"I don't know about that kid," she said suddenly.
"Nami," her brother said with the kind of tired patience born of countless repetition. "He's my best friend. Hell, he's your best friend."
"I know, I know. But don't you think he- I don't know, he's kinda dumb?"
"Oh, what do you know."
"I know he's climbing that tree over there in the middle of the park."
"What's wrong with climbing trees?" Usopp said. "Tons of people climb trees."
"But they don't do it here!" she exclaimed, and Usopp wondered how bored she was if she was going to start on the impossible undertaking of trying to comprehend Luffy. "They might by the playground or whatever," she continued, "but not where people go for peace and quiet."
"He's being quieter than you are." He ducked the slap without looking up from where he was sketching on the back of a flier and grinned at Nami's huff.
"Brat." She quieted, pulling out her cellphone when it vibrated. While she was tapping away on the number pad, Usopp glanced up at his friend. Luffy had climbed effortlessly halfway up the tall tree and was straddling a thick branch, scooting out from the trunk to a little bird's nest. Close enough to see it's tiny inhabitants, but far enough away to keep in the mother bird's good graces, he lay down on his stomach and watched them in happy fascination.
"Look at him," Nami said, half exasperation, half unmistakable fondness. "It's just a bird's nest."
"Careful Nami, or people will start to think you're no fun."
Nami stuck her tongue out, mimicking his earlier, "Oh, what do you know."
Usopp decided to ignore her, tapping his pen on the paper absently. Truth be told, he knew a lot when it came to Luffy; he could teach a class on the subject. And he knew Luffy wasn't stupid, he was simple, pure sincerity in every inch of those wide eyes and that wide smile. He wasn't shallow, like muddy waters of a pond close to shore, he was transparent- like a tropical ocean, so clear and bright you could see straight through for miles.
That was Luffy.
Luffy didn't make things complicated, didn't question the world at every turn, took even strangers at their word, so big-eyed and naive that Usopp had grown fiercely protective of him over the years.
Someone as trusting as him would be taken advantage of in a heartbeat if he wasn't careful. And Luffy just wasn't careful, with anything; least of all, Usopp could guess, his love.
"Oh my god, Sanji got us all tickets to the Soul King concert in May!" Usopp was yanked out of his thoughts when Nami squealed excitedly. "I thought they were sold out! He's so awesome!"
"Bet you're glad poor dumb Luffy introduced you to him, huh?" Usopp teased, and laughed out loud when Nami blushed.
Hotly, she countered, "Girls go for guys like Sanji. You know, the suave, gentlemanly type." She gestured at Luffy. "He's not that type."
Usopp was sketching again. "He doesn't like girls, remember?"
"Oh, that's right." Her eyes brightened. "Hey, why don't you date him then?"
"I'm dating Kaya, moron."
Deflated, she flapped a hand. "Right, right, your little girlfriend."
But even she couldn't find a bad thing to say about Kaya; the sweet, blond-haired girl from uptown. Usopp had known her since they were kids, they met in a summer art class at the city rec center, but they hadn't started dating until a few months ago; sort of a mutual "why not?" sort of thing, but Usopp cared a lot about her.
"I was so surprised when our little Luffy told us he was dating someone! I just wish I knew who it was, this waiting is killing me." Nami tapped her phone against the arm of the bench, eyes narrowed against the sun and the unfair curiosity eating her alive; and Usopp realized belatedly that the whole conversation had a point. "What do you think he's like? What kind of guy would be interested in Luffy?"
It was a good question, and Usopp's pen stilled over the paper.
Luffy was a kid, and just cause he wore his heart on his sleeve and didn't understand the basic concept of a lie, he expected the same of the whole world. And it was sweet, and endearing, and the scariest thing in the world. Usopp didn't want Luffy to get hurt, to get caught up with the wrong sort of person, someone who would use him and then throw him away.
He's not helpless, Usopp reminded himself sharply. He can take care of himself.
And he could- Luffy once fought off two grown men for the sake of a stray dog, and came out of the scrap without so much as scratch. On top of that, he could be scarily perceptive at times, and Sanji had at least a dozen stories to prove it. But Usopp had seen Luffy be tricked time and time again, especially when they visited the city; by a pickpocket, a homeless man, once it was fortune teller, and all of them reeled Luffy in with a kind word, or a hungry need in their voice, and it was Usopp who'd had to step in and drag him away, his own heart full and aching at the confusion on his friend's face as he tried to explain, for the hundredth time, that some people just weren't sincere.
