Shedding Season

A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

Summary: A reindeer's antlers are his pride and joy. Unfortunately he doesn't get to keep them the whole time. Features the whole crew; nakamaship, no pairings. One-shot, complete.

Note: Trying to get back in the writing mood. Figured this idea would be a good exercise.

Warnings: Rated K+ for a little swearing, but that's it.

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, One Piece or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Eiichiro Oda. The only thing that belongs to me here is the concept for the story.

Chopper enjoyed his new place in Luffy's crew, and with all the adventures and fights and islands they visited and places they found the time flew past in a blur. He didn't even think twice about the passage of months. So it was almost a shock when he woke up one spring morning to the familiar (and dreaded) sensation of his his head feeling a little lighter than usual, his horns a little more wobbly, with the fabric of his hat tugging unnaturally as the crown of normally-stationary antlers pulled at him.

Oh no. It couldn't be that time of the year already, could it?

Frantic, he dived for the nearest calendar to check the date, and groaned slightly at what he saw. They definitely were in early spring globally, even if they'd been visiting winter and summer and fall islands more recently, and apparently his biological clock wasn't fooled by the climate shifts at all. Very worried now, he slipped into the boys' bathroom and glanced in the mirror, prodding anxiously (but very carefully) at his horns, hoping against hope he was mistaken. He'd spent a lot more time than usual transforming into his human form since he'd been with Luffy's crew, what with all the fights and all—maybe that would prolong it?

No such luck. The antlers shifted alarmingly under his hooves, and though they were still just barely attached to his skull he had a feeling it wouldn't last long. Antler-shedding season was on him, just like it was every year for every reindeer, even the ones still back home on Drum Island.

Chopper moaned to himself worriedly. How could he possibly have forgotten? He remembered every year back when he was on Drum Island. He hated shedding season. He felt naked without his horns, and totally defenseless—even though with his transformation powers he was more able to defend himself than most of his old herd! It felt wrong not to have that comfortable weight on his head, there if he needed it to charge down enemies, and a reindeer wasn't a reindeer at all without his horns. Sometimes he felt like his antlers were his only real link back to being just a reindeer; it was the only normal thing about him, reindeer-wise, after his blue nose and his intelligence and the clothes he wore. And now he wouldn't have them at all, for a month or two at least.

And...and what would the others think? Chopper clicked his hooves together anxiously, suddenly worried at the reactions of the rest of the Straw Hats when they found out. Luffy thought his horns were awesome—would he be less awesome when he didn't have them? Would Zoro and Sanji think he was totally useless in a fight now, without them? Would Franky think he was less 'super?' Would Usopp be mad that they wouldn't be able to do the Uso-Cho Hammer Shooting Star combo attack for a while? Each thought made him more and more anxious, and he resolved to try and hide it for as long as he could. Maybe he could find some medical way to circumvent it, keep them attached. Yeah. That was it. He'd try that.

He scrambled out of the bathroom when Brook politely inquired if he was going to be finished soon, and headed for breakfast. The meal went alright, and nobody seemed to notice that his horns were a little more wobbly than usual, which was a start. Unfortunately he was afraid to do anything too sudden or sharp, nervous that if he jarred them too much they would dislodge and fall off, and Luffy was able to steal half of his breakfast easily when Chopper couldn't put up a fight. Sanji kicked his captain in the head for it, and Nami inquired curiously if Chopper was feeling okay.

"I'm fine!" Chopper assured hastily, as Sanji finished kicking his captain out of the galley and refilled Chopper's plate. ", that's it!"

Nami and Robin both gave him puzzled looks, but said nothing. Phew. Part one of the day was over.

After breakfast, Chopper was inclined to head for his infirmary and start trying to figure out a cure for his antler-shedding problem before it was too late. Or at the very least, a way to keep them stuck on if they did fall off, although he dreaded the thought of it happening. But Luffy and Usopp eagerly challenged him to a game of tag all over the Sunny as soon as he emerged from the galley, and Chopper was torn. He couldn't act weird or they would be suspicious, and it would be weird for him to say no to such a fun game, especially when the Sunny was so huge and there was a lot of room to play. Luffy and Usopp watched him with big grins, waiting for the expected yes, and at last Chopper tentatively agreed.

