Sanji remembers it clear as day even now, though it's been six days he can still close his eyes and see the scene playing behind his eyelids on repeat. The crew are having a fight against some marines, there are a decent number of them with some skill to make it a challenging fight but there are also a lot of barely skilled marines there to be cannon fodder. It's the irritating thing about numbers in a fight, if one side has an awful lot more people then regardless of skill sooner or later they're going to get lucky.
The marines got lucky.
He remembers the scream first of all, more of a yelp of surprise really but there was enough mounting horror in it to render its classification as a scream. He turns in the direction of the scream, some part of him recognising it as the sound of a nakama in trouble. His eyes land straight away on Zoro, on the man whom he never worries about because Zoro can handle himself, because Zoro is tough and strong and knows better than to do something dumb like getting killed. His eyes land on him as he's falling backwards off of a cliff, their eyes connect for a split second and Zoro looks startled, irritated but then almost… peaceful.
Zoro just seems to hang there in the air for a moment, just looking at Sanji as the marine that bodily tackled him off of the cliff is pulled back by his fellows leaving Zoro alone in the air over the edge of the cliff. A cliff is possibly the worst place in the world to have a fight, why the hell did they even fight the marines here in the first place? Then time speeds up sickeningly and Zoro disappears from view, plummeting down the side of the cliff. He hears Robin yell and sees her arms cross in the corner of his eye as he launches himself to the edge of the cliff. He sees Zoro falling now, but he's long out of Sanji's grasp and travelling too fast for Robin's blossoming arms to catch him. He hears a bone crunching snap from one of her arms as she gets a good grip on him trying to slow him down or save him, she screams and the arms vanish leaving Zoro to plummet alone.
Sanji can see it happening before it happens and he's powerless to stop it or do anything at all except stare in horror. Zoro's tumbling through the air falling fast now to the beach below. The beach is sandy apart from one large rock, one that Zoro is heading towards at high speed. It'd be almost funny if it weren't so terrible, out of a whole sandy beach the directionally challenged Zoro manages to find the one rock to land head first on.
Zoro's head cracks on the rock in a spray of blood and he rolls off to the side in a crumpled heap.
Everything after that is… not so clear. He remembers kicking and killing a path down the cliff to Zoro with the rest of his nakama uncaring about anything other than whether Zoro was alive or dead.
The image of Zoro laying there on the sand is one that he is unlikely to ever forget. Zoro is lying motionless with his almost nonexistent breathing the only clue to his status as alive. The back of Zoro's head however looks like raw hamburger, a mess of blood, hair and skull fragments making up the gruesome picture. The one thought that Sanji still can't repress is how much blood there was, across the rock, over Zoro's previously white shirt and soaked into the sand around him. Sanji remembers skidding to his knees at Zoro's side and a part of his brain noting that the sand is wet and… warm. He remembers looking down at the dark red sand and seeing his knees sink into it and blood, Zoro's blood, pooling around the depressions that he's making in the sand. Zoro's eyes are half open and unseeing and Sanji can't bear to look anymore.
Chopper fetches a board to carry Zoro on, wary of any spinal injuries and Franky gives a quick assessment of the back of Zoro's head and declares that he can help fix the swordsman. Sanji helps where he's told, efficient and cold as he gets boiled water, clean towels and soap to Chopper's medical room. When Chopper and Franky emerge on deck hours later and say that they've done all they can for now and that he'd live Sanji falls apart. His legs give out, dropping him to the floor though thankfully close enough to the rail for him to puke over the side and pass out as all the worry and stress finally catches up with him.
That had been six days ago. Six days of worry, six days of fear and stress, six days of not knowing if Zoro would ever wake again. Sanji doesn't know anything about brain surgery or even too much about how the brain works, he doesn't know which bits do what or where the Zoro-ness of Zoro is in his brain. All he knows is that Zoro fell and cracked his head open on that rock and hasn't woken up since. Even if Zoro does wake he doesn't know if it'll be Zoro that wakes up, he's heard tales of men waking from a blow to the head as an entirely different person. Zoro could wake up and not know how to use his swords, Zoro could wake up and be someone else, or Zoro could not even wake at all. Sanji doesn't know which he considers the worst option.
