Ichiryu heard the footsteps in the passageway under the water long before his guests arrived, and so had time to settle in his chair and adopt a far-away, slightly senile expression by the time Toriko emerged onto the deck of the house. His partner followed close behind him, blinking in the sunlight and looking around him with fascination.
Ichiryu had never seen the young man in person before of course, and despite his keen research he wasn't quite sure what to expect from him, so he watched from behind his sunglasses as the two approached him, Komatsu moving at a near-jog to keep up with Toriko's lumbering stride. He looked nervous, verging on genuinely scared, but he didn't hesitate for a second as he approached the table in his partner's wake.
"Hey," Toriko said casually, dropping into the seat to Ichiryu's left, pulling the other chair out for Komatsu. The chef stopped however, and stood worriedly in Ichiryu's eye-line for a moment, before gathering his nerve to introduce himself.
"Ah, I'm Komatsu. Very pleased to meet you sir," he said, bowing neatly.
"Likewise, Komatsu-kun," Ichiryu replied, and waved him towards the chair. Nice manners, despite the nerves. Maybe Toriko would pick some of those up from him. Maybe. Given a couple of decades.
"Komatsu's experimenting on us," Toriko said proudly, and lifted a gourmet case onto the table. It contained what looked like a very exotic fruit salad in some kind of faintly pink syrup. On closer inspection, it seemed that each piece of fruit had been carefully carved into an ornate spiral shape. A scoop taken from the top of the layers of fruit was testament to one of Toriko's fits of appetite, which must have occurred on their journey.
"Looks good," he said, smiling, and noticed a tide of red sweep up Komatsu's face.
"And we brought you this. Tomu managed to get it for me. You ever drunk this stuff?" Toriko presented him with a large, sturdy glass bottle, whose label proclaimed its contents as Mendelev Honey wine.
"Not for years," Ichiryu replied, a few old memories flicking into his mind. Grinning at Toriko, he yanked the cork from the bottle and chewed on it thoughtfully as he poured out three glasses for them.
"Damn it, why do you do that, old man?" Toriko asked.
"Do what? Tell me about your hotel, Komatsu-kun."
"Oh, certainly! Ah, well our main restaurant was awarded its sixth star recently, and we've seen a big rise in business since then. There are nine thousand and eighty two rooms, though many guests come just to dine..."
Ichiryu half listened as the young man reeled off facts and figures about his restaurant, his lifeblood, the rest of his attention focussed on the body language going on. Komatsu was clearly proud of his hotel and his own achievements, but wasn't so coarse as to boast. Toriko, however, was watching his partner with gloating pride, clearly as confident in the chef's talents as he was in his own.
Possibly more-so, Ichiryu realised with some surprise.
Two of Ichiryu's staff appeared on the deck and efficiently served iced water and appetizers. Toriko crowed with appreciation as he ate, considerately pressing samples of food onto Komatsu, who was still preoccupied with chatting. Ichiryu found that the youngster was easy to listen to in spite of the occasional nervous giggle, both Toriko and himself relaxing as they sorted through the selection of food and let the cheerful report wash over them. Toriko occasionally stepped in to encourage his partner, drawing him into telling Ichiryu this anecdote or that scrap of information, or to help him with telling them, and so the conversation flowed along very pleasantly through the salad and fish courses.
By the time the main dish was served, Ichiryu had become aware that, even more than Komatsu was trying to impress him, Toriko was trying to impress him, via his partner. Watching Komatsu smile at his Bishoku-ya as the latter dove into his meal, Ichiryu felt very pleased with himself for having given Toriko certain pieces of advice.
He touched his fingertips to the pocket of his shirt, feeling the small round object within, just reassuring himself that it was still there.
Toriko was just cleaning up the last of the dishes, and Komatsu was rhapsodising about Ichiryu's chef's skill, when Ichiryu decided it was time to act.
"I'm glad you can put up with Toriko's clumsiness, Komatsu-kun," he said, pleased when he saw Toriko twitch.
"Hey! I'm not clumsy!" Toriko protested.
Ichiryu chuckled. "Come on, Toriko. How many times now have you lost that damn credit card, huh?"
