing a skeleton wear a cast; Brook had made several dumb skull jokes as a result. But despite the doctor’s actions to tend to the matter, Usopp remained unconvinced.

 

"Anyone can just slap on plaster on a broken limb and call it a cast."

 

"Hah! That's what Dadan used to say," Luffy snickered.

 

The eyebrow twitched evolved to a scowl. "There are so many things wrong in that statement that I don't know where to begin."

 

"Just hypnotize her already," Kidd ordered Dave.

 

Usopp startled and resumed her panicking. "Hold it! No, don't this—mmph!" Nami slapped a hand over her mouth while Luffy wrapped his stretchy arms around her to keep her still. 

 

Dave, strangely unphased by the display of a girl being forced against her will by the whimsy of her captain, cleared his throat and held out a fist. When his fingers flew out, a silver pocket watch dropped out of his palm and dangled from a chain.

 

"Gaze into the ticking hands," intoned Dave as he gently swung the watch, "and hear and do my demands. Hippity hoppity poo. May your heart sing a tune. Open your eyes and see your fate; only then will you meet your mate."

 

"That sounds like a magic spell than hypnotism," Nami muttered.

 

Usopp's eyes became glazed and she stopped resisting against her crewmates' hold. The sniper was actually hypnotized. Kidd and Law, against their better judgment, found themselves intrigued and unwittingly leaned in closer to get a better look.

 

"When the short hand seizes twelve," Dave continued, "will your ardor soon dissolve. Lest you wish to seal the deal, brush of lips will make it real."

 

"What?" Nami's brows furrowed in puzzlement.

 

All of a sudden, Usopp slumped forward. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was evened out; she was asleep.

 

"Usopp?" Luffy unraveled his arms. He caught her from falling flat on her long nose and proceeded prodding her. "Usopp? Are you napping?"

 

"Whoa!" Nami quickly retracted her hand. "How did that—hey! The hypnotist is gone!"

 

And that he was. The moment when everyone's eyes had been on Usopp, Dave must have taken the opportunity to...vanish into thin air? There certainly wasn't any sign of a caped man running down the pier, that was for sure.

 

"Was the hypnotist a Devil Fruit user?" Law mused aloud.

 

That would explain Dave's disappearing act. Yet, despite how innocuous his form of exit was, Nami couldn't help but feel a rise of worry. Dave was the one who had approached and offered them a show of his hypnotism, which would have been harmless enough if he possibly wasn't a Devil Fruit user.

 

Could Dave secretly be working for the marines? For Big Mom? For Kaido? Was he a spy for one of them? He must be. If he was an ordinary civilian who just coincidentally had a Devil Fruit ability, then he wouldn't have vanished like that. Also, did any of them accidentally spill any relevant information with him around?

 

"Oh no! I knew this was a bad idea!" Nami lamented.

 

Kidd jumped at that. "What? No, you didn't!"

 

"I did at first, okay?" 

 

Law narrowed his eyes at the navigator. "Explain."

 

While Nami relayed to Kidd and Law her speculations, Luffy was busy trying to shake Usopp awake. "Usopp. Usopp." Luffy intensified the shaking. "Uuusssoopp! Wake up!"

 

When he stopped, Usopp's head lolled backwards. Luffy frowned. Maybe he ought to take her to Chopper. No, wait, Law was here! That was more convenient than running all the way to the Polar Tang. As Luffy gathered Usopp in his arms, a thought occurred to him: Where did Sanji go? He was with them, wasn't he? For that matter, where were Kidd and Law's crewmates?

 

From the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of blond hair. Luffy spun on his heel and noticed that there wasn’t just one blond, but three blonds and one guy in a hat. So that was where their crewmates were! Wait a minute... There should have been two blonds and one guy in a hat. Why was there another blond?

 

Luffy squinted. The extra blond had long hair like Killer's, but it was more tamed than Killer's massive mane. Additionally, he had black markings on his face. Recognition settled in. That was Basil Hawkins! But what was he doing here? Wasn't he supposed to be on his mission?

 

"You guys!" Luffy called out to them, jogging over.

 

Sanji turned around to greet his captain. "Oh, hey, Luffy. How'd the hypno—what the hell happened to Usopp-tan?" he screeched the last part, taking in the sight of his unconscious crewmate.

 

"Huh? Oh! Usopp got hypnotized."

 

"B-but why is she like this? Is she hurt? Did that hypnotist bastard hurt her?" Sanji growled, bristling.

 

"I don't think so. All he did was say a funny rhyme and Usopp fell asleep." Luffy shrugged. "I'm sure she'll wake up soon. By the way, why's Hawky here?"

 

"He said that his cards called him to return here," Killer said dryly. "He left his crew to his first-mate to complete their part of the mission."

 

"Fate has ordained that it would be most providential for me to arrive at this time," Hawkins said solemnly. "There is a high percent chance of some reward to be reaped counting in..." He glanced at his watch. "Thirty seconds."

 

"Uh huh." Penguin shoved his hands in his pockets and grinned lopsidedly at the captain. "Can your hocus pocus show me my lucky stars and tell me if I'm gonna get together with a hot babe?"

 

"I don't need to read to stars to determine how futile that would be," Hawkins replied with such gravitas that caused Sanji and Luffy burst out into laughter at the unintended burn. Even Killer turned his head to the side to quietly chuckle.

 

"Oh snap. That hurts," Penguin despaired, hanging his head. He then perked up when he asked, "And what about the others?"

 

"Hmm." Hawkins pulled out a deck of cards and began shuffling them. He briefly scrutinized Luffy before drawing from the deck. "The Wheel of Fortune," he reported, presenting the card for all to see. "You will encounter great changes in your life, yet your life will be good and merry. A fortunate person indeed."

 

"That's Luffy for you," Sanji said with a smirk. "He's going to become King of the Pirates, after all."

 

"Hmph. Not unless Kidd finds One Piece first," Killer said, "which he will."

 

Before Sanji could respond to that, there was a groan. Usopp brought a hand to her face and rubbed her forehead. "Ugh. What happened?" she muttered.

 

"Usopp! You're finally up!" Luffy cheered. "Are you in love with someone yet?"

 

"The hypnotist seriously went with that one?" Sanji gasped. “I thought he was joking! Kind of! Not really!”

 

"What are you talking about?" Usopp's eyes fluttered open. The first person who she saw wasn't Luffy who was carrying her or Sanji who was hovering by her. No, the first person who she saw was the reticent man who hung by at the back. Hawkins coolly locked her gaze with his.

 

"My love," she breathed.

 

Luffy and Sanji blinked. "Usopp?"

 

"My love!" Usopp wriggled in Luffy's arms, forcing Luffy to set her down. She ran past Killer and Penguin, and then bodily threw herself against Hawkin's chest. "My love! My one true love!"

 

"Wow. Wasn't expecting that." Luffy scratched his head, and then noticed Sanji gawking like a fish out of water. "Sanji? You alright?"

 

All of a sudden, Luffy felt two hands wrap themselves around his throat. His mouth stretched wide to instinctively gulp in air, but he couldn't breathe! "What the hell," Sanji seethed darkly, "happened with that hypnotist?"

 

Luffy flailed wildly and helplessly pawed at Sanji's tight grip.

 

"Uhh." Penguin looked between Hawkins, who was calmly taking in the sniper's spontaneous display of affection, and Sanji, who was choking the life out of his captain. He finally turned his attention onto Killer. "Should we do something?"

 

"With Straw Hat Luffy out of the way, there's less competition for One Piece," Killer said nonchalantly.

 

"Uhhhhhh."

 


 

In the end, Sanji did not kill Luffy. Nami had knocked him out cold before it had come to that.

 

"If he was in my crew, he would've been skinned and boiled alive for mutiny," Kidd said.

 

"Everyone in my crew is too friendly and happy to do such a thing," Law said.

 

"Which is kind of hilarious considering what an emo creep you are."

 

Meanwhile, as Kidd and Law were idly conversing the mechanisms of social culture within individual pirate crews, Nami was profusely apologizing to Hawkins and trying to wrangle back a lovesick Usopp.

 

"Did I mention how sorry I am about this? And that she's hypnotized? Please don't wage war against us! Please!"

  

Hawkins brought up a hand, silencing Nami from going on another apologetic tirade. "I am not offended, I assure you," he said. "I have expected of what fate intended to deliver to me, and I believe that your sniper's artificial attachment is what that is."

 

"Um. What?"

 

“So, you’re not mad?” Luffy made a show of wiping the sweat off his brow. “That’s good to know!”

 

“On the contrary, I am content by the progression of things. As I have said, these courses of events have been intended.”

 

“Intended by Luffy,” Nami muttered under her breath. “If he’s fate, then we’re all doomed.”

 

“What’re you going to do now?” Penguin asked.

 

“I would like to spend the rest of the day with God Usopp if you don’t mind, Straw Hat.”

 

“Mmm, I guess so. I think we can handle our part of the mission without her,” Luffy said, shrugging.

 

“Erm, by spend the day with Usopp, what do you mean exactly?” Nami inquired hesitantly.

 

Hawkins blinked slowly. “It is what I said. I wish to spend the day with her.”

 

“No, what I mean is—are you, like, going out on a date with her?”

 

“Ah. I suppose that would be the accurate descriptor in this situation, wouldn’t it?”

 

“So, Basil goes out on a date while we bust our asses,” Kidd grumbled. “Great.”

 

“Then I don’t suppose you won’t mind if I let go of her now?” By that, Nami meant how Usopp kept trying to crawl her way to Hawkins, her arms outstretched towards him and her face stuck in that perpetual enamored expression. The sniper was like a crazed woman possessed, which probably wasn’t an inaccurate description after all things considered.

 

“By all means.”

 

And, so, Nami released the beast. Usopp sped towards Hawkins faster than that time when she and Nami had fled from hungry dinosaurs two years ago. Like before, Usopp latched onto Hawkins with a vice-grip and rubbed herself against his chest like a purring cat. And, like before, Hawkins didn’t appear to mind this at all. In fact, he appeared to be entirely indifferent to the amount of physical affection he was subjected to.

 

Nami pressed a hand against her teary eyes. “Oh, Usopp. I am so sorry for this. You’re sacrifice to sate Luffy’s curiosity shall not be in vain.”

 

“Bye! Take care of Usopp for us, Hawky!” Luffy waved a farewell to the departing pair. He then hefted Sanji up onto his back and asked Nami, “So, what are we supposed to do again?”

 

“Why do you never pay attention? Listen for once!”

 

“Ow! Nami!”

 

“Holy hell. How’d the Straw Hat Pirates ever manage to survive the Grand Line when they keep messing up?” Kidd wondered, astounded. He watched Nami socking Luffy on the chin before glancing back at the way Usopp seemed to be trying to merge her body with Hawkins.

 

“I traveled with them at length and I still wonder that,” Law confided.


 

The mission didn’t take even three hours long. By the time they finished, it was almost lunchtime.

 

“Sanji! I want meat—!”

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t talk to Sanji for a while,” Nami advised warily. During the mission, when Sanji had come to, only Nami had been able to distract him from lunging at Luffy. It was miraculous how they even completed, not to mention successfully, the mission at all.

 

There was a moment of silence as everyone carefully averted their eyes from the bad-tempered cook stomping back to his kitchen. Behind the counter, there was a loud clatter and a throng of colorful curses. The moment was then broken when Zoro and the others entered the dining room.

 

Zoro took one cursory glance at them and asked, “Where’s Usopp?”

 

“On a date,” Luffy answered.

 

“Luffy, you idiot!” Nami cried.

 

Sanji crashed back into the picture with his demonic rampage. “She’s what? You said that she went on a super secret mission, you son of a bitch! Who the hell is she with?”

 

“With Hawky, duh. You saw how she reacted when she saw him—urk!” Once again, Sanji was grappling at Luffy’s neck with vindictive fervor.

 

“Do it, do it,” Killer chanted under his breath. Penguin scooted away from him.

 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Franky said as he pried Sanji off of their blue-faced captain. “What’s this about Usopp on a date?”

 

“And if I heard that correctly, she’s on a date with Basil Hawkins?” Robin added.

 

“What’s Basil Hawkins doing here when he was supposed to be on his mission?” Bepo inquired. Clione nodded next to him.

 

“He said something about fate calling him here to reap a reward,” Penguin said. He scratched underneath his hat. “And, apparently, the Straw Hat sniper got herself hypnotized by this Dave guy into falling in love with him.”

 

“But I thought Usopp was scared of hypnotists. How’d that happen?” Zoro turned questioningly at Nami, the only responsible Straw Hat in her group, and arched an eyebrow. “What happened?”

 

Nami awkwardly tittered and twirled a lock of her hair. “Ahaha, well, funny thing about that—”

 

“Nami-ya and Straw Hat-ya forced Longnose-ya into it,” Law answered for her.

 

“You snitch!”

 

“And she made some excuse about Straw Hat doing whatever he wants,” Kidd sighed disappointedly, shaking his head.

 

“Asshole!”

 

Zoro frowned. “Luffy doing whatever he wants is true, but I don’t see why Nami couldn’t have stopped him.”

 

“You know that no one can stop Luffy!” Nami protested. When Zoro continued to stare at her, she faltered. “And, um, I wanted to get back at Usopp for the itching powder prank…”

 

At the mention of the prank, Zoro and Franky reflexively cringed. “Alright, I see your point.”

 

“Nami-san,” Sanji sobbed, “while you are radiant in your cruelty, must you have punished Usopp-tan so? She’s now out there somewhere with that voodoo doll bastard!”

 

Nami sheepishly smiled. “Maybe this hadn’t been the best opportunity to act on my revenge.”

 

Nearly everyone in the room pinned her a “ya think?” glare.

 

“You think it’s safe to let go of Sanji?” Robin asked.

 

“Probably.” Franky dropped Sanji, who landed on the floor on his feet before collapsing on his hands and knees. The air of depression that emanated from the cook was so potent that the occupants close by flinched away. “Yeah, definitely. The poor dude doesn’t seem like he’s going anywhere.”

 

“So, does that mean I don’t get my meat?” Luffy whined.

 

“Can’t you read the situation properly?” Law dryly asked, eyeing the new set of bruises that marred Luffy’s neck.

 

“But I’m hungryyy!”

 

“We’ll talk about food and the girl later,” Kidd said, pounding his fist on the table. “Right now, let’s discuss about the mission.”

 

The Straw Hat Pirates abided to that, albeit hesitantly. If Usopp was on a date, then surely she should be fine, right?

 

After half an hour of going into their discussion, Usopp and Hawkins returned. Usopp appeared to be less of a Hawkins-obsessed weirdo and more of a semblance of her former self. Instead of clinging onto the man’s arm, Usopp and Hawkins were standing side by side. The effect of the hypnotism must have worn off.

 

“Hey, guys,” Usopp greeted with a grin, holding up a hand.

 

“Usopp!” Nami and Luffy exclaimed, Nami in relief and Luffy in good cheer. However, their voices were drowned out by Sanji’s cry of “Usssooop-twaaaan!”

 

The cook bounced over to the sniper, but not before shoving Hawkins away. He collected her hands into his and peered intently into her eyes. “Usopp-tan! Are you hurt? Did that voodoo doll bastard do anything unsavory to you? Just say so and I’ll beat his ass until he coughs up sticks!”

 

“Ah, I’m okay! Really.” Usopp pulled her hands away. “Hawkins was nothing but a gentleman.”

 

“That’s good to hear,” Nami said with a smile, walking towards her. Her expression then fell into a repentant one. “Listen, Usopp, I’m sorry for making you get hypnotized. That was wrong of me and I’ll never do something like that again. Will you forgive me?”

 

Usopp smiled at her. “Only if you forgive me for the itching powder prank,” she said, and then was on the receiving end of Nami’s squeezing hugs.

 

“Water under the bridge!” Nami assured.

 

“This is so beautiful,” Franky sniffled, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief.

 

“Dude, they’re just apologizing to one another,” Clione pointed out.

 

“Although, I do have an announcement to make,” Usopp said. The seriousness in her tone gathered everyone’s attention back on her. The Straw Hat Pirates were especially surprised to hear such a tone coming out of their sniper.

 

Nami stepped back, puzzled. “What is it?”

 

“It would’ve been proper if Chopper and Brook were here, but they’re busy and, well, I feel like I gotta say it now; otherwise, I’ll lose my nerve.” Casting a quick glance at Hawkins, Usopp inhaled steadily before declaring, “I’m leaving the Straw Hat crew to join the Hawkins crew!”

 

There was a moment of silence.

 

"Well," said Law, "I can't deny that this turned out to be very interesting."

 

"It's like a TV show," Bepo agreed.

 

"When the hell did you ever watch television, you overgrown furball?" Nami snapped, causing the Mink to squeak out an apology. "Don't take amusement in this! This is serious!" And then, to Usopp, she said, “This is because Luffy didn’t apologize, isn’t it?” Over her shoulder, Nami barked, “Luffy! Apologize!”

 

“I’m sorry, Usopp! Please don’t leave the crew for the second time!” Luffy wailed, slamming his hands on the table. “Don’t leave!”

 

“Usopp-tan, if it means having you stay, then I’ll feed Luffy nothing but raw vegetables for you!” Sanji swore with tears streaming down. He clasped his hands together and pleaded, “Don’t leave meee!”

 

“Don’t go, Usopp!” Luffy’s face was morphed into an ugly expression of desperation. “I’m sorry for making you get hypnotized! I didn’t mean to upset you that much! Please don’t make Sanji make me eat veggies! I need my meat!”

 

“Oi, Usopp, isn’t this too much?” Zoro called over to the sniper in exasperation. “Don’t say that you’re leaving the crew just because of what happened earlier today.”

 

Usopp frowned. “I’m not leaving because of that. I thought it was implied that I already forgive you guys for what happened.”

 

Luffy snorted up a dangling string of snot and hiccupped out, “Th-then why?”

 

“It’s because I’m in love with Hawkins,” she sighed dreamily. “And I want nothing more than to sail to the ends of the earth with him!”

 

“Oh gosh,” Nami gasped in horror, “she’s still hypnotized!”

 

“Y-you can’t be serious!” Sanji croaked in disbelief.

 

“But I am! I’m sorry, everyone, but I discovered my new dream: Make Hawkins the King of the Pirates and to become his wife.” At the last part, Usopp blushed. She cupped her cheeks and squealed in embarrassment like a flustered schoolgirl.

 

“Wi-wi-wife…”

 

“He can’t be Pirate King,” Luffy refuted furiously. “I’m going to be Pirate King!”

 

“Fat chance, Straw Hat—” Kidd began, only to be stopped by Law who told him to hold on.

 

Kidd was about to yell at him about ordering him around when he noticed that the older man was smiling. After these past two years, Kidd had only seen Law with varying expressions of grimness, indifference, and constipation. As a result, seeing him look like how he had been back in the human auction house in Sabaody was surprising. What the hell? Did he seriously find this nonsense all that entertaining?

 

“Not if I, God Usopp, am by his side,” Usopp retaliated confidently.

 

Before Luffy could argue back, Robin held up a hand. “Basil Hawkins, what did you two do during your date?” Robin inquired with narrowed eyes.

 

“We visited a café and conversed,” Hawkins replied.

 

“Is that all?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Shockingly normal date,” murmured Penguin, and Clione hummed in agreement.

 

“I know what you’re thinking. No, I did nothing to exacerbate the hypnotism. Rather, Usopp-san’s development occurred naturally. All I did was bear witness to such.”

 

If anyone noticed him referring Usopp as Usopp-san instead of God Usopp, no one commented on it.

 

“Of course, he didn’t. As I said, he was a gentleman,” Usopp huffed.

 

“Okay, Usopp, listen to me and listen to me good,” Nami told her severely, gripping her shoulders. “You. Are. Under. Hypnotism. Your love for Hawkins? It isn’t real! Snap out of it, girl!”

 

Usopp brushed off Nami’s hands. “No, I don’t care if my feelings started because of that. My love for him is now true and I know it! I understand that this is hard to take in, but please don’t dismiss my feelings like it’s nothing.”

 

“That’s because it is nothing! How can you possibly fall in love with him when you just met the guy? Just the other day, you called him a creepy straw man, and now you’re making moon eyes at him!”

 

“A day is all it took for me to realize that Hawkins is more than what meets the eye,” Usopp asserted.

 

“More like three hours,” Law said.

 

“You see? Three hours! That’s not enough to determine that you’re truly in love with a person. Besides,” Nami began, the skin between her brows creasing, “you promised that you wouldn’t leave the crew again. How can you go back on your word?”

 

Usopp averted her gaze and the corners of her lips turned downward. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help what my heart wants. It’s hard to describe the depths of my feelings, but…making the choice to follow Hawkins is something that I know is right for me.” She lifted her chin with the fire of determination lighting her eyes. “So, I’ll do what my heart tells me to do, and that means becoming a Hawkins Pirate!”

 

“Usopp…” Nami looked at her in grief.

 

“Usopp.”

 

Everyone stilled at the uncharacteristically solemn tone that came out of Luffy. The rubber man stood up and stared at Usopp with a fiery resolve that rivaled hers. “Usopp, I promise that we’ll fix this; whatever it takes, we’ll make things right,” he vowed. Luffy then glanced at Hawkins. “Hawky, you better not get any ideas of keeping my sniper.”

 

“If she recovers, I won’t keep her. However, I won’t deny her request to join either,” Hawkins lightly replied.

 

“Don’t be so sure of it,” Zoro sneered. “We made it this far because of everyone on our crew. Don’t think we’re planning on going anywhere without her.”

 

Franky nodded firmly. “That’s right! Lil Sis is our sniper, and no one is going to take her away from us!”

 

Usopp pouted. “Ah, geez, what is this? I already said that I’m going with Hawkins. Can’t you guys just be happy for me?”

 

“No!” Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Sanji, and Franky shouted.

 

“Very well. In whatever way you plan on rectifying this, I wish you luck, Straw Hat Pirates.” With that said, Hawkins took his leave.

 

“I’ll go with you, Hawkins!” Usopp said, eagerly chasing after the blond man. No one bothered to stop her, knowing that it would have been a pointless endeavor. Nevertheless, the Straw Hat Pirates were resolute in their unanimous desire to bring their sniper back to her senses. Sanji, of course, sobbed after Usopp.

 

“Why the hell did he even come here on Sunny?” Franky muttered.

 

“Perhaps he followed Usopp here,” Robin suggested. “She was the one who wanted to announce her departure.”

 

“Which she won’t. There will be no departures happening on my watch!” Luffy huffed, crossing his arms.

 

“Yeah, but there’s still the issue on breaking her hypnotism. How’re we going to fix that?” Nami bemoaned.

 

“How else? We knock her out, of course,” Zoro said simply.

 

“Like hell I’m going to let anyone harm Usopp-tan!” Sanji snapped.

 

“Butt out, love cook. You didn’t even stop Luffy and Nami from dragging Usopp into this mess.”

 

“Like you were of any help.”

 

“I was doing my part of the mission, you dumbass!”

 

“What you call me, mosshead?”

 

Meanwhile, the other pirates observed the unfolding disaster with intrigue. One of them idly wondered if they should go back to the topic about the mission, but, well, this was more amusing to watch. Even Killer, a ruthless and bloodthirsty slaughterer, was caught up in the daytime drama to interrupt.

 

After breaking the fight between Zoro and Sanji (by giving them good whacks to the head), Nami propped her fists on her hips and clicked her tongue. “Squabbling like this is getting us nowhere! What we need to do is find Dave and get him to undo the hypnotism.”

 

“Which might serve to be a problem since there’s a chance that he’s a Devil Fruit user,” Law chimed in.

 

“Oh, right.”

 

“What’s this about him being a Devil Fruit user?” Franky asked, lifting up his sunglasses.

 

“It might be for the best if you start from the beginning,” Robin advised.

 

After Nami explained to them about their encounter with Dave, how he had disappeared shortly after hypnotizing Usopp, and her theories as to who Dave might be, Robin rubbed her chin in thought. “That is strange. If he really is someone working against us, then it’s clear that he deliberated for this to occur. He must have hoped to cause an internal conflict,” the woman speculated. “I suppose running into him might be unlikely unless he allows it.”

 

“Then we knock Usopp out,” Zoro brought up again, only to be whacked again.

 

“Hm. Nami, you said that this Dave person said a ditty to Usopp. Could you tell us what his exact words were?”

 

“Oh, uh. I think it went along the lines of ‘Gaze into these ticking hands and do what I command.’ Um.” Nami frowned as she tried to dig through her memories. “’Bibbity boppity boo. Open your eyes and then you’ll see your fate.’ Argh, no! That doesn’t sound right.”

 

“’Gaze into the ticking hands and hear and do my demands. Hippity hoppity poo. May your heart sing a tune. Open your eyes and see your fate; only then will you meet your mate’,” Kidd recited blandly.

 

Everyone turned to stare at him in incredulity.

 

“What?” he snapped defensively. “It’s easy to remember!”

 

“’Gaze into the ticking hands’,” Robin repeated. “Nami, did Dave use a watch?”

 

“He did. He hung it in front of Usopp’s face when he was saying his part.”

 

Robin nodded. “A classic instrument for hypnotism; although, any swaying object can be used to put a person in a trance. But I don’t believe ditties are typically used; I find that to be an unusual method. What else happened after that?”

 

“Usopp fell asleep and Luffy carried her elsewhere.”

 

“I thought about taking her to Chopper because she wouldn’t wake up no matter how hard I shook her, but then I remembered that Traffy’s a doctor,” Luffy explained. “Then, I saw Sanji and the others with Hawky, so I thought about seeing what was up.”

 

“I assume that when Usopp did wake up, the first person she saw was Basil Hawkins. Am I correct?”

 

“That’s right. You think that’s why she’s in love with Hawky?”

 

“‘Open your eyes and see your fate; only then will you meet your mate.’ According to that line, I believe that is the case, yes.”

 

“So, Usopp-tan could have fallen for me if she saw me first?” Sanji despaired.

 

“Her eyes would’ve exploded from the sheer nastiness of your face,” Zoro remarked.

 

“Quiet!” Nami growled, pushing the two away from one another.

 

Robin directed her attention onto Kidd and asked, “Was there anymore to the ditty?”

 

Kidd contemplated on whether he should deny them aid or not. After all, why should he help them? But then he decided, why not? They didn’t have anything important to do until the other team returned. "’When the short hand seizes twelve will your ardor soon dissolve. Lest you wish to seal the deal, brush of lips will make it real’."

 

“When it’s twelve o’clock, Usopp’s love will disappear,” Robin concluded. “But to make it permanent, kissing has to happen, which I believe must be between Usopp and Basil.”

 

“Really? Ah, Robin, you’re a genius!” Nami exclaimed happily.

 

“So, all we gotta do is prevent Usopp and Basil from smooching?” Franky grinned. “That’ll be easy! And we only have to do it for an hour.”

 

“Unless they already have kissed.”

 

“Yeah, that’s not super…”

 

“Also, it could mean midnight, not the afternoon.”

 

“Then we lock Usopp in one of the rooms and let her out tomorrow,” Zoro said.

 

“Quit making lousy suggestions!” Sanji shot him a glare.

 

“I don’t see you making any!”

 

Despite being inclined to stick around and see more of the Straw Hat Pirates’ blunderings—which was perhaps rooted from that spiteful part of him for making him endure such tribulations due to their stupidity—Law was hungry, and it didn’t seem like Sanji was going to whip up a meal anytime soon. The Heart captain slipped out of his seat and out of the room with his crewmates in tow.

 

Kidd and Killer followed suit. As they made their way to their own ship, Killer asked, “Do you think they’ll be successful?”

 

Kidd snorted. “I don’t know what to think. But as along as it doesn’t interfere with the plan, I don’t care. I’m not as meek as Trafalgar to give into Straw Hat’s pace and let him do whatever he wants.”

 

“But you did,” Killer pointed out. “As a result, his sniper got hypnotized.”

 

“Shut up, Killer.”

 


 

An hour passed and Usopp was found trailing after Hawkins like a lost puppy. A lost pining puppy with a metaphysical hearts floating around her. Unless Usopp was going gaga over the gun that Hawkins had strapped to his waist, she was still his hypnotized admirer.

 

That meant that the Straw Hat Pirates had to keep watch for twelve more hours to prevent that kiss from ever happening. Although, as Robin had mentioned, they didn’t know if Usopp and Hawkins had already kissed. The thought of their cowardly sniper doing such a thing seemed inconceivable, but, then again, her announcing her departure in the name of love was just as inconceivable.

 

Luffy decided that the best way to find out was just straight up asking. “Hey, Usopp! Did you and Hawky make out?”

 

“Luffy!” Nami hissed.

 

“No, but…” Usopp glanced at Hawkins coyly. “I’d be open for that.”

 

“Noooo!” Sanji screamed. “We gotta lock her up!”

 

“You said that it was a lousy idea,” Zoro scoffed.

 

“Who cares? We gotta keep them apart no matter the cost!”

 

And, so, Franky hauled a struggling Usopp back to the ship. As Nami and Luffy kept telling her that this was for her own good, Usopp kept spitting out curses at them. And then, to Hawkins (who watched on impassively), she declared, “I’ll be back for you, my love! I promise!”

 

“This doesn’t feel right,” Franky confessed. “I feel like an awful stepparent coming in between two teens in love.”

 

“Stepparents aren’t inherently evil,” Robin informed.

 

“Yeah, but why do the stories always depict them that way?”

 

After confiscating the equipment that she had on her person, Usopp was tossed into the guys’ room. They most certainly could not place her in the girls’ room where all her stored gadgets could be utilized for her escape. For that matter, they couldn’t place her in a lot of places because, they soon realized, Usopp could be very tricky whenever she wanted to be.

 

In the sick bay, she could use Chopper’s scalpels to pick the lock. In the kitchen, she could cause a fire. In the aquarium bar, she could cause a flood and climb herself out through the tank. Actually, in any of the rooms, she could cause an electrical surge and an explosion. Obviously, Robin wouldn’t stand placing a destructive force in her precious library, and Franky wanted to minimize the amount of damage caused to the Thousand Sunny.

 

No one would have expected the chaotic potential coming from someone with the same energy of a flighty squirrel with sky-rocketing levels of anxiety. Usopp, whenever she wasn’t overtaken by the rare bouts of insanity and recklessness, was all about self-preservation. Yet because of the influence of love, the crew learned just what lengths Usopp would go to with her self-preservation dashed.

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t have placed her in our room,” Franky said belatedly.

 

“Why’s that? Usopp’s been nothing but quiet,” Luffy said.

 

“Oh shit. That’s why.” Zoro pushed back his seat, about to take off, but it was too late.

 

The lights over their heads flickered until they died. Because it was evening, there wasn’t enough sunlight to filter through the windows. Abruptly shrouded in darkness, the crew broke into a panicked clamor until Franky turned his body into a walking blue lamp.

 

“You don’t think that…?”

 

“Who else besides Franky would be able to pull this off?”

 

The crew sprinted out to the deck, but there was no sign of their wayward sniper. As sneaky and cunning as Usopp could be, she nevertheless was someone of normal human strengths, wasn’t she? She couldn’t have gone far! With that little bit of reassurance, Nami drew in a breath and ordered, “Everyone, split up! We got a sniper to catch!”

 

Franky and Zoro stayed behind in Sunny in case Usopp was hiding somewhere, biding her time to slip away. Luffy and Sanji were running down the northern end of the pier whereas Nami and Robin took the southern end. Riding on Zeus’s back, the two women scanned the ground below.

 

At some point, Nami had to stop Zeus because they had gone too far. There was no way that Usopp would have made it all the way here in a short period of time. Could she be hiding within one of the buildings?

 

The buildings of the island had been arranged in a way that they had been constructed around the land, not within it. The locals had said something about respecting the nature, hence why the island essentially had a ring of residential and business establishments. The only way of getting anywhere was going either forward or backward, making exploring the island so straightforward that not even Zoro could get lost. Yet, somehow, Nami and Robin were unable to locate Usopp.

 

“Argh! Where could she be?” Nami groaned. “Do we gotta visit every building to find her?”

 

“How about we ask that man over there?” Robin suggested, pointing ahead.

 

“What man—holy shit! It’s Dave! Zeus, land ho!”

 

“Aye aye!” Zeus chirped and made his descent.

 

Dave was seen talking to a group of people. When he held out a fist, opened his fingers, and dropped a silver watch from his palm, Nami moved into action. Just before Zeus could touch the ground, Nami slid off the sentient cloud and bolted towards Dave. Then, with a leap, she delivered a high kick to the head. “Heeyaa!”

 

“Oof!” Dave flew forward and crashed onto his face. The people yelped at the unforeseen attack and ran away.

 

“You!” Nami hissed, pulling out her Clima-Tact. “I got something to say to you!”

 

“Apparently, you couldn’t have just said something instead of using violence as well,” grumbled Dave as he picked himself from the ground. He glanced over his shoulder and recognition settled in his eyes. “Oh, I remember you. Are you here for another show?”

 

“No!” she replied angrily. Nami swung her weapon diagonally down in front of her. “Who are you working for? The marines? Big Mom? Kaido?” Her frown deepened. “Are you maybe a here to exact revenge for what happened to Doflamingo?”

 

Dave blinked. “What?”

 

Robin placed a hand on Nami’s shoulder and gently pulled her behind her. “Hold on, Nami. Let me handle this.” In a serene voice, Robin asked him, “Are you by chance the hypnotist Dave?”

 

“That I am, ma’am,” he said, his eyebrows raising to his hairline. “May I ask what this is about?”

 

“You see, our friend has been hypnotized by you earlier today and we would like it if you could undo it.”

 

“Oh, unhappy patrons! That explains the violence. Let me guess, the hypnotism isn’t going as it should?”

 

“No, quite the opposite.”

 

Dave’s eyebrows furrowed. He was evidently confused. “I don’t understand the problem.”

 

“The problem is that our friend wants to run off with another crew and we don’t know where the hell she is!” Nami barked, poking her head around Robin. “So, whatever you did to her, undo it now!”

 

“Is that what it is? I see. I’m afraid that I can’t help you there, though. You gotta wait until twelve.”

 

“Didn’t you hear what I just said? We don’t know where she is! She could be kissing Basil right now!”

 

“That’s not my problem,” Dave said, flippant.

 

Before Nami could conjure a storm to zap the man, Robin asked, “Is it possible to hypnotize her back to normal?”

 

“It’s not of any use to layer hypnotism with hypnotism; that won’t change anything. If the second hypnotism fades away, then the first one will resume.”

 

“Not unless it’s past twelve.”

 

“No, the first hypnotism is timed to change at midnight precisely. Whether the second fades before or after, you still have to wait until midnight for the first to stay or go away.”

 

Robin tapped her chin. “Then suppose she’s unconscious. If she remains unconscious past midnight, would the hypnotism still be in effect?”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

Well, at least Sanji would be happy to know that no one would be laying a hand on Usopp.

 

“Then couldn’t you place a permanent clause like how you did with the first hypnotism?” Robin asked.

 

Dave pursed his lips. “I could, but it’s complicated.”

 

“Why is that?”

 

“Firstly, in order for my hypnotisms to be in effect, I have to come up with a rhyming scheme. Ten verses. Five to eight syllables for each verse. Secondly, creating what you just suggested is something that I’ve never done before. Who knows if it’ll work?”

 

“You’re a rather unusual hypnotist. I don’t believe that there are others who have strict requirements to hypnotize a person like how you do,” Robin observed evenly. “Rather, you’re not a real hypnotist at all, are you?”

 

Nami glanced at the woman. “Robin?”

 

Dave sighed. “Looks like you figured me out, huh? No, I’m not,” he confessed. “I’m a Devil Fruit user.”

 

The navigator startled at that. “I knew it! That’s how you were able to disappear so suddenly after hypnotizing Usopp!” Nami exclaimed.

 

“Huh?”

 

“His power isn’t to disappear at will, Nami, but to hypnotize,” Robin corrected.

 

“Wait, what?”

 

Dave explained to them that, a few years ago, he had eaten what he had thought to be an exotic fruit. While the fruit had indeed been exotic, it had been absolutely horrid to the taste. He had later discovered that he had consumed the Hypno Hypno Fruit, which had granted him the ability to command anyone into doing anything as long as they listened to his rhymes.

 

“But I’m not so terrible as to abuse my power,” Dave insisted. “I always make sure to include a clause.”

 

“Hypnotizing people is pretty terrible to begin with,” Nami groused.

 

“Uh, if so, then why did you force your friend to get hypnotized in the first place?”

 

“I never claimed to be a good person.”

 

Dave then went on to say how he had gone through a rough start when testing out the boundaries of his new power. The inhabitants of the island hadn’t been so pleased with his antics, thus leaving him without anyone to experiment on.

 

“Well, aside from those people who you scared off earlier. The only ones who I could hypnotize are tourists.”

 

“Did you imply that we’re tourists too?” Nami scowled. “We’re pirates! Haven’t you heard of the Straw Hats?”

 

“Tourists, pirates—same difference.” Dave waved his hand dismissively. “And I don’t care too much of what goes on beyond this island.”

 

“Seems like we don’t need to worry about him being an enemy spy,” Robin chuckled.

 

Nami huffed. “Okay, fine. Then tell us how you were able to disappear without us noticing.”

 

“Ah. You see this cloak? If I do this…” Dave pulled the hood over his head and drew the cape around his body. His form then shimmered out of existence, shocking Nami and Robin.

 

“Whoa! How’d you do that?”

 

“Sewn onto the fabric are the scales of phantom chameleons,” came Dave’s disembodied voice. “From what I’ve been told, they’re native to only to this island and can only survive here, so don’t get any ideas of owning one. Anyways, the scales react to body temperature.” Dave reappeared when he shook the hood off and pushed the cape behind him. He made jazz hands. “Ta da.”

 

So, this island had invisibility cloaks? The women exchanged glances. “Better not tell Sanji of this.”


“Agreed.”

 

“Anyways, I vanished like that earlier to give off an impression of mystique. It worked, didn’t it?”

 

Nami gave him a sour look.

 

“Is there anything else you ladies would like to know?” Dave asked.

 

“Yeah, one thing: Can you use your power to track down where Usopp is?”

 

“I have the Hypno Hypno power, not the Track Track power.”

 

“Ugh. Useless.”

 

“At least we cleared some things up,” Robin said. To Dave, she lowered her head in gratitude. “Thank you for your time, Dave.”

 

“Sure thing. Do you still want me to come up with something to hypnotize your friend if you find her?”

 

Robin smiled. “No, that’s quite alright. I think we can manage on our own.”

 


 

As it turned out, Usopp hadn’t been in the ship (or caused any destruction, much to Franky’s relief). However, how she had made her escape was a mystery.

 

“The door was locked when we got there, and we didn’t see anything that could have helped her get out,” reported Franky.

 

“Did the hypnotism give Usopp ghost powers?” Luffy wondered.

 

“Bwah, I doubt it, man. But I gotta ask Lil Sis on how she did it; it’s been bugging me like crazy.”

 

“If she’ll even remember this, that is,” said Zoro.

 

Usopp hadn’t been anywhere on the northern end of the pier just as much as she hadn’t been in the southern end. Nami would have deemed it an appropriate time to panic, yet Robin’s state of calm kept her oddly buoyed. Although, why the older woman was unperturbed by Usopp’s unknown whereabouts went over her head.  

 

“Robin, could it be that you know where Usopp is?” Nami asked.

 

“No, but I do believe that we have nothing to worry about until midnight.” Before Nami could ask what she meant by that, Robin continued, “First, we should inform our crewmates of our findings.”

 

After telling the guys about Dave, Luffy reacted predictably.

 

“That’s so cool! We should totally recruit him!”

 

And Sanji did as well.

 

“What a lucky bastard,” Sanji begrudgingly acknowledged. With an ability like that, he could order Zoro around or keep Luffy out of his kitchen. But never would he dare use it on woman to go against her will! (Never mind how he had asked Dave to make women fall in love with him—that was beside the point!)

 

“But did you find out about how he disappeared?” Zoro asked.

 

“That’s not important right now,” Nami dismissed. “There’s something else that Robin has to say.”

 

Robin nodded. “We don’t need to worry about Usopp kissing Basil before midnight; rather, we have to keep her from kissing him at midnight.”

 

Perplexed, everyone stared at her. “Huh?”

 

“Dave said that the hypnotism is timed to change at midnight, whether to stay or to go away,” Robin elaborated.

 

Nami dropped a fist in her palm. “I get it! For the hypnotism to be in effect, the kiss must happen by then. That means we still got time to look for Usopp.” Since it was around eight o’clock, that left them four hours.

 

“But that’s one problem we’ve yet to solve: Where is she?” Zoro said, crossing his arms.

 

At this, the group fell into silence. Usopp hadn’t been anywhere they had searched at. With a sinking feeling of dread, Nami wondered if they really would have to go through each individual building. They would most certainly do it if it meant preventing their precious friend from leaving, but she could just imagine the backlash that they would receive from the tenants. If they were lucky, then Usopp would be inside a restaurant, a store, or any other public venues.

 

As they mulled over what to do, Kidd and his crew who were passing by took notice of them. “Oi, Straw Hat!” the red-haired man called out to them. “What are you doing out here?”

 

Luffy perked up. “Hm? Oh, hey, Kidd. We’re just tryna figure out how to find Usopp.”

 

“What, you still on that?”

 

“Of course! She’s my sniper and I’m not going to let anyone take her from us.”

 

Not that Kidd didn’t respect anyone for remaining steadfast in his or her belief, but the optimism that practically radiated off the rubber man made Kidd sneer. “Yeah? And do you even know how to do that?”

 

Sensing the challenge coming from the other captain, Luffy puffed out his chest and glowered. “We do now! We gotta stop Usopp from kissing Hawky at midnight; if we do that, then she’ll turn back to normal.”

 

“So, that’s why you’re trying to find her,” noted Killer.

 

“That’s right.”

 

“Then shouldn’t you look for Basil? Wherever he is, she’s surely to be there.”

 

“If we knew where he was, then we wouldn’t have wasted all this time looking for her,” Nami huffed. Besides, how would Usopp know where Hawkins would be after they had kept her locked up inside for hours? It wasn’t as the sniper could sniff out the object of her affections or anything.

 

“Isn’t that them right there?” one of Kidd’s men asked, pointing.

 

Everyone’s eyes followed the direction of his finger, and saw, standing by the Polar Tang under a light pole, was Usopp and Hawkins.

 

Where the hell were you?” Luffy, Zoro, Nami, and Franky screamed while Sanji cried out, “Usopp-twaaan!”

 

“Eek!” Usopp squeaked and dove behind Hawkins, using him as a shield.

 

“Are you kidding me? Don’t tell me you were inside Traffy’s ship this whole time!” Nami thundered.

 

“She was,” Law piped up as he and a few others popped out of the submarine. “In fact, both of them were here, getting all cozy and comfy with one another.”

 

“It was so romantic,” deadpanned Shachi, “that I felt sick to my stomach.”

 

“I kinda liked it,” Bepo chimed with two rosy spots on his fuzzy cheeks.

 

“The hell? Why didn’t you tell us?” Sanji sputtered. “And—and why would you even do this?”

 

The look that Law fixed the Straw Hat Pirates was so ominous that Zoro’s fingers twitched for his sword. Then the doctor nonchalantly shrugged and said, “I decided to take any opportunity to make your lives unnecessarily difficult.”

 

“But…why?”

 

“Payback.”

 

“Payback for what?”

 

Before Law could answer that, Chopper pushed past the Heart Pirates’ legs and ran towards Luffy. With tearful and furious eyes, the reindeer demanded, “How could you, you bastard?”

 

Luffy blinked. “Huh?”

 

“How could you get in between Usopp and Hawky’s love like that? A young maiden can’t help who she falls in love with! I really respected you, Luffy, but you had to go and betray Usopp’s friendship like this. It’s no wonder that she’s going to elope with Hawky!"

 

“Elope?” Sanji shrieked.

 

Good grief. Of course, Usopp had to spin a wild tale and dupe one of their most gullible crewmates. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Brook had fallen for the same trick, not to mention all the other Heart Pirates.

 

“Chopper, you just fell for another of Usopp’s lies again,” Zoro sighed, rubbing his temple. “And do you really think Luffy would do such a thing?”

 

As Chopper paused to ponder over this, Usopp protested loudly, “I wasn’t lying! It’s true that I am in love with Hawkins and you guys are getting in our way!”

 

“C’mon, Usopp!” Franky called out to her pleadingly. “Don’t be like this!”

 

“Your love isn’t real—it’s hypnotism, Usopp! For the hundredth time, you are hypnotized into loving Basil!” Nami exploded.

 

“Hypnotism?” Chopper gasped, his eyes growing wide with shock.

 

“And you!” Nami continued, throwing an accusing finger at Hawkins. “I don’t even understand why you keep catering to her delusions! Do you really want our sniper that badly?”

 

“As I said before, I will not keep her from leaving nor will I deny her to join,” Hawkins replied flatly.

 

“That’s not an answer, you prick!”

 

“Man, Captain, you’re right,” Clione said as he shoveled popcorn into his mouth, “this is funny to watch.”

 

“This is getting ridiculous,” Zoro grumbled. “Usopp, we can do this the easy way or the hard way; either way, you’re coming with us.”

 

“No! I refuse!” Usopp fervently shook her head, her curls bouncing with the motion. “You don’t understand how much I need to be with him! He’s my source of happiness, my one true love. I-I can’t live without his smiles; they brighten up my world!”

 

Everyone—Straw Hat, Heart, and Kidd Pirates alike—turned their heads to look at Hawkins, whose face was as vacant as Sanji’s list of women who he had gone second base with. In bed, that was. Hawkins's pale features appeared as though he had never cracked a smile in his life; if Usopp was insisting that she couldn’t live without his smiles, then they could only assume that she was a zombie.

 

“Why can’t you guys just leave me alone?” Usopp sniffled.  

 

“Yeah! Leave her alone, you jerks,” one of the Heart Pirates exclaimed, chucking popcorn at Zoro.

 

“Stay out of this!” Zoro yelled.

 

“Shit, what am I seeing here?” Kidd muttered to himself as he watched the Heart Pirates, sans a smirking Law, root for Usopp and Hawkins and boo at the Straw Hat Pirates. He objectively knew that this was just a sequel to more pointless drama that the Straw Hat Pirates had accrued for themselves, yet, for some reason, his feet remained planted to the ground. “Why am I seeing this?”

 

“Beats me,” Heat said around a mouthful of popcorn. Where did he get that? “Wants some, Captain?”

 

Kidd stared at the offered snack before grabbing a handful. “Sure. Why not.”

 

“Even if it’s true that you love him, how can you be sure that he’ll ever return your feelings?” Nami retorted.

 

Usopp grimaced. “Though it would break my heart knowing that he may never feel the same way as I do, I at least know that he cares about me.” She pulled out the straw-woven flower that had been tucked into her hair, and then held it up high for all to see. “See this? Hawkins made it for me. He said that I reminded him of yellow daisies that bloomed in the meadows of spring islands that he visited. He made it out of straw so that it could never die.” Usopp brought it close to her bosom. “So that I could never forget about him.”

 

Nami gritted her teeth to prevent the “aww” from coming out of her. She hated to admit it, but that was just downright adorable.

 

Robin didn’t bother to hide how she felt about that. “How romantic,” she sighed with her hand cupping her cheek.

 

“Franky, are you crying?” Zoro asked in disbelief.

 

“Shut up, man,” Franky grunted. “I just got something in my eye, that’s all.”

 

Luffy frowned as he stepped forward. “What about your dream to become the greatest warrior of the seas?”

 

Usopp faltered at that. “I-I told you, being with Hawkins is my new dream. Nothing else matters unless I’m with him.”

 

He shook his head. “I don’t believe that. Tell me, why did you train for two years? It couldn’t be for a purpose that you can easily throw away.” He extended a hand out to her. “And I don’t believe that you really want to throw us away either. Come back to us, Usopp.”

 

She flinched. With widened eyes, Usopp stared at him.

 

When she didn’t respond, Luffy dropped his arm. “I’ll give you a choice: Return to Sunny after midnight and, whatever you want to do, I’ll accept your decision.”

 

“Luffy,” Nami began, but she quieted when she noticed her captain’s expression.

 

“Everyone, let’s go,” Luffy ordered, marching his way back to Sunny. One by one, the Straw Hat Pirates turned around and followed Luffy, but not before giving Usopp one more glance. “We’ll be waiting,” their eyes seemed to read.

 

Usopp watched their departing figures disappear into the distance, her lower lip trembling and her hands desperately clenching around the flower. Hawkins approached her from behind and placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him and embraced him; the way she pressed her body against him appeared as though she was beseeching for comfort, to which the man readily gave her by placing a hand on her back.

 

Sad music would have been perfect right now.

 

“It ended in a cliffhanger!” Penguin sighed. “Dang it.”

 

“That ended sooner than expected,” remarked Ikkaku. “What now?”

 

Law threw an interested glance at the Kidd Pirates. “Want to wager a bet?”


 

 

“Think of it this way,” Zoro said, “she doesn’t know that she has to kiss at twelve.”

 

“But Luffy freaking told Kidd about that, and Kidd could have told Usopp and Basil,” Nami moaned.

 

“Okay, but why would Kidd even do that? As far as we know, he doesn’t give a shit about what goes on in our crew.”

 

“No, he told her,” Robin said. “I left an ear nearby. The Kidd and Heart Pirates made a bet over whether Usopp would choose to be with us or Basil. Kidd betted on Basil, hence why he informed her.”

 

Everyone’s jaws hit the floor.

 

“I messed up!” Luffy cried, his hands in his hair.

 

“Nooo! Usopp-tan’s gonna leave meee!”

 

“I can’t believe they would bet on that!”

 

“I can’t believe that you guys made Usopp get hypnotized!” Chopper fumed. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

 

“We messed up! We know!” Luffy and Nami cried together.

 

“Maybe if we hurry, we can nab Usopp, knock her out, and force her awake right before midnight,” Franky suggested.

 

“It’s not a good idea to force an unconscious person into consciousness,” Chopper argued.

 

“Maybe we should go find Dave and have him hypnotize Usopp-tan with a condition,” Sanji pitched in. “Like, at midnight, if you kiss a certain handsome cook, you’ll stay as a Straw Hat.”

 

“Yeah, but where are we going to get a handsome cook?” Zoro asked.

 

As Sanji and Zoro duked it out, Nami asked Luffy, “What should we do?”

 

Luffy frowned. “We’re going to wait for Usopp.”

 

“But Kidd told Usopp about the midnight kiss! She’s definitely going to stay with Basil.”

 

“We don’t know that for sure,” Robin interjected smoothly. “Basil doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who would kiss someone just to bring her over to his side.”

 

There was the unspoken “And he doesn’t seem like the kind of man to kiss at all” that everyone heard.

 

Nami hesitantly accepted that. “I guess that’s true.”

 

“Then again, he did seem quite taken with her,” Robin added, a thoughtful look taking over her face. “He made her that flower, after all.”

 

“That’s not reassuring at all, Robin!”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Luffy burst out, the volume of his voice causing everyone to go still. “I trust Usopp and I know that she’ll come back to us. You’ll see.” He lifted his head to grin at them. “She’ll be here telling us cool stories and showing off her inventions just like before!”

 

Slowly, everyone returned his smile. Their captain was right—they had to have faith in Usopp. After travelling this long and far together, her memories of being their sniper, their friend, their family would surely shine through the hypnotism’s sway. And they knew Usopp—she wouldn’t abandon them like this! Their bond was stronger than steel, and no Devil Fruit power could ever change that.   

 

With their spirits lifted, everyone decided to stay up together and wait for Usopp’s return.

 

The seconds ticked away. Chopper struggled to keep awake since it was past his bedtime; eventually, he fell asleep on top of a snoring Zoro’s lap. Robin was reading a book. Franky was tinkering. Nami was sketching a basic layout of a map on a notebook. Sanji was cleaning the dishes. Luffy was staring intently out the window.

 

It was ten minutes past twelve. Usopp must be on her way right now…

 

There was a knock on the dining room’s door.

 

“Usopp!” Luffy scrambled to the door, and everyone jolted.

 

Luffy threw open the door with a wide grin. “Uso—!” He paused.

 

“Luffy? What is it?” Nami hurried over to his side, and then gasped at what she saw.

 

Hawkins stood at the doorway with an unconscious Usopp in his arms. Without preamble, he entered and moved across the room to gently place her on the couch.

