Yeah, uhm, remember this? Sorry, I've been in a bit of a writing funk these past months, two other AU's that are very dear to me have since been sitting on my computer as well and let's not get started on walk with the dead. I make no promises for speedy updates.
In other news, I bet only a few saw this coming ...
... He sits outside on the sidewalk, hopes the pharmacist thinks he needs time to stomach those images she just conjured. Maybe he should move, go home and try to tell Luffy, at least get away from under the hawk-like gaze of that old woman or she'll know, sooner or later. But he can't, can't face more terrifying young eyes and wishes he could just disappear, won't need to tell anyone anything.
[..] And he's right, Usopp thinks, as he shuffles upright and leaves the stray staring after him. He, Usopp, got too close, became too arrogant and dared to question, and now it's being taken away.
Nobody moves. The silence grows and grows, bigger and bigger, presses its paws down on his eardrums and Usopp wants to say something. Anything. He opens his mouth and closes it, averts his eyes. The words die in his throat, ripped from him. He's said enough.
Sanji glares at the unmoving form of the soldier on the floor, his gaze smolders and pierces and his mouth works and twitches, yearning to bite down on a cigarette that isn't there and Usopp can tell exactly who's to blame for him, for the blockades, the shortage, the war, for everything.
"If he–", Nami's voice is weak, she falters, then she forces herself to continue: "Then we have a problem. The body–"
The word is almost inaudible, laced with a deadly calm. Luffy doesn't even look up.
Something in Nami's face hardens. Usopp thinks she's very brave. "Can't you get it into your thick head!? A living undesirable is impossible enough, but a goddamn corpse, don't you get it–"
"He's not going to die." Luffy looks at them, then, his mouth set and daring them to disagree.
Sanji dares. "Fuck yes he is. We've got nothing."
Luffy's fist clenches and Nami reaches out to touch it as if on reflex.
"We don't, but they–", her words sound desperate, "If we could get him somewhere to be found, the geneva convention dictates that–""
Yes, Usopp thinks, he nods wildly, because surely that would be best, that was what he was thinking, they should–
Sanji barks. It's a short and ugly laugh. "You honestly want to go there? You believe that?"
Her head whips around and she almost spits at his feet, "Well I don't see you volunteering any bright ideas!"
A groan makes them freeze, voices raised and ready to pounce on each other. Zoro pants, his eyes rolling underneath his eyelids. Beads of sweat are glistening on his face, a face that's too gaunt and tense.
They barely breathe, and Luffy whispers, "He can't die."
I won't let him, they hear unspoken.
Sanji raises his fingers to his lips and stares at them for a split second when they can't find what they're looking for. He rubs his hand down his face and sighs tiredly.
"We've got nothing," he repeats, turns away. "He's shitty dogfood, rubberbrain. "
Nami comes back later, some small bottles hidden in her clothes, even though Usopp can see in her eyes that she doesn't believe it will do anything. A spark of hope lights up in Luffy's eyes and Usopp can't, he just can't.
He flees, and walks to school wondering why Sanji would think the soldier is better off dead than–
There's a stranger in front of their class, lined up for physical training and singing a praise on their country. His hair gleams golden in the sun, and his teeth spark like electricity when he speaks, the look in his eyes so amused one would think they're not even his new students, only ants crawling at his feet.
"Where's Bon Kurei?" someone dares to ask.
Their teacher yawns, then smiles lazily. "Huh, your old teacher? He says not to worry, he'd just gone to camp for a bit."
Next to Usopp, Kaya sighs. "Must be nice," she says dreamily and coughs, "going to camp."
Something knots up inside Usopp's stomach, something he can't quite explain and somehow, it has nothing to do with the dread he feels from the way their teacher hums and declares: "Now how about we play a little game about survival?"
He doesn't want anyone to go away, no matter how good camps are for people.
There's a dog sitting in front of his house. Usopp stops dead in fear and drops his satchel, but then the animal jumps up forward and backward immediately, gets caught up in the movement and stumbles, and Usopp recognizes the misshapen pink nose.
The stray from the pharmacy shuffles toward him and nudges his satchel carefully.
"I don't have anything," Usopp tells him and the words ring hollow inside him. He looks up, eyes trailing the facede of the house and then fixing on the sky, and he can almost hear it again, the whistles coming closer – His head whips down quickly and he finds the stray with his muzzle buried in his opened satchel, the contents scattered and a mess. Usopp's muttered curses send him flying across the road, but he stays there, watching him hastily shoving them back with rapt attention.
He's shitty dogfood.
"Leave me alone," Usopp whispers, screwing his eyes shut and not really knowing who or even what he's talking to anymore, "Go away."
The dog's still there when he opens his eyes, looking at him like he knows, like he understands, and Usopp can't enter his home fast enough. He doesn't stop, runs right up the stairs as silently as he can in his haste, even though nobody's there, nobody cares, he doesn't stop until he's suddenly where he used to hide but it's no hiding place anymore it's a sickbed a deathbed a grave–
"Usopp," Luffy says, and Usopp jerks violently and there goes his satchel again, spilling onto the floor his slate and pencil and books and rubber bands and some small bottles and a syringe–
Deft fingers dart forward and they both stare at the thing inside Luffy's hand, innocently reflecting the pale light of the attic.