And he did play, but he was very, very careful to take it easy; he didn't want to jar his horns loose. It was tougher than he expected, since Luffy and Usopp's games frequently became more rambunctious, especially when Luffy started using his rubber powers for long-range tags and launching strikes to catch his targets. Chopper mostly tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, and when he inevitably became it he was too slow to catch them, even in Walk Point, when it was usually a breeze.

They finally slowed down and regarded him with odd looks. Luffy's face was a mask of disappointment, and Usopp said with a frown, "Are you sure you're not feeling bad? I think you might be coming down with something. You're totally out of it, Chopper."

"N-no, I'm fine!" Chopper said hastily. They still continued to stare at him, and he bit his lip anxiously—had something happened to his horns while he spoke? He raised his hooves up and carefully pat at them, hoping it looked more like he was fixing his hat while really checking for the damage.

"I don't know," Usopp said, giving him a suspicious look. Then his expression changed to one of exaggerated shock, and pointing behind Chopper, he yelled dramatically, "Look, Zoro's taking off his bandages!"

"It's fine," Chopper said absently, preoccupied with checking his horns. "His injuries are almost healed anyway, it won't hurt him—"

He ground to a halt at the shocked looks they gave him; even Luffy's jaw was dropping (an impressive feat when one was made of rubber) as they stared at him with wide eyes. "Okay," Usopp said, crossing his arms, "Now I know something's wrong with you, 'cause you never ignore that even when it's just a bandaid for a paper-cut. Maybe you should just go lie down, Chopper."

"Yeah," Luffy agreed, after he'd finally reclaimed his jaw from the deck. "No one on my crew's allowed to be sick! Go get better. Captain's orders."

Chopper was actually quite touched by their concern for him, not that it was valid this time around. He opened his mouth to insist that he was perfectly fine—

Nami gave a sudden warning shout from somewhere on one of the upper decks, and the next moment there was a heavy swell of water beneath them as the Sunny rode a particularly large wave. Luffy, Usopp and Chopper all pitched over onto the deck as they lost their balance. It didn't hurt, but Chopper's heart filled with dread as he felt the all-too-familiar tug at his skull, and heard a sudden wooden clack as his antler fell to the deck—two feet away from the rest of him.

There was a sudden silence as the Sunny recovered and everyone scrambled to their feet, and stared in open-mouthed surprise at the now one-horned Chopper. Luffy was the first to break it, and pointing at the reindeer, he yelped, "Aagh! Chopper, your antler is totally gone! I knew something wasn't right!"

Chopper's eyes watered at the sudden accusation, and being caught out in the open with no way to hide the problem he'd been hoping to conceal all day. He whimpered, and then burst into tears, turning around and darting for his infirmary as fast as he could. He felt the second antler tug free and clack to the deck behind him, along with Luffy's clueless, "Why'd he run off?" before he slammed and locked both the doors, and drew all the curtains over the portholes closed. Then he curled up on the cot and sobbed bitterly into the pillow. They were all going to hate him now because he wasn't a proper reindeer anymore. He was totally finished as a Straw Hat. He'd never hated shedding season so much before.

It felt he was curled up, miserable and alone, for hours, days even. But when he heard a sudden pounding at the infirmary door and tentatively lifted his head to glance at the clock he kept in the room, he was surprised to find it hadn't been more than twenty minutes.

The pounding at the door thudded a second time, and Chopper heard Zoro's deep voice growl through the Adam wood planks, "Hey, Chopper. Get out here. We wanna talk to you."

Chopper glared tearfully at the door and whimpered, "No, no way. I'm never coming out again. You won't like me if I do."

The pounding stopped, and there was a slight creaking noise that suggested Zoro had probably leaned against the door. "That's stupid," the swordsman said back. "You're on the crew. We like you. End of story."

Chopper sniffled. "I don't believe you," he said, and clamped his hooves over the empty, furless patches where his antlers had been not even half an hour ago.

There was an exasperated sigh from the other side. "Look, everybody's worried, they think you're hurt or sick or something. Luffy and Usopp were babbling like crazy, and the rest of us could barely understand'em. You wanna come out and explain?"

"No," Chopper said, very insistently.

Silence for a moment from the other side, and then Zoro said, "Okay, fine. I'll break the door down if I have to, and then Franky's gonna try to beat the crap out of me for ruining his ship, and then you'll have to come out to treat us anyway. Or, you can come out now, and save us all the trouble."

Well. When he put it that way.

