Kitchen Help
A SatRisa Contest Piece

Disclaimer: All named characters belong solely to Yukiru Sugisaki. Also, the recipes used in this story were taken from AllRecipesdotcom.

Written in response to everwhite's SxR contest. Challenge: 4 - cooking is involved in some way. Enjoy.


It was a prolonged silence that followed after he had taken a bite off the homemade bento. He was accustomed to letting the food roll across his tongue, savouring the flavour and the texture of his meal. He was familiar in the way of handling food, having been brought up under the eyes of his cultured father and frequently getting a taste of culinary's best.

But this wasn't some four-course meal from a world-renowned chef; this was Risa's cooking.

"Well, how is it?"

He remained quiet for the better part, choosing his words with the same cautiousness that was currently guiding the supposed food quickly and painlessly down the throat. Keeping that indifferent mask he was wont to wear, he stared at the food as though considering something. "It's...slightly charred."

Risa nodded. "Charred is good. At least you know the food's been well-cooked."

"Too well," he had wanted to say, but he carried on with his euphemistic assessment. "A little tough."

"Better than mushy."

"The salt is indiscernible."

"Too much salt leads to kidney problems."

"...Harada-san?"

"Yes?"

Satoshi didn't relish the thought of being merciless in the light of her eagerness to please. He wondered for a moment how on earth Niwa Daisuke managed to survive this torture, then decided that for the greater good, he had to be honest. "It's like noticeable food poisoning."

"No it isn't," she started defensively. "Niwa-kun said it tasted fine."

So that explained the missing spot of food.

"He's used to your cooking," he said offhandedly, laying aside the relatively untouched bento. "And that's just his opinion." The boy's taste buds must have stopped functioning a long time ago.

"So maybe he didn't grow up eating French delicacies like you did," she scowled, picking up the bento, ready to stuff it back into her bag. Satoshi was surprised when she paused to finger the cover of the bento, looking somewhat dejected.

"Is it really that bad?"

Her brow was creased in fashion, which signalled to Satoshi that this lack of cooking ability was troubling her. It was not too bad per se; if thrust into an episode of starvation, he would gladly eat it and ignore the misgivings the very sight of the food gave. Putting aside her inquiry, he offered a suggestion instead: "I could train you, if you like."

Obviously, Risa had not caught what he had said, for she stared dumbly back at him. Satoshi rolled his eyes and reached into his bag for his planner.

"I'm free this Friday evening," he said, marking out the empty box on his calendar. "It might be best if we end before seven though; my foster father is very particular about visitors."

Risa was still looking as dumbfounded as before.

"Wait" was the first word that popped out of her mouth when she finally awoke from her stupor. "Are you telling me that you're trained in the culinary arts?"

The look of disbelief written across her face was unmistakable.

"Not professionally," he said, replacing the aforementioned planner. "But I can at least make a decent meal."

The underlying insult in those words went without miss. Risa was getting better at discerning hidden meanings and words left unsaid. Nevertheless, she responded favourably by pretending not to have heard his latter statement.

"Hmm," she drew the sound out long and loud, as though giving some thoughtful consideration to his suggestion. "Friday sounds okay. Riku would want to be over for dinner at Niwa-kun's house anyway."

A sort of contented silence settled itself comfortably between the two of them as she packed the wasted bento back into her bag.

"So what time is it again," she asked absently as she slung the canvas bag across her torso. "Directly after school?"

He nodded mutely.

Risa grinned. "It's like a date!"

Satoshi started awkwardly, wanting to say something in counter to that last statement, but the bell which signified the end of their lunch-break had begun it's tirade. She ran enthusiastically toward the school building, not caring to wait for him, waving cheerily at him as though the next they would meet was Friday itself. This seemingly asinine gesture did not, however, curb the small upturn of the corners of his mouth as Hiwatari Satoshi, too, made his way back to class.