It's midday on the sixth day when Zoro finally wakes. Sanji is chain smoking on the deck when Franky's triumphant yell reaches his ears, the whole crew charge down below decks to Chopper's medical room. None of them have been allowed to so much as see Zoro at all since he was taken down there so they all excitedly peer around the door.
Zoro is sitting up weakly in bed, his eyes bleary but alert. His head is swathed in bandages around his forehead to cover whatever has happened to the back of his skull. His face is bruised but not terribly so, after all it was the back of his head that took the real impact. His wrists and elbows are all bandaged up but there's no sign of casts so it doesn't seem like Zoro severely broke anything. Chopper has hopped up on the bed now, obscuring Zoro's face from their view as he checks the swordsman over.
"His eye response is normal. How do you feel Zoro?" Chopper asks, shining a torch in his eyes repeatedly. Zoro groans and bats the tiny torch away, his face a picture of displeasure at being poked and prodded by the little doctor.
"How does the back of your head feel Zoro? Do you have any feeling in your scalp? I did my best but you might be a little numb, nerves can be a little funny." Franky says looking at Zoro with concern.
Behind him the others are celebrating that Zoro is alive and well, Nami and Robin are hugging jubilantly with tears of joy running down their faces. However Sanji can't ignore the hot flare of anxiety that hums in his blood as Zoro's face takes on a shade of panic as he looks at Chopper and Franky in distress.
"Zoro? What's wrong?" Franky frowns reading Zoro's anxiety as well as Sanji has.
Zoro's eyes widen and his skin blanches in obvious panic as his hands fly to his ears. He rubs the heels of his palms at his ears and hits the side of his head as if he's got water stuck in his ear. Franky is quick to grab Zoro's wrists to stop him, the man's had enough head injuries this week, he doesn't need more self inflicted ones. Identifying a problem Chopper leaps forward with a small instrument and peers inside one of Zoro's ears. Zoro stills momentarily, realising what Chopper's doing.
Behind Sanji the celebration pauses and their nakama look on worriedly, something clearly is not right.
Chopper pulls back from Zoro's ear and frowns. Sanji doesn't like that, a frown isn't what he wants to see from Chopper right now.
"Your ears look fine Zoro, what's wrong? Do they hurt?" Chopper presses worriedly. Zoro stares at Chopper fearfully and opens and closes his mouth a few times before shaking his head desperately.
"Zoro, talk to me!" the little doctor insists, the fear rising in his own voice.
Zoro squeezes his eyes shut and his mouth opens and closes a few times helplessly, Sanji can see that the swordsman is breathing faster as panic grips him. Finally sound comes from Zoro's lips.
"Ahuhgluf." He utters and his own eyes snap open in surprise as if the garbled sound hadn't come from him. Clearly panicking Zoro tries again only for more nonsense sounds to come from his mouth.
"What the hell?" Franky finally asks for all of them. Chopper is sitting weakly on the blanket, looking at Zoro with barely suppressed tears in his eyes.
"Zoro, I need you to listen carefully to me. Don't do what I do." Chopper says and then nods encouragingly. Zoro watches him wide eyed and then hopefully mimics him, nodding his head in agreement and points at his own ears.
"Has he gone deaf or something?" The cyborg asks with concern evident in his voice. Chopper looks up and seems for the first time to notice Franky and everyone else looking on with worry and fear for Zoro in their eyes.
"No, he can hear us just fine. It's aphasia." Chopper says quietly and sits down on the blanket, laying a hoof comfortingly on Zoro's shoulder and rubbing soothingly. It seems to do something to calm Zoro's nerves a little. He rubs at his eyes quickly, well aware that he shouldn't be seen to be crying in front of others lest he cause panic in his nakama.
"It's total aphasia, it's very rare and I've never seen a case like this before, only read about it." Chopper answers in a weak voice.
