Rating: T+

Pairings: Soma/Erina; Ryou/Alice; Akira/Megumi; Eishi/Rindou; Shinomiya/Hinako; Takumi/Hisako; Shun/Yuuki

Genre: Slow Romance; Drama; Hurt/Comfort; Humoresque

Full Summary:

"Nouvelle is a Shokugeki no Soma AU story that branches off starting from a slightly different result of the semi-finals of the Autumn Election. The story starts with the announcement of the results of the final match of the Autumn Election between Soma Yukihira and Akira Hayama, with Soma as the runner up and Akira as the Champion. Having wagered a Shokugeki that he would be an Assistant Chef for Akira's next match Soma waits for the day he can have a rematch, but that day comes closer than he imagined with Akira, emboldened by his victory, immediately challenging Erina Nakiri for her position as the Tenth Seat of the Elite Ten with a reluctant Soma Yukihira as her Assistant Chef."

- Story Summary shamelessly copy/pasted from Nouvelle's TV Tropes page...

Notes:

Welcome one and all to my little passion project of a story titled Nouvelle!

I've come up with this story based on how I would go from the Autumn Festival in terms of what I would like to see happen. This story will take liberties with the cast and story and its canon. The Autumn Election will have concluded; which may or may not end differently than how it'll end in the actual story, and characters will react accordingly. Also, all names will be in western order and I'll probably limit the use of Japanese terms considerably.

Enjoy!

Announcement: Nouvelle now has its own TV Tropes page! Link on my Profile Page, or you can just Google it.

Liberties:

- Akira Hayama won his match against Ryou Kurokiba in the Semi-Finals, instead of it being a tie which would then be resolved in a three-way match between the two and Soma. Similarly, it was a Shokugeki.

- Jouichirou Yukihira/Saiba lost during his first round in the Autumn Election of his year; as opposed of reaching the finals alongside Gin Doujima. He lost because of his "experiments".

- Similarly, Jouichirou Yukihira/Saiba actually did graduate in this story from Tootsuki; while in canon he didn't. There is a reason for this.

- Julio Rossi Saotome, Erina Nakiri's assistant is canon to this story, while the one-shot he is featured in is not. He is not a member of the Elite Ten as he was in the manga (then referred to as the Top Ten), and is the oldest of the first years currently enrolled.

- Officially departs from the manga's canon by the end of Chapter 88, titled: Dreamland.

Disclaimer: Don't own Shokugeki no Soma.


"Soma Yukihira…"

The dramatic pause was deliberate, everyone could tell. The old man didn't show it much, but he was rather eccentric and always tried to put on a show. Well, not overly at least. The sudden stripping as a sign of approval was a personality trait which went against every other of his describable characteristics anyways. Regardless, there was no better stage to show off one's dramatic skills than here in front of all of Tootsuki, hosting the annual Autumn Election Festival, in the Finals no less. However, if there was one thing Senzaemon Nakiri took deadly serious, above all else, was the healthy spirit of competition. So, as the now shirtless man stood before the audience of the Autumn Festival, silence filled the stadium. Only the soft grizzle of the leftover oils still burning slightly was heard as both Soma Yukihira and Akira Hayama awaited their results. Soma's expression was deadpan; while Akira's was calm. The rest of the student body were still trying to regain their composure after having witnessed what could be deemed the closest and biggest Shokugeki ever between two first-years. Even the loud Polar Star Dorm members were quiet, with their "Go Yukihira Go!" posters and flags facing the floor as everyone awaited the final verdict.

"…Ever since your speech when you first came here, you have never ceased to amaze and, admittedly, amuse us all. Today, you proved your worth as an alumni of Tootsuki and I sincerely hope you continue to polish those skills which have allowed you to get this far. A sentiment I share with you all," he turned to face the audience as he spoke, giving them all a soft smile. "It is only your first year; you all still have time to dedicate to being the best. Let this not give you the fear of losing but the courage to keep on fighting."

As the old man spoke, the heiress of Tootsuki Academy and Senzaemon Nakiri's eldest granddaughter Erina Nakiri stood high up at the arena's VIP area, looking down upon the competition's arena as her grandfather carried on his speech; as she could see both Soma and Akira visibly stiffen more and more the longer it took the old man to just say who won. Hisako Arato, ever the faithful secretary and assistant, stood alongside her Lady. After pondering a bit about the ever present silence, she slowly turned to her. "I'd never though that that Yukihira boy could give Akira Hayama such a fight, I think he's the new favorite to win," she mentioned softly. "Underdog overcoming the genius sort of thing…"

"Grandfather seems to have taken a liking to him," Erina preferred not to mention him by name, as rolling the words "Soma" or "Yukihira" on her tongue left a disgusting aftertaste which she rather not keep on receiving. And it was true, to some extent. Her grandfather had been the one to allow that third-rate chef to stay at Tootsuki, over her allegations, and had even applauded him for beating Alice. Even if Erina knew her overly spoiled cousin deserved it, she would have much preferred anyone else besting her instead of the Yukihira boy.

