Disclaimer and spoiler warning in Chapter 1. Nitpicks and other concrit are quite welcome.

Note: Rated T for coarse language.

Opening the Box, Part Two

Luffy hadn't called out to Usopp or moved to stop him from leaving, and he didn't run after him either. He only stood where he was, looking at the closed galley door for a few long seconds, hands still in pockets. Then he turned his head and looked at Sanji. His expression gave little away. But his attention was clearly fully on his cook now.

"Shit," mumbled Sanji, turning his head as he walked back to the cooking area. "It's all right, I'll sort it out, I'll go talk to him," he said in a louder voice, not that he had any clue of what to say. He was uncomfortably aware there was a trembling undertone in his voice.

"But he said you just ask stupid questions," stated Luffy, as he put his hands deep into his pockets and craned his neck to follow Sanji's movements.

Sanji just grumbled something inarticulate and let himself continue making supper, his hands pretty much on autopilot. Normally this task would be harder by Luffy being in the same room – not that Sanji couldn't kick him away from the cooking area without losing a beat – but right now Luffy made no move to nick any of the food.

"And anyway… he's the one saying stupid shit!" Sanji answered over his shoulder while cutting up the pre-boiled potatoes into smaller bits for frying. "But… Maybe you're right," he admitted. "I should let him go cool off first."

"Okay," said Luffy, nodding. He put his arms behind his head and slid closer to Sanji, his eyes still clear and wide and nothing like carefree. "Why were you guys saying stupid stuff to each other, anyway?" he asked. His tone indicated that Luffy thought this was rather dumb, if it would only leave everyone upset. A reasonable view on the face of it.

Sanji started to stir the onion soup, the main side dish this supper. "It just happened," he said bleakly. "I started it, I guess… Can't tell you too much about it, though… kinda promised him I wouldn't, see? At the start. But…" He thought for a few moments, rubbing his forehead. "I guess I was trying to make him less negative. Only, I…" he swallowed, then went on in a thicker, rougher tone, "…seems I went about it in the wrong way. Somehow."

"Huh?" Luffy sounded surprised. Sanji glanced at him: he'd jumped up on top of the counter opposite, crossing his legs under him. "But that doesn't even make any sense," Luffy went on, frowning. "Usopp's not negative!"

"Hmph. Says you." Sanji tilted the smaller frying-pan to toss the carrots, broccoli and paprika in with the potatoes. He took a deep draw on his cigarette, then blew out smoke heavily. "Not that I don't really wish you were right about that," he muttered, then fixed his captain with a considering look. "Luffy… do you even know what that means? The word?"

"Well, sure!" said Luffy, giving Sanji a very puzzled look. "Being negative means it's someone who always says no to stuff and never wants to do anything and doesn't like anything or know how to have fun. Right?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

Luffy crossed his arms as well. "Well, Usopp's not like that at all!" he pointed out, frowning even more now. "He's more like the opposite of that."

Sanji peppered the onion soup a little more, then took out a new cutting-board and started to slice up the bacon. "Well, he's the one who said he was," he pointed out. "Back on Thriller Bark when he turned out to be immune to those shitty ghosts. I know you weren't there, but I thought you'd have heard that from him later."

Luffy blinked. "Uh… I think he said something about fighting that princess-y girl who was with Moria and who liked weird stuffed animal zombies 'n' stuff?" Sanji nodded, and Luffy continued, lighting up as he spoke, "He said she had exploding ghosts and could fly and walk through air, and summon vampires and werewolves and everything! It must have been a great fight!" By now, he was grinning widely.

"Uh… yeah," said Sanji. "I'm not sure about all of those things, though I wasn't there for their fight itself, I was busy saving Nami-baby from that shitty invisible peeping-tom creep who wanted to marry her. But one thing's for sure… that Perona lady could summon negative ghosts. You remember them at least, right? I mean, they got you a couple of times."

