I'd like to offer this fic to my great friend RK for getting me into this series in the first place! Like her, I have a soft spot for everyone/Komatsu. Hopefully I'll be able to write separate fic for each of these three to get a little private time with him. But for now, please enjoy!
Ordinarily Sani's insistence that everything be pleasing to the eye as well as to taste irritated Toriko to the point of distraction. In this case, however, even he had to appreciate the result. Now that Komatsu was wearing Sani's gift, it looked quite fetching. Who would have known that pink would suit him so well?
Sani had presented Komatsu with an apron that was the pale pink of rare pork. It was a bit feminine-looking by itself. While it was more practical than lacy, there were still whimsical ruffles on the straps and hem. Across the collar, in a delicate red script, were stitched the words, 'Lovely Chef.'
The apron did not look quite as delicate when Komatsu wore it. He had his sleeves rolled up, displaying the firm muscles gained from years of hard work in the kitchen. His kneeling stance was solid and his expression was one of total concentration, showing how completely focused he was on the task at hand.
It was a good thing too. Komatsu was in the middle of removing the spines from a devilish angelfish in preparation to make sashimi. Those wicked spines bristled out in deadly fans, their tips so filled with poison that a single prick could deliver enough to bring swift death. The angelfish body itself was flat, leaving little room for him to separate spines from flesh without waste.
As Komatsu focused on his work, Toriko held his attention focused on Komatsu. He was well aware that this was one dish that threatened to be more deadly to the chef than the bishoku-ya. All it would take was one slip to introduce poison into Komatsu's small body.
On the other hand, the title of 'angelfish' didn't just describe the fish's shape. The flesh, when perfectly fresh, was pale and perfect as polished marble. It was supposed to have a subtle and delicately nuanced taste that defied description. If left alone for more than an hour between removing the protective scales and serving the fish, the taste would fade quickly, leaving meat that tasted of no more than air.
When Sani had made the offer that he wanted Komatsu to come out with him and prepare the fish he planned to catch, there was no way Toriko wouldn't have gone along as well. Not with a new taste like that on offer. Besides, they were partners. Since when did Komatsu follow just anyone out in search of new ingredients?
Sani had been visibly irritated by Toriko's presence at first, but he had gotten over it. He was focused on Komatsu now, apparently captivated by his skill.
Even Coco had settled down to watch Komatsu prepare their lunch. Toriko was aware that Coco had been keeping an eye on Komatsu all day, but that was in no way strange. Coco was as vigilant about Komatsu's safety as Toriko.
While Toriko was perfectly glad to let the other bishoku-ya admire Komatsu's skills, he couldn't stand for what Sani was doing. Never content to simply look at something he liked without touching, Sani was making no attempt to hide the fact that he was using his hair's touch to thoroughly 'taste' Komatsu.
Through the vibrations those invisible feelers made in the air Toriko could guess where Sani was touching. All across Komatsu's face and neck, down his bare arms, and even under his new apron. It was mildly irritating when Sani did that to him, but Toriko was not going to put up with interference while Komatsu was cooking.
Sani hardly spared him a glance, intent on Komatsu.
"Stop 'tasting' him," Toriko insisted.
"I'm 'nly appreciating the harmony between a skilled chef an' his ingredients."
Of course Sani would have to get snooty when he refused something. Toriko had asked knowing Sani wouldn't relent. Now Sani couldn't complain when he just took action. He chopped one hand through the air between Sani and Komatsu, where he knew those invisible feelers would have to stretch.
There were more hairs wrapped around Komatsu than Toriko had anticipated. Toriko's disturbance made them catch on Komatsu and jerk him out of his grounded stance.
A sharp gasp brought their full attention back to Komatsu. He held up one finger, staring at the dark blood suddenly beading up on his fingertip. A matching drop of blood glistened on one of the prominent dark spines before him, confirming that he hadn't been lucky enough, or clumsy enough, to merely prick himself upon his own knife.
Coco was the first to react. He grabbed Komatsu by the wrist and pulled his hand forward. Without even wasting time on a cursory inspection, he took Komatsu's bleeding finger into his mouth.
"Komatsu!" Toriko cried, more alarmed by that drop of blood than he had ever been at sustaining grievous injuries on his own body.
He heard Sani echo him as they both rushed to Komatsu's side. Sani wasted no time in putting his arms around Komatsu, while Toriko moved the treacherous fish, its spines now dangerously close to stabbing Komatsu's knees, well out of the way.
By the time he had removed that danger, Sani had Komatsu in his lap. His long hair was draped over Komatsu, so that the chef's small body was nearly hidden by those thick strands.
Komatsu had his uninjured hand braced against Coco's shoulder, his fingers clenched helplessly in folds of dark cloth that almost hid them. His eyes were shut so tightly that tears had been squeezed into the corners. His mouth seemed to be frozen open in a silent cry of pain.
