Usopp stretched as he took in the morning sunrise. Being part of a rebel faction out to overthrow the current ruler meant that his sleeping schedule was a little off and more in the realm of whatever he could get whenever he could get it, but at least he got time to watch the sunrise.
A peculiar caw had him glancing towards the waiting delivery gull, who seemed put out having to wait for someone for so long. It tossed the morning edition of the paper at Usopp's feet and flew off without even sticking around for a tip. Usopp was fine with this, as dealing with persnickety seagulls was not on the list of things he wanted to do today. He bent down, picked up the paper, and took a quick glance through it.
Inside was an article about Luffy and the others at Whole Cake Island. Great, it had been a while since they'd heard from them, and it was gratifying to know that they were okay. And hey, it looked like Jinbei finally joined their crew too, that was good. They could certainly use him in the fight against Kaido up ahead.
As he turned the page, a few loose pieces of paper drifted down to the ground. He bent down and scooped them up to discover that they were updated bounty posters for his crew.
The first one was Luffy's. One and a half billion berries was enough to have even Usopp quaking in his boots, and he knew the guy personally. On the one hand it was great that people were recognizing him as a candidate for the next Pirate King, something Usopp had known forever, but on the other it meant that hordes of scary guys, the most powerful of bounty hunters, the Marines' best, the World Government's top agents, would be after them now. With a two hundred million reward on his own head and the moniker of God, he was certainly going to be a major target when they came knocking.
He shivered. He'd think about it later.
The other one was Sanji's. He was back to being wanted 'Dead or Alive,' so he supposed that the 'Only Alive' issue was now resolved. The name 'Vinsmoke' was something he vaguely remembered from the others' retelling of how Sanji was abducted in the first place. It wasn't really a name he associated with their cook, but apparently he was related enough for the World Government to slap it on his poster. Whatever, Sanji always had issues with his bounty poster, so that was nothing new.
The three hundred thirty million berri reward was enough to make Usopp relax. That meant he wasn't in the top bounties in the crew anymore, Sanji had snuck ahead of him into third. The Marines' prime targets would now be Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji, as they should be considering their monstrous strength.
But wait, he read the number again, Sanji hadn't just surpassed him. He'd surpassed Zoro's thirty two million berri bounty as well. With this new bounty, Sanji now had the second highest bounty on the crew.
Shit, Usopp ran a hand over his mouth. Good for Sanji, of course, he was probably thrilled about that. But Sanji was still wherever, hopefully with Luffy and the others, whereas Zoro was here on the same island as Usopp. He was still pretty tense and uptight about the whole Sanji-disappearing-incident, and seeing his rival's new bounty would surely drive him over the edge into pure madness. And with Sanji still not here he didn't even have an outlet to fight off his pent up anger. He might take it out on Usopp, or worse, ruin all of their carefully concocted plans and just go challenge Kaido himself.
No, Usopp decided right there and then, whatever the cost, Zoro would not see this bounty.
"Hey," the new bane of Usopp's existence said as he came up behind him, "Is that the paper?"
Usopp panicked and shoved Sanji's bounty poster into his mouth.
Zoro raised an eyebrow, "Did you just eat the paper?"
Usopp chewed around the sodden paper, eventually moving it to one side enough so he could speak, "No."
Zoro crossed his arms in front of him, clearly not amused, "Why did you eat the paper?"
"I'm thinking I need more fiber in my diet," he shrugged, "It seemed like the easiest way."
"Okay?" Zoro held out his hands, "If you're done, can I read the rest before you eat it?"
Usopp swallowed the goopy mess left in his mouth as he handed it over, "Sure. There's some stuff about Whole Cake Island and the Tea Party in there."
"Really?" Zoro's eye lit up as he opened the paper and started flipping through it, "What happened?"
"Nothing much," he shrugged, "Luffy did his thing, Bege was there, barely mentioned Sanji at all."
"Oh," Zoro deflated a little as he scanned the page.
"But hey," Usopp smiled as he backed away, "Looks like Jinbei joined the crew, so there's that."
