"Okay Meimei, you slowly stir the soup for about half an hour, making sure that the bottom doesn't burn the vegetable bits," Jin said, stirring the pot in front of him.
The theme this week was a middle ages feast, with each member responsible for a single dish that day. The least the panda could do was stir the pot for a while without complaining.
"Half an hour!" MeiMei whined. "But that's so much time, why can't we eat it now?"
"Because," Jin said happily, pointing to the soup. "It needs to reduce and become more flavorful when more water gets evaporated, and you will be responsible for making this soup taste fantastic!"
Cheerfully, he gave the wooden spoon to the panda and walked over to Ranka, who was busy with deboning the salmon and mashing the peas. She had insisted on making two dishes so that Jin could supervise the others.
"Hey," Yukari whispered to MeiMei as she leaned over. "Doesn't he seem a little bit too happy?"
"Hmm!" MeiMei grunted, pouting that Jin had been nice to her. Since the pair had started dating a couple of weeks ago, he had not once admonished for anything she did. He had even taken to calling the others by their names instead of calling her a shitty panda or shitty koala. And of course, now that they were practically inseparable.......
"Gross," MeiMei muttered as Ranka gently licked Jin's face in happiness. He had his limits on how long she could lick in in public, but for now, a few seconds to say hi was perfectly acceptable. "That's the 6th time today that they've said hi." Yukari noticed.
She looked at the panda and noticed that she was still growling, angrily stirring the soup. "You know, maybe you should look at it this way: he is denying you what you like the most. Isn't that a form of punishment for you?" MeiMei stopped and stared at Yukari, her eyes shining as if a light bulb had turned on in her head.
She tried to say something but couldn't think of the right words to say, so she returned back to her soup, smiling and blushing, enjoying her "punishment", even if it was unintentional. "You hopeless perv," Yukari commented as she went back to her bread, sliding the dough into the oven.
The happy couple had now switched roles, with Jin focused on preparing the food while Ranka had climbed on his back and was nibbling at his ear. Any other time he would have found the whole ordeal to be an annoyance, a way for Ranka to get attention that he would respond to by throwing her away.
But now, after all that had happened in the past few weeks, this felt nice. The weight of her body on his back now was comforting to him, like a large warm blanket. But it was more than just a physical feeling of warmth and comfort for Jin. It was a reminder of love, of a special individual that only now he had dared to face how he truly felt about.
Once they had left the hospital, Ranka came to his dorm every morning to make sure that his head and back were still fine and that his legs were healing up. Instead of licking them, she helped him change the bandages and used antiseptic wipes to make sure nothing worse would happen to them.
It was during those moments they had before their classes that they would talk about what was next. Now that they were a couple, now what? Ranka had voiced her eagerness to get married and start their pack, but Jin had convinced her to slow down and date for a couple of years before they would get to that point in their lives.
At one point, Hitomi was brought up during their evening meetups, Ranka worried that Jin would leave her for the only human that he knew. "I won't," he had promised as he embraced her, burying his face in her hair. "She only sees me as a friend, and I only went for her because she was human and not because I felt something for her. Besides, I have found someone that I can truly love."
"Even if I am a wolf?" she had whimpered. Jin responded by gently patting her head, comforting Ranka. "That fact will take a bit for me to get used to, but yes, even if you are a wolf." He felt his neck get a little wet as he felt her happy tears fall on him. Not letting go, they ended up falling asleep in that position, rudely awakened by the dorm supervisor in the morning.
It was the only time in those weeks that Jin had felt grumpy as Ranka had hurriedly said goodbye and rushed back to get to her class. For the rest, it felt as if his soul was free and light whenever he saw Ranka.
Every time they even lightly touched, his spirit grew even higher and happier when he felt the warmth of Ranka's body against his own, heard her laugh as she predictably turned that light touch into a full-blown hug or a piggyback ride.
"It was what the girl from my book did to show how close they were, can we?" she had explained to him after the first couple instances. Feeling her lay on his back as he prepped the salmon, Jin smiled, thankful that he had agreed to her idea. While the romance book that she had read was trash, at least this was one of the few good pieces of advice it gave.
Still clinging onto his back, Ranka gave Jin a small kiss on the side of his right cheek as he started to fry the salmon. "What is it?" Jin asked. "Nothing," Ranka replied. "Just trying to make sure that I practice my kissing and lick less. I like it." She said with a small smile as she gave him another peck, nuzzling up to his face. In all his life, there was no moment where Jin ever felt happier than now.
"Keep it rolling," the lead mole rat whispered to the crew. "This is exactly what the queen wants." They had managed to find a perfect spot on top of the cupboards, a single one that had a few inches of space between the top and the ceiling. A small crevice where most of the others would not even think to look up to, but from there, the rats could see everything.
"Is it?" one of the others whispered back. "I thought madam president wanted us to catch them try to be in a relationship and break up, proving that man can only lust, not love outside his species."
He gestured towards the pair as Jin brought the peas and salmon over to the table set out. Ranka still latched to his back like a baby gorilla and watched as the others brought their dishes as well.
Only when it was time to eat did she let go and landed lightly on the ground, helping to serve the others their portions of the medieval feast. "They seem to be very much in love from my perspective." The other mole continued.
"She did say that." The lead mole affirmed. "But by getting this first, we can set up how happy they look, making their eventual breakup more bitter. And what you see now," he snarled, pointing at Jin, "Is all an act for him to indulge his perverted human desires before getting rid of her when he gets bored and looks for a new plaything."
"So, for now," he stated quietly, looking at the group table. "We document their high points for now and we will be there to tape their low points that will inevitably happen."
They focused on taping the dinner in silence, considering the matter settled. Not knowing that they were being watched, the group enjoyed their last meal together before final's week. They were all chatting about what they would do for their winter vacations when they got back home, planning to visit one another if they lived close enough.
"I'm going to be staying here at the campus, my parents will be visiting next week, and I want to show them around the campus. My dad really wanted to go here when he applied when he was my age, but he didn't make the cut." Jin told the group.
"Aw, that means you will be the only one not coming home for the winter." Hitomi pointed out.
"Nope! I will also be staying here! Sister is also visiting soon when vacation starts." Ranka proudly proclaimed.
"Oh my," MeiMei teased. "The two of you, alone and without us to barge in and interfere. I wonder what you will do with all that time? I hope that you will be able to make me a godmother when we return."
The rest of the group immediately blushed and looked down in embarrassment at the panda's insinuation. Meanwhile, Jin started to angrily blabber and deny her suggestion, finally scolding MeiMei after weeks of nothing but polite things to say to her. Needless to say, the masochist was happy with the flow of verbal lashings directed at her.