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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 who they saw just standing by the Polar Tang under a light pole were 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 Tontattas 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 Tontattas, 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 Tontattas 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 Tontattas.

 

“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 Tontattas 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 Tontattas 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 Tontattas 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 Tontatta in each hand and held them up in the air. “Yaaaaaah!”

 

Yaaaaaah!” the Tontattas 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 Tontattas), 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 Tontatta.

 

"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 whorls 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 stupider things than Zoro. Shouldn't she be with the captain instead?

 

Usopp had protested at first, finding the tense 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 rotated 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 wasn'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 should 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 would happen 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 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 comparison 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 how ambivalent she was being.

 

“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 dropped to the floor.

 

Zoro and Usopp were dating?

 

Chapter Text

After what had gone down in Wano, there were three things that 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 that 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 laid-back 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 looked in 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 new 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 to decide where she can go. One of the places she ended up at 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 lit 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 up 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 wasn't quite sure why she had bothered launching into a detailed report about cornstarch's role 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, bewildered.

 

“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 fledgling 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, chemistry, and mathematics, Usopp hoped that meant that she had the qualifications to become a master builder herself.

 

Although… 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 wasn't much of 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 didn't realize it right away what was happening, the situation appearing all too sudden, too…outlandish. But by the time she did register the pain and Chopper’s screams, she herself 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 of 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 in becoming 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 would display, 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 enlarged 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 had 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 tips of her fingers.

 

Feeling her heart rate slow down and her anxiety be at a more controllable level, 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 were all down for the count. Preceding their battle had been Scratchmen and X Drake, but they too had fallen. Usopp didn’t know where everyone 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 the 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 intently 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 shot.” 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 me 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 a Devil Fruit user now.”

 

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 choose 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 loudly complained 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 that it had formed prior,” 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.”

Chapter Text

"Sanji?"

 

Sanji turned around, easily surrendering his full attention to the person who had uttered his name. He would for any lovely lady gracing him with her presence, and Usopp was no exception. Without straying his eyes from her face, he grabbed a towel from behind and dried his hands. A smile curled around the cigarette that bobbed from the corner of his lips. 

 

"What can I do for you, Usopp-tan?" Sanji asked.

 

The girl's gaze dropped to her feet. Her hands wrung each other in front of her as she fidgeted, evidently self-consciously. Even after two years, even after entering adulthood, Usopp had yet to shed away her timidity, her nervousness. It was less pronounced than before, and she didn't hide behind a bravado of falsehood as often, but such a trait was nonetheless inherently hers. 

 

There was something quite endearing about it, like a sort of innocence that was meant to stay. Thinking about it made Sanji want to find the coziest blanket there was in the ship and wrap it around the sniper's thin shoulders. 

 

Sanji patiently, happily, waited for Usopp to gather her wits and say what was it that she wanted to say. Sure, he had lunch to prepare, but attending to Usopp's needs was far more important. Besides, he had already finished the ladies' portions, and the meathead bastards could afford to deal with their meals delayed for a few minutes. Usopp had come all this way to talk to him about something, so the least he could do was wait for her. 

 

When Usopp finally lifted her head, there was a noticeable red hue staining her cheeks. Sanji inwardly cooed at the sight. Usopp had no idea what a doll she was—from her pouty lips to her large round eyes, and the blush only served to enhance her features.

 

"You can turn me down if you're not comfortable with it," Usopp began. The words then proceeded to spill out of her mouth like running water. "I mean, I kind of doubt that you would be knowing you, but I'm putting it out there just in case you actually would be. The last thing I want is for you to feel obligated to do this just because I'm asking. Um, what I'm trying to say is that—well, that is, what I mean is—"

 

"Usopp-tan," Sanji cut in gently, amused, "how am I supposed to decide whether to reject or accept when I don't know what it is that you're asking?"

 

Usopp's face became redder. "R-right," she mumbled, her hands now migrating to her hair. Her fingers busily buried into her curls, yet somehow managed not to get tangled in them.  

 

"So?" he prompted, cocking his head. He was curious as to what her request was about that made her so flustered. Usopp often came to him for small favors; it was commonplace for Usopp ask him to lend her ingredients, usually for her to conduct her experiments. Aside from the first couple times when they had started getting to know each other, she had never appeared like this. 

 

Her eyes darted to the side before returning to his face. "As you know, we'll be landing on an island tonight."

 

Sanji nodded. "A port town. I hear that they sell great fish. Could see what they have if we don't already in the tank." Without meaning to, his mind drifted off to a myriad of dishes that he could whip up, which then led him to consider the inventory that probably needed to be stocked up. The town must have herbs and spices meant for dressing fish, and he was interested in seeing if the town had its own specialty. Sanji quickly dismissed these thoughts; it wasn't polite to space out when conversing with a lady. "What about it?"

 

"I was wondering... Tomorrow..." Usopp swallowed, drew in a deep breath, and blurted out, "Will you go out on a date with me?"

 

"Of course," Sanji said with a smile. "I would love to."

 

She gaped at him before exclaiming, "Huh? R-really? You don't mind?"

 

"Why would I?" he chuckled. 

 

Usopp nodded slowly. "I see." Suddenly, a huge smile split across her face. "Thank you, Sanji! This—I'm so excited! I can't believe this is actually happening," she said, near breathless with exhilaration. "I didn't think you'd agree like this, but, well—never mind! It's fine! More than fine—it's great!" Her arms were pressed against her chest and she seemed to be vibrating in place; it was as though she was trying to contain herself from bouncing off the walls. "Can we start our date after breakfast?"

 

"Certainly. Whatever you want, Usopp-tan," he replied.

 

Usopp beamed, making him beam back at her because she was so cute. "Awesome. I'll see you when it's time for lunch, then." With that said, she skipped out of the kitchen. After a brief moment, a squeal reverberated outside, sounding suspiciously like the kind that Nami would make. Sanji chuckled, wondering what antics the girls were up to. He turned around and tossed the towel to the side, and then went back to stirring the pot. 

 

And he froze because he registered what exactly he had agreed to. 

 

What the hell. 

 

What the hell!

 

What the ever-loving hell!

 

Wide-eyed, Sanji backpedaled until his back hit the counter. Heat crawled from the base of his neck all the way up to his face. He felt hot enough to combust. The sheer realization that Usopp—sweet darling Usopp-tan—had asked him out on a date—a date!—hit him harder than any of Zeff's drunk-angry kicks to the head, and it hadn't occurred to him until now!

 

Sanji sank down to his haunches and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, subjected to a tumultuous wave of mixed emotions. He was one part mortified and deeply ashamed. A girl had mustered up the courage to ask him out—oh boy, was he ever going to get used to that?—and, like the complete nitwit that he was, he hadn't understood. Even when she had explicitly used the words "go," "out," "on," "a," "date," "with," and "me" in that specific order, they had managed to fly over his head. 

 

What was he, freaking Luffy? He might as well be because he hadn't had the sense to acknowledge the nature of Usopp's question or the brain to pick up on it. And what was worse was that he had underestimated the gravity of her request and trivialized it when she had come around to say it. He had complied as though he had agreed to run an errand for her, not take her out on a romantic rendezvous! 

 

He grounded his teeth on his cigarette. There was a strong urge to get up and chase after Usopp to apologize for his denseness, but he quelled it. He knew that if he did just that, Usopp would think that he changed his mind about the date and would run away, and seeing her expression crumple up in disappointment because of him was something that his heart wouldn't be able to take without a break.

 

Not that Sanji would allow Usopp to think that he would—could—ever reject her. Remembering what she had first said to him about how she was fine with him actually rejecting her, Sanji shook his head in disbelief. How could Usopp consider that to be a possibility? He supposed that was simply how Usopp was, what with her pessimism. Nonetheless, her negativity shouldn't have led her to presume that there was even the slightest chance of him refusing her of anything! Especially with something like this.

 

And that was the flipside of what he was feeling—insurmountable glee. 

 

And, just like that, the one part mortification and shame transposed with the other part joy. 

 

Usopp had asked him out on a date. An unmanly giggle threatened to bubble out of him, but Sanji didn't care. He was far too happy to care. He had been asked out on a date, and by Usopp, no less! To think that someone as timid and nervous as Usopp had garnered the courage to do so was—was—was—he didn't have the words to describe it! What he could say was that he felt tremendously honored to be the one who Usopp had asked.

 

Sanji had always figured that he would be the one doing the asking, as it ought to be a man's duty to do so, but he couldn't deny the elation that was brought by being the receiving end for a change. Was this how women felt when they were approached by men who they found desirable? Flattered and proud? Like their self-esteem could shoot to the skies and never come back down? Because that was how he was feeling.

 

The novelty of the situation placed Sanji in a state of awe until he was filled with giddiness once more. He laughed and fell onto his side, unable to hold in his delight. Usopp had asked him out on a date! He had agreed to the date! They had a date tomorrow!

 

He abruptly sat up. They had a date tomorrow.

 

Holy shit! Tomorrow? And after breakfast at that!

 

He scrambled onto his feet, his brain cranking up its gears. Tomorrow seemed so soon. Did he have a suit? Laundry day had been three days ago, so surely he had something decent to wear. But what about his slacks? Did they need to be ironed? Damn it, what about his cologne? Was he low on that? He couldn't go on his date with Usopp if he smelled like trash!

 

Sanji began to pace. Usopp implied that she wanted the date to take place in town. Frankly, he preferred that he cooked her a meal, but he supposed that eating out was as date-like as one could get. He snapped his fingers when an idea occurred to him. Usopp and he could eat lunch out, and then he could surprise her with a candlelit dinner made by him. It was perfect! A fun day outside and come to a close with a delicious meal inside. 

 

His chest swelled with delight at the thought of the romantic potentiality of tomorrow. He didn't know what Usopp had in mind or whether she had plans. If she did, Sanji would follow suit without question; however, if she didn't mind him taking the reins, then he intended on giving her the time of her life. Usopp had done the task of asking him out, which meant that it was Sanji's turn to play his role. And, as a gentleman, he fully intended on carrying this part through.

 

Sanji sighed and he felt his smile go lopsided. It just seemed too good to be true, but he knew that it was true! He had a date with Usopp!

 

He twirled around, about to finish the rest of lunch, and then jolted when he noticed that the pot had boiled over the edge. "Crap!"

 


 

"Ugh," Zoro said as he watched the cook prance around the room, sidling up next to Usopp. When Usopp took a bite of the food and complimented on the taste, Sanji swooned like a thirteen-year-old girl. He had been acting like an idiot—well, correction: He had always been an idiot around women, but his idiocy had been amplified by ten ever since Usopp had asked him out.

 

Understandably, and especially so knowing that it was the cook, Sanji had been over the moon about it. Unfortunately, he had to express it in such a gross way. Blatant eyeballing, dopey smiles, wistful sighs. Hell, his cigarette was even making heart-shaped smoke clouds. Zoro had to tolerate the disgusting display throughout lunch, and now he had to do it again during dinner. This was probably the second time Zoro felt his appetite wane when eating Sanji's cooking. That and the fact that the food hadn't been spared by this love effusion.

 

"How did Sanji manage to make spaghetti taste sweet?" Franky wondered. "I mean, it's still tasty, but it's a bit mind-tripping."

 

Lunch had undergone a similar affair. It was as if Sanji had added sugar in everything despite his assertions that he hadn't. Could it be that the cook had actually used sugar distractedly? Not likely since this was Sanji, so the only explanation was that his love-struck haze had been influencing the food somehow. Given that Zoro wasn't a fan of sweets, he naturally hadn't enjoyed lunch and wasn't enjoying dinner. 

 

"I like it," Chopper chirped, his muzzle messy with pasta sauce. "I hope that Sanji keeps making our meals like this!"

 

If he did, then Zoro was going to resort to subsisting on booze alone, unless the alcohol had been affected as well. The thought made Zoro worry.

 

"I'm sure that'll happen for quite some time," Robin chortled. "As long their date goes well."

 

What, if their date turned out crappy, would their food go back to normal or would the cook's depression make them taste salty like his tears? Zoro stole a glance at Usopp and Sanji, who were in their own little world. Of course, Sanji was professional enough to not get entirely wrapped up with Usopp to forget about them. He dutifully attended to Nami and Robin, and made sure that everyone got their fair share. But once he returned to Usopp's side, it was as if no one else existed aside from her. He was like the moon that devotedly revolved around his sun. It wasn't hard to see that it was the same for Usopp too. 

 

Actually, Zoro could say that Usopp had been this way for Sanji for quite some time. He was well-aware that everyone thought of him as a blockhead, but just because he was a bit directionally challenged didn't mean that he wasn't observant. He had noticed what affections the sniper held for the cook ever since the crew had decided to help out Vivi. Admittedly, Usopp had managed to conceal the depths of her feelings well enough to make Zoro observe her a couple more times to make his deductions. And if he knew, then Nami and Robin obviously knew. 

 

He couldn't say the same for the rest of the guys, but they probably got it after hearing about how Usopp had asked Sanji out today. And as for Sanji? With the pervert busy chasing everything wearing a skirt, it wouldn't surprise Zoro if the guy had been oblivious all along. And now, with the cook realizing that a girl actually liked him, he was going around acting like a buffoon. 

 

There was one thing that Zoro was uncertain of, and that was whether Sanji was happy that it was Usopp who liked him or that a girl liked him. Sure, Sanji was a great guy, Zoro was willing to give him that, but he was always weird around women. He threw himself at them without any reservations, which had only worsened ever since their two year separation; it was as if the island that Kuma had sent him to hadn't had any women. With that in mind, it was why Zoro didn't know if Sanji was behaving like this because he returned Usopp's feelings or not. 

 

Zoro looked back down at his bowl. His stomach twisted with discomfort. His appetite was completely gone now. Zoro set his fork to the side and pushed his bowl in front of Luffy, who glanced at him with wide eyes. 

 

"You can have it," Zoro said. "I'm still full from lunch."

 

"Wow, thanks, Zoro!" Luffy said gleefully, wrapping a possessive arm around what was likely his fifth helping. "You can't have this back if you change your mind, just so you know."

 

Zoro rolled his eye. "I'm not going to." He pushed himself from the table and headed towards the door. "Gonna turn in early. See you guys later."

 

"Fleeing because you can't stand the sight of our happy new couple?" Nami remarked dryly.

 

"Something like that," Zoro shot back lightly. "Bye."

 

Zoro stepped outside where the cold breeze and the night sky greeted him. He heaved a sigh and made his way to the crow's nest. It was just his luck that he was assigned to stand watch on the same day that Usopp had decided to confess to Sanji. No, not confess. Asking someone on a date and confessing were two different things, that much Zoro knew. But since this was Usopp, she might as well have. Did Sanji pick up on it, though? Did he understand the true extent of Usopp's feelings that ran for him?

 

He shook his head. This was why he needed to be alone right now. In a way, Nami was right—he couldn't stick around and watch Usopp and Sanji get wrapped up with one another, but not because he found it too sappy for him to bear. He just... He just didn't know what he would do if his mind meandered down that dark path while he was still in the presence of Usopp and Sanji. It was inevitable that he was going to keep thinking about it—the authenticity of Sanji's affections towards Usopp—because, quite frankly, Zoro didn't think Sanji's feelings could compare to his own. 

 

If Sanji didn't truly like Usopp for Usopp, if Sanji was unwittingly using Usopp for his own ego, then Zoro wouldn't know what to do. Do something terrible, perhaps. Unintentionally make Usopp hate him forever, which was something that Zoro didn't think his heart could take without a break. Zoro dropped his head backwards and stared up at the stars. Of all people to fall for, why did Usopp choose Sanji and not him?

 

He sighed again. No, rather, of all people, why did he have to fall for someone who was already in love with someone else?

Chapter Text

"Are you willing to stay here alone?" Trafalgar asked. 

 

"I'm not going to leave my friends behind," Luffy told him simply. "If that's what Nami and Chopper want, then I want it too." He then added on a more cheerful note, "And Sanji wants to stick the samurai's body together. You gotta help us if you want us to team up!"

 

Trafalgar's expression turned incredulous.

 

"It'd be faster to go along with it," Usopp advised the poor clueless man. "He just does and thinks what he wants." As an example, she provided, "So far, he regards this alliance as a mark of friendship."

 

"Yup, that's right," Luffy agreed.

 

"That's not right at all," Trafalgar disagreed. "'An alliance is supposed to be a cooperative relationship where we work towards a common goal."

 

"So that basically means we're buddies, yeah?" Luffy said, picking his nose.

 

Usopp slapped his hand down. "Don't do that," she chided before speaking to Trafalgar. "Yeah, that's the definition, but it means nothing to Luffy. To get him to do remotely anything you want him to do, just go along with it."

 

"That's absurd. How does any of this have to do with our—"

 

"Come on, Usopp," Luffy whined. "I got one up there! It's been bothering me for a while."

 

"That's nasty," she insisted. "And unsanitary! Just ask Chopper."

 

Luffy pouted before doing just that. "Hey, Chopper? Is it bad if I pick out my booger?"

 

"What? You mean with your bare hand?" Chopper asked.

 

"No, I got gloves on."

 

"Use a handkerchief. I'm sure there's one in your pocket," Usopp suggested.

 

"Huh? Oh, hey! There is one!" Luffy proceeded to obnoxiously blow his nose before stuffing the used cloth back into his coat. "Hey, Traffy, are we gonna do this thing or what?"

 

Trafalgar gave them the same bemused look that he had been giving them from time to time. He then turned around and sighed. "Fine. We don't have time for this. You guys take care of the samurai yourselves. I'll investigate the drug that was administered to the children." He peered over his shoulder. "Which one of you is the doctor? We need to go distract Caesar."

 

Luffy gleefully pointed at the prone reindeer. "That'd be Chopper!"

 

"Great..."

 

When Trafalgar didn't move, Usopp raised an eyebrow. "Aren't you going to pick him up?"

 

There was a conflicted expression on his face. Was he opposed to carrying a wounded person? But surely Chopper's condition wasn't so terrible that he would require to remain lying on his back during the remainder of their time here. Well, then again, Luffy did put their doctor's body in a blender. Maybe it would be for the best that they didn't move him?

 

Before Trafalgar could say anything, Luffy cut in with saying, "I get it! Traffy just needs a better way of carrying Chopper. I'll go get some rope." With that said, he dashed off, leaving them behind.

 

Trafalgar was making that face again.

 

Usopp moved towards Chopper and knelt down next to him. "Chopper, are you in a state where you're okay to be moved?"

 

"Yeah, I should be good," he said. "I mean, I'm unable to move myself, but, as long as I'm handled with care, I'm all good to go."

 

Usopp glanced up at Tragalgar. He stared back down at her. 

 

"Luffy intends on tying Chopper to your head," she informed him. "After seeing how our captain is, you know that he'll do it. He's also going to bring in the others so that they can all laugh at you. Best carry Chopper and be on your way."

 

"You act as though you're not as asinine as him, Longnose-ya," Trafalgar huffed, bending down to scoop up the reindeer.

 

"Only on Tuesdays," Usopp quipped. She stood up when he did and brushed off the snow. "Take care of our doctor. Otherwise, we'll give you hell."

 

This time, Trafalgar was the one raising an eyebrow. "Really," he said flatly. 

 

"Oops. Sorry. I mean more hell. I've noticed that you've been suffering this whole time you've been with us."

 

"What? Law's injured?" Chopper said, startled. 

 

"Yes, I've undergone several instances of brain aneurysms," Trafalgar drawled. "It was easy to determine the cause."

 

"Take it as a sign of warning. If you hurt Chopper or betray us, then we'll be sure to give you mania."

 

"Setting up this alliance is perhaps an indicator that I'm already manic."

 

"Don't be so dramatic. You have yet to experience what's it like to be with the crew when we're altogether."

 

"Good grief," Trafalgar muttered. "No need to take it that far."

 

"Uh..." Chopper's gaze bounced between the two. "So was Law joking about the brain aneurysms or what?"

 

"He was joking," Usopp assured him. "Don't like the grumpy man push you around, okay, Chopper?"

 

Chopper nodded seriously. "I won't."

 

"I have a good reason for being grumpy," Trafalgar groused. "This is supposed to be an alliance, not a friendship session where we hold hands and sing songs—"

 

"Heeey! I found the rope!"

 

In an instant, a blue dome appeared and disappeared. Along with it went both Trafalgar and Chopper, and in their place was a clump of snow.

 


 

As much as Usopp loved to party, she felt a bit too tired to fully participate. So she contentedly sat back and watched as everyone noisily celebrated their victory. It was weird to see how pirates and marines alike could gather together like this, but she supposed that it wasn't so bad as long as either side didn't try to start a fight. 

 

She thought that she would spend her time alone or that Robin would join her, but, to her surprise, Trafalgar deigned to approach her. 

 

"Longnose-ya."

 

"Hey."

 

He frowned. "Do you even know my name?"

 

"Of course. Luffy's been throwing it around."

 

He drew his shoulders back. "That's not my name—"

 

"Relax. I was joking." Usopp grinned cheekily. "It's Trafalgar Law."

 

Trafalgar eyed her suspiciously. "Have you known that in the beginning or have you just picked up on it recently?"

 

"What? Worried that I've been calling you Traffy in my head this whole time?"

 

"Well, if we're going to be the best of friends," Trafalgar began sardonically, taking Luffy's words and unabashedly throwing them at her, "then I'll confess and say that I've been referring you as the beansprout this whole time."

 

Usopp grimaced, which caused Trafalgar to smirk. "Beansprout? What, longnose wasn't enough?"

 

"Aside from Tony-ya, you're the shortest one out of the lot. You're thirty centimeters shorter than me, so you're comparably tiny."

 

Her height had never been an issue for her, but, for some reason, she felt as though she couldn't let this go by. "I'll have you know, back in my village, I'm only seven centimeters shorter than the average woman."

 

"That just proves how short you are," he snorted. "Genetics?"

 

"Huh?"

 

"The reason for your height?"

 

"Uh, no. If I remember right, I'm pretty sure that my mom was of average height." She frowned in thought. "Or maybe it seemed that way since I was a kid and had to look up at her. No, I'm pretty sure the reason why was because I didn't really take care of myself when I was younger." Bad eating habits and lack of sleep were contributors of poor growth, obviously, but her younger self hadn't cared about that. 

 

"How about your father? Average height?"

 

"I think so."

 

"Hm?"

 

"Well, he's Yasopp of the Red Hair Pirates. He seems like the kind of man to have at least be of average height, right?"

 

His eyes went wide. "Your father is Chaser Yasopp? Of the Red Hair?"

 

She nodded.

 

His eyes roved across her face, evidently studying her features. "I've seen his poster," Trafalgar said, narrowing his eyes. "Your eyes are similar, but, aside from that, I see no similarities."

 

"That's because I mostly take after my mom," Usopp said, shrugging. "The nose especially."

 

"I'm going to have to require more proof than just your word, you know."

 

"What? My sniping skills aren't good enough for you?" she gasped mockingly.

 

"Skills aren't necessarily hereditary, as you already know. I'll have to ask for a blood sample, a urine sample, a strand of your hair—"

 

"Oh, I like to see that—you requesting my dad for a DNA sample."

 

"Facing one Yonko is enough, thank you," Trafalgar said dryly. "Although, I do appreciate you understanding when I'm joking or not. At the same time, I'm kind of disappointed that I didn't get a reaction out of you."

 

"Normally your brand of humor would go over my head if I didn't spend these past two years training under my master." Heracles surprisingly was a deadpan snarker for a guy who simply radiated warrior exuberance. She had encountered multi-faceted people before, but Heracles had been one hell of a shock. Although, thanks to the two years she had spent accommodating to his personality, Robin's morbid commentary no longer phased her and she found Zoro to be funnier than he had been before their separation. 

 

"My brand of humor seems to go over everyone else's heads. Do your crewmates not know what sarcasm is?"

 

"Unless the tone is exaggerated to make it appear obvious that you're being sarcastic. Although, there are some who would take you literally regardless." Luffy, for instance.

 

Trafalgar rolled his eyes and took a seat next to her. What followed was nothing but silence, but it didn't feel awkward. It was a little strange to her considering how they were two strangers with vastly different personalities—even if they did manage a two minute long conversation. Usopp supposed that it really had to do with her becoming more accustomed to people like Trafalgar, and Trafalgar in turn probably felt comfortable in her presence after learning that she wasn't as eccentric as her friends. 

 

Or maybe she really was as weird as them, but she had the kind of weirdness that Trafalgar could tolerate? Usopp wondered if this meant that she had a certain chemistry with the Heart captain. As people would say, opposites would attract, so this could be the start of a strongly forged friendship for all she knew. Furthermore, it wasn't as if Usopp was blind to or didn't care about how Trafalgar had gawked and floundered at the antics of her crewmates, forcing her to commiserate. She knew that she would have reacted similarly had she been in his place.

 

Which she hadn't been, thank goodness for that. Her being one of the first recruits had mentally prepared herself for the brunt of the Straw Hat mayhem that she was vaguely aware of yet immune to. Heck, the mayhem that she openly contributed to. Although, if Usopp was to take a step back and clinically observe the crew as a whole, it did seem like they collectively became...stupider. These past two years had strengthened in terms of power, yet enfeebled their common sense.

 

Usopp hadn't realized that she had voiced her thoughts aloud until she heard Trafalgar snicker.

 

"That's an understatement," he said, smirking.

 

"Ah! I shouldn't be tarnishing my crew's good name," Usopp sighed. "I ought to stop."

 

"No, by all means, please continue."

 

"With the way you act around my crew, I wonder if any of the Heart Pirates act just as silly."

 

"Everyone in my crew is effusive to an exhausting degree. In fact, we surface the Polar Tang from time to time to air out the exuberance before it could suffocate us all." He said this with such gravitas that Usopp decided to take his word for it. "But they're reasonable enough that they're tolerable, which can't be said for your crew."

 

"They'll grow on you," she told him. "You'll have to let it happen. You're stuck with us for who knows how long."

 

"I really will develop mania," Trafalgar lamented.

 

Usopp giggled.

 

They resumed watching the festivities taking place before them. One of the marines challenged Zoro to a drinking contest; Usopp inwardly winced, knowing how that would go. It was a good thing that Nami was distracted by the giant children; otherwise, the navigator would undoubtedly set out stakes that would result in empty wallets. 

 

"By the way," Usopp said, breaking the silence again, "do you know my name? You've been calling me Longnose all this time, so I wonder if you do."

 

"Why? Don't like it?"

 

"I like it as much as you like being called Traffy."

 

Trafalgar frowned. "Good point. I'll call you Usopp-ya from now on."

 

"So you do know my name!"

 

"Your crewmates refer you as such, so I was bound to pick it up."

 

"Since you're addressing me how I prefer, I'll return the same courtesy."

 

Trafalgar paused before slowly nodding. "Very well. You may call me Law."

 

"Law-san?"

 

"No, just Law."

 

"You don't mind people not using formalities with you, yet you would use them?"

 

"I find it stranger that you would even use them given how your crew is."

 

"They have their moments," she felt obliged to defend them. Her friends had been bashed enough and it was time for her to take a stand. "And if you want polite, then you can go to Robin." She almost added Brook's name since he was the one who used formalities, but the skeleton's tendency to request to see ladies' panties made her stop. Trafalgar—Law wasn't a lady, but still.

 

"She's unnerving," Law deadpanned.

 

Usopp gave him a look. "You're one to talk! You sent, what, a hundred heads to the marine headquarters."

 

"Hearts, actually, but that's a good one. With heads, you'd hear their screaming and wailing." The man gave a dark chuckle. 

 

She shuddered. "I bet your bedside manner is terrible."

 

"Considering how I'm a pirate, I'm not required to conduct myself."

 

"Yet you use formalities."

 

"Ah." He snorted, leaning back. "You got me."

 

"Now that we're on the topic, why do you refer some of us by our given names? Ii heard you call Zoro and Nami by their names, but you don't do the same for the others."

 

"Is Tony not your doctor's name?"

 

"He's Tony Tony Chopper." She looked at him quizzically. "You heard us call him Chopper, so you already know how he's called."

 

Law shrugged. "I just call them how I like."

 

"You're particularly formal when addressing Robin and Chopper," she noted. Robin was Nico-ya and Chopper was Tony-ya. She knew that it couldn't be because they had surnames; after all, Law didn't do the same with Luffy and Zoro, who both had surnames as well. "Does that mean you hold them in higher regard?"

 

"Not at all. Like I said, I just call them how I like."

 

"Unless you're told not to do so like how you did with me," Usopp mused.

 

"I'm a polite pirate."

 

"You just—argh, never mind."

 

Law chuckled. "Anyway, if not your name or Longnose, then I would have gone for Beansprout."

 

"Oh no. Not this again." Usopp scowled at him. "I hope this won't set off a trend where you make short jokes."

 

"How's the weather down there?"

 

"Ah, there it is."

 

"You started it."

Chapter Text

The Hanahaki Disease was known to be tragic and romantic. Whether it was more romantically tragic or tragically romantic didn't matter; the disease was despair-inducing enough for what it was, and poetic from its start to its finish. For a wildly known illness, to contract it would be rare. However, if one were to be ill, then the cause would be a matter of true love left unrequited. 

 

Which was why the Straw Hat Pirates were utterly bewildered to see their captain hacking up petals during breakfast.

 

Everyone was rendered speechless, stunned by the sight of slick remnants of a flower on Luffy's hand. And while they had unwittingly held their breath and froze in their horror, there was one person who went on like he wasn't suspended from animation. Luffy wiped away the drool with his arm, and then said to the petals, "What the hell is this?"

 

"Luffy!" screeched Chopper, breaking the quiet. As though a gun had been fired, everyone fell into a flurry of movement and noise. 

 

What exactly had been so shocking was the fact that Luffy was suffering from one-sided love. One-sided romantic love. Admittedly, the Straw Hat Pirates hadn't known their captain for more than year, some of them for even less, but they liked to believe that their time spent following his lead meant that they had a good understanding as to who he was as a person. A simple-minded dolt with a heart as wide as the Four Blue Seas. A competent fighter who would valiantly protect his friends all the while pester them with his childishness. The future King of the Pirates who only cared about food, adventure, and his friends.

 

Yes, that was what the aforementioned crewmates had believed. Luffy was supposed to care about nothing else other than food, adventure, and his friends—not romance. And yet there lied the evidence, bundled within a scrunched-up napkin. Chopper had Luffy clean his hand before ushering him to the sickbay, leaving behind the others to stand and gawk helplessly.

 

"Did...that really happen?" Franky said, his voice barely a whisper.

 

"Shit." Sanji gnawed on his cigarette and ran a hand through his hair. "That idiot—he—shit."

 

Usopp glanced at Nami, who shared her own worried look. After that display, it had been confirmed that Monkey D. Luffy was without a doubt in love with someone. The question was: Who?

 

It was difficult to register. Everyone had taken it as fact that Luffy didn't even feel amorously, that the only forms of love he could process were familial and platonic. Which was fine had he been that way; that had just made Luffy endearingly innocent, immaturity and idiocy notwithstanding. However, Luffy was capable of loving a person that way, which made things even more difficult because no one knew about that until they had to witness him throwing up petals at the table. And if that had been their only clue, then they had no way of deducing who was the target of his affections.

 

"Is there any way we can find out who it is?" Brook wondered uneasily.

 

"I mean, is it possible?" Nami frowned as she folded her arms. "We're talking about the guy who's unfazed by Boa Hancock's advances. If the world's most beautiful woman got nothing on him, then Luffy's pretty unaffected by anything."

 

"Not quite," Robin cut in smoothly. "The Hanahaki Disease is caught by those suffering from one-sided true love. That would mean that the one person who he is in love with can affect him."

 

There was a pause. "It can't be one of us, right?" Zoro finally spoke up. Unlike many of them who had leaped to their feet, Zoro had remained rooted in his enclave of discarded plates and scraps. Luffy had been rather ravenous this morning and had been shoving his empty dishes to the side where Zoro was. The swordsman had been fuming at this until Luffy had started coughing and dry-heaving, and his face had soon turned pale white the moment the petals had appeared. Now, he sat placidly, blankly staring at the open door where Luffy and Chopper had exited.

 

"He hadn't acted any differently around us from two years ago to now," Zoro continued.

 

"Unless he doesn't understand what he's feeling isn't platonic but romantic?" Usopp offered nervously.

 

Zoro turned his head, his brow furrowed. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it with a thoughtful expression taking over. "You might be right," he conceded. "This is Luffy, after all."

 

"A guy who doesn't feel anything when in the presence of beauty personified," Sanji added with a grunt. "A guy who spent two years on an island with no one but gorgeous women."

 

"Reel in the jealousy, bro," Franky wryly snorted. "If Luffy doesn't derive any pleasure from the experience, then it might as well be the same as one of the girls being sent there in his stead."

 

It didn't take much to figure out what caused Sanji to leer perversely at the ceiling. Usopp looked away, not caring to see what other gross faces that the cook would make during his stimulating fantasies.

 

"Okay, then that means that Luffy could be in love with any one of us," Nami brought up. She smiled uneasily. "So, how should we approach this?"

 

"Wait, are we including Chopper?" Usopp asked. "Because while I don't think Luffy is the kind of guy who'd care about staying within his own species, I think it just might be a stretch to say that he's in love with him."

 

"Are you saying that Luffy could be into bestiality?" Zoro blurted out incredulously, his lone eye widening.

 

Usopp blushed. "What? No! I just said that it's unlikely—"

 

"No, you said that he's the kind of guy who wouldn't care about falling in love with those outside humankind—"

 

"No! I, uh, just mean that he's not prejudiced about that sort of thing. I didn't say he'd, like, have sex with a goat or something!"

 

"But would he be into that sort of thing?" Franky mused curiously. 

 

"Yohoho! Then it's possible that he could be enamored with a pile of old bones like me!" Brook chortled.

 

Sanji, snapping out of his reverie, chimed in with, "Mermaids! You can definitely fall in love with mermaids!"

 

"Shut up!" Nami growled, and the noisiness immediately fell dead. The navigator breathed out an exasperated breath. "Okay, look, we just found out that we don't really know Luffy as well as we initially have thought. That means that we probably don't know what his preferences are either. We don't know if he's into girls or guys or goats—don't laugh, Franky, this is serious!"

 

"It's nervous laughter!" Franky protested, holding his hands up defensively. 

 

Nami scowled. "The point that I'm trying to make is that we don't know if he's someone who's constrained to a certain type. Maybe busty beauties don't do it for him. Hell, maybe he's actually into one-eyed swordsmen or curly-brow cooks." At that, Zoro and Sanji cringed hard. "We don't know, but the least we can do is try to find out if he's in love with any one of us. If he is, then we'll do what we can from there."

 

"By that, I'm assuming you mean reciprocation," Robin said.

 

"Right..." Nami exhaled. "That or surgery, which is something that I don't know Luffy will agree to."

 

"We'll make him do the surgery. Luffy can't die from something like this," Zoro said with a dark frown. Perhaps in any other situation, someone would argue about Luffy having the right to make that decision for himself, to survive with his feelings gone or to die with his feelings intact. In retrospect, that would be the case; as of right now, no one raised a voice to refute. Everyone was unanimous in their belief that fulfilling their dreams with Luffy was a greater priority than having him perish with his affections go unanswered to the end. It was a blatant win-lose situation, and it made the death via unrequited love an even greater loss. 

 

Had it been someone other than Luffy, they might have shook their heads and sighed for the poor fool who had fallen for someone ostensibly unattainable, and would have wished for the best in whatever outcome he or she would choose. But they wouldn't do that with Luffy. No, they were too selfish to let their captain go down like this, especially not when he had yet to achieve his goal. Living was the only answer that Luffy could have, regardless of the cost of his feelings.

 

"As charming as he can be, returning the captain's feelings will be...a trial," Brook brought up lightly. Sanji nodded fervently. There were some of them who simply couldn't be attracted to a man. Or maybe not just a man, but just Luffy. Some of them had already fostered parental and sibling affection for the captain, and to deviate from that would be feel inherently wrong. It made sense as to why Brook would mention it; for all his earlier jest, the musician indubitably viewed Luffy as a grandson of sorts, reinforced by how he was at his wizened age of ninety.

 

Usopp herself wondered if she could do it. Luffy was like a brother to her if not her best friend, so it went without saying how weird it would be if he loved her. Needless to say, she held great admiration for him and wished to stay by his side for however long he would let her, that was what she had told him before, but none of that was accounted for beyond the realm of friendship. Could Usopp grow to like that nose-picking goof? Hard to say. She preferred guys who didn't publicly pick their nose. 

 

"Forcing yourself to return Luffy's feelings wouldn't be do anything; the Hanahaki Disease would persist if the reciprocation isn't genuine," Robin said. "Only true love can make it go away. I suggest that we make an effort. If we're still unsuccessful during the last stage of the disease, then we'll have Luffy undergo the surgery."

 

"And if it isn't one of us?" Zoro said.

 

"Then we'll have to do a run down on his list of friends and acquaintances," Nami groused, grimacing. Everyone winced at that. Luffy's friends and acquaintances were...innumerable, and that wasn't hyperbolic in the least. Aside from the people who they had encountered as a crew, they also had to account for those in Luffy's childhood and those who Luffy had known in the duration of their separation. In any typical circumstance, they wouldn't need to go that far; otherwise, Luffy would have contracted the Hanahaki Disease long ago. However, since this was Luffy they were talking about...

