Da Deets And Da Sauce

Mac Anu - Main Square

    After a few weeks of being, well, tricky to manage, Asuna has finally done it. The scent of perfect garlic bread mingles in the air with that of pizza. Tired, but happy, Asuna is at last able to accept her Moonlight Chef quest. For the first time, she can actually enjoy the fruits of her labors. She can just appreciate how wonderful everything smells, how delightfully warm the kitchen is, the cool feeling of the stone countertop on her cheek....

    ... wait, what?

    Asuna stiffens and stands up with a start, quickly looking around. She has to figure out where everyone is. Not to mention the time of day. It turns out it is early evening. It is about dinner time, it seems.

    She almost calls out to see where Klein and Taka are, but instead quietly tiptoes out of the kitchen to see what papa and daughter are up to...

Mac Anu - Main Square

The past few weeks has been an interesting and challenging time for two of the Scale Samurai. Adopting a Lander child has been enough to keep them on their toes due to having no experience raising a kid. Add in Asuna falling into a Strange Mood that has made her obsessed with properly bringing Italian cusiene to ETO, and it has become an uphill battle.

Not one that Klein wouldn't turn away from, not in the slightest. He just had to give it his all to make sure the two favorite women in his life were happy.

Which brings him back to the present as Klein is carefully leading Tomoe around the small backyard, Taka at the top of the world while riding on the giant Dire Panda. He already did his best to remove anything that could terrify the loyal creature, such as small rocks and suspicious-looking branches.

"Now, remember what I told you to say if your mama ask what you been doing." A proud smile on his face, he picks Taka up under her arms and lowers her down to the solid ground.

"That I was helping you clean up? Of course, but wouldn't mama want to know what we were doing?"

Glancing aside and a touch nervous, Klein looks at the small stable. "Because she might make me sleep in the doghouse-er...pandahouse if she found out?"
Mac Anu - Main Square

    You know, she had thought of many things she might find the two doing, but taking Tomoe out for a ride was not on the list. Asuna is, of course, a bit nervous. Tomoe, though adorable, is a monster. She isn't always safe. And she might rear up and Taka could get hurt.

    But... Klein is right there. And that they are trying to have a secret from her is something that just makes her love them both more. It's the kind of thing that would be in a family sitcom and it is everything she didn't know she wanted.

    But she does want it. And still, seeing this moment puts an ache in her heart. A longing. She's been obsessed and because of it, her focus has not been the best. She wants to rush forward, dive into Klein's arms and pull Taka into a family hug.

    She does not do that, though. Instead, she quietly withdraws to the kitchen. Everything is ready. Which would be really pleasing if she actually remembered cooking it. But despite that memory slip, she knows how to make it. To perfection. In fact, her awareness of how this food is made is eerie. It is less like a memory and more like pure data.

    She sets the table. As she does, she tidies up. Her strange behavior has been a burden on the man she hopes will be her husband and no doubt Taka has been helping in ways she shouldn't have to. But that's over.

    "The food is ready!" she calls out. She's careful to make sure to maintain the illusion of ignorance. She has no idea what's happening back there! Honest!

Mac Anu - Main Square

Completely unaware that his attempts at stealth may have completely failed, Klein sets about getting Tomoe situated back in it's stable with Taka helping out. He's making sure to do all the difficult tasks himself and setting everything like how Asuna left it. And if he happened to ignore an extra apple being left behind for the red panda, so much the better.

And it seems like Klein finished up just in time! Letting out a sigh in relief, he starts jogging towards the kitchen and called out over his shoulder. "Race you!~" A gasp and hurried little footsteps behind him can be heard before Taka manages to reach the door first.

No, he didn't let her win, he's just tired right now!

He does have to hurry up as the black-haired girl moves towards the kitchen table. "Nope, come on. Gotta wash our hands first." Flashing a thumbs up to Asuna, the scruffy ronin is making sure that hands are clean and tidy before dinner, virtual world or not. "How are you feeling tonight?"
Mac Anu - Main Square

    Asuna is focused once Klein and Taka barge in. She's... different. Not normal exactly, but clearly not in a strange mood. It's as if she had been away for a month and only just now got to see her family properly again. She's taking it in, every word, every laugh, the sound of footsteps, and the way each voice makes her feel.

