Shinken Reunion Party, Let's Go On! Chapter 8

Apologies for the gap between this and the previous chapters. I had a bit of writer's block regarding how to proceed, then I got sidetracked with writing some quick Dogoon V fics and my Tron: Legacy one-shot.

Soft cream is what the Japanese call soft serve ice cream. Takoyaki, as I mentioned before, are octopus dumplings, yakisoba is stir-fried noodles, and okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake.

I don't know if Japanese high schools, colleges, and universities have spring break or some other mid-semester break in studies the same way their American counterparts do. For the sake of this story, I am assuming that they do, and that Chiaki and Kotoha are both on spring break.

The three stars that Genta refers to in this chapter (and during the run of Shinkenger) is the highest honor that an executive chef or restauranteur can receive from the Michelin Guide, which rates world-class restaurants on a scale of one to three stars. Real-life chefs whose restaurants have been awarded three Michelin stars include Joel Robuchon, Alain Passard, and Gordon Ramsay.

I'm taking a wild stab at Gunpei's age. I don't think it was ever mentioned in canon, but I always assumed that he was about 24-25 during Go-onger, even when played by a then-21-year-old Kenji Ebisawa.

Special acknowledgement goes to PhinalPhantasy for suggesting the duet that will come in this chapter, and also for his fic "What To Get Tonosama For Christmas," which explains why Takeru has a Wii. Thanks for the inspiration! (^_^)b

Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, Engine Sentai Go-onger, all characters, and related references are the property of Toei of Japan and TV Asahi. Wii is the property of Nintendo. Charmmy Kitty is the property of Sanrio Limited. Hetalia is the property of Studio Deen. Karaoke Revolution is the property of Konami Corporation. Just Dance is the property of Ubisoft Entertainment S.A. Infringement is not intended or implied. Ever.

Chapter 8: First Time For Everything

After Miu had calmed down, the merry band of fourteen headed for the food court. The turmoil of the haunted house ordeal became a distant memory when Takeru and Hiroto brought several paper trays of takoyaki, yakisoba, and okonomiyaki to the tables that everyone had pushed together to form one large table.

Kaoru looked at all the food curiously. "I know this is going to sound strange, but what is all this?"

All the Go-ongers' mouths dropped open in surprise. Hanto stared at Kaoru. "You've never had takoyaki before?"

Kaoru shook her head. "I've heard that it's street food and it's often served at carnivals and festivals, but I've never really gotten to partake in activities like that."

Hanto felt his heart tearing in two. "Kaoru-chan," he said, picking up her hand, "that's so sad."

"It's okay," said Kaoru. "It can't be helped if I had things that I was supposed to do. Although," she continued, glancing at Takeru, "I probably could have pressed Tanba a little harder over the years for some more free time." She watched as the Shinkengers picked up pieces of takoyaki with toothpicks and popped them in their mouths before trying a piece herself.

Hanto watched intently as Kaoru chewed carefully. The outside of the takoyaki was crisp and salty from the powdered seaweed, mayonnaise, and okonomiyaki sauce. The inside was creamy and lightly seasoned, with a decently-sized piece of tender cooked octopus inside. After she swallowed the last bit in her mouth, Kaoru nodded slowly. "I like it," she announced. "This is good!"

"I'm happy that you like it!" Hanto cheered, giving Kaoru's shoulder a squeeze.

Takeru watched the scene in front of him serenely. Mako gently nudged him and asked quietly, "How are you holding up?"

Takeru pursed his lips as he swallowed a mouthful of yakisoba. "Not bad, I suppose." He looked over at Hanto, who had just fed Kaoru another piece of takoyaki. "Mother and Hanto don't look so bad together, do they?"

"Why, Takeru, what's brought this on?" asked Mako. "Just last night, you were worried about something serious developing between them… you know, the idea of Hanto potentially being your stepfather– "

"Mako!" Takeru hissed under his breath. "Okay, even though the thought of that unnerves me to no end, let's not get ahead of ourselves." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I don't know… it's a big scary world out there, Gedoushu, Gaiark, and whatever other uglies are out there aside, and Mother hasn't seen a lot of it. I suppose that's what I worry about, but then I have to remember that she has us watching out for her. I can kind of tell that Hanto would do the same. He's kind of like Kotoha; he's wide-eyed, kind, and very giving. I just hadn't planned on him, or anyone, for that matter, being interested in Mother like that, if you get what I mean."

