Chopper carefully sorts the pile of dried herbs on the table, still unscarred and unburned. Not like a real work table at all. At least, not yet. It is morning now. Soft early sunlight streaming into sickbay, though Usopp is still lying in shadow. Chopper keeps an ear trained on him, listening to his breathing— at least he's not wheezing anymore but his lungs still rattle, still full of the poison and Chopper can smell his fever hanging like a wet cloak in the air. The fever is good and bad. At least it means that his body is still trying to fight off the poison but Chopper has to be careful not to let it get too high.
The herbs blur and waver before his eyes and Chopper rubs away the wet with the back of his arm. Sleep is burning in the back of his eyeballs and he can feel his own body wearing down. He should sleep. He should at least nap but everything is strange. The Thousand Sunny is a great ship, but still too new and smells new. The Adam Wood bristles in his nose and they haven't sailed long enough for his nakama's scents to work into every surface. It is also too quiet. Chopper can hear the lap of the waves against the hull, the quiet rattling breath of Usopp, the still weird slap slap of Franky's bare feet on deck, but nothing else. There is no heavy thud of Zoro's boots or the clank of his weights or his snores which carried all through the Going Merry on any given day. No clatter of Nami's shoes or the squeak of her chair as she lounged. No sound of Sanji's regular steps, steady even on rough seas. It would be fine if it was just because they were at a port somewhere. It would be fine if he knew they were okay. But he doesn't and everything is so…so…weird.
The worst part is Chopper isn't even sure what happened. There was Zoro's date, which was interesting and then the weird ship and then the townspeople the Luffy promised to help and then…waking up and feeling like he wanted to cough his lungs out and Usopp and Robin being so sick and running to get the medicine…only to come back and everyone was gone. When he'd finally managed to find everyone, Luffy and Usopp were being pulled from the sea, Usopp barely conscious and fighting for every breath he could pull into his lungs. It had been horrible. Just horrible.
Chopper wipes at his eyes again at the memory and sniffs a glob of mucus back into his nose. Things had gotten a little better once he'd gotten Usopp stabilized and given an antidote to everyone. Franky had told him a little bit about Zoro and Sanji and Nami being on some ship and Luffy had said they would be back really soon except that was hours and hours ago and they haven't returned. It shouldn't be like this. It shouldn't! It was…was too much like that…that other time. The herbs waver again and Chopper sniffs and turns away so he won't wet them, a big knot forming in his gut. He goes to the porthole but it's too high for him and contemplates dragging over a chair before remembering himself and going into Heavy Point to peer out. The sea is a soft blue. Seagulls hang in a sky burned red and gold and he can faintly hear them gossiping to each other as seagulls often do.
Chopper wants to push open the porthole and ask if they've seen a green headed man anywhere nearby, but seagulls never much care for anyone but seagulls and Chopper doubts they will answer. He presses his nose against the cool glass, squinting into the horizon, trying to pick out sails or the weird pointy shape of the island's paddlewheel ship but there's nothing but waves and empty sky. The knot in his gut pulls tighter. What if they got captured? That would be horrible. Whoever could capture Zoro and Sanji will be really strong and even though Luffy is strong and Franky is strong and Robin is strong, Chopper is not so sure he's strong. At least not strong enough. And Usopp isn't in any kind of condition to fight except he'll probably want to fight and that will just make his lungs weaker and — and— and-!
Chopper yelps at the unexpected voice, popping into Brain Point on instinct and scrambles to hide beside a chair.
Stranger at the door! Stranger at the door!
No. Just Franky at the door, who still smells too much like stranger and Chopper's instincts are telling him to freeze, to just stay still and the Franky-creature won't notice. It's stupid reasoning, he knows distantly. Franky isn't a creature. He's a nakama. And anyway, Franky is looking right at him, one eyebrow raised above his weird, fierce eyes. The cyborg scratches the back of his neck.
"Didn't mean to scare you, bro, but, aren't you supposed to be hiding behind the chair?"
"Oh," Chopper says faintly. He tries to tell his fur to stop prickling when Usopp's breath catches and he gasps for a few seconds before starting to cough, in soft tired wheezes. Chopper's fur prickles and he hurries over to the sniper's side, putting on the stethoscope he had coiled nearby and pressing it against Usopp's chest. There is a more phlegm in Usopp's lungs than Chopper is comfortable with. He would have to give him a decongestant soon if Usopp wasn't able to bring it up on his own. Chopper pushes the stethoscope back and shifts into Heavy Point to press his fingers to Usopp's forehead and get a better gage of his fever. It has risen. That's not good but not too bad, yet. He will need to be cooled down a little.
