The first thing Usopp noticed when he opened his eyes was he couldn't feel his nose. The second one was the fact that all he could see was white snow, and it was way closer than he liked it.
He pushed himself up on his hands and knees, his nose leaving a deep hole in the virgin snow where it had stuck, and looked around him warily scanning their surroundings with the keen and alert eyes only the Brave Captain Usopp had, not missing anything. There was nothing to miss anyway; only unsullied snow surrounded him wherever he looked.
Great, just great! If only, for once, any of his nakama had paid attention to him and his misgivings he wouldn't be in that situation now.
He had been feeling it the entire time they were in that Island; something bad was going to happen.
Usopp had, as every single time they arrived at a new port, come with a sudden and very serious case of I-Want-To-Avoid-A-Certain-Deathitis the moment they set foot on the snow covered Willuny Island. Never mind that in the three days it took for the Log Pose to set the Straw Hats managed to overturn a rebellion, find the Island's long lost Crown Prince (the amnesiac leader of the rebellion), and save the Princess' fiancé and Captain of the Royal Guard from his execution at the hands of his soon-to-be brother in law.
And without a single scratch on them.
Zoro hadn't even lost a drop of blood.
Usopp was convinced; they were all going to die.
If there was something he had learned in his time with the Straw Hats was that misfortune seemed to follow them--hound them with the determination of a hungry Luffy chasing after meat would be more likely. There was no way they'd be allowed to leave the Island like that.
But did his nakama listen to him? No, they never did.
They climbed down the mountain where the Royal Palace was, happily oblivious to the Black Bird of Death following them: Nami was looking lovingly at the diamond ring the Princess gave her as a present, Robin and Franky were immersed in a conversation about a rare and old book about ancient ships the King had given her, Chopper and Brook were listening excitedly to Luffy's tale of his adventure in Impel Down and somewhere at the rear Sanji and Zoro were fighting about--well, who cared why they were fighting, they fought all the time. Obviously the lack of near death experiences in that Island had left them with a lot of energy to spare and they were spending it beating the shit out of each other.
Everything was so normal and harmless all of Great Captain Usopp's Danger Senses were tingling.
Usopp heard Chopper's laugh and Brook's encouragement to Luffy, who was going to demonstrate how he punched the Sphinx to gain access to the next floor, and before he could utter a single word of warning he knew what was going to happen. The punch dislodged a rock, a huge one, which went flying and crashed against the side of the mountain they were climbing down. Usopp had a sudden vision of Drum Island's avalanche before the ground shuddered and Luffy's Oops! was drowned in the sound of a ton of snow falling on top of their heads.
Usopp's last though before the snow covered them, scattering the members of the Straw Hat Crew, was that they didn't need a Black Bird of Death following them; with their Captain on board they were going to meet a messy end anyway.
And now he was alone. He was cold. And he had no idea where he was.
It was almost like being Zoro but without the swords and with more clothes on.
It was almost night when he found Sanji.
Usopp had been walking for quite some time, scanning his surroundings to see if he could find any of his nakama and moving in the direction he believed the Sunny was when he found him.
Only the keen senses of a trained scout would have been able to see the tip of a ski protruding from the white snow, luckily for Sanji the Incredible Captain Usopp had keener senses even than the best scouts from Scout Island and had no problem making the shape of the ski amid the white ground in the dim light of sunset.
That and tripping on the blasted thing and falling on top of Sanji.
Usopp took a few seconds to react and then scrambled to get the cook out of the snow. It had been a few hours since the avalanche and if Sanji was still buried there something bad must have happened to him.
Sanji was pale and his skin was frozen, his limbs rigid and a small red stain surrounded the place where his head had been like a halo. Only a fine white mist coming from his mouth reassured Usopp he was still breathing.
"Sanji," he said shaking him a bit. "Hey, Sanji wake up!"
Sanji didn't stir.
Frowning, Usopp shook him a bit harder. "Sanji! SANJI!"
