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The bingo square Others: Castaways.

Sanji and Usopp, castaways on an island. A piratical descent into madness.

Music Box

In the cool of the day, when the sun is sinking into the ocean and the shadows are growing long, he searches for food. He picks berries and mushrooms, and digs up tubers when he can find them. There's not much, but there's enough; just barely enough, if he rations it, so he never picks all the berries or mushrooms, never digs up all the tubers.

There are fish in the water, just off the edge of the reef, and it's too deep for him to catch them, but in time-- when Usopp wakes up, maybe he can get him to kill a few fish with his slingshot--

Except they don't have the slingshot, or anything else, so after he's picked a handful of berries and mushrooms, and a couple of tubers, he goes and looks for some bendy wood, something he thinks might work.

He's not sure what to use for the sling part. Rubber would be best, but it's not he's going to find that here. Cat guts, maybe, except there aren't any cats, either, and he'd ask Usopp what would work, but Usopp's still lying beneath the branches of the biggest tree, blood still seeping from his head.

It's pretty shitty shelter; a half-dozen branches he found scattered from the storm, propped up against the trunk of the tree to make a shady spot. The shade's not big enough for two, so he dragged Usopp beneath it, and now he just kinda hangs around, moving from tree to tree to try to stay cool during the heat of the days.

He's been scratching at the bark of the tree, too, one long scratch for each day. It's the fifth scratch, and Usopp's looking ragged (and when Sanji looks into the water, watches the fish swim past in flashes, he looks pretty ragged, too). Sanji tried to clean some of the blood out of Usopp's hair, but that just got Usopp's head bleeding again, so he gave up on that.

Now, he just stops by every few hours to make sure that Usopp's still breathing, that nothing big and hungry has appeared on the island and managed to eat him, and that there's not much more blood (but there's always more blood, so that’s pretty much relative).

"Fucking hell," he mutters after he's eaten the mushrooms and berries and bitter tubers. "Can't you wake up and be useful for once?"

It's not really fair, but nothing's really fair, because they're stuck here on some god-forsaken spit of land, and Usopp had all the luck and grace to get brained by probably the only piece of driftwood in their part of the ocean. Fucking hell.

And Sanji's hungry, feels like he's starving. His stomach feels like it's curling in on itself, eating its way to his spine. It reminds him way too much of his childhood, and he thinks about Zeff's leg, and feels like he's about to throw up, but he can't, because then he really would starve. And he has to save something for when Usopp wakes up, the fucking useless, bleeding idiot.

It is frustration and anger and a pain that's festering inside of him. Every time he weaves leaves together to make a new cup, his hands shake a little more, and every time he staggers back from the little freshwater spring, trying not to slosh the water all over the ground, he feels a little shakier.

When Usopp spits up the water, choking on his own vomit, Sanji wants to kick in his head. Instead, he turns Usopp's head to the side, and pulls Usopp's hair out of the way, so Usopp doesn't wake up with blood and vomit in his hair. 'cause that, Sanji thinks, would be a pretty shitty thing to wake up to-- not that he'd know.

The sixth day, he has seven prototype slingshots, and he's lying in the sunlight, his head just inside the little shelter. His cheek is next to Usopp's, and he can smell the sickness on Usopp's breath every time Usopp breathes.

He thinks Usopp's eyelids are fluttering a little, which probably means that Usopp is waking up. He's hungry, can feel his stomach curl tighter, can hear the growling of his empty stomach, but he doesn't want to leave, because if Usopp wakes up-- Usopp needs water, too, because his lips are cracked and bloody, but Sanji doesn't want to move-- He is tired, and angry, and he wants, more than anything, for Usopp to wake up, so he has someone to bitch at and maybe kick, and so he can make Usopp go get them some fucking fish.

In the shimmering heat of the afternoon, when they're both sweating in the scant shade, Usopp groans and rolls a little to the side, and finally, fucking finally, wakes up.

"Sanji?" Usopp asks, when he's turned his head enough to look at Sanji. His breath is hot and sickening, makes Sanji's nose wrinkle, and Sanji scowls, says, "fucking longnose, it took you long enough."

When he says it, he feels a little bad-- but not really. Not really, because Usopp's the only idiot Sanji knows that could get into this much trouble, and at least if it was a girl, he'd have something nice to look at. Instead, it's just Usopp, and Usopp's stupid, bloody hair.