    It's so much all at once. And it hits her so hard.

    "I'm back," she says at last. "I'm so happy to be back. It feels like it has been so long."

    She waits as long as she can, and then steps in to wrap her arms around Klein. And yes, kiss him thoroughly. But first, she says, "I've been a bad partner. I'm sorry. I promise I'll make it up to you. Starting now."

Mac Anu - Main Square

It's a question that Klein has been asking during the past few weeks, trying to see just how lucid Asuna is at any given time. When the responses he got sometimes were pondering what kind of sauce would go with certain noodles, it likely wasn't a good time to go adventuring. The events at Crystal Lake was a good indication as to why.

And honestly, Klein was honestly scared, though he never showed it. He didn't want something to happen to the woman he loved, and something he was helpless to stop.

So, when Asuna hugged him close and proceeded to kiss the daylights out of him, there's a sudden flood of joy and happiness radiating from him, and he returns the kiss with shock and a burst of energy.

Pulling away, he gazes down at Asuna. "Glad to have you back! Seriously, that was honestly kinda creepy at times." Leaning back in, he gives Asuna a quick peck on the lips. "And you're not bad at all, that's a fact."

Glancing away, he spots Taka making a face at her mama and papa and rolls his eyes. After all, she's at the age where kissing is icky, even if it's your parents doing it. "Are your hands clean, young lady?"

The wet cloth smacking into Klein's face is a clear answer to that, and he starts laughing. Seems like Taka is learning some things from her papa!
Mac Anu - Main Square

    "I see you've picked up the slack on making sure our daughter practices good manners," Asuna says, laughing softly. She races quickly to scoop up Taka. And tickles her!

    "And you, young lady!" she says loudly, before trailing off and kissing the top of the little girl's head. "I need to give you proper attention."

    Taka squirms, playfully kicks, and then hugs Asuna back, once the tickling subsides. "You are all better now, mama?"

    Asuna looks into Taka's eyes and then turns back to Klein. "I am all better. I'm sorry! I had heard of this kind of thing, but this is my first time. It is so weird. It's like I have been half-asleep for weeks now. But I know it was real, too. And in any case, I'm back now, and the food is, well, it sure smells good. And I promise I'll get back to a normal rotation of food. You are probably both all tired of pizza now, aren't you?"

    As if!
Mac Anu - Main Square

Plucking the washcloth from his face, Klein wads it up and tosses it towards the sink, an easygoing grin on his face. "Hey, i'm just doing my best. Can't fault me for that, right?" Still, there's an easing of pressure from his shoulders, like this was actually a breath of fresh air.

Hearing an firsthand experience of the strange phenomena that plagues Adventurers makes it feel a bit more real. Sure, he's heard the stories and rumors before of the odd behaviors that strike players right before they gain a noticable increase in their skills, but he thought it was just exaggerated tales.

Hearing it directly from Asuna makes it a feel a bit more threatening.

Thankfully, that's thoughts he can ignore. For now, there's the promise of fresh food! Yes, he's actually somewhat tired of Italian-imitation food, but he's not gonna admit it. After all, he's known as the Pizza Guy, he has a reputation to uphold! "I mean...I wouldn't say no to a slice, and I don't want good food to go to waste."

Taka squeezes her arms around Asuna once more before, panting from being tickled so much. "Come on, mama!" A pair of small hands grab onto the ginger-haired Flash and tugs her towards the dinner table.
Mac Anu - Main Square

    "I would never fault you for trying your best!"

    Asuna grins as her family, somehow, can still put up with her manic cooking. Honestly, she may not make them pizza for a month! Well, unless they ask for it. There isn't much time to reflect, though, as she's dragged off to the table.

    "Oh, hey! Slow down! Mama isn't that quick!"

    Asuna makes a show of needing her time to get to the table. Until Taka tickles /her/! Asuna squirms and laughs, then chases Taka to her seat.

    The little plops herself down at the table and giggles triumphantly. "I'm safe! You can't tickle me at the table! Those are the rules!"

    Asuna does obey the rules. Though she isn't sure that is actually a rule, when she thinks of it. "Well, I suppose we do need to follow the rules, right?"

    And not, for instance, take mama's dire mount out for a joy ride.

