Actions

Work Header

Warm winter food (with a side of pining)

Work Text:

As the mild autumn progressed into a freezing winter, the view outside the window of Kanon’s café in the early evening grew darker and darker. The other four members of Yuigaoka’s School Idol Association split off into pairs in order to make sure everybody got home safely. Chisato always got home without any issues with Ren at her side, and even Ren had no problems getting home on her own afterwards due to having Chibi accompany her.

Sumire and Keke walked down Takeshita Street in comfortable silence, far more invested in trying to shut out the cold than keeping up small talk. Sparse crowds filled the wide street with a subdued hum of activity, and adverts and shop windows let out light that assisted the street lamps in illuminating the pathways. The sky was clear and crisp above the pair, though Harajuku’s light pollution had cleared the night sky of its stars.

Sumire pulled her green beanie down further over her ears in the hopes that it would make her warmer. She caught herself stealing glances at the girl by her side as she walked. Keke’s fashion sense was either one of two things; a stylish and cohesive look based on her own study of Harajuku’s fashion scene or a random collage of items that happened to catch her interest one day. The latter idea was more accurate to what she was currently wearing. The comically large coat she had donned was covered in a vast rainbow of colours and decorated with cartoonish pictures of ice creams with smiley faces on them. The ‘multi-coloured dream coat’ (which was the name Keke had apparently bestowed onto it) not only stood out like a sore thumb against the dismal colours of her surroundings, but also completely clashed with her dark coloured denim trousers. It made Sumire’s bright green and white coat fade into the background in comparison. She completed her outfit with a pair of fluffy earmuffs with panda ears loosely attached to the top so she could pat and play with them for her own amusement.

Sumire returned her gaze back to the ground in front of her, a faint red painting her cheeks (Which definitely came from the cold, she quickly concluded). She tightly wrapped her arms around herself. “Gods… Its so cold.” she muttered out loud to no one in particular.

“That’s a great observation, Miss Isopod Queen.” Keke jested, her voice light in tone.

“Leave the Isopods out of this. They’ll get stressed in temperatures this low.” Sumire quickly retorted. She tightened her arms around her body, letting out a long sigh. “I hope we both have hot food waiting for us at home.” As her voice trailed off, she used the silence that followed to think about the possibilities. Oden, Nabe or maybe even steak! Add to that a cup of green tea… Gods, if Sumire had less self-control she could have seen herself salivating on the spot.

“Sumire-chan, can we stop for a second?”

The sound of Keke’s voice snapped Sumire out of her fantasies. She quickly turned her gaze from side to side to quickly find that Keke had stopped a few steps behind her.

“Could we be going quickly to the convenience store?” Keke asked politely. “I want to buy some hot food to eat later. Maybe Oden, and maybe I’ll get some hot chocolate with it!”

“Hot chocolate? Didn’t Kanon give you a cup earlier?”

“She did, but I really want another one, even if it won’t taste as good.”

Sumire hummed to herself in response, not interested in questioning Keke’s appetite. She waited for Keke to catch back up to her before continuing to walk by her side.

Dots connected in her mind a few seconds later, and she was hit with a flash of realization that prompted her to stop in her tracks.

After registering one less pair of footsteps next to her, Keke stopped and turned around in confusion. “Is everything ok, Sumire-chan?”

“Kuku-chan…” Sumire started cautiously. She played around with various sentences internally, trying to figure out the best way of saying what she wanted to. “Do you cook for yourself at home?”

“Of course I don’t. You already know I’m bad at cooking, don’t you?” Keke replied, perplexed as to why Sumire would even ask.

“I’m aware of that! But have you tried cooking something for yourself sometimes?”

Keke placed her hand on her chin, tilting her head in thought. “I tried cooking something a few weeks ago but I burnt my finger when I tried to use the oven.”

Sumire felt her gaze lock onto Keke’s fingers. The idea that anything would dare to stain those porcelain digits was blasphemous-

“That’s besides the point!” Sumire spluttered. Her voice jumped an octave or so higher, scolding her own runaway thoughts and addressing Keke at the same time. “When was the last time you had a proper cooked meal?”

Keke had drawn her arms into herself, taken aback by Sumire’s tone. “The last time I had a proper meal… I think it was when we were all going to KFC that one time.”

“That was a month ago…” Sumire lamented. “And even then it was fast food! I’m going to ask you this even though I already know the answer. When was the last time you could expect to get proper cooked meals regularly?”

Keke hesitated for a few moments before responding. “When I was with my family in Shanghai.”