Still nothing. Damn! Where was Chopper when you needed him?
"Is that Nami doing top-less?" Usopp desperately tried.
No response at all. Usopp's frown deepened. What could he do? The Amazing Captain Usopp would grab Sanji's limp body and carry it back to the Sunny to get treatment, or at least to thaw him while he looked for Chopper. Unfortunately, without his adoring public, the only one there was plain Usopp.
And he could barely stand himself, let alone carry anyone back to the Sunny. He needed help, but he was loath to leave Sanji behind. Usopp might not be a doctor but he knew enough to realize Sanji might actually die if he was left there.
The first thing he needed was to move Sanji from that place, the sun had completely set and there was no way they could continue in the darkness. Usopp could remember passing close to a ridge a while back, not too long ago. The ridge would give them protection from the wind and there he could check Sanji for injuries.
He grabbed the unconscious cook and half-carried half-dragged him the way he had come.
Usopp was exhausted when they reached the ridge, and more than a bit concerned. Sanji had not regained consciousness, not even twitched a little the whole time it had taken them to reach their destination. Not even when Usopp had dropped him face first into the snow, too drained of strength to cross the few meters left before he rested for a minute.
It was a very bad signal.
He dropped his backpack and relieved Sanji of his, putting them on the ground and then gently positioning Sanji's body so he was sitting, his back against the rock. Usopp checked Sanji's pulse: it was there, but too slow and his skin was frozen.
A really bad signal.
He checked his legs next, one was swollen and it looked like the ankle was sprained, the other one looked bent in a strange angle. Usopp didn't have the courage to lift the trouser leg and see the real extent of the damage, but he was sure it was serious. Sanji wouldn't be kicking anything or even walking for some time.
He needed to do something.
"Sanji!" he tried again, sure there wasn't going to be a response. There wasn't.
He looked around, desperate to find something which might help them. He needed a fire and shelter. A fire was out of the question, even if he had some wood around, which he didn't, it would never burn in the snow.
There was a darker patch of something a bit to his right, he could barely see anything in the darkness but the whiteness of snow, but it was worth investigating. Reluctantly, he moved toward it, his hands never leaving the wall of the ridge and found a place devoid of snow, a small outcrop of rock serving as a half-roof.
Using the last of his strength, Usopp dragged Sanji and their things there.
"Sanji, wake up! Wake up! Nami and Robin are making out on the deck! Sanji!"
It was useless. Usopp rummaged in their backpacks trying to find something. There was nothing on Sanji's, just some bentos which were already frozen solid and a box of cigarettes. In his own backpack Usopp only carried ammunition and a few trinkets he had gotten in the castle. And that lovely quilt the Princess had insisted he took for Kaya when he--the quilt!
Usopp took it out and wrapped it around Sanji, hoping the extra warmth helped him wake up. Sanji's stillness was worrying him and he remembered hearing somewhere a person could die if the fell asleep on the snow.
What else had he heard about that? Usopp tried to remember, sitting next so Sanji and staring out, trying not to shake too much.
What was it? He felt his eyes closing, head tilting back and hitting against the rock. Ouch! He had stopped feeling so cold and was falling asleep. Bad thing, very bad thing. Usopp eyed the quilt.
Maybe they could share it.
That was it! That was what he heard, sharing body heat to prevent freezing to death. But it was Sanji, who would probably kill him if Usopp got too close to him.
"Sanji! If you don't wake up, I'll have to--" he couldn't even say it out loud.
There was nothing to it, he had to do it or they were both death.
Forgive me, Kaya, he said in his head, the mere though of being so close to someone else making him feel he was betraying his beloved. I'm sorry, Sanji.
Usopp unwrapped the quilt and removed Sanji's coat and jacket, his hands shaking when he was unbuttoning the shirt. He did the same with his clothes, wincing as the cold air hit is bare skin, and moved to sit behind Sanji, pulling him against his chest and creating a cocoon with their discarded clothes and the quilt.
