The Price of Nakama
This was bad. This was really bad. Usopp sat on the furthest fringes of the rug. He had been staring at that stupid rug so hard for the past half hour he was surprised he didn't wear a hole in it. It was a nice rug; expensive looking, dark blue and plush with a design of little white arrows. If he squinted it looked like whitecaps on a choppy sea and if he really pushed himself he could almost imagine it was, like he was looking down on it and flying far far away from the strange mess he was in here. Only there was no Going Merry on this fabric ocean, not even a fleck of dust or pebble that he could pretend was the ship.
"You seem tired," Fingers said. Usopp blinked and looked at the other boy. He was making a small net, linking cords of rope together with long fingers. It looked tricky and Usopp couldn't help but admire his skill.
"I might be a little," Usopp said, lying on instinct now. Only now that he said it, it seemed like it might be a truth. "It's been a weird day."
Fingers chuckled. It sounded a little like sandpaper being rubbed against his windpipe and Usopp looked away before he could stare at the scar on his neck and resisted the urge to rub at his own.
"That's how I felt, too," Fingers said. "I tried to run away six times at first. The captain practically had to give me a concussion so that I would stay put." Usopp winced at the word concussion. His gaze started to travel upward toward the direction of his thoughts and he shot it back down to the carpet.
D…don't look. It won't help anything if you look, he told himself fiercely.
Yeah, if you do then you'll have to act. Won't you, stinking coward! said a snider voice in the back of his head. But even if he were to act, what could he do? He was outnumbered and outgunned. The snide voice had no answer for that and Usopp knew, if he was going to be anything like his friends, he should just stand up in spite of the terrifying opposition and fight anyway—even if he d…died.
Th…there, see? He would die! He couldn't help anyone if he was dead so right now it was better to just bide his time and w…wait. It wasn't cowardice it was strategy. It was deception. Buying time. It was good. It was good.
Keep telling yourself that…
"…and then when Captain found out about that I was sore for a week," Fingers was saying, though lightly as if this was some kind of fond memory. "If Poison-nee hadn't stepped in, I'm pretty sure he would have killed me." Fingers chuckled again.
"N…ne, that sounds pretty harsh," Usopp said. The more he heard about the captain the less he liked him. The guy had a temper and wasn't afraid to lash out at anyone close enough to his fists. It was weird to see a captain like that. He knew there were probably plenty of other captains (pirate and marine) who were worse, but he couldn't help but compare the man to Luffy. It was like the difference between night and day and it gave Usopp the chills. It didn't help that whenever the man did anything he did it with Usopp's face.
"He can be harsh," said Fingers. "But because of my screw-up we nearly got caught. Blue could have died. I just…" His fingers trembled a little and snarled the net accidentally. Usopp tried not to wince as guilt twinged through him. Luffy would never do anything like that to them no matter how much Usopp screwed up, even…even if it did end up with other members of the crew being hurt. Right?
I knew they would be okay, he imagined himself saying. I was just being strategic, that's all. Imaginary Luffy looked at him hard.
They're your nakama, too, Usopp, he said and Usopp's heart nearly stopped. His eyes shot open and he stared at the carpet, trying to bleed the look of imaginary Luffy out of his brain. S…so what if he would say something like that? D…didn't matter. And maybe he wouldn't! Maybe Usopp was being too hard on himself. Even if he'd bested one Fishman, these guys were heavily armed and meant business.
And…well what…what was he worried about? This was Z…Zoro and Sanji lying there chained up. Any moment now they would break free of those chains, ready to kill someone and Usopp would be the only one to stand between the crew and certain death. Yeah! Of course. It would be as simple as that. He fixed this in his mind, an irresolute fact, then looked up. They were still chained up there on the floor, bound together back to back with thick chains looping around and around and three different padlocks.
From what he could see, Zoro was still asleep. Probably just napping right? Just like he always did. Yes. Yes. Of course. He was just a meathead when you got right down to it. Usopp tried not to notice the angry red marks on the swordsman's face and neck where darts had struck or the blood that still inched down the man's face.
