A/N: Hey all! I've been sitting on this for way too long (lol, realized that on edit run number six, five edits later and I'm still not sure I should be putting it out there!) but I'm glad to finally get it posted! Got a little angst for everyone, physical and emotional (my favorite ;D) and… I guess consider it a late anniversary gift for One Piece? Twenty years man, pretty great. Wish I'd been tuned in for longer than three now. I hope this piece holds true to one of the many things One Piece stands for.
Steam drifted on the air, clouding the entire room, and Chopper shook his fur in an effort to keep condensation from clinging to his coat. The air smelled wet and just being surrounded by the clouds was making Chopper feel a little claustrophobic. He kept his hoof on the doorknob as he weighed his options.
Completing the treatment for the blond man had been simple, a few chiropractic maneuvers and then some bandages to supply support. Now the blond lay under a layer of blankets, slowly warming from the frigid case of near hypothermia he'd had upon arriving. The treatment for the other patient was supposed to be simpler still.
Chopper had treated frostbite a thousand times; he'd seen people lose fingers and toes and whole limbs to the cold that crept in beneath one's skin and turned it first red, then white, then a deep dead black. The man that had climbed the Drum Rockies was not at that dead black point, amazingly. Rather he was suffering from superficial frostbite, his skin bleached white and beginning to blister, though it was hard to tell, his hands and feet so torn and ripped that the blisters were growing in small clusters on the little skin there was left to form on.
Frostbite was ridiculously easy to treat, it was only ever a problem when left unattended and Chopper was not about to let that happen. Chopper had filled a tub with steaming water, muttered a soft apology to the unconscious man, and slid him into the water. It would burn for a long time, the temperature shift was beyond drastic, but it was also the best way to cure frostbite.
He'd put the man into the water before he'd begun treating the blond, but now he'd returned to check on him, and the man was still shivering and his skin, although slightly warmer, had no more color, barely any progress had been made since he'd left.
His body didn't even seem to be trying to heal him. Something was not working properly.
Chopper shifted from hoof to hoof again, horribly anxious about leaving a difficult patient alone in a tub of water. But he couldn't take him out, he'd just be colder because he was wet.
The man's face was steamed and almost pearly white, along with most of his skin. His hair was straggly with sweat and with steam, his mouth tipped open for thin gasps of breath to seep through. Chopper was in uncharted waters, through which he usually navigated with ease, moving through based on symptoms he recognized, and making educated guesses to fill in blank spaces he hadn't known.
Nothing that was happening was making sense.
Though the man had been soaking in water for at least an hour, his skin hadn't grown wrinkled at all, as though his body didn't perform osmosis. Though the water should have warmed him and begun to remove the white, superficial frostbite, from his skin, it was exactly the same as it had been, too bright white. There were no signs that the frostbite had begun to recede at all, though to the touch he was significantly warmer. Scabs weren't even forming over some of the wounds he'd left unbandaged in his haste to perform treatment on the blond, instead blood sluggishly welled in the cutss, not actually spilling out of them, but not hardening into nature's bandage either.
It was unnatural.
Something was wrong.
Finally, Chopper cast one last glance at his difficult patient, silently promising that he would return and make it better, before throwing open the door and sprinting through the castle towards Doctorine's office. The cold air of the halls of the castle were much nicer than the steamy room, and Chopper could smell more than just water and sweat and blood. The condensation on his fur was already forming little ice crystals in his coat as the cold air seeped the warmth from the water droplets. Hurtling around a corner he tripped down the stairs by mistake and rolled to a stop only for a second before he jumped back to his feet and ran down a new, frosty walled hallway.
He skidded to a stop next to the wooden door with the axe edges peeking through the grain.
Before opening it he composed himself into a calmer version, forming a few starting lines and a comprehensible explanation of the problem as well as a reasonable theory as to what might be happening. It wasn't all that reasonable actually, a snippet of fact surrounded by theory about cold dulling reaction time and crazy people suffering different effects of frost bite than normal people who dressed remotely right for below 0 F temperatures.
Then he twisted the handle and peeked inside, shuffling through the crack in the door and shutting it softly behind him. Doctorine was standing beside the girl's bed, the one the man who's giving him trouble had carried up, probably the reason for the whole excursion.
"He's not getting better Doctorine."
