Oh, hey look. An update.
Yes, I know it's been nearly two years since the dust on this one was blown off. I have no idea how many of you who were anticipating the next chapters I left sorely disappointed by the unexpectedly long hiatus this one took, and for that I apologize. It was unplanned and, had my job not changed, probably would not have happened. My new position is extremely taxing and consuming. My coworkers actually joke that I should move a bed into the office I'm there so often.
Unfortunately when I came home, I rarely felt like writing and lost a huge chunk of my drive. Then I started watching other shows in the meantime which did spark a writing drive... but not for this. There were a lot of other factors as well that took part in my delay, but I honestly won't bore you all with the details.
The point is, I'm back. I'm making a resolution now that I need to get back into the swing of this baby, because I swore I would finish it and that is what I am going to do. How frequently I update isn't really set in stone. Unfortunately, beyond this chapter nothing else is written, so I'll just have to see how it goes.
For now, please enjoy!
Day 15, Tuesday
Sanji had never considered himself as a man of faith. Having grown up where the word 'God' was followed by 'damn it' and the only thing holy was shit, his spiritual background was about as interesting as drying paint. He'd never even so much as stepped into a church before nor had he ever found reason to pray for anything. He attested much of that to his French roots, where religion was an extremely private affair; not something to be brought up for debate between casual acquaintances but only the most intimate and close of friends and family – of which all of his either identified similarly or respected his own views. So, there'd never really been a force trying to convert him or any personal enlightenment.
However, if today was a sign from the man upstairs Himself that He wanted him to become one of His many followers, Sanji would have been all too willing to dunk his head in a pot of holy water and praise the Lord for his generous gift.
He hadn't really meant to stumble upon them. After a long night of serving tables and cleaning up the day before only to have to drag himself out of bed and be back to work for another grueling eight hours first thing that morning, Sanji had just barely managed to lug his tired and aching body to Uni-V and visit the school library. He was hoping to find a book on the quantity theory of money for his coursework due at midnight to appease his overly anal economics teacher who seemed determined to fail him for what he claimed to be 'lazy researching techniques'. Which was basically just a shitty way of saying he needed to stop using internet sources and, had it not cost him three-hundred dollars to take the damn class, he would have just sent his teacher an email with a picture of his middle finger attached.
So there he was, eyes glancing over the gibberish that was better known as the Dewey Decimal system, when heaven literally opened up and dropped two angels in his path.
"I appreciate it, but it's really not necessary."
His head jerked up. Wasn't that… Usopp?
"Perhaps then you could simply humor me."
And he would know that voice even if he were deaf. That was definitely Robin-chan!
Sanji pirouetted down the row of shelves, following the sound to the end of the aisle where the library opened up into a space full of half a dozen tables set up for students to study at, seeing one was occupied by the very two people he was looking for. Usopp's back was to him, an open textbook and pencil just in reach. Across the table was Robin, a book of her own nearby and fingers wrapped around a Styrofoam cup of coffee that, in her wonderfully devious way, she must have snuck in.
The artist seemed to slouch, the orange brim of his backwards-sat baseball cap hitting the headrest of his chair, fingers drumming a jittery rhythm on the edge of the table. "Listen Robin, it's not what you think, okay?"
"Is that so?"
"Yes." The word came out with a hiss of frustration. His finger stilled, curling around the cornered edge of the furniture instead. "Kuro's not like that. You've got it all wrong."
Interested piqued, Sanji was tempted to keep listening in, when he noticed the look that crossed the woman's face. Being such a refined and composed lady, it was very hard to spot when she was getting truly bothered unless one knew her well. Sanji considered he had at least a high school degree on his dearest Robin's expressions, so he could tell from the way her lips were pressing together and eyes narrowing, she was getting agitated.
So he squared his shoulders and walked out of the aisle, saying, "A lady is never wrong."
Usopp shot up, cursing loudly when his knee hit the table leg and fell back into his chair, rubbing what was sure to be a nasty bruise later. Robin too jumped, a little of her coffee spilling into the lid. "Oh, Sanji… what are you doing here?"
He quickly danced to her side, fetching out his handkerchief to dab away at the spilled drops. "Just happened to be looking for some resources for class when I heard the longnose here giving you trouble." He looked across the table, seeing Usopp was partially scowling at them. "Hey! Wipe that look off your face. You're in the presence of a woman you know."
The other male rolled his eyes, grinding out, "Your chivalry is unbelievable. Did you seriously just come out of nowhere to 'rescue her'?"
"Of course!" Sanji replied, a little caught off guard by his friend's anger.
"Ah, Sanji always does seem to know how to be in the right place at the right time." Robin interjected.
"I'm sure." Was the terse reply. Like a clap of thunder, Usopp slammed his book closed and got to his feet, saying shortly, "I'm out of here." And like a whirl of nature himself he turned and stormed away.
He hovered there, feeling about a lost as the marimo brute in a maze, and turned to Robin. "The hell's up with him?"
Robin delicately laid a hand on her cheek, looking troubled. "He thinks you were listening in to the private conversation we were having. A secret, really." A sneaking suspicion bit at him that it possibly had to do with that same late-night conversation they had had. If so, then suddenly appearing out of nowhere to listen in on what Usopp made crystal clear he wasn't interested in telling him… would look really bad.