"Not just your grandfather, most of the crowd. Over there he seems to have a parade," Hisako spoke as she pointed to the Polar Stars.

"Some people get over excited," responded Erina, paying little, if any, attention to the crowd.

"The judges just fought over these results. That doesn't normally happen," said Hisako as she turned towards Erina, adding, "Does it?"

"Sometimes," Erina nonchalantly responded.

"A fist fight? The judge with glasses just lost a tooth," Hisako recounted the events which had transpired. It had not seemed like an everyday thing to her. "One would think they'd be more professional about this sort of thing, you know?"

"I've seen worse," then Erina stopped, her lips forming an ever-so coy smile. "Hisako, look! Grandfather going to name the winner. This'll be good."

"Huh?" before Hisako could ask any further, she heard the change in tone Senzaemon made from a proud teacher to a strict examiner. Everyone in the room froze.

"…So, Soma Yukihira. I congratulate you," Senzaemon smiled widely as he spoke while turning to face the young man again. Soma could feel, despite himself, a sense of nervousness run down his spine. "You are a truly gifted individual and this year's Autumn Election Runner-up-"

His mind went blank.

Soma couldn't even continue to focus on what Senzaemon was saying, hearing only a few words and phrases like "even if", "second", "surely", "next time", "proud" and being unable to register any of them. He forced himself not to look down, not to let his eyes face anything else but the man himself. The man who was telling him he did not deserve the title of champion.

The man who was currently giving said title to Akira Hayama.

Soma Yukihira could only clench his fist and force a smile. He could hear the audience murmuring, and while he couldn't tell what they were saying, it wasn't too hard to guess. Loud mouth transfer student beaten by the elite foreign student. What was worse, the match had been a Shokugeki, which meant he owed Akira Hayama now.

Soma Yukihira thought this was unbearable.

Erina Nakiri thought this was delicious.

-0-

After Akira was "crowned" the champion of the Autumn Festival, Soma approached him before the former could leave the stage. As the audience had begun to get on their feet, their attention was planted solely back on the stage; many a chefs-in-training believing Soma was going to clock Akira or something for the loss.

"Something on your mind, Yukihira?" Akira asked in his usual "I-couldn't-care-less-if-I-tried" tone of voice, turning towards Soma. Soma had no intention of hitting him, as per the louder whispers of the audience he could now understand foretold, but the thought was not entirely unpleasant. Regardless, Soma just narrowed his eyes slightly and smiled.

"Two things really. First," he said, as extended his hand towards Akira. "It was a good match, congratulations on the victory."

Akira shook his hand with just the slightest of hesitations, but quickly gave him a soft smile. "I had thought you a less graceful loser; it is refreshing to see otherwise."

"Oh, I don't know about that. I am severely pissed off, your attitude isn't helping and I would be willing to do as these guys think and wait for you outside with a baseball bat and sandpaper," the audience took a three second silence at that comment, while Soma only turned his serious expression back to a smile. "But, as a chef I can't ignore the fact that your dish was fabulous. Truly an impressive piece of work."

"Yours was as well."

When Soma noticed that that was all Akira was going to say on the matter, since he had thought maybe his opponent would be a bit more expressive, Soma opted to just continue to the second thing he wanted to say. "…And two, what do you want me to do?"

"About?" Akira asked, while seemingly curious Soma could see a small smile on his lips. It infuriated him further.

"About…," he mimicked Akira's tone; much to the latter's amusement, "…the Shokugeki. You said that I had to, and I quote: "work on your next Shokugeki as an assistant chef and lackey"."

"I never said "lackey"."

"Open to interpretation," was Soma's offhand response. "But, really, what do you want me to do?"

Senzaemon stared on the two boys stared each other on, heavily intent on hearing what Akira was going to ask for. While his term of victory on the Shokugeki was acceptable, it was vague enough for Akira to use to his advantage. One which Senzaemon was going to make sure followed every standard Tootsuki has.

"For now? Nothing really," Soma's eyes widened as Akira said those words, feeling even more annoyed. Before he could voice his annoyance, however, Akira continued. "What I asked for was clear. On my next Shokugeki, you'll be an assistant. Until then, you needn't do anything. Whenever I'll take on my next opponent, you'll be informed."