It was very uncomfortable, not only physically. The mere idea of what Sanji would do to him the moment he regained consciousness and saw them like that was enough to make Usopp break into a cold sweat. But it was working, he could already feel Sanji's skin warming a bit.
He would face the consequences like the Brave Warrior he was.
"Nami-swan, what soft skin you have!" Sanji's drowsy voice startled Usopp awake, and a hand gently touching his arm almost made him jump out of his skin.
Damn, he had fallen asleep again.
"Nami-swaaaan!" Sanji head lolled back, resting against Usopp's shoulder and the cook's eyes opened a little. "My lovely--What the fuck?"
Sanji's reaction upon seeing who was by his side was exactly how Usopp pictured it, so he was ready for it. He grabbed Sanji's arms before he could bolt and held him with as much force as he possessed.
"What the fuck are you doing, Usopp?" Sanji asked, trying to stand. Usopp could see the moment he put pressure on his injured leg, Sanji's face draining of the little color it had, pain radiating off him in waves.
"Sanji, you were injured in the avalanche and close to freezing to death--" Usopp began explaining.
"Why am I half naked, Longnose?" Sanji almost shrieked in his ear. "Why are you half naked?"
"Sanji, we were freezing--"
Sanji wasn't listening, he was struggling and Usopp knew he was no match for Sanji's strength.
"Sanji stop, I had to--"
"Why is not Nami-swan or Robin-chwan? Why am I here with you?" Sanji's wail of despair was the most unmanly thing Usopp had heard in a long time, but at least he had stopped trying to move. "Where are the rest of the guys?"
"I don't know, we'll find them tomorrow I hope. Or they will find us. Please stand still or we'll both die."
Sanji stayed silent after that but Usopp could tell he had not fallen asleep again. The night was pitch black around them, the darkest hour which meant they had been sleeping for some time. Usopp still felt very tired, and very cold but at least he didn't feel like he was going to die any minute.
"Sanji," he began, "do you think--"
"Shut up, Usopp. I'm trying to ignore this is happening."
Usopp did, there were things he'd prefer not to know as well.
"You can't walk Sanji!" Usopp insisted to the umpteenth time, ready to tear his hair out in frustration. Sanji was really stubborn.
"'Course I can," Sanji said, the chattering of his teeth making it almost impossible to understand his words. "I can walk perfectly fine, Longnose. I'll kick your ass to prove it if I need to."
Usopp looked at Sanji's pale face, his shaking hands holding a cigarette to his mouth and his thin, shivering frame and raised an eyebrow. "Sanji, you have a sprained ankle--"
"So? That doesn’t even hurt," Sanji interrupted him, trying to stand up and crumbling again to the ground. Sanji glared from his position as if everything was Usopp's fault.
"You have a sprained ankle and the other leg is in worse condition. You were also close to dying last night from hypothermia." Usopp finished. "Luckily for you, the Uncanny Captain Usopp was here and will carry you to the Sunny. I haven't told you before, but there was a time when I was left alone for five days and nights in a frozen mountain. It was part of my training to become--"
"Shut it, Usopp!" Sanji snapped and Usopp closed his mouth. "You can't carry me to the Sunny."
"I can!" Usopp retorted indignantly. Well, at least he could try, and if wasn't as if Sanji would be able to move by himself any time soon unless he intended to crawl back to the ship. And Usopp might be weak--weaker than the monsters he called nakama at any rate--and a bit of a coward, but he wasn't going to leave Sanji behind.
And they couldn't stay there much longer or both of them would become icicles.
"No, you can't," Sanji took a last drag of his cigarette before putting it out on the snow, his expression deathly serious. "I won't let the girls see me arriving like that."
Usopp stared at him, shocked. Sanji was an idiot! That was the problem? Not that Usopp didn't already know how much of an idiot the cook could be where the girls were concerned, but everything had a limit.
Sanji kept glaring at him in silence, daring him to insist on his plan.