Mako swallowed a morsel of takoyaki and took a sip of soda. She looked over at the rest of the group, particularly Chiaki and Kotoha examining Kotoha's Hetalia plush, and Miu feeding both Sousuke and Hiroto bites of okonomiyaki. "And now that it might be happening?"

Takeru shrugged. "What can I do about it? I may be older than she is, and the head of the Shiba house, but she's Mother. She'd probably belt me around the head like she does Tanba if I were to try anything," he replied matter-of-factly, causing Mako to snicker at the mental image of the diminuitive Kaoru having to stretch herself to hit the nearly six-foot-tall Takeru in the head with her fan.

Meanwhile, Genta had tears running down his face as he ate. "Oh, how I've missed this!" he cried.

"What do you miss? You mean takoyaki?" asked Sousuke. "I'd figure that you'd work a good number of festivals with that cart of yours and get to partake in all the food they have there."

"You forget that Genta's been in Paris for the last year," Chiaki said. "I'm guessing that French festivals are very different from ours."

"If you could even call them festivals. And no takoyaki, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, or any of the things that we're used to seeing here." Genta pried a piece of okonomiyaki from one of the paper plates in the middle of the table.

Miu asked, "Do you miss Japan?"

"Very much," answered Genta. "I mean, I do have friends in Paris, including some fellow Japanese, and I'm getting used to French food, the French language, and the French way of life, but I do miss Japan, and especially Take-chan and everyone else."

"So why don't you come back?" asked Gunpei.

Genta stood up with a look on his face that was half-dreamy, half determined. "Not until I get my three stars!" he declared loudly, ratcheting his shirt sleeve up to his shoulder.

All the Shinkengers chuckled and nodded, and while Miu, Hiroto, and Ren understood what Genta meant, the other Go-ongers had to be told what three stars he was so determined to get.

"Hey, Ren, maybe you should go for those three stars yourself," said Sousuke.

Ren shook his head gently. "Oh, I don't think so. I'm nowhere near the caliber of a one-star Michelin chef."

"I think Ren's better than he thinks," Mako spoke up, "but Michelin stars are awarded to restauranteurs and their executive chefs."

"What, you can't just send these people a sample of your cooking?"

Miu poked Sousuke in the side of the head. "It doesn't work that way, you silly thing."

At that moment, Saki decided that she wanted to get some soft serve ice cream and asked if anyone else wanted any. Hiroto took two 2000 yen notes from his wallet and held them out to her. "Soft cream for everybody, my treat. Takeru bought the takoyaki and everything else, so let me at least get this."

"Hiroto, that's very generous of you, thank you," said Takeru. He rose to accompany Saki to help her carry fourteen servings of soft serve, nodding at Ryunosuke and Chiaki to accompany him.

o-o-o-o-o

After copious amounts of takoyaki, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, soft serve ice cream, and soda had been consumed, everyone agreed that the time was right to head back to the Shiba house. Takeru and Kaoru still took the two front seats of the Mustang, but Chiaki, Kotoha, and Genta ceded their seats to Hanto, Sousuke, and Miu and returned with the others in the Ginjiro-go.

Once Takeru's Mustang and the Ginjiro-go returned to the mansion, Hikoma, Tanba, and the kuroko greeted the Shinkengers and Go-ongers at the front door. Tanba tugged at Kaoru's arm. "Hime, now that you have returned, let's get you out of these common rags and into some proper clothing."

"Common?" spat Miu under her breath. "Does he even know how exclusive that hairband is? Not just just anyone could get one of those!"

"Shh," said Mako soothingly, leaning close to Miu. "Tanba is a bit… set in his ways and not very savvy about fashion and other worldly things."

Kaoru, having left her fans in her room, but not wanting to sully her plush Charmmy Kitty, slapped Tanba on top of his head with a bare hand. "Tanba, I will change clothes if I choose to, and I am choosing to remain in what I'm wearing for a while longer, if you don't mind." She looked around at the other girls, who all smiled and nodded. Takeru, Chiaki, and Genta stifled laughs that threatened to bend them in half at what had just taken place.

Everyone headed off to their rooms to freshen up before gathering in the sitting room. "Everyone," announced Takeru, as soon as everyone had seated themselves, "we've had a really exciting day today, so this evening, let's all just take it easy. If you want to play on the Wii, the kuroko will show you where it's set up."

"Takeru-san, what if I still want to take Sousuke clothes shopping?" asked Miu.