 

“Calm yourself, Black Leg, Pirate Hunter,” Hawkins said without turning around. “I assure you that Usopp-san is unharmed.”

 

With great reluctance, Sanji lowered his leg and Zoro sheathed his sword.

 

“Wh-what happened to her?” Chopper tentatively inquired.

 

“When it was seconds after midnight, she fainted.”

 

“What? Why?” Nami demanded.

 

“I presume it to be because we did not kiss at midnight.”

 

After a beat of silence, the crew broke out into loud noises of relief and cheer. “I knew that Usopp wouldn’t do it!” Luffy guffawed. “What’d I tell ya?”

 

“That’s our sniper,” Zoro said, smirking.

 

“Thank goodness!” Franky blubbered. “I was worried for a second! I mean, what would I do without my engineer partner?”

 

“Usopp-twan! I’m so happy!” Sanji cried.

 

“She resisted the hypnotism!” Nami exclaimed happily, clapping her hands.

 

“Actually, she did not.”

 

Everyone paused at that.

 

“She insisted on kissing me,” Hawkins continued. “It’s because I turned her down that the hypnotism has worn off.”

 

Hearing that was like a punch to the gut. Reflexively, they wanted to disagree. They wanted to accuse him of lying—rather, they wanted him to lie. How could Usopp give in to the hypnotism? What about their stronger-than-steel bond? Usopp couldn’t have been that infatuated with Hawkins to easily surrender her life with them to be with him.

 

Yet it was just as Robin had said: Hawkins wasn’t the kind of man to secure Usopp’s loyalty in such a manner. More so, he wasn’t the kind of man who would lie about this either.

 

Disheartened by the news, the Straw Hat Pirates wilted. “No way…”

 

“Don’t be disappointed. The influence of the Hypno Hypno abilities is powerful no matter how much of a novice the user is. Even those with the mightiest of willpower would struggle to combat the effects.”

 

Nami drew her head back. “How—how did you know that? Hold on, you know about Dave?”

 

Hawkins nodded. “The cards told me.”

 

The cards…?

 

“For the user’s safety, it would be wise to maintain discretion. Many people, marines and pirates alike, would seek to utilize his power for their own purposes,” Hawkins advised.

 

Everyone exchanged looks, feeling wary by the thought of some villain abusing the unassuming man’s powers. If Blackbeard caught wind of someone possessing the Hypno Hypno ability, then that would be the end of everything. Nami shuddered at that. “We should tell him to keep his trap shut tomorrow, then.”

 

“That aside, at least Usopp isn’t going anywhere,” Robin said with a smile.

 

There was a groan, and eyes darted over to where Usopp was. Usopp brought a hand to her face and rubbed her forehead. “Ugh. What happened?” she muttered.

 

“Usopp!” Chopper blurted her name in excitement. Everyone quickly gathered around her, and Hawkins stepped back to get out of their way. “Are you okay?”

 

“Usopp! You’re up!” Luffy said. “Do you still want to be with Hawky?”

 

“What?” She lowered her hand and gave him a bewildered stare. “Why would I want to be with that creeeeeee—” her eyes landed on the reticent man who hung by at the back “—eeeative person? Do you see his style? Man, being with him will only make me go self-conscious because of how creative he is.”

 

With a grin that stretched from ear to ear, Luffy announced, “She’s back to normal!”


 

When the women retired to their rooms that night, Nami and Robin told her what had happened.

 

“Are you serious?” Usopp gasped. “I don’t remember any of it!” She then scowled at Nami. “Actually, the last thing that I do remember is you forcing me to get hypnotized.”

 

“I said that I’m sorry!” Nami huffed, throwing her hands in the air. “Fine, how about this? I’ll take off two thousand beris off your debt; sounds like a good deal, huh?”

 

Usopp narrowed her eyes. “Ten thousand.”

 

“Ten—are you trying to rob me blind?”

 

“Now, now,” Robin cut in with a chuckle, “how about we settle this in the morning?”

 

Usopp was about to complain when her lips stretched open for a yawn. “Right,” she relented. “In the morning.”

 

“Ten thousand,” Nami grumbled as she climbed onto her bed. “Sheesh.”

 

Usopp rolled her eyes and made her way to the vanity. When she tugged her hair-tie free, something fell off of her head and clattered onto the vanity. “What the,” she murmured, picking up the object. It was pieces of straw that were twisted expertly into a flower. It was pretty to look at, but what was it doing in her hair?

 

“But why?” Tears ran down her face. “I-I thought that you—you—”

 

He slid a hand to her jawline and cradled her cheek. With his thumb, he swiped away the droplets. “I do, but I don’t want it to be done this way,” he whispered. “When you return to your senses, if you still feel the same way as you do now, I’ll be here. You’ll always have a place with me.”

 

She grasped his hand and held on tightly. “Do you promise?”

 

“Yes.” He leaned in, the long locks of his hair curtaining her, and brushed his lips against her forehead. “I do.”

 

Usopp jerked suddenly and rapidly blinked back into awareness.

 

“Usopp?” she heard Robin call out to her. “Are you alright?”

 

The sniper stared at the straw flower. Then, with a shake of her head, she placed it on the vanity. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Chapter Text

The banquet had gone off without a hitch. As the ships sailed out of the waters of Dressrosa, everyone fell into tandem of diving into the food, throwing back their booze, and having a good time. There were some men who were doing silly dances, and there were others who were literally leaping off into the air and doing crazy acrobatics. Many of them surprisingly had already fallen into a drunken stupor.

 

Luffy was fighting over a huge slab of meat with two other men and came out as victorious (of course). Franky was showing off his hair installments by getting a group of Tontottas to press his nose. Zoro was sitting by a disgruntled Trafalgar’s side, laughing boisterously as he shared a drink with a long-armed man and a long-legged man.

 

Usopp was with Robin and the other Tontottas, regaling them a time when she had single-handedly defeated a giant man-eating plant. Just when she was about to describe how she had managed to blow off the plant’s vines to her engrossed audience, a large presence made himself known.

 

Everyone turned around. Standing next to them was a large hulking man with a thick white beard and mustache. Immediately, Usopp noticed that the crown of his head was tapered off into a thin cone, except it was bent perpendicular to the rest of his body.

 

Despite his imposing height and build, this man had a grandfatherly air about him, especially when he regarded them with a kind smile behind his wooly beard.

 

“Hello, God Usopp,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to speak to you.”

 

“Um, yes?” Usopp blinked rapidly, completely puzzled as to why this person would want to talk to her. The Tontottas fluttered about curiously.

 

“I am Chinjao of the Happo Navy. You may not know this, but I was one of the many who was turned into a doll and forced into labor down in the factory. It is because of you and your friends that we have been freed from what could have been an eternal nightmare.” He lowered his head. “You have my thanks, God Usopp.”

 

She gawked before quickly recovering. “It was nothing! Just doing what anyone would do,” she declared, puffing out her chest proudly.

 

“Nonsense! I know for a fact that facing any of Doflamingo’s subordinates is no easy feat. It takes an incredibly brave and skilled warrior to come out on top, and you, my dear, are certainly one.”

 

Usopp hadn’t gotten a compliment like that before. As she stared at the old man in bewilderment, Robin chuckled, saying, “That’s our sniper. She is the best there is.”

 

“Usoland is the coolest!” cheered the Tontottas.

 

“Indeed. And to thank you for your bravery, I would like to introduce you to someone.” Over his shoulder, Chinjao called out, “Boo! Get over here.”

 

Usopp closed her mouth, her teeth clicking. Introduce her to someone? How was that a repayment in gratitude? Unless it was customary to do so wherever Chinjao was from? She glanced over at Robin in confusion, only to see the older woman appearing confused as well.

 

Plodding next to Chinjao’s side was a shirtless man with long orangish brown hair. He was barrel-chested and wore a roguish grin. While he wasn’t as tall as Chinjao, he nevertheless towered over both Usopp and Robin. “Yeah, Gramps?”

 

“Come greet God Usopp. God Usopp, I would like you to meet my grandson Boo. He is the vice-leader of the Happo Navy. A strong and capable fighter, not to mention a man of leadership qualities and fortitude. If anything were to happen to my first grandson Sai, then Boo would be the one to step up and lead our people.”

 

“Ah, shucks, Gramps. What’re you doing bragging about me for?” Boo smiled sheepishly before turning towards Usopp, bowing. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, God Usopp.”

 

Usopp startled and returned the gesture. “A-ah, yes, likewise!”

 

Chinjao clapped his hands. “Now that introductions have been made, let’s get down to business.”

 

This was getting more and more confusing. Usopp still didn’t understand what meeting Boo had to do with thanking her for what she had done. Was Chinjao planning on making Boo her subordinate or something? But if so, why surrender someone important for a downgrading position like that? She looked up at the old man and asked, “What do you mean?”

 

“Why, we need to discuss about your and Boo’s nuptials, of course.”

 

“What,” said Robin.

 

“What?” cried out Usopp and Boo.

 

What?” screamed two new voices. Standing before them were two men—one lanky and one burly—who were openly gawking at them. “God Usopp is getting married?”

 

“Whoa! A marriage? We must celebrate!” the Tontottas burst out excitedly.

 

“No no no!” Usopp shouted, flailing. “What the hell? I’m not getting married to anyone! Where’d you get that idea, old man?”

 

“Ah, well, you see, Sai is now engaged to his new fiancé Baby 5—” at the mention of said fiancé, Chinjao pointed at where a man was being lovingly fed by an incredibly pretty woman “—and I thought about how Boo was without a partner himself.”

 

“Gramps!” Boo gasped, mortified.

 

“So, to further establish the Happo Navy’s loyalty to the Straw Hat Pirates and to ensure that Boo gets a wife, I believe that the best way to settle both is to arrange a marriage between you and him,” Chinjao finished, obviously delighted of the idea that he had come up with.

 

So much for thinking that he was going to hand Boo over as a subordinate; no, he intended on handing Boo over as a freaking husband! Usopp’s eyes flickered back to the grandson and their eyes coincidentally met; flustered, they quickly looked away.

 

“G-Gramps, I’m grateful that you’re looking out for me, but this really isn’t necessary—” Boo tried to say but was cut off by Chinjao’s fervent denial.

 

“Don’t be like that, Boo! Don’t you see that this is a good opportunity? Look at her! She’s God Usopp, and you can’t say that she’s bad looking.”

 

“Well, okay, she’s cute, but—” Then Boo cut himself off as his face took on an instant shade of red. Usopp herself felt the blood rush to her cheeks.

 

“See? She’s a catch! Trust your grandfather, would you?” Chinjao chortled, slapping him on the back.

 

“My, this is rather interesting,” Robin giggled.

 

“Yay! Marriage!” the Tontottas exclaimed and, when no one had been looking, had already conjured a new supply of food and drinks to pass around. “Celebration time!”

 

“No celebration time!” Usopp snapped, waving away the offered cup.

 

“Hey, what’s going on here?”

 

Approaching the group were the long-limbed pair who had been with Zoro and Trafalgar earlier. While the long-legged man took an expression of interest, the long-armed man—who Usopp recognized to be one of the representatives of the newly created grand fleet—looked over to the lanky and burly man with a raised eyebrow. To them, he asked, “Jeet, Abdullah, what’s going on?”

 

“God Usopp is getting married!” Jeet and Abdullah yelled.

 

Just when the long-legged man spat out his drink, there was a resounding shriek of “Whaaat?” Coming in like a whirlwind appeared Luffy’s number one fanboy, Bartolomeo. His jaw was hanging and his eyes were popping, not unlike how Jeet and Abdullah had looked in the beginning.

 

“Uso-Uso-Usopp-senpai is getting m-m-m-married?” Bartolomeo cried. “To who?”

 

“To my grandson, of course,” Chinjao boasted, glowing like a happy rooster.

 

“I never agreed to that!” Usopp shouted. “And, for the record, I never agreed to any sort of marriage—period!”

 

Somehow, Bartolomeo had managed to interpret her words another way—the wrong way—because he immediately began to size up Boo and growl out, “Who the hell do you think you are, forcing Usopp-senpai to marry your sorry ass?”

 

Boo, despite also being an unwilling participant of his grandfather’s matching games, didn’t appreciate being a subject of intimidation. He drew his shoulders back and snarled, “Sorry ass? Who do you think you’re talking to, you mullet-headed freak?”

 

“I’m the man who’s gonna kick your sorry ass into next Tuesday if you don’t quit your pathetic delusions of grandeur.”

 

Noticing the escalating trouble, Usopp chanted under her breath, “Crap, crap, crap, crap.” Out of desperation, she latched onto the closest person next to her and pleaded, “Stop them!”

 

The person who she had thought she grabbed was Robin, but the person who she had actually grabbed was Jeet, who had migrated over to her side when she hadn’t been paying attention. Jeet gaped down at the grip she had on his sleeve before kneeling in front of her like a gallant knight. “At once, milady!”

 

Jeet threw himself at Boo and Bartolomeo with an inane war cry until he was swatted away like a fly.

 

“Milady, would you like me to try?” Abdullah quickly volunteered, bouncing around like an excitable puppy.

 

“Are you nuts? Did you not see what happened to Jeet?” the long-armed man asked incredulously. “Why even ask?”

 

“I’d do anything for God Usopp!”

 

Usopp, overwhelmed by...whatever was going on, backed away until her back hit the wall of the deck. 

 

Jeet was lying a few yards away, unconscious. Abdullah was beaming at her, waiting for her response. The long-limbed pair were staring at unfolding chaos in bewilderment. Boo and Bartolomeo were just about to duke it out; Boo was reaching behind him for his weapons that were strapped to his back while Bartolomeo was crossing his fingers. Meanwhile, Robin and Chinjao were amiably conversing to one another as though this shitstorm wasn’t going on.

 

“Are you kidding me?” Usopp cried at Robin and Chinjao.

 

Then, suddenly, a flash of white and yellow appeared, entering the scene like lightening. Boo and Bartolomeo were now lying flat on their backs as a handsome blond man—another of the representatives—stood between them. The man clicked his tongue at them and sheathed his sword. “Honestly, if you start fighting now, then what do you think will happen to the morale of the fleet? I thought better of you, Bartolomeo.”

 

“Hey, hey, hey! It’s not like I was the one picking a fight here, Cabbage!” Bartolomeo growled out defensively, propping himself up.

 

“Are you stupid? Yes, you were!” Boo retaliated.

 

“W-well, I wouldn’t need to if you weren’t strong-arming Usopp-senpai into marriage!”

 

Cabbage staggered. “What?”

 

“I’m not! This is just Gramps’s idea of strengthening the Happo Navy’s loyalty to the Straw Hat Pirates,” Boo insisted.

 

“Lies!” Bartolomeo accused before looking at Usopp for confirmation. Usopp mouthed to him that Boo was, in fact, not lying. His gasped. “What? Seriously?”

 

“And why would marriage be the answer to that?” Cabbage scoffed, flabbergasted. “For that matter, why would Straw Hat agree to marry his sniper to you? if anything, he should have gone to me.” He snootily threw his tresses over his shoulder, somehow creating metaphysical sparkles around him. “I’m clearly the superior choice here.”

 

“As far as I know, Straw Hat doesn’t even know about this; also, there isn’t even an actual agreement going on.” And then Boo added furiously, “And I’m not that bad of a choice! Why do people keep implying that?”

 

“So Usoland isn’t marrying anyone?” one of the Tontottas inquired.

 

“No, I’m not,” Usopp firmly stated. There was a feeling of hope that rose within her. Were they going to clear this misunderstanding and get on with their lives?

 

“But that can be changed,” Chinjao cut in, and effectively snuffed out that hope. Oh, great, she had forgotten about his absurd resolve on this matter. The old man stepped out of the sidelines to stand next to his grandson. “God Usopp, would you consider—”

 

“No! No no no. A definite no.” Usopp planted a foot forward and mustered a shred of willpower to continue. It looked like she had to take the situation in her own hands (because Robin didn’t appear like she was going to lend any help any time soon). “I-I am so sorry, but I have no interest in getting married soon. Please don’t take any offense!”

 

Chinjao wasn’t offended; rather, he seemed confused. “That’s what engagements are for.”

 

Arrrgh! “It’s too soon for me to even think about marriage! I’m not sure if I even want to get married at all.” Not that she would be wholly against getting married (at least, in the far and distant future where she had completed fulfilling her dream and could possibly be interested in taking up a lover), but she wasn't really set on it either. Additionally, she didn't want to be tied in holy matrimony with a man who she barely knew.

 

The group of men paused at this and exchanged looks. “How old are you?” Boo asked.

 

“N-nineteen,” Usopp answered meekly.

 

“Nineteen? You’re not too young for engagements, not even for marriages,” dismissed Chinjao. “Why, I myself got married when I was seventeen!”

 

“My ma told me that she had me when she was eighteen,” Abdullah mentioned.

 

“Back before I was banished from my kingdom, I was engaged to fourteen princesses when I was, well, fourteen,” Cabbage stated smugly, raising his nose to the air.

 

Holy cow, what? Usopp felt beads of sweat forming on her forehead, and she anxiously wiped them off with the back of her hand. Were adolescent marriages common here in the Grand Line? She couldn’t imagine something like that happening to her. Not even her own parents had married young. If Usopp remembered correctly, according to her mother, both of them had been in their mid to late twenties.

 

“In terms of age, Ideo would be the best fit for God Usopp,” the long-legged man said. “He’s twenty-two, after all.”

 

“Don’t drag me into this,” Ideo hissed.

 

Chinjao harrumphed and shook his head. “The difference in age isn’t an issue when it comes to love!” Love? What love? There wasn’t love in this equation! “And, besides, Boo is twenty-seven; there isn’t that much of an age difference.”

 

“Ha, I’m twenty-six! I’m closer in age with God Usopp than any of you,” Cabbage sneered.

 

“Hey, I’m twenty-four!” Bartolomeo protested.

 

“Are you joking? You look like you could be forty.”

 

“What did you say?” the green-haired man shouted in anger.

 

“Are we forgetting about Ideo being twenty-two?” the long-legged man persisted.

 

“Would you stop it, Blue Gilly?” Ideo snapped.

 

Blue Gilly grinned down at the long-armed man. “What? I’m just helping my dear captain out! Don’t tell me you don’t want to take this chance to be engaged to God Usopp, do you?”

 

“What?” Ideo shouted, alarmed. “Why would I want that?”

 

“I mean, you were eyeballing her ever since we got here, so I figured—"

 

“I-I wasn’t! What the hell are you talking about?”

 

“But you were, Cap!” a miraculously revived Jeet said as he hobbled back to the group. “I would know since Abdullah and I were also basking in the glory of the wondrous God Usopp!”

 

“Then your eyes would have been on her and not on me,” Ideo gritted out with thinly veiled patience.

 

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of!” Bartolemeo piped up with sparkling enthusiasm, his previous antagonism gone with the wind. “To marvel at any one of the Straw Hat Pirates is something that we should all do together!” He punched the air and declared wholeheartedly, “That is what unites us as one—as a part of the Straw Hat Grand Fleet! Yaaah!” He snatched a Tontotta in each hand and held them up in the air. “Yaaaaaah!”

 

Yaaaaaah!” the Tontottas roared.

 

“Yeah, but Ideo was paying special attention to God Usopp, so.” Blue Gilly shrugged.

 

The tinge of red that colored Ideo’s face was either from anger or embarrassment. It was hard to tell.

 

“So, about that engagement,” Chinjao brought up, and Usopp resisted the urge to groan aloud.

 

“Okay. Um, that may be true for you guys that marriage can be done at a young age,” Usopp began tentatively, “but those from East Blue…follow a set of guidelines before entering an engagement.”

 

Chinjao blinked. “You’re from East Blue?”

 

Usopp nodded quickly, and her brain quickly cranked its creative gears like how it usually would whenever she came up with a story. “I am! I know that you don’t get to encounter a lot of folks from East Blue out here in the Grand Line, so I understand that you may be unfamiliar with our customs.” She cleared her throat. “You see, it’s improper for any East Blue native to be involved in an engagement before obtaining the approval of both of our guardians. Furthermore, marriage cannot occur unless both individuals are well into their twenties.”

 

“Why, I had no idea,” Chinjao gasped.

 

“Erm, th-that’s right! I, a fellow East Blue native, can affirm that,” Bartolomeo added. Usopp blinked at that. Bartolomeo was from East Blue too? Well, as long as he was playing along, she was grateful for him chiming in.

 

“So that’s why you said that you were too young for marriage,” Cabbage noted.

 

“Yup, that’s right.” Just to be safe, Usopp added, “But, more specifically, on my island, there are particular customs that are strictly adhered to. And even though I have long left home, I am a Syrup Island girl through and through! I won’t settle for a man who won’t abide by my homeland’s culture!”

 

“Such dedication!” Chinjao said in awe. “Very well, God Usopp. Is there anymore to these customs?”

 

“Of course! You see, not only do you have to obtain the approval of my parent, but the husband-to-be must prove that he is capable of providing for his bride and any subsequent children."

 

"Then the payment of bride services, yes?"

 

"Well, that would be a given for any marriage, but there's more to it than that." Thus, Usopp proceeded telling the group of men how an engagement would be properly established between two people back in Syrup Village. With eight people giving her their rapt attention (twenty people if she counted Robin and the Tontottas), she slipped into her storytelling mode. Embellishing and polishing and crafting her fictional culture, she did what she could as a wordsmith to sell her masterpiece.

 

Usopp didn't realized that she had been getting caught up in her lie until she had finished.

 

"Amazing," Chinjao said. "I had no idea that the inhabitants of your island were so committed to their practice. I admire their conviction!"

 

"Uh." Usopp forced a smile. "Naturally."

 

"I dunno. Sounds like a bunch of stodgy old traditionalists," Blue Gilly said skeptically.

 

Jeet and Abdullah gasped, appalled. "Don't be a bigot, Blue Gilly!"

 

Blue Gilly huffed, crossing his arms. "If a set of rules exist, then they ought to be criticized in favor of creating better ones."

 

"Since when were you such a political analyst?" Ideo snorted, shooting his companion a dry glance.

 

"Well, I for one think that it's beautiful that you follow your customs so diligently, God Usopp," Cabbage announced. He held his hand up high and closed his eyes, his lips morphing into a serene smile. He was posed as though he was waiting for a dove to land on his palm. "The respect that you hold for your ancestors—that you would honor their memory by practicing their customs...! Such dedication is certainly a commendable trait."

 

"Human customs are so bizarre," whispered a Tontotta.

 

"Usopp-senpai, hearing you explain your homeland's culture is so incredible!" bawled Bartolomeo. “I’m so touched that you would share it with us! Thank you!” Good grief, Bartolomeo wasn't supposed to fall for her lies!

 

"God Usopp, please tell me the names of your parents so that Boo can uphold your customs," Chinjao requested.

 

"Gramps," Boo groaned, plopping his face on his hand.

 

Despite knowing that this would bite her in the butt one day, this was something that Usopp could not lie about. "My mother passed away when I was young, but my father is alive. He’s Yasopp, the sniper of the Red Hair Pirates," Usopp said, grinning widely with pride.

 

"Red Hair Pirates—as in, the crew of Red Hair Shanks, one of the Yonko?" gawked Abdullah.

 

"And your father is his sniper?" Jeet added with equal incredulity.

 

"As expected of God Usopp!" the two cried out.

 

Her family relation was nothing compared to Luffy's, what with him being the son of the Revolutionary Army leader, grandson of a famous vice-admiral, and brother of the Revolutionary Army's chief of staff and Fire Fist Ace. But she was indeed proud of how far her father had gone in his pirate career. After all, being a part of a Yonko's crew, not to mention help Shanks become one, was a pretty big deal.

 

"Ah, Chaser Yasopp. Yes, I know of him." Chinjao smoothed his beard. "I can see where you get your talents from, young lady. Ahh, I can just imagine what strong great-grandchildren you and Boo will make for me," he hummed, his expression wistful.

 

"Hey!" Usopp and Boo cried, their faces turning red.

 

"Hm? Oh, I was getting ahead of myself." The old man coughed into his fist. "We must do what is proper and follow according to tradition first."

 

This man really was intending on going through with it, wasn't he? Usopp inwardly berated herself for the lie that she had created—it wasn't zany enough!—but what was done was done. Before she could give herself up to this nonsense, she caught a glimpse of the resignation that Boo was already displaying. Hmm. Maybe there was something that she could do to escape this insanity once and for all.

 

"Chinjao-san, as flattering as it is to see your eagerness, have you asked what your grandson might want?" Usopp innocently inquired.

 

Chinjao blinked. "Pardon?"

 

"It just seems like you've been making decisions for him instead of consulting with him. Sure, this union might be beneficial for both of our crews, but would your grandson's unhappiness be worth it?"

 

"Bah, if he's unhappy with it now, then he'll get over it later," dismissed Chinjao. "I certainly did when I got married."

 

"Yes, but you're you and Boo is Boo. Just because I'm willing to follow my grandparents' path—" not that she had ever known her grandparents "—doesn't mean you should force your grandson to do the same," she persisted. And for a good measure, she added, "Besides, the happiest of children are born out of parents who are in love." Not that she knew about that either since her father had left home when she had been quite young, but it seemed like common sense.

 

Chinjao appeared to be considering her words, and he turned his attention onto Boo. "Boo? Are you opposed to the engagement?"

 

Boo rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm not necessarily against it, but...the whole thing seems kinda forced, ya know? The situation’s been thrust upon us and we’re supposed to take it? Doesn’t seem right, Gramps.”

 

“Boo…”

 

“I know that Big Bro Sai was okay getting himself into an arranged marriage with Chichilisia’s daughter, but, in the end, he was able to decide on who he would settle with for the rest of his life. I want to make my own decision too.”

 

Chinjao hung his head and sighed. “I apologize, Boo. You’re right; that was wrong of me to do such a thing. It’s just... After seeing Sai so happy with Baby 5, I wanted to see you enjoy the same marital bliss as they do.”

 

“They’re not even married yet,” groaned Boo. “But…I appreciate you looking out for me.”

 

“Of course, I would. You’re one of my precious grandsons, after all.”

 

The grandfather and grandson shared an endearing moment of love and acceptance and understanding. If they weren’t manly men, they probably would have embraced each other. Touched by the heartwarming display of the men just smiling at one another (because they were too manly to hug), Jeet and Abdullah sniffled. Even Bartolomeo, despite the row he had with Boo, was tearing up.

 

With one clap to Boo’s shoulder, Chinjao then turned his attention onto Usopp. “God Usopp, it appears that I owe you yet again. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.”

 

Usopp smiled. “It’s no problem. I’m just glad that it all ended well.” And that there wasn’t going to be an engagement happening.

 

When Usopp ambled back to Robin’s side, she shot the older woman a sour look. "Thanks for nothing, Robin," Usopp grumbled.

 

“Oh, I don’t know. I’d say that you handled the situation wonderfully,” Robin chuckled.

 

“Are you kidding me? I was stressing out over there! I really could’ve used your help.”

 

Meanwhile, Chinjao was sighing. “Though I must admit, it is a shame to not go through this. To have God Usopp as a part of our family would have been amazing.”

 

Boo coughed into his fist. “Well, I did say that I wasn’t against it.”

 

The grandfather stilled, hope lighting in his eyes. “Boo, you mean…?”

 

“I may not have liked being forced into an engagement, but I wouldn’t say no to help.” Boo glanced at Usopp. “And, besides, you were right—she is a catch.”

 


 

Another bird soared by and dropped the parcel onto the growing mound. Yasopp stared at the pile critically.

 

“Why do these people keep sending me shit?”

 

“More like, why are all the same pirates sending you the same kind of shit?” Shanks grabbed the closest parcel and checked the label. “Oh, this guy is new—Ideo from the Ideo Pirates.”

 

The sniper dug his fingers into his hair. “I don’t understand. Why the hell are they sending me wedding rings and fruitcake?”

Chapter Text

 

Despite Luffy’s firm declaration that his crewmates were all important to him, everyone knew that his stance of impartiality wasn’t so unshakeable.

 

They had all seen him clinging onto the Usopp and dragging her around with an excuse to explore an island. Really, they knew that he just wanted to monopolize the sniper’s time. But Luffy was so blind to this fact that not even Sanji could berate him for it.

 

Usopp, being the target of Luffy’s fancy, was more or less aware of the reasons behind her captain’s actions. But, well, being the crush of Luffy was kind of…confusing.

 

For one, it was difficult to determine whether Luffy actually was crushing on her or not; for all she knew, he could be regarding her as his best friend—completely and absolutely platonic and no romantic feelings whatsoever.

 

Another reason was that Luffy didn’t understand romance at all. Love, he knew. He loved his friends and his family, and he loved meat and playing games and partying; and Luffy wasn’t so hopeless that he didn’t know how to differentiate between those types of love. But while he knew familial, platonic, and materialistic love, love shared between partners was a concept that seemed to fly over his head.

 

It wasn’t that Luffy didn’t recognize what romance looked like. After all, there was Sanji (who wasn’t a good example, but he was the only one available), yet his level of understanding didn’t pass what a toddler knew. If two people really, really, really liked each other, they would throw a huge party and then live together—that was how Luffy would describe marriage. 

 

Usopp didn’t want to begin thinking how Luffy would describe dating.

 

Although Luffy himself perhaps didn't fully comprehend what exactly he felt towards her, if there was anything special at all, Usopp was willing to be patient. After all, she herself was in love with him, and she would be here until he made that realization himself.

Chapter Text

After saving a family of farmers from a group of bandits, the family had invited the crew over for dinner. Of course, Sanji couldn’t bring himself to have Mrs. Potts cook by herself to serve nine additional people, so he had waltzed inside her kitchen and had helped the woman prepare the food.

 

When dinner—a lovely pot roast with mashed potatoes and peas; it was quite homey—had been consumed, the daughter of Mr. Potts and Mrs. Potts had eagerly ushered the crew to the living room to show off her pet raccoon.

 

“This is Darius,” Lilianna introduced, presenting the plump animal that sat in the center of the rug. Darius blearily blinked at the several pairs of eyes that were on him and gave a yawn. “He’s a raccoon, kind of like your tanuki over there.”

 

“I’m not a tanuki!” Chopper snapped.

 

“Nice ta meet ya, Darius,” Luffy said, bending down to run his hand down his back. “Ooh! He’s soft!”

 

“Must be because of the fat,” Zoro remarked.

 

“You got yourself a cute pet, Lilianna-chan,” Robin said, smiling. “Did you just want to show us him?”

 

Lilianna nodded. “But not just that—I wanna show you guys something cool because you helped Papa and Mama and me from those scary people. Darius isn’t a real tanuki and he doesn’t wear leaves on his head, but he can transform!”

 

At this, the crew blinked simultaneously. Transform? This raccoon?

 

When Darius gave a yip, Chopper tilted his head to the side and frowned. “Darius says that he ate the Riso Riso Fruit.”

 

“Wow! Your tanuki can understand Darius?” 

 

“I’m not a tanuki!”

 

“Wait, that raccoon is a Devil Fruit user?” Usopp gasped. “No way!”

 

“Seriously? That’s so cool!” Luffy’s eyes sparkled with curiosity. “Can he transform into anything? Is it like the Mane Mane ability that Bon-chan has?”

 

Liliana, puzzled, furrowed her eyebrows. “Uh, I dunno? Darius can explain.”

 

With what sounded like a heaving sigh coming from the raccoon, Darius pushed his hefty body upright until he was sitting on his rear. Suddenly, a puff of smoke engulfed him, and in his place was a lovely anthropomorphic doe dressed in a nurse’s outfit. The deer was sitting with her legs tucked underneath her, and she gave the crowd a serene smile.

 

“Oh!” Chopper gasped as hearts formed in his eyes. “Who are you?”

 

“I’m Darius,” said the stranger.

 

A beat of silence, and then…

 

Whaaat?”

 

“As your friend has said, I ate the Riso Riso Fruit. This allows me to appear and behave as my target’s ideal type. Although, I have explained this many times already.” Darius shot Liliana a chiding look, and the girl pouted in response.

 

“It’s not my fault I keep forgetting,” Liliana huffed mulishly.

 

Darius clicked his—her?—tongue. “One of these days…”

 

The pirates stared at Darius in amazement. The ability to turn into a person’s dream guy or gal? That was incredible! Some of the pirates thought about what uses the ability had. Subterfuge would certainly be an easy feat when the user could seduce just about anyone. But seeing how the user was a fat raccoon who lived as a pet to a family of humble farmers, Darius didn’t seem to have such aspirations. Furthermore, the only reason he would bother to change was perhaps because of Liliana’s insistence.

 

“S-so you’re not an actual deer?” Chopper whimpered, evidently heartbroken.

 

“No, I apologize. Although, I’d be more than happy to accompany you during your stay here, Chopper-sensei,” Darius said, winking. This effectively brought Chopper’s spirits up again as he gazed at Darius in adoration, clapping his hooves against his chest.

 

“My, my, it seems we ought to keep a look out for a pretty deer,” chuckled Robin.

 

“Yohohoho! I’m sure our doctor would appreciate that,” Brook added.

 

“Wow, that’s some nifty power,” Franky said, studying Darius with interest. “Can you do me next?”

 

“Certainly,” Darius said, and another puff of smoke appeared. In the doe’s place was a leggy beauty wearing a tank top and bikini bottoms. Her hair was voluminous in its length and waviness, and sprinkled on her cheeks were freckles. The large grin that spread across her face matched the brightness of her eyes.

 

Just as Sanji had reacted to Darius’s doe form, he was swooning over Darius’s new form. “Mellorine!”

 

“Ow!” Franky’s tongue lolled out of his mouth as he ogled his ideal type being presented to him. “What a suuuper babe!”

 

“Sup, ya’ll?” Darius said, beaming at them. “We having a super cool night tonight?”

 

“Hell yeah!” Franky and Sanji cried out in unison.

 

“Oh goodness! What a lovely lady we have here.” Brook sauntered over and lowered himself for a bow. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” And then, as expected, he requested, “May I perhaps get the chance to see your panties?”

 

Instead of responding negatively (or with violence) like how any sensible woman would do to a pervy skeleton, Darius threw back her head and laughed. “Haha! Funny thing about that, Skull Bro!” She then dropped her voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “I’m not wearing any.”

 

“Yohoho!” Blood spurted out of Brook’s nostrils as he fell backwards. “What a woman!”

 

“I’d say. Hey, wanna go out on a date?” Franky enthusiastically asked.

 

“Okay, that’s enough,” Nami said, rolling her eyes. “You know that’s technically impossible since he’s a raccoon.”

 

“I bet you’d be singing a different tune if you’re Darius’s next target.”

 

“Hmph. Please. As if I’d be influenced that easily—”

 

With another puff of smoke, Darius changed into a tall bespectacled brunet. He was attractive in a pretty boy way, and he was dressed in an expensive suit. Given the way he smiled, it was plain to see that he was the charming and sophisticated type. And given the way Nami blushed in response, it was plain to see that she was indeed influenced that easily.

 

“Hello, my love,” Darius said, and there was moment of surprise when everyone heard his voice. He sounded so deep and so…sultry. Usopp and Robin’s cheeks tinted pink at this, but their reactions were nothing compared to how Nami’s face turned firetruck red right now. “I hope that I’m at least satisfactory to your liking.”

 

“Pssh. What?” Nami looked away and crossed her arms, but she couldn’t hide the awkwardness in her actions and tone. “As if you got my type right. M-my type would be someone with a ton of money, got it?”

 

“His suit looks like it’s made out of money, though,” Franky muttered.

 

“Oh, I do know this, my love.” Darius gently scooped Nami’s hand into his and planted a kiss on her knuckles. “Only the finest of riches would be fitting of someone of your loveliness.” He fixed her a hooded stare. “And yet I’d say that the most beautiful gem would be the one sitting before me.”

 

“Eep,” Nami squeaked.

 

“Wow, a raccoon got better moves than you do, Dart Brow,” Zoro snorted.

 

 A dark energy was radiating off of Sanji, causing Chopper and Brook to edge away from him. The cook had his hands shoved in his pockets as he proceeded to stalk towards Darius. “Shitty rodent,” Sanji snarled. “Get your dirty paws off of—mellorine!”

 

Darius must have had keen instincts because he transformed before Sanji could drive his heel into his face. Although, who Darius turned into was a bit of a shock. The woman was somehow an amalgamation of all the women who Sanji had traveled with at a certain length of time: She had Nami’s eyes, Usopp’s lips, Robin’s hair, and Vivi’s face and stature. The only notable divergence was how humungous her breasts were.

 

“Damn!” Franky exclaimed. “Those knockers are huge!”

 

“I’m honestly surprised to see that Sanji actually has a specific type,” Usopp said, “who happens to not be a mermaid.”

 

“I suppose it isn’t unusual to say that he’s fallen for all of us?” Robin mused, tapping her chin. “We certainly can learn a lot from a person just by seeing his or her ideal type.”

 

That was true. Everyone’s preferences had revealed who they were most inclined to be with. Chopper liked, well, a deer, naturally, but a deer who was of refined and calm nature, not unlike Robin. Franky liked to be with people who matched his wavelength in terms of enthusiasm and boisterousness, not to mention people who were comfortable in their skin. Nami liked people who were cool and mature and perhaps those of high intellect (if the glasses were of any indication).

 

And Sanji? While he may be a pervert, he wasn’t so simple as to go for any pretty lady. Thus, his ideal type was someone who was a mix of the women who he had come to especially adore (although the, ahem, assets were something that definitely came from his own imagination). However, in terms of personality?

 

“Huh. Her chest is bigger than Dadan’s butt,” Luffy commented offhandedly. “Hey, Darius, aren’t those hard to walk around with?”

 

Darius stood up, but then stumbled (on purpose, the women critically noted). Sanji quickly dove in to catch her. She clung onto him, causing his arm to be swallowed in between the two bulging masses. “It is a bit difficult,” Darius said with a pout, “which is why I must have my beloved Sanji-kun with me at all times!”

 

“Of course, my love!” Sanji crooned ecstatically, his nostrils flaring widely. Was he going to have a nosebleed episode? That wouldn’t be good for the Potts’s rug.

 

Darius smiled coyly up at him and snuggled into his chest. “Oh, Sanji-kun. Whenever you’re here, I know that everything will be okay. I love you so much.”

 

“Mel-lo-riine!”

 

“So, Sanji-san wants a girl who he can spoil,” Brook hummed.

 

“He just wants a spoiled girl,” Usopp deadpanned.

 

“Okay, looking at this chick is kinda creepy,” Zoro said. “Can we do someone else next?”

 

Normally, Sanji would have rushed to any girl’s defense, especially against Zoro, but the cook was so delirious in his euphoria that he had hardly noticed the world around him. It was then that reality came crashing down when he no longer felt the warmth and softness of Darius’s body.

 

“Wha?” Sanji blinked out of his haze and saw Usopp standing next to him. As much as it brought him joy to have the sniper within proximity, he was puzzled as to what she was doing here all of a sudden. For that matter, where was Darius? “Usopp-tan?”

 

“Uh, that’s not her,” Nami said with wide eyes. “Usopp’s over here.”

 

The Usopp who was in front of the cook looked identical to the real deal. Everyone gawked at the look-alike, startled by her presence. Yet, after a few seconds of staring, they were able to see what was different: hanging around her neck by a string was a familiar-looking straw hat.

 

“Oh, shiiieet,” Franky gasped. “Straw Hat’s type is Lil Sis!”

 

Luffy has a type!” Zoro, Nami, and Sanji cried out.

 

“Luffy likes Usopp!” Chopper and Brook exclaimed.

 

“That explains why he stole Longnose-san’s panties,” Robin said thoughtfully.

 

Usopp was too shocked to even react to Robin’s comment.

 

“Whoa! Two Usopps!” Luffy cheered. He marveled over Darius’s new form. “Neat!”

 

Darius smirked at Luffy and brought the straw hat over her head. “Looking good, Captain. I like your hat.”

 

“Shishishishi! I like yours too!”

 

“Hey, Liliana! How do you like my new form?” Darius whipped out her version of Kabuto from her back and struck a pose. This prompted peals of laughter out of both Liliana and Luffy.

 

“Hey, Usopp Two, do something,” urged Luffy.

 

“Like what?” Darius asked.

 

“Dunno. Just anything.”

 

“Hmm.” Darius pursed her lips in thought, and then snapped her fingers. “I got it! How about I tell you a story about the time when I met a giant orange octopus? But just so you know, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill giant orange octopus. You see, this octopus used to be a regular octopus of regular size and color, yet, one day, a crotchety old sea witch stumbled upon it while it was sleeping.”

 

“Octopuses can sleep?” Liliana asked.

 

“You didn’t know? They certainly can! But they sleep with their eyes open. Although, this sea witch didn’t know that; she thought the octopus was wide awake this whole time.  As she swam by, she mistook the octopus for staring at her. ‘How rude!’ she thought. ‘How about I teach this sonny boy a lesson?’ So, she wiggled her fingers,” Darius said, wiggling her own fingers, “and magic fled out of them and to the octopus. Then, in a flash, the octopus was startled awake and found himself almost getting his eye poked out by the tip of a mountain!”

 

“This octopus must have been super big for that to happen,” Luffy laughed.

 

As Darius continued with her regaling, the Straw Hats Pirates were staring at her in bewilderment. Well, all besides Luffy, who was listening intently. This imitation of Usopp not only looked exactly like her, but…behaved like her as well. At least, whenever she would be storytelling. The way she would get lost in her own realm of fiction that her own words constructed, the way her tone and gestures would become animated, the way her stories would ensnare her audience into her own imagination… That was all Usopp.

 

In the middle of Darius’s explanation of how she had promised the octopus that she would find him the cure to his problem, Usopp made her interruption. “Hold it!”

 

Surprised, everyone turned their heads to her direction.

 

“This—this is insane,” the sniper stammered. She thrusted a finger at Darius. “I can’t be Luffy’s type! I mean, Luffy’s type shouldn’t be a person; it’s meat, right? It—it’s gotta be meat!”

 

“Wha—Usopp, calm down.” Nami held her hands out to her. “I know that this is, um, bizarre, but give Luffy some credit. He’s a guy, you know, and, uh…”

 

“Longnose-san does have a point. Seeing our captain having a romantic inclination towards someone is rather unexpected,” Robin said.

 

“Tell me about it. To be honest, I didn’t think that Straw Hat even had a sex drive,” Franky said.

 

“You don’t need one to feel the passion of romance! Why, I’m capable of such despite not being about to make a boner! Yohohoho!” Brook cackled.

 

“Hey, there’s a kid here,” Darius snapped, clapping her hands on Liliana’s ears.

 

“Oh, right!” The shipwright and musician had the decency to be sheepish about talking such a thing in front of a child. They rubbed the back of their heads in unison. “Sorry. Our bad.”

 

“What’s the issue?” Luffy asked with a confused frown. “If it’s not important, can we go back to hearing the story? I wanna see if Usopp Two can tell stories as good as Usopp.”

 

“Of course, I can,” Darius huffed. “You might not know this, but I’m well-known around these parts for my prowess in storytelling. In fact, my ability is so famous that people all over the Four Blues come over to listen to me spin tales! Admirals and notorious pirate captains alike come over to see the great and spectacular me!”

 

“What?” Liliana twisted around to look up at Darius. “Since when?”

 

“Since always, silly.”

 

“Darius bluffs like Usopp too,” Zoro observed.

 

“No! She’s nothing like me!” Usopp snapped, her fervent denial causing everyone to jolt in shock. Usopp was glowering at the floor with her fists clenched at her sides. "I dont believe this. There's no way that I'm—that I'm Luffy's type. And—and—and even if it is true, then why me? That doesn’t make sense!”

 

At her declaration, some of the crewmembers frowned. What was Usopp implying? That she disliked being the target of Luffy's affections?

 

Sure, Luffy wasn't particularly a handsome guy—he had a perfectly average face, actually—and he didn't have the kind of personality that most girls would gravitate towards to. Instead of being witty, mature, and thoughtful, he was loud, immature, and obnoxious. Yet there was no denying that he was charismatic and lovable in his own way; he managed to secure their loyalty, hadn't he? And he was a reliable and strong leader who knew how to have fun.

 

Furthermore, Usopp's rather strong reaction to this was...strange. Did she hate it that much?

 

"I don't know why you're making a big deal out of this," drawled Zoro, "but you should know that you're not that much of a catch yourself."

 

Everyone stared at him.

 

"Dude," Franky breathed, "seriously?"

 

Zoro blinked. "What?"

 

Brook whispered something in Robin's ear, and Robin whispered in response. They both sighed and shook their heads.

 

"Zoro, I've always known that you were insensitive, but you had to prove that you're a huge dick too," deadpanned Nami.

 

"What?" he said defensively. "I'm just saying!"

 

There was a hiccup, causing everyone to freeze. Slowly, they turned their heads to where the source was coming from. Usopp's body trembled as fat tears rolled down her cheeks. She bit down her lower lip as though to muffle her sobs, but the attempt was obviously futile. Unable to withstand the attention, she bolted out of the living room. There was a loud door slam, indicating that the sniper had fled the house.

 

“Oh my.” Mrs. Potts appeared, a look of concern on her face. “Is everything alright? I just saw one of your friends…” she trailed off when her eyes landed on Darius. “Run off. Or was that Darius?”

 

“Nope, I’m Darius,” Darius said. “If you don’t mind, Mom, could you take Liliana to her room? I’ll show everyone out when we’re done talking.”

 

Liliana fixed Darius a betrayed look. “Nooo!” she protested. “I wanna stay! Please?”

 

Mrs. Potts gave Darius a look of understanding. “Certainly. No, I wasn’t talking to you, young lady.” The woman pushed the little girl out. “Come on, Lily. You need to wash your face and brush your teeth.”

 

“But Mama…!”

 

Once the mother and daughter were gone, all eyes were pinned on Zoro, who reflexively cringed.

 

“Any last words before I pummel you to dust, marimo?” Sanji said, lifting an eyebrow.

 

“As if you can, love cook,” Zoro shot back.

 

“Would you guys stop that?” Nami snapped, stepping in between the two before a brawl would break out. “Seriously, Zoro, why the hell did you say that to Usopp?”

 

“Yeah, bastard!” Chopper chimed in, huffily crossing his arms.

 

“I didn’t mean it like that! I just said it to knock Usopp to her senses. I mean, if she doesn’t feel the same way about Luffy, fine, but she didn’t have to overreact that way.”

 

“You didn’t have to make a girl cry just to do that, man,” Franky said.

 

“I didn’t think that she’d be so sensitive about it!”

 

“It’s more like you got no sense of tact!” Sanji growled.

 

Luffy, who was frowning, abruptly stood up. “I’m going to find her.”

 

Nami started at that. “Luffy, maybe you shouldn’t.”

 

“Why?”

 

“W-well, she probably doesn’t want to see anyone, much less you.”

 

But the captain evidently didn’t like hearing that. “I don’t know exactly what I did wrong, but I do know that I had something to do with it; it’d only be right if I apologize. And after I bring her back, you gotta apologize to her too, Zoro.” With that said, Luffy left the house as well.

 

“Yeah, you see that? That should be you running out there looking for Usopp-tan,” Sanji said, pointing at the door.

 

Zoro grumbled.

 

“Swordsman-san may perhaps be right about one thing,” Robin brought up. “Longnose-san’s response to Darius’s transformation was rather explosive.”

 

Zoro harrumphed and crossed his arms. “I told you—ow!”

 

“You don’t have any right to talk!” Nami berated after driving her fist to his head.

 

“Darius-san, could you tell us what was going on in Usopp-san’s mind?” Brook inquired.

 

Darius shook her head. “I’m Luffy’s ideal type, not the girl herself. I don’t know what she’s thinking.”

 

Nami frowned at that. “That doesn’t make sense. Luffy’s type is Usopp, so, technically, you wouldn’t be any ideal type. Just Usopp.”

 

“Unless the captain’s type is an idealized version of her?” Robin suggested.

 

The crew paused at that.

 


 

Luffy found Usopp out in the field. She was sitting with her knees drawn to her chest and her back against a post. Luffy plopped down next to her but didn’t say anything. The two sat there with only the sounds of the wind rustling the grass to fill the silence. It was night, but the shining moon kept the world from being plunged into darkness; it was because of that illumination that Luffy was able to find her, to see her.

 

Luffy wasn’t the kind of person to bother thinking much of anything. If he was honest, he would say that other people just thought too much. If someone wanted to do something, then that person should just do it. What was the use of dwelling over the consequences if no one knew what those consequences would be?

 

Why create hypothetical situations to prevent someone from taking action when that person could simply add it to a list of experiences? An experienced person was what made a strong person, as his grandfather would say. Furthermore, it was a testament to Luffy's own strength, both physically and mentally.

 

Yet, this time, Luffy found himself a bit at loss. The words that he was about to utter died on his tongue, and the hand that he was about to clasp on Usopp's shoulder never reached to touch her. Thus, he sat there quietly, staring blankly at the vast field before him. While he didn’t know what to say, he knew that Usopp would eventually say something when she was ready. He was willing to wait until morning if he had to.

 

After several minutes, his wait came to an end when she said, “Why do you like me?”

 

“Dunno,” Luffy admitted.

 

That response displeased her. Usopp scowled at him. "You don't know? What kind of answer is that?"

 

"A truthful one." He shrugged. "I dunno know why I like the way you look, the way you speak, the way you do things. I dunno why I like a lot of things about you, but I just do."

 

A blush rose on her cheeks. She coughed into her fist and looked away. "Do you even know what you're talking about? Or what an ideal type is? What Darius was showing..."

 

"C'mon, Usopp. I'm not the smartest guy around, but I'm not that stupid," Luffy snorted, clacking his feet together.

 

"Yes, you are," was the unvoiced remark, but what Usopp said instead was "Then what?"

 

"I like like you, and I liked liked you for a while. I hadn't realized this until recently."

 

Hearing Luffy say such a thing caused a shiver to run down her spine. Usopp felt her face grow hotter, and there was an overwhelming urge to dive under her blankets and never emerge again. But there was also a light, fluttery feeling of elation blooming within her; it was the kind of feeling of learning that the one person who you loved also loved you back.

 

However, Usopp bit back her rising delight. "You shouldn't. I'm not good enough for you. I can't believe that you like me to begin with."

 

Luffy frowned. "Why would you say that?"

 

"Are you kidding me? After what happened back in Water 7—"

 

"I already forgave you for that. Why're you bringing that up now?"

 

"Because I left you!" she burst out. Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes and she hastily wiped them. "I know that you forgive me, but I can't forgive myself for what I’ve done.” Usopp turned away, unable to bear looking at him anymore. "I made us fight each other; I nearly split up the crew. And all for what? Because I couldn't accept the fact that Merry was at her limit."

 

"Merry was in a bad shape because the others and I didn't take good care of her," Luffy insisted, his voice solemn. "You were the one who always tried to fix her. And I understand why you did what you did; Merry was a precious nakama to you. I'm sorry that I took her away from you."

 

Usopp choked back a sob, hating herself for getting emotional again and revealing how vulnerable she was. But despite this, Luffy's words brought her a sense of comfort that she readily welcomed. Usopp believed that he shouldn’t have to apologize, but the fact that he was remorseful for what had happened made a world of a difference. She tentatively peered at him, and found the captain staring back at her with a determined expression with his hand extended out to her.

 

Why did he look like he was getting ready to go fight? Usopp sniffled to suppress the laughter that was bubbling within her and reached over to grasp his hand.

 

“I don’t blame you, but try to be careful with Sunny,” she said.

 

His grip tightened around hers. “I promise.”

 

She gave him a watery smile. “You know, I’m surprised that you like me like this, not to mention how I’m your ideal type! That’s kinda cool.”

 

Luffy, however, didn’t smile back. "Well, no, you aren't."

 

Upon hearing his admission, Usopp's heart sank to her stomach. “Wh-what do you mean? Darius changed into me—a perfect impression of me. How is it that I’m not…?” she trailed off, confusion and insecurity evident in her tone and expression. Her hold grew slack and she tried to withdraw her hand, but Luffy’s grip was unrelenting. “Luffy?”

 

“My type is the Usopp who never has be scared of anything because I’ll always be fighting by her side. And if she can’t fight anymore, then I’ll always be protecting her. My type is the Usopp who never has to feel sad or upset because she got her nakama to be there for her.”

