Watch Your Back

A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

Summary: It takes all kinds to make a hero. Features Usopp and Zoro. Nakamaship, no pairings.

Note: Hey guys! Wrote this little one-shot after seeing this artwork by Syb:

http : / / - syb (dot) deviantart (dot) com / art / I-ll-watch-your-back-118461960

(naturally remove spaces and change (dots) to periods as needed! The link is also in my profile too next to this fic's entry).

It is awesome artwork and had not yet inspired words. And since we all know I love to write a good fight scene, I had to make'em exist. :)

Warnings: Nothing major, just a little blood and a few swears.

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, One Piece or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Eiichiro Oda. And the idea's not really mine either, as it was inspired by artwork by Syb. I just wrote the words!

"Teamwork is essential. It gives the enemy someone else to shoot at."

~Military Saying

Usopp still didn't know how they'd gotten into this mess.

He still didn't know how Luffy had managed to piss off the local inhabitants on the island (although he knew his captain well enough to hazard a guess or two, enough to know it was probably a stupid misunderstanding gone far out of control). He still didn't know how those locals managed to get their entire village up in arms in the span of five minutes, when they'd been so friendly just moments before. He still didn't know where the supposedly poor, isolated village had managed to get a hold of state-of-the-art weaponry in the form of expertly made firearms and gleaming, vicious looking spears, swords and axes, when there hadn't been so much as a glint of steel visible when the crew went shopping in the market before. He didn't know how the crew had managed to get split up again, or where the rest of his fellow Straw Hats were at, or where on earth the villagers had managed to procure dozens of copies of each of their bounties.

Most of all, Usopp didn't know how on earth he'd managed to get stuck with Zoro, which tended to be hazardous to one's health in the long run, as he knew from personal experience.

Usopp had attempted to duck down one alley and lose himself in the frantic rush of angry villagers out for blood. He looked common enough, after all, and nobody could immediately distinguish him as Sogeking without a closer look—something he wasn't about to give any of them. And he'd almost managed it too, but then Zoro had come plowing out of the village in his direction, charging over the dusty, barren wasteland most of the island seemed to consist of with a confused look on his face and a dozen angry villagers in tow.

And called his name, which promptly sent the angry horde behind him into a new bout of screaming fury.

If Zoro didn't look so positively deadly at the moment, with that white sword of his clamped in his teeth and the two others drawn and ready at his sides, Usopp would've clocked him over the head for being so careless. (Well, he'd be honest with himself; even if Zoro was completely unarmed he might not risk that. But he definitely was angry). Hadn't Zoro himself reprimanded Luffy for doing the exact same thing back in Alabasta? Where did he get off, dragging Usopp into the thick of things too? Especially when he'd been about to safely escape and cleverly double back around the village to the ship?

Zoro didn't look terribly concerned even now, though, merely increased his pace to try and catch up with Usopp. "Where's the ship?" he managed to ask around the hilt of his sword (how he did that Usopp still wasn't sure, even now). "I thought it was left, but this isn't the ocean."

No kidding, Usopp thought dryly, but what came out of his mouth was a more frantic half-shriek of "Of course it isn't, are you crazy? Turning left from where we were brings you west, which goes towards the opposite shore after a couple miles of crossing the land." He didn't even bother to mention that they were currently northwest of the town, the exact opposite of where the Sunny was moored. Zoro wouldn't believe it anyway if Usopp told him he'd done more than just take a few bad turns.

"Oh. So, the other way then?" Zoro asked, and promptly turned in the wrong direction again, shifting uncomfortably close to a few angry, bounty-hunting villagers that had gotten to the head of the pack. Usopp felt himself age a few more years in panic before he managed to grab Zoro by the collar of his vest (as his hands were rather occupied with sharp, pointy objects at the moment) and tugged him in the opposite direction. "Not that way! We need to circle around the village and head southeast. Just follow me and don't wander off, okay?"