"So I'm "on-call"."

"If you prefer to see it that way."

Senzaemon just smiled. These two boys were so interesting; and they were going to continue being interesting even after the competition was long over. Such is the life of a chef, a constant battleground. It remained to be seen if they both could overcome the adversity their results now made them face.

If Soma could overcome a defeat on such a large stage having had victory so close to him.

And if Akira could overcome the pride of victory which could become his downfall.

This would be so interesting.

-0-

"Are you sure about this? I mean, I know he deserves it, but…," Hisako stammered a bit at the end, unsure of how or what to say. Erina, however, didn't mind. She could not let this moment pass.

"That commoner just lost. I want to see his face and rub it in so much he cries and leaves Tootsuki for good. I want him never to grasp even a spoon for as long as he lives," Erina spoke with bright, bright smiles; which made Hisako a bit worried. A little too much, not that she'd say so. "I can't wait; he should be around here, right?"

Before Hisako could answer, both girls heard Soma's voice, which caused Erina to lighten up even more. "Quick, he sounds angry. I bet he's hitting himself against the wall. Hurry!"

Hisako had not seen Erina this happy in a long time, and it caused her some concern towards her friend. She loved seeing Erina happy, that much was a given, but considering the cause, maybe it was a little too much. Still, she wouldn't say a word; so she was forced to simply follow Erina towards a rough sounding Yukihira.

Upon reaching him on one of the many halls of the stadium, both Erina and Hisako were greeted by the sight of not only Yukihira, but the Aldini twins as well. The only one amongst the three to even notice the blonde and autumn-haired girls was Isami, who gave them both a soft smile. One which only Hisako, if only out of common courtesy, returned.

"For the last time, just take it. I don't even know how to use it," Soma expressed, which Erina's unasked question about what he was referring to was answered the moment he motioned his hand towards Takumi, sporting a mezzaluna in hand. "Just take it back."

"For the last time Yukihira, I will not. I will win it from you when we have our rematch," Takumi crossed his arms and scoffed, and Yukihira seemed to want to slash him with the curved two-handed knife.

"Why won't you simply take it? I still have thirty-two other utensils I have to give back to their proper owners, some of which aren't even here anymore. All the others took theirs without complain."

"If they feel fine doing so, I don't mind, but to me it's different," he turned his head the other way, staring to the entrance towards the arena. "Before my rematch with you comes my rematch with Mimasaka. I can't accept losing to him after you beat him."

"Don't be such a stubborn loser," Yukihira decided to ignore the irony. "Chances are Mimasaka's dirty tricks would have given me trouble if your match against him hadn't made me witness them first hand."

"Still, I refuse. I'll get mezzaluna back, myself. And I'll crush you with it afterwards."

"Brother, how will you crush him with it if you have to beat him to get it back?" as Isami asked, Soma could see Takumi turn bright red. Ever the quick to fluster, Takumi just soft spoke something unintelligible to Isami which the younger twin somehow understood and nodded to. Erina took this as a cue to interrupt.

"If I may, that was some conclusion to the main event," at this both Soma and Takumi turned towards Erina and Hisako, the former with a sly smile on her features and the latter with an apologetic one. "What counter do you have for this display?"

"Nakiri, were you just eavesdropping on us?"

"Wha-? What does…?" she stammered a bit, but shook her head so she could focus. "I've been standing here the whole time, neither of you even noticed-but that's not the point. Yukihira, you lost."

"That I did."

"…Which means," not the reaction she was expecting. No head banging against a wall or tears flowing like monstrous river. Maybe she had to get through his façade first. "…You couldn't keep up your intention on being the best."

"That's not true."

Bingo. Denial. First step of grievance. She had to milk it.

"No use in denying it. You lost, on the grand stage. So much from learning from your failures," it was the phrase he had uttered during the banquette at the hotel. Those words might have given someone like Alice some doubt, but not her. In the world of cooking, there are only two options. Either you succeed, or you fail.

"You call second place a failure, man, it is really hard to understand you sometimes Nakiri," she hated when he called her so nonchalantly. Like if they were on friendly terms or something. Before she could voice it, he continued. "I wanted the gold, but the silver is nice anyways. I won't lie, it is disappointing, but maybe it would have been too boring to win on my first try."

"You're making no sense," Erina felt the need to mention.

"Well, Son Goku didn't win his first tournament, right?"

"That was against his mas-just what are you talking about?" she asked while wondering if he was purposely trying to change the topic at hand. She wouldn't let him. "You really are in denial!"