Toriko pouted. "Only about...I don't know, I lost count. But I haven't lost if for ages though, see?" and he fished the black rectangle of plastic from the pocket of his shorts and brandished it at Ichiryu.
And because Toriko trusted Ichiryu, Ichiryu was able to snatch the card from his fingers and pitch it into the sea before Toriko could even react.
"Hey! What the hell did you do that for?"
Ichiryu just laughed.
"Stupid, weird old man! I got to get that back!"
Ichiryu glanced at Komatsu, who seemed torn between baffled surprise over what Ichiryu had done and red-faced amusement at his partner's reaction. Toriko stomped over to the edge of the deck, rapidly skinned down to his boxers, and shot Ichiryu a dirty look before diving into the water.
Still laughing, Ichiryu turned back to Komatsu, who was still trying very hard not to get the giggles.
"Yes, thank you sir. I...I'm sorry, but why did you do that?"
"Well, I'd like to ask you a few things. Alright?"
"Ah...yes, I'm sure that's okay," Komatsu replied, abruptly radiating nerves once again. Ichiryu gave him his most reassuring smile and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to do anything mean. I just want to know a few things about the boys. I see them so rarely these days."
"Yes. You know, 'the Four Heavenly Kings', as they like to call themselves nowadays."
"Oh! Oh yes, I see. Sorry."
Ichiryu waved the apology away, quite impressed by how rapidly Komatsu's blush appeared and faded. Perhaps it indicated good circulation.
Setsuno-chan had told him the kid was amusing. She'd been right, as usual.
"So tell me," he continued. "How are you getting on with Toriko? What do you think of him?"
Ichiryu was pleased to see that Komatsu had a think about his response before he spoke. Not the kind of thought that proceeded a flattering lie, but the reflective consideration of a person trying to put their thoughts and feelings effectively into words.
"Toriko-san is...he's fun to work with and very dedicated. I feel very secure in trusting him, and I think that he is very observant. He doesn't miss much, you know?" Relaxing slightly, the chef warmed to his theme. "When we're out in the wilderness, I know I ought to feel terrified. We're surrounded by things that could kill me without even trying. But Toriko always knows just what to look out for so we know what to expect, and he always keeps me safe. It's very reassuring to know that he does his research so well."
"I'm sure it is. So you're pleased with your partnership then?"
"Oh yes! I couldn't be happier," Komatsu replied, almost gushing. "I feel like... like being partners with Toriko will bring me to my destiny!" His cheeks coloured again. "That probably sounds like a silly thing for a man like me to say-"
"Not at all," Ichiryu interrupted. "Everyone wants to find their destiny, after all."
Komatsu nodded, apparently very happy at having successfully made his feelings understood.
"And what do you think of the other three?" Ichiryu pressed. "You've met them all by now, right?"
"Yes sir, I... well, I like to think that we have become friends."
"That's nice. Boys like them always need a good friend." Another blush and Ichiryu decided he'd have to talk to Setsuno soon, tell her just how right she was. "What do you think of Toriko's brothers then?"
"Well sir...I met Coco-san first, and to begin with I thought he was cold. But I think he's been hurt so much he's perhaps a little shy. He's very cunning though, it's terribly impressive."
"And what about Sunny? You met him when you guys went to find the Regal Marmot, right?"
"Ah, yes, that... that's about right. I think I got a bad first impression of Sunny-san, but we've since made up. I think perhaps he's a little insecure, because he feels he has to keep working so hard on his appearance. But he can be...he's said various things to me that are very encouraging. I think he can be very generous in his own ways"
Ichiryu nodded, smiling. "And Zebra?"
A mildly embarrassed expression crossed Komatsu's face. "Well, when I first met Zebra-san, I was scared of him. I thought he was out of control. But now, I know that he is actually very reliable. If he makes a promise he sticks to it. I grew to trust him."
Ichiryu was vaguely aware that his eyebrows were raised, but he couldn't quite get them to come back down again.
Toriko, the glutton, was observant and diligent with his research.
Coco, the gentleman, was shy and cunning.
Sunny, the beauty, was insecure and generous.