Zoro grunted something that was probably irritated, but Usopp didn't have time to try and decipher it. He wanted to avoid as many of those angry villagers as possible, even if it took an extremely roundabout route. Zoro might not be afraid to try and plow through a dozen angry, armed, skilled combatants, but Usopp would rather not risk his luck...or consider himself quite so insane.

Fate appeared to be against them today, however. The wind was kicking up dust in this wasteland of an island at an alarming rate, and he nearly didn't see the second crowd of villagers ahead of them through the smoke until it was almost too late. He screeched to a halt with a yelp, then yelped again when Zoro nearly bowled him over (which was more dangerous than it sounded, considering the wickedly sharp blade still clenched in the swordsman's teeth).

"What is i—oh," Zoro said, spotting the small pack of weapon-bearing villagers ahead of them, and his lips peeled back into a positively demonic grin around the hilt of his white katana. "Great. I was getting tired of running." And before Usopp could so much as shout for him to stop or tug him to a safer route, Zoro threw himself into the thick of their enemies.

Usopp cursed in frustration. Zoro was used to taking out marine lackeys in droves, the sniper knew, but this was a particularly dangerous section of the Grand Line, and most of the inhabitants of this region knew how to defend themselves against dangerous opponents. Zoro could probably take them on one-on-one easily, still, or even two or three to one, but seven or eight was another matter entirely. He pulled his kabuto free from where he'd strapped it across his back and readied his ammunition, looking anxiously for a target.

Unfortunately, Zoro made it rather difficult to help him, since he was going at it with wild abandon. The swordsman was everywhere at once, moving, slicing, dodging when he could (which was not terribly often, Usopp noticed with disgust), and always with that maniac grin still in effect. Usopp couldn't get a clear shot on those opponents, not without risking hitting Zoro, so he did the next best thing: spun and shot a smoke star at the group still following them, the one Zoro had attracted to begin with.

There was a chorus of yells from the chasing crowd as they were enveloped in thick trails of smoke on top of the already thick layers of dust. Then, much closer, there came angry ring of steel, the loud report of a pistol, and a few shouts of pain. Usopp recognized Zoro's yell among them, and whipped around again hastily, dreading what he might see.

Zoro was on his feet, but he didn't look terribly good. He'd managed to fell all eight of the villagers that had tried to head them off, but not without price. There was a vicious gash bleeding from the side of his head where it looked like an axe had barely missed him, a gunshot wound was already bleeding severely on his right arm, and there were a dozen other minor nicks and bruises where he'd taken glancing hits. Once again, the swordsman was rapidly becoming drenched in blood—both belonging to himself and his opponents.

" 'M fine," the swordsman growled in response to the dumbfounded, worried expression on Usopp's face. "Where we goin'?"

Usopp shook his head in exasperation and, he had to admit, awe. If it were him he'd probably be on the ground unable to move right about now. Grimacing, he nevertheless dodged around the swordsman and stepped over the bodies of Zoro's unfortunate opponents, saying, "This way. Hurry."

They were able to keep the pace up for a few minutes, but Usopp noted quickly that Zoro was starting to lag, though he never complained once. Giving the swordsman another quick once-over, Usopp was rather appalled to see one of his legs was wet with blood as well. The black fabric of his pants had hidden it the first time, but Usopp's sharp vision caught a few deep red drops shivering through the air and wetting the parched ground as Zoro jogged.

That probably wasn't good at all, Usopp decided.

"Can you make it?" Usopp asked, attempting to hide the anxiety from his voice. Judging by Zoro's raised eyebrow over his glittering katana, he hadn't succeeded very well, but the sniper couldn't help it. If Zoro couldn't run, or even walk, and if he succumbed to that particular wound, Usopp didn't know what he could do about it. The sniper wasn't entirely sure he could carry Zoro on a good day, let alone in the middle of combat trying to outrun a horde of angry, armed villagers. Zoro had to weigh a hell of a lot, especially with all that muscle.