 

Luffy’s head lowered, his face darkened by the curtain of his bangs. “I wish you leaving never happened, but it did,” he continued, “and… Sometimes, I can’t help but remember what went down in Water 7 and wish that things have gone differently, that I took better care of you and Merry. If I was more careful, then Merry wouldn’t have to cut her adventures with us so soon and you wouldn’t have to cry because of me.”

 

“Luffy…”

 

“But we can’t change what happened in the past; we gotta move forward.” He raised his chin and their eyes met. He smiled at her gently and brought his forehead close to knock with hers. He couldn’t convey with words just how much being this intimate with Usopp meant to him, but he believed that actions alone said more than enough as he greedily soaked in her gaze, her warmth. “And I wanna do that with you. I promise, Usopp, that I’ll protect you and make you happy.”

 

Slowly, tentatively, yet surely, she smiled back. “Then I’ll be your ideal type, huh?”

 

“Shishishi! And I’ll prove myself that I’m meant to be yours.”

 

“You already are, silly.” Usopp threw her arm around his neck, bringing him down for a hug. Luffy circled his arms around her body and held her close to his chest. In the glow of the moment, the two sat there with the wind and the rustling grass and the light of the moon shining down upon them. Their hearts were beating in tandem and their warmth enveloped them. It was perfect.

 

A long time ago, Makino had told him that should he ever come to fall for a girl, he should accept her how she was. As much as Luffy adored Usopp for all that she was, he couldn’t accept her quite yet. Usopp should be like how she had been when they had first journeyed together—free, lively, and bright. That was the Usopp who he had fallen for. And while all those fights and experiences had strengthened her as an individual, Luffy wanted nothing more than to shield her from her burgeoning worries and negativity.

 

Inwardly, Luffy made a vow to light Usopp a path to him if she would ever get warped into the dark. If she could no longer stand on her own, then he would be there to hold her up. He understood the depths of his feelings now, and he wasn’t going to let Usopp go anywhere anymore.

 

“Say, Luffy.”

 

“Hm?”

 

Usopp thwacked him on the head. “What did Robin mean by you stealing my panties? The hell, Luffy!”

 

“Ow!” he cried, holding his head. “It wasn’t my idea, Usopp! Brook told me that men stole panties from women they liked, so that’s what I did. I don’t get it, but Franky also said that’s what guys do.” He pouted. “Did you gotta hit me so hard?”

 

“Why would you listen to those two perverts?” she despaired. “From now on, you’re not allowed to listen to what they say, got it?”

 

“Even when they’re giving me advice?”

 

“Especially so!”

 

“Fiiine,” Luffy drawled. He then grinned and hooked his arm around hers. “Hey, Usopp?”

 

“What?”

 

“I love you.”

 

Usopp blushed, but she grinned back. “I-I love you too.”

 

“Usopp?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I’m gonna take on Brook and Franky’s advice right now.”

 

“Hey! I told you—” Usopp never got to finish her sentence as she was cut off by Luffy’s lips.

 


 

When Usopp and Luffy returned to the house, they found their crewmates in varying states of incredulity and amazement. The only one who wasn’t sharing their emotion was Zoro, who was bright red and fuming. Darius, who had reverted to his raccoon self, gave the two a long-suffering look—or, at least, how a raccoon could manage one. Usopp and Luffy stared at the group in puzzlement.

 

“To think that Zoro likes such a person,” Nami said, shaking her head in disbelief.

 

“It makes sense now,” Sanji mumbled.

 

“Shut up!” Zoro snapped.

 

Robin was the only one who noticed them and approached them with a smile. “Welcome back.”

 

“Robin, what’s going on?” Luffy asked.

 

“We just saw Zoro’s ideal type.”

 

They blinked. That was it?

 

Chopper let out a long sigh. “Robin’s right—we can learn a lot from seeing a person’s ideal type.”

 

Chapter Text

"Can we give it up for our volunteers?"

 

There was a round of applause below the stage. As she squinted from the blinding lights that was cast overhead, Usopp inwardly cursed at the announcer because she had certainly not volunteered. If anything, the announcer had pointed at her as she had been trying to pass through the crowd, and then had manhandled her up.

 

She hadn't been the only unwilling participant. Standing beside her was a relatively tall man wearing a heavy coat. His features were indistinguishable since his sunglasses swallowed three quarters of his face and his bucket hat dipped over his forehead.

 

Everything about him screamed suspicious, but, then again, he could one of those people who were into a certain fashion style. Given the people who Usopp happened to know, it shouldn't be surprising. Luffy was into red. Robin was into cowboy hats. Franky was into anything pants-less.

 

"We are glad to have you two here!" the announcer cheered into his microphone. He squeezed in between Usopp and the sunglasses man, which annoyed her because, then, why bother shoving them together in the first place? The announcer thrusted a finger ahead, pointing at the flat electronic screen that sat on a stand on the stage. "You see this? This is our state-of-the-art karaoke machine! With it, you'll be able to sing to your adoring audience."

 

Usopp eyed the machine critically. It looked like a generic piece of equipment, honestly.

 

Wait... Did he say karaoke?

 

Usopp blanched. Was this what this whole display was about? There was no way she could do this! She hadn't sung for three years!

 

The announcer lowered the microphone to speak to her and the sunglasses man. "The words of the song will be projected on the screen. Since there are two of you, the green lyrics will be for the lady and the blue lyrics will be for the gentleman."

 

"Um, wait," Usopp said, holding up a hand, "I don't think I can do this. You see, I have a horrendous case of stage fright and—"

 

"Then this'll be the perfect opportunity for you to overcome your fear!" the announcer exclaimed merrily. He procured two more microphones and pushed each one into their hands. "Don't worry, though; this song is a classic, so you should know it." Holding up the microphone again, he said, "Good luck!" And then he skipped away to the side of the stage.

 

Usopp's fingers trembled around the microphone, and she cautiously took in the crowd before her. From her elevated position, the people gathered below appeared like a wriggling dark mass, especially when the lighting was on her and the shadows on them. It helped not being able to see them clearly, but she was still burdened with the knowledge that they could see her.

 

The carnival was loud from laughter and shrieks, from the thundering of rollercoasters and trills of musical numbers. Yet, standing here on stage with only sunglasses man by her side, the world couldn't be any quieter. She nervously licked her lips and glanced at the man.

 

He looked at her (or, at least, she thought he did—hard to tell with those sunglasses) and shrugged.

 

She slumped. Seemed like they really were going through with this, huh?

 

Flowing out of the speakers was an introductory piano piece, and recognition dawned on her. Memories of her school days instantly flooded in her head, and Usopp stifled a grimace from forming. Oh, great. It was this song. A classic indeed.

 

On the screen, blue words flashed; watermarked on top of it was a countdown, obviously there to prevent the singer from starting too early. But that shouldn't be a problem since this song was a theatre paradigm. Practically everyone knew it; if not for word by word, then the first verses and the chorus for certain.

 

When the watermarked zero disappeared and the lyrics were in full view, the sunglasses man began his part.

 

"Living in my own world,

"Didn't understand.

"That anything can happen

"When you take a chance."

 

Usopp was startled to find that the man was a good singer. His voice was deep and melodic, and he stretched certain words perfectly to fit the melody. While this was a widely recognized song, most amateurs would deliver the verses too quickly and be out of tempo. This guy here knew what he was doing.

 

When green words appeared next, Usopp tentatively hummed into the microphone. It had been a long time since she had sung, much less in front of anyone, so she wasn't sure how her own voice would carry out. Would it crack? Would it croak? If it did, how would the audience react? Would they laugh, jeer, or boo at her? Regardless of these worries that plagued her mind, she sang.

 

"I never believed in

"What I couldn't see.

"I never opened my heart

"To all the possibilities.

"Ooh.."

 

Unconsciously, Usopp's eyes tore away from the screen, her body angled towards the sunglasses man. To her slight surprise, the sunglasses man was also looking at her, and she found herself staring at her own image that was reflected on those dark, shiny lenses.

 

"I know," they said in tandem.

 

"That something has changed," Usopp said.

 

"Never felt this way."

 

"And right here tonight."

 

"This could be the start

"Of something new."

 

With a small rise of anticipation, Usopp said, "It feels so right."

 

"To be here with you.

"Ooh.

"And now,

"Looking in your eyes."

 

"I feel in my heart," she sang, drawing out the last word with self-assurance.

 

"I feel in my heart," he echoed.

 

"The start of something new," they said, now grinning to one another.

 

Whenever they breathed into their microphones, whenever they delivered their lines together, their voices danced and intermingled, coalescing with perfect harmony.

 

The compatibility of their singing felt as though Usopp had her own rapport with the sunglasses man, which should have been shocking considering how they were strangers forced to perform by the whimsy of the announcer. Furthermore, it had only been about a minute! Yet that was perhaps the magic of music—it could forge connections among people despite who they were as individuals.

 

This man could be a civilian, a monster, a pirate, a marine. However, all of those things didn't matter at the moment; what did matter was the time that they shared together on this stage and how they were going to see to the end of this song.

 

And given how smoothly and pleasantly her own voice rang in her ears with each passing verse, Usopp held herself upright with confidence. The flame of her former passion was reignited. Her heart pounded against her chest and blood raced in her veins in response to the familiar exhilaration. She hadn't realized how much she had missed singing until now.

 

"Now who'd have ever thought that," the sunglasses man said with a sassy tone and a smirk to match. When he began swaying his hips like a dork, she felt an inexplicable fondness for him. "Mmm."

 

"We'd both be here tonight?" they sang.

 

"Oh, yeah."

 

"And the world looks so much brighter," Usopp said.

 

"Brighter, brighter," he agreed.

 

"With you by my side."

 

"By my side."

 

"I know," they said.

"That something has changed,

"Never felt this way."

 

"I know it for real," she insisted.

 

"This could be the start

"Of something new.

"It feels so right

"To be here with you.

"Oh!

"And now,

"Looking in your eyes,

"I feel in my heart."

 

"The start of something new," Usopp crooned.

 

When the sunglasses man stepped closer, she did as well. When he proffered his hand out to her, she didn't think twice about accepting it. Now, with their hands linked and them fully facing one another, it was undeniable just who they were singing this song to.

 

"I never knew that it could happen till it happened to me," he belted out, squeezing her hand. "Ooh, yeah."

 

"I didn't know it before," they said.

 

"But now it's easy to see," Usopp exclaimed, her chest heaving.

 

"Ohhhh!"

 

"It's the start

"Of something new.

"It feels so right

"To be here with you.

"Oh!

"And now,

"Looking in your eyes,

"I feel in my heart."

 

"That it's the start

"Of something new.

"It feels so right

"To be here with you.

"Oh!

"And now,

"Looking in your eyes,

"I feel in my heart."

 

"The start of something new," Usopp said, smiling gently.

 

The sunglasses man brought their entwined hands to his chin, returning her smile. "The start of something new."

 

"The start of something," they sang together, "new."

 

In that one breathless, insane second, Usopp thought that, as the sunglasses man tilted his head towards her, he was going to kiss her. It was how his head had eclipsed the lights from her and, with his face shaded at this angle, she thought that she could see his eyes behind those sunglasses, especially when he drew closer and closer. Entranced, she didn’t move a muscle.

 

Her reverie was broken by the noise that exploded below. The audience roared and cheered and whistled. The next thing she noticed was the sunglasses man standing a foot away from her, as if he hadn’t been in her space this whole time.

 

“Marvelous! Truly marvelous!” the announcer declared. “Can we give another applause for our two amazingly talented volunteers?”

 

The audience did just that. They really like my singing, Usopp thought dazedly as she stared at the crowd. To be honest, she had forgotten about them the moment the sunglasses man had began to sing. Speaking of which… She turned towards him, realizing that he was still holding her hand.

 

The sunglasses man smiled at her. He then brought her knuckles to his lips and kissed them before releasing her hand. Usopp blushed.

 

“—and because of that welcoming reception, how’d you feel like going for an encore?” The announcer twirled around from the audience to face Usopp and the sunglasses man, but he faltered. “Oh, where did the gentleman go?”

 

“What do you mean? He’s right next to…” Usopp trailed off when she noticed that the sunglasses man was gone. She nearly jumped at that. How did he vanish so quickly?

 

“Ah, disappointing, but no matter. Say, miss, how do you feel about doing a solo instead of a duet?”

 

“No can do!” Suddenly landing on stage was Luffy. The captain pulled to his full height and gave everyone a wide grin. “As much as I like my sniper getting the spotlight, we got marines coming after us.”

 

Both Usopp and the announcer gaped at him, but entirely for different reasons.

 

“Marines?” she squawked.

 

“I-I know you,” the announcer stammered. “You’re—you’re—!”

 

“That’s Straw Hat Luffy!” someone from the audience cried out.

 

“Who’s the girl? Is she his crewmate?” another person shouted.

 

“Straw Hat!” Standing on the edge of the crowd was a marine who, judging by the coat on his shoulders, was of notable high rank . Behind him was a line of officers with their weapons ready at hand. They all stuck out from the dark in their stark white uniforms. Usopp squeaked at the sight of them. “You’re not getting away this time!” the marine leader roared.

 

“Well, looks like we gotta do just that.” Luffy gathered Usopp in his arms and slingshotted out of here, all the while having Usopp scream out in terror as they narrowly dodged flying bullets.

 


 

When they returned to Sunny, Usopp was suddenly surrounded by her crewmates.

 

“Okay, talk,” Nami demanded, propping her hands on her waist. “Since when were you able to sing like that?”

 

Usopp couldn't form a retort, couldn’t actually bring herself to preen or boast or anything because, oh gosh, they saw her perform! Her face became hot and she awkwardly cleared her throat. “Um, back in my village, I used to be part of the school’s theatre club, so…” Usopp shrugged helplessly. “We did a ton of musicals.”

 

“A theatre kid. How fitting,” Zoro noted.

 

“Yohohoho! I must say that I am quite surprised, Usopp-san,” Brook exclaimed. “We must do duets later on!”

 

“I’m surprised myself. I haven’t sung in three years, not since the club disbanded,” she confessed.

 

“Clearly, you’re a natural,” Robin said with a smile. “It would be lovely to see you and Brook hold a performance for us.”

 

“Yeah! A private show!” Luffy approved enthusiastically.

 

“I heard of private shows, but never seen one,” Chopper gasped, eyes wide with excitement. “I can’t wait!”

 

“Better Brook than that sunglasses creep,” Sanji groused.

 

Usopp smiled. “Yeah, sure. It’d be fun.”

 

And it would be. While it had been disappointing that the theatre club hadn’t been able to last, she didn’t need a club to continue to sing, although she hadn’t realized that until today. Usopp would make certain to sing to her heart’s content—every day, all day—and she would have her crewmates as her audience if so willing.

 

As her friends talked among themselves about how they would set up the show, Usopp stared off into the horizon where Sunny sailed further and further away from the island.

 

The song “Start of Something New” had been one of the songs that the theatre club had Usopp master, yet, with each passing day, doubt and pessimism had festered within the club. They hadn’t had enough members; they had been on a severe budget; no one in the school had been interested in what they did anymore. Eventually, the president had decreed the club’s disbandment, and “Start of Something New” had been the last song that Usopp had ever sang.

 

To think that she would sing again with that song. For what had been a reminder of what had been lost, it now served as a reminder of what had been regained.

 

Even though the sunglasses man hadn’t intended on it, Usopp wanted to thank him for breathing life back into her. She had sung ever since she could remember, and she had sung often with her mother when she had been around. Just like sniping, singing was in her blood. Usopp couldn’t deny that part of her heritage, and she would honor her mother’s memories by always keeping a song on her tongue.

 

It was a shame that she didn’t get to learn the sunglasses man’s name. Perhaps, one day, they would meet again.


Sabo slipped into an alleyway. Peering around the corner in the safety of the darkness, he watched uniformed men hustle down the street, pushing past vendors and visitors. Things had escalated the moment the marines heard word of Straw Hat Luffy and his crew being here in the carnival. It was a good thing that Sabo had left in time before the marines could notice him, his disguise notwithstanding.

 

Sabo rubbed his chin in thought. The new and uprising pirate captain certainly was an interesting one, especially if he was able to catch Dragon’s attention. What a shame that he had yet to see Straw Hat’s face, even any of his wanted posters. Lately, Sabo had been so swamped with work that he hardly got the time to do a casual investigation.

 

Sabo made a mental note to do so when he would be on break, especially look into that girl. She was Straw Hat’s crewmate, right? It was a shame that he didn't catch her name, but, surely, she would be filed in the Revolutionary Army’s databases. Perhaps she even accrued a bounty of her own.

 

His lips quirked upwards at the thought of that. To think, a cutie with an amazing set of pipes being so dastardly that the marines had felt it appropriate to place a bounty on her head. Well, he would be pleasantly surprised, then.

 

“It’s a good thing Koala’s not here,” he chuckled to himself. “She’d yell at me for getting distracted.”

 

Koala probably wouldn’t appreciate Sabo getting smitten by someone who he had just met, but it wasn’t everyday he got to meet a girl like that.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Here.”

 

Zoro turned around, still dabbing the sweat off his brow with his towel. The first thing he noticed was the bottle of water that was presented to him. The next thing he noticed, as his eyes climbed up from the bottle to the arms holding the bottle to the face of who the arms belonged to, was Usopp.

 

“Oh, thanks,” he said, offering her a grin. He slung the towel around his neck and took the bottle. After cracking the lid off, he gulped down the refreshing drink. When finished, he wiped his lips with the sleeve of his haori and released a long exhale.

 

“It’s no problem,” Usopp squeaked, her cheeks pinking. She then cleared her throat and exclaimed, “I was just doing what any good kohai would do, you know? No need to thank me, Senpai!”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind next time,” he dryly said. He didn’t realize that his gaze had been trained on her cheeks until after he spoke. Zoro shook his head. “What are you doing all the way over here? Last time I checked, the art club isn’t located where the kendo club is.”

 

“I know that, silly.” Usopp smiled. “Today’s project is to go out and draw whatever we find interesting. As long as it isn’t cliché, we’re free to draw anything we want.”

 

He smirked at her. “Oh? And am I a target of your interest?”

 

The pink cheeks graduated to a full facial bloom of tomato red. “Wh-what? Don’t be stupid, Senpai! Of course not! I was—I was just strolling around to see what I could draw and—and—and I just happened to find you,” she sputtered, her hands wildly gesticulating. “It’s nothing what you’re thinking, okay!”

 

Zoro snorted. “Calm down, Usopp. I was just teasing.”

 

A hard whack came crashing down on the top of his head. Zoro yelped and dropped to a squat, hands flying to the source of the throbbing pain. Above him, Kuina snarled, “Or maybe you should stop picking on others and wasting their time.”

 

Zoro strained his neck to shoot his adoptive sister a glare. “Kuina!”

 

To Usopp, Kuina lowered her shinai and smoothed her piercing expression to a serene one. “I apologize if my idiot brother has been bothering you, Sogeki-san. It was very kind of you to give him water.”

 

“O-oh, no. It’s fine! Really!” Usopp insisted.

 

“Would you like to come in? I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. If you want to, you’re more than welcome to stick around and draw.”

 

Instantly, Usopp’s eyes drifted over to Zoro before darting back to Kuina. Her face wasn’t as red as before, but there was a definite blush staining her cheeks. “Th-thank you! I appreciate it, but not today. I, um, got something to do. But, uh, next time!”

 

She bowed, her ringlets slipping off her back and shoulders until she pulled herself upright. After bidding them a goodbye, Usopp scurried away. Still on his haunches, Zoro watched the way her hair bounced every step that she took until she disappeared from his sight. His fingers curled as the thought of what it would be like to touch those ringlets crossed his mind for the hundredth time.

 

“You got it bad,” Kuina sighed. Zoro’s eyebrow twitched.

 

“Shut up.” He leaned over to pick up the bottle that he had dropped. Thankfully, he had drank most of the contents for there not to be a huge splatter on the floorboards. He retrieved the cap and sealed the bottle, and then stood up to march to the back of the room.

 

The other club members’ heads swiveled forward, and they resumed swinging their shinai, acting as though they hadn’t been listening in as well. Hmph. At least Kuina was honest about her eavesdropping.

 

Zoro slid down against the wall until his rear met the floor. He intended on starting his break with a nap, but Kuina, the insufferable older sister that she was, plopped down next to him with a carefully crafted expression of indifference. But Zoro, being the aggravating younger brother that he was, knew that behind that mask was brimming curiosity.

 

“What?” he asked crankily.

 

“Well?”

 

“Well what?”

 

“Do you know?”

 

“Know what? I’m not a mind reader! Just out with it already.”

 

“That you have a crush on Usopp?”

 

He stiffened. Oh, that was too upfront. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“Don’t play dumb with me, Zoro.” Kuina dropped the façade in favor of rolling her eyes. “It’s so obvious. Hell, I’m sure that Monkey kid knows about it.”

 

Zoro groaned and rested his forehead on his knees as a sign of resignation. He wrapped his arms around his head. “Luffy, sure. Usopp, not sure.”

 

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’m pretty certain that she likes you back.”

 

It was a good thing that he kept his face hidden; otherwise, his wide grin would be seen by the world. The rapid thumping of his heart was loud in his ears, and he could feel his own face flush in embarrassment and with delight. Of course, he knew that Usopp liked him and he didn’t need the confirmation for it, but it always felt good to hear from someone else that she did.

 

He couldn’t pinpoint exactly when his feelings for the underclassman had shifted from platonic to romantic, but he had always thought the quirky girl to be cute. The energy of her nervous mannerisms, her tendency to embellish a story to entertain, the way she would easily get caught up in Luffy’s antics—everything about her was cute.

 

But he had no longer seen her cuteness to be as a friendly endearment, but rather a longing that warmed inside his core. Zoro knew that he had a reputation for being a kendo maniac, a reserved brute, and a scary delinquent (not that he was one—curse that stupid love cook), but he wasn’t so much of a dense idiot to not recognize feelings outside of sports.

 

He knew the meaning behind his desire to thread his fingers through Usopp’s ringlets, to watch her flustered reactions to his teasing, to be the only guy to stand by her side. It was a balm to his sanity knowing that Usopp felt the same way about him as he did her. The one problem was that he didn’t know if Usopp knew that her affections were requited.

 

If Usopp didn’t know, that was one thing. But if she did know, then why didn’t she confess to him yet? Or maybe he should confess? If he did confess, then who knew how Usopp would respond? Surely, she would say yes, but the girl’s anxiety just might lead her to say no. Zoro didn’t understand how that made sense, but his intuition told him that something like that could happen. Girls were always complicated that way.

 

“I can see your ears turning red.”

 

Promptly, he clapped his hands on the side of his temple.

 

“Ah! I can’t believe my baby brother likes someone!” Kuina sighed. “I never thought romance could ever happen to such a meathead.”

 

He jolted upright and snapped, “Hey!”

 


 

Zoro admittedly didn’t have a plan as to how he was going to get Usopp to become his girlfriend, but he wasn’t going to tell that to Kuina. The older girl would just become an irritating know-it-all as she would pontificate to him ways of approaching Usopp.

 

He certainly wasn’t going to confide to Nami. He knew that witch would use the information to blackmail him into doing something rather than assist him. Their classmate Helmeppo had once asked the girl a favor, and the poor guy was still paying her with his allowance.

 

No, if he was going to do this, he needed to find someone who wasn’t going to be a nag, wasn’t going take advantage of him, and, most importantly, be actually helpful.

 

Zoro contemplated whether to approach Vivi or Kaya.

 

On one hand, Vivi was someone who he was friends with since she was one of the many who had been dragged into Luffy’s inane pirate club. Not only was she someone familiar, but she was also sweet and sensible, so he knew that she wouldn’t intentionally make his life difficult. Plus, Vivi most likely knew about what was going on between him and Usopp, meaning that he wouldn’t have to waste time explaining about his feelings.

 

Being spared of that weird conversation would have led him to go to Vivi if it weren’t for one excruciating fact: Vivi was Nami’s best friend. He didn’t understand the inner workings of female relationships nor did he care to; he was just aware enough to know that if Vivi was informed one something, then Nami would be too. The way the girls would whisper and giggle to one another felt like they were always complicit in machinations that made Zoro’s fingers twitch for his shinai.

 

Kaya, on the other hand, wasn’t affiliated with Nami, namely because she wasn’t in the pirate club. In fact, the only reason that he knew her name was because she was Usopp’s childhood friend. She was quiet and passive, which was a contrast to the chatterbox that Usopp tended to be. And she, like Usopp, was a member of the art club. Aside from those things, Zoro didn’t know anything else about her.

 

Kaya was someone who knew Usopp the best and most likely wouldn’t be a pain in the ass, but she was also a stranger. Vivi was familiar. Zoro mused about this. Would Vivi keep this to herself if he asked her to?

 

Who was he kidding? After the Crocodile incident, Vivi couldn’t keep a secret even if her life depended on it.  

 

With decision made, Zoro made his way to the cultural arts building.

 

It was to his luck that the art club members hadn’t left yet. Poking his head inside, he could see the students puttering around as they cleaned up the room and idly conversed to one another. Gathering her own materials in the far back was Kaya.

 

“Senpai?” Usopp took notice of him and bounded towards him, curiosity evident on her face. “What are you doing here?”

 

“Oh, I…” Zoro frowned and scratched the back of his head. He cursed inwardly about not thinking ahead. Well, technically, he did: Get Kaya to give him advice and then act on said advice. But he obviously skipped this crucial step. Would it be strange if he requested to just speak Kaya about something?

 

Deciding that it’d was too much of a drag to dwell on it, he answered, “I’m here to speak to your friend.”

 

As expected, that got him a look of incredulity. “Who? You mean Kaya?”

 

“Yeah, her.”

 

“But…why?”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” he told her gruffly. “Just get her here, would ya?”

 

Usopp’s brows furrowed, but she nodded slowly. Usopp left to approach the blonde. Zoro watched as the girls talked and the way Kaya frowned after Usopp had pointed in his direction. It didn’t take long for Kaya to stand in front of him, albeit hesitantly.

 

“Um, Roronoa-senpai? Is there something that you would like to speak to me about?”

 

“Yeah. Let’s go somewhere private, alright?” He motioned with the jerk of his chin and began walking down the hall without waiting for the girl’s response. A second later, he heard light footsteps hurrying after him.

 

He led Kaya down until they were behind the building. Once they stopped, Zoro turned around and squared his shoulders, preparing himself to say what he had been wanting—needing—to say. Strangely, Kaya had a look of discomfort and nervousness marring her expression, which knocked off Zoro’s pluck and replaced it with confusion.

 

“Oi, what’s the matter?”

 

“N-nothing,” Kaya squeaked.

 

He raised an eyebrow. “No, doesn’t seem like nothing. Why do you look so scared?” And then a thought occurred to him. “Oh no, did you hear rumors about me being a delinquent? Because, just do you know, I’m not one! That bastard love cook told everyone that one day just because he’s a sore loser. The green hair is natural, alright?”

 

Kaya startled. “No! It’s not that!”

 

“Huh? Really?”

 

“Yes, I—” She pursed her lips. “Could you just please tell me what you wanted to tell me, Roronoa-senpai?”

 

The girl didn’t appreciate having her time wasted? Well, he couldn’t really fault her since he was the same way. Zoro got to the point: “I need your help in asking Usopp out.”

 

Kaya stared at him, slack-jawed. She slowly blinked. “Eeh?”

 

He frowned. “What?”

 

“Th-that’s what you wanted to ask me about?”

 

“Yeah. What did you think I called you over for?”

 

“I…” She pressed a hand to her chest and sighed out what sounded like relief. “I’m sorry. For a second, I thought that you were going to ask me out!”

 

Zoro reeled his head back in surprise. “The hell made you think that?”

 

For a timid girl, she was capable of directing a deadpan stare. “Senpai, you must understand how this looks.”

 

He took a moment to realize that, yeah, okay, him requesting to speak to Kaya alone might have given the wrong impression. Zoro rubbed the back of his neck. “I see your point.”

 

“I just hope that Usopp-chan won’t think of it like that. She likes you a lot.”

 

Automatically, he smirked. “I know.”

 

“Of course, you do,” Kaya said with a humored smile. “She really is incapable of hiding her feelings.”

 

“That’s obvious.” Then his smirk fell. “Does she not know that I feel the same way?”

 

“I’m afraid not.” Well, that settled it. “I am a bit surprised to hear that you’ve come to me for help. And that you like her back. Ah, I mean, it’s only because I don’t know you well, but I’m relieved to hear that you do.”

 

“I see.” A moment of self-consciousness washed over him, compelling him to avert his gaze and scratch the back of his head, but he shook it off. “So, you gonna help or what?”

 

Kaya’s smile evolved to a grin. “Of course!”

 

With that answer, Zoro couldn’t help but grin back.

Chapter Text

Today was supposed to be a regular old morning.

 

As usual, everyone gathered in the dining room and began eating breakfast. Usopp was exhausted from pulling an all-nighter, too caught up in her tinkering to stop and go to sleep. She speared a piece of bacon on her plate, nibbled on it, and decided that maybe something fresh and clean would help reboot her brain rather than something salty and greasy.

 

She blearily reached for the fruit basket and grabbed an apple. After taking a bite, Usopp scrunched her face in disgust. Did Sanji accidentally purchase bad fruit or something? The bitter mush slid down her throat, causing her to shudder. Yuck. She should have spat it out when she had the chance.

 

"Uh, Usopp? What are you eating?" Nami inquired across from her.

 

"Apple," Usopp said around a yawn. "But it's nasty. Don't eat anything from the bunch."

 

"I-I don't think that's an apple, Lil Sis," Franky stammered. "Look at it."

 

She blinked and her eyes drifted down to the object in her hand. The fruit was round and smooth like an apple, but it was in a peculiar magenta hue with whorl imprinted on its smooth surface. Immediately, she paled and dropped the fruit, causing it fall onto the floor with a soft thud.

 

"Oh my," Brook said, breaking the silence. "It appears that we have another Devil Fruit user in the crew! Yohoho!"

 


 

"So, in other words," Robin concluded, closing the book, "it is perhaps one of the strongest Devil Fruit abilities out there."

 

"Unless someone manages to silence her or block their hearing," Zoro pointed out.

 

"Not quite. According to these records, the target just needs to be within the user's field of vision. Although, yes, verbal command is required, and the volume of the command determines how strong the effect will be."

 

"Wow, that's so cool, Usopp!" Luffy said, staring at Usopp in awe. "You can do some serious damage with your new power!"

 

"Man, it sounds so convenient," Nami sighed, her face plopped on her hand. "I could get out of any fight unscathed if I had that ability."

 

Usopp did have to admit that Luffy and Nami were right; this ability was certainly a useful one, especially for a sniper like herself. She was a long-range fighter and she couldn't count how many times she had gotten involved in short-range fights. If any enemies were to get too close, she could stop them with a one-word command and come out as victorious!

 

"Ahahaha!" Usopp grinned widely, propping her fists on her hips. "This ability is truly befitting of the great warrior of the seas, Captain Usopp!"

 

“It’s kinda weird how it’s called the Sit Sit Fruit when there isn’t any sitting involved,” Chopper said with a perplexed frown.

 

“Ah, yes, one of the many mysteries of the fruits of the devil,” Brook agreed.

 

Robin tucked the book under her arm and turned towards Usopp. "We would need to test out the boundaries of your new power first before you could try it in battle, Longnose-san," she said.

 

"Usopp-tan can test it on me!" Sanji crooned.

 

"Yeah, let the love cook get the pounding," Zoro agreed.

 

"On second thought, maybe the damn marimo should be the target. Heaven knows he could use a few beatings to the head."

 

Before the two men could duke it out, Usopp imperiously pointed at either of them and exclaimed, "Sit!"

 

Zoro and Sanji stiffened, but the expected result didn't happen.

 

"What the hell, Usopp?" Zoro snapped. Usopp squeaked and dove behind Franky for cover.

 

"Huh, that didn't work," Luffy said, crossing his arms and pouting in disappointment. "Robin, why didn't it work?"

 

"Perhaps certain conditions must be met in order for the ability to take an effect," Robin mused. "Longnose-san, you were trying to command both of them, correct?"

 

"Well, either of them, actually," Usopp said, peeking around Franky's waist.

 

"Try singling out one of them."

 

"Wait, hold it—!" Zoro began to protest.

 

Usopp's eyes landed on the swordsman and said, "Sit." Simultaneously, as the word was about to leave her lips, a strange sensation took over: a tingling danced from the base of her throat to her tongue, and her stomach felt fluttery. Usopp hadn't realized that she had been in a daze until she blinked back into awareness, startled to find Zoro lying flat on his face with some of the guys guffawing at him.

 

"Usopp, I'm gonna kill you," Zoro swore as he propped himself up.

 

"Sit!" Usopp cried. She no longer felt the same sensation, but she was able to see her ability in action. Zoro was quickly pulled to the floor as though there was an invisible chain yanking him to it, and the floorboards creaked under the force of his weight.

 

"Usopp, quit it!" Zoro roared.

 

"S-sorry!" she yelped, hiding behind Franky again.

 

"No, do it again!" Sanji insisted.

 

"Screw you, dart brow!"

 

"Wait, hold it. What's that around his neck?" Nami intervened, pointing.

 

Everyone paused to look at Zoro. Hanging around his neck was a beaded necklace, not unlike the one that Luffy's brother, Ace, had worn. Except, rather than red, each bead alternated between black and white. Placed between two beads and Zoro's collarbones was an orange and black striped pendant. A tiger, her mind automatically supplied.

 

"What the—where did this come from?" Zoro grabbed the necklace and pulled it off of his head—or, at least, he tried to. When he brought it by his ear lobes, the necklace glowed faintly and wouldn't budge past that spot. It was as if there was an invisible wall blocking the necklace from leaving.

 

Sanji, after recovering from his laughing fit, decided to take pity on his crewmate and tried to help him. Yet, no matter how much both men tugged and pulled, the necklace wasn't going anywhere. Soon, Franky, Luffy, and a Heavy Point Chopper joined the fray, only to result their endeavors as fruitless.

 

"Usopp, get this thing off of me," Zoro growled.

 

"I don't know how!" Usopp cried. The dark look in Zoro's gaze made her anxious, and she was worried that he would actually commit crewmate-icide. Just before she could declare her scary-marimo-swordsman disease as an excuse to book it out of here, Nami smacked Zoro on the head.

 

"Cool it! You know Usopp wouldn't do something like this on purpose," Nami berated.

 

Zoro shot her a disbelieving glare. "Uh, yes, she would. Have you met her?"

 

"Yes, I have, and I know that she wouldn't. Isn't that right, Usopp?" Nami sent the sniper a saccharine smile that read "you better not be lying and pulling another of your inane pranks or else". Usopp would have been offended if she hadn't been so nervous. The sniper rapidly nodded to assure them that, no, she wasn't doing this on purpose and please please please spare her.

 

"Interesting," Robin murmured, rubbing her chin. "This wasn't mentioned in the book." Then, to Usopp, she said, "This requires further testing. Do Cook-san next."

 

"Um, what? Seriously?"

 

"It's alright, Usopp-tan! For your sake, I'll go through anything!" Sanji exclaimed with a beam, but he added tentatively, "Although, could you make it so that it wouldn't hurt as much?"

 

"Make it hurt!" Zoro bellowed.

 

Usopp looked at Robin with uncertainty before turning her attention to Sanji. In the softest whisper that she could muster, she said, "Sit."

 

Sanji grunted as he dropped to his hands and knees. The sensation remained absent and no necklace formed. The cook awkwardly stood up, rubbed the back of his neck, and said, "Um, nothing?"

 

"Nothing," Robin confirmed.

 

"Usopp, scream it out. Maybe, this time, it'll show up," Zoro suggested.

 

"How about I make you scream by shoving my foot up your ass?"

 

"Okay, putting aside how wrong that sounds," Nami said, ignoring Sanji's "Wait, what?", "I think that's enough for today. We already got the basics of Usopp's new power, and what she can do should be used on our enemies."

 

"Come on. How's that fair?" Zoro grumbled. "Alright, fine. If not the love cook, then do Luffy."

 

"What? Why me?" Luffy whined.

 

"You're rubber, so you should theoretically bounce back up. Shouldn't hurt."

 

"Didn't you hear what I just said?" Nami snapped.

 

"Haramaki Bro is just mad that he's the one who got his ass handed to him by Lil Sis's Sit Sit ability," Franky snickered. He waggled his brows at the navigator. "How about we throw him a bone, eh?"

 

"Oh, yes, but hopefully not one of my bones! Yohohoho!" Brook chortled. "Skull joke!"

 

"Actually, I was thinking more of the lines of a dog joke."

 

Everyone looked at Franky in puzzlement. "What do you mean?" Chopper asked.

 

"Ya see, Lil Sis is using the command 'sit' and dogs chew on bones, so..." Franky trailed off, letting the crew to figure out the rest on their own.

 

"And the damn marimo is collared like one too!" Sanji threw his head back and laughed. "Fitting for a mutt! Bwahahaha!"

 

"I don't get it," Luffy said, frowning. "What's this got to do with dogs?"

 

As Robin calmly explained to Luffy, Usopp watched with mounting apprehension at the red tinge and glower on Zoro's face. The embarrassment that the man displayed would usually be followed by an explosive and violent response; additionally, because the source came from her, Usopp would undoubtedly suffer the repercussions. In order to appease his anger, she knew what she had to do.

 

"Oh, I get it!" Luffy burst out in glee. "Zoro is a dog—!"

 

"Luffy, sit!"

 

Luffy crashed onto the floor, his straw hat flying off of his head. When Luffy lifted his head, he was scowling, red from the hit, and necklace-less. "What the hell, Usopp! That hurt!"

 

"Luffy didn't bounce at all," Chopper observed.

 

"Perhaps the ability nullifies the target's Devil Fruit power," Robin figured.

 

"That confirms it: Only Zoro is in possession of the necklace. Can we put an end to this now?" Nami said exasperatedly.

 

"The necklace probably only appears on the user's first target," Brook speculated.

 

"Looks like Haramaki Bro is Lil Sis's bitch now," Franky said. There was a pause before the guys broke into hyena-shrieking laughter. Sanji especially was rolling on his back, eyes prickling with tears in his mirth. Even Luffy had dropped his anger in favor of joining the merriment, although it was likely that he had no idea what the guys were laughing about.

 

"I'm just gonna go to my workshop," Usopp said to no one in particular when she noticed the menacing aura that Zoro was emanating. Before hell was let loose, she fled out of the room.

 


 

Just like the past two islands the crew had stopped by at, Usopp was paired up with Zoro.

 

"It's because you can sit Zoro whenever he does something stupid," had been Nami's reasoning, which didn't make sense because Luffy did more stupid things than Zoro. Shouldn't she be with the captain instead?

 

Usopp had protested at first, finding the tensed silence between them to be unbearably stifling. Yet, as the two had explored the new lands together, the awkwardness had soon subsided. It had been easy to fall back into their old pace, what with Usopp yelling at him to not wander off and Zoro protecting her from any dangers. It had helped that not once did she use her power on him.

 

Zoro hadn’t asked her about removing the necklace either. Maybe he had come to accept that there was no way of doing so until Usopp fully mastered her new ability. Although, while Zoro had been content to wait for that to happen, Usopp herself had been mulling over the situation.

 

How could she mend this problem? How could she tap into her power and control what she couldn’t control? Because as funny as it was collaring a directionless swords maniac (not really), Usopp wasn't comfortable with the whole ordeal. It felt…weird. Wrong. And pointless. Like, what use did the necklace really have outside of clashing with Zoro’s outfit?

 

As they trekked across the terrain, Usopp thought back to what her crewmates had told her. Luffy had said that mastering his stretching and techniques had been due to years of training. Robin had said that her ability had come naturally to her, although it did require imagination to produce the result that she wanted. Chopper said that a bit of concentration had been a factor as to how he had adapted being a bipedal creature capable of human speech. Usopp hadn’t asked Brook in fear of evoking sad memories.

 

So, training, imagination, and concentration. And it went without saying that a whole lot of experimenting was key here as well. After all, it wasn’t as if there was another Sit Sit user who could tell her what to do, not to say that would be possible since the former Sit Sit user would have to die for her to be the current Sit Sit user.

 

"Hey, I've been wondering..."

 

Usopp was pulled out of her ruminations at the sound of Zoro’s voice. She glanced at him. “Hm?”

 

Zoro was frowning and rubbing the back of his neck. Given the agitation he was expressing, she immediately knew that he was embarrassed about something. He didn’t say anything until after a minute pause. When he did speak again, he asked, "Why'd you pick me and not the cook? I mean, was there a reason or was I picked by chance?"

 

Her eyes widened. “What? That’s what you were wondering about?”

 

A light blush formed on his cheeks as his face twisted into a scowl. “So, what of it?” he retorted defensively.

 

“Nothing! Nothing at all!” Usopp quickly assured, holding her hands out in placation. “I was just, you know, surprised? You didn’t say anything about it all this time, even when we would pair up to go exploring, so hearing you bring it up now is just…” she trailed off uncertainly.

 

“Yeah, well.” He averted his gaze, the frown still in place.

 

It wasn’t like Zoro to be evasive. Normally, the swordsman wouldn’t waste time beating around the bush; in fact, he was the second most straightforward man she knew (because Luffy, who was laughably incapable of lying, would be the first) to the point of insensitivity. Yet, here he was, refraining from bringing up the question until today. Unless he had thought about it just recently? But if that was the case, he wouldn’t act this way—prickly and flustered.

 

Usopp briefly considered telling Zoro that he was indeed chosen by chance; that way, the matter could be put to the side and they could forget all about it. However, for some reason, she felt compelled to go with the truth for once. "I knew that you'd be able to handle it. Not to say that Sanji wouldn’t be able to, but you're, well, more cushioned."

 

"What?” Zoro shot her an incredulous look.

 

This time, Usopp’s face was the one heating up. “I mean, you got muscles—you’re more muscular! You got your muscles to cushion you." She flailed a bit. “Sanji is more of a stick, so, uh, that’s why.”

 

He snorted. "Muscles aren't made for that, you dolt,” he said, and then his lips morphed into a smirk. "I appreciate you telling me that I'm better built than the love cook, though."

 

The confidence that the swordsman exuded was annoying. Usopp was starting to think that she liked sulky Zoro better than cocksure Zoro. She shielded her eyes from the metaphysical rays that lit up as Zoro’s backdrop and replied flatly, “Yeah, sure.”

 

“Well, come on.” Zoro picked up the pace and brushed past her. “We don’t got time to waste.”

 

“Huh? What do you mean? We’re not on a time limit or anything. Hey, Zoro—wait! You’re going the wrong way, you idiot!”

 


 

It took a great load of their strength combined to defeat one Bartholomew Kuma, but having to face another one? That was too much!

 

It was a blessing that their captain had enough sense to call for a retreat instead of getting up to fight again, especially to have them split into groups so that they wouldn’t be chased down altogether. Although, Luffy was one who had taken down the first Kuma with a single inflated punch; mustering up an attack like that would render the rubber man thoroughly depleted of his energy, of course.

 

There was the same whirring sound coming from behind, and then came another deadly beam. Usopp narrowly dodged the fire that exploded at her heels; she screamed, leaped, and crashed against Zoro’s back. Shaken by the close call, she didn’t have the will to move her wobbly legs, so she desperately clung onto the sprinting swordsman. “Zoro-kun, protect me, please!”

 

“Hold on, Usopp! I’m hurt enough as it is…!” Zoro grunted.

 

“Fear not! I shall protect you,” Brook said as he ran alongside him. “I would imagine that you’re still quite damaged. I was witness to the entire incident on Thriller Bark when you stepped in for him.”

 

Usopp wasn’t sure what Brook was talking about, but no matter. As long as the skeleton got their backs, then all was well.

 

“You guys! Let’s meet up on Sunny Go in three days!” Luffy’s order pierced through the air.

 

As everyone made a run for it, Usopp glanced over her shoulder where their pursuers stood. That big guy with the axe, Sentomaru, had called the fallen Kuma PX-4 and the one next to him PX-1. Did the P stand for Pacifista? That was what Sentomaru had also called PX-4.

 

Something about this smelled fishy, and it wasn’t because Usopp had decided to forgo the deodorant (not that anyone needed to know that). But given the situation, she couldn’t bother to spare any braincells to contemplate what was going on here. All she could think about was how they were going to be sentenced to that metaphorical wooden chopping block if they didn't escape in time.

 

Sentomaru’s high-pitched, adenoidal voice was heard, but his words were indiscernible; Usopp could only imagine that the man was giving PX-4 an order. Coiling her legs tightly around Zoro’s waist, she grabbed an ammo, slotted it into Kabuto’s sling, and arched her back so that she was facing the cyborg. Despite hanging upside down while clinging onto a bumpy ride, her shot would sail sure and true.

 

“Special attack: Super Smoke Star!” she announced, releasing the ammo.

 

The ammo hit and engulfed Sentomaru and PX-4 in an explosion of smoke.

 

“Now’s our chance!” Usopp shrieked, pulling herself back up.

 

“Yohohoho!” You certainly are dependable!” Brook exclaimed.

 

“Usopp, why didn’t you just use your power on them?” Zoro said.

 

“My they-know-I-have-the-Sit-Sit-Fruit-ability-and-would-chase-after-me-if-I-use-it-on-them disease is kicking in. I’ll die if I use it!”

 

There was blast resounding in the direction where Nami, Sanji, and Franky had headed for, and what followed were a series of crashes. That sounded terribly worrisome. Usopp winced.

 

“Maybe you wanna forget your disease for a bit and use it now?” Zoro asked sarcastically.

 

“Right, right.” She peered behind her. “Si—"

 

Zoro abruptly stopped, causing Usopp to topple backwards and off of him.

 

“Ow! What the heck, Zoro?”

 

“Get back.” He placed a hand on the hilt of his sword.

 

In front of them was a golden glow. Standing behind the drifting smoke was a silhouette of a tall figure. What happened next was done as though in slow motion: The man extended a hand that cut through the wispy gray clouds and pointed directly at Zoro. At the tip of his finger, the same glow gathered and grew; it flickered in a way as though it was charging.

 

A sense of dread took hold of Usopp. Whatever was about to happen, she instinctively knew that Zoro was in danger, but preparing for another shot would be too late. Not to mention how heavy her limbs felt at the moment; it was as if her premonition had frozen her in place and all she could do was watch helplessly. Yet if her body refused to move, then her words would have to do.

 

Which was why she screamed out from the top of her lungs, “Zoro, sit!”

 

The second Zoro slammed to the ground, a ray of light fired from the man’s finger and into the earth. Suddenly, an eruption of flames and flying dirt clumps surrounded her. Usopp cried out as the force of the attack threw her to the ground. The knock to the head caused her vision to go fuzzy and had her uselessly pawing at the grass; but, as soon as the world stopped spinning, she quickly gained her bearings and scrambled onto her feet.

 

“Oh?” an unfamiliar male voice said. “So, you’re the user?”

 

A man in a striped suit and a marine coat towered over Zoro’s prone body and gazed directly at her. All it took was one glance at the man’s curious face for Usopp to unleash another command. The marine hurtled to the ground and was continuously embedded in deep as she chanted like a loon, “Sit sit sit sit sit sit sit sit sit—"

 

“Uncle Kizaru!” Sentomaru cried.

 

“Kizaru?” Robin gasped loudly. Whoa, when did she get here? For that matter, when did Sentomaru? “Usopp, whatever you do, don’t stop!”

 

Unfortunately, the sumo man didn’t give her much of a choice. The sound of sliced air drew her attention behind her, and Usopp screamed when she saw a giant spinning axe careening in her way. Without thinking, she shouted, "Sit!", but nothing happened because compelling a freaking object into sitting was impossible, you dolt.

 

Just before her beheading, skinny yet hard arms gathered her into a bridal carry. With one graceful jump, Brook swiftly evaded the axe and carried Usopp to safety. "Brook to the rescue!" Brook announced.

 

When the skeleton set her down, Usopp collapsed onto her rear, her legs unable to support her after her close brush with death. "Th-thanks, Brook," she wheezed out. "You seriously saved me."

 

"Just doing what a crewmate would do," Brook assured.

 

Not too far from where they were, Zoro wrenched his face from the ground, the imprint of his angry face visible on the dirt. He glared furiously at Usopp (how did he know that she would be here and not there?) and snarled out, “The hell, Usopp? Use it on that yellow bastard, not on me!”

 

“Sorry! I panicked!” she yelped. “And, just so you know, I did!”

 

“I meant use it only on our enemies, stupid!”

 

“I’m sorry!”

 

“Don’t you know that I got enough wounds?” he continued to yell.

 

“I said that I’m sorry, you jerk! What more do you want me to say?”

 

“Now, now. You can have your couple’s quarrel in another time," Brook intervened.

 

“Can it, afro skeleton!” Usopp and Zoro snapped in tandem.

 

"Yohohoho!"

 

“He’s right, Zoro. You need to get away from Kizaru! Now!” Robin called over to him, the urgency in her voice palpable. Robin seldom appeared distressed; however, when she did, really, really bad things were imminent.

 

Rising back onto his feet was the yellow bastard that Zoro had so aptly dubbed him as. The man's glasses were askew and one of the lenses was shattered, yet he maintained the same expression of simple curiosity. "Ow," Kizaru said lightly. "That hurt."

 

“Si—” Usopp was cut off by the body tackle delivered by Brook. Good timing too since the ray that zapped through Brook’s afro would have zapped her in the face had they not evaded in time.

 

“Waaah!” Brook cried out in alarm. “My hair! How is my hair?”

 

“Singed,” Usopp croaked.

 

“Brook, take Usopp to safety,” Zoro ordered, already on his feet. He widened his stance and had two swords drawn out. “I’ll handle this guy.”

 

“Zoro, don’t! He’s an admiral; he’s way above your league!” Robin yelled.

 

“It’s not like we got much of a choi—”

 

“Sit!” Usopp shrieked, causing Zoro to fall again. For a mind-numbing second, she wondered why she couldn’t just direct the command onto Kizaru instead of Zoro. Why did her thoughts veer towards Zoro every time? But no matter—Kizaru’s foot dove into the empty space, an arch of golden light chasing after his heel. Had Zoro not been pulled down, would the kick to his head result in Zoro soaring right into buildings or a bloody splatter?

 

As the admiral was rotating in midair, Usopp locked her eyes on his form and shouted, “Sit!”

 

“Veinte Fleurs!” Robin exclaimed. Two rows of arms bloomed from the ground and proceeded tugging and grabbing onto Zoro’s clothes, propelling him to move down the rows and away from Kizaru.

 

“Quit rolling me around!” Zoro barked, trying to get on his feet. “It’s making me sick!”

 

Brook grabbed Usopp’s arms and hoisted her up. “How—how did you know that was going to happen, Usopp-san?”

 

“I’m not sure,” she stuttered, “but I’ve been getting hunches that whenever Kizaru’s about to do something.” Well, not for all his actions. She hadn’t noticed him shooting at her until Brook had saved her yet again. Why was she receiving these hunches and why at certain times, she had no idea but would dwell on them later. She swallowed heavily. “We—we gotta go now.”

 

“Uncle Kizaru, what the hell is the matter with you?” Sentomaru cried out in bewilderment. “Why couldn’t you phase through her attacks?”

 

“Seems like I’m unable to.” Kizaru shook the dirt off his head. He touched his jawline and winced. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Ow…”

 

“Sit!”

 

Kizaru was reintroduced to the ground.

 

“You!” snarled Sentomaru, making a charge towards Usopp and Brook. “I’ll finish you!”

 

Which never happened. Sending the sumo man skidding away from them was a powerful kick courtesy of Rayleigh. The Straw Hat Pirates all gasped at the old man’s unexpected yet welcomed entry.

 

“Rayleigh!” they exclaimed.

 

“How wonderful. Another nuisance,” Kizaru noted nonchalantly. He cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders. “I don’t suppose you’ll move aside so I can take a hit on the Sit Sit user, eh?”

 

“Don’t be silly, Kizaru-kun,” Rayleigh replied. “Of course not.”

 

“Figures.”

 

“Zoro, Brook, take care of Usopp! They’ll be targeting her!” Luffy hollered. “Everyone, focus on escaping; we won’t be able to take on these marines as we are now!”

 

“Right.” Zoro sheathed his swords and bolted towards Usopp and Brook. “Start running now!”

