Hello again everyone. Here's another edition of the one-shot stories that I seen to be obsession of writing lately. This piece was inspired by a fanfic that I read on this site recently, but I can't seem to find it again to give the author the proper credit. If this story rings any bells, please tell me the story and author's name so I can give proper dues.
Anyway, I've recently changed word programs and am using a new grammar program so the quality of my work should go up. I also have a new beta, zealousfreak27, who will be checking my stories for now on. I hope you like this story given it is a slightly different from my other work.
Edit: I made some changes since I messed up the time period of Drum Island. Although the manga is kind of vague of when Blackbeard attacked the kingdom, it couldn't have been that long ago given that Ace was most likely hunting Blackbeard for no more than a couple of months.
Onward to the story.
Zoro gave a long drawn out yawn as he stretched lazily across the ship's deck. Today was dragging on forever. It has been almost a day since they docked on this island, and nothing exciting had happened. Sure, as a pirate he should savor the peace when it came, but that did little to ease his boredom.
For better or worst, Zoro was a man of action. He needed something to happen to keep his interest up. This was part of the reason why he was so anxious to leave his home island when he came of age. Yes, he wanted to travel to find Mihawk and claimed his title as the greatest swordsman, but another reason was that he had long grown tired of his peaceful village. There was no one there that posed a challenge to his sword skills anymore, save for master. It was in those moments that he really missed Kuina.
Zoro began to finger his scar chest as he thought of his old friend. Since the day Mihawk had given him this scar he often wondered if he would have been better prepared if Kuina was still around. He would have still undoubtedly lost to Mihawk, given his greater experience, but he may of been wiser. Because he has fought mostly weaklings since Kuina's untimely death, he had an inflated idea of how strong he was compared to the real world. It was his arrogance of thinking that he was close to best that led him to his one-sided beat down. It was only by Mihawk's mercy that he was even still alive. In retrospect, he should have seen his shortcomings the moment he met Luffy.
Zoro gave an unconscious smile as he thought of his captain. Even when he was half-dead, starved, and suffering from heat exhaustion he could still feel Luffy's boundless power. It actually surprised him to see someone whose strength and will surpassed even his own. It was those qualities that drew him to Luffy, not just the fact that he owed the boy his life. His admiration for Luffy only grew as their journey continued. It was his admiration that allowed him to stand before Kuma and offer his life in exchange for his captain. It was something that he could never imagine himself doing the day he met the strange strawhat boy.
He wondered what Kuina would think of him given up their dreams over some person he had known for only a couple of months. Life was really strange at times.
Speaking of strange, he began to wonder why Luffy, Robin, and Usopp hadn't returned to the ship yet. They left to explore the island hours ago, and it was getting close to dinner. That was something Luffy would never miss, no matter how interesting the island was. There was also the added fact that Usopp was with them. He would want to return to the ship as soon as possible, especially since he went reluctantly with his captain to begin with after 'winning' the lottery.
He shouldn't be too concerned. According to that witch, Nami, the island was uninhabited. How much trouble could they have gotten into?
"WE HAVE AN EMERGENCY!" a voice yelled from over the ship, making Zoro jump to attention. He just had to jinx it.
"Yo, what's wrong?" Franky asked as he leaned over the railings.
He saw Usopp who was shaking and looked to be having some kind of a panic attack. Behind him was Robin who looked very unlike herself. Her normally calm demeanor was overshadowed with worry and even fear. In her arms was Luffy who was unconscious and pale. In fact, he was so pallid that he looked almost white.
"What the hell happened!?" Zoro yelled when he saw Luffy. He didn't even look alive.
"He's sick!" Usopp yelled as he attempted and failed to steady his voice. It took everything he had not to burst into tears.
The commotion caused the rest of the crew to run onto the deck and they were left speechless for a moment.
"Luffy, what have you done now?" Nami asked. She tried to sound annoyed, but the concern was clear for anyone to see.
"DOCTOR, WE NEED A DOCTOR!" Chopper screamed in complete panic as he ran around the deck several times.
"You're the doctor, moron!" Sanji shouted harshly. He wasn't usually this harsh towards the younger boy, but this wasn't the time for his usual antics. A life was on the line.
Chopper stopped in mid-step as he realized that Sanji was right. His captain needed him.
While this was happening, Franky helped Robin pull Luffy onto the ship and laid him gently on the lawn. Chopper was there and within seconds once he had calmed down to check on his captain.
"What happened?" Chopper demanded, now in full doctor mode.
Robin looked towards Usopp who was currently too panicked to talk properly. "I will explain."