"Longnose-bro is gonna be okay, right?" Franky says. "He looks like hell."
"He'll be okay," Chopper says as he dips a cloth in the bowl of water he'd kept by the bedside and drapes it gently over Usopp's head. "It's not as bad as it could be."
"That's good. He was pretty amazing out there," Franky says, coming into the room and dragging the chair around to sit on it backwards. "I mean, you look at him, and he's kinda scrawny compared to the rest of you, but he's one tough bastard." Franky gestures at him. "He got all the way to shore with Mugiwara all while hacking out a left lung, and then tried to go back for his hat. It was super, bro. Just inspiring. You guys are so dedicated."
Chopper smiles. Tries to hide it by ducking his head. That doesn't make him happy one bit! Not at all! That bastard! Of course Usopp is awesome! He wants to tell Franky all that Usopp had done in the past, but he's afraid the tomato monsters and the mermaid shark men would all jumble in his mind and he wouldn't be able to tell it straight. Anyway, telling any of Usopp's adventures seems like bad luck somehow. Like he won't be able to tell it himself. Usopp coughs again, a little stronger. Too fluid. Chopper will have to give him something.
"Gotta admit, though, you guys have me worried," Franky says as Chopper pulls his journal from a lower drawer.
"How so?" Chopper asks, setting the book on the table and flipping it open. He looks for ideas while keeping one ear cocked back on Franky. He doesn't want to reduce Usopp's fever too much, not until the heat can bring down the infection— but if Chopper can help him breathe easier at the same time that might reduce the stress on his body and let him get some real rest. Not willow bark, then. Too strong. But maybe…
"You seem to leak nakama right and left," Franky says. "Doesn't exactly put me in a secure frame of mind, if you know what I mean." Chopper stares at the journal, the words blurring and his gut knots again with worry and something else, too.
"It's not like that," Chopper says, staring absently at the black of his hooves against the white of the page. It isn't like that time. It isn't anything like that time. Back then it had been so uncertain, it had seemed so permanent, he still gets nightmares where he wakes up alone, nothing but the sound of the creaking ship around him.
"We didn't leak them," Chopper continues, setting his jaw. "They'll be back or we'll go and look for them. We'll find each other no matter how long it takes." Which he hopes isn't too long because he misses them all already. And what if one of the others has something really big and dark and dangerous they're running from? But no, it's okay, because they all know now that they're going to face everything together. Franky chuckles.
"Guess you're right about that, Doctor-bro. Mugiwara is damn persistent."
Chopper nods. They all are. Even when it seems impossible. Really impossible. Because what if Zoro and Sanji and Nami can't find their way back? And and what if - No. He can't think about that right now. He has to figure out what to do about Usopp. He snorts a challenge and presses his hooves against the page, forcing himself to focus. Some lemon balm tea mixed with sage would make Usopp sweat and help bring down the fever naturally. Chopper jots this down on a clean corner of the page. But it won't really help with the decongesting. That can be done with several things. He doesn't want Usopp to sit up too long to use steam, he can also diffuse peppermint oil which would help, but Chopper wouldn't be able to smell anything for days. He scratches his nose absently. Onion or garlic would work, or maybe mixing some coltsfoot in with the tea… Or maybe it can be a meal, a kind of broth or something, just nourishing enough to give his body the strength to fight. Only he's not entirely sure what will be best. Hmm. There didn't seem to be any help for it.
"Franky, can you keep your eye on him for a little?" Chopper asks.
"Sure, thing," Franky says. Chopper nods, flipping through the pages for other possible ingredients to make a sort of all in one medicine/meal. He pushes open the door that leads into the galley and says:
"San—" before catching himself. Oh no. Sanji isn't here. Robin is, though, sitting at the table, resting her chin in her hand and giving him a small smile. The rest of the galley is empty; the kitchen seems hollow, full of strange shadows and dusty smells. Chopper closes the journal and hugs it to his chest. What should he do? He feels uncertain suddenly. Not afraid. No. He's a man but… maybe a little anxious… Nothing is where it should be…
"Good morning," Robin says. "Are you hungry, too?" Her voice is still a little hoarse but most of the infection had drained from her in the night. Maybe it is because she has a greater constitution as a devil fruit user… Except Usopp's constitution is really good for a normal human and he is still fighting it. There has to be something else.