Dark eyes stared up at him. "Your timing was a little unfortunate."
His stomach fluttered with nerves, a guilty tick developing in one curly brow. "Eeeeh…"
"Unless… you were listening in." She said, raising an eyebrow.
He held up his hands, waving them. "Only when he was claiming you were wrong, nothing else! I swear!" He looked away, focusing on a poster of a Renaissance Age writer pinned to the wall. "But I may have considered listening further."
"Of course you did." Her chuckles unraveled some of the tension in his stomach. "You do tend to walk a bit on the dark side when it comes to your crushes."
His cheeks flushed, rubbing the back of his head. Robin happened to be privy to his high school antics which included using his pull as an office T.A. to find out pretty girls' schedules to try and cross paths with them, hoping for convenient opportunities to spring up where he could ask for a date, such as some dropped books or an accidental brush of shoulders. At the time, he thought it was a way to be romantic; he just needed the perfect set up to get things going just like it happened in the movies. When he realized, after one well-placed high-heeled kick to his nuts, that this was Basic Stalking 101, he quickly learned to stop being a creep. Definitely not one of his prouder times of life.
"I hope I've matured a bit since then." He mumbled, before hanging his head back and letting out a groan. "Ugh, but that idiot is going to take it to heart if I don't set things straight." He knelt down before her. "I hate to leave your side my dearest queen, but I must attend to the fool. Perhaps we can convene at a later date, when times are more pleasant."
She smiled at his ridiculous act, true perfection if he ever did see it, before shoving a hand in his face. "Just go."
That was all the order he needed before he was up and hurrying across the room, sneaking glances down aisles to catch a hint of that darkened skin or long nose. Just as he was hiking up the stairs to the top floor, he caught sight of that tangerine cap through the glass of the front door and hurried after it. Stepping outside, the sun was still high and the breeze was sharp and slightly cold, gray clouds stacked above the mountains to the east and threatening storms later this week.
Mentally, he joked that Usopp probably called them forth.
"Oi! Longnose! Wait up!" He called, sprinting forward. It wasn't hard to come to his side, what with the man slouched some to protect himself from the wind.
"I don't want to talk to you Sanji." The younger snapped.
"Well then don't talk shithead. Just listen." He replied, fiddling with the lighter in his pocket as he spilled out, "I know you think I was being nosy – not that you have the right to think anyone's nosier than you," That little quip earned him an indignant sniff. "But I just came here to get a book for my economics class because my teacher's been on my ass about getting 'real' sources. I just happened to hear you two and came over to say hi. I didn't mean to interrupt or give you the idea I was listening in or that lovely Robin put me up to it." Usopp was still frowning, but at least he was looking at him now, so Sanji added, "I mean, do you really think I'd do something like that?"
"I think you'd do just about anything if Robin asked." Was the dull-toned reply.
Okay, that was fair. "Ah, and if it was Nami-swan, I guarantee that that would have been the situation. She's quite the conniving type, which is what makes her so great." Sanji said. "But Robin likes to do things on her own. Besides, even if she had put me up to it, why would I blow my cover and come over?"
Usopp pursed his lips, mulling that a moment, before groaning and hanging his head. "You're right. That would be stupid. And you're not stupid." He made a disagreeing noise to himself. "Well, actually I take that back. You are. You're really stupid. Just not at that level."
"Oi, jackass." He shoved his shoulder.
It wrenched a small snicker from him before dropping into a more serious demeanor. "Sorry though. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusion. I was acting like a jerk."
"Eh, I shouldn't have dropped in like that." Sanji conceded. "But who you should really be saying sorry to is Robin. A gentleman should never step out on a lady like that. In fact…" He dug out his cellphone, and with a quick button press, had her on the line.
"Hello Sanji." Her melodious voice was music to his ear.
"Greetings my dear Robin!" He chirped back.
"I trust you found him?"
"I did indeed and he has a message for you." He pulled away the phone, holding it out to the other. "Go on."
"You can't be serious. Oh wait. It's you. Of course you are." Usopp deadpanned, giving a defeated sigh as he plucked the device away. "Hey, Robin." While they talked, Sanji let his eyes drift towards the pond that acted as the center to the campus, watching the ducks that swam around its edges, catching snippets of the short, one-sided conversation.
"Yeah, he told me that too. I was being stupid about it, I'm sorry. But I really did mean what I said back there. About… y'know." There was a brief lull, before Usopp said softly, "Yeah, I promise. But I swear that's not the case, okay?" He gave a hum to whatever she responded with. "Okay. Thanks. Bye." He held out the phone to him. "Happy?"
Sanji took a glance at the screen to make sure the call had ended before pocketing it again. "Ecstatic."
He'd never tell Usopp it had nothing to do with the apology and everything to do with the walk they were sharing through the loveliest part of the campus, just like a couple would.
"And hey, since I'm such a forgiving man," He added as they rounded the bend, heading towards the parking lot. "I think I just might treat you to lunch tomorrow after all."
The reply was laced with sarcasm. "Really now? I'm honored."
Dramatically, Usopp laid a hand over his heart. "I have seen the error of my ways. I shall never doubt either of you ever again."
The man laughed, the sound of it causing tingles to run up Sanji's spine. "Hey, weren't you supposed to get a book?"