A Few Hour Earlier: Luffy knocked over several bushes as he attempted to see further ahead in the dense forest. The trees were so tall that they blocked the sunlight.
"Man, this island is boring so far," Luffy whined.
"Nami did say this island was uninhabited," Robin said as she took note of some of the plants and trees.
Although she hid it better than Luffy, she too was kind of disappointed by lack of excitement. After living on the Grand Line for so long, it was nearly impossible to be satisfied living a peaceful life. She was also secretly hoping to find some type of ruin, but so far this island had no sign of intelligent life. She knew, however, that Chopper would like the island given the plant varieties that they had seen. There were some plant species that she had never seen before.
Usopp gave a relief sigh. "Finally, an island where nothing is trying to kill us. Although, it's hard to believe that we found such a peaceful place on the Grand Line."
"No island is ever truly peaceful," Robin corrected. "All islands have their own particular dangers, and we must always keep our guard up. Complacency is the biggest killer on these seas."
Usopp gave Robin a dark look. She just had to ruin his peace of mind, even if she was right.
"Maybe we'll find something over that hill," Luffy said as he led the group forward.
They were soon out of the forest and had entered an open field with a single tree in the middle. The field itself was also surrounded with beautiful purple flowers that had a sweet smell.
"Wow, look at this place," Usopp said in awe.
"I've never seen flowers like these before," Robin said as she picked a couple and put them into her bag. Chopper would definitely want to study these.
Luffy; on the other hand, was more interested in the lone tree. It was an odd color and stood out because of its yellow leaves. According to Nami, this was a spring island and also April here, so the color was out of place. He broke away from the group and began to walk around the tree.
After a couple of laps around the tree, Luffy went up to it and touched it rough trunk. What happened next was something he was not expecting. The moment he touched the trunk, he felt a sharp string move through his right leg, causing him to cry out in pain.
"Luffy, what's wrong?" Usopp asked as he walked up towards his captain.
"The tree strung me," Luffy whined as he rubbed his sore leg.
"The tree strung you?" Usopp repeated in disbelief. "How can a tree sting you?"
"I don't know, but it did," Luffy continued to whine. The pain was already starting to go away, but it was replaced by an unsettling numbness.
Robin walked over to her crewmates and looked over Luffy's wound. The injury was on Luffy's lower leg, and it already turning to a nasty looking red. It also appeared to be slightly swollen. She then turned her eyes towards the tree in question. She quickly noticed that the roots were sticking out of the ground, and they had sharp edges like needles.
"I think you may have poked yourself on the tree's root," Robin said.
Usopp got a better look at the root. "Yeah, those things do look sharp." He reached out to touch one of them and screamed in surprise and horror when the root suddenly shot out at him. He would have been impaled if Robin didn't use her powers to catch it.
"It would seem the root reacts to heat or movement," Robin observed.
Usopp felt as if his heart were going to burst out of his chest. "Oh, I thought I was going to die." He suddenly stood up and pointed a single finger to the sky. "As the Great Captain Usopp, I now officially classify this island as dangerous and we should leave before something else threatens my life."
Robin gave a small smile and turned back towards her captain. Her smile dropped when she saw how pale Luffy looked. He also seemed to be having problems standing on his right leg. "Luffy, are you alright."
Luffy shook his head. "Don't feel good and my leg feels numb."
Robin frowned. "You can't feel your leg?"
Luffy nodded. "There's a slight tingle, but I can't really feel anything."
This got Robin concern. "We need to get back to the ship. This tree could be poisonous."
"Poisonous?" Usopp repeated, deeply afraid now.
Robin reached into her pouch and pulled out a long knife. Using her powers to restrain the root, she cut off a sizable piece of the root. "This should help Chopper once we've return."
Usopp walked up to his captain. "Can you walk?"
Luffy nodded, although he looked very unsteady.
"That wouldn't be wise," Robin said. "Walking could cause the poison to spread faster. One of us should carry him."
Usopp looked over Luffy. "I guess I could do it."
"No, I'll carry Luffy," Robin insisted. "We need someone to stay on look out in case we are attacked. Given what has happened, it would be wise if we kept our guard up."
Usopp knew Robin was correct. Robin's powers were good for sneak attacks, but were limited in close range combat.
"But, I can walk," Luffy moaned as he tried to stay on his feet.
Robin knew Luffy's pride wouldn't allow him to be carried, except in an event that he was out cold, but her captain's life came before his feelings.
"Sorry, Luffy," Robin apologized as she firmly grabbed her captain and lifted him bridal style into her arms. She bloomed an extra set of arms on her side to give her some more lift to assure that Luffy was comfortable.