Usopp doesn't say anything, just blinks at Sanji slowly, like he's half-asleep and doesn't know what's going on (or maybe like he's got swelling on the brain, like he'll fall asleep and stay that way, waste away the way pirates sometimes do). Sanji swallows against the smell of sickness and sits up, scooting forward until he's right next to Usopp's head.

"Careful," he says to Usopp, and then he lifts Usopp's head and shoulders, helps him shift around until Usopp's leaning against his lap. Usopp makes a sound, like he's going to cry or complain, and Sanji freezes, holds still for a long moment until Usopp goes loose and limp.

When Sanji leans down to look, Usopp's asleep again-- unconscious again, mouth open and eyelids lowered, his whole face slack. It's probably best, either way, and now that Sanji knows he's alive (and might actually stay that way, if one of them is lucky enough), Sanji starts to dig the blood out of Usopp's hair.

Usopp wakes up again in the middle of the night, and he leans up against the tree to eat. When he turns his face to the side and throws up, Sanji has to get up and walk away so he doesn't scream at him. In his anger, stupid, stupid anger, he goes and digs up some of the tubers, sits down in the dirt to eat them just to spite Usopp. When he's swallowed down the last dry, bitter bite, he feels stupid, because Usopp's not even there, and Usopp probably wouldn't even care; his own childishness makes Sanji even surlier, and it's a vicious cycle, like the circling hunger in Sanji's gut.

"What do you use for slingshots?" Sanji asks the next day. Usopp's eaten a couple handfuls of berries, and has kept them down, along with a few gulps of water. Now that Usopp's sitting up, there's enough room in the shade for Sanji to sneak in, too, and they're sitting knee-to-knee, Usopp leaning back against the tree and Sanji curled forward to keep from knocking over the branches.


"Right," Sanji says, then says, very slowly, like Usopp's as much as an idiot as Sanji sometimes thinks, "there's no rubber here."

Usopp scowls at him, and Sanji looks away so he's not tempted to wipe Usopp's face in the dirt (and so he won't see that slow thread of blood from a stupid crack in Usopp’s skull that still won't close). "Then something stretchy," Usopp says, and Sanji says, "think of something, then."

They can't think of anything, though, neither of them. Usopp just fiddles with the slingshot bases Sanji gathered over the days, and Sanji finally leaves, going out into the sun just to get away from him. He didn't think Usopp would be even more annoying awake than he was asleep.

He wanders around the island, back and forth, backtracking to the shelter every few hours, to look and see that Usopp's still sitting up, still fiddling with the worthless slingshots.

When evening comes, Sanji's standing on the edge of the reef, watching the fish shimmer through the water, scales winking up at him. One swims close, close enough to send ripples up through the surface of the water, and Sanji wonders if maybe he could catch one. Maybe if he made a basket of leaves, or wove a net out of vines and grass.

By the end of the second week, they've eaten all of the tubers; Sanji sits in the dirt and breathes until he's lightheaded and dizzy. He doesn't know what they're going to do, because Usopp's still unsteady on his feet, still dazed and confused-- looks at Sanji sometimes like he can't remember who Sanji is, or what they're doing here on this island. They're hungry, they're both so fucking hungry, and Sanji doesn't fucking know what to do.

When he can stand up without blacking out, he crashes through the trees and undergrowth, kicking at everything he can see. By the time he gets to the shelter, he's shaking with exhaustion, and he's wondering how long it will take for them to starve. (If, maybe, he can feed himself to Usopp-- pay back some absurd debt in some absurd way.)

"Come on," he says, and Usopp staggers out of the shelter, looks at Sanji like he's a stranger. "We're going fishing."

They find a half-dozen sharp sticks, all about the length of their bodies. They go and stand on the reef, looking down at the fish that swim around them, and when the fish come close enough, Sanji snaps, "fuck," and stabs through the water with the stick.

He misses, of courses. Misses by an absurd degree. He jerks back the stick, and thrusts again. Overbalances, and nearly falls off the reef. It's only Usopp's hand that keeps him from splashing into the deeper ocean, and he staggers back a few steps, curses.