 

"It's unrealistic that we'll get to everyone," Robin said, "but we'll do what we can before his final stage."

 

"I guess we don't need to say about Luffy going straight to surgery, huh?" Usopp said.

 

"I know we agreed on forcing Luffy to go before it's too late, but he at least deserves to find out his true love," Nami said, shooting Usopp a look.

 

Usopp rubbed the back of her neck. "But...if he doesn't know that it's true love, then would it matter?"

 

"What—what are you saying, Usopp? Of course it matters! How would you feel if someone made you stop loving the person who is meant to be your one true love?"

 

If it was a matter of life or death, then Usopp would opt for the option that would save her. She thought that much was obvious. And if she happened to be as oblivious as Luffy regarding her own feelings, then what was the point of holding onto something that she didn't know or understand? Those feelings would be gone, anyway, if she were to undergo surgery, and she would go on with her life with no real loss. Despite the points that Usopp had made in her head, she responded with a shrug. It wasn't like she had experienced falling in love herself, after all.

 

"As the saying goes," Robin said with a wistful smile, "it's better to have loved than to not have loved at all."

 

"Then we really are going with this," Zoro sighed. "To reiterate Nami's question, how should we approach this?"

 

"Do we try to romance him?" Franky said.

 

"Oh my. I'm afraid that my seduction tactics are all shriveled up, just like how my organs must've been after my soul left my body!" Brook declared. Sanji shuddered in revulsion; whether it was to Franky's question or to Brook's distasteful joke, who knew. 

 

"According to Robin, Luffy's true love can affect him." With an expression full of determination, Nami said, "Then that's what we gotta do."

 


 

Luffy and Chopper returned, and neither of them looked happy. Luffy's face was pinched in a way that he seemed deeply unsettled by something whereas Chopper was nothing but a ball of anxiety. Consternation marred his fuzzy features as his hooves click-clacked against each other, similar to how humans would wring their hands. Luffy closed the door behind them, but they didn't take their seats. No need to now that breakfast had been long finished. 

 

"So," Luffy began, "looks like I'm dying."

 

"No!" Chopper gasped in mortification. "Luffy, we've been over this—"

 

"Yeah, yeah." He waved dismissively. "I didn't say that I'm going to end up dead, Chopper. I meant that I'm in bad shape." Chopper sputtered and choked on his words until he gave up and hung his head. "Anyway, to fix this, I gotta find my true love and I'll be as good as new!"

 

"Do you even know who your true love is?" Nami deadpanned.

 

The expected response was for Luffy to pick his nose and say something stupid. Of course, Chopper would have already explained to Luffy about the Hanahaki Disease if he hadn't heard of it before (no surprises there), but Luffy would predictably zone out and stop listening the moment Chopper would get technical. Furthermore, having Chopper describe to Luffy about what true love was—well, everyone did learn today that they shouldn't assume things, but this was Chopper. Adorable puppy love and flustered crushes would fit the reindeer, not deeply intimate phenomenons.

 

So, while everyone was waiting for Luffy to say something among the lines of "Yeah, food, obviously! I'm totally in love with food!", Luffy instead said, "Yeah, it's Usopp."

 

There was a moment of silence.

 

In a bout of complete uncharacteristic display, Brook threw his arms out and screamed, "Oh, thank goodness! I'm not going to be a pedophile!"

 

Meanwhile, Sanji shrieked out in unadulterated horror, "What? No! You mean my Usopp-tan? No!"

 

"The hell, Luffy?" Zoro said. "You serious, man?"

 

"He's serious," Chopper answered in his place somberly. 

 

Usopp felt a large hand clap against her shoulder and vaguely heard Franky congratulating her. She wasn't sure. At this point, if was as if the world had been flipped upside down. The sky was orange. The grass was red. Fish flew and birds swam. Everything just didn't make sense anymore because—what the hell, Luffy—her captain had just announced that he was in love with her. 

 

"Well," Nami breathed, appearing stunned, "I guess Luffy isn't as dumb as we all thought he was."

 

Luffy propped his hands on his hips and looked at Usopp squarely in the eyes. The unsettled look had vanished, replaced by an expression that he usually wore whenever he faced challenging opponents. Usopp stared back in disbelief. "Usopp, we've been friends for a long time, but now that I'm dying—"

 

"Luffy," Chopper growled.

 

"Now that I'm in bad shape," Luffy amended easily, "I'm gonna make you fall in love with me just like how you made me fall in love with you!"

 

Usopp gaped.

 

"Whoo! Bro, that was manly!" Franky crowed. 

 

"So prepare yourself!" Luffy continued, thrusting a finger at her direction.

 

Usopp felt faint.

 

"Huh, well, I guess that's it for us," Nami said. "It all up to Luffy and Usopp now."

 

"How interesting," Robin observed amusedly. "I look forward to see our captain's endeavors in wooing our sniper."

 

Luffy? Wooing her? Usopp snapped out of her stupor. "Wait, wait, wait!" she burst out, frantically waving her hands. Her heart beat madly in her chest as she was seized by panic. If she hadn't been overwhelmed by Luffy's ailment, then she was now by the out-of-the-blue confession. It was as though someone had pulled the rug from underneath her feet. "This feels too sudden! How is it that Luffy already knows wh-who he loves? How do we know that what Luffy thinks is true love is actually true love?"

 

"Hey, I know what true love is," Luffy protested, affronted. "Don't underestimate me!"

 

Nami's eyebrows furrowed. "What're you saying, Usopp? Are you trying to wiggle yourself out of the situation?"

 

"Actually, Usopp's got a point," Zoro interjected, startling Usopp. Out of all people, she least suspected Zoro to raise a question against Luffy's confession. "We all thought that Luffy wasn't able to differentiate what was platonic and what was romantic based off the fact that he never treated us any differently; at least, that's what we figured if he did like any one of us."

 

"But since he does like one of us," Franky picked up after him, "then it makes it kinda strange, don't you think?"

 

"You mean how Luffy-san's behavior towards Usopp-san has never changed?" Brook ventured. 

 

Franky nodded. "Yeah. Unless he ever acted differently before I joined the crew?" Eyes drifted over to where Zoro and Nami was, the first two members to have been with Luffy prior to Usopp's recruitment. When both of them replied with negative answers, Franky said, "Then I guess Luffy's been in love with Lil Sis from the very beginning."

 

"Don't be ridiculous," Sanji snapped. "How could that be possible? He would've been upchucking flowers long before today!"

 

"Um, actually..." The soft childish voice drew the crew's attention to the speaker. Chopper peered up at them, his blue nose cutely scrunching in contrast to the seriousness of his gaze. "The symptoms of the Hanahaki Disease don't take place every time a person falls in love, not even when that love goes unrequited. But in the situation that a person is infected with the disease would be due to a trigger."

 

"A trigger?" Usopp echoed.

 

"Yes. If the person doesn't know that his love is unrequited, then there is no way of getting the disease in the first place." Chopper turned his focus solely onto Usopp. "In other words, it is possible to have true love without being afflicted by the Hanahaki Disease. The matter is whether the ill knows that the object of his affections will never respond in kind or loves another."

 

Usopp quietly gasped before lifting her head to meet Luffy's eyes. Luffy had not once strayed away from her, that much Usopp knew from the weighted feel of his eyes on her, but she half-expected him to frown uncomfortably or smile sheepishly or make any sort of expression. He didn't. "I—I don't understand," she babbled helplessly. "When did I ever give you that impression? I never said anything about liking someone. I don't even like anyone like that!"

 

Luffy didn't say anything. 

 

"Then does this mean that Luffy-san has been in love with Usopp-san all this time?" Brook murmured, his voice airy with awe. 

 

"No, that doesn't make sense," Sanji disputed angrily. "If that's the case, then he might as well be in love with all of us. Luffy may have never treated Usopp-tan any differently since the beginning, but that doesn't mean anything. He doesn't treat her differently than how he treats any one of us!"

 

"No, he does," Robin spoke. Sanji jerked in surprise. "It's the minute things, but I'm sure you have noticed." She cupped her chin and tilted her head, causing a lock of her hair to drop from the curve of her shoulder. "He spends more time with her than any of us, he is more receptive towards her, he is more tactile with her..."

 

Sanji sputtered. "Well, yeah, Usopp-tan is Luffy's best friend, right? So, naturally, he'd be like that." 

 

"Or perhaps it only seemed that way. Luffy probably regarded Usopp as his best friend due to his favoritism, thus was unable to distinguish his feelings as true love until the trigger."

 

Franky released a low whistle. "For Luffy to find out that way seems kinda harsh. What did you say to him, Usopp?"

 

"I don't know!" Usopp quickly rushed in to defend herself. "I already said that I—"

 

"Nah, it wasn't the trigger," Luffy interrupted.

 

"H-huh?"

 

"I didn't find out due to the trigger," Luffy said. "I found out during my training with Rayleigh. He asked me about you guys, and something about the way I described Usopp made him ask me more questions about her." For the first time since he returned, he pulled away from his staring, instead choosing to close his eyes. The way he angled himself forward as his fringe hung away from his forehead, he appeared to be recounting a memory. "It confused me at first as to why, but he later explained to me that he was figuring out if I was in love with her."

 

"I see. Then was what when you found out?" Robin said.

 

"Something like that. It didn't really click for me until later. Yeah, before, I never understood what it meant to fall in love, but now I do." Luffy opened his eyes and grinned. "That's why I'm telling you not to underestimate me. I'm a different man than how I was two years ago!"

 

"If you didn't know what it was until then, then that does make you stupid!" Usopp huffed.

 

Luffy pouted as he straightened his back. "Come on, Usopp. I know now, at least. That's gotta count for something."

 

"But what about the trigger?" Nami inquired. "What was it?"

 

"Oh, that. Yeah, it was something that Usopp said to me a while back."

 

Flabbergasted, Usopp could only shake her head. "No, that's impossible. I wouldn't say anything to hurt you." Deliberately, that was. Or anymore, she thought to herself when she remembered the events that had taken place in Water 7. Usopp promptly dispelled the memory. 

 

She knew with certainty that she had never breathed a word to Luffy—to anyone, for that matter—about harboring an attraction to anyone. That was a given since she wasn't attracted to anyone at the moment! For that matter, she wouldn't have confided that sort of information to a guy. And Usopp would have remembered rebuffing Luffy's feelings if that conversation had ever occurred, which it never had. As a result, she was left rather perplexed as to what could have been the words that had set off the disease.

 

Usopp was still wrapping her mind over how Luffy was...in love with her. Prior to Luffy and Chopper's arrival, the crew had come to an acknowledgement that this could happen, that anyone could be a possibility, and yet... Usopp honestly never had believed that she could be the one. She actually wasn't sure if she could believe it right now. Robin might have laid out the answers to the mystery and Luffy might have straightened up the facts, but that did nothing to expel the skepticism.

 

Just when she had this to process, she had also found out that she was the one who caused Luffy's illness. Luffy wasn't going to die, so she didn't feel the crushing weight of guilt, but her insides did twist with discomfort knowing that she was responsible for his pain. Physical pain—coughing up flowers—and emotional pain—her dismissing his feelings no matter how unintentional. Usopp anxiously folded her arms within herself. Apprehension filled her as she waited for Luffy's response.

 

"You—" Luffy paused. "You told me that you looked up to me and that you wanted to stay by my side for as long as I wanted."

 

Just like that, it was as though a punch had been delivered to her gut. Air squeezed out of her lungs out of bewilderment the second Luffy finished his sentence. "That was the trigger?" she cried.

 

"It hurt me more than you realize," Luffy insisted accusingly. 

 

"Okay, I'm lost. Nothing in what Usopp told you sounded hurtful whatsoever," Zoro said.

 

Everyone gave their own murmurs of agreement. Luffy, on the other hand, remained adamant. "When you look up to someone, you want to end up being like that someone. It's like how I looked up to Shanks when I was a kid because I wanted to be a super cool pirate captain like him. But I don't look up to him anymore; instead, I wanna stand before him as an equal! That's why it hurt to hear that Usopp admired me; it's because she doesn't care to set herself as my equal."

 

"That's not how admiration works," Robin said, but Luffy plowed on ahead.

 

"When you want to be someone for as long as that someone wants it, that means that you're not willing to be with that someone on your own will. You're sticking around based on the deadline of that person's wishes or just how long that person can put up with you. It's basically you don't doing because you yourself want to! It's no better than when Sanji can't deal with having guys for more than a minute even though he cares about us."

 

"Oi! Don't drag me into this," snapped Sanji.

 

Usopp pressed a hand to her temple, feeling the onset exhaustion that had to do with the introduction of Luffy's backwards logic. Baffling as it was, Luffy had taken her compliment and pledge—her goodwill—and had twisted them into something bizarre. It was no different than ramming a cube into a circular hole. She would have felt offended by that had she not been so drained. 

 

"What are you saying, Luffy?" Usopp asked, wanting to get to the point.

 

"I'm saying is this: I don't want Usopp to be like me; I want Usopp to stand as my partner," he harrumphed. "And I don't want Usopp to be my side for as long as I want; I want Usopp to stay by my side forever no matter what." 

 

That was...

 

When he put it like that...

 

Luffy strode past the others until he stood before her. He placed both hands on her shoulders, the warmth of his palms pouring through her clothes and into her skin. His large dark eyes bore into hers with sparkling resolve pulled her right into his world. In that instant, Usopp went breathless, and it felt as though there was no one else in the room besides him and her.

 

The only times when he looked this way, the only times when he held himself proudly as the captain of the Straw Hat Pirates, the only times when Luffy could ever make her heart flutter with anticipation, were when he made her think, "Yes, this is the man who I would be willing to lay down my life for. This is the man who I would follow to the ends of the world. This is the man who will no doubt become the King of the Pirates."

 

And here he was with that same conviction as he addressed to only her. "I'm no hero. A hero is someone who shares his meat, but that's not me. I'm a pirate, so I want all the meat! That's why I'm never going to let you go, Usopp. I'm selfish enough that I'll keep you by my side and stubborn enough to make you want to. As my partner, as my friend, as my one and only. It took me this long to realize, but I know this to be true: I am in love with you, and I'll make sure that you'll fall in love with me too." Luffy grinned from ear to ear. "I promise to make you happier than any man ever could!"

 

Usopp's eyes widened. "Luffy..."

 

Luffy then keeled over and proceeded dry-heaving.

 

"L-Luffy!"

 

"Argh! Already?" Chopper scrambled over to Luffy's side. "The intervals should have been longer, especially during the beginning!"

 

As everyone clamored around Luffy, either giving him praise for his romantic declaration or shout concernedly about his condition, Usopp quietly pulled away from the group. She turned around and cupped her face. Her cheeks were blazing hot and she could hear blood rushing in her ears. She squeezed her eyes.

 

Oh dear. Oh dear. She had thought that she wouldn't fall for such a nose-picking goof, but with a speech like that... Falling in love just might come much easier than she had initially expected.

Chapter Text

"Are you alright?"

 

Usopp looked up, seeing Coby awkwardly standing a few feet away. She rubbed her cheeks to wipe away any tear stains, and then glanced at the clock. It had been four hours since the trial, and yet it didn't feel as though it had been that long ago at all. Given everything that had happened, however, time seemed to slip by undetected. 

 

Usopp had arrogantly believed that she had endured the worst since her mother's passing, but she was wrong. If only Monokuma hadn't showed up to force them into playing this stupid killing game. If only the mastermind hadn't locked them inside the school and robbed them of their memories. Only then would Kaya—the Ultimate Doctor, the sweetest person in this school, her dear childhood friend—wouldn't have been killed. 

 

Words couldn't describe the despair that Usopp had felt upon seeing Kaya's slumped-over body sitting on a pool of blood with an arrow sticking out of her stomach. Usopp's arrow. The arrow that she had been working on for protection and had been showing off in front of everyone. The arrow that had been used to end her friend's life.

 

If that hadn't been bad enough, Usopp arriving late to the crime scene and her lack of an alibi had ostensibly implicated her as the main suspect. With the way her classmates had looked at her, she might as well had been the murderer. Who better yet to commit the crime than the Ultimate Sniper?

 

Everyone had been convinced that Usopp been swayed by the motive of being released from the killing game, hence her taking advantage of Kaya's kindness. After all, Usopp had been one of the more expressively fearful and hysterical students, so she could have had been easily tempted by the promise of freedom at the expense of everyone's lives. That had been the story that had garnered the most support until Coby had raised his voice in doubt.

 

It had been thanks to Koala's attention to details and Coby piecing those details together that they had been able to deduce who the true culprit was. 

 

The sweet and friendly Ultimate Baker, Cracker.

 

At least, sweet and friendly had been the facade that he had intentionally made them all believe. After Coby had theorized how the culprit had stolen Usopp's arrow and had slipped in sleeping pills into the croissant that he had given her, Cracker's pleasant persona had crumbled, revealing a psychotic madman in his place. He had told everyone about his desire to leave the school in order to return to his family, which would have gained him sympathy had he not raved on about how it would have amused him to be responsible for all their deaths when he just had to take out one with his own hands.

 

When it had been time for the baker's execution, Cracker had attempted to escape, only for that to result in futility.

 

A chain had shot out from the abyss and clamped around Cracker's neck, and had yanked him away ruthlessly. A screen that hung above the courtroom had flickered to life and had displayed the agonizing death, a macabre parody of baking using Cracker as the main ingredient. During the whole time, Cracker's screams had reverberated throughout the room, which had been silenced after the explosion that had gone off. The aftermath had been...bloody, to say the least. 

 

While Usopp had reaped some dark satisfaction knowing that Kaya's murderer had suffered, the gruesome nature of the punishment had haunted her. If the culprit hadn't been found, would they all experience the same horrid finale? It was spine-chilling to think about. What was more... Kaya's death, Cracker's screams... Despite the pretense of being united in the name of camaraderie, paranoia and anxiety no doubt festered beneath the surface like an infection. The first crime—the first trial—kick-started this game of life and death; another murder was going to happen no matter how hard people would deny it.

 

With that, Usopp was more or less hanging by a thread. Here she was, someone who was supposed to be a promising student of Hope's Peak Academy because of her prowess in marksmanship, now thrust into a killing game that had stolen her best friend, and the question that she had been given was: "Are you alright?"

 

Seriously?

 

Usopp glared at the boy. "What do you think?"

 

Coby immediately backpedaled and held up his hands in a placating manner. "Ah, right. Sorry."

 

The room was plunged into an uncomfortable silence. Usopp inwardly cursed at him for being here. She wanted to sequester herself in the one place where anyone would unlikely venture into at this hour—the library—before retiring to her room. She had figured that people would be knocking on her door to talk to her. They certainly had tried to when the trial had ended, but Usopp had fled the place before they could finish telling her their condolences. 

 

She had known that they were sorry, and she hadn't been resentful towards them for speculating her to be the culprit. After all, the odds had been looking bad for her, and she admittedly would have pointed fingers just like how they had if she had been in their shoes. However, the last thing that Usopp had wanted to do was discuss over what had happened, her feelings, or even hear any apologies. She had wanted to be alone, hence why she had been by herself in this dark enclave of dusty books. 

 

Yet her safe haven had been breached the moment the Ultimate Officer had waltzed in.

 

What the hell was he doing up so late? Granted, she was one to talk, but she knew her reasons. What was Coby's? Was he unable to sleep? Did he want to pick out a book to read? Usopp's gaze drifted back to the pink-haired boy to see if he had left, but, no, he was still standing there. Bemused, she turned her head fully towards him again to properly look at him. He was fidgeting, his fingers curling and uncurling at his sides, and his brows were dipped into a furrow.

 

Bemusement gave way to bafflement. It had been, what, five minutes since she had blown him off. Why didn't he leave yet? And why did he look so nervous?

 

Oh, wait, Usopp suddenly thought, trepidation trickling into her system, is this another murder attempt?

 

She hadn't thought that the earnest marine officer who had stoutly defended her during the trial could ever commit a crime, but, well, they had been deceived before not so long ago. If Cracker hadn't been who they had all thought he had been, then anyone could be a murderous fiend underneath.

 

Apparently, her fear broadcasted loudly on her face because Coby scrambled to say, "I'm not here to do anything! I—I just want to talk, I promise!"

 

Usopp uneasily appraised him. "Why?"

 

"Well, you, um, ran off rather quickly. You didn't answer your door whenever any of us came by, but I guess that's because you've been here the whole time," he said rather lamely. Usopp was unimpressed. 

 

"I wanted to be alone," she said emphatically. Coby didn't move. "I still do."

 

"Oh, you want me to leave." Coby wilted at that, and Usopp felt instant regret. It was as though she had kicked a puppy. She forcefully looked away. She had to be strong.

 

"Yeah. Get lost."

 

"B-but I can't do that."

 

That caused her to snap her attention back to him without her meaning to. Of all responses to get from this guy, she hadn't expected him to say that. She mostly thought that he would have sadly complied to her demand, leaving her to stew in her remorse for hurting his feelings. He was a bit of a pushover for an Ultimate Officer, but only sometimes. This time, however, he wasn't budging. "What? Why not?"

 

"Because you're sad," Coby replied as though that answered everything. He frowned. "It doesn't feel right just leaving you here alone."

 

"You got to be kidding me," Usopp blurted, and the sad puppy look returned. She winced. "Look, you don't have to stick around for my sake, okay? I'll be fine. I just want to be alone for now."

 

"Being alone is probably the last thing that you need."

 

"What, you think that someone will come in and try to kill me?" Usopp tried to joke, but the words trailed off with an anxious cadence. She had thought that had been the reason for Coby being here, hadn't she? Maybe by the time he would leave, she would shortly follow. Lingering in this dark eerie place didn't seem such a good idea anymore. She cleared her throat, and then, in an attempt to maintain her bravado, she said, "Besides, aren't you the one who's been insisting that none of us will fall for Monokuma's traps?"

 

He hesitated for a moment before nodding. "I did say that, and I still have faith in our classmates that we won't kill each other. But as to why I won't leave you alone has nothing to do with that."

 

"Then what is it?"

 

"I already told you. I don't want to leave you here when you're sad."

 

Usopp pressed a hand against her temple. What a dumb excuse to be here, and yet it was oh-so fitting for her puppy-like classmate. He was basically the personification of sincerity and goodwill—if that wasn't a ruse, that was. And while he was at times a wimp, such as allowing himself to be pushed around by Buggy and Penguin (especially after finding out that Coby wasn't going to arrest them), Coby displayed bursts of confidence, strength, and a sense of justice that evinced his right to the title of the Ultimate Officer. As of right now, he was showcasing that Ultimate Officer personality of his.

 

Usopp personally thought that it was stupid how he was doing this right now. Did he think that it was his duty to ensure everyone's happiness? He was an officer, not a counselor! Not that they had an Ultimate Counselor at hand, but no one expected him to handle two talents at once. For that matter, no one expected him to do anything beyond protecting them and upholding the law. Whatever made him feel obligated to check up on her?

 

Wait... Maybe that was it. Maybe he felt guilty that he didn't prevent Cracker from murdering Kaya, that he felt terrible for being unable to protect her. The thought had never occurred to her before. During the trial, Coby had done a fine job sniffing out the culprit; on the other hand, before that, all Usopp could remember him doing was running around doing errands for other people. She waited for anger to swell within her, to feel resentment for the person who was unable to do what he was meant to do. However, she felt nothing. 

 

No, it wasn't Coby's fault. No one could have predicted what a total nutcase Cracker had been. No one could have anticipated the amount of planning that had gone into the murder. Furthermore, Coby was just a kid like the rest of them. He was the best out of the best when it came to his talent, but he was still a kid. Just like how Usopp wasn't done honing her skills in marksmanship, Coby likely wasn't done learning all that he could in being an officer. 

 

Usopp dropped her hand and sighed. "Whatever. Do what you want."

 

Coby visibly perked up at that, and Usopp could imagine him wagging if he had a tail. "Then...would it be alright if I sat next to you?"

 

"Go ahead."

 

Coby shuffled forward, crouched down, and seated himself about a foot away from her. Usopp raised an eyebrow. With that distance, he wasn't really sitting next to her. What was he doing practicing propriety of all times? Unless this wasn't a matter of being a gentleman and more about just not getting too close, especially how Usopp had rebuffed his company initially. She stifled another sigh and decided not to care about it.

 

"So, um." Although Usopp didn't look at him, she could tell that the pause that followed was obviously him floundering over what to talk about. In any other time, she would have helped him out by initiating the conversation—she was awesome at small talk—while Coby would listen. Coby was more of a listener if any of these past three days had indicated as much. He had often been seen mingling with the other students, attentively taking in their rambling. Usopp had been hoping to get a chance to talk to him too, always appreciative of having someone to listen to her, but as of right now... She was hardly in the mood for it.

 

She would have thought that her unresponsiveness would have shut him down, but Coby was nothing if not persistent. "Tomorrow," he began, voice unpleasantly pitched. He coughed into his fist and tried again in a lower volume, "Tomorrow, will we see you at the dining hall?"

 

"Well, yeah. I gotta eat somehow." Although, perhaps not at a time where everyone would be gathered. She might hang around in her room two hours after the morning announcement before heading over there; that way, she would be less likely to run into all of them at once.

 

As though reading her mind, he interjected, "You should eat with us. Um, not that you haven't before, but...after what happened today, I think it's best that we stick together rather than go off on our own. We need to lean on each other more than ever, and we can't do that when we're separated. So, let's eat together! Unity is important when overcoming adversity, after all—"

 

"Please don't give me a lecture," Usopp sighed, dragging a hand down her face. "You're the Ultimate Officer, not the Ultimate Moral Compass. It's not your job to give speeches to boost morale." 

 

Coby sputtered. "N-no! That's not what I'm trying to do—!"

 

"Yeah, because it was exactly what you were doing."

 

He didn't respond to that. Instead, he frowned. Well, pouted, more like, but he probably thought that he was frowning. Unwittingly taking on the resemblance of a sulking puppy, Coby tucked his chin behind his folded arms that rested on his knees and didn't speak to her. Usopp knew with certainty that he wasn't mad at her for calling him out; the guy was too much of a soft-hearted doormat for that. But she did suspect that he was dismayed by how curt she was being with him. Her guilt resurfaced. 

 

Usopp scowled to herself. "Alright, alright. I'll eat with everyone," she grumbled. 

 

She was promptly met with a beaming smile. "You will?"

 

Ack! Usopp shielded her eyes. "Y-yeah."

 

"Usopp-san, thank you!" Coby enthused. "It means a lot to me."

 

"Yeah, yeah. Sure. Just—just dim down the lights, will ya?"

 


 

The first motive—getting to leave the school—had been enough to entice Cracker into killing. However, with the rest of the students unanimously agreeing to not partake in the killing game, Monokuma had to find ways to shake their resolve. As a result, their monochrome headmaster had released motive after motive. Ultimately, there had been those among the students who had fallen for it; there had been those who voluntarily yet reluctantly had taken the bait, and there had been those who had been involved against their will.

 

Subsequently, the murders had not stopped. 

 

The second motive had been videos that featured people who had been waiting for them outside of their confinement.

 

For Usopp, it had been her father, her sole family member. For Coby, it had been his squadron. For Vivi, it had been her kingdom. For Marguerite, it had been her empress who had been withering away due to an illness. In Marguerite's video, Boa Hancock had urged her to return from her mission after retrieving the cure. Having the medicine in her possession this whole time, Marguerite had been pressed to deliver and save her lady. As a result, Marguerite, the Ultimate Warrior, had killed Bentham, the Ultimate Dancer. 

 

The third motive had been Monokuma taking inspiration from Marguerite's motive video, which led to the Despair Disease.

 

Koala had the Dopey Disease, making her behave foolish and childish. Ichiji had the Polite Disease, making him regard everyone with consideration and decorum. Coby had the Apathy Disease, making him indifferent to everything and everyone. With Coby incapacitated, Usopp had felt helpless; nevertheless, she had put in the effort in taking care of the patients during their time in quarantine. She hadn't had the Ultimate Doctor by her side, but that hadn't deterred her in trying to nurse her friends back to health.

 

Unbeknownst to her and everyone else, however, there had been a fourth person who had been afflicted by the disease. Putting up a convincing guise to conceal his changed nature, Pell, the Ultimate Guard, had killed Koala, the Ultimate Agent, and Jango, the Ultimate Hypnotist, under the influence of the Bloodlust Disease.

 

The fourth motive had been Monokuma taking away their food supply.

 

Of all people, Bonney had been the most likely person to commit murder because of her perpetual state of hunger. Seeing her increasingly erratic behavior in response to her starvation, the girl had proven to be rather dangerous. In the end, though, Bonney, the Ultimate Food Fighter, had become the victim, slain by Zoro, the Ultimate Swordsman, who had done it when defending himself from her assault.

 

It had been difficult. So many lives lost; so many friends gone... 

 

When Marguerite had been discovered to be their second culprit, Koala had been distraught by her friend's betrayal, but her devastation hadn't been comparable to what Buggy and Penguin had felt when they had seen their friend's lifeless body.

 

Vivi had been inconsolable after Pell's execution.

 

The fourth trial had elicited a certain numbness upon learning the truth. Zoro hadn't intended on getting away as the blackened, but he hadn't revealed himself right away, wanting everyone to go through another trial to ensure that they still had the drive to survive. 

 

But even after they had solved mystery behind Zoro's murder, even after they had solved the mysteries before that, each victory had rang hollow. They might got to live for another day, but that didn't change the fact that their numbers were dwindling, that Monokuma had them dancing to his tune, that they...

 

"Usopp-san."

 

Usopp blinked. She looked up. 

 

Coby looked at her concernedly as he lowered himself, sitting next to her. "Are you alright?"

 

She sighed. "What do you think?"

 

"Ah, right." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry."

 

Usopp sighed again. Trust Coby to apologize for asking about her well-being...but she didn't hate that part about him. Despite having to go through the struggle of surviving and figuring out who among their friends had killed, the officer was still that sweet, kind, friendly boy from when they had first met. Usopp dropped her head on his shoulder. "Not too bad," she amended. "We got to eat again, so there's that."

 

"That's true..."

 

"How're you keeping up? You didn't have it easy either."

 

"None of us have," Coby chuckled mirthlessly. "Although, I admit that it's a little easier than before... I wasn't particularly close to Zoro-san or Bonney-san."

 

"I don't think any of us were." Aside from Nojiko, who had formed an amicable acquaintanceship with the Ultimate Swordsman and the Ultimate Food Fighter, both Zoro and Bonney hadn't established any solid friendships, preferring to be alone for the most part. Zoro, in particular, hadn't cared much about involving himself with everyone despite the execution that he had willingly taken for their sake.

 

"Still, I don't want Zoro-san's death to go in vain. I don't want any of our classmates' deaths to be like that." Coby clenched his fists on his lap. "We've lost so many already."

 

"Coby?"

 

"It's just that..." His words tapered off before picking up again, this time with despondence. "I wonder... Is there any point? We've tried so tried, and yet every time it seems like we'll make it through, Monokuma's motives end up spurring someone into action, someone dies, and then we have to do yet another class trial." He slumped forward, hugging his knees. 

 

Usopp's eyes widened at the words that spilled out of his lips. She had never seen him like this before—so small and helpless. Coby had his moments where he had tripped and fallen and struggled, being one of few to be the most affected by the deaths. Of course he would be. He was the one with the biggest heart; he was the one who cared the most. But no matter what, he had always picked himself up and looked towards the future with eyes brimming with optimism.

 

Coby wasn't doing that, though. He was burying himself in his woe. Usopp felt her chest ache at that. 

 

"Honestly," he murmured, "it just seems so...hopeless."

 

Hopeless?

 

"Hey." At the sharp tone of her voice, Coby lifted his chin, only to receive a flick on his forehead. Coby squawked as his eyes widened, startled. Usopp frowned at him. "None of that now! Honestly, for someone who likes to keep tabs on everyone, you sure do a good job overlooking yourself."

 

"U-Usopp-san?"

 

"How can you say that any of this is hopeless? What the hell have we been fighting for, then? Didn't you say that you didn't want Zoro's death to be in vain? And how about the others' deaths? Are they going to be meaningless?"

 

"I-I never said that—"

 

"The second you called it hopeless, you might as well have said it." Usopp grabbed his shoulders and looked at him seriously. "Coby, you've been one of the most hopeful people here—heck, you might be the most hopeful person that I know! While these murders and trials have been happening, you hadn't lost faith in that the rest of us will find a way out of here. Everyone looks up to you because of that."

 

Usopp let him go and gave him an understanding smile. "But I know that shouldering all of that on your own is going to burn you out," she continued. "That's why I told you before that you can rely on your friends. And if you can't bring yourself to do that, then at least rely on me." 

 

"It's not that I doubt anyone," Coby began. 

 

"I know," she cut in with an exhale. "You don't want to burden anyone. You and your hero complex, I swear."

 

Coby blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I, um, yeah." He offered her a wobbly smile. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound so pessimistic."

 

"I'd say a dosage of pessimism is healthy; it keeps you grounded."

 

"Then I suppose you're buried deep in the dirt?"

 

"Hey, I'm not that pessimistic!"

 

Coby chuckled, and Usopp shortly joined him in for a laugh. When the laughter subsided, Coby smiled fondly at her. "What would I do without you, Usopp-san?"

 

"Heh." Shouldn't that be her line? Usopp shook her head and grinned back. "What are friends for?"

 


 

No one breathed out a word as Coby gave his final summary of his final trial: How he, the Ultimate Officer, had killed Ichiji, the Ultimate Tactician.

 

"As you all know, Ichiji kidnapped me with the mecha suit that he grabbed from the robotics lab. What you didn't know was that Usopp chased after us with a poison dart. She wanted to incapacitate Ichiji and then scare him into letting me go; afterwards, she was going to give him the antidote. But in the midst of the scuffle, both Ichiji and I got shot."

 

Coby drew in a breath before continuing. "Usopp ran off to get another when Ichiji swiped the antidote from her and pretended to drink it. When she left, Ichiji spat it back into the vial, forced me to drink it, and then knocked me unconscious. When I woke up, I found myself in the hangar."

 

For Ichiji, it hadn't been a difficult feat to convince Coby into becoming his reluctant accomplice and murderer. For Ichiji, it had been a matter of finally trumping Monokuma where no one knew who the real killer was. For Coby, it had been a matter of ensuring that Usopp wouldn't become the blackened.

 

"It was why I arrived in the mecha suit. It has a voice modifier that allows me to speak in Ichiji's voice. Ichiji even prepared a script for this moment," Coby said wryly, holding up the notebook. "But even though Ichiji said that this would end the game, I couldn't bring myself to go through with it. That was why I stepped out of the suit and revealed myself." He motioned towards the looming robotic figure that stood behind him. "I couldn't let Usopp take my place."

 

"You could have," Usopp countered through her tears. She choked on a sob. "You—you idiot! You should have just let me take the fall!"

 

Coby smiled sadly. "You know that I can't do that."

 

"Don't you know that you're going to be executed?" Usopp called out to him, aggravated. Desperate. "Don't you know that you're going to—to—"

 

"I know."

 

"That was a clever trick, using the EMP bombs to put my cameras on the fritz," Monokuma commended, although the dark tone of his voice conveyed just how pleased he was. "Anywho, now that's out of the way, it's voting time!"

 

"No, wait, there's a misunderstanding!" Usopp cried out frantically. "Coby's just covering for me! I'm the culprit, not him!"

 

However, the results displayed that the majority believed in the contrary: one vote for Usopp and six for Coby. 

 

"Puhuhuhu! Looks like you guys got it right!" Monokuma trilled as if he had been in the know-how this whole time.

 

"I'm so sorry," Vivi wept, clutching her chest. "Of all people to condemn...!"

 

"Argh." Penguin tugged on his hat. "Why did it have to be like this!"

 

Nojiko fixed Coby a melancholic look. Buggy stared at him in stunned disbelief, perhaps still finding it inconceivable that a goody two-shoes like Coby was about to get killed for his crime whereas a pirate like him had yet to commit any.

 

And Usopp? Usopp was unrestrained in expressing her despair. She gripped the handrails of her podium, unable to stand on her own. Fresh new tears streamed down her face as her lips parted to make an impossible plea. "Coby...! No, please, not him..."

 

"Hey, chin up!" Coby spoke, bringing everyone's attention onto him. He grinned reassuringly at his classmates. "This isn't the end. You still have a killing game to beat. If it's you guys, then I know that you can overcome anything that Monokuma throws at you. It's because...I believe in everyone here."

 

Coby's eyes floated across everyone's faces, catching their own. He then settled upon Usopp, who returned his look with her swollen and reddened one. 

 

"Coby," Usopp said, her voice thick, "I'm sorry. This is all my fault—"

 

"Don't say that, Usopp-san." Coby smiled again, but this time he regarded her softly, warmly. "You went out of your way to save me. That's nothing to apologize for."

 

She ducked her head. "But if I hadn't..."

 

"You know, Usopp-san, for this whole time that we've been friends, you've supported me no matter how hard things were. You helped me push forward and believe in myself. It's because of you that I was able to look towards the future. I... I'm sorry that I won't be around anymore and I'm sorry that it has to end like this, but I want to thank you for everything that you've done for me."