Usopp was still surprise about how strong Robin was for such a frail looking woman, even if she did called herself an assassin. Luffy, however, was also not that heavy either and even he could carry his captain comfortably for an extended amount of time with little trouble. He briefly wondered if Luffy's powers somehow affected his weight as well. It would make sense that a rubber body wouldn't be as heavy as real bone and muscle.
Luffy barely had the energy to struggle and was eventually forced to relax in Robin's grip.
Without another word, they slowly made their way back towards the ship. The trip back was peaceful enough, but Luffy's condition continued to deteriorate rapidly. He became less responsive and hot to the touch; yet, he was shivering as though he was freezing. The color also rapidly drained from his face and his lips turned a tint blue. By the time the Thousand Sunny came into sight, he had stopped responding altogether and was limp in Robin's arms.
Present: "As you can see, his health had precipitately declined since the time he was stung," Robin finished her story. She then reached into her bag and pulled out the piece of root. "This was the specimen I was able to collect."
Chopper frowned as he heard the end of the story. He had seen the wound on Luffy's leg, and it was very red and swollen, as though it was heavily infected despite the fact that Luffy was stung only an hour ago.
"How long has it been since he lost consciousness?" Chopper asked, keeping his tone as calm as possible. He had to stay within control no matter what. This is what he had trained years for and his crew needed him to be strong.
It was at that moment that Luffy sprung back to life, startling some of his crewmates. He was grasping for air, and his eyes were unfocused. It didn't really look like that Luffy was seeing any of them.
"Luffy-san, are you alright?" Brook asked, unnerved by how frail his captain was. It reminded him too much of Yorki's final moments.
"Ummmm..." Luffy muttered as he attempted to refocus his glaze.
"Listen to me, Luffy, you have to stay with me," Chopper ordered firmly. "Tell me, are you in any pain or having trouble breathing?"
It took Luffy a couple seconds to answer. "Do...don't hurt. Numb."
"You don't feel pain?" Chopper asked again. He firmly squeezed the wound for good measure.
"No..." Luffy stuttered. "Can't move legs...feel numb in my waist...cold."
This got Chopper deeply worried. It was spreading. "Get him into the infirmary, now!"
Zoro wasted no time picking his captain up and carrying him inside, with Chopper following shortly behind him. The swordsman gently put Luffy on the bed and quickly removed his clothes until Luffy was down to his boxers.
Zoro had to keep his own panic down when he felt how unnaturally hot Luffy's skin was and how he had become so pale that he was almost translucent. The blue coloring on his lips, fingertips, and toes were also a worrying sign. Whatever poison was within him, it was working fast.
Chopper wasted no time drawing blood and venting Luffy, although he had shown no sign of having breathing problems so far, it was better to side with caution.
"Zoro, get some ice packs and put them on Luffy!" Chopper ordered. "We need to get his under control fever now."
Zoro just nodded as he went into the medical cabinet and pulled out several of Chopper's special ice packs. He wasn't sure where Chopper had gotten them, but these packs had the ability to stay cold even without ice. He personally got to experience these packs in action when he was practically covered in them when he had woken up after the incident with Kuma.
Luffy groaned as he felt the first ice pack being put on his chest. "Cold..." He muttered through his breathing mask.
"No, you're hot," Zoro corrected. "Your body is just telling you that you're cold."
Nonetheless, Luffy attempted to knock the packs off, forcing Zoro to restrain his captain. He could tell by the wildness in his eyes that Luffy wasn't really seeing him or in his right mind at the moment. Luffy was acting upon instinct and his body was telling him that he was freezing.
Zoro knew he had no choice but to tie Luffy's limbs down using straps built into the bed. Under normal conditions, such flimsy restraints would hardly hold someone like Luffy, but he was too weak now to break free. Nonetheless, Luffy still struggled.
"Can't you give Luffy a sedative for something?" Zoro asked in frustration.
Chopper firmly shook his head. "With his high of a fever, a sedative could kill him."
Zoro knew Chopper was right, but it still didn't make the situation any better.
It was over four hours later that Luffy's temperature was finally stabilized. He was also sleeping easier now thanks to the increase of oxygen. Luffy was still; however, in terrible shape as he shivered like a small child in bed.
With Luffy in somewhat stable condition, Chopper used this time to carefully study the plant specimen that Robin had given him, while Zoro kept watched and informed him if there was any changed to Luffy's health.
Although Chopper appeared calm outwardly, he was all but overcome with worry and fear. Whenever his crewmates were this badly injured or sick, it always caused a bit of panic within him, which was why he often forgets that he's a doctor in those moments. The one lesson that all doctors learned was how fragile life was and how it could slip away with barely a whimper, despite ones best efforts to fight off death.
