Title: Simple Routines
Disclaimer: I don't own One Piece.
Spoiler warning: Spoilers if you haven't completed the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc.
Even amongst the dearest nakama, there are some friendships which run deeper than others, and sometimes the most unlikely people can succumb to the loneliness of a friendship slipping away.
Though Usopp would have never predicted it, during his brief parting from the Strawhat crew, it was Nami who had taken his parting the hardest.
If Usopp tried to pinpoint the beginning of his friendship with Nami, he probably would have said it was shortly before they reached Alabasta. Although their relationship as crewmates and comrades was already established, their personal relationship did not blossom until after the crew had entered the Grand Line.
While sailing toward Alabasta, Nami had approached him to discuss their shortcomings in battle. In a crew of men with legendary strength, Nami and Usopp's fighting ability was average at best. She had voiced her concern to Usopp, and he had designed a weapon for her to allow her to fight alongside men with the prowess of superheroes.
From that moment forward, conversations started to become more and more frequent between the pair. Nami and Usopp realized that they could find brief solace in their colloquies, away from the pandemonium of the rest of the crew.
And so their routine was established. When either he or Nami had the night watch, they would stay up together and talk, frequently over a couple of drinks.
For Usopp, these moments with Nami were like a break from his childishness. With Luffy and Chopper, he passed the long hours at sea by dancing, singing songs, and playing games. He bantered with the crew about ridiculous topics, and usually his conversations involved elaborate lies and gross exaggerations.
Despite his arrogant assertions about his unparalleled skills, deep down, he knew his own worth. His value to the crew was as irreplaceable nakama, not as a powerful fighter, and he was more than content with that fact. To the crew, he typically displayed a juvenile persona, except during the gravest of moments when he had to become serious.
Yet during these nights he spent talking to Nami, Usopp displayed a level of maturity only Nami could awaken in him. He found himself having serious conversations that he never imagined he could have. He found himself looking forward not only to the company of a friend, but also to the stimulating conversations and the clever repartee they shared.
The rest of the crew had never seen this side to him. To them, he was still Usopp the liar. On a daily basis, he made up elaborate stories about his past adventures that had never happened, or twisted real stories into fantasies that made him look like the shining hero. A few of them still looked at him with amazement—well, really it was only Chopper and Luffy—but he simply could not give up his knavish nature, even amongst nakama.
Yet in his private conversations with Nami, Usopp's lying dwindled and eventually faded into nothing. It was not a conscious decision on his part. In fact, while it was happening, he did not realize it. One day it simply dawned on him that when his words were for her ears only, he became veracious.
Perhaps it was because when he would lie during their private conversations, Nami responded with a cold, disdainful stare, and she refused to acknowledge what he said. Gradually, he lied to her less and less, until he lost all desire to lie to her.
When he lost his need to lie to her, their conversations began to take an interesting turn. Usopp found himself in the most deep and honest conversations of his life. While this notion terrified him, he cherished every moment of it. Even he and Kaya had never shared conversations like this.
Usopp could tell that on this particular night, something was troubling her. Even someone who was not familiar with her idiosyncrasies and quirks could tell that something important was on her mind.
Asking her what was wrong was futile. When she felt ready to talk, then she would, suddenly and inexplicably. He had thought he had grown accustomed to it by now, but every once in a while, Nami still managed to catch him off guard.
Tonight was definitely one of those moments. She decided to disclose the nature of her peculiar behavior right in the middle of a discussion about Usopp's latest invention.
"Does it still bother you?" Nami asked, gulping down her drink in a manner than was less than lady-like.
"The knocking sound? Well yeah, that's why I'm trying to fix it," he replied, not realizing that she had changed the conversation.
She rolled her eyes. "Not that."
"Oh. Does what bother me?" Usopp asked, setting his tankard on the table.
Nami stared down at the table top for a moment, and he realized she was finally going to admit what was troubling her. She sighed and set down her drink. Then she looked up at Usopp, wearing an expression of sadness.
"Being in a crew full of monsters."
He blinked in surprise.
A wave of insecurity washed over him, and he wondered if Nami was about to pick on him for the time he quit the crew. His logic was that since the rest of his crewmates had poked fun at him for his dramatic departure, it was natural that Nami would join in with the heckling.
Her brown eyes focused on him searchingly and expectantly, and he knew that she had no intention of jesting with him. There was no humor in her expression.
Usopp felt his body grow tense. This was a conversation he desperately wanted to avoid. After a long pause, he finally gave a reply that he hoped would satisfy her and while still allowing him to skirt the conversation. "I know I belong in this crew," he replied.
She smirked. "So that's the approach you're taking? Avoidance?"