"Did you seriously come her to rub salt in my wounds or is this your way of encouraging me to push myself even further?" he honestly sounded unsure; which irked her even more. "It's hard to tell with you and your mixed messages."

"Mixed messages? I'm being clear. The last thing I'd do is encourage a commoner like you any further than you've done so yourself," she ended her statement with a scoff, causing Soma to cock his head a bit in confusion.

Hisako and Isami shared a glance before they both decided it was best not to say a word. Takumi, on the other hand, watched nervously as Yukihira swung the mezzaluna around as he spoke to Nakiri; hoping his decision to leave his prized artifact in the hands of his rival until he could earn it back was a good idea. By the time the three got back to listening to the conversation between the two; they had somehow gotten way of topic.

"-the one who lost his tooth, that one," Soma extended his index finger as he mentioned "one", while everyone outside of Erina was confused about why or how the argument had shifted towards that poor sap.

"Oh. I still don't see the resemblance to… I refuse to continue this conversation," with that said, feeling tricked, Erina just stopped. "Yukihira," damn, why must his name keep slipping out of her tongue? "Just accept your loss. Stop trying to mask it. Second-best is still third-rate."

Erina didn't notice it, but Hisako eyes were down casted. The Aldini boys felt a similar pang, but Takumi quickly interrupted. "Not that it's my business, but that's not really the point of the festival."

"Oh?"

"He's right Nakiri," Soma added, his change in tone surprised her. He sounded serious. Mad even. Did she finally hit a nerve? Her smile grew a bit before he continued. "No one who lost the festival is third-rate. Heck, being chosen is an accomplishment in its own way. We may not be the best yet, but if you think your untouchable because you're in your chair, you best watch out, since I didn't see you there competing."

"I'm above you all, what part of that don't you understand."

"And we'll catch up to you, hope you understand. All these…" he spoke up while signaling everyone present there, himself included. "…as you called us, "third-rates" here: Takumi, Isami, Hishoko and yours truly; will reach you."

"Her name's not…" she stopped, before turning to Hisako. At that moment Hisako smiled back at Erina, awaiting an instruction or something, but Erina saw it. "W-Wait, Hisako. I didn't mean you-I…"

Both Soma and Takumi stared, both arms crossed and serious; as Erina felt her ears redden due to being put in this position. She turned, scoffed, and spoke: "Don't go changing my meanings; you know what I meant. Hisako, come on, let's go."

As Hisako followed a retreading Erina, she was quick to speak: "Don't let him bother you. I understood what you meant."

"You're a good chef Hisako. You have pedigree, unlike some people. You'll never be third-rate," Erina added, but she didn't look at Hisako. She instead gave her a soft smile. "Come; let me make us something good."

Hisako's feelings of sadness were quickly replaced by mouth-watering thoughts of just what Erina could possibly make.

As the ice queen left, Soma and the Aldini brothers were left there for a few minutes without saying anything. Isami thought he had to try and break the silence, but the two "rivals" managed to get a few words out. Five, at that.

"Take it."

"I said no."

-0-

"Hey, Hayama," said a young man who was walking a few steps from the dark-skinned champion. Akira had felt his presence a few moments ago, but had thought not much of it. He didn't think he had any more to say to him. Or her, for that matter; as he saw he was being accompanied by his "owner".

"Kurokiba. Need anything," spoke Akira softly; turning to face the duo. While Ryou Kurokiba's facial features didn't demonstrate much, Akira could tell he wasn't in an overly good mood. His friend (lover?) and apparent "owner" was a different story altogether. Erina's cousin Alice was the polar opposite of her ice queen family member; and outside of the tantrum she threw upon losing to Yukihira, she never seemed upset or sad.

"You damn well know what I "need". The hell you playing at here?" Ryou, despite his language, seemed mostly calm. Akira merely stared as he awaited a more proper question. Sensing this, Ryou continued. "When we competed you gave me the same condition for our Shokugeki. That I'd also be an assistant. You plan to make everyone here serve you or something? First me, now Yukihira?"

"Oh, that," Akira spoke softly. If he were to be a little more mean spirited, he could grow to enjoy this. Could. "Don't misinterpret my conditions. Yukihira's deal is a little bit different than yours is. One word different to be exact."

"The hell?"

"You'll see soon enough. You see, I-"

"You're going towards grandfather, right?" It was Alice who spoke up, apparently having grown tired of merely listening. That girl didn't like to stay quiet for too long anyways. "Well look at you. Already the victor of the festival and now you're going to the head honcho himself. Are you going to challenge him or something?"

"Don't be absurd Alice, as if-" Ryou's statement was interrupted by Akira's own confirmation to her statement.

