"Breakfast. Spar with Saber. Lunch. Prepare tonight's dinner event… Just another average day in Chaldea."
With a chuckle, Emiya looked into his mirror to fix the collar on his crimson polo. Running a hand through his loose, white hair, he visually ensured the top was tucked into black slacks. With a small sigh, he fiddled with the glossy belt as his eyes wandered across his room. Since it was devoid of almost any furniture, save for what a white-haired caster would request for him, the eyes landed on the only interesting furniture besides a full-length mirror. As his eyes gazed at the cabinet next to the lone sofa, there was a knock at the door, but it did not slide open.
"Good morning, Shirou! I might be a little late to breakfast with you and Saber. Jekyll said he and Roman could use an extra hand for a bit."
"I'll tell her, Okaa-san. See you at breakfast."
As the footsteps faded away, he walked to the cabinet and stared at the craft coins displayed on a shelf. There were three in total, though a fourth had been gifted to his adoptive mother who had just walked away. One displayed Arturia in a blue Christmas outfit holding a present, while a second depicted a purple-haired magus wearing her mystic code with a determined stare. Though his gaze lingered a little longer on the King of Knights' own, it was the newest craft coin that had most of his current attention.
Formalcraft. It synergized well with his combat style, which amused him upon testing it yesterday. Usually the Chaldean master would keep the first copy of a craft coin, but thanks to all the training and advising the archer had done in the first month, it was given as another token of appreciation. Emiya was hardly surprised Gudao had remembered the description of the black-haired, twin-tailed magus; He did talk well of her and many others. What did surprise him was that she had become the conceptual image of a craft coin. Every time he stared, that last conversation always played once more in his mind.
"Yeah… I know. I'll do my best… I'll do my best so that he won't get twisted like you. I'll do my best so that he will be able to like himself…! So you should also…"
'Forgive yourself.' She did not put it into words in that farewell, but he understood clearly. He engraved the girl's smile with pride into memory.
Within that golden sunrise, that smile he wore was the same as the idealistic boy he loathed so much. Emiya had told her he would, though the usual workings of the throne made it a false promise… or so he thought. He was not an idealist, nor was he an idiot, but Chaldea's unique circumstances gave him the chance he needed. Over the months he's been here, he had found a comfortable balance between the extremes. It had been difficult at first, but if that fool could persevere, then he could too.
Emiya smiled. "I hope you kept your end of the deal, Tohsaka. I've been doing my best here."
Fragment 3: A Sweet Treat
Snowflakes fell lightly outside the hallway's large windows. Emiya stared at them as he continued his stroll back to the residential area while lost in pleasant thought. There was a hint of a smirk still on his lips as he walked the nearly empty, spacious hallway; He had clearly enjoyed breakfast with Arturia and Irisviel. His enthusiastic mother had always been one of the sunnier individuals, but it had been great watching his former servant warm to up the place since her arrival.
Truthfully, he had appreciated her more thanks to that memorial essence he received in his second week. Memories he shouldn't have, from a different timeline, had been gifted to him by the unusual Fate System of Chaldea. Multiple summonings was rare enough, but the chance for a duplicate was also plausible. If one were to try and form while they were already present, a memorial essence would be left instead. It empowered a servant's abilities and noble phantasm by giving them memories from another timeline they experienced.
Thanks to that summoned memorial essence, he remembered much more through the eyes of that idealistic young master he disliked so much. He had now lived the memories of Shirou as he fought and fell in love with Arturia. That orb was a strange concept unique to Chaldea, and was responsible for these memories of 'him' from another timeline; After all, he had never fallen in love with Arturia in his own time. It had been nearly four months since he received it, and he had long since gotten used feeling those memories as his own.
But he was not the only servant to receive one, nor was he the first or last. A few days after arriving, Irisviel had also received one, though it took her an entire week to come to terms that she suddenly had a husband, daughter, and adopted son. Concerned over how she may react, he had waited until she received one in hopes it carried recollections from one of his timelines. The wait had paid off, and after she had gotten accustomed to her memories from a different self, she had reached out to try and create something new for herself and him. It's been a few weeks now, and Emiya was beyond glad to finally know what a mother's love felt like.
"Get him, Alice!"
"I'm trying, Jackie, bet he's so fast!"
Emiya's smirk widened as a pair of employees stopped further ahead. A fluffy, white creature, no larger than a toy dog breed, leapt into view from the connecting hallway. It sprinted on all fours in Emiya's direction with a joyful glint in its eyes. As its tail wagged happily in the air as it continued its retreat, its pursuers appeared from the same corner. The two child servants ran after the little familiar, not bothering to cheat through use of their skills or spells. While he never honestly played with the pair, seeing them was always a pleasant treat.
