A/N: Still working on HoC, but getting these out quickly will help to end the fandom that much sooner. Besides, there are so few Wonder Chef fics out there. I want to see others write some too, so here's motivation for it!
"That's the last of them." Caleb murmured with a sigh of relief as he pulled the last few books from the fallen shelves and shoved them in his pack. The Tower of Mana's library had taken substantial damage and the automated doll spent a few days evacuating the books that had survived the collapse of the tower. His friends, the half-breed mana beast named Peppermint FireBlossom, and the Wonder Chef known to him as Wren, spent the same amount of time exploring the tower and testing new recipes. The spheres of light that had broken from their altars in the tower provided toys for Pepper, who rolled them into what few sources of light leeched through cracks in the building, then sent them flying about like so many miniature comets; Wren continued testing his cooking skills with the new recipes, still hoping to discover what was 'wrong' with the way he prepared the food. No luck yet.
"Pepper, Wren, I got everything packed! Let's go!" Caleb called out as he hefted the stuffed pack onto his shoulders and began to trek out of the library. He climbed the stairs as Pepper trotted out of a room from higher up the tower. She leaped out into the central space and spread her wings, flapping them as she hovered in the air with the Wonder Chef on her back.
"That's it? You got everything recorded?" Wren asked down at the doll as Caleb walked up the crumbling steps. The doll nodded. "Great! So where to next?"
"You should have known better than to ask me. Or tag along with me on this trip." Caleb remarked flatly as they headed up the tower to the exit. "That's two seals down and six more to go. Are you sure you don't want to go on your own journey now? It's never too late to return to your quest of spreading recipes; I'd completely understand."
"Stop trying to get rid of me. I'm like cheese on a spatula!" Wren declared, "I'm gonna stick to you forever!"
"Pepper, bring Wren a little closer to me so I can whap him over the head." Caleb purred with an evil grin as the tunnel they cleared loomed before them. Wren quickly put his hands over his head, blinking in surprise. "I'm kidding. But lay off the food puns for a while, 'kay?"
Outside the tower, Caleb, Pepper, and Wren were greeted by two surprise guests, one who traced Wren using the sophisticated magitechnology of the Wonder Organization, the other who found him using old-fashioned detective work.
"Oh good Goddess!" Wren yelped and raced back towards the Tower of Mana as the Asgard chef yelled and gave chase with a ladle in one hand and brambles covering his clothes.
"Get back here! I'm not done with you!" he yelled, ran after him for a few steps, then collapsed with a tired pant, "I... I'll... get you... right after a nap." Eve Voraci, Wren's twin sister, blinked down at the exhausted cook as she walked by him towards Caleb.
"He looks like he could use some hot soup." she told the doll and smiled brightly, "So, you must be Adam's friend! I was right; you are cute! I'm Adam's sister, Eve. Nice to meet you!" Caleb blinked at her and sighed.
"Wren! Get back here and talk to your sister!" he shouted and gave the blonde woman a sheepish grin, "Hi, my name's Caleb. Um, I have to go deal with Wren's stalker. Later." He walked off to poke at the fallen cook. Eve shrugged and walked off to find her brother hiding behind Pepper.
"Buon giorno, Twin! How are you feeling?" she chirped with a bright smile as she waved at him. Wren blinked as he stood up and cautiously made his way out from his hiding spot.
"Eve? What are you doing here? How did you find me?" he asked the other cook.
"Daddy traced your communicator from the Wonder Organization and I hopped a transport dragon to fly here from Hima. I also ran into a friend of yours who was trying to find you, too." she replied and giggled, winking the deep blue eye that was visible, the other hidden under the swept aside bangs of hair. "So, is she your 'girrrl-friend'? Are you in looooove?" she teased conspiratorially.
"Wh-what?! Eve! You're not making any sense! What friend? Who is 'she'?" Wren exclaimed in confusion. Eve giggled again as she waved her hand in dismissal.
"Oh, you! Go ahead and play innocent." she cooed and looked skyward. The sun had already set and stars were beginning to come into view. "Gee. It's late and I'm getting hungry. Adam, why not whip up one of your famous dishes for us?" Eve added and smiled brightly at her brother, long blonde hair shimmering like a cape behind her, "You always make such delicious dishes."
"Do I have to?" Wren sighed as Caleb joined them, dragging the Asgard cook along the ground by his ankles.
