Title: Hope
Author: Veronica
Rating: G
Spoilers: Nothing really. This story takes place shortly after my previous fic "Cornered". Basically it's a sequel, though it could also be considered a stand alone fic since it makes no mention of anything that occurred in "Cornered".
Pairing(s): Takeru & Kotoha
Summary: Kotoha asks to cook dinner a few days after the whole thing with Yoshibou. Hikoma, Chiaki, Genta, and Ryunosuke are worried that her cooking will taste as bad as Mako's. Takeru is a stalker. Mako, well, she's just watching it all happen.

It was a beautiful day out. A warm, gentle breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees. Birds twittered, flittered about, and then found nice spots in those beautiful trees to sit for a little while and sing some more. All was right with the world, at least for the time being.

Mako stood poised to attack the practice dummy in front of her. Expression calm and focused, she lunged forward and her sword made contact with the dummy, hitting it where its stomach would be if it were a live person. She smiled in satisfaction. It was just a little after four in the afternoon and the others were all busy doing their own thing, leaving Mako to train by herself.

Mako sniffed the air, confused. It was, she admitted to herself, close to dinnertime. However, none of the Kuroko's had ever cooked this particular dish. The scents of pork, carrots, curry roux, and onions assailed her nostrils. It was pork curry rice she realized almost immediately, recognizing this particular combination of scents almost immediately. Her stomach chose that moment rumble in protest, reminding her that she hadn't eaten much for lunch that day.

Mako scowled, it didn't help that a Gedoushu attack had interrupted their lunch. By the time they had returned from the battle the food was cold and inedible. With a sigh, and much curiosity, Mako went inside to investigate and hopefully get rid of her hunger pains in the process.

When Mako reached the kitchen doorway she was in for a surprise. She eyed the four guys in front of her with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. Genta, Ryunosuke, Chiaki, and Takeru were all peeking around the door jam and into the kitchen. What the heck are they up to? Spying? She asked herself as she crept quietly up behind them.

Genta was kneeling on the floor to one side of the doorway, while Ryunosuke knelt on the other. Chiaki stood peeking around the corner into the kitchen, while Takeru did the same thing on the other side. Mako grinned mischievously, deciding to have a little bit of fun at their expense. It did, after all, serve a duel purpose of finding out exactly what was going on. It was a win-win in her book.

They were completely unaware of her presence, which made it very easy for her to just walk up behind them. Coming up beside Chiaki, she leaned in and whispered in his ear, "What are you guys doing?" The sound of Mako's voice startled Chiaki and he let out a startled gasp before turning to face her. He scowled. "What'd you do that for, nee-san?" He asked in a fierce whisper. Chiaki's startled gasp had alerted the others and they turned to see an annoyed Chiaki with Mako, who was now glaring back at him.

"What are you guys doing?" She asked again, deliberately ignoring his question. Genta, Chiaki, and Ryunosuke all looked down in embarrassment at being caught. While Takeru simply turned his attention back to the kitchen, but not before Mako saw the slight blush tinting his cheeks. Mako fought the urge to smile and decided to not call him on it.

"Kotoha is in the kitchen cooking dinner," Ryunosuke explained, being careful to keep his voice low. Genta nodded and with a big smile on his face he said, "We overheard Ji-san telling the Kuroko to be prepared for the worst." Chiaki, Genta, and Ryunosuke all cringed, trying not to imagine how the food would come out. After all, if Kotoha could stomach Mako's horrible cooking, was it even possible that her own cooking would be the least bit edible?

The shocked look on Mako's face at the news of Kotoha cooking turned to fury at the sight of Chiaki, Genta, and Ryunosuke's cringing in fear. She knew what they were thinking and it was unfair to Kotoha to not even give her the benefit of the doubt. Unforgivable! She thought, her hands balled into fists at her sides and a scowl on her face directed at the three jerks in front of her. "You guys are terrible!" she hissed under her breath before turning on her heel and walking angrily away. The three guys exchanged looks of confusion and shrugged before deciding that there wasn't much left to see except the clean-up.