"What's that?" Franky asks with a frown, reminding Chopper that they're not all doctors here.
"Do you ever get that sensation where you've forgotten a word and it's on the tip of your tongue but you can't quite grasp it? It sometimes happens with names. Well, every word at the moment for Zoro is like that. And everything he hears is gibberish to him, he can't understand us." The little doctor explains quietly. Sanji notices that Zoro watches him with wide eyes that reveal no understanding of Chopper's words.
At his side Luffy stirs for the first time since it became clear that all was not well with Zoro.
"But you can fix him right? He can get better can't he?" Luffy demands loudly, his hands clenched into determined fists at his sides. Chopper looks down at the blanket, almost as if he's ashamed of himself.
"Not really. I mean, people get better from it sometimes, and sometimes they don't. Helping them relearn words is helpful if it's only partial aphasia, but that requires some understanding of other words first. There's not much that I can do about it, he's unlikely to be able to read and write at the moment either, he's completely isolated from us." The reindeer explains almost tearfully, he looks up at Luffy guiltily, as if this whole thing is his fault.
"No! I won't accept that!" Luffy yells and lunges forward and grabs Zoro by the shoulders and shakes him.
"You've got to be able to talk and listen again Zoro! You need to defeat Mihawk and become the world's greatest swordsman!" Luffy yells shaking Zoro. Zoro looks a little scared but doesn't react at all to Mihawk's name. Usually just mentioning the name of that man who Zoro has sworn to defeat will set off a steely hard look in Zoro's eyes and spur him into a bout of especially vigorous training. But now… now he doesn't even recognise the sound of a name that Sanji's heard him speaking even in his sleep.
Luffy seems to realise this same horrifying non-reaction to Mihawk's name and stumbles backwards into Franky. Sanji can hear him muttering 'no' over and over again under his breath. But there's nothing Luffy can do, nothing any of them can do. This isn't a foe that they can fight, or a prison that they can rescue Zoro from or even an ailment that they can cure. They're all helpless.
Sanji slides down the hallway wall numbly and stares at Zoro who is still looking around in mute worry, not understanding the words that they're all saying or comprehending the extent of his terrible fate.
Zoro is ordered to stay in bed for at least a few days more before getting up and going back to cluttering up the deck. From what Sanji hears from Franky and Chopper the swordsman is starting to fall silent almost all of the time, he's clearly aware that no one understands his speech and nor can he understand anyone else's.
When he is finally allowed above deck the rest of the crew quickly learn that they can communicate with Zoro to an extent through mime. Even with this limited form of communication though Zoro is becoming reclusive and quiet, he'll rarely mime to anyone unless he really needs something that he can't get himself. If one of his nakama try to mime something to him to include him more often than not he'll just smile back reassuringly and go back to being silent and solitary. This makes Sanji inexplicably angry and he has no one to take it out on. He can't yell at Chopper or Usopp, that just makes him feel bad, nor can he yell at Franky or Luffy because they either don't care or just ask him what they've done wrong, and clearly yelling at the ladies is not an option.
Zoro's always been the one person that he can scream at and fight with for no reason at all with. Zoro's always been up for a fight with him, except now Zoro can't understand his insults or even argue back and so all of a sudden Sanji can't take his anger out on anyone. It's like he's full of steam and without Zoro to vent it on he's boiling over.
He's not so much as heard Zoro say a real word for well over a week and surprisingly he finds that he misses the marimo's voice. And now that the others are happy communicating with him through mime it seems that he may never hear Zoro speak again.
What's worse is that Zoro seems to be getting depressed, he's barely training and he's spending more time alone just staring out at the sea. Part of Sanji feels sympathy for Zoro, it must be so isolating to not be able to talk when he wants to or to understand the words being said to him. But a large part of Sanji is furious and lonely at the same time and he doesn't want to examine too hard why that is.