Seeing Luffy like this reminded Chopper all too well on how he learned such a bitter lesson.
Drum Island, Four Years Ago: Chopper pulled the sled through the snow-covered countryside as they made their way into one of the towns that populated the old Drum Kingdom. This wasn't a normal nightly visit, given that this trip was by a special request of one of the citizens. Doctorine usually didn't do requests, choosing randomly when to meet any patients, especially with the doctor ban, but something about this case caused her to break her own rule. She was also more solemn than usual and didn't have her usual grin. Whatever job they were going to this evening, it was different.
They soon reached their client's house and Kureha wasted no time jumping out of her sled and knocked firmly on the wooden door. It immediately opened to reveal a fairly young looking man who looked beside himself in worry.
"Doctorine, thank god you have come," the man said as the relief washed over him.
"Take me to the child," Kureha ordered bluntly.
The man didn't waste another moment leading Kureha to a small bedroom where a girl lay nearly motionless in bed. Her cheeks were flushed, and sweat drenched her tiny body. Chopper could actually small the disease coming from the girl's body.
Kureha pushed her finger into the girl's forehead. "How long has she been like this?"
"About five days," the man said. "We thought it was the flu, given the time of year, but she kept getting worse until she lost any ability to speak. We tried to appeal our case to King Wapol, but we simply can't afford to pay for the Twenty MDs."
Kureha frowned, hating that her suppose king would condemn a child to die like this. "I see."
Another person came into the room, which Chopper assumed was the girl's mother. "Please Doctorine, save our child," the woman begged. "You can have our house as far as I care, just please save her."
Chopper was expecting one of Doctorine's snide remarks, but she did no such thing. Instead, she turned towards the mother with a look of pity on her face.
"I will do everything I medically can, but her chances are not good," Kureha informed. "She had a rare type of virus that only effects a handful of people on this island. In almost all cases, it is fatal."
Chopper heard the young mother sob and had to be supported by her husband. His heart ached for the grieving parents. But, Doctorine was the best doctor in the world, next to his father. She would undoubtedly save the girl.
"Chopper, get several packs of ice ready and bring me my medical bag!" Kureha ordered firmly.
Chopper wasted no time doing his task, determined to help in any way that he could.
The night passed slowly as Kureha fought to keep the girl alive. Despite all their efforts, it wasn't to be.
By the time the sun broke the next morning, the poor child had succumbed to her illness. The broken cries of her mother would forever haunt Chopper as long as he lived. It had gotten so bad that he had to run out of the house. He must have spent a good hour crying for both the girl and her parents. It was so unfair. A doctor was supposed to save people, yet they couldn't even save a child.
"Chopper, let's go," Kureha said once she had exited the house.
Chopper attempted to wipe his tears, knowing Doctorine hated it when he cried.
"It isn't a weakness to mourn the death of a patient," Kureha said, as if reading Chopper's thoughts.
Chopper broke into sobs again. "She was just a child. Why did she have to die like this?"
"That's just the nature of things. As hard as we train to preserve life, no one can beat death forever." Kureha said. "We have to learn to accept that some time there is nothing that can be done and all we can do it make our patients comfortable in their final moments."
"But, it isn't fair!" Chopper yelled.
Kureha opened a bottle of wine that she had hidden in her sled and took a large swing. "In many ways, death is the greatest fairness. Young, old, rich, poor, commoner, or king, it comes for us all."
"When I become a doctor, I'll make sure no one will ever die under me," Chopper said in determination.
"Don't be stupid." Kureha said harshly, catching Chopper's attention. "Even the greatest doctors must accept that they aren't god. The first and most important rule of being a doctor is accepting the fact that you can't save everyone. If you try to be a doctor with your mindset, you will be driven crazy."
Chopper shook his head. "But, I don't want to see people die."
"Then, being a doctor isn't for you," Kureha said coldly. "Even that quack father of yours accepted that death was a part of being a doctor. Denying it won't change that."
Chopper knew Doctorine was right, but it didn't make it any easier.
"Let's return to the house," Kureha said as she finished her bottle of wine. "We've both had a long night."
Present: Chopper closed his eyes as he allowed the memory to overtake him. That girl's death still haunted him and served as his biggest reminder to the limits of being a doctor. Every time his crewmates were hurt beyond comprehension he feared that would be the moment that he would have to accept death.
Yes, his dream was to eventually find the cure to all diseases, but even he now knew that one could never truly cheat death. The one doctor he thought was able to achieved such a thing turned out to be a monster who had no regard for life and the people he brought back were just shells of their former humanity. That wasn't the cure he had strived his whole life for.