 

Coby briefly closed his eyes before reopening them and holding everyone in his bright gaze. "Everyone, thank you for the precious times that we've shared together. It's thanks to you guys that I managed to become a stronger person than I was when I first came here."

 

"Don't say that," Buggy, for the first time in a long time, spoke, his voice raspy and low. He grimaced. "You've...always been strong."

 

"Haha, it means a lot to hear that from you, Buggy-san," Coby laughed bashfully. He returned his attention to Usopp. "Hey, do you remember what you told me before? You said that I shouldn't give up on hope. Well, I'll be saying that back to you. You've come so far, so don't give up and don't look back. You can do this."

 

Usopp finally lifted her eyes, captured by the depth of his words. "I..."

 

"Okay, enough of that sappy crap now!" Monokuma growled impatiently, breaking the atmosphere with his own crassness. "Don't you remember that it's time to send the killer to the gallows?"

 

"No!" Usopp gasped.

 

"Let's give it everything we've got! It's punishment time!"

 

The echoes of Usopp's shrieks resounded within the space even after the students had departed the courtroom. But that space wasn't located anywhere in the school where the students resided in; rather it existed somewhere beyond it.

 

On the other side of the large screen was a large gathering of people. They sat quietly in the showing room, each one expressing varying states of horror, anger, and sorrow. Some were outwardly indifferent, yet that didn't mean that they weren't seething on the inside. After all, the people who they cared about had been taken from them, and they were all unified by the desire of putting an end to Monokuma and his insane game.

 

The aforementioned bear popped up on the screen a few seconds after it had faded into black. "Puhuhuhu! How'd you like the fifth chapter? I'd say it was more desbearing than usual! Stay tuned for next time to see how your favorite chumps handle the loss of their beloved leader and the next motive!"

 

When the end credits rolled, Luffy abruptly stood up, the legs of his chair screeching against the floor in his movement. He ducked out of the room with his fists clenched tightly at his sides, veins visibly running down the length of his arms. Monokuma's victims weren't the only ones who were affected by Coby's execution. 

 

The Straw Hat Pirates worriedly exchanged glances. It was a good thing that Luffy had left the way he did; after smashing the last two screens in his fit of rage, Robin had counseled him to take his anger outside. But the portrayal of his friends' deaths, in addition to the palpable grief etched on Usopp's face, evidently had taken a toll on their captain. For a man whose heart was so big, to see his loved ones in a dire situation made him ache all the more.

 

But as mentioned before, there were people here who had someone important to them taken away. 

 

Nami had been horrified when she had seen her sister being featured on television. Sabo had been furious to learn that his friend and fellow operative had been missing due to entertainment purposes. The Buggy Pirates had been at a lost without their captain to lead them. And to say that Trafalgar had displeased to find his crewmate being dragged into this would be an understatement.

 

Sanji hated his family, but that didn't mean he was fine with Ichiji being stuck playing as Monokuma's toy. The rest of the Vinsmoke royalty hadn't been happy about it either, seeing how a random lesser born fiend had somehow managed to kidnap the eldest prince from their castle. It had been especially troubling to find that Monokuma had stripped the unwilling participants of their memories—their identities—and had fashioned them new ones.

 

"Their brains are hooked up to the Neo World Program. In other words, they're in a virtual reality," Monokuma had trilled to the audience before revealing the cast. "And since there's no fun to a killing game when these bastards could use their fancy schmancy Devil Fruit powers and inhuman strength, I took it upon myself to erase all that! All they can rely now is their Ultimate talents!"

 

A virtual reality. That explained why their avatars appeared as fifteen-year-olds.

 

As to where this New World Program was and how Monokuma had subdued them remained unknown. 

 

"But because they don't know that they're in a simulation, if any one of them dies in the game, their brains will believe that their deaths are real; therefore, they'll become brain dead in real life." Monokuma had feigned sadness as he had sniffled, "It tears my hearts to bits knowing that my adorable students are going to wind up as vegetables." And then he had burst out into maniacal laughter. "Bwahahahaha! Will they kill to survive or will they kill to die? Either way, let's witness just how vicious these brats truly are!"

 

That had been the introduction before the show had commenced. Across the Four Blue Seas, the airwaves had been hijacked; unless the devices were turned off, people had no choice other than to watch Monokuma's killing game on live or hear it happening on the radio. The world had witnessed the Ultimate students go on about their day, laugh and cry, and forge new friendships. But nothing had held the viewers in any more suspense than the betrayals, murders, and trials that had taken place. 

 

It had because of this that Monokuma had accrued a fanbase for the past three weeks. 

 

The world had no intimate connection to these "students," no affection other than what had been evoked on screen. To the world, they were no better than fictional characters. Viewers had been dismayed to find their favorite character killed off, and had cheered them on for the sake of wanting the protagonist to defeat the main villain. The world hadn't cared about the fact that real lives had been at stake, and they still didn't.

 

"The only survivors now are Princess Vivi, Nojiko, Buggy, Penguin, and Usopp," Alvida listed, almost blankly. Like Luffy, the woman had been disturbed by Coby's execution. While she hadn't harbored any amity towards him, Coby had been her cabin boy for two years. The subservient timid child that she had known had blossomed into a courageous young man, even long before he had been cast on television. Something within her had stirred at that. 

 

"Damn it. There's not a lot of them left," Koza said through gritted teeth. In response to their princess being abducted, Alabasta had sent Koza as their representative to aid the search for the missing. It had been more of a personal mission for the man since Vivi was his childhood friend. He was relieved to see the girl being among the survivors, but just how long was that going to last? 

 

"We have been searching for weeks with nothing to show for it," Angel muttered bitterly. "By the time we do find their location, there'll be none left." Custard placed a hand on her sister's shoulder, a worried frown gracing her lips. They had left Whole Cake Island to find Cracker despite their mother's orders not to. While they had grown apart throughout the years, Cracker was still their brother, the eldest among the triplets. 

 

Yet, even after putting aside their differences with the Straw Hats regarding the wedding fiasco, even after putting aside their pride to work together with their enemies, their efforts had yielded nothing.

 

"Don't say shit like that," Fullbody snapped. "Don't you remember what Coby said? Don't give up on hope! That means that we shouldn't give up on the hope of bringing back our friends!"

 

"We don't know if that's possible," Shachi bemoaned. 

 

"And we don't know if it's really impossible." Fullbody stood up, peering at everyone with determination burning in his eyes. The marine had sneaked out on his own volition without his commanding officer's permission. He couldn't just stand by and twiddle his thumbs when his best friend had been placed in danger. 

 

Yes, he had been shaken to the core when he had found out that Jango had died, but seeing everyone—the cast and the search team—earnestly working together to conquer another day had given him the push he needed to keep going. Fullbody honestly didn't know if Jango's fate had been sealed the moment Pell had orchestrated his death, if Jango was forever going to be in a comatose state. However, there was one thing that he did know...

 

"Don't believe in what Monokuma has to say. Instead, believe in them!"

 

Disbelief and irritation flitted across Angel's face. "Believe in them? How can we do that when they're all brain dead?"

 

"No, he's right," Helmeppo spoke up for the first time since the start of the episode. Like Fullbody, the lieutenant commander had slipped away into the night, leaving his leadership role to an exasperated Garp. "I refuse to think that Coby would give in without a fight, whether he's in a coma or not. He's not the kind of person who'd surrender himself so easily, and neither is your brother! Neither is any single one of our friends and family. So, no matter what, we can't give up on them. They're counting on us to save them."

 

Although the majority were on the opposing side of the marines, from pirates to the Revolutionary Army alike, the group perked up at the two officers' words. With the cloud of gloom dispelled, everyone brightened up at the encouraging words that had been said. Even Angel didn't appear so skeptical anymore.

 

"Do you really think that Cracker can pull through?" Custard wondered.

 

"Your brother's a bastard for murdering a sweet girl, but I gotta admit that he's got balls. I wouldn't put it past him to survive just to piss on Monokuma," Fullbody said. Despite herself, Angel smirked and lightly punched the man's arm. 

 

"I see Ichiji more likely doing that after all the shit that he's done to expose the mastermind," Sanji huffed. Niji and Yonji cackled at that while Reiju chuckled.  

 

Of all people in this room, Helmeppo had cried the hardest. The most recent death had been Coby's, his best friend. But unlike the others who had fallen into depression after losing their loved ones, the man had wiped away his tears and clung onto Coby's final words. Bolstered by the belief that this wasn't the end, Helmeppo was ready to charge ahead and not abandon the hope that had been instilled in him. 

 

Nami wished that she had that kind of strength. Nojiko might still be alive, but she was fearful that the next day might be her last. And then there was Zoro...

 

It had been infuriating to watch Usopp and Zoro interact without recognizing each other, oblivious to the reality of their relationship that existed outside of their fake lives. Every time they had appeared on screen, Nami had wanted to reach out to them and scream, "You two are friends! You two have to stick together!" However, with nothing to bond them, Usopp and Zoro had no reason to share a friendship. In a world without Luffy to be their catalyst, Nami had realized, Usopp and Zoro would never have become friends. 

 

Instead of staying by Zoro's side, Usopp had chosen to be with Coby. There was something ironic about how a pirate and a marine could become close friends in a short period of time, and how the circumstances had brought to light the kind of people each of them gravitated to. For Zoro, he had preferred the sensible company of Nojiko and Pell if not to be alone. For Usopp, she had preferred the positive and warm companionship of Coby and Kaya. 

 

It actually made sense when Nami thought about it. Back on Sunny, Usopp would usually spend time with Luffy and Chopper whereas Zoro would seclude himself. It wasn't to say that they weren't friends, but...that didn't mean that they were close.

 

Just as how they hadn't been in the game. It had been a tragic affair when Zoro had gotten executed, for both the Straw Hat Pirates and the participants, but Usopp hadn't shed a tear at his demise. She had been horrified, yes, but her reaction to Zoro's execution hadn't been comparable to her reaction to Coby's. 

 

As though reading her mind, Robin placed a hand over hers and smiled sadly. "The reality that they know of makes them act a certain way. It makes sense why Usopp is the way she is."

 

Nami reflexively scowled. "I know that, but seeing her get all worked up like that when she hadn't for Zoro..." she trailed off, feeling her frustration peaking again. 

 

Robin didn't say anything for a moment, but when she did, she asked, "You haven't noticed?"

 

"Notice what?"

 

"Usopp's feelings towards Coby-kun."

 

"You mean how she's fallen in love?" Nami rolled her eyes, but she did feel better now that the conversation had taken a more lighthearted turn. "I mean, wasn't it obvious?"

 

"Fufufu. I suppose that it was." Robin smiled again, but this time with a gleam in her gaze. "Then you already know why she is like that."

 

"I guess so," Nami said wearily. "Gotta say, though, I never would've imagined our sniper to have fallen hard for that kid."

 

"He's rather adorable. He reminds me of a puppy."

 

"He's maybe a bit too adorable."

 

The women fell into a companionable silence as they distantly listened to the conversations going on in the background. The amicability among everyone was quite a contrast to when the group had been initially established. With different personalities clashing and past grudges simmering, it had seemed that no one could ever get along. However, as time passed, the group had been able to settle down and cooperate. Their teamwork hardly was a cohesive one, but it was one where that worked best for them.

 

From outside, Luffy could be heard bellowing out, "Everyone! They're back!"

 

Nami and Robin exchanged glances before rising from their seats, everyone else following suit. Standing on deck next to Luffy were Hancock and Yasopp, both wearing grim smiles. 

 

"We found it," Yasopp said breathlessly. "We found Monokuma's location."

Chapter Text

If Usopp was honest, she would say that she thought that women who used their appearances to take advantage of a situation were shameless. Smart, resourceful, cunning, but shameless. This implicated Nami as she was someone who would brazenly throw her sex appeal left and right just to get the upper hand. If the circumstances prompted Nami into using her appearance to get out of danger, then Usopp would understand. But to get poor saps like Sanji to eat from her hand? Utterly shameless. 

 

Usopp never voiced her opinion, however, since she saw it as none of her business what other women did. Besides, Sanji knew what he was getting himself into and he loved it. And Usopp kept her mouth shut because, well, she didn’t want to incur Nami’s wrath. The navigator was frightening even though she had never quite directed her temper at her. Not a risk worth taking, at any rate.  

 

Ironically, from what Usopp had always believed that she would never do, she ended up doing. And it started because of one conversation that she had shared with Nami and Robin. 

 

They were out on the deck, making small talk while sipping their iced tea. One topic led to another, and then Robin ended up saying, “Don’t you think that Traffy-kun is attractive?” 

 

Usopp spat out her drink and Nami gave an incredulous bark of laughter. “The hell, Robin?” Nami said, muffling her snickers with her hand when the guys below looked up. “I didn’t think that he’s your type.” 

 

Robin shrugged. “He has that tall, dark, and handsome allure that I can appreciate.” 

 

Usopp personally wouldn't describe Trafalgar as handsome even though he admittedly was. Handsome just wouldn't be the first adjective that would pop in her mind; creepy and menacing were more like it. As Usopp tried to gain her bearings, Nami said, “So is that why you were hitting on Zoro when you first joined?” 

 

Okay, that was news to Usopp. Usopp whipped her head up in shock. “What?” she gasped.  

 

“Oh, please, Usopp. You couldn’t be so dense as to not notice it.” Nami rolled her eyes as she returned her attention to the older woman. “Well?” 

 

“I'm not into men who are shorter than me, but my options at the time were painfully limited,” Robin sighed in dismay. “And while I was willing to settle for the height difference, it occurred to me that, regardless of how manly a nineteen-year-old is, a nineteen-year-old is just a nineteen-year-old.” 

 

Nami cackled at that. “I mean, it’s Zoro, after all! Beneath those rippling muscles is just another immature dunderhead!” 

 

“As they say, boys’ mental maturity is slower than girls’ by years.” With that said, the ladies turned their heads to see Franky hip thrusting and Brook yohoho-ing at Luffy’s butt dancing. Their eyes then drifted over to Kinemon, who was intently observing Luffy’s butt dancing as though it could unlock the biggest mysteries in the world. The samurai then proceeded to imitate said butt dancing. It must be noted that, aside from Luffy, these men were older than Robin.  

 

“At least your taste in men is refined,” Nami said, motioning with her chin where Trafalgar was sitting. The man was looking at the lot with blatant disgust.  

 

“I’ll give him a week,” Robin sighed again. “He’ll end up joining Luffy’s shenanigans in no time.” 

 

The imagery of someone as stoic and cool as Trafalgar butt dancing was just too much to behold. Usopp immediately banished the thought.  

 

“But, you know, Traffy is younger than you too,” Nami pointed out. “I recall reading the papers stating how he was the youngest warlord ever made at twenty-five. He’s twenty-six now.” 

 

“I was holding out hope that he’s one of the rare specimens of men who grow up faster than his peers, but I then remembered the kind of effect that Luffy has on people. You know, the kind where adults become infantile and start shoving chopsticks up their noses.” Robin sipped her glass before continuing, “And, besides, Traffy-kun seems too one-track minded to bother reciprocating my flirtations.” 

 

Nami leaned in, interest gleaming in her eyes. “Ooh. You tried?” 

 

Robin nodded. “I have. All he did was respond sarcastically and walked away.” 

 

“Ugh. Men.” 

 

Usopp could only frown. The realization of what the conversation was about had settled in the moment Usopp had surveyed the men along with Nami and Robin. She found herself confounded, nonetheless. This was the first time she had ever heard either woman bring up a subject such as this one.  

 

Although, granted, Usopp didn’t often sit down, share drinks, and engage in girl talk that Nami and Robin usually partook in. And on the occasions that Usopp did indulge in such activity, it had always been about Usopp and Nami complaining about random stuff with Robin amusedly listening and pitching in once in a while. It had never been about them assessing the guys’ suitability to be boyfriend material. That was... That was weird.  

 

Had they been eyeing the guys like that this whole time? Usopp was appalled. They were their crewmates! And Robin used to like Zoro? What the hell? Not that Usopp didn't understand because Zoro was conventionally hot, but what the hell? What if Nami or Robin really did end up dating one of the guys and then broke up? Like, have a super nasty break up? That could be disastrous for morale, not to mention painfully awkward. They were all stuck living in the same ship—confined spaces and limited room—and it wasn’t like they could ignore each other for the rest of their pirate career.  

 

Not that any of the guys would be interested in dating. Well, aside from Sanji and Brook. And maybe Franky? But with certainty, Usopp could say that Luffy, Zoro, and Chopper had zero interest whatsoever. Luffy was Luffy, and Chopper likely wouldn’t be so keen on romancing anyone outside of his species. As for Zoro? Usopp wasn’t sure if it had been just because of Zoro being a teenager that had discouraged Robin, but she doubted that could be it. Anything passionate that Zoro would feel would be solely because of swordsmanship. 

 

Like Luffy's passion to become the Pirate King. Really, he and Luffy were a lot alike in that regard.  

 

“Oh, Usopp, I wasn’t really serious about Zoro.” 

 

“Huh?” Usopp blinked and looked up. She caught Robin smiling wryly at her. “What?” 

 

“You looked so deep in thought that I wondered if you were taking what I said as literal."

 

"Wait, so you didn't have a thing for Zoro?" Usopp asked, bemused.

 

"I did, but in a more...superficial way. I wasn't in love with him, just so you know."

 

Superficial? Oh. Oh. Usopp's eyes widened and she nodded rapidly. "Okay, gotcha."

 

"The same goes for Traffy-kun."

 

The bewilderment returned. "Robin, I just can't believe you. Traffy hasn't been on board for even a day."

 

Robin giggled. "Life prior to being a Straw Hat had always been tumultuous one; I never knew if today would be the day that I breathed my last, so I developed a habit of planning for the future while living in the now. It's an ingrained behavior."

 

Well, when she put it like that, Usopp couldn't fault her. Twenty years of being on the run alone would do that to a person, she supposed. Still, she never would have expected such a thing from Robin of all people. Back then, the older woman had always been so closed-off that any form of intimacy would have looked strange if done by her. Even now, the notion of the sophisticated and reserved Robin willing to throw it down was odd to think about. It wasn't as bizarre as Trafalgar butt dancing, but it was a damn near thing. 

 

Usopp looked at Nami and asked, "Did you know about this?"

 

"About Robin living on the edge? No, but I did know about her flirting with Zoro." Nami raised an eyebrow. "Did you really not notice?"

 

"No! This is the first time I'm finding out about it." Usopp then gasped. "Does that mean that you liked someone too, Nami?"

 

"Whoa, there! No way! The guys here? I love them, sure, but I don't love them that much," Nami denied instantly. 

 

"Fufufu. How about yourself, Usopp?" Robin inquired. "Did you fancy anyone?"

 

"What? No!" Usopp exclaimed. "Definitely not! I'm with Nami on this one. I care about the guys a whole bunch, but I want to be with any one of them like that." Which, yes, was true currently, but it hadn't been before. Not that Usopp would ever disclose this to anyone, not even to her fellow ladies, but she actually did once harbor a minuscule, barely-there, hardly-existent crush on Zoro, Sanji, and Luffy in that respective order.

 

Zoro because he was so cool, Sanji because he was a gentleman, and Luffy because he was inspiring. In that regard, Usopp understood where Robin was coming from. However, as they had gone on their adventures, Usopp had come to learn that Zoro was a sword nut, Sanji was a mega pervert, and Luffy was Luffy.

 

They were still appealing in their own way, but not so appealing to Usopp anymore. At least, two-thirds of them weren't. Luffy might be Luffy, but that was what made him so amazing. He wasn't just inspirational, but funny and friendly and happy. He was an eternal well of optimism that soothed her negative spirit. He was a force of whimsicality, and yet he was so steadfast in his own beliefs that she couldn't help but feel grounded when next to him. He had been like that when they had first met back in Syrup Village, and he was like that now. 

 

Yet, despite her moments of frivolity, Usopp was nothing if not practical. And, no, it wasn't her pessimism that was clouding her judgment; her judgment was very clear, thank you. It was simply logical not to get romantically involved with a crewmate because of that potentially bad breakup. Maintaining harmony was far more important than giving in to her desires. Whatever lingering feelings she had for Luffy were pushed far down; if her pining and her platonic feelings ever conflated, then Usopp would just redirect herself. It wasn't worth falling into something that could result in a heartbreak. 

 

And besides...

 

"It's not like they would go for someone like me, anyway."

 

"What," Nami deadpanned. "Are you putting yourself down again?"

 

"No, no. That's not it," Usopp said, shaking her head. "I'm just being objective. Look, during the whole time that we've traveled together, how often have you and Robin been hit on?"

 

"Did you seriously expect us to keep count?"

 

"See? That's my point. While you and Robin have often been pursued, the only guy to ever give me that sort of attention is Sanji, and, even then, I think he's just like that only out of courtesy. I know that I'm not pretty enough to pique anyone's interest."

 

"That's not—Usopp, you can't honestly believe that the number of times that you've been hit on indicates how pretty you are," Nami said exasperatedly. "You don't need that kind of validation."

 

"Nami is right, Usopp," Robin chimed in. "And just because you haven't been approached doesn't mean that no one is attracted to you, especially Sanji."

 

Usopp fixed them a flat stare. They were trying to cheer her up, she knew, but she didn't require any cheering up nor was there anything to cheer her up about. Usopp wasn't upset about her average looks; she had long since accepted them. After all, years of ruthless teasing from her classmates about her witchy nose and bug-like eyes couldn't keep her from denying it anymore, and reality had certainly struck home when she had other girls to compare herself to. There had been Kaya with her delicate and soft beauty, and Vivi with her noble yet sweet features. There was Nami whose fierceness and confidence matched her appearance, and Robin who was stunning in her elegance.

 

And there was Boa Hancock, the most beautiful woman in the world. While Usopp didn't know the woman like how she knew Kaya, Vivi, Nami, and Robin, it was no secret that the Pirate Empress was very fond of Luffy. It was hard to imagine Luffy liking anyone romantically, but Usopp was sure that he would go for Boa Hancock if he did.

 

Usopp knew her place. She knew that she wasn't the type of person who could sway a man with her looks alone, and she was fine with that. Looks were skin deep; what was important was a person's character. Not that any of that mattered, anyway, since Usopp wasn't interested in dating anyone. Not at all. Which was why she was content with being the Plain Jane of the group. And if Luffy ever decided that he indeed wanted to get himself a girlfriend, then Usopp would be fine if he and, say, Boa Hancock got together. Because dating within the crew was bad news. 

 

Unless Luffy wanted to date either Nami or Robin, then... Then what? Usopp decided to stop thinking at that point.  

 

"You know what, Usopp?" Nami said. "You got it all wrong. It isn't that you're unattractive; it's just because you aren't using your cuteness correctly."

 

Usopp's eyebrows furrowed. "Excuse me?"

 

Nami smirked. "Your cuteness! You're not getting any attention because you're not showing off right."

 

"Ah, that is true." Robin nodded in agreement.

 

"That's implying that I am cute," Usopp said in disbelief. 

 

"Oh, come off it, Usopp. You are cute! But if you change the way you dress and the way you act, then you can use your full potential," Nami insisted. 

 

Disbelief turned into affront. "What's wrong with the way I dress?"

 

"Overalls and oil stains aren't cute."

 

"Cuteness is a niche market, though," Robin mused. "You might be able to affect only a select number of men."

 

"Yeah. Oh snap, Robin! It just occurred to me—what if guys like Zoro and Traffy are only into cute girls instead of sexy women? Maybe that's why they weren't into you!" Nami said.

 

Robin rubbed her chin. "Hmm. This requires experimentation."

 

"Alrighty, then," Usopp said, pushing her glass away from her as she began to stand up. It had been quite an experience having a conversation like this one, but it was quickly becoming mentally draining. And whatever antics that Nami and Robin were evidently getting themselves into, Usopp wanted none of it. "It's been fun, but I got stuff to tinker—"

 

A hand wrapped itself around her wrist and yanked her back down. "Not so fast," Nami said, smiling like a cat that caught a canary. "Like Robin said, this requires experimentation."

 

"Why do I have to get involved?" Usopp complained. "I don't believe this crap about me being cute. Use yourself, Nami!"

 

"I know that I'm cute, but my cuteness isn't the same as your cuteness." 

 

"Okay, do you even hear yourself? You're saying that there's a possibility that someone like Zoro may be into cute girls, but I highly doubt that he's interested in anything that isn't a sword!" After saying that, Usopp felt like kicking herself. The way Nami and Robin exchanged looks heightened that feeling. 

 

"What are you implying?" Nami asked, playing dumb. 

 

"I'm not implying anything!"

 

"Maybe that's the real reason why Zoro didn't reciprocate my advances," Robin chuckled. "His interests simply lied elsewhere."

 

Nami burst out into guffaws.

 

"You guys!" Usopp cried, mortified. 

 

"Oi!" Zoro's voice hollered out, spelling them into silence. "Keep it down, will ya? Some of us are trying to nap!"

 

A couple of seconds passed by, and Nami was practically crying into her hands, desperately attempting to swallow her laughter. Robin turned her head to the side as her shoulders trembled, obviously stifling her own sounds of amusement as well. Usopp, on the other hand, felt the opposite; her mortification swelled as she slumped into her seat, praying that Zoro hadn't heard a word of what they had been saying. If Zoro came up to her and made any mention of his relationship with his swords, Usopp was going to die on the spot. 

 

A handful of fitful laughter later, everyone finally calmed down. "Okay, okay. We should stop. It's not good to talk about this stuff behind our crewmates' backs," Nami said, wiping a tear. "But Usopp totally started it."

 

"I didn't mean it like that!"

 

"That aside, we should think up a plan as to how to implement this experiment. What with Dressrosa coming up, it's not like Usopp has time to test her cuteness on the guys."

 

"Here's an idea—how about we don't do this?" Usopp said. "Since, you know, this is just downright stupid."

 

Unfortunately for Usopp, whenever Nami and Robin agreed on something, it was impossible to convince them out of it. Robin wasn't one to participate in any acts of insanity, but she was rather curious about whether her former love interests had a type for cute girls or for "swords," which the latter was especially intriguing to her if the twinkling in her eyes was of any indication. Meanwhile, Nami was doing this for entertainment purposes; that much was obvious. 

 

As for Usopp, she ultimately resigned herself to her fate as playing as her friends' puppet. No, screw that—they weren't her friends! They were assholes! But for all their assholery, Usopp's idiocy was on a bigger scale because she was the one who ended up complying with their whims. 

 

And thus began Usopp's journey to being a sham.

 


 

Like what Nami had said, it wasn't like Usopp would have time to put her "cuteness" to the test upon reaching Dressrosa. What could be done, however, was for her to dress the part. 

 

And, so, Usopp was found wearing a white dress with puffy sleeves and a frilly skirt. A large blue bow hung from the collar of the dress, and the dress itself gave no form to her figure. She looked like one of those baby dolls that little girls played with; in other words, she looked ridiculous. 

 

"Are you sure you want me to wear this?" Usopp asked Nami skeptically. "You know that we'll end up fighting, which means that the dress is going to get ruined."

 

Nami waved dismissively. "That's fine. I'll just up your debt to recompense for it." That didn't make Usopp feel any better. "Anyway, let's work on your hair."

 

"Um, what?" Usopp backpedaled. "No, no, no. That's a bad idea, Nami. My hair isn't easy to deal with."

 

Yet despite Usopp's protests, Nami got her to sit down and stay put. After tugging it out of its ponytail, Usopp's hair fluffed up wildly around her head, defying laws of gravity. Two years ago, it hadn't been this crazy since she had kept her hair relatively short; but now that it had grown long, it was incredibly difficult to manage. Usually, Usopp would stuff her hair into a ponytail or a bun, sometimes considering that maybe having lengthy hair wasn't necessary to make her re-debut into the pirate world.

 

Nonetheless, Nami did what Usopp had thought to be impossible: she tamed the beast, rendering it lying against her back. It was still fluffy, definitely curly, but at least it wasn't frizzy. If anything, her locks were wavy and fell past her shoulders like a fancy fur cape. And all it took were flowery-smelling oils and a straightener to get the job done. 

 

"Holy cow," Usopp said, lifting a lock. 

 

"Phew," Nami said, wiping her forehead with her wrist. "Now that's done, let's move on to make up."

 

Make up wasn't that long of a process; all Nami did was a quick work using just powder, blush, eye shadow, and lipstick. The navigator said that too much would take away the cuteness that Usopp already had going for her. 

 

"Of course, I'll be putting this on your debt," Nami informed her cheerfully, to which Usopp just rolled her eyes. "Well? Go on. Take a look at yourself."

 

Usopp slid off of her seat and ambled towards the body-length mirror. Upon seeing her reflection, Usopp jerked back in surprise. She had seen herself with the dress on, but seeing that along with her altered hair and face made this a full-blown transformation. It was almost like seeing a stranger. Usopp...actually did look cute. No, adorable was more like it. Even with her witchy nose couldn't take away that effect. She cringed at herself. 

 

"I look like a kid," she groaned. "Who am I supposed to attract again? Pedos?"

 

"Shut up. You don't." Nami strode forward to stand beside her. Seeing herself next to the buxom navigator made it worse. She looked even more childish. Oblivious to Usopp's dismay, Nami declared, "You look great! And I'd know since I'm the one who worked on you."

 

"Why can't I wear something more form-fitting?" Usopp pinched the end of the dress and lifted it. "I can look cute with a blouse and shorts, right?"

 

"I already told you: you have a different kind of cuteness. This is the only way to go for someone like you."

 

"So I am attracting pedos."

 

Nami responded by whacking her upside the head.

 

After doing last-minute adjustments, Nami took a step back and assessed Usopp's appearance critically. "Hm. What else am I missing? Oh, right!" Nami hurried over to the vanity and pulled out a white ribbon. She tied it around Usopp's head and secured a bow on the top. "There! You're all done!"

 

"Fantastic," Usopp groused. 

 

Usopp felt reluctant to leave the room, but there was nothing that she could do about it when Nami dragged her to the deck, her manicured claws sinking into her wrist. There, everyone had already gathered, ready to disembark for the land they were soon approaching. Almost immediately, every pair of eyes landed on her.

 

"What's up with the get-up?" Franky asked.

 

"Fufufu." Robin sidled up next to Usopp and placed her hands on her shoulders. "It's Usopp's disguise for when we arrive. Isn't she cute?"

 

"Super cute!" Franky agreed, giving two thumbs-up. "But isn't her wearing that kinda...?"

 

"Dangerous?" Zoro supplied, the corners of his lips tugging downwards.

 

"Why would it be dangerous?" Nami challenged with a smirk. "It's going to be dangerous either way, right? So what makes it any different based on how she's dressed?"

 

"That's not—" Zoro cut himself off with a sigh. "Whatever. Have it your own way."

 

"Nami-san," Sanji broached tentatively, "as much as I believe that a lady has every right to dress however she desires, and as much as it pains me to agree with the mosshead, having Usopp-tan looking like this is rather..."

 

"Dangerous!" Zoro punctuated, throwing in the word again, but this time with vigor. "See? Even the cook noticed it."

 

"It'll be fine," Nami dismissed. "Usopp can take care of herself."

 

"Wait, wait, wait. Why is me looking like this dangerous?" Usopp asked anxiously. "You know what? I'll go change into my regular clothes. We have time and I won't take long—!"

 

"The boys are just being overprotective because they never saw you like this before," Robin giggled, reeling Usopp back in. 

 

"Yeah, because Usopp looks like an open target for human traffickers," Zoro interjected.

 

"I'm afraid that I must concur," Brook chimed in, bobbing his head. 

 

Usopp gaped. "What?" she shrieked. "That's it—I'm changing! Lemme go, Robin! I don't wanna be abducted by pedos!"

 

"Guys, what's all the fuss?" Luffy pushed his way into the scene and looked around confusedly. "What's this about a Pedro?"

 

Franky grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him in front of Usopp, mirroring how Robin was holding Usopp. "Everyone's agreeing that Usopp shouldn't go out looking like that while the girls are saying that it's fine," Franky informed him. 

 

"Huh? Is that so?" Luffy narrowed his eyes as his eyes scrutinized Usopp. Usopp unwittingly blushed and fidgeted on the spot. When he finished his appraisal, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't see what's wrong. She looks the same to me."

 

And, just like that, Usopp deadpanned.

 

"Oh, okay," she said a touch blandly. "I guess it's fine, then."

 


 

The Caesar Transaction Team consisted of Usopp, Robin, and Trafalgar, who was dragging a sniveling Caesar in tow. Usopp was a bit leery regarding the arrangement since this meant that she might come across freaking Donquixote Doflamingo, but it wasn't as though she had much of a choice. Nami and Robin wouldn't let her be a part of the Ship Protection Team, and many of the guys weren't too keen on her joining the Factory Destruction Team. Whatever would give her minimal exposure to the public would be for the best.

 

Usopp thought that putting her in a team that could potentially bring her in close proximity to Donquixote Doflamingo would be far more dangerous than any pervert prowling the city. At least when dealing with a pervert, she could handle it herself, but a Warlord? 

 

This was supposed to be a simple exchange and Trafalgar was the one who would personally see to it, but when did anything ever go as planned? Perhaps that was Usopp's pessimism talking, but she was inclined to believe that the Straw Hat Pirates' luck usually ran downhill before bouncing up again, as experience would dictate. As such...a battle was probably going to take place much sooner than she would have hoped.

 

"What a sad face you got there, Usopp," Robin said, pulling her out of her contemplation. "Is everything alright?"

 

"Oh, yeah. Just thinking," Usopp said, shrugging. She glanced over her shoulder, watching the sentient toys passing by. According to a resident, these toys had been around for as long as anyone could remember. No one questioned their existence, and life proceeded without a hitch with them meandering through the city. Usopp found it ironic. Here she was, gussied up like a doll, stuck on an island filled with dolls. Maybe she could assimilate here with no problem.

 

The toys aside, Dressrosa didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary for a place that Donquixote had claimed as his stomping ground. The atmosphere was lively and vibrant, and the people openly danced and sang and laughed. Music flooded in from every corner. Children ran around, sometimes accompanied by toys who joined them in their games. There was an intermingling of delicious smells wafting in the air, such as the baked goods that came from the cafe they were sitting outside of. 

 

The civilians even dressed the part, adorning themselves in bright colors with a flamboyant touch. Nothing like the sunglasses-and-mustache disguise that the team had going on for them. Except for Robin, who wasn't wearing a mustache, but she still was wearing sunglasses. And Usopp was spared from the whole ensemble since she was only recognized for her Sogequeen persona. 

 

Honestly, wasn't the point of disguise to be as inconspicuous as possible? If anything, they looked like they were trying too hard to hide themselves, which certainly was the case. Usopp supposed that it was a good thing that she looked the way she did since she balanced the group's collective appearance. 

 

When the waiter returned with their coffees, Robin asked him if they could cross the bridge that led to Green Bit, the uninhabited island located north of Dressrosa. 

 

"I can't say that I recommend going there," the waiter said, shaking his head. "You guys researchers or something? Explorers?"

 

"Researchers," Robin lied smoothly. "We wish to learn more about the flora there for our horticulture project."

 

"Hm. Well, unless your life depends on it, I suggest that you give up on the plan."

 

The waiter explained to them about how the iron bridge that connected Dressrosa and Green Bit had been closed off for the past two hundred years. The reason behind this was because of the fighting fish, violent gargantuan horned fish that could capsize a ship, that swarmed below the bridge. As to how dangerous these creatures were, the waiter ominously told them that he had yet to hear back from those who had returned...if they had returned at all, that was.

 

Having Green Bit as their meeting place with Donquixote seemed like a terrible idea now.

 

Despite the new information they had obtained, Trafalgar was adamant that they continued as plan. 

 

"It'll be fine," he said nonchalantly, his mustache wriggling like a caterpillar. "We just need to cross the bridge."

 

Oh gosh. Trafalgar was already infected by Luffy's stupidity. Usopp had been banking on the hope that he would be more resistant to the influence, but it had been too late. He was no longer Traffy the plan guy; he was now Traffy the dumbass guy.

 

While dumbassery usually worked in Luffy's favor, she was doubtful that Trafalgar was going to come out of this unscathed. He just might die as a result of his newfound dumbass status, Usopp thought depressingly. She didn't know him for long, but he wasn't such a bad guy. He had pitched a couple of fits, had patronized them with his pontificating, and had whined about how much he hated bread and umeboshi, but he hadn't been so terrible. 

 

And, thanks to Robin, Usopp saw the bonus of him being here—eye candy for the ladies (if one were to look past his creepy and menacing features). A girl could look at her crewmates for so long before she got sick of their faces. 

 

Feeling generous and a bit adventurous, Usopp decided to go ahead and grant Trafalgar a bit of service before he would drop dead like a fruit fly. Because he obviously was going to die. And besides, this way, she could determine whether or not Trafalgar was into cute girls, and Robin could be her witness and testify for her in case Nami would doubt her verdict. 

 

"Hey, Traffy."

 

When Trafalgar looked at her, Usopp raised one hand by her temple and the other under her chin, and then curled her fingers. "Nya," she crooned with a coy smile.

 

Trafalgar stiffened.

 

Robin cupped a hand over her mouth.