"Are you feeling alright?" he asks Robin, looking her over for any signs of lingering illness. She seems more tired than usual. Paler, too, but not feverish. She's still recovering. He frowns. "You should be resting."
"I know," Robin says, still with that faint smile. "I feel much better but I will definitely return to rest soon." She sighs and glances into the kitchen. "Unfortunately it seems that no one has returned. We'll have to make breakfast for ourselves this time, ne?"
"Y…yeah," Chopper says, hugging his book again. She doesn't move and neither does he. He knows it's okay. He knows Sanji would rather they help themselves rather than wait for him and be hungry. And it's not as if he hasn't taken food from the kitchen before… Of course most of that was during midnight raids on the Merry, sneaking behind Usopp with his heart pounding in his throat and his fur bristling all over the place. They'd only been caught once in a greedy two in a row night raid and they'd have probably gotten away with it if they hadn't bounced into Luffy sneaking in and the light had flicked on and there was Sanji and the rest of the time had been just a confused mess of Usopp and Luffy being smashed into walls while Chopper bolted up to the safety of the crow's nest where Zoro happened to be sleeping… Or maybe not sleeping because he'd told Chopper that if he was going to be stupid, he should stand up to the consequences and Chopper had went to apologize to Sanji, only then Nami had yelled at them all for making so much damn noise.
And now they're not here. They're not here and there's no telling where they are and going into the kitchen and using it seems to be inviting bad luck. Like Sanji and the others wouldn't be coming back. And there wouldn't be food raids or Nami yelling or anything. Chopper scrubs at his eyes with his arm again. They have to come back! They just have to!
But they aren't back yet and in the meantime he still has to make the medicine for Usopp. Robin is hungry, too and she's still recovering and Luffy always needs a lot of food because of his scary fast metabolism. R-Right! He can do this. After all he's cooked before and it's not too much different from making medicines! Chopper goes into Heavy Point, both to bolster his courage and so that he'll be able to reach the stove. He plops his journal down on the table then marches into the kitchen—stopping short as he sees the padlock on the refrigerator handle.
"I'll get that," Robin says and a hand blossoms from the door. Oh, right. She'd probably know, wouldn't she? After all Sanji has that weird thing with females—probably because they don't do midnight raids. Well, while she's doing that, he should get stuff to cook with. It's not hard finding pots and pans…but there are so many of them. Big ones and little ones and in between ones and lots of different lids. And the tools are even weirder. There's even something that looks like a small mallet. What can Sanji even do with all these? Does he really use them? Chopper can't begin to imagine it though he's watched Sanji cooking more than once.
But it's no time to get distracted. Even with all this stuff, Chopper can make a meal. Something simple… like soup! He doesn't need much for soup. Just a big spoon. There's one. And a big pot… there's a smaller pot beside it. Looking at it, Chopper gets an idea. Maybe he can make both the medicine and the breakfast at the same time. It shouldn't be too hard, right? After all, he already knows how to make the medicine…and Sanji cooks a lot of stuff at the same time, too.
Chopper grabs the two pots and sets them on the counter, filling them with water. He will start Usopp's first. He's not sure if it'll be nutritious or not but that doesn't matter right now. He puts both pots on the stove and after a moment's hesitation, turns both burners on. It will be okay. This is easy. Everyone is counting on him! First things first. He makes a quick dash into the infirmary, gathering the supplies he needs and doing a quick visual checkup on Usopp. His fever seems to be rising. That's not good at all! Chopper clenches his hands around the medicine bags.
"You doing okay?" Franky says. "You look like you're about to explode."
Of course he's not doing okay! How could he be? What if he can't bring the fever down? If the fever goes any higher Usopp might even die! Aaah! What should he do?! He needs a doctor!
Stop panicking, fool, says his inner Docterine in her rough voice. You know what to do. Yes. He does. Right. Chopper nods. He can do this! He can! Better use willowbark along with some decongestant. It's stronger but Usopp won't be able to handle the strain of the fever for much longer. It will affect his breathing and everything.
"I'm fine," he says because Franky still looks concerned. "You need to keep his forehead damp. He also needs to keep hydrated. I'll bring in some water and try to help him drink it but make sure he doesn't drink too fast."