Chopper sniffled again, and slowly climbed off the cot, trotting over to the door and opening it slowly. He took a deep breath and looked up, fully expecting ridicule and contempt for now being a weak, hornless not-exactly-a-reindeer, but Zoro just blinked down at him once and said, "Well, you don't look wounded or sick. Now come on, everybody's waiting in the galley," and turned to lead the way.

Chopper was bewildered by the reaction, or rather the lack of one. Zoro hadn't even looked at where his horns had been. It was like he didn't even notice that they were gone! He hesitated, unsure, but then slowly trotted after Zoro and into the galley.

Seven other faces looked over at him worriedly when he entered. For a moment Chopper cringed—maybe Zoro hadn't reacted, but certainly one of them would be mad, or not want him around anymore because he wasn't a proper reindeer. But the only expressions he caught were ones of confusion or—more common—relief, and Usopp even said, "Oh, good! We thought you got hurt really bad when that wave knocked us over. Don't scare us like that!" Luffy nodded in agreement.

Zoro nudged Chopper forward to take a seat before sitting down himself, and Chopper noticed for the first time that his antlers were laid out carefully on the galley table, just in front of Robin. He noted briefly with relief that the metal plate was still wrapped around what had been the left one; he didn't want to lose that. Then he looked up nervously at the others, while fidgeting with his hooves.

"Okay, Chopper," Nami said, getting straight to the point, but her voice was gentle enough. "What happened?"

Chopper was silent for a moment, but all of them, even Luffy, waited patiently for him to answer. He didn't really want to, but they'd caught him, and they hadn't been mean about it yet. Without warning he gathered his courage and blurted suddenly, "It's shedding season back home!"

This mostly prompted confused looks, but Robin suddenly nodded in understanding. "That does explain a few things," she observed, as she gently picked up one of the antlers with a pair of spontaneously grown hands. "We were afraid they had been broken somehow, perhaps by illness, but there is no sign of breakage at the end here." She tapped the section of the horn that had been connected to Chopper's skull very gently and respectfully before setting it down.

"Wait, so...this is normal, little bro?" Franky asked, raising his sunglasses to display surprised eyes. "You're not sick or anything?"

"No," Chopper said slowly, and then with a sigh he decided to just explain everything. "Every year reindeer shed their antlers for a few months, around the beginning of spring. After a while they'll start to grow back, but until then I won't have any antlers at all. That's why they fell off. I'm not sick." Then he wilted, and waited for the reaction, because if he didn't even have the excuse of illness or injury they were sure to be unhappy.

But once again the reactions weren't what he expected. "Oh," Luffy said idly, finger up his nose, "That's it? Oh well."

"Idiot!" Sanji scowled, kicking him in the face. "Interrupting my wonderful cooking for Nami-san and Robin-chan's mid-morning snack for that?"

"I was so afraid my heart was thundering in my chest, out of concern for my friends," Brook declared. "Wait—I don't have a heart! Yohohoho!"

Chopper grit his teeth, and abruptly slammed his little hooves on the table, squeaking angrily, "What do you mean, 'that's it'? Don't you understand? My antlers are gone! I can't even be a good reindeer without antlers! It's really important for a reindeer to have antlers! It's's like Luffy without his hat! Or Zoro without his swords! Or Sanji without his eyebrow!"

"Hey," Sanji interrupted, and the mentioned eyebrow twitched slightly in irritation, but Chopper was on a roll now and too steamed up to care.

"I'm not right without antlers! And I already miss them and they've only been gone for a few minutes! And I look silly and my head feels all light and people will call me a tanuki even more and I can't even tell them off because I don't look like a reindeer at all without my antlers, and I'll be useless in a fight when I can't charge things in Walk Point, and my Horn Point won't even have horns for a while, and—"

A hand sprouted from the table and covered his mouth, cutting off his increasingly panicked ranting, and Robin said calmly, "Please calm down and breathe, Chopper."

"Yeah, man," Franky agreed. "It's good to know you ain't sick, so don't go making yourself sick for real!"

The reindeer's eyes teared up, and after he got a few good, slow breaths in and calmed down a little, he said anxiously, "You guys aren't...mad...because I don't have my antlers anymore?"

"Why would we be?" Nami said, sounding perplexed. "You're still you."

"Besides," Usopp offered brightly, "You said they'd grow back in a month or two. So there's nothing for you to worry about!"

"And if you are so concerned about combat, we will certainly protect you until they return, Chopper-san," Brook contributed.

"You shouldn't be fighting anyway," Zoro said reasonably. "You're the doctor. We'd be screwed if you got yourself killed."

