(A/N: Thank you all for the birthday wishes! They really made my day! You're all the best, and I love you to pieces, so this is for you.)
Luffy was bound to a table when they found him, an IV in his arm and an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. The sight made Chopper's stomach turn with something dark and ugly, and he was frozen in place in the doorway as Brook and Usopp sprinted across the room. He just stood there, as Brook made short work of the thick leather straps and Usopp carefully unlocked the sea stone manacles with a stolen set of keys.
I don't understand, he thought, and stared.
This was a doctor's examination room; Chopper saw it on the sign right before Usopp blew open the door. On the far wall was a counter, with cotton swabs and alcohol and a stainless steel sink. He could see familiar volumes on a shelf in the corner, books on medicine the reindeer had read a dozen times. He recognized the instruments on the wall, counted each plaque, eyed the long white coat hanging from a hook by the bed.
There's a bed here, Chopper thought, slowly. Why did they strap him to the table, when there's a bed right here.
"Chopper, let's go," Usopp yelled. Luffy was cradled with care in Brook's bony arms, and the young doctor ran to catch up as they sprinted down the narrow corridor.
The building was under seige; somewhere else in those halls, their nakama were destroying it all, tearing every level down brick by brick for daring- even daring- to take their captain prisoner. They had separated into twos and threes, because this was more than search and rescue this was revenge, and Chopper refused to go with Robin when they split into groups, refused.
"I'm his doctor!" he had all but shrieked, closer to hysterical than he'd ever been- because in four days time those people could really have hurt Luffy- and he was so tired, suddenly, of being treated like a kid. "I'm his doctor, and I'm going to find him right now!"
He could see they were surprised by his outburst, and a remote part of him was ashamed, but he could see they understood, too. And Zoro stepped away from Brook and Usopp, and nodded Chopper towards them instead.
"Bring him home," the swordsman said, green eye like sharp steel, and Chopper felt the full weight of responsibility settle uncomfortably on his small shoulders, heavy and dragging. Did it drag on Zoro's shoulders, too?
"Shit!" Usopp flung an arm out suddenly to stop Brook and pulled his kabuto on a pair of Marines that had skidded around the corner. They were quickly followed by more and more, and the Straw Hat's sniper yelled, "You two, get out of here! You know what to do!"
They had a contingency plan for each contingency plan. Nami had insisted on it.
So, after a moment's reluctance they just couldn't help, Brook and Chopper pivoted to race down the adjacent hall without a look back at the nakama they left behind.
They paused a few minutes later to get their bearings, and Chopper transformed to Walk Point so Brook could settle Luffy on his back and be free to use his sword.
"What were they doing to him in there?" the skeleton asked as they flew down a flight of stairs. (Chopper had assumed they would find Luffy in a dungeon prison, and certainly not an office on the third floor; but the Marines must have assumed that with the Supernova sedated, and the stronghold security doubled, it would have harmless to leave him in an examination room.)
"I won't know until I can look at him," Chopper replied, trying to focus on facts and not the warm, limp arms hanging around his shoulders. "There's no outside damage that I can see right away, but medication alone can be dangerous. Luffy's body is severely unaccustomed to drugs. Between his immune system and his rubber body shifting nutrients and vitamins to whatever needs it most, a half-dose of most medicines is all he needs."
But the Marines wouldn't know, he thought with a black anger that surprised him. They don't care.
They didn't even put him on the bed.
They were waylaid again on the first floor, by so many soldiers Chopper felt his legs go weak, and Brook didn't hesitant to all but shove him toward the service hall.
"Go out through the kitchens," the musician said urgently. "You remember where to rendezvous?"
And then he spun away and met the first few officers head on, and Chopper choked back a scared sob and ran.
It's me, not Zoro, 'cause I wanted this responsibility, he thought wildly, weaving his way through kitchen counters and kicking open the double doors when he found them. The brick alley he landed them in was where food got delivered to the kitchen, and where dirty linens got shipped off to be cleaned; Chopper remembered the map Robin had produced, remembered this route traced in green, and kept running. This is my responsibility and I'm not gonna mess it up. Luffy needs me, I'm his doctor.
Luffy started to slip, and Chopper stopped immediately to resituate; didn't stop long, because thundered feet and shouts had him scrambling for cover in some brush alongside a fence. From the outside looking in it was sheer chaos, and as he watched half the east wing crumbled and a fire spilled out of three windows on the second floor and started to climb.
Sirens were wailing, there seemed to be hundreds of officers in the yard, but with Luffy panting weakly behind him, Chopper searched along the fence for a small hole. He found one after about half a dozen crawled yards, and pushed Luffy- small and slim enough for it to be easy- through first. Then he transformed into Brain Point, weasled through himself, and hurried to his captain's side.
