TITLE: a tale of masks
SUMMARY: Sogeking and Luffy talk; post-Enies Lobby.
LENGTH: 1300 words
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda yadda yadda.
NOTES: Challenge fic for the op_fanforall anonymous meme on livejournal, written to the prompt "Sogeking/Luffy. Could be a heart-to-heart conversation about Usopp..."
a tale of masks
It's over. Enies Lobby is a flattened expanse of so many burning-out embers in the distance, and the marines aren't chasing them. Of course, Usopp doesn't have the sort of natural optimism that will accept they're out of the woods yet, but he supposes they are free to relax somewhat for now. But then the others can probably relax a little more than him anyway, as well.
Sogeking, he corrects internally. He's Sogeking for now. Can't afford to be anyone else, while he's here with these people, on this ship.
Particularly the one who's currently tugging at the leg of his pants - tugging in the very loosest sense, that is, since it seems that Luffy can only move one finger, a little bit, but he's using that motion to prod persistently at the fabric.
"Captain?" he remembers halfway through the deepen his voice, and clears his throat fakely. Though he has the feeling he might as well not have bothered - it is Luffy, after all.
"Could you take me below deck, Sogeking?" he's asked, a bit hoarsely. He remembers Luffy's screaming as he hit at Rob Lucci with the very last of his strength. "I'm tired but... I've missed Merry, and we can check for damage, and leave Chopper to see to the others... and himself... first."
Not for the first time he wonders if Luffy is really so oblivious to the fact he's Usopp.
...at least, until Luffy adds in a more deliberate whisper, "And I can't see Usopp, so I think he must've gone below, and I want to talk to him."
"Luffy..." His voice slips again. He almost comes clean. But the captain appears not to notice either the slip or the hesitation. "Sure, Luffy."
He's picked Luffy up countless times in play, but this is different. For one, it's a lot harder when Luffy's arms and legs aren't working to grip onto him in return. It's a good thing he's made of rubber, though, and eventually Zoro has to stomp over and lend his gruff help in hauling him up and draping his arms over Uso-- Sogeking's shoulders, so that he can catch the captain - who he keeps forgetting isn't his captain any more - beneath the knees and lean forward, hefting his weight piggyback-style.
Zoro thinks that he should tell Luffy that he's Usopp, and probably thinks a lot of other things that he's not saying, judging by his glare as he turns away. Zoro probably spotted that instant of hesitation a few minutes before.
The way Luffy's flopped against him, he can feel his slightly laboured breathing, his mouth and nose squashed into Sogeking's neck. What he thinks is a trickle of drool turns out, once it travels down to his line of sight, to be blood. He muffles his yelp and produces a strange strangled noise instead, which he swallows to ask, "You're sure you should be avoiding Chopper?"
"Just tired," Luffy says hoarsely. Against his neck, the movement of that wide mouth feels like a kiss, except... no wait, that's definitely drool.
Ah well. Sogeking hefts Luffy a little more securely and with a last glance at - and quickly away from - Zoro's scowl, he carries his sometime-friend down into the belly of the ship.
It's a bitter sort of inspection tour. This was the ground they fought over, after all. This was where they ate together, where they slept, those scratches in the wood familiar from the time Sanji drew kitchen knives on Zoro, that repairwork from when Luffy tripped up running and managed to put his head through the wall. There's so much camaraderie etched into the history of these few small floating rooms.
He's starting to understand the full cost of being unable to let go.
He looks now at the terribly warped boards and knows that Merry will never really sail again. It's a miracle he's afloat now.
The weight on his shoulders is too much, and he manages to lower to his knees in time to mostly reduce Luffy's fall from his back, make it a more natural slide. Luffy, having taking no greater hurt, is wearing a quiet smile as he shifts on the slimy floor, angling his head against the rotting boards. With what minimal movement he has, his hand strokes the planks. If he can't see the wreckage in front of him... well, he's either stupid or putting on a show, and as always, Usopp can't be completely sure.
He can't really leave Luffy lying there like that, so he hauls him up and sits him against the wall, pulling at rubber limbs until he's got him balanced and the position looks reasonably natural. The skin under his palms feels clammy. There's pain and exhaustion in Luffy's eyes. But he still broadens his grin and says "Thanks" as Uso-- Sogeking sits down on a drier patch facing him.
He remembers flames and darkness and crashing waves, and using every weapon in his arsenal to try and beat this man down... flinches, and looks away.
"Sogeking," Luffy says suddenly, his voice a little more lively, hopeful and yet strangely raw at the same time. "Do you think that Usopp will stay with us?"
It takes him about half a minute to work his throat to a point where he's sure his voice will actually emerge when he speaks. In the meantime, Luffy's just gazing patiently at him with those dazed, too-wide eyes.
"I'm sure--" he says, voice sounding curiously flat where it should, if anything, be echoing against the hollow back of the mask "--that Usopp will make the right decision when the time comes."
Luffy nods anxiously, mouth a cautious grin, and so earnest that Usopp wants to rip the mask off and yell that of course he's staying, of course he'll come back, and pick up his idiot captain and shake him.
Except... he still hasn't decided yet. Would they want him back? Would they ask him back, really? Luffy would. Luffy would forget their fight in an instant. But something about Zoro's looks in his direction makes him cold. There is a recompense to be made and he's not sure how.
"We came all this way and fought the World Government to get back Robin," Luffy says. "I don't want to leave Water 7 without Usopp. But... even though it was the whole government in the way, Robin had to want us to take her back first." He falters. "I don't know if Usopp wants to. Even if Merry..." His hand curls against the floor. Rotten boards crumble even beneath his weak fingers. It's impossible not to think about how helpless he looks. "There's no-one I can fight to prove he should."
Sogeking's eyes tear behind the mask. No, they do not want any more fights.
And Merry isn't back. Sogeking knows this, can admit it as Usopp never could. The ship is falling apart. The rotten interior cannot be their home again. It's only a matter of time.
Luffy was right. If he was Usopp right now, the thought would be killing him, so it's fortunate that he's Sogeking, King of Snipers!, and... he has a mask that's hiding more than just the features of his face.
"Sogeking?" Luffy presses. "I need a sharpshooter."
His heart gives a strange flop, and it's impossible to pin down all the thoughts that spiral through his head in that instant, but Luffy hasn't finished.
"...I'd... ask you to join... but... I want my sharpshooter. I'm sorry. I want my friend."
Luffy's hand curls into a fist and he drags it up to his knee, teeth grit with the effort. "Tell him," Luffy says. "Tell Usopp I want my friend back."
Usopp nods, and knows his friend well enough to know Luffy still won't realise it's him when he answers in his own voice, "He knows."