He sighed and stared down into his glass. "I don't really know how to answer something like that," he admitted. "I'm back. In a way, I didn't really leave. I don't know what else I can say."
A flicker of annoyance crossed her face. Quickly, she downed the contents of her drink, and then slammed the empty glass on the table.
"Why are you asking me this?" he asked.
She observed him carefully, her face contorted as if she were in deep thought. "We're a lot alike, Usopp, so I thought that maybe... Well, sometimes, I feel like..." She abruptly stood up and grabbed her cup. "Ah, nevermind, nevermind, it was nothing. I'm going to get something else to drink." She grinned at him, and while Sanji would have been dancing around her in ecstasy for being the recipient of such a dazzling smile, Usopp knew she was hiding behind it.
As she poured herself another drink, Usopp noticed she seemed a bit unsteady on her feet.
"You know, it was such a silly thing to bring up, especially when I'm feeling this good. It's such a nice night out. Do you think we should—"
"Oi, Nami," he interrupted, watching her sway exaggeratedly.
She giggled loudly. "What is it?" She gulped down part of her glass, topped it off, and started unsteadily walking back toward the table. "You know, it's so nice out, maybe we should go sit outside for a while and enjoy it before the weather changes again—"
"What are you doing?" Usopp interrupted.
She forced a laugh. "What are you talking about?"
Nami waved a hand at him dismissively, giggling. "Don't worry, I can handle loads more than this."
"Yeah, I know that," he responded. "That's why I'm wondering why you're acting like that."
Her smile quickly disappeared and she stared at him with her mouth agape for a moment. With defeat, she reseated herself at the table and set her glass on the table with a dull clatter. Ale splashed out of the cup and spilled onto the table, but she made no move to wipe it up.
"Dammit, I should have known that wouldn't work," she grumbled, crossing her arms in front of her.
Usopp was fairly confused over her behavior, though he suspected she was planning on trying to get him to answer her question by acting like she was intoxicated, in hopes of loosening him up as well. Or perhaps her goal was to try to give him a few more drinks—after all, it would have been easier to persuade him to have a few more glasses if she insisted he get drunk with her. His tolerance was infinitely less than hers; he would surely be unconscious or dead if he drank half of what Nami could handle.
He wondered how much Nami must have drank in her lifetime to build up such a tolerance. He felt a pang in his chest as he remembered the twisted story of her childhood after her mother died. It was no wonder that she had such a tolerance, even at her young age.
"I think it will always bother me," Usopp admitted finally, answering her original question.
Nami's face darkened, and she stared at him with an intensity that made him want to squirm. "That so?" she said quietly. He knew that she would instantly pick up on the line of conversation, despite the break in flow.
"It's why you were about to go to the trouble of playing drunk, right?" he sighed. "I may as well answer. You'll get me to tell you eventually, anyway."
She smiled slightly, and Usopp felt slightly relieved to see it was a genuine smile.
"So yeah, it bothers me," he continued. "It doesn't matter how hard I try or how strong I become. I'll only ever become a fraction of what they are. Even our new nakama are more powerful than I could ever dream of being."
Usopp stared at her while he spoke, more intent on studying her expression than on the words that came out of his mouth. Her lip trembled faintly.
"If I can't understand what it's like to be so strong and fearless, I don't know how well I can understand their actions," he continued. "We're all the same species—well, except for Chopper—and yet I feel like I'm a sparrow trying to fit in with a flock of eagles. I may eat with them, travel with them, and fight beside them, but there's still a difference that I just can't scale."
"I understand that fear," she said quietly. "Sometimes that idiot swordsman calls me a monster, but I know that we're the only two in this crew who aren't monsters… The only two who aren't eagles." She stared up at him, her large brown eyes full of sadness. "We're like men walking among gods, and sometimes it terrifies me."
"The crew terrifies you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow quizzically.
She shook her head. "The implications terrify me." Her brown eyes met his, and captured him for a moment so he could not look away. "And though the implications may terrify me… I don't feel as terrified as I felt that day, when you said you were leaving us."
His mouth opened slightly, but no words came out.
"Do you remember what words you chose that day?"
"Ah, I think so…" he said uncertainly.
"You said we were all monsters," she said disdainfully, and he flinched. "All of us. You called me a monster, too."
Her brow was crinkled in anger, but her lip was trembling again. A wave of regret washed over him. "Nami, I'm sorry, I didn't think when I said that…"
"You thought it through enough to prepare to fight Luffy," she interjected quickly. "Don't even tell me that would weren't thinking when you said that. You thought it through enough."
"Maybe, but I was angry," he defended. "Even if I thought about some of what I did and said, I wasn't thinking clearly enough. I wasn't thinking about the consequences."