"You would be," Sanji told him with a scowl, only to receive an angry glare in turn.

" you're not mad? I can stay?" Chopper asked hopefully, looking over to Luffy.

The captain's grin was enormous as he said, "Well, of course! You're my friend. And my friends stay on my crew, so you're not allowed to leave."

Chopper found his eyes watering again as he offered a tentative, relieved grin. He scrambled across the table and leapt at Luffy, burying his blue nose in the captain's vest as he said, "Th-thank you! I'm s-sorry I tried to hide it, I won't again!"

Luffy just grinned. "Great! Now let's go play a real game of tag this time!"

It was reassuring to know the crew didn't look at him any differently and still wanted him around, and their insistence that it was perfectly fine for him to be hornless for a month or two was encouraging, but Chopper couldn't help but still feel a bit sensitive about it all the same. He'd never liked losing his horns in the past, and he still hated the way his head felt too light and the way his hat fell off much more easily and how his only natural defense was completely gone.

But he definitely had to admit, this shedding season was a little better, in the company of his friends. Because as soon as they caught on that the whole mess still made him uncomfortable, they quickly did anything in their power to put him at ease. And the Straw Hats were capable of doing some very powerful things.

It started with the new game of tag. Now that he didn't have to worry about his antlers falling off, Chopper was more willing to careen around the deck after (or away from) Luffy and Usopp, but he soon encountered a new problem. Without his heavy rack of antlers (heavy compared to his Brain Point's body weight anyway), he found himself tripping constantly and having a hard time balancing as he tried to adjust, or overcompensating for something that wasn't there anymore only to topple clean over. It was frustrating because it interrupted the game, and Chopper didn't want to be useless at playing too. Luffy had said he wasn't going to get kicked off the ship, but he didn't want to be boring and un-fun, either!

But just when he was about to give up and bitterly throw in the towel, he felt a sudden comforting weight on his head, and Luffy's and Usopp's expressions changed to excited grins. Confused, Chopper reached up to pat at his hat, and discovered something sprouting from his head where his antlers had been earlier—fleshy and less hardened than his own antlers had been, but about the same weight, more or less. They were Robin's arms, Chopper realized after a moment, complete with carefully spread fingers so that they almost resembled actual reindeer antlers.

"That's so awesome, Robin!" Luffy cheered enthusiastically, and shouted for the benefit of the other crew members who weren't immediately watching the game, "Chopper's got his horns again, look, look!"

"Robin, thanks!" Chopper said delightedly, eyes sparkling with excitement. He almost felt normal again, and certainly more balanced than he had earlier.

Robin looked up from her deck chair with a soft smile. "They are only temporary, of course," she told the doctor, "But I daresay I can manage while you play your games, at least."

So Chopper did, and by the end of the rigorous games of tag and hide-and-go-seek an hour and a half later he'd managed to catch Usopp and Luffy several times, and didn't fall over once because his head felt too light. And when a few extra 'antlers' spontaneously sprouted from the heads of Luffy and Usopp as well, they had a grand old time laughing and fooling around over that, too.

By lunch Chopper had almost forgotten about being antler-less. Unfortunately Robin had been forced to disperse his fake antlers not too long before they ate—Chopper supposed it wasn't easy to sustain a Devil Fruit power constantly like that, so he couldn't really blame her—and he felt sort of lonely and empty without them again.

But his mood improved almost immediately when he stepped into the galley. Because although Sanji acted just as gruff and swore just as much as he always did, and insisted lunch had been made especially for the 'lovely ladies,' Chopper noticed that almost all of the foods were amongst his favorites. Better yet, Sanji had somehow managed to produce chocolate ice cream for dessert, which wasn't cotton candy but it was still pretty awesome, and Chopper was served first (after Nami and Robin anyway) despite Luffy's drooling and whining. It was a very enjoyable lunch, and Chopper didn't think about his missing antlers during it once.

During the afternoon Franky and Usopp disappeared downstairs to work on some project or other of theirs, and the rest of the crew dispersed to take care of their own chores or handle their own personal projects. Chopper tried to work on a new batch of Rumble Balls for a while, but he was all too aware of his missing antlers while he tried to use the grinding wheel to prepare some of the ingredients, and eventually he gave up and traipsed out onto the deck to sit despondently on the lawn.

Luffy found him there after maybe half an hour, and sat next to him, giving him a puzzled look. "What's wrong, Chopper?"