"About damn time," he said as he settled down and began reading, "Couldn't have timed it better."
"Yeah," Usopp laughed nervously, "Anyway, I'm gonna go see if Kinemon needs my help with anything so I'll see you later, bye!"
With a quick parting wave that Zoro completely ignored anyway, he took off like a rocket back towards the hideout.
"So that is where we are at the moment," Kinemon was saying to the assembled members of the Ninja-Pirate-Mink-Samurai Alliance, "The search for Marco continues as such, but we did receive news concerning the delegation sent to retrieve Sanji-dono from Whole Cake Island," he grinned as he glanced around the table, "They were successful."
Cheers erupted from around the room. Even the samurai and Heart Pirates who had never met Sanji cheered loud and boisterous, happy to finally get this rebellion started. Franky's cheers were the loudest of all, and Robin broke out into the widest grin Usopp had ever seen her sport. Even Zoro had a small smile on his face while hearing the news that their friends were on their way back.
"Yes indeed," Kinemon said once the room was back under control, "Their return is most highly anticipated," he held up two pieces of paper, "Especially after seeing these."
He flipped the first one around, revealing Luffy's new bounty poster. Their allies gasped at the new bounty, appreciative sounds filled the room. Usopp heard one Heart Pirate mutter, "Glad he's on our side." Law's face was inscrutable, but the aura he gave off was wary. The four Straw Hats glanced at each other, grins on their faces.
Usopp's eyes narrowed as Kinemon drew his attention yet again. The second paper twitched, it was obvious that he was going to flip it over too. That could only be Sanji's new bounty poster, and Zoro was sitting right next to Kinemon. If that poster was turned around there was no way he wouldn't see it.
Reacting quickly, Usopp pulled out his slingshot and shouted, "Sure-Kill Fire Star!" He aimed right for the middle of the poster and let his shot fly.
The room fell into silence as the poster burst into flame. Kinemon dropped the burning paper before the fire could reach his hand, and the smoldering ashes drifted to the ground. Everyone was looking at the poster's charred remains, then turned to stare at Usopp, who still had his weapons drawn and one leg on the table in a firing pose.
Slowly, Usopp retracted his slingshot and sat back down in his seat. Once he was situated, and making sure not to make eye contact with Zoro, he said, "There was a bug."
He felt the rest of the room blink at him, and he made extra effort to sit perfectly still, his face the picture of innocence.
Zoro's eye narrowed. Franky raised an eyebrow and Robin laughed behind her hand. The rest of the room continued to stare at him in silent confusion.
"Alright then," Kinemon said slowly as he placed Luffy's bounty poster on the table, "Moving on to our next topic: The Infiltration of Wano. I have several ideas for disguises prepared for each of you to help your assimilation..."
As the meeting got back on track, Usopp relaxed in his seat. He could still feel Zoro's suspicious gaze on him, but did his best to ignore him.
Usopp's head smarted as Zoro whacked him on it with the blunt edge of his sword. "You're doing it wrong," was the only guidance his offered.
He rubbed at his head, jostling the blindfold he wore as it slipped off his eyes a little, "Yeah I got that."
Zoro frowned, crossing his arms in front of him as he tapped his foot impatiently. Usopp rolled his eyes and fixed the blindfold, "Is there a way to do this without the blindfold?"
"No," Zoro said as he circled Usopp again, "Observation Haki is about sensing an opponent's movements. If you keep relying on your eyes you'll never get it."
"I'm a sniper," he grumbled, turning to follow the sound of Zoro's voice, "If I don't have my sight, I don't have anything."
A sharp whack came at Usopp's side. He winced and rubbed at it as Zoro said, "Wrong. If you master this you won't need sight."
"Well," he said as he tracked Zoro around the room as best he could. His footsteps were silent, and it was almost impossible to do so if he wasn't talking, "Can you at least give me better instructions on what exactly I'm supposed to be doing?"
"Use your Observation Haki to sense my attacks," Zoro said. Usopp heard the swish of his sword coming for his thigh, but was too slow to do anything about it as it hit its target with a resounding thwack, "And stop them."