Luffy's smile dropped and he looked as if he was thinking intensely, calling up the still-quite-recent past. "Uh… um… oh, right!" After the look of recognition had passed, he scowled at the memory. "Those stupid things!" he burst out. "First you think they're cool ghosts all swooping around like that" – he made wide swooping gestures with his arms – "and then it turns out all they ever do is make people feel reeeeally bad. I'd NEVER let them join my crew! No way!" Then he looked over at Sanji, brightening again. "But they got you, too! Haha, you looked so funny!"

"Eh. Same to you, idiot," said Sanji. "Move, Luffy, I need to open this cupboard."

Luffy bent away, then sat back upright as Sanji got what he wanted and closed the cupboard door again. "But those things aren't like Usopp, either," he remarked calmly, finally stretching an arm to pinch some of the slices of bacon. Sanji had been prepared for that and swatted Luffy's hand away with a spatula.

"Ow! I mean," Luffy went on, "Usopp doesn't make me feel bad and miserable and like I don't want to fight or do anything anymore. He's the other way around from that, too. 'Cause he's fun to be with and he makes you laugh and you know it's much better when he's around. So he's not negative." There was a definitive tone to his voice: clearly, Luffy had decided this was the only thing that made sense.

And it wasn't like he didn't have a point. "Mhm." Sanji nodded, then sighed. "Yeah. I know. I… I'm honestly not sure how it works, either, but…" Maybe I'm the negative ghost here, he thought darkly, but managed to keep from muttering. He sure seemed to have had that effect on Usopp, anyway.

Luffy shifted position, bringing his knees up and leaning his elbows on them. "Sometimes I'm a bit sad for him," he said simply, "but that's still not the same thing as feeling negative- ghost-bad. And he's strong enough, anyway." Then he smiled again, patting Sanji on his shoulder just a little too enthusiastically. "So you shouldn't worry either, Sanji! It'll be all right!"

Sanji blinked at him, then growled, "Yeah, whatever, now get out of my kitchen so I can cook in peace!" But his kick as Luffy snagged more bacon slices and some garlic-bread before retreating was just a mite too slow on purpose.

He did feel slightly better, he had to admit. Although he wasn't sure Luffy hadn't said that last bit to reassure himself as well as Sanji. Luffy could sometimes be unnervingly difficult to read.

He stirred the onion soup slowly, maybe a few more times than it needed, chewing his cigarette in silence.


Sanji couldn't say he was very surprised when Usopp didn't show up for supper, the last of the five daily meals normally served on this ship. It was rare, but it had happened before: supper, along with snack-times in the afternoon, was a skippable meal which Sanji was slightly tolerant about. It was breakfast, lunch and dinner that always had to be attended unless you were actually bedridden. He usually tried to save leftovers for the missing ones, though.

"Yeah, I knocked on the workshop's door, but he said he was right in the middle of working on something and didn't wanna stop," said Franky in between mouthfuls. His tone was casual, but a moment later he gave Sanji a searching look with a certain amount of reproach in it.

That was a bit much to take from Franky of all people – but Sanji only looked away and muttered something mechanically grumpy. He felt Luffy's eyes on him but didn't look up.

"Yeah, fine, I'll take it to the shitty idiot later," he mumbled, his hands already busy putting aside an extra portion away in a sealed box.

"That's great!" said Luffy sunnily, then went back to eating. Sanji winced from the inherent trust of the statement, reminding him again of Luffy's attitude before. He rather doubted Usopp would even open for him, right now, if he were to go down there and knock.


After supper he declined Nami's and Chopper's offers of help with doing the washing- very politely when it came to Nami-baby, of course. But he had a distinct feeling that both of them want an excuse to ask him what was going on – Chopper looked cautiously worried, and Nami a bit too obviously casual. That wouldn't lead anywhere, he was pretty sure, not after he'd promised not to blab.

Besides, if he did it all himself it would take longer to finish, and he was in no hurry to lose the excuse to linger.

So he finished the washing up, put everything away, made a quick inventory of the food, planned out tomorrow's menu and took out the meat for tomorrow's breakfast to thaw; and did everything else he could think of that needed doing until he finally got too nervous and preoccupied to keep it up anymore.