 

And Caesar...turned his nose. "Ack. What the hell are you doing, girl?"

 

Usopp dropped her arms. "Acting cute..."

 

The man sneered. "That was not cute." 

 

Robin smacked him using her Devil Fruit powers, but the damage had been done. Usopp dropped her gaze, ashamed. 

 

Yeah, what the hell was she thinking? She wasn't cute. Actually, she was probably way too ugly to be doing something like that, and the only thing that she had managed to do was gross Trafalgar out. That was why he was gaping at her in perturbation. 

 

Oh, look, Trafalgar was clutching his chest now, likely fighting off dry-heaving compulsions. 

 


 

When it was up to Usopp to save everyone, she panicked. 

 

How could she possibly win against two of Donquixote's high-ranking officers when someone—Usopp couldn't remember who—had failed to do so? Seriously, who was that person again? It felt like Usopp was forgetting someone pretty important to her. 

 

Frustrated, she plunged a hand into her hair and yanked on the roots. This was hopeless! She might have been stronger than how she had been back then, but she was by no means in the big league. If only Luffy was here...

 

Wanting to be momentarily distracted, she looked down at her outfit. Hanging off of her shoulders was a coat and sitting on her head was a floppy hat; they were parts of a uniform that she had filched in order to sneak into the SMILE Factory undetected. By posing as one of the grunts, no one had questioned her being here. Yet underneath the get-up was her dress.

 

So far, the dress was still clean—relatively speaking. There was a grass stain from when the Tontattas had pinned her to the ground, but there weren't any other stains, at least. No wears or tears either. While maintaining her outfit's immaculate condition ought to be the least of her worries, Usopp couldn't help but wonder if there was a way that she could fight without getting messy. 

 

Hmm...

 

Could it be possible? If she did manage to salvage the dress, then Nami wouldn't have to raise her debt. 

 

"Usoland! Usoland! Save us!" the Tontattas cried out, their squeaky voices echoing to the edges of the land. 

 

Staunchly ignoring the little people's pleas, Usopp persisted staying in her safe spot where no one knew where she was. Okay, fine, she wouldn't linger for too long. It wasn't her style to ignore an anguished cry for help (anymore), but it wasn't her style to go charging in either. Maybe if she was a guy who was obsessed with becoming the warrior of the seas, she just might; however, she was a lady, and she intended on becoming the lady of the seas!

 

Therefore, she forged ahead with planning. Just because Trafalgar officially became a dumbass (who was still alive—for now) didn't mean that Usopp had to become one too. Which was funny because she was one of Luffy's senior members, which meant that she already should be one, but never mind that now! She had bad guys to beat, dwarves and toy folk to rescue, and a debt to avoid. 

 

Usopp kept to the shadows and tiptoed her way around, evading the notice of the grunts that were scattered on the outskirts of the wreckage. She could no longer act as one of them if she was making her way towards Trebol and Sugar; she would make herself too suspicious that way. From what she had observed, the factory workers didn't approach the officers on their own accord. 

 

Usopp quietly crept alongside the toys that lugged around huge crates on their frail forms. A few of them were startled by her presence, but she shot them a smile to reassure them. These were real-life people who had been turned into toys against their will. Who knew how long they had toiled here for? And who knew how futile they must have thought their situation was?

 

Most of the toys had carried on, but there was one toy in particular, a clownish one with a wooden body, had reacted as if she had materialized out of thin air. The clown stumbled forward and lost its footing, but Usopp was fast enough to catch the falling crate before it could crash. Her hat was knocked off of her head when she swept down. With the load being too heavy for her to bear (holy cow, how did these toys do it?), Usopp quickly yet gently set it down while nudging the clown away with her foot. 

 

She threw a glance over her shoulder. Good, no one was looking in her direction. As she was about to roll out from behind the crate, she felt something latch onto her ankle. Confused, she looked down at the clown. What was it doing? Did it need something? But it wasn't as though it could talk and she didn't have time to dawdle. Usopp grabbed the clown, cradled it to her chest, and moved on.

 

Usopp finally made her ascension behind a broken ship mast and proceeded from there. 

 

After putting the clown to the side, she slipped a hand into her bag and withdrew a Pop Green. She was at risk of hurting the Tontattas by doing it this way, but as long as she didn't miss, everything should go according to plan. And, well, Usopp was the Straw Hat sniper, so of course she wouldn't miss. 

 

She drew the seed back on her Kabuto and fired. 

 

The second her fingers released the slingshot pouch, Usopp immediately snatched the clown into her arms and ducked out of her position, securing herself another place to wait. The Pop Green flew straight into Trebol's body, splashing upon impact as the man absorbed the seed. Trebol, who had been taunting the Tontattas alongside Sugar, paused, stunned by what just happened. 

 

Suddenly, tree-trunk-sized vines burst out of his torso and slithered out like monstrous snakes. Trebol gave a guttural howl as the vines continued to—to—to grow out of him. It was stuff that came straight out of nightmares. Five vines swept across the ground and coiled around anything that wasn't a flat surface, which included Sugar. Sugar was screaming her head off at the grotesque display unfolding before her eyes. 

 

Usopp, likewise, could only watch in horror.

 

She couldn't bring herself to implement the next part of her plan because this wasn't going as planned.

 

What the hell was this? Why did she shoot—?

 

She stopped. Rifling through her bag, she pulled out a crumpled note. 

 

Dear Usopp,

I'm sorry to inform you that I have accidentally dropped a Scandent Parasite seed along with the modified Buzz Button Flower seeds. I couldn't find it since all the seeds look very similar. Be careful.

Yours truly,

Heracles

 

Damn. Did Usopp just kill someone?

 

Her brain screeched into a halt when the clown began to glow. She dropped it and took a step back, but not before looking over to see Sugar passed out, flopping over a vine that had wrapped itself around her. 

 

Golden particles danced around everyone and drifted above to the ceiling; it was as if someone had taken a deluxe-sized fan and blew an entire field's worth of pollen here. Like all the other toys, the clown began to swell and elongate. With a detached fascination, Usopp watched as its small lanky body morphed into that of a tall muscular figure. When the transformation was complete, the clown gave a sound of elation as it—he marveled at the sight of his human hands. The next thing Usopp knew, she was standing before the most gorgeous man she had ever seen.

 

And then she remembered someone—Robin.

 

Oh shit, Robin!

 

Usopp took off, ignoring the gorgeous man calling after her. She ran past the befuddled men and women, pirates and marines, even animals, and went straight towards where she had last seen her crewmate. Her eyes scanned the area. To her immense relief, she saw the Tontattas riding on top of the vines, all unharmed. The dwarves were tearfully celebrating their reunion with their formerly lost comrades. When they noticed her, they all happily jumped up and down while exalting, "Usoland! Usoland!"

 

Before she could wave, something plowed into her. Usopp gasped—or she tried to. A cold slimy substance crawled over her mouth and nose, blocking her airways. Usopp instinctively tried to lash out, but her limbs were immobilized by the same viscous goop. Fear sank in when a face sprouted from the ground and rose above her. Trebol bared his teeth as he glared balefully at her. 

 

"You... You..." the man seethed, voice ragged with fatigue. Sky blue goop violently pulsated around his form. There was a red patch on his chest, presumably where he had removed the vines. "Do you have any idea what you have done? Ten years of hard work gone down the drain!"

 

Should she be relieved that she wasn't a murderer or should she be upset that she was about to die?

 

Of course she should be upset! She was about to die!

 

Suddenly, a giant foot appeared and stomped on Trebol.

 

Her slimy constraints slid off, and Usopp collapsed onto her hands and knees, coughing and desperately gulping in air. She vaguely registered Robin and the Tontattas shouting her name as she tried to gain her bearings. Her head spun and her heart was pounding harshly against her rib cage. Usopp groaned. 

 

What happened next kind of happened in a disorienting blur: Not only had a giant foot saved her from her untimely demise, but two giant hands descended from both sides and scooped her up. Usopp was brought twenty meters off the ground, which—wow—was staggeringly high up. From where she sat, she could see hundreds of people gathered down below, standing before what must be a giant. Giant foot, giant hands—must be a giant. 

 

If Usopp made an attempt to stand, she might slip and fall and die, especially at this height. Given her track record as the universe's buttmonkey, Usopp didn't want to bother standing. She didn't think her trembling legs could make the effort, anyway.

 

"Here she is!" the giant bellowed, presenting her like she was a hamster during show-and-tell. "The one who had put an end to our misery! Our savior, Usoland!"

 

"It's Usopp, actually," Usopp corrected meekly.

 

"Usopp!"

 

The crowd went nuts. Everyone began chanting her name and throwing their arms up in exuberance. The din that reverberated within the cavern of the dismantled factory was overwhelming. Usopp's brain decided to take on a short vacation and promptly left its functioning duties to the hollow space of her skull.

 

Parts of the ceiling then crumbled, and the debris rained down around the giant and Usopp. A gentle gust teased her hair as the dust settled. Light shone from the gap and poured over Usopp, making her even more visible to the audience. 

 

"A heavenly light!" someone burst out in awe.

 

After that exclamation, everyone threw in their own.

 

"It's—it's an angel!"

 

"She came from above to save us!"

 

"An angel is our savior!"

 

"Angel Usopp! Angel Usopp! Angel Usopp!"

 

Her brain returned, marching back into her skull in a fit of incredulity. Usopp stared at the lot with wide eyes.

 

An angel? Seriously? Just how long had they been cooped up in here for them to come up with something so outlandish? Ten years, was it? They couldn't come up with something more reasonable like, say, a sharpshooter pirate being involved in a coup that would expose this kingdom of its dark conspiracies?

 

An abrupt realization dawned on her. Here she was, placed before her adoring followers who were somehow convinced that she was a divine entity. It was underhanded for sure, especially to these people who had been subjected to years of indentured servitude, but Usopp couldn't let go of an opportunity when she saw one. Her excitement overcame her nervousness, granting her the strength to bring her up on her feet.

 

Stifling a grin, Usopp smoothed her expression and projected a dignified countenance. She dramatically stretched out a hand, easily quelling the clamor. The masses awaited for her with eager eyes, anticipating to hear her proclamation.

 

"My dear people, be at peace! My name is Usopp of the Straw Hat Pirates, and I have been sent from the high heavens to relinquish you from your suffering!"

 


 

"So, yeah, that's what happened," Usopp said, wrapping up her account of events.

 

"And they've taken to calling you an angel, huh?" Zoro snorted into his cup. "Do they still think that?"

 

"I doubt that they do after how fast they've taken to Donquixote's five-star bait," Usopp said, a tad sour. After the announcement of rewarding anyone who could kill the Warlord's most wanted, Usopp's followers had promptly turned into her enemies as they sought after her. And to think that just moments ago, they had been revering her. Money really was the source of all things evil. 

 

She glanced behind her to where Jeet and Abdullah were at. "There are a few who do believe that I am," she amended, remembering how the two men had nervously yet enthusiastically introduced themselves to her. As far as she was aware, they were her most committed devotees. Her eyes flitted over to the two long-limbed martial artists who stood by them. "Or are just grateful for what I've done." Usopp threw in a cocky smirk. "Hence why we have so many allies."

 

"Right, it's thanks to Angel Usopp's celestial powers that made everyone pledge their allegiance to your captain. How spectacular," Trafalgar drawled.

 

"Hey, it's probably not that farfetched," Zoro said, shooting him a grin. "That Cabbage guy said that he was going to drop his grudge against Luffy because of Usopp when we ran into him."

 

"And then he tried to kill me afterwards. Yes, I recall that memory so fondly."

 

Cavendish—or Cabbage, as most people had taken to referring him as—was the gorgeous man who Usopp had dragged around when he had been a toy. Cavendish hadn't been put off by that, thankfully. Actually, he had expressed his appreciation for being chosen to witness her attack against Trebol, making it as though Usopp had consciously done such a thing. She hadn't gotten the chance to ask him why he had latched onto her when Cavendish had later heaped praises upon praises onto her. From her sniping skills to her angelic qualities, the man had been relentless. 

 

It had been flattering hearing all that from an incredibly attractive man...at first. The praises had been overdone and had lost its meaning, and Usopp had wondered what reason a powerful pirate had in buttering her up for. He hadn't seemed like a sycophant before, so it had been strange to be on the receiving end of Cavendish's "admiration." He had been rather gung-ho about it too, adamant that she knew just how well they complemented each other. Maybe he was still plotting Luffy's downfall by wooing her?

 

"Still, it's kind of funny how they assumed an angel of all things," Usopp mused. "I didn't look the part, for one."

 

Zoro cleared his throat while Trafalgar looked away. 

 

"They probably took you for the cherubic kind," Trafalgar said.

 

"You mean the baby-looking ones? Oh, yeah, Zoro did say that I looked like I'd be a target for human traffickers."

 

"You still do. Why are you wearing that?" Zoro eyed her outfit critically. 

 

"Robin was the one who gave it to me! If you got a problem, take it to her." Usopp pouted. It wasn't as though she wanted to wear the sundress. Well, admittedly, it was cute, which almost made her feel cute herself, but it was drafty. How did Nami and Robin manage to skirts and dresses without fearing that they would end up flashing their underwear? Usopp found herself intermittently tugging at the hem.

 

"Did she do your hair too?"

 

"No, I did." After rinsing away the accumulated dust and grime, Nami's magic had come to an end. The wavy locks had turned into familiar coils, and her hair puffed around her head like a soggy bush. Usopp hadn't wanted to deal with her hair like this, so she gathered it into a thick braid. It trailed down her back like a tail, and it was kind of fun swinging it around; she couldn't do that with her usual ponytails. 

 

"Looks good on you," Zoro said. 

 

Usopp stared at him. 

 

Zoro stared back. 

 

"Zoro," she began, "did you just—"

 

"No," he interjected, his cheeks tinged pink. "No, I didn't—"

 

"You complimented me!"

 

"I gave you plenty of compliments before!"

 

"But never on my hair!"

 

After squabbling back and forth, Zoro opted to end this by sending her away from his booze party. A party where Zoro and Trafalgar were the only participants, sequestered to a barren corner of Orlumbus's ship while surrounded by various alcoholic drinks. But Usopp complied anyway, only because she was still taken aback by the fact that Zoro had said something nice about her appearance. Not that the man had ever done the opposite by telling her how ugly she was, but still... 

 

"You like discussing hairstyles? Should we paint our fingernails next?" she heard Trafalgar remark snidely as she left. 

 

"Shut up."

 

Usopp wandered around the deck aimlessly, taking in the carousing with absentminded interest until her thoughts carried her elsewhere. She wondered what she should do now. Robin was chatting with the Tontattas. Franky was entertaining everyone with his cool cyborg features. Luffy was pigging out. Should she follow Luffy's example and eat as well? She wasn't particularly hungry, but it didn't  hurt to snack on something.

 

As she neared the decimated remains of the spread, assessing what leftovers she could pick at, she heard someone approached her with tentative steps. Usopp turned around, finding Bartolomeo and his friend—Gambia, was it?—peering at her shyly. They shuffled in place as they tried to get a word out. Usopp stared at them oddly as her mind unwittingly drew a comparison between these two grown men and flustered school girls. 

 

Ack. They weren't going to confess to her, were they?

 

"Uso-Uso-Uso—" Bartolomeo stammered, his face turning bright red. He chewed on his lower lip and wriggled some more. Usopp watched in discomfort. 

 

"Usopp-senpai! We can't help but notice you looking for something to eat," Gambia exclaimed.

 

"Ri-right!" Bartolomeo nodded fervently. "So—so—so we figured we'd give you some of our own!"

 

Oh, that was it? Usopp arched a brow. "Well, sure. Lead the way."

 

"Alright!" Gambia crowed and steepled his hands above his head. "Come this way, Usopp-senpai!"

 

"N-no, we shouldn't expect Usopp-senpai to follow us like a dog! That's disrespect!" Bartolomeo cut in, flailing. "We should bring the food to her!"

 

"Eh? But isn't it disrespectful to keep her waiting?"

 

They were going to keep fighting about this, weren't they? "Guys," Usopp said, holding out a hand, "it's fine. Just show me where you've been eating."

 

"Of course!" the men cried out simultaneously.

 

A group of men with a punk rocker aesthetic, undeniably Bartolomeo's men, stood guard over a splendid layout of food. The way it was arranged was reminiscent of that of a picnic, and it seemed that no one had made a dent into the fare yet. When the men noticed her presence, they fell into the same worshipful routine that Luffy had received from Bartolomeo yesterday.

 

"Did any of you eat?" she asked.

 

"You don't have to worry about us, Usopp-senpai," one of the men insisted. "We prepared all of this for you!"

 

Usopp blinked. "You couldn't have set this up so quickly. Just how long have you been waiting to see if I wanted to eat?"

 

"Ever since the party started," Bartolomeo jumped in. "Robin-senpai already ate what we prepared for her, so this is all yours!"

 

"We already knew that Luffy-senpai, Franky-senpai, and Zoro-senpai would prefer to dig in like the rest of the fellas, so we reserved a spot just for you and Robin-senpai," Gambia added. "Special treatment for special ladies!"

 

Wow, and they were waiting for her this whole time? For all their weirdness, Usopp felt touched by their thoughtfulness. They didn't need to go this far for someone like her, yet they had gone the extra mile by setting this up. It was really sweet. "Thank you for this," Usopp said, smiling at them. When the men didn't respond, instead openly gawking at her, her smile faltered. "Is something wrong?"

 

"Waaaah!" Bartolomeo shouted alongside his men. He held up an arm as though to shield his face. "Usopp-senpai's smile! It's—it's—!"

 

"I'm blind!" one of them yelped, clutching his face. "I can't see!"

 

"I'm just going to tuck in now," Usopp informed them blandly. Weirdos were still weirdos no matter how considerate they were.

 

It took a handful of minutes of coaxing for Usopp to get the Barto Club Pirates to settle down next to her. They were still fidgety, but they were more tolerable now than how they had been before. They could hold a conversation with her without having to burst into a bout of tears or stammers. Even the supposedly blind guy had adjusted to sitting a few feet away from her. 

 

If she ignored the overbearing fanboying, Usopp found them to be a really fun bunch. She listened to them ramble on about their hilarious adventures and how Bartolomeo had climbed the ranks of being part of the Worst Generation. Bartolomeo sheepishly laughed and scratched his chin, claiming that he wouldn't have had his notoriety if it hadn't been for his reliable crew. Usopp grew to like them.

 

She grew to like them more when they raptly heeded to her every word as she regaled them stories of the great Captain Usopp. They appropriately ooh-ed and aww-ed, and then clapped and cheered when she finished. Because they were a wonderful audience, Usopp deigned to fulfill their request in telling them about how she had met Luffy and what her relationship was like with each of her crewmates. 

 

Somehow, without meaning to, she ended up relaying to them about Nami and Robin's pet project. 

 

"But you're cute already, Usopp-senpai!" one of the men enthused. 

 

"You idiot! Of course she is! But that doesn't mean that Nami-senpai and Robin-senpai were wrong in saying that Usopp-senpai could weaponize her cuteness!" another rebuked. 

 

"Weaponize?" Usopp parroted. How did this guy manage to interpret it like that? All she had said was that Nami and Robin had wanted to prove to her that she could be physically desirable, not utilize her appearance to her advantage. Furthermore... "How can you weaponize cuteness?"

 

"You can induce heart attacks!" someone offered earnestly. "Hearts will race so fast by the sight of your beauty that they'll implode!" Cue theatrical hand gesturing to emphasize the implosion. "Internal bleeding!"

 

"Now that's one heck of a heart attack," Gambia said, nodding in approval.

 

The grisly description was enough to cause her to grimace. She had her fair share of inflicting gruesome body injuries and she didn't intend on creating anymore. Besides, after what had happened earlier that day, it would be impossible to do something like that with just her appearance alone. Usopp sighed and shook her head. "I can't induce heart attacks. I mean, I tried acting cute once, but all I did was nauseate people."

 

"What?" the men roared, outraged. Usopp reeled back at the sheer force of their voices combined. 

 

"Who're the bastards who dared to insult you?" Bartolomeo demanded hotly. "We'll kill them!"

 

"Th-that's too drastic!" Usopp sputtered, her eyes widening. "You don't need to do that!"

 

"Of course we need to! For someone to make a slight against your loveliness is a slight against all of us!" Bartolomeo clenched his jaw as he clenched his fist. "To think that there existed scum who could be so blind...!"

 

"Yeah!" agreed the blind guy.

 

"Despicable trash must be exterminated!" someone hollered.

 

"Yeah!"

 

"Stop it! This is getting out of hand," Usopp groaned. She wracked through her brain, trying to formulate a way to mitigate their anger. Not that she would admit to them about Trafalgar and Caesar, but she didn't want to risk letting the Barto Club Pirates run rampant during their manhunt. "Look, maybe it isn't like that. Maybe the way I tried to act cute really wasn't all that cute to begin with." 

 

The men's ire shifted into aghast. "Don't say that! Whatever you do is cute!" the blind guy insisted. "Even if you were to drop trowel and take a dump right in front of us, it'd still be cute!"

 

"No, dude, that's too far," someone murmured.

 

"Oh. Yeah. You're right."

 

"You'd think it'd be cute because you wouldn't be able to see it, moron!" another hissed.

 

"Wait, you're still blind? How many fingers am I holding up?"

 

"Shut up! All of you!" Bartolomeo barked harshly. At once, his crewmates fell silent. The captain then turned towards Usopp and, with renewed hesitance, he broached, "Usopp-senpai, c-could you maybe demonstrate what you did? Before?"

 

Usopp frowned. "Why?"

 

"Ah, well, honestly? I find it hard to believe that what you've done could be unappealing—not that I mean to doubt you or anything! But...at the same time, I do...?"

 

Usopp really didn't feel like doing it again, having been completely disheartened by Caesar's comment. There was also the embarrassment that came along with doing it in front of a larger group of people regardless of how much of fanboy each one of them was. But then Robin's words played back in her mind, reminding her of how cuteness was a niche market. Cuteness didn't appeal to everyone, so...perhaps she shouldn't think of Trafalgar and Caesar's reactions as definitive evidence. 

 

And, well, it would be a lie to say that she wanted to doubt Nami and Robin's assertions. After all, Usopp was a girl, and what girl didn't want to be considered as attractive?

 

Usopp lifted her arms and made kitty paws. Like before, she fixed her expression so that she was peering at them coyly, and then crooned, "Nya."

 

The men being affected was predictable; the degree of the effect, on the other hand, wasn't. As though struck by Sanji's Diable Jambe, the Barto Club Pirates flung backwards while shrieking, and they landed on the floor with a crash. Their faces were flushed as though they had been hit by a sudden fever, and metaphysical hearts floated above their fallen bodies. Some of them could be heard mumbling about bearing witness to a goddess.

 

Usopp flatly stared down at them as she dropped her arms. She should have known that these guys would exaggerate, but she certainly didn't think they would do it to this extent. Ugh. Chopper was the epitome of cute, and the most that he had gotten had been eardrum-piercing squeals, not people reenacting a freaking battle scene. These people were just too much.

 

The festivities were loud enough to drown out their shrieks, and the ship was expansive enough to not draw everyone's attention onto them. However, that didn't mean that they garnered no one's attention. With an overreaction like that, someone nearby was bound waltz right over to see what was up.

 

"What...is all this?" Ideo inquired, bemused. He looked away from the fallen bodies and at her in astonishment. "Did you do all this?"

 

"Did you smite them with your powers, Angel Usopp?" Abdullah gasped.

 

"No," Usopp grumbled. "I just..." She sighed and figured that it would be easier to just show them. When she halfheartedly flicked her wrists and meowed at them, Jeet and Abdullah squeaked. Ideo stared at her as though she sprouted a second head. Meanwhile, Blue Gilly eyed her curiously. 

 

"Are you doing fan service?" the long-legged fighter asked.

 

"We can ask for fan service?" Jeet and Abdullah cried out.

 

"What? No!" Usopp scowled. "I was—I was just seeing if I could prove something. That..." She swallowed as she motioned her hands vaguely, helplessly. "That I can, um, see if I can act...cute."

 

The four men stared. Usopp sweated. 

 

Blue Gilly held his chin and scrutinized her thoughtfully. "If you don't mind me saying this, but I don't think that the catgirl routine is your thing."

 

The second he finished that sentence, it was as if energy was zapped back into the Barto Club Pirates. They all bounced back upright and snapped their heads in their direction. Usopp jolted at the sudden movement.

 

"How dare you!" Bartolomeo shouted, scrambling onto his feet. He thrust an accusatory finger at him. "Any routine is Usopp-senpai's routine! Especially the catgirl routine!"

 

Blue Gilly held up his hands in a placating manner. "I'm just saying that there's a better way for her to exhibit her cuteness."

 

Wordlessly, Usopp and Ideo traded looks. She pointed at Blue Gilly, and Ideo just shrugged. 

 

"I got it!" Jeet exclaimed, snapping his fingers. "Angel Usopp is widely recognized for being an angel. That means that she should do something pertaining to that!"

 

"Yeah, sure. That." Blue Gilly nodded.

 

Bartolomeo opened his mouth to refute but didn't say anything. It seemed that he was weighing Jeet's suggestion with great consideration because his expression soon turned into that of stupefaction. "Huh," he said. "I didn't think about that."

 

"Everyone literally calls her Angel Usopp," Usopp heard Ideo mutter. 

 

"There you go. If you want to heighten your cuteness factor, try that," Blue Gilly said.

 

"Since when were you an expert on anything cute?" Usopp asked.

 

"Why are you trying to act cute?" he asked back.

 

"Um, so," she began, turning away, "how would I pull that off?" Usopp thought back to the facade that she had donned when she had spoken to the former toys. Did that mean that she should turn on the regal charm? But how was that cute?

 

"Ooh! Ooh! I know!" Gambia chirped, waving an arm. "Picture this: You're an innocent, demure young maiden whose heart yearns for a certain someone. Whenever that person comes near, you feel butterflies flutter in your belly and your chest tightens in both anxiety and excitement. Your cheeks turn cherry blossom pink, and you can't help but avert your gaze from the object of your affections. But! Because you love this person so much, you want to look at 'em no matter what! So you muster up the strength to look up from beneath your lashes, and then—bam!—you use your doe-like eyes to capture 'em!"

 

An impressed smattering of clapping ensued coming from the Barto Club Pirates, Jeet, and Abdullah. Bartolomeo, however, refrained from such as his jaw dropped to the floor. 

 

"That's oddly specific," Blue Gilly noted. 

 

"And how is any of that related to angels?" Ideo asked.

 

"You just want her to act out your fantasies, don't you?" Bartolomeo incriminated, aghast. "You creep!"

 

Gambia laughed, his tongue lolling out as he playfully knocked his temple with his knuckle. "Haha! You got me!"

 

Usopp's eyes flickered between them before she exhaled wearily. "Okay, first of all, how am I supposed to turn my cheeks 'cherry blossom pink'? And, secondly, how am I supposed to turn my eyes 'doe-like'?" she griped. 

 

"If it's you, Usopp-senpai, then I know that you can do it!" Gambia insisted. 

 

"How the hell is that—oh, never mind." She pinched the bridge of her nose. She had been a bit startled when Gambia had described a pining girl for her to imitate, and, for a second, she had been worried if he knew about her minuscule, barely-there, hardly-existent crush on Luffy. That would be impossible, though, right? It wasn't as if Usopp had treated Luffy any differently than how she had towards Zoro and Franky, right?

 

And besides, even if Usopp had done anything to insinuate that she harbored feelings that were more than a minuscule, barely-there, hardly-existent crush, it didn't necessarily mean that it had to be read as such. Luffy was her captain, so it made sense if she gave him a bit of a preferential treatment, right? Unless it hadn't been her actions that conveyed anything, but rather what she had said when she had told the Barto Club Pirates about her relationship with her crewmates. 

 

Usopp lowered her hand at that line of thought. Okay, that would be bad. These men were ridiculous, but it didn't seem like they were complete dunderheads. If they had picked up on her totally non-platonic affections for Luffy, then... Shit, was that why they were trying to help her in her attempt for cuteness? Were they trying to play matchmaker for her?

 

Usopp quickly hit rewind in her head to see if she had inadvertently revealed something, but she didn't get a chance to properly inspect when someone yanked her back to reality with a "Hold it!"

 

One of Bartolomeo's men plodded forward. "If I may make a suggestion?"

 

"Sure?" the word tumbled out of Usopp's mouth automatically. 

 

"Could you pull a few strands in front of your ears?" Usopp, perplexed, did as instructed. "Yeah, like that!"

 

"What's that for?" someone asked. 

 

"It gives her a more vulnerable feel. Vulnerability amplifies cuteness!"

 

"Not that Usopp-senpai could ever be vulnerable! Although..." Bartolomeo studied her features and rubbed his chin. "You do have a point. It does do something."

 

"Ooh, you're right, man. If she wasn't cute before—which is impossible! Usopp-senpai is always cute!—then she sure is now," another person concurred.

 

Unwittingly, Usopp blushed. When she heard cooing, her cheeks instantly cooled down.

 

"Are you going to do it, Angel Usopp?" Abdullah asked keenly. Everyone leaned forward with an expectant look in their gazes. Where Usopp had initially planned to put an end to this, to duck and roll out to make her escape, she couldn't now. Too much time had already been invested in this, and there were four more people who were roped into this as well.

 

Well, Usopp could say no, but there was that pressure of wanting to appease everyone. It was one of the things that she disliked about herself—her succumbing so easily under duress. And the threat that engendered that duress? The likelihood of facing disappointment from her admirers. As much as she hated being put on the spot like this, Usopp didn't want to lose that expectation that these guys had for her. That was why she couldn't let them down. Thus, against her better judgement, Usopp uttered morosely, "Okay, I'll give it a try."

 

"That's the spirit, Usopp-senpai!"

 

"Whooaaa! We get to see Angel Usopp in action!"

 

"So," Blue Gilly said, "who's your target?"

 

"What?" Usopp winced.

 

"Is there someone who you want to be cute for?"

 

"I, erm. What makes you say that?"

 

"I figure that there's a particular someone who you wanted to impress." He folded his arms across his chest. "There must be a reason why you're going through all this trouble."

 

"That's not true! There's no one!"

 

"That's a lie."

 

She gaped at him. "How did you know about that?"

 

Blue Gilly smirked. "You told me. Just now."

 

Usopp stared blankly at him before her look turned begrudging. Damn, he was right. 

 

"Oh my gosh," Gambia breathed, "Usopp-senpai likes someone?"

 

"I don't!" she denied hastily, shaking her head. "That's not it!"

 

"But you just said—"

 

"It—it really isn't like that!" She anxiously licked her lips, buying herself a few seconds to come up with something. As it would seem, the Barto Club Pirates really hadn't known about her feelings, but it had been thanks to Blue Gilly's mind tricks that everyone now suspected that she liked someone. Dread pooled in her stomach. Great, she not only had to put up a good performance, but she also had to deal with this!

 

There was no way that she was going to admit to liking Luffy. One reason was that people would blow this way out of proportion, and then, the next thing she would know, they would be cheering them on to get married. The second reason was that she didn't like him that much! Her feelings? Inconsequential! But knowing these guys? They would see it as exponential. Hence the marriage. Which there wouldn't be a marriage, or a marriage to even consider, because she wouldn't let them know anything about her crush.

 

Her eyes darted across the ship. To her surprise, they landed on Luffy. Before Usopp could tear her gaze away, she noticed that Cavendish was standing next to him, talking to him. 

 

That was when an idea sprouted in her brain. 

 

Just as much as she would like to be pretty, Usopp would like to be able to sway Luffy. Wishful thinking, she knew, since not even the Pirate Empress could get him to swoon. But what was it that Nami had said earlier? Before they had split into teams and ventured into Dressrosa?

 

"Yeah. Oh snap, Robin! It just occurred to me—what if guys like Zoro and Traffy are only into cute girls instead of sexy women? Maybe that's why they weren't into you!"

 

And what was it that Robin had said in response? That this needed to be put to the test? Experimentation?

 

Then...this could be it. Experimentation. An experiment to see whether or not Luffy preferred cute girls over sexy women.

 

Despite herself, Usopp felt slightly giddy. She really shouldn't. She shouldn't have any expectations of yielding a successful result. This was Luffy, after all. Whether it be cute girls or sexy women or, hell, maybe even charming guys or rugged men, Luffy most likely wouldn't be influenced by looks alone. And for all she knew, maybe physical attractiveness wasn't a factor for what romantically drew him to a person. 

 

Nonetheless, Usopp wanted to know. She wanted to see if she could draw him in like how Nami could draw Sanji in. 

 

With the buzz of determination, Usopp inhaled deeply before plastering on a confident smile. Blue Gilly blinked at her. 

 

"You have it all wrong. I wouldn't bother with silly stuff like crushes," Usopp dismissed imperiously. "Don't you know who I am? I'm Angel Usopp! I am above that!"

 

"Waaah!" marveled the Barto Club Pirates, Jeet, and Abdullah.

 

"But I am an affable being, I shall humor you mere mortals of your curiosity."

 

"Does she think she's not human anymore?" Ideo whispered.

 

"Dude, she's joking," Blue Gilly whispered back. "I think."

 

"Therefore, I shall select a challenge as my target!" Usopp announced, propping her hands on her hips. "Cavendish of the White Horse!"

 

There was a beat of silence, and then...

 

"That guy?"

 

"Why does it have to be him of all people?"

 

"D-do you like Cabbage?"

 

"No, not that bastard!"

 

Her smile fell. "No! I don't! I just freaking told you that I don't like anyone!"

 

"Usopp-senpai, don't tell me that you've fallen for his pretty-boy looks!" Bartolomeo despaired. 

 

"I don't like Cavendish! Sheesh! What is wrong with you lot?" Exasperated, Usopp stomped her foot. "How many times do I have to say it?"

 

After persuading everyone that she did not, in fact, view Cavendish as a love interest and how she was impervious to his dashing good looks (not really), the men metaphorically fell to their knees and cast flowers at her feet. Well, there was one guy who actually did all that, but moving along. What was important was that they all believed her (as they should), and subsequently cheered her on in her conquest for Cavendish's heart. 

 

Somehow, her cuteness experiment evolved into her gathering men for her harem. She didn't know how Gambia had managed to twist the story like that, but she knew that Blue Gilly had a hand in enabling the falsehood. She was going to have to keep an eye on that long-legged jerk from now on. 

 

Bolstered by the men's encouragement, Usopp strode towards Luffy—ahem, Cavendish. But...Luffy too. Because, maybe, just maybe, she could be the one to break through Luffy's seemingly impenetrable wall of indifference. Her heart thudded harder and harder the closer she neared the two, and it nearly burst out of her chest when both of them took notice of her presence. 

 

"Why, if it isn't Angel Usopp," Cavendish said, smiling. "How may I help you?"

 

"Hey, Usopp," Luffy said, waving. 

 

Usopp became well aware of the audience that not-so-subtly gathered behind her, watching her every move. They were all here to spectate her attempt, but also to give her their support. With that faith resting on her shoulders, Usopp had no choice but to go forth! Any lingering nervousness was banished as she steeled her resolve. 

 

Usopp thought back to how Bartolomeo and Gambia had behaved when they had approached her. Flustered and shy—she could do that. It was kind of gross on them since they were two grown-ass adult men, but on a girl like herself? Usopp could (probably) nail it! She then thought back to what Gambia had told her to imagine herself as—an innocent, demure young maiden. She doubted that she could willfully turn her cheeks cherry blossom pink or make her eyes doe-like, but she wasn't going to hesitate in trying. 

 

And, so, Usopp tilted her chin downwards, brought her curled over her lips, and peered up at Cavendish with wide eyes through her eyelashes. Her other arm hung behind her and her knees were angled towards each other. She forcibly replayed that time when Brook had caught her tweezing her armpit hair—oh gosh, that was absolutely mortifying—in her mind, and promptly felt her face heat up. Consequently, her eyes began to water because the mortification was overwhelming. 

 

Push through this, Usopp coached herself. 

 

"If you don't mind," she said, her voice sweet and bashful, "but...I would like to get to know you better, Cavendish." Her eyes darted to the side before returning to his face. "Is that alright with you?" she added, canting her head to the side.

 

Cavendish turned scarlet red.

 

"I, um—I—erm, that is—" Cavendish stuttered, gesticulating wildly. He was stumbling over his words. Usopp didn't know the man well, but she knew him enough to know that he was very articulate and posh in his manner of speaking. And here he was, stumbling over his words!

 

Was this a success?

 

Usopp glanced to the side, registering a sea of red faces that stared at her. She glanced behind her, and, lo and behold, even Blue Gilly and Ideo were blushing!

 

Eagerly, she looked at Luffy and found him...picking his nose.

 

Luffy appeared like a paragon of the unflappable, the imperturbable, the cool. He remained unmoved by Usopp's sheer cuteness. Something within her shriveled up and died.  

 

"Bwahaha! Of—of course you may!" Cavendish laughed a tad too loudly, bringing her back to earth. His grin stretched widely across his burning face. "It would be my pleasure! Hahahahaha!"