In truth, he thought for sure Zoro would die at Thriller Bark. Never in his short medical history had he seen someone so badly damaged, inside and out. It was as though someone ran Zoro's organs through a coffee maker. The severe nerve damaged throughout his body didn't help matters and he thought Zoro would be paralyzed for life if he did survive.
As much as he wanted to take credit for Zoro's survival, he knew it was Zoro himself who kept himself from dying. Although his chances of living were less than five percent, Zoro had pulled himself from the jaws of death by pure will. He still wasn't fully well, but he was alive.
"Did you find anything?" Zoro asked, interrupting Chopper's thoughts.
"I might have," Chopper said slowly. "I think Luffy wasn't poisoned at all."
"What?" Zoro questioned in confusing.
"From what I've seen, this root contains some type of bacteria that metabolize quickly into the bloodstream," Chopper explained. "It appears to be some type of blood infection that effects the nerves and then move into the organs."
Zoro didn't like the sound of any of this. "Can you cure it?"
Chopper bit his lips in thought. "I...I don't know."
Zoro knew things were bad if Chopper sounded this unsure. Chopper maybe insecure about some things, but his medical skills were not one of them.
"I'll go tell the others what you have learned so far," Zoro said as he turned to leave. He needed any excuse to get out of the infirmary. Seeing Luffy in this state left him unnerved.
Chopper merely nodded as he continued to study his specimen. Thankfully, Zoro didn't return to the infirmary for the rest of the day. Most likely giving Chopper space to work, something he was graceful for. It was tough to work when someone's eyes were boring into you.
It was another hour before Chopper was finally able to isolate the bacteria strain and attempt to match it to any known diseases in his medical book.
The results were anything, but good. Chopper reread the passage several times to make doubly sure his findings were correct. How he wished he wasn't right.
He closed his medical book and mentally prepared himself to tell his crewmates the news. He often found this part of his job even more stressful than diagnosing the problem.
With a drawn out sigh, he got up and made his way to the door. When he opened it, he was unsurprised to see his crewmates gathered on the deck waiting for him.
"Chopper, is Luffy alright?" Usopp asked the moment he saw the reindeer.
Chopper decided to hold up on the bad news as long as possible. "As Zoro might have told you, Luffy wasn't poisoned."
"Yes, he told us that Luffy contracted some type of bacteria from the tree's root and it was infecting his blood," Robin said.
Chopper nodded. "The root contains a rare pathogenic bacterium that only a few plant species in the world carries. It spreads quickly through the system and eventually infects all the organs leading to multiple organ failure. From my medical journals, it's called Root Fever. It's within the same family as Tree Fever, except not contagious."
Robin gave a somber nod. "At least we don't have to worry about the entire crew being infective." As morbid as it was, it was still a little bit of good news.
Everyone else fell into silence as they waited for Chopper to continue. They all knew something was very wrong when Chopper refused to meet their eyes.
"Do you have a cure for it?" Brook asked, trying to control his worry.
Chopper sighed, knowing there was no point hiding it now. "There's no cure."
It took a moment for the news to sink in to all the Strawhats.
"No cure?" Nami repeated in horror. "Surely, there must be at least a treatment."
"This type of bacterium has a high tolerates to all known antibiotics. Even the normal treatment for Tree Fever would be ineffective," Chopper explained. "Antibiotics can slow the infection, but it can't stop it."
"Is...is Luffy going to die?" Usopp asked in a soft voice.
Everyone, save for Zoro and Robin, gave Usopp a deathly glare. It was, however, the question they all wanted to know, but were all too afraid to asked.
"His chances of survival are very low," Chopper said in his most professional voice. "Luffy is strong, young, and was in good health until recently; however, even that may not be enough. At the rate his body is deteriorating I would put his chances of survival as no more than ten percent."
Sanji took a huge puffed of his cigarette as he took in the news. "But, he still has a chance. Ten percent is better than nothing."
Nami nodded and gave a forced smile. "Plus, this is Luffy. There's no way he won't pull through."
Chopper couldn't help thinking that his crewmates were being too optimistic. Yes, ten percent was better than none, but that number was the best-case scenario. Truthfully, Luffy's chance was more around three to five percent range. He just didn't have the heart to tell his crewmates that information.
Zoro seemed to see right through the reindeer, but chose to say nothing at the moment.
"In the meanwhile, I guess we can't leave the island until Luffy's well again," Nami try to say in her most casual voice.
"I guess I could do some work on the Sunny," Franky said slowly, also attempting to sound normal. But, he utterly failed at it as his worry built within him.
