A/N: I'll start off by thanking everyone who favourited and followed. Special thanks to those who left generous reviews behind. ARIGATOU! The response was amazing. I wanted to respond to SulliMike23's doubt. So I decided to a review response for the first time.
SulliMike23: I didn't plan on it while writing the 1st chapter but now that you mention it, Artier and Erina would definitely make a good pair...just kidding. I ship SomaXNakiri too much to do that. As of whom to pair with Artier...I have 2 characters in mind as of now and I'm leaning towards one more than another. But nothing's decided yet. Let's wait and see.
Disclaimer: I don't own, the characters, story or any intellectual property of Shokugeki no Soma. This is purely for the purpose of entertainment and I do not make any money out of this.
With that said and done, DIG IN!
"Erina-sama! Are you alright? Where were you? I was waiting for you on the bus to come but you never showed up. I argued with the bus driver to stay put until you come back but he wouldn't listen. He even rushed away before I could at least de-board the bus with our bags and wait for you. I'm sorry, Erina-sama. I promise I will not let anything like that happen again. I will never leave your side. Forgive my incompetence."
Arato Hisako started ranting animatedly as she welcomed Erina into the Nakiri mansion. Erina saw Hisako's face go through a rollercoaster ride of expressions from concern to irritation to remorse and borderline depression that rises out of self-loathing. The pinkette was the first person she saw after her taxing car ride from the Totsuki resort to her home and though all she desired right now was nothing but a soothing bubble bath accompanied by her favourite manga, she could never say no to Hisako of all people. Hisako had a tendency to cast aside every bit of her rationality when it comes to her and go overboard from thinking to actually doing those over the top crazy things. She strains herself a little too much on most occasions and Erina couldn't bear to see her childhood friend struggle for her sake. But she wasn't going to say anything to her. She regrets the last time she asked Hisako to stop worrying about her to this day.
"Hisako...You don't have to overexert yourself like that. I'm sure you have your own workload to deal with, right? The graduation isn't too far away. Would you like to take some off from these aide duties to focus on that?"
Erina meant that in a good way. She always saw how hard Hisako works, day and night. The mental strain on her is something she couldn't begin to comprehend. She knows that without Hisako, she couldn't even get half of the things done compared to a regular day planned by the pinkette. With the middle school graduation exams only a couple of weeks away, she wanted Hisako to able to focus on them without any other concerns on her mind. She didn't want her to be overburdened with her secretary duties as well as the preparational studies. Little did she guess Hisako would take it in the exact opposite way.
"E-Erina-sama?! ... I understand. You don't feel the level I'm at right now is enough for someone who follows you. That's why you want me to resign and focus on the preparation. I...I get it."
It pained Erina to see her friend hurt like that. The distressed look in her chocolate brown eyes, the disappointment in her ardent voice and the overall plunge in her personality as a whole was something that made Erina curse herself. She didn't mean it like that. She never thought of Hisako of that way. She more than anyone knew Hisako's talent and determination. Despite devoting all her time to being the secretary, Hisako still managed to stay in the creamy layer of her academics. All she wanted was her not being the reason Hisako loses focus on her studies. It seemed rather selfish to her now that she thinks about it. She should have more trust in her friend. No, she already does. She needs to show that she has that trust to Hisako. She would never doubt her abilities or determination again and insult her. If showing concern towards makes Hisako feel patronized, then she wouldn't. She would stand by her and help her in whatever way she can.
It took a lot of persuasion from Erina to make Hisako rescind her resignation. She vowed to never speak up against Hisako's concerns and loyalty to her no matter what. She would put up with it even if it felt overbearing sometimes. Well, not like she hated being pampered and be treated like a queen all the time. It was one of those off days where she feels being a regular teenage girl is better was when Hisako's behaviour irked her. But, she knows not everything in this world is perfect or will be perfect. Except for her cooking. Saiba Joichiro's as well. They were flawless though.
"It's alright, Hisako. I'm sure you did everything you can. It was my fault, to begin with for not making sure I had everything ready before checking out of the suite. And it wasn't like I struggled to come back. The resort management arranged a limo ride almost immediately. So...no harm done." She replied with a reassuring smile though her mind wasn't exactly on the same page. She wasn't going to mention she had to share the ride with Yukihira Soma of all people. She wasn't going to mention that she felt irritated and excited at the same time for whatever unknown reason. That would only fuel Hisako's concerns.