 

Usopp placidly smiled at him and listened to his rambling, turning away from Luffy and his nose-picking business. It seemed that Nami and Robin were right about her being cute, which was nice to know. However, her presentation, the one that had affected everyone around her, had done nothing for Luffy. Maybe she was cute, but she certainly wasn't cute enough for Luffy. 

 

Ah, no matter what, her crush was always going to remain unrequited. 

Chapter Text

Usopp hated casinos. The first time she had set foot in one had been rather exhilarating in a way, like she was touring a wonderland of glitz and glamour. Now, after entering and exiting for so many times, the fascination had waned into nothingness, replaced only by torpor. Although, the nauseating nicotine fumes, the tinny jingle-jangle of the machines, and the too bright lights weren't the sole perpetrators of her apathy.

 

Definite factors, but nothing in comparison to the source.

 

She waited outside—not too far, yet not too close. The restrained revelry, as usually expressed by the patrons, echoed from the entrance halls. Men and women passed through the looming archways, all garbed in decorated suits and gowns. A stark contrast to Usopp's typical attire of jeans and a sweatshirt, yet no one took notice of her as she remained inconspicuous in the shadows. 

 

"Greetings, Miss Sogeki." Baccarat stepped into view. Her blue skirt shimmered, reflecting the golden luminosity of the building, as it swished along the elegant strides of her long legs. Her bodice hugged her torso like a second layer of skin, exposing her back and the top of her ample bosom. The woman was stunning, and Baccarat knew it, confidently exhibiting her beauty by draping herself in dresses that conveyed that. 

 

No matter how many times they had met up like this, a part of Usopp retreated within her, trembling and ducking away in is insecurity. But to Baccarat, she smiled politely. "Hello."

 

As always, Baccarat took the lead, escorting her to the back entrance of the casino. As always, Usopp took what final moments she had with the outside world, relishing the cool, clean air and the empty black sky, before plunging herself for another night in the arms of the Casino King.

 


 

It wasn't as though Usopp was poor. She was just...skirting above the poverty line.

 

Not that Usopp had any complaints. Yeah, times were hard, but her fisherman father did all he could to support her and they shared a warm home and a loving relationship. Nevertheless, while they had the money to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, they hardly had enough to send Usopp away for college. 

 

Her father had told her that he would pitch in to help pay for her tuition. As appreciative as Usopp had been for his contribution, she had been doubtful that would suffice. And if she kept working shift after shift for a minimum wage pay, she was going to burn herself out. 

 

It had been when Nami had suggested her to get a sugar daddy. Usopp had swiftly rejected the idea at first, but she had then stopped and had taken a good look at her friend. Nami had come from a humble background like hers, and yet it had always seemed like she had been living in luxury for these past few months. Why had that been the case?

 

"I got a sugar daddy of my own," Nami had told her. She had presented her a fashion designer bag. "Arlong gave me this to me the other day just for acting cute."

 

Usopp had eyed the bag skeptically. "And how much did that cost?"

 

"Hmm." Nami had sucked in a cheek in thought. "Maybe a hundred thousand beri? Give or take?"

 

Her eyes had popped out of their sockets. "Hundred thousand—" she had choked out.

 

A hundred thousand beri had been what Usopp had made by working a six hour shift. If Nami had that much cash handed to her simply by acting cute, then how much did she make spending time with her sugar daddy? When Nami had informed her, Usopp had been blown away. With that much money, Usopp could earn enough to start attending classes.

 

Being a sugar baby hadn't been a profession that Usopp would have liked to venture into, but...she had already turned twenty-two. People her age would have already graduated college and have started applying for jobs. Real jobs, not minimum wage ones where Usopp would have to literally toil herself over. Her desire to step up in the world had swelled to the point of impatient recklessness.

 

It had been why Usopp had created a profile on a sugar baby website and had anxiously waited for a response.

 

Her first—and only—client had been Gild Tesoro.

 


 

Usopp set aside her clothes and put on the dress that Baccarat had given her. A silky cream-colored one piece that brushed her mid-thighs and bared her shoulders. Usopp tugged the ribbon loose, letting her hair tumble freely down her back. Tesoro always preferred her hair being down.

 

She observed herself in the mirror. The dress was nothing extravagant like what Baccarat typically wore, but it was lovely in its simplicity. Tesoro had always told her as such—that she was an uncomplicated kind of beautiful. He had compared her to a seashell on the shore, a sparrow in the tree, a daisy in the midst of a bouquet. Comparisons that should have had left her flattered but had instead had left her feeling wary. 

 

Usopp left the room, closing the door behind her with a soft click, and ambled down the corridor. A thin film of smoke drifted above her head, obscuring the lights with its translucent haziness. The intermingle of nicotine and her perfume had once been enough to cause her head to spin, but she had been quick to adjust. She had been quick to adjust to many things in her life ever since she had accepted Tesoro's invitation.

 

Trailing behind her were the echoes of her footfalls as she neared the door to his office. She rapped her knuckles against the surface, waited for the "come in" to grant her entry, and slipped inside.

 

Across the wide expanse of the room was a polished desk, and sitting behind that desk was Tesoro. Without looking up from his documents, the man beckoned her closer. Usopp complied wordlessly, crossing the carpeted floor. When she moved around the desk, Tesoro snaked an arm around her waist and swung her onto his lap, cradling her close to his chest. 

 

There was a wrinkle formed between his brows as his narrowed eyes intently studied the papers. Usopp knew better than to interrupt his work, so she stayed quiet, her fingers roving along the long lines of his shoulders. Tesoro absentmindedly rubbed circles into the curve of her back, a manner reminiscent to how a master would pet his dog. She didn't mind, though; the comparison was fitting enough. 

 

Finally, he set down the documents. Usopp couldn't stop the gasp from leaving her lips as a hot palm glided past her dress and up her thigh. Tesoro massaged her hip while he nuzzled into the crook of her neck. "How was your day?" he rumbled softly.

 

Do you care enough to want to know? Usopp wanted to scoff, but she held her tongue. She instead beamed at him as she coyly whispered, "Good now that I'm here."

 

She felt his deep chuckles vibrate from his chest. "Adorable."

 

He gently lifted her up and set her on her feet. Tesoro rose from his chair, pulling up to his towering height. He had discarded his suit jacket before her arrival, leaving only his black dress shirt that pulled tautly over his broad form. Gild Tesoro had always maintained an immaculate image, so for him to look even the slightest disheveled must mean that something bad must had happened. A business deal gone wrong? A wayward subordinate?

 

Either way, Usopp knew that she would be the one who was going to bear the brunt of the man's frustrations. He might appear placid now, but she had years of knowing that all pretenses would melt away the moment they hit the bed. She stifled a sigh. At least Baccarat had the foresight to prepare her bruising cream and concealer before leaving Usopp alone. 

 

Tesoro wrapped an arm around her, his callused fingers curling around the ball of her shoulder, as he led her out of the office. It was these moments that he displayed such tenderness despite the power behind those hands of his. 

 

When they entered the elevator, he hit the button to send them to the highest floor—Tesoro's personal quarters. It seemed that today really was a bad day for him if they weren't going down to the casino to visit his guests. It explained why he was being particularly handsy; he normally had restraint until they were behind his room's door. Tesoro buried his nose into her hair as he crowded her against the wall. 

 

"Mm. I've missed you, darling," he murmured. "How long has it been? Three days?"

 

"Three days," she confirmed with a giggle. "It hasn't been that long."

 

"Oh, no, it has. Maybe I should have you come over everyday from now on."

 

Her heart sped up at that as nervousness sat heavily in her stomach, but Usopp forced herself to giggle again. "Are you sure you wouldn't grow tired of me? As they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder."

 

Tesoro leaned forward, drawing her chin upwards with his fingers. "Usopp, baby, grow tired of you?" he said with a smirk. He pecked her on the cheek, and then rasped into her ear, "I'd never."

 

His hand slowly coasted down her spine, deliberately pressing against her sensitive spots. Usopp reflexively arched backwards, chasing after the feeling without meaning to. She felt puffs of his chuckles brush against her throat before he pressed his lips beneath her jawline. She moaned, desperately gripping his sleeves for support. 

 

His day must had been really, really bad. 

 

Her heart beat harder than before, and, at this rate, she feared that it might fly out of her chest. With the way things were headed, Tesoro was going to get carried away, and they would end up doing it here in the elevator. "If—if we keep this up, Tanaka might catch us," she whimpered. 

 

Tesoro sighed. "He won't bother us."

 

"We should do it in your room," she insisted. Usopp gingerly pushed against his chest and smiled wryly at him. "Unless you want him to catch an eyeful of us?"

 

He raised an eyebrow as he smiled back crookedly, a show of playfulness, although the dark gleam in his eyes conveyed the contrary. The depths of his possessiveness never failed to rob her of her breath, drowning her in this immured reality that she had unwittingly surrendering herself to. Tesoro idly twirled a tendril of her hair with one finger, toying with its curliness before releasing it. "I suppose you're right. The last I need is another man looking at you."

 

Because the last man who had accidentally stumbled in on them, Tesoro had to send in the cleaners. Another ghost to haunt the halls.

 

Tesoro stepped back, but he cupped her face and tilted it so that she was looking at him. "You've been a good girl when away from Daddy?" he crooned.

 

She licked her lips. "Of course," Usopp whispered around the lump in her throat. "I have my sights on no one but you, Daddy."

 

He smiled. "Good."

 

Once upon a time, there had existed a fine line dividing her daily life and her sugar baby work. Go to school by day; entertain Tesoro by night. The junction had been the money that flowed into her bank account in liberal amounts. Usopp had found been content with what she had—happy, even; but Tesoro, on the other hand, hadn't been. She had found out a little too late that the man had desired more from her than she had been willing to provide.

 

Tesoro had began to request for her time during the evenings when her classes had finished, and then had contacted her in the mornings. Little by little, the man had encroached past that line, slithering in with such discretion that Usopp hadn't recognized him for the interloper that he was. It had been until she had learned about Sanji's trip to the hospital that she had understood the gravity of her position.

 

It had taken her one day to realize that she had been inexplicably entwined with a man with an interminable well of power and connections. He had no longer been the generous benefactor who pampered her with gifts and dinners; he was now the malefactor who had built his empire on corpses and had steeped his wealth in blood. And it hadn't been Sanji's "accident" that had tipped her off. 

 

Tesoro had actually confronted her about it. He had told her that she was free to reciprocate the affections of other men, but only as long as she would accept the consequences that would follow.

 

Just because of a friend's harmless flirtations, Tesoro had resorted to nearly killing Sanji. Usopp had gotten the message, and she had understood just how closely she had been monitored. There never would be a space where she could conceal herself from his prying eyes; he would always know about her. Usopp had never thought that someone like her could climb her way so deeply into a man's heart, and yet here she was—the source of a monster's obsession. 

 

No matter how much she had struggled or how far she had tried running away, Tesoro had always caught her, and the punishments that had come along with it had been nothing short of unpleasant. So Usopp had shaped up and had fallen into her place as the Casino King's obedient pet. She had embraced her role as Tesoro's doll, but was biding her time until his obsession would one day fizzle out. 

 

Usopp hoped that day would come. As the elevator doors parted and Tesoro guided her out, Usopp yearned for the day when she could be liberated from his clutches. And, if she was lucky, it would come before her sanity would completely erode away and she would irrevocably renounce her mind, heart, and soul to Gild Tesoro. 

Chapter Text

The first witch who Usopp met since her mother was Porche of the Foxy Pirates. She didn’t need to see the woman to know; she had already sensed her. Within certain proximity, all witches were able to sense each other’s aura, and all witches, whenever in public, were to ignore each other. It was common courtesy among their kind to do so; it had been for the past millennium. 


 
It hadn’t been so much of a shock compared to when she had encountered her first witch hunter. Usopp chalked it up to her becoming more or less immune to these surprises in her life. Like that time when she had been fully expecting Kureha of Drum Island to be a witch despite not giving off an aura, not to mention how witches were incapable of concealing their aura. In the end, the doctor had turned out to be a normie with a long nose. 


 
But Porche most definitely was a witch. And, so, Usopp did what her mother had taught her: She avoided interacting with and looking at Porche, not even giving her an imperceptible indication of acknowledgment, and stoutly disregarded the temptation to give in. Porche, in return, acted as though there wasn’t a fellow witch within the vicinity, although, judging by the wild fluctuation in her magic, it was obvious that she was very aware.  


 
Even when the games were over, even when their crews parted on amicable terms, both witches ignored one another to the very end. No bidding of farewells, no hand waves, no eyes meeting. Nothing to show that they knew each other.


 
It was common courtesy, after all. 

 


 

Her mother hadn’t died from an illness, but from a curse.   

 

“I don’t regret falling in love with your father,” her mother had said, “and I don’t regret ever having you. But guard your heart fiercely and give it away when you’re absolutely certain. Don’t be afraid to love, but don’t forget to love yourself. Protect yourself and be careful. I don’t want to see you up in heaven so soon, okay?” 

 

“Okay,” Usopp had replied, but she hadn’t quite understood.  

 

It would be years later, as Usopp would flip through runes-filled pages, that she would understand what love had done to her mother. 

 


 

The first witch hunter who Usopp met—saw, rather—was Mihawk, the world’s greatest swordsman. And, well, he could be a witch hunter or not, but there was no denying that he was a descendant. Even though she had never encountered one before, she could feel his bloodline that sang true and clear of his heritage just as hers did. She immediately recognized her natural enemy. 

 

The man sedately drifted on his boat, cutting between the Krieg Pirates and Luffy, Zoro, and her. A chill ran down her spine when she watched Mihawk casually deflect bullets that a Krieg Pirate had fired at him. Usopp backed away when the man had slain Zoro after Zoro had challenged him to a duel. The battle ended being terribly one-sided as Mihawk ended the fight in less than a minute. 

 

Logically, she knew that she ought to run and hide, but her legs remained rooted in place.  

 

Fortunately, Zoro survived, but the relief was fleeting when Mihawk’s golden gaze landed on her. For what felt like an eternity, he stared at her, and Usopp felt herself tremble under his scrutiny. Did he know who she was? Did he respond to her presence the same way she responded to his? Almost every witch hunter was attuned to sensing a witch—they had been bred that way—but in varying degrees. How keen was his awareness? And what was he going to do? 

 

As though answering her unspoken inquiries, the man turned away and left.  

 


 

Usopp liked to think that she would never use her magic for herself or for anyone else even on the brink of death. She hadn’t touched her reserves since the age of ten, and she hadn’t even after joining Luffy to be his sniper. With all the trials and tribulations that she had faced—the blood, sweat, and tears that she had shed—she had endured it all with the same persistence that an ordinary normie girl would.  

 

Well, as ordinary as one could get when being a Straw Hat Pirate. Usopp had been battered and beaten, had bled, and had been burned and electrocuted. There had been several instances where she had nearly been killed, and her friends had their own close calls as well, but never once had she used her magic.  

 

But now, as Bartholomew Kuma made a swipe for her crewmates one by one, causing them to vanish into thin air, power thrummed in her core and spread throughout her body. It greedily stretched to her fingertips like spider webs and hungrily roiled for action—to be released after seven years of slumber. But as great as the temptation was, Usopp gritted her teeth and pushed it back. 

 

In her momentary distraction, Kuma took the opportunity to take her out too.  

 

Usopp didn’t know what happened afterwards, but she was vaguely aware that, in her surprise, she ended up losing hold of her restraint. Magic wrapped around her like a cocoon as a flurry of colors filled her eyes. It felt like ages for her eyelids to settle for a blink, and, once her vision was cut off for that split second, she found herself sprawled across...something. Someone. 

 

As though inebriated, Usopp struggled to find purchase to pull herself up, only managing to grab a fistful of cloth. She looked up and saw a pair of curious eyes staring down at her.  

 

“Well,” Red Hair Shanks said, “this is a surprise.” 

 

Usopp slumped forward and fainted. 

 


 

The second witch who Usopp met was Shakky. While she could feel the woman’s magic—a relaxed and deliberate flow, unlike Porche’s erratic waves—she was mystified to see that her nose wasn’t long.  

 

“My line specializes in illusory magic, including the cosmetic kind,” Shakky told her when Luffy, Brook, and Chopper were busy gorging themselves with food. She tapped the bridge of her nose. “Not strong enough to hide how pronounced my nose is, but I did it when I was thirteen.” She shrugged, notably blasé about it. 

 

Usopp thinned her lips. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said slowly and carefully. We’re in public, she conveyed, so why on earth are you saying this aloud?  

 

Shakky just rolled her eyes. “You followed your crewmates here intentionally because you sensed my magic. I know because I sensed yours too, so don’t place me at standards when you failed to uphold them yourself.” The woman propped her chin on the palm of her hand and pinned Usopp a half-lidded gaze. “But if you’re that worried, then don’t be. The boys aren’t paying us any attention. Well?” 

 

Usopp resisted the urge to glance over her shoulder to verify that herself, but she knew such an action would only garner suspicion, perhaps more so than the odd nature of their talks. She had to place her faith in that Shakky’s nonchalance wasn’t for show. She nervously swiped her tongue across her lips. “I know that this is wrong, but...” Usopp looked down helplessly. “I just wanted to see another witch, not really interact with one. I mean, it’s just... You’re the second one I’ve met since my mom.” 

 

“And as you get older, you’ll meet many more,” Shakky assured—not out of something needless like comfort, but in a matter-of-fact way. “And the older you become, the less you care about abiding these rules.” 

 

Her brows furrowed. “I don’t see how that’s the case. It’s the adults who pass on the rules to the children.” 

 

“The young adults,” Shakky corrected, smiling wryly. “Old hags like myself don’t give a damn. Tell me, is your line cursed?” 

 

“Aren’t all lines cursed?” 

 

“About ninety percent are in some fashion. The lucky ten aren’t burdened with such a thing,” she said.  

 

“I never read that in my texts,” Usopp said, stunned.  

 

Shakky snorted. “Let me guess, you inherited dusty old books that were written during the Red Massacre, right? Those don’t account for anything aside from the fiasco that was the Age of Turning.” 

 

“But how do you know about the ten percent? Wait, are you of the ten percent?” 

 

“No, dear. I just did a lot of traveling in my youth and met all sorts of people. Granted, I say ten because it’s what I derived from empirically, but it’s a pretty good estimate,” Shakky said. “Unfortunately for me, my line has the birth curse.” 

 

“Oh!” Usopp’s eyes widened. “Mine too.” This was additionally surprising. Not only there existed witches who were spared from their hereditary anathema, but that her curse had also infected other lines. It wasn’t just unique to her own family, then, like how she had always believed it to be. "I had no idea that it happened to illusory witches."

 

"Your texts didn't inform you?"

 

"Um, they might have. There was a long list of types of witches and what curses they had. I only memorized some of them."

 

“Hm. Well, this curse is the reason why I never had any biological kids, just strays.” Shakky gestured to herself as if to say hence my longevity. “Your mother died when you were eight, correct? Mine too. And I’m also assuming that your mother was relatively young, perhaps in her twenties? Early thirties?” 

 

“I...guess.” 

 

“Witches who live that short would impart such teachings. It’s because they hadn’t lived long enough to stop being so paranoid.” To not care anymore, was what Usopp heard. “Coincidentally, I’m the last of my line, but witches ought to die out anyway. Our existence has barely become an imprint in history anymore; therefore, we should too in the future.” 

 

“When you say it like that, it sounds as though you're saying that we might as well commit mass suicide,” Usopp pointed out uneasily. 

 

Shakky chuckled. “Oh, honey, no. I don’t mean it like that. I meant that our kind should grow to be extinct. All this running and hiding in constant fear—do we really want this sort of life for our children? And why persist as witches when the world doesn’t even remember us?” 

 

What a nihilistic perspective... There was also something else about it too. To cease the continuation of their lines would be like an abnegation to the universe for tying misfortune to their fate. Or maybe that said misfortune was a consequence for being able to wield abilities that normies couldn’t possess outside of Devil Fruit powers. Either way, seeing Shakky live her life like this, fully intending on living out her days until she was withered and gray, was so unorthodox that Usopp could only feel bewildered by it.  

 

She wondered if Shakky had told this to any other witches. She must have, surely. And how did those witches respond to it? Had they been intimidated? In awe? Shocked? Or had they rebuked the woman for going against the grain, for being so cynical of their way of living? Usopp personally didn't put much stock in what her future might entail, whether or not she would live and die for her child, but she now wondered if perhaps Shakky had a point. Those who lived short lives would stress the importance of caution, like how mice and rabbits lived in a constant state of vigilance.  

 

What did that mean for Porche, then? The other woman obviously had been taught the same social etiquette that Usopp had been taught, so could it be that her line also had the birth curse? Or were the same rules applied regardless of the curse? Actually, that would make sense. If witches clustered together, then it would seem like they were forming a coven, and covens naturally drew in hunters.  

 

Another thing to consider...

 

“The world doesn’t entirely forget about us,” Usopp muttered. “Witch hunters don’t forget.” 

 

“Witch hunters don’t know,” Shakky disputed gently. “Even though the rules of witches remain alive and active, the rules of hunters are dead. All there’s left are confounding instincts that go on and off when there is no explanation.” 

 

Usopp looked at Shakky, considering. “You met a lot of witch hunters?” 

 

“That I did. Also married one.” 

 

She stared. “Did I hear you right?” 

 

“I know. Sounds suicidal, right?” Shakky breathed in her cigarette and released a silky cloud. “I tell you, when we first met, he tried to kill me without preamble, and he didn’t understand why. The majority of our encounters from there had been so stricken with tension that we decided to relieve it in bed” 

 

“Ohhh no,” Usopp despaired, clapping her hands over her ears. “I didn’t need to know that.” 

 


 

The second witch hunter who Usopp met was Rayleigh, Shakky’s husband and the former first-mate of Gold Roger.  

 

Usopp instinctively shrank within herself at the presence of the hunter. There was a wrinkle wedged between the man’s brows when he glanced at her, and he shook his head with a grumble under his breath. 

 

Overall, their encounter wasn’t anything special. 

 


 

The third witch hunter who Usopp met was Rockstar of the Red Hair Pirates.  

 

Usopp woke up to a feeling of anxiety. Her heart raced wildly as she gasped and panted for air. She closed her eyes for a moment and willed herself to calm down. When she opened her eyes, she found herself lying on a bed in an unfamiliar room. There were sounds reverberating through the walls—yelling?—but they more or less served as white noise.  

 

She remained sprawled across the sheets, blankly staring up at the ceiling, slowly piecing together everything that had happened prior to now. There had been Sabaody and her friends. There had been Sentomaru, the Kuma robots, Kizaru, and the fighting. There had been the actual Bartholomew Kuma and her friends disappearing. And then there had been flying.  

 

When the voices from outside grew louder, Usopp pulled herself upright. She gingerly slid off the bed, nearly stumbling from the dizziness that hit her, and padded across the floor. Upon opening the door, she saw a gathering of people with their backs turned towards her, not noticing her presence because of the shouting match occurring before them.  

 

“I—I can’t describe it, but I know for a fact that she’s dangerous!” 

 

“You not being able to explain just proves how little we should trust you!” 

 

Usopp maneuvered past the throng until she came to the front. Her eyes immediately zeroed in on the tall man with dark red hair and knew, for that one hot second, that he was a witch hunter.  

 

So, that was what she had felt.  

 

Standing across the man were two other people—a man with a gray ponytail and another man with blond dreadlocks.  

 

The hunter jolted as if something had zapped him, and he spun around in her direction. His eyes narrowed warily at the sight of her, and she noticed the way his fingers twitched as though in want of a weapon. His diverted attention drew everyone’s gaze towards her. Usopp cringed and folded her arms around herself, but she was placed in a state of bafflement when she saw the blond man look at her with obvious delight.  

 

“Usopp, you’re awake,” he exclaimed, teary-eyed. 

 

She stared back, her mind spinning. And then she croaked out, “Dad?” 

 

The blond man—Yasopp—her father moved closer to her with his arms spread apart. But before he could take another step, the redhead shifted in front of him, blocking his path. Yasopp’s joy transitioned into ire.  

 

“Get out of my way, Rockstar,” Yasopp growled.  

 

Although the redhead—Rockstar—balked at the older man’s face of rage, he shook his head and held his ground. “I’m sorry, Yasopp, sir, but she isn’t who you think she is!” 

 

“Who do you think you are to tell me that I don’t recognize my own kid?” Yasopp snapped. “Screw you!” 

 

“Rockstar, you know that Doc has done the testing and confirmed that she truly is Usopp,” the gray-haired man said. “Don’t you think that this has gone far enough?” 

 

“Not to mention how your arguments are shit! All you got going for yourself are your ‘instincts,’ but they don’t hold water, especially not to blood,” Yasopp added waspishly.  

 

Rockstar’s brows knitted together in consternation. Before he could say something, Usopp interjected, “He can’t help it.” 

 

All eyes were pinned on her again, and she carried on in an absurdly serene tone contrary to the way her stomach lurched with nervousness, contrary to the way the little voice in her head screamed at her to shut up. Usopp didn’t know why she was doing this—it went against everything she had been taught to believe, but it was as if she was compelled to do so by an unknown force.  

 

“It’s his heritage,” her lips moved, her voice articulated, “that’s making him respond to mine.” 

 

The moment she finished uttering those words, Usopp realized, as her eyes met with Rockstar’s, what it was that had driven her to breach the sanctity of her kind.  

 

In any other circumstances, Usopp would have let Rockstar's crewmates cast their stones at him even at the expense of her guilty conscience. There was nothing more important to a witch than to uphold their millennium-year-old secrecy. Usopp had been so circumspect when it came to the truth and had dutifully adhered to the rules. And yet, here she was, throwing herself and every witch under the bus just because she knew how things were looking for the hunter—just because she felt pity for him. 

 

Her own conscience had been attacked, and Usopp had a vague idea of how that had come to be. 

 

“You’re going to have to elaborate on what you mean by that, little lady.” Coming up from behind was Red Hair Shanks. His expression was warm and alight with curiosity, but his eyes had a calculative gleam as they appraised her. “My man here has been causing quite a ruckus over your unconventional form of travel. Speaking of which, what happened?” 

 

Usopp slowly inhaled and exhaled. “I’ll...take about it, but only on a few conditions.” 

 


 

“You’re a natural, aren’t you? Most wouldn’t be able to do a smidgen of another line’s specialty.” 

 

Usopp shrugged. “It’s just a basic concealer.” That had been applied almost a decade ago and was still holding up. Not that Shakky needed to know that.  

 

Shakky hummed at that. “So you say. What did you say your specialty was?” 

 

“I never did.” 

 

“It must be pretty big if you’re able to use a concealer spell when it should be outside of your specialization. Any youngster would’ve mistaken you to be an illusory witch.” 

 

“Maybe that’s what I really am,” Usopp replied airily.  

 

This prompted a chuckle out of the older woman. “Honey, please. Try as you might, you are not an illusionist. Can’t claim to be one in front of the very best, you know.” 

 

Shakky’s aura hardly shifted, remaining tranquil, almost as if stagnant, as it had been when Usopp had first sensed it; it hadn’t even flickered once. The bartender’s composure on the inside was reflected on the outside, manifesting itself as a calm, if not distant, smile. Usopp was abruptly reminded by the fact that she was sitting before a witch many years her senior with many years of experience on her belt. 

 

“Is that what you are?” the sniper queried. “The very best?” 

 

“As far as I know, still am.” 

 

What a claim. “And you still haven’t fixed your nose after all this time?” 

 

“It grew on me,” Shakky said with a touch of humor, as if she was inwardly laughing at an inside joke. She raised an eyebrow. “Why? Want me to do yours?” 

 

“I think it’ll arouse unnecessary suspicion if I suddenly show up with a smaller nose,” Usopp said, although it didn’t stop her from self-consciously touching it. Growing up with a striking facial feature hadn’t been easy. Children could be so cruel with their lack of tact, and what had evolved from unwitting, callous commentary had been deliberate taunts. Even on the ship when around her dear friends did her self-esteem get shredded. It was hard not to be diffident when beautiful women like Nami and Robin were basically walking reminders of her ugliness.  

 

“It’ll grow on you,” Shakky said, reaching over to pat her shoulder. 

 


 

Her father was silent. He cradled his head between his hands as it hung above his lap. Usopp had never thought about how Yasopp would react to his wife being both a witch and dead, but she certainly hadn’t expected him to be so quiet about it. If anything, him being vocal about it would have made more sense based on what she remembered him to be—loud and expressive. But, then again, Usopp didn’t really know anything about the man. Her memories were nebulous, which had been replaced with feelings of reverence and pride for him being a pirate ever since her childhood.  

 

Not wanting to get sucked into that train of thought, Usopp pulled her gaze away from him to see how the others were taking in the information. Rockstar was in shock, understandably. To discover that he was a descendant of an ancient clan bred with the purpose of eliminating witches... Well, that wasn’t something easy to digest, now was it? Rockstar had been dubious about it initially, but the more she had spoken, the more his doubts had waned and had turned into incredulity.  

 

Shanks and Benn, on the other hand, were contemplative.  

 

“Goes to show how much of the world that we don’t know,” Benn mused.  

 

“I’d say.” Shanks held up his wrist and looked at the black diamond-shaped mark imprinted on his skin—the same one that the other three men sported. “Giants and dwarves and mermaids are one thing, but witches and witch hunters are another matter. And now we’re—what’d you say?—spelled into secrecy?” 

 

“It’s just a precautionary spell,” Usopp said, reflexively defensive. “I’m already breaking a huge rule just by telling you normies about us, especially a hunter.” 

 

“Oh, I understand that, but...” the captain trailed off, frowning.  

 

When Shanks had nothing more to add, Usopp went on to say, “No one else but the people in this room can see the mark, anyways. Well, besides other witches. And, like I said, the spell just prevents you from revealing anything that you know about our kind.” 

 

“So, what? We can’t even discuss it among ourselves?” 

 

She hesitated at that. “You can,” Usopp began slowly, “but you wouldn’t be able to say anything if there’s anyone else within hearing distance; the mark automatically detects that. And it’s best to pretend that what you’ve heard today never happened in the first place.” 

 

Shanks’s frown deepened. He obviously didn’t like that. “How’re we going to explain Rockstar’s behavior to the crew?” he said, turning to face Benn. 

 

“We’ll just say that it was all a big misunderstanding,” Benn suggested.  

 

“I, uh, could say that Usopp-san bears an uncanny resemblance to a subordinate of my father’s killer if that’s alright,” Rockstar offered tentatively, his eyes flickering over to where she stood.  

 

Usopp awkwardly shifted her weight from one foot to the other, not knowing whether the man was addressing to her or to his captain. 

 

For the first time since Usopp had revealed her mother’s death, Yasopp spoke. “It won’t make sense,” he rasped, lifting his head. His eyes were red. “She said that it was your heritage that’s responding to hers. Everyone heard that.” 

 

“Oh. Right.” Rockstar ducked his head.  

 

“We can just say that his family had a longstanding conflict with Mom’s family and that we instinctually recognized each other’s physical traits being distinctive to each other’s family,” Usopp suggested. She remembered telling Luffy and Chopper a story with a similar plot about tribal rivalries. “We can also say that Rockstar’s been a bit out of touch with his family, which is why he wasn’t able to properly explain the reason behind his suspicions about me.” 

 

Yasopp frowned. “I don’t know about that...” 

 

“You were right about before. I totally blabbed without thinking. Earlier,” she said, sheepishly rubbing the back of her neck. “But I think this might be the best story that we can use.” 

 

“She’s right,” Benn sighed. “If we say anything else, no doubt the guys will question us about it.” 

 

Yasopp still didn’t look appeased by that, but he didn’t argue. Usopp wondered if he thought that it wouldn’t be right to use her mother’s family like this, but the basis wasn’t inaccurate. There did exist—or had been—a feud between their families regardless of how impersonal or frayed it was. It usually was between witches and witch hunters.  

 

“We’ll go with that,” Shanks said. He clapped his hand on his knee and grinned at everyone. “Now that’s done and dealt with, we gotta figure out what to do with the little lady over there.” 

 

“She’s staying,” Yasopp said immediately, firmly. “Until we can figure out how we can reunite her with her crew, she’s staying with us.” 

 

“Certainly,” the captain agreed easily. “Although, there still remains the issue on whether our resident witch hunter is okay with that.” 

 

Rockstar flinched. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about it,” he insisted. “Knowing who Usopp-san is, I don’t feel like she’s a threat anymore.” 

 

“She never was,” Yasopp muttered under his breath. 

 

Usopp thought about Shakky and Rayleigh. Eventually, Rayleigh had stopped feeling the urge to bring down Shakky, but that had happened gradually. Their relationship, however, had been more or less like a cat-and-mouse chase—tumultuous yet magnetic. It had been until they had gotten older that they had finally settled comfortably in their relationship in form of marriage.  

 

Usopp and Rockstar were nothing like that. Yes, there was that lingering tension between them of where Usopp wanted to maintain a distance from the man, and Rockstar probably still felt keeping his guard up around her, but that was just their primal nature calling. Besides, for Usopp, the feeling was more subdued when knowing that Rockstar would willingly restrain himself. They wouldn’t have to go through years of development before reaching a ceasefire.  

 

Not that they needed to develop their relationship. It wasn’t like they were going to end up like Shakky and Rayleigh, getting hitched and all. 

 

Usopp smiled at Rockstar. “Thanks. I appreciate it.” 

 

Rockstar looked at her with surprise but then nodded with a small smile of his own. 

 


 

“It seems awfully like a Devil Fruit power,” Shanks commented. 

 

Usopp gave him a sideways glance before returning her attention to the toaster. One of the men had crammed a whole bagel into one of the slots, causing the toaster to break. Granted, it was an ancient clunky thing that ought to be trashed, nearing the end of its usefulness, but the crew was strangely adamant about keeping the piece of junk.  

 

For the past few days, Usopp had been acting as the Red Hair Pirates’ handywoman. She had wanted to make herself useful in return for them allowing her stay, so she had insisted on repairing whatever items that needed repairing. It had started out minor—fixing knickknacks to small appliances. But after messing around with a gun that had been missing its owner, she had soon amassed a pile of requests on things for her to upgrade.  

 

Usopp was no Franky, but she had apparently impressed them enough when they had learned that she had converted a revolving bullet chamber to a magazine that stored more ammunition. Yasopp, in particular, had been very proud of his daughter’s talents and had bragged about her to everyone. While Usopp preened under her father’s praises and the crew’s acknowledgment, she felt...off when receiving both from the captain.  

 

It wasn’t that she disliked Shanks, but she couldn’t say that she liked a certain part about him—that part being his relentless inquisitiveness. Obviously, this had to do with her being a witch. Being questioned by Rockstar was understandable as there was a family history that he hadn’t been privy to until recently. Being questioned by Benn wasn’t so bad since she was just indulging in the man’s intellectual curiosities. Being questioned by Shanks was like having her skin peeled back and him observing her insides to see what made her tick.  

 

Ever since she had taken on the position of being the handywoman, Shanks had used the excuse of personally complimenting her and using her abilities in order to probe her. He had been so subtle—so charismatic—about it that Usopp never would have known about his intentions had it not been for the niggling sensation that she got crawling at the back of her skull. Apparently, she had gained a sixth sense regarding her marked normies.  

 

Usopp had encountered plenty of underhanded people, but Shanks felt like a whole breed of crazy. He was like deception molded into a handsome man with perfect teeth and infectious laughter, and that was what made her uncomfortable, especially knowing that this was the man who her father had given his loyalty to and the man who Luffy looked up to. Shanks could smile at her benignly and be plotting her demise simultaneously, and  Usopp  would be none the wiser if not for her magic.

 

She didn’t know what he was aiming for; she didn’t understand why he was doing any of this. Did he want to seize her power for his own? Usopp doubted that. The man loved piracy for the freedom that it offered, and solely because of that.  

 

Shanks wasn’t someone who hungered for power, and she didn’t think that he was truly a bad man. He loved his crew and treated each member with respect and care. A captain like that was a captain worth following. But, evidently, that kindness didn’t extend to her seeing how she wasn’t actually a part of his crew. Not to say that Shanks wasn’t kind towards her, but also not to say that he didn’t do it with an ulterior motive.   

 

Just like now when their conversation just so coincidentally meandered its way to the topic of her being a witch.  

 

“If you toss me into the ocean, I’ll still be able to swim,” Usopp told him.  

 

“But there are still downsides, though. Curses are like the inability to swim.” 

 

She frowned. “I’m not sure if that’s a fair comparison. Witches are curses whether they be on land or sea. Devil Fruit users are cursed if they remain on sea. Or if they hit by a seastone, but seastones are pretty rare.” 

 

“When you’re a pirate, it doesn’t matter.” Shanks flashed her a smile. “Sometimes, the sea calls out to you so strongly that you can only let yourself be seduced by her.” 

 

She hummed noncommittally. She blindly pawed the floor for the screw and fitted the piece into the hole.  

 

“Anyway,” he continued, “do you think that perhaps witches and Devil Fruit users are somehow related? They’re both pretty magical in a way, don’t you think?” 

 

There it was—the crawling feeling that ran along the base of her head. Usopp shifted fully towards him for the first time today. Shanks was smiling disarmingly as usual, wearing the face that he wore whenever he was alone with her. 

