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Two Years Later, Nothing Changed

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Chopper was as excited to be out of the water as everyone else. The Fishman Island had been nice, certainly, and he’d really had a fun time there at the end, but it felt good to be back at sea—the top of it. He felt a lot better being out of the water, being a Devil Fruit user and all.

“Namiiiii!” Full of excitement he hurried towards the navigator’s room, a bright smile on his face as he went. “Nami, when are we going to reach the next island?”

In his eagerness, he’d opened the door while asking the question, oblivious to the frantic movement inside. Still smiling, he waited for an answer, looking between Nami and Usopp, both of whom seemed a little red in the face and out of breath.

“Did you get sick?” Chopper worried, taking a step inside the room to check their temperatures. “I have some medicine that—“

“No, no, it’s fine,” Nami waved off quickly, just as Usopp straightened his shirt, hiding the flush of his neck under the fabric. “It’s just a little hot, is all.”

“That’s true! I thought it was just me who felt it!”

“N—no! It’s really hot! Sweltering!” Usopp said quickly and stood up. “I should probably go cool myself off.”

“Good idea!” Chopper agreed. Maybe they could even get Franky to pull out the pool for them. Chopper was still a little scared to go into it, even with swimming aids attached, but he loved watching the others have fun in it. Maybe if they got Luffy on board with it…

Usopp used the moment of distraction to try and make a dash for the door, but Nami’s hand circled around his wrist before he got a chance.

“I don’t think that will be necessary. This room gets really cool if you know what you’re doing.” She smiled sweetly and turned towards Chopper. “We won’t be reaching the next island for some time. Why don’t you go and see how Franky’s doing with the ship? Make sure we’re still on course for me, would you?”

Chopper grinned. “Of course, Nami! I’m always happy to help!”

“Thanks, Chopper. You’re the best.”

He giggled and started an embarrassed dance out the door. “Oh shut up, you. That doesn’t make me happy or anything.”

They waved him out and the door closed behind him. Thanks to his sensitive ears, however, he could still hear the other two arguing inside the cabin.

“We’re totally busted. This is the end!”

“Oh don’t be so dramatic, Usopp. It’s Chopper. Trust me, we’re fine.”

“You really think so?”

“If you’d rather I stop…”

“N—no! Nonono! It’s fine, you’re right, keep going!”

“That’s what I thought.”

Chopper shook his head and moved away from the door. Humans were pretty weird sometimes.

He shook himself, remembering that he’d promised Nami to check on their course for her. He couldn’t let her down, daydreaming like this!

Skipping merrily over the grass, he went to the front of the ship, spotting Franky at the helm. He was casually steering, whistling as he did. Chopper didn’t think he looked worried, so everything should be fine, right?

“What do you think? Is it super?” he asked, turning his head with a flashy grin. Chopper stopped short, thinking the cyborg was talking to him, and had already drawn breath when someone’s voice cut in.

“It’s certainly flashy.”

Chopper blinked. He hadn’t seen Robin sit there behind the wheel, nose stuck in a book like always as the wind blew through her hair. She wasn’t even looking at Franky, but the cyborg still pulled a disappointed face at her comment, dropping his usual ‘super’ pose in favour of leaning against the wheel to look at the woman sitting close to him.

Facing her, he said, “You don’t like it?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t have to, I can tell,” Franky said, tears welling up in his eyes as he touched his forehead. “So cruel!”

Robin sighed and closed her book. “I told you, I don’t hate it.”

“But you don’t like it either! Even though it’s sup—“ Franky was interrupted before he could finish, caught halfway through his pose by a hand suddenly growing out of his biceps and gently cupping his face.

Robin’s voice dropped even deeper than normal, and she was quiet enough that Chopper had to concentrate to hear her say, “I said I don’t hate it. You’re fine just the way you are.”

Franky blinked, went pink in the face, and broke into a wide grin. He lifted his arm, and Chopper watched as his other, smaller hand extended from the big one and gently nudged Robin’s on his face. It turned, and they interlinked easily.

“This is new,” Franky noticed, sounding content. Robin smiled.

“You’re right. I think I quite like it.”

Franky looked at her, wagging his eyebrows suggestively. “Is it—“

“Don’t ever ask me that again. Ever.”

Franky didn’t seem disappointed, like Chopper had thought he would be. Instead, he laughed, and he used his small hand to turn Robin’s and press a quick kiss against it.