Takeru, completely ignoring their departure, stayed where he was. A small smile graced his lips as he watched Kotoha. The kitchen, miraculously, wasn't too big of a mess after Kotoha's impromptu request to make dinner. The counter and the stove needed a basic rub down because there had been some spatter, while the utensils and the deep pan that she used just needed a good soaking before being properly washed. As for Kotoha herself, well, she was adorable.

While Takeru watched silently from his place near the door, Kotoha was hard at work wiping down the stove and counter with a sponge after already putting away the remainders of the carrots and other foods she had used. Her dark shoulder length hair was pulled up in a high ponytail and loose dark tendrils clung to her flushed cheeks while she worked diligently to wipe away the stains left over from the curry. The pink frilly apron over her clothes and the smears of curry on her cheeks and forehead completed the almost entirely too cute for words scene playing out before his eyes.

Once she was done with this task, she began washing the utensils and pan that she had used in hot, soapy water. Meanwhile, two Kuroko's came into the kitchen, one after the other, and started preparing the individual portions of food into wooden bowls and setting them onto two separate trays. Once this was done, they began to exit the kitchen only to find Tono standing to the right of the doorway, out of Kotoha's sight. They passed by him without a word, each one holding a tray in their hands.

A few minutes later Takeru saw that Kotoha was finished cleaning up and he left his place by the door silently and went to his room to prepare himself for his fate. Meanwhile, Kotoha untied the apron sash from around her waist and pulled the apron off over her head, making her hair look even more unkempt than before. She placed the apron on one of the hooks by the door and headed out of the kitchen. Pausing just outside of the kitchen, she turned and surveyed the kitchen she had just cleaned to make sure that everything was decent. Seeing that everything was indeed clean, she smiled and continued out of the kitchen and went to her room to quickly clean up before dinner.

Ten minutes later, the six Shinkengers and Hikoma were seated around the low table, preparing to eat. Kotoha sat with her hands clutched tightly together on her knees, an anxious expression on her face. Chiaki, Genta, Ryunosuke, and Hikoma looked warily at the wooden bowls full of curry rice set before them. It looks edible, but looks could be deceiving, right? Was the shared thought they had at this moment in time. Mako, who was sitting beside Kotoha on the other side of the table, sent them a cold glare. As for Takeru, the expression on his face remained blank.

They clapped their hands and as one exclaimed, "Itadakimasu!"

Exchanging nervous glances, the four men each picked up their respective wooden spoon and readied themselves to take that first bite. Mako's expression darkened at the sight of Genta, Chiaki, Ryunosuke, and Hikoma's reluctance before picking up her own spoon and dipping it into the bowl to get a spoonful of rice and curry before bringing the spoon to her mouth and taking a bite. Takeru did the same, almost casually, while Kotoha anxiously waited to find out if her curry rice had turned out well.

At the first bite, four sets of eyes widened in wonder as the flavorful taste of curry met their taste buds. "Good job, Kotoha-chan! This is great!" Genta exclaimed, enthusiastically. His positive response was followed by Ryunosuke's own effusive 'thumbs up', as well as a wide smile and a literal thumbs up from Chiaki as he dipped his spoon into the curry to prepare a second bite. Hikoma's response was much more subdued, but he smiled warmly and said that it was good too. Mako nudged Kotoha as she said with a good natured smile and a shrug of her shoulders, "I lose again. Good job, Kotoha." And last, but certainly not least, was Takeru's. He caught her gaze and smiled warmly as he said, "this is good. Thank you, Kotoha."

Kotoha had been blushing at all this praise coming from them, but when she heard Takeru's words she practically glowed with joy. Smiling and blushing shyly at the same time as her eyes met his, she responded, "You're welcome."

Mako, who had a very good view of this exchange between Lord and vassal, couldn't help but smile. There's hope, Kotoha. There's definitely hope for you that he'll return your honest feelings, she thought to herself at seeing Takeru's warm smile directed at her best friend. Turning her attention back to the bowl of curry in front of her, she began to eat, fully convinced that if Takeru wasn't in love with Kotoha right now, he would be eventually. It was just a matter of time.

-The End-