"I still miss my horns," Chopper said dejectedly.

Luffy blinked at him, and apparently not quite understanding, said, "Why? I already told you you're my friend and you're staying, and nobody minds if you don't have horns. So you're not allowed to be sad about it."

It was straightforward and simplistic logic as always, just like Luffy. Chopper wished he could believe it, and he knew nobody on the crew had a problem with it, but still... "I can't help it," he said out loud, and although Luffy was silent he knew the captain was listening. "I just...miss them. They're always there, you know? And now they're not. And I really meant what I said earlier, I can't be a real reindeer without horns and I look silly when I don't have them, just like tanuki. I don't want people to think I'm a tanuki even more!"

"We don't," Luffy said. He seemed oblivious to Chopper's plight. "We know you're a reindeer. So who cares?"

"I do," Chopper said in frustration. "It matters to me."

Luffy seemed to consider this thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, "Okay then!" And before Chopper could so much as open his mouth to speak, Luffy whipped his straw hat off of his head and plopped it with a note of finality on top of Chopper's own pink hat.

"If it matters that much," Luffy told him cheerfully, as Chopper's eyes started to water at the motion, "then you wear this today. People'll pay so much attention to my awesome hat that they won't even notice the antler thing. And now you have to cheer up—captain's orders!"

"Th-thanks, Luffy," Chopper blubbered, and tackled Luffy in an enthusiastic hug for the second time that day. Luffy just grinned blindingly.

By the end of the day Chopper felt much better about his new antler-less life that would be ahead of him for the next few weeks, and was able to return Luffy's hat with much more confidence than before. And for the next few days on the ship he did feel pretty good, and nobody said anything particularly mean or even noticed that he didn't have antlers at all, and they all knew he was a reindeer. He felt pretty good about all of it.

So when they arrived at a new island's port, Chopper was feeling excited enough to do a little shopping and exploring. He was hoping he could find a few new medical textbooks, and maybe some interesting sweet snacks as well. He was going to ask a few of the others to go with him, but Franky and Usopp had mysteriously vanished into the town as soon as they arrived, and Sanji was already off as well to do some restocking of their supplies. Luffy went with him, though, and Zoro as well (Chopper suspected the latter only agreed to get out of carrying all the heavy foodstuffs Sanji would have otherwise loaded him down with), and so he set off for what was supposed to be a fun day of sightseeing and adventure.

Which it was, for a little while, until partway through the day they encountered some rather mocking townsfolk who clearly weren't as afraid of pirates as they probably should have been. They were the sort that Zoro normally ignored and that Luffy might hit out of annoyance at best, but not really attack, except that partway through they started laughing about 'the pirates and their pet tanuki,' which caused all three of them to freeze. Chopper, normally so adamant about how he was a reindeer and not a raccoon-dog, felt himself wilting under the mocking tone. It wasn't like he could yell right now. He wasn't really a real reindeer at the moment anyway without his horns, and it wasn't like they were being ignorant or stupid like was usually the case—

Luffy growled and looked like he was getting ready to stomp over and teach the townsfolk a lesson, but it was Zoro who reacted first. In the middle of their laughing the swordsman snatched the man that was clearly the leader of the group by the shirt collar, easily hefting him straight up in the air, until his toes dangled a good two feet off the ground. Then, very calmly, without an ounce of strain in his voice, Zoro looked him in the eye and said, "My friend here is a reindeer. Just so you know."

It wasn't said particularly threateningly, and Zoro wasn't even hurting the man, but the townsman looked shocked and stuttered, "Y-yessir! He's completely a reindeer, I totally agree with you!" Zoro nodded and just as calmly set the man down on the ground again, whereupon the entire little gaggle of name-callers vanished into the staring crowd.

Not a single person on the island made the mistake of calling Chopper a tanuki after that. That was better than he'd done on some islands in the past, with his antlers! Chopper was tickled pink by such success, never mind how he'd come by it, and by the end of their trip in the town he'd practically forgotten the incident.

When they arrived back at the ship, it was to find that Usopp and Franky had made it back before them and holed themselves up below in their workshop, working on some secret project. Chopper was beginning to get highly curious about it—they'd been vanishing off and on for days since the day he'd shed his antlers, and he couldn't help but wonder what they were up to. But when he tried to follow them down below, Brook showed up out of nowhere to announce that he'd been refreshing his memory on several winter island songs, and as a reindeer familiar with winter islands could he please have Chopper's feedback?