Usopp rubbed at his thigh, "Yeah, I get that, but do you have any advice on how to use it?"
"Just sense me," came Zoro's unhelpful advice, "With your senses."
Not for the first time, Usopp wished Sanji was here to teach him instead. Not only was Sanji better with Observation Haki than Zoro, he was better at giving advice and instructions.
As if he could read his thoughts, Zoro landed a hard hit between his shoulder blades, "Focus."
"Can we take a break?" Usopp whined.
"No," he heard Zoro tap his sword against his shoulder, "You need to master this before we split up and enter the city."
"C'mon, I'm mostly bruises at this point."
Before Zoro could answer, he heard someone shout, "Hey, Roronoa."
He sounded like one of the samurai from Kinemon's group that had remained behind on Wano. Usopp heard Zoro respond, "What?"
"You're going in as a Ronin, yeah? I wouldn't mind giving you a few pointers," the samurai offered, "In exchange for Shusui."
"I've already told you guys a million times Shusui stays with me," Zoro said, and Usopp could practically feel the eyeroll, "And I'm busy right now."
"Alright I get it," he heard the sound of a paper fluttering, "By the way, have you seen this?"
Usopp knew, although he didn't know how, that the samurai was holding Sanji's bounty poster. He sensed the samurai hold out the paper and Zoro turned around to face it. Zoro's aura was curious as he stepped forward to see what the samurai held.
Thinking quick, Usopp felt around until he located a sizable rock. Picking it up, he took less than a second to aim it where he sensed Zoro's head before letting it fly. It smacked him right on the back of his head, and he stopped, turning to face Usopp again as he rubbed at the bump and glared.
"What?" Usopp asked with a smirk, "You couldn't sense it with your senses?"
Zoro grinned, "Now you're getting it," and walked away from the samurai, saying, "Show me later. Right now I've got a pupil to punish."
He'd managed to dodge that bullet. All he had to do was keep this up for the rest of his life and everything would be fine.
Usopp put the finishing touches on his omelet and stared down at it with a sigh. It wasn't that his food was terrible, but after eating Sanji's cooking for so long anything Usopp tried to produce himself could only ever seem passable.
He sat down with a plop across from Law, who raised an eyebrow, "This is my ship, you know. Our cook could have easily made you something."
"That's okay," Usopp shrugged, "I feel we've imposed on you enough already, so this is the least I could do."
Law grunted and turned his attention back to the paper he was reading. Usopp pushed his eggs around the plate, wondering just what Sanji did to make even simple dishes like this taste so damn good.
"So," Law said suddenly, drawing Usopp's attention away from his food, "What do you think about the new bounties?"
"Oh, uh," he scrapped his fork against his plate, "I think Luffy's is ridiculous. Not that he's not worth a billion berri, just that now we're going to be constantly in danger."
"Since he's aiming for Pirate King, that was going to happen eventually," Law pointed out.
"Well, yeah," Usopp said as he moodily stabbed his eggs, "but I can still be worried about it."
"Fair enough," Law said as he turned a page, "What about Jinbei and Black Leg's?"
"Honestly considering everything Jinbei's done, I'm surprised his isn't higher," he shrugged, "As for Sanji's, I'd say it's accurate, all things considered."
Law hummed and adjusted the paper. Usopp had been around him long enough at this point to realize that the conversation was now over.
Just then Zoro walked into the kitchen, aiming for the alcohol stores.
"Hey Roronoa," Law said as Zoro dug around the cupboard, "What do you think of the new bounties?"
Zoro pulled out a bottle of sake and shrugged, "I dunno. It's cool the Government is starting recognized Luffy, but it could be higher," he nodded at Law, "Must suck that he just jumped right by you."
"I don't really care about things like that," Law said as he put down his paper, "What about Black Leg's?"
Usopp froze in his seat as Zoro raised an eyebrow, "What about him?"
"His bounty, the fact that they're calling him Vinsmoke," he frowned, "Have you not seen it yet?"
Law took Sanji's bounty poster out of the rest of the paper and stood up.