One child wore a black, Victorian dress with a simple bow in the front. Two hot pink bows tied her white hair into two braided ponytails. Her violet eyes glanced at Emiya as she giggled in her run. Her adopted sister beside her had whiter hair, albeit much shorter. She wore a black turtleneck sweater, with white accents along the sleeves and collar. A single scar fell over her left, silver eye, and another one graced her right cheek. Her blue jeans covered legs allowed her to move slightly faster than her companion.
"Good morning, Alice. Jackie," Emiya nodded. The two were very accustomed to their nicknames their adoptive mother gave them. Nursery Rhyme in particular had been very pleased with her own, since her current look was in honor of her former master.
"Good Morning, Emiya!" They chimed together with small smiles as they ran past. They always did brighten up an area when found together.
"Oh no, he went into the Salon! Auntie Marie won't let us run in there…" Nursery Rhyme pouted as Emiya looked after their disappearing backs.
"Maybe she'll help us catch him!" her sister suggested as they giggled. They waved playfully at a robot as it hovered past with several laundry bags.
Emiya turned forward with an amused smile, and kept walking. If he was content feeling a mother's love, then he could only imagine what those girls felt when Atalanta adopted them. Within weeks after Nursery Rhyme's arrival, the huntress had adopted the caster as a way of personally ensuring all children can be saved. She had ceaselessly showered Nursery Rhyme with care and affection, which was also the same case for Jack after her adoption much later.
Their start had been rockier than his and Arturia's; The saber still saw him more as the red archer than her young master even with her vivid memories from three similar timelines. Thankfully his adoptive mother was surprisingly eager to make sure the two former adversaries wound up getting along; That same concept was applied to the family before him too. There was no doubt Atalanta had committed a lot of effort into making that family work, especially during the act of bridging the previous gap between her and Jack.
From perspectives of different servants, he vaguely understood the two had trying experiences with each other from a large grail war, but the progress Atalanta made with her almost animalistic determination was impressive. Soon the idea of having a loving mother and sister resonated well with the assassin. The female archer had also successfully convinced her there was far more affection and comfort to be found outside of the womb. At the very least, Gudao was no longer waking up in the middle of the night, screaming in total horror upon finding Jack cuddled snugly into his side.
"My, my…" Emiya chuckled to himself, earning a small glance from the passing robot. He'd found his pace had slowed considerably, but he was in no rush even if he was a bit eager. Not minding the pace, he let his mind shift to dinner tonight. If there was one thing he would never grow tired of thinking about, it was culinary ideas.
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"I thought we had more cinnamon…" Emiya scratched his forehead which was partially covered by loose hair. The archer then readjusted the straps of his white apron before he paused to glance at a section of his sanctuary.
Chaldea's kitchen was expanded as a byproduct of Marie's need to create the lounge. He can hardly complain about the new additions, one of which he was currently checking. The enlarged pantry had aisles of food, which were mostly spices, supplied by the adjacent storage elevator. It brought more stocked food from a lower wing of Chaldea where the import storage and Bioscience greenhouses were located. There was even another set of metal doors next to the elevator that housed the freezer room for cold goods.
Usual stocks were supplemented by ingredients brought in from missions. Normally it would be frowned upon to take things from the past, but with standard leadership destroyed and the rest of the real world theoretically destroyed, there was a unanimous decision that it was alright for priority items. That didn't stop some servants from labeling personal interests as important, but as long as the item didn't hold a certain importance, no one seemed to give a second glance.
No one would miss bought items from a market, but a town's small monument or someone's prized trophy were still controversial despite the singularity repair theory.
Emiya sighed as he wrote down on the grocery list they were also running low on black pepper and ginger. They had two days' worth at most if he used the ingredients sparingly, but this afternoon's minor singularity in the Banda Isles should pay off massively. While the archer wouldn't mind personally picking materials on singularities, the received goods were never poorly chosen. He often spent more time in the kitchen than on missions nowadays with the larger number of servants, but he didn't mind too much.
"Mister Emiya, my check is complete. All turkeys will be defrosted as scheduled," a robotic voice called from outside.
"Perfect. I'm just finishing up a last minute ingredients check before lunch," he replied evenly.
With a sigh, he wondered when the Robotics Hanger would complete work on his requested staff member. The archer was initially judgmental about robots in a food environment, but their surprising cleanliness, dexterity, and spatial awareness compared to the standard models convinced him otherwise; No food given had even a tiny hint of metal or machine oil. He chuckled at the idea he now wished for additional ones, though mainly for inventory purposes so he could spend more time cooking and supervising. Proper materials to construct a new robot were significantly harder to acquire than culinary ingredients, so he didn't mind waiting.
His stock check complete, he pocketed the list and walked towards the exit. The real dinner prep after lunch should go smoothly, so for now, he could at least relax and enjoy lunch with Arturia, Jeanne, and Diarmuid. The sparring had made him rather hungry.
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"I'm looking forward to dinner tonight!"
"Of course you are, Saber," Emiya teased with a smirk as he pushed through the swinging doors into the cafeteria. He missed their friends' laughter at Arturia's expense.