And Zebra, the globally feared monster, was reliable and trustworthy.
This little, shy, pleasant mannered chef saw the Four Kings, Ichiryu's boys, in such a remarkable, strange and wonderful way...
Much the same way that Ichiryu saw them.
There was a distinct splash from a couple of hundred yards away from the deck, where Toriko had just resurfaced, his credit card gripped between his teeth.
"Oh good, he found it," Ichiryu pointed out to Komatsu, and the young man turned to look, shading his eyes with his hand as he watched Toriko begin the swim back.
Quickly and calmly, Ichiryu slipped the little injector from his shirt pocket, a tiny plastic bulb filled with liquid, equipped with a needle only half a centimetre long. Too small for much, but perfect for his purposes. He pressed the needle into the small piece of Gravel Turkey meat that remained on Komatsu's plate and squeezed the plastic container to inject the liquid into the perfectly cooked flesh. The injector was emptied and returned to his pocket before Komatsu turned his attention back to him.
"Aren't you going to finish that?" Ichiryu asked, indicating the piece of meat.
"Oh! Of course. I got distracted with our conversation," Komatsu replied, blushing again. The remaining meat would have constituted only a small bite for Ichiryu or Toriko, but Komatsu cut it in two, enjoying each mouthful with thoughtful reverence.
"This really is delicious," he said wonderingly. "Each bite seems to taste better than the last. Your chef is fantastic Ichiryu-san."
"I'll pass on your compliments. I'm sure she'll be very pleased," Ichiryu replied. No surprise that these two bites tasted better than the rest, not considering what they were now filled with.
Toriko had, by this point, clambered back up onto the deck and picked up his shorts to stick the credit card back into the pocket, glaring at Ichiryu all the time. Still scowling, he crossed back to the table, leaving his clothes on the floor, and flopped wetly into his chair wearing only his sopping boxers. Ichiryu smiled brightly at him.
"You're back in time for desert, Toriko-chan. Komatsu-kun, would you like to serve this?"
"Yes, certainly!" Komatsu replied, and he rose to open the gourmet case he'd brought and carefully serve the fruit salad into three bowls. As he ate the dish (which was, unsurprisingly, exquisite), Ichiryu realised that, rather being purely decorative, the spiral shapes that the fruits had been cut into had actually been a remarkably efficient and skilled way to remove the seeds from the tricky-to-prepare ingredients, leaving as much of the flesh as possible intact. A simple and effective method he'd never seen before, probably never been done before.
It was likely that Komatsu had only been able to do it so cleanly because of the knife he possessed. The one that was slowly becoming legendary, the one formed around a blade that had shocked Melk the First to the core, and that had impressed his daughter so much that she had agreed to take on her father's mantle without hesitation.
The few little, lingering doubts Ichiryu had had about what he'd just done to Komatsu...disappeared.
Sometime later, Ichiryu waved goodbye to Komatsu and Toriko as they headed back into the tunnel, and he took the empty injector from his pocket.
Since he'd heard that Toriko and Komatsu had become partners, nearly two years ago now, he'd been trying to get hold of this damn thing. He'd filled in forms, over-ridden security measures, moved laboratory deadlines, argued with countless bureaucrats...
And now the fight was over, the job done. All for a small sample of the Gourmet Cell culture that had been altered for ingestion.
Komatsu was a good chef, good in the way that only Frohze and Setsuno and a few precious others were.
He was a good partner to Toriko.
He saw Ichiryu's boys for what they were.
And now he'd be able to stay with them, to work with them, for a good long time, becoming strong in his own right.
His lucky, lucky boys, Ichiryu thought.
He sat in his lounger on the deck and drank the rest of the Honey wine, watching the light of the setting sun playing over the water, and thinking back on people from long ago, those who had left and those who were simply gone.
This was written in response to something LateNightIridescence raised, regarding how long people with Gourmet cells live, and that Komatsu would likely age and die while the Kings barely changed. It was such a sad thought that I decided to have Ichiryu fix it. He was very helpful.
It's a bit more subdued than my regular stuff, but I loved writing Ichiryu. The teasing relationship he has with Toriko is endlessly amusing to me :)