Kobayashi wasn't exactly what you'd call a brilliant cook.
Oh, that wasn't to say she was a complete disaster in the kitchen, or even justifiably bad or shoddy. Really, she was probably just about average. Completely, safely, underwhelmingly average. When she could be bothered to cook, she tended tended to favor quick, practical dishes. No frills, no fuss. Meals she could whip up after work while her energy was still at its lowest.
For starters, she could make one hell of a rice omelette. Hardly rocket science, of course— anyone could fry up rice, eggs, and chicken and end up with something tasty, but it was still damn good. She throw together a pretty good nacho dip, too; that little dish had become a staple of her and Takiya's friendly evenings in, boozing and shooting the shit as they watched trashy Akihabara reality programs. Guilty pleasure after guilty pleasure. Every now and then, she'd also set a pot of water to boil for a quick spaghetti, though she always opted for the convenience of jarred marinara in lieu of sauce from scratch.
There was also her prowess in bento packing. A skill Kanna would eagerly vouch for, Kobayashi thought. The memory came to her, a faintly warm thing; Kanna's chubby legs folded beneath her, blue eyes sparkling every bluer as she shoveled the contents of her lunch into her mouth. Easy, tried and true recipes. Scrambled eggs. Rice balls. Hamburg steak; Kanna's favorite.
(Kobayashi's mother had loaded her bento up with favorites, too.)
Living alone, she'd never really had the incentive to cook. Home was just a place to land between shifts, a place to drop down and just breathe for once. There was no satisfaction in whipping up a casserole where ramen or frozen dinners would do; especially not when the end result was more or less the same— a meal eaten over the sprawl of her couch, alone save for the steady blink and hum of her television. The lights, buzzed, and canned conversation threw a dull blanket over the silence.
Well. That had been then.
These days, silence was much harder to come by.
"Kobayashi," Kanna said, tugging at the fabric of her pants insistently. Kanna always had a somewhat comically grave countenance. On a more mature face, she might have looked very serious indeed. Instead, when juxtaposed by soft cheeks and sweet eyes, she only managed to look adorably precocious. "I want curry."
"Hm," Kobayashi said. She reached out to smooth back Kanna's hair; a soft-hearted impulse she was long past questioning. "That sounds pretty good. The leftovers could last us a few days."
Tohru's head perked up from where she was folding laundry nearby— and of course she was nearby, Tohru was always nearby, always close at hand, always going out of her way to be wherever Kobayashi was. Already, she was on her feet, fixing them with an enormous smile. She looked so alert and eager to please that Kobayashi's first thought wasn't dragon, but puppy.
"I've got this!" She was on her feet already, the laundry she'd been folding long-forgotten. "You want it mild? Spicy? Super spicy? We could do chicken or beef, I guess, but I know of a really great meat substitute that would be pefect—"
"We'll do a chicken curry," Kobayashi deadpanned. She straightened up, hands faltering where they'd been stroking the downy fall of Kanna's hair. Kanna did not release her grip on Kobayashi's leg. "And if you try to use anything else, I'll know, Tohru."
"Spicy," Kanna said, sotto.
They fell into an easy routine; Tohru did most of the work making dinner, and honestly, Kobayashi wouldn't have had it any other way. She'd come a long way in the kitchen. As Tohru hummed and ground spices, Kobayashi did the simple work of dicing up vegetables. She watched Tohru. Tohru bustled about, each of her movements somehow performative— adding little flourishes of the hand as she set a pan on the stove, tiny sounds of satisfaction as the chicken started to sizzle.
Tohru looked, for all the world, like she was having the time of her life. Like she'd found some kind of impossible, indelible joy in the simple beats of domestic life.
In that sense, Kobayashi thought, her knife moving slowly but surely over fresh green onions, Tohru would make a good wife.
That was Tohru's failure as a maid, wasn't it? She acted without grace, serving not out of duty, but out of love.
What an embarrassing thought.
Kobayashi's knife stalled, and quick as a flash, Tohru appeared at her side, scooped the onions up, and dropped them into her pan. Their shoulders brushed. So did their hands. Tohru was all about casual touches.
Kobayashi kept her eyes fixed on the cutting board, biting back an inexplicable surge of emotion.
"Spicy," Kanna reminded them, bouncing her leg against the table in eager anticipation.
The meal went without incident; the curry was delicious, Tohru didn't try to slip her tail into the pan, and nobody attempted to initiate Armageddon. A resounding success all around. The curry was hot enough that Kanna's nose started to run midway through, but she seemed to like it that way. Tongue heavy with that sharp warmth, Kobayashi almost felt like a dragon herself; belly full of fire.
Tohru insisted on cleaning up herself, and Kobayashi felt no real inclination to deny her that. She propped herself up on the couch, and Kanna crawled to join her, resting her head on Kobayashi's lap. The TV went on and on, just as it did every night— only now, its sound was undercut by Tohru's constant chatter and Kanna's occasional questions.
Ah, Kobayashi thought to herself, watching Kanna's big eyes flutter shut, her tiny body growing lax with sleep. I really have changed, haven't I?