"You could put it like that, in a way…" Akira answered in the most monotone tone possible.

"What?" Ryou just flatly asked, dumbfounded.

"Oh, first you steal my assistant and now you want my grandfather. You're a little too greedy, eh Hayama?" Alice showed no other emotion other than amusement as she spoke, which caused Ryou to merely sign in response. Akira attempted to end the conversation there but ever-the-not-quiet Alice continued. "Now that I think about it like that, I should be mad, shouldn't I? Erina still has her Hishoko with her while I'm stuck sharing Ryou with you. Seriously," she turned to face Ryou. "You're a bit of a slut, huh?"

"Just what in the world are-?" he got cut off.

"It all happened so fast, you guys just fight and decide all this… I mean," she stopped as she began to murmur. She imagined their fight, instead of an arena, the two where outside, Akira and Ryou, as the sun had begun to set and the cherry blossoms swirled around them in a synchronized pattern and lovely pattern. Both boys faced each other intently, as Akira spoke in a calm yet powerful voice.

"I won, Ryou. You know what this means," he spoke as his eyes filled with desire, as Ryou felt his face begin to flush but her refused to show it. Not now, not here. Not to him!

"I could never. You know I belong to Alice, I could never betray her for you," his voice didn't sound as serious as he had hoped it would. He was faltering; but, did Akira notice. He could never read this man's intentions.

"You can, and you will," his intentions were clear, unwavering. Ryou felt a chill like no other caress his spine. He was going to be taken in by Akira, whether he wanted to or not.

"B-but," he tried to protest, damn his nervousness. His body was betraying him. But he had to fight; he had to argue against it. He could not let his Lady down. "Milady Alice would never-"

"No longer must you mention her, Ryou," as Akira spoke he grabbed Ryou by the chin, and as Ryou tried to protest, he felt Akira's hand being firmly planted against his buttocks; locking him in. This man was a monster. Beautiful monster. With a smile in his lips, Akira continued: "From this moment on. You. Are. Mine."

Then he got closer. "All. Mine."

Ryou's eyes widen, as Akira got even closer. The latter's lips were moist, mere inches away from Ryou's own virgin lips. In that instant, Akira closed the gap between them, and…

"Oh my…"

Neither Akira nor Ryou had any idea why Alice, against Akira's earlier observations of her, had actually stopped talking midsentence and had remained silent for over a minute outside from that "oh my" that had escaped her ever reddening face. Akira had a theory which was constantly being proven by all of these "classmates" of his; the student-body of this Academy were all utterly insane.

"Is she going to be alright," it was more curiosity than concern that caused Akira to ask; if only to end the awkward silence.

"I don't even want to know."

"Well… If you'll excuse me, I have to speak to the Headmaster. Whenever it is that I need your services, Kurokiba, you'll be the first to know," with those words spoke, Akira turned and left; leaving Ryou next to a daydreaming Alice.

"Just what is going inside that head of yours?"

"Shh, silence," Alice shushed Ryou while placing her index finger on his lips. "It's getting to the good part. Yes, show him who the man is."

Ryou Kurokiba was in many ways considered to be fearless and ultra-violent, something which would always be represented in the dishes he made. Today, however, he decided that whatever it was Alice was imagining, he was better off not knowing.

Pandora's Box is better left closed.

-0-

Soma Yukihira was not a graceful loser. Sure, he could fake a smile, a laugh, maybe even a conversation; but when it came really down to it, he absolutely hated losing. He was sure many people did, but to him, losing was a blow not just to him, but to "Yukihira's" as well. His family restaurant suffered because he wasn't the best. And it wasn't the first time he had lost.

Barely passing the 200 meals.

Losing against the legendary alumni Kojiro Shinomiya, who even used a meal that wasn't even his specialty.

And now this. The match had been close, very close. But against everything he stood for, he couldn't help but agree with Erina a little bit.

"Second place is third-rate."

While he didn't agree with that sentiment to its fullest meaning, he could understand where she was coming from. Second place was good, but it still wasn't the first place. You weren't the best, you weren't the strongest. Had he fought Akira in the first round, he would have probably lost there and would have been, what, tied at fifth alongside three others? All he was now was simply Akira's latest victory, another win for his ever expanding resume.

"Damn!" he shouted against his pillow, let he allow all of Polar Star Dorm residents hear the tantrum he was now going to privately throw. Did they think Alice was loud? They didn't want to hear him. "I can't believe I lost," the sound was only barely muffled by the pillow hard pressed to his face. He hadn't even bothered to change his clothes; and the smell and scent of Akira's dish still lingered on. It was as if it were constantly slapping him. "Ahhh! How am I going to tell my old man this? If I didn't win this thing, how am I going to reach the top? How am I going to get Nakiri to like what I give her! I'll be a has-been, a third-rate chef who can only cook things that come with detailed instructions. "Boil water", "let it drain", "add cheese"… "Stir!"… Damn!"