" 'm fine," Zoro repeated, at Usopp's continued scrutiny, and then made a valiant attempt to conceal a stumble. He recovered quickly and gave Usopp a vicious look that said plainly comment and you die, and Usopp decided to act in favor of self-preservation. But now the sniper was worried. Zoro wasn't really injured that bad, but he was also getting worse remarkably quickly, which felt a little wrong—

—until Usopp remembered just that morning, when Chopper had been insisting on examining Zoro's injuries from the last island. Which still hadn't healed, since it was only a week ago. Injuries upon injuries, usually without waiting to recover in between; that had always been, and probably always would be, Zoro's stance on combat and life.

Until it killed him, anyway. Which was looking more and more likely by the second.

Usopp pushed forward more, kept a sharp eye out for enemy crowds. Now it was definitely important that they avoid combat as much as possible, because if Zoro got into another fight with guys as skilled as the last ones, he might be in serious trouble. He heard unfamiliar noises to his right, on the outskirts of the village, and immediately bore more to the left, towards the inside of the island. He heard more behind him and to his left a second later, and altered his course appropriately again. At this rate it would take them at least half an hour to get back to the Sunny, but if they could avoid another fight it'd be well worth it.

Too late, Usopp heard the voices ahead of him, and realized they were being herded. He cursed himself for being so stupid. The villagers had the home-team advantage; of course they would know the landscape better than a pair of visiting pirates (though, to be honest, anybody could have known the landscape better than Zoro). He'd been so caught up in trying to avoid obvious fights he hadn't even realized he was being subtly herded straight into one.

He could see the shapes through the dust clouds now, vaguely humanoid shadows that were coming steadily closer, were rapidly circling all around them. Zoro, slowly stumbling after him, saw them too and raised his swords. His eyes darted rapidly as he estimated the odds.

"Two dozen," Zoro growled around the white katana's hilt after a moment of circling. He raised the swords warningly, glared around at the shapes coming rapidly closer, and did his best to conceal the fact that he was now heavily favoring one leg. "Too many. Better beat it, Usopp."

"R-right," the sniper said hastily. "They haven't totally surrounded us yet, look, there's a gap right there—if we run we can break through it maybe—"

Zoro chuckled mirthlessly. "Can't run," he said, by way of explanation, as Usopp gave him a baffled look at the noise. "Might be worse off than I thought. Get out of here."

"But you'll be surrounded. Alone," Usopp protested, because if eight had been able to wound Zoro enough badly that he couldn't run out of there, three times that many would definitely mean he wouldn't be leaving alive.

"I'll be fine," Zoro said with a quick shrug. He paused to growl something under his breath, and sent a pair of compressed air slices rapidly at the two closest villagers in the dust. They collapsed backward with twin screams of pain. "Look, two down already. I can hold. Go find Luffy and the others, then come back. Hurry, the gap's closing." And he gave Usopp a quick slap with the flat of one blade, sending him stumbling towards the small space left in the enemy's trap before turning away to face the rest, as though he intended to cover Usopp's retreat.

The sniper took a few more automatic steps towards the hole in the enemy's defense out of pure instinct. He would like nothing better than to bolt for that opening, dive through it as quickly as he could, and burst free from the confines of this terrible, deadly trap. Like Zoro said, he could go and find Luffy, or Sanji, and bring them back here to help get Zoro out of this mess. It would probably only take a few minutes, even; all he'd have to do is follow the sound of chaos, and he'd be sure to stumble across one of them. It would be easier, and it would be safer, far away from the impossible odds of twenty-two on two that inevitably screamed of death.

But he knew that if he left, even if he returned in a few minutes with the full crew in tow, it wouldn't make an ounce of difference. A few minutes would still leave a badly wounded Zoro to try and survive solo against twenty-two skilled opponents. A few minutes would make him very dead.

Usopp wasn't a fan of potentially lethal situations, but he could certainly say he hated guaranteed lethal ones more. So he turned on his heel in mid-run and paced back to the center of the trap-circle with a determined look on his face, and plunged his hand into his ammunition bag, twirling his kabuto expertly to bear as he did.