“Alright, I won’t. Under one condition.”

Robin’s eyebrows rose expectantly. “And what would that be, I wonder?”

Franky smiled lecherously and abandoned the wheel for a moment to lean over Robin, an imposing shadow falling over her sitting figure.

“You know what.”

Robin froze. “No.”

“You have to.”

“I refuse.” She turned her head, raising the book again to signal the matter closed, but Franky wouldn’t give up so easily. Chopper watched him lean even closer, his face now only inches away from hers, and his voice dropped to a dangerous growl when he said, “You know you want to.”

“I want no such thing.”

Franky clicked his tongue and pushed himself away from her, disappointed. “Just one touch! It’s suuuuper easy!”

“I said no.”

“C’mon, Robin,” Franky whined, practically begging her now. “Just press my nose!”

He tried to guide Robin’s remaining extra limb to his metal nose, but it disappeared before they could make contact. Franky grunted in disappointment.

“What’s wrong with touching it?!”

“It’s embarrassing as a human being.”

Ouch, Chopper thought. Ice cold.

“It’s—“

“I said don’t.”

Franky sighed and turned his back to her, gripping the wheel once more. He was clearly deflated now, and Chopper felt bad for him. Maybe he should offer to press his nose instead! Chopper liked doing that anyway, because Franky always made a different hairstyle pop out of his head when he did. It was great fun to play with it! If Robin didn’t want to press it, he could…

His train of thought was interrupted when a pair of arms sprouted from Franky’s back, crossing over his torso. Almost like a… Chopper tilted his head. Hug?

Franky froze for a second, squinting at the extra limbs. Robin wasn’t even looking at him, but Chopper could tell she was only pretending to read because her eyes weren’t moving.

“Aww man.” Franky sighed loudly and turned his face heavenward. “You know I can’t stay mad at you!”

Robin smirked. Chopper noticed the arms squeezing a little before disappearing completely, and her eyes resumed their trail over the text.

Franky started whistling again.

Chopper shook his head. What was that all about? She should have just pressed the nose! He’d never understand humans; perhaps they were too different after all.

Deciding that the ship was doing well for the moment, Chopper skipped across the lawn thinking of what to do next. Everyone seemed to be busy, and he didn’t want to bother them. He felt a little lonely if he was honest, mostly because they hadn’t had a chance to catch up with each other yet. With everything being so chaotic until now, they hadn’t even had a chance to catch their breaths.

He pouted. He wanted to know what everyone had been doing these past two years! He also needed to schedule thorough physical exams for all of them soon. If he wanted to take good care of them, he needed to know what had changed about their bodies while they’d been apart.

Yes, he’d do that. Just as he decided to invite them all to his office, Sanji opened the door to the kitchen and surveyed the ship. Spotting the reindeer, he yelled, “Oi, Chopper!”

“Me?”

“Tell the captain if he wants to eat soon, he’ll have to catch something first. That greedy bastard won’t be satisfied with what we have in storage.”

Chopper grinned. “Sure, Sanji! I’ll tell him!”

“You’re in a good mood.” The cook frowned, crossing his arms.

“Hmm? I’m just happy,” Chopper waved off. “I’m glad to be back here with all of you guys!”

Sanji grunted listlessly, but the doctor could see a small smile forming on his own lips as well. “Guess it’s not all bad.”

“Hehehe.” Chopper laughed and waved up at him. “I’ll tell Luffy! You can count on me, Sanji!”

“Sanjiiiii!” Brook’s whine came from the kitchen, and through the open door, the reindeer could see him sitting at the counter, waving a cup around.

Sanji looked over his shoulder, clicking his tongue and yelling, “Wait a damn minute, alright? You’ll get your tea soon enough.”

“I’m all dried up,” the musician complained. Then he added, “Although, I suppose I’m a skeleton. Yohohoho!”

Sanji rolled his eyes and glanced back at the reindeer. “Thanks, Chopper!”

“No problem! I’m always happy to help.”

As Sanji returned to the kitchen and started arguing with Brook, the doctor happily hurried off, keeping the reason for his excitement a secret. He did enjoy helping his friends, of course, but he had to admit that there was a bit of an ulterior motive in his eagerness this time: if Luffy had to fish for something, Chopper would be able to join him! He’d always enjoyed that, and it was the perfect opportunity to spend time with his friend after such a long time apart. Maybe Usopp would play with them too! And Brook!