He's burning up, the reindeer despaired, and slipped off the vest he was wearing over his shirt to mop sweat off Luffy's face. He was shaking with adrenaline, kept thinking back to Usopp and then Brook as he left them both behind, worried about each of his nakama in that burning, breaking building.
We can't stay here.
Transforming to Heavy Point, he scooped Luffy into his arms and wanted to wail at how tiny and fragile his invincible captain felt in that moment. He was so hot, too hot, and Chopper's fur was thick and warm.
"Sorry, Luffy," he murmured gently, smoothing Luffy's hair away from his face the way he'd seen Robin and Nami and Sanji do, in that way that made Luffy smile. "We rendezvous on Park Street in one day. Don't worry about Sunny, she's safe. Don't worry about the others, they're okay, too. We'll all be together in a day, you'll see. You'll be fine and you'll see."
Though he missed the way Brain Point made everything so clear, Chopper refused to put Luffy down for a moment until he knew they were in a safe place. Nami had circled off a stretch of woods in the map, stated that because of the terrain and the river that runs straight past, the Marines probably wouldn't search as far as there, especially given that the harbor was straight in the opposite direction.
"They think we're stupid," she said without smiling, in about the fifty-seventh hour they'd been without their captain. "We can use that."
It took about an hour to reach that spot Chopper had memorized from the map, and he crashed through the river with Luffy held carefully above his head, and then laid him out in the soft grass near a large oak tree.
He grabbed his bag and upended it, all his precious pouches and jars scattering across the dirt and forest litter. He snatched up a cloth as soon as he found one and soaked it in the cool river water. Ringing it out, Chopper folded it across Luffy's forehead, and eased his jacket open.
Aside from the welts on his wrists, Luffy hadn't gone down easily.
"That's to be expected," Chopper murmured, through that anger that felt like anguish, that anger that wanted to eat him up inside. He smoothed heavy creams over the purple bruises and pressed bandages over the cuts that didn't need sutures, butterfly stitches across the ones that did. He didn't know what was in Luffy's system already, so he wouldn't risk giving him any antibiotics. "Of course they'd leave you like this in that doctor's office, you're just a criminal."
They tied you to a table, Luffy.
It got dark within a few hours, and Chopper knew it would get cold, too. So he picked Luffy off the ground carefully, like he was one of those pretty glass eggs Robin had showed him in a storefront window months ago, and held him in his lap.
"I wish Brook was here," Chopper murmured quietly. "He could sing us a song."
Luffy stirred much later, when the stars were high in the sky, and Chopper blinked out of his tired stupor as the rubber boy started struggling weakly to get away.
"Leggo," he muttered, and pushed against Chopper's chest in a way that broke the doctor's heart, "got' find my crew." His brown eyes were glassy and hardly open, and Chopper knew he wasn't all there. So he gathered Luffy back and held him close, rocking him a little the way he could remember Doctorine sometimes doing when she thought he was fast asleep.
"Shh," he said quietly, "rest for now. You're allowed to do that, too, you know."
"No'm not," came the petulant reply Chopper would have seen coming from a mile away, "'m the captain. Got- gotta- "
The reindeer nuzzled him, kept his face pressed there against Luffy's for a long moment, and answered thickly when he was sure he wouldn't cry, "Yes, you're my captain. So please rest, just for now."
There was some grumbling, some kitten-like attempts to get free, and then Luffy was out again. Chopper hefted him up closer, kept an ear out for any sounds apart from the ambiance of leaves and water, and rested his head back against the bark of the tree.
Tomorrow, he thought fiercely.
The next time Luffy woke up, he was shivering but not nearly as combatant; instead he cast a cursory glance around with half-lidded eyes, and leaned his head more comfortably on Chopper's shoulder, blinking heavily.
"S'nice, Ace," he muttered, effectively turning Chopper's heart into a lump of ice behind his breastbone. "S'cold but you're so warm."
"L- Luffy," Chopper whispered, stricken. Hallucinations were a common enough side effect of a high fever, but that didn't make it easy to hear. "Luffy, I'm not- " The doctor caught himself, and bit the inside of his cheek; with his captain burrowed against him, blinking slow and face still a burnt red with fever despite the wet compress, it almost didn't matter what he was seeing. As long as it was a comfort, and as long as he would lay still and rest, he could believe whatever he wanted and wouldn't rightly remember any of it when he was better. "Okay."
Luffy hummed, and Chopper felt him smile. "Missed you. Had a dream I was alone."
That black feeling curled in the pit of his stomach again. It was either hatred for those people that hurt this boy in his arms, or love for him, that had fat tears rolling down Chopper's cheeks; and he thought it was probably love since the words that tumbled out of his mouth were, "It was just a dream. You're never alone. We'll never let you be alone."