Hisako breathed a sigh of relief, the creases on her brow fading a little. She was slowly getting back to her usual collected and sombre self, informing Erina of her schedule for the next day as she accompanied the Nakiri scion through the hallways of the mansion. Though Erina was too tired right now to worry about tomorrow, she had to respect her friend's diligence and uphold her duties, thanks to her 'God Tongue'.
"We have to attend the 10 A.M lecture on contemporary culinary techniques. You have an in-house tasting menu consultancy for Kadowaki Tokyo by Kadowaki Toshiya-san for lunch. You're free for the rest of the day after that." The pinkette concluded detailing Erina's schedule for tomorrow. "Also, Senzaemon-Sama asked me to inform you that there will be a family dinner at 7 PM to host a VIP guest."
'Ouji-sama hosting a VIP guest?' Erina contemplated as she continued to walk towards her room, with Hisako in her toe. 'They must be someone really important if Ouji-sama is calling them a VIP. Better rest for a while so I can be at my best in the evening then.' It was unusual for Erina to view someone as a VIP. There were few people who can be regarded as such by the Nakiri's that she came across. It was usually the other way around. The Nakiri's were the VIPs wherever they go. It has also been a long time since his grandfather has personally hosted a dinner for a guest at the Nakiri mansion who's not family. She put her thoughts to rest as she opened the door to her room.
"Hisako, I expect you to attend the dinner as well."
"Erina-sama...W-why me? I don't think it would be appropria-"
"Whatever do you mean, Hisako. Ouji-sama said it was a family dinner, right? Then how can your presence be inappropriate in any manner?"
Hisako was taken back by her words. Hisako always selflessly followed and served Erina to the best of her abilities. She saw Erina from her childhood and how difficult of life the Nakiri heiress lives. The sheer scale of responsibilities and burden her name alone carries is unimaginable. To live up to that and the famed 'God Tongue' is a task too big for someone ordinary. She genuinely believed Erina was the only one who could do that. Not because of her lineage or the gift she was bestowed upon with, but because she witnessed how hard Erina works to carry that legacy. That's what inspired her. That's what made her vow to help Erina with menial tasks which would impede her progress on the harsh trail to the zenith of the culinary cosmos. All she wanted in return was to see Erina at the pinnacle of the gourmet world. That's her dream. She was Erina's aide. That's what she was meant to be. She never assumed to consider herself as a friend to Erina, she wouldn't dare. She didn't have the audacity to even imagine or entertain such outlandish thoughts.
But witnessing Erina say those things about her, it was a shocking yet sweet revelation. Tears of joy welled up in her eyes as she replayed the scene in her mind over and over. 'Erina-sama...Thank you. Thank you.' She thought as she turned around and walked away. She never thought that something which she never even dreamt of would make her so happy. Something which she never wanted would be so fulfilling. There was no need to reply to Erina. It wasn't like she was given a choice to respond back. It a mandate she was meant to follow and she would gladly do so.
Yukihira Soma was having a good day. He woke up with the satisfaction of learning a lot at the 'Hell camp', a hell of a lot more than he expected. In all fairness, he had zero expectations, to begin with. He meant when he said that Totsuki was just a stepping stone for him to reach the top at the opening ceremony. But after 'Hell camp', he wasn't so sure. In the 1st challenge, he came across Aldini Twins who come from a background similar to his. He was pleasantly surprised to see someone keep up with him in speed, flexibility and the sheer perception and inventiveness one needs to possess to be a great chef. He wouldn't be aware of such people if he was still confined to his family diner. Then he went up against a chef whom he couldn't beat in a straight out cook-off. The only reason he or Tadokoro were not expelled was that Dojima chef was able to make Shinomiya Kojiro see past their 'Rainbow Terrine' on an objective level. It was a moral victory for them, sure, but if Dojima chef didn't interfere, he would've successfully managed to get himself and Tadokoro expelled without seeing what else Totsuki had to offer just when he was starting to get excited about being here. He was reckless and severely underestimated the distance between him and the top he was aiming for. That bout proved to be a real eye-opener which proved his dad's intentions behind enrolling him here. Surviving Totsuki and reaching the top was a criterion he had to meet if he ever hoped to surpass his father. Then came the souffle mishap. He was really lucky to have survived that fender-bender, partly thanks to Erina who made it easier for him to garner customers.