 

She felt her heart beat faster and her stomach twist in knots. Usopp pursed her lips and felt her brows dip into a furrow. She had never been good at concealing her emotions, being one to demonstrate how she felt. However, whenever she was with Shanks, she would try to exercise control over her expressions as to not allow too much to slip by. She didn’t want him to gauge her and be on equal footing when she had to be on top. Her magic gave her the advantage and she intended on keeping it that way.  

 

Usopp looked past the smile and looked directly into his eyes. Something shuttered away and faded into obscurity. Her gaze flickered back to his smile and she noticed that it seemed a touch blander.  

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” Usopp replied with a shrug. “I don’t know about them being related, though.” 

 

“Hm.” Shanks continued to look at her with his smile still in place.

 


 

Two years after her mother’s death, Usopp had stopped running around the village with news of pirates bursting out of her lips. She had stopped pulling pranks and goofing off. She had even stopped venturing outside to play her games, only leaving her home for school and to do shopping. During this change, she had poured her time delving into the texts that her mother had left her with.  

 

With each passing day, Usopp had learned more and more about herself than she could have ever possibly imagined. And with more days to come, Usopp had begun to devise a plan to chase away her loneliness.  

 


 

Usopp met her third witch in Marineford.  

 

The day before, they had a brief impasse with Kaido—a man of formidable build, nature, and power. He was a man truly befitting of the title of Yonko. He had been a monster to behold, but perhaps not as much as expected when he had allowed them to pass. Perhaps Kaido had already figured that Shanks wasn’t someone to mess with. Either way, the Red Force had continued onward until it finally reached its destination. 

 

However, their encounter with Kaido only served to delay them. Usopp had not only missed her chance of reuniting with Luffy, but his brother Ace had been killed. Even though Usopp hadn’t known Ace for long, she felt the loss deeply; she could only imagine the kind of pain that Luffy was going through, which made her heart ache all the more.  

 

She stood in the middle of the broken battlefield, watching from afar as Shanks, her father, and the others stand before Blackbeard, the man who was the perpetrator of this war. He was the one who had killed his own crewmate, hence why Ace had embarked on his mission to mete out justice. Instead of taking down Blackbeard, though, Blackbeard had sent him to the gallows. How the tables had turned. Usopp grounded her teeth at the thought. 

 

And then that was when she sensed her. 

 

The aura wormed its way into her periphery. The magic didn’t flow like how she was accustomed to it being; it was more like spikes hopping around rhythmically. Hopping because...it seemed like it could have been whimsical. Ostensibly, it was playful and perhaps beckoning, but there was an undercurrent of belligerence that caught her breath. It wasn’t obvious, but the sanguinary intent was there. Usopp was instantly wary.  

 

Noticing her dread, Rockstar looked down at her, expression full of concern. “Hey, what’s wrong?” 

 

Usopp couldn’t bring herself to say because right after he had asked her, her eyes met with another’s. An extremely tall woman with a grisly grin. She stood proudly among Blackbeard’s men. 

 

She was a witch. 

 

An actual witch like Porche and Shakky, not a long-nosed normie like how Kureha or Franky’s friends, Kiwi and Mozu, had turned out being. But what set this woman apart from Porche and Shakky—from her mother—was the malevolence. Even though Usopp’s base instincts urged her not to, she tucked herself behind Rockstar because the hunter descendant was better company than the strange witch across from her.  

 

“Can you feel it?” she whispered, her eyes not once straying away from the woman. 

 

“You mean...the witch?” Rockstar frowned. “She’s a witch, right? She feels really off. Different from how I felt about you. Is that normal or...?” 

 

“No, you’re right. She’s just—” Usopp waffled for a bit. “She’s dangerous.” 

 

He paused. “Usopp-san, you should go back to the ship. I don’t think it’s safe to be here.” 

 

Usopp would have protested if she hadn’t felt the same way. She was quite a distance away from where Shanks and Blackbeard were, and the two men were additionally separated by the chasm. But, despite of that, the woman’s attention on her felt unnerving. It was as though regardless of the distance, Usopp wouldn’t be able to escape from the witch’s notice. She murmured her agreement and proceeded to back away.  

 

From the corner of her eye, the woman vanished into a blur. 

 

And then— 

 

A force slammed into her, squeezing every breath out of her body. Usopp wheezed. Blood pooled in her mouth. Her tongue throbbed painfully from where her teeth had cut into. She found herself lying on the cold ground. When she tried to get up, there was a pressure on her back that kept her down. 

 

“Usopp!” she heard her father cry out. 

 

Usopp strained her neck to see what was going on. Above her was the woman. 

 

The woman had seized Rockstar by the neck with one hand, having him hoisted up in the air. As Rockstar furiously attempted to claw his way out, the woman snatched his wrist and flipped it facing up. The black diamond-shaped mark, Usopp suddenly realized. Only her own marked normies and other witches were able to see it. Then this woman must have noticed Shanks, Yasopp, and Benn bearing the same mark. But how did she know that Rockstar would be marked as well?

 

The throbbing that now migrated to her head compounded her confusion. What was this woman doing? Why was she here? Usopp tried to push herself upright again, but she belatedly noticed that the woman’s heel was what kept her pinned to the ground. From the background, there was a clamor of noises. No fighting—there weren’t any swords clashing or guns firing—but there was a lot of yelling. 

 

Usopp pressed her hands against her temple. Her head hurt... 

 

“How did a hunter find out? Or did you voluntarily tell him?” The woman had a deep voice that was cloyed with amusement. “Does that make you daring or foolish? How can you be sure that you won’t tell his kind of this?” 

 

“Screw you, bitch!” Rockstar hissed. “Lemme go!” 

 

“I understand Red Hair and his officers, but not this insect,” the woman chuckled. “Were you under duress? Shall I dispose of him for you?” 

 

Just like that, cold fear came crashing down, straightening out the disorderly jumble of her mind. Not quite wary anymore, Usopp was now downright scared. “No!” Usopp gasped. “He’s not—he doesn’t hunt! He won’t!” 

 

“Such conviction.” To Rockstar, the woman purred, “Hear that, little one? The girl vouches for you despite the filth that runs in your veins. I’ll honor that by sparing your insignificant existence.” With that said, the woman raised her arm and threw him. The man hurtled several meters away and crashed into the marines who had been standing on the outskirts. 

 

"No!" Usopp yelped. 

 

“Unfortunately for you, I have no qualms in taking my kin.” The pressure on Usopp’s back was alleviated, only to be relocated to her throat. Usopp reflexively shrieked, but the sound came out warbled from the vice that enclosed her airways. It didn’t take long for her cold fear to graduate to frenzied panicking. Her legs dangled and swayed uselessly. She couldn’t hear anything aside from her racing pulse. All she could see from her blurring vision were blood-red lips that stretched across a pale face.  

 

And then she felt the magic. The hopping spikes turned piercing as they lanced through her aura, perforating it to a crumbling film. Usopp gagged and sobbed. It wasn’t pain that she felt, but something worse. A direct violation. A desecration of her own magic.  

 

A scream ballooned within her lungs when it couldn’t leave from her mouth. As she helplessly grappled at the clamp around her neck, the woman continued to stare at her, grinning at her as her terrible aura continued to shred hers.  

 

Usopp felt faint. There was something within her that was waning. No matter how hard she tried to cling onto it, it kept on slipping through her grasps. And then she could no longer breathe. She could no longer keep her eyes open—no, she could no longer see.  

 

It was like...this woman was taking parts of her away. 

 

She was stealing her magic! 

 

Oh, Usopp thought. This woman was a copy witch. 

 

No, wait. That couldn’t be true. A copy witch wasn’t supposed to steal magic, but copy magic. Replicate another witch’s ability as her own until she would replicate another to replace that ability. Stealing a witch’s magic would result in death. This woman was going to kill her to take her magic.  

 

At that moment, Usopp bothered to wonder about it. Perhaps the lack of oxygen flowing to her brain caused her to consider a pointless inquiry—pointless because she was on her way to death’s door—but she couldn’t help it. She wondered why a copy witch—if this woman was one—would commit a contravention that would be murdering another witch.  

 

Every witch knew that they weren’t to kill each other. No matter what their differences were, whether they were soldiers of warring nations, victims held at gunpoint to do it, or marines and pirates, they weren’t to do it. There was an inherent wrongness to do so, and yet this witch right here, the one who was slowly suffocating Usopp while leeching off of her, held no such compunctions. Why was that? 

 

Usopp thought about what the answer could be, but she couldn’t hold onto it for a second longer. Thinking about it was becoming a difficulty. She was fading fast, and that was something that she couldn’t allow to happen. Not now. Not like this.  

 

As the fogginess of fatigue finally embraced her, as her skin became numb to the chilliness in the air, Usopp brought her hand against the woman’s one last time. This time, though, she shoved the remainder of her magic to her palm, shaped it, and used the flames to burn. 

 

Usopp was dropped to the ground immediately after that.  

 

Air flooded her chest, and Usopp fell into retching coughing fits. Her throat ached. Her lungs felt like they were going to burst. It hurt too much to swallow. Drool dribbled down from the corners of her lips. Her headache returned.  

 

Usopp curled her fingers underneath her palms, waiting for the vertigo to diminish enough for her to pull herself together. She blinked, seeing the gray ground beneath her. She could see. She lifted her head up. 

 

There, her father and his crewmates stood a few yards away. Their mouths were moving and they were pounding their fists on what appeared to be an invisible wall.  

 

“Barrier magic, courtesy of the third witch that I’ve killed.” 

 

Usopp flinched. The woman grinned at her, but her eyes were dark and narrow. She wasn’t amused anymore.  

 

“You’re a life witch,” the woman stated, holding up her hand where the scorched skin could be seen. “I felt your magic, but seeing your marks is a good enough confirmation.” 

 

Her marks? What marks—oh! Usopp's eyes widened. She immediately folded her arms into herself as though that could do anything to shield them from the world. But she couldn't help it; the most intimate parts of her were now left bare for everyone to see, and she couldn't do anything about it. Usopp shivered.

 

“Telling a hunter about us and committing a taboo. You’re quite something, aren’t you?” the woman remarked.  

 

Hearing that from her of all people evoked an unpleasant feeling. “Y-you k-k-killed,” Usopp croaked out accusingly. 

 

The woman chortled in response. “And there’s more to come. Not every witch can be so lucky as to have life magic. I always found it unfair that I had to settle for only one ability, and an ability that isn’t even my own.” She spread her arms. “So, you know what I did? I set out to fulfill my goal by becoming a witch possessing every magic available.” 

 

Her mind raced at the sense of familiarity those words brought. A copy witch actually being able to steal would mean... Remembering what her books had taught her long ago, realization sank in, which was followed by horror. “Y-you committed your line’s taboo,” Usopp whispered.  

 

“We’re alike in that regard, aren’t we?” The woman cocked her head to the side. “Although, in your case, you’ve lost more than you have gained.” 

 

We’re nothing alike! Usopp wanted to scream out. Because, unlike this woman, Usopp had never robbed anyone of her life just to grant her own wish. She had never intended to harm anyone. She had never wanted anyone to get hurt! And, if anyone had to get hurt, then she would rather it be her than others. At least that way she would be the one receiving the consequences that she had caused. 

 

Which had happened... 

 

But not to this woman, and it wasn't like she gained anything either. The more magic a copy witch stole, the more she hungered for it. It was an insatiable addiction that would drive her mad to the point of ruin, and this woman was happy to indulge it regardless of the lives she took. Greed shone brightly in her eyes when they fixed on Usopp.  

 

“I never once encountered a life witch until now,” the woman sang cheerfully, taking a step forward. "Aren't I fortunate?"

 

Usopp glanced back at her father. Yasopp was now shooting at the barrier, desperation clear on his face. 

 

Usopp liked to think that she would never use her magic for herself or for anyone else even on the brink of death. She hadn’t touched her reserves since the age of ten, and she hadn’t even after joining Luffy to be his sniper. With all the trials and tribulations that she had faced—the blood, sweat, and tears that she had shed—she had endured it all with the same persistence that an ordinary normie girl would.  

 

But that changed ever since Sabaody. She had used her reserves after seven years of dormancy, the first time being an accident and the second time to secure a promise. Nonetheless, she had made a vow to herself to not ever use her magic again no matter the obstacles she would face. She was supposed to handle things the normie way, and yet she couldn’t even manage that! 

 

She broke that vow when she used her magic to free herself from the woman’s hold, and she was going to break that vow again. 

 

If there was one thing that Usopp couldn’t allow to happen, it was to let this woman use her magic as her own. And if Usopp died in the process, then so be it. 

 

Power thrummed in her core and spread throughout her body like how it did before. Instead of spider webs, however, it was lightning that struck. It roiled eagerly and she molded it until she could feel it ready for its release. 

 

Usopp gave one final glance at her father. “I’m sorry, Dad,” Usopp murmured before letting it all out. 

 


 

When Usopp had been ten, she had decided that she had practiced long enough. She had decided that she was ready. In her excitement, she had used a broom to sweep away the books and papers that had been scattered across the floor, and she had shoved away the supplies sloppily. She hadn’t cared to properly clean up after herself, but only because she had intended on doing it later. She had something very important to do! 

 

And, so, Usopp had set off to do what she had long planned to do.  

 

But the moment after she had cast the spell, she had realized the error in her folly and the consequence that had come along with it.  

 


 

Usopp found herself lying on a bed. Her head rolled to the side. Next to her bed was another bed, which was occupied by Ace. 

 

Ace blinked blearily. “Whazz goin’ on?” he slurred. 

 

Someone gasped. “Holy shit.” 

 


 

As it turned out, Usopp hadn’t died, but she hadn’t survived either. 

 

Inky vines wrapped themselves on her arms, legs, and throat, and even slithered past her cheekbones and crossed the bridge of her nose. Where her heart was, there was a dark splatter—the root of these vines. 

 

Before Marineford, the splatter had only been the size of a walnut; now, it was bigger than her hand. Before Marineford, the vines had been veins, only crawling up to her forearms and knees; now, she had to see these dark tendrils entwined with each finger every day. She couldn’t even apply a concealing spell. She couldn’t use her magic anymore. 

 

Usopp stared blankly at her reflection. Long nose, gangly limbs, and now freaky tattoos. How much more of her ugliness was she going to amplify? She might as well shave her head at this point. 

 

There was a knock on the door. “Usopp?” her father called from the other side of the door. “Are you okay, honey? You’ve been in there for a while.” 

 

“I’m fine,” she called back. “I’m just finishing up.” 

 

“Alright.” A pause. “I’ll be here, then.” 

 

The last word trailed off clumsily. Usopp rolled her eyes. As much as she admired her father, Yasopp could be so awkward when it came to interacting with her. Granted, he hadn’t had to act like a dad in over a decade, consequently rendering him clueless as to what to do with a daughter who was no longer a toddler but a teenager. 

 

She shook her head and sighed. Usopp looked in the mirror again, taking in the dark circles and sallow complexion. 

 

Catarina Devon, the witch from Marineford, had left the moment Usopp had ejected her magic out of her body. No need to stick around for nothing, she supposed. Of course, the woman had felt vindictive enough to kick her unconscious body and stomp on her arm. As a result, Usopp was sporting multiple contusions and a bulky arm cast. Yasopp had been darkly pissed that he hadn’t gotten the chance to put a bullet between Devon’s eyes.  

 

Usopp had also been informed that a fight had broken out between the Red Hair and Blackbeard Pirates the second Devon had grabbed Usopp. Everyone had witnessed the magical altercation, but, in their perspective, it had looked like Devon had been slowly choking her. Devon had been believed to be a Bari Bari user, yet there had been bemusement regarding her other abilities that distinctly had nothing to do with barriers. 

 

Rockstar had made it out safely. That was good to know. 

 

Ace was alive. That was...also good, but in some ways troubling. 

 

Usopp opened the bathroom door, and Yasopp promptly pushed himself from the wall that he had been leaning on. Without preamble, he brought an arm around her waist and pulled her weight onto him. Usopp bit back a complaint about not being an invalid. She knew that this was more for her father’s sake than it was for hers. After she had woken up, Yasopp had been hovering over her nonstop, fretfulness seemingly permanently etched onto his face.  

 

What parent could stay still after watching his child get nearly killed? After not being able to do anything to protect her? Usopp understood, so she didn’t say anything and let Yasopp assist her down the hall.  

 

Before they could turn a corner, there was shouting that reverberated from the room.  

 

“Why not? She resurrected me, so she can do the same for Pops!” 

 

Usopp felt her father tighten his grip on her waist. They didn’t take another step towards the door as the shouting resumed from the other side. She peered up at him and saw his hardened gaze and thinned lips. There was a crease between his brows that Usopp instinctively wanted to smooth out with her thumb. Instead, she murmured, “Dad?” 

 

After a few seconds, Yasopp said, “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.” 

 

Her brows went up. What? Was that even an option? “Are they going to let that happen?” 

 

“They won’t be happy, but I won’t give them access if you prefer not to speak to them.” Yasopp looked back at her solemnly. “Just say the word. I won’t even let Shanks talk to you.” 

 

“You would do that for me?” 

 

“Usopp, you’re my daughter. Of course I would.” 

 

Her chest warmed at the thought that her father would go to such lengths. Barring his own captain for her sake? The offer meant more than he could understand, and Usopp considered accepting it. It was tempting to just run away and hide from everyone, especially when she had someone who would act as her shield, but this wasn’t a matter that she could avoid. Realistically, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep hiding what with the Whitebeard Pirates around. They would get an answer from her sooner or later. 

 

Usopp chewed her lower lip. “No... Better get this over with.” 

 

Yasopp frowned. “Are you sure?” 

 

“Yeah.” No. “And we should get on with it too; otherwise, Ace might burn the furniture.” 

 

“That won’t be a problem,” he muttered. Usopp looked at him in confusion, but he only exhaled and opened the door. 

 

When he carried them both inside, the room fell silent. All the occupants stared at her as she stared back. Either sitting or standing in a loose circle were more than ten of the Whitebeard Pirates, presumably the Division Commanders. They must be if they were the ones gathered here in Shanks’s office. Usopp’s gaze glided from one face to another, taking in their varying appearances.  

 

Her attention was drawn to Ace in particular.  

 

Ace looked good. No bruises, no scratches, and hole gaping from his chest. He did appear disheveled, though. His hair was messy, as if he had been running his fingers through it several times, and his clothes hung off of his shoulders poorly. Ace didn’t care how he appeared, evidently, as he marched towards her with a determined look on his face. 

 

Yasopp slipped away from Usopp’s side and stood in front of her, blocking Ace from reaching her. “Don’t think about it,” he said coldly. 

 

The younger man glowered. “Don’t think about it?” Ace parroted back with a scoff. “You’re the one who’s not thinking right. I need her to bring back Pops!” From where she stood, Usopp could see Ace shuffling to the side, but Yasopp mirrored his action. “Get out of my way!” 

 

“Ace, that’s enough,” one of the commanders said. “We don’t want to antagonize our hosts.” 

 

“I’m not antagonizing anyone, Marco,” he snapped. “It’s Pops.” 

 

“Ace,” the man sighed, but didn’t say anymore after that. 

 

“Usopp. You’re Usopp, right?” Straining over Yasopp’s shoulder, Ace peered at her. The expression of anger was replaced by a look of plea. “You’re Luffy’s sniper. You remember me, don’t you? Back in Alabasta?” 

 

Usopp hesitated before nodding. “I do,” she said, wondering what Ace was getting at. 

 

“I know what kind of person my brother is. He’s important to you just as he’s important to me. He’s not only your captain but your friend. I know because I’ve seen how you guys were like; your crew has a bond that makes you a family,” Ace said. “That’s how it’s like with the Whitebeard Pirates. Just—just imagine what’s it like if one of your family has been killed.” 

 

Her mother bedridden, pale and ghastly, weak and dying— 

 

Yasopp bristled. “That’s crossing the line, kid.” 

 

"Just—argh, I know. I'm sorry." Ace shoved his fingers into his locks, visibly frustrated. "But I—but I..." he trailed off when the last word parted his lips with him choking on his tears. Ace wasn't just angry and desperate, but also heartbroken. Anguish marred his features, and he twisted his face furiously as though he could mask how he truly felt.

 

How strange it was to see Ace like this. He had been a man of mystery and intrigue back in Alabasta. He had been the tall, dark, and handsome fellow who had charmed all of the Straw Hats with his affability and confidence. Yet, in this very moment, Ace was no longer that cool older brother, but rather someone vulnerable. He seemed small with his shoulders hunched over and the cloud of remorse hanging over his head. 

 

Usopp didn't pretend to understand how much Whitebeard had meant to him, but she remembered the reverence in his tone when he had spoken about wanting to make Whitebeard the Pirate King. Ace must have had loved the man like a father. An actual father. And it must have had been difficult using Luffy as an example when Ace had sacrificed himself to save him. Having lost his father and nearly lost his brother, Ace had endured a lot. 

 

Actually, was Luffy alright? Didn't he sustain a terrible injury despite not getting hit by Akainu? Worry gnawed at her. "How's Luffy?" Usopp asked. 

 

Ace flinched, surprised by her question. "Luffy?" he parroted, nonplussed.

 

"He's fine," Shanks answered in his place. "From what I saw, he was taken in by a capable doctor."

 

Usopp relaxed. "Then Luffy will make it out alive."

 

"Y-yeah. Luffy's strong. Of course he'll be okay," Ace said, his voice rough. 

 

Usopp didn't doubt that. After all, she had witnessed Luffy skirting from death's snares several times. Even when thrust in the center of a war, Luffy had good chances of making it out alive, and hearing Shanks giving his affirmation reinforced that belief. But Usopp wasn't so stupid to think that her captain was invincible. Luffy was strong, but he was human; he had good chances of living, but that also meant he had chances of dying. Luffy wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been because of someone stepping in to take the blow.

 

She took a small step forward, her shoulder brushing against Yasopp's arm. "It's because you saved him."

 

"He's my brother," Ace replied. "I'll go through hell if it means protecting him."

 

"Which won't happen," one of the commanders interjected darkly. "Dying once is enough."

 

"Speaking of..." Usopp took a breath. "Are—are you able to use your Devil Fruit power?"

 

"I—no." Ace frowned. "After waking up, it was as if I never had it to begin with. I don't feel weakened by seastones, so I'm guessing that I can submerge myself in seawater without drowning."

 

Usopp thought back to Yasopp's earlier comment about Ace burning furniture. So, that was what he had meant. This further confirmed what Usopp had suspected, not that it was necessary. Seeing how the vines had spread across her skin was enough of a confirmation for her. But judging by the grim expressions that the Whitebeard Pirates were sporting, it seemed that Ace's account had pushed everyone to the same conclusion.

 

"It is said that once a Devil Fruit user dies, the user loses the ability only for the fruit to reappear," a commander said. "Then...that means that...?"

 

"Ace really did die," the man from earlier—Marco—said. "No one could have survived an injury like that, much less reach a recovery like how he did."

 

Usopp glanced at him curiously. "What happened?"

 

Marco sighed and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "It was like watching a miracle happening before my eyes. White glittery shit started appearing where the injury was, and then his own body started repairing itself. Arteries and veins were connecting each other, muscles were making lattice-work over his heart that was beating again, and all his other injuries just seemingly evaporated into nothingness." Marco sighed again and dropped his arms. "It was crazy to behold."

 

"Well, you didn't mention that to us," someone said in a put-off voice. 

 

"Sorry, I was just busy trying to grasp what the hell I just saw," he replied sarcastically. "I mean, it's not every day you get to witness someone coming back from the dead."

 

"Which was made possible," Ace said, locking his gaze with Usopp's, "with your magic."

 

"Y-yes," Usopp said nervously.

 

"Then can't you do the same with Pops? I get that you're weakened right now, but once you're all better, I'm sure that—"

 

"I can't. I'm sorry."

 

Usopp watched Ace draw his shoulders back. "You can't or you won't?" he asked tersely.

 

"Ace," a commander reproached him before shooting Usopp an apologetic glance.

 

"No, I wanna know too." Pinning her with a glare was a young man. He was one of the smallest commanders, perhaps standing close to her height, yet his youth and stature did nothing to dampen the ferocity in his eyes. Usopp stifled the urge to duck behind Yasopp, but she did look away, effectively intimidated. 

 

"Haruta, not you too," one of the other commanders groaned. 

 

"We've been dodging the question long enough," Haruta growled. "She's a witch, correct? And she was the one to resurrect Ace. Then shouldn't she be able to use her magic to resurrect Pops?"

 

"That's what I've been saying!" Ace exclaimed.

 

Usopp's eyes widened. They knew that she was a witch? Her attention automatically flitted over to Shanks, whose contrite smile revealed as much as she had suspected. He lifted his unmarked wrist and waved it. Of course. Just as how her concealer had vanished, so did the marks; and with the marks gone, there was nothing to uphold the secrecy. Usopp was beginning to understand that just because she hadn't actively tapped into her reserves before didn't mean that she hadn't used them. So much for her efforts in non-magical normalcy. 

 

"Just look at her," Marco snapped. "Does she seem like she's in any condition to do anything right now?"

 

"Which is why I suggested that we wait for her recovery—"

 

"If my daughter says that she can't, then she can't," Yasopp seethed. "You ungrateful shitheads better accept that."

 

"But if she can bring him back, then do you realize how we can straighten out the destabilization that's to come in his absence? Surely you must know that—"

 

"You're making this a matter of 'will she' or 'will she not'. It's 'she cannot'—"

 

"We don't know that!"

 

"Alright, alright," Shanks said, his voice cutting through the shouting, and everyone immediately fell silent. "There's no need to squabble. Let's just ask her now." With that said, Shanks looked back at her and prompted her with a "Well?"

 

"I can't," Usopp said, still cowed by Ace and Haruta's persistence, but resentful enough towards Shanks to provide him a glare of her own. 

 

Shanks scratched the back of his head. "Are you that mad that I blabbed? Well, don't think that I'm the only one responsible. Benn didn't do a shabby job explaining either."

 

Benn joined her in glaring at the redhead, but he soon dropped the glare with an exasperated huff. "The mark faded probably around the time you passed out, Usopp. That's my guess. We weren't really paying attention to what with the fiasco occurring," the man said. His expression softened considerably. "We're sorry about breaking our promise to you, but there was no other way we could have explained the situation without revealing the truth."

 

Usopp pursed her lips in dissatisfaction. What a short-lived promise it was. 

 

"They explained to us about the marks, that they were only visible to the recipients and witches. They then told us about the existence of witches and witch hunters," a commander said. A wrinkle formed between his brows. "We didn't believe it at first, but after everything that happened, it...made sense. We assumed that what you were experiencing was some sort of magic depletion given your condition. However, judging by the finality in your voice..." 

 

Usopp nodded. "It's not a result of magic depletion. My magic really won't come back."

 

Without any hesitation, the commander replied, "How so?"

 

Usopp, on the other hand, did hesitate. In a span of days, she had already messed up. She had told three normies and a hunter descendant the truth about her heritage, which also disclosed the secret that every witch guarded. And with the marks gone, said normies had gone and told even more normies about her. To think that a millennium-year-old secret could be broken like this and all because of her misguided sense of guilt that had sprung at the worst of times. 

 

So, here she was, stuck in an utterly complicated position. She had been compromised and it had been all her fault. While Usopp could trust her father not to say anything, Shanks and Benn had proven themselves untrustworthy and might run their mouths off again. And who knew with Rockstar? He seemed like a reliable guy, but his loyalty didn't extend to her and he had no reason to keep his promise. That could be said for the Whitebeard Pirates in this room. 

 

They could be good men and they could be grateful for her actions for saving their comrade, but she didn't know them. For all she knew, there was nothing in it for them to not reap the stakes. Because they knew that witches and magic existed, who was to say that they wouldn't exploit it? They could say they wouldn't breathe a word about it to anyone else while crossing their fingers behind their backs, or they could break their promises whenever it was convenient for them. It had certainly worked out well for Shanks and Benn, hadn't it? But Usopp shouldn't be too hard on them; after all, breaking promises due to convenience wasn't a novelty for her.

 

Nonetheless, the weight of this responsibility didn't allow her to make any more errors. She had to salvage this however she could. It was the least that she could do for every witch out there. Because—because—because it was common courtesy among witches. Witches ignored each other publicly and refrained from murdering each other and maintained their millennium-year-old secret. She might have already broken two of those rules, she should try to remedy that. 

 

All for a millennium-year-old secret.

 

Suddenly, that weight had gotten heavier. Usopp felt like collapsing under the immense pressure. She was tired. She was very tired. And she felt like giving up. For the first time since she had stepped out of Shakky's bar, she wondered, What was the point? Why...even bother? What was the use of shouldering this ancient decree when it shouldn't matter anymore? Especially not to her at any rate. Shakky likely would have agreed, although it wasn't like Shakky had told anyone about witches. Probably not wanting to share her belief at the expense of others who disagreed with her.

 

Her mother certainly wouldn't concede to the older woman's philosophy. Her mother had reverently told her stories about witches martyring themselves for the sake of protecting their secret, and she had believed that they should honor their sacrifice. 

 

Then she should try to make things right, shouldn't she? But...she had already screwed up this much. Several more people knew about her, and hundreds more could follow subsequently. She could keep silent and refuse to say anymore, or she could lie her way out of the situation. Maybe she could fall back on her father and rely on him despite how cowardly this would be. 

 

"Usopp."

 

She flinched and lifted her head. Shanks stared back at her, but gone was the sheepish grin or the show of silliness when he had outed Benn. His brows were furrowed and his mouth was pressed into a thin line. Usopp had never seen that expression on him before. Shanks normally had a blithe and jovial disposition, even when serious such as when he had faced Kaido and Blackbeard. Now...

 

"I know that I have broken my promise to you before, and I truly am sorry for that, but I swear to you that I won't again. You don't have any reasons to believe me, but I won't tell anyone else anymore about you or the other witches. You have my word." Shanks leveled her with a stare so bright and full of resolve that Usopp couldn't help but get sucked into those dark orbs of his. "And I can guarantee this for the men in this room. Whatever you choose to say, we'll honor that."

 

Murmurs of agreement floated across the room. Usopp didn't bother meeting their eyes to see whether or not they were speaking the truth, though. She didn't bother muffling her incredulous snort as she tore away from entrancement that Shanks had spelled her in. Had she not know any better, she would have believed him wholeheartedly, forgive him of his betrayal, and move on with the hope that everything would turn out alright. 

 

But Shanks was a wolf in sheep's clothing. She could never forget the way he would look at her with those prying eyes, filled with dark designs to know more than he ought to. There was a phantom sensation of warning crawling at the back of her skull, reminding her that no matter how kind a smile appeared, it didn't always relay the person's true intent. 

 

Tendrils of anger and bitterness seeped through her wall of trepidation. She was angry because of how Shanks was trying to manipulate her. She was bitter because of where she was now. And then she felt nothing. Was it apathy or resignation? Who knew? But the hot pressure that welled up within her soon deflated to nothingness. It was as if all emotions were expunged from her system. No, she was just weary. In the end, it just didn't matter anymore. Not with where she was heading. 

 

With that, Usopp decided to just outright say it. Not because of Shanks's flimsy conviction, not because she longed to be understood. She just didn't care anymore. The more she tried to bottle it up, the more the others would try to probe. Thus, she made the choice to toss away her mother's teachings, to embrace Shakky's nihilism, and to do what no witch had allegedly ever done.

 

"In order for Catarina Devon to not take my magic, I did the only thing that I could think of. It was in exchange for reviving Ace."

 

"Then that means...?" Ace peered at her sharply.

 

"I'm no longer able to use magic anymore."

 

Shanks frowned. "There's something else that you're not telling us."

 

Her shoulders dropped. "What makes you say that?"

 

"It was the way you told me, your father, Benn, and Rockstar. You made it as though magic is an integral part of your existence. You say that you're not able to use magic, but how come this tattoo appeared? Is this a result of your curse?"

 

"We shouldn't push her if she doesn't want to," Yasopp said, although there was an edge of reluctance in his voice that betrayed his curiosity. It didn't take much to figure out that he was concerned about the abnormal addition to her appearance. Usopp held in a sigh.

 

"It's fine," she said, eyes settling to the floor. "I can explain."

 


 

"Long ago, my family line specialized in life magic. The name was a bit misleading, though. It was called life magic because whatever was on the verge of decay, life magic could revivify. From people, animals, and plants, it was like breathing life back into them. The one thing that we couldn't do was actually revive the dead.

 

"That was until my ancestor, Angelina, found a way. In my texts, there wasn't a lot of background information about her, but there were details as to why she pursued the art of necromancy. She lost someone precious to her, which drove her to a state of desperation by throwing herself into research and experiments. She wanted to see if she could turn revitalization into revival. When she had her breakthrough, there was a fatal drawback.

 

"You see, at this time, it wasn't unusual for witches of other lines to make attempts to manipulate their magic into doing anything outside of their designed purpose; it was an era of experimentation where no one held back. We call this the Age of Turning. Unfortunately, despite the desire to test the limits and make discoveries, doing so evoked consequences. What Angelina and many other lines' ancestors did brought upon consequences not only to themselves, but also to their descendants."

 

"Angelina's drawback was your family's curse," Benn ventured.

 

"Not quite," Usopp said. "Witches always have been cursed; it's an exchange with the universe for being able to wield the abilities that witches possess. And, well, that's what Angelina basically did; she paid the price for giving herself and her descendants an additional ability—revival."

 

"What is the price?" Yasopp asked gravely, his face pale. 

 

"Originally, my line's curse would limit a mother's life expectancy to thirty years after giving birth. Now, the limit is eight years."

 

The silence that followed was heavy. The Whitebeard Pirates regarded her with varying expressions of pity whereas the Red Hair Pirates only grimaced. Shanks, Benn, Yasopp, and Rockstar had already heard about this, but what they didn't know was that the original curse had been altered. Her father buried his face in his hands. Usopp could only imagine the what-ifs that spun in his head: What if Angelina hadn't doomed her line? What if Banchina had twenty-two more years to live? What if he had more time to spend with his wife? What if he had never left his wife and child in the first place?

 

Usopp broke the silence by continuing. "During the Age of Turning, this exacerbation of curses spread around like an epidemic. I don't know if the witches at the time weren't aware of what they were doing would lead up to this or if they just didn't care. Progress over safety, probably."

 

"Then the other lines were inflicted with this exacerbation, correct?" a commander said.

 

"Yeah. There are many and different curses. There are a few lines that also have the birth curse—" like Shakky's line "—and there are lines that have the hunger curse—" like Devon's line "—and the sleep curse and the ugly curse. There are many more curses, although I wouldn't be able to tell you all of them."

 

"The ugly curse? Is that where someone turns ugly?" Rockstar asked curiously, speaking up for the first time.

 

"It makes everything they see as ugly, including their own reflection."

 

"Oh."

 

"Do these curses have anything to do with the type of witch you are?" Shanks inquired.

 

"Not really." Usopp could make the case that, for a life witch, to restore life would mean taking life away from herself. There was something poetically tragic about how a life witch was cursed—to breathe back life and to create life, she had to sacrifice her own.

 

She could make the case that, for a copy witch, the desire to own an ability rather than replicate it would leave her eternally unsatisfied, like a love that could never be requited. In that regard, copy witches could be dangerous to be around because they were always battling with temptation; if they were to commit their taboo, that would be additionally perilous. 

 

But Usopp couldn't make a case for illusory witches. Why would they have the birth curse? Shakky could have lied to her about it for whatever reason, but there also existed curses that seemed to match poorly with other types of witches. For instance, why would wind witches, women who have the power to manipulate the flow of air, be afflicted with the ugly curse? If anything, the ugly curse would have been a better fit for an illusory witch, someone who can create beauty out of nothingness.

 

"I wouldn't be able to tell you how witches got cursed in the first place. It would be like explaining how Devil Fruits came into existence," Usopp said. 

 

"Then could you tell us about witch hunters?" Marco asked. "Red Hair told us a bit about them, but we don't know how they came to be."

 

Rockstar perked up in interest. She hadn't elaborated much on hunters to the Red Hair Pirates either. 

 

"It started after the Age of Turning," Usopp began. "There were some witches who became mad with power; there were others who reacted out of insanity because of the way their curses developed. Because of their actions, people were killed. To put an end to this destruction, a group devoted itself to slay down every witch to restore peace. Witches refer this period as the Red Massacre, but I'm sure that the hunters of the past would call it a crusade." She shrugged. "As the years went by, this group became highly skilled in tracking down and killing witches; they became known as witch hunters.

 

"To ensure that every witch is to be eliminated, they passed on their teachings to their children, and their children passed on to their children. It took a few generations of training for them to become highly attuned to a witch's aura, according to my books. Likewise, it was the same for witches to witch hunters. At that point, the destructive witches were all slain and the other witches knew better than to abuse their powers, but the people were still scared of them and believed that they could slip up at any time. 

 

"So, the onslaught of witches continued with the intention of driving them to extinction. Witches then went into hiding and concealed their identities to protect themselves, thus became our secret that's as old as a thousand years. Of course, with witch hunters being adept in detecting witches, witches had to find a way to make it less likely to be found. For example, unless they're mother and child, you'll hardly find two or more witches together for very long since hunters are sensitive to covens."

 

"Covens? Are those...gatherings of witches?" a commander asked.

