Zoro had found himself in a guided tour of the historical district, and took it, hoping it would lead him back to the port.
It didn't-he'd taken one moment to study a carved fresco of a duel, and the group had up and left him.
But a low BOOM drew his attention next, and he'd gone down a couple of alleys and through an open-air museum before getting over a wall into the industrial district.
When he finally arrived, there was an inches-thick ooze of something all over the street and Sanji was yowling at Luffy. Usopp was trying to placate some guy that was probably the warehouse owner, and Franky was studying the blast pattern in the warehouse wall that the flood of ooze seemed to be coming from.
Most of them were unscathed, but Chopper was sitting smack in the middle of the stuff, nearly completely covered in it.
Zoro squelched his way over. "Hey. What is this?"
Chopper pushed up on his hat until it popped off. Zoro took it, holding the slowly-dripping thing at arms' length, and then doing likewise with Chopper's stuff-coated bag.
"Uh, it's glue," Chopper looked up at him, face mostly free of it, probably due to his hat brim. "Usopp and Franky wanted some, they were working out a price, but then Luffy saw the manager's pet penguin," Chopper pointed a hoof at another small, glue-covered shape, that one blinking dazedly as it toppled onto its belly. "He wanted to catch it... I don't really know, I think he bumped into something? There was steam coming out of things, and then, well..." Chopper eyed the hole in the wall. "I'm not sure we're getting glue anymore," he finished. He looked down at his arms and wrinkled his nose in distaste.
He was trying to rub the glue off, and succeeding, but only to a degree. It looked well sunken into his fur now. He changed into Heavy Point, combing his fingers through instead. It didn't seem to help much, the stuff was soaked right down between the hairs.
"Doesn't it wash off?" Zoro asked him, and Chopper startled.
"No..." he breathed. "Not when it starts to dry. It's not water-soluble for long. That's why they wanted it!" He flailed with sudden urgency and skidded against the cobbled street, making for the edge of the slowly-spreading puddle.
Zoro didn't know what was in that direction, but Nami had said there was a bathhouse here, and he was pretty sure there was a canal somewhere. Maybe in the canal district.
"Hm," Zoro said, frowning down at the glue coated hat and backpack he still held.
"Oi, algae-for-brains." Sanji had finished berating their captain, who, despite having caused this literal mess, only had a few splatters of glue in his hair. "Where's Chopper?"
"Ran off to get a bath," Zoro replied.
"Well, good to see you've found your calling as a clothing rack," Sanji said. "Bring that here, shitty manager guy's got a solvent."
Zoro picked his way over to hand Chopper's hat and backpack to Sanji.
"No, no, you can't use it on your hair," the manager was snapping at Luffy. "This solvent will burn skin. Get a damned haircut."
"I don't like those," Luffy sulked. Usopp swatted at him.
"You don't get to complain, this is your fault!"
Zoro got back to Sunny, to his mild surprise. He hadn't realized the docks were that near the market district, and wondered where everyone else was. Probably lost.
With a shrug, he jumped back on. This was as good a place to nap as any. Sun was high, it was warm today, no longnose blowing up beakers at the moment, or shitty cook coming to kick him for no good reason, just some quiet.
He went to the kitchen first, though, for a little pre-emptive revenge known as "liberate the rum from wherever curly-brow tried to hide it."
The door to Chopper's infirmary was open, and he thought nothing of it until he heard the reindeer's familiar voice in a long, shuddery breath.
So he wasn't alone after all. He frowned, and changed direction. "Chopper?" he asked, and heard a startled gasp. When he pushed the door all the way open, there was Chopper, still in Heavy Point, perched gingerly on the edge of his favourite rolling chair. Even at that size, the way he was hunched and the lack of his hat made him seem oddly small and naked. The fur over his back and shoulders and up the back of his head was crusted and matted with dried glue, yellowish where it was thickest. The fur had all gone hard with it.
"So, couldn't get it all in time, eh," Zoro said. He reached out to touch, feeling the dried outer ends of the fur. Most of it had solidified in clumped points, a bunch of hairs cemented together. That could not be comfortable when he moved, everything pulling at his skin.
"N-no. I can't even really turn back with it like that, it hurts like it'll rip out when I do." Chopper said in teary frustration. He frowned and looked away from Zoro with a heavy sigh. "M'gonna have to shave it."
"Huh," Zoro said, faintly surprised that it hadn't occurred to him yet. "Yeah, probably for the best. Just the back, though, right?" he tilted his head, trying to see the rest of him.
"Just the back," Chopper confirmed softly. That was good. Zoro tried briefly to imagine Chopper shorn. The first image that came to mind was an odd reindeer-poodle hybrid like something out of Usopp's stories. He suppressed a shudder.
Chopper reached one huge hand up over the opposite shoulder, fingers curling to scratch uselessly at the rigid mats of fur.
"Should we do it now?" Zoro asked, and Chopper looked back around at him in surprise. Zoro raised an eyebrow. "Well, you can't do your own back, can you?" Not when it was all pulled tight with glue, especially.