Chopper decided that this was a good time to leave before his crew's bright demeanor became too unbearable for him. He knew it was unprofessional to give people false hope and Doctorine would highly disapproval of what had done.
Chopper closed the door behind him and stared at his comatose captain. He was starting to breathe heavily even with the oxygen mask, and sweat drenched his entire body. He also appeared to be in pain as his body attempted to fight the infection.
"Dammit, Luffy. You better get well," Chopper cursed. He was so deep in thought that he didn't hear the door opened behind him.
"Chopper," Zoro said softly, nearly causing the young doctor to jump out of his fur.
"Zoro?" Chopper nearly yelled as he attempted to regain his composure.
Zoro barely spared a glance at Chopper as he looked down at his sick crewmate. "How is he, really?"
"I told you..." Chopper started.
"You didn't tell us everything," Zoro said before his eyes seemed to soften. "Luffy is even worse off, isn't he."
Chopper gave a long sigh. "Yes. I...I honestly don't think he's going to make it. He will just keep getting sicker over the next couple of days until the infection reaches his heart. If that happens, there will be no hope for him."
Zoro said nothing for a moment as he walked over to Luffy's bedside and grabbed his captain's hand. It was hot to the touch and almost felt like it was on fire despite all the ice packs on him. "If anyone can pull through this, it's Luffy."
Despite his words, Chopper noticed that Zoro's didn't have his usual confidence. He sounded almost scared, but this was Zoro. He was never afraid, even in the face of death.
"However, even I know how fragile even the strongest person can be," Zoro stated with a tightness in his voice.
"What do you mean?" Chopper asked, although he didn't expect an answer.
"I had a friend," Zoro said, startling Chopper. "We grew up together in the same dojo years ago. I actually met her when I thought I could beat any challenger and tried to take her father's dojo's sign." He gave a rare smile at the memory.
Chopper was completely stunned by this change of events. This was the first time he has ever heard Zoro talk about his past.
"I failed, however, because I could never beat her," Zoro continued as he recalled Kuina beating him repeatedly throughout their years together. It was strange that they were some of his fondest memories. "I trained each day in the hope of finally surpassing her. It was a rivalry born out of jealousy, but it eventually grew into a friendship forged out of fire."
Chopper just nodded, not sure what to say. He never thought anyone, save for the greatest swordsman in the world, could beat Zoro. To think someone could defeat him so handily was mind numbing. The added fact that she was also a woman was another big surprise. Zoro being beaten by a girl was almost funny. Then again, Zoro never seemed to have much luck with the opposite sex.
Zoro seemed to read Chopper's thoughts. "Yes, she was that strong. I never came close to beating her even after I'd grown in mind and body. In our time together, she beat more than two-thousand times."
"Two-thousand!?" Chopper screamed in shock. His eyes nearly jumped out of his sockets.
"Two-thousand and one to be more precise," Zoro said casually. "When I lost my last duel with her, I actually cried in frustration. It seemed that all my training didn't amount to anything." Zoro's eyes began to look upward. "In my frustration, she actually revealed to me that she too wanted to become the greatest swordsman, but thought her dream was impossible."
"Why?" Chopper asked before thinking.
"She was a girl," Zoro said bluntly.
Chopper looked even more confuse for a moment, until he realized what Zoro meant. Women were generally weaker than men physically. Given that swordsmanship was a physically demanding fighting style, Zoro's lady friend would have eventually fallen behind Zoro.
"Her father told her that her dream could never come true because of her sex and that I was destine to surpass her naturally given time," Zoro said bitterly.
He respected his teacher a great deal, but it still angered him that he would crush his own daughter's dream so callously. Even if what he said about men and women were true, he should have known better than anyone that it took more than physical strength to be a great swordsman. It took heart, something that Kuina had more of than most adults who dared called themselves swordsmen.
"She was broken up about it and wished she had been born a man," Zoro said. "I told her that it didn't matter if she were a man or a woman and that I would beat her because of my skills, nothing more." He then looked down back at Luffy. "That night, we made a vow. We promised each other that one of us must become the world's greatest swordsman."
Chopper could tell by the tone of the older man's voice that this story didn't have a happy ending. "Something happened to her."
Zoro closed his eyes. "A couple weeks after our last dual, she had an accident. She fell down some stairs to get a sharpening stone and broke her neck. She died instantly."
Chopper put his hand over his mouth in shock.
Zoro's eyes moistened, but he didn't allow a single tear to drop. There was no point crying over someone who was long dead. It still hurt regardless; however.
