I apologise for the wait. I've just finished moving house. I've also made a few edits to chapter 7, but nothing major so there's no need to go reread if you don't want to. You guys also need to know that a couple days ago I had laser eye surgery. Fr a few weeks I can't spend more than 20 mins or so at a time on my laptop due to the strain is causes my eyes. I'm working on getting chapters out, but little things keep popping up in my way. Thank you all for your patience. To those of you still waiting for the old Toddler Troubles, I accidentally deleted some messages from my inbox. If you've asked but haven't got it yet, please message me and I'll send it right away!
Chapter 8: Tears and Tantrums
Nami had Luffy dressed just in time for dinner. Robin alerted the crew with her devil fruit ability and after skipping lunch it didn't take them long to gather. She waved away Sanji's insistence on serving (since she had cooked once again), with a promise that the little chef could reclaim his kitchen at breakfast tomorrow. Sanji settled reluctantly at the promise.
Chopper by now was refreshed by his lengthy nap and kept his gaze fixed on Zoro throughout the meal. The little reindeer kept a constant stream of food shovelled into his mouth to block any laughter from escaping, as even he considered the gaudy orange funny on the pint sized swordsman.
At the head of the table, Luffy's seat had been raised by a quick alteration from Franky. Where a small stack of books were enough to lift Zoro and Sanji, Luffy's shorted stature required an alteration to some of the furniture. The tiny captain now sported a black T-shirt with bright red shorts (much to his delight), though Nami had been interrupted before she could see if the sandals she'd bought fit him too. For now his toes were left to wiggle free as his legs dangled from his new chair.
Dinner started with its usual frenzy. Habit was hard to kill and nobody seemed to notice that the usual scrabble to defend their food wasn't really necessary. It was Sanji that noticed first how much trouble Luffy seemed to have with his own food. He watched as Luffy gnawed at hunk of meat fruitlessly. His tiny teeth couldn't break the cooked flesh away from the bone. Hunger drove Luffy to abandon the meat and he turned instead to a small bowl of soup beside his main meal. Eager to fill his rumbling belly, Luffy lifted the bowl to his lips and swallowed down as much as he could only to cough it back up moments later; it was too hot. Finally, he moved to eat one of the potatoes, but as soon as he attempted to swallow it whole (as he usually did) he began to choke, and fell from his chair with a bounce. Sanji's shocked yelp alerted the rest of the crew and Usopp was at Luffy's side in less than a second. After a few thumps the potato was dislodged leaving a very upset captain in its wake as he rubbed at his sore throat.
"You okay Luffy?" Usopp asked gently as he lifted Luffy back into his seat. It startled him how fragile Luffy looked all of a sudden.
"Yeah..." Luffy mumbled, as he looked down warily at his food.
"Maybe I could be of assistance?" Robin smiled.
Two arms popped up from the table, grabbed Luffy's fork and started to mash his food together. What couldn't be mashed was chopped swiftly into bite sized pieces and the crew watched as Luffy grabbed a cube of cut meat and tossed it into his mouth. There was a tense moment before a loud exclamation of 'tasty!' signalled the resume of the meal. The rest of dinner passed without event and as Chopper cleared the plates away and started the dishes, Nami brought up the topic that had been on her mind all day.
"So... about the regression." She started tentatively and glanced from one crew member to another. "I don't know how long it will be before the lakes power takes effect... mentally."
Sanji frowned thoughtfully and chewed on the inside of his cheek. "Just what does 'regression' include?" he asked quietly, "I mean, will it just be our memories? Or our personalities?"
"I don't know." Nami admitted.
"Since there is supposedly another lake, my guess is that it's an emergency backup if something goes wrong, right?" Usopp asked. "I mean if the first lake takes away experiences and age, surely the second lake should give them back somehow?"
"It sounds quite unbelievable." Robin spoke up, eyebrows drawn together in thought. "But we've come across stranger."