"Oh." Chopper's face fell, and he flushed across the cheeks. "I... guess not." He was silent for a few seconds, and then he took a deep breath. "I just... I'll take another bath first. Soften it up for a few minutes."
"Go on. Cook's got a straight razor." The idiotic dandy, as if he had enough beard to justify that. But it was an excellent sharp blade, for its purpose. Zoro had stolen it from him once, checked it out to make sure of its quality before Sanji had the chance to actually use it. "That'll do it all quickly."
Chopper didn't move for a few seconds, until Zoro reached out to push at him gently. Then he startled in a way that Zoro didn't like. Too much like a flinch. But he got up and got moving, that was the important thing.
"Be there in fifteen," Zoro said, as Chopper exited through the outer door.
Now, to get the cook's razor... Zoro headed to the men's quarters, to their sink and its accumulation of various people's grooming tools. Brook and Usopp had combs that they guarded fiercely. Franky and Sanji between them had enough aftershave to stock a shop. The wooden box most of the stuff was kept in sat on the floor, where it was unlikely to be overturned and its contents scattered by sleepy rummaging.
Underneath a package of Usopp's hair ties and a bottle of oil that Franky used on his nose lay the cook's fancy razor. It was in a fancy matching case, and had come with fancy shaving soap and everything. After this, Zoro would probably need to replace the soap, but he'd have no trouble resharpening the blade, which was the part Sanji would care about the most.
Coming up into the bathroom's entry area, Zoro could feel the heat and steam that meant someone was having a soak. "I'm coming in," Zoro told him.
"Okay..." Chopper's answer was unhappy. The soak probably hadn't done much for the discomfort, since the glue wasn't water-solvable, or whatever the word was, but he'd feel better soon enough.
Zoro stripped to the waist, pulled his boots off, and went in.
A great mass of sodden brown fur, Chopper was still in his Heavy Point, sitting on one of the stools now, with water dripping off him. He was hunched, tense, and when Zoro shut the door again, he looked over with a wariness that reminded Zoro of that weird flinch.
Zoro stopped where he was. "Hey," he said slowly. "Do you wanna wait for someone else?" He hadn't thought of that at all. He had no doubt he could handle the razor perfectly, but it wasn't a sword or anything. Sanji could do this-it was his vain little tool in the first place. And Nami and Usopp had the steady hands for it too, probably, with a bit of instruction and, admittedly, a lot more risk of nicks.
Chopper hunched farther down, if anything. But, "No." His voice was tight and so unlike himself. "It's not that." He didn't say anything more.
Zoro wasn't happy with that reply, but he wasn't leaving Chopper in this state. And if doing this was that hard for Chopper, Zoro thought, then getting it done sooner was all that mattered. That wouldn't be a problem. He washed his hands, pulled another stool behind Chopper, though he'd have to stay standing to reach most of him. "Alright," he said. "Starting at the top."
Chopper made a sound of acknowledgement, adjusted himself so his elbows rested on his knees, evening out the angle of his back, and waited.
"Don't move," Zoro reminded him, and got started.
He went slowly and carefully, lathering well as he went, and it was odd to see Chopper's familiar brown fur come away. The skin underneath was a dusty greyish-pink, weirdly pale from never having sun touch it, and very warm.
Zoro could feel the skin easing up as he went, as the glued fur stopped pulling at it. So that was improving, even if Chopper didn't like enduring this.
He finished the area down the back of Chopper's neck and the muscles under the skin of his shoulders went from tight to rigid. Odd for that to happen after he'd passed the neck, Zoro thought with a frown. He spread his hand a little, pressing with his fingertips in reassurance, and kept going.
He pulled the razor smoothly down Chopper's left shoulder blade, whipping the thick lather off towards the floor, and watched foamed soap and wet clumps of fur splatter on the tile with minor satisfaction.
This really was a decent blade, he thought, as he wiped it clean. At least the cook had some taste about that. Lifting the razor again, he started to set it where he'd make the next stroke, and saw what he'd uncovered.
He stopped moving, and Chopper's wide back shook slightly, because, of course, he knew what Zoro was looking at.
A clumped scatter of old, white scars, little round dots. Zoro knew what those were. Couldn't compete with other bounty hunters for long, or hunt pirates either, without seeing lots of scars. They were very handy identifying marks. He'd seen the marks left by punctures of all kinds, and sword cuts, knife cuts, animal bites-human bites, sometimes-musket-ball holes and pistol wounds...
And this, on Chopper, was buckshot. Someone had shot him. In the back.
"How did-" Zoro bit off the next words, despite the anger rising behind them. It was obviously not anything Chopper had wanted anyone to see, so he wouldn't ask. But... he had to say it, and heard his voice come out, hard and cold. "If you want, I'll kill whoever did this to you."