Luffy could be tricked, could be used, and he was the last person who deserved something like that. But this wasn't something Usopp could take his hand and guide him away from, this was- love and dating and serious in a way that losing pocket money just wasn't, and Usopp could only sit back and pray Ace would be careful who he let Luffy run off alone with.
And pray there was no terrible break-up or fallout or broken heart for Usopp to piece through and try to fix in the end.
Usopp was staring at his half-hearted drawing, biting his lip in thought, when he heard an all-too-familiar yelp and the cracking of branches. His head snapped up and beside him he heard Nami gasp as Luffy slipped from his perch, couldn't find another grip despite his scrambling, and fell.
Usopp leapt to his feet, heart pounding, knowing as he started forward that there was absolutely no way he'd make it in time and it was such a long way to fall-
Strong arms caught Luffy five feet above the ground, and Usopp stopped in his tracks as Luffy shook his head, not even ruffled. Blinking big brown eyes, Luffy glanced up at the man who'd come to his rescue, and smiled big.
"Zoro! You're finally here!" He hugged him around the neck, then pulled back enough to scowl at him. "You're late. Did you get lost? We gave you really easy directions. Ooh, I got bored of waiting and found the bird's nest up there, you see it? I shook the branch a bit just then I hope the little babies are okay- "
"Idiot," the man said patiently, disentangling himself from Luffy and setting him on his feet. Luffy beamed at him, and then glanced at Usopp and Nami, beckoning them closer.
"Guys, this is Zoro," he introduced cheerfully. "He's nineteen, and works for a furniture company in the city. We met cause- well it's a really long story! His boss has a big clown nose. Isn't that funny?"
It may have been funny, but Usopp was too busy staring at Zoro to tell; he was only two years older than Usopp and Luffy's seventeen, and yet seemed so much more mature. He was well built and tall, with a shock of green hair and impassive, poison green eyes. "Zoro, these are my friends, Usopp and Nami. They're amazing." He said it so warmly Nami couldn't help but reach out and brush a hand through his hair.
Zoro glanced over, looking vaguely interested, and nodded to them. Usopp spooked a little at the sudden scrutiny, but managed a nod back, trying to muster his bravest face, and for some reason it made Zoro crack a smile. Usopp relaxed a little without meaning to.
"We're gonna go," Luffy was saying happily, slipping an arm through Zoro's and linking them snugly. "I just wanted you to meet him!"
"Well, thanks for introducing us to your mystery man," Nami replied, and for some reason she sounded absolutely relieved, and sincere as she continued, "It was nice meeting you, Zoro. We'll see you both tomorrow night at the Baratie, right?"
"Yeah, we'll be there. And it was nice meeting you, too."
Usopp felt a shamed pang when Luffy sent him a brief, disappointed glance as he and Zoro turned to go, but he couldn't help it. He was just surprised, that's all, Zoro looked-
Scary, was the first thought that came to mind, quickly followed by, surprisingly, Sorta nice.
"Zoro," he could hear Luffy say, as they moved past the tree, "I wanna see the birds again."
"Luffy, you were just up there and you nearly broke your neck. No."
"No. Grab that book for me." Zoro was gathering a rucksack and a few notebooks off the ground, and his request had Luffy trotting over to retrieve a textbook some feet away.
"You're no fun," Luffy whined as he handed the book over, and crouched to gather some loose papers. "Oh, these are dirty. It's cause I fell down, isn't it? Sorry, Zoro."
Usopp watched Zoro pause, and reach over to lay a hand on Luffy's head, ruffling the mop of dark hair gently until Luffy looked up at him with big eyes. Usopp couldn't see his face, but Zoro's voice was low and fond when he said, "I knew what I was getting into with you."
And the last of Usopp's uncertainty melted away at the way Luffy's face just crumpled in joy.
"That kid did good for himself, you know," Nami said from beside him, folding her arms and smiling at the pair of them warmly. When Usopp looked up at her, she continued, "You can tell from the way he looks at Luffy. It's the same way dad used to look at mom." Her smile brightened. "It took like this huge weight off my chest when I saw them together. That Zoro is head-over-heels for our Luffy, you can just tell."
When Luffy slipped off his branch and fell, it had seemed like things were happening so fast- but somehow, out of nowhere, Zoro had been right there, throwing his bag and everything in his arms without a second thought, catching him.
Luffy glanced over Zoro's shoulder as they stood to leave, looking hopeful. Usopp caught his eye and grinned and Luffy's smile in return was like sunshine.
"I knew what I was getting into with you."
"You're right, Nami." Some things, you can just tell.