Sanji was laughing. Sanji was laughing. Not a fierce battle chuckle or a sarcastic snort, not dry and humorless or mocking…he was laughing. Laughing the way people were supposed to laugh; the way people laughed when they were having fun. When they were genuinely entertained. And Sanji was definitely having fun, was certainly entertained, because he was laughing, loud and boundless and happy.
Sanji was laughing. Sanji was laughing at Usopp.
Well, not at him. He was laughing at the story Usopp was telling, part tall tale and part pure fiction, exaggeration mixed with a measured dose of boldfaced lie. Usopp had spent days constructing it, weaving it and molding it into a work of art; something to truly be proud of, not just a slapdash affair thrown together on the spot. It took more than that to get Sanji to laugh, Usopp knew. That, and he was worth more than one of Usopp's hastily-constructed, last-minute legends. No, this one was something special for someone special. Sanji was laughing, and Sanji laughing made Usopp laugh, because chances were that when Sanji was happy, Usopp was too.
Dinner was on the table officially now, because Sanji had just set down a bowl of fried rice in the center of the table, just in front of Usopp, and was leaning over it, not letting go, not standing up, not moving away. He was still smiling with abandon, letting out erratic, audible puffs of air that were the aftershocks of laughter. After a few seconds, the smile changed, becoming awkward and half forced. He swallowed so hard that Usopp could hear it clearly from where he sat, admittedly not very far away.
There was a brief pause– indecision flashed through Sanji's eyes, replaced by nervousness, and something else– and then the cook leaned forward, turning to avoid Usopp's nose, but stopped just short of his lips. They were looking directly into each others' eyes, so close that Usopp could make out every sandy eyelash, every black speckle in that pale blue iris. From this distance he couldn't see the tension in Sanji's shoulders, but he could feel it; it was thick and tangible in the air around them. There was breath, smelling of salt air and cigarettes and seafood, warm against his lips, and he felt the heat radiating from Sanji's face as clearly as he knew it was coming from his own. Usopp gulped and blinked and for a moment he was sure he had broken it, sure that Sanji would step away and pretend nothing had ever happened, but then Sanji made a face as though he'd be damned if he did and damned if he didn't, and he closed the gap.
Sanji's eye was closed now, so Usopp let his own fall shut; forgot seeing in favor of feeling. Sanji's lips were warm and dry and chapped from sea breeze and smoking. Usopp felt, briefly, as if his blood were on fire, and then one of Sanji's hands came up to rest on his shoulder, gripping just slightly, as if trying to assure himself that this was real. Usopp clung to the edges of the table and held on until Sanji pulled back.
A moment passed in stunned silence, and then Usopp gained the presence of mind to say something, but what came out of his mouth hadn't been at all what he was expecting. "You shouldn't have done that," he said, very softly.
Sanji looked an impressive mix of startled and hurt. "Why not?" he muttered, but neglected to remove his hand from Usopp's shoulder.
"You're not supposed to kiss people you don't really like," Usopp mumbled back, barely audible, distracted by the lingering taste of Sanji on his lips.
"Idiot," Sanji hissed, squeezing Usopp's shoulder just hard enough to hurt. "Why the hell do you think I did that? You think I don't…you think I don't like you?" He looked apprehensive.
Usopp wrenched Sanji's fingers from his shoulder and rested both of their hands together on the tabletop. "No. I know you do." He glanced down at their hands, one on top of the other. "You shouldn't take somebody's first kiss like that without asking. It's not fair."
"I didn't–" Sanji began, too loudly, and then stopped to collect himself. "I wasn't trying to take it, I was…I was trying to give it."
"Yeah?" said Usopp. He couldn't look up.
"Yeah…for the story. And for…for other stuff. For…" there was a rather long and motionless pause, then. "For being you, I guess." He laughed again, the dry chuckle this time; he used it for when something seemed as though it should be funny, but wasn't.
"Thanks," Usopp said, finally looking back up at Sanji, who clearly had not been expecting that at all. "Thanks for being you, too." He smiled, sheepishly but genuinely.
"Yeah, you're welcome," Sanji said. He was smiling now, too. "You going to stop being stupid now?"
"Only if you are."
Sanji was laughing again, laughing like he was relieved and happy and like he really meant it. And then Usopp was laughing too, and after that both of them were a bit muffled and Sanji's elbow was probably in the fried rice, and it honestly didn't matter a bit, because both of them were really, truly happy.