This is why on Zoro's fifth day of silence Sanji finds himself in an inexplicably black mood when Zoro enters the kitchen. Zoro has taken to just getting what he wants if he can't or doesn't feel like asking for it through mime. Zoro strolls forward through Sanji's kitchen as if he owns the place and Sanji is so tense and irritable that he starts to feels his hackles rise even at such a small transgression.
Quickly he thunks his foot into the other counter, blocking Zoro's way in. The marimo startles at the movement and looks at Sanji with confusion written on his face.
"Sit your ass down, you don't just take what you want from my kitchen." Sanji growls and jerks his head towards one of the barstools.
Zoro looks blankly from him to the barstool and back again before tentatively taking a few steps towards it and sitting down in what is clearly a guess as to what he'd said. Satisfied Sanji nods and goes back to shredding lettuce for lunch. Zoro sits there for a while in confusion before grabbing Sanji's sleeve and miming drinking something.
"I don't serve mimes in my kitchen, asshole. If you want something you fucking ask for it." He growls, feeling the anger fizz in his blood as he smacks Zoro's hand away. He doesn't give a shit if Zoro can't talk, he's going to damn well make Zoro say something, anything.
Zoro gives him a bemused look before getting back up off of the stool and going around the counter in an attempt to get into the kitchen proper again. Sanji blocks his path again and stares the confused looking man down. Zoro tries to shove past him but Sanji just shoves him back and keeps his balance firm. Zoro glares back at him and a deep threatening growl slips from his lips, it's the most Zoro like sound that he's heard since the man plummeted off of the cliff. Something inside Sanji calms at that and he lowers his leg but keeps his hand pressed against Zoro's chest as an idea occurs to him.
"Stay." he orders, holding his hand up in a stop gesture. He backs up until his back hits the cupboard and turns to quickly grab a large pint glass from inside, he fills it with cold water and turns to Zoro with it held aloft. Zoro's face lights up a little and he reaches for the glass.
"Ah, ah. You don't get this unless you ask for it. You want water so ask for it." he insists, pressing one hand against Zoro's chest to keep him at a distance and the glass in his other hand held away from Zoro.
Zoro whines and makes another swipe for the glass but Sanji's reach is longer and he manages to keep the glass away from Zoro.
"Speak marimo, I know you can!" Sanji snaps, grabbing Zoro's face and squeezing until his jaw opens.
"Water." he repeats slowly and jiggles the glass at he does so hoping desperately that Zoro will get the message.
Zoro's eyes narrow and he makes one last quick attempt at grabbing the glass and fails. The swordsman steps back and folds his arms defiantly, he gives Sanji one last stiff stare and turns to leave.
"You're pathetic." Sanji accuses quietly. Zoro freezes at that, he might not be able to understand Sanji's words but he can read his tone clear as day. Emboldened at that knowledge Sanji continues.
"I guess the Zoro that I knew must have died when he fell off of that cliff because you aren't him. The Zoro I know wouldn't give up on talking just because it was hard, the Zoro that I know would fight." Sanji says goadingly, he wants Zoro to react, needs him to so that he can know for himself that Zoro didn't die when he fell. He needs to know that the Zoro he knows is still in there.
But Zoro is standing still with tense shoulders and his back to Sanji, so he presses harder.
"You," he states and pokes Zoro between the shoulder blades, "are a coward."
Zoro spins on the spot with a snarl and lashes out at Sanji. The cook was expecting this though and dances back out of Zoro's reach, somehow managing to not spill any of the water as he does so.
"Say it." he challenges and smirks at Zoro, that always baits the other man's competitive instinct.
"Water." Sanji says slowly and gestures to the glass.
Zoro glowers at him but Sanji just stares straight back, he's sure Zoro understands him now and he's not backing down first. Zoro rakes a hand through his hair and takes a deep breath as if preparing to practice a new and challenging sword move.
"Ahn..ah." Zoro manages to force the sound from between his lips. He scowls angrily at himself, he shakes his head at Sanji as if to say no but Sanji isn't going to let Zoro quit that easily. Sanji grabs his arm and holds him firm, worried that the other man is going to leave the room.