"How the hell?" he asks, and Usopp takes a few shots at the fish, and misses just as bad. Some sharpshooter. Sanji wants to say something mean, wants to say something nice-- wants to be able to eat something, wants to eat hot fish, with sweet juices that burn his mouth. He's so hungry.

They lose all the sticks within the hour, and they stagger back to the shelter, tired and hungry and no closer to finding real food. Usopp eats the berries and Sanji eats the mushrooms, and then they try some leaves, too, big, heavy, fiber-thick leaves that burn in their mouths and make their eyes water.

Sanji drinks water until he feels sick, and then he crawls into the shade, and closes his eyes.

Two days later, Usopp finds mussels on a southern reef. Sanji is walking along the beach, kicking the sand away to look for anything they can use, when Usopp whoops and holds up a dripping hand, yelling, "mussels, Sanji!"

They eat them raw, standing knee-deep in the water. The mussels are slimy and chewy, and they slink down Sanji's throat like a good, sweet drink, pooling in his stomach. They eat more and more, tearing off their fingernails as they dig the mussels' shells off the reef. They eat mussels until they're sick, and full, and their stomachs are distended.

Sanji collects the empty shells after that, tosses them up onto the beach, then staggers up onto the sand, throws himself onto it to sleep off the momentary gluttony. Usopp collapses next to him, close enough that Sanji can touch him, and so Sanji reaches out, tugs at a piece of Usopp's hair.

Usopp looks over at him, eyes bright and mouth smeared, and Sanji can't really say anything to that kind of face, so he looks up at the sky and mutters, "good job."

When he wakes up, he still feels sleepy and sated, heavy with his full stomach, and he's in a good mood. He prods Usopp with his foot, then leaves the kid to sleep, wandering over to the mussel shells. He grabs a few, and a rock, and starts to break them, trying to make something sharp.

The shells splinter magnificently, into shards that dig into his fingers, slivers that slide into his skin and hook inside. It's painful, bloody work, but by the time Usopp wakes up, Sanji has a few makeshift spearheads.

"We're going fishing," Sanji says as he grips a stick in between his feet, tightly twisting a vine around the mussel shell and top of the stick with his hands, "and if you lose the sticks this time, I'll fucking kill you."

He says it pleasantly enough, and Usopp must be feeling the same happiness a full stomach brings, because Usopp just grins at him, follows him to the western reef.

They don't get any fish, but they don't lose any of the spears, and Sanji thinks their aim might be getting better. Good news all around, and so he goes with Usopp to peel off a few more mussels, slurp them down with smacking lips. When they're trundling back to the shelter, quiet bellies and stupid spears, he reaches out, punches Usopp's shoulder just hard enough.

Their clothes are crusted with sea-salt and sand, and no matter how hard Sanji beats the sand from his clothes, the grains cling to the fabric’s weave, like shards of glass in a cat-o-nine. With Usopp's help, he weaves together more and more leaves, layers them until they're stiff enough to sit upright in a lopsided gourd shape. They dip the leaf-gourd into the fresh water spring, then lug it out, set it on the ground where it leaks slowly into the dirt.

Sanji washes their clothes, his first, then Usopp's. Usopp brings water, more and more, and salt and sand and blood collect in the leaves, run down the veins. When the water is too cloudy and gritty, Sanji tips the leaves to the side, lets the water spill out into the mud. They pull more water, straining and grunting, their arms burning, and Sanji says, "give me your pants, then."

Afterwards, they throw their clothes over the low branches of the trees closest to the beach, where the sun will hit them and bleach them dry. Usopp leaves his shoes there, too, stupid kid, and goes to wade through the water. Sanji watches him for a while, then walks down the beach, naked and in his dress shoes, the thin, delicate laces slapping up against his ankles.

The sand slips in the heels of his shoes, grinds against the knobs of his toes. Every few hundred yards, he has to yank off his shoes, pour out the sand, and the third time, he breaks one of his shoe laces. He sits down in the dirt, naked and hot, and tries to tie the shoelace back together, a bulky knot that gets stuck in the lacing hole.

When this is all over, when he's back on the ship with his crew, and heading back to some kind of civilization-- The first thing he'll buy, he thinks, will be shoelaces. And then, maybe a new pair of socks.