He paced back and forth in the galley, trying to think. Maybe he should step out and take some fresh air, but he felt reluctant to do so and wasn't quite sure why. It might be because his crewmates might distract him... or, he half feared, accuse him. In a twisted kind of way, maybe it was only fair he stayed put, given that Usopp probably wasn't budging much from the workshop right now, either.

Finally he sank down in a chair, long legs stretched out under the table while he blew up smoke towards the ceiling. As he'd already done repeatedly, he went through the conversation in his head, trying to figure out what he should have said at any one point to make things better. If he couldn't figure out what went wrong, how was he supposed to fix it?

"It's always like that, it's never the other way around!" echoed in his head, among other words.

Was that really true? Sanji frowned, dropping the ashes to the floor with a sour look. Even if, even if there were something to that line of thinking – that wasn't really something he could apply right now, was it? If he started going on about his own shitty personal baggage – leaving aside the recent shit with the mosshead, obviously – well, as far as he could see that would only increase the general level of negativity. And it'd make him feel dumb, too. So it likely wouldn't help.

Would it?


It was already dark outside when he heard sneaky footsteps outside the door, like those of heavy shoes trying to walk very quietly. Sanji tensed, didn't move his head but kept one eye on the door from where he was.

But the door didn't open. Instead, a note appeared as it was shoved under it with a faint rustle, after which footsteps retreated hurriedly, much noisier than they'd approached. Sanji walked over and bent down to pick the note up.

It was a rough sketch of a fish, drawn in haste apparently, though with telltale good anatomical proportions and vivid pencil lines. Sanji folded it in half and put it in his pocket, then stepped out of the galley and went down the steps to the lower deck.

Sunny's combined room of fishtank/aquarium plus bar – unique among ships as far as Sanji knew - was directly under the galley. Sanji rather enjoyed the clever arrangement with a dumb-waiter between the two, with which he could send tasty snacks to those hanging out in the aquarium, especially when it was Nami and Robin, and they could send the empty plates and glasses right back the same way.

He couldn't see anyone when he stepped inside. Just to be sure, he stepped into the middle of the room, around the pillar which contained that very dumb-waiter. Nope, no-one around. Maybe he'd misinterpreted the fish drawing? But Sanji couldn't think of what else it could have meant, unless it was a request for tomorrow's breakfast. He decided to stay here for a few minutes, then turned to scrutinise the aquarium.

They were getting low on big fishes again, he noted. Perhaps it was finally time to fry that fine, metre-long specimen of giant butterfly fish which was skulking in the back and chewing on some seaweed. Sanji had caught it himself last week while still on Thriller Bark, but had held off on cooking it so far due to its being so pretty. With its luminary colours of red and gold and just a touch of violet, it brightened up the aquarium more than any other fish; but cooking trumped aesthetics any day. Besides, he wanted to try it with the last of the goat-cheese he'd bought in Water 7.

He heard the door open, quite slowly, but waited till he'd heard it close again before turning around. Usopp was standing by the door with his hands in his pockets, looking fairly calm at first glance.

"Uh..." Sanji started, then fell silent for several seconds before trying again. "Ah– hey, listen, um... I..."

Usopp just waved at him as if wanting him to be quiet as he stepped into the room, keeping fairly close to the wall.

Sanji wasn't deterred, although he did back several steps away in the other direction, without thinking about it. "I'm just really sorry, okay?" he blurted out. "I mean, that was– I shouldn't have pushed you –"

"…Wait, could you just not say anything yet?" said Usopp, cutting him off in an urgent but low tone of voice. "'Cause there's something I need to say first, and it's kinda hard to get it out right, if you're gonna distract me." Leaning against the wall, he buried his hands deep in his pockets.

"All right." said Sanji quietly. He sat down on the long couch that ran along the wall under the fish tank, took out a new cigarette and lit it with an "I'm listening" look.

Usopp had closed his eyes, and now took a deep breath, swallowed, and then went on, "O-okay. Listen." He opened his eyes and looked over at Sanji with an intent, serious expression. "Look, first I want to say…you know, uh, when I said I didn't want to talk about stuff before and, and I got mad at you for keeping at me?"