----------------------

Friday afternoon came quickly, and before he knew it, Hiwatari Satoshi was sitting in the kitchen of the Hikari mansion, head propped lazily on his hand. Bags of groceries sat beside his arched arm. He had spent an entire hour at the supermarket, teaching the girl how to choose certain meats and vegetables. Contrary to what she thought, not everything expensive was of good quality. This was only to be expected from one such as Risa.

It was funny, he thought, that they should be on equal social status - if that could be said in all honesty - yet with such different outlooks on life. Satoshi himself had grown up as a prudent child, careful with his speech and more so with his manners, discerning of situations and wary of people. Risa on the other hand seemed to take everything about life with a carefree manner, light-hearted and careless. It was about upbringing, he knew, but that was only partly to blame for her blatant lack of maturity.

Speaking of which, the very same girl was currently rummaging through his closet for something to wear. Satoshi had forgotten to tell her to being a spare change of clothes on the assumption that she would have the sensibility to do so. If it had been anyone else, he would not have bothered with the attire, but if he knew Risa well enough, she would have to change out of her school uniform in order to preserve it. Satoshi dared not imagine the sort of havoc she would wreak in his kitchen.

Correct that - his foster father's kitchen.

After all, the Hikari mansion was under the legal guard of Commissioner Hiwatari until Satoshi came of age to inherit it. Not that Satoshi wanted such an old house anyway; it would only be a hassle to maintain.

"Satoshi-sama..."

He turned to the maidservant and shook his head. Since Commissioner Hiwatari decided to inhabit the mansion again, there had been a sudden influx of caretakers to tend the man's every single need. Satoshi was only glad to still have his private apartment as a home.

"But dinner..."

"I will inform him of the changes in plan. If he so wishes, he may join us. If not, he will have to dine out." There was no need to make mention of who Satoshi spoke of; all of them understood what Satoshi meant and that he would never address his foster father by name or title. He seemed to ponder about the evening's events for a while before retrieving a wad of cash from his wallet.

"Here," he offered the maidservant, not unkindly. "You all should take a break for tonight and dine out too."

"I would like to be alone with Harada-san," he persisted when she did not take the money.

Satoshi made an attempt at a gentle smile for the maidservant who murmured a thank-you as she accepted the money and retreated. It was in vain, for she had kept her head bowed even as she left. Satoshi sighed.

No matter how many attendants there were in the house, the company he received was still the same. Each kept their shoulders up and forms stiff, heads bowed to a humble degree, relaxing only when they were out of sight of the masters of the house. This was how Commissioner Hiwatari rather liked them to be, the overbearing ego-maniac, and Satoshi could not help but feel stifled by the environment.

However did the Haradas bear it? He could only wonder if Risa and Riku had grown up with such treatment.

Risa was taking a long time just to get changed. He would have thought up several reasons for her delay, such as his fairly empty closet for one (he was living in the apartment, after all), or perhaps they didn't fit. Maybe they weren't to her liking. Whatever other explanations he could think of were abruptly cut off by a very noticeable clearing of throat.

Standing in the doorframe of the kitchen was the girl herself, garbed in a plain tee-shirt and a pair of shorts from Satoshi's university days. Harada Risa had spent countless of minutes skimming through what little choice of apparel her classmate had in his spartan wardrobe. Trying to pick out a fashionable number had been futile; everything inside was either from his university, far too small for her, or looked as though they had been procured from garage-sales.

After having blushed a fair bit from the thought of actually putting on clothes which a) were not hers and b) did not belong to a fellow female, the auburn-haired young lady had prepared herself for the task ahead. Sitting expectantly on the countertop were the ingredients they had previously obtained from the supermarket. What a fuss Satoshi had made, limiting her credit to a measly twenty dollars. And to think he himself overshot that amount by buying branded foods! Gorton's® Crunchy Golden Fish Sticks, she believed, was what the box read, frosted over from the freezer.

Satoshi was staring at her.

"What?" she asked, walking over to the counter to unpack the groceries. "I was surprised I could even find something to wear. Your cupboard is as empty as...as..." She lapsed into a silence when she couldn't find something to allude his wardrobe to.