He couldn't see Sanji's face at all but the cook's long legs were still and his blond hair was streaked with red from where one or another of his guards had hit him repeatedly with a hammer. But he…he wasn't unconscious! He was just…just biding his time for when one of the guards got unlucky enough to wander to close to his legs and then Sanji would kick the crap out of them. The only reason he was holding back right now was because his current guard, Patient, was just a kid.
There was a soft noise and Sanji's legs stirred. Usopp's heart kicked up. Patience yelped and two mallets cracked down on Sanji's head so fast it almost looked simultaneous but Usopp heard the double cracks and winced. Sanji stilled again. Patient straightened, chest heaving, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. .
"That was amazing!" Fingers crowed from beside him. "You're getting faster every time." He folded his arms and nodded. "Just like I taught you."
"You didn't teach me anything!" Patience snapped, pointing a hammer at him. "My moves were all inspired off of Cook's!" He twirled one hammer as if it were a pistol and nearly dropped it on his foot. Patient scooped the hammer back up, pink tingeing his cheeks and scowled as Fingers laughed at him.
Patient was one of the terrible three, as Poison had called them, but from where Usopp was sitting he didn't look so terrible. In fact he was one of the easiest of the Usopps to look at because he didn't look very much like Usopp at all. He younger for one thing, thirteen or so, with a small nose and blond hair. He looked like Yasopp actually—or what Usopp could tell from the old pictures his mother had given him. Maybe it was just terrible for him to look that way as he didn't seem to like it, or so Fingers had said and even now Patience was glaring at Usopp and lazily pointed a hammer at him.
"I'll crack your head open with my double fisted hammer strike if you don't stop staring." He looked like he really could do it, too. Usopp didn't want to think about what he'd already done to Sanji. Usopp looked away, down at the carpet, at the rough ridges of his knuckles. He should really do something about this. How could he just stand by and let it happen? He had to do something. S…soon.
A shadow fell over them and Usopp looked up and recoiled back to see Cook standing there with Lost lagging behind him. They were the last two Usopps and the most disturbing…in fact even more disturbing whenever Usopp looked at them. Cook was like looking into a cracked mirror. His face was lined with thin scars and he was even thinner than Usopp, looking more like the blades of the knives he wore belted around his waist. He was frowning now; the scars twisting and puckering around his face. Lost was even worse. He was unscarred as far as Usopp could tell but his face was blank, his eyes heavy lidded and dull. It was like any life that he might have had had been sucked out of him.
"Welcome back, Cook!" Patient called. Cook waved a thin hand at him as Fingers said:
"Did you see anyone?"
"Poison is on her way up but I didn't see Yellow or Blue with her. Who knows where Shadow is." Cook looked down at him, or rather rolled his eyes downward making him seem much more imposing and fingered one of the long knives at his hip. "What are you looking at, pirate?"
"N…nothing," Usopp said, looking away; then realized with a sickening lurch that he should have denied the pirate thing first. This was no time to mess up like that! The moment he lost his head the moment he would really lose his head!
"Poison-nee will know what to do," Fingers said. "And don't call him a pirate."
"Y…yeah!" Usopp said. After all he wasn't saying that he wasn't a pirate, just that he shouldn't be called one so it wasn't that bad.
"You really think that he isn't?" Cook said. "The blond one knew our name." He gestured at Sanji. "How would he know that if this Usopp wasn't a pirate with them?"
"They kidnapped me!" Usopp said, his mouth running before his brain kicked in. "I was actually commanding a marine ship when they attacked, killing everyone onboard but me which they held for ransom which is why I'm untouched. I only just escaped with my life."
"You commanded a marine ship? Really?" Fingers said. "That is so cool!"
"I was captain," Usopp said, getting carried away by his own momentum. "I had over thirty ships in my fleet and together we scoured the sea for pirates. I will miss my loyal crew! They live on in my heart."
"You are so brave," Fingers said. "It reminds me of my ship."
"You have a ship, too?" Usopp asked. Fingers nodded.
"Full of brave pirate hunters!"
That was a lie. It had to be. Wasn't it?
"You're both so full of shit," said Cook. There was a soft whisper as he pulled a knife from his belt that glinted oddly in the lantern light. He knelt so that he was almost nose to nose with Usopp. Lost cast a shadow over Cook's face almost hiding his eyes but the smile was still there, sharp and cutting- like the knife was going to do in a minute.