"At first, I was in denial. I didn't acknowledge her death, even when I attended her funeral. I refused to believe someone so strong could die in such a sudden and unfulfilling way." Zoro slowly opened his eyes. "It wasn't until weeks later that I finally came to terms that she was gone. I think that was the first time I cried in my life for anyone else beside myself."
"Zoro...why are you telling me this?" Chopper asked slowly.
"I told you because, unlike the others, you understand how fragile life is," Zoro said as he stared at Luffy. "You know that despite how strong one can be, death can swiftly come. I see the shadow of death in Luffy's face, and I can't turn a blind eye to it."
Chopper paused as he considered Zoro's words. It took him a moment to realize that Zoro was right. His other crewmates have seen death. But, they have also survived situations that would have killed any normal person. His crewmates have become somewhat numb to the power of death and began to feel that nothing short of something spectacular could kill any of them. The thought that a mere illness could kill Luffy or any of them was nearly unthinkable.
Zoro, because of his personal experience, could never comfort himself in such thoughts. He knew the lesson that Doctorine spent years trying to embed into his head.
"Are you going to tell the others?" Chopper finally asked after some time has passed.
Zoro shook his head. "No, sometimes it's better to be ignorant of the truth. Besides, it isn't like Luffy is already dead. If anyone can survive this, it is him. When it comes to Luffy's dream, he will give even death himself one hell of a fight."
Chopper knew that to be true. Luffy had the greatest will to live, which was rivaled only by Zoro. If Zoro could come back from the brink of death just a couple weeks ago, then Luffy could do the same if given the proper chance. It maybe his duty as a doctor to stay grounded in reality, but that doesn't mean abandoning all hope. He would help Luffy pull through this, no matter what.
The next couple of days passed slowly as Chopper fought to keep his captain alive. He knew if he could keep Luffy alive long enough for his body to fight off the bacteria, he would have a chance of survival.
The task proved harder than he imagined as Luffy's body slowly began to shut down. First, Luffy stopped breathing on his own, forcing Chopper to put a tub down his throat to make him breath through a machine. The day after that, Luffy's kidneys and liver began to fail. Chopper had to bypass these organs by using a filter to drain, clean, and return the blood to Luffy's body to keep his heart beating.
Thankfully, the infection didn't reach his heart despite everything; otherwise, Luffy would only have hours to live regardless of his efforts. Antibiotics, although limited, did greatly help to slow down the growth of the bacteria.
During this same time period, his crewmates regularly came in to see their captain. Chopper allowed only one at a time since the infirmary wasn't that big and most of the room was covered by medical equipment. Despite seeing Luffy in such terrible shape, they all kept their hopes up, confident that he would pull through. By Nami's reasoning, Luffy was just too stubborn to die.
Brook seemed to be the first one, besides Zoro, to grasped the seriousness of Luffy's condition and stopped visiting him altogether after the second day. He instead stood outside and played the most uplifting music that he knew all day long, even at night, much to Nami's annoyance. She thought the song choices were too inappropriate even if she felt Luffy would pull through. It didn't helped that Franky some times joined in the band session.
Chopper suspected that the current situation reminded Brook too much of his own crew's fate. He couldn't blame the man given that he had seen nothing but death for most of his second life. To see another captain he admired succumb to illness would be too much for anyone.
Unlike Brook, Sanji attempted to keep the mood up by making fancier dishes than usual, despite the fact that most of the crew had no appetite. It was most likely his way of coping since he didn't complain about the waste of food. Then again, he could be secretly hoping that Luffy would eat the leftovers once he was well.
Sanji also sought relief by flirting with Nami and Robin more often than usual, which was quite an accomplishment. His flirtation got so bad that even Robin got annoyed with him. She didn't have to say anything, but the evil eye she gave Sanji stopped all his advances towards her cold.
Zoro, meanwhile, did everything within his power to stay as far away from Sanji as possible, knowing that any contact they have would end with one of them being thrown off the ship by Nami. He also stood away from the infirmary and spent all his time training. He attempted to act the same, but everyone noticed the dark circles around the swordsman's eyes. He hasn't been sleeping at night lately and didn't even bother to take his daily naps. Robin was beginning to wonder if Zoro rested at all in the last couple of days.
There was a scary moment on the sixth day when Chopper thought Luffy was truly going to die when he felt his captain's heart speed up and his body twitched violently. Chopper went back, and forth between telling his crew about Luffy's failing health so they could at least say their goodbyes or keeping the hope that Luffy would still overcome this.
After a long night of struggling and prayers, Luffy began to finally turn the corner. Slowly, but surly his liver and kidneys began to work properly again and he was even starting to breathe on his own. Chopper was more than happy to remove all the equipment, despite Luffy not being out of the woods yet.