He walked through the cafeteria's kitchen, nodding at the scattered culinary employees and helper robots. The old kitchen that served breakfast and lunch still operated as usual, though most of the staff now had the rest of the day to themselves. Their current task was the creation of simple snacks since lunch officially ended minutes ago. Chaldea's head chef and his culinary bots handled this half along with some employees, churning out plenty of tasty dishes; It wasn't five star, but it would definitely pass as enjoyable and delicious.
The double door entrance to the pantry acted as the divider between the new and old.
Salon de Marie's wing of the kitchen was created after knocking down the wall left of the pantry's entrance. This stylish section was under his supervision, serving the lounge directly for dinners, and consisted almost entirely of hand-picked personnel. With some surprise to the Chaldean residents, even four robots had also passed his culinary exam, which included on-the-fly flexibility. Fine-tuned multitasking abilities and sheer precision of the robots made them valuable workhorses throughout the facility, but their lack of 'a human touch' to their work was their downfall at the hands of Emiya's test.
He never did state that directly to the mechanical helpers though.
Walking into the new wing, he noted some helpers were storing the cleaned dishes into their metal cabinets, and taking count of proper silverware for tonight's banquet. Part of the polished, granite counter on the pantry's side was covered with trays for the garlic bread rolls to be made later. The far counter was currently for preparing cold, side dishes to go with tonight's dinner menu. It seemed everything was going smoothly as usual, and they were well ahead of schedule.
Tonight was Boudica's birthday, and a surprise party was definitely in order for the Heroic Spirit. She was another of the Salon's mainstay kitchen staff, and was a wonderful cook without a doubt. With some help from Gudao, she was slotted for the deployment today so she couldn't help in the workplace; His three friends were ensuring she stayed in the dark. Thankfully the redhead was very vocal when making small talk, so there was no need to sneak around to discover her favorite dessert.
"Good afternoon, Emiya!" Chaldea's head chef greeted from behind as the somewhat plump man walked into the pantry. The man, while proud of his work, was far more modest than expected. He was the only regular cook worthy of being five stars, yet didn't mind being under Emiya's leadership for dinner. "Let's work our beautiful magic to make Salon de Marie shine with smiles!"
"There's no doubt we will, Leandre," He looked back with a tiny smirk, but the chef already disappeared. He could hear his laugh though.
As he greeted his own staff, Emiya ran his mental checklist. He eyed the turkeys and quickly gauged the portions and thawing times. With a slight hum, he glanced at the salads and saw they were also progressing smoothly. All clockwork, just the way he liked it. Everything was smooth at this point, though it was a far cry from his beginnings.
It had taken him a while, but he appreciated and enjoyed his newfound life. Admittedly, it did feel a bit too routine at times. Maybe it would do him good if things were shaken up…in a good way, of course. Not in a bad way like finding Nobunaga's small glitter bomb in Fionn's bed last Sunday.
"Mister Emiya, everything is still proceeding as scheduled, I presume? No unexpected surprises?" came a robotic voice to his left.
With a small smile, he turned to the floating robot beside him. It was a standard culinary robot with precision claws and the classic Chaldean blue-paint. Atop its sphere, or what many referred to as the head, sat an enlarged chef's hat in comical fashion. It had been a joke gift to the top robot in his staff, and this one's humor programming let it receive the gift in good stride. If anything, the robot was proud of its present.
"Without a hitch, Codsworth. This is far from our first birthday party, after all."
"Oh, of course not, sir! But it pays to stay vigilant. One bad surprise may create a fussy British Queen, and I have no programming to handle that!"
He chucked lightly. "Wouldn't want to make Boudica mad on her birthday… Now then, we'll start salad prep in an hour."
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"Sorry I'm a bit late, Emiya. I was helping Benkei and Sasaki in the shrine."
"Oh? Is this the part where I scold you and say you're a bad student?" He smirked as giggling answered his question.
To say the Emiya now was different than when he first arrived would be a serious understatement. His cynicism had lost much of its edge, though his sarcastic quips remained to different extents. Even though that spark of a youthful ideal was once more lit, he still remained realistic of the likely end results; He was not the naïve Shirou, but he wasn't entirely the same Counter Guardian anymore either. It had been the result of months of self-realization thanks to these unique summoning circumstances, and he would freely admit it was a change he did more than just accept.
Dare he say, Chaldea does a fine job of making him smile.
There were many to blame, or thank, for the change in disposition. He was surrounded by allies fighting to preserve humanity, but it didn't feel like a questionable warzone. Chaldea had presented itself as a sanctuary and a place to call home. If the descriptions of this facility before the catastrophic event were any indication, it had evolved into a peaceful respite for servants after leyshifting back. No grail war or counter guardian mission had ever felt this incredibly rewarding, both in possibilities and opportunities.
One such possibility, turned reality, stood at a nearby counter with the head chef, helping Leandre with the salads so they can move on to the next part.