 

No need to tell her twice. Usopp ran like her life depended on it—which it did. This was why she had been reluctant on using her power; if the marines caught a whiff of someone with an ability as strong as taking down a freaking admiral—she took down an admiral; holy cow!—then they would chase her down to the ends of the earth. Not to say that the crew hadn’t exactly experienced that what with them being relatively well-known pirates and all, but, this time, she would be the one who the marines would specifically target.

 

Usopp already missed the safety net that her anonymity had ensured. No one knew who Sogequeen was behind her mask and she had hoped that it would have stayed that way. Unfortunately, though, there just might be a bounty for Sogequeen and for Usopp. Good grief.

 

Just when she thought that they were making a successful escape, PX-1 was closing in on them, its arms positioned as though it was going to snap them into a bear trap.

 

Usopp screamed—again.

 

“Sit!” she commanded, but nothing happened to the Kuma robot because it was a robot, you dolt. Learn from the axe mistake!

 

“Zoro-san, ensure that you and Usopp-san make it out safely,” Brook said as he faltered back.

 

“Brook, the hell are you doing?” Zoro demanded.

 

“All for one and one for all.” Brook unsheathed his sword. “Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” With a spin, Brook dove at PX-1 with his sword ready to slash, but what happened instead was the skeleton getting flung out of the way with a beam.

 

“Brook, the hell are you doing?” Usopp and Zoro shouted furiously in tandem.

 

The heavy pounding of PX-1’s feet grew louder. Usopp dared to catch a glimpse of the robot and squawked when she noticed it was indeed closer than before. Uncomfortably close.

 

“Shit,” Zoro hissed. “Usopp, whatever you do, just keep going.”

 

“Zoro, don’t do what I think you’re about to do. It’s suicidal!”

 

But Zoro did not heed her words. He slowed down just as Brook had and whipped out his swords.

 

As Usopp maintained her pace, the further she got from him. A part of her urged herself on: She had to escape no matter what. She had to! If she fell back, then she was going to get annihilated, and that was a death she did not want to experience. But Brook had gotten himself creamed to buy them time even though his attempt had been futile. And Zoro was going to get himself creamed to buy her time. Could she really just allow this to happen, her crewmates throwing themselves in danger while she was the only one who made it out safely?

 

Of course not! Usopp might be a coward, but she wasn’t the kind of person to turn her back on her friends.

 

As Zoro dodged a blast, a bullet connected PX-1’s head and enveloped it in flames. Zoro leapt back to create space between him and the robot before peering over his shoulder. “Usopp?”

 

“I’m not leaving you here to fight on your own,” Usopp declared, readying another ammo. “We’ll do this together!”

 

“You idiot! Don’t get involved! Run!”

 

Just as Zoro had ignored her warnings, she ignored his. She understood, though—the need to protect those who they cared about even at the cost of their lives. That was very much like Zoro, but Usopp herself could be that way too. So, she fired again and again. With each blow, PX-1 staggered a bit, but her ammo wasn't enough to take the robot down.

 

Then, PX-1 lifted its hand and caught the next shot. The ammo exploded within its grasp, yet it did nothing to deter the robot. PX-1's fingers stretched apart, revealing an illuminating palm preparing for another beam.

 

“Shit,” she murmured. This wasn’t good.

 

Suddenly, PX-1 fell onto its face. As it lost its footing, so did its aim; the beam was blasted a few yards away from where Usopp and Zoro were standing—a really close call. It was to their luck that they had Sanji to the rescue, who was flying ahead of PX-1.

 

Usopp smiled in relief. "Sanji!"

 

The hope that lit up within her only existed briefly, however. Even from this distance, Usopp could see Sanji’s leg spasming. He had overexerted himself and the strain was now taking over. The cook gripped his calf as gravity pulled him down. With no way of maneuvering himself for a landing, especially with his bad leg, he spiraled towards the ground. Given the angle he was falling at, Sanji would have crashed on his face had it not been for Zoro catching him.

 

"You made yourself useless, love cook. Way to go," Zoro groused.

 

"Shut up, marimo."

 

Usopp's eyes darted back to PX-1, which was slowly picking itself back up. Kizaru was right about one thing—the bigger they were, the harder they fell. They had to seize this opportunity quickly; otherwise, once it was back on its feet, they would be stuck to the same game of cat and mouse.

 

"Zoro, pick up Sanji and let's go," Usopp ushered. "We don't have much time."

 

"Maybe you should freaking listen to me for once when I tell you to—" Zoro's eyes grew wide when his eyes slid past her and onto what was behind her. "Run."

 

Usopp felt her blood go cold at the look of horror on his face. "Z-Zoro?"

 

"Run!"

 

She flinched and spun on her heel; however, she was too late. An enormous hand—practically her size—with pink palm and fingertip paddings closed in on her. Her world was eclipsed into darkness until she knew nothing more.

 


 

"Usoppun, look!"

 

Usopp took a glance at the presented paper and nearly choked on her food.

 

On the wanted poster was a picture of a bird's eye view of Usopp drawing back Kabuto; one of the Kuma robots must have had taken it. While seeing her own face was a surprise, seeing the tagged price was downright alarming. Sit Sit Usopp was wanted dead or alive for...one-hundred million beris?

 

Usopp blanched. That was higher than Sanji's bounty!

 

And...and...her epithet was Sit Sit?

 

Nooo! Why couldn't the damn marines give her a better name like Great Captain Usopp or Sniper Empress Usopp? Hell, if they had any brains, they would have put two and two together and see that she was Sogequeen! Sogequeen Usopp had a nice ring to it. But Sit Sit? Sit Sit? She didn't want the world to recognize her for that!

 

"Arrrrgh," Usopp groaned miserably.

 

"I take it that you're upset," noted Heracles.

 


 

"Wah!" Usopp brought a hand over her left eye. But just before she could press her palm against it, she stilled.

 

"Usoppun?" Heracles said concernedly. "Is everything alright?"

 

"I... Yeah." Her eye wasn't in pain, yet, for some reason, her hand had reflexively flown to it. She dropped her arm and looked up to the skies. Maybe she had stood under a particularly sharp sunray or maybe a speck of dust had landed on her eye. Whatever. It wasn't a problem anyhow. 

 


 

The first thing Zoro did in their reunion was march right up to Usopp and give her a noogie. He hooked the nook of his elbow around her throat and arrested her against his chest. He then drilled a fist to her head as though he was trying to create a hole in her skull.

 

"You dolt. Why didn't you run when I told you to run?"

 

"Eeeyaaah!" Usopp shrieked, wriggling wildly in his hold. Was he talking about what had happened two years ago? He was sore about that? For what had happened two years ago?

 

"You brute! The hell are you doing to Usopp-tan?"

 

Zoro released Usopp in order to block Sanji's kick. Usopp ducked, tucked, and rolled out of there before scurrying away.

 


 

Admittedly, the one person who Usopp was the most excited to see was Zoro. The reason?

 

"I think I found a way to take the necklace off of you."

 

Zoro's eyebrows rose. "Seriously?"

 

Usopp nodded, her lips stretched into a grin. "I mean, there hasn't been another person who I've, uh, collared, but I spent these past two years honing my Sit Sit power. I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to free you."

 

The swordsman snorted. "It wasn't as if I've not been free just because I have this thing on," he said, pointing to the necklace.

 

"Funny thing how your first reaction was completely different," Usopp deadpanned. Zoro rolled his single eye in response. "Now, come over here and get on your knees! I can't pull it over your head even if I go on my tiptoes."

 

"How are you still a shrimp?" he chuckled, coming closer. Zoro did not go down to his knees, but he did lower himself enough so that he was eye level with Usopp. When her hands reached over to his throat, he caught them and held them in place.

 

"Zoro?" Usopp blinked.

 

His single eye stared into her own pair. "You sure about this?"

 

"Wha—? What are you talking about? Of course, I am!" She frowned. "Why do you ask?"

 

He returned her frown. "Well, why bother?"

 

"Why...bother?"

 

He nodded. "Yeah."

 

She stared at him blankly. "Okay, you lost me. What are you on about?"

 

Zoro sighed and straightened to his full height. "Never mind," he dismissed.

 

Now she was really confused. "Wait, Zoro, don't you want it off?"

 

"Like I said, why bother?"

 

Her mouth opened to say something, but no words came out.

 

Evidently enjoying her lack of response to his response, Zoro smirked down at her. He squeezed her hands (oh, hey, he was still holding them) before releasing them. He then turned around and held up a hand as a gesture of farewell. "See ya."

 

Still oh-so confused, Usopp blurted out, "What the hell?"

 


 

"I don't understand why Zoro wants to keep the necklace on. Isn't it a bother to wear all the time?"

 

"Perhaps he became accustomed to it after two years," said Robin, her eyes never straying away from the page of her book.

 

"I guess," Usopp grumbled. "But I don't see why he just doesn't accept the offer. Sure, why not keep it, but why not take it off?"

 

"It could be that he now likes it. It's rather becoming on him, isn't it?"

 

"Um." Usopp wasn't sure what to say to that. "Zoro's always been a good-looking guy, so anything'll suit him."

 

"Oh?" This time, Robin peered over her book and fixed Usopp a teasing smile. "Is that so?"

 

"Don't get ideas, Robin," the sniper huffed, crossing her arms. "It isn't like that."

 

Robin chuckled and returned to her reading. "I'm sure it isn't."

 

There were times when Usopp appreciated the older woman humoring her, yet this wasn't one of those times. She pouted. "I'm serious, Robin! I don't see Zoro in that way."

 

"You won't now, but you will later on," she replied, turning the page.

 

There was a pause.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I meant what I said."

 

There was another pause.

 

"Zoro is not my type!" Usopp insisted, her eyes wide with incredulity. "What the heck, Robin?"

 

"I'm just saying how it is."

 

"Just—argh, just no." She shook her head. "Where did you even get that from?

 

"It's just how it is," the archaeologist responded in lieu of an answer. "Although, I'm certain that your feelings won't be unrequited, so have faith, Usopp."

 

"Why're are you saying as though I do like him already? Stop being so cryptic! And, for your information, Zoro is not my type whatsoever!" A bullheaded swords maniac like him? As if!

 

Robin hummed. "And what would your type be?"

 

"It—it would be—um..." She wracked through her brain because, oh wow, she had not thought about that before. Sure, Usopp had crushes. She had even pined after the cutest boy in her school back in Syrup Village. But to have a guy with specific qualifications that matched her own fancy was something that she had never seriously considered. Before she knew it, Usopp blurted out, "A nice guy."

 

"Zoro can be nice, you know. And he's good-looking, according to you, which should be a bonus."

 

"Me saying that Zoro's good-looking was just me making an objective claim, alright? No personal feelings or interests involved whatsoever!"

 

"Fufufu." Robin smiled at her. "If you say so."

 


 

Being crammed in a tiny cage was one thing. Being crammed in a tiny cage that was suspended above thirty stories was another. But even though the cage’s chain to the ceiling might snap from the collective weight of her, Zoro, and Brook being inside, there shouldn’t be an issue of them breaking their necks since the room was being flooded. The water ought to break their fall, right?

 

Oh, wait, Usopp was a Devil Fruit user; that meant that sea water would make her sink like a rock. Then either Zoro or Brook could get them out before they drowned to death, right? Oh, wait, they were chained up like how she was and were stripped of their weapons, rendering them utterly useless. To further shit on the situation, Usopp was gagged. Not that there was anyone who she could command to sit, but being cut off her ability to complain about her predicament put her in a dour mood.

 

“This certainly isn’t good,” Brook observed, peering between the bars of the cage. “And I just finished drying too. I don’t want to be submerged in sea water again.”

 

“Mmhmm!” Usopp tried to speak.

 

“Yohoho! I can’t ascertain what you’re saying, but I have a feeling that you’re also displeased by our situation, Usopp-san.”

 

“Of course, she would be, considering the mess that you’ve pulled us into,” Zoro groused. Usopp had been unconscious after one of Hody's subordinates had brought her to surface, so she hadn't seen what had happened; however, according to the two men, had Brook not fooled around too much with the fishmen, they would have escaped.

 

Zoro scowled. "Ugh. If I had my sword, I'd free us."

 

“Ah, it seems that I have a lot to atone for." The musician hung his head in theatrical contrition, but quickly recovered as he cheerfully said, "Fear not! I have a solution to our problem. Never have I imagined that I would be using this ability in front of you two, but that matters not right now."

 

Unwittingly, Usopp leaned forward and looked at Brook curiously. What was he planning on doing?

 

Brook slackened his jaw and chanted, “Dororororororo.” His body teetered side to side as he changed his mantra to “Bone. Bone. Bone. Bone. Bone.”

 

This time, Usopp jerked backwards, creeped out by what was happening. The skeleton was behaving as though he was being possessed by a ghost.

 

“Bone. Bone. Bone. Bone,” Brook droned, the words spilling out of him faster and more fervent.

 

“Brook, the hell are you—”

 

Baaaaang!” If the abrupt burst hadn’t surprised them, then the green specter that shot out of Brook’s mouth did.

 

"Hmmmmm!" Usopp screamed around her gag.

 

“Boom! I’m out!” the wispy creature declared in Brook’s voice. It did a loop and floated away from the cage. Then, in a casual voice that was meant to be used by an office man to tell his wife and kids that he was going to work after breakfast, it said, “Okay, I’ll be going now.”

 

Usopp’s eyes darted between the skeleton, which was now motionless like how an actual skeleton would be, to the specter, which she noticed that it not only had Brook’s voice but also Brook’s hair and face. Not that most skulls were distinct from one another, but it was too much of a coincidence. That specter was Brook.

 

“Hold on, Brook,” Zoro called out to him, causing the specter to pause. “Is this a new ability? Since when were you able to do this?”

 

“Why, yes, it is new!” Brook affirmed, floating back to them. “I’m able to make my soul leave my body.” Okay, wow. “You see, I first discovered this during my Soul King world tour. At that time, I was in quite a slump. TDs sales were plummeting, and no one was buying concert tickets.”

 

At this, he sighed and shook his head. “I was at a loss as to what to do,” he continued. “In my desperation, I cried out to the God of Music to give me a sign, an inspiration, a muse! Something so that I could write a song that would shake everyone to the core! Then, a ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and shined on me. The next thing I know, I was barfing out my own soul! Yohohohoho!”

 

Usopp and Zoro exchanged looks. What a way to develop an ability.

 

“Since then, I noticed what was missing in my music and found a way out of my slump!” Brook laughed.

 

“What was it?” Zoro asked.

 

“Yohohoho!” He turned away, but not fast enough to hide his lecherous expression—at least, as much as a skull could express. “If you have the ability to pass through walls undetected… Well, any able-bodied man would understand, right?”

 

Um, what? Usopp's brows furrowed in disconcertment. Did Brook ever do that to her, Nami, and Robin? Because, if so, they were going to have words.

 

As though reading her mind, Brook hastily added, "But I wouldn't do such a thing to my crewmates, of course! Especially for the lovely couple here."

 

"You better hope not. Remember how Devil Fruit users can't use their powers against Usopp's Sit Sit ability?" Zoro drawled.

 

Brook laughed again, but this time with nervousness. "I'll be taking my leave now. Don't get hanky panky even with me gone! Yohohoho!" With that said, Brook flew away and out of the chamber. To find their weapons to free themselves? To go retrieve Luffy and the others? Either one would work as long as they got out of here before the water would reach them. Usopp had a horrible experience being a Devil Fruit user in sea water, and she didn't care to repeat it.

 

Also, was it just her or was Brook becoming more perverted? And weirder? What was up with all the couple comments?

 

"Nothing to do now other than to wait," Zoro sighed, slouching against the bars. Usopp would have reprimanded him for taking the situation with ease if it weren't for the fact that she was, well, gagged. But Zoro was right—there really was nothing that they could do now. Her gaze drifted down to where the water's surface was making its ascent, anxiety roiling in her stomach.

 

Although she had faith that Brook would do his best to save them, Usopp couldn't help but worry that this just might be the end of her. Of them. She had always envisioned a bright and sparkly future waiting for them, that their miraculously long-lived luck would grant them enough time to see through their goals, but anything could happen in the tumultuous life of a pirate. Or maybe their luck was at the end of its wits with them and decided to get rid of them via drowning.

 

"Stop looking."

 

She flinched and pulled back, finding Zoro looking at her sternly.

 

"You're just making yourself nervous, you dolt." He gestured to his side with a jerk of his chin. "Come over here."

 

Confused, Usopp did as told. After shuffling by his side, she tilted her head up expectantly.

 

"I'm going take the gag off of you," he told her simply, "so don't move, alright?"

 

Wow, just going for it without her permission? What a gentleman, Usopp thought dryly. But she would have permitted Zoro to do it regardless. She wanted this blasted thing off.

 

Zoro bent his back towards her. His face was close enough that she could see the indentation of his scar, and then he moved around, his cheek brushing past hers. The knot of the gag was secured below her skull and under her mass of curls. How the fishmen had managed to tie it there, she could vaguely imagine. Maybe one had held up her hair while the other one did the tying?

 

However, she knew that Zoro wouldn't be able to sparse through her tresses like how he was, so he settled on gnawing on the fabric until he was able to tear it off. At least, that was the impression that Usopp was getting. He couldn’t say since his mouth was full of cloth.

 

She felt his hot breath against her skin and felt his nose rubbing on her cheek. The solid presence of Zoro's build over hers felt like a security blanket. Her eyes flickered down and skittered across his chest. The last time she had been this close to him, she hadn't noticed how muscular he had gotten. More muscular. A fleeting memory of her telling Zoro why she had picked him to first experiment her power crossed her mind.

 

Finally, the fabric fell loose. Usopp spat out the gag and vindictively kicked it out of the cage. She opened and closed her mouth, stretching her jaw after being it being stuck in the same gaping position for hours.

 

"Thanks, Zoro."

 

Zoro nodded. "Anytime."

 


 

Against her better judgment, Usopp had followed her crewmates into Punk Hazard despite the myriad of warning signs that covered the gate. It was either that or be left alone, and Usopp did not want to be left alone in this scary not-island that had a murderous samurai prowling around. Although, the idea of trespassing World Government territory was equally daunting.

 

Oh, gosh, they were going to perish here, weren’t they? Officers of the World Government were going to jump on them and slaughter them in one fell swoop before they could react! Usopp warily surveyed the area.

 

On the land, fire burned eternally and everywhere. The heat was so volcanic that all of the buildings they passed by had been melted and deformed. Usopp didn't know that buildings could melt. On the street, there were lava pits that burbled and gurgled, hot bubbles forming and popping.

 

The air was heavy, although, strangely, it wasn't suffocating despite the fire. There wasn't smoke to inhale—there wasn't smoke whatsoever aside from what drifted to the skies. No gas or fumes or anything. Just scorching heat. It was tantamount, if not worse, to the deserts of Alabasta. If they cracked an egg out here, it would undoubtedly skip past the frying stage and right into the burning.

 

This was what Usopp imagined hell to look like, except it was brighter. Significantly brighter. And way more orange and red. She could feel her retinas sting from all this brightness.

 

“It’s so hot,” Luffy complained, dragging his feet.

 

Ten steps in and already had Luffy and Zoro bared their chests in response to the overwhelming temperature. Even Robin had pulled her dress over her head, now down to her undergarments. At least Usopp had arrived here in her cropped tank top and shorts, but her hair wasn’t helping with the situation, it being heavy and long. It was like having a wool coat attached to her scalp, and never had she felt more obliged to hack it all off until now.

 

As Usopp fanned her face with her hand, her foot landed on a loose piece of pavement. Brewing beneath the cobblestone was lava that spat at the air when the piece was dislodged. She nearly slipped forward had Zoro not grabbed her arm and pulled her up in time.

 

“Whoa!” Usopp quickly backed away, her heart pounding. “Th-thanks, Zoro.”

 

“You dolt. Can you be any clumsier?”

 

“I don’t want to hear that from a swords maniac with no sense of direction!”

 

Zoro rolled his eye. “Come on. Luffy and Robin are leaving us behind.”

 

In a flurry of panic, Usopp called out, “Wait, Zoro! Could you maybe hold my hand? In case I slip again?”

 

On hindsight, Zoro would have looked at her funny and tell her to keep up, maybe even scoff at her. This heat was slowing down her thinking because she would have known that he would have reacted like that. Before Usopp could retract her request and play it off as a joke, Zoro reached over and clasped his hand around hers. It was hot and clammy, but Usopp instantly felt the tension leave her body.

 

“Happy, you big baby?” Zoro teased.

 

Usopp pouted. “If it’s an inconvenience to you, you’re more than welcome to let go,” she huffed.

 

But Zoro didn’t. He held her hand during the whole walk down the land. Until they came across the dragon, of course.

 


 

In the midst of the battle in Dressrosa, in order to collectively take down their enemies, Usopp had commanded them to sit. However, while she had been able to take down multiple people rather than a singular person, her power hadn’t been honed enough to differentiate between friend and foe. She had been aware of that unfortunate consequence, but she nevertheless had decided to go for it.

 

What she hadn’t expected was what had happened to Trafalgar Law.

 

Usopp and the others found Luffy, Trafalgar, and two women on top of a building. Luffy was sleeping on top of the pink-haired girl’s thighs. Trafalgar was lying flat on his back with his severed arm reattached. However, what caused Usopp to gawk at him wasn’t because of his arm; rather, it was because of what was hanging around his neck.

 

Like Zoro, Trafalgar’s necklace consisted of black and white beads. Unlike Zoro, he had a spotted grayish white pendant instead of an orange and black striped one. A snow leopard, her mind automatically supplied.

 

“I’ve been told that this was your doing?” Trafalgar said, raising an eyebrow.

 

She sputtered. “What—how—but that shouldn’t be possible…!”

 

The pink-haired girl, Rebecca, looked up from Luffy’s slumbering face and at them. “What is it?”

 

Zoro leaned in from behind Usopp and peered over her shoulder. “Huh.”

 

“I received it right after you made everyone fall on their faces, so, yes, it is possible,” Trafalgar dryly retorted.

 

Usopp paused at that. Looking back at it now, she did recall that old sensation from two years ago reemerging, but she had dismissed it then. She hadn’t realized that same tingly and fluttery feeling was perhaps an indicator that someone was going to be a recipient of a Sit Sit accessory.

 

But…

 

“Why is it that you have it?” Usopp griped, digging her fingers into her hair. She was floundered by whatever conditions there were to obtain a necklace. “I don’t understand!”

 

The other woman, Viola, appeared contemplative. “You are the Sit Sit user, correct?”

 

“That she is,” Franky answered in Usopp’s place. “Sit Sit Usopp.”

 

“Don’t call me that!” she cried.

 

“How interesting.”

 

“Longnose-ya, can you get this thing off of me?” Trafalgar interrupted with thinly veiled impatience. “Unless the reason why Zoro-ya is still wearing his necklace is because you’re unable to do so?”

 

She started at that. “It—it’s not that. I’ll take it off.” Usopp hurried over to Trafalgar and knelt by his side. She then grabbed the necklace, gingerly doing it so that her fingers wouldn’t brush against with his skin, and slipped it past his chin. When the necklace glowed and there was a resistance from moving it any further, she poured her focus into the pendant.

 

As she had told Zoro, Usopp had never done this before, but she was confident that she was able to do it. Her brows furrowed as her gaze pierced into the pendant. Snow leopard, snow leopard, the voice in the back of her mind whispered. Free the snow leopard. The sensation crept back up again, but, this time, instead of coming from within, the tingling was concentrated from her palms to her fingertips.

 

When she blinked back to awareness, she found her hands splayed against Trafalgar’s chest. Usopp squeaked and quickly withdrew from him.

 

“It’s gone,” noted Viola.

 

“It is?” Usopp glanced at the man’s neck and found that he was indeed necklace-less. “Oh, I did it!”

 

“Way to go, Usopp,” Franky said with a grin. “Now you can do it to Zoro."

 

She frowned. "I offered to do it before we headed for Fishman Island, but he refused."

 

"I said that there isn't a point," Zoro grunted.

 

"Pretty much a refusal."

 

Strangely, Franky didn't appear surprised by this. In fact, he was sending Zoro a smirk. "No point, eh?" he jibed, waggling his eyebrows.

 

"Now, now," Robin intervened, a good-natured smile gracing her lips. "Let's not tease them too much."

 

Tease them? Was Robin implying that Franky was teasing her too? Usopp frowned again, puzzled. She was getting the distinct feeling that these two were in the know of something relating to her and Zoro yet unknown to them. 

 

Or perhaps it was just unknown to Usopp. Judging by the scowl that Zoro was wearing, he wasn't appreciative of Franky's joke or Robin's levity. The glare that he directed at them seemed to read "Butt out or else," yet the two older crewmates accepted the look with even more amusement. Usopp glanced at Trafalgar, who appeared indifferent (not that was anything out of the ordinary), then at Rebecca, who appeared as confused as Usopp felt, then at Viola, who appeared thoughtful.

 

Well...at least she was not alone in feeling lost by this weird exchange.

 

Although, she wouldn't be so lost anymore when she decided to confront Robin on the matter.

 

The next day, on top of the great ship that was the Yonta Maria, a party broke out in celebration for the defeat of Doflamingo and his subordinates. People were guzzling down drinks and food, dancing and singing, and breaking out into laughter. Strangers and former enemies alike became friends, all drawn together into a boisterous camaraderie

 

As much as Usopp wanted to fully immerse herself in the revelry, she couldn't stop thinking about the peculiar interaction among her crewmates. Not necessarily peculiar peculiar, perhaps, but peculiar enough for the memory to linger. And, honestly, it wasn't just that one moment that made Usopp question what was going on.

 

Back in Kyros's cabin, when she had woken up a few hours after midnight, Usopp had stared blankly at the ceiling with certain instances rewinding in her head. Franky's friendly jeering, Robin's knowing looks and smiles, and Brook's continual remarks about them being a couple. There had been Nami's playful exasperation and the way she had often put Usopp and Zoro together; even Sanji had fawned over her less.

 

Usopp had never described herself as dense. Weak, cowardly, and negative, sure—but dense? Never. Not until that night where she had been surrounded by her snoring crewmates. The hints had been there, but Usopp just hadn't picked them up yet. And now that she had been made aware, she...hadn't been sure what to do with this new knowledge. Maybe it had been the weak, cowardly, and negative part of her, but she had been, and still was, afraid.

 

She had been afraid of changing the status quo, of facing a strange and new possibility, of bearing the brunt of a heartache that had yet to happen but very well could. More importantly, she had been afraid of assuming wrong.

 

When she had been oblivious, she had been spared of these turbulent notions and spikes of anxiety that now attacked her. Did Zoro actually like her romantically or had the crew gone delusional after these two years? These thoughts had run rampant in her head for the remainder of the night, and she hadn't been able to bring herself to look or speak to Zoro in the morning.

 

Wanting to be free of these speculations, whether they were true or not, Usopp pulled Robin to the side and spoke with her.

 

Robin's expression contorted into that of dismay. "Oh, Usopp. I'm sorry. We didn't mean to cause you any stress."

 

Usopp shook her head. "I understand, but I just have to know. Ever since I realized it, it's been bugging me."

 

"I'm honestly surprised that it took you this long to figure it out. Normally, you're one of our more astute members."

 

"Tell me about it," she grumbled, scowling. As much as she loved Luffy and Chopper, being on their level of obliviousness took a hit on her pride. It now made her wonder if the two really were oblivious just because they hadn’t hinted it like how the others did. It was one thing to be subtle about it (which was something that Luffy and Chopper were incapable of doing), it was another thing to just not care.

 

"Although, before I tell you, I must ask: Did you notice anything different about Zoro as well?"

 

Usopp blinked. "Zoro? He's the same as ever." Wasn't he? "Are you saying that he's...not?"

 

Robin pursed her lips. "Maybe, maybe not. It isn't my place to say. However, I will say that the crew views your relationship with him to be a burgeoning romantic one given your interactions."

 

"Those interactions are mostly forced on us by Nami!"

 

"Perhaps," she replied noncommittally. Perhaps? What the hell was that supposed to mean? There went Robin again, being all ambiguous and frustrating. Usopp wanted to groan aloud, but she held herself back. The older woman was just being considerate towards Zoro, but Usopp wanted answers, damn it! Nevertheless, there was one conclusion that she was able to arrive on her own.

 

"They might not have seen us like that had it not been for the necklace, right?" Usopp muttered.

 

"Right," Robin agreed, "but it was a push for a direction rather than the cause of it."

 

"You're still on about me liking Zoro?"

 

Instead of smiling in good humor like how Usopp expected the older woman to do, Robin looked down at her intently. "There is something that I must tell you about your Devil Fruit power."

 

Immediately, Usopp straightened her back and looked back at her, surprised. "Robin?"

 

"A year ago, I've acquired a book that contained extensive information about Devil Fruits, the Sit Sit Fruit included. It explained the reason behind the necklace."

 

"Really?" Usopp gasped. "What?"

 

"Whoever the target is, if he or she qualifies as a compatible life partner, then a necklace forms."

 

The sniper's jaw dropped.

 

"I abstained from informing you because I believed that it would have been best for your relationship with Zoro to progress naturally. However, I realize that it was wrong of me to withhold information from you, so I sincerely apologize for that."

 

"D-does anyone else know?" she stammered.

 

Robin shook her head. "Only I do. Like I said, the crew views you two as a potential couple based off of what they have seen."

 

Usopp stared at her with wide eyes until she fell down to her haunches. She pressed her hands to her eyes and released a soft high-pitched whine. Disbelief and incredulity were shaking her world, and she sought to stabilize it by bringing herself closer to the floor. The news was... It wasn't bad—it really wasn’t! But it definitely was something unexpected. Usopp didn't know how to wrap her head around that.

 

"Usopp?" Usopp sensed Robin bending down next to her, her hand rubbing between her shoulder blades. "Are you okay?"

 

"Is everything alright?"

 

Usopp flinched but didn't budge from her position. She didn't dare pull her hands away in fear of seeing the one person who was now capable of making her heart thump at odd intervals and her cheeks be set ablaze. Basically, the one person who she wanted to see the least. If she didn't see Zoro, then Zoro didn’t see her!

 

"It's fine," Robin answered smoothly. "Usopp just isn't feeling well. I believe that the fish didn't sit well with her." She delivered that lie so well that Usopp, had she not been paralyzed with shock, would have considered asking her for tips.

 

"Hm. The dolt should be more mindful of what she eats. She isn't like Luffy with his stomach of steel." Usopp heard Zoro step closer. "I can take her inside. I'm sure the captain of this place wouldn't mind if we borrow his sickbay for a while."

 

"Oh, no, I can manage myself, but thank you."

 

"Are you sure?"

 

"Honestly, Zoro, a situation like this is only appropriate when a fellow woman is here to help," Robin lightly chided, though there was an inevitable smile in her voice. "Although, you can ask Orlumbus-san if we can occupy it."

 

Zoro did just that. That and more. After returning to the women with permission granted and Orlumbus's crewmate to guide them, Zoro insisted on following them. Why? "Just because" was his nonchalant answer. Usopp couldn't even bring herself to stand, anxiety cementing her in place, but Zoro took care of that by sweeping her up into a bridal carry.

 

Usopp's face burned.

 

"Here it is," their guide said, holding the door open for them. Given that the Yonta Maria was an enormous ship, the sickbay itself was large as well. It was designed like a hospital room with four beds and curtain dividers on each side. "Is there anything else that I can do for you?"

 

"No, that's fine. Thank you for your help," Robin said.

 

When the guide left, Robin said to Zoro, "I'll take it from here."

 

Zoro didn't reply for a moment, and Usopp could feel his eyes on her. Usopp gulped and fiddled with the covers that spread across her knees. Finally, he said, "Got it. Let me know if you need anything."

 

"Of course."

 

"Usopp." Usopp stilled. "Get better."

 

"R-right," she forced out the word, bobbing her head in a nod. When she said nothing more, Zoro finally, finally left them. But he didn't leave without distantly echoing her, leaving Usopp in a state of guilt. She didn't mean to be so short with him, but she wasn't in the right mind to speak to him any further without combusting into flames! Hopefully, he would believe that her “stomachache” was the reason for her reticence.

 

After Zoro’s footfalls from the hallway had become quiet, Robin said, "You're not very good at hiding your nervousness."

 

"Robin, I just learned that jewelry is the deciding factor as to who I'm best paired up with, and that my crewmate kept this a secret from me because she wanted to see me and Zoro get together," Usopp said, her tone falling flat despite her emotions being otherwise. "I think it's a natural reaction."

 

Robin didn’t respond, and there was a moment of silence. Usopp looked up, now worried if she had angered or annoyed the archaeologist. Instead of seeing a face of inscrutability that Robin typically wore to hide her emotions, she appeared openly contrite with her eyebrows dipping and her lips twisted into a rueful smile.

 

"Are you cross with me? You are within your rights, just so you know," Robin said softly.

 

Usopp stared at her for a few heartbeats before sagging. "No," she admitted with an exhale. "I mean, yeah, I am disappointed that you kept this to yourself, but I know that you did it with my best interest in mind." Even though she didn't understand how or why, which prompted her to ask, "But how? Why?"

 

Robin sighed and sat down on the bed. "You know the nature of pirates—never those who settle down,” she said. "Having civilian partners will result in separation. Having crewmate partners will result in discord if the relationship ever goes sour. And if a child ever comes out of that union, he or she is either killed or abandoned.”

 

Just like Franky, who had been left behind by his pirate parents. Usopp remembered the shipwright telling her about how his parents had thrown him off their ship when he had been a child and how he had been rescued by his teacher Tom.

 

“But this crew is unique—that I can tell,” Robin continued. “If a successful relationship is to blossom on a pirate ship, it'll happen on Sunny."

 

And the Straw Hat Pirates were the only people who would be on Sunny.

 

“What are you saying?” Usopp asked, feeling weary.

 

“Maybe you’re right about me wanting to see you and Zoro become a couple, but only because you should have that opportunity to become one. And however that relationship may evolve—whether it be marriage, having children, or simply being partners—I believed that you and Zoro should take the chance to do it.” Robin absently smoothed the sheets. “I wanted it to be of your own volition, hence why I never told you about it.”

 

Robin slowly expelled a breath. “You and Zoro are so young, so willful, and neither of you know how the seas can be like when it can so much as swallow you and spit you out on whim. Not only the seas, but on ships where men can be savages and women can be witches.” The somberness of her tone and her expression sharply reminded Usopp of what Robin had gone through before she had joined the Straw Hats. Just what the woman had experienced in those twenty years, Usopp couldn’t begin to understand, being a village girl who had lived a life of peace until Kuro had revealed himself.

 

“Yet it’s what makes your naivete so important. You don’t know that side of evil in humanity and aren’t burdened with it. A perspective like that would certainly create a beautiful bond,” Robin said, sad and wistful.

 

Usopp curled her fingers on the covers, unease forming in her gut. She knew that Robin was referring to rape, prostitution, and the like. She also knew that Robin believed that she and Zoro were wholly untouched by such. While Usopp didn’t know about Zoro, she would admit that Robin was right about that about her. She was nineteen and never had sex; she never had even kissed anyone. And just thinking about it made Usopp feel like she was out of her depth.

 

What Robin had said also made her feel restless. Why did it feel as though the older woman was referring to herself? Like...she thought she wasn't worthy of a relationship? Too corrupted to connect with someone on a deeper level? Usopp wasn't even sure if Robin wanted that, but, if she did, someone so kind and gentle shouldn't regard herself so terribly.

 

“Robin,” Usopp said, “I don’t think—”

 

“No, Usopp,” Robin curtailed, holding up a hand, “I know what you’re about to say. I’m grateful, but I don’t need to hear it.” Again, with the rueful smile. “I’ve come to terms with it.”

 

A part of her wanted to argue, to make Robin listen, but another part of her didn’t want to push. One part won the war, and Usopp reluctantly conceded to leave the topic alone. Although, inwardly, she promised to bring it up on another day if not today. Convincing Robin would be a guaranteed success if Franky was around for that talk.

 

“Alright, I see where you’re coming from about me and Zoro,” Usopp said instead. “But what I don’t get is why it has to be me and Zoro." She sighed and crossed her arms. "I mean, of all the guys I could be compatible with, I just can't see it being Zoro of all people."

 

"Don't forget Traffy."

 

"Traffy—that's right! And compatibility is a two-way street, isn't it? I'm not attracted to swords maniacs and creepy doctors, and it seems much less likely it being the other way around." Because based off of what she could tell about Zoro, Zoro had never displayed any signs of interest in women—or men. Unless fighting had been involved, of course, but that was disparate to the subject. As for Trafalgar, that man didn't seem like he gave a damn about about relationships in general, but what did she know? Hardly anything as far as she was concerned.

 

The gravitas disappeared in favor of mildness. “Well, it might be that it isn’t so much that you like swords maniacs and creepy doctors, but more so that you have a particular type.”

 

Usopp blinked. “What?”

 

“Remember when I asked you about what your type was?”

 

“Uh, yeah? What about it?”

 

“I believe that you have an interest in dark and stoic men.” And then Robin added, "Who are all very handsome swordsmen."

 

"Robin," she deadpanned. 

 

"There are quite a number of men of the dark and stoic swordsmen variety that you ordered to sit, yet none of them don a necklace to our knowledge, likely due to the fact that they aren't conventionally good-looking. And you can't deny that Traffy is handsome." The corners of Robin's lips quirked upwards. "You even stated that Zoro is handsome too."

 

“But that’s—” Remembering her crush from Syrup Village, Usopp refuted this. “That doesn't mean anything. I might not know exactly what my type is, but I know with certainty that Zoro and Traffy aren't representative of it."

 

Her former crush had been the son of a baker, skinny, and, well, a bit of a player, but he had always been a nice guy. Zoro and Traffy, on the other hand, could be insensitive pricks, with them realizing this or not. And they were dangerous, which was not a thrill ride that she wished to partake in. Although, granted, Usopp probably had fallen for her former crush because he had been desired by all of the girls in the school, not to mention that it had been years since then, but that was nevertheless indicative as to the kind of person she was attracted to.

 

Okay, she was in denial; she knew this with painful clarity. Usopp wasn't so much of a dolt, as Zoro liked to call her, to not recognize the root of her refusals. As she had weighed her thoughts back in Kyros's cabin, her doubts, fears, and insecurities had come to light. And...whatever her own feelings were on the matter.

 

But she hadn't wanted to acknowledge it—didn't want to now. It was discomforting to feel these thoughts cloud her mind again, so she pushed it away, tried to drown it out by piling denials and arguments. Even though she logically knew that all this was doing was hiding the truth, it still felt better than facing the truth.

 

"We don't always know what we're drawn to, Usopp," Robin reasoned. "And, besides, why are you so against it?"

 

"Just because." She shrugged helplessly, not wanting to disclose her doubts, fears, and insecurities. Robin was her friend, but Usopp hadn't revealed that much vulnerability to anyone and she wasn't comfortable in starting now. She quickly wracked through her brain for something else to say because she knew that Robin wouldn't be satisfied with her lukewarm response. Before the older woman could press on, Usopp said, "I think that the fruit is faulty.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“I’m pretty sure that the fruit went bad when I ate it; it tasted like crap, so it must've been rotten!"

 

"All Devil Fruits taste like crap."

 

Ignoring the part where Robin had just uttered the word "crap," Usopp continued her tirade. "Actually, I think that all of the Sit Sit Fruits were faulty. Think about it: an ability to slam people into the dirt, but also the ability to determine who's my best match in the least romantic way possible? That doesn't make sense!"

 

“Ah." Robin paused, and then nodded. "You do have a point. It seems rather out there, doesn’t it?”

 

She nodded back eagerly. “Right? Clearly, there's something funky with this power."

 

Robin appeared thoughtful. “There are always going to be illogical aspects to some abilities. For instance, Luffy’s Gum Gum power is supposed to grant him the ability to become elastic. However, we have seen him also display the ability to elongate his limbs without the requirement of potential energy.”

 

“I agree that Luffy’s ability defies laws of physics, but that’s relative to his overall ability in stretching,” Usopp countered. “That’s like comparing an orange and a tangerine. In my case, it’s like comparing an orange and a broccoli.”

 

The older woman offered a smile. “I suppose you’re right.”

 

“I am! And if there’s anything illogical, then we ought to analyze Traffy’s ability. I mean, I haven’t seen all that he can do, but I get a hunch that a lot of it doesn’t make sense when put together.”

 

"In the book that I've mentioned, it did have details pertaining to the Ope Ope Fruit, and, I must say, I was impressed by the versatility that the fruit offers to its user."

 

The two discussed this and gradually moved on to other topics, talking for a few hours until Franky swung by to collect them. Usopp knew for a fact that Robin had allowed them to digress, to pretend to be swept along with her lurid attempt to steer the conversation, and Usopp was grateful for that. The least she wanted to do was review her personal crisis. She was worried, though, that Robin planned on bringing it up again just as she planned to confront Robin as well.

 

That's another time to be worried about later, Usopp thought with resignation as she followed Franky down the hall. She got the answer that she wanted to hear from Robin, so...there. Case closed for now.

 


 

When the Barto Club Pirates caught wind of Usopp’s “sickness,” they ran around on their deck like a bunch of headless chickens. And while they were throwing themselves into a panic because their beloved Usopp-senpai, sniper of the great and amazing Straw Hat Pirates, was the one who was ill, they had another problem at hand.

 

"You guys don't have a doctor? How the hell did you guys last this long?" Franky inquired incredulously.

 

“We usually call Grandma from our hometown to give us advice,” Bartolomeo confessed sheepishly.

 

“It makes you wonder what other vital members they don’t have,” Robin mused. “Like a navigator.”

 

“It should be fine since we got Traffy,” Luffy piped up good-naturedly. He shot the said man a grin, which Trafalgar returned with a long-suffering frown.

 

Trafalgar then sighed. “Might as well,” he said before approaching Usopp.

 

"No!" Usopp burst out, causing him to jerk to a halt, and then hastily said in a normal volume, "It's fine—really! I just need to rest, and I should be good."

 

Trafalgar eyed her skeptically. “It isn't a big deal if that’s what you’re worried about.”

 

“Well, my stomachache isn’t a big deal, so all I just need is rest,” she insisted. With that said, Usopp turned towards Bartolomeo, who promptly straightened up like he was a cadet responding to his drill sergeant, and asked him, “Could you take me to your sickbay?”

 

“Aye aye, ma’am!” Bartolomeo exclaimed with a salute. “I’ll be more than happy to personally escort you there!”

 

Before they took off, Luffy could be heard saying, “Ya know, I bet all Usopp needs to do is take a dump. Gramps always says that girls make excuses because they don’t want people to know that they gotta poo—”

 

Inside the ship wasn’t as outrageous as its exterior. Given the overwhelming adulation these guys had greeted them with, Usopp had been expecting the Straw Hat Pirates’ wanted posters plastered on the walls, their silhouettes carved in the woodwork, and a red carpet rolled out in preparation for their arrival. Heck, the Barto Club Pirates might as well have converted their ship into a Straw Hat museum for all she knew.

 

However, the inside was sedate with its simplicity. She nearly would have compared it to how Going Merry had been once, but, the further down Bartolomeo led her in, the further from the truth that comparision was. Where Merry had a more rustic charm, Going Luffy-Senpai looked like a snapshot of what Usopp had always imagined what a grandmother's house would look like.

 

Floral print wallpaper, tiered curtains for every window they passed by, decorative wall plates, fuzzy pink rugs, and a vase with flowers. And, wow, was that a doily? This was far from what a pirate ship ought to look like. Perhaps that aforementioned "Grandma" had overseen the interior decorating as the Barto Club Pirates had designed the exterior.

 

"—and next to it is the sickbay, which is over there!" Bartolomeo pointed ahead. After a few steps forward, Bartolomeo presented her the door of the sickbay with flourish.

 

"Thanks," she told him.

 

"Of course!" he chirped, but then an awkward expression took over. “And, um, the bathroom is right down the hall to the left.”

 

“I don’t—it’s not—!” Too exasperated to convey in words, Usopp threw her arms in the air. “Argh.” With that said, she slid the door open and slammed it shut behind her.

 

“Okay! I’ll be out on the deck,” Bartolomeo called through the door. “Uh, if you need anything, please feel free to use the Den Den Mushi on the desk, Usopp-senpai.” When she no longer heard his voice, Usopp assumed that the mullet-haired captain had left.

 

She blew out a breath and rubbed her face. Trust Luffy to tear down her reputation just when she had started to build it up. Whatever. There was consolation of him humiliating her in front of guys who pretty much revered her regardless. (Never mind the fact that Trafalgar had also been there. Actually, she was going to pretend that Luffy’s comment hadn’t happened.)

 

When Usopp dragged her hands down on her cheeks, she jolted at what she saw.  So much for having Grandma do all of the interior decorating.

 

From top to bottom, Chopper’s wanted posters covered every surface of the wall. It was a staggering mix of cute and creepy being surrounded by the reindeer’s beaming faces. She vaguely wondered if the Barto Club Pirates knew, despite Chopper’s public status as being a “pet,” who the Straw Hat doctor was. Or maybe one of them was an outrageous fan of Chopper's?

 

Usopp walked towards the bed, keeping her eyes trained to the floor because the posters were now becoming creepier than cuter, and plowed herself into the mattress. She rolled over to her back and sprawled haphazardly across the sheets. She blinked once, and she blinked twice. In this position, she could see that the ceiling bore a carving of Chopper’s face.

 

She grabbed the pillow and smashed it against her face.

 

Usopp knew that she couldn't pretend to be sick forever or could she keep hiding in here. She could request a food delivery and she knew where the bathroom was (huh, it was a good thing that Bartolomeo had mentioned it). And she didn't think that Trafalgar would care about her enough to go to her on his own accord do a checkup, but her crewmates might get worried to the point of pestering him to do so.

 

There was also the issue of avoiding Zoro, which was something that she obviously couldn't do forever. It was to her luck that no one had commented it on it if she had been conspicuous. Then again, Usopp had been furtive around the guys and had kept close to only Robin, so there was no telling what they thought about her shift in behavior. Unless…they were now convinced that Luffy was right about her having bowel problems.

 

When she heard a knock on the door, Usopp exhaled heavily. Faaantastic. Did they manage to convince Trafalgar to see her anyway?

 

“Go away, Traffy. I told you that I’m fine.”

 

“It’s a good thing that I’m not Traffy, then.”

 

Usopp sprung upright, surprised to find Zoro entering the room. Before Zoro could open his mouth to say something, his lone eye took in the design. After a minute, he muttered, “Holy cow.”

 

“That was my reaction too.”

 

“Hm.” Zoro shifted his gaze onto her, and Usopp resisted the compulsion to dive under the covers. “We need to talk.”

 

She felt her face heat up and saliva pool in her mouth. She drew her hair over her throat as though an act of inspecting for any split ends (which there were) and quickly gulped down her mounting nervousness, concealing the way her throat bobbed. Maintaining an airy tone to keep her voice from quavering, Usopp asked, “Talk about what?”

 

“Cut the crap, Usopp. I know that you’ve been avoiding me.”

 

She dropped her hair. Damn it. Was she obvious? She was obvious, wasn’t she? Why didn’t Robin say anything?

 

“Before you break into a panic, no, you weren’t obvious. I could just tell.”

 

Usopp didn’t know what to feel about that. Zoro had keen senses and possessed a sharp mind, but he could also be a dawdling dunderhead who believed that he could simply slash his way out of any predicament. She had heard that Zoro had tried to cut down a Celestial Dragon back in Sabaody two years ago, which had made her face-palm at the level of carelessness that the swordsman could display. It was often hard to not differentiate him as Zoro the marimo and Zoro the first-mate, and it was hard to accept him as Zoro the marimo first-mate.

 

Usopp waited for bemusement to pass over her, but it never did.

 

"Hawk Eyes told me,” Zoro said, drawing her out of her thoughts. “About the necklace.”

 

She stared at him blankly, and time went on as though Father Time decided to bring things to a standstill. And while the world seemed to have stopped moving, the thumping of her heart hadn’t, and the silence amplified the sound of the rhythmic pulsing as it resounded in her ears. Zoro’s eye was trained on her, watching her, motionless as though he was under the spell of timelessness.

 

Usopp then parted her lips to say, “You knew?”

 

"I didn't tell you because I knew that you'd freak out." Like now, was what was not verbalized, but might as well been. "I thought that it'd be better for you to slowly come to terms,” was his insouciant response.

 

“How could I? Who would have known what the necklace even means unless they read about it?” she yelled.

 

He looked at her flatly. “The previous users did; otherwise, it never would have been written, you dolt.”

 

Seized by frustration, Usopp glared at him. And though it wasn’t right to use her ability under any petty circumstances, she felt very much obliged to use it right now. Thus, she ordered, “Sit!”

 

Gravity yanked him to the floor, creating a rewarding sound of crashing. Zoro quickly lifted his head. “Usopp, the hell?”

 

“I had to piece everything together, the reason why everyone was acting differently around us, and Robin was the one to tell me—” The words spilled out of her mouth uncontrollably. Usopp hadn’t realized that she was standing until she clenched her fists by her sides, her arms hanging by her waist. “It didn’t make anything easier, and I still freaked out, you jerk!”

 

“Do you think that me telling you beforehand would’ve been any better?” he shot back, propping an arm. “You would’ve just skirted around me and not talk to me and probably would have thrown yourself off the ship—”

 

“Sit!”

 

Thwack!

 

“I don’t even understand why you’d just—just let this go on,” she snapped. “Was this just a game to you? Thought that it’d be funny to let me go into this blind while you were in the know?”

 

“Usopp, you damn well know that it’s not like that—”

 

“Then what? And if you did know, then why did you decide to keep the necklace on?”

 

“Like I said, dumbass, there wasn't a point in taking it off," he growled, pushing himself off the floor. "There's nothing more to it than that."

 

Somehow, inexplicably, Usopp knew that he was lying. And when her gaze zeroed in on the tiger pendant that dangled from Zoro's neck, she felt surer about her assumption. She narrowed her eyes. "If there isn't a point, then there isn't a point in keeping it on, is there?" she dared. "If there's really nothing more to it, then let me take it off."

 

To her shock, wariness and alarm flickered across his expression before they disappeared. No matter how imperceptible it was, she still caught it. She had noticed all of his transient tells that graced his features, but to see him appear anxious—anxious—about having his necklace taken from him boggled her mind. And, now, she was face to face with a man who stared back at her with a resolve that burned radiantly in his lone eye.

 

There was a stubborn set in his jaw and a temerity in his countenance. He regarded her like how he would with opponents who intrigued him. Opponents who would offer him a good challenge.

 

"Go ahead," he dared her back. "It's nothing."

 

And it was nothing; at least, it would be after this. Because he was going to try to agitate her, to throw himself at danger, to do anything to force her to sit him, Usopp registered with a tinge of hysteria. The realization cinched around her chest like a vice and an indiscernible emotion ballooned within it; she was suffocating, and it all had to do with the threshold of a possibility.

 

And, just like that, her frustration evaporated, leaving only the debris of disbelief.

 

"Why are you like this, Zoro?" Usopp murmured.

 

There was a wrinkle wedged in between his brows, but not because of confusion. "Do you really not know? I thought I was obvious ever since our reunion."

 

Ever since the reunion. Ever since the reunion, their crewmates had teased them and had perceived them differently, but they had a good reason to do so. The Zoro from two years ago to the Zoro now were different as well, and not because of the inevitable growth a person would undergo with time but based off of how he had treated her.

 

He hadn't been a tactile person—still wasn't—but he touched her more. It would be their arms grazing each other, them leaning on each other, and them holding hands. And before where he had tolerated her touches, he now accepted them—welcomed them. Whenever she would do anything remotely reckless, it would precede an inevitable rebuke coming from Zoro. He was gentler with her, but he also deliberately dispensed jokes to cause her to pout. And, above all, he was often by her side, whether Nami would pair them together or not.

 

Although, before I tell you, I must ask: Did you notice anything different about Zoro as well?

 

"Robin said that the necklace was more of a push that a cause, but I don't think that's the case," Usopp said. A pause. "Ever since you got that necklace, I've been getting these hunches whenever something happens to you. They’re more subdued since you're strong enough to handle any enemies that come our way, but before… When we were facing that Pacifista and admiral back in Sabaody, my hunches were flying off the handle."

 

It was why she had kept telling him to sit, how she had managed to time her commands perfectly to have Zoro evade Kizaru's attacks.

 

Zoro didn't say anything for a moment, but when he did, he said, "I've been the same way too.”

