Usopp wrinkled his nose at Sanji's fifth overdramatic display of affection toward the ladies that morning. Normally it didn't bother him, but frankly it was getting a little too much to bear at this point, especially considering that he was attempting to finish a complicated sketch of a certain part of the ship that put him in a position just downwind of the elaborate fawning.
"I wish he'd give it a rest for an hour," he commented to Luffy, who was looking over his shoulder at the sketch and bouncing on his toes. (That should have been more annoying than it was, Usopp reflected, but he supposed he was just far too used to it by now.)
"I think it's funny," Luffy said, resting his chin on the sniper's shoulder, and Usopp could see him grin out of the corner of his eye. He looked up at Sanji, who was flattering a politely impassive Robin while Zoro rolled his eyes and swung his giant weights overhead.
"It was pretty funny the first couple of days," Usopp sighed, and returned to his work, nudging Luffy's arm away from his elbow to make room. "Now it's just kind of annoying sometimes." He tapped his charcoal stick against the paper for a moment, surveying the scene, and sketched in a bit of railing. "Maybe Zoro's right. He just really needs to get laid."
"Nah, that wouldn't help," said Luffy, flopping down on the deck next to Usopp and crossing his legs. "It'd be like when you really want dinner but all you get is half a sandwich and it's not even a good sandwich. It just makes you hungrier."
Usopp paused in drawing the top edge of the sail and glanced sideways at the captain. "How do you figure that?" he asked, realizing once again that he would never ceased to be amazed by how Luffy could incorporate food into any situation.
"Well, he's doing it wrong," said Luffy, shrugging as he rocked back and forth, both hands wrapped around his ankles. Usopp counted to three, the span of time it took to determine whether or not Luffy was going to offer up any more information, and then asked him to elaborate. "Nami says he's like a begging puppy. She says that doesn't work unless girls feel sorry for him."
"So?" said Usopp, shading in the sail.
"He knows Nami and Robin don't feel sorry for him." Luffy started swaying back and forth; sometimes Usopp wondered if there was music playing in the captain's head.
"Does he?" Usopp asked, turning back to Sanji, who was inquiring as to whether a clearly disinterested Nami needed anything. He knew that Sanji wasn't stupid, per se, not in the traditional sense, but he wondered if their misguided cook actually did know that he was being more off-putting to the resident women than anything.
"Yep," Luffy answered, casually picking his nose. Usopp thought this over for a moment.
"So, you're saying that he's just trying to get attention?" he asked, watching as Sanji forwent waiting on the ladies to get into a fight with Zoro– this one appeared to be mostly bravado with a smidgeon of genuine annoyance, which described most of their fights, really.
"Pretty much." Luffy stood up and leaned over Usopp again, apparently transfixed by the swift, scratching motion of charcoal on paper.
"Yeah? And what do you call that–" he gestured to the ongoing fight– "A battle to defend the honor of the fair maidens?" He snickered.
"Nah, that's the same thing," Luffy said, dropping to his knees and placing his chin on Usopp's shoulder again.
"They're not paying attention," Usopp pointed out. Indeed, Nami and Robin were ignoring the men and were involved in a conversation about something in Robin's book.
"Zoro is," said Luffy, getting his elbow in the way again, and Usopp paused to consider this in shoving it away.
"He's trying to get attention…from Zoro?" Usopp was baffled. Sanji didn't hate Zoro, of course, anymore than Zoro hated him; they were nakama, but it was still a known fact that the two of them pointedly did not get along.
"From anyone," Luffy said simply, and thumbed a smudge of charcoal off the back of Usopp's hand.
Usopp was silent for a long moment, outlining the mast as Nami finally broke up the fight and sent the combatants to opposite sides of the ship to cool down. "I guess that kind of makes sense…I mean, when he was at the Baratie, all those guys were pretty mean to him, but they were his friends. So he just doesn't know how to get attention from a guy other than fighting with him."
"Yep. 'Specially since he usually fights with Zoro when he needs help. Or when he's already trying to get Nami and Robin to pay attention to him."
Mildly shocked at this (both the fact itself and that it was Luffy who had pointed it out), Usopp put down his sketchpad and turned to Luffy, who giggled as Usopp's nose jabbed him in the ear. "We could publish a scientific essay on why Sanji is an aggressive, lovesick puppy, do you realize that?" he said, and Luffy laughed some more, and so did Usopp, until they were both laying flat out on the deck and cackling, because when one laugh has another laugh to feed off of, they both gain momentum and everything has a tendency to seem much funnier than it actually is.
"Hey, maybe he's so fixated on food because he wants attention from the fish," Usopp said through a dying round of giggles.
"Nah," Luffy replied, flipping over onto his stomach and crossing his arms under his chin. "He likes food so much because he doesn't ever want to starve again."
That was a sobering thought, enough so that it made Usopp stop laughing entirely. He linked his fingers together over his stomach and stared up at the clouds, frowning in thought, until a spark of realization went off in his brain like a firework. "He obsesses over food because he doesn't want to starve. And he obsesses over attention…because he doesn't want to starve…"
"Food's not the only thing you can be starved of," Luffy mumbled. Usopp sat up and looked at him; his eyes were closed. The sun was putting him to sleep.
"His two best friends said goodbye to him by trying to beat him up," Usopp mused, looking up at the sky. "When his mentor told him to take care of himself, he started crying, like that was the only nice thing he ever said to him."
"Maybe it was," said Luffy, words slurred by oncoming sleep.
"No wonder he acts like that," Usopp continued. "He probably never got any actual affection in his life."
"Uh-huh," Luffy agreed, yawned hugely, and promptly fell asleep.
Usopp watched the clouds drift and listened to Luffy snore for several minutes, and then he picked up his paper.
He shaded the mast, sketched in the galley door, and in front of it, he drew a thin young man dressed in black, smoking a cigarette and looking at the world with a gleam in his eye that said "Come and get me…I dare you."
He pinned it under the edge of the cast-iron skillet Sanji had left out for lunch.