"This guy needs food. I think he's been on our trail since we left Asgard. That impostor must have really done a number on your reputation there." the doll remarked and blinked as Eve twirled around him in laughter, her white Wonder Cook uniform seeming almost to repel any amount of dirt that tried to get near her. Pepper cocked her head and watched the woman spin by. "Uh, what's with your sister, Wren?"
"She's a bit airy." Wren sighed in resignation as Caleb dropped the cook to set up camp and a fire.
Soon enough, the group was sitting around the warm campfire, discussing the only common interest they had; cooking. From trading recipes to sharing stories about first cooking fiascoes, the group began connecting and relaxing, becoming fast friends as they waited patiently for the promise of excellent stew. Amid all the laughter and chatter, Eve would constantly look over her shoulder at Wren, watching him work on the meat stew.
"Has Wren ever had a cooking disaster of his own when he was a kid?" Caleb asked the Wonder Cook as she turned back to the conversation.
"Not really. He was a natural at cooking since he was old enough to hold a soup spoon, though he was kinda lazy about it at first. Once Adam really got into cooking, there was no stopping him!" she replied cheerfully. The Asgard cook, now known to the group simply as Fredrik, made a derisive sound as he tapped his ladle in his hand.
"Of course. Big surprise. Everyone knows how freakin' perfect the Wonder Chef is when it comes to cooking." the cook scoffed. Caleb punched him lightly in the arm, careful not to break the bone.
"It's something that runs in the blood, Freddy. It helps that he grew up around a family of cooks and chefs." the doll told him sternly and picked up the small reader/writer device given to him by the Renegades to store all the information Caleb collected into small data crystals. He spent his time studying the data in the most recent crystal as Wren sat back from the pot simmering over the fire.
"Well, that should do it. I hope it comes out right this time." he mumbled half-heartedly and turned to the group, "Soup's on!" Pepper leaped up at the sound and clacked cheerfully as she trotted up to eat. The group moved to pick up bowls and utensils, serving themselves as they each thanked Wren for the meal.
"Aren't you going to get any?" Eve asked Caleb as the redhead remained seated. He shook his head, still perusing the data scrolling on the small screen. "You should eat to keep up your strength."
"Caleb's an automated doll. He doesn't need to eat." Wren whispered into his sister's ear, "He can't. That's why he can't really help me with testing the new recipes." Eve blinked in surprise, then looked thoughtful for a moment before shrugging it off.
The living beings all dug into the stew eagerly, munching on the mix of meats, vegetables and satays. After a few minutes, the cooks looked at each other in concern, then at Wren, who only glared down at his bowl with a slightly flushed face.
"Don't tell me. I already know." he muttered.
"This is the best the Wonder Chef can make? You should look into early retirement, kid." Fredrik jeered as Pepper whistled in disappointment, "Heck, I bet I could make a better Wonder Chef!" Caleb reached out and punched him again, not bothering to look up from the device. Eve gazed down at her stew with a sad expression.
"Brother, what's happened to you?" she asked softly. Wren set the bowl down and got up, walking away from the group silently. Fredrik hopped up and headed for the stew pot, fussing with his own pouch of ingredients.
"What are you doing?" Caleb growled, still watching the data on the unit in his hand.
"Fixing this mess of a stew." the cook shot back, "What's it look like?" Eve watched her twin walk off and got up, hurrying after him.
"Adam! Wait!" Wren stopped at the sound of his sister's voice and turned slightly to watch her run up to him. "Adam... Little Brother, what's happened?" the cook asked worriedly.
"Nothing. I'm fine." Wren answered emotionlessly, "I've just lost my touch at cooking. That's all. I'll get it back. One day." He sighed and closed his eyes. "Can you at least tell me what was wrong with it? Maybe you can help me find out what I'm doing wrong."
"The taste. It doesn't taste like anything you used to cook for me." Eve murmured. Wren threw up his hands in exasperation.
"I don't get it! I'm doing everything according to the recipe!" he exclaimed in frustration, "I heated the water, I added the meat, the carrots, the potatoes... everything! I did it in the proper order and at the proper times, I made sure I added exactly the right amount of satay..." Eve reached out and took her brother's hands into her own, shaking her head.
