Originally a birthday fic, this is a piece of gentle sort-of-hurt/comfort fluff that's mildly Sanji/Usopp. Set vaguely post-timeskip but spoils nothing except one of Sanji's current combat abilities (seen in the Fishman Island Arc). Suggestions for improvement and other feedback much appreciated.

Disclaimer: The world and characters of One Piece are created and belong to Eiichiro Oda. They are used here without permission. This fic may not be used for profit in any way and should not be reposted elsewhere without the writer's approval.

Towards the Shores of Sleep

A One Piece fanfic by Elin B

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It had been a very long day, one that had started in the small hours of the night with a surprise attack on land, then went on from bad to worse during the day. There'd been hours and hours of fighting and running and shouting and fighting even more, leaving everyone exhausted when a new enemy turned up just as they thought it was all over. They'd only escaped by the skin of their teeth at that point.

Now, it finally all seemed to be over, Sunny bobbing quietly on a currently calm sea, anchored for the night even though the sun hadn't even set yet. They just didn't have the energy to steer her forward. Most of the crew had gone off to bed or even just slumped down to sleep where they were. But for some reason, Usopp wasn't quite that sleepy yet, though he felt really tired. So he'd sat himself on the railing by the lawn deck to do a little fishing.

Sanji came down the steps from the galley with heavy footsteps. His frame, as Usopp glanced over at him, fairly radiated fatigue. And small wonder, too: the cook hadn't even gotten any sleep last night, had fought just as harder as anyone else or even harder, and had then gone on to make a big meal for everybody when they were out of direct danger.

Sanji sat down beside Usopp on the railing in one tired glaceless movement, exhaling deeply and rubbing his eyelids. He opened his eyes and looked around as if seeking for something.

"D'you want this?" asked Usopp and held up the extra rod, the one that Luffy had been using for a few minutes while he could still keep awake. Sanji only nodded, accepting it and the jar of angleworm, put a worm on the hook with fumbling fingers and then cast down the line into the sea. A big yawn overtook him.

Usopp yawned too. He tried to maintain a comradely and manly silence, but it couldn't last long. It was nice to have company like this, but...

"If you're so tired, why aren't you going to bed?" he asked. "I don't want to have to jump in once you topple over and fall in."

Sanji muttered something incomprehensible.

"What was that?"

"I'm not that tired," Sanji repeated, his voice still low and fuzzy. "Anyway. We need more fish."

"You're so tired you can't even speak properly," Usopp pointed out.

"'M okay," insisted Sanji. His shoulders still looked really tense, even though he seemed to be making a conscious effort to relax.

Usopp sighed. "Fine. If you say so."

Sanji rolled up the line a bit and then cast it further into the sea. "Thought I'd clear my head a bit," he mumbled, then glanced sidewards at Usopp. "You've still got shitty energy."

Usopp blinked. Energy? Him? "Nah, not really. Besides, I got to sleep last night and didn't have to make a huge dinner after the fights. I took a nap instead."

"You got hurt pretty badly," Sanji muttered, not looking straight at him, only down into the water.

Usopp had to grin. "Now you're starting to sound like me when I want you to give me a break!" He waved a hand in expansive denial. "Yeah, okay, I got some manly wounds" - he puffed up a bit at that, as was only proper - "but Chopper's seen to them already and he said I'll be fine. Did you get patched up?" Sanji had certainly taken many more hits than Usopp had. Of course he was many times stronger, but still... he'd run around a lot, too, trying to be everywhere and protect everybody.

"Sure, sure," said Sanji absentmindedly. Usopp rolled his eyes, but let him be. Fishing was restful, after all, as long as the big fish didn't bite. And it was nice to have Sanji there.

They sat in silence like that for several minutes.

Suddenly Sanji leaned closer, putting his arm behind Usopp's back, grasping his shoulder and tugging him tightly towards him. He smelled very tired, the sweat of dead-on-your-feet fatigue that you've kept at bay for far too long. He didn't say anything at first.

Usopp's face grew hot, but he didn't try to squirm out or push Sanji away. His first thought was a reflexive Someone might see us!, but the next second he realised it would be all right if they did. Sanji wasn't trying to do anything, was far too worn down to be in the mood. He just kept holding on tightly, breathing heavy. After a few long seconds, Usopp reached out and held Sanji right back, his own arm over Sanji's shoulder. His cheeks still felt red and maybe they'd look silly like this, if someone saw; but he didn't care, that wasn't important.

"Maybe. Maybe just a li'l bit tired," whispered Sanji hoarsely. "Little bit. That's all." He was trembling, just a little.

After a moment's hesitation, Usopp leaned his head against' Sanji's. It felt good, that way. "I'm fine," he said, his own voice also sounding hoarse in his ears. "We're all fine."

"I know that, idiot," mumbled Sanji, but he still kept holding Usopp for some more, until the tension finally seemed to be leaving his body in one huge breathing out. "Ahhhhh. Just tired." But he sounded content now, as he let go of Usopp's shoulder.

And slumped forward in a body that was now all relaxed - too relaxed, and leaning way too much over the railing...

"GAAAH! WHAT DID I TELL YOU?" Usopp cried out, grabbing Sanji to keep him from toppling over into the sea, only to teeter in his turn where he was sitting, balance gone. At the last second Sanji leaped into the air doing a back-flip with Usopp in tow, doing that weird CP9-like air step thing as he pulled them both to safety to land in the grass, where he promptly collapsed into giggles.

"You idiot - you did that on purpose! I totally forgot you can do that stuff now!" Usopp accused, smacking him on the arm as he rubbed his tender nose from the unkind landing. "See if I ever try to save you from falling in again," he muttered. Sanji just kept laughing, flat on his back in the grass, arms wide and loose.

Usopp crossed his arms over his chest and glared at him. Then he put his head to one side, anger already gone, glare turning into a weighing look.

"What?" Sanji finally asked.

"Nothing. You, you look cute that way," he mumbled. And blushed, as he still always did when saying that sort of thing.

At least Sanji's cheeks turned pink, too. He even looked flustered. Then, after a few more long seconds, he grinned and sat up, reaching out to pinch Usopp's nose, the bastard. "'Course I do," he said lightly. "Too bad I'm still sleepy as shit. But now I'm not too tired to go to bed anymore." He lit a cigarette, inhaled and then drew himself up, first leaning on Usopp and then pulling him up along with him.

"Sanji, you're such a weirdo," Usopp muttered as they stumbled together the last few steps towards the boys' cabin where their own lovely hammock beds awaited.

"You're the weirdo, Longnose." Behind them, the sun had just set, the first stars already shining. With luck, the calm weather would hold for the rest of the night. There was a fresh scent in the air that made Usopp think of autumn.