128 – A wet noodle
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Around 8:00 AM. The kitchen of a certain udon shop in the Roppongi Hills mall.

Maji wiped his hands on his apron and looked around, taking inventory of the situation.

It was the usual cramped kitchen, barely large enough for him and Kiri to maneuver around. That wasn't to say that it was under furnished though. The reason why it was cramped was actually because of all the gear that Maji had purchased and crammed inside.

Industrial refrigerators, ovens, stovetops, a sink, countertop... It was everything a modern professional chef could need, except shoved together with barely any breathing room rather than the typical spacious surroundings.

An arrangement that almost made one wonder if it was up to code... but it seemed to be working for them.

Maji hummed and put his hand on his chin to think.

It was a Monday morning. They already had their usual early-bird customer, but the other regulars hadn't shown up yet. And since it was a weekday, there probably wouldn't be many new customers since they hadn't done much advertisement.

Well, there had been Boss's daughter and her girlfriend the other day, but other than those two, there were only a dozen or so people frequenting their udon shop.

In that case...

Maji pulled the refridgerator open, checking the meats and perishables one more time before nodding. "Nice. Won't have to restock for another week."

Kiri glanced over from washing some dishes and sighed. "You seem a bit too happy about that. Shouldn't we want fresh ingredients for our customers, Maji-san?"

Maji closed the refrigerator door and grinned. Holding up his right hand, he wagged his finger and said, "You're thinking too generously, Kiri-chan! For guys like us, we've gotta streeetch everything out as far as we can!"

Kiri dried a plate and set it off to the side. "...And we aren't doing enough by the fact that we don't eat, drink, or act like normal humans anymore?"

"For now!" Maji walked over and slung an arm around Kiri's shoulders. "Remember Kiri-chan! Grunts like us gotta start from the bottom and make sacrifices if we wanna make it big!"

"...And what does 'making it big' mean for an udon shop?"

Maji grinned and then stepped back, spinning around. "Restaurant chains! Mascots! Merchandise! Sponsorships!" He stopped and said, "That's when we know we've made it big!"

"...I thought we were just doing this to pass the time?"

"That too! But a man's gotta have *some* dream, right? Even if it ain't gonna come true any time soon."

"Hn." Kiri nodded and went back to washing his dishes.

Maji sighed. "You're no fun."

"Fun is for karaoke and after the shop is closed. Right now we're working."

"Yeah, yeah." Maji sighed and walked over to the stovetop, checking in on their broth. As he did, a female voice cried out from the front of the shop.

"Argh! I still don't get it! Why does this taste normal?!"

Kiri chuckled. "Your girl is at it again."

Maji stirred the broth and rolled his eyes. "You need to get better with phrasing, Kiri-chan. Saying it like that makes it sound like she's my babe or something. She ain't."

"Hn." Kiri placed another plate off to the side.

The female voice, Yuri's, called out again. "Come on, Saji! You have to tell me. Who's the chef? Is it Mister Smith?"

Saji chuckled. "Mister Smith is far too busy to work in a humble udon shop like this."

Maji chuckled too and said, "Damn straight he is. Boss is too busy with goddess of a wife he has."

Kiri nodded. "Boss's wife is a treasure. It's no wonder why he pulled out all the stops to get her back."

Maji grabbed a spoon and took a sip of the broth. After that, he added a pinch of some more spices and turned to look at Kiri. "I don't blame him. Hell, if I was married to a woman like that, I'd pull out all the stops to find her too."

Kiri was silent for a bit, and then he said, "It's good that Boss managed to get her back."

Hearing Kiri's tone of voice, Maji sighed. "...Yeah. It's good that one of us managed to get that happy ending."

Silence, the two of them doing the usual prep work for the shop.

Eventually, Kiri glanced over and said, "Are you really never going to show your face to her?"

Maji stopped in the middle of mincing some daikon radishes and then shook his head. Scooping the ingredients into the broth, he sighed and said, "It's better this way."