Dr. Kurhea flicked her finger at the thermometer in her hand, watching the silver mercury float a smidge higher. She doesn't acknowledge him as she sets it aside on a metal tray, exchanging it with a syringe filled with a viscous pale red liquid.
"I'm busy Chopper. You can handle a little frostbite." She growled and Chopper shuffled his feet as she picked out a vein on her patient's arm and fed the needle into it, dropping the plunger in a swift movement and whipping it out of the entry point before blood had a chance to well around the puncture. She held the syringe in one hand and taped a bandage onto the spot with the other hand. "And if you're going to tell me that it's the kid with the bad back then you're being naïve again. Back injuries don't heal overnight, you know that."
"Yes Doctorine, I know that. It's the patient with the frost bite."
"Bah!" She whipped around and pointed the now empty syringe at the little reindeer. "I knew it. You're learning a lot slower than I thought you were if you still can't treat frostbite."
"I put him in the water, Doctorine." Chopper stuttered, flustered "He's just, there's been no change at all. He's exactly the same as when I put him in."
"Impossible." She scoffed and moved the ice pack back onto the girl's forehead. It would have been a hard fight no matter the incubation time but with the disease so settled into her system it was taking all of Kureha's medical expertise to stave off the fever and other symptoms enough for the body to focus on dealing with the sickness itself. "Frostbite is simple, Chopper. He wasn't pushed so far that he didn't have a chance at recovery." Not like this girl was so close to; that point of no return.
"But, really. No changes at all. Please Doctorine? It's strange, and I don't know what to do with it!"
Dr. Kureha leaned back in her chair and sighed. No matter how much medical knowledge Chopper had gained over his time with her, he still had lags in professionalism. She stood and slid an extra scalpel into her back pocket out of habit; a stray thought nagged that maybe she couldn't really scold Chopper about that professionalism.
"Thank you!" The young reindeer chirped and held open the door as she strode past, clicking his hooves anxiously together. She grunts in reply, still trying to decide if she's made the right choice. They say the older ya get the wiser ya get, but she's only noticed that she's wise enough to realize she's making a mistake after it's happened. She thinks leaving the girl alone is a bad plan, even though if something did take a turn for the worse there wasn't much Kureha would be able to do. But… Teaching Chopper had grown rarer lately, she'd infused him with nearly all of her knowledge, and frankly, she wanted to enjoy the last few lessons she had to teach.
Speaking of which, the next one should be how to prioritize: Deadly, nearly extinct disease or frostbite; which does one treat first?
Chopper scuttled ahead of her, rushing to stay in pace with her long strides and she smirked, purposefully lengthening each step.
"I put them both in here…" Chopper flung himself around a corner ahead of her and pushed open the door for her. Steam spilled out of the room, turning the hallway hazy, and Kureha blinked as she walked right into the wall of hot air, the temperature rising at least ten degrees before she'd even crossed the threshold.
Chopper stepped through the steam towards the tub he'd set up in the corner, hastily pulled out a thermometer and tested the water temperature again. The water was still steaming, a solid seventy degrees, just what Doctorine had always taught him to heat it to for frostbite. But the man submerged up to his neck was just as he was when Chopper left the room a few minutes ago, pale-faced and ragged breathing.
Kureha reached down and used her thumb to lift one eyelid, peering into the boy's pupils. Chopper skittered off to the side and went through an anxious double check on the blond man he'd laid on the cot in the corner.
Kureha frowned to herself, let the eyelid snap back into place and rubbed her fingers together, looking thoughtfully at them. The boy's skin felt a little strange. She reached down again, lifted his arm out of the water and frowned at his complexion. Chopper had been right, something was different with this particular case of frostbite.
Her mind ran possibilities, things that would cause his body to reject the treatment, but what was there to reject? Heat? Water? She started at the realization and with just slightly more aggressive movements than she typically applied to unconscious patients she wrenched his arm up above his head.
The joint offered no resistance to the awkward angle she'd pulled it into, instead flexing into the position with a 'twang' sort of sound.
"Chopper!" She growled and he jumped at the tone of her voice, dropping the blond man's wrist and rushing to her side, at which point she threw a towel on top of his head. "Lay that on the ground, these too," Another round of towels came flying. "We've got to get him dry…"
"Why, Doctorine?" Chopper asked as he fumbled with the towels, spreading them onto the ground near the tub, Kureha reached over and thrust her arms under the patient's, hauling him out and dumping him onto the mass of towels where he began shivering slightly.
