AN: Each of these one-shots will feature one of the Straw Hats interacting with Brook. Some of them will be fluffy and cute, some funny, and others painful or dramatic. Some will be long, some with be short. If anyone has a request for which character to co-star next, just let me know. I've got idea for all of 'em. Or just let me know if you enjoyed them. Or just leave me a skull joke. I love skull jokes.
Oh, also, no romantic pairings, unless someone desperately requests it.
'Gamble!' will be continued; however, if I don't write these as they come to me, I'm gonna be blocked for weeks.
Chapter One: Closeness
Mostly features: Chopper, Brook
Warnings: Some emotional hurt, and overload of adorableness.
Robin noticed something about Brook that her other nakama did not.
Perhaps it was because of them all, she was most familiar with the importance of a simple touch. The sense of touch was vital to human beings. It was the most base form of closeness that friends could share, so it did not surprise her at all that her nakama enjoyed being near each other.
This was evident everywhere. Luffy and Usopp wrestling over the ownership of a fishing pole, Chopper falling asleep in Zoro's lap during a thunderstorm, or Nami happily hugging Franky after he upgraded the lock on the bathroom (an issue with Luffy's sleepwalking, she heard). No one gave second thought to how something as simple as human contact could be misconstrued or taken for granted.
Brook was well loved. There was no reason to doubt this, especially when his music brought them so much joy.
It was inevitable in many ways, since he was, after all, just a skeleton. She recalled the first time she had placed her hands on him during the fight with Oz—even the slightest brush against the cold, skeletal hand created involuntary shivers. In the month or so after boarding the Sunny, he had not once been hugged, or wrestled, or piled on the same way Luffy and the others shared. It was entirely within his nature, too; Brook was technically three times her age, yet his childish behaviour was only rivaled by Luffy's.
Naturally, their captain wouldn't think anything odd about Brook being a skeleton. If the musician had not been intentionally avoiding them, Luffy would have eventually dragged him into a play fight.
But she was not just worried for the sake of their musician. Her faith in him was untarnished. She believed he was an experienced social buffoon, with plenty of patience to allow the crew to grow used to his oddities. The nakama Robin truly worried about was Chopper.
The tender-hearted doctor had been especially sensitive to rifts between crew mates since Usopp-kun had fought Luffy. He was so determined to patch up the slightest hint of fissure, so much so that he began to see things that were not there.
She knew Chopper had also noticed the lack of closeness between Brook and his other nakama. What she didn't know, was that he had been falling whirlpool of misunderstanding that would nearly break his heart.
Chopper hadn't meant it. He had a nightmare.
It was a windy night and it was raining; he'd woken up yelling at the top of his lungs, the images of horror still fresh in his mind. He'd really thought he was being attacked by zombie reindeer and monsters and giant, faceless skeletons with swords shaped liked antlers. Later on, he was very embarrassed about it, and felt terrible. But at the time, it was just another really horrible nightmare.
Crying and bawling for help, he'd woken the entire men's side of the ship, except for Zoro. He didn't know what happened, really, only that Brook was the first one at his side (he'd learned later that he'd never fallen asleep in the first place). As soon as Chopper saw his nakama, he didn't realize he'd even woken up from his dream.
"No! Get away! There's a skeleton trying to kill me!"
Though Brook had no expression, Chopper knew that Brook's flinch backwards meant that he was surprised and hurt. Usopp pushed past the musician and calmed Chopper down with his experienced skill in distractions. Luffy came to investigate and laughed with an immense grin at the ordeal; he called him a little chicken, albeit affectionately. Sanji had given the skeleton a long, sorry glance and Chopper, still sniffling, bubbled an apology once things settled down.
Brook just brushed it off with 'Yohoho' and regaled the time when he had scared himself to death (though he was already dead!) the first time he looked at a mirror.
Chopper blushed with embarrassment.
What he didn't know, was that he had just planted a seed of doubt inside himself that would shortly grow into a monstrous tree.
It was another day on the Thousand Sunny, and tensions were extremely high. Chopper sensed it in everyone, especially between Zoro and Sanji. Nami was in a really bad mood, too.
They were stuck in calm waters and the wind wasn't picking up. The heat was really bad, too, and no fish were biting. That meant Sanji worried about their food supply and fresh water, while Zoro found training to be difficult in the sweltering humidity. On top of that, their navigator was convinced that it was somehow her fault when the ship became stuck in bad weather conditions. Franky was even a little grumpy due to the fact their fuel had dried up. It seemed the only two who weren't completely unhappy were Luffy and Brook.
Then Nami got into an argument with Zoro.