“As I thought. Come on, we’re going to the supermarket.” She reached for Keke’s hand, grasping it firmly without a second thought.

“Wait! Why are we going to the supermarket?” Keke stood rooted to the spot, preventing Sumire from dragging her away.

“I’m going to cook you a meal and I’m assuming that you don’t have anything in.”

“Cook me something? This isn’t how you offer to do things Sumire-chan!”

Sumire turned her head around, meeting Keke’s bright turquoise eyes with her own. “That’s a great observation, Miss Five Star Chef. That’s because I’m not offering, I’m insisting. Now stay close. If I end up buying a lot of things you may have to carry a bag.”

Keke hesitated for a second, a conflicted expression etched across her face, before relenting and following Sumire. Sumire stopped and looked around for a few seconds, trying to get her bearings on where the nearest supermarket was before hurriedly speed walking in that direction, ignoring the confused looks of passersby.

~~~~~~~~~~

An hour or so later, Sumire finally arrived at Keke’s flat with a plastic bag in both hands, both stuffed with ingredients (She ended up having to carry all of the bags after all, not that she minded of course). The cold weather had inspired Sumire to make her food choices quickly, it was the travelling that had taken up most of the time.

As Sumire removed her shoes at the entrance, her gaze appraised the room in front of her. With its clean wooden floor and bright pink walls, Keke’s flat would have made a great first impression. The giant pile of large cardboard moving boxes, stacked several metres high and full of assorted items, did a lot to ruin the aesthetic and take up a lot of living space. The realization that Keke hadn’t fully unpacked her belongings from Shanghai 6 months later was as shocking a revelation as learning that she lived on convenience store food. However, looking at Keke’s lost looking expression, which had remained unchanged during the journey, made Sumire’s next sentence fall back down her throat. The sight didn’t make her want to scold Keke, it made her heart snap in half. Admittedly, she was also trying to comprehend the giant framed SunnyPassion poster displayed prominently in the middle of the opposite wall.

What looked like a kitchen unit sat in the corner of the room. As Sumire set off towards it, she felt a light tug at her sleeve.

“Do you want me to help you, Sumire-chan?” Keke asked sheepishly. When Sumire looked back, Keke averted her gaze.

“I don’t want you to help me, I’ve walked you in the freezing cold enough already. Just relax until I’ve finished, ok?”

Keke groaned as Sumire set off walking again. “Now I just feel like I’ve lost again…” she mumbled sadly.

Turning around sharply on her heels, Sumire walked forward and placed a reassuring arm on Keke’s shoulder. She retracted her arm and winced upon seeing Keke flinch. “Look… I’m sorry if it looks like I’m scolding you. My intention isn’t to scold you or show you up, its to make sure you get some good food. Mom always used to say that everyone deserves to come home to a warm, hearty meal.” Her voice trailed off, waiting for a response or acknowledgement, and she took Keke’s silence as a go ahead to continue. “Feel free to relax and do your own thing while I’m cooking, ok? I’ll be about an hour or so.”

Keke nodded in response, her expression clearing slightly. As she turned away to go and do her own thing, Sumire set her sights on the kitchen. The hob and oven were all working, and the space was well stocked with all the tools Sumire needed. She was glad that Keke at least had these, as the logistics of the night were already complicated without the need to buy things for the kitchen.

Sumire ran a finger along the grey granite worktop, sighing at the dust that now caked her fingertip. Between this and the moving boxes, Keke’s room was definitely due a tidy up. Sumire was about to go back and offer to do it before she physically stopped herself and returned her focus to the task at hand.

As she worked on preparing her dishes, Sumire kept wishfully listening out for any noise communicating distress or foretelling a foolish action. All she got in return was silence, combined with the sounds of the electric hob and stewing meat. She couldn’t just leave the cooking unattended, but she wanted an excuse to go back and talk to Keke, comfort Keke, joke around with Keke, hold hands with Keke-

WAIT.” Sumire thought, her cheeks staining themselves a light shade of pink. “Didn’t I do that earlier when I dragged her to the supermarket?!

Sumire clutched her head in her hands, groaning quietly to herself. It was all her fault that the next 45 minutes or so were going to absolutely drag.

~~~~~~~~~~

“I’m finished Kuku-chan!” Sumire sang. She returned to the central room with a heaped dish in both hands, both intended to be for Keke. They were both piping hot, with generous helpings of steam rising up from them. “These are both for you!”

Keke jumped up out of her seat in shock, her headphones falling out of her ears. “Both?! I didn’t know you were going to make two dishes!”