Chopper remembered their past adventures fondly. The four of them would fish while Nami and Robin would chat idly in the shadow of a tree. Franky at the helm, Sanji dancing around them carrying refreshments. Zoro dozing close by, leaning against the nearest surface and yelling at them when Luffy fell into the water and he had to go and drag him out.

Chopper had missed those simple times the most, when they were all just drifting through sea having fun. Things were a lot more serious now, he knew that, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t steal enjoy themselves every now and then, right?

“Now I just have to go find Luffy,” Chopper muttered and took a look around the deck. He couldn’t spot the captain anywhere near, and he couldn’t smell him either, so he decided to check inside. He wasn’t in the cabin, the lounge, the kitchen, or any of the storage compartments.

Chopper could take a pretty good guess at where he was then.

Getting up to the crows nest was a bit of a challenge without changing form, but he managed. Carefully nudging his way inside, he jumped onto the platform and surveyed the room.

Bingo.

“Luffy—“

“Shhh!” Zoro hushed him immediately, surprising the reindeer who’d thought he was sound asleep. The swordsman was sitting on the floor, leaned against the wall like always, apparently taking his usual nap. He wasn’t even looking at Chopper, both eyes firmly closed, but the doctor knew he was awake now.

The other human curled around him, on the other hand, seemed dead to the world.

“But…” Chopper trailed off dejectedly. He didn’t want to wake Luffy, of course, when he seemed so peaceful for once. The way he was sprawled over Zoro in the swordsman’s arms, Chopper knew he wouldn’t wake up that easily anyway. He supposed he could lure their captain with meat, but…

“Oi.” Zoro had opened his good eye, considering him discerningly while Chopper’s spirit sank. When the reindeer looked up, he jerked his head back and said, “Why don’t you stick around a bit? Got somewhere you need to be?”

Chopper blinked. He didn’t have anywhere he needed to be. Everyone else was busy, and he was feeling very lonely watching all the others pair up without him. He’d figured Zoro would want him to leave too, but…

“You staying, or what?” Zoro tilted his head and smirked, stretching one arm open in invitation while the other held onto their captain. Chopper swallowed. Could he…? “Got enough space for two, ya know.”

Chopper had run into his arms before he knew it, clinging to the swordsman for dear life as he held back the tears. He was still… He was still…!

“Mmm…” Luffy shifted, making the doctor freeze. Then another arm wrapped around him, and he found himself pressed tightly to the captain’s chest, the man’s face pressing into his hat as he murmured, “Soft.”

Zoro chuckled and fastened his arms around them both. Chopper caught sight of him leaning back and closing his eye, despite being squeezed to the point of suffocation by Luffy.

“Told ya he’d show up,” the swordsman murmured and relaxed his body. The captain laughed happily into his doctor.

Chopper didn’t know what they’d been talking about, but he found he didn’t care. He was warm and content, giggling a little when Luffy tickled him in his eagerness to claim as much fur as possible while they were sandwiched between Zoro’s arms. The swordsman himself had long since fallen asleep.

“This is nice.” Chopper sighed quietly and let himself be held, listened to the rhythmic breathing of his comrades. “I’m happy.”

 

They had lunch eventually, Sanji chewing them out for not having caught anything, and Luffy laughed until no one could be mad at anyone anymore. They ended up working together to catch a big fish, and then they had a party on deck with food and drink and Brook’s music. It was wonderful. Chopper smiled more than he had in two years combined, or at least that’s what it felt like, and he alternated between hanging off Zoro’s shoulder and sitting in Nami’s lap, getting sandwiched between Sanji and Usopp, perching on Franky’s head…

He was the happiest reindeer alive.

“Looks like you cheered up,” Zoro noticed over a bottle of sake, a content smile on his face. Chopper blinked. He hadn’t thought anyone had noticed.

“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly, not quite looking at his friends, “I guess I was just a little lonely.”

Zoro tilted his head, prompting the reindeer to go on. Chopper was aware that everyone was watching him, but they were all friends, right? They wouldn’t laugh at him if he told them. … Right?

“We’ve been separated for so long and I was really excited to see everyone again,” he explained, hanging his head. “But Nami’s got Usopp and Robin has Franky and Luffy’s got Zoro. And Sanji and Brook are both perverts, so I can’t really join in with their conversations. Everyone was busy all day and I just… I just got lonely.” Chopper sniffed, feeling his eyes tear up and snot running down his nose as he cried, “I missed you all so much! I don’t ever want to split up again!!”