"Because he's a devil fruit user!" She answered, thrusting a towel into Chopper's hooves and roughly rubbing her own towel down his arm.
Chopper didn't move to help yet though, looking down at the man with a new light in his eyes.
"He's a devil fruit user?" He asked in a quiet voice. Then he straightened with the realization and fell upon him, towel in hand, with vigor. "A devil fruit user! Really?" He asked, excited and panicked at the same time. "So he's like me?"
"Now's not the time, Chopper!" She growls, tossing her now wet towel aside and snatching a new, less wet one. "Think about being a devil fruit user, soaking in water for the last hour and a half."
"Devil fruits grant the consumer strange powers," He recited dutifully, focused now on his task of getting the man dry. "But they also cause the body to reject water… OH NO!"
"Chopper," Kureha barked and Chopper nodded resolutely, finishing wiping down the man's leg with a flourish and dropping the used towel to the side. "Set a fire, we'll bundle him up and set him up as close to it as we can get."
Chopper nodded and darted off to get a few logs from the impressive supply of firewood that they kept in one of the many vacant rooms in the palace.
About ten frantic minutes later they had the black haired man propped in a chair next to the fireplace, almost every blanket in the castle wrapped around his limbs and torso, and a couple of Doctorine's old earmuffs clasped over his head. He resembled an eskimo, except eskimos were supposed to be okay with the cold where the devil fruit user was still pallid and almost icy to the touch. But he was better. He'd started moving, shifting in his uneasy sleep, his teeth chattered, and his skin, while cold, was slowly warming.
Chopper could only just feel the heat of the fire through the blankets and he wondered if they wouldn't be better off moving the man closer to the fire and shedding the blankets. Carefully he slipped a hoof through the nearest slit in the blankets, the air outside felt chilled compared to the super heated air inside the blanket cocoon. Chopper pulled the blankets tightly closed and snuggled up closer against the freshly bandaged chest, doing his best to be warm and fuzzy.
Doctorine hadn't wanted to take chances with a patient who'd already broken the status quo so for a little while Chopper was to be both monitor and substitute hot water bottle.
"I've never met another devil fruit user," He said to the man, but also to himself. Mostly to himself because he wouldn't have said it if the patient was awake. "Doctorine didn't want to talk about it much because she had to get back to your friend, but I don't think you're like me anyway…"
"I read a few books on devil fruits, there are three types, right?" He fidgeted, adjusting his position. "Paramecia, Zoan, and Logia. I don't think you're a Zoan, like I am."
There's a slight grumble and the patient's fingers twitch and tangle in Chopper's pelt. For a moment Chopper worries for the delicate bandage work he had had to do on each finger but he dismisses the concern, he'd wrapped them up plenty tight. "I'm actually a reindeer you know, but I ate the human-human fruit. I haven't seen you around the island at all, so you must be visiting right? Do you see a lot of fruit users? I sometimes wonder if I would look the same if I were a human who ate the reindeer-reindeer fruit. I don't think so…"
"The only other people who've eaten devil fruits on this island are Dalton and Wapol, I don't like either of them much, but that's not Dalton's fault. He's a zoan, and he kind of looks like his animal form, an ox, but not as much as I look like a reindeer."
He hesitated, tenderly poking at his patient's stomach and the bandages wrapped around his torso before curling a different direction. He didn't want to jostle things…
"Hey… If you ate a fruit does that make you a monster? Or a freak? Or is it just me?"
Still no reply.
"I think it might be just me." He whispered into what felt like emptiness despite being surrounded by heat and presence. The patient didn't even shift, which only heightened the sensation.
Chopper snuggled in and pretended that the patient was snuggling back, that they were together in a cold place but they were warm because they were together. It was a nice thought, he supposed.
Two hours later Chopper woke up and the patient was snoring, loud rumbling snores that shook in his belly and therefore into Chopper who was curled up in that particular vicinity. Chopper wriggled his head out of a fold in the blanket and she glanced up. Doctorine was stoking the fire, crouched down with her forearms on her knees.
"Hmph," She acknowledged, "You two seem nice and cozy but I think you're favoring one of your patients Chopper."
A crackled grin spread over her face.
Chopper shut his eyes again and ducked back into the blanket cave, he didn't want to leave, even though it now felt as though a bear was also occupying the cave where before it had all just been still and warm.
It's a good sign, he reminded himself but he still missed the previous sensation.