"Usopp, what's that?" Luffy asks, his head tilted, eyes filled with confusion.
It's good that Nami slides through the window then, because Usopp's limbs start shaking uncontrollably right when Luffy seems close to breaking this terrible miracle.
"I don't know," Usopp pleads, repeats himself over and over, but they keep looking at him and Nami keeps asking long after she'd drove the syringe into the flesh of Zoro's arm and even after Sanji arrived and started pacing around, gnawing around some sort of stalk.
"Usopp," Sanji says, finally, like his patience has been punched to the ground and trampled over by an SS battalion, "It's not that we don't believe you. We can't. Use that brain of yours ... if you didn't get it, if it wasn't you– then who was it?"
They shiver. Nami's fist clenches and unclenches around some folds. "Somebody knows."
"I know! I don't know!" Usopp wails, his hands flailing around him. "I don't–I–"
"It's okay," Luffy interjects. They look at him, open their mouths– "They helped Zoro, so they must be good!"
There's something final about the way he says it, and it freaks Usopp out how he can be so calm about it, like people that give would never take, like a dog that wags its tail can never bite–
The thought that crosses his mind is so ridiculous Usopp laughs. He laughs and laughs, hiccups wrecking his body and tears streaming down his face, and Luffy's face grows darker and darker, but he's not laughing at him, Usopp should maybe tell him that when he can breathe again.
"I'm going crazy," he pants and giggles, and tells them.
It takes Usopp hours to get the clumps out of the dog's fur, down at the muddy riverbank. He skipped the HY meeting and practice, he will regret that later, but right now he's got a debt to pay, a kindred soul to thank. The skittish animal is torn between letting him touch him and fleeing, the weak and strained muscles shiver as he jerks forward and backward at the sensation of the freezing water. Underneath the dirt and fur are scars, crisscrossing a body that's barely older than a puppy and that grows still as a statue when Usopp ties one of Nami's ribbons around his neck.
The Missus almost kills him when he shows back up in the evening, the dripping thing hiding behind his knees and the other kids eagerly edging closer. Usopp says he's gonna train him to be a good watchdog, that he'll feed him on his own, makes up a few outrageous stories on how the animal has saved their country a few times already and eventually she sighs in exasperation and waves him away.
"His name is Chopper," Nami says, the first time Usopp dares to bring the dog up to meet the others. She's paid the pharmacy a visit, subtly asking about the stray that's been around, and her eyes grow soft as she watches him carefully sniffing the soldier with his peculiar nose and whelping when Luffy grabs him enthusiastically.
"The witch told me he belonged to an old friend of hers, a cripple. Said he was a gifted doctor, but because he couldn't reach everything he taught the dog to get him the right medicine by the call of symptoms and disease."
"What happened to him?"
Nami frowns. "He disappeared."
His stomach knots up again, and Usopp wishes he hadn't asked.
Luffy whoops in joy when the animal shakes itself free and darts to hide behind Usopp. Then he whoops even louder when Zoro stirs and opens his eyes blearily.
"Zoro, Zoro look!" In lightening speed the poor animal his pulled from his hiding place by his tail and pressed in front of the groggy soldier's face. "We got a new friend!"
Zoro slurs something and it could very well be a curse for all they know, Usopp can never tell, but Luffy happily wrestles with the anxious dog.
"He's a doctor," he answers with certainty, as if Zoro had asked a question, "Because he makes people better."
This time, nobody disagrees.
It's slow, but eventually Chopper stops running away from the others, too. They're not allowed to pet him, yet, even if he no longer freaks out when Luffy launches himself on him, even seems to enjoy his game of tag around the attic.
That's only the times Usopp gets to take him up, though. Chopper refuses to bark, still it comes a slight disappointment when he starts wagging his tails at the Pepper and the others, Usopp had hoped he could maybe watch the floor under the attic when he's away. Instead the dog even disappears at times, brings back leaves and wilting plants that Nami finds out have medical purposes, and once even showed up with another syringe between his teeth and if Usopp gets arrested for theft he's going to die laughing hysterically before anyone can even find out what it was for.
And then there's the day when the temperature starts to drop, when–
"Our strong and noble nation has finally declared war on the sickly country of Jews and deserters. Time to pay back what they have–"
–when Chopper returns with with something other than fading green between his teeth, but a tattered and dissolving yellow thing that he won't let go until Usopp brought him up in the attic.
Luffy stares at it, then scrambles and rips it from Chopper's jaws so fast the dog almost doesn't let go soon enough before it shreds.
"That's mine," he says, clutching what Usopp now identifies as a faded hat from straw like his life depends on it, "where–"
"Well, this is a surprise."
It's funny, but right then, all Usopp can think is that Chopper really is a rubbish watchdog.
I had a very hard time deciding concerning Chopper, and since I wanted to have more of a diversity with their individual situations, making him too similar to what I have planned for other characters didn't feel right.
Still don't claim historical accuracy, or any medical knowledge for that matter.