The rest of the crew froze for a second, but Chopper was oblivious to it. He was too busy trying to contain the fluids leaking from his body to notice the shocked and accusing stares exchange between his friends.

It was Sanji who tore them all away from their silent battle with a very loud, very angry, “NAMI’S GOT WHO?!”

Usopp blanched and jumped up from his spot on the ground next to the navigator, facing a burning cook in terror—from the safe hiding place behind a massive cyborg.

“I—It just happened! I wasn’t planning on it! I mean—What are you talking about, Nami and I didn’t—I mean we’re not—“

Sanji probably couldn’t hear him over the fire rising past his head, but Usopp still kept trying to talk his way out of it. Nami only rolled her eyes and kicked back on the lawn.

“So what?” she asked, bored. “It’s not like it’s any of your business.”

The cook cooled the flames around him and deflated. “But—“

“Anyway, why are we only talking about us here? Shouldn’t we be focusing on the other thing?”

“I knew about Robin and Franky,” Brook said helpfully.

Sanji clenched his teeth. “Dammit… So did I.”

“Me too,” Usopp agreed, still cowering behind the cyborg.

Franky raised an arm and put it around Robin’s shoulders. “So what? It’s not like we were trying to hide it.”

“I wish you had been,” Usopp murmured but quickly stopped when he realised how close he was to the man himself.

Nami sighed audibly and pointed her finger at Zoro and the captain sitting next to him, still stuffing himself with meat as if he hadn’t noticed any part of the conversation they’d been having so far.

“I was talking about those two.”

“Aaaaaaaah,” went the group.

Sanji lit a cigarette. “Guess that means you won.”

Robin chuckled. “I never had any doubt.”

Aww man, I should have trusted your female instincts,” Franky pouted, earning himself a consoling pat from his girlfriend.

Brook gasped and put his bony fingers to his jaw. “Yohohono! Sanji convinced me to bet against it!”

“Let me tell you an important lesson since you’re still relatively new here,” Usopp said and finally returned to his place at the navigator’s side, clasping her shoulders like a coach. “Never bet against Nami. There’s no way you’ll win, even if you’re right. Best not to play at all, but if you have to, don’t play against her! Ever!”

“You turned really smart in those two years, Usopp!” Nami lauded him, looking impressed.

Usopp grinned and pointed at himself. “Of course! I’m not an idiot. I knew what I was getting myself into.”

Nami laughed and took his other hand on her shoulder, pulling him down by it to place a kiss against his cheek. “Glad to know you realise.”

They smiled at each other for a moment and Usopp put his arm around her, tugging her close.

“So are you going to admit it?” That was directed at Zoro, who’d been watching the proceedings with thinly veiled boredom. He’d been way more interested in his bottle of sake, but now that all eyes were on him, he lowered it and considered them.

“Admit what?”

Usopp rolled his eyes. “Have you been listening?”

Zoro shrugged. “You’re going out with Nami, right? I already knew. Same with the other two. I can feel your presence, remember? Not exactly subtle, if you ask me.” He grabbed Luffy’s cheek, barely slowing the boy in his eating as it stretched and he continued to stuff himself with meat. “This guy also knew. What, was it supposed to be a secret?”

Nami sighed and held her head. “We’re not talking about us, stupid. We wanna know about you and Luffy!”

“Heh?” The swordsman tilted his head, as if he’d suddenly turned too slow to understand the question. Chopper thought it was really funny: Zoro was super smart sometimes, and then other times he could be pretty dumb. Like right now.

“Just admit it, Mosshead,” Sanji grunted past his cigarette. “You and Luffy are a thing, right?”

Zoro glared at him. “Who are you calling Mosshead, stupid Lovecook?!”

Sanji started his reply when Luffy’s arm stretched over the set food to grab a faraway piece of meat and he said casually, “Zoro and I got married.”

Jaws hit the ground. Zoro snorted and leaned back.

“It’s ‘will get married’, stupid.”

Chopper was a bit confused because he was insulting Luffy, but he was smiling while he did and the captain just grinned back at him.

“Oh, right. Zoro and I will get married,” Luffy clarified to the crew. “When I’ve become King of the Pirates.”