This is madness. The days are long, and quiet, and there is nothing to think about except what he wants. New shoes, new socks. Food and drink. A bed-- or a hammock, rocking a lullaby with the sea. To see some other face, to talk to someone other than Usopp.
To know that there is something beyond the horizon, and that this island isn't all that's left of his life.

Every day, they slurp down mussels until they are sick. They try to kill fish, and lose a stick or two. Sanji tries to show Usopp which berries and mushrooms won't kill them, and Usopp climbs the trees, higher and higher, like he's looking for something beyond the horizon (the horizon, the horizon, always the horizon-- he looks at it more, now. Looks up from the ocean, and stares at the edge, where the world seems to go on and on and on and on and he's going mad, he knows, thinking of socks and shoes and the aching hunger for something more than food, a hunger that curls in his belly like the hunger for meat).

So he washes their clothes, and he builds a better hut. When Usopp pisses him off, he chases him around the island, cursing and kicking and spitting fury like a wildcat. He weaves baskets out of vines and leaves and bark, and starts to break the mussel shells into shellbeads. Anything, everything, to keep from looking, staring, at the horizon, and wondering how long before they run out of food again.

On, and on, and he gives up marking the days on their tree, because he forgets once or twice, or maybe he remembers too many times, and by then, he doesn't want to think about the days, because he can't do this again. Once in a lifetime was enough, and he is feeling too old (only twenty, barely twenty, how stupid is that) to go through this again.
On a hot day, like all of the hot days, Usopp kills a fish, and kisses Sanji on the beach.

His nose smashes up against Sanji's face, and his hands are wet and gritty where they circle Sanji's wrists. His lips are rough and dry, and when he licks at Sanji's mouth, Sanji closes his eyes and opens his mouth.

Sanji hasn't kissed many people-- he's spent his life on the ocean, on one ship, then another, surrounded by dozens of older men. Sometimes, they kissed him, and sometimes, he kissed them. Sometimes, he hid in the hallways and kissed the guests, beautiful girls who were aching to rebel against their parents and chaperones. But there were never very many, men or girls, and if Sanji is entirely honest, he doesn't think he's a very good kisser.
Usopp is worse.

A thousand times worse.

Usopp kisses with too much tongue, wet and sloppy and with spit collecting in the corner of Sanji's mouth. It's terrible, really, and the only thing that keeps him there, that keeps him from pulling back and putting his foot into Usopp's stomach, is the small, loose circles that Usopp's thumbs are brushing against Sanji's wrists.

There's sand on Usopp's thumbs-- it must be sand, because there's sand everywhere. It's gritty, and it makes Sanji shudder, and he opens his mouth more, shoves his tongue into Usopp’s mouth. Makes the kiss wetter, sloppier. Nastier.

When Usopp finally pulls back, gasping, his chin is wet with spit, and his eyes are wide and shot through with black. He looks like he's drunk, and he's still rubbing circles onto Sanji's wrists. Sanji lifts his hands, and very carefully shakes Usopp's hands from his wrists, gently as he can.
"You," he says, just as gentle, because he knows what it's like to be alone with no one else, and to wonder what the fuck he can do, just to keep someone with him, so he doesn't go mad with loneliness, "really need to learn how to kiss better."

That night, Usopp lies too close to Sanji, close enough that Sanji can feel the humid sweat from Usopp's body. Every now and then, Usopp shifts, his head tilted at an impossible angle, and sometimes, his fingers touch Sanji's skin. It's too close, too familiar, and Sanji's about to yell at him when Usopp says, "there's a girl. On my island."

Of course. A girl. Sanji rolls his eyes in the dark, and turns over so his back is to Usopp. A finger touches Sanji's back, in that line that runs from neck to buttocks.

"She's really pretty. Really, really pretty. Like. Like my mom was. I mean, when she was younger. When she was younger, she was gorgeous."

Sanji knows when Usopp lies, because when he does, his voice evens out. He doesn't stutter, he doesn't hesitate. He just talks, fluid and sing-song, like it's the truth. Like it'll become the truth.

"My mom, she was really beautiful. Everyone thought she was the most beautiful woman-- There were pictures of her all over the house. That's why my dad married her, because she was beautiful. She was from another island--"

Lies, lies, so many fucking stupid lies, and Sanji wants to hear more, wants to hear about some pretty girl and some brave boy, the same old story that's told in every village. A marriage, a couple kids. A house, and an old couple that fades away, a little older and more tired and more in love every year.
"He loved her a lot--" and that's where Usopp stutters, voice cracking. Usopp clears his throat, and says, very quietly, "Kaya was really pretty. And nice. Really, really nice."