"Why?" Kiri turned around and said, "There isn't any danger now. The clans are disbanded and transitioned over into proper businesses. The brats in charge went and got proper jobs while the rotten eggs got taken care of." He shook his head. "There isn't any harm in meeting with her."

Maji scoffed. "Even if there isn't, what am I gonna say? That I'm the man who could have been her father?"

"No. That you were a close friend of her mother."

Maji's eyes widened and then he clicked his tongue and averted his gaze.

Kiri dried his hands on his apron and said, "I heard from Boss that Yuri's sensitive taste is how she tries to remember her parents. They died when she was still young, so she barely has any memories of them." He lowered his hands and said, "I think she'd appreciate some stories from her mother's old friend."

Maji narrowed his eyes and said, "Boss ain't never mentioned nothing like that to me."

Kiri walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out some dough. Unwrapping the plastic on it, he walked over to the countertop and started prepping fresh noodles. "You never asked. Communication is important, you know?"

"Tch." Maji leaned against the fridge and said, "That ain't fair. You're using that fatherly wisdom on me again."

Kiri smirked. "It's one of the few areas that I can claim an advantage. Of course I'm going to use it."

Maji pushed himself off the fridge and walked over to help Kiri with the noodles. "Still trying to one up me after all this time, huh, Kiri-chan?"

Kiri cut a batch of noodles out and then started work on another. "Someone has to keep you on your toes. Unless you want to become a worn-out old man already."

"Heh. Speak for yourself." Maji straightened and moved his hand over his face, highlighting it like a model. "An old man? With a face like this?"

Ever since the incident was over and they had their regrets settled, it was like years were washed away from them. Not an excessive amount. It wasn't possible to get rid of the experience they had and the aged aura around them, but the three looked like they were in their early thirties now instead of their proper age.

"Hn. Explains why you still act like a kid."

"O-Oi!"

Kiri smirked.

Maji frowned and opened his mouth to argue, but then a chime echoed through the shop. The sound of a new visitor.

Saji's voice echoed again, receiving the new guest. "Welcome- Oh? It's you."

Silence, and then an elderly voice answered. "I was wondering what kind of shop my granddaughter kept running off to in the morning. So it was a place like this, huh?"

"G-Grandpa?"

Maji frowned, suddenly in a bad mood.

Kiri noticed and said, "Should I show the guy out?"

Maji shook his head. "Nah. That guy's her proper guardian. Wouldn't do any favors to anyone involved. Besides, the guy's an even older geezer than us now."

"...If you say so."

The pair worked in silence while Saji dealt with the new customer. Minato Miyamoto, Yuri's grandfather, famous chef... and the former chairman of the Torabu clan.

After a few moments, Saji walked through the curtains separating the kitchen, frowning.

Maji looked up and said, "What does the old geezer want?"

Saji shook his head. "He said he wants the Chef's special, bro."

"Heh." Maji shook his head. "That guy's the same as ever, trying to find reasons to keep me away from his family."

Kiri frowned. "Think he's trying to convince the girl to leave?"

Maji nodded. "I know he is. He'll probably say something about how she doesn't need to squander her taste buds on a lowly place like this. Well..." Maji smirked and said, "This youth and vigor ain't the only thing Boss rewarded us with."

"Hn." Kiri smiled. "I'll let you handle this one then." He stepped back and said, "Let me know what you need."

"Thanks, Kiri-chan." Maji rolled up his sleeves and grinned. "Now, time to show that godly chef what a demon can do when he got picked up by an immortal."

Exciting news! I haven't been pushing it, but some kind and generous souls donated enough on my ko-fi to meet the goal for art commission for the story!

Now, the question becomes... What do we commission?

I could commission a few of the characters so we have a proper portrait of them in the gallery instead of my cobbled together generated pictures. Or we could go all out and do like a background picture of one of the MirAIs idols debut image.

...Or we could save up more for a group pic like for the Smith Family, or for the MirAIs idols?

What do you guys think? Any favorite characters? Scenes? Images?

I'm leaning towards Rin and Hana right now, maybe like a split screen sorta deal, but I'm open for suggestions!

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