His wallow in self-pity was interrupted by a soft knock on the door, causing Soma to bolt to his feet and let out a overly-enthusiastic "who's there" which he made a mental note to tone a bit down. The response quickly came after a four second pause. "Soma, i-it's me, Megumi."

"Oh! Tadokoro! Come on it, I was just, erm, resting my eyes," Soma planted the biggest smile he could as he let Megumi into his room, which went not unnoticed by the gentle girl as she seemed to have a look of concern. Well, more concern than what was usual. "What you need Tadokoro?"

"Are you alright?"

"Me? I'm fine. The match was close; I got to make Akira sweat, so that's something. Takumi still doesn't want his mezzaluna back, so I'm thinking about taking classes in fencing to give it some use until he decides to beat me for it. Oh, and I spoke to Nakiri about my loss and she called me third-rate and something and the other, so… I'm fine," his words came out so fast and consecutive Megumi had a little trouble following it all. But she heard enough. She knew him enough.

"You're not third-rate Soma, far from it," Megumi mentioned softly. "Don't let her get to you."

"I never said she-"

"Shh, don't interrupt," she pressed her index finger against her own lips, playfully. Soma decided to ignore the fact that she had just interrupted him; allowing the black haired girl to continue, "as I was saying, Soma has taught me so much. It's thanks to you I made it this far. I mean, out of all the alumni here in their first year, I'm like, what, eighth or ninth in ranking. That's got to count for something. Because if you're third-rate, what rate am I?"

Soma just smiled at that. He knew she was trying to cheer him up, and the funny thing was, she was managing to do so. Defeat was defeat, that was a given. But at that, you could still learn from it. He has lost so many times against his old man; and back at home there were times he couldn't keep up with all of the costumers' demands.

"You're something else Tadokoro," his smile was still ever present; causing Megumi to avert her eyes a bit; trying to avoid blushing too much. "You're right. I'm not third-rate, I mean, I almost won… So at worst, I'm second-rate."

She laughed. "That still doesn't sound too reassuring, Soma."

"Maybe not, but it's a start. Anyway, how are you holding up Tadokoro? The festival is over, any news on what's to come now. Sending us to an island to live on our own for a month or something like that?"

"Actually that assignment is given on your second year."

Both Soma and Megumi turned to face Satoshi Isshiki, who was all smiles posing ever so gallantly at the doorway; dressed in a rather fine set of semi-casual clothing. "Come now you two, shouldn't you be preparing yourselves for the festival's closing ceremony?"

"Closing?" asked Soma.

"Ceremony?" finished Megumi.

"Yep! You didn't expect such a big event to end on such a low-key manner, no offense to your match Soma, but I'm referring to simply calling someone champion and nothing else," as Satoshi spoke, both Soma and Megumi decided not to tell him that they had in fact considered the festival to be long over. "What does indeed come next," Satoshi continued, "is the grand closing ceremony that all participants and student-audience get to partake in. I could describe it, but in an hour or so, you'll be seeing it, so… Soma, take a bath, you smell like you fell into Akira's pot. Tadokoro, we need to get you prettied up, as one of the top eight, you'll be one of the ceremony's biggest attractions."

"Wha-?"

Before she could voice any complains, Satoshi grabbed her and carried her away, leaving Soma alone in his room once again. Dumbfounded. Still, he took a sniff at his clothes and decided a bath would be a good idea.

-0-

"Here we are!"

As Satoshi gave the crew an overly enthusiastic welcome to the ceremony's gathering area; which was wide enough to hold every first year at Tootsuki and then some; especially given since it was being celebrated outside. Only the scaffold with a few fancy seats and a microphone could be spotted amongst the many, many people walking around in fancy suits and expensive dresses.

The Polar Stars were not to be left out. Soma had been, rather forced, to dress in a fancy suit for the event, coupled with a yellowish tie that was said "to bring out his eyes" more. Whatever that meant. Satoshi merely picked one of his many suits for the occasion, stating that this event was more for them than for him, but that didn't stop many of the girls (and a few guys) from stealing glances at his direction.

The other members where equally pimped out. Shun Ibusaki was currently wearing what appeared to be a designer colored suit with a matching tie; while Zenji Marui was dressed in an all-black suit, black tie, black shoes, probably black underwear.