"You liked her because she looked like your mom?" Sanji asks. He wants to say, that's pretty sick, but more than that, he wants to say, how lucky and to ask, what is it like, to have a mother?

"N-no, not really-- just. They were both pretty." Usopp sighs heavily, and his breath lands on the back of Sanji's neck. "I liked her because she listened to me."

Sanji rolls his eyes, scoffs, and feels bitter, bitter jealousy. "Who couldn't listen to you," he says meanly, "you talk too fucking much. Shit."

The next time Usopp breathes, his breath doesn't hit Sanji's neck. He's moved away, shifting noisily away in the tiny shelter. Sanji raises his shoulders around his neck, grits his teeth, and clenches his eyes until he can't cry in anger.

"You probably look like her," he finally says, when he's sure he's not going to blurt something stupid out, something like, I love Zeff, he's the only one who cared, or I want a mom. More than anything, I want-- or no one listens to me, not really. Because all those things are stupid, are the things that little kids say, and Sanji's not a little kid anymore. Can't be a kid anymore. "If she was pretty, I mean."

Usopp doesn't say anything; Sanji's not really surprised, because Sanji knows he's a fucking bastard, that he's a prick that kicks the kids when they're down. He rolls over onto his stomach, then turns his head so he's looking towards Usopp. There's just enough light from the moon and stars that he can see the glint of Usopp's eyes (and his tears, such a stupid crybaby), and Sanji looks at him, and Usopp looks back at him, and it is a very long night.

When Sanji has three handfuls of shellbeads, he starts stringing them onto thin vines. He's pretty clumsy at it, drops two or three pieces for every one he gets onto a vine. It takes up his time, and his attention, and he holds the slices of shells on the tips of his bulky fingers, holds the tip of a vine between his thumb and forefinger of his other hand. He squints against the sunlight, and tries to thread the vine through the shellbeads, and each one that goes onto the vine slides down to chime with the others.

As the days go by, the chimes get brighter, and louder, and sound like the tinkling of the crystal chandeliers of the Baratie.

When there are clouds in the blue sky, casting pale shadows on the sand, Sanji teaches Usopp how to kiss, how to waltz, how to do all manners of things.

"This way," Sanji says when he fixes Usopp's hand, turning it so it's resting lightly against Sanji's  waist, "you can impress your island girl."

Sometimes, Usopp sits beside him while he threads beads, and sometimes, Sanji stands on the reef, looking out at the ocean, while Usopp spears the blue and purple and silver fish.

They talk, and then they don't, and they do again. Usopp makes up lots of stories about the island, about monsters and pirates and the villagers who are worse than monster and pirates. At night, when Usopp's scared himself silly, Sanji lies on his back and whistles, every song he can remember Zeff teaching him (and all those men before him, on all those ships he's lived on, one after another-- pirate lullabies.).

The cuffs of Sanji's shirt are started to fray, and Sanji rolls his shirt sleeves up higher, and threads his beads, and slurps his mussels, and watches each day pass them by, clouds racing high across the sky, on and on and on and on, blue above them and below them and all around them.

"Are her eyes blue?" Sanji asks. He's stabbed himself underneath the nail with a shellbead and he sucks up the blood noisily. "Your island girl?"

"Yeah," Usopp says.

"And her hair's like gold?"

Usopp stands up, grabs one the spears, and heads for the western reef. Sanji watches him go, then threads another three shellbeads onto the vine. It's nearly full.

"This," he says when Usopp comes back, "I'm going to give to Nami."

Usopp doesn't look at him, doesn't even make a noise-- just keeps walking past. Sanji scowls, then sweeps out a leg, catching Usopp's feet. Usopp crashes to the ground, three speared and gutted fish crashing down with him. Usopp kicks out as he falls, trying to kick Sanji, and Sanji throws himself onto Usopp, grabs Usopp's chin and punches him in the fucking mouth.

