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The Art of Gift-Giving

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Usopp sighed mournfully as he surveyed the early morning ocean. Dawn was just creeping up over the horizon and he let his eyes wander, gazing into the waves as they rose and fell, swaying the ship gently side-to-side. The first rays of sunlight turned the water’s surface a pale blue tinged with gold and rose. Such beauty was one of the reasons he opted for an early watch rotation.

His chin in his hand, Usopp rested his weight heavily on the railing. He was at an impasse, and it tore at him. The long and short of it: Nami’s birthday was coming up, and he had no idea what to get her.

After all, what does one get someone who has everything?

He’d debated about clothing. Should he get her a new top? Or a stylish, cute new outfit? After a short talk with Sanji, resident ladies’ man, he’d decided against it.

Sanji choked, smoke pouring out of his mouth in short, sharp coughs. “Not on the inhale, Usopp. Geez, give a guy some warning, would ya?” Tears blossomed at the edge of his eyes, but Usopp decided not to read too much into them.

Sanji’d been utterly unhelpful, offering ideas about small trinkets and the like before trailing off and waxing poetic about Nami’s many, wondrous attributes. With a heavy sigh and slumped shoulders, Usopp had left him to his own devices, sneaking away between cries of, “Mellorine! Mellorine!”

To his surprise, Franky had been the most helpful. Instead of any immature, callow suggestions or lewd innuendoes, the cyborg had shown astonishing insight.

“Give her something from the heart, bro.” He’d said, in between sketches of designs for a new addition to Sunny. “Yes, she loves money and clothes, but she’ll enjoy something you’ve invented or designed yourself even more. Go for something you’re good at: compose her a poem, write a story about her, create a new invention specifically for her.” Franky looked up, giving Usopp a blinding smile. “I know she’ll love anything you get her; go for it.”

Feeling slightly more assured, Usopp had racked his brain for most of the night before his watch. It was all well and good to suggest he build her something; it was another matter entirely to actually do it. What could he invent?

Ideas were examined, and almost as quickly discarded. The sun was now well above the horizon, the pastel colors fading into the bolder colors of true morning. Looking around the crow’s nest for any sort of inspiration, Usopp’s eyes fell upon his sketchbook and drawing tools. He moved to them quickly as an idea took hold.

Balancing his book on his thighs, he flipped to an empty page and began to sketch. He started at the top, his fingers flying smoothly across the parchment. The charcoal left bold, broad strokes as the image began to take form.

He worked in near-silence, adding details where they were needed and smudging parts for a better blend. The sun rose ever higher, and he could soon hear the sounds of Sanji preparing breakfast in the galley. Those everyday noises comforted him, and created a nice harmony to his morning.

Zoro ascended the crow’s nest, nodding a ‘good morning’ to Usopp. He grunted back, too absorbed in his work to give the swordsman his full attention. Zoro merely shrugged and began his weightlifting routine as his watch commenced.

Usopp reached for his bag, rummaging around and pulling out his paint supplies. He unlatched a case of brushes, all aligned neatly inside in their own protective sleeves. Picking out an appropriate brush, he set about arranging his paints. Dipping the brush in a color, he brought it to the page.

As time passed, his work progressed. Usopp’s fingers were nearly black at the tips, with smudges and dots of orange, red, blue, and brown. He had a few smears of charcoal on his face from rubbing it absently in thought, and his tongue more often than not poked out of the corner of his mouth in concentration.

He didn’t notice the time passing. Luffy had launched himself up to his lookout when he failed to appear for breakfast, and Usopp promised him he’d be down shortly. The rubber-boy left. Sanji showed up once breakfast was over, plate balanced expertly in the crook of his arm. Usopp nodded his thanks, and the cook left. He returned to his work.

Later, Robin offered to carry his now-empty plate back to the galley, and Usopp thanked her absently. Chopper arrived for his watch shortly thereafter, along with several new medical texts to peruse. The sound of his note-taking reached Usopp’s ears through the quiet crow’s nest, a soothing counterpart to his own rustling and the smooth strokes of his brushes.

When Sanji struck the bell for lunch, he strode out onto the deck and hollered up to Usopp. “You coming down this time, long-nose?”

Usopp looked up in surprise to find himself alone once again, and set down his brush. He moved to the window and stuck his head out, calling back, “Hai! Be down in just a second!”

Turning back to his sketchbook, he picked up his paintbrush and added a couple more details. The brush slid evenly across the parchment, the quiet sound reverberating in the empty crow’s nest.

Finished, Usopp put his tools aside and looked over his work. A small, satisfied smile crossed his face.

“Usopp!” Sanji’s voice held a slight edge of impatience.

“On my way!” Usopp picked up his tools and his paints, gathering them all into his arms to bring them to be cleaned. He moved toward the trap-door before pausing, setting his things down and going back to his sketchbook. He collected it gently, walking to a small table near the window that was empty of clutter. Placing it carefully down, he cracked this window so that a breeze could blow gently in, making sure his painting would dry. Striding to the door once again, he scooped up his things and descended to join his nakama for lunch.

The early afternoon sunlight shone through the window, landing directly over the painting. If one were to look at the sketchbook, it would undoubtedly bring a smile to their face. It depicted a young woman, lounging on the deck of a ship. She was dressed in a pink T-shirt and denim-blue shorts, reclining partway in a lawn chair. Sunglasses were balancing atop her head, as though she’d pushed them up and then forgot they were there. Her orange hair fell almost to her shoulders, tucked gently behind her left ear. The sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue. The ocean was visible behind her, and the sun was partially blocked out by an umbrella.

The most vivid aspect of the picture, however, wasn’t the scenery or the girl. It was the sheer joy that was palpable even through the paper. The girl was smiling, wild and carefree, laughing at something that was out of frame. Her entire face was lit up and it seemed for all the world that she was the happiest she could be.

Below, the sounds of the Strawhats talking and laughing drifted up on the wind.