188/You Can, In Fact, Make Friends without Breaking A Few Legs.

From Radiant Heart MUSH

You Can, In Fact, Make Friends without Breaking A Few Legs.
Date of Scene: 01 August 2023
Location: Botanical Gardens
Synopsis: Today is a big day for Hannah. Today is a day she reveals her reasons for being on Earth, of the pain in her heart, and her need to reach out to others. And there is lunch.
Cast of Characters: Hannah Steiner, Koji Silvia, Rashmi Terios

Hannah Steiner has posed:
Text to Koji-kun: By the Sankt's holy knits why are girls so complicated!? Read irony into this at your own peril mein freund! Right. Romance done for now, where are you und your precious compatriot? Pray to the Sankt she does not deign to dissappoint! Time und place, with apologies! I owe you lunch Koji!

Koji Silvia has posed:
It's been a busy weekend for Koji, and Monday is no less a rightly scheduled-out day for him. Without school pinning down most of his day, he's gotten himself a nice mid-day part-time job as a delivery stock-boy. Ride out with the truck, help get the inventory off the truck and verify the order, and then move on to the next store. He's just coming off of that in the full heat of the afternoon when his phone buzzes.

To Hannah, after taking about five minutes to sort out WHAT she is actually saying versus all those fiddly words on his screen, he responds: Wait. You're just here for only a few months and you've already got someone? Okay okay. Uhhh... I'm in Pikarigaoaka near the Botanical Gardens. Lemme grab some bento and we can meet up?

Covering himself, Koji just a quickly shoots another message off towards Rashmi: Hey, can your parents spare you for a long lunch? My friend wants to meet up. Apparently, she had a VERY good reason to miss us.

With that done, he turns right back around into the store to grab himself some semi-junk food staples and snacks on the money he just got. Ah the perils of gig labor...

Rashmi Terios has posed:
> Uh. Yeah I'm not working today, one moment!

Bopping down the stairs separating the apartment from the restaurant, Rashmi slips smoothly into the kitchen, and occupies an out-of-the-way corner until her father has the attention to spare to notice her. "Hey Papi!" she chirps, as his bristled face relaxes into an easy grin. "I just got invited to the gardens to meet a couple friends. We got any snacks I can put on my tab?"

> Okay, I'm on my way!

Sporting her Korma Chameleon delivery ballcap and three boxes of varying size in her hands, she bops out the door and down the street, headed for her second meetup invite since changing schools!

Hannah Steiner has posed:
Hannah is, currently, on her next job after Overachieving her way into being fired. She's just getting off of her first shift of fronting a cell phone store. She has sold every single phone out of that store. Plus the next two month's stock, such that the actual franchisee learns that no amount of overstocking is enough to satisfy the tongue and sheer charisma of a Steiner. Also those phones are working stupidly far beyond their specs. She may have applied just a bit of German Space knowhow to overclock them a smidge. Not breaking TSAB accords, of course.

She gets her first and last paycheck with a smile, utterly too pleased with her own brinksmanship. Some TSAB officer is going to foam at the mouth very much later from sheer Steiner trolling.

Text to Koji-kun: I know. Shameful to have but one! Acht, but being slow with this one. Practically /Mid-Childan/ in aspect! On mein way, wait warmly! I admit the local bento is /fascinating/! Why did we not think of boxed meals first!?"

One can almost hear the mixture of shame at not having at least three datee's in that text. Well. If you're Belkan anyway. Hannah may just come across as a weirdo and hedonist.

It's not entirely wrong.

Lyra leads Hannah over to a bench in the Gardens, the young woman tossing out a gps location for Koji's ease of finding her! Despite her consistent and likely irritating shame upon the local tech-base, she inwardly admires the ease-of-use and disability settings for much of the tech in Japan. She will sooner cut off a limb than admit it though.

One leg crosses the other, and then tapping her Device, she sets up the meeting 'place'. Everything is off-color, blue-grey Steiner d-space shifting.

"Blauer Greif! Aufwachen!"