"Water, marimo." Sanji insists.
Zoro lets out at light huff of breath, almost a laugh Sanji thinks, before leaning forward and staring at Sanji's mouth intently. He's got no idea what the marimo is doing but when Zoro quirks an expectant eyebrow at him he realises that Zoro wants him to repeat himself again.
Sanji does so and finds himself irrationally fascinated by Zoro's intense stare at his mouth. Zoro's eyes and forehead scrunch up in concentration as he tries to bypass whatever it is in his brain that's rendered the previously sharp tongued man either unintelligible or mute.
"Wal…ger." Zoro says slowly and clearly with a lot of effort.
"Ah! Close!" Sanji exclaims hopefully, perhaps Zoro really can get his speech back after all! Zoro clearly isn't pleased with his close but inaccurate repetition and gestures to Sanji to repeat himself yet again.
"Water." Sanji says as clearly as possible.
"Wait...er." Zoro tries and then growls angrily at himself and shoots Sanji a look that clearly insists that the cook repeat himself again.
This continues for a number more rounds with Zoro unsuccessfully repeating slightly different words. He works his way through waller, wharf-er, washer, waster, walker and finally waiter again. The swordsman slams his fist angrily on the work surface, he can clearly understand his own words well enough to know that he's saying it wrong. The stubborn swordsman obviously doesn't want to give in out of spite to Sanji but he's starting to go around in circles and Sanji is considering telling Zoro to leave it because he's close enough when Zoro shocks him by sticking his fingers in Sanji's mouth.
Sanji tries to escape at first, thinking that perhaps Zoro is trying to attack him. But aside from refusing to take his hand away despite Sanji's struggling he doesn't do anything else. One of Zoro's fingers is pressed lightly against Sanji's top lip with the next one on the space between Sanji's parted lips and almost pressing against his teeth, Zoro's third finger is pressed against Sanji's lower lip. Sanji stills and Zoro adjusts his touch to be lighter on Sanji's lips. When Zoro looks at him expectantly Sanji realises that Zoro wants to feel him speak as well as see it.
Sanji swallows, his throat suddenly feeling very dry. Zoro's eyes are intensely locked on his mouth and his fingers are still and certain. Sanji tries to get his mysteriously fluttering pulse under control and remember what he's supposed to be doing.
"Water." He says shakily and manages to look Zoro in the eyes whilst he does it. He feels Zoro's fingertips following the path of his lips as he speaks. Hesitantly Zoro lifts his other hand to his own mouth and, with his eyes shut, tries to feel out the same pattern on his own mouth. Zoro's trying out sounds now, trying to bend the sounds coming out of his mouth to match the ones that he felt Sanji say. Sanji's frozen in anticipation, the glass of water in his hand trembling slightly. He's indescribably anxious to hear Zoro say a real word deliberately, he needs Zoro to be able to do this with a fierceness that he didn't know he was capable of.
"Water." Zoro breathes quietly, his eyes shut in concentration.
Sanji's grin is sudden and wide and Zoro's eyes snap open as he feels it spread under his fingers. Sanji can see the penny dropping in Zoro's mind as he connects the sound that he just made to Sanji's massive grin.
"Water." Zoro repeats as if he is afraid that he'll be unable to say it again. Zoro laughs joyfully at the word and Sanji can't help but join in with the man's laughter. When he and Zoro's laughter has subsided a little Zoro downs the glass of water in one, like a man who's earned it which, Sanji thinks, he has. It's seems so simple, Zoro can speak now, Sanji knows that he has the ability, he has proof. All he needs to do is teach Zoro to speak again, one word at a time.
Whilst Sanji cooks he manages to teach Zoro two more words, useful ones. Yes and no. He doesn't want the man nodding and shaking his head like an idiot forever. Although he's not sure how much good it'll do Zoro to be able to say yes and no if he can't understand a word Sanji is saying. That's a problem for later though. It also seems that Zoro learns words best if he gets to touch Sanji's lips and follow along with his own speech. It… flusters Sanji a little in a way he doesn't want to think too much on, but it helps Zoro so that's that.