"I dunno. I don't think I'd be too good at this nursemaiding thing," Franky says, rubbing the back of his neck. "I can watch him, sure. But I'm not too good at the whole actual taking care of…"
"Just do your best and make sure he doesn't choke," Chopper says and hurries out into the kitchen. He'd ask Robin but she's looking a bit peaked too and he wonders if she doesn't have a mild fever as well. He didn't even bother to check when he came in. She was poisoned, too, he reminds himself. He needs to give her a checkup and Luffy as well just in case. But first this. He bends over the smaller pot, checking to make sure the water temperature is just right before opening the first bag and realizes he doesn't have any measuring equipment with him. That's okay. He knows this. He is a doctor!
He adds the powder, crumples in the herbs and stirs a bit, keeping a nose on it which is most important. Eyes can trick you but smells never lie. Once it's blended well, he turns the heat down and then grabs a cup to fill it with water and bring it to the infirmary. Franky raises an eyebrow at him, as if he's still uncertain and Chopper frowns at him what he hopes looks like a really serious gonna kick your ass Zoro frown and not just a slightly rumpled reindeer doctor frown.
"Just give him tiny sips," Chopper says.
"Alright alright," Franky says, taking the cup which looks even smaller in his huge hand. "Have a little something to drink, Longnose-bro."
Chopper wants to stay and watch but a sniff tells him the heat is still turned up too high so he goes back into the kitchen to turn it down a little more. Stirs. Smells. Okay, good. He just has to wait about ten minutes. Now for the soup. The water is already boiling pretty heavily. Ah. That's probably not a good thing. Chopper turns it down. He's not going to mess up before he's even started! He waits until the water has calmed some before looking at Robin who is watching him.
"I'm going to make soup," he says. "For breakfast. Um. What do you want in it?"
"Anything will be fine," Robin says. "I'm sure whatever Chopper cooks will be delicious."
"That doesn't make me happy at all, bastard!" Chopper says, smiling so hard his cheeks hurt. Ahh! She has so much confidence in him! Okay! He can't let her down. He goes back into Brain Point and opens the refrigerator and blinks. There is so much food in here. It's nearly stuffed full but everything seems to be organized just so. Chopper's gaze is drawn to two slices of chocolate cake, swirled with something white, with a small dab of whipped cream on top and cherries in the shape of hearts. It looks soo goood.
But that is not what he is here for; he reminds himself as he sucks the little bit of chocolate he swiped from the end of one of the cakes from the tip of his hoof. He's looking for soup stuff. Where are the vegetables? He can't really see any but there are lots of little drawers so maybe one of those? He takes another little swipe and thinks about it. Chocolate is so good for thinking!
He is about to open one of the drawers when there is a knock at the galley door. Chopper blinks, pulling his head out of the fridge to look doorward. Someone is knocking? Where they back?! Hope surges in him but dies down just as quickly. No… they wouldn't knock. But who could it be? No one has ever knocked on the door before. There is another knock. Softer, as if the person knocking is afraid. Chopper glances at Robin who raises her eyebrows. Hands blossom from the wall to open the door and Chopper tenses wondering who it might be.
The door swings open to reveal one of the village girls, holding a basket of vegetables and looking anxious. She's familiar but Chopper can't place her.
"Hello, Sundae-chan," Robin says warmly and Chopper relaxes a little.
"Hello," she says, clutching the basket of vegetables to herself. "I…I'm sorry to intrude but I was wondering about Usopp-san…"
"He'll be okay!" Chopper says with a smile and he's even fairly confident about this. There are always variables, of course, but as long as his fever doesn't go too high…
"And…Zoro-san?" Sundae says her face hopeful even as her fingers press into the weaving. Chopper looks down again, unsure of what to tell her. He always hates giving bad news. It's easier when he can fix it. It's almost even easier if no one can fix it but… but this hovers somewhere in the realm of maybe…
"They're…not back yet," Chopper says softly, absently tracing the edge of the pot until it gets too hot and singes his finger. He shakes it out and sticks it in his mouth and out of the corner of his eye, sees Sundae look down again.
"Oh…" she says.
"But they will be soon enough," Robin says, and Chopper waits for the inevitable:
'If they didn't drown'
'If they didn't get eaten by rabid whale sharks'.
But Robin only says:
"What's that you brought with you?"
"What? Oh. It's um… a present, from my village," Sundae says. "Well…from me and Mama. Well…from me. She doesn't know I'm up here. I think she's afraid you'll kidnap me for revenge but I don't believe that!"