The boy-genius shrugged rather nonchalantly. "I don't live here. Not now, at least."

"Meaning?"

"That this kitchen isn't mine so you should try to keep it clean, Harada-imouto," he coined the term Saehara was so fond of using on her as he brandished a can-opener and two cans of preserved food. "Here, this should be manageable."

He was completely underestimating her culinary abilities, Risa realised unhappily as she took the can-opener from him and began the menial task. One read 'Mushroom Soup' alongside the assurance that it was 95 percent fat-free, while the other depicted some green chile peppers. It struck her as curious that they should have mushroom soup as an ingredient, and not as a meal by itself. She had asked Satoshi earlier on about the nature of their meal, and he had not mentioned soup.

"What exactly are we making?" she had to ask. Her blue-haired companion was so busy searching for some ingredients that she had to repeat her question.

"Cornbread," he replied, pulling out a bag of flour and some sugar, "and Fish Stick Enchila- oh, could you set the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit? Or 200 degrees Celsius, whichever you prefer."

Harada Risa had to confess there and then that she had no clue how to go about doing that. Satoshi's sigh was audible as he set down the weights and measures he'd recently found, and brought her to face the sleek metal of the oven. There were about four knobs and buttons on the apparatus, and this made Risa all the more embarrassed at her lack of kitchen knowledge.

"This one," she heard Satoshi say as his hand turned a knob until it pointed to the 400F marking. "And this button begins the pre-heating process."

The younger twin watched as the insides of the oven began to glow orange, yellow, a bit like a candle in the dark.

'I don't live here. Not now, at least.'

'If he so wishes, he may join us. If not, he will have to dine out.'

Satoshi had not noticed her presence until Risa had announced herself. Not wanting to interrupt his conversation with the maidservant, Risa had paused outside the doorway. More importantly, she had caught his every word, and that barely audible sigh.

'I would like to be alone with Harada-san.'

"Here." She was startled by his voice. Satoshi was holding a sheet of paper, printed from the internet. Risa took it automatically. 'Cornbread II' was its heading.

"Everything you need is on the table." Just like in Home Economics class in school, she thought dismally. Even if he didn't think she deserved it, Satoshi could have given her a little more credit.

The boy-genius did not wait for her to return to the kitchen counter, but began pulling out the necessary crockery. It had been a long while since he last ventured into the Hikari kitchen, and even longer since he had prepared any meal in it. He had some recollection of his mother's scent on her kitchen apron while she baked him some cake. She always let him beat the eggs then. "You'll be strong, Satoshi," she would whisper into his ear as he whisked the yolks into the whites, tainting the clear substance with yellow. "You'll be strong." After that, it was just Commissioner Hiwatari allowing him one last trip into the kitchen, peeking into drawers, amazed by the stove and the flickering flame...like how his mother -

Inhale. Focus.

He had shredded too much cheddar. Never losing his emotionless mask, he scraped the unnecessary lot of cheese back into its platter. One of the maidservants was said to like cheese - Satoshi was sure she would find some use for it.

"Mix egg, milk and oil together." He could hear Risa muttering the instructions under her breath, doing accordingly. The blue-haired boy smiled at her furrowed brows, a reflection of her intent to remain task-focused and emerge victorious to prove herself. Satoshi had specially chosen a few recipes that were easy to make by every standard. The only thing he could anticipate which might be a little hassle was the chopping of onions - something that would actually deal with her culinary skill, or lack of it, rather. "Flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cornmeal, potato flakes..."

Satoshi handed her an untouched whisk.

"Done?" he asked as she began to pour the thick batter - a good sign - into the baking pan. Risa nodded in reply, scraping the last of the batter into the pan, proud that she had done a commendable job. She watched as Satoshi set the batter masterfully before sliding the pan into the already hot oven.

The next few minutes of their cooking adventure left Risa in tears, Satoshi noted a little irritably as he procured a stack of kitchen napkins. He had spent a careful five minutes, showing her the way to handle the knife, enjoying the close proximity as he guided her hands about the proper way to chop onions. She had started meticulously, bravely refusing the sting in her eyes, but her progress slacked.