"That's not good enough," she said with irritation. "I'm not a monster, Usopp. I can only fight beside this crew because of you." Her hand brushed against her thigh, and he knew the Climatact was hidden underneath her skirt. "You made this weapon, and it's the only reason I can do anything for this crew. Doesn't that make you the monster?"
"Nami, I just didn't think it through enough. I was angry at Luffy, and I was angry at the thought of leaving Merry behind..."
"It doesn't change anything," she said coldly. "I was hurt, and worst of all, for the first time since I joined this crew, I felt..." she stammered. "I felt like I was... like I was..."
She trailed off and stared at the table, her eyes full of apprehension and sadness. He studied her face carefully, and he realized he knew her expression all too well.
"Lonely," he whispered softly.
Her eyes widened, and she nodded in affirmation.
"I'm sorry," he said slowly. "I never wanted to make you feel lonely."
"How did you know that's what I was going to say?" she asked.
"Because it's something I can understand." He averted his gaze to his tankard, and realized it was empty. He thought about refilling it, but quickly discarded the idea and shoved it away.
Nami shoved her drink toward him. "Here," she smiled thinly. "I don't want it anymore."
"No thanks, I'm done, too."
"I'm not saying I'm unhappy here," Nami continued, setting her hand on the table. "It's the opposite, really. I rarely feel lonely anymore. Scared or worried, sure. We have our share of things to be afraid of—but I never feel alone. I quit feeling lonely after we all left together from Cocoyashi."
Usopp unconsciously found himself averting his gaze to her hand when she spoke of the name of the island she was from. He could make out the scar on the back of her hand.
"It's hard to feel lonely with Luffy around, though. I think he'd try to crack the world in half if he thought it'd save any one of us."
Still looking down at her hand, Usopp felt a pang of guilt. Nami was a woman who cared deeply about her appearance, yet she had a scar on her body because of him. Without hesitation, she had plunged a knife into her hand to fool Arlong into thinking he had died, despite the fact that she barely knew him at the time.
He looked up at her sadly. "I'm sorry, Nami," he said quietly.
"It's just easy to worry when I think I could lose something I desperately want to keep," she explained, and she smiled at him wearily. "This crew—monsters or not—is something I'd like to keep. While we're sailing the Grand Line, our crew is safe if we stay together, but do you think this will last forever?"
"I'd like it to, but I don't think so," he murmured. "Nothing can last forever."
"Exactly," she nodded.
Nami sighed heavily, and Usopp watched her with concern.
"Nami..." he started, wanting to comfort her but unsure of what else to say.
She smiled brightly, but it was another phony smile. "I'm fine, Usopp. It was just a silly moment of insecurity. It'll pass."
Staring at her guarded expression, he realized her large eyes were threatening to spill tears at any moment. Her look of resolve to keep herself from crying made him desperately want to find the right worlds to tell her to alleviate her discomfort.
He, too, had been a lonely person, and still felt the pangs of loneliness, even when he was surrounded by his nakama. The look in her eyes was a fear of that loneliness—that fear that eats a person away from the inside, until it feels like no one in the world can fill the empty void, and no amount of companionship can ever heal the wounds.
He hesitantly put his hand on top of hers, and she looked up at him in surprise.
"Nami, I can't speak for the monsters of our crew," he said slowly, "but I'm not going anywhere."
The tears she had fiercely tried to hold back began to spill down her cheeks. She wiped them away quickly with her free hand.
"You idiot, how can I believe that? You already did it once."
He flinched as though she had slapped him, and he quickly removed his hand from hers. Of course she had no reason to believe him when he said he was not leaving, and he knew no way of convincing her he was sincere.
"Do you have any idea how hard that was?" she said angrily, fighting to hide the unsteadiness of her voice as she began to yell. "You're one of the only idiots in this crew I can have a real conversation with! You're the only idiot that I can talk to about these stupid little things I worry about!" She closed her eyes and clenched her jaw. "Dammit, you're definitely the only idiot who'd understand what I'm telling you right now."
"Nami, I'm sorry..." Usopp apologized again.
"Idiot!" she shouted, banging a fist on the table. Her drink toppled over, but neither one of them made any move to clean it up. "It wasn't just hard when you first left. It got worse. Do you know what it felt like when we left Water 7 and you were too stubborn to ask to come back with us?"
She lowered her voice and quickly wiped her eyes as a few more telltale tears travelled down her cheek. "We almost left you behind, and I had to act like I wasn't ready to scream. I had to act like it wasn't hurting me any worse than it was hurting the rest of the crew.