It was nearly two weeks after Luffy had been infected that he finally woke up in his right mind, free from his fever. Chopper never thought the word meat could sound so good.
"Shut up, you rubber idiot," Sanji grumbled as he dipped a spoon into the soup bowl. "Chopper said you're still too weak to have solid foods."
"But I want meat," Luffy whined as Sanji shoved a spoonful of broth into his mouth.
Luffy's life may have been spared, but he was still extremely weak from his ordeal. Even now, he could barely lift his arms and he slept for most of the day. His fever also some times returned during the night, but it was nowhere near as bad as before.
Despite Luffy's bedridden state, however, he was still in high spirits. Usopp visited him daily to tell him stories about how he helped saved Luffy's life when he was infected and how he singled-handedly ran the ship while he was sick. Robin also came by and decorated the infirmary with the purple flowers that she had gathered weeks ago. Somehow, those flowers were still as fresh as the day she picked them and kept their brilliance color. It went a long way to bring life into the otherwise dull room and ease the small of medicine that Luffy hated.
"If you keep recovering like this, you can have a little bit of meat tomorrow," Chopper said happily.
Zoro chose this time to walk into the infirmary. "Hey, Luffy. Good to see you looking so well."
Luffy gave a strain smile. "Yeah, although I still feel like crap."
"I guess you would," Chopper said as he became serious. "You came very close to dying. It's actually a miracle that you're even still alive."
"Like I would die before I became the Pirate King," Luffy chuckled as he sipped another mouthful of broth. "Besides, I have the best doctor in the world looking after me."
"Bastard, your words don't make me happy at all," Chopper said as he danced across the room.
Sanji rolled his eyes at the doctor's antics, but he had a small smile on his face as he continued to feed Luffy. Things were slowly returning to normal.
"I just came in to check on you," Zoro said as he turned to leave. "Call me if you need anything."
Luffy nodded as he sucked in more soup. Chopper decided to follow Zoro out so they could talk in private.
"Looks like everyone was right," Chopper said as he watched the swordsman pick up his training weights. He would had prefer that Zoro actually got some more sleep since he still had dark rings around his eyes, but he decided to let it pass for now. "I should have had more faith in Luffy."
"Don't be. You as the doctor knew his chances weren't good. You owe it to yourself as well as your crew to be honest," Zoro said. Nonetheless, it still unnerved him on how closed they came to losing their captain. He may of been a man of excitement, but this was the kind of event that he hoped never happened again.
Chopper said nothing for a moment as he stared at the cloudless sky. "It's funny. Life can be so fragile, yet so strong at the same time."
"Life is funny that way," Zoro said as he thought of his friend and rival. "We can't fight death forever, but we can try to make its job as hard as possible."
Chopper chuckled at Zoro's choice of words. Doctorine once said that the most important rule of being a doctor was accepting the fact that you can't save everyone. Yes, he knew he would eventually lose to death one day and his crewmates may very well die on his watch, but he was never going to surrender one of his patients without a fight. It may be naive, but that was his oath as a doctor and as a crewmate of the future Pirate King.
Well, this was a fairly hard story to write. This would be my third revision. What I was trying to show in this story is the kind of relationship Chopper has with death and how each new situation is a real battle with him. We know, as the readers, that none of the Strawhats can really die, but Chopper does not know that. For him, when his crew get hurt, there is a real chance they could die on him despite his medical skills.
As I wrote this story, however, it became more of an understanding of death that both Chopper and Zoro share that most of the crew can't really relate to except maybe Brook. Zoro learned at a young age that life is fragile given the way that such a strong person like Kuina could die from falling down a flight of stairs. Given the fact that Oda has made his characters survive some unbelievable situations, looking at you Pell and most of the characters in Skypiea, I've also come to realized that most of the Strawhats probably don't believe they can die in a similar fashion to Kuina. Which is why most of the crew feels Luffy would be just fine, despite the fact Chopper did not give them much hope. I strangely got a new insight to both Zoro and Chopper writing this story.
Finally, to address something zealousfreak27 brought up in my beta. I went back and forth about including more detail about Luffy's illness, but the story really wasn't about Luffy for once. Luffy was more or less just the stage to set up the events of this story so his illness wasn't all that important and didn't move the plot. I also wanted to include more of the Strawhats, but this was more of Chopper and Zoro's moment. Me torturing Luffy, that was just a bonus. lol
For a final reference, that quote Kureha's gave about death being fair came from Disney's Gargoyles. It was such a profound statement that even years later I remembered it. It really did change my view about death as strange as that sounds. Who says you do not learn anything from cartoons.
Until next story.