 

She looked at him in consternation. “Do you think that the necklace is somehow influencing us without us noticing it? What if, whatever that we’ve done when we’re together, that’s all because of the necklace’s doing?”

 

"It's not," Zoro said resolutely.

 

"But you don't know that," Usopp countered. “In the book she read, Robin said that the Sit Sit necklace signifies a compatible life partner, but it could mean more than that. Zoro, if that’s the case, then to dispel the manipulation—”

 

“It’s not!” Zoro’s outburst startled her, causing her to jump. He frowned severely. From his sitting position, he rose onto his feet, but didn’t move towards her. Instead, he kept to his side of the room, and the dividing line had never been more pronounced. “Look, Usopp, just trust me on this. It’s not that.”

 

The involuntary scoff that left her lips punctuated her dubiety. “How—how can I just take your word for it? You know that I’m going to need more than that. Why are you so sure that we’re not affected?”

 

"Because Hawk Eyes…” Zoro cut himself off and gave an aggravated groan. He ran his hand across his hair. “Damn. He's going to kill me for saying this.”

 

Usopp’s brows knitted together at the mention of the warlord swordsman. The confidence that Zoro had exuded seconds ago was gone, replaced with the outward circumspection engendered by inner turmoil. She shifted her weight between her feet, waiting for Zoro to finish what he was about to say. However, when he didn’t, she gingerly probed, “What about Dracule Mihawk?”

 

“He…” he trailed off, and then sighed. “He wore the necklace too. Years ago. Was told to sit by the previous user.”

 

Her eyes widened.

 

“She took the necklace off of him and they still loved each other. The necklace had nothing to do with how they felt for one another.”

 

"But that just might be the lingering effects of the necklace,” Usopp disputed, but even she could hear how her argument fell weak to ears.

 

“Don’t patronize how a man loves his precious person,” Zoro said gruffly. “You know better than that.”

 

And Usopp became silent because, well, how could she argue against that? She wasn’t a man, but she did bear witness on several accounts of the kind of measures a man would go through for all those who he cared about. Kyros was an epitome of that, fighting not only for his kingdom but for his family.

 

“Why won’t you let me take off the necklace?” she asked at length, deliberating the choice of her question. “Don’t lie to me, Zoro. It can’t be nothing.” He had told her too much to pass it off as nothing. There was evidently something more to it than that.

 

Zoro grimaced. “Hawk Eyes lost her shortly after he got rid of his,” he explained tentatively. “You know that the necklace serves as a link between the user and the wearer, so he could have saved her had he still worn his.”

 

The corner of her lips curved downwards. “I know that I won’t be as strong as you are, but I’m not so helpless that I can’t take care of myself.”

 

“Believe me, I know. Your hard work during our separation shows. But can you blame me if I want us to be connected?”

 

She latched onto that. “Then would you want to be connected with everyone else?”

 

“No, that’s not what—”

 

“Then you just want to be connected with only me?”

 

How a man loved his precious person was not to be underestimated, but what was the meaning behind Zoro’s usage of the word “love”? And in what way did he mean it in this context? That possibility that she could grasp by the edges was well within her reach, but her reluctance prevented her from embracing it. Usopp wavered and faltered, and she hated herself for being how ambivalent she was.

 

“And if I do?”

 

Her eyes returned to his face.

 

“Like I said, wasn’t I obvious since our reunion?” he said and took a step forward.

 

“Zoro…”

 

“Usopp, I know you well enough to say that you overthink things and keep denying what’s real even after realizing it.” Another step and another. “And you already have known this—after telling you about Hawk Eyes.” Another step and another. Without noticing, Zoro had crossed that dividing line and was now standing in front of her.

 

He slid his hands across her jawline and cupped her cheeks. The warmth of his palms spread to her, and she felt the hardness of his calluses that lightly scraped against her skin. His lone eye was pinned on her, glowing with a dark intensity.

 

“Stop doubting it,” Zoro commanded, “and believe it.”

 

Usopp was trembling, but she found that she had the strength to lift her arms and…finally take that possibility—no, that reality. All those thoughts and feelings—the turbulent notions and spikes of anxiety, the doubts, fears, and insecurities—waned into ghosts of what had been. Still there, but not as prevalent as before. It was like a flashlight beaming through a thick fog, and she was starting to see past the haze. If Zoro wanted to be that light for her, then Usopp was willing to walk towards it.

 

She took her own step forward and buried her face into Zoro’s chest. She felt his hands settle on her back and pull her in closer.

 

“Okay,” Usopp said.

 


 

Bartolomeo did not, in fact, leave.

 

When Usopp had slammed the door in front of his face, he had been worried whether he had upset her, or her stomachache had made her moody. If it had been the latter, that would have been fine—perfectly understandable, even! But if it had been the former, then Bartolomeo was at a lost because he didn't know what he had done to set her off. Wrecked with guilt, Bartolomeo couldn’t bring himself to the deck and leave behind the sniper.

 

He nervously gnawed on his thumbnail and frantically wondered what he ought to do.

 

When a hand landed on his shoulder, Bartolomeo yelped and spun around. “The frickin—!”

 

“Yo, rooster man,” Zoro said, raising a brow. “What’re you doing here?”

 

“Z-Z-Zoro-senpai!” Bartolomeo gasped, blinking owlishly. He was about to parrot the question back, unable to see what the swordsman’s reason was for not being with his crewmates, but how could he when Zoro had asked him first? Yet he couldn’t formulate a proper response, still taken aback by the abrupt appearance. “I was—um—I was—”

 

“He was the one who led Usopp-senpai to the sickbay, remember, Zoro-senpai?” Gambia cheerfully supplied, poking his head out from behind Zoro.

 

“Oh, yeah?” Zoro turned his head to the door. “This the sickbay?”

 

“That’s right, Zoro-senpai!” Gambia grinned at him, all expectant and hopeful. “Is there anything else that I can do for you?”

 

“Hm. Could you two get lost?” Promptly, both Bartolomeo and Gambia wilted at that, but that was until they heard, “I need to speak to my girlfriend in private.”

 

Before both men could react, Zoro entered the room and quietly slid the door shut behind him.

 

Bartolomeo and Gambia’s jaws were dropped to the floor.

 

Zoro and Usopp were dating?

 

Chapter Text

After what had gone down in Wano, there were three things had taken place: Jinbe and Carrot had officially joined the Straw Hat Pirates as the helmsman and brawler, respectively. Momonosuke had joined as well, becoming Luffy and Zoro’s pupil so that he could attain the strength he needed to assume his position as Wano’s future daimyo. And, lastly, the Straw Hat Pirates had established an alliance with not only the Heart Pirates, but also with the Kidd, On Air, Hawkins, and Drake Pirates.

 

Currently, all the pirates were moored on land and were stuck here for the unforeseeable length of time. Some of the ships had sustained grievous damages and were undergoing repairs. So, it had been decided that everyone would take a breather and stretch out their legs while the shipwrights would work their magic.

 

Sunny had been one of the few ships that had received not so much as a scrape, so Franky had been quite ecstatic by the idea of getting to work on ships that weren’t his own, which he had been determined on doing so regardless of how the other shipwrights had felt about the matter. Meanwhile, as the Straw Hat cyborg had merrily flounced away with his toolbox tucked underneath his arm, the rest of the crew occupied themselves with their own choice of activities.

 

Usopp, Luffy, and Chopper, in particular, were immersed in their game on Sunny's deck. How the game was going, however, wasn’t smooth sailing.

 

“That’s not fair!” Luffy whined, slumping forward. “I want a rematch!”

 

“You swore up and down that you wouldn’t protest whatever the end result would be,” Usopp countered, her brow twitching. “Just take it like a man!”

 

In a truly dramatic fashion, he wailed, “Noooo!”

 

She sighed. She should have figured that this would have happened, but she had been willing to give Luffy a chance to see if he had stopped being a sore loser since two years ago. As it would appear, apparently not. The man couldn't take a loss of a game like how he couldn't take a loss of his meat.

 

Well...given what the winnings were, Usopp couldn't really blame him.

 

"Hey, it's my turn!" Chopper said, giving Luffy a stern look, but Luffy wouldn't budge.

 

“Okay, how about this?" Usopp presented. "After Chopper and I play, we do one—and only one—redo.”

 

Luffy promptly straightened up, his face serious with a glint in his eyes. “You got yourself a deal.”

 

Usopp nodded to signify that the transaction had been accepted, signed, and secured. As she leaned down to retrieve the necessary items, a large presence neared them. Thinking that it was Jinbe, Usopp pulled back up and opened her mouth to greet the fishman; however, the greeting turned halfway into a squeak when she saw who it really was.

 

"What the hell are you doing, Straw Hat?" Eustass said, raising a brow. His hulking figure eclipsed the sun, and his shadowed visage heightened his intimidating front. Usopp felt Chopper press his small body into her side. Usopp sucked in her lips and averted her eyes to the floor.

 

"We're gambling," Luffy claimed. Reflexively, Usopp slapped her forehead.

 

Eustass snorted. "Heh. I didn't think you had it in you."

 

"I'm a pirate, so of course I'd gamble! 'Cause that's what pirates do," he retorted, sounding put off by the condescension that dripped in the other man's tone. Usopp herself would have bristled in annoyance if it weren't for the fact that: one, Eustass was a notoriously bloodthirsty man; two, Eustass had a honking metal arm that was three times the size of his real arm. A significant thing to be noted was that his real arm was a bulging mass of muscles that could very easily crush skulls like they were grapes.

 

"You act like a kid who imitates what his mommy and daddy would do," Eustass sneered. "Are you sure it's really gambling or are you playing pretend?"

 

"At least I don’t wear lipstick like a certain jagged-haired bastard!"

 

"It's not lipstick, monkey bastard!"

 

"Are you trying to be a lady by wearing nail polish? Too bad—you're too ugly to be one!"

 

"Screw you, Straw Hat! I'll wipe the floor with you!"

 

"Scary," Chopper whimpered.

 

Before Usopp and Chopper could witness a beatdown between two powerful captains, Drake sauntered by and calmly chided, "Please reign in your destructive tendencies. We don't need the ship capsizing because of your disagreement."

 

"Disagreement" was putting it lightly...

 

Surprisingly, both Luffy and Eustass heeded to the older man's warning and pulled back, the tension in their shoulders leaving. "Hmph. Fine," Eustass said, but then, in a darkly interested voice that made Usopp break into a sweat, he said, "I'll join and see for it myself."

 

Usopp and Chopper exchanged panicked, wide-eyed looks. They didn't want the scary red-haired man to get involved! To their fortune, though, Luffy huffed out, "No way."

 

"What, scared that I'll beat you?"

 

And to their misfortune, Luffy replied, "I'm not scared! I'll take you on!"

 

A white toothy grin stretched across his pale features, looking every bit like a serial killer. "Great," Eustass said, dropping down to take a seat and crossing his legs. His eyes flickered to the bag that sat next to Usopp and asked, "Those the goods?"

 

She flinched. "Y-yeah..."

 

"That's a big one. Looks like I'll be spending a whole day at a tavern with my earnings," he chuckled.

 

Luffy frowned. "You can't buy drinks with cookies, stupid."

 

There was a pause.

 

"Cookies? You're gambling for cookies?" Eustass sputtered incredulously. "Who gambles for freaking cookies?"

 

"We do," Luffy answered pertly, and then he added, "Besides, if we were gambling with cash, Nami would've been here to dominate every round."

 

That was true, which was why they had to settle with something of close equivalent value. It was convenient that Usopp was a girl and Sanji was a sucker for girls; otherwise, they wouldn't be able to make wagers with tasty treats, what with Sanji only freely complying to requests that the girls would make. Although, Usopp could always just get Sanji to whip up something for her whenever she pleased, but that took away the fun of the game.

 

Previously, she, Luffy, and Chopper, with Franky and Brook's occasional participation, had placed bets on brownie bites, cinnamon buns, fruit tarts, and, of course, a variety of cookies. Today's winnings were Chopper's favorite—triple chocolate fudge cookies. And by the work of Sanji's magical touch, the cookies should still be nice and warm as if fresh out of the oven.

 

Eustass scowled. "And you call yourself a pirate? To hell with this." He propped his arm on his knee and was about to push himself up, but he stiffened when Luffy began to snicker.

 

"What, scared that I'll beat you?" Luffy taunted, shooting back Eustass's own words.

 

"As if you can, Straw Hat! I'll take you on!"

 

The hopeful gleam in Chopper's eyes vanished, and the reindeer bore an expression of pure aghast. Usopp pitied him. And to think that Chopper had once been so gung-ho about being this challenge's victor.

 

"Hey, dino-man, you should join!" Luffy offered.

 

"Luffy!" Chopper cried out in open devastation.

 

A mix of emotions flitted across Drake's face as though he was considering whether to go for it or not. After a few seconds of deliberation, Drake elected to take a seat between Chopper and Eustass, giving the group a curt nod. At this point, Chopper was now trying to merge his face into Usopp’s ribcage like a growth. Why would a serious and stony-faced man like Drake be willing to join their game, Usopp had no clue, but she figured it could be because he was curious. Although...

 

"You do realize this means there's an even bigger chance of you not getting the cookies, right?" Usopp deadpanned, looking at Luffy.

 

A wrinkle formed between his brows. "Oh. That's right," he said. "Okay, jagged-hair, dino-man, I change my mind. Get out of here."

 

"Like hell I am!" Eustass snapped. "Just for pissing me off, I'm gonna get those cookies and eat them right in front of you and not leave a single crumb out."

 

"You're not gonna get those cookies," Luffy retaliated with a snarl, "because I am!"

 

"Oookay!" Usopp intervened loudly with cheer that she did not feel. "How about we get this show started?"

 

Luffy and Eustass traded one more glare before turning away with a huff.

 

"So, Chopper, think you can do this?"

 

"I guess," Chopper said glumly, peeling his face off of her. "I mean, I should at least try."

 

"That's the spirit!" she exclaimed. Usopp grabbed the half-empty bottle and placed it in front of him. "Go ahead.

 

Before Chopper could make a grab for it, Eustass interjected with a bemused, "Aren't you going to deal out the cards? What's the bottle for?"

 

"It's for flipping, duh," Luffy said. "We’re gonna flip water bottles.”

 

Eustass's blank gaze was telling, but he apparently felt obliged to inquire, “Why?”

 

“We’re using it to gamble! Keep up, would ya?”

 

Eustass's face crumpled into exasperation once more. "The frick—I can’t believe this. This isn't gambling, you morons!" the redhead snapped. “This is just a baby’s game!” Pointing an accusing finger at them, he declared, "You're all a bunch of babies!"

 

"We are not!" Luffy retorted. "And how can I be a baby when I'm going to be the Pirate King?" And he said it with such gravitas because of course babies couldn't become pirates or kings, much less Pirate Kings. Yet, despite how much that truth rang for Luffy's ears, Eustass evidently believed in another reality.

 

"Because I'm going to be Pirate King!" was Eustass's retaliation.

 

Just before Usopp could seal her fate in bearing witness to yet another tennis match of who was going to be Pirate King, Drake asked, "So, what are rules to this game? Do you only need to flip the bottle?"

 

"A-ah, yeah. Wait, no, it's not just that." Usopp flailed a bit before getting a hold of herself. "What you need to do is hold the bottle by the neck, flip it in the air so that it does at least one spin, and get it to land. I'll demonstrate." She took the bottle and pinched at the cap, swung it back and forth to gain momentum, and snapped her wrist. The bottle rotated once in midair before it landed upright back onto the floor, its contents sloshing inside. "You see?"

 

"And I'm assuming that the less amount of water there is in a bottle, the greater the challenge," Drake noted, his eyes flickering over to the other bottles that lied next to her.

 

Never let it be said that the dinosaur captain was not quick on the uptake. Usopp nodded, pleased that she didn't have to explain all that much. "Yup. Each player flips three times in succession. If it ends up as a tie, we up the ante by getting them to flip the harder ones."

 

"Seems simple enough."

 

"Simple is overstating it," Eustass huffed.

 

"As if you'll be able to do it," Luffy mocked.

 

Contrary to what Usopp had expected, Eustass did not burst into fiery flames of anger like how he normally would whenever Luffy (or anyone, for that matter) egged him on. Instead, Eustass let out a derisive bark of laughter and grabbed the bottle from Chopper. "Just watch."

 

He flipped the bottle. It landed on its side.

 

Everyone stared at it.

 

"I meant to do that," Eustass said. He tried again, and it landed on its side again. "That one was just a practice round, okay?"

 

Luffy frowned. "You get only three turns, you know?"

 

"Those two were flukes, alright?" Eustass snapped. "I get three more chances!"

 

Three attempts turned into five, which turned into seven, and then nine. At that point, Luffy was rolling on his back as he heartily churned out guffaws, incredibly amused by the streak of losses the other captain had accumulated. Eustass scowled, got up, and stormed off, which prompted Luffy to laugh even harder. Usopp wiped her forehead, relieved that Eustass didn't march back to throttle Luffy.

 

In the end, when it had come down to Usopp versus Drake, Drake won by managing to successfully flip an empty bottle three times. As amazing as that was, Chopper was nevertheless despondent by his loss. But to his luck, Drake commented how he wasn't a fan of sweets and handed his prize over to the reindeer. Chopper had never smiled so brilliantly before that day.

 


 

With the weather so lovely and the skies so clear, Usopp had turned down Nami and Robin's offer to go shopping in favor of fishing. Jinbe and Bepo had thought that this had been a great idea, so they had joined her down at the dock.

 

Usopp was swinging her legs above the water, chatting amiably with Jinbe. Bepo, after soaking in the sun's warmth, had dozed off a while ago; despite this, the Mink had kept a good grip on his fishing rod. Sitting to the side was a cooler where only two caught fishes swam within in. As disappointing as it was that they hadn't managed to catch that many, the day itself wasn't. It was nice to just sit all day long and be idle, especially with pleasant company.

 

Yet what was supposed to be a lazy afternoon made an abrupt turn for lively.

 

Usopp's line tugged, and she excitedly drew herself upright by the potential catch. But all of a sudden, her rod was yanked downwards, and Usopp found herself lurching towards the waters and off of her seat. Had Jinbe not caught her in time, she would have been submerged.

 

"Eeeek!" Usopp shrieked.

 

Bepo's snot bubble popped as he jerked himself awake. His head swiveled around, appearing like he blearily comprehended that there was some kind of commotion going on, and then he noticed Jinbe trying to pull in Usopp, who was trying to pull in her fishing rod. The fish, or whatever it was, happened to be relentless in breaking free, causing Usopp to nearly lose her grip. Bepo abandoned his own rod to hurry over and wrapped his paws over Usopp's hands.

 

"This is certainly a big one," Jinbe said through his gritted teeth.

 

"I think my arms are gonna tear off!" Usopp lamented.

 

"Mine too!" Bepo whimpered.

 

How the rod and line hadn't snapped could only be accredited to Usopp's ingenious idea of fortifying them with spider silk steel. However, in that moment, she wished that she had never done so. In fact, she wished that she had released the rod when she had the chance.

 

During this game of tug of war, all Usopp could hear was the pounding of her heart resounding in her ears and the grunts and cries that all three of them were emitting. Hence why she didn't notice Eustass coming up from behind until he said, "What do we have here?"

 

"Eustass Kidd, great timing," Jinbe managed to gasp out in between his inhales from the exertion. "We could use your ability right about now. Attract the hook that’s in the catch’s mouth quickly!"

 

"Heh. Now why would I do that?" he drawled with palpable amusement. "From where I'm standing, I'm getting a good show out of this."

 

This sadistic, edgy-looking, eyebrow-less bastard...!

 

"We'll give you the first serving if you help us!" Usopp bit out, desperate. "A huge piece on a platter! Bigger than what Luffy'll get!"

 

"Sorry, but not a fan of fish."

 

"But, Captain," said another person, "didn't you say that you were craving for fish?"

 

"Shut up, Heat!"

 

Usopp instantly latched onto that. "I'll get Sanji to cook it, and you know that he's an excellent chef!" she appealed. "You had his cooking before!"

 

After a bit of wheedling, Eustass eventually capitulated and strode next to the three. With a quick glance over Bepo's shoulder, Usopp could see that the redhead appeared to be quite disgruntled by handing out aid. In any other circumstance, she would have been intimidated, but she couldn't care less right now. Her arms had gone numb at some point and she could really use a break.

 

"My share better be bigger than Straw Hat's, you got it?" Eustass growled.

 

"Got it!" Usopp, Jinbe, and Bepo chorused.

 

Eustass harrumphed. He held out a hand—the non-mechanical one—and directed it to the sea. For a couple seconds, nothing happened. Just before Usopp could bring herself to question what Eustass was doing, her arms slackened. The rod was no longer bent over into a severe curl, but instead returned to its slight arc, and the line was no longer drawn taut. After a minute of not having to pull on the fishing rod with all their might, Jinbe set Usopp down and Bepo stepped back.

 

The muscles in her arms ached like crazy, and she was certain that there were going to be large bruises around her waist from where Jinbe had grabbed her. Even so, there was a satisfying sight of a dark figure breaking the surface of the waves and careening towards them from the horizon. Usopp pushed through the pain to take the handle and crank it with lightning speed, reeling in the excess line back to the spool.

 

As the figure grew larger and larger, ascending higher and higher from the surface, the slower Usopp’s spinning became. Because her catch? It was flying right at them.

 

The fish—a dark brown speckled trout that was about the same size as Going Merry—had leaped into the air and soared over the distance that separated it and them. Judging by how everyone got a solid view of the trout’s underbelly, it was going to hit the dock, no doubt about it.

 

"Gyaaah!" Usopp and Bepo screamed.

 

“Oh shit,” Eustass cursed. “Repel!”

 

As though hit by an invisible force, the trout was flung backwards and hurtled into the waters. While saved from getting flattened via fish, they weren’t spared by the splash that the trout then created. A tidal wave reached over them like an underwater monster’s claw and came crashing down on them without mercy. Water engulfed the entirety of the dock, and Usopp's limbs helplessly thrashed around as the wild currents dragged her.

 

When the waters receded, Usopp gasped for air and scrambled onto her knees. She flipped her tresses out of her face and looked around. The water had pushed her further away from the docks as it had done for Bepo and Heat. Jinbe and Eustass, however, were missing.

 

“Oh gosh,” Usopp whispered. “Oh gosh.”

 

There was deafening silence, and then…

 

Being flung over from the sea and onto the dock was Eustass, and Jinbe shortly climbed up.

 

“Phew,” the fishman exhaled, “made it in time.”

 

“Jinbe!” Usopp rushed over to his side, careful not to slip on the wet planks. “You’re alright!”

 

“And so is Eustass Kidd,” he said, nodding at the unconscious man. “Oh, and I got the fish.”

 

Floating on its back kilometers away was the trout. Usopp gawked at it.

 

“I reckon we give the man an honorary seat in our ship’s dining hall, yes?” Jinbe suggested.

 

“The poor guy definitely deserves it,” Usopp agreed faintly.

 

As everyone trudged down the dock, with Jinbe towing the trout behind him and Heat carrying Eustass on his back, Bepo dawdled next to them and wearily commented, “I think I’ll take a break from fishing for a while.”

 

Later that night, Eustass was given the plate that he had been promised with and haughtily stuffed his face in front of a glowering Luffy. Dinner then turned into an inane eating contest that preceded a massive food fight. Usopp found herself thinking that perhaps she too shouldn't fish for a while.

 


 

After inspecting the array of knives, Usopp contemplated on what to do. As nice as they looked, she wasn't sure which one she should get. She hadn’t liked the eager gleam that the store clerk had in his eyes, reminding her too much of Nami whenever she would swindle people, so she had dismissed him on the account of being able to select her own weaponry. But the problem was that Usopp knew next to nothing about knives.

 

Many of them appeared to be like miniature swords with decorative handles and sheaths. Some of them even bore engravings along the blade. While they were quite nice to look at, Usopp wondered if she should go for something more understated. The understated were more practical, right? Or did it not matter in this case?

 

Deciding that she should just get Zoro’s opinion on the matter, Usopp turned around and headed down the aisle. However, she paused from taking another step when, rounding a corner and striding in front of her, was Eustass. Likewise, he stopped and stared down at her.

 

"What are you doing here?" they asked in tandem.

 

"Shopping," they answered in tandem.

 

"Quit repeatin' what I say!" Eustass barked at her, causing her to flinch.

 

"I-I didn't mean to!" she yelped, backing away.

 

"Che." The staring contest resumed. For Usopp, it was out of terror. For Eustass, it was out of expectancy, which in turn confused her greatly and caused her to stare at him now in confusion. Ten seconds of staring later, a vein began to throb on the side of his temple. He said testily, "Well?"

 

She blinked. "Huh?"

 

"Answer my question!"

 

“B-but I did!” she squeaked out, bewildered. “I said shopping!”

 

Eustass opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, and then bared his teeth, looking more pissed than before. Seeing the reddening hue crawling all over his face and the additional throbbing veins caused dread to fill her stomach. Usopp shrank away and her eyes frantically darted around, trying to determine what would be the best escape route to take. Maybe if she was fast enough, she could spin around and make a run for it—full blast speedy getaway.

 

Before she could cement her decision, a voice piped up from behind, saying, “Excuse me.” Without thinking, Usopp shifted to see who it was. The clerk was there with a polite (business-ready) smile; yet, despite this, there was an obvious trace of wariness in his eyes and the way he wrung his hands. "I hope there aren't any problems...?"

 

If not now, then there was going to be a big one if she didn’t get hell out of dodge. But, to Usopp’s ever-increasing surprise, Eustass shook his head, his pallor returning as soon as a person could blink. In fact, he seemed as though the onset of his colossal fit had never occurred, leaving Usopp to wonder if she had imagined their interaction. Full of cool nonchalance, Eustass said, “Nah, we’re good.”

 

The clerk perked up at that. “Oh, I see," he said. "I’ll leave you two to it, then.” With that said, the clerk left, leaving Usopp and Eustass alone. And for that moment, Usopp was certain that everything that happened up until the clerk's appearance was just a matter of her fear projecting a demonic rage monster onto Eustass and that everything was alright. But she was wrong again because Eustass reverted back to that demonic rage monster.

 

"Tell anyone about this," he said with a husky voice that promised of violence, "and you'll live to regret it."

 

Bewildered (again) and frightened (again), Usopp could only nod numbly in response.

 

"So," Eustass began with the same front that he had pulled on the clerk, and thus disorienting Usopp with his constantly changing moods (talk about a major whiplash), "what're you shopping here for? I know it's a weapons store, but this place shouldn’t have anything that a sniper would have use for."

 

Many questions surfaced in her mind. For example, why did he want to know? Eustass wasn't the kind of person who would ask for the heck of it, was he? And why did he suddenly get angry at her like that? She literally did nothing to him, and he was about to fly off the handle! Did everything incur his wrath so easily? And how did he know that she was a sniper? As far as she knew, the only Straw Hats that Eustass had bothered to pay attention to were Luffy, Zoro, and maybe even Franky. And why was it that him being here had to coincide with her being here?

 

“I wanted to buy stuff. Knives,” she answered stiffly, awkwardly.

 

He raised his nonexistent eyebrow. “What would you even do with knives?”

 

"Uh, after Wano, I kinda got inspired by the ninjas that we've encountered.” She shrugged. “They threw knives at us without us noticing them, and I wanted to be like that. All sneaky and whatnot.”

 

“So, you, what, thought that throwing knives would help you with that?” Eustass snorted, rolling his eyes and effectively hurting Usopp’s feelings with his denigrating tone.

 

“It’s—it’s not a bad idea!” she defended.

 

“Wrong. It is a bad idea—a real stupid one,” he retorted. “Look, throwing knives has nothing to do with sneakiness. You can wield a sledgehammer and still catch people off guard.”

 

She frowned at that. “I don’t see how that’s possible. Wouldn’t a sledgehammer create a loud sound by the time it smashes against something?”

 

“No duh, but I wasn’t referring to that. Outside of your Observation Haki, how’d you notice the ninjas?”

 

“I guess it was the sound of their knives cutting through the air,” Usopp reluctantly admitted.

 

“Yet you didn’t notice them prior to that, yeah?” Eustass pressed on. “And why do you think that is?”

 

Oh gosh. She knew just where this was leading to, and she really didn’t want to feed this guy’s ego by giving him the answer. Nonetheless, Usopp had to admit that he got a point, and a good one at that. “They didn’t shout out their attacks,” she grumbled out monotonously.

 

“There ya go,” he said with a nod. “If you want to be sneaky, just shut your trap every time you shoot someone.”

 

Okay, what? No, that was so hypocritical! As much as she didn’t want to summon the demonic rage monster again, Usopp couldn’t help herself by letting that one go. “You got no room to judge,” she countered, irked. “You shout out all of your attacks!”

 

Rather than be annoyed in return, Eustass smirked down at her. “That’s because I’m not the one who cares about being sneaky. I can afford to be flashy and loud with my attacks because I’m just that strong. You? Not so much.”

 

“Are you implying that I’m not?” she demanded. “I’ve been training for two years not for nothing, you know!”

 

“Then you must’ve been super weak from before.” He gave a light cackle as he ambled past her. “Because if what I’ve seen back at Wano were the fruits of your labor, then it’s a real mystery as to how you got yourself a bounty.”

 

Usopp scowled and clenched her fists, fuming at the way he patronized her. Although, knowing that getting under a person’s skin was just something that Eustass got a kick out of, she held herself back. Usopp breathed in and out, mitigating her frustration. There was no need to create an unnecessary altercation, especially here in a store full of sharp metal objects that Eustass could use in his arsenal. But aside from that, she didn’t need Eustass’s validation that she was strong. She knew that she was strong. Eustass was just too much of a jackass to recognize that.

 

“If you want throwing knives, then you gotta go to the next aisle.”

 

Usopp jolted and turned around. Eustass gave her that same expectant look that he had given her a few minutes ago, but, this time, there was nothing waspish or intimidating about it. His arms were crossed against his chest and he cocked his head to the side. The debris of her anger now completely fled out of her system, only to be replaced with her returning bewilderment.

 

“The knives here aren’t meant for throwing, just so you know,” Eustass added as though in clarification.

 

“I…” She blinked. “Huh?”

 

“Just get over here.”

 

The next thing she knew, Usopp was receiving tips on how to handle knives from Eustass Kidd of all people. They then went to the counter together, made their purchase together, left the store together, and walked back to their respective ships together. And this had all been done without another jibe coming out of Eustass’s mouth. Which was nice, but… What? What on earth?

 

Usopp had never felt so confused before in her life.

 


 

Because it was Luffy's turn to train Momonosuke, both of them were planning to go to the woods. This inspired Usopp to evilly rub her hands together and devise a plan.

 

It was simple; it was basic; it was cliché. Yet! It was a classic. And because it was cliché, no one would expect it! Therefore, Usopp decided to create a pitfall trap.

 

With the help of Carrot and Chopper, of course, because she wouldn't be able to dig a ten-foot deep hole and get out on her own.

 

"Are you sure that this'll help them?" Carrot asked as she shoveled dirt over her shoulder.

 

"Of course!" Usopp chirped. "Trust me—Luffy and Momonosuke are going to appreciate this."

 

Carrot and Chopper had been easy to convince; all Usopp had to do was tell them that they were going to provide an obstacle to challenge Luffy and Momonosuke's skills, therefore giving them an opportunity to learn how to overcome any more difficulties that would come their way in the future. The Mink and reindeer had been touched by such thoughtfulness and had agreed to assist her, wholly oblivious that they had volunteered to be her accomplices in pranking.

 

Carrot, however, was beginning to express her doubts, although for the wrong reasons, much to Usopp's amusement. "It's just... It's so simplistic..."

 

"Don't worry; it won't be so simple for any longer," Usopp assured. After Carrot and Chopper climbed out to the top by her gesture, Usopp rolled out two barrels by the lip of the hole. She tugged off the corks, and a slimy liquid poured out into the depths. It was to her luck that there had been leftover cooking oil for her to collect from all of the ships. The cooks had given her a strange look for her request but had complied nevertheless with no questions asked. Sanji, of course, just gave it to her with a twirl and a song.

 

"Oooh. That’ll definitely make it hard to get out,” Chopper observed, peering into the hole.

 

“Right?” she said, grinning proudly.

 

After promising Carrot and Chopper that she would tell them how the, ahem, obstacle would go, Usopp bid them a farewell and went to finish the rest of the trap. She placed a wooden lattice over the hole and piled leaves, grass, and dirt on top. Once the trap was camouflaged to her liking, Usopp rolled away the empty barrels and tucked herself away in a dense thicket. She wasn’t too close to the trap for Luffy to notice her presence, but she wasn’t too far to not be able to witness the prank being put into action.

 

Usopp smiled to herself in anticipation. It would be until a few more hours until Luffy and Momonosuke would arrive, but she was willing to be patient. Besides, she ought to brush up on her drawing skills while she waited. It had been a long time since she had made a sketch of, well, anything, so she might as well take advantage of the spare time she had on hand.

 

What Usopp didn’t take into account, though, was her falling asleep.

 

When she jerked herself awake, she briefly panicked before hastily peering through the foliage. Whether her timing was lucky or unlucky, she managed to catch the sight of someone falling into the trap, the lattice snapping in half under the person’s weight, and leaves flying in the air. Elated, Usopp scrambled out of the thicket and to the hole.

 

“Ha! Got you this time, Luuuuuu—” Her eyes widened at exactly who it was in the hole. “—Euuuustass…”

 

“The fu—”

 

“Oh, gee, look at the time,” she declared, glancing at her naked wrist. “I gotta go. See ya.”

 

“Get back here!”

 

As powerful as Eustass was, the man couldn’t leap out of the hole like how Carrot could, what with his bulky form being too much of an obstruction. Additionally, he couldn’t climb out because of the pool of oil that he had fallen into; he just kept slipping and falling. And his Devil Fruit power? What use did he have for that when they were in smack-dab in the middle of the forest? Eustass, however, was unhindered by all these things. Why? Because he had Usopp frantically going around and trying to see what would help him get out.

 

In the end, when it was fast approaching evening, Usopp was sweaty and exhausted. She was also anxiously trailing after a disgruntled and filthy Eustass. It was a shock to see that the redhead hadn’t skinned her alive for what had happened, not to mention how much of a complainer he turned out to be.

 

“So, this is the thanks I get for helping you pick out your knives,” Eustass grouched for the umpteenth time. “See if I ever help you again!”

 

“I told you, the prank wasn’t meant for you! Honestly!”

 

Down along the pier, they came across Luffy and Momonosuke, who both greeted them cheerfully.

 

Usopp gaped at them. “Where were you?” she cried out.

 

“Huh? Whaddya mean?” Luffy tilted his head, puzzled. “I was training Momo like I said.”

 

“B-but you said you were going to do it in the forest.”

 

“Oh, that? Yeah, I changed my mind. I figured that, since Zoro usually takes Momo out in the woods, we change things up a bit,” he said.

 

“We have been working hard at the farmlands,” Momonosuke chimed in with a nod.

 

“By the way, Chopper and Carrot told me that you got a surprise for me in the forest. Is that why we haven’t seen you all day?” Luffy leaned in with interest sparkling in his eyes. “What is it? Is it meat?”

 

Before Usopp could muster up the words to respond, a heavy hand landed on the top of her head. “Too bad for you, Straw Hat,” Eustass sneered with a boasting tone. “I happened to be the recipient of that surprise. You were late to the party.”

 

Now, Usopp was gaping at him.

 

“What?” Luffy looked at Usopp with betrayal. “Usopp, how could you?”

 

“First come, first serve, monkey bastard.”

 

“Screw you! The meat was supposed to be mine, jagged-haired bastard!”

 

If there was anything to lift Eustass’s spirits, it would be getting the upper hand on Luffy, Usopp noted bleakly, whether for the better or for the worse.

 


 

Usopp hastily ducked and rolled out of the room, thanking her lucky stars that neither Brook nor Apoo had noticed her departure. Then again, both men were too occupied in having their contest to see if their unwilling judge was paying attention.

 

She was in Scratchmen Apoo’s ship along with the rest of her crewmates and a few others, accepting the invitation to come aboard by its long-armed captain. But where she had intended on exploring the place like how everyone else had been, Usopp had ended up being dragged into an inane musical battle between Brook and Apoo. On any other day, she would have enjoyed witnessing such a thing, but…she just wasn’t feeling it today.

 

Usopp walked down the unfamiliar corridor, hoping that she would run into her crewmates or any friendly faces. Not that the On Air Pirates were particularly scary—they were quite amiable, actually, like the Heart Pirates—but they were nevertheless strangers, and Usopp was more at comfort being around those who she knew.

 

Usopp rounded a corner...

 

...to find Eustass Kidd sitting on his haunches with a half-empty water bottle.

 

She stared.

 

"It's not what it looks like, okay?" Eustass barked at her, a vein forming at his temple.

 

"I didn't say anything," Usopp quickly said, holding her hands out in placation.

 

“You better not tell anyone about this!”

 

“I won’t!” And if Usopp’s self-preservation instincts were still as fresh as they were when she had been seventeen, she would have left it at that and moved on. However, after Fishman Island and Punk Hazard and Dressrosa and Wano, her sense of self-preservation had been slowly turning into a washed, wrung, and worn-out rag with its edges fraying. Hence, it was why she asked, “But why here?”

 

“I don’t need to explain myself to you!” Eustass returned. Usopp didn’t make a move to leave and Eustass didn’t make a move to stand. He cleared his throat and added, “But just so you know, I found this bottle lying here and I thought I’d try flipping it.”

 

She felt herself perking up at that. “Oh! How’s it going? Did you make a flip?”

 

“That’s none of your business.”

 

“Ah.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Um, if you’re interested, Luffy, Chopper, and I are going to hold another game tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that Brook’s going to join too. Uh, um, so if you want to join, you can come by at Sunny after breakfast.”

 

“Oh, please. As if I’d want to get involved with you babies and your ‘gambling’ again.”

 

For some reason, Usopp had a feeling that what he had said wasn’t quite the truth. She didn’t know what compelled her to say this, but she found herself offering, “If you want, I can help you flip bottles if you hadn’t mastered it yet.”

 

“I don’t need your help.” This time, he pulled himself to his full height and turned his back to her. “What I need is for you to butt out and stay out of my way, got it?” Eustass proceeded marching down the corridor. Usopp remained in place, watching the man huff and puff like a grumpy cat.

 

Said man then turned around, approached her, and grunted with a tone heavy with reluctance, "Yeah, help me out."

 

For the remainder of their time together in the corridor, Usopp taught Eustass how to flip a half-empty water bottle. Because of his forcefulness, the bottle would undergo a series of too many flips and drop to its side; sometimes, the bottle wouldn’t even spin. He was channeling his aggression into the bottle, which proved to be a failure. Before Eustass would give in to his frustration, Usopp gently showed him how it was done.

 

It was under her ministrations that Eustass was able to soften the way he flipped the bottle. Not only that, but he was able to use the weight of the water to build up momentum to his advantage. A swing of the bottle, quick flick of the wrist, and release.

 

After many, many attempts, Eustass finally managed to get the bottle to land upright.

 

“Holy shit, I did it!” he crowed ecstatically.

 

“You did!” Usopp grinned at him.

 

“Ha! At this rate, I’ll show Straw Hat who’s boss!” Usopp, by default, would side with Luffy and cheer him on. But after spending time with Eustass and teaching him, she couldn’t help but feel like rooting for him instead.

 

“Kidd? What are you doing?”

 

Standing before them was Killer. His expression was hidden behind a helmet, but it was easy to imagine him raising an eyebrow at them. Usopp and Eustass traded looks before quickly getting on their feet.

 

“Nothing,” Eustass supplied nonchalantly.

 

“Right.” Judging by his voice, Killer didn’t buy that. “Anyway, if you’re done, let’s get going.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Eustass moved to follow his first-mate, but then lingered by. He gave Usopp a sideways glance and said to her, “See you tomorrow.”

 

Usopp blinked, and then nodded rapidly. “Tomorrow! Erm, yes, see you tomorrow.”

 

He nodded curtly and left.

 


 

Despite his vast improvement, Eustass didn’t win the game. But he wasn’t displeased by that since he won against Luffy, who kept accusing him of cheating.

 

“Just take your loss like a man, Straw Hat,” Eustass huffed. “I didn’t think that you’d be this much of a baby.”

 

“Rematch!” Luffy yelled. “I want a rematch!”

 

“Heh, fine. But it’s not like you’re gonna win, anyway.”

 

Usopp rolled her eyes at the men’s antics as she munched on a snickerdoodle.

 


 

After one long week for the ships to be fully repaired, there were three things had taken place: Brook and Apoo had decided that they were platonic soulmates, destined to be the ultimate musical duo. All the shipwrights had banded together in their shared hatred for Franky (for reasons that were still unknown), to which Franky had gleefully accepted (for reasons that were still unknown). And, lastly, Usopp’s continual and coincidental meetings with Eustass had developed an unusual relationship between the two.

 

Usopp wouldn’t quite describe what they have as friendship, but…there was something, alright. And though she knew that the only Straw Hats that Eustass would bother to pay attention to were Luffy, Zoro, and maybe even Franky, she knew that she was at least on his radar. Perhaps not as someone of formidable strength or of interesting qualities, but, well, someone who had helped him flip a bottle.

 

Oddly enough, to her, that wasn’t so bad.

 


 

Years later…

 

"Why do we gotta tell him?"

 

“It’s only proper! You have to ask him for his blessings so that we’ll be able to proceed.”

 

“He’s not gonna give me his blessings, woman. He’s gonna try to put a bullet in my noggin.”

 

“Oh, hush,” Usopp tutted as she finished straightening the lapels of his jacket. “He will do no such thing. I’m here, after all.”

 

“Which will give him an even bigger reason why he ought to shoot me.” Kidd looked heavenward, aggrieved. “I told you the story of how I lost my arm and got these scars, right?”

 

“Because of the Red Hair Pirates; yes, I know. But it was your fault for antagonizing them, if you recall.”

 

“And your dad will see this as a form of antagonism.” He gusted out a sigh. “It just won’t be an arm that that’ll be taken from me, you know.”

 

“As long as you’re on your best behavior, I’ll do whatever I can to mitigate the situation.” Usopp patted his chest and looked up at him in amusement. “It’s a bit strange to see you scared like this. Dad and the others have been retired for quite some time.”

 

“That doesn’t mean his skills have deteriorated.”

 

“Land ho!” Luffy’s voice could be heard from outside.

 

Usopp grinned. “Looks like we’re here. Time for us to tell Dad the news,” she said, holding up the golden band on her finger.

 

“Hopefully, he won’t shoot me for knocking up his daughter before I get the chance to ask,” Kidd said dryly.

Chapter Text

“So, are you excited to see Sanji-kun?” Nami asked, a teasing smirk on her face.

 

Usopp blushed, but quickly tried to hide that by forcing out a laugh and rubbing the back of her head. “Of course! I’m excited to see everyone.”

 

“Oh? But not Sanji-kun in particular? You know that it’s been two whole years since you last seen each other.”

 

That was true, and that was what made Usopp a bit apprehensive in seeing how the man would react once they would reunite.

 

It wasn’t that she disliked Sanji. In fact, she liked him just fine, but her crewmate had ways of putting her in a perpetual state of flustered incredulity.

 

Sanji was a lot of things. He was handsome, smart, and a great cook. He was mature, cool, and self-possessed. He was a man of debonair flare with his suits and ties and collared shirts. Upon first encounter, anyone would describe Sanji to be the ideal ladies’ man. Charismatic, sophisticated, and confident.

 

Towards men, he would be upfront and brusque and a jerkass. But towards women, he practically oozed chivalry. He would be a soft-spoken gentleman, a strong and capable knight in shining armor, the charming prince that every girl dreamed of marrying. He would treat them like princesses, queens, and goddesses, all the while flashing that heart-throbbing smile.

 

But it wasn’t the fact that he had game with women that put Usopp on edge; it was because that persona of his would be dispelled the moment Usopp would make her presence known.

 

“It would be interesting to see how much Sanji has changed,” Robin said, smiling.

 

Hopefully, not too drastically, Usopp thought to herself.

 

Just then, a “Yohohoho!” echoed from the distance. They perked up with delight, immediately knowing whose laughter that belonged to.

 

“Usopp-san! Nami-san! Robin-san!” Brook sang as his flying fish ride sailed through the air, the sounds of engines purring. “Frrranky-san!”

 

Brook leaped off the fish as it zipped past the ship, and, on Sunny’s deck, he landed with impeccable flourish with his guitar ready at hand.

 

“Brook!” Usopp exclaimed happily.

 

“If it isn’t the superstar! Can’t believe you’d be willing to leave behind your stardom,” Franky said with a wide grin.

 

“Yohohoho!” Brook stood up and faced everyone, good cheer emanating from the skeleton. “It’s so good to see everyone!” When his empty eye sockets landed on Usopp, Nami, and Robin, he spoke with near reverence, “Oh my. You three have become exquisitely stunning, I must say.”

 

Usopp couldn’t help but smile in delight. It was just a Brook thing to do to hand out compliments to women, but it nevertheless pleased her. While she may never be a striking beauty like how Nami and Robin were, she liked to think that she had changed from being that gawky, skinny girl to a refined lady.

 

“By the way, Nami-san,” Brook said, “it has been two years, so…may I see your panties?”

 

Ah, that was also such a Brook thing to do.

 

Nami did a spinning kick to Brook’s head—which the musician should have known that would happen—and sent him sprawling on the ground. Even in his prone state, Brook still managed to garble out a skull joke.

 

“Honestly! It’s as if none of you guys have grown up,” Nami huffed out exasperatedly. Funny considering how Brook was old enough to be her grandfather. What else was left to do any growing up for a pervy old skeleton?

 

“Well, it’s not bad knowing that some things just never change,” Robin chuckled.

 

“Depending on what those things are,” Usopp muttered.

 

After Brook recovered, he said, “From what I see, it appears that not everyone has arrived yet.”

 

“Chopper left to pick up the others,” Robin informed. “They should be coming soon.”

 

And soon indeed. The second after she had spoken, they heard a familiar voice call down to them. “Heeey!”

 

Simultaneously, everyone lifted their heads and saw that, flying past the towering trees and floating bubbles, was a colorful giant bird. And riding on the back of that giant bird was none other than Luffy, Zoro, Sanji, and Chopper. Luffy was waving down to him with an impossibly large grin.

 

“Here they finally are,” Franky said, smirking.

 

“Everyooone!” Luffy continued to cry out.

 

“I brought them!” Chopper exclaimed from his perch on Luffy’s shoulder.

 

Usopp couldn’t hold back the grin that spread across her face as she ran across the deck. “Luffy! Zoro! Sanji!” she exclaimed with glee. The last remaining three of their crew were now here, thus officializing the reunion of the Straw Hat Pirates. With the gang all back together, their family was now complete.

 

“Hey!” Nami called out to them, waving her arms.

 

“Luffy-san! I missed you so much!” Brook bawled out merrily.

 

“You guys look like you’ve gone through a major upgrade,” Franky noted with good cheer in his tone.

 

Usopp wiped the edge of her eyes before the tears could slide down her cheeks. “Everyone is here like old times,” she laughed. “I’m so glad—”

 

“Usopp-twaaan!”

 

Suddenly, landing right in front of her, Sanji appeared with a lovestruck expression on his face. A metaphysical heart popped out of his visible eye as he blatantly ogled her. Usopp startled and stumbled backwards. “A-ah! Sanji!”

 

“Usopp-twan! The light of my life! The balm to the pain of my loneliness! My adorable angel who has come to bless me with her beauty! I have missed you so!” Sanji sang, lowering down to one knee and held up a hand to her. Usopp didn’t take it. “These past two years have been utterly hellish without ever getting to see your loveliness! But seeing you now, the sheer brilliance of—whhooaa!”

 

A gush of blood shot out of his nose, and the force of the abrupt nosebleed caused Sanji to topple backwards. Shocked, Usopp rushed to his side and hovered by helplessly. “Sanji! What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

 

“Sanji!” Chopper sprinted over and quickly analyzed the problem. Judging by how frightened he appeared, Chopper was unable to determine the cause of the profusive bleeding. “Sanji!”

 

Unintelligible words escaped Sanji’s smiling lips. Chopper leaned down to hear better.

 

“What is he saying, Chopper?” Usopp asked worriedly.

 

Chopper pulled away and glanced at her awkwardly. “He, uh, is saying about how much your chest has gotten bigger.”

 

Instantly, she turned on her heel and marched away.

 

When she neared Nami, the navigator gave Usopp a poorly concealed look of amusement. “Did you gotta knock out our cook like that?”

 

“I didn’t intend for this to happen!” Usopp snapped. Inwardly, she lamented at how Sanji was still the same asinine degenerate from two years ago. While she hadn’t hoped for much, she had still expected Sanji to cut back on the adulation and the perversion, yet that clearly hadn’t happened. It was just as Nami had said—none of them had grown up.

 

To be honest, in the beginning, Sanji’s preferential treatment towards her had made her feel special. Because while he could have stupidly fawned over the fierce bombshell that was Nami or the brave princess that was Vivi, Sanji was tripping himself over plain old Usopp. It had been immensely flattering and had boosted her self-esteem, but it had gotten old fast (because Sanji had gotten progressively worse in their adventures).

 

It had been when the elegant beauty that was Robin had joined the crew that Usopp had decided that, yes, she had been quite fed up with being the object of this strange infatuation. She had wanted to be treated the same way Nami, Vivi, and Robin had been treated as—that meant receiving the attention of mature, cool, and self-possessed Sanji. But, no, Usopp had been stuck with eccentric, weird, and lecherous Sanji.

 

Usopp would admit that having such thoughts about the cook would have been terrible of her…if she hadn’t caught Sanji sniffing her, leering at her, and commenting about her, ahem, assets.

 

“It might have been a minute and a half, but based off of what I’ve observed, Sanji has gotten worse,” Robin concluded.

 

“Tell me something that I don’t know,” Usopp huffed, crossing her arms.  

 


 

Worse as in only towards Usopp? Yes. But towards other women?

 

“My dear, I have never encountered a being so lovely until now." A kiss to the knuckle. "You have eyes like limpid blue pools and a smile full of pearls."

 

“Oh, Sanji-kun,” the mermaid tittered, batting her eyelashes.

 

"Oh, my stomach," Usopp grumbled under her breath.

 

"Sanji-kun, Sanji-kun," the other mermaids crooned, tugging at his clothes, blatantly vying for his attention. They had been in the cove for only a few minutes and already were all the mermaids all enamored by this handsome pirate who was able to spin words into poetry.

 

Sanji moved from one mermaid to another, giving each one the same spiel about how her loveliness was so enchanting that he could fall for her. The surrounding mermaids began to swoon and blush.

 

"Haha! Same old Sanji," Luffy chuckled. “He hasn’t changed one bit.”

 

Yeah, Sanji hadn't changed in the slightest when around other women.

 


 

“Nami-san, Robin-chan, would you care for some tea?”

 

“Oh, thank you, Sanji-kun!”

 

“You’re ever kind, Sanji.”

 

“It’s my pleasure,” Sanji said, lowering his head for a bow. And then towards Usopp, he grandly presented her own cup. “Usopp-tan, would you grant me the honor of pouring you tea?”

 

“Um. Yeah. Sure.”

 

“Mellorine!”

 

When Sanji twirled away after hearing Usopp’s dismissal, Nami gave the sniper a look.

 

“What?” Usopp asked, frowning.

 

“You can’t keep brushing him off, you know,” Nami said.

 

“Wha—brushing him off? I’m doing no such thing!”

 

“Don’t deny it! You know that Sanji-kun really likes you, and you know that you feel the same way about him.”

 

She gaped at the navigator. “I do not!”

 

“You do too. Ugh, you’re deep in denial. Robin, please tell her.”

 

“She’s right, Usopp,” Robin agreed, smiling. “The boys might not have noticed, but we certainly did.”

 

Usopp’s lips parted to form a retort, but she found herself unable to utter anything. Instead, she felt her cheeks burn and her stomach doing somersaults. She brought a fist to her lips and cleared her throat, trying to hide her embarrassment. “Anyway,” Usopp said, but then floundered for a moment when she couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally, she finished with an elegant “Whatever.”

 

“Great comeback,” Nami drawled.

 

“Shut up.”

 

“While Sanji may have been pining after you even after these past two years, a relationship won’t come unless you let him know that the feeling is mutual,” Robin said.