Zoro fired off another caliber of pound cannon, unaware that he still wasn't alone. Another two villagers dropped with a pair of screams, but this attack hadn't been without price as well. Zoro stumbled backwards from the recoil, and would have crashed onto his back as his wounded leg unexpectedly gave out beneath him. Would have, except that Usopp spun and pressed back to back with him just in time, holding up the swordsman's weight with his own.

Zoro seemed surprised, and glanced over his non-blade-sided shoulder to see what was going on. His expression quickly narrowed from surprise to annoyance as he spotted what he could of the sniper, and he growled, "What the hell, Usopp? I told you to run. I can't guard your escape if you're right here."

"That's fine," Usopp answered. For all his tough talk, Zoro was leaning on him pretty heavily—and damn it, he really was like a ton of bricks, Usopp knew all that muscle would have been too much for him to carry. But even if he couldn't throw Zoro over one shoulder, plow through half a dozen enemies, and make a break for safety—like Zoro inevitably could have, and would have, done if it were Usopp so badly wounded—he could still support his nakama in other ways. In this case, almost literally, just by holding Zoro's weight up like this.

"I noticed you're a little busy. So how 'bout I watch your back, and you guard mine?" Usopp added, attempting to force some confidence into his tone. And though he was nervous as hell, he was surprised at how control he sounded, even to himself. Maybe it came from the need to protect and support his friend. Maybe that was Zoro's real secret, to how he always seemed so perfectly at ease in battle, so utterly calm and in control when it came to every fight he'd ever been in. Maybe Zoro was just as scared as Usopp was right now, worried as he was for his friend in the impossible odds, but hid it so well because he was the protector on the crew, and that helped him deal with it. Usopp had no idea if it was true or not, and maybe he was just making things up now, inventing things about his nakama's psyche. But the thought was strangely calming all the same.

Zoro seemed to hear that confidence too. He didn't order Usopp to run (and he could have; even if Zoro didn't admit it, Usopp saw him as Luffy's right-hand man, second only in authority to Luffy himself). He didn't tell Usopp he was being stupid, or growl at him that it was a lost cause, or even try to insist that he'd really be fine and this fight would be easy. He just shrugged—Usopp could feel it through the back of his own jacket—and turned his head enough to give a devilish grin to his fellow Straw Hat. Usopp could see the smirk in the reflection glittering along the white katana's blade. "Fine with me. I got your back."

In a very literal sense, Usopp thought with a grimace—Zoro was getting heavier by the second—but he braced his legs, dug into the ground firmly, and got ready to face twenty opponents in a crazy attempt to protect the one Straw Hat on the team that previously did all the protecting.

The villagers were running forward now, shouting angrily as they plowed through the kicked up dust. That would be a problem. Usopp knew his skills were largely in ranged fighting. And while Zoro's thing was close melee combat he wasn't exactly in great condition for it right now, not when he was using Usopp to just stay standing. They'd have to keep their enemies as far away as possible for as long as they could in order to stand a chance—and thankfully, Usopp had a plan to manage just that.

He plunged his hand into his bag again quickly, picking his current dial of choice out by feel alone. He felt Zoro's back roll against his as the swordsman braced himself and swung his swords, sending out another pair of pound cannon shots while using the sniper as a counterbalance. Two more screams rent the air, and Usopp used them as cover to lean his head back and hiss, "Close your eyes!"

He couldn't tell if Zoro had done it or not, back to back as he was, but he'd just have to trust the swordsman. Squeezing his own eyes shut, he raised his flash dial into the air with one hand, above both his and his fellow Straw Hats' heads, and pressed the button.

Even through closed eyelids he saw the brilliant flash, though it was muted to a dull red thanks to planning ahead. He felt more than heard Zoro give a quick grunt of surprise, or maybe it was acknowledgement; it was hard to tell over the stunned shrieks that suddenly filled the air from all around them.

Wrenching his eyes open quickly, Usopp was satisfied to see their surrounding opponents, some more visible than others in the dust, doubled over in pain with hands on their eyes. Some had even dropped their weapons, which was a big mistake. Grinning at how effective his plan had actually been, Usopp dropped the dial into his bag quickly and withdrew a few pellets of choice, shouting over his shoulder, "It won't last long and they'll be ready for it next time, so hurry!"