Fish Stick Enchiladas was a task he alone would handle, Satoshi determined. Another sniffle from Risa affirmed that thought as he swiftly blended the soup, chilies, onion, sour cream and cheese into a creamy sauce. He was about to begin wrapping the frozen fish sticks in the tortillas when Risa stopped him.

"I can help, you know," she insisted, shoving his hands aside to fold the tortilla wrongly.

"It's okay," he replied with trained patience. Putting Risa's hands away, he resumed his job in an attempt to salvage the now misshapen enchiladas.

"Wasn't the point to help me with my cooking?" she was trying to keep her voice level, but the boy-genius did not miss the slight tremor in her tone. Risa was upset, bordering on irate.

He was, perhaps, just a little too careless that day. Satoshi thought he should have chosen to use the much smaller kitchenette in his apartment instead of being here, in his childhood home. Everything about it stirred up childish selfishness, which he had not been able to indulge in since that fateful day. He wanted to complete at least one recipe on his own. And he wanted to complete it here, in the Hikari mansion, even if that proved nothing to anyone or himself.

Risa must have noticed that his tacit refusal to give in. It would only feed her frustration, Satoshi knew. But he didn't know that she had learnt the principles of give and take.

"Well," she said in a calmer tone, "at least give me something else to do."

I've only chosen two recipes, he was about to say. But there was something about the underlying hurt in Risa's expression that made the boy bite his tongue. He reached across the corner of the counter to brush back her fringe, carefully using his still clean fingers, and leaned in for a moment.

His apology was on his lips, but he wasn't sure if it would be accepted. Satoshi paused inches away from Risa's face, and turned instead to the sink to wash his hands.

Ten minutes later, they thought of something else.

Twenty minutes after that, he discovered that it was a bad idea. But it was too late; the damage had been done.

Splayed all across the kitchen were patches of white frothy milkshake and pieces of blueberries. Satoshi himself had avoided the attack from the blender well, but he had been right about Risa not being able to keep her clothes - his, for that matter - clean.

Harada Risa was a kitchen hazard - Hiwatari Satoshi would remember this well.

----------------------

"Hey, Hiwatari-kun." They had finished eating dinner by now. Seven-thirty, and the Commissioner had yet to return. "Do you live alone?"

There was a certain caution in the way that she approached the question, and he wondered what made her ask that.

"I live in a separate apartment, if that's what you're asking," he replied, idly clearing the plates. "It's been like that since I graduated from university."

"Oh."

Risa remained silent for a while, helping him with the cutlery. She wanted to ask him if he was alone, but he was used to it, she supposed. Even though she hardly believed that anyone could like solitude so much. Sooner or later, it would turn into loneliness.

She was never alone, yet sometimes she felt as though she might as well be.

"You might want to get started on cleaning the kitchen, Harada-san."

"Eh?"

"The servants are on leave tonight," Satoshi explained, a hint of a smile on his face. "And the current state of my kitchen is of your doing."

He watched as her open her mouth to refute him, but Risa found that she had no argument. She had messed up with the milkshakes, and despite the fact that she had never cleaned up after herself in this situation, Risa knew that it was unbecoming of anyone to leave the kitchen in such a state. The brunette shot Satoshi a meaningful glower as she reached for a towel. It was his fault for sending them home!

Satoshi, on the other hand, was gloating just a little more than he should have. "Hurry. My foster father could be back any-"

Satoshi's words were cut short by heavy creak of the front door opening. Realising what it meant, he grabbed Risa and led her quickly out the back porch. As much as he would have liked to defy that man's wishes, Satoshi would hardly put Risa in such an embarrassing situation.

"Can you find your way home?" he asked the bewildered girl as she shivered in the night.

"I don't think so."

"Wait here, and make sure he doesn't see you." Before Risa could ask what was happening, Satoshi had started scaling up a pipe to his room. Was his father really that domineering that Satoshi would be this cautious? Risa wondered at the contemptuous way he had spoken of his father to the maidservant.