There was a lot to get done but he was glad for the usual support this day in the form of a particular apprentice, whose golden eyes met his as he looked up from checking the thawed turkeys. As expected of his student, she wore an apron over her blue halter dress. She had matching leggings and crystal clear slippers that tapped enthusiastically against the floor as she moved. Large, blue bows on the back of her head tied long, pink hair into twin tails.
She may have been new compared to Boudica and him, but Tamamo was very much one of the signature faces for the Salon's kitchen.
Thankfully, after nearly two months of practice and learning she kept her fluffy, golden tail and ears in check when near the many dishes. Granted, she was already an incredible cook, with a notable increase in taste when Gudao was involved; His training was slowly diminishing her bias so she may create wonderful delicacies for all to enjoy. He walked over to examine his student's current work with the basic salad preparation.
"How are the garden salads coming along, Tamamo?" he asked as he looked down at her work.
"Smooth as silk!" The fox girl exclaimed happily. Like several others, her spirits had been further lifted after taking residence in this facility. "This makes the third special order, putting Leandre and I ahead of schedule in case he needs a break."
The head chef nodded to her kindly with a smile. "I don't believe I'll need the break, but thank you! Today was relaxing so far."
"You make me so proud," Emiya stated without a hint of sarcasm, patting her on the shoulder. "Keep up the great work."
Tamamo was glowing. "Thank you! I'll continue to work hard to be the perfect wife for Master!"
Emiya, and Leandre too, internally cringed. Yes, he knew that her reason for wanting to cook at his level and variety was only as part of her 'Proper Wife Training,' but it didn't stop him from feeling bad for their poor master. She was often very fanatical about that vision of hers. Still, the glint in her eyes when speaking of Gudao made the archer question her motives, since she spoke of him strictly with high admiration up until Kiyohime's arrival.
It wasn't hostile or suspicious by any means, but he could have sworn sometimes that she was saying it to convince herself. If that was the case, it may just remain a crazy theory. From nearly everyone else's point of view, she was now clearly obsessed with their master. Still, Emiya kept the peculiarity in the back of his mind and never voiced it.
Tamamo wasn't the only one obviously interested in him, much to the amusement or concern of others when a cat fight broke out over the dilemma; The fox caster and the over-attached berserker may never get along at this rate. He had some experience with such problems before, but never to the extent of two servants at once. The fact Gudao was still standing was both a testament to his abilities to coordinate their combined efforts during a mission, and as a silver-tongued peace keeper in Chaldea.
To be fair, the master's best friend also played a critical role in the social politics when it came to his well-being.
"Have we decided on the dessert course?" Tamamo inquired while quietly humming to herself. She had begun quickly slicing lettuce again.
"Carrot Cake for everyone. Boudica and friends get a towered one. We'll start prep in as soon as you two are finished here. I'll get the ingredients for the appetizers."
"Yes, teacher!" she saluted back playfully, making him chuckle. It was a shame Boudica couldn't be here to add her friendly antics.
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Despite the smaller staff, Emiya never had an issue getting dinner made on time, and without exhausting his coworkers. It had been a long time since his first dish for a fellow servant. Boudica was curious of his cooking skills after the topic arose during a rather relaxed conversation. He had asked for permission from the head chef before cooking a meal for the rider, who absolutely loved it. After that, he began cooking a random dish for others when asked, since he didn't mind the extra tasks in the least or helping the head chef.
There was no need to do other chores or menial tasks since the robotics workforce had it covered well, so all he had left was cooking. It was one of his few fond traits from his younger days, which was an identity he still disliked. There would always be that regret about ignorantly chasing his ideal, but never anything negative about his culinary skills. After nearly two weeks of cooking sporadically for others, with the head chef even worshiping the ground he walked on, he had been approached by Marie with a proposition.
"My vision demands only the best! If France is the modern capital of cuisine, then we absolutely must have you leading the way! I will not take no for an answer!" She had proclaimed; He still laughed about it to this day. Suddenly he was no longer another of Chaldea's unique archers, but the Grand Chef for Salon de Marie. Since then, he has upheld astounding quality, and ensured his staff was praised with high regard.
"Turkeys will be in the ovens in two minutes, Emiya!" "Starting work on the appetizers." Moving the wine from storage, Mister Emiya."
The archer smiled at the usual communication from his staff. It truly had become a comfortable environment for him and his staff, and as a bonus, they even got to enjoy their own dinner since the robots could distribute. It was a simple manner of making sure the desserts were made ahead of time, which was why he was currently-
"Emiya!" A recognizable voice called from the kitchen's entryway, though not from his staff.
"Coming, Marie," He replied quickly. "I'll be right back, Tamamo. Then we'll start with desserts."
"Okay!" She replied as she fixed the tie on her apron. Leandre had moved on to helping with the appetizers.