"The truth is," said Cook in a low voice. "I know you're a pirate. I can smell it. I'll slit your throat like a roast pig."
"W…wait a second," Usopp choked out, leaning back. Fingers reached around him and suddenly razors slid up between Fingers' fingers, edging along Cook's nose and bringing a thin line of blood.
"He's not a pirate and if you try to kill him I'll cut your nose off."
The air seemed to grow so thick that Usopp struggled to breathe. Maybe it had something to do with the knife edge tickling at his throat. But Fingers was helping him. Fingers was probably saving him. Why did Fingers believe him? He's nakama, supplied a thought, soft and distant. Only he wasn't. Not really. Even though he did the things that nakama did for one another. That nakama should do for one another. Not just sit and sweat like a coward while they were hurt. D...damnit… He was a mugiwara pirate and—
"Geez, you two. What are you fighting about now?" Poison's voice filtered into the room. Lost shifted and moved away, casting light on Cook's face and making him seem almost normal. Poison came to stand over them, her hands on her hips.
"He's a pirate," Cook said sounding almost defensive.
"He is not," Fingers said. Poison frowned, looking thoughtful. I'm not a pirate, Usopp tried to push into her brain through sheer mental willpower. I'm not a pirate.
"That's not for you to decide," she said finally. "Cook, go do your job and make something and Fingers, go relieve Patient." For a moment it didn't seem like they would move. Usopp felt himself getting lightheaded and realized he was holding his breath. Finally Cook stood, sheathing his knife and stalked off, Lost following him. Usopp let out the breath finally and sucked in another one. It was the sweetest air he'd ever tasted. Fingers settled back, the razors disappearing and carefully rolled up the net he'd been working on before standing himself.
"Where's Captain?" Poison asked. Fingers paused.
"He's taking a bath in the hot springs cave, I think."
"Better go get him. Patient can watch a little while longer."
"Okay, neechan," Fingers said, ducking his head before moving to the darker recesses of the cave. Usopp tried to surreptitiously feel if there was any blood on his neck with the tips of his fingers. Poison still stood right beside him, hands on hips, looking thoughtful.
"You're not really a pirate, are you?" Poison said.
"O…of course not," Usopp said, though the more he said that the worse it felt. Maybe he could try telling the truth. Maybe he could get them to understand. Or maybe not. Was he really that much of a coward? He should fight anyway! He was the only one right now. Well it would be alright for a little while longer, wouldn't it? He just had to have time to…to plan. That was it.
"Neesan!" Patient yelped and Poison cursed under her breath, pulling a bamboo tube from her waist. That could only mean one thing. Usopp looked up and jumped when he saw Zoro awake, eyes heavily lidded but staring straight at him.
"Double Hammer!" Patient squeaked just as Poison blew into the tube. The mallets slammed into Zoro's head a second before the dart buried into his neck. He scowled, looking murderous and then his eyes slowly closed again.
"Stubborn bastard. I'm going to run out of needles soon," Poison said, sticking the tube back in her belt. Then she looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Got something to say, Usopp-kun?"
Usopp realized he'd risen halfway to his feet. He didn't even remember moving but it certainly looked like he'd been reacting which he hadn't been really because that would mean that he was really concerned and if he was really concerned than they'd definitely think he was a pirate and they were all dead. Think. Think.
"I just got a sudden urge to use the bathroom," he said, rubbing the back of his head. It was brilliant. Once he was out he could go back to the Going Merry, find Luffy and get some backup as he went and saved the day.
"Oh yeah? I'll come with you."
"Y…you can't come with me!" Usopp said. Even if he did have to go there was no way he could with a girl standing so close by. It was too embarrassing and Sanji would likely kick his head in if he ever found out.
"Don't be a ninny. It's not like I'm going to look. Anyway, this is for your protection. This island can be pretty dangerous at night."
This island was pretty dangerous now Usopp thought. He half considered backing out but then realized she must be lying. She must be. It was a trick to keep him here. He would face it. An…anyway if he could outrun her and get to the ship…nothing would hurt him. Still…even if she was protecting him it did make Poison seemed kind of like a…
"Pervert." Usopp clamped his lips shut. Had he said that out loud? Or had someone else? He wasn't sure himself. Poison who had been leading the way out of the cave stopped. A shadow seemed to fall over her as she reached back and grabbed the handle of the thirty pound hammer.