Come dinner Zoro has laid the table and is sitting down in his usual seat whilst the others file in chattering away. Zoro looks out the window with a glazed look on his face, he's quite obviously tuned everyone else's conversation out. He used to do that before he lost the ability to understand people, he wasn't ever overly interested in the minutiae of everyone else's day and even less so now that he can't understand a word of it. Sanji doesn't blame him.
"You'll never guess what." He announces as he sets down a generous bowl of pasta in the centre of the table.
"So tell us then." Franky snorts and reaches to dish himself up some pasta, batting away Luffy's grasping hand across the table.
"Zoro's starting to speak again, I got him to say a few words!" Sanji smiles happily and lays down plates of fresh handmade bread and olives. This makes several of the table sit up in surprise suddenly, they all look at Zoro in hope, but of course Zoro's not been listening to a word anyone's been saying.
"That's incredible! So it's all coming back?!" Chopper gasps excitedly, leaning over the table to stare at Zoro.
"Well, slowly I think. He still can't understand us I don't think, but I got him repeating stuff and he knew what he was saying. Maybe when he learns a word again he'll understand us?" Sanji suggests scratching at his head thoughtfully. He'd not really given much thought to Zoro's lack of comprehension, Zoro was bright enough to work out what people were saying if he really tried.
Zoro turns idly back to his plate, apparently done with staring aimlessly out of the window and startles to see everyone staring at him expectantly. The crew stares at him waiting for him to suddenly speak again after being silent for so long. Zoro levels everyone a 'what the hell?' look.
"Ah, he doesn't know what we've been talking about. Zoro, Sanji says that you can speak now. Is that true?" Nami says loudly and slowly with exaggerated gestures. Sanji winces inside, Zoro's not deaf or stupid, he just can't speak their language suddenly. Zoro gives Nami a look that suggests precisely how impressed he is with her, which is to say not very.
"Zoro, show them you can talk. What's this?" Sanji prompts instead, pointing to the large pitcher of chilled ice water on the table.
Zoro's brow wrinkles in confusion so Sanji points at the water again. After a few moments he sees the comprehension dawn on Zoro's face. The marimo opens his mouth as the crew look on expectantly.
"Ah-" Zoro tries abortively. He scowls at himself realising that 'ah' isn't the right sound. He touches his fingers to his lips and closes his eyes for a moment. Sanji finds himself nodding, Zoro's trying to remember how the word felt in his mouth, that's fine, Sanji wants him to get it right after all.
Zoro opens his eyes again and looks warily at the rest of the table. Everyone is looking at him expectantly. Chopper's eyes are wide and hopeful with his soft little reindeer ears twitching with hope. Sanji knows how much everyone wants Zoro to be back to normal and he can practically feel the tension hanging in the air. Zoro's starting to look uncomfortable now. Nevertheless the swordsman shakes himself slightly and tries again
"Ruh-" Zoro stammers. Usopp snickers and Zoro's cheeks pink and the tips of his ears turn bright red. He looks self consciously at his nakama and Sanji can see him floundering.
"Zoro, what's up with you? I know you can do this!" Sanji snaps feeling irritated. Zoro is making him look bad, like he's just picking on him or something. If anything this makes Zoro look more uneasy.
"He seems as mute as he's been since he woke up. Making sounds isn't talking Sanji, he probably just mumbled something that sounded like water is all. It's just dumb luck." Usopp shrugs and bites into his bread with a disappointed look on his face.
"Usopp's right Sanji, sometimes we can want to hear something so badly that we do, regardless of whether we actually did or not. If Zoro was throwing sounds together to try to talk it's not hard to believe that you misinterpreted because you wanted to hear him speak, we all do." Chopper says with big kind brown eyes shining up at Sanji. Fuck kind though, Sanji knows that Zoro spoke!
"I think you embarrassed him Sanji, you should be more sensitive." Nami clucks her tongue disapprovingly.