More than she'd expected. More than she'd thought was possible, really.
The sound of a running tap, Tohru's slender hands working the grease off the china. The soft huff and puff of Kanna's breath. Froth of beer on Kobayashi's lips, somehow better than ever before. Kanna's small voice. Tohru's fire-bright eyes, the lingering reminder of the chaos she was capable of.
The last vestiges of sunlight fell away, and evening gave way to night. Kanna, Kobayashi eventually realized, was out for the count; slumbering gently against Kobayashi's thigh. All curled up, it was impossible to think that she might be dangerous.
Kobayashi hefted Kanna into her arms and sighed.
"Some almighty creature of destruction you are," she said, more to herself than anything.
Kanna shifted slightly, murmuring incoherently.
Kobayashi carried her to her bedroom and tucked her in, like she'd been tucked in once upon a time. When she turned off the light and slipped out of her room, Tohru was waiting, sitting on the couch with one leg delicately crossed over the other.
"You really are like a mother to her," she said. The expression on her face was beautifully, achingly soft.
Kobayashi knew this look. It never failed to unnerve her. After all, beautiful girls never looked at Kobayashi like that— their lips parted, their lashes fanned low, their eyes full of pure wonder. Full of pure want.
Beautiful girls never looked at Kobayashi at all. They weren't supposed to.
And Tohru? Well.
Tohru was an extraordinarily beautiful girl.
(Okay, okay. Maybe not a girl exactly, but close enough, right? Eh. Semantics.)
Kobayashi shifted restlessly, lifting a hand to scratch the back of her neck awkwardly. She feigned interest in the floor beneath her.
"Sometimes, I sort of feel like one," she admitted. She moved to take the seat opposite Tohru, reaching back for her half-finished beer. She lifted her eyes, then, observing Tohru from over the foamy brim. Tohru's gaze did not falter. Neither did the feather-light impression that she was staring at the most precious thing on Earth.
Kobayashi's stomach burned. Maybe just the curry. Maybe not. Either way, she took a sip of her beer, hoping it might drown the sensation out.
Being wanted was new to her. She had no idea how to handle it. How to cope with it.
(Or how to return it, something at the back of her mind added; a strange little suggestion that did nothing to put her nerves at ease.)
"Every time I see you with her, I remember all the reasons I fell in love with you," Tohru said, and damn, how the hell was it so easy for her to just say shit like that? "You're kind, Kobayashi. The sort of kind that Kanna needs. The kind I need, too."
"Lots of people are kind," Kobayashi deflected. She set her beer down, then picked it up again, needing something to do with her hands.
Tohru scoffed, like this concept was one very much in doubt.
"Sure, maybe. But there's only one of you. And you saved me, Kobayashi."
Did I really?
Kobayashi pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Anyone could've done that. I was just... around, I guess?"
"It could only be you," Tohru insisted, eyes wide. She seemed desperate to make Kobayashi understand, wild and full of love and God, if nothing else, she had conviction, didn't she? "For me, at least, there could only ever be you. No one else. No one else could have done it."
"Oh," Kobayashi said.
(How liberating it must be to wear your hear on your sleeve.)
They lapsed into silence; a beat that struck Kobayashi as both unbearably familiar and impossibly out of character. Kobayashi took another sip of her beer, hardly tasting it.
There was that feeling, again; bright and insistent, firecrackers and sparklers and fire, hot fire, the art and artifice of dragons.
(It was unfair, really, how much influence Tohru held over her. Brutally unfair. Didn't she realize there could be no going back? That Kobayashi would never be able to stand silence ever again, now that she knew what it was like to hear it filled?)
Her grip tightened around the can, then relaxed; she set it back down on the table, once and for all.
"Tohru," she said, in as measured a tone as she was capable. "You know, I think you saved me too. You still do save me. All the time."
Tohru blinked, looking somewhat taken aback. Kobayashi hurried to continue, feeling more vulnerable than ever before.
"I, uh, don't mean save literally so much as... metaphorically? Well, uh, I guess what I'm trying to say here is, y'know—"
Kobayashi's next words died before they even reached her breath.
She couldn't have said a word. Not now.
Not now that Tohru had arched forwards, bringing Kobayashi's lips into the most thoroughly unexpected kiss of her life.
The firecracker erupted into a wildfire.
Responding instinctively, Kobayashi braced back against the couch, momentarily paralyzed by shock. Tohru followed the fall of her body eagerly, nudging Kobayashi's mouth open with her own, clumsy in her enthusiasm but dizzying in her pace. Without thinking, Kobayashi reached up to cup Tohru's head, fingers just brushing the grooves of her horns.
She should have known that Tohru would be all teeth.
She should have known that Tohru would taste like nothing else.
She should have known Tohru was inevitable.
Kobayashi closed her eyes, translating the sigh building deep inside of her into more kisses, more love.
Fucking dragons, she thought. She leaned up against Tohru, body flushing hot as she pressed herself against the soft shape of her body. Impulsive as all hell.