“And I the greatest swordsman.”

They shared a look, almost threatening in its intensity. Chopper blinked. The others seemed a little lost for words.

“I’m looking forward to the wedding.”

Everyone’s head turned towards Robin, who was smiling happily at the high profile couple.

Franky followed with, “I bet it’s going to be suuuuuuper!”

“Can’t wait,” Sanji grunted apathetically, but Chopper saw him turn his head and hide his mouth behind a hand as he lit a new cigarette.

Brook grasped his jaw. “I love weddings! Will I be invited? I shall compose you a song to honour the occasion!”

Chopper’s eyes got wide. “I also want to be invited!” he said urgently, hurrying towards Zoro to tug at his shirt. “Please, can I come too?”

“You’re all invited,” the swordsman said, sounding annoyed. “As if I could stop you.”

“Of course you can’t,” Nami said matter-of-factly. “Do you have any idea how much effort it took me to get you here? You’d better pay up, or else.”

Zoro’s face contorted in anger. “You didn’t do anything! Stop lying!”

“Oh yeah? And I suppose it was your natural sensitivity that made you realise your feelings and not my excellent—and may I mention cheap—advice.”

Luffy laughed. “Zoro’s stupid.”

“Why are you on her side?” Zoro turned on him, annoyed.

The captain just laughed harder, and the swordsman grunted and let himself be pulled into a hug, still looking plenty displeased.

“Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad.”

Luffy giggled and wrapped himself around him from behind, putting his chin on the swordsman’s shoulder after pressing a quick kiss to his cheek.

Zoro’s face slowly turned pink from top to bottom. He didn’t flinch or move away though.

Chopper tugged at his shirt again.

“So I can come to the wedding?”

The swordsman glanced down at him. “Sure. Who else is gonna show up if you all don’t?”

“I’m going!” Franky declared with a raised fist.

“I’d be honoured,” Robin said.

Brook didn’t look up from his furious scribbling on pieces of paper as he said, “I’m already working on a song.”

“Guess I’ll go,” Sanji grunted. “Someone’s gonna have to do the catering, right? If the ladies go, I can’t risk anyone else taking care of it. Only the best for you, Nami-swan! Robin-chwan!”

“Thanks, Sanji.” Nami smiled. “I’ll be there for sure.”

Usopp scratched his cheek. “Eh, I’ll go, but…” He leaned into his girlfriend’s space, whispering, “You’re not expecting a proposal now, right?”

Nami hit him on the head, hard. “Could you be any less romantic?!”

“Ow! I just meant right now!” Usopp clutched his head with a pained expression. “I’m not exactly prepared, you know!”

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t marry you even if you did ask! Idiot!”

Usopp was still grimacing through the throbbing, but he was more concerned with Nami’s anger rolling off of her in waves. “I’m definitely going to ask!”

Are you?” Nami seemed disinterested, inspecting her nails, but Usopp wouldn’t be deterred.

“Of course!” he said with conviction. “But I was gonna wait until—“ He broke off, looking to the side.

“Until what?”

He smiled sheepishly. “Until I’d become a great warrior of the sea,” he admitted. “I couldn’t let you marry a loser like me. I need to become stronger—and braver—first.”

Nami’s mouth fell open, and for a moment she was struggling with what to say. Then she sniffed and called him idiot, falling around his neck in a tight hug.

“Alright!” she said into his skin, holding him close. “If you ask me then, I might even say yes. Maybe.

Usopp tried to turn his head to look at her. “Really?”

“If I feel like it.”

“That’s good enough. I’ve worked with less.” He hugged her back, and they remained like this for a moment while Franky threw expectant glances at his partner.

“No.”

He pouted. “Why not?”

“It wouldn’t feel right,” Robin explained thoughtfully, “to get married before our captain.”

Franky hummed. “Guess that’s true.” He paused. “But after—“

Robin turned to face him, a gentle smile on her lips, and said, “I don’t see why not. You make me laugh.”

Franky grinned. “Alright! Our wedding will be suuuuuper!

“It’s gonna be a real challenge to design menus for three different weddings,” Sanji noticed, surprisingly calm about the fact that his two favourite females were talking about marrying someone else, Chopper thought. Maybe he was in shock? “You’re lucky I’m the best cook in the world.”

“Thank you, Sanji,” Robin said. The man’s eyes turned heart-shaped.

