Author's Note: This was written for, inspired by, and plotted with the assistance of my friend Jameth.
Sanji was almost done rolling out the crust for a cherry pie when he noticed Usopp. He had detected the faint smell of gunpowder some minutes earlier, but he had been so absorbed in making sure that the crust was just right (only the best for his beloved Nami-san, after all) that he didn't actually register the sharpshooter's presence until he turned to put the rolling pin next to the sink to be washed and spotted a pair of goggles and the top of a bandana-clad head disappearing behind the table, just in front of where Sanji had placed the bowl of cherries to be used in the pie.
"I know you're there, Usopp," the cook said, rolling his eyes as he transferred the crust into the pie pan. "You can't have the cherries."
Usopp stood up, muttering grouchily at having been discovered, and stared longingly at the cherries. They were perfect, after all, as Sanji knew; ripe, juicy, the perfect shade of red. Irresistible. One could hardly blame Usopp for wanting them. Hardly.
Sanji continued his work on the pie, vaguely perceiving that Usopp was still staring at the cherries, and why hadn't he left yet? Sanji had work to do. Then the cook practically heard the light bulb coming on above Usopp's head and knew that no good for his pie would come of it.
"A contest, then?" the marksman said hopefully. "If I can do something with a cherry that you can't, I get the whole bowl." Sanji knew, instinctively, without turning around, that Usopp was grinning like a loon. He thought he had this one. The chef smirked.
"Go for it," Sanji said casually as he sliced the excess dough off the edges of the crust. He glanced over his shoulder to watch Usopp pluck a cherry out of the bowl, toss it into his mouth, and take a seat at the table. He returned his attention to the pie without allowing himself to wonder what the sharpshooter was up to.
Roughly a minute later, Sanji was mixing the pie's filling and had nearly forgotten that Usopp was there, which was why he quietly had something akin to a small heart attack when the marksman shouted "AHA!" and jumped up from the table. By the time Sanji recovered and turned around, he found himself face to face with Usopp, who opened his mouth and pulled out a cherry stem tied in a knot. "Beat that!"
Sanji raised an eyebrow, first at the cherry stem and then at Usopp. Then he glanced over to the bowl. Usopp picked out a cherry as silently instructed and tossed it to Sanji, who caught it in his mouth and turned back to the pie.
Usopp waited anxiously as Sanji finished mixing the filling. As the chef began to roll out the dough for the top crust, he glanced down at Usopp's hand (which was resting on the countertop) and tilted his head. The sharpshooter held out said hand and Sanji spat the cherry stem into it before returning nonchalantly to his work.
Usopp held the cherry stem up in front of his eyes and scrutinized it as if the fate of the world was balanced on the outcome of their little contest.
It was double-knotted.
"Damnit," said Usopp, tossing the stem onto the floor and staring at it accusatorially as Sanji smirked in victory and retrieved the bowl of cherries. The chef estimated how many he would need for the filling and began to remove the pits and stems, leaving the unneeded numbers in the bowl. Usopp brightened visibly when he saw the leftover cherries.
"I can do that," he announced, with all the determination of a man who could not be kept from his cherries, and snatched one from the bowl. "All it takes is stamina and dexterity, two things that I have in spades! I once tied a 400-foot long snake in a knot with only my tongue, you know!"
Zoro, who had just awakened from a nap and had entered the galley to grab a bottle of rum during Usopp's speech, raised an eyebrow in interest at the words 'stamina' and 'dexterity' and ambled over to the counter to find out what was going on.
"What're you two doing?" the swordsman asked, feigning disinterest as he leaned against the bulkhead and swilled some rum.
"Tying cherry stems into knots," Sanji answered, as Usopp's mouth was occupied at that moment. Then he grinned maliciously. "It's a delicate skill; nothing you would be capable of."
Something in Zoro's eyes sparked and flared. That sounded like challenge to him. He grabbed a cherry out of the bowl and bit the stem off, not even bothering with the fruit. Then he resumed leaning against the bulkhead and stared into space while wearing a look of intense concentration.