 

Usopp frowned and glared down at her cup. As difficult as it was to admit it, both Nami and Robin were right—Usopp did, in fact, like Sanji romantically. Despite the exasperation she felt about Sanji’s exclusive treatment towards her, her feelings had taken shape after what had gone down in Punk Hazard. No, that wasn’t quite right… Perhaps she had always felt this way about Sanji prior to the Straw Hat Pirates’ separation, but she hadn’t wanted to face the truth. But now, with her admiration for the cook growing stronger and stronger, she could no longer hide it.

 

However…

 

“I’m not ready to tell him yet,” Usopp said.

 

“I know that Sanji-kun is obviously devoted to you, but keep in mind that you can’t hold him off forever. Sooner or later, his attention will divert elsewhere,” Nami said.

 

Hearing this made Usopp snort. “I find that hard to believe. Sanji hasn’t behaved the same way to another woman as he does to me.”

 

“Ooh. Someone’s confident.”

 

“It’s not just about confidence; it’s a fact.”

 

Robin smiled. “You’ll never know. Maybe there might another girl who’ll come in and steal Sanji’s attention away from you.”

 

Usopp rolled her eyes. “I like to see her try.”

 


 

When everyone heard the news that Sanji had left with Capone “Gang” Bege to get…married, Nami stepped towards Usopp and asked her, “So, what are you going to do?”

 

“What else is there to do?” Usopp said. “I’m going to get him back!”

Chapter Text

Wispy white light shot out of their chests, and the two apparitions entangled themselves in a graceful dance. They floated high into the air until they molded together into a ball. The ball burst into a rain of what looked like twinkling snow that drifted down over the deck, and the snow soon disappeared after landing. 

There was a beat of silence. 

And then... 

"Holy shiiieet!" 

The reactions of everyone on board were near simultaneous. The ship became rowdy again, but, instead of the joyous racket of revelry, there were cries of incredulity and amazement. 

Usopp herself was feeling more of incredulity than amazement. Trembling, her eyes traveled from the skies down to where the pirate captain was—to where her soulmate was. Bartolomeo's eyes were as large as saucers and his jaw was hanging; he was gaping like he was a fish out of water. 

When their gazes met, Bartolomeo flushed scarlet as his lips flapped wordlessly and rapidly. Usopp felt as though someone had crammed cotton balls in her skull. Watching the man's nonverbal rambling going at a hundred miles per minute probably didn't help the vertigo. 

"What the hell was that?" Luffy's voice pierced through the clamor, effectively silencing the masses. Well, silencing everyone except for Franky, whose crying could be heard. 

"Haven't you ever heard of a soulbond, boy?" rumbled a deep voice. Cutting through the density of the crowd was the hulking figure of Don Chinjao, who was making his way to where both Usopp and Bartolomeo stood. The elderly man lightly huffed over his shoulder. "Even if you have never seen one, you always know that it is one." 

From a distance, perhaps across the deck, Franky's bawling was pitched to a higher degree. 

"In all my years, I only had the honor of witnessing one soulbond." Chinjao peered at them with grandfatherly eyes and a gentle smile. "But to see another once more is truly a thing to behold. I thank you two for sharing this wondrous moment with all of us." 

Usopp promptly fainted. 



"Hmmm." Sanji leaned back, watching the smoke from his cigarette curl above him, why couldn't it have happened to him, he wondered. He felt he had a unique bond with the sniper, so why would fate bond her with some…Neanderthal-like mullet head? 


"When is she gonna wake up?" Sanji heard mullet head cry. Looking down he watched the man pace back and forth outside of the Going Luffy's infirmary, biting his nails. Bartolomeo refused to calm down, no matter how many times Chopper had reassured him that Usopp was perfectly fine and would wake up at any time. Plus, the beautiful Robin-chan was sitting with her while researching soulbonds. She would let them know the moment Usopp was awake. 

"I can't stand hearing him whine anymore," Mosshead muttered.

"He's just worried about Usopp," Nami-swan sighed, "I don't blame her for fainting though. Can you imagine finding out he’s your soulmate?" 

"She deserves better," Sanji said before he could stop himself. Nami looked at him out the corner of her eye but didn't respond.

"Like who—you?" Mosshead scoffed. Sanji didn't rise to the bait, though, choosing instead to leave the two and seek out Chinjao.

He crossed the deck, maneuvering around the gathering of people. After the soulbonding, some of the Straw Hat Grand Fleet representatives were reluctant on departing their leader’s crew. For whatever reason, they had felt it appropriate to personally pass on their congratulations to Usopp, hence why they had gathered on the Going Luffy. Sanji distinctively recalled Leo of the Tontotta Pirates expressing his dismay about not being able to do the same, but the little dwarf and his crew were needed back in Dressrosa to help with the repairs.

 

The representatives’ ships sailed alongside the Going Luffy, all moving as a herd. It was hard to see the sea’s horizons what with the sight being blocked. Luffy had groused about this, but, hey, it could be worse. For instance, Orlumbus could have decided to join them and bring along his fifty-six ships; that would have been a crowd.


When Sanji saw the old man, he approached him with his question ready at hand. "Hey, you know a lot about this soulbond stuff, right? What if Usopp-tan decides not to be with Bartolomeo and picks someone else? What would happen?"


"Hm? Ah, it’s possible that she can choose not to be with him. Many people go their entire lives with someone they weren't fated to be with and live happily." Chinjao rubbed his jaw in contemplation, "However, whoever she chooses to be with could never make her as happy as her soulmate could." 

Sanji wilted, looking at the mullet head again. He then let out a frustrated sigh. That…wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but it was the answer that he needed. Still, he found it difficult to accept it as the truth. How could Bartolomeo of all people be more capable of bringing Usopp-tan happiness than him?

 

"Why not get to know the man before you judge him?" Sanji ripped his eyes away in startlement, noting the knowing look on the older man's face. 

"Oh, thank god!" Mullethead shrieked. Robin-chan must have told him Usopp woke up, watching the overgrown man child tear up as Robin-chan just smiled before saying something that he couldn't hear. Whatever it was seemed important as he stood ramrod straight, the tears of relief instantly vanishing before the man took off to what looked to be the galley. Sanji tossed the cigarette into the sea before grudgingly doing as Chinjao suggested. He needed to know that Mullethead was deserving of Usopp. 

Sanji watched from the doorway as Bartolomeo ran around the kitchen, looking in the fridge and cabinets and grabbing random ingredients, pots, and pans. Did he have any idea how to cook anything? 

Sanji felt a chill crept up his arm. Robin-chan, he thought, familiar with the sensation of her arm blooming on his shoulder. Her hand formed a fist before allowing her index finger to straighten out and her middle finger to curl up above her fist. The form kind of reminded him of a face—Usopp-tan's face. Then it clicked. Mullethead was trying to make something for one of his precious ladies? Sanji cleared his throat, causing the other man to jump and spin around. 

"Sanji-senpai!" The man looked like he'd been caught doing something wrong.

"What are you planning on cooking for my Usopp-tan?" 

"Um…" Mullethead looked from Sanji, to the load of random ingredients in his arms, to the stove, and back at Sanji so fast he looked like he was going give himself whiplash. Then with tears flowing down his cheeks, he wailed, "I don't know!"

"Do you even know how to cook?" Sanji asked, taking the ingredients out of his hands and setting them down on the counter. 

"Yes, but not as well as my cook. But I want to make something special for Usopp-senpai." The tears kept pouring “But nothing seems worthy for her!"

Sanji sighed in annoyance, but he was admittedly pleased that Mullethead cared enough to put so much thought into it. He earned himself a point for that, at least. "It's simple; cooking is something that should always come from the heart. What dish can you think of that means something to you personally that you want to share with Usopp-tan?"

"Ah!" Mullethead's eyes lit up. "I know the perfect meal!" 

"Good," Sanji looked the man up and down critically, "Do you have a suit?" From the confused look on his face, Sanji figured not. "I'll find you something, I guess. You need to be presentable when you give the lovely Usopp-tan her meal." 

Eight minutes later, Sanji returned with one of Brook's suits, quickly altered by Nami-swan. The smell of cheese and tomato soup filled the kitchen. Sanji eyed the dish as Mullethead carefully poured the cheese and tomato soup covered pasta onto it. Seriously? "Macaroni and cheese is the meal most personal to you? Usopp-tan deserves a lot better than that crap!"

"Yes, it is! It was the first dish I learned to cook from my mother! I can't think of any other food that means love to me, and I want to share it with Usopp-senpai!" Sanji took in the look of actual anger on the man's face and almost smiled. If he felt that passionately about it, then it must mean something.

"Whatever." Sanji raised the suit up to show him. "Get changed. You have a meal to deliver."



When Usopp woke up, she found herself staring blankly at a ceiling. Immediately, she pushed herself upright, sending the covers sliding down to her waist. 

"Ah, you're awake." Sitting next to her was Robin. The woman lowered her book onto her lap and gave Usopp a questioning look. "How do you feel?"

"How do I…?" Suddenly, memories came flooding in. She gasped. "The—the—the party and white light—!" She failed wildly. "The soulbond!"

"So, you do remember."

"It really happened? Oh gosh." Usopp dropped her head into her hands. "I can't believe that a soulbond happened to me of all people."

"You don't like it?"

"I-it's not that… It's just—" Usopp cut herself off to gain her bearings. After a minute of slowly inhaling and exhaling, she said, "It's something that comes straight out of fairytales, you know? It's just so unexpected." And to be bonded with a guy who she had just met, nonetheless. Granted, all soulbonds were formed between strangers, but still. It was bizarre to think that her life partner was a…crazed mullet-headed Luffy fanboy. 

What? Was the universe running out of suitable prospects to pair her up with?

"I understand." Robin placed a consoling hand on her shoulder. "It's a lot to take in. Out of the blue, your soul is now irrevocably entwined with Cresthead-kun's, making it so that you two are forever bonded and life will never be a happy one unless you two are together. It's quite romantic."

"Robin, when you say it like that, it doesn't sound romantic whatsoever."

"By the way, we're on his ship." Ugh. That—Usopp didn't know how to react to that. "Oh, I noticed that you didn't eat much at the banquet. Would you like me to go get you something?"

Her grumbling stomach answered that for her. Usopp blushed and wrapped her arms around herself. "Um, yes, please."

Robin giggled. "I'll be back."

"Thank you for this, Robin."

When the door closed after the departing woman, Usopp flopped back onto the bed. 

Soulbonds were rare—rarer than Devil Fruits. Actually, could Devil Fruits be considered rare anymore? They certainly were back in the East Blue, but it seemed that everyone had a Devil Fruit power here in the Grand Line. 

She was getting sidetracked. Okay, soulbonds. They were rare, but she had just formed one with Bartolomeo. Then that made them, what, two out of billions and billions of people to be paired up by destiny? But didn't that old man Chinjao say that he had witnessed one before theirs? How old was he exactly?

For that matter, why had their souls bonded during the banquet when they had already met prior to that? 

That was the thing about soulbonds—no one knew the conditions for one; all they knew was when one was happening. Perhaps the universe had deemed it inappropriate to bond them back then when there had been chaos exploding around them. That made sense, she supposed. Usopp certainly wouldn't want to find out back in the factory after getting pummeled by that blue slime guy Trebol.

If her reaction to her soulbond had been fainting, then she really would have been useless during the battle.

Usopp rolled over to her side. She wondered what was going to happen now. Obviously, she would continue with her crewmates and make way towards Zou, but after that? What would happen after they got to Zou? What would happen after everything? After everyone would accomplish their dreams? She couldn't imagine ever parting ways with the Straw Hats again; however, if Bartolomeo was her soulmate, shouldn't she be with him?

Then again, it wasn't all that hard to imagine Bartolomeo surrendering his position as captain and follow Luffy. He was the one who had expressed the most enthusiasm in creating the Straw Hat Grand Fleet, after all.

When fifteen minutes had passed, Usopp began to wonder what was taking Robin so long. Did she get lost? Usopp threw the covers over and slunk out of the bed. Two fluffy slippers that had been conveniently placed where her feet landed on, and she took a moment to marvel how the slippers had plush antlers sewed on. After slipping them on, Usopp padded over to the door. 

When she pulled the door open, she jumped in alarm in seeing the abrupt appearance of Bartolomeo standing there.

"Gah!" Usopp cried and held her hands to her pounding heart. "What the—?"

"Uso-Uso-Uso-Uso—" Bartolomeo stammered, and his face took an immediate hue of red. "Uso-Uso-Uso-Uso—"

To her bewilderment, Bartolomeo was dressed up in a garish-looking suit; his hair was slicked back and there was a daisy sticking out of the front pocket. Glancing down, she noticed that he was carrying a silver tray with a matching dome lid. She also noticed how the lid was clattering against the tray given how hard Bartolomeo was trembling.

"Um." She took the tray from him, and this somehow intensified his shaking. "Thank you."

"Uso-Uso-Uso-Uso-Uso-Uso-Uso-Uso—"

Should she close the door? Usopp briefly contemplated this before thinking that she shouldn't be so mean to her soulmate. 

"Usopp-senpaaaii!"

Usopp flinched, nearly dropping the tray. "Ah, jeez—what is the matter with you?" she snapped.

Beads of perspiration ran down his face as his eyes darted at everywhere but her. Coming out of his mouth was a garbled-up language that Usopp had no hope of understanding. 

Usopp frowned to herself. She understood that Bartolomeo was nervous—an understatement of a lifetime—but this was too much. Sure, she was someone who had saved countless and was an amazing warrior of the seas and had earned her epithet God Usopp! But…she was still plain old Usopp. To have Bartolomeo standing here sputtering like an idiot more so than he had in Luffy's presence felt all too ridiculous. 

She then noticed two men hiding behind the corner of the corridor. In not so hushed whispers, they said, "Good luck, Captain! You can do it!"

What the hell were they cheering him on for? For him to make a move? By the looks of things, that wasn't going to happen any time soon.

Taking pity on the man, Usopp stepped to the side and said, "Would you like to come in?" 

Bartolomeo instantly stiffened. Then, in mechanical movements, he slowly marched inside. Ignoring the eruption of whoops and hollers that resounded in the corridor, Usopp closed the door behind him. When she turned around, she was greeted with the sight of Bartolomeo bowing in a perfect ninety-degree angle. 

"Thank you for having me," he exclaimed.

"Well, uh, this is your ship, so, technically, you can come in whenever you like."

"Y-yes, ma'am!"

Okay. 

"Would you like to take a seat?" Usopp tentatively offered, gesturing towards the bed.

"Yes, ma'am!" Bartolomeo jerkily made his way past her and sat on the bed. In contrast to his muscular build and towering height, he was poised like a good little schoolboy. 

Usopp stifled a sigh and took a seat next to him. 

She took the lid off and set it to the side. On the tray was a bowl of macaroni and cheese covered in tomato soup. Involuntarily, the corners of her lips quirked upwards. What a childlike meal befitting for a childlike man; idly, Usopp wondered if the rest of his crewmates were like him. She brought a spoonful to her mouth, finding that the food was lukewarm. Hmm.

Just how long had Bartolomeo been standing outside?

She scooped up more macaroni and gave the man a sideways glance. As expected, he was still tensed, sweaty, and red. She was almost afraid of making any sudden movements in case she would cause him to start bouncing off the walls. Maybe inviting him inside was a bad idea, but, given the way he was dressed, Bartolomeo seemed to be expecting something out of her. 

What was this, a date?

"Is this a date?" Usopp asked aloud.

A long wheezing sound was squeezed out of Bartolomeo. His eyeballs protruded out of their sockets and his fingers spasmed on his knees. "D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d—"

"You know what? Forget that I asked," Usopp muttered, inserting the spoon back into her mouth. 

"D-d-d-d-d-date? Date? Date!" Bartolomeo fell off the bed like a rock, miraculously maintaining his schoolboy position. He then scrambled onto his feet and heaved out, "I-I wouldn't—I wouldn't dare presume, Usopp-senpai! I-I-I—" He faced heavenward and spontaneous tears

Oh boy. What a reaction. "Bartolomeo! Please calm down!" Usopp pushed the tray away and stood up, reflexively holding her hands out to—to do what? To try to offer him comfort? But even attempting that might set off another hysterical response. At a loss, she shifted anxiously on her feet. 

"No! No, it's alright." He sniffed and wiped his face with his sleeve. "I-I'm sorry for bothering you like this, Usopp-senpai. I'm just—I'm just so overcome with emotion that I can't help but…" His lower lip wobbled until he resumed bawling. 

Usopp chewed on her thumbnail. Gosh, what was she supposed to do? Just stand there and wait it out? But that didn't seem like proper protocol for a soulmate to do. 

What would soulmates do? And was there even a guideline for soulmates to follow? Probably not since soulbonds occurred hardly ever, so that meant that there were scarcely any soulmates around to create a precept of some sort. Then what would be an equivalent? Boyfriend and girlfriend? Husband and wife? Did their bond even have to be romantic?

"Oh, fudge it," Usopp grumbled and pulled Bartolomeo in for a hug. It was hard to do so since he was perhaps three to four heads taller than her, not to mention how his girth made it a challenge to circle her arms around his waist, but she managed the best that she could. 

She felt his body grow taut in her embrace, and she lifted her chin to look up at him, her nose brushing against the fabric of his suit. Bartolomeo was peering down at her with a look of awe, his eyes glistening from what could be old tears or new tears. Usopp felt the muscles underneath his clothes seizing, and she reflexively tightened her hold.

"Uso-Usopp-senpai," Bartolomeo hiccupped.

"If you cry again, I'm never going to talk to you," she threatened. 

He immediately sucked in his lips. Red veins stretched across the whites of his eyeballs in his restraint. For all his efforts, he was turning blue in the face.

"I didn't mean it! You don't have to suffocate yourself," Usopp gasped, pulling away. Bartolomeo released a short exhale of "pwah!" and breathed in heavily as he pressed a hand to his chest. 

"S-sorry, Usopp-senpai. It was just that you hugged me and... And—and—and—and—and you hugged me." If he was a computer, his head would be steaming and breaking from the information overload. "I couldn't help but cry!"

"I wasn't sure what to do," Usopp admitted sheepishly, averting her gaze. She felt her cheeks grow warm, but she pressed on, putting her embarrassment aside. "But, well, it felt like the right thing to do at the time. Do you feel better?"

"Usopp-senpai!" Bartolomeo breathed. "You are so beautiful!"

The warmth on cheeks graduated to a blasting heat. Not knowing how to handle the reverent declaration, she defaulted to sputters. "Where the hell did that come from?" she blurted out without thinking, bewildered. 

"It's true! You are!"

As though trying to get back on control, even if it was obviously pointless to do so, she squared her shoulders and tried to channel her inner-Zoro by maintaining an air of indifference. However, all she managed to do was sound like a huffy brat. "Don't make fun of me, Bartolomeo."

"I'm not! I'm being serious!"

Usopp opened her mouth to retaliate, but the words died on her tongue. She looked away. Butterflies were dancing in her stomach and her heart was beating fast. There had been a time when she had felt this fluttery, and it had happened twice: Once back in Syrup Village when she had developed a crush on the cutest boy in school. Twice back in Baratie where a guy, Sanji, had hit on her for the first time ever.

Was that the reason why she was reacting this way towards Bartolomeo? It wasn't as though she was a regular recipient of desired gazes or flirtations, Sanji notwithstanding; that was more so Nami and Robin's area, them being incredibly beautiful women. Usopp had long ago resigned herself to be the unassuming little girl with a long nose and a jester-like personality to match; she had long ago accepted that she was not pretty. 

But to hear Bartolomeo say such a thing about her brought back this fluttery emotion. Was Usopp so susceptible to flattery that her insides would turn into mush every time a guy would compliment her? Every time a guy would view her the same way that the others would view Nami and Robin? She felt embarrassed for feeling this way, but that didn't kill her jubilation. What did was her realizing that this could be the effect of the soulbond.

The tales had chronicled soulmates undergoing effects. Despite how ancient and withered those stories were, well… What else could it be? While she herself didn't view Bartolomeo as handsome—he appeared like a scary thug, frankly—it could be because she wasn't attached to him yet. Bartolomeo, for all his fanboyish glory, was, so he was likely to be more open to the soulbond's influence. 

Bartolomeo was—no, he probably wasn't attracted to her necessarily, but regarded her as attractive. However, that could be because the soulbond made him see her that way. Would he see her otherwise? Doubt clawed away the butterflies, leaving behind a heavy weight of insecurity. 

When she belatedly realized that her brows were knitting and her lips were twisting downwards, Usopp quickly smoothed her expression and forced a smile. "You're a nice guy, Bartolomeo. Thanks. But there's no need to tell me—"

"Usopp-senpai," he suddenly burst out, causing her to jolt in surprise. The next thing she knew was Bartolomeo cupping her cheeks with his large hands and drawing his forehead close to hers. "Usopp-senpai, I don't know what's going on in your mind, but please stop thinking about it. I hate seeing you so sad."

She gaped at him. "I-I'm not," she hastily denied. "Why would I be sad about you calling me beautiful?"

"I know that it's not that was what made you sad," he insisted. "I can't really explain how I know, but I think the soulbond is telling me that you're under grief about something—" at this, her eyes widened slightly "—and—and—and I hate it. Usopp-senpai, you should be happy and carefree, and you're especially beautiful when you are."

Usopp hesitated before asking quietly, "Is the soulbond making you think that I'm beautiful?"

"Of course not!" he vehemently exclaimed. "You've always been beautiful. You're even more beautiful in person!" His hands moved to hers and clasped them tightly against his heart. "And even if this is the cause of the bond, does that matter? Because what I think of you is true—that you're incredible just the way you are."

If her heart hadn't galloped within her chest before, it certainly was now. "B-Bartolomeo..."

"You're my soulmate, the one who I'm meant to be with. I'm honored to be able to spend the rest of my life with you and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Usopp didn't doubt that; the conviction in Bartolomeo's voice rang clear and true. But while she believed that Bartolomeo believed his claim, she wasn't so convinced of it herself. She wasn't beautiful and incredible no matter how happy and carefree she was. That was fact. But…Bartolomeo saw her being beautiful and incredible as fact. And maybe that should be enough. Instead of butterflies and a thrum of nervousness, there was a bit of resignation and warmth. 

Maybe Bartolomeo wasn't under the soulbond's influence. Or, rather, the soulbond didn't warp one's perspective just to force two soulmates to become attracted to one another. But it did something as it had conveyed to him what Usopp had been feeling. Was that the nature of the bond? Empathy?

She gnawed on her inner cheek. There was actually something comforting about that, being able to know how the other person felt without needing words. Even though Usopp had hid her insecurity with a dismissal and a smile, Bartolomeo had been able to sense that she had been hurting on the inside. She wondered when the universe would see fit to ordain her of the same ability. 

"Um, Usopp-senpai, you're thinking again."

She blinked out of her stupor. "People think all the time. Are you telling me that I shouldn't think at all?"

"Oh, no! Of course not! It's just… It's so weird, but it feels natural sensing the way your mind runs." Bartolomeo frowned and his eyebrows furrowed. "It's moves around nonstop like a hummingbird. There's a lot of energy to it."

"You can feel my mind," she said faintly, taken aback by the description. She would have to ask Bartolomeo about it later. 

"Looks like it. Can you feel mine?"

"No, not yet." Her eyes drifted down. "Um, could you let go of my hands?"

"Hm?" His gaze traced down from her face to her arms to her hands. He froze and dropped them like they were hot potatoes. "I'm so sorry, Usopp-senpai! I can't believe that I did that and—and—and I even dared to—to touch your f-f-face!"

Here they go again, Usopp thought wryly. 

"Since we're soulmates, shouldn't it be fine?" she said. 

"No, no, no," he said, shaking his head. "I gotta do this right! I gotta give you flowers and take you out on dates and write you poems!"

"You can write poems?" she muttered.

"And we'll go on long walks on beaches and have candle-lit dinners and visit cafes." Emboldened by the generic date ideas that Bartolomeo rambled on about, the man tossed in some more. The notion of doing all of these things with her seemed to excite him as his eyes took on a twinkling gleam. He didn't look dissimilar to how Luffy would look when something interesting was going on. 

Wow. She didn't take him to be a romantic. 

Seeing him getting enthused by these scenarios with them as the main characters was endearing, in all honesty. It just made her feel guilty for what she was about to say, but…it had to be said.

Bartolomeo paused. "Usopp-senpai? Is something wrong?"

It seemed like this soulbond was going to force her to become an honest person, huh? Usopp sighed and rubbed her arm. "We won't get the time to do all that."

"What do you mean…?"

"Bartolomeo, you said that you'd like to stay with me forever, but I have to continue my journey with my crew. My time with you is limited."

The rigidness of his form loosened, and he let out a loud "phew!". He grinned at her. "I know that!"

She blinked at him. "You did?"

"As the Straw Hat Pirates' greatest fan, of course I understand that you got things that you gotta do. And what kind of fan would I be if I got in your way of that?"

For the first time, Usopp was the one who was in awe now. She regarded him with surprise. "There's gotta be a limit to your generosity."

"I'll be selfish later. My dream is to become a part of Luffy-senpai's crew, and, once I join, we'll have all the time in the world to be together." Bartolomeo grinned down at her. "And I'll prove to you that I'll be the very best soulmate you can ever have."

"You're my only soulmate, you dork." Then, finally, Usopp smiled at him. "I think Luffy would be very happy to have you on board."

The grin that spread across his face was scintillating. "Let's go ask him now!" he effervesced. Bartolomeo gently grabbed her hand and led her to the door, only to find the two crewmates from earlier, plus Sanji, listening in. 

"Captain!" one of the men sobbed. "Such a beautiful speech!" Bartolomeo’s face turned tomato red as he sputtered, but his voice was drowned out by his subordinates’ cheers.

"We'll come with you to Luffy-senpai!" the other cried before leading Usopp and Bartolomeo towards her gathered crewmates. 

Sanji moved to the side and watched them go. Okay, maybe Mullethead was good enough.

Chapter Text

After a minute of silence, Yasopp said, “Can you excuse us for a moment?”

 

Usopp’s face fell. “Oh no. Dad, please—”

 

“No, no. Relax. I just want a moment to speak with Shanks.”

 

Oh no,” Shanks parroted, aghast. “Yasopp, please don’t drag me into this—”

 

“Come on.” Yasopp grabbed Shanks by the collar and hauled him out of the room and into the corridor. Behind them, Eustass could be heard saying, “Well, that could’ve gone better,” before the door was shut.

 

“This is your fault,” the sniper told his captain flatly.

 

“Okay, now I think you’re overreacting—”

 

“If you hadn’t cut off his freaking arm, then he wouldn’t have gone after Usopp!”

 

“Yasopp, no one could have expected this!” Shanks exclaimed, throwing his single arm up in the air. “Much less strike up a romance with the enemy’s daughter!”

 

“Well, it happened,” Yasopp snapped, “and it happened because of you!”

 

“Okay, okay,” Benn said, stepping in with a resigned sigh. “What’s going on here? Did Shanks hit on Usopp or something?”

 

“Why the hell would that be your first guess?” Shanks demanded to know, affronted. “What am I, some kind of Casanova who can’t keep it in his pants?”

 

The looks that both men directed at him was telling enough, prompting Shanks to sulkily scuff the floor with his foot.

 

“He hasn’t done such a thing, but he was involved regardless,” Yasopp grumbled, giving Shanks the stink eye.

 

“Indirectly!”

 

“Indirectly, directly—who cares? This is your fault!”

 

“Whatever Shanks has done,” Benn cut in, “does it explain why Eustass Kidd is here with Yasopp’s daughter on our ship?”

 

That was when Yasopp unloaded to Benn about what Usopp had told him before his brain had momentarily malfunctioned and had left the planet.

 

Benn held up a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose with his other one. “Hold up. Let me process this,” he said. “Eustass crossed paths with Luffy’s crew on Wano, found out that Usopp is Yasopp’s daughter, and decided to exact revenge for what Shanks did to him. And then love miraculously bloomed for the two of them.”

 

“Blew my mind too,” Yasopp commiserated.

 

“Sounds like a crappy romance novel geared for teenaged girls, but alright.” Benn clapped a hand on Yasopp’s shoulder. “Congratulations, old man. You got yourself a son.”

 

“Don’t call him my son.” The sniper’s face twisted into a dark scowl. “He is not going to be my son.”

 

“If he’s anyone’s son, he might as well be Shanks’s,” Lucky Roo, who was passing by them, noted aloud.

 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Shanks’s hand shot out and reeled Lucky Roo back in by the collar of his shirt. There was a perplexed and strained smile stretched across the captain’s face. “What on Mother Earth’s Four Blue Seas are you talking about, man?”

 

“I’m just saying.” Lucky Roo shrugged. “The likeliness is uncanny.”

 

“He does have a point,” Benn mused. “I never met anyone with the same shade of red in your hair until Eustass.”

 

“Don’t spread false information! What if people hear about this and spread rumors?” Shanks exclaimed with his eyes wide. “And what do you mean by uncanny likeliness? The resemblance clearly ends at the hair, you fools!”

 

“The facial scars. The missing arm.” Lucky Roo shrugged again.

 

“Those aren’t hereditary!”

 

“If we’re putting that much emphasis on father-son resemblance, then Monkey D. Dragon must’ve made an accident when he was signing those birth certificates,” Benn snorted.

 

“Hey, Eustass could take after his mother,” Yasopp added.

 

“I think I’ll remember having sex with a woman with Eustass’s features,” Shanks said through gritted teeth.

 

“Not when you’re hammered enough, which happened way too often all those years ago.”

 

“What, the getting hammered part or the drunk sex?” Lucky Roo asked.

 

“Yes,” was what Benn simply replied. The man quirked an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you know? You used to drag his ass back to the ship when he got like that.”

 

“I make myself forget those moments. Some things are just not meant to be seen, more less remembered,” Lucky Roo said with a shudder.

 

“Hey,” Shanks said, annoyed, “I’m right here.”

 

“We know,” all three men chorused.

 

As Shanks grumbled about the blatant disrespect on his own ship, Yasopp said, “Putting Shanks’s possible fatherhood aside, what the hell am I going to do about Eustass and Usopp? They said that they wanted me to give them my blessings for their nuptials—” at this, the sniper took a moment to dry-heave “—but I sure as frickin’ hell don’t want to!”

 

“Is it really that bad?” Lucky Roo asked. Upon receiving a look from Yasopp, he held up his hands in placation. “What I mean is that, sure, Eustass was an asshole brat when he came at us, but the guy could have changed. As they say, love can do crazy things to a person.”

 

“I think the saying was how a person can do crazy things for love,” Benn mused.

 

“Well, it can’t be so far off to say that Eustass has done the crazy by changing himself for love, right?”

 

Yasopp paused at that. He reflected on what Eustass had done when he had first boarded their ship. Thinking clearly now—when he was no longer under the influence of alarm and rage—Eustass had conducted himself…politely. Yes, he had been a bit awkward in his manners, evidently attempting to restrain himself from flying off the handle when he had been surrounded by pirates who he had once fought against. However, the young man had visibly relaxed when Usopp had placed her hand on his arm—the non-mechanical one. In fact, it seemed that it had been Usopp’s overall presence that had grounded him.

 

Yasopp gnawed on his lower lip. As much as he hated to admit it, Lucky Roo might have a point there. Yasopp obviously did not like Eustass, refusing to believe that the boy was good enough for his daughter, but Eustass had proven that he wasn't a bloodthirsty battle maniac that he had portrayed himself upon their first encounter. And, yes, there was Eustass's disreputable standing to consider, but, now that he thought about it, Eustass hardly graced the papers nowadays.

 

Well, people would do crazy things for love, right? Perhaps the young captain had changed his ways because of Usopp. It was a bit difficult to imagine, but... Was it possible?

 

"I don't think any daughter of yours would be okay with settling with a man who would continue terrorizing citizens, just saying," Lucky Roo remarked.

 

"I didn't think she'd go for a man who made his reputation about that in the first place," Yasopp grunted.

 

"People can have their own redemption story," Benn said. "And while I doubt that Eustass even feels sorry for what he's done, he could be making the effort into not doing it again for Usopp's sake."

 

The sniper released a sigh. "I suppose that you're right..."

 

"So...?" Lucky Roo leaned in curiously. "Are you going to accept Eustass?"

 

"Accept him? Hell no. But give him a chance?" Yasopp rubbed his neck. "Yeah, I'll give him that. It's a jump giving them my blessing for marriage, though." He sighed again and smiled weakly. "But I trust Usopp's judgment, and if she wants to marry him, then the least that I can do is be there for her."

 

"Then we should get out there and face the crowd," Shanks suggested, nudging him with his elbow. "Your daughter must be worrying herself sick waiting for your response."

 

"Don't forget who's the proprietor of this mess," Yasopp shot back, raising an eyebrow.

 

"Okay, seriously?"

 

"You need to give your blessings too, Shanks," Lucky Roo added.

 

"No, I do not. Why? Because he is not my son!"

 

"Okay, okay." Benn pushed Shanks and Yasopp towards the door. "Get out there, you two. You have a couple to confront."

 

Yasopp and Shanks traded looks before nodding. With his breath locked in his lungs, Yasopp strode forward and returned to the room where his daughter and her lover were waiting for them.

Chapter Text

Usopp watched Trafalgar leave. The captain bypassed the man—Tonoyasu, was it?—and ignored his question as to where he was going. It hadn't been long since Tonoyasu had burst in with troubling news as to what was going on in the capital, and it hadn't been long since Trafalgar and Shinobu had their dispute about the capture of Shachi, Penguin, and Bepo.

 

Unease filled Usopp's stomach. For quite some time, she had known that Trafalgar had endured the hijinks that the Straw Hat Pirates had imposed upon him, but the feelings she had about that had been more piteous than anything. Now, there was a clawing sense of guilt that came from the thought of how perhaps it had been her and her crewmates' inability to stick to plans that had led his own men to be captured.

 

She tried to reassure herself that Trafalgar had done this to himself when he had proposed an alliance, that she had warned him back in Punk Hazard of Luffy's inanities. But, well, the guilt remained.

 

"Should we go after him?" Usopp asked Nami.

 

Nami shrugged. "He seems like he can take care of the problem himself."

 

She gnawed on her lower lip. True, Trafalgar was strong enough to take on any foe—well, almost any foe. Doubt festered. They were in Kaido's territory, and surely facing Kaido and his subordinates would be a bigger hurdle to jump over compared to Doflamingo and his subordinates. And...didn’t Trafalgar get his ass kicked by Doflamingo’s henchman? To top it all off, Luffy had been, what, arrested? That meant that there wouldn't be a certain rubber man to swing by and come to his timely rescue.

 

After weighing on her decision, Usopp made up her mind and chased after the man.

 

"Traffy—uh, Trafalgar! Wait!"

 

Trafalgar paused and glanced over his shoulder.

 

"I'll help," she told him.

 

He narrowed his eyes. "Why?"

 

A man of his disposition—prideful and serious—would loathe to hear her truth, and she knew that he would turn her away if hearing it, so she gave an answer that would appease him. "Because we're allies. Like you said, there's gotta be trust on both sides when it comes to an alliance, and I trust that your guys wouldn’t confess to anything," she said. "And the sooner we free your crewmates, the sooner we can accomplish our goal."

 

Trafalgar didn't respond right away, instead opting to shift his position so that he was facing her. Under his scrutinizing stare, Usopp wondered if perhaps the man didn't appreciate her answer. However, he ended up saying, "Just don't get in my way. You and your lot have done enough of that."

 

"Uh, r-right," she stammered, and hurried after him.

 


 

The convenient thing about posing as a shrine maiden was that everyone easily let down their guard around her. In situations like this, Usopp loved being underestimated. It was easy to sneak by and dupe people into thinking that she was a harmless girl with pure and holy intentions. Of course, the image was somewhat dampened by Trafalgar's intimidating presence, but that was easy to create an excuse for.

 

"Oh, him? He's my brother. He has a terrible case of insomnia, so don't mind him; he's not actually glaring at you," she would say sweetly, and the officers who would confront them would allow them to pass by.

 

The inconvenient thing about posing as a shrine maiden was the long flowy sleeves that kept getting in the way. She had tied them back with a cloth strip in the same fashion that the other shrine maidens had showed her, but the blasted flaps kept slipping out.

 

After pushing her sleeves up for the umpteenth time, Trafalgar apparently had enough. "Just take off the outer layer or cut them off," he snapped.

 

"And ruin my disguise?" Usopp huffed. "Did you not notice the advantage we have with me looking like this?"

 

Trafalgar didn't deign her a proper response, instead electing to roll his eyes at her as though she was being unreasonable. Usopp, displeased, was about to open her mouth to tell him precisely why they ought to have more care regarding their disguises—because, honestly, his own disguise could use some work; it was as if he wasn’t even trying—when a gunshot sounded off not too far from where they were.

 

She jumped in alarm. “What the hell was that?”

 

Around them, the people behaved in the same manner as she had. Bewildered and worried murmurs filled the streets, and then someone exclaimed, “It must be a rebellion!”

 

Usopp and Trafalgar exchanged looks.

 

As the two had traversed to Rasetsu Town, they had passed by live televised displays of Komurasaki’s funeral proceedings. As expected, the proceedings had been extravagant and beautiful, fitting for the deceased oiran. However, the despairing wails of the countryfolk had soon evolved to stunned gasps when the showcasing switched to the beaten and crucified Tonoyasu, whose true identity had been revealed to be Shimotsuki Yasuie.

 

Usopp didn’t quite understand who Yasuie was exactly, but, judging by the people’s reactions, he was a beloved man who originally had held a high-ranking position. Evidently, that had been taken away once Orochi had ascended to power.

 

Ten minutes ago, the display that she and Trafalgar had been watching had stuttered until it had darkened to a dead screen. Some sort of malfunction. No one here knew what Yasuie’s words had been, final or not. Yet Usopp had clutched onto the feeble hope that the man had made it out alright, that her friends, impulsive and reckless as they were, had already come to his rescue to repay his hospitality. She had ignored the creeping rationality of how that they wouldn't have made it in time since they had no reason to venture over to Rasetsu. That had been when her sleeves had fallen, and she had futilely shoved them back up.

 

“If there really is a rebellion,” Trafalgar began, “then could mean that he’s—”

 

“W-we don’t know that,” Usopp cut in. “I mean, yeah, sure, a rebellion, but he could still be alive.”

 

Trafalgar frowned, appearing as though he was about to present an argument, but then shook his head. “Whatever. We need to get going. If there’s going to be chaos, then we can use the confusion to our advantage.”

 

A minute later, a building ahead could be seen exploding. There were cries of the “Magistrate Slayer” and the “O-soba Mask” appearing before Orochi. At this, Trafalgar turned his head to give Usopp a nose-bleed dry look.

 

“That’s probably a good thing, right?” she tried. “They’re creating this chaos that we can very much use to our advantage.”

 

Trafalgar might have been muttering to himself, but Usopp still caught him say, “Freaking Straw Hats…”

 


 

For someone who loved to make plans, stick to plans, and was overall a plan guy, Trafalgar didn’t stop to come up with one as he marched right up to Basil Hawkins, who was guarding the jail.

 

With her hunch urging her to not follow, Usopp chose to stall behind and duck next to a pile of rubble before Basil could notice her. For a moment, she wondered what on earth was Trafalgar doing blatantly exposing himself like this. Was he seriously that confident that he could take down Tattoo Face? Hadn’t he had enough receiving beatdowns from blonds? Not that she meant to underestimate his ability and strength—he had been a Warlord, after all. But, frankly speaking, she was beginning to suspect that the man, just like most men who she had come across with, had an issue of overestimating himself.

 

(Except for Luffy. He was insufferably cocky, but he always came out on top.)

 

And what was Usopp doing here and not standing by his side? Sneak attacks weren’t exactly her forte; she preferred to be out there so that the enemies could get a good look of her face. But sensing that there had been something off, she instinctively had pulled back. If Trafalgar noticed her absence, he didn’t show it. Rather, he coolly stared at Basil all the while standing there nonchalantly.

 

Usopp was thoroughly unimpressed. Just a week ago, she had seen him imitating Raizo’s ninjutsu hand signals when he had thought that no one had been looking. And a day after that, she had seen him nagging one of his crewmates about touching his coin collection without his permission. Usopp had long been disenchanted by the concept of a chic and mysterious Trafalgar. As far as she was concerned, such a person did not exist.

 

And yet, here he was, standing there out in the open with an affected air of stoic manliness that Usopp had seen Zoro emit on occasion. Standing there without a plan. In front of another pirate captain who was subordinate to a Yonko. All without a plan.

 

Unless he had thought of one on the spot? Usopp dearly prayed that was the case.

 

But if it wasn’t… She drew out a bullet from her pouch.

 

"I knew that you would come here, Trafalgar," said Basil. His voice was deep, but not the gruff deep that Zoro had or raspy deep that Trafalgar had; it was an aristocratic deep that Usopp had always imagined fairytale kings to have. The way he held himself upright seemed to convey some sort of noble upbringing as well.

 

Her eyes flickered from the man to the prison. There two men who pressed themselves against the wooden latticed wall, their hands clinging onto the bars. In shock, they cried out, "Captain!"

 

"Someone is missing," Trafalgar said, his tone adopting a menacing quality. "A white bear."

 

"With your power, you could free your men with little effort," Basil replied with amusement. "It would be foolish to keep the hostages altogether in one place."

 

A tingling sensation crawled in the back of her head. Usopp swallowed as she readied the bullet in place with her handheld slingshot. With her arms raised, the sleeves no longer got in her way.

 

"I'll make sure that you get thrown in there too," Basil continued.

 

"Haven't you learned by now not to get ahead of yourself?" Trafalgar scoffed.

 

"No, have you?" With a smirk, Basil raised his arm. "You cannot defeat me." He then sliced himself with his sword, which was when a yelp could be heard from the prison.

 

"Shachi!" Penguin exclaimed.

 

Trafalgar whipped his head back to Basil with a dark look on his face.

 

"I hold their lives alongside mine," Basil declared. "If you were to kill me, you would kill them as well." Obviously, he was in possession of a Devil Fruit ability. From what Usopp had recalled hearing through the grapevine, Basil had some freaky voodoo trick where he could transfer his injuries onto other people.

 

It was clear to see that Basil had been prepared for this and that Trafalgar had fallen for his trap. With the way the doctor was baring his teeth, Usopp knew with dismay that he didn’t have a plan to counteract this problem. It was underhanded how Basil had exploited the Trafalgar’s weakness like this, and yet…it was clever, she had to admit.

 

Nevertheless, there was one flaw in Tattoo Face’s plan, and that was him discounting the fact the Trafalgar had someone with him.

 

A bullet hit Basil's shoulder from behind, causing the man to jerk forward and collapse onto his knees. Trafalgar whirled around and snapped, "The hell? Why did you shoot him? Didn’t you hear what he said?"

 

Usopp hesitantly poked out of her hiding place. "Relax,” she told him. “I used a seastone bullet. It should cut off his ability upon impact."

 

“You used a—when did you get a hold of one?”

 

“I might have filched some here and there during our stay,” she admitted sheepishly. Wano was the land that produced seastones, after all, and she would be damned if she didn’t seize the opportunity to get some for herself. She was no Nami, but she did rather well in terms of purloining items without drawing attention to herself. Had she been an actual shrine maiden, she would have been a failure of one. It was a good thing that her being a pirate didn’t require her to have much of a conscience.

 

Despite her assurances, Trafalgar scowled. “Regardless, you don’t know if it really would. You could’ve hurt Shachi—”

 

“I’m okay, Captain!” Shachi hollered.

 

“Fine…” he conceded begrudgingly after a pause.

 

“Damn you,” Basil hissed, lifting his head to glare venomously at Usopp. Usopp squeaked and shrank back. “You made a grave mistake, woman.” He brought forth a hand with his fingers curled. There was a dramatic silence that swept the scene, and everyone fearfully watched in anticipation of Basil’s straw man transformation. However, what occurred instead was an awkward ten second wait.

 

Usopp pulled out another seastone bullet and shot his other shoulder.

 

“The frick.” Trafalgar’s expression turned disbelieving. “He was already down for the count. You didn’t need to go that far.”

 

“Consider it a precaution,” Usopp insisted. “Anyways, can you free the prisoners?”

 

“Of course I can.” With a simple “room” and “shambles,” all the prisoners swapped places with the various pebbles that were scattered around the vicinity. There was a cacophony of surprise, but it was mostly of elation that came from being free again. Having been sent a couple meters away, Usopp noticed the men moving closer to gather around them, but they lingered on the edge when they noticed that their jailer was still around.

 

Shachi and Penguin immediately ran towards Trafalgar. “Captain! We’re sorry for getting captured!” Penguin wailed.

 

“No worries. Do you know where they took Bepo?” Trafalgar asked.

 

“N-no. I mean, I could guess, but…”

 

Usopp glanced over at where Basil was lying prone on his back. “We could get him to talk.”

 

If Basil’s glare had been frightening before, this one was just straight up murderous. “I’ll never talk.”

 

“Yeah, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be willing to cooperate,” Shachi noted.

 

Usopp nervously wiped her forehead when she noticed that Basil hadn’t stopped glaring at her. She knew with certainty that, had he not been incapacitated, Basil wouldn’t hesitate to turn her into a bloody splatter. With the rise of anxiety, her stomach churned, and she could feel blood leave her face. By the time Basil recovered from this, she knew without any doubt that he would come after her.

 

She then looked over to where Trafalgar, Shachi, and Penguin stood. Shachi and Penguin returned her gaze with smiles of gratitude. Even Trafalgar gave her a curt nod, acknowledging her assistance. Usopp tightened her grip around her slingshot and remembered his words about alliances.

 

Well, she thought to herself with resignation, at least she had her stash of seastones with her.

 

Briefly closing her eyes and counting to five, she then said, "I could just put more bullets into him."

 


 

Law watched with growing unease as the sniper proceeded to fire more bullets into Basil's body.

 

"Talk. Where is Bepo?" Usopp demanded.

 

"Arrrgh." Basil writhed in agony instead, which prompted her to shoot again.

 

"I never knew that she was like this," Shachi murmured behind him, and Law echoed the sentiment.

 

For someone who had always appeared to be a scaredy cat, the girl proved to have…guts. She was also shrewd too, knowing to conceal herself from Basil’s sight so that she could make her sneak attack. Law hated to admit it, but…this Straw Hat Pirate really impressed him. And frightened him a bit.

 

God Usopp indeed…

Chapter Text

 “Luffy told me that I’d be surprised to see an old friend,” Ace said. He smirked as he held up his drink. “I figured that he could only mean you, but I gotta admit that he’s right—I am surprised.”

 

“I told you,” Luffy said gleefully.

 

“My sentiments exactly,” Usopp sighed, shaking her head. “You know, I was really shocked to see you pop out of nowhere like that.” Ace literally blazing into the scene as he had prevented those marine officers from pursuing them… Usopp had thought that she had imagined the whole thing until Luffy had exclaimed his name. Her brows furrowed at the memory. “Since when did you get yourself a Devil Fruit?”

 

“A bit after I started sailing.” Ace held up a finger and a wisp of fire danced on the tip. “Pretty cool, huh?”

 

Pretty fitting, more like. Usopp couldn’t imagine a more perfect power for a hothead. And it didn’t matter how much he had grown or how laidback he had gotten throughout the years; she knew that, underneath it all, Ace was still the irascible brat from their childhood. Although, she didn’t dare speak of it aloud; she wanted to minimize the chances of his retaliation, after all.

 

“Let me guess,” Zoro chimed in. “You know each other because of one of Usopp’s teleportation incidents, right?”

 

“Oh, they know about that?” Ace quirked a brow.

 

“Shishishi! Zoro and Nami were with me when we stopped by at Syrup Village and met up with Usopp,” Luffy said, grinning as he scratched the back of his head. “They were confused when they saw that we knew each other.”

 

“What’s this teleportation incident?” Chopper asked. Nearby, Vivi was also looking at their direction with open curiosity.

 

After recruiting Sanji into the crew, Usopp and Luffy had explained to him about their history after his initial misunderstanding of their relationship. It had been one thing for him to tone down the flirtations; it had been another thing when he had done it because he had believed that she and Luffy had been romantically involved—which eww. Now that they had two new members on board—three if they were counting Carue—their explanation would have to be reiterated. Usopp wondered if they would have to do this every time someone would join them.

 

Fortunately for her, she had Luffy to eagerly launch into the subject. “So you know how Usopp has the Tele Tele ability? When she was a kid, she ate it and teleported to a bunch of places without being able decide where she can go. One of the places she ended up in was my home.”

 

“She stayed with us for three days, and she spent those three days whining and crying and following us around,” Ace added. “When she finally left, she came back a week later. This was a recurring thing—her reappearing and disappearing—until we were, what, fourteen and seventeen?”

 

“Luffy told me that I stopped showing up a few months before your departure,” Usopp said.

 

“Oh, yeah. What happened, by the way?”

 

She shrugged. “I just stopped teleporting there. It wasn’t like I intended for that to happen.”

 

“I got to see her for the first time in three years when we arrived at her village,” Luffy said. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and dragged her in close for a terribly one-sided hug. Usopp grunted her displeasure. Cheekily, he informed his brother, “And because I got to her first, I got to make her my sniper.”

 

Ace slapped his forehead. “Damn. We did make that bet, didn’t we?”

 

“Yup!”

 

“Just because she’s part of your crew doesn’t mean you get to be so smug about it, ya little shit.”

 

As usual, the brothers were squabbling with one another. Usopp rolled her eyes as she wrestled herself free from Luffy’s clutches. Despite the reflexive long-suffering settling in at the familiar sight, there was an undeniable sense of nostalgia that warmed her. Indeed, it had been about three years since they had gotten together like this. While reuniting with Luffy had buoyed her heart, having both Luffy and Ace here with her had felt as though the world had shifted back to its original axis. Usopp hadn’t realized how much she had missed them until now.

 

It had certainly been a change, going from hating the foul-tempered Ace and the immature Luffy to loving them. She had never hated Sabo, though, as the other boy had always been kind to her regardless of her “inconvenience,” as Ace had put it. But with Sabo and her mother’s deaths, the pain of losing their loved ones had brought them closer. Ace and Luffy had become her childhood friends, her dear precious people; they weren't quite her brothers as they had not forged such a bond, but they had developed a deep relationship, nonetheless.

 

As time had passed on, teleportation had long stopped being disorienting, but it hadn’t stopped being a nuisance. In the duration where she had stopped appearing on Dawn Island, she had occasionally popped up in random parts of the world instead. The teleporting had become a bit more manageable—manageable in that her spontaneous bouts of travel had now been limited to once or twice a month. But that little detail wasn’t something that Ace needed to know. To her luck, Luffy had seemed to have kept his mouth shut about that.

 

“Basically, her control was no different than it is now?” Chopper said, ever so innocently tilting his head and oblivious to the fact that he had just outed her in front of Ace.

 

Ace’s eyes widened before he threw his head back and guffawed. “You still can’t control your power? That’s so lame! How many years has it been? Ten? I mastered mine not even six months!”

 

Usopp shot him a disgruntled glare. “Look, it’s more complicated than you think, okay?” she groused.

 

“Or maybe you’re just really crummy,” he retorted. “Man, I would’ve thought that you at least got some rein in on your teleportation, but I guess not.” To Luffy, he said, “Looks like you got the short end of the stick, Lu.”

 

“Hey!” she snapped.

 

“Ah, come on, Sopp. You know that I’m just teasing.” With a lopsided grin, Ace leaned forward and lightly drove his knuckle on the top of her head. Usopp, unamused, swatted his hand away.

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“Oh, Ace, you still haven’t told us what you’re doing here,” Luffy brought up, his expression alit with interest as the thought occurred to him.

 

“I didn’t? Well, if you must know, I’m chasing after a certain man.” He paused to take a swig of his drink. “A guy named Blackbeard.”

 

“He’s the pirate who attacked the Drum Kingdom,” Vivi noted with mild surprise.

 

“He used to be a member of the Second Division of the Whitebeard Pirates; in other words, one of my men. But he committed the worst possible sin he could make on ship—killing a fellow crewmate and fleeing. So, as his former commander, I gotta find him and kill him.”

 

Kill him? Usopp had always envisioned Ace becoming a powerful pirate, but she had never thought of him of someone capable of, well, murder. This rule that the Whitebeard Pirates upheld must be something serious for Ace to go through such lengths. She supposed that was why he had dubbed it as “the worst possible sin.” She mused over this for a moment. “So you being here means that Blackbeard must be around?” Usopp inquired.