"As a reindeer you are, of course, the ultimate expert on winter things," Brook said brightly. "As a pirate's heart belongs to the sea, a reindeer's heart belongs to the snow—though perhaps I am not one to talk, since of course I myself have no heart, yohohoho!"

Chopper swore at him and insisted cheerfully that he wasn't happy at all that Brook thought he was such an expert on the snow, even though it was completely true because he was a reindeer and he definitely knew all about it. He listened to the songs, and they felt so familiar and reminded him so much of home that it almost made him sad. But it made him happy too, because it was special and reminded him about what it meant to be a reindeer all over again. He was in such good spirits as Brook sang and taught him the words so he could sing along as well, that he never noticed Usopp slinking out from down below decks long enough to find Nami and drag her back down to the workshop again. And by the time Sanji called for dinner Chopper was so happy it was like he'd never ever been antler-less at all for his whole life.

And just in time too, because Usopp and Franky finally unveiled their super secret project directly after dinner to the whole crew, but in particular to Chopper. Brook played triumphant musical notes on his violin as Franky and Usopp brought a small wooden box forward between them, with Franky smirking and Usopp grinning ear to ear.

"Go ahead, open it!" Usopp encouraged. "Me'n Franky put it together, and Nami helped, and Brook kept an eye out for us so we'd be able to keep it secret from you until it was ready."

"Though of course I have no eyes, yohohoho!" Brook interjected.

"It's a super present, little reindeer-bro," Franky said confidently, pushing Brook aside with only the tiniest of scowls at the skull joke. "Go ahead, we know you'll love it!"

So Chopper broke open the box, and was overjoyed to see a pair of antlers sitting inside—sort of. They had strange straps on them so that they could be fitted onto his head, a bit like a hat, but they'd fit under his own fuzzy pink hat comfortably. They looked like they were created primarily out of metal, were about the same weight as his own antlers, and had been wrapped in brown felt that was carefully sewn so that it was almost like real antlers when they were velveted (the sewing part must've been what Nami helped with, Chopper guessed).

The coolest part of all was that these antlers were amazing robot hero antlers, because Usopp and Franky filled him in delightedly on some of the extra features they had worked in. Chopper could entirely truthfully (and very enthusiastically) claim that he was now the only reindeer in the world that could shoot rockets and fireballs out of his own antlers, or make super-cool noises with them, and the left one had a special little compartment for him to store Rumble Balls in, which was the coolest thing ever. Even Luffy agreed, and he was an expert on awesome robot hero things. Chopper was delighted, and thanked them profusely as they helped him put the fake antlers on.

"We figured a more permanent solution might be good for you," Usopp said with a grin. "Robin gave us the idea with her Hana-Hana Antlers, and then we just had to build'em."

"I can't believe you roped me into this stupid idea," Nami said with a sigh. But all the same the navigator grinned at Chopper's enthusiastic wiggling and bright-eyed expression.

The fake antlers were surprisingly comfortable, in part thanks to Nami's interference—she'd been clever enough to wrap the straps that held the robot-antlers on with extra fabric, so they were softer against Chopper's skull and didn't pinch his fur. He had to take them off at night when he slept, and they couldn't go in the water, but Chopper couldn't swim anyway so that wasn't really a problem. They stayed on surprisingly well when he and Luffy and Usopp were rough-housing or in combat situations, and once Chopper had even managed to hit a tough opponent smack in the back with one of his Super Amazing Reindeer Rockets (as Usopp had dubbed them) during a critical moment in a battle, thereby saving Usopp himself from being decapitated.

No, Chopper decided then, these things weren't bad at all. He missed his real horns, but these were pretty fun in the interim, and he felt like a reindeer, and (based on the way Usopp praised him for his great Reindeer Rocket aim) he definitely wasn't useless in fights anymore.

So weeks went past, and with all the Straw Hat antics and the fights and the adventures and the exploration Chopper almost forgot entirely what he'd been so worried about to begin with. Life was pretty grand, being a reindeer-pirate, and he was exactly the same person he'd always been after all, and the crew never treated him any differently, so what was there to worry about?

And then it happened: Chopper woke up one morning to an extremely itchy scalp, and spent most of the morning scratching his head with his hard little hooves, so much that he had to eventually take the robot-hero antlers off in order to manage. Puzzled and more than a little concerned, the Straw Hats inquired (with varying states of tact) if he was okay.