Minutes passed in silence as Sanji continued working on the pie. Eventually, Usopp extracted a terribly mangled but almost certainly double-knotted cherry stem from his mouth with apparent glee and began to practice on another one. Shortly afterward, an irate and flustered Zoro spat out a damp, frayed, and decidedly un-tied stem, grumbled something about it being clearly defective, and grabbed another.
That was about when Luffy burst into the galley, swinging through the door on one outstretched arm and skidding to a halt in the center of the room. He had only come in to attempt to steal some meat while Sanji wasn't looking, but he was not used to having his arrival met with complete silence, so he bounded over to the counter instead.
"What's up, guys?" he asked, and then laughed when Zoro started on his third cherry stem. "You're not supposed to eat the stems!" he pointed out.
"He's not eating it," Sanji explained as he poured the pie filling into the crust. "He's trying to tie it into a knot with his tongue." He said 'trying' in a manner that implied that Zoro would never be able to accomplish said goal, and the swordsman snorted in dissent.
"Cool! Can I try?" Luffy asked excitedly.
"Knock yourself out," the cook replied, and Usopp mutely offered their captain a cherry.
A few more minutes passed, during which Zoro loudly and angrily declared that Sanji had bought substandard cherries, Sanji replied that Zoro just couldn't admit that he didn't have the talent necessary to work with them, and Zoro shot back something that could have been "Oh yeah? I'll show you, dartboard brow" around another cherry stem.
"Lahk ya gath, ah dih iht!" Luffy announced, waving his arms for attention.
"That's not how you do it, Luffy," Sanji said as he beheld the captain's knotted-up tongue in bewilderment.
"It's easy for someone who once defeated a whole army with his tongue alone!" Usopp declared grandly, having produced his fourth tied cherry stem.
"Maybe by boring them to death," Zoro muttered between stems.
It was at this point that Nami, on her way back from tending her tangerine trees, passed the galley door and happened to glance in to see a scene of general commotion. She was about to dismiss it as normal ship insanity and continue on her way before she realized that she had nothing better to do at the moment, so she opened the door and leaned in.
"What's going on in here?" she asked, bemused, after beholding the craziness for a moment.
"We're having a contest!" Usopp proclaimed.
"Oh? What kind of contest?" This might prove to be entertaining, she decided.
"A cherry stem-tying contest!" said Luffy, who has just succeeded in untying his tongue.
"I see," Nami said wisely. "So, who can do it the fastest?"
The boys all glanced at each other for a split second before simultaneously diving for the cherry bowl and starting over. Nami waited patiently for the minute or so it took Sanji to emerge victorious, grinning elatedly. Usopp came in a close second and Zoro didn't place at all. Luffy managed to tie his tongue up again.
"Can I have one of those cherries, Sanji-kun?" Nami said sweetly. Sanji snatched one up and offered it to her with the air of a puppy begging approval. The navigator took it, smiling sweetly, and popped it into her mouth.
Five seconds later, she delicately spat a perfectly knotted cherry stem into her palm and held it out for the others to see. They all leaned over her outstretched hand, staring with various degrees of amazement. Nami closed her palm and turned on her heel, sashaying out of the galley.
She had made it all the way to the bow, grinning smugly as she went, before Sanji flung the door open and jumped out onto the deck.
"Hay Nami-san!" he called. The navigator turned around and fixed him with a sugary smile. "Can you teach me how to do that?" the chef finished, grinning hopefully.
"Sure, Sanji-kun!" Nami replied.
Sanji was sure he felt his heart stop for a full three seconds before pounding back to life with the strength of a brass band.
"…for 50,000 beli."
Nami couldn't help but giggle when Sanji faceplanted onto the deck.
He was still lying there four hours later when Zoro tossed a cherry stem that was mangled, soaked, unrecognizable, and thoroughly knotted onto the back of his head with a triumphant "Ha!"