“Well of course! That’s because I didn’t tell you.” Sumire declared. “One of these is a specialty of mine, the other is a more traditional Chinese dish. You can eat both or whichever one you’re more comfortable with!”

“Wow… you really went all out…” Keke breathed. She looked around meekly for a second before returning her gaze downwards, one hand rubbing the back of her head. “I don’t really have a table and set of chairs out… Its in one of these boxes but I don’t remember which one.”

“I had a feeling this would happen. Why don’t we sit in front of the balcony window?” Sumire tried her best to gesture towards the window in question, settling with weakly pointing her elbow towards it. “The night sky can be quite scenic!”

“I’m not arguing with that!” Keke agreed. She eagerly moved to sit in front of the window.

“If only the light pollution wasn’t so bad…” Sumire mused out loud as she carefully laid the two dishes in front of Keke. She looked wistfully out the window at the night sky. “You could dined with a great view of Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Pisces.”

“Cassiopiddle and… what were the two others, Sumire-chan? Isn’t the first one a brand of calculator? ”

“Cepheus and Pisces.” Sumire corrected. “They’re constellations that are pretty prominent in November-.”

“Sumire-chan! This dish here!” Keke inquired enthusiastically, pointing at one of the dishes. The porcelain dish was full of pieces of maroon coloured pork belly. “Is that braised pork? Ah, before I forget, thank you for the food!”

“It is indeed!” Sumire affirmed proudly. She crossed her arms over her chest, her stomach swelling with pride. “Glistening pieces of pork belly, caramelized to perfect-“

“這很美味!”

“K-Kuku-chan?”

“Its sweet!! Mama used to make it spicy back in Shanghai!” Having reached for a piece while Sumire was monologuing, she rapidly popped another one into her mouth. The noise of pure delight that followed made Sumire’s heart skip a beat.

“Well… urm…” Keke’s fervent praise had left Sumire at a loss for words. Only the feeling of a successful live show or Keke acting incredibly cute could do that. “The Chinese cookbook you gave me once said you could make it sweet, savory or spicy, so I thought you’d really like it sweet! You know, with that sweet tooth of yours.”

“It tastes just like home! Mama used to make it for me and my sister all the time!” Keke concurred happily. As she eagerly filled her mouth with pieces of braised pork, her turquoise eyes shot wide open. “Wait.” she mumbled.

“Don’t speak with your mouth full Kuku-chan.” Once she noticed Keke trying to swallow her food quickly she started to panic. “Don’t eat too fast! I don’t want you choking!”

Keke finally emptied her mouth, breathing a sigh of satisfaction before remembering what she wanted to say and opening her mouth to speak. “By cookbook, were you meaning the same cookbook we used when we cooked for SunnyPassion?”

“That’s the one, yes.” Sumire nodded.

“Did you use it while you were cooking here?”

“Nope. Even if I knew where it was I wouldn’t have needed it.”

“Ah ok!” Satisfied, Keke returned her focus to her meal for about five seconds, after which her piercing gaze had returned to Sumire. “We cooked for SunnyPassion about 3 months ago, right?”

“Y-Yeah. That sounds about right.”

“So you’ve remembered the recipe for braised pork this entire time!”

Sumire gulped, the uncertain implications of the revelation now weighing on her back. “I…I guess I did, huh?”

“That’s really impressive.” Keke gasped. As she returned her gaze to the braised pork she caught a glimpse of the other dish, which was sitting untouched and still warm a few centimeters away. “Oh there’s this other dish too! I need to try that one!”

“Aha! You’ve noticed my specialty dish!” Sumire flipped her hair in a practiced notion. “That is Nikujaga! Perfectly fluffy potatoes and tender pieces of beef in sweetened soy sauce! It’s my mother’s special recipe!”

“It tastes so good! Please tell me more!” Keke asked excitedly.

“Of course! I’ve been the shrine maiden of my family shrine for my entire life! I’ve been solving incidents since I came out of the womb-“

The enthusiasm on Keke’s face dissipated away in an instant. “Incidents? I think you’re being overdramatic again.”

Sumire let out an exasperated breath. “Ok, perhaps ‘incident’ is too grand a term, but it is true that I’ve been the resident shrine maiden all my life. As a child, I spent all my time shirking my duties by playing video games, looking up at the night sky and catching bugs in the garden. In winter, I also faced the added challenge of trying not to freeze to death, and my reward after those shifts was this Nikujaga. Its warm and rejuvenating, and I think there’s no better winter comfort food.”

“Wow, Sumire-chan…” Keke exulted. “This Nikujaga sounds really important to you!”