 

“That’s what I’m hoping. I caught word that Blackbeard was seen in Yuba.”

 

“Then that means that your destination matches ours,” Nami said. She pulled out the map and spread it across the floor. Nami then beckoned Vivi to come over. “Could you confirm it just in case?”

 

“Certainly.” Vivi walked over and knelt down next to where Ace and Nami were crowding around the map. “We’ve just entered the Sandora River,” the princess said, tracing a finger along the path. “First, we’ll land at Erumalu, then head into the interior of Alabasta to reach Yuba here.” Vivi grimaced. “That’s where the rebel leader is.”

 

“We really are going to the same place,” Ace hummed.

 

“I’ll follow wherever my ladies go!” Sanji crooned.

 

“Pipe down, love cook,” Zoro said.

 

“What did you say, you freaking—”

 

“Anyways!” Nami announced, deliberately cutting off Sanji. “It looks like we’ll be travelling as a group for the time being.”

 

“Sounds fun.” Ace moved towards Usopp and slung an arm around her neck, not unlike how Luffy had done not too long ago. He rubbed his cheek against her forehead, knowing fully well how much she hated it whenever he did that (which was obviously the reason why he did it). “It’ll be like old times, eh, Sopp?”

 

“You mean you being a total bugger and me having to suffer from it, then yes,” Usopp grumbled, pushing away with an elbow jab. However, despite her mien, her heart was beating in delight at the thought of staying by his side for a little longer.

 


 

“You’ll get wrinkles if you keep frowning like that.”

 

A flick to her forehead startled her back to awareness. Looking up, Usopp saw her father grinning at her. “You were looking pretty serious a second ago. What’s up?”

 

Rubbing her forehead, she reflexively frowned again, but quickly smoothed her expression. “I was just thinking.”

 

Yasopp adopted a sympathetic smile. “Worried about Luffy’s brother?”

 

Usopp nodded, not bothering to dispel the impression that her concern was mainly for her captain's sake. She hadn’t told him about what her actual connection to Ace was or about how she had consumed the Tele Tele fruit. The reason being was that, well, her mind had been reeling over the fact that her father had been right in front of her. Honestly, she was still recovering from the shock.

 

It had been surreal seeing her father in the flesh after...over a decade, was it? And this had occurred after that fiasco that had taken place back in Sabaody. One second, Bartholomew Kuma’s hand had been hurtling towards her. The next second—pop! She had found herself sprawled across the lap of the infamous Red Hair Shanks.

 

That moment had been...something, to say the least. It had been a good thing that Shanks had been every bit of a good-natured and jolly man that Luffy had described him to be, hence why he had merely laughed at Usopp's unconventional introduction no matter how unsightly it had been. Her welcoming had become infinitely more amicable when the Red Hair Pirates had learned that she had been Luffy's sniper and Yasopp's daughter.

 

After hearing their assurances that her crewmates had been fine and hearing about what Kuma’s power had done to them, Usopp had relaxed, but that had appeared to be imperceptible to the Red Hair Pirates. Granted, she still had been concerned about her friends’ wellbeing because she had no idea where they had been sent to. For that matter, why had Kuma done what he had done? No one, not even the powerful Yonko himself, knew the answer to that.

 

In order to divert her attention, Yasopp had enthusiastically insisted on seeing how far her sniping abilities had come. His efforts had been obvious but appreciated, especially since Usopp had always wanted to show off in front of her father. And it hadn’t been just Yasopp who had been interested, but a good lot of the Red Hair Pirates had expressed their curiosity as well. The compliments that she had received had been a major ego boost, and the criticism and advices given had been incredibly helpful.

 

Since then, she had been sailing and training with them, and they had treated her as though she had been one of their own. For the time being, it had been like a dream come true—her journeying with her father, talking with her father, being with her father… And the Red Hair Pirates had been so accommodating that she could easily picture herself being their crewmate for real.

 

However, with the news of Ace’s scheduled execution, she had awoken from her dream and shaken back into reality.

 

“We’ll make it,” Yasopp said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “And if not us, then Whitebeard sure as hell will.”

 

Usopp offered him a smile, but she couldn’t feel the emotion behind it. “Yeah.” She leaned into his embrace. “Yeah, Whitebeard is a super strong guy, after all. So if he’s there, then Ace should make it out okay.” Ace had to be. She didn’t know what she would do with herself if he wasn’t… Today was his execution day, and if no one came to his rescue in time…

 

“Yeah.” Yasopp peered down at her contemplatively. “Usopp, you told me that you’ve met Ace before, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“You don’t happen to have a crush on him, do you?”

 

It took her a moment to register the words that parted her father’s mouth. Usopp jerked away from him and stared at him with wide eyes. “What?” she cried out incredulously.

 

Yasopp quickly held up his hands in placation. “I mean, it’s fine if you do, honey. I met the guy once and I could tell that he’s a nice boy. Although, having a relationship with a man who belongs to another crew will be difficult to maintain, so—”

 

Usopp could feel her face burn. “I don’t like him!” she squawked. “He’s so—I can’t believe—argh!” Helplessly, she flapped her arms as though trying to articulate her point via gestures. “What the hell, Dad!”

 

“You’re my seventeen-year-old daughter,” Yasopp said, evidently conveying that he felt just as flustered as she was. “It makes sense for you to, um, feel the way you do.”

 

“Dad, stop.”

 

“Um, did you get the talk about the birds and the bees?”

 

Dad.”

 

“Sweetie, I know that this is all embarrassing, but it’s important for you to understand that you might wind up being pregnant if you don’t take the extra measures—”

 

Usopp groaned into her hands. “No, no, no,” she chanted. “Please, stop this! I already know about the freaking birds and the bees. You don’t need to tell me.”

 

“Okay, fine. But just so you know, I would rather prefer it if you make me a grandpa after marriage. I’m getting on with my years, and I don’t think my heart could take it if you have a baby before properly settling down.”

 

“Oh my gosh,” she muttered. “I can’t believe I’m hearing all this.”

 

“And by the time you do settle down, I expect you to retire from piracy, young lady. Raising a child on the seas isn’t ideal, which is why I left you with your mother back in Syrup Village.”

 

The thought of not being a pirate anymore caused her to frown in displeasure. Even if she had a kid, she couldn’t picture herself ever stopping her adventures with the Straw Hats. But she understood the point that he was making, which was why she felt all the more compelled to clear any misunderstandings. “You really don’t have to worry about that,” she insisted.

 

 “Usopp, I just want you to be careful, alright? It’s a huge responsibility, and, now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have left you and your mother all by yourselves. See, parenting isn’t a small feat and—"

 

“Dad, stop worrying! I’m not going to—”

 

Pop!

 

“—get married any time…” Usopp paused when she took notice of her surroundings. No longer was she standing before her father on the deck, but rather in the middle of a long alleyway.

 

She felt blood drain from her face.

 

No, this couldn’t be… But already? Impossible!

 

Usopp sprinted down the alleyway and out in the open where she was greeted by the sight of a picturesque seaport village—glimmering waters, white sandy shores, quaint cafes and restaurants and boutiques that lined along the beach. Unless this was Marineford, Usopp had a hunch that told her that she was somewhere that she ought not to be.

 

In a state of panic, she dug her hands into her hair. Her teleportation wasn’t supposed to act up—at least, not until next month! Her first teleportation had been when she had popped from Sunny to Thriller Bark ahead of the crew. Her second teleportation had been when she had popped from Sabaody onto Shanks’s lap. She hadn’t had more than two trips since—since she had stopped appearing at Dawn Island! What in the world was going on?

 

For the umpteenth time did Usopp wish that she understood how to control her power. She had asked Robin for help, but not even the older woman could determine what caused her to teleport or the nature of her teleportation.

 

Usopp screwed her eyes shut and forced herself to even her breathing. It wouldn’t do her good to completely lose it. She had to calmly assess the situation and find a way to get out of here. And if she couldn’t, she would end up teleporting back to her original spot after a few hours, anyway; by that time, the Red Hair Pirates would have made it to their destination. She would undoubtedly be bombarded with questions by her frantic father, but, well, at least she would return.

 

Feeling herself relax, she opened her eyes and took in the scenery. It was beautiful, an ideal vacationing spot. The warm atmosphere, the lull of activity markedly made by the peacefulness, and yet the soft white noise in the background created by the chatter and laughter of the people. The lovely day, however, was a stark contrast to the dark foreboding that she felt.

 

A few hours until she could teleport back, sure. But what if that would have been all too late? What if no one could save Ace in time? It didn’t matter whether all of the Whitebeard and Red Hair Pirates were heading for Marineford; all it took was a delay in their arrival and Ace would be… Ace would be…

 

Usopp gnawed on her lower lip. She wracked her brain for any ideas. She could get herself a boat and a map and sail on her own, but the money on her person wasn’t enough… She could hitch a ride, but she doubted that any merchant would be interested in nearing precarious waters. She could call the Red Hair Pirates and notify them of her location, but she didn’t want to pull them off track. For that matter, was her location closer or further from Marineford?

 

She then thought about teleporting.

 

Perhaps…instead of waiting for it to happen, she ought to make it happen.

 

Her prior attempts at this had always resulted in failure, but Usopp hadn’t bothered to try it again three years ago. And with time passing, her teleportation had changed. Maybe she could do something about it this time?

 

Usopp stared at the sea. It wasn’t like she got any other choice, did she?

 

Once more, she closed her eyes, but with a calmer state of mind this time. There was a sense of tranquility that she readily accepted, easing her into a blank yet ruminant state. She had regularly seen Zoro meditate on the deck, and she wondered if she was doing the same thing. She cleared her head of any straying thoughts and focused on the image of Ace’s face. She had no idea what the marine base of operations looked like, but she knew what Ace looked like. She figured that if she fixated on Ace, she could be led to where he was.

 

Her eyebrows dipped in her concentration. Just once—just once could she manage to get this right.

 

“Hey, lady. What’re you doing?”

 

Ace. Just think about Ace. Ace. Ace. Ace.

 

“Hey, lady. Hey, hey, hey, hey—”

 

Just ignore it, she told herself. He would eventually go away.

 

“—hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey—”

 

Ugh. This kid is persistent, but he was bound to get bored soon, right?

 

“—hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey—”

 

What?” Usopp snapped, unable to contain her irritation.                     

 

To her left was a squat, short boy who was staring up at her with droopy eyes. He had an expression of boredom, and yet his incessant pestering obviously betrayed his curiosity. Or maybe he was one of those little shits who bothered others for no reason. He tilted his head to the side and asked, “Whatcha doing, lady?”

 

“Can’t you see that I’m meditating here?” she huffed, looking above his head to see if his parents were around.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because…” Usopp floundered for a moment. “I need to think about something. Now, get lost, kid.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I can’t do it with you annoying me!”

 

Without even the slightest change to his expression, the perpetually bored kid asked again, “Why?”

 

If her not wanting to end her pirate life wasn’t enough, then her deterrent for settling down and having children would be raising annoying brats. And knowing fully well what sort of brat she had been, it would be inevitable that any child that she would bear would be just that—an annoying brat. With that in mind, Usopp figured that if she walked away to find a new spot, the kid would just follow her around.

 

Argh! This was frustrating! And she didn’t have the time to indulge on the boy’s whims!

 

“Look,” she began, “I have something that I really gotta do. This could mean life or death for a precious friend of mine, so I would really, really appreciate it if you quiet talking to me, okay?”

 

For a moment, there was silence. The kid was staring at her, but he didn’t say anything, which was an immense relief. Usopp sighed and closed her eyes, preparing herself to dive back into the depths of her mind. But just when she was about to slip away from the world, she heard, “Why?”

 

She whirled around, an angry retort ready on her tongue. “Alright, you little—”

 

Pop!

 

“—piece of…!” The words trailed off when the heady smell of dust and smoke filled her nostrils. The sudden shift of sounds especially caught her off guard. There were explosions and gunshots and screaming and shouting and…

 

Usopp’s eyes roved across the new sight before her. A gray and rocky terrain littered with men—pirates and marines alike—clashing swords and fists against one another. There were fallen bodies and blood. There were clouds of smoke floating to the skies. The chaos that she found herself plunged into was bewildering and frightening. She took a step back.

 

And that was when she noticed someone. Ragged, beaten, and bloody, Ace was running towards her. His freckled face was marred with aghast as he stretched his arm out to her.

 

Usopp!”

 

The next thing she knew was this unbearable, horrid pain. Usopp felt a scream trying to claw out of her throat, but the most that she could muster was a wet gasp. There was an intense heat that pierced through her core that burned her from the inside out. She desperately wanted to scramble away, to be free from this pain, but her limbs refused to move.

 

It hurt. It hurt!

 

The only thing she could see was red fabric. She couldn’t hear anymore. She then couldn’t feel…right anymore—the heat turned into coldness. She was cold—freezing. The red became fuzzy and black and…

Chapter Text

“Oh gosh,” Usopp muttered upon seeing who it was parked in front of her house.

 

“Hm?” Kaya followed her gaze. “Is that your neighbor’s son?”

 

“Uh, well…” Usopp trailed off when Ace lifted his head from his phone, his eyes meeting directly with hers. As usual, his eyebrows knitted together, his eyes narrowed, and his lips twisted into that of a frown; that was his default expression—at least, it was whenever she was around. Usopp released a small exhale before turning to face Kaya.

 

Kaya smiled curiously.

 

“That’s Ace. He’s this weirdly intense kid who keep following me around, and I can’t make heads or tails on whether he hates me or not,” Usopp whispered.

 

“If he hates you, then why would he follow you?”

 

“That’s the thing—I have no idea.” She shook her head in exasperation. “When I asked, he told me that it was none of my business and that I didn’t need to know. Ugh. I’m willing to bet that he’s doing this on some dumb dare that his friends put him through. Must be why he looks irritable twenty-four-seven.”

 

Kaya tilted her head to the side. “Have you met his friends?”

 

“Yeah, and they’re seriously a bunch of snot-nosed—”

 

“Oi. What are you doing loitering?” Usopp and Kaya jumped at the interruption. In unison, they looked down, finding Ace peering up at them while giving them his trademark disgruntled glare. His hands were stuffed in his pockets and he was slouching, appearing every bit like the delinquent that he was undoubtedly going to grow up being.

 

“T-talking,” Usopp blurted, and then cleared her throat to insert with authority that she wasn’t feeling, “which is what we’re allowed to do, aren’t we? And if we’re loitering, then what are you doing?”

 

“Waiting for you,” Ace replied promptly. “Duh.”

 

Usopp turned towards Kaya with a pained expression, as if relaying to her, “You see what I gotta go through?

 

Kaya, however, didn’t quite understand the dilemma that her friend was going through.

 

“It’s always nice to be welcomed by someone when you’re back home,” the blonde tried.

 

“Kaya, no,” Usopp said.

 

“Who the hell is she?” Ace asked, thrusting a finger at Kaya.

 

Usopp gasped, scandalized, and delivered a swift smack to the head. “Don’t be rude! If you want to know a person, you gotta ask her directly.”

 

Ace huffed, rubbing the spot where Usopp had hit him, before shifting so that he was facing Kaya. Kaya smiled down at him bewilderedly. Then, he asked, “Who the hell are you?”

 

“Politely! You gotta ask her politely!” Usopp cried.

 

“It’s fine, Usopp-chan,” Kaya assured. To Ace, she bowed and said, “My name is Kaya. I’m Usopp-chan’s friend from school. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

Ace visibly stiffened, and then mumbled out, “I’m Ace. Likewise.” Belatedly, he bowed back.

 

“Right, well, now that’s over with, Kaya and I are going to study in my room,” Usopp said. “Ace, I won’t have time to entertain you, so go play with your friends.”

 

“Can’t I just hang out in your room? I won’t make any noise,” Ace said.

 

“Why would you do that instead of playing? Don’t be ridiculous. And besides, you’ll end up getting bored and start pestering me.”

 

“I won’t,” the boy insisted, his scowl deepening.

 

“Yes, you will!” she huffed. “Why do you want to stay in my room so badly?”

 

“None of your business.”

 

A vein throbbed on her temple. “Just get out of here! And don’t think about trying to sneak in. I will use my slingshot on you.”

 

Ace scuffed the ground with his shoe. “Fine,” he groused. “You’re lucky that your parents aren’t here.”

 

“Don’t use my parents against me!” she snapped. That was one of the most frustrating things about Ace. For reasons beyond Usopp’s understanding, her mother and father found Ace to be an adorable little boy and loved to cater him. Hence why she often found him inside her house with an infinite supply of cookies and candies.

 

Why he would continuously try to get inside her house, Usopp didn’t quite know, but she knew that it wasn’t for the treats (probably). What she did know for certain was that he knew that he could use her parents for his own benefit, and that deeply aggravated her. It pissed her off even more that Ace didn’t have to try; her parents were somehow already charmed by Ace’s unruly demeanor. Was it because her father used to be a delinquent and her mother had eloped to marry his delinquent self? If that was the case, then why did they get mad at her for staying out too late at Kaya’s place?

 

When Ace finally left, Usopp marched inside her house with Kaya in tow.

 

“Is it always like this?” Kaya asked, and Usopp knew that she wasn’t referring to the interior of her new house.

 

“Ever since we moved here,” Usopp sighed. “At first, I thought nothing more of it. Like, I thought he was just curious as to who his new neighbors were. But then… Well, you get the idea.”

 

“It seems like an exciting day every day for you,” Kaya noted with humor, following Usopp up the stairs.

 

“Don’t even start with me,” she snorted. “Is this what it feels like having a kid brother? If so, then I’m glad to be an only child.”

 

After putting their belongings down in Usopp’s room, the two girls went back down to head for the kitchen. As Usopp pulled out two glasses, Kaya looked around curiously. “It’s really different here compared to your last place.”

 

“It’s definitely a one-up to our old apartment, huh?” Usopp opened the fridge and pulled out the juice container. “It’s kind of a pain having to cross longer distances to get from one place to another, but, hey, at least I’m burning calories.”

 

“A viable excuse to eat cake without any worries,” Kaya said with a serious nod.

 

“A toast to our shrinking waistlines!” Usopp declared, holding up her glass.

 

“A toast!”

 

After clinking their glasses together and glugging down their drinks, Usopp and Kaya proceeded to rummage through the cabinet to find any snacks. A few years ago, it had taken Usopp months to break down Kaya. Before, the young heiress would have sat primly at the dining table with her hands folded on her lap and her back ramrod straight, waiting patiently for Usopp to present her snacks to dine on. And now, here she was, feeling quite comfortable enough to pull out a bag of chips and open it without asking for permission.

 

"Don't forget the cookies," Kaya said, dumping handfuls of chips into a bowl.

 

"Sure thing—oh, come on!" Usopp groaned. "Not again!"

 

"What is it?"

 

"We ran out of cookies. No doubt Ace ate them all again." Frustrated, Usopp slammed the cabinet door shut, but then opened it because, well, if they weren't going to have cookies, then they might as well have something else to munch on, right? She gave a cursory glance of the contents before randomly seizing one of the boxes. Crackers? Whatever.

 

"You seriously don't know why he keeps hanging out in your house?"

 

"No. You heard him earlier. It's apparently none of my business," she said, pitching her voice obnoxiously on the last part to do an impression of Ace. She slid the other bowl that Kaya had pulled out towards her to fill it with crackers. "But I really do think it's because his friends dared him to do it."

 

"Like, what, stalking you?"

 

"Can it be called that? Can kids stalk anyone? Especially when your parents just happily allow them inside?"

 

Kaya pursed her lips in thought. "I would say that stalking is stalking regardless of intention or lack of obstacles barring the activity."

 

"You don't have to get fanciful with your words. We are talking about stalking, after all.”

 

"I'm not! Anyways, if his friends truly did set him out on a dare, then the reward must be worth it to him."

 

"Sometimes, dares aren't about winning prizes. Among boys, it could just be a test of will, or that's what I remember hearing the boys from my elementary school say." Usopp shrugged. "That doesn't seem too far off for someone like Ace, honestly."

 

"I wonder if there's something else at hand," Kaya mused.

 

This piqued Usopp’s interest. "What do you mean by that?"

 

“Well, maybe he has home troubles? Could be why he always insists on staying with you.”

 

Reflexively, she snorted and opened her mouth to refute that, but then a thought occurred to her. She didn’t really know her neighbors that well. She knew the basics, like how Ace’s guardian was a heavy-step woman with a vicious temper, how there were shady men who would occasionally visit, and how he had a younger brother named Luffy. There had been times at night where she would hear Dadan, the guardian, yell at Ace and Luffy for one thing or another. Usopp had always believed that it had been because the boys’ unruly and mischievous personalities being put at work, but she was starting to wonder if perhaps that hadn’t been the case.

 

Her mind was then flooded with images of Ace with cuts and bruises littered on his arms and legs. Usopp had always dismissed it as him being reckless and adventurous, but what if that wasn’t it? With the possibility of what his home life might be planted in her mind… Was Ace and Luffy really being abused by Dadan?

 

Suddenly, feelings of guilt came crashing down on her. For all the times when she had rebuffed his attempts on coming over to stay, had she been turning him away from the only sanctuary that he knew?

 

Usopp shook her head. No, no, no. It wasn’t good to jump to conclusions. As though to reinforce this thought, she pointed out, "That doesn't explain why he always follows me around."

 

"Your parents are busy with work, so they can't be around often,” Kaya replied with a shrug. “Therefore, he latches onto you."

 

Usopp’s stomach sank. That was true…

 

Kaya, oblivious to her attacked conscience and mounting despair, continued on airily. “But I could be wrong, of course. It’s not like I know anything about him. Not like you, Usopp-chan. Hm? Usopp-chan? Is something the matter?”

 


 

Ace didn’t know what happened, but he certainly wasn’t going to complain. After that day when Usopp had brought her friend from school, Usopp had been nicer to him. She had even gone as far as allowing him to hang out in her room. She had never done that before. He wondered if that blonde girl had somehow talked her into being more tolerant of him; if so, he had to remember properly thanking her for it. He might have to visit Makino on lessons on manners, now that he thought about it.

 

Ace knew that he was skipping his way back to his neighborhood, but he couldn’t care less. He knew what waited for him back there, and he was all the more eager to receive it. A smile spread across his face as he tightened his grip on his backpack straps.

 

“Oi! Ace!” Ace paused and turned around. Sabo hurried next to him with a frown. “What are you rushing out for? Don’t you remember that we were going over to Marco’s?”

 

Ace mirrored his friend’s frown. “Oh. Right.” He did make that promise, didn’t he? He sighed and kicked a stray pebble. Looked like he would have to visit Usopp on another day. Or perhaps tonight? Did he dare test the boundaries?

 

“What’s up with you lately?” Sabo asked. “You’ve been—I don’t know—cheerier. It’s kinda weird.”

 

Ace shoved him on the shoulder. “Shut up. I’ve just…been progressing, is all.”

 

Sabo had an understanding look on his face. “You mean with your neighbor? What was her name again? Yasopp?”

 

“Usopp. Yasopp is her dad. You met her a lotta times. How can you forget already?” he snorted. “And, if you gotta know, yeah. Me and she are getting closer.” He then dropped his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “I’ve also been in her bedroom.”

 

“So? You’ve been in there before, haven’t you?”

 

“Yeah, but, this time, she invited me in.”

 

Sabo’s eyes widened a bit. “Dude, you said that you never been there unless her parents let you in,” he said. “That seriously is progress. What happened?”

 

“Don’t know, man. Well, I mean, I don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s all good,” he said with a smirk. “With the way things are looking up, I think I got a chance.”

 

“Uh, hate to break it to you, but I’m pretty sure that a seventeen-year-old wouldn’t be interested in a ten-year-old, no matter how nice she’s treating you.”

 

Ace shrugged. “As long as I stay on her good side, I think I’ll be able to get her to fall for me by the time I’m eighteen.”

Chapter Text

Once again, Sanji had graciously bestowed the crew a lovely dessert to punctuate the end of today’s supper. It had been a cheesecake—a three-tiered confection with light dusting of powdered sugar over its golden surface. While ostensibly simple in appearance, it had been obvious that the highlight of the cheesecake had been more than that. When the cook had brought in the dessert, everyone had been marveling over how jiggly it had been.  

 

Usopp happily polished off the last piece of her slice. She had thought about this every time she ate Sanji’s cooking, but she genuinely believed that he had outdone himself this time. The fluffy texture had evoked such a cozy feeling with every bite that she took, which had been complemented by the smoothness of the rich cream cheese flavor. She glanced over at Robin, who was finishing her slice with tea. The older woman certainly had the right idea of combining the two, and Usopp definitely wanted to try that herself, but she was full.

 

Unlike Luffy, who was wolfing down his fifth slice.

 

“Nami-saaan,” Sanji cooed. “How did you like tonight’s dessert? Did you enjoy it?”

 

“It was delicious, Sanji-kun,” Nami said with a smile.

 

“I really liked it!” Chopper chimed in. “Especially by how bouncy it was!”

 

“Oh, yeah!” Luffy swallowed, a visibly large lump passing down his throat, and held up his sixth slice. He lightly shook the plate to cause the cake to jiggle. “That’s crazy cool, Sanji. How’d you do it?”

 

“Hmph. Like you would understand even if you broke it down for you,” Sanji retorted.

 

“Cornstarch,” Usopp and Franky said simultaneously. They paused and exchanged looks in surprise, but Usopp forged ahead by explaining, “Cornstarch has a high water-binding capacity. Or, more specifically, the starch granules respond to heated water and release glucose molecules into it. Because of that, a gelatinization forms, giving the cheesecake its bounciness.”

 

After a beat of silence, Franky said, “Yeah. What she said.”

 

Usopp hadn’t even spoke for thirty seconds and already were Luffy’s eyes glazed over. But, then again, it was Luffy, and anything that went beyond a toddler’s comprehension usually went beyond Luffy’s.

 

Well, okay, that wasn’t true. Luffy was at least comparable to a ten-year-old. She had to give him some credit.

 

Knowing this, Usopp didn’t understand why she had bothered launching into a detailed report about what cornstarch did in baking. She supposed that it was due to the case of the arduous hours of conditioning she had inflicted upon herself in preparation for her midterm exam; upon hearing a familiar test question she had long studied for, she had responded reflexively.

 

“Thanks for the explanation, nerd,” Zoro said dryly.

 

Usopp blushed. “W-well, he asked, so…”

 

I appreciated it, Usopp-tan!” Sanji said to her sweetly before shooting Zoro a glare.

 

“Sanji used corn for cake?” Luffy asked bewilderedly.

 

“Not corn—cornstarch,” Franky corrected. “It’s starch that’s extracted from corn grain. It’s used as a thickener for foods like gravy and pies; it can also be used to make baked goods soft, like what Lil Sis said.”

 

“You seem oddly informed about an ingredient for a shipwright,” Nami pointed out with an arched brow.

 

Franky shrugged. “Yeah, I’m a shipwright, but, in case ya haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of science in what I do,” he said, making a broad gesture to indicate the ship. “I gotta know complex chemistry in order to make engines that run on cola. Knowing what starch does is pretty basic.”

 

“I did wonder if using an alternative to gasoline or coal meant a particular way of designing the machines,” Robin mused. “I know that motor vehicles have an internal combustion engine and that fuel is used to create an ignition. However, does that mean that carbonation can have a similar effect?”

 

Franky nodded. “It does have the same effect, but you’d have to go from a combustion engine to a carbonation engine, obviously. I mean, you can’t burn cola the way you can burn fuel; it does nothing. The only sort of reaction you can get is by creating carbonation. And let me tell ya, it friggin works.” He smirked at the others. “You guys saw what the Coup de Burst does, right?”

 

The only response the man could derive were blank stares, and Brook’s was given by default because he had a skull for a face. Although, the only exceptions made were Luffy, who now appeared to be incredibly perplexed (and seemed to wonder what foreign language was being used amongst his crewmates), and Usopp herself, who had this discussion with Franky before.

 

In Usopp’s opinion, learning about the intricacies of Franky’s works was a delight. Mechanical engineering was a relatively fledging subject for her, as evidenced by Nami’s rudimentary Clima-Tact, but she was eager to learn as much as she could from the man, a seasoned mechanical engineer. And with her high marks in physics and chemistry and mathematics, Usopp wondered if that meant that she had the qualifications to become a master builder herself.

 

Hmm… Perhaps not… She had opted to forgo college in favor of being a pirate, after all. Not that she regretted her decision, and not like she would be able to afford taking classes, but Usopp had to admit that her high school level of education shouldn’t really be an indicator in determining her potential—if she had any. Furthermore, she had only ranked fourth out of everyone in her year. No matter how much she liked to think of herself as a scientist or a mechanist in the making, Usopp hadn’t had that much dedication to her studies.

 

Nevertheless, Robin’s slight glimpse of Usopp’s knowledge had managed to impress the woman. Hence, Robin said, “I confess, I hadn’t fully registered the extent of your intelligence until now, Longnose-san. I should have, considering the variety of your arsenal that you’ve created.”

 

Usopp smiled, flattered. “Um, thanks. But it’s just what you learn from high school, honestly.”

 

That sentence alone had irrevocably set off a reaction.

 

“You learn to make explosives in high school?” Nami exclaimed incredulously.

 

“What? No!” Usopp shook her head. “Just the elements and stuff. Erm, uh, actually, yeah, my chemistry teacher did tell us how to make them, but just as a warning not to make them.” She frowned, her confusion compounding. “What, you didn’t learn this in your high school?”

 

Nami gawked. “I—I—”

 

“I don’t think I’ve gone that far ahead in my education,” Brook put in cheerfully. “I dropped out of school the moment I was invited out to sea.”

 

“Hey, I’m a dropout too! I quit during middle school and never looked back,” said Franky who grinned widely. “High five, bro.”

 

Usopp’s jaw fell. Franky was a dropout? She had assumed that he at least had done some courses in college before taking the vocational route. Had his teacher Tom seriously been his main source of education or was Franky a veritable genius? Or…maybe he had poured all of his focus into building ships and neglected other areas of his studies? Now that she thought about it, the last notion seemed to be the most likely one.  

 

“What’s high school?” Chopper asked.

 

“A school that is attended after completing primary and middle school,” Robin answered. “Those who are between the ages sixteen and eighteen typically attend.”

 

“Huh. You must’ve gone to high school then, Robin, since you’re so smart!”

 

“Actually, I never got the opportunity to graduate from my primary school.” The woman sipped her tea. “I was on the run since I was eight.”

 

“Okay, Brook and Franky are dropouts—” Usopp began.

 

“Same,” Zoro added.

 

“Brook, Franky, and Zoro are dropouts, and Robin has a legit reason.” She returned her attention to the navigator. “So, what’s your excuse? Were you sleeping during class all semester or something?”

 

Nami fixed her a venomous glare. “I had to work for Arlong.”

 

“Oh. Right,” Usopp mumbled sheepishly, rubbing the back of her neck. Of all things for her to forget, she had to forget that, especially considering the fact that she had actually been in Cocoyashi Village and had faced against Arlong’s crew.

 

“How far have you gone, Usopp?” Zoro said with a slight mocking tone. “Since you seem surprised by us uneducated peons.”

 

“I graduated.”

 

“You what?” Nami and Zoro cried out in disbelief.

 

“How—what? You’re seventeen!” Nami exclaimed furiously. “You couldn’t have!”

 

“It’s not uncommon to graduate at that age,” Usopp said a bit weakly, cowed by Nami’s angry visage. “But, um, if you must know, I skipped first grade.”

 

“Oh, so did I.” Robin smiled, looking up in interest.

 

“Yeah, well, whatever,” Nami huffed. She crossed her arms and leaned forward. “You must’ve been ranked somewhere in the bottom, I bet.”

 

“Fourth, actually.”

 

Nami’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Fourth—" she wheezed out.

 

“Fourth out of what? Like ten kids?” Zoro pressed on, his eyes narrowing. “We’ve been to your village, and it’s puny.”

 

“Syrup Village doesn’t have a school. You have to take a bus to go to Central Town, which is, like, ten miles from my place.” And Usopp took a brief moment to remember how horrible it had been to ride on the same bus as that asshole from her freshman year. It had been a relief to find out that he had dropped out of school to become a marine officer. “And it’s out of two hundred kids, just so you know.”

 

“Two hundred—!”

 

“I don’t believe it!” Nami burst out, slamming her hands on the table. “I won’t believe it until I see your diploma! Where is it, huh? Where’s your fake, nonexistent diploma, Usopp?”

 

Feeling a tad overwhelmed by Nami and Zoro’s impromptu tag-teaming against her, not to mention the exasperation that she could no longer quell, Usopp snapped back, “It’s at my house! Of course I wouldn’t bring it here with me! What good would having my diploma do out here in the sea? Verify that I’m an educated pirate?”

 

The navigator bared her teeth. “Screw you! I’m educated!”

 

“I didn’t say that you weren’t!”

 

“But you totally implied it!” Thrusting a finger in her direction, Nami barked out, “I might not know anything about chemistry, but I sure as hell am not an idiot! Do you know what constellations form above the Red Line if we’re in the North Eastern Hemisphere?”

 

“Navigation isn’t even covered in the high school curriculum! And constellations don’t change regardless of where you are!”

 

“I know! That part was just a trick question!”

 

“Okay, that’s enough,” Franky intervened. “Let’s just conclude that Usopp’s an egghead and call it quits, yeah?”

 

Usopp squawked. “How does me graduating equate to me being an egghead? Those two aren’t mutually inclusive!”

 

“You ranked fourth out of two hundred. You’re very much so an egghead.”

 

Usopp opened her mouth to retort, but she found that she had nothing to say. Her teeth clacked together and she pressed her lips into a thin line, and then glanced over her shoulder. She had been on the receiving end of totally unwarranted attacks from everyone, and Sanji had not once come to her rescue. What the hell is up with that? Why was he being so quiet? Wait, he wasn’t here—and so wasn’t Luffy.

 

“Where did Sanji and Luffy go?” she wondered aloud.

 

“The captain snuck out with the remaining cake, and Cook-san left to chase after him,” Robin answered.

 

“I wonder if those two gentlemen finished their education,” Brook said.

 

“No one needs to think too hard about Luffy’s education,” Nami deadpanned, and Franky could be heard saying, “Did that guy even go to school?”

 

“It’s obvious that the pervy cook’s a dropout,” declared Zoro. “The guy does nothing but cook and perv on women. Does that look like a guy with a proper education?”

 

There was an awkward five second pause until the tension was alleviated. There was always a chance that Sanji would deliver a well-timed kick to Zoro’s head for that comment, which Zoro obviously knew but obviously cared more about insulting the cook whenever the opportunity presented itself. Since Sanji hadn’t come charging in with his usual retaliation, it meant that he was still wrangling in Luffy.

 

“I dunno, man. The guy looks pretty put together,” said Franky, adopting a thoughtful expression.

 

Zoro scoffed. “Please. Anyone could don a suit and spout useless flowery shit and still be a complete moron.”

 

“Looks can be deceiving,” Brook agreed. “Why, one might not have expected a pantless weirdo become such an accomplished shipwright, and yet here you are! Yohohoho!”

 

“Ah, shucks!” Franky grinned like a dope. “Thanks, bro!”

 

“One weirdo calling the other a weirdo,” Nami muttered.

 

Suddenly, the door burst open, revealing an irritated Sanji who was dragging Luffy by the ear. “I’m telling you, if you want to finish eating, then do it here!” he yelled.

 

“But everyone was busy talking about stuff that I didn’t get,” whined Luffy. “And I don’t see why I can’t do it on top of Sunny’s head. I’ve done it before!”

 

“Yeah, when I bring out snacks, but this isn’t snack time. So. Eat. In. Here.”

 

“Doesn’t seem like he’s going to since he finished the cake,” noted Usopp, eyeing the large plate that Sanji brought back with him.

 

Sanji sighed. “Yes, but nothing can be done for Luffy’s pitfall of a stomach.” He surveyed the room. “I hope there wasn’t anyone who wanted another slice. I’m afraid that I haven’t prepared another cheesecake.”

 

“Oh, no, Sanji-kun. We’re all good here,” Nami assured.

 

With that said, dinner was wrapped up for today, and everyone retired to their quarters. Although Usopp and Nami made up, although Luffy finally stopped complaining about the boring topic that was held during dessert time, although the crew settled in under their covers, there was one thought that lingered in their minds: Usopp was the only one who had graduated high school. With good grades, on top of it all. What a weirdly responsible thing to think about a girl who gave up everything to become a pirate.

 

Chapter Text

It all started when Usopp was tinkering out on deck. Luffy and Chopper were hanging out with her, clinging onto her every word as she relayed to them the time when she had defeated a headless horseman and his three-headed dragon. Usopp had to admit that this story wasn’t her best one considering that her attention was divided between her work and her audience, but the boys didn’t seem to notice. Their eyes were glistening with interest, which prompted her to continue.

 

At some point, she noticed Luffy’s eyes straying from her face to her shoulder. Puzzled, Usopp said, “Luffy?”

 

Without preamble, Luffy unhinged his jaw and descended upon her. She hadn’t realized it right away what was happening, the situation appearing all too sudden, too…outlandish. But by the time she had registered the pain and Chopper’s screams, she herself had released her own cries.

 

“What the hell, Luffy!”

 

“Gyaaah!” Chopper cried, horrified. “Luffy’s trying to eat Usopp!”

 

Chopper fled the scene, whether to grab someone for help or to get away from the captain’s impromptu cannibalism, who knew. Usopp gritted her teeth, trying to calm herself from further freaking out. If she did, then she wouldn’t be able to attempt to pry Luffy’s teeth from her shoulder since she would be too busy flailing about like a headless chicken.

 

Once she managed to get him off of her, she stared in bewilderment at the perfect semi-circular indentation on her skin. Once again, she cried out, “What the hell, Luffy!”

 

“Why did you bite me?” Usopp demanded to know.

 

Luffy’s brows furrowed and his lips dipped into a frown. He tilted his head as he typically did whenever he was confused or trying to figure something else. Finally, he replied, “Dunno.”

 

“Don’t give me that! You bit me for a reason!”

 

“I really don’t know, Usopp. I just wanted to.”

 

She gaped at him.

 

“Over—over there!”

 

Chopper anxiously scurried towards them, but Sanji beat him to it in a nanosecond. The cook appeared before them in a dark flash, and he stood over them with a menacing aura. His visible eye gave an icy stare as it unsteadily scrutinized them. Usopp felt cold sweat forming even though she knew that Sanji’s ire wasn’t directed towards her. She was just preemptively worried about Luffy’s impending doom.

 

“Luffy,” Sanji growled, “what is—” He cut himself short when his eye landed on the bitemark, and the man had gone from cold to hot in a lickity split. “Luuuffyyy…”

 

Never let it be said that Luffy didn’t have good instincts. The captain took off as though he had fire chasing after him, which wasn’t really an inaccurate comparison. As Sanji tunneled after Luffy around the ship, Usopp fixed Chopper a look.

 

“You had to get Sanji? Of all people?”

 

“I panicked!” Chopper huffed out defensively, although the concern shone clearly on his features. “Anyway, let’s get to my office so that I can treat your, uh, injury.” 

 


 

 

After the incident, Usopp had chalked it off being one of Luffy’s many eccentricities. Thus, she had brushed it off and had carried on as though nothing had happened. Except she had put on a T-shirt to conceal the bitemark, but, overall, life had gone on as usual.

 

Or so she had thought.

 

Usopp yelped and shoved Luffy away, causing him to stumble backwards.

 

“Luffy!” she cried angrily. “What the hell?” Usopp held up her forearm, which now donned a matching mark like the one on her shoulder. “What is your problem?”

 

Luffy adopted his thinking pose, shrugged, and said, “Dunno.”

 

She smacked him upside the head. “You bit me yesterday and you bit me today! There must be some reason as to why you keep doing this!”

 

“Ow!” Luffy nursed his head and pouted. “I’m telling you that I don’t know! I just wanted to.”

 

That was what he had told her yesterday too! But why would he want to bite her? The only reason Usopp could think of as to why Luffy would bite anything was out of hunger. But while he was a glutton, she didn’t think that he would be so hungry that he would resort to gnawing on human flesh. Or…would he? Usopp then blanched at the thought. Perhaps Chopper’s hysterical claim of Luffy’s alleged cannibalism wasn’t so far off? Did he try biting anyone else?

 

“Are you doing to bite me again?” she asked warily.

 

“Uh…” he trailed off uncertainly. “No…?”

 

“You hesitated!” Usopp gasped, alarmed. She scuttled backwards until her back hit against the wall. “You’re going to do it again!”

 

“Well—well,” Luffy began, fumbling with his words. After incoherently spouting, he finally blurted out, “It’s not my fault. It’s yours!”

 

Incredulous and affronted by the ridiculous accusation that Usopp couldn’t even wrap her head around, she asked, “How is it my fault?”

 

“You have tasty looking skin that I can’t help it, okay?” he grumbled.

 

At that admission, Usopp felt all blood drain from her face. Luffy had just said it like it had been nothing—or maybe not nothing. She had to push him to give a real answer, but the fact that he had basically confessed to wanting to eat her just like that was—was—was… She was appalled.

 

And freaked out.

 

“You can’t become Pirate King if you start eating your crewmates, Luffy!” Usopp shrieked.

 

“I just wanted to see if you tasted like caramel!” Luffy protested.

 

Usopp screamed and ran away. “Sanji!”

 

“Wait! Why’re you calling Sanji for? No, Usopp, don’t get him!”

Chapter Text

Usopp exhaled through her teeth. She pulled her legs closer to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. Outside, she could hear the clamor of her crewmates—noises of excitement reverberating through the walls. She longed to be among them, to also express delight in what was to come. But…she couldn’t. And she didn’t want the others to see that. So, rather than joining the revelry and basking under the sun, she hid away in the clammy darkness of the storage room.

 

She wasn’t alone, though. Sanji sat beside her. Balanced on one hand was an unlit cigarette; there wasn’t any ventilation here, so he couldn’t smoke. He didn’t smoke for the past ten minutes since he had come here. But Sanji was attentive and mindful and very willing to wait for a millennium for her to gather her wits, hence why he sat quietly by her side.

 

Usopp exhaled again, swallowed, and said, “The biggest lie I’ve told was about how proud I am about my dad. I’m really not.”

 

Sanji’s arm dropped and folded over his propped knee. Usopp didn’t turn to see his expression, but she didn’t need to; she could feel his surprise.

 

“Mom was proud of Dad for fulfilling his dream to become a pirate. As a kid, I thought that I had to be proud of him too because Mom was, so I went around boasting about how my dad was a pirate,” she explained. “In reality, I felt kind of betrayed. I kept thinking about how Dad preferred to sail than to be with his family. I didn’t mean to have such thoughts, but…I couldn’t help it.

 

“I felt hurt. Really hurt. I would see these kids with their dads and wonder what it’d be like if my dad stuck around. What would it be like if my dad let me ride on his shoulders, took me out for fishing, and told me bedtime stories? I always wondered and wished for it. I mean, I had Mom, but Mom became sick and passed away when I was eight. Afterwards, I was alone.”

 

She heard Sanji’s breath hitched. “No one took care of you?” he asked in a whisper.

 

Usopp shook her head. “Not really. There were a few neighbors who were kind enough to help out, but I was mostly alone.” Lonely. “After Mom’s death, I was so desperate to have Dad come back that I ran around the village hollering about how the pirates would come. I thought that, if I insisted this to be true—to the world, fate, life, whatever—then it really would become true. You heard stories about how if you dreamed hard enough, your dreams will become real? That’s what I tried.”

 

“But he never came,” Sanji said, answering an unvoiced question.

 

“Nope,” she said lightly. “Did you know that the Red Hair Pirates stayed at Luffy’s village for a year? For a whole year, they stuck around on an island that wasn’t far from mine. Why was it that my dear old dad hadn’t thought to visit his family? If he did, then Mom would have gotten to seen him before she passed away,” Usopp said, more bitterly—honestly—than she had intended. “My mom, who lovingly supported him afar even to her very last moments.”

 

She scowled. Her arms tightened around her legs. “She used her dying breath to tell me how she wanted me to grow up like Dad. I know that she meant that she wanted me to pursue my dream, but I sometimes can’t help but think, ‘How can I when I don’t know the man?’ Then I decided that I should want to be a pirate to see if I could understand the appeal.”

 

“You never wanted to be a pirate?” Sanji asked.

 

“It’s not like I regret becoming one,” Usopp said with a shrug. “I’m happy where I am. I’m happy to be with you guys, traveling together and experiencing new adventures. But becoming a pirate wasn’t something that I originally wanted. Like you, Sanji. You originally didn’t want to become a pirate, right?”

 

“Right,” he agreed after a pause. “But I became a pirate to find the All Blue. You said that you wanted to be a great warrior of the seas like your father, but…that apparently isn’t the case, is it?”

 

“I tried to convince myself that my dream was that,” she admitted with a grimace, “but I think I became a pirate just so I could run away.”

 

“Run away?”

 

“Well, run away and to understand him. But if I were to stay in my village, then there might be a chance that, at long last, he would return home. I didn’t want to be around for that reunion. I figured that it was less likely to run into him when on sea since the waters were so vast, so…” She shrugged again.

 

“Then…you don’t have a dream?”

 

“I...” Usopp finally looked up. Despite being shrouded in darkness, Usopp could see Sanji. There was no judgment in his expression; there was, however, sorrow that shined in his visible eye. Her heart ached in return. She knew that this wasn’t a case where the cook simply felt sorry for a sad lady; he genuinely empathized with her as a friend, and she was forever grateful for that. She took a breath and confessed, “I didn’t. At the time.”

 

His head tilted marginally to the side. “What do you mean?”

 

“I do have a dream now, and I’m living it,” she said. “Everyone has incredible aspirations that they’re working hard towards, but I don’t need that for myself. I don’t need a grandiose plan for the future. I don’t need to be someone great or famous. All I need is to be with those who are precious to me.” Usopp offered a small smile. “And, well, if I do become recognized as a great warrior of the seas, then that’s just a nice bonus.”

 

“Usopp-tan,” Sanji murmured.

 

“Do you think that it’s childish of me to begrudge my dad for something like this? I’ve heard what your dad did to you, so I know that my situation pales in comparison—”

 

“It’s not childish at all,” he interrupted fervently. “How you feel is how you feel. There is no need to invalidate your situation.” He placed his hand on her shoulder, the warmth of his palm chasing away the coldness that lingered. He squeezed. “Your pain—it’s real, Usopp-tan.”

 

A lump formed in the base of her throat. Usopp looked away, but she didn’t pull away. Rather, she leaned against his chest, which Sanji responded by curling an arm around her.

 

The thing about Sanji was that he always knew how to soothe her emotional blisters. He was a comfort that Usopp didn’t resist to embrace. And for all the gruff hostility or the frivolous perversion that he displayed, Sanji cared deeply about his friends and wouldn’t hesitate to put his life on the line to save theirs. Perhaps that was what compelled Usopp to bare her soul to him whenever they were alone together.

 

Someday, Usopp thought to herself, that she would be there for Sanji like how Sanji was here for her. Two years ago, he had promised her that he would tell her about himself before his time at Baratie. Whether it would take two more years or ten or twenty until he was ready to confide in her, Usopp was willing to wait. Because it was Sanji. For him, of course she would wait.

 

“Then would you say that Celestial Dragons are in the right to feel anguish if they missed out buying a mermaid?” she joked.

 

“Some exceptions can be made,” Sanji snorted dryly. Then in a more serious tone, he asked, “Will you be alright?”

 

“I wasn’t at first, but I think I’ll manage it. Stay by my side?”

 

Sanji squeezed again. “Always.”

 

After a couple more minutes of enjoying each other’s company, they stood up and left the storage room. Usopp reached the surface and was greeted enthusiastically by Luffy.

 

“C’mon, Usopp! We were waiting for you!” he exclaimed, grabbing her arm and dragging her across the deck. “They’ll be here soon!”

 

Anxiety coiled in her stomach. Childhood resentment burned under her skin. Usopp closed her eyes and waited, and the feelings were dispelled into apathy. She sighed silently and glanced over to where Luffy stood next to her. He was brimming with excitement as his gaze was glued to the horizon; he was even bouncing on his heels. Despite herself, Usopp smiled at his joy.

 

Sanji sidled to her other side. He took her hand in his and smiled down at her reassuringly. She smiled back. With all the courage that she could muster, Usopp faced forwards to see the Red Force heading towards them. Standing at the front alongside Red Hair Shanks was Yasopp.

 

The grin on the man’s face was bright even from this distance. Usopp could only grimly imagine how fast that grin would fall after hearing the eleven-year-old news.

Chapter Text

While Ichiji and Yonji were ogling the redhead bombshell that rode the giant crawling tree (what the hell was that, by the way?), Niji was fixated on the girl next to her.

 

Petite and small with a charming nose. Cute. Very, very cute. Not cute like how Pudding was, but cute in a way that made his stomach go fluttery. His blood was racing, but it was overshadowed by the weird warm, fuzzy sensation that he was getting, and he was getting high off of it. He didn’t even mind the metaphysical flowers that seemed to float around him ever since his eyes had landed on the girl.

 

It was clear. Niji wanted her.

 

After beating the living daylights out of his former Straw Hat captain, Sanji fell into a depressive funk. Frankly, Niji could care less how torn up the failure was over the situation, but he supposed that he could understand. If that cutie yelled at him for being a traitorous asshole, he too would be devastated.

 

Okay, he wouldn’t. That expression full of fury with tears streaming down her cheeks? Very hot. Ten out of ten. Would love to see that happening on his bed.

 

Anyway.

 

Seeing how Sanji would be less likely to start kicking and shit while he was all weepy and mopey, Niji decided that now was a better time to ask him than any other. When Niji sauntered up to him, Sanji still had enough sense to square his shoulders and glare warily at him. Niji would have snorted, but he didn’t want the failure to clam up and play mute.

 

Instead, Niji maintained an air of neutrality as he inquired, “So, is the chick with the nose a virgin?”

 

Whatever walls that Sanji had set up crumbled, and the failure was left sputtering incredulously. “What?”

 

“The girl with the bushy curly hair. Carried something that looked like a slingshot-staff hybrid. Long nose,” Niji said, drumming his fingers on his arm. “She a virgin?”  

 

Sanji made a scandalized noise. “Why the ever-loving hell do you want to know that?”

 

“Uh, because I’m gonna do her a favor by swiping her v-card, obviously.” Clearly, the failure’s time spent as a chef and a pirate did nothing to improve his intelligence. Was he always this slow on the uptake? “She looks like a total virgin, but I thought I’d confirm it with you—"

 

“As if I’ll surrender my precious Usopp-tan to you!” All signs of Sanji’s earlier gloominess vanished; it had been as if he hadn’t been glum from the start. Rather, he was now fuming with red hot rage. Literal flames were emitting from his body. If Niji stepped a bit closer, he could probably make out demon horns sprouting from the failure’s head. Holy moly, the guy was downright pissed.

 

Niji was conflicted between two choices. He had a kneejerk reaction to sneer and taunt to see how much further he could push Sanji. But if he did that, then he wouldn’t get to his primary objective, and that was to learn more he could about the girl—Usopp. Usopp. Usopp. Usopp. Even her name was cute.

 

After a nanosecond of deliberation, Niji made up his mind. “Calm down, Sanji. I just wanted to know if she’s a virgin.”

 

“And to sleep with her!”

 

“Yeah, that too. But, hey, if you got to her first, then no problem,” he said with a shrug. “I’ll just show her a better time.”

 

Sanji fell into sputters again, his cheeks glowing red. “I—you—I would never…!”

 

Niji smirked. “Ohoho. Never touched her, did you? Then I’ll give her the honor of what it’s like to lay with a Vinsmoke.”

 

“Screw you, you belligerent Neanderthal! As if you would know how to give her a good time! You don’t even know how to treat a lady, especially after what you’ve done to Cosette!” he lashed out with a snarl.

 

He felt his brow twitch. “Hey, I was just teaching that bitch a lesson—”

 

“Never call a lady a bitch, dipshit.”

 

The twitch graduated to a scowl upon being interrupted. Niji fired back, and Sanji deflected with his own verbal retaliation. Their battle of words escalated to a full-blown pummeling right here in Big Mom’s corridors. The fight ended when Ichiji and Yonji were pulling him away from Sanji. Reiju kept a hand planted on Sanji’s chest to prevent him from charging.