All of those experiences, though nerve-wracking, ultimately taught him crucial lessons and he was excited to see what more Totsuki had in store for the future. All in all, he was feeling good, almost electric and really craved a good cook-off with Isshiki Satoshi. Though he was doubtful his senpai is going to agree, considering how he was turned down every time he asked since the 1st time he made the Pepper Mackerel with a Purée Garnishat his welcome party.
"Want to do a Shokugeki with me, Monsieur Soma?"
This is exactly what he needed now. A Shokugeki. Not a friendly cook-off with Isshiki senpai but a real bout where the contestant's passions rage like a wildfire. He needed this outlet to see for himself, the newly aflame desire to explore Totsuki to the fullest. Who better than the new guy on the block who proved himself to be good, ridiculously good if Satoshi's and Fumio's praises were legit.
"Oh shoot! I forgot I have to be somewhere soon. Looks like I spoke too soon, Monsieur Soma. We'll have to have our Shokugeki on some other day. Désolé. But I heard some interesting things about you from Isshiki-senpai. I really look forward to facing you soon." Artier said, withdrawing his hand back. " It was nice meeting you all. I have a few things to take care of today. So... Bonne journée," he said as he turned around and slowly strutted out of the kitchen, hands folded behind his head, leaving the 1st years in a confused daze.
Soma blinked his eyes repeatedly for a while, not understanding what happened. A minute ago, he was all fired up to do a Shokugeki with Artier or whatever his name was. The guy himself asked him in the first place. And just as he was about to respond, the flames he was so eager to let out were unjustly doused. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before letting out a sigh. 'Well, at least Isshiki-senpai is here. Guess I'll ask him again,' Soma thought and turned to face where Satoshi was only to find the chair empty. 'Arey, he's gone?!' his mind screamed as he frantically searched for the 7th seat holder all over the kitchen, overlooking the brouhaha happening behind him.
Soma finally gave up on his quest to search for Satoshi after 20 minutes of combing all over the Polar star dormitory. He headed straight for his room and slumped onto his bed with a soft thud. He closed his eyes for a second and the first thing that popped into his mind was the Abalone Pasta Artier cooked a while ago. He could practically taste the dish just by looking and smelling it. Artier described the process in such a detailed manner that Soma could imagine the mouthfeel of the soft and mellow spaghetti, the after taste the Abalone leaves, the punch the salmon roes delivers with its saltiness amidst the sweetness. But one thing was driving him insane. Mesquite flour. The wildcard which was nagging at his mind as to what level the use of such a unique and rare ingredient took the dish to. He never even heard of such a thing much less have any experience cooking with it. It was really hampering his efforts of getting to know Artier's cooking in his mind.
He remembered how impressed Fumio and Satoshi seemed down there. 'His dish seemed more impressive than what I made for Fumio-san and Ishhiki-senpai on my 1st day in here' he thought as images of his improvised mackerel burger meal and Revamped Mackerel Onigiri Chazuke flashed across his mind. 'Seems like he's someone who's spent his fair share of time in a kitchen. That recipe was traditional by no means. It was a fusion of 2 cuisines, Japanese and Italian. To top that off, he used a rare ingredient which is not available in both countries. Avante Garde indeed.'
But all these weren't the reasons why he bothered to ponder over another newbie. No. He remembered Artier's smile when he served Fumio and Satoshi his dish. 'That wasn't a smile of a person who's excited or proud or even confident in his dish. It was something different. Something more. Like he was certain that they'd not only like the dish but find no flaws whatsoever.' Soma hummed incoherently for a few moments thinking about nothing in particular. Like he was waiting for his recent thoughts to completely sink in. Only then did he let his mind pull the thoughts back together. 'Seems like a funny guy though. Enjoys making fun of the girls. Nakiri would bite his head off if he did something like that in front of her.' he thought as he let an amused chuckle.
Erina was glowing scarlet from head to toe, frozen to the bone, steaming all over and if there was any way to see her brain right now, it would look like badly made scrambled eggs. Right in front of her was Artier, down on one knee, holding Erina's hand as he peered into a pair of amethyst orbs. If Erina was to turn any redder, she'd perfectly blend into her dress. Unlike a regular 16yo, she was sporting a half sleeves crimson red chiffon evening gown for the dinner.