"Yeah," muttered Sanji, voice feeling rather hollow as he fumbled with his matches.

"W-well…" Usopp continued, "I wasn't lying about that; I did - I mean I do feel that way, most of the time, but… part of me doesn't. Part of me, well… it was kinda happy you asked, actually." He paused, drawing deeply for breath again, making small circles on the floor with his right foot.

"Mm?" Sanji put his head to one side, adjusting cigarette as he gave Usopp a questioning look.

Usopp sighed, took his hands out of his pocket to adjust his goggles, then left the spot by the wall to sit down at the far edge of the couch instead. He sat cautiously at the edge of the seat, back very straight. "Yeah… and that you didn't stop asking, wouldn't let go," he continued. "Because, uh – that meant it was okay for me to go on like I did, that it was okay to let that stuff out, even though I pretty much knew it would make you feel bad; and maybe I even – even wanted that, in a way."

He pressed his eyes shut. "Not the, the usual me," he muttered, "not most of me, but… this, um... This other part of me? And, and the best thing was, it wouldn't even be my fault, 'cause you're the one who asked!"

Sanji let out a cloud of smoke, slowly.

"Ookay…" he said tentatively, cautiously. "So…?"

"This is what I'm trying to – well… this is so hard to say, but…" Usopp opened his eyes again, looking at Sanji. "That's the part of me that, that just keeps going on about things that don't lead anywhere. Um. Negative thinking, I guess."

Sighing, he looked down at his hands, twiddling his thumbs. "It's like some kind of sick dog gnawing at its own tail," he went on. "Weird thing is, it likes that, it likes being miserable because… because it's the only thing it knows how to do, I guess? And sometimes it likes lashing out at other people too.

"See, the thing is… once that part of me really gets going, there's nothing you can say that will make it stop. I mean it. Nothing. You think I haven't already tried, like hundreds of times? It doesn't matter how many arguments you have or how much sense they make or how sincere you are about it. Still won't work. That part of me's not gonna believe it, no matter what.

"All you can do is to wait for it to go away. I guess not really away, but... sinking down out of sight, enough to make you forget about it." He tapped his solar plexus, making a small circling motion, then shrugged. "It usually takes a while, once it's gotten to that point. But eventually it does, and I'll feel better and can be a lot more positive about things again."

"I see," said Sanji, his voice rougher than intended. That wasn't exactly what he'd hoped to hear. What he'd most have liked to hear would have been something on the lines of, 'Y'know, Sanji, I thought it over and your arguments make excellent sense! I promise never to think or feel anything like that ever again!'. All the dark clouds gone for good, with clear blue skies ever after.

But that wasn't very realistic, now, was it? Sanji allowed himself a brief, wry smile and took out another cigarette. The sounds of the sea and the crew were low outside, on this calm evening.

Usopp said, more suddenly than before, "I know that almost sounds like I'm… trying to duck out on responsibility, you know? Like, 'that's not the real me'. And that wouldn't be true, it's not like – not like it's another person – but... it's more than just a mood... But – I just can't explain it any better way." He shrugged, very briefly.

"Okay," said Sanji again, nodding. Usopp fell silent again, breathing out, hands trembling. But he did seem more relaxed now after having gotten all that out. He sat back on the couch, more comfortably than before.

Sanji watched him for a few more seconds, then said, "You know... I've been thinking about something. Not related to this shit."

"Hm?" Usopp looked over at him. He looked slightly wary, but more curious.

"Mmhm." Sanji sank further back into his seat, slouching, He blew out a smoke ring slowly. "Uh," he started eloquently. "Don't know if you heard about this before, if Nami or Chopper ever told you... Remember, in the Tower of Justice, after we split up...?"

He half feared Usopp would protest again that he hadn't "really" been there, but fortunately Usopp only gave him a nod and a slightly puzzled, clearly impatient look.

"Right," Sanji went on. "Well... I came across that CP9 woman first. You know. Name of Calipha."