"It'll be fine!" Luffy piped in loudly as he leaned back and rubbed his full tummy in satisfaction. As usual he was undaunted by the possible adverse effects of the trouble they were in. "If we forget, Nami and Franky and everyone else will look after us until we're normal again, ne?"
The steady confidence was enough to shatter the tense atmosphere and in his own, unique way Luffy settled the unrest in the crews mind. His way of dealing with problems was to just get on with it until it was fixed It had always worked for them before and so rather than worrying about the future they would deal with each obstacle as it presented itself. The conversation drifted to a light tease at the expense of Zoro and his new attire and before long the crew resigned themselves to rest. Tomorrow the real search began for the second lake.
It just… it wasn't fair.
Sanji stood on the stool so generously provided by Usopp and peered down at what was supposed to be dinner, but his hands just wouldn't work. They were too small, and too chubby, and too babyish! The little chef was struggling to hold the potato let alone peel it!
With an angry grunt he pulled his leg back and kicked the counter, but boy was that ever a mistake. With a yelp he quickly grabbed his foot and hopped on the stool, holding the damaged appendage in pain. Of course, when you're in the body of a 4 year old and hopping around on a stool with one foot, it really is inevitable that you will fall. And fall he did.
With a dull thud, Sanji landed on the floor. Slowly but surely, he raised himself shakily to his feet once more and balled his little hands into fists. Whenever he felt frustrated before, he could just kick something (usually Luffy) or vent off his anger on Zoro but right now neither of those options were available. Sanji turned to his final option of relief from his frustration instead. His hand brushed across his chest in search of his cigarettes only to find them missing. The realisation that he could do nothing to quell his frustration was enough to send the little blonde over the edge.
He ground his teeth together and clenched his eyes closed. A strangled whimper escaped his throat, but he quickly pursed his lips together in futile attempt to quell the noise. He really didn't understand it. He wanted to shout, he wanted to scream and he wanted to hurt somebody, but instead this body... it was making him… oh God he was going to…
The galley door opened and Sanji was glad he had his back faced to whoever had entered. He was sure by now that his face must have been beet red. He just prayed that whoever it was at the door asked a yes or no question so that he could reply with a nod or a shake of the head and send them on their way.
"Sanji-san, I was wondering if you needed any help with the preparation of dinner."
Sanji's eyes snapped open at Robin's voice and he quickly shook his head in a 'no' gesture. The last thing he needed right now was for one of the women to see him like this. Robin watched the little blonde curiously for a moment. The absence of his usual enthusiasm in greeting her aroused suspicion.
"Are you okay Sanji-san?" she asked, gently.
A quick nod of the head made Robin's eyes narrow slightly. Something was definitely up. Normally Sanji couldn't do enough to gain her attention but now it seemed as if he was trying to get rid of her. Her eyes widened as a harsh sob broke free from Sanji's lips and his fists balled tighter. The tension in his shoulders was obvious and a small smile crept onto her face as she took in the upturned stool and the fact that dinner had not yet started.
"Have you had trouble preparing dinner this evening Sanji-san?" she asked curiously, moving closer to the little cook, though he still refused to turn around.
Her smile became sad as small droplets of water fell down to the floor and now she knew he was crying.
"I-I'm sorry R-Robin-ch-chwan," Sanji sobbed as he raised his sleeves in a futile attempt to wipe away the tears "I d-don't think I'll b-be cooking dinner t-tonight."
In one swift movement, Robin moved to stand behind the little chef and scooped him into her arms. She turned him around so he could bury his head in her shoulder. She knew how embarrassing this must have been for him, not only over his pride of cooking, but also his pride as a man. Gently, she ran a hand through the sobbing boy's hair and rocked him from side to side she closed her eyes in search of Nami.
Nami was sitting in her cabin working on mapping out the expanse of the crossbones Islands when she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to find one of Robin's arms blossomed there.
"Yes Robin?" she asked, "Can I help you?"
The limb pointed to the cabin door and Nami hesitated a moment before she stood up to comply. Had it been anybody but Robin she would have dismissed them in favour of completing her work, but Robin didn't usually ask for help unless she really needed it. Nami walked onto the deck and followed where Robin's limbs directed her. Soon she arrived at the galley but when she moved to open it, she found it was jammed.