Emiya walked over to where Marie had previously stuck her head from the Salon's entrance. "Is there something needed for th-"
His question was interrupted when he pushed the door open to see Marie had already departed; She was now discussing something with Jeanne and Mozart by the grand piano. In her place were three other servants, two of which were currently beaming up at him happily. The two child servants giggled as their adoptive mother happily rubbed their shoulders, before looking at her fellow archer with a smile.
"Good afternoon, Emiya," The three greeted at once. They were almost completely in sync, which made Marie and Jeanne smile towards them.
Emiya's eyes walked up slender arms, past the top of a jade A-line dress with gold accents. He swiftly met the green eyes of a fellow archer, face framed by green tinted hair that turned blonde in the back. A golden braid of hair wrapped around the back of her head past her similarly colored ears. Her tail hung limply behind her, occasionally swinging gently left or right. He smiled at the huntress and the children.
"Jackie, Alice, Atalanta. To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked smoothly.
"I realize you're busy, but my girls have a small request," The huntress spoke swiftly, raising an eyebrow from the man.
"Of course. What's this about?"
"Jackie and Alice were recently substituted from the strike team this afternoon, but I'm still the ranged support. Since they have nothing else to do, Jeanne and Irisviel thought they might like to help out making desserts," Atalanta explained while smiling and rubbing the duo's heads lightly. "Isn't that right, girls?"
"Can we help you make the cake, Emiya?" Jack asked in a soft voice. It was hard to think someone so adorable could be so completely horrifying on the battlefield, both in assassination precision and... choice of clothing, or lack thereof.
"Can we please?" Nursery Rhyme chipped in with a happy smile.
Atalanta smiled at him warmly. Emiya smiled back... but was mentally screaming. Having the routine shaken up was good, but this was not what he was expecting.
Emiya had dealt with suicidal missions and ideal crushing objectives. The spine-shattering blow from Heracles his alternate self received during the Fifth Holy Grail War was horrific. He even dealt with a King of Heroes on a war path, but nowhere in his mental book of game plans did he have any idea how to deal with children. Ilya hardly counted since she was stuck in a child's body, and out for his blood initially. He never had children nor dealt with any in his previous life for extended periods. Plus, he had the main dishes to help supervise and prepare for tonight-
"Awwww~! Mikon~! Of course, you can help~!" Tamamo squealed as she knelt down and hugged the two children. She had been watching the encounter since the sliding doors opened to reveal the girls. Her actions eliciting giggles and small, happy cheers.
Not from Emiya, of course. He kept smiling, but internally he was on the verge of a small breakdown while mentally scolding his apprentice for forcing his hand.
"Wonderful! Thanks you two! I'll be sure to find a small trinket or two to bring back from the mission!" Atalanta waved happily as she walked off. "Behave yourselves, girls! Don't cause Emiya or Auntie Tamamo any trouble!"
"We won't, mother!" Jack said while waving goodbye. Nursery Rhyme joined her sister's gesture with a giggle.
"Let's go girls!" Tamamo exclaimed, breaking Emiya out of his thoughts and taking the children's hands to lead them into the kitchen. No way out of this one now.
'Calm down. Regain focus. We're ahead of schedule,' He thought to himself. There was still much to do but plenty of hands to complete the objectives. He and Tamamo were going to do the deserts anyway, and he could delegate supervision to Leandre for the main course. If he took quick breaks to oversee their work occasionally, everything should turn out alright and as planned. Thankfully the small smile never left his face to show his inner anxiety for the task ahead.
"Codsworth! Leandre!" Emiya called out into the kitchen, answered swiftly by the floating robot and head chef.
"Mister Emiya," The robot called in its mechanical yet friendly voice. "How may we be of service, sir?"
The head chef smiled as he watched Tamamo lead the children towards the dessert ingredients. "Does this have to do with our surprise little helpers today?"
Emiya nodded, then sighed as the two before him chuckled.
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Thankfully Leandre was head chef for a reason, and with the help of Codsworth was able to organize the remaining staff without any issue or delay. The section the group of four was currently using was set aside for desserts, and two employees who were originally helping were tasked to the primary dishes. Thankfully, the pair of female employees was more than happy to oblige after some fawning over the child servants. Even with his personal workforce already compensating the current situation, he still felt nervousness and anxiety about the task at hand.
"I'll clean the carrots…" Tamamo began as she turned on a nearby faucet.
With her free hand, she reached behind and plucked a knife from the central counter. "And you can do the slicing, because you're the best in Chaldea at that~!"
"Okay!" Jack smiled as she took the kitchen knife from Tamamo.
Emiya watched Tamamo and Jackie prepare ingredients for a carrot cake, after the former tied an apron to the child. The assassin currently manipulated the knife with precision and was making quick work of dicing the carrots to pieces, all with a small smile on her face. Her task was expedited after Codsworth brought some apple boxes for the little servants to reach the counter easier. As he watched Jack's extraordinary knife work, his mind wandered to stories of the grail war involving the famed assassin showcasing those skills in a different manner.