Usopp twists under him like an eel, trying to crawl out from under him, and Sanji slams a knee into Usopp's side, grabs Usopp's shoulder and grinds it down against the ground. Usopp's breath goes out in a wheeze, and Sanji moves his knees, sitting up so he's straddling Usopp's chest.

"What," he snaps, "the fuck is the problem?!"

There is blood on Usopp's face, from his mouth and his nose, and he looks mad, looks like he's about to cry again. Stupid crybaby-- Sanji wants to punch him again, wants to wipe the blood from his silly face.

"It's not me," Usopp says, "it's not-- I'm not, I'm not the one-- It's not."

When Sanji leans back on his heels, Usopp starts struggling again, squirming out from under him. Sanji lets him, lets go of Usopp's shoulder so Usopp can get up and limp away.

Usopp comes back before the sun is halfway down. Sanji's still sitting there, looking at the gutted fish lying in the dirt. His legs are numb, but he can't really be bothered to move. He feels tired, feels heavy and dragged down, and he doesn't want to sit here anymore-- doesn't want to move, either.

He misses the rock of the sea.

"Sanji-kun?" Usopp asks, and Sanji braces himself, thinning his lips and blinking his eyes and wondering if his shirt is buttoned right, if his pants are wrinkled-- if he looks half as wild as he feels. "Sanji-kun?"

Usopp hunkers down in front of him, three feet space between them. Sanji looks at him, shakes his hair back from his face. "What do you want?"

Usopp inches closer, and his mouth is spreading wider. Sanji can't look away from it, and it makes him feel sick-- he thinks he might throw up, and he wants to go to bed. God, he is so tired.

"Sanji-kun?" Usopp asks again, and when Sanji snaps, "fuck, what do you want?" Usopp kisses him.

He pushes Sanji down, and Sanji lets him. Lets him pin Sanji's wrists to the ground, then Sanji's shoulders. When Usopp straddles Sanji's waist, Sanji turns his head to the side and looks away, and when Usopp says, "look at me," Sanji closes his eyes.

Usopp looms over him, pants over him, and when Sanji opens his eyes, he watches a line of ants march past his hand, each one the size of a scar on his thumb. He watches them march, and feels his blood race, and when Usopp comes over him, and he comes, too, he closes his eyes and groans.

"You're a liar," Usopp accuses, when he's buttoning Sanji's pants with shaking hands. The insanity of it all makes Sanji start to laugh, but he can't keep laughing-- doesn't have the energy. He gives it up for breathing, shallow breaths that aren't enough. The ants are still marching by, one by one, and he watches them, and wonders why they're blurring in front of his eyes.

"I'm not," he says, and then he turns his head against the ground, presses his sweating forehead against the dirt. "I don't know anything."

They eat fish and berries, sleep in the sand. Stand on the reefs and watch the waves go out, and come in, and go out again.

Sometimes, Usopp touches him with his smart, quick fingers, and Sanji fists his hands by his sides, tucks his chin against his chest.

"You're a liar," Usopp says, pot calling kettle, and Sanji huffs a laugh each time, feels his laughter turn to a bone-shattering groan.

"I'm not," he tries to defend himself, but he is, and this is all--

The sky is blue, and spreads forever, and he can't stand to look at Usopp anymore. He ties his shoes' laces together, and hangs them over his neck, and walks into the ocean. Deeper, and deeper, until the water is up to his thighs. He looks down at his feet, watches the ocean pull at the sand beneath his toes.

There are fish here, the smallest of fish, half the length of his pinkie. He watches them flash by, green in blue, and when they nibble at his skin, it feels like the softest of a girl's touches.

He walks deeper, water up to his chest, and then, shoes hanging around his neck like a millstone, he lets himself drop, sinks down until his hands are sinking into the sand of the ocean floor, seaweed wrapping around his calves and his forearms.

The saltwater burns his eyes, and the sun above him is shattering through the birth of the waves. He thinks of--

of women walking out of the waves, of horses crashing up against the beaches, of the way ships fall apart until they're white-bleached ribs, suspended above the ocean.

of reefs and coral and fish and octopi, the whales that swarm through East Blue.

of North Blue, and all his ships, and the men and women who loved him, and who he wanted, so very badly, to love back.

of being hungry, and tired, and lost, and of what it'd be like to have a mother.

When his lungs are burning, he pushes himself to the surface, gasps in a breath of oxygen, and looks up at the sun until he's blinded.

