Musicbox: Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd (the acoustic version by Shinedown is pretty good too)
Rating: K+ for one swear
Spoilers: None, unless you are unaware of the secret identity of a certain masked hero from Sniper Island
Usopp sat at the kitchen table, drawing. He was concentrating very hard on his task. When he was done he would show it to Momma, and maybe she would smile. Hopefully it would be a real smile, not the strained, fake one that he usually saw. Momma didn't smile for real much anymore.
His picture had turned out great. A masked hero wielding a giant slingshot made a dramatic pose. The hero even had a cape (a red cape. Red was a nice, heroic color), and Usopp knewwith a child's intuition that his mother would love it.
Something didn't seem quite finished, though. Chewing on the end of his crayon, Usopp tried to figure out why. Nothing came to mind, and he shrugged. Inspiration was tricky sometimes. Idly he scribbled some grass in the background.
Nope. It still looked wrong.
"Usopp? Where are you?" his mother called from upstairs.
"In the kitchen!" he shouted, still contemplating his drawing.
A moment later Banchina entered the kitchen. Her face was pale, except for two bright red spots of color high on her cheekbones. There were dark circles under her eyes (Momma was so tired all the time, even when she slept all day), but a playful smile still danced on her lips.
"Ah, there's my little man." She bent down and hugged Usopp and looked over his shoulder. "And what's this? A vigilante?"
"Momma!" Usopp shrieked, mostly for show. He loved it when she squeezed him tight like this. "It's a hero!"
"Who wears a mask?" Her voice was disapproving. "What sort of hero wears a mask?"
"The cool kind," Usopp mumbled. "Besides, what if he needs to protect his identity?"
"Hmm, I suppose you have a point. Either way, it's very good." Banchina kissed the top of his head, making him squirm.
"I made it for you! His name is…I dunno know what his name is yet…but he's the best, most awesomest hero ever. If he takes one hundred shots, he'll hit his target one hundred times. His sniping is so good he can hit the eye of a mouse." Usopp reenacted a shooting motion. "Lock on!"
Banchina giggled. "Oh, Usopp. You sound like your father. What was it he always said?"
Usopp puffed out his chest and answered in a deep voice, "'I can shoot the whiskers off an ant'!"
"I wasn't aware ants had whiskers."
"Oh, they do," Usopp said earnestly, "Teeny-tiny ones, that can't be seen 'cept with a microscope! Once, though, in the woods I saw a giant Queen Ant and hers were huuuge so I got a good look."
"Someone's telling stories again," Banchina said, cocking an eyebrow. Suddenly she turned her head and began to cough violently. Usopp scrambled out of his chair and filled a glass full of water.
When she finished, Banchina accepted the water with a smile. She patted Usopp's head fondly, but the mood was ruined. Looking down at the floor sullenly, Usopp scuffed his shoe.
"Momma, when're gonna get better?"
Banchina looked stricken. "Usopp…" She let the word trail off, unable to find the words to comfort her son. Instead, she swept him into a bone-crushing hug. Her skin felt hot and feverish, and Usopp couldn't make himself melt into the embrace like he usually did.
He glanced to his picture, setting precariously on the edge of the table. A hero could make Momma feel better. Someone who was big and courageous and brave could beat up her ugly cough and make sure it never came back. But Usopp was small and weak, and didn't know what he was supposed to do to help.
Dad would have known, but Dad wasn't here.
"Let's go sit on the couch," Banchina said, loosening her hold. Seeing her son's gaze, she sighed. Grabbing the drawing, Banchina led Usopp to the den. She situated herself on the old, broken-down couch and pulled Usopp on her lap. Holding the picture out in front of them, she looked it over with a critical eye.
"What makes this man a hero?" she asked.
"Well, he's got a mask and a cape…and a really cool weapon. Don't all heroes have those things?"
"Anyone with a bit of cloth and a little ceramic can have a cape and a mask, and anyone with some money can buy a weapon. That doesn't mean that anyone can be a hero." Banchina pointed to the masked man's chest. "It's what's in here, Usopp. It's what's inside that counts more than anything else in the world. Don't let anyone tell you different."
Usopp twisted around so he could look at his mother. "I don't understand."
"Most don't. People will say things when they don't understand, or do things just to hurt someone else." Banchina wrapped one arm around Usopp protectively, and her voice became distant. "The most important thing is that you follow your dreams and that you're satisfied with the man you grow up to be."
"Yes, just like your father. He's out following his dreams right now, and I couldn't be more proud of him." Banchina smiled, but Usopp thought it made her look sad for some reason.
"What's your dream?" he asked suddenly.
Her smile widened, and a devilish spark twinkled in her eye. "Taking care of you, little man, is a dream come true. Even if you do cause a few headaches every once in a while," she added.
"It's true, but I love you all the same," Banchina said, kissing Usopp's forehead to cut off his indignant cries. "Trust me."
Unable to think of a reply, Usopp settled back into his mother's lap. Putting his head to her chest, he could hear her breath rattle as she inhaled. That scared him. The doctor wouldn't come to their house, and herbs and old wives' tales would only do so much.
"When I dream, I dream of being a sailor, one that's brave…and I dream of you getting better and seeing Dad again." Usopp blinked back tears. "Is that stupid?"
"Dreams are never stupid," Banchina murmured, running her fingers through his hair. "Just remember, before you can go off saving the world, you have to be satisfied with the kind of man you are on the inside." One of her hands slid to his chest, right over his heart. They laid like that for a long time: Banchina eventually falling into a light sleep, and Usopp soaking up his mother's love.
The picture of the masked hero with the slingshot and red cape slipped to the floor, still incomplete, somehow getting pushed under the couch. There it was forgotten, eventually abandoned for good when Usopp packed for his journey years later.
As a member of the Straw Hat Pirates, Usopp almost died many times. Together the crew went farther and father, meeting giants and fighting monsters, until there came a time he couldn't go on any longer. Usopp had thought when he set sail that he knew what he wanted, but after the disasters on Long Ring Island and Water 7 he wasn't so sure. Something was still missing, and Usopp was no longer satisfied with where his path was taking him.
It wasn't until a fateful assault on the sea train that Usopp understood his mother's words. Seeing the festival mask and the bolt of red cloth, Usopp remembered his childhood drawing. Realizing what had been missing had been inside him all along, Usopp reached for the mask. He had never named the character in the drawing, at the time nothing seemed to fit. Things were different now. His friends were in danger, and he had to help, his status as a Straw Hat Pirate be damned.
"Sogeking has a nice ring to it," Usopp muttered to himself. "Yeah, I like that. I'll be Sogeking, King of Snipers."
In the back of his mind, he thinks his mother would approve.
AN: So, new project! Because my brain is strange, I started thinking about songs that represent various Straw Hats. What began as an interesting character study mutated into something that wouldn't leave me alone, which of course meant I had to start writing.
These obviously won't be songfics in the traditional sense, but the songs are where I will get my inspiration for every oneshot posted. I've also got random oneshot ideas that I'll (eventually) get written and post here if I can find music that fits.
As always, reviews are appreciated.