Atalanta, Jeanne, and the Ripper had intense conflicts in the latter half of the war that would have left anyone with a permanent grudge. Though there had been some palpable hesitation among them, he was only partially surprised new bridges had been built. He was glad for both Chaldea's atmosphere and their own benefit that their former interactions were discarded in favor of the new, bigger picture. Most of the employees had certainly welcomed the idea of another child in the facility, after taking time to get used to her horrifying aura and origin.
Thankfully, the facility was very used to dealing with different presences at this point, so adapting only takes days at this point.
The archer was snapped out of his thoughts as the other little servant pulled lightly on his apron; His mind was wandering far too often these past two weeks, but thankfully it wasn't a bunch of internal conflict that troubled him. "Yes, Alice?"
"I got the sugar," she smiled at him, and pointed towards four entire bags at her side. He let out a small sigh as the side of his mouth twitched upward in amusement.
"We didn't need that muc-" He stopped himself when he noticed her sudden, downcast look. "But it's always good to be prepared just in case. Thank you, Alice."
Her smile returned in full force as Tamamo giggled. "Yay, I helped!"
'...How did Okaa-san and Jii-san do it with Illya?'
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Nursery Rhyme had her tongue stuck out in concentration. Tamamo was trying to control her giggles while helping Jack with their bowl. "Just like this?"
"Just like that, Alice. Crack them gently, and make sure none of the shell falls in."
She cracked an egg perfectly and watched it slip in with the others. She smiled. "Perfect?"
"Perfect," Emiya chuckled with a small smirk.
Once they were busy with preparing the desserts, Emiya slowly felt himself relaxing. Sure he had no solid experience dealing with kids, but he was a master of cooking well before he became a counter guardian. As long as he was doing something he loved and was amazing at, he would be fine. He was soon feeling very reassured about his current dilemma, and far faster than he initially thought.
There were several pairs of large bowls mixed with their respective ingredients; The cakes were going to be larger than usual so they were measured to double the normal requirements. Emiya and a giggling Nursery Rhyme just finished adding the last batch of eight eggs to one of the bowls. Tamamo closed a carton with half its contents remaining and happily handed it to her little helper who currently held three extras.
"Jackie, would you mind taking this back to the freezers in the pantry?" She requested in a soft voice.
"Okay," Jack replied quickly with a small smile.
"They'll be behind two metal doors. They'll open for you if you stand on the mat, so you won't need to put down the eggs," Tamamo smiled.
She began walking towards the pantry when one of the culinary robots entered through the salon doorway. She stopped to let it pass, then continued walking while keeping her eyes glued to the previous interruption, the robot balancing four trays with its arms. Lifting them with perfect balance, it floated towards the dish washers to help the Salon's staff clean the wine glasses from the bar. Jack watched it with a small smile as it made all of it look as effortless as she did fighting in a mist.
If she had kept her eyes in front of her she would have seen the employee carrying a container full of fine wine bottles coming out of the pantry. The servant turned forward just in time to yelp as she bumped into the employee, causing him to yell in surprise as well. It would have been fine if the shock wasn't accompanied by some loose bottles falling out of their holders, beginning their plunge to the ground. Jack looked from her hands holding the egg cartons to the falling wine bottles; This was not an easy decision.
Thankfully it was not one she had to make.
With agility and grace, Emiya had closed the gap and caught the bottles. He let out a held breath of relief. He looked towards the former serial killer who stared back in surprise. The employee had quickly glanced around his stack and released a sigh of relief that nothing had been loss thanks to the Grand Chef. Jack looked ashamed and embarrassed as she looked at Emiya.
He simply closed one eye and smirked towards her. "Don't frown, Jackie. Nothing bad happened."
She nodded in relief as he got up and quickly placed the bottles in their container. "All fine."
"Thank you, Emiya," The employee nodded before heading towards the Salon's doorway. He turned his attention to Jack, who still held the cartons. Recalling what his mother and the others would do for them, he reached over and gently rubbed her head, causing her to giggle.
He smirked. "That's better. Put the eggs away, and we can finish the cakes… sound like a plan?"
"Mhm!" Jack giggled as her head bobbed up and down happily.
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Tamamo placed another cake pan into an oven as the pair of children put the last into an adjacent appliance together. They shut their respective ranges with the older woman turning them on with the proper settings. Emiya was quickly cleaning some of the mixing bowls in a nearby sink so they could use them to make the icing. His student walked into the pantry to get the icing while Jack and Alice placed an apple box in front of another faucet to wash their hands.
To the archer's amusement, they were both sharing the same apple box and trying not to fall over. Nursery Rhyme pouted. "Jackie, me first!"
"There's room for us both," she retorted with a small smile. Her sister still kept pouting.