“Anything for you, Robin-chwan!”

“Can we have a wedding feast without marrying?” Luffy asked, head hanging off Zoro’s shoulder.

Sanji gave him an annoyed glance. “No.”

“Zoro, let’s get married.”

“You have my answer,” the swordsman said simply. “Become the King of the Pirates, and we’ll talk. I’m not marrying just any old captain. I only accept the best.”

Wow, Chopper thought, Zoro is really harsh. He’d thought the swordsman loved Luffy, but maybe he was wrong? Humans were difficult to understand sometimes, even if he tried really hard, so maybe he’d missed something. Or maybe that was just how they talked to their loved ones?

Luffy didn’t seem angry or hurt, so it was probably the latter. Instead, he was grinning ear-to-ear. “That’s true,” he giggled happily. “Guess I’ll just have to hurry up and become King then, huh?”

“My thoughts exactly.”

They grinned at each other, and for the first time ever, Zoro grabbed the captain and planted a kiss on his lips in public. Luffy seemed as surprised as the rest of them, and Chopper couldn’t blame him. He’d caught them kiss a few times when they’d thought they were alone because he was small and easily missed, but Zoro wasn’t a very affectionate person on the outside, and he rarely showed his feelings so openly. Definitely not in front of an audience.

Humans. He’d never get them.

“There,” Zoro said, drawing away from his captain. “Happy?” He turned towards the rest of the crew. “You all wanted to see this, right? There you go. Can you stop stalking us now? It’s annoying. I can tell you’re there, you know.”

“Shishishi.” Luffy laughed and slipped around Zoro to land in his lap instead. “Zoro doesn’t like being watched. He gets mad.”

“Can’t say I blame him,” Usopp said.

Zoro threw a gnawed off bone at him. “You were doing it too!”

“Because I had to!” he defended himself. “Nami made me!”

“Hey, you agreed,” the navigator said. “It’s not my fault you’re so easily manipulated. You could have said no, you know.”

“Yeah right.”

“What was that?”

“N—nothing. I said you’re right, that’s all. Haha.” Usopp laughed awkwardly and scratched his head, pointedly not looking at Nami.

“I guess it’s fine,” Sanji sighed and blew out a waft of smoke towards the heavens. “As long as you don’t start getting all touchy-feely now. You’re annoying enough on your own as it is.”

Zoro clenched his teeth, face pink, and reached for his swords. “Who’s annoying?!”

“I just told you, you are.”

“I’ll cut you!”

“Try it!”

Zoro didn’t try it because Luffy was still sitting in his lap and the swordsman wouldn’t throw him off to kick the cook’s ass. Not that he had a long moment to consider it before Nami cut in and reminded them of the things that were really important.

“Nevermind that,” she said impatiently, gesturing with her hand into the round. “I think you all owe me a lot of Berries.”

Chopper bowed his head, upset. “I don’t… I don’t have any Berries…”

“Not you, Chopper.” The navigator smiled at him before glaring at the others. “Pay up!”

Usopp gaped. “That’s not fair! We bet on the same thing! If anything, we should share the winnings.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Nami’s face turned scary when she smiled this time, and Chopper felt a cold shiver run down his spine despite his thick fur coat and the warm summer air. “You only bet that they’re together. I bet that they’d get married.”

“You…” Usopp clenched his teeth, refraining from finishing that sentence.

Robin added, “And I bet that our swordsman would give in and kiss the captain first.”

“That’s right. We’ll split the winnings between us.”

Sanji grunted. “I didn’t think he’d have the brains to realise his feelings. Guess I lost that one. Good to know you’re not completely hopeless.”

“Just shut up already,” Zoro spat back, lacking heat probably because he had buried his face in Luffy’s hair for the moment.

“I just said what Sanji told me,” Brook explained, seeming upset. “I didn’t mean to imply that I doubt your commitment! I’m very sorry.” He hung his head.

“Don’t sweat it.”

Franky scratched his nose and sighed loudly. “Ah, guess I underestimated you, bro. I thought for sure you’d need more time to accept your feelings. My bad.”

“I don’t care.”

“If it helps,” the cyborg continued anyway, “I did bet that you’d sort it all out in the New World with a new groove and all.”