Zoro responded with action, not words. Usopp could feel him shifting against his back again as he lashed out with more of those compressed shots, the only ranged move Zoro had at his disposal, and saw the flash of the white katana out of the corner of his eye more than once as it too joined the attacks. The movement was starting to make Zoro slip a little, so Usopp shoved him backwards further, taking a quick step back to try and rebalance the weight, and then focused on his own side of the surrounding group of enemies.

They were still doubled over, and their temporary blindness had caused them to cluster together in confusion as they tried to find a familiar point to try and recover at. Big mistake. Usopp was sure he could have picked them off as individuals too, but it would take more time, allow more of them close, and take more specific shots. Clustered together, he could use a few of his more dangerous tricks and take out several opponents with one shot. Aiming was difficult with Zoro at his back—he couldn't pull his ammo straight back, like he was used to, without hitting Zoro's shoulder or arm. And he definitely knew he didn't want to accidentally get his arm cut off by Zoro's whirling swords, which was always a distinct possibility when partnered with their swordsman. But he was able to adjust his angle quickly, twisting his arm to the side without losing any power in the draw, and was ready to enter the battle on his own in seconds.

"Fire Bird Star!" he roared, and fired at the closest cluster, a group of five men fairly visible through the dust. The angry crackle of flames was impossibly loud as the fireball took shape and soared forward like an avenging phoenix, and Usopp could feel the powerful heat of it even from this distance. The bird-shaped flame attack smashed into the centermost of the targets and burst, sending a ring of angry flames rolling outward and over the rest of the nearby villagers. Shrieks of surprise and pain rent the air as men began rolling on the ground and attempting with little success to pat the flames out. Two even hit the ground and didn't get up, and were blindly dragged away by their brethren when discovered.

Usopp grinned to himself at the success. Already at least half of the opponents on his side were down! And judging from the yells of pain behind him, Zoro was having some success, too. The few seconds he had managed to buy them had worked like a charm.

The villagers were starting to recover now, blinking quickly and rubbing their eyes, and began charging forward. All had weapons raised, and Usopp really didn't like the way the light was glinting off those blades, and the way each one looked so sharp it could probably cut him in two with perfect ease.

But there was still distance between them, and that gave Usopp the advantage. He loaded his kabuto quickly and, with a roar of "Multiple Flame Stars!" fired four shots at the same time with a rapid sweeping gesture, aiming for the villagers on his left-hand side. Three men recoiled sharply and crashed to the ground in a burst of flame, yelling in surprise. One missed, setting the ground aflame just in front of his target, but that was still effective too. The man screeched to a halt and was forced to backpedal and skirt around the flames to try and find a safer path through, which still halted his progress.

And now he was out of flame stars, and there were still five villagers left on his side, not to mention any of the ones Zoro hadn't been able to take down yet. Usopp grimaced as he dug through his bag as fast as he could, noting with some surprise his hands were remarkably steady even if he could feel his heart pounding at a million miles an hour. He'd intended to buy more supplies to make himself some new ammunition today, while shopping in the market, and hadn't actually figured they'd get into a fight so quickly. He made a mental note to always make a little extra as backup in the future, because he rapidly learning he was not fond of getting caught unprepared.

But he still had other things he could use. Loading the kabuto again, he fired two more shots with quick calls of "Exploding Star," felling two more of the attacking villagers with twin screams. He leveled his weapon at a third, intending to take him down before he was within melee range—too close, he was far too close!—when he suddenly staggered forward as a heavy impact rammed into his back. Startled, he lost his grip on the dial and sling, and his third Exploding Star fired haphazardly into the ground not three feet away, sending dirt showering over them and dust and smoke towering into the air.

Usopp tried to recover, braced his legs hastily and shoved back against the heavy weight that was Zoro. He became aware rather suddenly of several far too close metallic clangs as steel rang off of steel, heard Zoro's grunt of pain and growl of surprise as he retaliated. There was a heavy nearby thud a second later, and Zoro muttered over his shoulder, "Sorry. You okay?"