If he didn't fear the consequences Usopp would happily slap some sense into the idiot.
Instead Usopp shrugged and turned around, fitting his skis back on his feet and getting ready to leave. "Fine Sanji, I'll go look for help then," he put his goggles on and turned to look at Sanji, a smirk on his face. "I'll bring everyone back and they'll have time on the way to hear everything about our adventure: how the Fantastic Captain Usopp rescued you from the snow, carried your unconscious body and prevented you dying by sharing body heat with you. I'm sure everyone will be impressed with my bravery and determination to keep you alive. Especially Nami and Robin."
Sanji's expression almost made him laugh, Usopp bit the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning widely; he was sure Sanji would kill him if he did.
"Help me back to the Sunny."
Getting Sanji ready to leave took some time; he couldn't put any weight on his legs and refused point blank to be given a piggy back ride. In the end they settled for an improvised stretcher made with Sanji's useless skis and the quilt. It was heavy, and dragging it was sheer agony for Usopp's exhausted body.
But he was going to reach the Sunny if it was the last thing he did.
"Usopp," Sanji said after a few minutes in silence.
"Yes," Usopp panted, loath to spend any energy on anything except moving ahead.
"Any word about what happened on that ridge last night and I'll cook you and feed you to Luffy."
Usopp nodded, aware of the seriousness of the threat. Sanji would do it, too.
"Thank you," Sanji said, so low Usopp was sure he wasn't meant to hear it.
Pretending not to, Usopp concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, head down and eyes fixed firmly on the path.
He had to keep walking.
Usopp's head snapped up at Luffy's voice, his eyes staring unfocused at the blurry figures approaching them. In the distance he could see the town and further ahead the sea, he had been so focused on moving his feet he had not raised his head for a while.
They made it.
Usopp breathed a sigh of relief, lifted one foot and fell face first on the snow, his body giving up now he knew someone else would be there to do the rest.
With that reassuring thought Usopp let himself be taken by the darkness.
When Usopp woke up he was in the Sunny's infirmary and he was feeling quite warm.
Sanji was in the bed next to his, eyes open and a cigarette in his hands.
"Oi Usopp, you finally woke up," Sanji said, voice low and rough. He sounded like he had a bad cold.
"How long?" Usopp asked, feeling dizzy and strangely disconnected.
"Two days. You were in worse condition I was, Longnose," there was something like pride in Sanji's voice and it made Usopp feel even warmer.
"That was nothing for the Greatest Captain Usopp, the Bravest and--" he trailed off seeing Sanji's smirk and arched brow.
Damn! Even when he saved his nakama's life they still laughed at him, he thought annoyed.
"Usopp, you had severe hypothermia and almost lost the tip of your nose to frostbite, not to mention your finger and toes. You'll have to thank Chopper later," Sanji said seriously. "You overexerted yourself; if they had not found us when they did we would have been in a very tight spot."
Sanji took a drag of his cigarette and put it out on a small ashtray he had in his other hand.
"I don't know about the Greatest Captain Usopp or Sogeking or whoever you want to invent next," Sanji continued slowly, watching him. Usopp opened his mouth to protest. He didn't invent anyone they were all part of him. "But if you, Longnose, had not been there I'd be dead now. Thank you."
He closed his mouth with a snap, almost biting off his tongue and blushed beet red. "Thank you, Sanji."
Sanji's smirk was back, "No need, Usopp."
They fell into a comfortable silence, the noise of their nakama causing mayhem outside filling the small cabin.
"And remember, a word about what happened--"
"Yes, you'll chop me to pieces and serve me to Luffy."
Usopp closed his eyes again, letting the laughter drifting from outside lull him back to sleep; he was still exhausted after such daring rescue. It was such a pity, he thought before falling asleep, his first real heroic act would never get to be told fully.
But he was sure he could improve it without incurring Sanji's wrath.
There was a good story in there, he was sure of it.