Chopper gasped a noise like someone had made him laugh while he was crying, and Zoro took his hand off Chopper's shorn skin to squeeze his shoulder instead. A few more of the weird sobbing-laugh noises got out before Chopper managed to stop. Zoro heard him swallow, felt his arm move as he swiped at his face, and then he settled back to his former position again. "No," he said, voice small. "I mean, thank you, but I don't want you to. They didn't-they weren't-no."
Zoro sighed out through his nose. If that was how he felt, Zoro would have to accept it. He rubbed briefly through the wet fur, and returned to the task at hand.
His teeth clenched when he uncovered the grouped marks from another shot, but he said nothing, just put his hand over them briefly. He wasn't able to cover all the individual marks at once. He controlled a growl, and reminded himself that they were old, and that Chopper's fur still grew here. Zoro didn't know if the marks shrank or disappeared in his other forms, but they didn't affect his appearance then. And the heavier fur he had over his head and shoulders made it all disappear in this form.
Or it would when it grew back, anyway.
Zoro got on with it, shaving away the rest of the glue-clotted fur to leave Chopper's back naked-really naked-down to his waist. The buckshot scars scattered across his back required Zoro to exert real effort to keep his temper in check. Especially the one that Zoro would've sworn was a kill shot, if Chopper hadn't been sitting right here. Someone had to have found him right after being hit... the mental image wasn't helping Zoro's temper at all.
But-he took a slow, even breath-never mind that. Chopper said no. He checked a final time around the edges of the bared skin, seeking anything he may have missed, and then stood back, wiping the razor clean and drying it carefully.
"Done," he said, as he refolded the blade.
Chopper rolled his shoulders and stood, turned to face Zoro, even though he didn't actually look at him. "Feels weird," he said, his voice low, as if talking to himself. "I feel the air..." He reached up over one shoulder, prodding the bare skin with his fingertips, and then up behind his back, doing the same. He grimaced and then changed, shrinking down and shaking himself. He let out a breath of relief, this time prodding with hooves at the much-reduced bare area.
"Thank you," he said, glancing up at Zoro hesitantly. Zoro only nodded, crouching down to put the cook's razor back in its little case, and the much-reduced soap into its little bag. Definitely had to buy more of that.
"Sure," he said, still forcibly holding back his reaction to what was marked across the Chopper's back. It was easier now, seeing Chopper's tension easing in the aftermath. He stood and nodded at the door.
Instead of darting right over to leave, like most any other time they shared the bath, Chopper moved slowly; he circled around until he could back towards the door, still keeping the marks out of sight. Oh. Right.
"Wanna ride down?" Zoro asked, and crouched again. Chopper halted and found a little smile, which helped ease Zoro's mood. He returned the expression, and Chopper's smile got bigger. Yes, better.
"Yeah!" Chopper trotted back and jumped, landing like a furry limpet on Zoro's bare back. The fur on his front was still damp, but it warmed quickly anyway. Zoro reached up to tug the little hooves a bit more securely forward around his neck, and they left together.
"Chopper! You here? We got your hat an' stuff! It's all better now!" Luffy's holler preceded his thudding onto the lawn deck, and Zoro stretched and blinked as his captain, hair slightly shorter than earlier today, somersaulted to an abrupt halt against the opposite railing. Usopp got back on the more usual way, carrying the actual items in question, along with a fat backpack that hadn't been that fat this morning. "Chopper?" Luffy called again.
"Here!" Chopper piped, from up above, among Robin's flower beds and his own herb garden. Zoro pushed himself up on one elbow as Chopper trotted out, taking the slide down and landing on Luffy with a giggle. Luffy grabbed him and tossed him into the air, producing more laughter.
"Oi, Chopper!" Usopp hissed, and interposed himself between Zoro and the reindeer. He looked warily back at Zoro for a second, who gave him a sleepy frown. "Does Zoro know you stole his clothes?"
Chopper's head was covered in one of Zoro's black bandanas, the cloth big enough and knotted to cover down to the back of his neck. His antlers poked incongruously out from the gaps. He had one of his own stretchy t-shirts on, but over that he had one of Zoro's haramaki around his torso. Zoro had thought he might want the extra insulation.
"Yeah, whatever," Zoro said, rolling his eyes and closing them again.
"Chopper! That's so cool! Zoro, gimme-no wait, Usopp! I want your overalls!"
"Uh... I think my other pair is - HEY, I'M WEARING THESE!"
"Usopp, you can be me!"
Zoro cracked one eyelid in time to see Luffy enthusiastically stripping himself with one hand and trying to unpeel Usopp with the other.
"I'm Chopperona Zoro!" Chopper whooped. He brandished one of the three wooden spoons he'd taken from the galley, and leaped onto them both. Zoro crossed his arms behind his head and settled back, smiling slightly. A little noise wasn't so bad.
Eventually, Usopp's screeches of protest subsided and Luffy's gait clomped over in Usopp's boots. Zoro pretended to be asleep, and didn't protest when Chopper's hat was deposited on his head.