"Iceburg's secretary? The sexual harassment lady?" Usopp pulled his legs up under him, then twisted off his shoes, sitting crosslegged. He looked over at Sanji, clearly puzzled.

"Right, "said Sanji, nodding. "With the fishnet stockings and the exquisite legs." He blew out smoke slowly, no longer looking at Usopp.

"Don't tell me you fought her." Usopp was frowning in disbelief.

"I didn't," said Sanji, shaking his head. "Oh, I tried to pretend I did – feinting and blocking and trying to get her key without having to actually kick her – too bad she'd hidden it really well..:" He paused at that, feeling his cheeks faintly pink, then shook his head to dispel it the old alluring image. "But she saw right through me. She knew I wouldn't kick her; and she had a Devil Fruit ability to boot, so..." He blew out smoke slowly, hands in pockets and looking up towards the ceiling.

"Anyway," he went on in a brisker tone, "to cut a shitty story short, she cleaned my clock because I couldn't make myself hurt her. Nami had to fight her in my place."

"Oh." Usopp sounded rather cautious now. "Yeah... But... that's because it went against your principles, right? It's n-not like – not like you weren't strong enough. It was about your whatchamacallit – your chivalry code. Right?"

Sanji just shrugged at first. He said nothing for awhile, watching his cigarette burn down. Finally, he put out the last ember by pinching it, tossed the stub away and got back to talking.

"I've thought about this." He was quiet, now. "I think… I don't want to be a guy that abandons his principles, but… I should have been able to, to hit her. Maybe. She was – was just a bit too good for me to be able to defeat her without hurting her, but – it might not even have hurt that much, I could have ended it fairly quickly if only…" He grimaced. "But it's just not possible. If we ran into her tomorrow, or some other lady enemy just like her, it would be the same shitty deal. I feel like something would break in me if I ever do that – if I ever kicked a woman."

"Huh." Usopp turned around on his seat, still sitting crosslegged on the sofa but facing Sanji now. "You know, even when your shadow was Moria's zombie it refused to kick a woman. And, and not just Nami but also a female warthog zombie – she had Captain Lola's shadow. We were all pretty impressed by that."

"Oh? Didn't know that." Sanji shrugged in a small motion, his muscles tense. Then he cleared his throat, but paused and scratched his head before continuing. This next part was going to be hard to say.

"So. Anyway," he went on, looking at the opposite wall. "It didn't make me feel too great, at the time. I was even completely out of commission for a while there – she had these bubbles that made you stop moving – but then a bathtub burst down on me and rinsed them off, so that put me back in business.

"And then when I got into that big room where Zoro and the giraffe-dude were fighting, and Nami was crying and that fucking wolf-guy seemed ready to finish you off... well." He blew out smoke slowly, then shifted his seat, crossing his legs the other way around. "Of course I was fucking furious. And it's not like I wouldn't have had to fight him, anyway – he had one of those shitty keys, too. But I wasn't just angry.

"If I'm really honest" – he sighed a little, still not looking at Usopp, but quite aware of his unusually quiet presence off to his left, where Sanji couldn't quite see him – "I was, well, relieved. Was even bloody happy. This was something I could do so I could feel useful again, see? Could redeem myself for the Calipha fiasco. I could save you, could stop him from getting to Nami, get his fucking key and the pleasure of kicking the shit out of that bastard."

He stared out into the air, feeling tired, gray and more than a little disgusted with himself, sitting fairly hunched over with elbows resting on his knees. "What the hell does that say about me, huh? I was fucking happy my crewmate was in deep shit so I could save him." His lips twitched unhappily.

"Who the hell cares about that?" Usopp exclaimed. Sanji turned his head: the sniper was staring at him in angry disbelief. "You still saved me, right?" Usopp went on. "And you're the one who told us – told me that you'd do what I couldn't do, so that I could do what you couldn't." He pushed away a strand of hair in front of his eyes and straightened up as he glared at Sanji. "You made me realise what was going on and what we – what I had to do to help save Robin – that saved me almost as much as your kick did!" He was pointing at Sanji now, finger shaking. Sanji blinked, straightening up just a bit and taking out another cigarette to calm himself.