Sumire smiled introspectively, sheepishly dodging Keke’s gaze. “It is really important to me. I suppose… one could say it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to start cooking in the first place.”

“Really? How so?” Leaning forward with wide eyes, Keke was fiercely paying attention now.

“How do I put this best…?” Sumire mumbled to herself, shifting around in her sitting position. She struggled to compose herself under Keke’s expectant gaze. “When I was young I used to hate my shrine maiden duties, and my mother and I would clash on the matter constantly. Yet, no matter how much we disagreed and fought, she always made food for me afterwards. I know it’s the responsibility of a parent to care for their child, but it always felt extra special to me. Like it could communicate what her words couldn’t. Thanks to her, I learned that food can be comforting and fulfilling in a… state of mind way. Does any of that make sense?”

“Yeah that makes sense to me!” Keke attested passionately.  “My mother said that the sweet foods are great for washing away bad feelings and reconciling friends, and I’ve always agreed with that. Its not exactly the same thing but it’s the same phenomenon, right?”

“It’s the same phenomenon, yes!” Sumire’s eyes fell meekly to her feet, as she rested her head between her kneecaps. She hoped they hid the tint forming on her cheeks. “You know… when I said before that everyone deserves to be able to come home to a good meal I meant it.” she started timidly. “I think everyone should have that warmth in their lives. That’s why I started cooking. I want to provide that warmth and support to the people I love in my life.”

“Wow…” Keke breathed, sounding absolutely amazed. “You’re really wonderful, Sumire-chan! This really makes me wish I started cooking myself when I was a kid instead of religiously studying the mathematics.”

The praise and the beautiful beaming smile that followed it made Sumire’s heart skip a beat. “I wouldn’t put yourself down so quickly, Kuku-chan!” Sumire reassured clumsily. “We both have our own talents! After all, you can do maths in your sleep!”

“Ooh that’s a great way of thinking about it!”

The pair spent the next few minutes in comfortable silence as Keke worked on finishing her food. She switched her attention randomly between the Nikujaga and the braised pork. Sumire was more than happy to just watch Keke enjoy herself. Telling that story wasn’t a large weight off her shoulders per se, but it felt amazing to impart such an important moment to a friend she cared so dearly for. It was refreshing, like a cold drink after a hot day.

Then Keke opened her mouth to speak.

“Say, is it true that the Japanese people usually make food for people they really care about?”

“Yes, that rings true for a lot of people. Why do you ask?”

The chuckle and cheeky grin that followed shattered Sumire’s idyllic state of mind.

“Damn, I had no idea the Isopod Queen had the hots for me!”

Galaxy!” Sumire shouted, tumbling over backwards from where she was sitting. “Y-You you you can’t just joke about things like that!”

“Or what?” Keke jested smugly. “Has this turned into an ‘incident’ now?”

“This is ridiculous!” Sumire spluttered. “I want less trash talk coming out of that mouth, and more carbohydrates and protein going in! Quickly! Before they get cold!”

~~~~~~~~~~

“Hold up Sumire-chan! Have you seen how late it is?!” Keke exclaimed. The sudden increase in volume almost caused Sumire to drop the two empty plates she was carrying.

After placing the plates on the counter to be washed up later, Sumire checked the time for herself on her phone. “Gods, it really is late!” Sumire gasped. The time read half nine. “I already told my Mom I’d be home later, but this is way later than I anticipated!”

“There’s no way you can go home this late on your own. What should we do?”

Sumire placed a hand on her chin in thought, though the obvious answer came to her quickly enough. “The only thing I can think of is staying the night.” Sumire suggested, smiling.

“Oooh that’s a thought! I’m pretty sure I had another futon around here somewhere-“

“Ah, this is the perfect opportunity to try unpack some of this stuff!” Sumire beamed. “And I’m more than happy to go and dust down the kitchen worktops!”

“No Sumire-chan! You’ve already cooked for me! Why do you want to do more chores?!”

Sumire stopped her jubilation for a second to gather her thoughts. The answer of ‘You’re really cute and I love you to bits’ gave out too much information, Sumire concluded. “It’s really easy to want to spoil you, you know? You just have that… irresistible quality that makes people want to dote on you!” Sumire regretted saying that instantly.

“I don’t care how easy I am to spoil! If we’re going to do a sleepover we need to do this the right way with movies and snacks! And since it’s not a school night we’re doing an all-nighter. What do you say?”

“Well, if you’re going to offer a sleepover I can’t turn it down, can I?” Sumire agreed, smiling. She could never turn down a chance to spend time with Keke.