 

“We don’t need the groom to look twice as battered,” Reiju chided. She ushered Sanji away, who resisted half-heartedly. “Come on. We need to disappear before the servants arrive to see what the commotion was.”

 

Sanji grunted. Then, over his shoulder, he bellowed out, “Don’t you think about placing your grimy paws on Usopp-tan, you hear me?”

 

Niji scoffed. “I’ll do whatever I want!”

 

“I’ll kick your ass into next Tuesday if you even dare to!”

 

“Oh, don’t worry, dear brother, I will dare!”

 

Their sister sighed in dismay. “Boys...”

 


 

After a period of not getting to see Usopp again (apparently, Big Mom was finicky about allowing outsiders see her prisoners or something like that), the enthralled haze that had been cast over Niji had dissipated. He had been left wondering what had happened to him and if he really had wanted Usopp. Because, damn, why would he choose some scrawny long-nosed kid over that sexy redhead that had smacked Sanji across the face? And the “smacking Sanji across the face” part had to be emphasized because that had been hot as hell.

 

Niji had spent a good hour ruminating over this conundrum until he had decided that it hadn’t been worth his time. He had chalked it off as his brain malfunctioning due to Sanji driving his heel into his face the other day. He hated to admit it, but the failure got a pretty impressive kick. Must why he had been drawn to Usopp of all people.

 

That had been what he had believed to be the case. But then the wedding had happened. And with the wedding had come the exploding cake.

 

No joke. The cake had literally exploded.

 

Millions of Straw Hat Luffys came rushing out of the collapsing cake and proceeded to cause mayhem. All the guests screamed and scrammed. Big Mom’s expression darkened with every passing second until she appeared positively menacing. Seeing such bloodthirsty ire on a face that typically donned a smile was enough to reflexively send him on high alert.

 

Overall, the fiasco was hilarious. The shitstorm of raining frosting and Straw Hat animal clones aside, nothing was going according to plan for anyone. The Vinsmokes were betrayed by Big Mom, and Big Mom was betrayed by Sanji. Niji normally wouldn’t have thought this, but, at that moment, he kind of wished that Sanji was a Vinsmoke again. It would have been an appropriate “screw you, you oversized whale” reprisal. Mess with the Vinsmokes? Boom. Payback, bitch.

 

Except that, despite their elaborate strategy, Sanji and his cohorts were painfully losing to the Charlotte menagerie. Talk about lame, but whatever. The failure just had to tough it out, yeah?

 

But then he noticed that one of those long-legged Charlotte giants had pinned down Usopp. That was when he had gone from vaguely amused to incensed.

 

Niji couldn’t honestly say that he consciously knew what he was doing. In fact, he was simply responding on instinct. Everything just…blurred together. What he did recall was Father asking him what he was doing. The next thing he was aware of was him wearing his Raid Suit and sending the broad flying backwards. A few more of the Charlotte goons tried to attack him, but he knocked them out in one swift move.

 

“Get him!” one of the Charlottes cried.

 

Without missing a beat, Niji picked Usopp up into his arms and dashed away. Behind him, he heard Ichiji dish out an attack, covering for him. When at a safer distance, he looked down at the girl in his arms.

 

Usopp was staring up at him with her jaw agape and her eyes wide. Suddenly, the warm, fuzzy sensation and the metaphysical flowers returned with vengeance, only this time accompanied by a foggy pink atmosphere that heightened his euphoria. Niji stared back.

 

The girl blinked owlishly. “Um…”

 

“You a virgin?” he blurted.

 

Her eyes grew impossibly bigger. “What?” she squeaked.

 

“You should sell hotdogs,” he informed her seriously, “because you could make a wiener stand.”

 

What?”

 

“Niji! The hell are you doing?” Sanji screamed. “Take Usopp-tan to Bege already!”

 

Niji glanced over to the castle man where Sanji’s pals were retreating into. “He got a bed in there?”

 

“Ni. Ji.”

 

Reiju landed next to him and slapped him upside the head. “Alright, you horndog. You can flirt later. We got a job to do.”

 

“I know one job that she can do,” Niji said. “A blow—”

 

“Never mind,” Reiju sighed, taking a furiously blushing Usopp away from him. “I’ll do it.”

 

Before Niji could protest, Reiju flew away. He stood there for a minute before realizing that he never got confirmation on whether Usopp was a virgin or not. Cursing at the missed opportunity, he sprinted back to the fray to join his father and brothers.

 


 

“I didn’t know that flat-chested shrimps were your type,” Yonji said.

 

Niji shrugged. “Me neither. It came upon me unexpectedly.”

 

“She seems cute,” Ichiji offered. “Like a hummingbird.”

 

Niji pulled up mental images of Usopp and a hummingbird and set them side by side. Both were small, vulnerable-looking, and flighty. And there was the long nose and long beak. Huh. Very fitting.

 

“I suppose it’s a good match,” Ichiji mused. “You’re a close-to-mid-range fighter whereas she’s a long-ranged fighter. You two can cover areas where your weak points would exist.”

 

Niji considered that and then nodded. “Heh. Didn’t think of that.”

 

“Do you boys ever stop thinking about fighting?” Reiju asked exasperatedly.

 

“Sure,” Yonji chimed. “We think about all the places where we can stick our dicks in.”

 

Their sister introduced her forehead to her palm. “Forget that I asked.”

 

Niji and Ichiji snickered.

 

it had been a few hours since they had taken care of the Charlottes. By this time, the Straw Hat Pirates would have made their successful getaway. Successful because they had the help of the illustrious Germa 66, of course. Nevertheless, there had been a nagging compulsion to see to them personally. Not that he had been worried about the failure, but that he had wanted to see Usopp.

 

It had been perplexing to be driven by this inexplicable desire. Never before had he been so compelled to…to…to protect someone. He had never felt that before, even with his own father and siblings. But ever since seeing Usopp for the second time, ever since having their first actual encounter, it became all too clear that it hadn’t been a hit to the noggin that made him feel this way. There truly was nothing more that he craved than to possess the girl.

 

Did this make him weak? Did this expose a flaw that his enemies could exploit? Perhaps. But he was already powerful enough that he could afford a few vulnerable spots. And, besides, Usopp was globally known as God Usopp for a reason, right? Looks could be deceiving, and she was a prime example of that.

 

Father approached them, sliding the Den Den Mushi back to his holster. “The ship should be arriving soon,” he told them. Then, to Niji, he inquired, “Are you sure you want to go through this?”

 

Niji grinned. “If my primal behavior is like this whenever I’m around the girl, then it must mean that I’ve recognized my natural mate,” he said. “Don’t worry, Father. Once I’ve secured her trust, I’ll bring her back to the kingdom.”

 

And he meant by trust instead of just simply take. He was confident in his skills, but he wasn’t stupid to not acknowledge the overwhelming force that was the Straw Hat Pirates. If the crew had ventured this far just to retrieve Sanji, then Niji could imagine that they would do the same with Usopp. He figured that if Usopp was compliant, then her crewmates would be too. Aside from Sanji, who deludedly believed that Usopp and the redhead were his. Feh.

 

Father looked at him heavily before sighing. “I trust that you’ll return successfully, my dear son,” he said, affectionately clapping a hand on his shoulder. “I am excited to formally meet my future daughter-in-law.”

 

He nodded. “Thank you for your approval, Father.”

 

“Are you sure you don’t want us to give you a ride?” Ichiji asked. “It’d be a long trip.”

 

“They couldn’t have gone for more than a couple hundred miles,” Niji scoffed. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine with just the Raid Suit.”

 

With one last farewell, Niji sprang to the skies and soared.

 

It took a few hours until he spotted the Straw Hat Pirates’ ship. When he landed on the deck, everyone was bustling with energy. Some of them were shrieking and some of them were poised to fight. The latter was laughable considering how greatly injured they were. But he didn’t pay mind to any of them. His attention went straight to the one person who had managed to take his breath away without realizing it.

 

“Hey, babe,” Niji said, finger-gunning in Usopp’s direction. “I’m here to make all your dreams come true.”

 

Usopp faltered, her grip on her slingshot-staff weapon slackening. “Wh-wha…?”

 

“And by dreams, I mean wet dreams.”

 

“Damn it, Niji!” Sanji growled. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I’m here to join your motley crew. With me around, whatever you’re doing should be smooth sailing.”

 

“No! Get the hell away from here and away from Usopp-tan!”

 

“Yeah! We don’t need you, bastard!” Straw Hat agreed.

 

“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m not here for you guys. I’m here for her.”

 

“Me?” Usopp squawked. “Wh-what did I do?”

 

Niji brought his hands over his heart. “You stole my heart. Now I gotta place you under arrest.” He grinned. “And chained to my bed.”

 

“Yohohoho!” the skeleton man cried. “Yohohohohoho!”

 

“Stop sexually harassing her!” Sanji seethed.

 

In the end, they reluctantly allowed him on board, but on the condition that he wasn’t to be in the same room as Usopp without a third party. Especially without a third party.

 

That was fine. Niji was willing to take things slow. He would get what he wanted eventually.

Chapter Text

“I knew that this was a bad idea,” Usopp thought to herself. Not that she had expected Tesoro and his subordinates to have them fooled this whole time, but she had a nagging feeling that taking on that high-risk gamble against Tesoro would have resulted unfavorably for them.

 

But Nami had been so confident—the crew had been so excited—about their incredible winning streak that Usopp couldn’t bring herself to press her concerns anymore. She hadn’t wanted to be the downer who would just ruin everyone’s fun; she hadn’t wanted to be like that anymore. Instead, she had wanted to drive on the merriment and join along. But perhaps she should have listened to her intuition and played the part of being the party pooper, especially when it had been revealed that their good luck had merely been a loan made by Baccarat.

 

Not only that, but the VIP treatment had been a ruse to lure them into a false sense of security. The crew had gleefully eaten from their hosts’ hands, and now they had decades worth of debt weighing on their backs.

 

Tesoro had finished explaining how all of the workers here were victims like them, and they labored tirelessly to pay off the money that they had lost. The insinuation that they too were to slave away for him naturally displeased everyone. Zoro and Franky stepped up front, looking ready to brute force their way to freedom.

 

Of course, with Luffy keeled over due to an abnormal stomachache and Sanji on the ground after slipping on a conveniently placed banana peel, they were down two fighters. The odds were still not too bad for them, though, since it was nine against four.

 

The creepy guy with the huge head, Tanaka, slipped through the floor by using his intangibility power before popping up from a random spot to fire his gun at them. Usopp, Chopper, and Robin scrambled to get away, but Tanaka continued his tricks of disappearing and reappearing. Usopp cried out when a bullet nearly grazed her.

 

Okay. Forget lucky odds. This was insane. She had to move fast. Usopp pulled out a hand-sized slingshot that she had kept in her backpack. Thanks to her hair, her small pack that contained her arsenal was concealed from view, which made her retaliation a surprise. Usopp fired her own bullet the moment she noticed Tanaka pop out of the floor again. Tanaka, not having expected the attack, wasn’t able to phase through the object in time; a blast of fire engulfed the man, rendering him scorched and unconscious.

 

“Now, now. We can’t have that.”

 

Before Usopp could give a triumphant shout, she felt her limbs stiffen. Alarmed, she looked down to see patches of gold spreading across her body. She gave an incredulous shriek when she could no longer feel her arms as they turned entirely into gold. Her slingshot clattered onto the floor.

 

“Usopp!” Chopper screamed. “Zoro!”

 

“No! Stay back!” Zoro snapped. Usopp couldn’t see the swordsman from her position—she couldn’t much less turn around to do so—but, judging by Chopper’s reaction, she had a feeling that what was happening to her was also happening to him. After an intense moment of “holy holy holy shit,” her panicked breathing slowed down imperceptibly when she noticed that the patches stopped spreading.

 

“Very astute of you,” Tesoro said, smirk audible in his voice. “If they tried anything, your friends would all be lovely gold statues.”

 

“You have a Devil Fruit power,” Zoro gritted out. Usopp tensed at that. Alright. That was a logical conclusion as to what was going on, but what power did Tesoro have? The ability to turn people into life-sized figurines?

 

“That’s right. The Gold Gold Fruit, to be specific. Any gold in the world that I touch falls under my complete control,” Tesoro declared, which Usopp felt incredibly put off by. She would recall being felt up by a sleazy middle-aged con-artist, and she certainly wasn’t made out of gold.

 

Tesoro went on to say, “Perhaps you remember all that gold dust raining onto your ship,” and now things made sense. Upon their entry to the Gran Tesoro, there had indeed been golden flakes falling from the sky and landing on them. They had been so mesmerized by the phenomenon that they hadn’t thought much about it. How could they when literal gold was being given to them for free? “That’s a little welcoming gift that I give to visitors as insurance in case they decide to misbehave.”

 

“In other words,” Tesoro punctuated with flourish, “it’s not just the city itself that I control, but all of the people here as well. And that goes for all of you too!”

 

The sound of something crashing and Zoro grunting caused Usopp to flinch—however much that she could move. Did that man just kick down Zoro when he was defenseless? Talk about a low blow. Clearly, they were dealing with a raving egomaniacal dictator! And considering how he effectively had them in his command, they were doomed. Usopp didn’t feel sorry about being so negative anymore.

 

“Actually, maybe you’ll be able to pay back your debt after all. What was your bounty? Somewhere around three hundred twenty million, I think? And the girl… Hmm, let’s see, if we’re to combine your price tags, I could get a hefty sum of…five hundred twenty million.” Tesoro let out a whistle.

 

“You bastard,” snarled Sanji. “You’re not taking Usopp-tan! And the marimo too, I guess!”

 

Tesoro cackled. “Oh, yeah? And who the hell is going to stop me?” he taunted.

 

“You arrogant—!” Nami, the one who spoke next, was cut short. Usopp tried to twist her head to see what was going on, but the gold had already crawled to the back of her neck, acting like a brace.

 

“I think that’s enough,” said an unfamiliar female voice.

 

“You too?” Nami said. After a pause, the navigator spoke again, but this time with wary determination. “How about this? We’ll get you your money if you just give us a little time.”

 

“Whoa, Nami!” Usopp hissed. What on earth was she thinking? Why was she trying to bargain with the loony man?

 

“I’m a fair man, so I’ll give you until tomorrow at midnight. However, if you can’t deliver,” he drawled this part meaningfully, “then I’ll make a grand show of their execution because that’s how we roll!”

 

Usopp paled.

 

“I accept your terms. We’ll have the cash,” Nami said.

 

“Nami!” Usopp cried.

 

“Now this is what it’s all about. In fact, you might call it the ultimate gamble,” Tesoro chuckled darkly. “Backed into a corner, you make one final desperate bet. Will it end in triumph or tragedy? Either way, it’s guaranteed to be one hell of a show!”

 

“You asshole,” Luffy could be heard growling. “You better prepare yourself because we’ll come back!”

 

The Casino King chuckled again. “Oh, I’ll be waiting, and I can’t wait,” he purred.

 

Before the crew was escorted to leave, Sanji exclaimed promises to Usopp about how her prince charming would come to her rescue, and then he barked at Zoro to sit tight and not let himself be turned wholly into gold because that would be absolutely lame of him. Just for that, Usopp was certain that Zoro was going to willpower the gold away just to prove to Sanji that he was not lame.

 

Usopp whimpered when the doors slammed shut. Tesoro was right about one thing: desperate times called for desperate measures, which was likely why Nami had wagered this bet. Although she had been initially leery about the crew’s chances, Usopp realized that it wasn’t like they had any other choice. What else could they do? Continue to fight? That would be a futile endeavor given Tesoro’s Gold Gold ability.

 

Even so, Usopp wished that she hadn’t been left alone with the enemy. At least Zoro was here with her…

 

“Take the swordsman upstairs. You know what to do with him,” ordered Tesoro. “While at it, take Tanaka to the infirmary.”

 

“You got it, boss,” the heavyset masochist, Dice, said. “What about the girl?”

 

“Don’t worry about her.” Footsteps padded closer and closer. Usopp was greeted by the sight of a broad chest. She couldn’t lift her head, but she didn’t need to do so to know what kind of smarmy expression Tesoro was making. “I’ll deal with her.”

 

Usopp gulped.

 


 

Usopp squeaked when she was flung onto the bed. Driven by fear, she hurriedly grabbed fistfuls of the silky sheets as an attempt to drag herself away, but her efforts were curtailed when two massive hands seized her wrists. Tesoro held her arms above her head as he straddled her. Since her legs were petrified into gold, she couldn’t kick him off of her.

 

Her heart pounded painfully in her chest, and her breath was caught in her throat. Usopp was too terrified to scream.

 

“What’s with that look on your face, my dear?” Tesoro grinned, his eyes curving into crescents. “Scared?”

 

Usopp screwed her eyes shut. She could very well feel the man’s encompassing presence, the way his weight dipped into the bed where his knees bracketed her body. She instinctively wanted to bring her knees up to her chest as to somehow shield herself for what was to come. However, all she could do was tremble and brace herself. She was entirely under his mercy.

 

Tesoro laughed.

 

“What a sight.”

 

Pressure was relieved, and it was as if gravity was turned to zero. Usopp shuddered when she greedily gulped in air, and she tentatively opened her eyes. Suddenly, she was flipped over onto her belly, causing her to yelp. Her backpack was forcibly yanked off of her.

 

“No!” she gasped, pushing herself upright. When she reflexively moved to take it back, something cold wrapped around her wrists and pulled her backwards. She slammed against the headboard, eliciting a pained groan. Golden cuffs chained her in place. Usopp shook her head and proceeded to tug, but to no avail.

 

“So, these are what you use.” Tesoro dumped out the contents of her backpack. Bullets, Pop Greens, and a few other miscellaneous items scattered across the bed. The man eyed them with evident intrigue. “Which one was the one that you used against Tanaka? They can’t be the same since you gave them different designs,” he mused, holding up one of the Pop Greens.

 

Usopp’s eyes grew wide. “C-careful with that!” she cried out in panic. “That one can cause a man-eating plant to sprout if you drop it hard enough!”

 

For the first time since she met him, Tesoro was surprised, which in turn surprised her. “So, if I had dropped you on the bed hard enough,” he began slowly, his eyebrows raised, “when you were wearing your backpack with these things in it, a man-eating plant could have appeared?”

 

“Uh…”

 

“Why on earth would you be carrying these things?”

 

“Th-the interior of my backpack is padded enough t-to cushion any triggering impacts,” Usopp rambled nervously. “I made it that way. It’s safe if they’re inside my backpack.”

 

Tesoro didn’t pick up on the hint, or maybe he chose to ignore it. Either way, he probed the backpack to note that it was in fact cushiony on the inside. “What do you know,” he said, mildly impressed. “You’re all sorts of prepared, aren’t you?” He slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out something familiar.

 

Her slingshot.

 

“I am curious as to what would happen if I shoot one of these things.” He slotted the Pop Green into place, pulled, and aimed it at her. Usopp felt her blood run cold. Tesoro smirked. “It’d be mighty interesting to see what would happen up close and personal.”

 

“Th-there’s no need for that!” she stammered. “No, not at all!”

 

“Perhaps not now,” he said, relenting all too easily that both relieved and unnerved her, “but later.”

 

She latched onto that. “What do you mean by ‘later’?”

 

The man slipped off the bed. He held the Pop Green above his head between his pointer finger and thumb, examining it. “As you know, I have your records in my database. My people keep track of anyone with worthwhile accomplishments—anyone who’s worthy of receiving VIP status. And I gotta say, anyone who managed to defeat Doflamingo has certainly grabbed my attention.”

 

She tensed when his appraisal shifted onto her.

 

“It’s amusing to know that you’re the one who managed to piss off Doflamingo. He slapped on a five hundred million bounty on you for anyone to have you dead.”

 

Her mind was racing. When he said that she had grabbed his attention, did he mean to imply that he believed her to be someone who could get a hit on Doflamingo? Was that why Tesoro had brought up the bounty? With that kind of impression that he probably had on her, the man must have had intentions on utilizing her skills. Usopp’s thoughts then shifted onto something else: he had said that he would like to a close-up demonstration of her arsenal, heavily indicating that they be used on her. 

 

She blanched. Oh shit. He wanted to, what, test her skills by using them against her? Like throwing her in a gladiator arena and having his guests place their bets? Usopp suddenly felt sick. For all the caged fights that she and the crew had watched, what had been exhilarating was now horrifying, knowing that all the employees here were actually Tesoro’s slaves.

 

“I didn’t do much,” Usopp hastily said, eager to clear any misunderstandings. “All I did was knock out one of his subordinates. No big deal.”

 

Tesoro hummed at that. “Knocking out Sugar, one of Doflamingo’s most integral member—thus the most highly guarded—of his special officer forces, was no big deal? How impressive.”

 

Usopp proceeded to mentally beat herself up because, ugh, how could she forget about that significant detail? There had been a good reason why Doflamingo had made her rating five stars, after all. And if Tesoro knew about that, then, well, there wasn’t much she could say to convince him otherwise. Just how far did his information network reach?

 

Tesoro strode slowly over to one side of the bed until he was looming over her. His imposing figure eclipsed the ceiling lights as his shadow cascaded over her like a shroud. Usopp unwittingly tugged on her cuffs again.

 

“You know,” he began, “I think I like you.”

 

Usopp froze. “What?”

 

“At first, I was going to make you an example by killing you in front of everyone along with the swordsman, but I change my mind. Seeing you struggle underneath me and your eyes grow wide with terror…” His eyes crinkled as his lips curled into a smirk. “It’s a cute look on you.”

 

A shiver ran down her spine. “Wh-what do you want?” she rasped.

 

“I want you to join me.”

 

“Join—” Usopp gaped at him. “Join you? I’ll—I’ll never do that!”

 

Tesoro chortled. “Of course you will, my dear. You don’t really expect your crew to repay their debt, do you?”

 

Despite the terror that ran in her veins, Usopp couldn’t help but bristle in anger. “Even if they can’t, I still won’t join you!” she swore.

 

“I have ways of breaking down a person,” he informed in a reassuring tone. The irony wasn’t lost on her. He straightened his back and offered her a smile that almost appeared sincere. “You’ll come around and see that becoming my sniper is a better fate than working as some bunny girl.”

 

Bunny girl, he said. Sure, a bunny girl, but there was something laced in his tone that conveyed an implication entirely different. Usopp wasn’t so naïve to not know what that entailed, and, knowing what sort of cruel bastard Tesoro happened to be, she figured that he would get a kick having a Straw Hat Pirate be brought down to a new low. But being a prostitute even at the skeeviest part of the red-light district would be preferable to being Tesoro’s underling.

 

No longer was she afraid of being used for one of his gladiator games; not even the outright threat of being used as a whore could intimidate her. Burning within was a rage that was kindled by the thought of her being loyal to anyone who wasn’t her nakama. Usopp narrowed her eyes. “What do you really want me for? It can’t be my cuteness that caught your eye, right?”

 

He dipped his head forward. “You’re right. It’s not just that. I find your ingenuity to be a remarkable thing.” He waved a hand at her backpack. “And I heard more of your efforts: the creation of Cat Burglar Nami’s Clima-Tact, the versatility of your use of weaponry, your craftsmanship. Oh, let’s not forget your skilled marksmanship.”

 

Had it been from someone else, Usopp would have preened from the praise. But, instead, she stiffened in unease.

 

“I find it to be a waste of your talents, you dawdling with the likes of Straw Hat and his ilk.”

 

“Luffy was the one who took down Doflamingo,” Usopp scoffed in disbelief. “Zoro is a master swordsman trained personally by Dracule Mihawk. Hell, we have Devil Child Nico Robin! How can you stand there patronizing my crewmates when they’ve accomplished so much on their own?”

 

“Oh, sure, they’re monsters of their own right, but I already have my collection of monsters. What I don’t have is a clever little factotum.”

 

As he said this, he ran a finger from her cheek down to her jawline until his hand seized her chin. Usopp flinched at the feeling of his warm callused touch. Whatever reason the man had to keep grabbing her, she had no idea, but she figured that it had something to do with displaying dominance. She would have jerked her face away, but Tesoro had a firm grip of her, forcing her to look up at him.

 

Usopp didn’t often come in proximity with many of their head honcho enemies; that was usually reserved for Luffy to deal with, him beating up the big bad and earning another victory for the crew. But when she did, she always found herself submitting to her own fright. Not that her righteous anger towards Tesoro waned whatsoever, but, well… Being in the position that she was, Usopp couldn’t help but distinctly feel like a prey that was pinned down by its predator.

 

Tesoro was the greasy, devious kind of handsome. He looked like there was always a conniving thought running in his brain that would ultimately produce terrible machinations—terrible for everyone but him. But he was the kind of handsome where he could be utterly charming, and that was façade that the hair at the back of her neck to rise. He was a snake, but an entrancing one with his pearly white smiles, fancy suits, and debonair flair. He didn’t need to slither down burrows to hunt for his prey; all he needed to do was wait for his prey to come to him.

 

“Don’t worry, darling,” Tesoro murmured, voice low and dark with promise. “I’ll take good care of you.”

Chapter Text

It looked like hell.

 

The land was engulfed in a sea of fire, the flames roaring and writhing. In tandem, the cries of the people amplified the discordant sounds that only pure chaos could accrue. Smoke and ash darkened the skies and polluted the air into a dusty haze. And soaring above the burning town, the wailing people, and this annihilation was Kaido. The dragon peered below like a scornful god, smiting the infidels who dared oppose him.

 

Usopp slowly turned away from the shitshow to face Hawkins, who impassively returned her gaze.

 

“It appears that Straw Hat was unable to hold up his end of the mission,” Basil said.

 

She clamped down on the rise of hysteria that was ready to spill out, a lump forming in her throat before she managed to wheeze out, “Ya think?”

 

It had been rather last minute, but Basil Hawkins, Scratchmen Apoo, and X Drake had scrambled together with an offer of an alliance. And by scrambling, it was more like them going “Oh, I suppose if I must” in true hoity-toity fashion. But, in reality, it had been scrambling—the rushed, frantic kind that people would get after realizing that they got to get their shit together. Just. In a more notably sedated manner because, after all, they had functioning big egos that carried half of their weight.

 

Usopp hadn’t been fooled, though, and she would have laughed at their “generous” proposal if they themselves hadn’t been so desperate either. And, so, with this patchwork of a pirate alliance, including the Kidd Pirates who had decided to insert themselves out of nowhere, they had collectively faced against Kaido with the expectation that they would come out triumphant.

 

However, with their trump card—Luffy—lying somewhere unconscious (which he definitely was, and he definitely was not dead—nope, nope, nope), that expectation now turned into a disappointment.

 

Oh, well. Life was full of disappointments. Everyone just got to deal with them.

 

And surely this disappointment wouldn’t last because they had to win this fight. Because if they didn’t win this fight, then they were all doomed. And if they were all doomed, then no one would get to fulfill his or her dream. And—and Usopp really wanted to fulfill her dream alongside everybody.

 

But, just as Basil had said, Luffy failed his mission.

 

They were doomed!

 

When a hand landed on her shoulder, Usopp jolted back into awareness. She looked up, finding Basil fixing her that same impassive stare of his. “Panicking will only exacerbate the situation,” he told her. “Clear your mind and consider our options calmly.”

 

Immediately, Usopp wanted to snap at him. How could she possibly do that when the problem had turned from bad to worse? Especially with Kaido still out there, creating even more death and destruction in his wake? But she reigned herself back, knowing that the man was right. Usopp drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. She unwound her tightly clenched fists and felt blood flow back to the tip of her fingers.

 

Feeling her heartrate slow down and her anxiety be at more controllable levels, Usopp considered the situation at hand.

 

Luffy, Trafalgar, and Eustass, along with some of their crewmates, were supposed to be Kaido’s final opponents, but they all went down. Preceding their battle had been Scratchmen and X Drake, but they too had fallen. Usopp didn’t know where anyone else were, but, as far as she knew, only she and the Hawkins Pirates remained. So, where did that leave them? A much smaller team to be put into action, but it would have to do.

 

Despite this, the circumstances probably weren’t as terrible as she had initially thought. Luffy, Trafalgar, and Eustass were hard hitters; therefore, Kaido was considerably weaker now than before. Usopp glanced back at the sky and noticed how the dragon swam through the air rather sluggishly.

 

Her eyes narrowed at this. They had to seize this opportunity before the Emperor got to recuperate; this was the only chance they had to strike.

 

“Basil,” Usopp said, turning around, “I got a plan.” And then she quickly added, “If you don’t mind.”

 

Basil didn’t seem to mind at all. Something in his gaze seemed to shift, and he said, “What is the plan?”

 


 

Usopp took perch on the wooden watch tower that was being eaten away by the fire, disintegrating into ash bit by bit. Despite the precarious height that would soon topple to the ground, she remained steadfast in her position.

 

She had lost her Kabuto amidst the battle. And while she wasn't a practiced archer, this bow was the only thing that she could find to use. But whether a slingshot or a bow, she was a sniper regardless, was she not? It didn't matter the instrument; what mattered was her making a shot. And, so, Usopp nocked the arrow and pulled the string. The weight of the bow was heavy. Her arm trembled slightly from having to draw back the tight cord. Air gusted out of her lungs heavily.

 

Tied to the end of the arrow was a seastone shard. Basil and X Drake had mentioned that, in Kaido's dragon form, there was a scale-less patch on his chest that could theoretically incapacitate him if hit. However, the spot was supposedly very small and nearly impossible to pinpoint.

 

Which was why the Hawkins Pirates were tasked in drawing Kaido to her. Usopp could see tendrils of Basil’s strawman form coiling around Kaido’s body like a persistent octopus. Unfortunately, straw caught on fire easily, so he didn’t have long to hang on.

 

A bead of perspiration ran down from her forehead to the bridge of her nose. She swiped her tongue across her lips. For every mind-numbing second, the arrow patiently followed its target, waiting for the perfect moment to soar. Sounds had fallen silent to her ears as all she could hear were the drum-like thuds of her heartbeat.

 

When Usopp finally got a clear view of Kaido’s underbelly, she released the arrow.

 

A second later, the watch tower finally gave in to the flames and collapsed, and Usopp lost the chance to see if her aim made its target.

 


 

“What?” Usopp said flatly.

 

“As I said,” Basil said calmly. “There existed forty percent chance of them failing, as evidenced by what happened.” He was reiterating the part where Luffy, Trafalgar, and Eustass had lost to Kaido, but that wasn’t what Usopp wanted to hear.

 

“No! I mean, you said that there wasn’t much of a possibility of me actually making that shoot.” Her brows furrowed. “I just don’t understand why you decided to take that chance on me, anyway.”

 

For that matter, why was he telling her all this?

 

When Usopp had woken up, she had found herself lying on a futon covered in bandages. The room had been sparsely furnished, but with its mahogany walls and pristine condition, she had known that she had been somewhere upscale. As she had stared blankly up at the ceiling trying to remember what had happened, the paper door had slid open. Chopper had quietly entered, but the moment he had noticed that she had been awake, his screech of joy had reverberated throughout the building.

 

After the alarm system that had been Chopper’s vocal cords had gone off, the crew had come rushing in and had nearly toppled on top of each other in the process. Similarly, they too had expressed their elation upon seeing her. It had been a relief that Luffy and Sanji had enough restraint to not throw themselves at her given her injuries. Severe burn wounds and smoke inhalation had made her quite fragile, but it didn’t top the psychological damage that came with her newly shorn hair—now that was a travesty.

 

The crew had told her that Kaido had fallen. Or, rather, he had died. Kaido had been slain. The news had stunned Usopp into silence, and Robin had finished off by explaining how Kaido’s human body had been found with an arrow pierced directly into his heart. It had been thanks to Basil’s account that everyone had learned who had done the deed.

 

The very fact that someone like Usopp—mousy, little, unassuming Usopp—had managed to accomplish a feat such as killing a freaking Yonko had been…surprising, to say the least. Never mind how there had been those before her who had enfeebled Kaido, according to the enthused folks of Wano who had later stopped by to pay their respects, since she had been the one who killed the tyrant.

 

But that hadn’t been the only thing that had shocked her. Basil hadn’t hidden the truth from everyone. He could have—he could have taken the glory for himself while Usopp had been unconscious for that one whole week period, but he hadn’t done that. Instead, he had been upfront about the plan, including how the plan had been hers. The man hadn’t accredited himself for anything other than assisting her.

 

Hearing that had been… Usopp hadn’t known what to feel about that.

 

And then Basil Hawkins had visited her.  

 

Without preamble, he had told her about his fancy cards and how he had done things behest of the universe. Like, what? He had mentioned about how fortuitous for her to beat the odds that had been disappointingly slim, and then had proceeded to inform her what those odds had been, which one of them had seized her attention.

 

“What—what was the percentage of my success?” Usopp asked. “You never said.”

 

“There was a four percent chance of you successfully shooting down Kaido. A two percent chance that you would arrive to your plan.”

 

She gaped at him. “And you chose to rely on my anyway?” she exclaimed.

 

“I chose to act on what presented itself to be the best option,” he said in lieu of an answer, and hearing that still didn’t make sense. Unless she really had been the best option? Then there must had been a near infinite number of scenarios he had looked into if the rest had less than four percent. But then that would make less sense since he couldn’t have had the time to study his cards.

 

Despite knowing the man for not even twenty-four hours, Usopp had a feeling that pushing him for a reasonable answer would be like pulling teeth. There was just something about his cryptic personality that gave her an idea of how pretentious he really was. He was the kind of guy who would reply in abstract sentences that were supposed to sound wise and mystical but were just a bunch of roundabout nonsense, and for what? Just to look wise and mystical. She would say that Basil and Robin would get along great discussing philosophy and whatnot, but that would only serve as an insult to Robin.

 

Nevertheless, Basil hadn’t been so pretentious as to not endorse Usopp’s victory over Kaido. As they would say, there was honor even among sea-faring thieves. With that in mind, Usopp remarked, “I’m surprised to think that I would even be an option.”

 

“You were the only available option.”

 

“What? That can’t true! What about you? What about your crewmembers?” She was flabbergasted that he would say such a thing, especially coming from a captain. Of all people to consider, why her, an outsider, rather than his own people? She couldn’t imagine Luffy ever having such little faith in any of the Straw Hats.

 

“Fate has ordained that someone not of the Hawkins Pirates to carry on the task,” Basil solemnly replied.

 

This again? “Fate, huh?” Usopp muttered dryly.

 

He dipped his head forward. “Indeed. I’ll be taking my leave now. I have my crew to confer to.”

 

She didn’t even get the chance to ask him why he bothered telling her all this. But after talking to him for this long—twenty minutes—she was already weary of his presence. Basil was a combination of intimidating and weird, not to mention a total stranger. To top it all off, she was bedridden, so she couldn’t make her usual escape by making up an excuse and fleeing from the area if she decided the conversation was too much. As a result, Usopp had to bear it until the man decided when it was time to stop, and that was draining.

 

“One last thing.”

 

Usopp’s gaze slid back onto him. “Hm?”

 

“I fed you Kaido’s Devil Fruit while you were asleep. You’re now a Devil Fruit user.”

 

There was a pregnant pause. And then Usopp screamed, “What? Why the hell would you do that?”

 

“Fate has ordained—”

 

“Oh, screw you, you bastard!”

 


 

Upon learning how Usopp had become a Devil Fruit user, the Straw Hat Pirates had mixed reactions.

 

As expected, Luffy was excited to see what her dragon form would look like. Brook was also intrigued. Chopper had been excited until the question of why was brought up. Now, the little reindeer was worried (as he ought to be).

 

Sanji was ballistic and was about to confront Basil when Nami had quelled him with a simple “Sanji-kun, stay put.” Nami wasn’t enthused about the situation either, but she was more so bewildered and wary.

 

Franky scratched his head and went, “Huh. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?” Which happened to be a response that Carrot and Momonosuke shared.

 

Robin looked contemplative.

 

Zoro and Jinbe were hard to read, but Usopp got the feeling that they were suspicious.  After all, no one knew what Basil’s motivations were outside of “it was what fate has ordained.”

 

“It’s fine,” Luffy dismissed. “Hawky’s on our side now! There’s nothing bad about it.” If Luffy was putting Basil on the same level as Trafalgar in terms of friendship, then he really needed to reevaluate the other captain’s relationship with him. At what point did Basil say he wanted an alliance outside of defeating Kaido? Never.

 

“Nothing bad?” Nami repeated incredulously. “Luffy, we don’t even understand why he did it!”

 

“Well, it’s because we’re friends, right? And friends give each other presents!”

 

“Yeah, just not Devil Fruits that could grant you the ability to turn into an indestructible force.”

 

“Not so indestructible since Usopp managed to shoot him down.”

 

“That’s not the point,” Nami snapped. “The point is—why did that creepy guy chose to give Usopp the Devil Fruit instead of keeping it for himself? It doesn’t make sense!”

 

“She’s got a point, Luffy,” Zoro chimed in. “Basil made his intentions clear that he’s aiming to be the King of the Pirates, so why would he give his rival a leg up?”

 

“It’s more than a leg up,” Jinbe rumbled softly. “With Usopp’s new ability, she can turn any tide to our favor. She could bring down any pirate. She could bring down another Yonko.”

 

Another Yonko. Hearing that made Usopp shudder. Facing another Yonko was the last thing she wanted to do. Unless said Yonko was Shanks, which meant that she would get to see her dad again. But the others? If it had taken about half of the Supernovas and then some to just tire out Kaido, then Usopp didn’t care to fight any of them. Heck, she had heard how Luffy and the others had barely escaped with their lives with an emaciated Big Mom chasing after them.

 

“Did Basil really not tell you his reasons, Usopp?” Robin inquired.

 

Usopp shook her head glumly. “Aside from his usual destiny spiel? No.”

 

“Yeah, this is strange. Don’t let your guard down. As far as we know, Basil’s up to something,” Zoro said.

 

“If that tattoo-face decides to make anymore unwarranted moves on Usopp-tan, I’ll kick his ass,” Sanji growled.

 

“Hey, how about we look at the bright side of things?” Carrot suggested, the ever-optimistic bunny. “Momonosuke doesn’t have to learn how to be a dragon on his own now. He and Usopp can learn together!”

 

Momonosuke perked up at that. “Ah, that is true!” The boy shifted so that he was properly facing Usopp, and then gave a bow low enough for his forehead to almost brush against the floor. “I look forward to train alongside you, Lady Usopp.”

 

“Uh, likewise,” Usopp replied awkwardly at the display of formality. That wasn’t to say that Momonosuke had ever been a brat towards her; the kid was surprisingly chivalrous for someone who was a little pervert. But. Well. Nowadays, his mannerisms seemed to have grown tenfold whenever he interacted with her.

 

Ever since the news of Kaido’s defeat had spread throughout the land of Wano, the folks here had been regarding those involved with varying degrees of respect. As expected, the Hawkins, Drake, and On Air Pirates—being Kaido’s former headliners—were at the bottom of the tier. Next were the Kidd Pirates, and then there were the Straw Hat and the Heart Pirates who reigned above. But who sat at the very tippy top of the pyramid of glory? Usopp.

 

While being the recipient of all that respect had been fun back in Dressrosa, it was starting to become kind of exhausting here in Wano. No, wait—it was more like undeserving, which was why it was exhausting. Usopp understood why the people here were treating her reverently since it had been her shot that had brought down the villain, but why they didn’t give where credit was rightfully due, she had no idea.

 

Even the other pirates had been irate about it. The Heart Pirates had been loudly complaining about the unfairness of the situation, much to the exasperation of Trafalgar who generally wasn’t the type of guy to care. Eustass and Scratchmen had grumbled and yelled; they had intended on confronting Usopp when they had been intercepted by the Straw Hats. Usopp hadn’t heard much about what the Drake Pirates had felt about the matter, but what she did know with certainty was that the Hawkins Pirates and their leader had been simply content. Or, rather, they had been indifferent.

 

“What I wanna know is how Kaido’s Devil Fruit appeared so soon. Like, doesn’t it take a while for it to take form?” Franky said.

 

“Well, assuming that Basil gave Usopp the fruit somewhere between the fifth or sixth day of her slumber, it wouldn’t be farfetched to believe,” Robin offered.

 

“Hey, how long do you think it’ll take for Usopp to turn into a dragon?” Luffy interjected eagerly. He turned to Momonosuke. “How long did it take for you?”

 

“I transformed almost instantly after taking a bite,” Momonosuke said. “Although, it was a Smile Fruit, so I do not know if the same rules would apply.”

 

Luffy appeared disappointed by this until he bounced back by asking, “Usopp, when you do turn into a dragon, will you let me ride on your back?”

 

“Ooh! Ooh!” Chopper’s eyes grew wide with interest. As it would seem, the prospect of riding a dragon was enough to clear away his earlier distress of Basil’s schemes. He waved his little hoof in the air as though he was a student wanting to be called on by the teacher. “Me too! Me too!”

 

“Tell you what,” Usopp began dryly, “once I make it to full recovery, I’ll work on my dragon abilities.”

 

Luffy grinned broadly. “I’ll hold you to it.”

 

After talking for a while longer, the crew eventually left her alone. Apparently, sleeping for a week wasn’t tantamount to a week’s worth of rest. Her catatonic state had been more so a recovery period, as Chopper had insisted, so she was left to be bedridden until however long the doctor deemed her to be ready. Usopp felt guilty for holding the crew back longer than what had been planned, and she had insisted that she could rest back in Sunny, but everyone had reassured her that they were fine sticking around.

 

Momonosuke and his retainers had been particularly adamant for Usopp’s stay. Something about wanting the people here to meet their savior or whatever. All the more reason for her to get out of here, honestly.

 

As the Straw Hat Pirates remained in Wano, the others had left. The Kidd Pirates and On Air Pirates had been the first to go, and then the Drake Pirates and Heart had later followed suit. With Kaido gone, the alliance between the Heart and Straw Hat Pirates had been fulfilled. They were officially enemies again, as every pirate crew was without an alliance to tie them together, but everyone knew that such differences wouldn’t stand between Luffy and Trafalgar. They were friends no matter how much Trafalgar would huff and grumble about it; it was an everlasting bond had been forged ever since they had fought together back in Punk Hazard. Or perhaps it had been created before that—when Trafalgar had saved Luffy’s life two years ago.

 

Heartfelt goodbyes and promises of reaching One Piece had been made before the two crews had gone their separate ways. While that would have been a nice final chapter to this arc, there was still the Hawkins Pirates lingering about. But their reason to stay, Usopp had later learned, had been for Basil to talk to her one last time. She still couldn’t determine whether what he had imparted her had been of any significance or not. She maintained that he was a pretentious prick, but…

 

I chose to act on what presented itself to be the best option.

 

You were the only available option.

 

Fate has ordained that someone not of the Hawkins Pirates to carry on the task.

 

He had told her about the unlikely odds of her coming up with the plan and making that shot. And yet, despite everything, he had still chosen to rely on her. In any situation, Usopp would have felt pride swell up in her chest, thinking that it hadn’t been a matter of risk but acknowledgement that she was called God Usopp for a reason. However, she felt nothing but concern.

 

The Hawkins Pirates were long gone now, so it wasn’t like she could talk to him about it—not that the man would deign her a straightforward answer. But she knew that there was something afoot, that Basil Hawkins was planning on something, and that it involved her. Why her in particular? Could be because she really was the only available option as he had said before. Maybe she had been the convenient subject to be used as part of his big picture plan he had in the works.

 

Usopp’s fingers curled into the fabric of the futon. But why did Basil tell her about him giving her the Devil Fruit? Why did he want her to know that it had been him? Why did he give her a powerful weapon instead of keeping it for himself? Questions that wouldn’t be answered bounced around in her head like swarm of angry bees. She sighed and closed her eyes.

 

Well, whatever was to come, Basil better prepare himself. She was God Usopp, leader of eight thousand followers and warrior of the seas! Nothing was going to stop her, especially when she had her friends by her side!

Chapter Text

“Komodo dragon?”

 

Drake looked down.

 

Peering up at him was a small, wiry chameleon. Her scales momentarily turned beige, the color of the beach that they were standing on, before settling for a default leafy green.

 

His tongue flickered out curiously.

 

“You must be,” she said, more or less answering her own question. “That or you’re a water monitor.”

 

“Komodo dragon,” Drake confirmed. “Water monitors don’t have venom like I do.” He cocked his head to the side. “Is there something that I can do for you, miss?”

 

He would admit, he was curious as to why the Straw Hat sniper had decided to approach him. Based off of what he had seen, he would have thought that the little lizard would be too skittish to talk to anyone who seemed intimidating, namely him. Komodo dragons generally weren’t approachable creatures, whether that be in appearance or nature or both. In his case, it was his hulking figure and frightening gaze that tended to ward off most animals, as testament of his lonely childhood. Drake would have understood why the girl would choose to avoid him.

 

And, yet, here she was, standing before him with nary a hint of hesitation. Probably wariness, unless that brief display of camouflaging was simply a knee-jerk reaction. The girl—God Usopp, his mind helpfully supplied—folded her arms against her chest as she mirrored his action of cocking her head. Her bulbous eyes were steadily focused on him, which was unusual to see since a chameleon’s eyes were always moving, surveying one’s surroundings constantly.

 

“I just wanted to talk to you. It’s not often that I get a chance to meet a fellow reptile,” Usopp said, her shoulders going up before dropping.

 

At this, Drake’s tongue flickered out again. “Really? Reptiles aren’t what you say are a seldom sight in sea.” Which was true. If anything, most pirates were reptilian, second to those of oceanic heritage. Granted, most pirates were water-based reptilians, so perhaps Usopp was referring to land-based reptiles?

 

“Well, sure,” she agreed readily, “but I don’t mean, like, seeing in passing or in confrontation. And the times when we do get to properly meet someone, it’s almost always a mammal or a bird. Not that I have anything against mammals or birds, of course, seeing how most of my crewmates are mammals.” Usopp nodded her head in the Straw Hat Pirates’ direction. “Robin is a falcon, the only one besides me who isn’t a mammal. She gets me since we’re different from the rest, but, well, we are also different towards each other. And while I do like the differences—differences make things interesting and fun!—it’s also nice to find someone who’s like me.”

 

Drake hummed in response, taking in the girl’s rambling. He turned his attention to her crew. Straw Hat Luffy was a monkey, a capuchin species from what he had heard. The captain was enthusiastically conversing with Pirate Hunter Zoro, a tiger, and Demon Child Robin, who was indeed a falcon. As for the others, Drake admittedly didn’t remember their names or epithet off the top of his head, which he planned on remedying once they would leave Wano, but he could see that there was a cat, a sheep, a tanuki, a rhino, and a giraffe. All mammals.

 

“Must be wearisome having to deal with such differences,” Drake said, returning to the girl.

 

She shrugged again. “Yeah, but we made it work out. Luffy made it easy since there’s not a single bone of prejudice in his body.”

 

“And what about the others?”

 

“They had a few misconceptions about chameleons. It was pretty annoying at first. They would ask me if I could turn invisible like—” she uncrossed her arms to snap her fingers “—that. Which, wow, could you believe that they asked me that? Chameleons don’t have the power of invisibility! And they also asked me if I could alternate between colors and patterns like some sort of art show. Oh, and the food! Just because I eat bugs doesn’t mean I eat every kind of bug out there.” Usopp made a bleh expression.

 

“I’ve been through something similar,” Drake commiserated. “Growing up, animals had preconceived notions of me as a Komodo dragon. Given my venomous ability, they believed that I was venomous in nature.” Such notions had invariably led to ostracization. It was no longer the case now that he was an adult, his peers being a variety of animals who had been exposed to the same variety; no one could remain ignorant in that case. That wasn’t to say that there didn’t exist those who were afraid or guarded, willfully or not, regarding his species, but they were few and their encounters were far in between that Drake easily dismissed them.

 

“Probably doesn’t help when you’re a Super Nova or the Worst Generation,” Usopp quipped.

 

Drake allowed a chuckle to rumble from his throat. Oh, the irony. “Perhaps so.”

 

“I mean, I get it. My childhood wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows either. My village didn’t have that many reptiles. Sometimes, I didn’t mind sticking out; I thought that it made me special—one of a kind, you know? But whenever the kids would make fun of my scales or my googly-ball eyes, I just wished that I was somewhere different. Weirdly, I never wished to be someone different. You’d think that a kid would think of that than be anywhere else, huh?”

 

“I don’t think it’s weird at all,” Drake said. “If anything, it makes you remarkable that you’re proud of who you are as an animal.”

 

Usopp’s lips parted as she stared up at him. Then, she blew a raspberry—not in mockery but in embarrassment, he noted amusedly—as she rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, what kind of awesome warrior of the seas would I be if I’m not? Proud of my chameleon heritage, that is,” she laughed, trying to play it off as confident when her bashfulness shone through clearly. “Anyway, you must’ve been the same way, right? Even though everyone’s got reservation about venomous animals, being something as cool as a Komodo dragon must’ve made all that matter little.”

 

He shook his head. “Actually, it was the opposite. I wanted to fit in, so I would often despair about being born a Komodo dragon. There were many nights that I prayed that I would be reincarnated as a mammalian herbivore. I didn’t want anyone to fear me.”

 

“Really? I never would have thought! I just thought that you’d be someone who was born comfortable in his own scales.”

 

Drake chortled. “Certainly not. I was a painfully insecure child. It was only after I’ve reached adulthood that I’ve come to accept who I am.”

 

“As you should!” Usopp insisted passionately. “Being a Komodo dragon is super awesome! Do you know how many animals that can use their innate abilities to immobilize the enemy? Some gotta use Devil Fruit powers to get the job done, but this is coming just from you!”

 

“Did you forget that I myself am a Devil Fruit user?”

 

“That’s just an addition to your abilities,” she brushed off. “I mean, when facing off the big guys like Kaido, it makes sense that you gotta shift to your dinosaur form.” Her expression brightened considerably. “Let’s not forget how you transformed when facing against Sanji! He sure got you beat, huh?”

 

Sanji—that was the bighorn sheep, wasn’t he? Drake remembered taking in painful blows from the sheep’s kicks. He would still be sporting the bruises had they not been overlaid by his new ones. “Yes, he’s an incredible fighter,” he acquiesced. “I don’t think I’ve ever faced someone with his fighting style before.”

 

“Sanji is one of a kind! He’s also the best chef around—no, the best chef in the world!” Usopp boasted, grinning.

 

Drake smiled. “That’s quite a claim.”

 

“That’s because it’s true! Don’t doubt me—I’m God Usopp, leader of eight thousand animals and the greatest warrior there is! If I say that it’s true, then it’s true! Take my word for it.”

 

Something told Drake that Usopp had a proclivity to brandish the truth, or perhaps not tell the truth at all. But it wasn’t annoying. He didn’t see it as arrogant or ostentatious or anything remotely bad. In fact, he found himself charmed. This small, wiry chameleon was showboating as though she was a brawny, hardened grizzly bear, and it was adorable. He felt his chest unwittingly warm up at the sight.

 

Although he knew that Usopp wasn’t entirely honest with her eight-thousand-animals spiel or the other obviously fictitious proclamations that continued to spill out of her, he was curious as to how she had earned the name God Usopp. Drake had heard about it on the grapevine, but he preferred to hear the account directly from the source.

 

Drake glanced around. After the ordeal in Wano, everyone was preparing to make their leave. Repairs needed to be made and cargo needed to be hauled. While his crew busied themselves in their own tasks, Drake himself had already finished his. When he had tried to lend a hand to hasten the process, his crew had more or less banished him from the premises. They had asserted that he needed to take a break after his fight against Kaido. Drake honestly didn’t think so, but he knew better than to protest when his crew rallied against him collectively.

 

Maybe it was a good thing that he was forced to catch up on some downtime. Drake looked back down at the chameleon and considered on what to do. Usopp hadn’t noticed that his attention had wandered elsewhere, too enraptured by her own storytelling. Amusement welled up within Drake.

 

“If you don’t mind,” Drake cut in gently, stopping Usopp in mid-sentence, “could we continue our conversation over tea? There’s a quaint teashop that I’ve frequented during my time as Kaido’s headliner. They serve cricket skewers covered in this soy sauce syrup that I’m sure that you’ll enjoy very much.”

 

Usopp perked up. “That’ll be great! Let me notify my crew before we leave,” she said, bouncing on her heels. “Then I’ll finish telling you about my fight against that giant goldfish.”

 

Drake smiled. “Can’t wait.”