With great care Toriko removed Komatsu's hand from Coco's shoulder, allowing Komatsu to clutch at him instead. It had to be painful. Toriko could tell from the set of Coco's jaw that he was using his teeth to cut off the circulation of blood from Komatsu's finger back to the rest of his body. That would be the only way to be sure none of the poison escaped into Komatsu's bloodstream and reached his heart.
There was no question in Toriko's mind that Coco would be able to draw the poison out. He might be the only person capable of removing every drop of that deadly poison without risking adverse effects on his own body. Though Toriko would have tried it himself if Coco hadn't beaten him to it.
After what seemed like a small eternity of watching Komatsu's expressions of silent pain and the crushing concentration on Coco's face, Toriko took a deep breath of relief. Coco had allowed Komatsu's finger to slip from his mouth.
There were marks indented in Komatsu's finger from Coco's teeth, though it was obvious he had taken great care to not break the skin. The blood that started to form a tiny bead on Komatsu's fingertip was now the healthy red of fresh blood, not tainted dark by poison.
It took a few gasps of breath before Komatsu could speak. "Coco-san," he gasped.
Coco released Komatsu's hand, which he had been cradling in both of his.
"Coco-san!" Komatsu cried, lunging forward so that he almost came free of Sani's draping hair. "Y-you really. . . you saved my life!"
Coco caught Komatsu, letting the chef's forehead rest in the center of his chest. His expression softened into one of quiet happiness that Toriko had rarely seen, let alone noticed.
"Komatsu-kun," he murmured over the stream of thanks pouring out of Komatsu.
Nothing else needed to be said to express that he would have done far worse to save Komatsu. Toriko heard that, and he was hardly paying attention. He was watching as a single drop of blood fell from Komatsu's finger to stain his new apron.
Sani suddenly hauled Komatsu back into his chest, lifting Komatsu's injured finger for inspection.
"You've bruised him," he accused. "Com'ere, 'Matsu."
Sani licked away a trail of blood threatening to make its way down Komatsu's finger. The slow action of his tongue working over that trapped digit bordered on obscene. Komatsu's whole hand trembled in his grip.
"Sani-san," Komatsu squeaked. His eyes were squeezed shut again, though this time not in pain.
When Sani paused to press his full lips over the lingering teeth marks on Komatsu's finger, a second drop of blood formed and fell. It landed near the first on Komatsu's apron, the color of it spreading just far enough for the two stains to touch.
Toriko was not about to sit and watch that sort of behavior any longer. Not when it involved his partner. He extricated Komatsu from Sani's hair, hauling the small chef into his own lap.
"'M not done!" Sani protested.
His hair still had some hold on Komatsu's body, but Toriko knew Sani wouldn't be able to rip anything out of his grip if he didn't want to let go. Especially not something as precious to both of them as Komatsu.
Toriko took Komatsu's injured hand in his own, raising it slowly to his own mouth. The moment before he took Komatsu's finger in his mouth a third drop of blood fell, joining the other two in a rough triangle on Komatsu's new apron.
"What are you doing?" Komatsu wanted to know.
"A wound like that should close if you just lick it," Coco explained. He had his arms crossed, managing to look neither entertained nor irritated by the antics playing out in front of him.
Just as well, he didn't have to bother letting Komatsu's finger out of his mouth long enough to explain. Toriko focused on looking after the tiny wound until it closed. The salt-sweet taste of Komatsu's blood on his tongue was different from a proper meal. It was different from having his own blood in his mouth. Komatsu's was richer, somehow, not sweeter but with a more full flavor.
It didn't take long. Toriko spent a minute gently stroking his tongue over Komatsu's finger, and the bleeding stopped. He spent another minute simply holding Komatsu's finger there just to be sure.
Komatsu's finger left a wet trail down his chin when he let it slip from his mouth. He was limp, cradled against Toriko's chest, just breathing slow and deep.
"The angelfish," was the first thing Komatsu managed, after raising his hand and checking his finger, now marked with a neat scab in addition to the fading dents from Coco's teeth and a moist coating of saliva.
"Hm?" Toriko asked.
He wasn't done holding Komatsu yet. Sani still wasn't keeping his hair to himself, and Coco had dropped his unaffected stance to rub one hand gently over Komatsu's back. In spite of the fact that his life had been in danger from that poison only a moment ago, it was actually hard to imagine Komatsu being safer than this.
"Let go! I have to finish preparing the Devilish Angelfish right now or it won't be any good to eat!"
Komatsu jerked up suddenly, the thought of neglecting his cooking suddenly bringing him fully back to life. Such was the energy of a chef on a mission that all three of them released Komatsu. None of them would have thought of getting in his way, even knowing the potential danger of the ingredients he was handling.
Toriko did notice that Coco and Sani stayed rather closer to Komatsu this time as they watched him work. Almost as close as Toriko was, sitting so near at Komatsu's back that he would hardly have to move to have Komatsu in his lap again.
For now they remained silent, watching and waiting. Relief was quickly replaced by the anticipation of enjoying the results of Komatsu's skills. Toriko found himself momentarily transfixed by the heady smell of the angelfish, mingling with the familiar smell of Komatsu.