"F-fine," Usopp managed to stutter back, more because Zoro had unintentionally knocked the wind out of him when he was knocked back by an opponent than because he was actually scared. Well, okay, so he was a little scared too, but hey, it was hard to breathe when somebody as big as Zoro careened into you from behind!

He shoved Zoro up again while bracing himself once more, threw another pellet in his sling, and fired another Exploding Star at a third villager, dropping the man to the dirt. But now he was in trouble. The few seconds it had taken him to recover for both himself and Zoro had let the final two villagers on his side close in. The one on his right was within melee range now, and the one from the left, the one he'd forced to skirt around the fire, would be there in only a few more seconds. The right villager swung out with a thick-bladed sword almost as long as the kabuto, and there was no way Usopp could reload and fire back in time. He yelled, tried to back up, but Zoro's weight was as good as a brick wall behind him and he wasn't going anywhere—

Steel flashed, and Usopp was more than a little surprised to find a black-bladed sword hovering just over his shoulder, neatly blocking the villager's sword from reaching his head. Zoro was still leaning heavily against him, and was amazingly blocking the enemy backwards, while still using his left-handed sword independently to block an opponent of his own.

Thank God for small favors. Zoro's arm was locked, and though Usopp couldn't see it he could feel the tension in Zoro's shoulder against his back. It was merely a defensive move; at that angle, there was no way the swordsman could turn a behind-the-back block into an offense. But it kept Usopp alive, and he took care of it from there.

Reversing his grip on the kabuto, Usopp jammed the staff end of weapon as hard as he could into the villager's stomach. The man gave a loud wuff of surprise as the breath was forced out of him, and Usopp took that extra opportunity to kick him in the shin, and then whack him over the head with the staff-end of his slingshot again. The man went down with a soft groan of pain. Almost immediately the black-bladed sword disappeared from Usopp's peripheral, returning immediately to its master's side.

There was one more for Usopp to face, and he turned his sights on the final villager, the one who had finally made it around the flames and was moving in his direction. At that moment he heard the gunshot, and Zoro hissed in obvious surprise, thudding against Usopp again as he staggered backwards a pace. This time Usopp was more or less ready for it, and was able to brace himself faster, catch the swordsman quicker. He heard something small but heavy hit the dirt, and gave himself half a second to glance down. The same black-bladed sword that had just saved his life was laying on the ground, and Zoro's arm hung limply out of the corner of his eye, already dripping more blood than before.

"Shit," Zoro said, and then, "guy with a gun," as if Usopp hadn't picked up on that already.

"I've still got one too," Usopp said quickly, and pressed backwards in an automatic recoil as the villager closed in on him with far more speed than he had expected.

"Switch," was all Zoro said by way of response, and pressed hard against Usopp's back with his left shoulder. Usopp didn't even need to think about it. Almost as one, the two rotated in the direction Zoro had indicated, pressed back to back, Usopp's quick steps a counterpoint to Zoro's dragging shuffle as he forced his bad leg to take his weight for a few more seconds. Usopp stepped carefully over the black blade still in the dirt—Zoro treated them like they were practically alive after all, and it had just helped save his life seconds before—and loaded kabuto quickly. It was at the ready when they came to an abrupt halt, completely opposite their original positions.

The entire maneuver had taken little more than a few seconds, and clearly had caught their opponents by surprise. Usopp could see the shock on the man who had shot Zoro's face even through the dust, over the barrel of the pistol in his hand. The man hastily took aim, but Usopp was faster, and well practiced at attacking on the move. The final Explosive Star launched just seconds before he felt the pressure on his back once more that said Zoro had engaged in combat with Usopp's previous enemy. The gunman disappeared in a cloud of smoke as the pellet hit, went down with a barely heard scream that was reflected in the much closer noise of Zoro's new opponent. Another heavy thud sounded from behind him, and then, unexpectedly suddenly, there was silence.