Mac Anu - Main Square

Laughing out loud again as Taka turns the tickling tables, Klein helps out with setting the table. Ever since he's been in ETO, there's rarely been a moment he's done anything solo. He's not crazy enough to go wandering the wilderness and dungeons by himself like some people.

Even then, it's moments like this that Klein realizes he's been missing something for years. He didn't even realize it until Taka entered their lives. The joys of being a family.

Taking his own seat, Klein tightens his headband while making a show of thinking about it. "Well...some rules are meant to be broken-" A glance outside of the window, to the backyard, and he shakes his head. "But this is one of them. Asuna, no tickling at the table. Those are the rules."

His somber tone of voice is ruined by the grin tugging at his lips. "But enough talk about rules. Time to eat!"

Klein's making sure Taka's own plate if filled before he starts on his own. No good father lets their kid go hungry. That, and to make sure there are veggies on her plate.
Mac Anu - Main Square

    Asuna settles into her place. For a while, she just sits there. Something occurs to her as she does. The healthy, warm, loving relationship with Klein is a dream come true. Having a daughter to raise with him is more than she had ever thought of not too long ago.

    "I've seen so many things," she begins abruptly, "but none of them compete with this moment. I'm so grateful for both of you."

    She doesn't cry. It's close, though!

    Okay, she does wipe her eyes a bit.

    "Of all the blessings I ever hoped for, this moment right now answers or exceeds all of them."

    She focuses on the food. She doesn't want to get too emotional and break down entirely! She just wanted to have a moment. And she has.

    She tries her salad first and tilts her head. It might, for a moment, be mistaken for her weighing motion in the mood. But her eyes are present, and she looks happy. "Wow. This really did turn out well. It's just like the place my father used to take me to in Ginza."

Mac Anu - Main Square

It is a cause of celebration with Asuna being back to her usual self, but it's somehow something more than that. Reaching over, he squeezes Asuna's hand once, a fond smile on his lips. After all, he never expected to be this lucky, to be in the very situation that he's in. Sometimes, he wonders just what he done to have his luck turn.

Then he just ignores those doubts and enjoys it. After all, if you never expected it, it just makes it even more special when you realize it's real.

"I'm just glad I live up to those blessings. But that's enough out of me. If we get any more sappy, we might as well eat breakfast!" Though...mentioning that sends a shudder of dread down Klein's spine. There was that one experimental sauce with maple syrup...

Klein doesn't bother with the salad at first, or the garlic bread. He jumps ahead straight to the centerpiece of the meal. The slice of pizza on his place. Classic cheese with slices of pepperoni and basil leaves, or at least a close enough version of basil. Golden crust with a slight layer of melted butter and sea salt shines in the light. It looks like a breathtaking masterpiece, but it has yet to pass the taste test. He is Asuna's seasoned taste tester, after all

A careful bite of the front, chewing slowly and methodically. Unlike most kinds of pizza, it's not coated in grease. The cheese is hot and sticky, the sauce isn't overpowering, the dough is evenly cooked...

Calmly, he places the slice back down on his place and gives Asuna the most even look he can give her. She's not in that odd mood anymore, but any bystander can notice the gravity of Klein's final judgement of the pizza. A few moments pass, the silence only broken by Taka nibbling on a garlic breadstick.

"Ten out of ten."

Grinning, he gives Asuna a proud thumbs up before turning to his salad. Judgement has been passed!
Mac Anu - Main Square

    The seriousness of that rating is enough to make her giggle. But he /is/ the foremost expert on all things pizza. Well, except for the cooking part. She can teach him now, though!

    "I hope this is enough to make you stop worrying about the pizza that never arrived."

    She laughs softly and turns her attention to Taka, who is doing her best to ignore her parents getting all icky! Instead, she is doing her best to eliminate vegetables efficiently. Papa is watching her too closely! But if you add cheese to vegetables and don't think about them being vegetables, they are almost good! But she is really paying attention to all this cuteness and she abruptly does what kids do best. She asks a really powerful question.

    "Am I going to have a little sister and brother?"

Mac Anu - Main Square

And then, of course, Asuna had to bring up -the- Pizza. That pizza that he ordered for himself so long ago and never got to eat. A haunted look can be seen in Klein's eyes. "It does...but I shall always wonder what could have been."