"Robin?" she called against the door "Are you in there?"
The door opened and Nami stepped in. She glanced back as the door closed behind her only to see another of Robin's arms holding it closed so that nobody else could enter.
"What's wrong?" Nami asked, now more alert at Robin's obvious caution. Her eyes fell on the small body held against Robin's chest and she stepped closer to her. "Is Sanji hurt?"
"Sanji-san is fine," Robin answered as she carefully adjusted her hold to make him more comfortable. "He just had some… difficulty in his new form."
Nami didn't bother to question her crewmate. A quick glance around the room gave her enough clues to fill in most of the gaps. Her eyes came to rest on Sanji again, a pang of concern jabbing her insides at his unusual quiet demeanour.
"It seems he has a little trouble controlling his emotions effectively as he is now, isn't that right, Sanji-san?"
A mumble into her shoulder was the only reply as Sanji clenched and unclenched his fists in the fabric of her shirt. Nami couldn't help but think that he really did look like a little 4 year old doing that. Soon he had calmed down and bashfully asked Robin to put him back down. He looked up at the two women in front of him and sighed, a deep blush spread across his face from both the bout of tears and shame.
"Sorry..." he mumbled, "I just… I lost control – I was so frustrated and wanted to let it out, but that was the only way I could."
"I believe that's it's quite normal," Robin stated as she crouched to his level and thumbed away the last traces of his tears from his cheeks. "Your body is reacting to your emotional state as a 4 year old would, just as a baby would cry to be fed."
"But, I'm not really a kid." Sanji muttered and kicked the table lightly. He winced and quickly grabbed his throbbing toes. Nami and Robin exchanged a brief glance and before he could protest, Nami had picked him up and looked into his slightly red eyes.
"Tell that to your body." she stated. "Now, what can we do to help around here?"
"N... Nami-san..." Sanji sniffed and scrubbed at his eyes in an attempt to make himself appear more composed. "I'm alright, really! I just... I got a little overwhelmed."
"Not buying it." Nami replied as she reached for Sanji's apron and picked up where the little chef had left off with the potatoes.
Robin took note of the mortified look on Sanji's face and offered him a reassuring smile, "Sanji-san, it's really no trouble to help out once in a while. Is there anything I can do whilst Nami-san is busy?"
"I..." Sanji trailed off. It felt foreign and wrong to ask his beloved ladies for their help in the kitchen, but he knew in his current form there was no way around it. He could make as many bluffs or excuses as he wanted, but he was in the body of a child and simply couldn't cope with the task of feeding a hungry crew of pirates. Reluctantly he relented in his protest. "The water should be boiling for those potatoes before they go in, and you'll need to heat up some oil in a frying pan..."
Robin nodded and set to work on her tasks. Her devil fruit power came in very handy and helped her to keep up with Sanji's quick fire commands once he became engrossed in guiding the preparation rather than doing it himself. She couldn't help but think he looked more like the head chef of a restaurant than the cook of their ragtag crew.
By the time dinner was ready, Sanji had recovered from his little tantrum and had once again resumed the gush of compliments to the ladies. His mood only improved further when Zoro walked in dressed in a hot pink onesie. His delight was short lived though as Nami swept him away to change into his own baby yellow version of the garment. His weak protest was swiftly silenced with a stern look from Nami and within second Sanji understood why Zoro hadn't just ditched the pink. His stubby child arms couldn't reach the zip. Deflated in defeat, he walked back with Nami and rejoined the crew for dinner. Luffy's food was specially prepared already mashed and cut like the night before and the little captain didn't seem to mind his red onesie at all. Sanji sometimes envied Luffy's simplicity.
The rest of the evening passed without event. As darkness fell and the anchor was dropped for the night, the crew prepared themselves for bed. They ahd made good ground with the days sailing and would be arriving at their next destination early the next day if the winds stayed with them.