After quickly locating and extracting the frosting that was newly brought up from lower level storage, Tamamo brought it back to their counter without incident. She opened the tops of each to do a quick check to make sure they weren't spoiled or in the process of, and smiled when confirmed. Jack and Nursery Rhyme walked over as Emiya finished drying one of the bowls with a towel. As he placed it on the counter, he looked to the girls while drying a second.
Tamamo was quietly eyeing Nursery Rhyme as she held one of the lids to a frosting container to her mouth and licked it. The little girl froze when her eyes met the golden orbs of the older caster and she pulled the lid back, embarrassed at being caught. As she smiled nervously, Tamamo couldn't help but giggle at the dabble of frosting that made its nest on the tip of her nose. Kneeling down to her level, she reached out with her finger and wiped the frosting off her nose, making the child go cross eyed in the act. The fox girl licked the frosting off her finger and reached out once more to tickle her little helper's stomach, causing them both to laugh.
"You should have just asked~!" Tamamo cooed as she joined her in laughter.
"I will next time, I promise," Nursery Rhyme replied bashfully.
Emiya watched the pair from nearby as he finished hand drying the last bowl. One side of his mouth lifted in amusement after witnessing the act. He placed the bowl down and looked back to see the other child licking another lid. Jack pulled back to reveal a dot of frosting on her nose, but turned to look at the archer when she caught his stare. Tamamo looked down and then followed the gaze back to Emiya, holding a hand to her mouth in a terrible attempt to hold back her giggling. Her amused eyes were relaying her teacher a very clear, unspoken challenge.
"Well, Emiya?" Tamamo teased while placing her hands on her hips. "Please show your dear student how it's done."
He let out a sigh. 'How do parents do it?'
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With veteran ease, Emiya applied some quick decorations atop the frosting of the small test cake. It was more akin to an oversized cupcake as it sat on the counter in front of the children. The tiny rumbling of some stomachs and some shy requests later led to using excess batter so they can "test" the quality of the batch; It didn't take a super computer to figure out what the real reason was, not that he minded.
Tamamo smiled as the kids stared happily at the cake presented to them, and quickly took their forks and sunk them into the delicacy. They took their bites eagerly, eyes lighting up upon first taste. Emiya smiled at the expected outcome, though it was honestly probably harder to fail at making proper carrot cake than succeeding. Regardless, he always took pride in his work, but there was a little extra this time since it was shared with his student and the surprise little helpers.
"Perfect batch?" He asked with amusement laced in his voice.
The pleased noises that came from chewing mouths were all the answer he needed. Leaving the girls to their small reward for helping, he turned his attention to the several cakes freshly pulled from the ovens. The batch still needed its own decoration, and the one for Boudica and her closest friends would be a layered one that required a little extra attention. With Leandre reporting often that everything was going smoother than he expected, Emiya was beyond content with simply finishing the desserts with his little group.
"When you're finished, please come help me complete the rest of the batch, alright ladies? We'll start with Boudica's towered Birthday cake."
"Of course!" Tamamo replied between her own bites.
She was about to take the final bite of the small cake, but noticed some crumbs on Nursery Rhyme's mouth. The fox caster smiled and placed her fork down, taking a nearby napkin. She didn't need to kneel since she was standing on one of the apple boxes.
"Alice, dear," Tamamo spoke softly as the little girl turned to look at her, mouth full of food. "Here, let me wipe that for you."
With gentle hands, Tamamo wiped the crumbs off the sides of her mouth, all while the child kept chewing. The older woman hummed to herself while she finished her small courtesy before winking. Turning her attention to Jack, she noticed a slightly messier situation and began gently wiping the crumbs off of her face as well. Content with her work, she placed the napkin back on the counter, picked up her fork, and reached for-
The plate was empty.
Blinking in surprise before turning to a giggling Nursery Rhyme, Tamamo placed her hands on her hips and gave her a mock glare accompanied with a terribly hidden smile and the small twitch of a fluffy ear.
"Hey, that was my bite," She fake scolded, receiving a muffled response in reply before the young girl swallowed the last bite.
"Not anymore!" She replied, sticking her tongue out at the older woman as she hopped off the small apple box.
Tamamo swiftly knelt down and reached for Nursery Rhyme, eliciting some giggles as she held the child by her sides, laughing while doing so. "Didn't Mama Atalanta teach you not to steal?"
"She wasn't stealing, she was borrowing it from Auntie Tamamo!" Jack said enthusiastically from behind, breaking into her own fit of giggles when tickling hands found their way to her own sides.
"Oh, an accomplice in crime, huh~?" Tamamo grinned while tickling the girl. Some nearby, amused employees watched the little scene as Emiya leaned on the counter with a smirk, buried in his own thoughts once more.
To say it was a pleasure to see the trio in such good spirits was an understatement. Tamamo's story was well known in his home country, of a goddess incarnated as human by her own wishes. The tale varies like many, but almost always ends with her being hunted down and killed after being misunderstood. Her tears and screams filled the field of her demise as an entire army finished the job. Yet here she was, enjoying her time laughing with children who also had rough pasts.