The fight was about who got the watch shift that night. Zoro wanted to use that time for training, when it would be cooler. That broke Nami's carefully arranged schedule. Insults were flying by the time Luffy tried to intervene, and the captain ended up getting clobbered on the head for his futile effort.
They all knew Brook couldn't resist trying to cheer them up. The one thing he could not possibly stand other than complete silence, was hurtful and angry words between nakama.
It ended with Nami shouting at Brook to shut up, and then the quarreling pair had each gone their separate ways. Hours later, she returned to apologize to the entire crew and the tension lifted, but their musician didn't attempt to liven the mood with another song. Additionally, Sanji was still livid at Zoro for yelling at Nami.
Chopper wanted to say something to his nakama, but he was afraid he would get yelled at, too. It hadn't seemed fair to Brook that he get in trouble for being a good nakama. Luffy always got hit by Nami when she was angry, but that didn't matter to his captain. What if...what if Brook thought that he wasn't needed here?
What he didn't know, was later that evening, Brook had volunteered to take the night watch in exchange for his morning shift. He'd gone to Zoro in person, and done so with bright laughter and a cheerful skull joke. Even the dark mood of the swordsman couldn't survive that.
The dark mood inside Chopper, however, was still growing.
The day following the incident with Nami, Chopper stayed inside to mix medicines and reorganize his medical supply cabinet. Every new island and community added new ingredients to his stash, and pretty soon he knew he'd have to ask Franky for somewhere else to store them.
It was tedious work. Once, Usopp came by to give him a hand and a little company, but he was soon called back out by their captain (who demanded a fishing contest). Chopper told them he wasn't feeling well, and didn't want to join them. Being alone again gave him lots of time to broil in his own thoughts about yesterday's problem.
Brook still hadn't played his violin, not since Nami yelled at him. No one asked him to go fishing, and worst of all, he hadn't shown up to sleep in the men's quarters. No, that wasn't the worst of it all! The absolutely worst thing was that his nakama weren't doing anything about it!
He fumed all day, because he felt helpless.
Eventually, the sun went down. Chopper was just finishing up when he realized he was missing a few water bottles. He climbed down his stool and went to the kitchen, hoping to find Sanji still awake so that he could ask to borrow some of his bottles. Just outside the door, his ears twitched at the sound of two familiar voices
"We can't just tell Luffy to get rid of it," growled Zoro's voice through the wooden door. Chopper froze.
"Tch, but if you'd been awake for once, you could have stopped him from adding it to our crew in the first place. He listens to you," Sanji replied, sounding darker than usual. A lance of horror shot through the young reindeer's heart. The cook went on. "It keeps upsetting Nami-swan. Plus its eyes are creepy as hell. I don't want it going near my ladies when they're trying to have a pleasant evening."
"Stop whining, curly cook. Next time Luffy's distracted, just toss it overboard. Then we can go back to having peace and quiet."
Chopper stopped listening. Tears of denial welled up in his eyes—they couldn't be! How could Zoro and Sanji! Was this how they were feeling the whole time since Brook became a nakama? Was their nice treatment of him just a big act for Luffy's sake? Was this the reason for everything?
It was like his world was crumbling apart. It made his knees wobble and his heart feel like it was going to burst. He turned and ran away, bawling loudly, and didn't stop until he'd crashed into Franky.
He spent the rest of the night listening to Franky tell him stories about his days as a kid, and eventually fell asleep curled up in the shop. He couldn't get rid of the pain in his throat, and he didn't feel brave enough to tell anyone what he was feeling. He felt like he didn't even know his nakama anymore.
What he didn't know, was that Zoro and Sanji's conversation had nothing to do with Brook. Luffy had several hours earlier caught a giant Circus Fish—a pink-eyed, huge-mouthed, glowing fish as ugly as three sins—and impulsively declared it as their newest nakama. It had taken residence in the aquarium; its disgusting presence had made it impossible for Nami and Robin to sit comfortably in the viewing room.
Chopper began to lose sleep.
Nothing felt normal anymore. He couldn't find the courage to talk to Brook, and even though everyone kept acting happy together, Chopper knew that something was going to break really soon.
Something did finally break, when the ship anchored at a small island.
Sunrise coloured the Thousand Sunny in a gentle, warm light. The sound of gulls roused the reindeer from his very short rest. He knew immediately that they had made land, and the absence of both Sanji and Brook from the room twisted bad feelings around in his gut. The worry and stress that had been building up for days rocketed him out of his bed and out the door, out into the orange glow of morning.