Personally, Harada Risa thought it to be rather ridiculous, and was about the re-enter the kitchen when a loud bellow came from inside the house, causing her to flee back into the safety of night.

"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS MESS!"

It was directed at the missing servants, Risa supposed, but that booming voice and the knowledge that she had been cause of that mess made her cower involuntarily. She felt a pang of guilt for the servants who would be held responsible. This man was truly fearsome.

"Quickly now." Satoshi was back without her noticing, carrying her schoolbag and uniform in one arm. Risa blushed at the misunderstanding that would have occurred had he not retrieved her belongings.

He led her a distance away from the Hikari mansion before hailing a taxi. The journey home went without incident, yet neither of them lost that sense of thrill from having narrowly escaped a severe reprimanding session from the Commissioner of the local police force. A formidable man indeed.

Satoshi saw her to her front step.

"I'm sorry," he apologised as he handed over her things. "I should have planned this more carefully."

"Not at all, Hiwatari-kun." Risa was not the least bit disappointed with their little 'date', as she had termed it earlier. She smiled. "I quite enjoyed it, actually."

They stood in comfortable silence for a while, smiling dazedly.

"What about the mess?" Risa asked, suddenly remembering the reason for their escapade.

The boy shrugged nonchalantly. "I'll clean it up myself."

"Will you be okay?"

Satoshi smiled at her concern. "Don't worry about it."

"You'd better go in before you catch a cold," he reminded her as she remained standing uncertainly outside her door. Risa gave him an obedient nod as she turned to leave. Satoshi remained standing in the driveway until she turned the handle of the front door.

"Hiwatari-kun?" she called out before entering the house.

The blue-haired boy had little time to respond properly for Risa promptly dropped whatever she was holding to run up to hug him. "Thank you."

Stunned, the boy-genius could not respond properly.

Realising his seeming discomfort, she jumped back, a little embarrassed at her sudden display of affection. "See you tomorrow, Hiwatari-kun."

And it was all Satoshi could do to suppress the uncharacteristic smile on his face as he made his way home.

----------------------

Satoshi was only a tiny bit consoled upon finding a bottle of blueberry milkshake on his desk the next week.

Their next session, he decided after having cleaned the kitchen spotless with a toothbrush, would have to be held at Risa's place instead.

-owari-


Notes:
Gomen, the most of my exams just finished, so I was on - was supposed to be, rather - hiatus for a while.

a) The recipes for Fish Stich Enchiladas and Cornbread II can be found at AllRecipesdotcom. The spelling of all the ingredients were also taken from the site. Go take a look! Fish Stick Enchiladas look especially delicious.

b) About Satoshi's clothes being procured from garage-sales, I didn't mean to insult garage sales...it's just the idea of the clothes being second-hand and rather unwanted. We don't have many garage sales, where I live. Mostly because few of us have garages; the bulk of the population live in apartments.

c) Hikari mansion - I've long wondered about this place. I was always under the impression that it belonged to the Hikaris, but someone mentioned in her fic that Hiwatari-san bought it. Well, just take it as the former for this fic, and that our blue-haired genius lived there as a child. But that leads us to the next question:

d) Satoshi's mother - did she die in a fire incident? The manga certainly made it look so. However, due to my uncleverness coupled with my mother's sporadic desires to rid the house of some things, I no longer have the comic books and thus rely on memory for most of the moments in the manga and the general characterizations. Could anyone enlighten me on this?

e) It was due to sansele that Satoshi and Risa hugged in the end. She also managed to pick out most of my errors. My faithful beta-reader, what would life ever be without her?

I'm currently working on Broken Wings and will try to post it up by the early next week. I apologise for the long wait, I know it causes a loss of interest and a general want to throttle the author. Patience, my friends, take it as an exercise in virtue. Nevertheless, I will work hard to complete it.

Story Completed: 3 November 2005
┬ęCopyrighted by JadOo Enterprises 2005