Usopp went on, somewhat more quietly, "I really – I'd like to do something like that one day, you know, saying just the right thing to help someone that much… So what if you were thinking something less than princely as well? That's only human, Sanji!" His voice rose again. "It didn't change what you did!"

"Fine, fine!" snapped Sanji, trying to suppress his relief. "Forget about it!" He waved his newly-lit cigarette in the air, then huffed, "But if it's dumb for me to think that, it's much dumber for you to be negative! So there!"

"I can't help it, okay?" Usopp snapped back. "Also, you made me forget what I was going to say before!"

Sanji frowned, settling back. "Hm? What was that?"

Usopp turned back on the couch. He was looking down again, fingers makings invisible lines on the couch. "Um. Well... you know... even if it looked like I wasn't really listening to what you said, before; and it couldn't make the negative me shut up – that doesn't mean I didn't like hearing that stuff." He paused, drew for breath, his cheeks pinkish. "It was, um, it was nice. So. Thank you."

Sanji snorted. "No need for thanks. It was just the truth," he said shortly. "We'd be dead. You know it."

Usopp shrugged awkwardly, then went on, "Also. Also, even if I can't make that part of me shut up, those times – well, that doesn't mean it's how I really feel. You know. Deep down. And it used to be – I think it used to be worse, anyway. Back in the old days." He looked up, straight at Sanji.

"Mmhm?" Sanji raised an eyebrow. He guessed that 'the old days' meant 'before Water 7', but the statement surprised him.

"Yeah." Usopp put his head to one side, as if listening to his thoughts. "Because. What I really feel, apart from all that darker stuff... it's that I'm where I really want to be, doing what I most want to do. And now I know there are other places I could have been at, other than just staying home the rest of my life. I could have gone off to Elbaf with the giants. I could have found some other crew coming to Water 7, too. M-maybe not any of the big ones, but a smaller gang... I think, once they saw me shoot, there'd be those who'd give me a chance. You know? Maybe." He scratched his nose.

"I should bloody well think so," said Sanji roughly. He was hit by two irrational reactions at the same time: anger at a hypothetical other pirate crew that wouldn't see Usopp's worth; and jealous resentment at another hypothetical crew that would.

Usopp shifted his seat, sitting turned more towards Sanji again but not looking at him directly. In fact, he seemed to be gazing into the top corner of the aquarium, behind and above Sanji's head. "But that's not what I want to do, anyway," he said quietly. "I'd rather be with you guys. More than anything else. I mean, I thought so before, too, but... now I know. That's different. And I have this really strong feeling – that this isn't just where I want to be; it's where I should be, too." He paused momentarily, his gaze dropping again. "This is where I belong. And even the negative part can't make me lose that feeling. It can't." Softly, he added, "It's not stronger than rock."

Sanji swallowed. To his great annoyance, he suddenly found himself blinking rapidly for a few seconds. "O-okay," he said hoarsely, then drew in too much smoke and started to cough. Damn it, this was uncool.

"So you shouldn't be worried, Sanji." Usopp suddenly grinned broadly, teeth shining. "Really. S' alright." He scooted closer only to lean over and pat Sanji on the shoulder, then scooted back.

"I wasn't worried about - I mean, I didn't think you'd" – he couldn't say leave us again, the words choked in his throat - "anyway, I just, um." Sanji cleared his throat. "I was just mad, that's all, hearing all that bullshit from your mouth."

Usopp gave him a flatly sceptical look, then just shrugged. "If you say so," he said. He straightened up and stretched his arms out over his head. "I take it back, by the way," he said over his shoulder. "That stuff I said before, that you worry about me and all that," he clarified to Sanji's befuddled look. "Well, I thought it over and I realised that wasn't all fair. 'Cause it isn't just me, is it? You worry about everyone. You just hide it well."

"I don't – that's bullshit." Sanji paused briefly, then cleared his throat and drawled, "Nah, that's you, Longnose. Not me." Smiling now, he added, "Sheesh, don't get us mixed up like that."