"I'm not- that's not it. He spoke, he really did!" Sanji insists but the rest of his nakama have started dinner (except for Luffy who started ages ago) and are tactfully ignoring Zoro's embarrassment. The others clearly either don't believe him or don't want to press the issue, as a result dinner is tense and awkward.
Zoro hesitates when the others leave the table, he looks as if he doesn't know whether to stay or go. Carefully he stands up and starts collecting dishes. Sanji feels anger rolling under his skin like oil on water. His nakama either didn't believe him or disapproved of him "embarrassing" Zoro, Zoro showed him up! He's staring angrily at the empty sink and hopes that Zoro will go when he hears the other man put the plates down. Instead though Zoro's hand brushes Sanji's back and tugs on his sleeve at his elbow.
"What?!" Sanji snaps spinning around and smacking Zoro's arm away. Zoro steps backwards eyes wide in surprise. Zoro's mouth struggles around words that he can't say, no sound comes out though.
"Why didn't you just say something?! I know you can! Did you do it just to humiliate me?!" Sanji snarls, his fists balling at his sides. Zoro's look of startled confusion speaks volumes, he can't understand a word that Sanji is saying but he reads his tone and his body language just fine. That's fine by Sanji, he wants Zoro to know that he's furious with him!
"I was trying to help you, you asshole! But no, you had to be an ass! I wouldn't put it past you just to play dumb to embarrass me!" He continues yelling, Zoro looks panicked and shakes his head.
"No!" Zoro gasps out.
He and Zoro freeze at the same moment with Zoro's solitary no hanging almost physically in the air between them. Sanji's eye twitches. He swings a kick at Zoro's head, he swings it wide though and lets Zoro duck it, even in his anger he doesn't want to scramble Zoro's brains further.
"If that was so easy jackass why didn't you say something earlier?!" Sanji yells angrily. Zoro glowers and shoves him back but remains silent.
"He… he really can talk." Chopper's small voice says quietly. Sanji and Zoro both freeze and turn in the direction of Chopper's voice. Unnoticed by either of them Chopper was standing quietly by the door, and apparently the little reindeer heard everything.
"I don't think he's not talking around us to make you angry Sanji. With aphasia stress can make it worse, perhaps he just feels more relaxed around you?" Chopper suggests thoughtfully, his little hooves tapping thoughtfully on his furry chin.
Sanji snorts and gives the little doctor a look that suggests that his explanation is not likely to be the correct one. Relaxed around each other? That's laughable. He and Zoro are always arguing and fighting, what kind of sick relationship would they have if that was relaxing? No, that's definitely not it.
"Whatever it is Sanji, you are now the one responsible for getting Zoro to talk again." Chopper declares banging one hoof against the flat of the other in a decisive manner.
"What?! The hell I am! This asshole can learn to talk by himself!" Sanji says irritably. He's not going to be Zoro's goddamn mother for however long it's going to take the marimo to get his vocabulary back. Especially if Zoro's going to practically molest every word out of his lips.
Chopper however has other ideas. The little reindeer's eyes turn big and watery as if the kid is on the verge of tears.
"But… if you don't then he may never get better. The Zoro that we know might be gone for good. If you can teach him you have to, or… or…" Chopper sniffles pathetically.
Sanji winces at Chopper's tiny sad furry face. Big wet tears are starting to spill over the edge of his eyes now, matting the little reindeer's fur. He really doesn't want to spend the rest of his time with the bastard marimo, but he's not a heartless bastard. How can you say no to that face?
"I… okay." He mutters hanging his head. Chopper flings himself at Sanji and wraps his little arms around his waist.
"Thank you so much Sanji!" Chopper squeals delightedly and dashes off before Sanji can think better of his decision and change his mind.
This leaves him alone in the kitchen with Zoro. Zoro gives him a perplexed look, clearly having understood nothing of Sanji and Chopper's exchange. Sanji scowls at the man who is the source of all his problems. Zoro scowls back and, with a lack of any other form of communication, flips him off.