A moment later Cook was lying twitching on the floor with three huge lumps on his head and Usopp was following Poison outside. A cool breeze brushed across his face, smelling faintly of sea and he could see a sliver of moon slashed across the sky. It l…looked peaceful enough. If he just ran like hell maybe…
"You can go over there," Poison said, pointing to a clump of bushes by the side of the steep road and turned her back. It was perfect. He could just run. He just had to make sure. Usopp took a cautious step forward. Somewhere in the forest, something hooted, a low deep sound that seemed like something huge. Sweat made cool trails down his face. It…it was probably not a carnivore. Those usually didn't hoot, right? Ok. Ok. Keep moving forward. The hoot started up again, this was answered with a thundering growl and high shrieks as trees swayed violently back and forth. What…what…what the hell was up with this island?
"Do you get it, Usopp-kun?" Poison said. "It's dangerous. Better hurry up."
Now he really sort of did have to go. He went over to the bushes but found that he couldn't go through with it and maybe she knew that too because she didn't say anything.
"Why do you hate pirates so much?" Usopp asked, kicking a small pebble and watched it bounced and skitter down the road before becoming lost in the darkness. Poison was silent for a long time. Somewhere in the forest more growls answered the first and something howled, long and mournful, raising the hair on the back of Usopp's neck.
"Pirates ruined us," she said when the sound had died down. "They destroyed our lives. It was the pirates who tried to cut open Fingers' throat and who sliced up Cook's face…who gave us all our scars. We don't even know what happened to Lost. We just found him shivering in the ruins of Syrup…but I bet you've never seen Syrup destroyed. In fact you're not even scarred, are you? What a strange Usopp you are."
Was that really true? Had pirates really done such horrible things? He knew they were capable of it. There were a lot of rough men on the seas but a lot of good ones, too. If this alternate dimension thing was really true, where was Luffy? Why hadn't he shown up anywhere? A whisper of something like spider web brushed across his neck and he shivered.
"That's terrible," he said, because it was. He felt like he should say something else. Like how not all pirates were bad and how some were really really good, like those guys in there. He wanted to tell her how great they were and all the awesome things they'd done together. How they'd all fought and fought to help Nami save her home from Arlong. But even as he recited it in his head, it seemed fantastic; like one of those romantic daring stories he'd told Kaya. Poison would just brush it off and really suspect him then. M…maybe he could convince her, though. If he tried…
"It is terrible," she said. "It was terrible. That's why we show no mercy to pirates. Not even ones that look like us." Another whisper around his neck and his wrists and by the time he realized it was a trap he felt lines cut into the skin of his throat and sharp slicing pain as his wrists were pulled back.
"I'm n…not a pirate!" he gagged, frantic. He couldn't run. Couldn't even move. One sharp movement and he was sure he'd lose a body part. Poison came toward him, tilting his face up with the tips of her fingers which were rough and scarred with work.
"No, you're not." Not anymore seemed implicit in her voice. "Lost, let him go." There was an annoyed hissing sound and the lines slipped away. Usopp could breathe again. Poison put an arm around Usopp's shoulders and started to steer him toward the entrance. "You're lucky," she said. "Lost's thread can cut through steel almost as easily as it can cut through a neck."
Usopp didn't feel lucky. He felt like he wanted to throw up. His legs were shaking so hard he thought they would give out on him if it wasn't for the imminent threat of Poison going to kill him.
"Don't worry," she said. "Once the final pirate is captured we'll kill all of them. You'll get to help. After that you'll be part of our crew. You'll like it. We're closer than family."
"I don't think Kaya would like this," Usopp said, feeling like this was a last ditch effort. It was this or nothing. After all if she was an Usopp, she must like Kaya. Who wouldn't? Poison's fingers tightened around his shoulder and his heart leaped. Had he made a breakthrough?
"Kaya isn't here to care," Poison said, her voice rough. Kaya is dead. The words behind her voice seemed to say. Usopp shivered and tried not to think about it and hoped Luffy got here soon.
Thanks to my beta Liashi FNA Sora and you, reviewers. :D I love you all. ^_^ v