"We wouldn't," Robin agrees with a smile. "You'd taste awful even if we cooked you."
"Ehhh?!" Sundae shrieks stumbling back from the door.
"Don't make jokes with such a straight face or she'll believe you!" Chopper cries, nerves fluttering in panic as he flails at her. Now Sundae is going to get really scared and she'll run back to the village and she should be their friend and not run away!
"Sorry, sorry," Robin says but sounds more amused than sorry.
"She didn't mean it!" Chopper says, holding up both hooves, to— show he was unarmed— push Robin's sorry at her, even he wasn't sure but it seemed the right thing to do. Sundae blinks at him.
"I know that."
"So you should just—" Wait what? "Eh?" he says, freezing in place. "Then why did you scream?"
"Because it's fun," Sundae says.
Chopper stares at her.
Sundae stares at him.
A small wind blows and for a moment Chopper thinks he can see something. But that moment is gone in an instant and Chopper hangs his head. Humans… He'll never understand them. Not one bit. He trots back around the kitchen counter and cautiously pops back into Heavy Point, prepared for a shriek or a cry of 'monster' or something like that. Sundae is staring at him, but she doesn't smell afraid. Instead she grins a little.
"You did that before. I remember. You changed into a moose."
"I'm a reindeer." He's so used to saying that now… At least she got close to the same species but there is no way he looks anything at all like a moose.
"Oh. A moose would be cooler."
"No one's asking you!" Besides! Reindeer were plenty cool! In some legends they could fly! Usopp had told him that and Robin had even agreed with that one so it must be completely one hundred percent true. Usopp had even known a few flying reindeer and had gone with them on a sleigh to deliver chocolate eggs to people. But thinking of Usopp…
Chopper turns his attention back to the medicine, sniffing it to check the balance. Perfect. He lowers the heat a little more and watches out of the corner of his eye as Sundae comes over to him and stands on tiptoe to peer into the pot.
"That's a weird looking soup," she says.
"It's medicine. I haven't started on the soup yet."
"Oh, can I do that? Mama taught me a super special recipe and I'm not very good at making it yet, but I'm still pretty good and I bet I can make it even better!"
"Sure!" Chopper says; glad that he can focus on the important things. Sundae grins at him and for the next few moments, things are almost normal again. Or at least comfortable. Chopper focuses on the medicine but helps Sundae and Robin find stuff to cook with, noting where they came from so they could be put back precisely. But soon the medicine is done and he scoops out a bowl for Usopp and…preemptively Franky, and goes back into the med bay.
Franky is still sitting on the chair by the bed except somehow he's acquired a guitar though Chopper could have sworn he hadn't heard the man leave.
"I think he's doing fine," Franky says, strumming a few soft notes with impossibly big fingers. "Hasn't coughed once."
That might be good or it might be because his lungs were getting too weak for it. Chopper frowns and checks his fever first. Still a little high but coming down. He replaces the dried cloth on Usopp's forehead with a damp one, and then puts the stethoscope in his ears to listen to Usopp's breathing. Still really congested. Chopper sniffs and wipes at his eyes before propping Usopp up as best he can and carefully feeding him the medicine. The sniper stirs and moans a bit, coughs but doesn't waken. Once the bowl is empty, he eases Usopp back down and decides to check back in five minutes to see if anything has changed.
"How is he, doc?" Franky says, strumming another soft cord.
"He'll be all right." He has to be all right. Chopper won't let him be anything else. But for right now there are other sick nakama. "Let me check you."
"I'm feeling fine, but okay," Franky says, setting the guitar to the side. He doesn't look feverish at all but Chopper presses the stethoscope to his chest anyway and closes his eyes. It's still hard to know what he's listening for. Franky's body still sounds strange. The breathing has a metallic undertone and there are always bubbling sounds that in a normal human would mean a quick and inevitable death. But it's cola, Franky has said, and Chopper believes him because out of all of his crew, Franky knows his own body. He'd even showed Chopper a schematic once and Chopper couldn't help but be impressed. Franky was really an accomplished surgeon in his own right and Chopper finds a certain comfort in the fact that if someone loses an arm or a leg, Franky will be there to help with a sort of prosthetic.