To which Chopper merely grinned and said, "Oh no, I'm fine! My antlers are just starting to grow back, is all. It's pretty itchy for the first few days." And he marveled afterwards at how casually he'd said it. Like it was just another day, just another occurrence on the Straw Hat ship. The last time he'd lost his antlers he'd been positively frantic, and the itching (though annoying) had always come as something of a relief to him. Now he was in no rush—they'd be back when they were back, and until then, he wasn't particularly worried.

It felt really, really great not to be worried.

Just like he'd said, the first few days were itchy as hell, as Chopper's body got around to the frequently strenuous process of creating new antlers. The doctor himself specifically requested foods with certain nutrients in them to promote healthy antler growth, which Sanji was willing to provide—and indeed, the cook seemed rather intrigued despite himself at getting a crash-course in reindeer antler growth and physiology.

And after a few days the first antler buds began do develop. They were hard, round little protrusions that popped up just above his ears, oddly soft and covered in a light velvety fuzz. Chopper sadly had to say goodbye to the hero-robot antlers, which wouldn't fit now that real antlers were beginning to grow, but that was okay with him. They would keep until next year's shedding season, and as much as he loved them it was much nicer to know his real horns were growing back anyway.

And once they started they grew like weeds. Robin speculated that because of his transformative powers, the growth rate of his horns was probably accelerated rapidly, and based on his own studies of his power Chopper would not have been surprised at all to find that her guess was true. Whatever the case, his antlers sprouted quickly, and after only a week they were already forming buds for the extra curved 'branches' that grew off of the main body. After a few more weeks there were five curling 'branches' breaking off from the main antler, all covered in a soft, velvety down that some of the more touch-oriented members of the crew simply loved to pet (to his occasional frustration).

When the horns began to harden, signifying that the growth was at its end, Chopper shifted to Walk Point and carefully scraped the velvet off, using the main mast in place of a tree. He saved the velvet for later—it could actually be used in medicines, if treated properly. It took him a few days, which meant he spent a lot more time in Walk Point than he usually did—but since he looked like a proper reindeer again with real, natural horns, he didn't mind so much.

"Are your horns itchy or something?" Usopp asked him once, as several of the crew members bemusedly watched him at work at the main mast. Franky in particular kept a wary eye out (he'd been convinced Chopper was trying to knock the mast over, the first time the reindeer tried using it for velveting, and was still watching for any scrapes or other forms of damage the reindeer might leave behind, although Chopper was trying to be as careful as possible).

"Not really," Chopper answered. "I can't even really feel them anymore, since they're done growing. I just need to get all this stuff off. It helps antlers grow, but it's useless afterwards."

"Then they're done growing?" Nami asked, from nearby in her deck chair.

"Yup," Chopper answered, giving the left horn another careful scrape.

"Hrm," Nami said, sounding puzzled, and then, "Robin, do they look bigger to you, or is it just me?"

"They do indeed look larger than Chopper's last pair of antlers," Robin agreed, from her own deck chair. "I suspect it is a sign that our doctor is growing up."

Chopper wriggled delightedly at this, and insisted he was absolutely not happy that they thought he was more grown up and manly than before.

His last act for his horn care was to remove the metal ring from his last pair of antlers to set on his new ones. The ring had been put in place years ago, after he'd broken a much younger pair attempting to help Dr. Hiriluk. His new antlers each year had not, of course, been broken in the same spot. But Chopper liked to think the ring was a gift and a fashion statement from the old doctor, much like his hat, and usually had it wrapped around the same-side horn every year. This year Franky was more than happy to use his enormous cyborg strength to wrap the metal plate around the correct horn and bolt it in place, and at last Chopper felt complete again. He was, once again, bearing his own (and much larger, he thought gleefully) natural antlers, and could once again utilize his own fighting styles properly and handle things his way.

But still, Chopper thought with a grin, as another rousing game of tag began again and he enthusiastically joined in, shedding season hadn't been so bad at all this year. And next year, maybe he'd even look forward to it. After all, even the worst stuff was so much more fun when you had friends to help you with it—and it seemed that was what the Straw Hats did best.

I've had this idea in my head for ages, ever since timeskip Chopper's Walk Point was shown with his much larger horns. I finally got around to writing it now, though.

Fun fact: reindeer are one of the few species of deer in which both the males and females have a big rack of horns. Their shedding seasons are a little different, but they both cycle their horns too.