"When Zoro told Luffy he would leave the crew if Luffy asked you to come back to the crew without apologizing first, I had to act like I was okay with it, just like the rest of the crew was," she continued. "When we left Water 7, when that ship left the dock and you weren't on it yet… I still had to keep acting like it wasn't hurting me any worse than the rest of the crew, even though…"
She suddenly choked, trying to cover up a sob. "I had to act like I was fine, even though I felt like I was being left behind, too."
Usopp stared at her, mouth agape, stunned speechless from her confession. She struggled to quell her tears as Usopp digested her words.
I felt like I was being left behind, too.
What painful words those must have been for her, Usopp thought sadly.
Usopp closed his eyes a moment, searching once again for the right words to say. Usually he had no problem finding something to say, whether it was the truth or not. A lie would certainly be easier, but it wasn't the right thing to say.
When he opened his eyes again, Nami was staring down at the table with a painful expression on her face.
"Usopp," she whispered finally. "Just forget I said any of this foolishness, alright?" She stood up slowly, and he could plainly see her hands were shaking as she nervously brushed a tendril of hair behind her ear. "I'm going to bed." She turned around without so much as looking at him again.
And then flew out of his chair, rushed toward her, and grabbed her wrist.
There was no premeditation in his actions. He didn't think about what to do to comfort her—his body just responded.
She spun around in surprise, her eyes wide and still brimming with tears, and then she nearly lost her balance.
He stepped toward her with surprising agility and caught her, but he did not let go. Instead, he pulled her closer to him and held her, his head resting on her shoulder, his arms firmly wrapped around her back, and just stood there.
At first, Nami hung limply in his arms, but after a few moments, she returned the embrace and started to sob quietly. He could feel her trembling, and he, too, felt like crying for ever making her feel this helpless.
"Have you been wanting to talk about this since I came back?" he asked gently.
She sniffled. "Yeah, but I didn't want to bring it up until I thought I could control myself a little bit better." She laughed slightly, although it came out more like a sob. "I guess I should have waited longer."
Usopp held her tighter. "I'm sorry for making you feel this way, Nami. I'm so sorry." His voice was thick as he tried not to cry. "I wish I had never done what I did. I should have never left like that."
"Don't ever do it again," she said quietly.
He placed one hand on top of her head reassuringly. "I won't. I would take it back right now if I could."
He did not know how much longer they remained in the embrace. At one point, he tried to loosen his grip, but he pulled her closer again when she refused to let go.
Usopp rested his cheek on the side of her head and sighed contently. Her hair smelled sweet, like the scent of citrus. He wondered if it was from her tangerines.
"I'm sorry," she said finally. "I didn't mean to make it uncomfortable."
"You didn't," he smiled. Regretfully, he released her and returned his arms to his sides.
"Could we sit back down and talk for just a bit longer? I don't think I can sleep just yet," she explained.
He nodded. "We can talk all night if you want. I've got to stay awake anyway."
She smiled at him, a look of relief in her eyes. He felt his shoulders relax as he realized that maybe, just this once, he did the right thing to make her feel better.
Usopp returned her smile, and he silently hoped that they could continue their private conversations for the rest of their journey. He knew that someday, the members of the crew would probably part ways. He would miss the loud celebrations and carousing, he would miss the dangerous fights that he fearfully tried to avoid, he would miss the unexpected twists and turns of the Grand Line…
But most of all, he would miss sitting down in the galley with Nami over a tankard of ale and talking about things he could not discuss with anyone else.
When their time came to part ways, he wanted to have plenty of good memories of spending time with her to keep him going.
"Usopp?" Nami asked.
"You seemed like you were daydreaming there for a second."
"Oh—I was just thinking about something, is all."
"Well, what about?" she asked.
"I…" he started, uncertain if divulging everything on his mind was the wisest choice. Finally, he settled for an abbreviated version. "I really enjoy this," he admitted.
She smiled contently. "So do I. I think we went over this already, Usopp."
He laughed nervously. "Yeah, you're right, you're right. I just want to keep it up, is all."
"Well, it's a promise then. Whenever one of us has watch, we'll always do this." Nami beamed at him happily.
Usopp grinned. "Alright. A promise it is."
As he cheerfully spoke those words, despite the smile plastered across his face, he felt a pang of sadness in his heart. He did not understand why or how he felt so desolate about a promise that should have made him happy. He himself had said that nothing lasts forever, and Nami had agreed.
Yet for the first time, he felt a faint sense of anxiety at the thought of her being gone from his life. Usopp figured that this sense of trepidation would fade with time. It had to fade, or else the thought of leaving Nami forever would send him into a state of panic.
All he could do was focus on the present, on her smiling face, on her every word, and hope that these conversations were enough to fill a lifetime. He believed this was the closest he could come to keeping her in his life forever.