Talk about dressed to impress. But Erina held no such notions in her head. Their approval meant nothing to her. She was the Nakiri heiress. There were certain standards she needed to maintain while representing her household. She didn't dress to impress. She dressed to subdue others. Whoever was on the other side should realise they were clearly outmatched by her, not just in talent or regality but in every aspect. A defeat so unilateral that the opposition felt no form of humiliation simply because of their realisation as to how different of a class Nakiri Erina was in. They were to be left speechless, thoughtless and utterly prideless.
But by the looks of it, it totally backfired. As Artier held Erina's hand and kissed it, she was left speechless. When he bent on one knee and started showering compliments about her beauty and augustness, her mind went blank, thoughtless. And the final straw was when he peered into her eyes and asked her out on a date. It was straight out of a Shojo manga, a dreamy princely guy asking your average girl next door in the most chivalrous way that could make even the 'Ice Queen' melt. He looked the part too, dressed in a crisp white buttondown shirt and a solid navy blue ankle cut trousers with a pair well-polished dark brown cap-toe oxfords. He had his hair down instead of the usual ponytail, the front bangs framing his face perfectly and further accentuating his sharp features. His silver eyes stood out more due to the contrast his new hairstyle offered. And on top that, she just had to be a sucker for things like these. The offer was tempting. Resistance seemed futile with every second that passed. She wanted to melt. She wanted to throw away her pride and agree like the girl next door just to experience how it felt to be swept under your feet by a prince charming.
A loud resounding SMACK brought Erina out of her stupor. Her brain cells reactivated thanks to the sharp sound ringing in her ears which instantly brought back her wandering composure. She let out the unwittingly held breath as she took in the picture of an enraged Hisako, taking long deep breaths to cool down with her hand raised and Artier looking down at his feet as he stood a little further away from her, facing each other. Hisako's eyes were furious, which stole the attention from her navy blue boat neck off the shoulder evening gown. When Erina returned to her usual composed self, alarms starting ringing in her mind. What happened? All she knew was Hisako was downright pissed, like never before, and the silver-tongued Artier was standing there speechless. Then there was the loud smack which she heard a second ago. Did...Did Hisako slap the Nakiri household's VIP guest? No way she would do that.
"Oi, what do you think you're doing, mademoiselle?" Artier spoke in a low menacing tone. The atmosphere around him suddenly darkened as he raised his head up and looked at the pinkette. The tension in the air grew so thick, Erina could feel it bearing down her. He took a couple of steps closer towards Hisako and stood tall, his impressive imposing physique looming over her like an ominous shadow. "You shouldn't be using your dainty little hands to smack people like that..." Though the words spoken seemed like a compliment, the tone he said them in seemed more threatening. "I hope it didn't sting you. My heart would bleed to death before I hurt a pretty girl."
Erina and Hisako blinked their eyes in confusion. Gone was the intimidating aura around him. The blanket of weight which shrouded them both in apprehension was lifted in less than a blink of an eye. The abrupt change in his disposition and behaviour left them too dumbfounded to even respond with their true feelings, which was plain vexation. Under normal circumstances, Erina would be glad that the uncomfortable forebodement was gone. But the change in his demeanour was too drastic to process which irritated her to an extent only Yukihira Soma was able to achieve until now.
He had a sheepish yet flirtatious smile on his face which was meant to both appease and flatter Hisako. This would've worked on any highschool girl. Any except the one standing in front of him. Hisako wasn't any high school girl. She possessed the poise and decorum which far surpassed most adults and her ability to process and adapt to the changes, especially with people was second to none. Thanks to her years of secretarial work and being an aide to one of the most distinguished person/child, she had to deal with all sorts of people and amassed all those experiences into her repertoire. She dealt with people who were obsequious to people who bullied to get what they wanted. Flattery was a child's play for her to deal with.
"I'm sorry for my uncouth behaviour before. As a respected guest of the Nakiri household, I give you my sincerest apologies." Hisako spoke in a flat tone with a head bowed. "But I won't tolerate any sort of ill behaviour towards Erina-sama, no matter who it may be. So I suggest you be mindful of your actions towards her from now on." She shot a glare to him before she walked towards Erina and started enquiring about her state of mind and whatnot.