 

"Yeah. A witch's aura extends at a certain distance, which a hunter is able to detect if he's within that boundary. But if there is more than one witch together, then that boundary stretches further, making it possible for a hunter to detect a witch without having to come closer. Unfortunately, it's not the same for hunters in that regard, so a group of hunters could travel as a unit."

 

"Are witches unable to retaliate or defend themselves?" 

 

"They could, but no one wants a repeat of the Red Massacre." Usopp shrugged again. "Even when hunters forgot about them, they still have their instincts and could easily overcome them."

 

"Why do you say it as though you're not a witch?" Ace asked, frowning.

 

"Because I'm not one anymore. I don't have any magic, remember?"

 

"Yeah, but..." he trailed off. He shook his head and dropped his gaze. 

 

"I have a question about Catarina Devon," Benn broached. "What happened back there—I couldn't be sure whether she was a Devil Fruit user with multiple powers or a witch, but I'm assuming that she is a witch. Am I right?"

 

"You are. She's a copy witch who's committed a taboo and is now paying the price." Usopp explained to them about what would happen if a copy witch were to steal magic. As expected, everyone was alarmed by the new information. The men proceeded to have a discussion on how much of a danger Devon posed and whether or not Blackbeard was made privy of the existence of magic. Meanwhile, Usopp took a brief moment to mull over it herself. It wouldn't do well to allow that woman to run around as she pleased, especially now that she was among Blackbeard's ranks. Who knew what she could do with so much power at her disposal?

 

"Wait, wait, wait," someone exclaimed. "Are you telling us that Devon is now some kind of overpowered monster? How the hell is that a curse?"

 

"Did you miss the part where she'll always be hungry for more magic?" someone else remarked.

 

"I understood that, but it doesn't appear to be much of a negative consequence overall."

 

"It probably depends on the person," Usopp mused. "One copy witch might succumb to her hunger by eating her own magic if she's desperate enough to sate it, particularly if there are no other witches to steal from. It's the kind of curse that drives a person insane. For Devon's case, I think she has embraced the insanity and lets her hunger move her forward; it's the only explanation that I can think of as to how she managed to last this long."

 

"Then when she attacked you, she was trying to steal your magic," Shanks concluded.

 

Specifically her. Life magic was considered to be a superior form of magic because the witches who specialized it were able to perform other kinds of magic with relative ease. Because of that, Usopp was able to teach herself illusory magic, elemental magic, space magic, and many more. She was able to house many abilities without any ramifications outside of her original curse. Devon could have targeted her solely because of her life magic, or she could have been inspired by feelings of envy and resentment.

 

"She told me that she never had life magic before," she said. "That's why she grabbed me. She was going to steal my magic by leeching off my energy, which would have killed me."

 

Yasopp smiled grimly down at her. "It's a good thing that she didn't."

 

Usopp nodded absently. "She would have had the opportunity if I hadn't committed a taboo of my own."

 

Yasopp blinked. "You mean resurrecting Ace?"

 

"By which you lost your magic," Haruto finally spoke up again. He no longer held her in contempt and now regarded her with curiosity. Something within her settled easily with that. "Is this another curse? Losing your magic? Wasn't the consequence that your ancestor reaped the shorter life after giving birth?" The discomfort returned. 

 

Usopp had known that this question would come up, yet, regardless, she wasn't prepared for it. It made her feel wearier than before knowing that she was going to divulge this part to everyone. She could predict the hysterics that her already emotional father would unleash. "Well, yes," she replied, the words gusting past her lips, "but...that isn't all. The consequence of having the ability to revive is that. The consequence of making use of that ability is something else."

 

"Then that's the taboo, huh? Would that be whatever these markings mean?"

 

"Yeah." She squandered a handful of seconds in silence, acting as though she was mustering up the courage to answer. In reality, she was just procrastinating. "I did something that I never should have done."

 

"Usopp?" Her father looked at her with eyes so wide, so fearful. "Usopp, what—what did you do?"

 

"You have to understand, Dad. I was so lonely and sad, and it was two years since..." Usopp sighed. "I was ten when I tried to bring Mom back from the dead, but I botched up the spell so badly that it didn't work; all I could get was a hunk of rotting meat and... And because my attempt failed, I kept my magic, but I was still cursed for it." She weakly gestured at her markings. "I was slowly dying, and probably would have died around forty or fifty thanks to my magic staving off the effects. But now that I don't have my magic anymore, my condition's worsened progressively."

 

"Usopp, how long?"

 

There was a pause, and then an answer. "A year."

 

A hitched breath. Despair took over his expression. Yasopp turned away from her and sobbed.

 


 

"You didn't expect a witch to continue existing without her magic, did you? When I don't have my magic, I'm not a witch. And when I'm not a witch, I'm nothing. What is a man when he is not a man? What is life when it isn't life? That's why I'm dying."

 

No response.

 

"I'm sorry that it has to be this way."

 

A lie.

 

"But I don't regret it."

 

The truth, at least.

 


 

PART ONE END

Chapter Text

There were many things that Zoro had come to learn about himself after entering his relationship with Usopp. 

 

Like how he actually had a type. Where buxom beauties or conventionally pretty faces didn't do him in, it was the uniquely cute girls that did. Admittedly, Zoro had found Perona to be attractive, but her overbearing personality had been too reminiscent to Nami's that he had been instantly turned off. But Usopp? He had been unwittingly drawn to her for quite some time, and it only had been until when they had been an official couple that Zoro had realized just why. 

 

Zoro liked expressive and loud people. It might be strange to think about coming from a reserved guy like him, but, as they would say, opposites tended to attract one another. But he didn't like every expressive and loud person out there; if that was the case, then he would have been more tolerant of Brook's dumb skull jokes or Franky's annoying outbursts or Sanji's gross screeching every time a lady would cross his path. Zoro had a specific brand of passion that he liked in a person, and that came in the shape and form of Usopp.

 

Zoro had always imagined himself being attracted to a woman who could hold her ground no matter what adversity would come her way, but he found that he didn't mind acting as Usopp's shining knight in armor, sweeping her off her feet to protect her from danger. It made him feel good knowing that Usopp could rely on him to be her stalwart defender. And he would never admit this to anyone, not even to Usopp, but his heart would always beat a little faster whenever she would cling onto him. 

 

And, before becoming Usopp's boyfriend, he never thought that he would be the kind of guy who would get jealous. Once upon a time, he had looked down on those who would possessively cling onto their lovers, finding them too enfeebled by their insecurity to rationalize their own weaknesses. Now, much to his dismay, he couldn't help but commiserate with those weaklings.

 

Zoro would never go out of his way to tell Usopp who to talk to or what to do, but he could at least pick a fight with Sanji. Not like that would change anything, but it was a good outlet than anything.

 

"Quit calling her Usopp-tan, creep."

 

"Hah?" Sanji sneered. The cigarette bounced from one corner of his mouth to the other. "Then what do you have me call her, then? My darling angel? My cutie pie? My sugar plum princess?"

 

Zoro grounded his teeth. He knew that Sanji would be more than happy to address Usopp by those names, and not only because he would do it out of adoration. The spite lit brightly in his visible eye as he returned Zoro's glower. It was funny in a way. Here Zoro was, confronting the cook on the basis of his jealousy when Sanji himself was brimming with it. 

 

"You try that, I'll skin you alive," Zoro warned, fingers twitching for his sword. 

 

Sanji scoffed. "Don't make me laugh. After all this time, you still have yet to defeat me."

 

"I'd say the same to you, curly brow."

 

The two stood in silence, motionless. Yet despite the stillness shared between them, the atmosphere was fraught with tension. They glared intently at one another, wordlessly daring the other to make a move while staunchly holding their ground. The moment was broken, however, when Luffy's voice rang out, "Sanji, can I eat the pies sitting on the counter?"

 

"You touch a crumb and I'll beat your ass into next Tuesday," Sanji hollered with a snarl. Luffy gave a loud whine. 

 

When Sanji looked back at him, he was met with his smug smirk.

 

"It wasn't a contest, mosshead," Sanji snapped. 

 

"Sure," Zoro couldn't resist drawling, savoring the victory that he had over the cook. Even if it was something minuscule, every battle won against Sanji was worth relishing. 

 

Sanji acted as though he couldn't be bothered. "Hmph. I've been calling her Usopp-tan for this long. Why be mad about it now?"

 

The smirk slid off. "She wasn't my girlfriend then. She is now," Zoro told him, "so drop the honorific, you weirdo. I know that you're affectionate when it comes to women, but you don't need to be so much so with Usopp."

 

"Listen here, marimo. There's a specific reason why I address her as Usopp-tan, got it?" He plucked the cigarette from his lips and blew out a cloud of smoke. "It's why I won't stop calling her Usopp-tan."

 

Zoro narrowed his eye. "And why's that?"

 

"I'll tell it to you nice and slow so that you'll understand," Sanji said with a teasing smirk, and then dropped it for a more serious disposition. "You see the difference between her and the other ladies on board?"

 

Did the cook have to be so vague? Zoro could think of a plethora of answers as to how Usopp differed in what Nami and Robin had in common. But before he could list out all the reasons, he paused. This was Sanji, the crew's most flagrant skirt-chaser. If there was one thing that would catch the dart-brow's eye, it would be a lady, but not just any woman—an attractive lady. If he happened to drool over anyone with a pair of breasts, then...well... 

 

Zoro had once accused Sanji of going after any woman, but, now that he thought about it, that was wrong. Like hell Sanji would lust after hags like Kureha and Kokoro, and Zoro couldn't imagine him accepting Lola's proposal no matter what. But he digressed. Sanji prioritized appearances when on his disgusting pursuits for female attention, which explained why he would target Usopp like how he would for Nami and Robin. And how did that relate to how Usopp was different from those two?

 

"Sheesh, marimo, I know that your brain is pea-sized, but it's not that hard," Sanji snorted.

 

"Shut up," Zoro reflexively said. He crossed his arms and said, "Usopp's cute whereas Nami and Robin are hot."

 

"Ha, I knew that a mosshead like you wouldn't—wait, what did you just say?"

 

"What? It's true, isn't it?"

 

Sanji's eye grew wide in bewilderment. "Holy shit. You just might be smarter than I have thought." Zoro pushed down the flare of irritation. "Did you seriously acknowledge Nami-san and Robin-chan's beauty while at it? Did you seriously call them hot?"

 

Why did the cook have to act as though Zoro was oblivious to these sorts of things? He had two—erm, one functioning eye. He could see that a person could be physically attractive or not. "Don't change the topic, love cook. You were going to explain why you won't quit calling Usopp by that honorific, remember?" he huffed impatiently.

 

"Hmph, fine. Since you've accurately—and surprisingly—guessed it, I will."

 

They migrated from the deck to the kitchen. While Sanji was an asshole, he was still a gracious host. He slid a mug of beer to Zoro before transferring the pies to the back of the kitchen. Zoro didn't care for sweets all that much, but he had to admit that the baked goods made the place smell divine—not that he would ever say that to the cook. 

 

"I would've thought that Luffy would be popping a squat outside," Zoro commented, lifting the mug to his lips. 

 

"Yeah, well, that'd be too boring for him. He usually goes elsewhere to do something," Sanji said, taking a knife to divide the pies into slices. "Whenever he does that, he forgets to run back here to fill his stomach, that glutton. Anyway, never mind about him; we're here to talk about Usopp-tan."

 

Zoro felt his brow twitch. "One of these days, I'm going to beat the crap out of you."

 

"As if you can," Sanji mocked. "I'll never stop calling her that! A person like her is deserving of such name."

 

"Deserving?" The way he said it sounded as though he was belittling her, which was exactly what it was—belittling. 

 

Unaware of Zoro's darkening thoughts, Sanji beatifically continued. "Yes, deserving! Now, there's a reason why I asked you to think of a reason why she's different compared to Nami-san and Robin-chan."

 

"Yeah, her being cute."

 

"That will never not be shocking," Sanji muttered before speaking aloud, "Yes, it's because she's cute. In order to encapsulate all that cuteness, I wanted to address her as such."

 

Zoro frowned. "Then why not use chan? That's normally used for situations like that." Although he would rather that Sanji didn't refer Usopp by either tan or chan, chan was a preferable alternative to tan. Zoro didn't know why...but chan was less gross sounding than tan when attaching it to his girlfriend's name. 

 

Sanji shook his head. "Chan doesn't convey the right meaning. Besides, I already use that for Robin-chan. Robin-chan is Robin-chan because the cute honorific acts as a playful contradiction to her maturity and coolness," he elaborated. Zoro decided not to point out that Sanji called every woman with that honorific regardless of how mature and cool she might be. "Nami-san is Nami-san because she's a younger woman who takes on a serious role given the circumstances."

 

"Then why not call Vivi with san? Her situation at the time made her seem like what you're describing Nami to be."

 

"Because Vivi-chan was very serious for a cute girl back then!" he insisted. "Usopp-tan, on the other hand, is everything that I imagined a cute, cheerful, playful girl to be." As Sanji's voice took on a dreamy quality and his eye glazed over, Zoro's lip curled in disgust. The swordsman considered if he could take a stab at the cook now that his back was turned. 

 

"Okay, I think I got it—"

 

"She's small and petite, yet energetic and expressive. She's adorable in everything that she does!"

 

"Okay, I got it. That's enough—"

 

"Ahh, Usopp-tan is like my little sparrow—a precious songbird meant to be coddled by a proper gentleman who knows how to meet her needs! She's my delicate flower who deserves an experienced gardener who can make her bloom beautifully! My angel—"

 

"What do you mean by yours?" Zoro chucked the empty mug at Sanji's head, who deftly caught it. 

 

A vein throbbed on the side of his temple as Sanji turned around. "Oi, watch it, marimo," he growled.

 

"Quit swooning over my girlfriend, pervert," Zoro growled back. 

 

By the end of the day, after treating Sanji like the punching bag that he was (and, no, those weren't bruises from the cook's kicks; they were...injuries that he had gotten from dropping dumbbells on himself), Zoro went to the crow's nest for his shift. 

 

He learned quite a bit from Sanji. Not that finding out the reason why Usopp was called Usopp-tan had been enlightening (it wasn't), but at least the reason hadn't been as repulsive as he had originally thought it to be. Zoro had been expecting some sort of fetish, but he instead had been given a disquisition on Usopp's cuteness, which was a far more palatable alternative. 

 

As Zoro reclined in his seat, idly observing the sea that stretched far beyond into the dark horizon, he heard his name being called. He peeked over to see Usopp waving up at him. He waved back and waited for her to climb aboard. 

 

"I heard that you and Sanji had a fight," Usopp said, plopping next to him. 

 

"Hn. Don't we always?"

 

She smiled. "Yeah, but your fights don't end with the two of you glaring at each other from across the table."

 

Sanji had been just a sore loser—and a jealous one at that. The blond's glare had turned rather venomous when Zoro had wrapped an arm around Usopp's shoulders. That time, however, Zoro hadn't reaped any satisfaction from getting a rise out of him. That hadn't been a contest to see who could win against the other; no, it had been a matter of staking his claim. 

 

Usopp was his girlfriend, after all.

Chapter Text

In a tavern, the Straw Hat Pirates ended up conversing with a pair of old men, Myers and Briggs, who looked every bit like the professors that they had claimed to be: coats and ties and with scruffy white beards to match their wizened faces. As to what these erudite men were doing out here in a backwaters bar, they had explained that they wished to observe the people here for quantitative data. How they were going to achieve that went over anyone's heads (except for Robin, probably), but you do you, you old kooks.

 

As the group peacefully (as peaceful as pirates could be) drank their alcohol and ate their meals, Myers suddenly said, "I have a splendid idea! May we assess your personalities?"

 

The Straw Hats looked at him, puzzled. "Why?" Nami asked, raising a brow.

 

"You see, our field of study is psychology, and in part of understanding psychology is understanding the nature of each individual. You lot are certainly a colorful bunch, so it would be an enjoyable way to pass the time."

 

Many of them appeared skeptical at the "enjoyable" part. Robin, the egghead that she was, found this intriguing. "I would love to participate," she said.

 

Sanji frowned, his cigarette bobbing. "I don't know, Robin-chan..."

 

"Personality assessments can help determine partner compatibility—" Briggs began to say.

 

"Let's do it!" Sanji cried out.

 

Myers and Briggs asked Robin a series of questions, such as if social interaction came easily to her and if she preferred a path of conventionality. When they finished, the men hummed pensively to themselves and rubbed their chins.

 

"A quiet, withdrawn character with a strong internal world," mused Briggs.

 

"Paired off with a proclivity for analysis. This one has a sharp mind," added Myers.

 

"Then it's fairly obvious what her personality is."

 

"Yes, indeed!"

 

"INTJ," declared Briggs while Myers announced, "INTP."

 

Both men looked at each other.

 

"Ohoho, Myers, you must be joking," Briggs chuckled, running his fingers through his beard. "You can't possibly think that she's an INTP."

 

"On the contrary, Briggs," Myers said with a smile, "I do, in fact, think so. I'm surprised that you deem her as an INTJ."

 

"Well, it's self-evident that she is one. Did you not hear how she talked about her interests? Her words essentially  exude  an outward thinking capability and an inclination to make external operations from within."

 

"And that's precisely why I say that she's an INTP!" Myers asserted. "She has an extraverted intuition, not an introverted one. She explores new ideas and patterns, not scrutinizes them."

 

Briggs shook his head. "Clearly you're mistaken," he sniffed imperiously. "Are you confusing your functions again?"

 

Myers stuck his nose up in the air. "I'd say the same to you. It appears that you're the one who has yet to comprehend anything."

 

Watching old men squabble about...whatever they were squabbling about was as fun as watching paint dry. Robin, of course, watched with rapt interest, her eyes gleaming as she listened carefully. "Fascinating," she murmured to herself.

 

"Hey, you geezers shut up," Zoro snapped at them. "It doesn't matter what the hell Robin is."

 

Myers and Briggs jolted in their seats. "Ah, it seems that we've gotten carried away in our discussion," Briggs said. 

 

"Many apologies, my friends," Myers said to the pirates, smiling bashfully. He then returned his attention to his colleague. "Briggs, I would love to continue this with you, but we do have others to attend to."

 

"You really don't need to," Nami deadpanned.

 

"Yes, I concur. A truce for now!" Briggs said. "If I may suggest, I say that we go for someone who I believe we both can come to a consensus."

 

"Oh?"

 

"Mr. Roronoa over here."

 

"Hell no," Zoro promptly denied. 

 

"After our brief conversation, I have a good idea as to who you might be," Briggs said as though Zoro didn't say anything, "but in order to determine that, we request that you go through the same procedure as your friend."

 

"I just freaking said—"

 

Somehow, Zoro ended up complying with the men's request despite his fervent refusal. It probably had something to do with Nami threatening him to get on with it. 

 

"Recalcitrant, practical, independent," Myers listed.

 

"He's practically a personification of the ISTP," Briggs exclaimed.

 

"That's exactly what I was thinking!"

 

Everyone breathed sighs of relief when they heard that. 

 

The next few were simple enough for the men to agree on. Nami was an ESTJ, Franky was an ESTP, and Brook was an ESFP. Those three were straightforward to deduce like how Zoro was, the men maintained. Nami looked as though she couldn't decide between being offended or not. Meanwhile, Franky and Brook just shrugged. 

 

The others, though, weren't as simple. Myers argued that Sanji was an ENFJ whereas Briggs argued for ESTJ. Sanji, wanting to be just like Nami, butted in and said that he was totally an ESTJ despite not knowing what each letter stood for. When it came to Chopper, Myers insisted that ISFJ was the only fitting label, but Briggs countered with INFP. Chopper trembled the entire time, bewildered about being the topic of disagreement. 

 

The biggest fight was figuring out what Luffy was, though.

 

"Are you mad? An ESFP?" scoffed Briggs. "He's a prime example of ENFP!"

 

"He exhibited no signs of abstract understanding," harrumphed Myers. "Furthermore, he is completely driven by his senses. If you can't see that he's a sensing type, then I don't know what else to tell you, you blind fool!"

 

"You're the fool who doesn't recognize his overwhelming idealism and optimism, which is  the  trait for NF types! Besides, what INTJ would voluntarily follow an ESFP?"

 

"One who isn't an INTJ but an INTP!"

 

For Usopp, there was no debate. Rather, Myers and Briggs finally stopped their arguing and civilly discussed about her personality (much to the shock of everyone).

 

"I'm uncertain whether she's an ENFP, ENTP, or an ESFP," mused Myers.

 

"I also see ESFJ in her," said Briggs. 

 

"A fear of the unknown is rather sensory of her, not to mention how she contributes her goal due to a sentimental moment in the past."

 

"Quite sensory," Briggs agreed.

 

"But she appears to be extraverted thinking dominant, which is characteristic for NP types."

 

"Indeed," Briggs agreed again. "And while this may be stereotypical, her inclination to entertain has a very ESFP quality, wouldn't you say?"

 

"I would! I would also add that she's more of a feeler than a thinker."

 

"Hey," said Usopp.

 

The discussion came to a close when the professors decided on ENFP, ESFP, and ESFJ. Not ENTP since Usopp apparently wasn't a thinker. Usopp couldn't help but feel bitter about it; if she wasn't a thinker, then why on earth was Franky one? The guy could cry about almost anything! Shouldn't he be a feeler as well?

 

When everyone got their assessments, Sanji prompted them to tell everyone about their compatibilities. While the pirates were already tired of hearing their voices, they were admittedly curious to hear about this. 

 

"Well, it depends," Briggs said, twirling his mustache. "Theoretically, ESTJ types are compatible with ISTPs—"

 

"I'm ENFJ," Sanji said flatly.

 

"ENFJs fit well with INTJs and INTPs—"

 

"I'm definitely an ENFJ!"

 

"Hey, wait, are you saying that I'm compatible with Zoro?" Nami said in disgust.

 

"You can be, but ESTJs match well with ISFPs primarily. An ISFJ and an ESTJ is also a good combination," Myers said.

 

"Hey, I'm an ISFJ," Chopper chimed in, perking up, but then faltered. "Sort of."

 

Robin tapped her chin. "These compatibilities are based on introversion-extroversion pairings, correct? I also notice how you paired intuitives with intuitives and sensors with sensors."

 

"Yes, that's true!" Briggs confirmed. "As I mentioned before, it's all theoretical, but the idea is that extroverts and introverts can draw each other's energies, balancing the relationship."

 

"As for intuitives and sensors, it's believed that they'll more likely clash. Unlike extroverts and introverts where they can fit like puzzle pieces due to their differences, intuitives and sensors have their own perceptions as to how the world works and should work."

 

"But that isn't to say that such a pairing can't happen," Briggs said. "Why, I have met a lovely couple where the husband is an ENFP and the wife an ESFJ."

 

"This also means that perfect couples can also occur where both people are extroverts or introverts," Myers said cheerfully. 

 

Sanji looked at them blankly. "So, are Robin-chan and I destined to be together or what?"

Chapter Text

Needless to say, Cavendish was beautiful.

 

Cavendish was the most beautiful man who Usopp had ever laid her eyes on. So beautiful, in fact, that she had mistaken him to be a woman. An oddly flat-chested woman with a notably deep voice, but a woman nevertheless. 

 

And, in fact, Usopp had been so convinced that Cavendish was a woman that, when they had been exchanging formalities after the formation of the Straw Hat Grand Fleet, she had addressed him as such. 

 

The second Usopp had uttered "Miss Cavendish," everyone stopped and stared at her.

 

The silence broke when Bartolomeo collapsed to the floor, laughing uproariously. 

 

That set off a domino-like effect. A few giggles and chuckles started here, hearty laughter started there, and then everyone was now guffawing while clutching their stomachs. Meanwhile, Cavendish stood in place, expression stuck with that same friendly smile that he had first greeted her with, frozen. 

 

Bartolomeo, who had managed to pick himself up, waddled over to his fellow captain, gave him a companionable smack on the back, tried to say something, and then failed to do so because another burst of laughter left his system. 

 

Usopp was mortified. 

 

Then, like a crack of a whip, Cavendish's face contorted into that of unadulterated fury. Where did his breath-taking beauty go? Still there, just...underneath that demonic-looking mask that he plastered on. With his face. 

 

His outrage perhaps reverberated all the way back to the Dressrosa castle because that was how booming his screams were.  

 

No matter how many times Usopp apologized to the man (yes, he indeed was a man), Cavendish was immovable. He stared down at her like she was the gum on his heel. He made her feel like she was that gum on his heel. No, worse—he made her feel like she was Brook who had just asked a woman if she could show him her panties. Now Usopp knew what trash felt like (not that...she meant to imply that Brook was trash for being a pervert—but he kind of was trash for being a pervert). 

 

"You may have saved me from eternal damnation as a toy, God Usopp," he hissed, pointing at her, "but don't think I'll forget you besmirching my dignity!"

 

"I'm sorry!" she wailed. "Really! I didn't mean it!"

 

"Yeah! Lighten up, Cabbage," Bartolomeo yelled, quick to rush to her defense. "It's not her fault that you're so girly-looking."

 

Cavendish seethed, gritting his teeth. "I am not!"

 

"Are too!"

 

The rest of the pirates had wandered off to get the party started, leaving Usopp defenseless to Cavendish's ire. Where was Luffy? Where was Zoro? Robin? Franky? Gone—because those bastards thought that she could handle the pissy blond man on her own when she clearly could not! 

 

"I—I didn't mistake him for a woman because of him being, uh, girly-looking," Usopp interjected. She faced Cavendish again and told him desperately, "It's just—it's just that I never have seen a man as gorgeous as you! I've seen plenty of gorgeous women, but a man? Never! So that's why I—I thought you were a woman..."

 

Which was true, but only partly. Cavendish also had these alluring dark blue eyes, complemented with long wispy lashes, and pouty lips and porcelain skin. Frankly, Cavendish had a womanly face, not a girly one, ergo Usopp believing him to be a woman. The line of reasoning was a sound one, and yet... Wow, Cavendish was actually a man.

 

A man who was now very surprised and very pleased to hear what Usopp had just said. "Well," he breathed, his scowl smoothed out with a lovely smile, "I...see. Haha! If that's the case, then I understand your confusion, God Usopp. It's not every day that you're graced to see a beautiful man such as I." He then flashed her a smirk that somehow caused the air to sparkle around him.

 

"No," Usopp murmured, enraptured by the sight of the pretty man looking even prettier, "I'm not."

 

And, just like that, Cavendish's umbrage evaporated. He now acted as though Usopp was his new best friend.

 

As the party on the Yonta Maria went on, Cavendish acted like a stubborn burr, persistently sticking to her side. He would lead her from one corner of the ship to the next, all the while keeping her hand on his arm as though he was a gentleman escorting a lady. If there was anyone drifting towards their way, he acted like a barrier, deflecting any attempts to engage with them, whether with a snide remark or plastic mannerisms. 

 

He liked to talk a lot, and most of his topics circled back to himself. Basically, he liked to talk about himself. He talked about his past (and how he had once been a prince—holy moly), about his numerous admirers, about his adventures, about his face, about his horse... Where Usopp should have been bored by how self-absorbed this man was (and that was putting it lightly), she was more so overwhelmed by his presence.

 

Now that she was aware of him being a man, she was aware of him being a handsome man who voluntarily and blatantly monopolized her attention. And Usopp, being a mere nineteen-year-old girl armed with zero experience dealing with handsome men, was having an internal crisis.

 

She knew with certainty that Cavendish held no romantic inclinations towards her, that he just thought of her as another of his faceless admirers, but to have him sidle up close to her, stroke her hand, gaze into her eyes as though she had captivated him just as he had captivated her...

 

Where was she?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

So. Usopp was helpless to Cavendish's thrall. 

 

When it was time for the pirates to go on their separate ways, Cavendish gave her a lengthy farewell speech that Usopp admittedly wasn't paying attention to. She was more focused on the way his curls shined from the sunlight, bouncing against his cleavage—his muscular man cleavage that she would definitely eat cookies off of. 

 

"It's been a pleasure, God Usopp," Cavendish finally said. He then grasped her hand and punctuated their parting with a kiss on her knuckle. The brush of soft, warm lips against her skin caused Usopp to squeak and blush furiously.

 

"I—it's been—I mean—yes," she stammered. Her brain took a second to realize that she wasn't making any sense, but she wouldn't make any sense anyhow if she continued to stand here, babble nonsensically. Usopp decided that the best course of action would be to retreat before she ended up making a bigger fool of herself.

 

Cavendish's chuckles chased after her, and her ears burned with embarrassment.

 

"Usopp? Is everything alright?" Robin asked when they boarded Bartolomeo's ship.

 

"Y-yeah, I'm good." Usopp smiled at her reassuringly. She turned around to see the Beautiful Pirates' ship sailing away. Her heart leapt to her throat when she caught the sight of Cavendish at the backend of his ship. It could have been her imagination, but she could have sworn that their eyes met despite the distance. And then...

 

He blew a kiss.

 

Usopp sank to the floor, burying her face in her hands.

 

Needless to say, Cavendish was beautiful.

Chapter Text

“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 to decide where she can go. One of the places she ended up at 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.”

 


 

Ace was eleven-years-old when a girl showed up at their secret base.

 

"Hey, who the hell are you?" Luffy demanded.

 

Ace smacked him upside the head. "Remember what Makino-san told you, moron!"

 

"Oh, yeah." Luffy executed a short bow and shouted, "Nice to meet you! I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the future King of the Pirates! Please tell me who the hell you are!"

 

"Wait, there's something wrong with that..."

 

As Ace mused over what exactly sounded off with Luffy's introduction, the girl suddenly burst into a fit of tears. Both boys reeled back, alarmed by the crying girl. They panicked for a moment before jumping into action. Given how they had no idea how to properly handle crying girls, they responded with the best way they knew how.

 

"Quit crying!" Ace snapped, brandishing a fist. "Or I'll hit ya!"

 

"Yeah!" Luffy joined in. "We'll give you a nasty bruise!"

 

That just made her cry even harder. 

 

At a loss, Ace and Luffy helplessly exchanged looks. Yelling angrily usually worked with them, especially whenever Gramps was the one who did the yelling. What was so different this time around? Was it because the kid was a girl?

 

"Ace, do something," Luffy whispered.

 

"What the hell am I supposed to do?" Ace whispered back. "I don't know how to deal with girls. I can barely put up with Dadan."

 

"What about Dadan?"

 

"Dadan's a girl, Luffy."

 

Luffy's eyes grew as large as dinner plates. "Dadan's a girl?" he shrieked, astonished. "I thought she was a goblin!"

 

"I thought so too, but when I asked her if she was one, she started screaming my ears off. I think she's tricking herself into thinking that she's a girl, but whatever."

 

"Aren't girls supposed to be, like, nicer looking? Like Ma-chan?"

 

Ace wasn't sure about looking nicer (although, Makino definitely was pretty), but he did remember hearing about girls being much more delicate than boys. If that was the case, then what was Dadan, really? She was hardly delicate but ogreish. She actually reminded him of Garp in terms of their brutish strength. That line of thought came to a halt when the girl's crying escalated up a pitch. Ace and Luffy winced. 

 

"Wh-where am I?" the girl said, or at least what Ace gathered from the intervals of hiccuping and blubbering. 

 

"You're in our secret base!" Luffy said.

 

Ace smacked him again. "Idiot! The point of a secret base is to keep it a secret!"

 

"Oh, right..."

 

When the crying devolved into whimpering, the girl managed to introduce herself as Usopp. 

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when he held Usopp's body in his arms.

 

He remembered standing between Akainu and Luffy, willing to take that blow that had been meant for his brother when—pop!—Usopp had appeared out of nowhere.

 

The next thing he remembered was Akainu's fist plowing through her chest.

 

Ace couldn't process it. His mind fell blank despite the words that had burst out from his lips. He didn't know what he had said. He didn't even register how long he had been on his knees, cradling Usopp to his chest. Her hot blood gushed out of the gaping hole in her chest, painting his arms and lap red. It was hot, yet Ace felt frigidly cold. 

 

"Ace!" he vaguely registered, a cry coming from the distance. "Ace! Ace!"

 

Someone yanked him on his feet and got him moving. 

 

Somewhere along the disarray, he and Luffy sustained an injury from Akainu even after the blow that Usopp had taken for them. 

 

The shock of Usopp's unseeing eyes, however, had numbed the pain. 

 


 

Ace was twelve-years-old when he and Luffy tried to train Usopp. 

 

It was hopeless. She kept whining about how difficult it was and would give up halfway into the exercise. Despite her unwillingness to get stronger, Usopp continued to boast about how she would become the greatest warrior of the seas, be the captain of eight thousand men, and conquer the world with just her handy-dandy slingshot. 

 

Ace found it irritating. The girl believed that everything would work out in her favor when she hardly put in the effort. She had griped about being only nine, that she didn't need to worry about the hard stuff until years later. Yet off she went, parading the forest grounds while crowing about her nonexistent qualifications. It was annoying when Luffy would lap it all up as though it was the truth. 

 

But what was even more annoying was when she would talk about her father. 

 

"Anyway, my dad's a fearless pirate. You met him, Luffy; he's Yasopp, the greatest marksman who has ever existed!"

 

"Whoa!" Luffy's eyes twinkled in his awe. "That's so cool, Usopp!"

 

The girl preened, a wide smile spreading across her face. "Heh, isn't it?"

 

Whenever she would get like this, Ace wanted to march up to her and say, "Well, I'm the Pirate King's son! Do you see me lying around doing nothing?" But he never did. His words probably wouldn't get through her, and she might not even believe him if he disclosed his relation to Gold Roger. Not that it mattered—Usopp was just some dumb girl who kept showing up at their base because she sucked at controlling her power. She was hardly his friend.

 

Still... There was a part of him that didn't want to leave her alone. 

 

Maybe it was how she was relying on the belief that if her father was an amazing pirate, then she would become one naturally. That notion deeply vexed him, but, for some reason, he couldn't find it in himself to direct that anger at her. He was more exasperated by her laziness and lies.

 

One day, when she was complaining about Luffy forgoing playing for training, Ace told her to join them instead. Usopp scoffed and dismissed him, to which Ace replied, "Oh, I see. You were joking about wanting to be a pirate this whole time, then."

 

Ace hadn't put much thought in what he had just said; it had been more of an offhanded remark than a jeering one, but it was enough to incite a reaction out of her. Usopp gaped at him before charging, screaming like a lunatic. Ace, having years of fighting experience, easily evaded her clumsy attacks. He tilted his body to the side to dodge her swipes and then jumped away when she lunged forward. Usopp ended up tripping over a protruding root and falling on her face.

 

When she lifted her dirt-smudged face, she began to wail and accused Ace of being a jerk. Ace scowled, covering his ears to muffle the noise. Finally, her cries petered out, leaving her to do nothing but sniffle and glare balefully at him.

 

Ace reluctantly dropped his hands. "Feel better?"

 

"No!" she snapped. "I don't! And I won't unless you apologize!"

 

"What do I have to apologize for?" he huffed, baffled by the demand. "I didn't do anything wrong!"

 

"You should have let me hit you! I ended up getting hurt because you didn't!"

 

"You got hurt because you tripped. If you trained, you would've avoided that—"

 

"Train, train, train—that's the only thing you can ever think about." Usopp pushed herself onto her feet and rubbed her face, inadvertently smearing the dirt. "You don't know how to have fun!"

 

Ace bristled at that. "I do! It's just that I take my dream seriously, unlike a certain someone who pretends that she does."

 

"I'm not pretending and I do take my dream seriously! I'm going to become the greatest warrior of the seas you'll ever see!" Tears gathered in her eyes again, but she didn't cry; rather, she looked like she was desperately holding it in. Her cheeks were blotchy and puffy. Her hands clenched at her sides as Usopp regarded him with indignant determination. "I'm the daughter of Yasopp, member of an all-powerful pirate crew, so don't look down on me!"

 

This again? Ace didn't have the energy to put up with any more of her usual nonsense, and he decided that he didn't have to. He spun on his heel and waved a hand. "Whatever. Do as you like, Miss Warrior," he said. He started walking towards where Luffy should be waiting for him. He ducked below an overhanging branch, and that was when Usopp unexpectedly called out to him. 

 

"W-wait!"

 

Ace stilled.

 

"I-I mean it, you know. Even if you don't believe me, I'll make it happen," she shouted. "So—so..." Her words trailed off before picking up again with renewed resolution. "So I'll do your stupid training! I'll prove to you that my dream is for real! Even if I have to put up with your boring self and your boring training!"

 

Ace looked over his shoulder with narrowed eyes. He doubted she would commit till the end. For all her tantrums and crying and how much she outright refused to comply, Usopp wouldn't last long. She never did. Her will was weak and her fortitude was all for show, and yet...

 

"You swear on it?"

 

"I swear," Usopp said.

 

This was the first time she decided for herself. She was going to train on her own volition, and that made him feel oddly proud of her. Ace quickly turned away when he felt the corners of his lips tug upwards. "Come on, then," he said, resuming his pace.

 

"Hey! Wait for me!"

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when he met Yasopp again after three years. 

 

Their first meeting had been in a time of celebration. Drinks and stories had been exchanged, and laughter had been shared. Ace had bonded with Shanks over Luffy, and he likewise had bonded with Yasopp over Usopp. It had been funny watching Yasopp's expression morphing into shock when he had informed him about his daughter's Devil Fruit ability, and a part of him—the drunken part—had relished in the idea that he had known something that Usopp's daddy dearest hadn't.