"You did everything right? According to the recipe?" she questioned softly. Wren nodded. "Step by step? To the letter? A picture perfect stew as dictated by the Wonder Organization?" Wren nodded again, giving his sister a confused look. "What were you thinking about?" she suddenly asked.
"Huh? What was I thinking about?" the chef echoed, completely lost, "I dunno. 'Don't screw up'?" Eve smiled.
"That's what's wrong. You set yourself up to fail. You didn't follow the recipe, the real recipe." she told him gently, "Adam, you never followed the Wonder Organization's recipes."
"Yes I have." Wren protested.
"No, you didn't. You followed the Wonder Chef's recipes; the ones that rely on the power within the chef." the other blonde repeated more firmly. "I've been watching you cook that stew and I didn't see the Wonder Chef at work. I didn't even see my brother. I saw a very scared, very unsure young cook trying too hard to make dinner... and believing he would fail." She looked down at their entwined fingers and shook her head. "Why are you scared? Why are you holding back on your cooking? Why did you give up?"
"I'm not scared of anything! I'm not holding back; I'm not giving up! I'm telling you, I keep trying and nothing's working!" the young chef yelled stubbornly, yanking his hands away, "And the recipes are exactly the same! There's no difference between the ones the Organization uses and the ones I use!" Eve looked up at him, on the verge of crying but looking almost fierce.
"Adam, you've just finished cooking a lousy meat stew under the name of Wonder Chef. Use the Wonder Fork. Try to use its power to warp back to the camp." she demanded. Wren blinked at her in confusion and she looked angrier. "Don't stand there thinking about it! Do it!"
"Okay. Fine." Wren muttered as he pulled the fork from his back. He gave it a twirl and held it up. After a moment, he looked startled. "Wh-what? It's... not working?" He brought it down and stared at it in his hands. "That's not possible! I'm the Wonder Chef!"
"Your skill and power have left you because you've forgotten what makes the recipes the Wonder Chef uses more powerful than the Wonder Cooks'." Eve told him hotly, her arms akimbo as she tapped her foot on the ground. "You've always told me and everyone you meet that a true chef cooks with their heart! You can never make good food unless you put your heart into it and believe that your cooking will do good in this world! Little Brother, because so many others doubted you could still be Wonder Chef, you stopped believing in yourself." Wren stared up at her in disbelief. "You're holding back on your power by doubting your ability to be a good chef. By setting yourself up to fail with that way of thinking, you weaken your power. As a result, the Wonder Fork failed to see you as Wonder Chef." Eve finished, "I bet you didn't try using it immediately after cooking when you traveled with Caleb. Otherwise, you'd have discovered this yourself long ago."
"That's it..." Wren whispered in shocked realization, "Doubt. I told Caleb long ago that I was starting to doubt myself. Is that what's been wrong with me this entire time?"
"Go back and do it again. This time, use the Wonder Chef's recipe; a recipe that calls to the power of his love of cooking for others." Eve told him and took his hand, leading him back to the campfire, "Everyone! Clear the kitchen! Adam's gonna try making that stew again!"
Fredrik sat in the background, watching as Wren pulled out a new batch of fresh ingredients. Caleb was alternately examining the salvaged books for information and keeping a watchful eye on his friend. Eve sat nearby her brother, smiling gently at him.
"He's gonna ruin it again." Fredrik chastised loudly.
"Shut up, Freddy." Caleb grumbled.
"Well, he is! Hey! Former Chef! Why don'tcha quit while we're all still alive?!"
"Shut up, Freddy!"
"Let's go back to basics, Adam." Eve murmured, "Forget about the here and now. Forget that you're the Wonder Chef for now. The title is meaningless anyway in the grand scheme of things." Wren glanced sideways at her, questioning. "You're my little brother, not the ancient savior of the world!" Eve went on with a smile, "Come on, Twin! I could use a nice, hot stew! I've been out all day, practicing to be a model, and I'm beat! Think back to when we were kids, just you and me and Daddy's cooking pot. Back to when you cooked just because you loved to do it!" Wren nodded, cracking a small smile and getting to work.
Caleb set aside the books at last and told stories of the adventure in Moria, Eve sang childhood songs and Pepper cooed and clacked happily, sniffing at the air as Wren added ingredients to the stew, relaxing and slowly returning to the rhythm of pouring himself into the art of cooking. He laughed at something the doll said and looked back at Caleb.