But Luffy didn't answer, asleep again, and Chopper was free to cry as quietly as he could into his hair.
Around dawn, Luffy's fever finally broke, and Chopper was almost beside himself with relief. "Just a few more hours and we'll go back to the city," he told his sleeping captain, cleaning his face off with the damp cloth and thinking they might come out of this on top, after all.
Then he heard the crunch of leaves, and spun, heart up in his throat. Across the river stood twenty or so Marines, all of them holding rifles at the ready and aiming at Chopper and- less forgiveably- at Luffy.
"You made a big mistake, storming the base the way you did," what Chopper thought was a corporal shouted from the opposite bank. "Did you think you'd get away?"
He didn't answer, only leaned to cover Luffy with one large arm flung wide. He was tired, so tired it felt like wading through thick syrup; but his captain had put up such a fight under the effects of sea stone that it left angry welts on his arms, and Chopper would fight now.
"You and your crew did plenty of damage," the man continued, sounding as weary and exasperated as Chopper felt. "It's over now."
"Bring him home," Zoro had said.
It can't be over yet.
He bit into a Rumble Ball as the corporal called his men to "Aim," and felt the transformation in his bones. A few of the soldiers gave shocked cries, no one ever expected the "Cotton Candy Lover" pet to have such an ace up its sleeve, and most of them hefted their guns up and fired early.
Some of them fired at Luffy. And it didn't matter that he was rubber and the bullets would only bounce off. At this point, it really didn't even matter that there was always a possibility of sea stone bullets that could possibly pose an actual threat to the hatted boy. What mattered was-
You're shooting a gun at a sick, helpless person, Chopper thought, detached and stunned in a certain floating part of his mind. He can't move or stand or call for help because of what you did and now you're shooting a gun at him.
He didn't allow it, of course, would never allow it, and plowed straight through the river, straight through the gunfire, with Luffy squarely behind him, safe behind him.
Chopper swept a giant arm at the men, knocking them away like they were bugs; and though a few of them hit the ground a little too hard or knocked their head against a tree, most of them were free to scatter around in a fairly accurate impersonation of bugs, too. There was no real fight between a couple dozen gunmen and Monster Point, and within the three minute window Chopper had to rampage freely, the soldiers were all alive and mostly unhurt, but very much unconscious.
Now, he thought, and pressed shaking fingers to his eyes. Now it's over.
He turned to find his captain awake and staring, wide-eyed and horrified, brown eyes clearer than they had been all of the day before; locked on Chopper's giant heaving form.
Like he was a monster.
If he'd been less tired, after so many worried, restless nights, and the siege, and the escape; if he hadn't been teetering on the verge of exhaustion, Chopper may have flinched away from those wide eyes and that horror.
But as it was, all he could do was let a few tears fall.
"You're awake," he said, and was almost ashamed at how badly his great loud voice trembled. Almost, because he was too glad and relieved to care about that. "I was so worried."
I know I'm a monster, I did it for you.
Luffy was struggling to get up, maybe to scramble away, Chopper didn't know; but even if Luffy was finally in his right mind, he was still sick, and in no shape to be running around. Before he could open his mouth, to beg him not to, to insist he rest- Chopper only had a few more moments before he was absolutely useless and Luffy couldn't try to caper off now- his captain managed to get an elbow underneath him and reach out with a hand that shook.
"Chopper," he said again, vehemently, and the reindeer realized it was a beckons. Moving unsteadily, he closed the distance between them with two careful steps; and it was then, as he was trying to coordinate a kneel at Luffy's side, that the transformation wore off.
Landing solidly against Luffy's shoulder, he felt two surprisingly strong arms curl around him immediately and lock him in close against a scarred chest. The ruined skin felt soft under his cheek, and he blinked wearily.
"You scared me," he replied, thick and tired and hoarse. "You jumped in front of guns for me. You're not rubber, don't you do that. Almost gave me a heart attack. What would I do if I lost you?"
It took a long time for that to filter through the fog of exhaustion and over-exertion and just plain sleepiness, but when it did, Chopper started to giggle; albeit a little hysterically.
"I should be telling you that," he murmured. "We were all so scared, when you got taken. You threw yourself ahead so they couldn't take us, too. You shouldn't do that, we wanna stand by you."
We love you, don't leave us like that. Please don't make yourself alone.
"I'm your captain," Luffy retorted, as he always would, and Chopper smiled wide against his heartbeat.
"Yes, you are," he agreed, eyelids drooping. "And I'm your doctor."
When Chopper woke up, he would be home on the Sunny, far out at sea, with a violin playing softly close by. Curled up against Luffy's shoulder on the bed in his office, with the covers drawn up to their chins and Luffy breathing, deep and slow, in a long and healing sleep.