Hiroto turned to look at Miu. "Even after all you've been through? You sure you're not just trying to ditch your Ani to get some alone time with Sousuke?" He winked as he watched Miu's face turn red. "Thought so."

Because the group had all eaten plenty at Asakusa Hanayashiki, dinner was simply a small selection of some of Genta's special fusion sushi and sashimi preparations, most of which he had developed with the help of Kouta, a Japanese expatriate who had become a mentor to Genta in Paris. Afterwards, Takeru, Genta, and Mako sat in the kitchen chatting with and observing Ren as he showed them easy recipes that could be integrated into their respective menus. Even though Chiaki was interested in the idea of playing on Takeru's Wii, he decided to join Kotoha, who had gone to sit on the back steps of the mansion to play her flute. The two were soon joined by Miu, Sousuke, Ryunosuke, who began to improvise some kabuki-style dances, and Hiroto, who brought out his guitar to accompany Kotoha in several impromptu duets. Saki, Hanto, Kaoru, and Gunpei were in the room with the Wii, but when they decided to start playing Karaoke Revolution and Just Dance, everyone began to trickle into the room to join them. Eventually, Takeru had the kuroko move the Wii set-up into the sitting room, and everyone took turns singing and dancing. The highlight of the evening came when Gunpei, Hanto, Ryunosuke, and Chiaki took part in a dance-off, and even though Chiaki was determined by the game mechanics to be the most adept dancer, everyone agreed that Gunpei was the most entertaining.

The festivities went late into the night. Kaoru was the first to retire to bed, followed by Mako, Ryunosuke, Hiroto, Saki, and Ren. When Kotoha decided to call it a night, Chiaki quickly handed his game controller to Takeru so he could walk her to her room. "I'm not coming back," he told Takeru, who nodded in understanding. "G'night, guys." Gunpei waited a couple of beats before he took his own leave.

Sousuke and Miu followed Chiaki's lead and slipped out of the sitting room, giggling, and Takeru watched their shadows as they headed, not to their rooms, but to the back porch. He watched as Hanto finished his session of Just Dance. Before the younger boy could start another game, Takeru spoke up, "Hanto, can I talk to you?"

Hanto looked up at Takeru, surprised and a little nervous, since they were the only ones left in the room. "Um, okay." He sat on the floor, facing Takeru. "What did you want to talk about?"

Takeru took a deep breath. "Well, I wanted to ask you about Mother. I just wanted to see…?" he began.

o-o-o-o-o

The next day, after lunch, Hikoma, Tanba, and a group of kuroko watched as the Shinkengers and Go-ongers bid each other goodbye in the front yard. "Travel safely," said Takeru. "We'll see you next weekend at Motegi."

Kotoha clasped her hands. "I'm looking forward to it! I've never been to a racetrack before!"

"Me neither," added Chiaki. "And how cool is it to be going as personal guests of the 'Miracle' Esumi?"

"Eh? You're 'Miracle' Esumi?" Genta was flabbergasted.

Ryunosuke's mouth dropped open. "You didn't know? Even I knew that Sousuke was the one they call 'Miracle'!"

Sousuke blushed. "You guys are embarrassing me. I'm working my way back up, slowly, but steadily."

Mako bowed to Ren. "Thanks for helping me with my cooking this weekend," she said. "I learned so much from you. I hope I can remember it all."

"Well, if you need help, please feel free to call, text, or e-mail me." Ren smiled.

Genta, observing Ren and Mako, whispered to Takeru, "I think she's going to run her phone bill up within just the next few days."

Meanwhile, Hanto looked at Kaoru. "I'm going to miss you," he said sadly.

"Not for too long," countered Kaoru, casting a quick glance at Tanba behind her. "If you're going to Motegi next weekend, I'll be there, too. Not only that, but you have my number and I have yours; you're welcome to call me anytime."

"Maybe I could meet you for coffee sometime, too?"

"I'd like that." Kaoru reached out and took Hanto's hand in both of hers. "Take care of yourself, Hanto. Until next weekend."

Suddenly, Hanto pulled Kaoru close to him and hugged her tightly. "You, too. I'll still miss you until then, Kaoru-chan."

No one was more surprised than Kaoru herself when she found her hands sliding around to Hanto's back to reciprocate his hug. She felt her heartbeat quicken as she squeezed him gently and found herself somewhat choked up when they parted.