But for all that he's a cyborg; he's still got organic parts, too. A heart for instance, and a lung and a half and it's the organic lung he's worried about. The other seems pretty efficient at draining the fluid though Chopper's still not so sure about the reliability of a half mechanized liver. He makes a mental note to keep an eye on things and listens carefully. There still seems to be a touch of congestion. It probably won't hurt Franky all that much but it was better to be safe than sorry.
"Here," he says, handing Franky the bowl. "You're still a little congested so you should drink some." Franky takes the bowl in one huge hand and scratches the back of his neck with the other.
"I never really take this kind of thing, doctor-bro. Cola only." And he taps his stomach which rings a bit. Chopper frowns. He doesn't really need it that badly but…
"Okay, but let me know if it gets harder to breathe on one side." And they can figure out something from there. "I should go check on Robin and Luffy…" Chopper says, glancing uncertainly at Usopp still lying there. He doesn't know if Franky will really want to stay here a little longer. He'd promised to be back soon but…
"Don't worry. I got it covered. Now go make sure Nico Robin feels as good as she looks. Ow!" Franky says, and Chopper is pretty sure that last part is because of the hand that had grown out of his shoulder and flicked him on the ear. Robin only seems amused when he goes back out into the dining room, though. He checks her and finds she's still fairly congested, though not half as bad as Usopp, and has a light fever on top of it.
"You need to go back to bed and relax," Chopper says, handing her a bowl which she drinks dutifully. "Unless you're hungry now you should wait a bit before eating and let me know if you start feeling dizzy or the coughing gets worse."
"Whatever you say, cute doctor-chan," Robin says, patting his hat and Chopper wiggles and blushes under the attention, pulling the brim of the hat over his eyes.
"Ahh, I'm not cute! Shut up!"
Robin chuckles and coughs a little, says goodbye to Sundae and takes her leave. Chopper watches closely to make sure her gait is even and she's not stumbling or holding onto the walls. But she's smart and unlike other annoying members of his crew, knows to take care of herself and tell him what's wrong rather than letting a four inch gash bleed rivers down his side and say it's barely even a paper cut. A paper cut! How the heck had they survived this long without him, he has no idea.
"The soup is done…" Sundae says, drawing his attention back to her. She's frowning over it and her shoulders are slumped as if she's worried. Worried about them, probably. Chopper swallows and works his hooves together.
"You can stay and have some if you like," Chopper says, wondering if that's even the right thing. He moves back over to the counter and scoops up a bowl of medicine for Luffy and a bowl of soup, too. "I'll be right back; I'm going to go bring these to Luffy."
"Can I come?" Sundae asks, looking up at him. "Can…can I help?" She looks really concerned so all Chopper can do is nod. He hands her the bowl of soup and together they head out into the bright day. The sky seems too blue, the sun sparkling off the water too happy, like it doesn't know they're missing something. That's the way things go, though. No matter who you miss, the world goes on without you.
Luffy is sitting on the figurehead as he usually does in his special seat. Though it's different than normal. Rather than relaxed or hanging on for the ride, he's sitting straight, arms and legs crossed. But it's not like he's waiting. Or at least it doesn't seem so. More like demanding that Zoro and the others come back right now. Chopper wants to go and demand with him; only he still has Usopp to see to.
"Luffy," Chopper calls when they're close enough. "Come here. I need to check you out."
"Eh? Okay." Luffy says and hops onto the deck. Chopper sees a rubbery hand around the medicine bowl in his hand and before he can even think to stop him, both soup and medicine bowls have been emptied into Luffy's mouth.
"Damnit, you're supposed to wait!" Chopper snaps at him. "You don't even know what those were!"
"But they're from Chopper so it's safe, right?" Luffy says, though still sounding a little solemn and Chopper calms down a bit. Oh yeah. Right. Still he's not really supposed to take both at once. Chopper huffs a breath and comes closer. Very light fever, nearly broken and some congestion, but not much. Luffy's always had an insane constitution, though. Chopper has never seen anything like it.
"L-Luffy-san," Sundae says, sounding on the verge of tears. "I…I'm sorry…" And then she is crying. Chopper glances over at her to see her scrubbing the tears away with the back of her hand.
"Sundae…," Chopper says, but is not sure what's wrong. What she's sorry for.
"I'm s-sorry that Zoro-san is g-gone away now. It's a-all our f-fault. E-even after he helped us so much"
"N-no it's okay!" Chopper said, wondering why Luffy wasn't saying anything. Luffy always said things that made it better. "Th-they'll be back. Right, Luffy?"