Zoro gave him an odd look. “I still don’t care.” He straightened a little, pulling Luffy tightly to his chest. “I don’t care what any of you think, while we’re at it. All I care about is Luffy. The rest of you can talk and bet about whatever you like. I couldn’t care less. He’s all that matters, and the only opinion I care about is his, so save your apologies, I don’t need them. I got all I want right here. If you’re fine with that, great. If not, deal with it or go away.”

Nami chuckled. “You’re always so serious when it comes to Luffy.”

“So what?”

“Nothing.” She smiled. “It’s good. Anyway, you don’t honestly think any of us have a problem with it, do you? How long have you known us for? We’re a family, right? Family sticks together, no matter what.”

“She’s right,” said Usopp. “Like it or not, we’re all stuck together. At least until all of this is over.”

“Does that mean one day we won’t be?” Chopper asked quietly, drawing everyone’s attention to himself.

Sanji exhaled smoke and contemplated, “I guess that’s possible. I mean, have any of you ever thought about what happens after?”

“After?”

“Yeah. After we’ve reached the end of the Grand Line. I mean, do any of you have a plan? Or do we just… stay together until we all die or get captured?”

Usopp rubbed his chin. “Now that you mention it, I hadn’t thought about it at all.”

“It seemed so far away, I couldn’t even imagine it,” Nami admitted. “But now that you say that…”

“Hmm… I wonder…” Robin tapped her cheek in thought.

Everyone seemed lost in thought for a moment, making Chopper’s heart sink. He also hadn’t thought about it, but now that he was, he was scared. He didn’t want everyone to go away and leave him! He didn’t want them to split up! They were his friends, and friends were supposed to stay together, right?! But… Once they’d all accomplished their dreams… What would happen to them then? Would they still have a reason to travel the seas together? Would they keep having adventures without a clear goal in mind? Would they have new dreams?

All of these thoughts were making him anxious, and he could feel tears welling up when he imagined the crew disbanding. Before he could start crying, however, Luffy’s voice cut through the silence and shook them all.

“You’re free to leave whenever you want,” he said, his face hidden behind his straw hat. He was standing now, and Chopper didn’t know when that had happened, but he was looming over all of them now, half hidden by the shadows of the setting sun, the other half illuminated by its golden light. “I won’t force you to stay. But I won’t stop.” He tilted his face up, revealing it to them, and Chopper could see his trademark determination written on it plain as day. “I’ll keep going, even after I’ve become the King. I will keep having adventures, and I’ll keep having fun. I want you all with me,” he admitted. “But if you need to leave, you can.”

“Heh.” Zoro grinned, showing teeth. “Try and make me.”

“Guess I could stick around a little,” Sanji mused.

Nami added, “I couldn’t very well leave you guys all on your own. You’d be totally lost without me. Especially that guy.” She pointed at Zoro.

“Hey!”

“You were the first people to accept me as I am,” Brook said. “It would be my honour to keep sailing with you until these bones are no more.”

“I would like to see more of the world,” Robin admitted.

Franky grinned. “Well, it’s decided. I can’t very well leave the missus alone. Besides, nobody knows the Sunny like I do. I couldn’t just leave her with you guys. She needs an expert’s touch to run smoothly.”

Usopp sighed and shook his head. Looking at Chopper, he asked, “You wanna stay as well?”

“Of course!” he said immediately, without thinking at all. “I mean… I miss Doctorine, and I do want to visit, but…”

“I know how you feel. But thinking about going back to that village and living a normal life… That’s what I wanted before I met Luffy, I guess, but now it just wouldn’t feel right.”

Chopper nodded. He did want to go back home, of course, and see everyone again. He wanted to tell Doctorine all about the adventures he’d had and the friends he’d made. He wanted to help the people in the village, use his acquired knowledge to make them all better, but…

“The Sunny is our home,” Luffy said, drawing everyone’s eyes to him. “The lives we had before, our friends… Everything, it’s all in the past. We move forward. That’s the promise we made when we became pirates.”

Chopper watched him walk away, towards the helm of the ship, while he said, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen. But I do know one thing.”

He stopped at the very front, looking out at the waters before them, waiting to be conquered. Then he lifted his straw hat from his head and held it up to the heavens.

Chopper listened to his promise with wide eyes, and he knew everyone else was doing the same. The wind was warm and the sea was steady, carrying the Sunny towards their next adventure.

Whatever happens, wherever we go… We’ll do it together. And we’ll make it… TO THE END OF THE GRAND LINE!