As a few girls seemed to take notice of Shun once they entered the area, Yuuki Yoshino was quick to grab him by the arm and keep him close. As he protested, she merely smiled and told him that she could get lost amongst that many people. Yuuki herself was wearing a rather short dress, which covered none of her back, and was colored in a light-blue cerulean tint which matched her ever shining eyes.

Another eye-matching dress belonged to Megumi. A mixture of yellow and cream which Satoshi had hand-picked for her, at her request of not putting on anything too revealing. A small equally colored hand purse completed the outfit, stuffed with only a piece of gum and some paper since she had nothing else to put on it.

Lastly was Ryoko Sakaki, who no one in the area had any idea how she was dressed. All anyone knew, male or female, was that it displayed a lot of her ample cleavage. That would be the best description anyone could hope to make.

"Alright, enough waiting," Satoshi motioned towards them. "Go on, enjoy yourselves."

"Hey! Why didn't we get descriptions?" the two other guy's that made up Polar Star Dorms where all but ignored by the rest aside from a confused looking Megumi; as everyone moved in towards different parts of the ceremony grounds.

Soma decided it would be a good time to try the free foods, maybe get a few new ideas on how to improve his dishes. However, as luck would have it, the first time he tried to grab one of the karaage on a stick that were being handed out, another hand took it. Said hand belonged to Erina Nakiri.

"If it's kept out in the open, it'll get swarmed by bugs. Keep it inside and serve it upon order. Got it?" she was ordering the boy and girl in charged to cooking; both of which, rather annoyed, nodded towards the ice queen. Soma smiled.

"Even at ceremonies you're still a party-pooper, I see."

Erina didn't even bother to turn to him. "Go bother someone else; I've talked to you enough to last till November."

"So now you have quotas? Cool," Soma took one of the other karaage from the duo, who gave him a quick thank you. "Besides, karaage is a meal you eat out in the open. It's ruined if you keep it under wraps or have to wait too much for it."

"Spare me your views, Yukihira," damn, she said his name again. "Karaage is still food, regardless of how simple it is, so if it is to be served at Tootsuki, it must meet our standards, if not-" she never finished, as Soma stuffed the karaage he was holding into her mouth without warning. At this he saw the cooking duo turn ghostly pale and put up a "closed" sign on the table. Over-exaggeration much?

"The hell!?" Erina blasted out as she chewed and swallowed. A lady such as herself could not spit something out; but she almost reflectively did. "Do you want to get thrown out by sexual assault?"

"How in the world is that sexual? And I just made you tried it," he spoke while smiling, waving the karaage around. "You can't just judge something without trying it, and karaage is at its best like this."

"I swear I'll…" she dropped it; she will not give him the right to argue against her. And she refused to admit that the karaage had been pretty good, but still not up to her standards at all. But she knew if she voiced that, he'd just reply that she was basing her accusations against her standards and not Tootsuki. Which was true. Had they not been up to Tootsuki's standards, they would not have been allowed to set up their table here anyway.

"You're going to get wrinkles ahead of time if you keep that sour face all the time," as he spoke, mocking her at that, she was going to counter when she saw that he nonchalantly placed the remaining karaage into his mouth and ate it. After he had placed it on hers. He was eating her saliva!

"What are you doing?" she practically screamed the question.

"Eating," obviously.

"Don't play stupid, I mean-" she was interrupted.

This time the interruption came from Erina being hugged from behind. All fifteen curse words she was automatically going to say were stopped when she caught a glimpse of a very whitish blonde hair. "Hey Erina, having some alone time with Soma here?"

"Ah, Nakiri Number Two, what's up?"

"How rude, we haven't seen each other since our match and you still can't be bothered to learn my name. Remember, Alice. Alice. Like the story," her voice was still teasing, as she refused to let Erina go despite the latter's protests. "Anyway, I wanted to congratulate you on your near victory, as I'm sure my lovely Erina here already did."

"Sure…" Both Soma and Erina said in unison. Alice merely continued.

"Besides that, I'm glad Erina here is finally putting that figure to good use," as she spoke she clasped her hands against Erina's waist, causing the elder cousin to push herself from Alice's grasp.

"Enough Alice. What do you want?"

"Nothing, just admiring your dress is all," Alice mentioned as she passed her fingers across Erina's curves, which caused Erina to stiffen slightly as she was ticklish in that area. "Did you compliment her Soma?"

"On what, getting dressed?"

"You're a real Casanova, you know," as Soma pondered what she meant Alice turned to Erina. "But really, look at you. Seems you're not too much unaware of what you got that dress really does bring attention to that lovely bosom you have."