Nursery Rhyme and Jack were never even born, one being the incarnation of several aborted children identifying as a single entity, and the other being a collection of tales that manifested in a chosen form. Collected as identities within the Throne of Heroes, the grail could call upon them to fight each other to the death. But instead, a small positive from humanity's currently dire situation, they have been brought together on the same side among many others. They're able to have a small semblance of an average life between battles that determine the future of humanity.
Emiya continued to watch the smiling faces of those before him. Even after all that happened to them in the past, they were lost in the current moment. They were blissfully uncaring of what would happen in the near future as the two children assaulted the laughing Tamamo with ticklish hands of their own. As they smiled and played, it was burned into his memory as another small reminder he wasn't the only one to receive a small slice of happiness… nor would he be the last.
He didn't even try to hide the honest smile, nor stop their antics prematurely.
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Sitting on the floor, Tamamo hummed to herself as she gently brushed the hair out of Jack's sleeping face. Both her and Nursery Rhyme were napping with their heads on the older woman's lap. Jack's legs rested on Emiya's feet as he relaxed on the couch behind them. The fox caster leaned her back against the plush sofa and continued to watch the snow fall outside though the salon's windows. In the distance the sun peaked through the clouds to bask a distant peak in golden light. Emiya chuckled and looked down at the two sleeping servants, curled in small balls on the floor.
"My, my… and here I thought we'd be playing a game with them," Emiya pondered quietly.
Tamamo giggled softly and looked back at him. "I guess that little bit of sugar was enough to crash them."
"I'm surprised, considering they're a bundle of sugar themselves," he replied, forcing Tamamo to hold back chuckles.
With a smile she went back to humming, only turning her head slowly at the approach of footsteps from behind. Did they need to move this couch? Marie and some salon assistants were busy rearranging furniture in preparation for the banquet tonight after getting word the strike team returned earlier than anticipated.
Emiya turned around and smirked upon seeing Atalanta's signature battle dress, and noted the large bag she had slung over one shoulder. The huntress didn't look tired in the slightest from the deployment that afternoon. With a small smile, they waved to each other silently, but he stopped her greeting with a simple hand to his mouth. Taking the note, she reached the couch and slowly looked before trying not to swoon at the sight. She gently dropped the large sack she was carrying in one hand, its contents likely the spices he had requested.
"Finished already?" Atalanta asked quietly.
Tamamo shook her head, "Well ahead of schedule. The Head Chef and Codsworth let us take off early."
"Emiya? Taking off from the kitchen early?" Atalanta spoke with a teasing, scandalized look.
"Your girls have unbelievable peer pressure," Emiya noted, making the two women giggle.
Atalanta looked down at the two girls resting on her friend's lap. Their gentle breathing and peaceful faces told her all she needed to know. Emiya watched as she smiled fondly at a piece of her little wish come true. The huntress was one of the few servants in Chaldea whose wish was widely known, and without fear. That dream and the mission of the organization go hand in hand, and she was beyond grateful she had a personal chance to make part of her wish a reality. Emiya silently wondered if being able to give the two a piece of happiness was similar to what Irisviel did to him… except her recent pampering was to force him into more decorations for his 'awful, barren room.'
"I trust they weren't too much to handle, were they?"
"Not at all. They were the highlight of the day," Emiya replied with a genuine smile.
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~~Happy Birthday to you~~
A fair skinned, red haired woman blushed in a shade of pink that almost matched her red dress, obviously embarrassed by the turn of events. She looked to her sides across the long table moved to the center of the salon. With a warm smile, she met the eyes of her closest friends that flickered with the light from candles on the table. Assorted servants shrouded in the dark room, and even some employees, joined her at the table as the cake was wheeled into position.
In front of her, approaching from the Grand Piano where Jeanne and Mozart stood clapping was Jack and Nursery Rhyme with the large cake. Tamamo and Emiya ensured they placed into position on the other side of the table, next to their standing master. As Gudao readjusted the tie on his black suit, the rider covered her mouth with both hands as the quartet of cake makers placed the large, layered carrot cake in front of her.
"I present to you your cake, Queen Boudica. It was an effort completed secretly by the hands of the Grand Chef Emiya, his apprentice Tamamo, and their two little helpers this afternoon," Gudao declared proudly as the candle light illuminated her alone. Without waiting or warning, she quickly blew out the candles to more cheering and laughter.
"Thank you, thanks so much," she beamed while looking at the five before her. "It's wonderful."
"Nooo~! You say that after you take a bite!" Nursery Rhyme reprimanded playfully, causing some laughs. Tamamo patted her head from behind.
"I never knew you were fine with the kids helping in the kitchen, Emiya. How did it go?" Gudao whispered as Jack handed the queen a cake knife.
The culinary master chuckled as the mana powered chandeliers finally flared back to life.
"I wouldn't mind it happening more often, that's certain. They made the day far more memorable."