Tanba's cheek twitched, and he started to charge forward, only to find Takeru's hands holding him back. "Tanba, let her be," said Takeru calmly. He looked at Hanto, who was still holding hands with Kaoru. "Mother seems content, and besides, Hanto's a… he's a good guy." He walked up to Hanto and patted him on the shoulder. "He is a Go-onger, after all. That should count for something," Takeru added, grinning. Tanba sighed and shook his head.

"Thanks, Takeru-san," said Hanto, feeling buoyed that Takeru, after having ascertained Hanto's pure intentions towards Kaoru during their conversation the previous night, was copacetic with the idea of Hanto and Kaoru at least being friends.

Gunpei shook Chiaki's hand in both of his and bowed. "Take good care of Kotoha. Be good to her."

"Um, I thought I already was, but okay?" Chiaki was puzzled, but he nodded and smiled politely. When Gunpei was out of earshot, Chiaki tipped his head to the side and whispered to Kotoha, "I wonder what that was all about?"

"Gunpei-san is a nice guy, but he's kind of weird," Kotoha whispered back. "He was acting like he was never going to see us again."

"Take care, all of you," said Hiroto. He grinned. "I look forward to our next meeting."

Miu hooked her hand onto the crook of Sousuke's arm. "It was great seeing all of you again."

Sousuke nodded. He said to Takeru, "Well, see you guys next week." After bumping fists with Takeru, Sousuke led the Go-ongers to the Ginjiro-go and all of them turned and waved at the Shinkengers before they got on. The Go-ongers and Shinkengers continued to wave at each other as Gunpei carefully backed the Ginjiro-go out of the gates of the Shiba house and drove off.

o-o-o-o-o

The Ginjiro-go came to a stop in the circular driveway in front of the Sutou villa. Everyone debarked from the vehicle, with everyone helping to assist Miu with carrying her suitcases into the house. Saki looked at Miu. "It looks like Hiroto-san is getting used to the idea of you and Sousuke being together. He hasn't been shooting daggers at Sousuke since we were at the food court yesterday."

"I know it hasn't been easy for him, but I'm glad he's trying." Miu sighed happily. She glanced over at Sousuke, who set her suitcase outside of her room as Hiroto went to his room to park his suitcase on his bed. When Sousuke approached her, smirking broadly, she asked him teasingly, "What are you so happy about?"

"I had a great weekend," answered Sousuke. "Spent time with good friends, had a lot of fun, got me a new girlfriend." With one arm, he drew Miu up against him and nuzzled her nose.

"Well, if you got a new girlfriend, I'll be out of your way," joked Miu. She giggled at the confused look on Sousuke's face before he realized that she had been joshing him and gently poked her forehead with a finger.

"So," said Gunpei to Hanto. "You and Kaoru-chan are…?"

"Taking it slowly," answered Hanto. "She's a fantastic girl, but we're both new to this sort of thing. We'll definitely see each other this weekend at Motegi, when the Shinkengers go to see Sousuke race, but we're not making wedding plans or anything like that. We both still have to figure out how to ease Tanba-san into dealing with us… being friends, but Takeru-san is okay with it. What about you? Are you okay?"

Gunpei sighed. "Yeah, I'll be fine. You know, that Chiaki isn't such a bad guy. Have you seen how sweet he is to Kotoha-chan?"

"Yeah. The two of them look really good together. I only hope that I'll have the chance to be that way with Kaoru-chan. And don't worry; you'll find yourself a girlfriend soon."

"Sure hope so. My mom's been bringing up the arranged marriage stuff again lately. 'You're 26 years old, Gun-chan; why haven't you found a nice girl to marry yet?'" said Gunpei, mocking his mother's nagging, "'I'm going to set you up with Mrs. Kusanagi's daughter if you don't have a girlfriend by the end of the summer.'" Gunpei rolled his eyes and groaned.

Hanto laughed. "That's your mom, all right. By the way, I'm still not going to put on a dress to help you with that. You're on your own."

"Come on," begged Gunpei. "I can't ask Saki to help, and I sure as heck can't ask Kotoha-chan."

"Can't ask me to help with what?" asked Saki, who all of a sudden had appeared beside Gunpei.

"Gunpei's mom is bugging him again about not being married. He needs someone to pose as his girlfriend so that she'll leave him alone about it," answered Hanto, ignoring the death glare that Gunpei was giving him.

Saki looked up at Gunpei. "Is that all? If you need me to pretend to be your girlfriend for a day, I'll do it."

"There's no way she'd say ye– wait, what?"