Doctorine's words forced Chopper to remember about the other patients, both the blond man with the spinal injury and the girl with the fever. Reluctantly, he poked at the blanket till he found an edge and then rolled out, squeaking as the air turned chilled.
The black haired man grumbled and Chopper did his best to seal up the hole in the blanket cocoon before glancing at Doctorine and scurrying off to the neighboring room, where the blond man was laid out exactly as he was left on the bed, the slight quirk of a wince on his face.
Just to be safe, Chopper ran another full examination.
When he got back to the room with the frostbite patient Doctorine was gone but she'd stoked the fire into its former glory, and pulled the blanket a little away from the man's neck. Chopper checked his temperature and was relieved to see that it had risen substantially, but also a little disappointed because for the first time in a while Chopper had felt properly cozy.
He proceeded to give another examination, and true to form, the frostbite blisters had faded from white to flushed red, as had most of his skin. The lacerations had scabbed over well enough, indeed some had even scabbed and chaffed off, leaving fresh pink flesh.
That was fast. He mused, peeling away at one of the soiled bandages and wrapping a new one around the cut. Only a few were dirty but he replaced most of them, just in case.
A soft sigh escaped the man and Chopper hummed in response, a giggle wormed it's way up his throat as the man squirmed a little and Chopper had to readjust to continue wrapping it.
"...'m hungry…" the man mumbled and Chopper nodded absently, he'd begun to unwrap the next one and the cut beneath it is a little deeper than most. He frowned at it and dug a tube of antiseptic from his bag. He squeezed a healthy dollop on the cut and began rubbing it in.
"Owwwwww…" The arm jerked sharply in his grip and Chopper froze, caught with a bandage wrapped midway around the patient's forearm. Slowly, he tilted his head up to meet the bleary eyed gaze directed at him. They both blinked.
The man broke into a long yawn while Chopper screamed and fell backwards as he pushed away. He scrabbled across the stone floor till he'd tucked himself safely behind a chair across the room.
"Hey wait… who're you?" the man slurred and Chopper squeaked behind the chair as the patient slipped out of the chair and stumbled across the floor. "Heeeeyyy…" a heavy thud and then a snort of a snore.
Chopper peeked out and sniffed the air, the man was splayed out on the floor, his face scrunched up against the stone. "Mhmm… but SANjiiiii…" He whined a little and Chopper shrunk back, tapping his hooves together as he thought. He could get Doctorine, but she was taking care of the girl. Couldn't he fix this? And if he couldn't then what would he do when he started his own practice? Or started looking for the universal cure?
He straightened his back and clenched his hooves. "I can do this!" he whispered and closed his eyes, stepping around the chair.
He screeched as, from across the room, the patient reached out with one arm and it stretched to cover the distance, wrapping around his torso and pulling him in.
"Hey! Let me go you jerk!" he squirmed as the man buried his cheek in Chopper's thick fur.
Chopper paused and glanced up at the man, humming happily and snuggling in, one earmuff knocked out of place. On his arm, the cut Chopper had been cleaning has begun to ooze again. Carefully, Chopper reached to where a roll of bandages had fallen and wrapped off the wound.
Chopper breathed out a shuddery sigh, trying to catch his breath as the man mumbled another few words that Chopper couldn't quite understand. Carefully, he began to extract himself from the tackle/hug but before he got very far the man's grip tightened fiercely.
"Don't be sad," he said, and even though it was mumbled the words were a very clear order to Chopper's ears.
Tears rose unbidden to Chopper's eyes and he wiped them away furiously, pausing in his extraction efforts. Why should he be sad? He had Doctorine, and he lived in a castle! And they helped people all over the island! Maybe he didn't have everything he wanted but he was okay, he really was.
"I'm not sad," Chopper told the man sternly, "Just… a little lonely. It's alright, I have Doctorine, she helps me." The man grumbled and hugged him a little tighter.
"I… never want… to be alone…" He breathed out between lapses where his sleep was too heavy. Chopper's heart gave a firm pang at the words that were so true to himself as well. Maybe devil fruits had more of a curse than about swimming, maybe devil fruit users weren't supposed to have friends.
Chopper snapped back to attention as the man gave a discontented hum and a frown streaked across his features like a crooked crack in fragile china. Immediately Chopper worried that something had pulled wrong, or a cut had been aggravated in all the moving and something was hurting, but the next words eased that particular worry and brought the first concern back to a stinging burn.