"Why are you letting him go?" Nami was snapping at Sanji, who leaned against the foremast with a lit cigarette in his mouth. The expression on his face was cross. Serious.
"He said he wanted to go," he replied breezily, as if he didn't want to discuss it. "If we don't lower our voices, Luffy'll wake up. If he finds out why Brook left the ship, he'll throw a fit."
Ice water in Chopper's veins.
He stood in the open, just in front of the door to the men's quarters and stared in disbelief at his nakama, who weren't doing anything to stop this.
Fearfully, the doctor turned away from his uncaring friends and charged straight to the top of the ramp, where he transformed into his four-legged form. That's when he spotted Brook, about fifty paces from the ship and slowly walking away. The skeleton had a large bag slung over one bony shoulder.
"Brook! Wait! Don't go!" the reindeer cried, charging down the ramp towards him.
Brook turned around just in time; Chopper launched himself, shrunk to his smallest size in mid-leap and clutched his nakama's ribs in a bone-crushing hug that rattled his bones. "Please don't leave, Brook! I want you to stay!"
"Oh!" said the skeleton in genuine surprise. He dropped the bag on the ground in order to return the hug. "Chopper-san, is something wrong? Ah! Did you have another bad dream?"
Tears running down his cheeks, snot dripping from his nose, Chopper turned his head upwards to look at the grinning face. "I know I should have said something sooner, but I was s-scared! Don't leave the c-crew, Brook!"
Had he any eyes, Brook's would have widened in realization. Then he laughed, a guttural sound that mixed with his voice cheerfully when he spoke. "Not..leave? I will be coming back, though, doctor-san! I am only going to buy supplies for Sanji-san. Oh, and some new strings for my violin."
Chopper gaped at him, loosening his hold on the ruffled coat slightly. "Y-You mean...you're not mad at me and...you're n-not leaving?"
"Yohoho, the only thing that would part me from this crew is death! Of course, since I am a skeleton, I am already dead. Yohohoho!"
It was as if someone had poured every happy emotion into his little heart. Chopper's stained face slowly broke into the happiest grin he'd had in weeks. Before he responded, a voice from the ship yelled out to them.
"Oi, Brook! When are you gonna learn to stop doing favours for this idiot? If you keep this up, I'll have to kick your ass!" Zoro called, having just arrived on deck.
Sanji spun on the green-haired swordsman viciously. "Shut up, dumbass! You'll wake up Luffy!"
The golden-haired cook froze in terror as their captain in question suddenly burst out into the open, looking like the very definition of 'broiling mad'. "Sanji! Fish Lips is missing! He's not in the aquarium! We have to lo—"
Luffy glanced over and spotted Brook and Chopper, who still stood on the cliff next to the ship. He apparently forgot about his missing pet fish. "Nyah? Why are Chopper and Brook leaving the ship?"
Nami held her hands in front of her and laughed nervously, "Ahaha, n-no reason! They just wanted to go...for a walk, to get some, um...fresh air! R-Right, Sanji-kun?"
"Oh, okay." Luffy's eyes traveled to the large bag behind Brook. The bottom of the bag was sopping wet and starting to form a water puddle on the rocks. "What's in that bag?"
"N-Nothing! Nothing at all important! It's just...tell him, Sanji-kun!"
"Oi, Luffy. Aren't you really hungry right now?" Zoro cut in.
The dark-haired captain looked dumbstruck. Then after a brief moment, his stomach gurgled loudly.
"AHH! I'M STARVING TO DEATH!"
Luffy was still howling about food as Zoro dragged him by the shirt into the mess hall. As soon as the door swung closed, Nami and Sanji breathed a collective sigh of relief. Anytime now, the rest of the crew would be coming out on deck, fully roused. The longer this went on, the higher the chance that their ploy would fail and they'd be stuck with that incredibly hideous Circus Fish leering at them from the glass aquarium. For months.
"Yohoho, I had better get going," Brook called out, then looked down at the reindeer doctor "Ah, would you like to join me?"
"Yes!" was the immediate answer.
Chuckling, the skeleton lifted him higher and settled the doctor on his narrow shoulders. Chopper had to flatten the massive afro in order to see. He and peered down at Brook from his vantage point as they began to move off towards the rising sun. "Um...what is in that bag, Brook?"
"That's a secret, Chopper-san!" he sang. "But I'll tell you if you answer this riddle! Are you ready? What instrument do all skeletons learn how to play?"
As their forms gradually shrank into the orange glow of the sun, Chopper answered after a moment's thought, "A violin?"
"Nope! A trom-BONE!"
The chorus of two nakama laughing filled the air and continued until it faded out of earshot.