"Wait, wait a second," Usopp said, grabbing Law's wrist as he walked by him. Law stopped and stared down at him, and Usopp tried his best to communicate to him with only his eyes what a terrible, no good, very bad idea it was to show Zoro that bounty poster. Law didn't seem to get it, looking more confused by the moment, and went to pull his wrist away.
Before he could, Usopp tugged at it, pulling Law down to his face and ended up meeting him halfway, crashing their faces together in a forceful kiss.
Law froze for a half second, then tried to pull away. Usopp's free hand tangled in his hair and pulled him back down, forcing their lips together again.
"Alright then," Zoro said, "That's my cue to go."
Usopp heard him leave the kitchen, and only after he was sure he was gone did he pull away from Law.
He relief at diffusing the Zoro situation lasted for as long as it took him to realize he just made out with Trafalgar Law, a man who was pretty much Luffy's equal and had the ability to rip out his heart and rearrange his limbs with a few flicks of his fingers. He glanced over at Law and found dark eyes boring into him, his face contorted in rage and fury.
"Care to explain what the hell that was about?" Law hissed between clenched teeth.
Usopp gulped, already out of his seat and halfway to the door, "I just remembered I need to be somewhere else right now excuse me."
He bolted out of the kitchen and didn't stop running until he was outside of the submarine.
"Hey," Zoro said as he approached Usopp outside after dinner, "Can we talk?"
"Uh, sure," Usopp moved to the side a little to give him enough space to sit down, "What's up?"
"Is everything alright with you?" he asked, eye full of concern.
"Yeah, of course," he laughed, "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Well, you've been acting real squirrelly all day," he said with a frown, "Also you shoved your tongue down Law's throat earlier? Still not sure what that was about, unless you're in to him now?"
"No no, I'm definitely not in to Law," he waved his hands in front of him. Was it too much to ask for Zoro to have been oblivious to his emotional state? Lying usually came so naturally to him, but Zoro knew all of his tricks and tells. He'd have to come up with something believable fast, "I've just, been nervous?"
"Nervous?" Zoro frowned, "About what?"
"About the rebellion, and this assimilation thing, and Sanji and the Tea Party, and what to expect when they all come back," he shrugged, trying to play it cool and nonchalant when his heart was hammering at a thousand miles a second, "You know, things like that."
Zoro stared at him for a long moment. Usopp quickly prayed to every deity he knew that Zoro wouldn't see through him, and even made up a few more just in case none of them were listening. Eventually Zoro reached out, rested his hand on his shoulder, and said, "It's okay, I know you worry a lot. Just don't be afraid to talk to me about these things, alright?"
"Oh, uh, okay," he cracked a shaky smile, "Thanks."
"Good," Zoro removed his hand and leaned back, "Oh, by the way, you had the paper first this morning, right?"
"Yeah," he nodded, "Got it directly from the seagull. Why?"
"Did you see the cook's new bounty poster in there?" he said with a frown, "The paper mentioned that his bounty went up, but it didn't say by how much."
Usopp froze, breaking out in a cold sweat, "N-no," he sputtered out, "I haven't seen it."
"Huh," Zoro scratched his head, "Wonder what happened to it."
"Yeah," he let out a shaky laugh, "Total mystery."
Suddenly hands sprouted next to Zoro and passed along a piece of paper, "Here," Robin said from behind them, "I managed to secure another copy."
Zoro took the paper from her hands. Thinking quick, Usopp lunged himself at Zoro, grabbing the paper and pulling it away. Zoro held on to it tight, pushing him away with his other hand until the poster ripped in half and Usopp tumbled backward.
"What the hell is your problem?" Zoro shouted as Usopp got his bearings and sat up, "Attacking me out of nowhere like that!"
Usopp glanced down at the half of the bounty poster in his hand. Luckily it was the half with the beginning of the reward on it, so Zoro only had the zeros, "You absolutely can't see this poster."
"Why the hell not?" He growled, "What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing's wrong, everything's fine," Usopp responded as he shoved the ripped poster into his pocket, "You just can't see this poster."