Usopp kept kabuto raised and at the ready, rubbernecking madly as he searched for other opponents, but he saw no trace of them through the clouds of dust still filling the air on this wasteland island. Stunning as it was, they'd managed to fell twenty-four dangerous combatants, with nothing but wits, skills, and one wounded swordsman. Usopp let out a little victory whoop and waved the kabuto enthusiastically in the air, and felt more than heard Zoro's amused chuckle.

"I can't believe we did it," Usopp said, still enthusiastic. "That many of them, I figured it'd be impossible—well, nothing's impossible for the Great Captain Usopp, but I figured there'd be more trouble than that—"

"Told you I'd be fine," Zoro cut him off calmly, as if they'd just gone for a walk, not taken down twenty-four ruthless combatants.

Usopp wanted to say that the only reason he was fine was because of his own able assistance, but right about that moment Zoro tried to crouch down far enough to pick up his abandoned black blade, having sheathed the other two katana already. The maneuver ended up with him overbalancing and crashing to the ground as his leg finally decided it had had enough, and he nearly took Usopp along for the ride. The sniper stumbled, but managed to keep his own feet. With a look of exasperation he retrieved the black katana for Zoro himself, sliding it into the empty sheath carefully when Zoro's right arm turned out to be unresponsive.

"Stupid bullet," Zoro muttered in irritation, and glared at his unmoving arm as though threatening his own limb could possibly encourage it to hurry up and heal faster. Usopp shook his head and helped the swordsman to his feet, slinging Zoro's less injured left arm around his own shoulders to help him with his balance.

"I can walk," Zoro said with a scowl. But after nearly crashing to the ground again three more times, and three almost failed catches on the part of Usopp, he finally submitted and sullenly allowed the sniper to help him out.

They walked as quickly as they could considering Zoro's new collection of injuries, but the speed didn't seem to be needed anymore. Everywhere they looked now, the villagers were sprawled all over the ground, down for the count after tangling with several angry Straw Hat pirates. It was easy enough to follow the trail of destruction back to the Thousand Sunny even if he hadn't known which way to go to begin with. Usopp remained confident in his directions and blatantly ignored Zoro's three attempts at giving directional advice, which was one thing he could say for certain the swordsman did not outclass him in.

The Sunny was just in sight when the swordsman deigned to offer something besides poor directions: a badly disguised attempt at a compliment. "So," he said carefully, "You did pretty well back there."

Getting complimented about his combat skills from the resident battle expert on their crew was an uplifting feeling, and Usopp was grinning even as he answered, "Of course! The Great Captain Usopp excels in all things tactical. Why, one time when I was five—"

"Yeah, whatever," Zoro cut him off before he could start weaving a tale of battle and glory (which was a disappointment; it had promised to be a good one. Well, he could tell it to Luffy and Chopper later). And then, dragging him back to the current discussion, "You're getting pretty handy to have in a fight. Y'know, when you stop panicking over every little thing." And before Usopp could add an indignant comment, he finished with, "If I need somebody to watch my back in the future, I guess I know who to call."

Usopp's grin was so wide it was nearly blinding, and he couldn't even begin to describe how proud of himself he was for even earning the slightest amount of Zoro's respect in combat. "Anytime!" he said immediately, and was still grinning as he finally hauled Zoro up onto the Sunny and handed him off to a panicking Chopper, who immediately dragged their irritated swordsman into the infirmary.

Until about five minutes later, when he realized that Zoro, the one most infamous on their team for getting himself into the most dangerous situations purely for the sake of a good wild fight, had basically just asked him, the sniper, to get dragged into his insane bouts more often.

Oh. Oh, crap. This probably wasn't going to turn out well at all.

I am aware Usopp technically only uses English when he's Sogeking to name his attacks, but I am also extremely lazy so there you go. English anyway. XP

It's so fun to just write a fight scene for the sake of a fight scene!

If you decide to leave a review, kindly let me know what you thought! I want to know what you think was done well and what you thought coulda been done better. What parts did you enjoy? What parts did you not? Feedback is great!