Hisako thought back on Souma's words. "Don't just stay behind Nakiri. You should just become someone who can walk 'beside' her." It was a bold statement since Erina possessed her God's Tongue and Hisako sincerely doubted her abilities would ever get near matching Erina's talents, but Souma was right. She hated to think any positive thoughts about Souma, but he was right.
Hisako straightened her posture as she clenched a fist. Erina didn't need someone in her life who was a burden to her or someone that didn't want to try to be the best they could possibly be. Yes, she'd never be able to match Erina's skill, but she was going to strive for the highest peaks she could climb. She was going to shed new light on her own flavor and Hayama was going to eat his words that her cooking was limited.
Though the bag of manga had some weight to it, it didn't feel heavy in Hisako's arms at all. Souma had given her a way back into Erina's good graces, though she felt somewhat embarrassed that she had to rely on Souma instead of coming up with an excuse on her own. Well, no matter. She was going to walk into the Nakiri mansion with her head held high and make up with Erina. It was the first step in her becoming a great chef by proving she was brave enough to go back to Erina.
She found Erina in her room and Hisako carefully knocked on the frame of her bedroom door. Erina blinked in surprise at seeing her before she got out of bed and hurried to Hisako, throwing her arms wide open to give her a hug. Hisako almost dropped the bag as she wrapped her arms around Erina.
This was what she'd been missing. Erina was her Empress and denying herself Erina's presence was foolhardy. Hisako vowed to herself that she'd never do something so foolish again.
"Hisako, you came back!"
"I passed my first Stagiaire. I assume you passed yours with ease." There could be no other outcome when it came to Nakiri Erina. Then Hisako remembered what Souma handed to her. "Oh, I have something for you."
Erina's face brightened and she didn't even know what Hisako had. Hisako melted at the sight and she vowed to never leave Erina's side again. "What is it?"
Hisako offered the bag to Erina and when she peered inside, her face lit up even more. Erina looked back up and Hisako was enveloped in another hug.
"You're amazing," Erina said. "How did you know?"
She didn't want to admit that it was because of Souma that she brought the manga back with her, especially because just the mere mention of his name angered Erina. So she brushed over Erina's question and asked one of her own. "Just a thought. I've been gone for so long. There must be paperwork that I could help you with?"
"There's some, but that can be pushed off until later."
Hisako nodded before blurting out, "I am never leaving your side again."
Erina reached out to grab Hisako's hand. "You never had to leave in the first place when you lost to Hayama Akira. It was a well fought battle and I didn't hold anything against you. You mean too much to me, so please don't leave again."
Hisako felt her eyes water and she had to look away in order to keep a check on her emotions. "Thank you, Erina."
Erina squeezed Hisako's hand before turning around to place the bag on her bed. "I was about to make myself a snack before you arrived. Would you like to join me in the kitchen? I can make you something as well."
Hisako felt light headed at the offer. Erina was a brilliant chef and tasting her food was always a rare delight. "I'd love that. Thank you."
The Nakiri kitchen was perhaps massive with the finest culinary equipment and ingredients. Erina tied her hair back, washed her hands at the sink, and opened the fridge door to peer inside. Hisako had spent most of her life in this kitchen alongside Erina and, as she sat down at the counter, she watched Erina begin to work.
It was clear within a few moments that Erina was creating some sort of chocolate dessert, but at the beginning stage, Hisako couldn't tell what she was making exactly. Plenty of chocolate desserts started out the same in its baking process. Hisako was a student at Tohtsuki Culinary Academy, however, and Erina's secretary. She wasn't a baker, but she should be able to figure out what Erina was making in no time. She needed to prove her worth, even if only to herself. That was the only way for her to grow stronger so she could one day walk next to Erina instead of behind her.
Hisako furrowed her brow as her eyes scanned at the ingredients before Erina, attempting to reason her way to a solution. There was chocolate, flour, sugar, eggs, butter - all things common in a chocolate dessert, so that was no help. But there were ramekins next to Erina's whisk and there was a bain-marie ready for her on the stove. Hisako carefully watched as Erina beat the eggs with the sugar before adding the flour.
When Erina finished her mixture by adding a few more ingredients, including the melted chocolate, Hisako noticed that Erina didn't add any oil at all into it. Nor did she add in a lot of butter. There, that was a clue. No, not the only or first clue. Everything Erina had brought out and was doing was a clue.
An idea swirled in Hisako's mind of what it could be. "Erina, is that a fondant au chocolat?"
She knew she was correct when Erina looked up at her and smiled. "It is. I've tweaked the recipe until it satisfied my tongue."
Fondant au chocolat was a French chocolate dessert that was moist and brought forth an intense flavor of chocolate at first bite. The fondant au chocolat could have as much or as little 'lava' in the middle of the cake as the baker wanted. Erina hadn't put it in the oven yet, so Hisako didn't know the amount of chocolate that'd be melted on the inside, but she couldn't wait.