"That's not true and you know it, Caleb! You ran away from those monsters as much as I did!" he declared and returned to sprinkling in the satays, tasting the stew after mixing it all in. He added another sprinkling and rolled his eyes at another comment, ignoring the Asgard cook as he continued to declare that Wren would mess up again. After a few more minutes, he took another sip and smiled brightly, "Okay! Soup's on! Again!"
The group served themselves again and dug into the fresh stew. Pepper was the first to cheer, bounding about the campsite happily after devouring her second meal. Eve set down her empty bowl and thrust a fist into the air with a victory whoop as Fredrik grumbled and muttered under his breath.
"You did it!" Eve declared, "It tastes absolutely heavenly! Just like you used to make it!" Caleb grinned, watching them.
"See? I knew you could do it." he remarked and nodded in agreement with Eve as both looked at the confused chef, "Doubt tends to flavor cooking badly, especially if there's no reason for that doubt to exist."
"You knew?!" Wren exclaimed in shock, "Why didn't you ever tell me?!"
"Because I wouldn't have known how to help you get over it. Besides, letting you find out yourself makes the victory that much more permanent, because then you can keep it up." the doll replied. Eve hugged her brother.
"That's all there is to it, Adam! Whenever you cook, remember what's in your heart and believe in it. You loved to cook, so put that love back into it and you'll recover your skills." she cheered, "Then no one can ever dispute your title! You'll truly be the Wonder Chef, the gourmet who cooks with love!"
"Yeah... now I can see why you're called the Wonder Chef..." Fredrik muttered begrudgingly. Wren smiled at the group.
"Thanks." he murmured and bowed in appreciation, only to receive another whap on the head by the Asgard cook's ladle. "OW! What was that for?!" he yelled, sitting back and rubbing his head with both hands.
"For forgetting how to cook like this to begin with! You're the Wonder Chef, for Martel's sake!" Fredrik admonished the blonde, "Keep in mind who you are when you're running around the world! Your history and memories help you cook, too! Heritage adds flavor to life!"
"Geez, you can be such a pain." Wren griped in annoyance, glaring at the older cook.
In the morning, Fredrik was packed and ready to head back to his hometown. After giving Wren another whap for slipping up on making breakfast (forcing enthusiasm into making omelets created a ketchup-covered mess), he went on his way, studying a list of new recipes the blonde copied out for him. Eve giggled behind her hand, then kissed her brother carefully where a new bump grew on his head.
"Take care, Twin! And next time, introduce me to your little girlfriend!" she teased and jumped onto her dragon to return to Hima.
"What girlfriend?" Caleb asked as Wren checked his pack for some quick remedy for his headache. Eve pat her dragon and thought it over.
"She was kinda pretty. Black hair and brown eyes. But she looked like a pack of animals ran her over, her clothes were almost totally destroyed." she finally recalled, "I told her you were here, but I guess she hasn't shown up yet. Well, see ya!"
"Be careful! Stay close to Father at all times!" Wren urged, ignoring his quest for pain relief at the moment. Eve gave him a strange look. "Trust me on this; the Council isn't happy with me right now, and I don't want anything happening to you because of me."
"Ooookay." Eve murmured and shrugged, "I'll be fine. And the Council only has power if majority rules for them so don't worry about them. Arrivederci, Little Brother!" She waved cheerfully, then flew off for Hima.
"Whatever language you and Eve like using had better be explained to me one day." Caleb growled at the young Wonder Chef, "Because it's really annoying to hear it and have my language module throw a spasmodic fit trying to translate it." Wren shot him an irritated look as he returned to searching for a way to deaden his headache. "As for what she said in normal tongue... That sounded like Ginger." Caleb mused over the description of the girl Eve had met, "Man, what now? We don't have time to deal with that spy!"
"Why would her uniform be torn up?" Wren pondered aloud and earned a second glare from the redhead. "What now?!" he griped, "I wasn't using any other language!"
"What are you doing thinking about her clothes?" Caleb growled, eyeing him with a raised eyebrow. The chef turned pink, eyes widening in surprise. "You pervert."
"I'm not a pervert!" Wren cried in embarrassment and waved his arms as Pepper snickered behind his back, "L-let's go to the next seal! Balacruf, right?! Let's go, let's go!"