The first pizza of the new year is special. It's like eating black-eyed peas for some people. Missing out on it is bad luck!

Taste buds change over the years, but Klein remembers those meals as a kid where his mom kept half of his plate covered in greens. So many late nights poking at cold veggies hours after dinner should have been finished. Now he just grins and bears it, even if they still don't taste the best.

It's great being an adult. You can only give yourself a few veggies if you want!

Then Taka makes him completely rethink that stance as he goes to take a sip of ale, delivering a classic spittake as she delivers her innocent question. Thankfully Klein had aimed himself away from everyone, but it leaves him coughing. "Um...uh...m-maybe? I mean, your mama and papa aren't exactly married..."

But...answering Taka's question only raises another that goes unsaid. 'Why are they not married?' And...sure, Asuna and Klein have only known each other for several months, but they got along perfectly, and even were raising Taka! Raising an eyebrow and facing Asuna, he doesn't speak this new question out loud, but it is food for thought, and for later.
Mac Anu - Main Square

    While the bit about the pizza has Asuna laughing and comfortable, it also really helps her bring her guard down. Not that she's terribly defensive around the family, anyway! But she was not ready for Taka to blow things up with that question!

    She lets Klein answer first. Mostly because her brain is totally jammed on the answer. "I mean, yes, that's true, and I mean I want... I do? I want.. yes, I guess I do? I mean, we could. Right? Could we? I have heard that we could. And oh yes, that!"

    And there you have it. Nailed it!

    Taka looks confused, but she's smiling. "Mama is funny when she makes no sense." She giggles and turns back to Klein. "So why don't you get that fixed, then!"

    Asuna's eyes go wide, but she has no time to think before the little girl takes aim at her. "What's marriage, mama? How does that make a baby?"

    That question is dangerously close to 'where do babies come from' territory! Asuna was already on the ropes, now she's knocked to the mat, there's only a few seconds left in the fourth quarter, and the opponent as the puck on her seven yard line! She doesn't know anything about sports.

    "Marriage is when two people promise to be together forever," she says faintly. "They have a special ceremony with friends and family, and then there are parties, and fancy clothes, and gifts. And then, well.. they are together in marriage."

Mac Anu - Main Square

Thankfully he's not like Asuna stumbling over her words. As a former guild leader and happy-go-lucky jokester, you have to stay on top of your toes when it comes to words. Still, when you're not expecting innocent questions with a lot of weight to them, you're gonna be stumbling!

Taka says it like it is so easy. Thing is...sometimes it is. Adults have a tendency to overcomplicate things, to give excuses to why they shouldn't do things. And those who's minds are lacking in knowledge of how the world works often has an odd insight to them at the same time.

Thankfully for both him and Asuna, she's able to parry the dreaded 'where do babies come from' question, even while off balance. And...she's thinking the same thing as him. "It...tends to be a bit more complicated at that, but that's how marriage usually starts, yeah. It's a huge step, one that changes your life forever...but it's one I don't mind taking with the right person. Right, Asuna?" And with that, Klein turns his attention back to his pizza before it becomes cold, to distract himself.

Even as he says it so casually, his non-existant heart is pounding in his chest. Should he really give this serious thought?

...yes. Yes he should.
Mac Anu - Main Square

    Asuna knows that she was somewhat less than eloquent there. But in here defense, she was just got back! Mentally, that is. Still, Taka's questions are really good ones. She wants to have babies. She knows this. She just wants to be careful about why and then ask if she's ready. She also needs to make sure that Klein wants to. Really wants to.

    As she's thinking this, she realizes that Klein is speaking. About marriage. She finds herself immediately meeting his eyes. Her answer is not given instantly. But it has nothing to do with hesitation. It's just the moment. In the implications of how Klein said that.

    "I would really like to take that step with the man I love."

    And in that glance, there is no doubt. And then she realizes... wait. Wait! Wait!

    No, seriously. Wait.

    Did she just say 'yes'? Was that a proposal, basically?

    She isn't sure. Wow. She's so bad at this!

    Taka looks between her mama and papa, then turns back to her food. Happily her plate is empty! She won! While Asuna and Klein are distracted, she'll help herself to dessert...