Saki nodded. "We're teammates, and teammates are there for each other. You let me know when you need my help, and I'll do it. Now smile," said Saki, tugging the corners of Gunpei's cheeks up.

"Thanks, Saki. I owe you big time for this."

"All I ask is that you recommend my cake shop to everyone at the police station." Saki grinned. "That's all the thanks I need."

Hiroto addressed everyone, "Would anyone like something to drink? We have water, soda, juice, and milk."

Ren shook his head. "I think we had best be going. Sousuke's got some time trials to run tomorrow morning and I have to make sure his car makes the grade for it."

"Yeah," said Sousuke sadly. His playful demeanor vanished, and he looked at Miu. "I'll miss you," he said, cradling her face in both hands.

"I'll miss you, too," said Miu before she smiled brightly, " but I'll definitely be at the Twin Ring this weekend, so cheer up." She felt herself blush as Sousuke kissed her in front of everyone. "I love you, Sousuke."

"I love you, too, Miu. I'll call you when I get back to Motegi." Sousuke hugged Miu tightly before he reluctantly broke away to join Ren, Saki, Gunpei, and Hanto. "Take care of yourself and Hiroto."

Hiroto and Miu waved at the Ginjiro-go as it departed. "So," said Hiroto. "Quite a weekend we had with everyone, eh?"

Miu nodded. "Ani, thank you." She hugged Hiroto.

"For what?"

"For not killing Sousuke and me this weekend."

Hiroto chuckled. "I can't kill my sweet little sister, even if she's got weird taste in guys, and as for Sousuke, killing him would do neither of us any good. Now, come on," he said, turning Miu around to face the front door. "I'll help you unpack." Miu grinned as she and Hiroto headed into the villa.

o-o-o-o-o

Kaoru approached Takeru as he sat on his platform in the sitting room, eyes closed. "Takeru?"

Takeru opened his eyes. "Mother?"

"Mako-chan told me that you talked to Hanto last night."

Takeru chuckled. "I did. I just wanted to make sure that I was reading him right. If I overstepped my bounds, I apologize. I've never had to face something like this before, and I just didn't want you to get set up for a fall or anything like that."

Kaoru nodded. "I appreciate that. Hanto's unlike anyone I've ever met. Of course, I haven't met very many people in my life, but I had a feeling that if he was a hero for justice like you and everyone else, then he must be not be a bad person."

"That's exactly what I was thinking. How's Tanba dealing with all of this?"

Kaoru giggled. "Tanba is being Tanba, but hopefully, you and Hikoma-san will be of some help in helping him get used to all of this." She nodded once at Takeru. "Thank you for your concern and vigilance, Takeru. You do the Shiba name proud."

"Thank you, Mother." Takeru smiled as Kaoru turned and left the room.

On the back porch of the Shiba house, Chiaki and Kotoha sat side by side, looking up at the sky. Kotoha leaned her head against Chiaki's shoulder.

Chiaki glanced over at Kotoha. "What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing, really." Kotoha looked down at her hands. "I'm just happy. Happy that we're all here together again, and happy that it was a fun weekend with the Go-ongers. I'm looking forward to spending this week with you and everyone else. I don't want it to end."

"Me neither," Chiaki assented. He moved his hand to take hold of Kotoha's, lacing their fingers. "I'm glad that we're both on spring break so that we can stay here for at least while Nee-san and Gen-chan are here. It'll kind of be like old times."

"Kind of?"

"Well, besides the Gedoushu currently being inactive," said Chiaki, "I don't have to hide how I feel about you, the way I used to have to." He leaned over and gently pressed his lips to Kotoha's.

Kotoha giggled. "That's true. I love you, Chiaki."

"I love you, too, Kotoha." He folded his arms around Kotoha's slender body, sighing happily as she embraced him in kind.

"Hey, guys!" called Genta from inside the house. "Dinner is served!"

Chiaki stood up and held his hands out to Kotoha. "Gen-chan said that he was going to have us try some more of the fusion sushi he created in Paris. I can't wait to see what he's going to serve us." After helping Kotoha to her feet, Chiaki gave her a quick hug and peck on the lips before the two went into the house, holding hands.

And there it is... I probably could write more, especially since I had Sousuke invite the Shinkengers to the Twin Ring Motegi for his next race, but I didn't want to be slaving over this story for years and get trapped into letting it fester long past it should, like I did with my CSI: NY fic, which I still think I could have ended way better than I eventually did. In any case, I thank those of you who have read and reviewed!