Except Erina said that she tweaked the recipe. But how? A fondant au chocolat didn't have a lot of ingredients to it and Hisako didn't see anything extra on the counter. No wait, she saw it. When she looked closer, she saw that Erina used more than just the semi-sweet chocolate that the recipe normally called for. There were also golden chocolate flakes that Hisako assumed would decorate the top of the fondant au chocolat after it was finished baking. Her mouth watered in anticipation of trying Erina's dish.
By the time Erina placed the ramekins into the oven and they waited for it to bake, the kitchen was filled with the delicious smell of chocolate. Erina began preparing the decoration with the golden chocolate flakes and melting some more chocolate in her bain-maire. Hisako wondered if the dessert was going to be too chocolatey but she pushed that thought out of her head. She trusted Erina's abilities and her God Tongue. The chocolate was not going to overwhelm their tastebuds.
"Ah, done!" Erina set down a plate in front of Hisako and one in front of herself. The fondant au chocolat was beautifully decorated with the golden flakes and a drizzle of chocolate sauce along the plate. "Please dig in, Hisako. Tell me what you think."
Hisako was sure that she'd love it, just like she had loved everything Erina had ever cooked for her. She pressed her fork through the fondant au chocolat and she let out a gasp as chocolate lava melted out of the cake. It was beautiful, like a river of chocolate that poured out to greet her. The forkful possessed all of the elements of Erina's fondant au chocolat and put it in her mouth.
"Oh!" Hisako was immediately transported into a magical wonderland of chocolate. The chocolate lava ran down her body as Hisako felt herself engulfed by the different flavors of chocolate surrounding her in a silky, loving cocoon. She wanted to remain in this wonderland of Erina's design forever and this was just the first bite. "This is perfection, Erina. Pure perfection."
"Thank you. I was happy to make it for you." Erina took her own bite of her dessert.
Hisako took another bite and let out a pleasured sigh. "I love you."
It took a few moments before Hisako realized what she said and she stilled, holding the fork midway to her mouth. Yes, she had loved Erina since they were children, but her words in this moment were romantic in nature and not just of their deep friendship. There was no one else for her than Erina because who else could compare against the splendor that was Erina? No one.
But that was a secret she kept to herself, sometimes even from herself. While she loved Erina, it didn't mean that Erina loved her in return. How could Erina when she deserved the world? Hisako hoped that Erina took her declaration as just hyperbole regarding her food. Hisako completed her bite and kept her gaze down at her plate. If she didn't look up, she never really said the words.
"Hisako? Do you mean it?" There was a quiver of feeling in Erina's voice that forced Hisako to look up at her. Erina looked stunned, like no one had ever told her that they loved her before. Considering who Erina's father was and how he tried to raise her before Erina's grandfather stepped in, that had a possibility of being true. "Do you really love me?"
Hisako set down her fork as she swallowed the chocolate in her mouth. She could lie and hide her true feelings from Erina so they could continue their friendship the way it's always has been. Or she could tell the truth. Lying would be easier, but she was done taking the easier route. How was she supposed to walk next to Erina if she was afraid to admit her true self? No, there was no turning back if she wanted to grow.
Hisako took a deep breath and met Erina's gaze. "I do. I love you. I've loved you since we were children. You are my entire world." She dropped her head after saying those words. They were out in the open and there was no taking them back. Erina knew her feelings.
Erina's fork clattered onto the counter as she shoved her chair back. Hisako couldn't look up from her plate as she heard Erina walk away. It hurt fiercely, but it was the right thing to do. She had to grow.
But then Hisako felt Erina pressed against her back and her arms wrap around her. Erina's warm cheek rested on Hisako's shoulder. "Hisako!" Erina cried out. "I didn't know."
Hisako chuckled softly as she placed her hands on top of Erina's arms. What was happening? Did she pass out and was currently unconscious on the floor of the Nakiri kitchen? "You weren't supposed to. My feelings would have interfered with my duties as your secretary and I cannot allow that."
Erina chuckled softly. "You're too put together to allow anything to interfere with your duties."
It was good that Erina wasn't holding her declaration against her and Hisako felt the weight on her shoulders lift. She was proud that she managed to tell Erina the truth.
"Hisako," Erina whispered against her ear and Hisako turned her head towards her.
There was a press of a kiss against her lips before Erina withdrew from her. Hisako was stunned as her fingertips touched her bottom lip. Erina kissed her. Erina kissed her. Was she dreaming?
Then she glanced at Erina and her reddened checks. Had Erina been hiding her feelings from her? "Erina?" she asked again.
Erina let out a puff of air before scoffing. "Of course I love you. Why do you think I missed you so much? You're the only one who knows the real me and you still stand by me when I'm being insufferable. I love you, Hisako."
Hisako wanted to cry as her heart filled with joy. She never expected anything this miraculous happening to her before. Hisako spilled out of her chair to hug Erina. She was not worthy of Erina's love, but she was going to give it her all. Wasn't that the point of getting through the first stage of the Stagiaire? She couldn't remain unchanged if she wanted to be a better chef than she was before.
As Erina leaned in to kiss her again, Hisako met her halfway.