"Yeah," Luffy says, still in that tone that is serious but not really uplifting.
"No, they won't," Sundae says, gripping the bottom of her shirt and crying openly now, tears and snot running down her face. "N-no one's ever come back. Not ever! Th-they all disappear and w-we never see them a-again!"
"The weird lady pirates come back, don't they?" Luffy says and Chopper, startled, looks up at him. Oh right! They do, don't they? So if they can come back, Zoro and the others can come back, too! Especially since Nami is with them!
"O—oh," Sundae says as if that had just occurred to her. She twists her shirt in her hands again. "But…but what if they get perfumed or—"
"They'll be back," Luffy says, then looks down at Chopper. "How is Usopp?" '
"He'll pull through," Chopper says, looking down at his feet. He wants to tell him Usopp'll be okay, really. Or just leave it at that but—Luffy is still watching him. "It's just…he's having a harder time of it because his body was under a lot of stress."
"He was really cool, though," Sundae says earnestly as if trying to assure Luffy. "He made sure everyone was safe!"
"Of course he did," Luffy says with a grin in his voice that makes Chopper relax a little. "Make him better, soon, Chopper," Luffy says holding something out to him and when Chopper looks, sees it's the hat. A little jolt of something prickles his fur and makes the backs of his eyes sting and he holds it back while he takes the hat carefully in his hooves.
"This will help him get better a hundred percent!"
"Good," Luffy says, and goes back to his perch, seeming a little more relaxed now. Sundae peers at the hat curiously but doesn't say anything until they are back to the galley.
"It doesn't look really special."
"But it is," Chopper says. He doesn't know how to explain it. He doesn't even know the whole story. Not really. But he knows this hat is more special than anything. It smells like Luffy, and the sea, and adventure, and the faint…faint smell of…well something burning. But there is no heat anywhere so maybe he's just mistaking the smell for something else. He steps into the sick bay and stops short when he sees Robin sitting in Franky's chair, a blanket draped around her shoulders. Franky has moved to dominate the far wall and grins at him, giving him a thumbs up, though Chopper isn't sure why.
"This is okay, isn't it?" Robin asks. And Chopper is about to say that she should really be lying down but watches her glance to Usopp. Oh. He smiles a little.
"It's okay," he says. He puts the hat carefully on Usopp's stomach. Just where it looks like it belongs. "I'm here now, Franky," he says over his shoulder to the cyborg. "You can leave if you want."
"Nah. I think I'll hang out here for a little while."
Chopper's smile widens and he sits on the edge of the bed so that Usopp will know he's there and so he can check on him from time to time. Sundae carefully sits beside Usopp's legs and looks at him, but she seems worried, knotting her fingers together.
"You guys seem strong," she says quietly. "But…but will it really be all okay?"
"Of course it will," Chopper says, believing it completely this time. "We've been through more than this. Even Usopp's been through more. He's always going on adventures. This one time he fought fifty foot poisonous plant people all on his own!"
"Ehh? Really?!" Sundae says, her eyes going huge.
"I remember that story," Robin says with a laugh. "You should tell it."
"That's a new one for me," Franky adds with a grin. "Go on, Doctor-bro. Tell it like you mean it."
"Okay!" Chopper scrambles to his feet and tries to put on the most Usoppish pose possible, feet braced wide, hands on hips, shoulders thrown back. "There he was, all alone on a deserted island… except…there was a village there for some reason um…"
"Castaways," Robin says.
"Oh right! They were washed ashore when they were attacked by a ghost ship! That story is really spooky too. Oh…and …and Usopp had just defeated the ghost ship… No, wait… Yeah! He had! And he crawled on the island, barely surviving and saw the wrecked people about to be menaced by plant people fifty-five and a half feet tall. The half is the most important part," Chopper says, putting a hoof to his lips like Usopp did sometimes. He can't remember why the half was important just now but he is sure Robin does. Franky chuckles.
"I bet it was the most important part. Ow! Woman!"
Sundae giggled and Chopper grinned. Thought a second, then remembered:
"Oh yeah, so he saw them coming up and said:" And Chopper went into Usopp pose again, though this time put up one hoof as if stopping an invisible horde of menacing fifty-five and a half foot tall poisonous plant people. "You'd better stop right there, you big green beasts!" Chopper says, trying for the deepest manliest voice he can manage. "Because this island is now under the protection of the Great Captaaain Usopp! Wa ha ha ha ha…."