He trudges through the water, back up to the shore, and the last few yards, the waves push him, on and on and on, hands on his thighs and belly and back, turning him and twisting him and pushing him onwards, backwards, onwards again. He staggers up the beach, until dry sand is clinging to his calves, and then he throws himself down, presses his face into the hot sand, and sleeps.

When he wakes up, his clothes are dry and stiff with salt, and his shoes are ruined. He looks at them, then grabs them by the knotted shoelaces, swings them over his head until they're whistling. He lets go, and watches them fly, on and on and on, and when they crash into the ocean, he can't hear it over the thundering surf.

When he goes back to the shelter, he sleeps next to Usopp, and when Usopp touches him in the morning, smart, quick fingers, Sanji threads his fingers, blunt and thick, through Usopp's stupidly pretty hair.

Weeks later, a ship races the afternoon sun across the horizon. Usopp and Sanji stand on the western reef and watch the ship move across the horizon, angling in towards their island. As the sun sets, the silhouette grows little by little, then disappears with the dark.

They sleep on the beach that night, on a bed of leaves. It's colder on the beach, and they sleep closer together, arms and legs tangled together. Sanji wakes with a mouthful of Usopp's hair, and when he tries to pull himself free of Usopp so he can go take a piss, Usopp wakes up, follows him upwards with a tired sound.

Sanji stands in the ocean, pisses into the water, then looks out to the horizon, watches the ship.

It's closer today, and he thinks he can see her sails. He stands there for a long time, until Usopp comes and stands next to him, and says, "is it?"

"I don't know," he lies, and Usopp says, "liar."

By the afternoon, they can see the Going Merry's Jolly Roger, and they sit side by side on the beach, waiting and watching.

Sanji watches the ship for a long time, then looks up. Watches the clouds race across the height of the sky, watches the sun fall from its zenith. The world suddenly feels much small, and he feels claustrophobic. He thinks that maybe, just maybe, he doesn't want them to come.

He stands up, brushes the sand from his pants, and holds out his hand for Usopp to take.

"They'll angle past the island," he says, "so we'll need to flag them down."

There's nothing here for them to use-- no flint or matches, nor shredded sails. They make do with the largest leaves they can find, huge sheets of ivy-green. They each wave one, a hundred yards apart from each other on the beach. When their arms are tired, they share a leaf, Sanji standing behind Usopp to grasp the edges of the leaf just above Usopp's hands.

They wave, and wave, and wave, and waves thunder onto the shore.

When they can't hold up the leaf anymore, they let it fall, dropping it into the surf, and it floats out to the sea, dragged away with the seafoam and the seaweed, the dead things left behind by the water.

"Think they saw us?" Usopp asks, and Sanji shrugs, sits down on the beach and rests his head on his knees.

The ship turns inwards, racing towards them, and Sanji falls asleep watching the Going Merry race the waves.

It's the next morning that Luffy and Zoro come ashore on a rowboat. The Merry is anchored a quarter mile out, and Sanji squints, tells himself he can see the orange trees and Nami. He stays on the beach, sitting on the sand, and when Zoro and Luffy run up to them, he smiles up at them.

"Took you a fucking long time," he says, and he shakes Usopp awake. Zoro holds out a hand, helps Sanji up, and Sanji lets his head fall forward for a minute, just a minute.

Zoro smells clean, like soap and wind and the wood of the ship. Sanji breathes it in, and closes his eyes, and says, very lowly, and very angrily, "I thought you would never get here."

Zoro shoves him off, mutters something about him being a drama queen, or something equally stupid. Sanji kicks the sand and follows after him, climbs into the rowboat and sinks down to the bottom of the boat, tired and hungry and feeling like he's justified in not rowing--

Usopp climbs in after him, and Luffy, and they sit facing each other, all of them; Sanji puts his back to the island, and looks toward the Merry, and Nami, and the orange trees (and the rocking lullaby of the ocean, swaying beneath him like a mother's arms and breast).

The string of shellbeads is heavy in his pocket, and when he slips his hand in to finger it, slivers of shell slide beneath his fingernails, cut the blunt width of his fingers. With each rock of the boat, they sound like tiny chandeliers, and he listens to them chime in his pocket, like a pirate music box.
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June 2016

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