Usopp clutched his notebook against his chest and pressed his back against the wall, heart pounding in his throat. He could hear the ominous creaks of his prey in the room to his right. Adrenaline set his veins on fire. Sweat trickled down his forehead and made his hair sticky. The secret held between his steady sniper's hands burned.
Breathing deeply through his nose, Usopp dared to peek around the doorjamb and into the room.
"What do you want, Usopp?" Zoro grunted between his teeth, a thousand pounds of barbells lifted above his head.
Usopp squeaked and leapt out of the doorway, nearly sending himself tumbling down the crow's nest ladder to the deck below. He caught himself with one hand, the other clutching his notebook fiercely.
Zoro let the barbells clank to the floor and sat up. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and squinted at Usopp. His shirtless torso, scarred and sculpted, shone with sweat. Usopp swallowed hard.
"What do you want?" he repeated.
Usopp squawked again and scrambled down the ladder. A moment later, the creaking and clanging of Zoro's weigh lifting resumed.
Usopp looked down at his own skinny arms, tanned skin clinging to bones. Brown overalls that hung loose on his lanky frame.
He scowled and clutched his Top Secret How To Be Manly Notebook to his skinny chest and promised himself that someday, he wouldn't have to be envious of Zoro.
Zoro was used to working out alone in the crow's nest, so he was surprised the first time he climbed up to see Usopp lifting some of his lightest weights. Of course, Zoro's lightest weights were the average's person's heaviest weights, so it was still quite a feat.
Zoro leaned against the wall of the crow's nest, arms crossed. Usopp grunted, tongue caught between his teeth, arms shaking with every heave. He got the weights over his head though. Every time.
When the weights finally clattered to the floor and Usopp doubled over, hands on his knees and heaving, he caught sight of Zoro. His eyes widened under the brim of his hat and he squawked, hands flapping. He dashed behind one of Zoro's biggest barbells and peeked out from behind it.
"Don't kill me," he squeaked.
"You just ruined it," Zoro said, pushing himself away from the wall. He shed the sleeves of his robe and tied his bandana around his forehead. He reached down with one arm and lifted the barbell over his head, revealing Usopp. "I was almost impressed."
Usopp's jaw dropped as he watched Zoro do a couple one-armed reps before setting the weight back down.
"Not like I was trying to impress you," Usopp scoffed, crossing his arms and looking away.
Zoro remembered the skinny kid who would've boasted that he could lift twice as many pounds with one arm as Zoro ever could. He smiled.
"You've grown up," he said.
Usopp shrugged and scrambled out of the crow's nest.
Usopp pulled a dusty sheet off the broken full-length mirror he'd shoved in the back of his workshop two years ago. He put his hands on his hips and cocked his head. He tried to remember what Zoro had looked like two years ago. All the time he'd spent on Bowin Island, building up his strength, he'd been sure he was catching up to Zoro.
Then he actually saw Zoro again, and in comparison he might as well have been the same skinny kid he'd been before.
He glanced over at the overflowing bookshelf next to him. A notebook was shoved between two mechanic's manuals Franky had lent him. He pulled it out, smoothed out its squashed pages.
Top Secret How To Be Manly Notebook was scrawled in his handwriting on the battered front cover. He grinned. Oh yeah. This.
He flipped it open and squinted at his cramped handwriting and messy doodles.
Laugh at the enemy. Bleed a lot. Wear a bandana (note: black is a lot more badass). Be really strong. Look really, really strong.
He'd forgotten how many hours he'd spend spying on Zoro, taking note of everything that made the swordsman the kind of man Usopp had always wanted to be.
He picked up a dull pencil and sharpened it to a point. He tucked the notebook under his arm and headed back up to the deck. For old time's sake.
Zoro stood in front of the mirror Franky had set up in the crow's nest training room and scowled. He twisted his mouth down. Quirked the corner of one lip up. Admired the way the shadows cast over his eyes made his missing eye look even more sinister. The massive freaking blind spot he'd acquired was almost worth it for how much it added to his terrifying look.
The back of Zoro's neck prickled and he spun around, hands already reaching for his swords. Usopp was sitting in the doorway, scribbling something in a notebook spread across his knees.
"What d'you want, Usopp?" he growled.
Usopp looked up, pointed at Zoro with the chewed up end of his pencil.
"What were you doing?" he asked. It was almost night out and in the half-light of the crow's nest it was hard to tell, but Zoro could almost swear Usopp looked like he was silently laughing.
"Nothing." He scratched the back of his neck. "How long've you been here?"
"I've gotten a lot better at spying," Usopp told him, puffing his chest out. "Long enough."
Zoro scowled at him with the sinister look he'd perfected in front of the mirror. It wasn't achieving its desired effect.
"You were practicing faces in the mirror, weren't you?" Usopp asked. He unfolded his long legs (except they weren't really so long and disproportionately lanky anymore) and come up beside Zoro.
"You were, weren't you?" he pressed.
Zoro snatched Usopp's notebook. Usopp's cockiness seeped out of him and he squeaked, grabbing at the book.
"Top Secret How To Be Manly Notebook," Zoro read out loud.
"Nooooo," Usopp moaned, trying to grab it back. Zoro put a hand on Usopp shoulder and shoved him out of the way.
He flipped it open to a surprisingly detailed sketch… of himself, shirtless, weights lifted above his head. His left eye looked intact, so this had probably been drawn two years before.
He continued to flip through the crumpled pages as Usopp looked on in horror. Almost every page was filled, every line and margin, with notes and doodles. And his name, over and over again. Scowl more like Zoro. Drink more like Zoro. Be more like Zoro.
He finally handed the book back to Usopp, who shoved it in his bag. His shoulders slumped. He started to back out of the room. Zoro grabbed him by the arm.
"You wrote that before Kuma messed with us, didn't you?"
He let himself smile the sort of smile he hadn't practised in a mirror.
"You did a pretty good job of following your own advice then."
Usopp's eyes widened.
"But here's a tip: don't be as much of a dumbass as Zoro."
Usopp grinned. He straightened up.
"Of course not," he said. "The Great Captain Usopp would never be dumb."
Zoro cuffed Usopp on the side of the head.
"Another tip: don't call yourself that. It's stupid."
"Says the dumbass."
Usopp was laughing as he ducked out of Zoro's grasp, and Zoro wasn't going entirely easy on him as he chased Usopp around the crow's nest with his swords drawn.