Artier smirked as his eyes followed Hisako's leaving form. 'Interesting.' he thought as he saw Hisako worry animatedly while a disgruntled Erina tried to calm her down.
"What got you in such a good mood, Lief-kun? You look like a cat who swallowed a canary."
Artier, Erina and Hisako turned around on their heels in the direction of the voice which all 3 of them were familiar with. The 3 of them sported 3 different variations of surprisement. Artier was amazed, Erina looked alarmed and Hisako was curious at the person's presence, though it wouldn't have been if they considered thinking for a moment before reacting. In all her snow fair glory was another prodigious brood from the Nakiri lineage, the heaven-sent child of molecular gastronomy, Nakiri Alice accompanied by her lazy dishevelled aide, Kurokiba Ryo. Unlike the other girls in the hall, Alice was dressed down to the occasion, sporting an oversized long-sleeved cyan sweatshirt which was dangling over one shoulder paired with a contrasting pair of dark blue jeans and white sneakers.
"Aren't you a pot calling the kettle black, Alice?" Artier shot back, coming out of his initial surprise, walking towards the new entrant, pointing out how she herself had a smug smile on the face, despite her efforts to contain it, looking more amused than him while clearly concealing her mischievous conclusions she had come up with after a single glance at the scene in front of her. Scratch that, Artier was sure she was hiding behind one of the curtains adorning the leviathan marble pillars surrounding the hall, eavesdropping on the conversation in context.
"Maybe. But I won't let you slip away without answering my question first. What made you look so self-satisfied?" Alice replied while mimicking Artier's movements and walked towards him. They met in a platonic hug, leaning into each other from a comfortable distance, and touched the other person's face with their cheek and made a kissing sound, twice, one on each cheek, while placing their palms on each other's back. Artier then fist-bumped with Kurokiba, the latter doing it rather begrudgingly much to his annoyance.
To Erina and Hisako who stood a fair distance away from them, it seemed like they were placing kisses on each other's cheeks. Shameless, brazen, improper, unabashed, immodest, lewd... words weren't enough for both to describe the overt display of wanton affection their guest and Alice indulged in. What more were they gonna do? Hold hands?! They wouldn't dare in the open, would they? After what just the pinkette and the honey blondie witnessed, they wouldn't put it past them. Erina knew her cousin was more outgoing and tends to be more cordial than necessary at times but never imagined she'd openly k-ki...just the thought of it left Erina bothered. Then there was the VIP guest, Artier, who a minute was holding her hand as if he was courting her, now not only flirting with words but with acts. She never imagined he'd turn out to be such a frivolous and coquettish person.
Hisako on the other side had her complete focus on only one person. When she saw Artier try to dally around Erina, she was stupefied by his boldness and audacity. It took her a while to come out of the daze and act before he embarrasses her mistress any further. She was furious at him at before but she was plain livid now. 'This guy...' she thought, seeing him behave as he is. 'He shouldn't be allowed near any girl, let alone Erina-sama. I should be careful not to let him approach anyone even remotely related to Erina-sama. He's bad news.'
Just when she wanted to walk over to Alice and pull her away from him, he said something that made her freeze in his tracks. The sheer absurdity that Artier was capable of spewing agitated Hisako to the core. It was probably his answer to Alice's earlier question, she assumed, despite how laughable and ludicrous it sounded. 'This guy isn't just coquettish. He is insane, delusional, daft and definitely needs psychiatric help.'
"I am self-satisfied because I found what I'm looking for. All these days, I was going around every girl I saw to find the ONE. But today, that ends, because the ONE came to me instead. I know she's the one because I could see it hidden in her jealous glare. The way she wouldn't let any other girl have me...that's love. True love." Artier said, pointing his finger towards Arato Hisako moments before the secretary chef dropped like a hot potato onto the emerald marble floor on her knees.
E/N: Scene! DO voice your comments, compliments, concerns and complaints in the reviews. Since the fanbase for Shokugeki no Soma is smaller compared to typical shonen series', the amount of traction this draws will also be lesser. So I urge all the readers to leave a review, especially if you liked it. Reviews are a huge source of motivation for people like us which will push us to work with more enthusiasm. Thank you and have a good day.