 

Then again, what with the man being gone from home for nearly a decade, that hadn't been much of a feat. Of course Yasopp hadn't known much about Usopp. Not like how Ace had.

 

Their first meeting had been a time of happiness. Perhaps a little bittersweet as reminders of Ace's heritage had been dredged up, irritatingly floating in the back of his head as he had listened to sharpshooter proudly ramble on about Usopp despite not truly knowing her anymore.

 

But Yasopp hadn't been the one who had cursed him with the title of the Pirate King's hellspawn. Yasopp hadn't been the one who had cast him under an impossible shadow. Yasopp hadn't been the one who had left him as a condemned existence, always haunted by the image of Gold Roger no matter how far he ran. And Ace could have been angry for Usopp's sake, angry at the man who had been long gone in her time of need, but he hadn't.

 

Usopp had loved the idea of the man for being a brave pirate, just as much as Yasopp had loved the idea of his sweet daughter waiting for him back home. For as long as Usopp would place her father on a pedestal and revere him no matter the distance set between them, it wouldn't be Ace's place to hold Yasopp under contempt. Yasopp wasn't his father, after all. That was for Usopp to decide. 

 

So Ace had smiled and laughed with the man, enjoying the lively company of the Red Hair Pirates. 

 

Their second meeting was at a funeral. 

 

There had been a debate over where Usopp should be buried. One side of the argument had been for Syrup Village, Usopp's birthplace, but Syrup Village was located far out in the East Blue. Naturally, they couldn't send her body there since it would be nothing but rotting flesh by its arrival, so they would have to cremate it. But if they were going to do that, then who was going to transport the remains?

 

Yasopp, for whatever intents and purposes, had to continue sailing along with the rest of the Red Hair Pirates, and it certainly wouldn't do him good keeping his daughter's ash in the men's quarters. Ace couldn't do it either since he had Whitebeard to help bury. And...he too wasn't in the right state of mind to carry such a task. Someone had suggested that Usopp should be buried alongside Whitebeard, but that had been quickly shot down. 

 

It was when Ace had spoken that the issue had been resolved.

 

"Usopp loved the idea of piracy so much. I think she would prefer a sea burial."

 

And that was that. 

 

Usopp was adorned in white. Her eyes were closed, and the cavity in her chest had been filled. She looked peaceful, almost as though she was a sleeping bride. Ace was half-tempted to reach out and shake her awake, to tell her that her joke had gone too far; he wanted to her to open her eyes and laugh at his face, to tell him that he was a wuss for not being able to handle a prank. Instead, he gingerly laid a flower on her folded hands and scurried away.

 

When the flower proceedings had finished, she was then wrapped tightly in a tarp and was placed on a small boat. Everyone watched as it drifted sedately out to the far open, a brown dot in an expanse of blue.

 

A lone arrow, brightly lit from its blazing head, soared across the waters and hit the boat. The sails burst into flames, and the fire quickly spread across the vessel. Ace made sure not to avert his gaze when the flames reached the tarp, intently watching how everything burned and eventually crumbled, committing everything to memory. Debris and ash sank into the ocean's depths, and tendrils of smoke drifted to the skies. 

 

Usopp's body—Usopp—was now a part of the sea. Something about that should sound poetic and tragic, but the thought only made Ace's stomach roil with discomfort. This funeral  was discomforting. 

 

He slowly turned around, taking in the large crowd that gathered here to see Usopp off. The Whitebeard Pirates were here to honor the girl who had died to save their own. The Red Hair Pirates were here to honor the death of a crewmate's daughter. Ace was here to say goodbye to a friend. 

 

But the people who really should be here...weren't. Usopp's crewmates were missing, and Luffy's injuries had been critical to the point where he had been kept under stasis. Ace himself had gotten away with cuts, bruises, and cracked ribs, but he moved and felt as though he had with dealt far worse. 

 

Eventually, the crowd dispersed, and only a few people lingered by. Yasopp, who was one of them, stared blankly at the spot where Usopp had been last seen. For what seemed like forever, the two men stood in silence. 

 

Finally, Yasopp spoke. "Her mother is going to kill me."

 

Ace didn't—couldn't—breathe. Air was trapped within his lungs. The pressure exacerbated the ache of his damaged ribs, forming a sharp and lasting sting around his chest. Slowly, cautiously, he exhaled, but not before hearing what else Yasopp had to say.

 

"I don't know why Banchina let her go—maybe it's so that she can emulate her old man, but..." Yasopp dragged a hand down his old, wearied face. "Shit, it's really because of me, isn't it? It doesn't matter that Usopp had that Devil Fruit power—this is all because of me."

 

Ace didn't understand what the older man was saying, but...he had to at least say this: "She's dead too."


 
Everything became quiet, still, almost as though the world was frozen in time, and then... "How long?"


 
"She died when Usopp was eight."

 

Tension enveloped them as silence took over. Ace waited. 

 

Yasopp then collapsed onto his knees. He didn't cry—he had done all his crying when he had seen Usopp's body—but he did despair. Ace could see it unfolding before him from where he stood. Where the sea had consumed the ashes of a daughter, the shore was where the father anguished at the loss of not only his child but also his wife. He now had nothing to go home to. 

 

The next thing that Ace knew, he found himself on the ground with his cheek throbbing. 

 

"You bastard! Why the hell didn't you tell me back then?" Yasopp snarled in his face. Two men—Red Hair Pirates, Ace figured—rushed towards them, but they were late in stopping the sniper from delivering another blow. Ace's head snapped to the side as Yasopp's words filtered through the ringing in his ears. "Had I known—had I known, I would've rushed over to Syrup Village!"

 


 

Ace was thirteen-years-old when he and Luffy made a bet as to who got to make Usopp his sniper.

 

For Ace, it had been more of a halfhearted challenge. For Luffy, it was a serious matter.

 

"With Usopp in my crew, we'll be unstoppable!" Luffy declared.

 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Ace said, flapping a dismissive hand. "Sure."

 

"I mean it!"

 

Because of this bet, they had Usopp promise not reveal the location of her home. She wasn't even allowed to tell them which of the Blue Seas that she hailed from. Usopp relented with a huff, grumbling about being involved in their stupid games, but it didn't escape Ace's notice just how pleased she was being fought for.

 

Well, not much of a fight. This was merely Ace indulging Luffy's whims than truly wanting Usopp to be his future crewmate. But after seeing the poorly concealed delight on her face, he decided to keep that to himself. 

 

While Usopp had happily secured herself a position for either crew, she expressed her concern about whether Luffy or Ace would actually manage to find her. She turned to Luffy and asked, "Did my dad not tell you?"

 

Luffy scratched his head. "No. Or I think he didn't. Wait... No, he didn't."

 

Knowing Luffy, her father probably did but Luffy just forgot about it, Ace thought dryly.

 

Usopp wilted at that. "Oh." She then perked up. "Well, that's fine. You said that you're going to set sail when you guys are seventeen, right? If no one comes for me after I turn seventeen, then I'll go and find you instead!"

 

"When's your birthday, Sopp?" Ace asked.

 

"First of April."

 

"Then that's going to be a problem," he said with a smirk. "Luffy's birthday is on the fifth of May, so you'd be leaving Luffy gets a chance to even start."

 

Usopp frowned. "Oh."

 

"It's not gonna be fair anyhow," Luffy groused. "Ace gets a three year start! Three years!"

 

"If you knew that, then why the hell did you want to make that bet?" Ace scoffed.

 

"Because I know that I'll beat you anyway! And I'll be on my way of becoming King of the Pirates while doing it!"

 

"That doesn't make sense!"

 

"It makes sense to me." Usopp skipped over and threw her arms over Luffy's shoulders from behind. They crashed onto the ground when Luffy failed to stabilize his stance, and they roll onto their backs, laughing. "I'll be sailing with the future Pirate King!" she declared. 

 

Ace frowned. "Oi, don't make it sound as though I'm not the one who's going to be the Pirate King."

 

Her eyes flickered upwards to meet his, and she cheekily grinned. "Then you better find me before Luffy does. Having someone like me around will definitely bring you good luck! It'll be like a one-way ticket to pirate royalty."

 

"You can't even control your powers when it's already been two years," Ace countered, rolling his eyes. "Ugh, whatever. I'll find you and become the Pirate King on my own. I don't need something like luck to help me out."

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when he learned that Sabo had been alive this whole time.

 

The man came to him almost like a hallucination. A form entered his blurry vision with a bright halo surrounding its head, and it descended closer with an outstretched black claw. Curiosity kept his eyelids from drooping; longing made him anticipate for the end. He withdrew a shuddering breath as he waited complacently for what was to come. 

 

And what came wasn't what he had expected. Cold water splashed on his face, causing Ace to sputter. He startled from his torpid stupor and blearily blinked. He saw the sun shining brightly in a clear, cloudless sky, and felt the drowsy warmth in the air. He also felt the sharp throbbing in his head and nausea roiling in his stomach. Ace pitched over to the side and vomited.

 

"It's a good thing that we're already outside, I suppose," a voice carried from above. 

 

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The figment of his hallucination was a tall and lean man dressed in a fine coat and a frilled shirt. A top hat sat on his head, magnifying the decorated appearance of a noble, yet the scar and the pipe strapped to his back were starkly out of place. Familiar dark eyes bore into his.

 

"Ace," Sabo said, "it's time to go."

 

Ace stared, and then he laughed. 

 

"What the hell is this?" Ace wheezed. "I lose a brother to gain a sister, and then I lose that sister to regain a brother?" He grabbed a fistful of his hair, his fingers roving through the grime. "Unless I'm dead and you're here to drag me to hell?"

 

He heard a sigh. "I'll be taking you to hell, alright, but not to one that you're thinking of."

 

Hands hoisted him onto his feet. Ace wobbled and nearly fell if not for Sabo supporting him. 

 

"Before we do anything," Sabo said, wrinkling his nose, "you need to take a bath."

 


 

Ace was fourteen-years-old when he listened to Usopp tell him about her village.

 

She talked about a quaint hamlet of rolling hills and long pastures, about a land that only knew peace and quiet. While Usopp had unwittingly established herself as a compulsive liar throughout the years that they had known each other, Ace was inclined to believe her about this. For someone who had lived only a life of monotony, perhaps that explained why Usopp had concocted tall tales where she had featured as the main character. 

 

"Doesn't your Devil Fruit power take you anywhere else besides here, Sopp?" Ace asked.

 

"A few places," Usopp admitted. A few places, which was decidedly much more downplayed than the stories that she had told Luffy—the ones where she had ventured into unknown fantastical lands brimming with mermaids, giants, dwarves, and other mystical creatures. The girl's gaze dropped forlornly. "Towns and villages. I've never made friends with the locals, though." 

 

"Have you been there repeatedly?"

 

"Maybe once or twice, but never as often as coming here."

 

Ace wondered why that was the case. Usopp wondered the same thing when she voiced his question aloud. 

 

"Maybe your subconsciously doing it. Like how your friends with me and Luffy, so that ties you down here emotionally."

 

Usopp wrinkled her nose. "I guess?"

 

Spitefully, Ace wanted to flick her forehead or give her a noogie. Of course the girl wouldn't get what he had said—she was eleven! Notwithstanding how she had a better grasp at concepts than the hopeless case that was Luffy, but that didn't mean she understood everything. Ugh, why was he surrounded by babies and ogreish hags? (He ignored the pang of longing for Sabo's company.)

 

"As for the other places," Ace continued, "maybe you're trying to find new places to explore, but you're just too scared to."

 

Predictably, Usopp responded to that with outrage. "Hey, I am not!"

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when he and Sabo were on their way to Amazon Lily.

 

As the sails swelled from the wind and the ship took its course, Ace asked him questions. He asked him about his whereabouts, what he had done, and the extent of his amnesia.

 

For every question, Sabo answered patiently, somberly.

 

He had been taken in by Monkey D. Dragon, Luffy's father and the Revolutionary Army leader; he had been apprenticed under the man and had been working his way up to be the Chief of Staff; he had forgotten everything about himself aside from his name. 

 

Sabo explained that there had never been a day where he had thought about Ace or Luffy simply because he hadn't known that they were brothers. But ever since the war—ever since Ace had narrowly escaped with his life—Sabo had remembered everything. Accosted by a torrent of past memories, his brain had seized on him and had caused him to fall into a fevered state. He had been bedridden for a few days until he had sneaked out of the infirmary.

 

"But why couldn't it happen before?" Ace queried.

 

Sabo shrugged. "You nearly dying must've been the shock that I needed."

 

On the second day of sailing, Ace blew a fuse.

 

Whatever the reason was—pent-up rage, guilt, bitterness, resentment—he lashed out by punching Sabo in the face. Having a brawl on top of a small ship was shitty, but doing it on the Calm Belt where sea kings prowled was even shittier. They spent the rest that evening killing underwater beasts that tried to capsize their vessel. At least they didn't have to worry about rations. 

 

On the third day of sailing, Sabo asked him about Usopp.

 

"You said that you lost a sister," Sabo said, giving him a pointed look. Don't try to dodge this one, his eyes seemed to read. 

 

Ace's body drew taut like a wire over a guitar, but he soon deflated, resignation filling every crevice of his body. "Yeah, I did say that, didn't I?" he sighed. 

 

The other man's face softened. "Ace, what happened?"

 

And so he told him everything. About how he and Luffy first met Usopp, how they became friends with her, how their friendship evolved more so that they could consider her to be a sister... Because through all the ups and downs they had undergone together, Usopp really had been their sister all but in name, hadn't she?

 

Ace even told Sabo things that he had never told anyone else, like what he had always thought of Usopp and her father's relationship. Had he been projecting? Had he been hateful where Usopp hadn't been able to? Perhaps, but none of it mattered anymore now that she was...dead. Not since the funeral either. 

 

Sabo listened to his words, alongside the sounds of the lapping waves and the cawing cries of the seagulls above. He sat there quietly as Ace, bit by bit, opened his heart to his not-dead brother, telling him stories about his really-dead sister. The circumstances were so terrible that Ace wanted to drown himself in manic guffaws.

 

On the fourth day of sailing, they finally arrived. The Dark King Rayleigh greeted them at the shores of Amazon Lily, somehow knowing that they would come. 

 

"Where is he?" Ace rasped, skipping formalities. 

 

Rayleigh gestured to the woods behind him. "Eating his feelings away, I suspect," he said wryly. He appraised Ace, his eyes narrowing behind his glasses. "You look rough, kid."

 

"We had a few difficult days," Sabo said for him. "If you don't mind, may we see our brother?"

 

"Brother? Didn't know Luffy had another one besides Fire Fist here."

 

Ace didn't wait to hear Rayleigh's admission. He strode past him and past the trees and past everything that stood between him and his brother. 

 

Ace smelled first than saw. A waft of charred meat hit his nose, letting him know that he was close. Ace brushed away the fan-shaped leaves and looked ahead to see a clearing formed by a ring of verdure. 

 

Sitting by a shoddy makeshift campfire was Luffy, who was surrounded by discarded animal bones. His bandaged back faced him as Luffy gorged himself on scraps, his cheeks bulging from his gluttony. When Ace's boot crunched on some twigs, Luffy swiveled around, his muddled eyes growing lucid the second they lingered on Ace's form. 

 

Luffy swallowed. A pause. He then whispered, "Ace...?"

 

Ace, despite his weariness, managed a smile. "Hey, Lu."

 

It didn't take long for him to get an armful of his brother, wrapping him like a persistent octopus. "Ace!" Luffy shrieked. "You're here!"

 

It also didn't take Luffy long to let go when Sabo entered the scene. Sabo smiled tentatively, although his eyes were glassy with watery joy. "Long time no see, Luffy," he said.

 

Luffy stared at him with his jaw agape before he broke into a bawl and launched himself at him. 

 

Needless to say, it was a tearful reunion. 

 

The swelling around his eyes told Ace that Luffy had wept before, and yet the crybaby had more tears to shed. Luffy cried for Sabo, who hadn't died all those years ago; he then cried for Usopp, who had died not so long ago. Luffy cried and cried, and Ace found himself crying as well. Ace cried for his failure in capturing Blackbeard, for Whitebeard's death, for Usopp's death. 

 

For Usopp, who had been killed in his place. 

 

None of this would have happened had Ace done his job. If only Ace hadn't been such a screw-up. If only Ace had done better

 

But what could he do now other than cry? So, Ace continued to cry. He cried until his eyes throbbed and his chest ached and the overwhelming grief in his heart subsided to a numbing pang. All three brothers clung onto each other until they could hear nothing but their breathing and the sounds of the jungle. 

 

Finally, they detangled from each other's grasp, but they remained sitting with their shoulders brushing and their knees bumping. 

 

"Who's the person who patched you up?" Sabo croaked, gesturing at Luffy's bandages. "We have to personally thank 'em."

 

Luffy rubbed his cheek with the heel of his hand. "Traffy? He left," he said. "But he's a pirate, so I'm sure that you'll see him around once you get sailing."

 

Ace couldn't help but snort at that. Luffy made it seem as though running into the same pirate in the sea was no different than running into a neighbor in the neighborhood. Although, with how Luffy was, the comparison just might be true for him. 

 

"I don't know a pirate named Traffy. Is that a nickname you gave him?" Sabo inquired.

 

Luffy scrunched up his nose. "Dunno. I guess? I shortened his name to Traffy since his real name is hard to remember."

 

"Then Traffy is a nickname, dumbass," Ace chortled. "Can you give us a description of what he looks like?"

 

"Lemme see... He's tall, gloomy, wears a spotted hat... Oh! And he wears a yellow shirt and has these weird tattoos on his hands."

 

"That's something, I guess," Sabo muttered. "Tattooed hands, huh?"

 

"Think you can narrow it down to one pirate?" Ace asked.

 

"Among the thousand other tattooed pirates? Yeah, sure," the other replied sarcastically. "It's not like I have anything else on my schedule than to search for a single pirate with tattoos."

 

"Don't forget that he's tall and gloomy-looking," Luffy piped up, helpful as always.

 

"With a spotted hat and a yellow shirt," Ace appended.

 

Sabo scowled at them. "That's still vague!"

 

"Yeah, Luffy," Ace said, quick to switch directions, "can't you come up with something more specific?"

 

"C'mon, Sabo," Luffy said, pouting at the man in question, "can't you specific the vague?"

 

The three looked at one another until they broke into laughter. 

 

"Specific the vague?" Sabo parroted. His grin was so wide that his eyes were pushed in dark crescents. "I'll try that on Koala next time!"

 

"You almost sounded smart, Lu," Ace said, elbowing him.

 

"I'm plenty smart!" Luffy harrumphed. "Usopp says that I..." he trailed off, his smile slipping off his face. 

 

And, just like that, the happy atmosphere died. 

 

Luffy buried his face in his hands, not crying—not anymore—but not holding it in. Sadness rolled off of him like a smothering miasma, and Ace could feel his heart constrict with sympathy. He had already been sad for a lost friend, for a lost sister; he had shed enough tears for that. Now, he was sad for Luffy, who had lost a precious crewmate. 

 

"I wish that I got to meet her. She sounded like a wonderful person," whispered Sabo.

 

"She was," Luffy sniffled. "She told the best stories and made me laugh a lot. We—we once got into a fight about our old ship, Merry, but that was when I realized that Usopp really is—was—" He paused, choking on his words. "She was my best friend because friends aren't supposed to go along with everything you want to do. They're supposed to disagree and fight, and, in the end, we made up because that's what friends do."

 

Sabo slipped an arm around Luffy's shoulder, drawing him for a hug. "Can you tell me more about her?"

 

Luffy did just that. What Ace knew about Usopp was a cobbled recollection of the past, but Luffy's memories of her were kept alive from the adventures that they had shared.

 

Luffy told Sabo—told Ace—about how he had reunited with Usopp on the shores of her island and had helped her save her village. He told them how Usopp had aided everyone with her cleverness and skills and how she had grown as a fighter. Although she had never learned how to properly handle her Devil Fruit power, she had become someone remarkable.

 

Ace believed every word. 

 

Usopp was—had been a pirate with so much potential. Underneath that scaredy-cat exterior had lied a brave sniper waiting to burst out. But...that never came to be. Usopp's life had been cut short—too short. She would never become the warrior of the seas that she had always dreamed to be. 

 

And the worst part? No one knew who she had been.

 

The newspaper that they had received featured a grainy snapshot of Ace holding Usopp's body. Above the picture was the headlines that declared "MYSTERIOUS GIRL POPS OUT OF NOWHERE! DIES IN FIRE FIST ACE'S PLACE!" 

 

Seeing that jarred something within Ace. Something...nasty. 

 

Usopp had been known to the world as the sacrificial lamb, the martyr. She had been the hapless victim who had appeared at the wrong time in the wrong place. Or...the convenient meat shield that Ace had used to evade Akainu's attack.

 

The speculations written in black ink burned away to ash. 

 

How demeaning could people be? For them to besmirch Usopp this way—the one who had journeyed with Luffy since the beginning, the one who had fought valiantly by his side—with a handful of audacious theories and assumptions like she was theirs to poke and prod. 

 

This made Ace want to set the world ablaze. 

 

But Luffy? Luffy had another plan in mind.

 


 

Ace was fifteen-years-old when Garp visited.

 

The man came like the monstrous menace that he was—plowing down everything in his way with his hulking form and thunderous bellow. He charged like a bull and growled like wolf. As usual, Ace and Luffy bore the brunt of his forceful nature—or, as the geezer liked to call it, his fists of love. 

 

Love was painful.

 

After getting pummeled and getting their ears boxed, Ace and Luffy limped off to the sidelines as Garp pinned Usopp down with his furrowed stare. Usopp, who had failed to conceal herself behind a bush, flinched violently and proceeded to shake like a newborn lamb. 

 

"Who are you?" he asked gruffly.

 

"U-U-Us-s-sopp," she stammered. 

 

"What was that?"

 

"U-U-Us-sopp!"

 

"I can't hear you!"

 

"U-Usopp!"

 

"Louder!"

 

"Usopp!"

 

"Louder!"

 

"Usopp!"

 

This went on until Usopp's face turned red from exertion. Garp nodded in satisfaction, and his stern expression soften to a Luffy-like grin. "It's a pleasure to meet you, young lady. I'm Ace and Luffy's grandpa. You can call me Gramps."

 

Usopp stared at him in bafflement. It was the same look that Sabo had given Garp when the geezer told him to address him the same way. "Erm, okay...?"

 

"Now, what're you doing here up in the mountains? Where are your parents?"

 

"I..." Usopp glanced over at Ace and Luffy, her eyes pleading for guidance. Ace and Luffy could only stare back with pity. Usopp didn't seem to appreciate that judging by her pinched expression. 

 

"Young lady, your parents?" Garp prompted.

 

"Uh! Um, my parents..." She broke into a sweat. "Well, my dad is a pir—sailor! He's a sailor!" Usopp was quick to amend, remembering what they had told her about their grandfather being a marine officer. Garp raised an eyebrow, but he didn't comment on her bumbling. "And my mom passed away due to an illness, so it's just me."

 

Ace didn't know about that. While Usopp hadn't been so generous in providing details—real, non-fictional ones—about her home life, it wasn't as though she had tried to hide them either. But, now that he thought about it, she had never once mentioned anything about her mother until now. 

 

If she didn't have a mother and her father was at who-knew-where, then who was taking care of Usopp?

 

Garp seemed to be on the same line of thought as he asked, "Are you living with any family members, then?"

 

Usopp shook her head. "No, it's just me, like I said."

 

Wait, what? "You're all alone?" Ace blurted out.

 

Usopp shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant when he could tell that she was feeling self-conscious. "It's not a big deal. I mean, I can take care of myself. I've been doing so for four years."

 

"Since you were eight?" he said, incredulous. 

 

"What?" Garp boomed.

 

"I-it's not like I've been totally alone! I had neighbors pitch in from time to time, especially back then. But now that I'm self-sufficient, I don't need anyone's help anymore." She smiled weakly. "Seriously, don't worry about it."

 

"Young lady, you don't look any older than my youngest grandson! How can you even say such a thing?" Garp snapped angrily. The anger wasn't directed at her, that Ace knew, but at her situation. He knew that he had been independent and strong as a twelve-year-old, but, even then, he had still required the guidance and care of adults (even though said adults were a bevy of dirty mountain bandits).

 

Usopp, on the other hand, wasn't as independent nor as strong, so he could imagine just how well she was faring on her own. (Not so well.)

 

"This is terrible," Garp muttered, more so to himself than to anyone. Then, in a louder voice, he said, "Where around here do you live, Usopp? I don't think I have ever seen you in the village before."

 

Usopp's eyes grew as wide as saucers. "Uh—" Then with the most opportune timing ever—pop!—Usopp's Devil Fruit powers activated and she vanished without a trace.

 

Garp blinked owlishly at the spot that the girl had once occupied. 

 

"What?"

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when Sabo gave him an offer.

 

The night after Luffy had rung the Ox Bell three times and had made his declaration, Ace and Sabo lay awake underneath the starry sky, idly pointing out the constellations that they pretended to know.  

 

"I almost feel jealous by how much love Usopp received from the two of you," chuckled Sabo.

 

"Don't be. We used to blab about you to her," Ace replied. 

 

"Well, that does make me feel a little better."

 

"She always wanted to meet you ever since we told her who you were. Even cried when we had to break it to her that you were dead—or so we thought," he continued, wryly smiling at the memory that drifted back to him. "She was so emotional that I'd get a headache dealing with her. One second, she'd be eagerly demanding to talk to you; the next, she'd be bawling her eyes out."

 

"She reminds me of Luffy."

 

"Ha, Luffy was like that, wasn't he? Still is. Must be why they got along so well." Ace's smile fell when his mirth receded to something more solemn.

 

Maybe he should talk to Luffy about Usopp. That was what people did when they lost a loved one, right? They had done something like that when they had lost Sabo to the seas, but the Luffy back then and the Luffy were two different people. Whereas the past Luffy had been a crybaby, the Luffy now had been able to bounce back, his resolve steeled and his determination brighter than ever. 

 

In contrast to Ace, who had attempted to drink his sorrows away. Did Luffy even need him anymore?

 

"Hey, Ace."

 

Ace turned his head. "Hm?"

 

Sabo parted his lips to speak, but paused and waffled over what to say. Ace watched with a hint of amusement; it wasn't every day that he got to see Sabo at a loss for words. But there was also concern. What was it that Sabo was holding back?

 

"I know that you've gone through a lot," Sabo began carefully, his brows knitted together, "but, well—let me ask you this. What are your plans after this?"

 

Ace's forehead creased. "After this?"

 

"Yeah. When we leave, what're you going to do? Unless you intend on sticking around, which I kind of doubt that the ladies here would be all that keen about."

 

"Ah. True." They had met the fabled Amazon warriors, and they had been every bit beautiful as they had been fierce. Very fierce. Had Ace not been partially made out of flames, he would have been lying dead in a ditch, riddled with holes from spears and arrows. He didn't know how Sabo had survived the onslaught, although he could hazard a guess that the guy had hidden in the underbrush like the sissy that he was. 

 

"So?" Sabo prompted. 

 

Ace sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know, man. I thought about finding my crew and figure something out from there. Aside from that? No clue."

 

"You're not one for planning ahead, I see."

 

"Hey, have we ever?"

 

Sabo chuckled. "Nah. Even after all this time, I still suck at thinking things through. Koala lectures me all the time about it, so you'd think that I'd learn by now."

 

"When the moment comes, the moment goes, and all you're left is your instincts."

 

"Wise words coming from an idiot."

 

"Thanks, stupid." When their laughter receded, Ace then asked, "Why do you want to know?"

 

Sabo didn't answer right away, but when he did, Ace couldn't be any more surprised. "Like I said, you've been through a lot. You... If finding your crew doesn't pan out and you're without direction, you can always join the Army."

 

The Army? Ace sat up. "Sabo—"

 

"I know, I know, but hear me out." Sabo also sat up, shooting him a pleading look. "It's just an idea; I don't want you thinking that I'm pushing you to join, but you should consider it, at least. I think that it'll be good for you."

 

"Good for me?" Ace sputtered incredulously. "How?"

 

"I mean, other than fighting against the Big Bad? Helping the little guy out and fulfilling a grand purpose in the world?"

 

"I don't know about doing community service, but I was doing something big when I was helping Whitebeard become the Pirate King," Ace said.

 

"And now?"

 

Ace tensed.

 

"Sorry, that wasn't right of me," Sabo said quickly, his face morphing into contrition. "But do you get what I mean? If you don't know what to do, then maybe this is the right path for you. Think about it. You'll have people to support you and guide you, and, what's more, you can help change the world for the better." He placed a hand on Ace's shoulder. "The World Government's corrupt regime can't go on like this unless the people stand up in opposition. And with you standing with us, that future may come sooner than later."

 

"Sabo, are you hearing yourself?" Ace said, shaking his head. "I'm a pirate; what sort of pirate can just be a part of an organization when I should be sailing free?"

 

"A pirate crew isn't any different than an organization, though," Sabo insisted. "You have established rules and regulations, don't you? And going on missions is like when you're raiding marine bases or something."

 

Ace sincerely doubted that last part. "I don't know..."

 

Sabo looked like he wanted to go on, but he let it go with a long exhale. "I'm sorry for dumping this on you. I guess I got carried away." He pulled his hand back to rub his neck as he dropped his gaze. "I just want us to stick together like old times."

 

Ace's chest ached at that. 

 

So did he. 

 

"I'll...consider it," Ace began slowly. When Sabo looked up, his eyes bright with hope, Ace sighed and dragged his hand down his face. "I can't promise you anything, you hear? I still gotta find my crew. I don't know what they'll have in plan or if I'm going to join them, but...I'll think about it."

 

"That's all I ask," Sabo said with a grin. 

 


 

Ace was sixteen-years-old when he and Usopp told each other's dreams. 

 

"I want to see what he sees," Usopp said when asked why she wanted to follow her father's footsteps. "Mom said that he lived a decent life at home, but he wasn't happy. She said that he felt like he needed to go out there and do something, which was why he took Shanks's offer to set sail. I haven't seen him in years. I don't even remember what he looks like." She had said that last part so casually, but her eyes conveyed a different story. 

 

"Then him not returning home yet means that the pirate life must be that good?" Ace guessed.

 

"I think so." She shrugged. "I mean, can you imagine the kinds of adventures that he gets into? He must be having so much fun that he—" Usopp abruptly cut herself short. She didn't finish her sentence, but she didn't need to. Ace had heard it loud and clear.  

 

That he wouldn't remember his family. 

 

"Anyway, why do you want to be a pirate?" she asked him, her smile stretching wide to mask her sorrow. 

 

"I want to prove a point," Ace told her, "that I can do things on my own, that I can make a name for myself."

 

"Who're you trying to prove to?"

 

To the world. To Gold Roger. 

 

"To Gramps, the old bastard!" Ace exclaimed. "He keeps badgering me about becoming a marine, but I'll show him! I don't need to be a stinking officer to make it big!"

 

Usopp barked out a laugh. "Yeah! You'll show him!"

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when he saw Garp again.

 

Ace and Sabo had left Amazon Lily after promising to Luffy that they would meet again when they had become stronger than ever. And, of course, they had vowed to hunt down this Traffy guy and give him the warmest thanks that they could muster—so warm and cozy and heartfelt that Traffy would positively gag on the spot. If he was that kind of guy, that was. Either way, the big brothers had to convey their gratitude on behalf of their little brother. 

 

But first things first: They had to tie up loose ends, which was why they didn't run off when they had spotted the old man waiting for them on the next island's shore. 

 

The meeting wasn't as awkward as he had feared. It certainly was for Sabo, though.

 

After Garp had wrestled Sabo to the ground and soaked his cravat with tears, the old man proceeded to shake him angrily. "Where have you been?" Garp yelled, shattering poor Sabo's eardrums. "Don't you know how worried we were? You damn brat! You could have at least sent us a letter!"

 

When things had calmed down, Sabo (quite nervously) informed Garp about his whereabouts. Predictably, Garp was unimpressed. 

 

"That damn son of mine! Dragging a kid into his own affairs!" Garp griped as though he hadn't attempted to do the same thing, harping at them about joining the marines whenever he had visited. 

 

And just when Ace had believed that he could safely watch from the sidelines and jeer at Sabo's torment, Garp remembered that he had another grandson to pick on. Ace and Sabo were rendered flat on their backs, crying from agony at the sheer blow of the geezer's Fists of Love (double the packing and double the love). 

 

Garp then gathered them in his arms. Ace and Sabo stiffened for a suplex, but that never happened. Instead, he held them—hugged them—and...wept again. This time, Garp wept with his teeth clenched and his body trembling, and Ace and Sabo melted into his embrace. 

 

It was always easy to know the reason behind Garp's emotional outbursts. When he had been fuming, it was because Ace and Luffy had been goofing off. When he had been grinning from ear to ear, it was because their training had gone splendidly and he had been proud of them. When he was choking on his tears, it was because Ace had survived, Sabo was alive, and Usopp was dead. 

 

Usopp had never been referred to as his granddaughter—not aloud, at least—but Garp had viewed her just the same. In a way, she had been one of the handful scruffy wayward kids for him to look after, and now she was gone forever. 

 

"I wish that I could have talked to her more," Garp croaked. "I wish that..."

 

Ace patted his back. "I know. Me too."

 

They all wished for the same. 

 

By the time the tears had dried up, Garp gently rapped his knuckles on their heads. "Alright, you scoundrels. No need to cling onto your grandpa. You're adults now."

 

"Hey, you're the one blubbering like a baby," Ace countered. Nevertheless, he and Sabo pulled away, exchanging grins when Garp huffed like a disgruntled cat. 

 

"So," Garp began, "how's Luffy?"

 

"What makes you say that we met up with Luffy?"

 

"Don't toy with me, boy. You don't think your grandpa keeps tabs on his own grandsons?"

 

He didn't know about Sabo before, the thought arrived unbidden. Ace didn't echo what the voice in his head whispered darkly to him and maintained his smirk. "Ha, nosy geezer," he chuckled as though he didn't feel frayed by the edges. 

 


 

Ace was seventeen-years-old when he was about to leave for the sea. 

 

He hadn't seen Usopp in a while. He had been hoping that she would show up before his departure, but she never did. 

 

Ace hid his disappointment with a large grin.

 

"Don't go looking for Usopp until I'm a pirate, Ace," Luffy said. 

 

"No promises," he sang mockingly, laughing when Luffy stamped his foot angrily. "I'm going to be the King of the Pirates! Of course I'm going to have to get myself the world's best sniper to join my crew."

 

"Hey, I'm going to be the Pirate King! She's going to join my crew, not yours!"

 

The villagers and the mountain bandits bid him warm farewells, shouting after him to do his best and to stay safe. Ace waved back before turning around to face the blue horizon stretching infinitely before him. There was no turning back now.

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when...

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when...

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when...

 


 

Ace was twenty-one-years-old when he returned to the spot. The place where Usopp's funeral had been held. 

 

Unlike Whitebeard, Usopp didn't have a gravestone for Ace to talk to. Not that that he needed a slab of rock to start rambling like a madman. 

 

To the sea, he said, "Hey, long time no see. It's been a year since we last met."

 

Ace then heaved a sigh. Had it truly been a year? It somehow felt longer than that.  

 

"So, in case you didn't know, I've been pretty busy." He paused to laugh. "I, uh, yeah. The Whitebeard Pirates tried to go toe to toe with him." That was putting it lightly. The fight had been no Battle of Marineford, but it had been momentous, no doubt about it. "We didn't win. The Blackbeard bastard had Pops's Devil Fruit power as an advantage. Also, we weren't exactly in the best shap. Not exactly our best idea, huh?"

 

The waves crashed against the cliff's face, lightly sprinkling Ace's bare arms with water and salt. The cool breeze teased his hair, and the sun's radiance gave him warmth.

 

"Still no sign of the Tele Tele Fruit, but I promise you that I won't let anyone else take it. I don't know what I'll do with it when I find it—maybe give it to Sabo? I don't think I'll be okay with being a dual user like Blackbeard, in any case. Ha, I bet you're yelling at me about how that sort of logic doesn't make sense." He tried to smile; it felt like a grimace in the end. "You're going to have to put up with my irrationality for a bit longer, I'm afraid."

 

I have to what now? he imagined Usopp whining. This time, Ace did smile for real. 

 

"Yup, seriously. Even though I'm the older one, I make a lot of dumb mistakes. Let me tell you what Sabo and I have been doing lately..."

 


 

Ace was twenty-years-old when he reunited with Luffy and Usopp after so long.

 

“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.”

 

"Of course it does!" Luffy crowed. 

 

Stars above, Luffy was going to be absolutely insufferable about this, wasn't he? Granted, Ace had often teased him about getting to Usopp before he could, regardless of how serious or nonchalant he had been about making good on his promise. Now that Luffy had actually acquired Usopp as his crewmate, his little brother naturally saw this as his right to brag.

 

“Basically, her control was no different than it is now?” the tanuki asked, tilting his head.

 

Ace’s eyes widened at the words 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