"I want my crew." Chopper remembered how the man had collapsed on the edge of the icy crust that caked the top of the tallest Drum Rocky, remembered the quaking hand that had shot out and grasped Doctorine's wrist with a death grip (almost so true to its name) and the voice that had begged for them to save his friends. He remembered carrying materials for Doctorine earlier, before any of the trouble had started with the devil fruit, how the girl with the fever had had a fever dream and had yelled out names, Zoro and Luffy. Sanji and Usopp. Vivi.
Maybe it was just Chopper that felt alone.
He wormed his way out of the man's hold and shifted into heavy point, brought the man back to his bed and pulled the blankets up to his chin.
Then, with a last mournful glance, he shut the door.
His bedside manner with lucid patients was simply not up to par, now that the man was waking up he wouldn't be able to be there. He was a monster. He'd probably scare him.
He didn't want to scare anyone anymore.
Drum had faded into the distance but Chopper imagined that he could still see it, that the pink, cherry blossom snow was still a bright and beautiful contrast to the stormy skies and bland rocks and piercing white drifts. He was sad to leave it, even though he'd faced so many problems there, even though he wouldn't miss a lot of things.
It was... familiar Two people who actually cared about him were there, that was more than he'd ever really expected to have after Dr. Hiriluk had… He shook his head, shooing away the memories he didn't want to dwell on, wiping away the tears that had emerged in response to them.
His ears perked up as a new sound creaked through the snowy night, the hatch that led below deck was being pushed open, smacking into the deck. He turned quickly, trying to quench the irrational, instinctual, fear at something happening behind him, in his blind spot.
"Chopper?" Luffy's voice, and then a yawn. The rubber man pulled himself up from below, stretching his arms over his head and then kicking the trap door shut. "What are you doing up?" He plodded over and then plopped down beside Chopper, leaning his back against the railing before yawning again. Chopper's ears quirked at the sound of his jaw popping.
"Oh, nothing!" He excused, turning away from the long gone smudge of Drum and pulling his hat down around his eyes. Luffy shivered suddenly and he clutched his arms close. Chopper frowned inwardly, he'd only just treated the captain for frostbite, was he really so ready to relapse? "What are you doing out here? It's cold!"
"It is!" Luffy agreed in sudden bewilderment. "Aren't you cold?"
"I have fur!"
"Oh- that's right!"
He shivered for another moment, skin turning pale and goose bumps rising around the bandages that were still wrapped around his hands and arms. They stared out at the horizon where Drum had disappeared into the distance.
"Wait, so you're warm?" Luffy gasped and before Chopper knew what was happening he'd been snatched off the deck and caught in Luffy's arms, caught in an oh-so-familiar position that, yes, he now found that he'd missed. "I wanna be warm too! Share!"
"What, hey!" Chopper struggled anyway because whether he liked the hug or not he was a man now, sailing the open sea! He had pride to defend! "Put me down!"
"Shishishishi, Nope!" Luffy laughed and held him tighter. "It's always warmer when there's more than one person!"
"Always?" Chopper paused, suddenly hesitant. He squirmed, maneuvering himself until he could see Luffy's face, red and flushed with the chill. "Even when one person is actually a monster?"
"Sure!" Luffy laughed again, ducking his head down in a way that stretched his neck a little more than was natural. The two of them were a bundle of flesh and fur, compact and defended against the cold night air. The rubber captain rubbed his cheek against Chopper's fuzzy hat, squeezing the two of them tight together. "Especially then."
At the word, Chopper breathed out in relief, a weight fleeing from his shoulders and evaporating into steam, heat dispersing into the cold.
"Especially." He said aloud.
A/N: Chopper says that to throw someone in a tub of hot water is the best way to cure frostbite- IT'S NOT. You're supposed to let it thaw on its own, don't overheat anything frostbitten. It's like microwaving a frozen dinner, not good for your limbs. *thumbs up* Other than that most of the treatment and symptoms are factually accurate. I hope people enjoyed the mix of Luffy/Chopper angst as much as I did, please leave a review and also...
I probably shouldn't but I did. Next chapter is much shorter and not a direct continuation but it has the same theme and I didn't want to make it a whole separate story… Ugh. I give one-shots a bad name :/ Anyway, that'll be up in a couple days probably, just making the last few grammar edits.