"He's gonna find out eventually, bro," Franky said with a sigh, "You know it's gonna be the first thing out of Sanji's mouth."
Before Usopp could respond, arms sprouted out of his torso and began a relentless tickling attack. As he did his best to nobly fight them off, one reached into his pocket, took out the paper, and tossed it to Zoro.
He snatched it out of the air and unfurled it, taking the time to line it up with his own half of the poster. Usopp lunged to get at him again, but was thwarted by Franky, who pinned him to the ground.
He could only watch in horror as Zoro's eye scanned the poster, hoping for some miracle to happen to prevent him from reaching the end. Alas, nothing happened, and as Zoro finished reading the poster his mouth slowly curved into a devilish smirk.
"Thirty three million?" he laughed, "That's lower than my first bounty! The paper made it seem like such a big deal, but his bounty actually dropped!"
Usopp banged his forehead against the ground. All that work, all that effort, all day long, and this was the result.
"Dude," Franky said, "Count the zeros."
"Uh, I did," he rolled his eye, "Six zeros, thirty three million," he shrugged, "Probably because of whatever this Vinsmoke thing means."
"Seven," Robin said as her arms sprouted out of Zoro's arms so she could take the ripped poster and realign it for him, "There are seven zeros."
Zoro's eye narrowed as he read over the number again, "Wait," he counted the zeroes under his breath, "That would mean..."
Usopp buried his fingers into his hair. It was all over. The crew solidarity they'd tried to build over the past few weeks was shot to hell over something so stupid, over something so trivial, over one lousy zero.
Zoro's face was calm as he lowered the torn poster. His voice contained no malice as he asked, "Where's the nearest Marine base?"
"Wano's an isolated country," Robin reminded him, "The nearest Marine base would be a few islands over."
He nodded, "Okay," and gripped his swords as he walked off.
"Wait, Zoro bro!" Franky shouted as he jumped off of Usopp and grabbed Zoro's shoulder to stop him from leaving, "You can't just wander off to a Marine base right now!"
Usopp leaned back and stared up at the sky, knowing only too well the futility of trying to stop Zoro from proving he's better than Sanji.
"I just wanna talk to them. Get an explanation for," he gestured at Franky with the ripped poster as he hissed out, "This. And if I end up cutting them all up, then they'll have to raise my bounty too, so two birds one stone."
Franky shook his head, "Just let it go, dude."
"Never," Zoro pouted and looked moodily towards the sea, "I'll kick his ass."
Usopp sighed and sat up. If it was all over, there was only one last thing left to do: relentless teasing, "Can you even, though?"
"Huh?" Zoro turned his angry gaze on him, "What was that?"
"I mean, he's worth ten million more berries than you," he raised an eyebrow, "Can you even take him anymore?"
Zoro growled, "I will kick his ass ten million times, and I'll kick yours for good measure, you little fink."
"That's God Fink to you, Pirate Hunter."
Zoro growled and kicked him in the leg, "Shut up. I'll hunt you all down, you no good pirates."
Usopp backed up out of attack range, and Zoro stared once more at the sea.
"We all miss them," Robin said as she placed her real hand on his shoulder, "But they'll be here in a few days."
"Yeah," Zoro sighed, running a hand over his face, "It just sucks that we keep splitting up like this."
"We'll be together again soon, and if all goes well we won't need to separate anymore," Franky gave him a thumbs up, "Don't worry about it so much."
Usopp bit his lip. Zoro didn't always let on, but he worried about all of them more than anyone else. He took his position as the crew's protector seriously, and took Sanji's leaving harder than any of them. Hiding the poster from him for so long was almost cruel of him in hindsight; he was just as concerned about Sanji as the rest of them, and had been just as desperate for new updates.
"Hey, God Fink," Zoro shouted. Usopp glanced over and saw that the rest of his crew had already left, "You coming?"
"Yeah," Usopp shot up to his feet and ambled off after him. Zoro waited for him, and his he approached he said, "Uh, sorry about trying to hide the bounty poster from you."
"S'alright," Zoro said, ruffling his hair, "Thanks for caring,"
Usopp smiled, following after the rest of their crew.