"Uh-uh." Usopp shook his head, sounding a lot easier by now – maybe even smug. But that dropped the next moment when he went on to add. "You're even worried about Zoro, lately, aren't you?"

Sanji flinched at that completely unexpected remark, and was further unsettled to see Usopp's studying look while he uncrossed his legs and put his feet back on the floor. "There's something you're not saying about Zoro, Sanji," he said seriously. "Is it something to do with why he was hurt so badly, much worse than the rest of us?"

Sanji shifted, then gave Usopp his best attempt at a flat look. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about, Longnose."

"You act weird with him lately, too," said Usopp, not deterred by this response. "Like you're still worried about him. Uh... not saying that's wrong, of course; I'm all for him resting more like Chopper keeps telling him, instead of training even harder than usual... S'just weird coming from you, that's all."

"It's just in your imagination," said Sanji shortly. "And if it does look like I'm being different – and I don't think it does, you're just seeing things – but even if it does, that's just because he might just be an even bigger blockhead than usual. That just pisses me off, seeing dumb shit like that."

He saw that his cigarette was almost burned out, and it had been the last one in his pocket. Good timing. "Uh, anyway," he went on quickly as he stood up and stretched, "I need to get more cigarettes, and I could use some tea and a sandwich or two – and don't tell me you're not hungry since you skipped supper, idiot." He shot Usopp a brief warning glance at the last bit. "So... uh?" he finished lamely, nodding towards the ceiling. They were directly under the galley, after all.

Usopp had put his shoes back on, but he didn't get up right away. He put his hands in his pockets and stretched his legs out, his head to the side as if the top of his shoes were terribly interesting. "That might be nice... I'm a tiny bit hungry, I guess," he conceded, right before a growling stomach proved his words to be an understatement. Sanji smirked. "Didn't realise you can get a big appetite just by this kind of talking," Usopp added.

"I know, it's weird, but it's true," Sanji said, nodding and turning to walk out as Usopp finally bounced to his feet.

"It's a bit boring, though," said Usopp thoughtfully.

Sanji stopped in his tracks. "Boring?"

"Yeeah..." Usopp looked away, avoiding Sanji's glare. "If it's still nice out, I thought... hey, it is!" he exclaimed after passing by his crewmate and stepping out onto deck. "I thought we could have some tea or coffee out on deck. I've got some new ammo made I want to try in the night-time – I think it'll look like fireworks!" he babbled on as they walked, with Sanji trailing him and grunting something vague and non-committal. He bit down his first reply, which would have been on the lines of "like hell you will if the girls have gone to bed". They might still be up, after all. Or it might turn out to be a very quiet kind of explosion.

Well, he thought, while firing up the stove (hopefully it wouldn't act up on him again right now) and taking out Usopp's leftover share and a pan to put them in; while putting a kettle on for tea and digging out his very best tin of bergamot-scented blend for once from the back of the cupboard, there aren't clear blue skies ever after, and if the ghost girl turned up right now he'll still be immune to her – which would still be a boon to the rest of us, but that's not the point – but if I keep grumbling about that right now, I guess I won't get to see any fireworks.

He turned around to get down a loaf of bread from the cupboard opposite, then glanced towards the table. Usopp was busy fiddling with lanterns and getting a flask of petroleum oil for them, humming faintly. Sanji felt flooded by something that was half compassion and half pride, and too much tenderness he didn't know what to do with. So he looked away and focused on making as good a sandwich as he could manage.

The moon was shining, almost but not quite full. So it was far from pitch-black when they came outdoors later with lanterns and a big tray, though still dark enough for the lanterns to be welcome.

Walking down the steps, there was a moment when Usopp's balance looked somewhat precarious, and Sanji reached out a hand to steady him. After a moment, he squeezed Usopp's shoulder firmly, before letting go.

It might not have been strictly necessary, so he wasn't quite sure if it was taken the wrong way. But at the foot of the steps, Usopp shifted his weight so he had one hand free, then reached out and squeezed back.

-The End