"Shut it Alice, but I'm surprised; you're covering more than usual."

"You're being rude too. I'm no slut, you know. Besides, I'm with Ryou so I can't give him the wrong idea," at that comment it was when both Erina and Soma noticed Ryou standing a few feet from them; wearing a matching navy blue suit to match Alice's own. A direct contrast to Erina's golden sleeveless dress and white gloved hands and arms. Had she not had the reputation she did, she would have been the most requested girl at the event, or at least at odds with Ryoko Sakaki and Ikumi Mito.

"Oh, Kurokiba. Didn't see you there," Soma spoke to the quiet guy in the background, who at hearing his surname turned to face Soma.

"I'm good at blending in," he approached the group as he spoke, followed by saying: "Furthermore, there's something I should mention to you Yukihira. Ak-"

"Don't spoil it. Let me," Alice interrupted him by banging the back of her head against his face. For all his manliness Ryou was left holding his nose in pain as Alice cheerfully carried on what he had tried to say. "Akira Hayama was talking to grandpa a little while back, seems he was itching for a challenge."

"You can challenge the old man, cool."

"You cannot Yukihira," Erina objected, turning to Alice. "As far as candidates go, Hayama is impressive, but he has to be suicidal to challenge grandfather. You probably heard a few details wrong."

"No, no. I asked him myself. He said it was something like that."

"That's not a confirmation."

Before Alice could continue to try and convince her cousin on what Akira had said, the boy in question had made his way to the center of the scaffold, accompanied by most of the Tootsuki personnel. Amongst which was Jun Shiomi, who was apparently trying to pull Akira back but he just gave her a pat on the head and resumed his position.

The moment when Senzaemon Nakiri cleared his throat all of the party came to a halt.

"I know this is a night of celebration, so you won't want to hear this old geezer talk too much, but at least allow me two announcements," as he spoke, everyone's attention where shifting from Senzaemon to Akira and back. Murmurs began to spread about what it could be, from Akira being accepted into Tootsuki's workforce to their having been an error in the results and Akira was being removed from his championship. Only Alice's "see" and "I told you" spoke of something else entirely.

"First, I wish to congratulate Akira Hayama once again for his wonderful display at today's final round. Akira, you are an honor to Tootsuki," at this, the old man began to clap, and everyone else followed suit. Soma clapped five times, one for each judge that had given Akira the win, and not once more. Only Erina refused to clap.

"And secondly, I'll allow Akira Hayama to speak for himself. Akira, if you please."

As Akira took the microphone, everyone's attention was centered on him. Ryou visibly stiffened as his fist clenched, while Alice was almost about to remove Erina's shoulder from her torso if she kept tugging her any harder. Out of everyone's, only Soma and Erina's expression went unchanged.

"I'm not one for speeches, so I'll keep this short. First, I'd like to thank Jun for allowing me to have this wonderful opportunity," as he spoke this, everyone turned to face the red-faced teacher who was at a loss for words. Akira winked at her before turning to face the crowd. "And lastly, I'd like to publicly announce my next intentions here at Tootsuki. A recent transfer student once said that he'd like to use everyone here as stepping stones to reach the top."

The air went cold around the area, it being the only moment Erina turned from facing the scaffold and looking at Soma, whose expression betrayed his composed act ever so slightly. What she couldn't see, however, was how his nails were digging into the inside of his palm for every word Akira spoke.

'Just what are you after?' Soma thought, his stare capable of burning through Akira's skull if such a thing were possible. Akira was a calm and collected individual; he would have no gain from edging people on like this without some motive.

"Today, I share his sentiment," Akira continued, to a collective low-key gasp from the audience. "However, instead of all of you," he continued, as his sight shifted upon a sole individual. "My stepping stone shall be one at a time; starting with the biggest one present here. Erina Nakiri…"

This time Soma turned to face Erina, as she in turn turned to meet Akira's stare directly.

"I hereby challenge you to a Shokugeki," he declared, a burning look in his eyes to match Erina's own. "With your position as the Elite's Tenth Seat as the prize."

Everyone froze, turning their attention from Akira towards Erina, nearly snapping their necks at how quickly they turned to face her. Ryou was silent, staring. Alice gave a soft "that's what he meant" comment, while Soma uttered a single "Nakiri?" in response to a girl who seemed not to have heard the declaration that Akira had just publicly issued.

But soon a wide smile presented itself on Erina's features.

"My, my," Erina's tone seemed to mirror Alice's own, but ever more so serious and cold. The hint of sheer menace in her way of speaking made it all the more sensual to all those present and accounted for. "What big arrogance we just got…"


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