Be ye warned, this is the last chapter. Thank you so much for the reviews; there are few compliments that have mattered more to me than someone commenting on what I've written, after reading it out of their own free will. I've made everyone wait so long for so little; I apologize for that. I think I've said the best amount I can in this story; hopefully you can enjoy it to some degree.
Usopp returned to reality from an embarrassingly romantic dream, and found that he'd dozed off while repairing his weapons. And just when Sanji had been about to- -no, he wasn't remembering the dream. The task at hand was still incomplete. Picking up the new cord he'd been meaning to tie to his slingshot's cleaned handle, the sniper almost knocked over a cup that hadn't been on his table when he'd fallen asleep.
It was probably pretty late already, and Sanji had brought tea down for Usopp. The thought of the cook seeing him deep inside a fluffy and rose-colored dream when he was supposed to be working was kind of embarrassing, but at the same time the longnose was amazed that he hadn't been angrily woken up. Except for the days when someone was so focused on their current project they only remembered to breathe once in a while, Sanji usually insisted that everyone eat together or come get their food from the kitchen. Usopp felt something warm spreading under his ribs.
...No, he wasn't going to think about what if Sanji liked him back, either. There was no way that could be true, and wallowing in dreams was just going to make him miserable. It wasn't even because he thought he had any chance; the fantasies just came to him so naturally, they were hard to stop. Lying as a habit had some bad sides too.
The dream had been so stupid, too. Prince Usopp on a white horse, saving Sanji's ass, and a kiss at the end; he probably should try to learn more about originality in storytelling. And keeping the characters in-character. It was such a horrible feeling waking up, disappointment mixed with shame about his cheesy imagination. And the worst thing was that he really wished his dreams could be true.
The tea in the cup was already cold and tasted bitter, but he chugged it down, grimacing. It was his fault for falling asleep, after all - and he felt a bit tough when he drank something so bad-tasting. Then he finished the little work he had left, moved things about on his table so it looked a bit cleaner, and took the cup and stood up, stretching and yawning. His body eagerly took the chance to remind him of the hours he'd been sitting in the same position.
It was even later than Usopp had thought; coming from the energy room into the corridor behind the aquarium, he saw the black-blue night sky with a bright moon in the middle. Everyone was asleep; It was queerly calming to walk quietly on the barely noticeably creaking planks of the narrow passage, and then on damp grass. The cool night-air on the deck cleansed his lungs and hair and brought life back into his heavy eyelids and the cheeks he'd forgotten he had.
The kitchen's peaceful, humming silence pressed against his skin when he closed the door behind. The warmth felt heavenly after the pinching cold outside air, and sleepiness swept over Usopp. He put the mug on the counter, rubbing his eyes, and sat onto the bar bench, just to enjoy the calmness for a moment. Even a brave warrior of the sea like himself needed a moment of calm once in a big while.
He slid down into a comfortable slouch. It would be such a struggle to start moving and go out into the numbing cold air. If only he could just sleep here, by the counter in the quiet, distant darkness, without having to listen to anyone's loud breathing. On sleepless nights, Usopp would always be scared of the moments when Franky's rusty-sounding snore quieted down so much he couldn't tell whether air was still moving in and out of his lungs.
There was someone breathing in the room.
Usopp froze. Had someone snuck into their ship? The breathing came from the kitchen side of the counter, close to the floor, so he hadn't noticed it before. Slowly, taking care to not let the leather of the bench squeak and to not step on a creaky plank by the corner, he crouched down and listened harder.
The someone let out a very sensible, silent snore, and moaned slightly in their sleep.
It was Sanji. Geh, of course. Who else would sleep in the kitchen? A stowaway would go for a more hidden and comfortable place. Usopp took such a deep breath, it was basically a sigh.
His eyes were getting used to the dark. Sanji had, for some reason, taken his blanket with him and purposefully settled to sleep in a sitting position, leaning against the counter. Maybe he'd planned something more time-consuming for breakfast and was going to wake up before dawn. Or maybe he, too, had found the kitchen's nightly peace irresistible and wanted to stay.
Honestly, Usopp didn't want to care anymore. He was a pirate, goddamn it, uncertainty and low self esteem didn't fit the job description. And waiting for something wasn't brave.
No, no, no. All his reasonable calculations about his potential in love rushed back. Sanji had never liked men; he only had everything to lose; it just wasn't likely that the very person he'd fallen in love with would like him back, of all the people in the world. Yet in the end, he was tired, physically and mentally, and didn't want to leave the magically strong peace of the room behind him. It would mean braving the freezing-cold wind of the sea and listening to Luffy's loud sleeptalking and the barrel-echoed snoring of Franky. Just for this one night, he wanted to stay away from that.
Usopp stepped over the creaky plank, walked over, and after a deep breath, sat down next to the cook. Sanji shifted a little and calmed down again, and Usopp rested his head on his shoulder, somehow finding the most comfortable position he'd ever encountered in his life.
And the silent, unchanging bass chord of the room flooded over the two of them like a lullaby of the sea