<Linker Core Online>

<Sensoren Online>

<Zauberspr?che Online>

<Alle Systeme Nominal>

<Bereit meine Herrin>

The trio of Device, Very Big Fuzzy Space Lizard, and Belkan Knight wait openly for her two companions to meet her, happily ensconsed in excessive Belkan magical obscurity. She means to open up. And there's no better way to get privacy than this!

Koji Silvia has posed:
Just coming around from behind a stand of Cherry Trees, Koji has a bag of conbini treats and things in one hand, and his phone in the other, Hanzo's overlay on the same tech that Hannah was futzing with earlier showing him her location as well as giving him an almost Star Trek-like scan of the area.

So yeah... he's stuck staring for a moment as he sees a D-shift happen and Hannah vanish from the world... and he just hangs his head for a moment.

"Really... I..." And the rest of his words are lost.

Instead of turning on his Barrier Jacket, he lifts his phone and sends a text:

To Rashmi> So... just look for the Dimension Shift in the middle of the park across from the pond.

Putting it away in his pocket, he steps inside and looks right at Hannah, "So you know... you don't HAVE to move us half a dimension sideways just to have a talk. I mean..."

Pausing again, he holds up his bag, "I brought some food?"

Rashmi Terios has posed:
> ... I mean, I can't *not* see it.

<< And he got annoyed at me for using a *skyscraper?!* >>

With a gusty sigh and a rueful shake of her head, Rashmi circles the pond and just... steps into the Barrier, facefirst, boxes balanced on five outspread fingers like a veteran delivery-girl. "Hiiii~!" she calls, leaning left, then right, craning her neck to spot the Barrier's owner. "Bartered some snacks for two hours' work tomorrow!"

Hannah Steiner has posed:
Lyra is currently nuzzling straight into Hannah's neck as Koji arrives, the young woman making a returning gesture as she runs her hands through the massive reptilian's fur and scales with sheer affection! Scritch-pet-rub-scritch! For such a monster, the Razorhound is a bundle of affection, and it shows in every movement. Koji gets a hiss of approval. Hanzo and Koji have met the Lyra Bar of Approval and Not Getting Your Throat Bit Out in Lyra's estimation. This extends to Rashmi by association, even if her hiss is...one part warning, one part greeting.

"Well pardon me mein dear freund, for having a certain amount of /operational security/ when it comes to these matters!" Sorry Koji she's grinning and openly mocking you a bit. Then her face softens. A more honest smile this time.

With a few more rubs to Lyra, she taps a knuckle upon Blaur Greif, and a swift Belkan Area Search has her mind upon the form of Rashmi.

"Guten aben mein new freund! Acht, and food from both of you? Spoiled, truly spoiled! Offer it upon the three of us FORTHWITH!" Griiiin. She adores food as much as any Device User, really, and her appetite is appreciably astounding.

There's a ping of regret upon hearing about Rashmi's bartering, but she smoothly lets it slide. Cough. With one more pet to Lyra's head, she stands up, leaning on her cane.

"I hate to bring down the mood so early, lieblinges, however I feel getting the difficult parts out of the way is more schon. You may have mein name in this form as Trager des Blauer Greif." She raises her Device.

"Und this is the eponimous Blauer Geif herself..."

Lyra does a hiss-bork!

"Und finally, but not lesser und more fluffiest of all, Lyra! Mein dear guide-Razordhound! It is most well met formally!" Despite her pure Space German cheer, there's more than a little formality to her words. She taps one heel to the front of her heeled boot, and then bows formally enough to make her ponytail sway.

"I wish to share more. However...doing so shall be a danger to you both." Offers Hannah bluntly, ears perking up for a reaction.

Koji Silvia has posed:
Sort of standing there for a moment, Koji almost startles by all of it at the realization that Rashmi is standing behind him, and he tries to smooooooooothly shift over rather than being in her way... which is all sort of useless in a full Space like this.

"So... Rashmi-chan, this is Hannah of House Steiner of the Administration World of Tharkad, heir apparent, and direct Descendant of Ancient Belka. Honest to the gods Alien."

Just a slight tweak of the nose on Hannah in response to all of that, "This is Rashmi, who is also in 10th Year, and is the child of the owners of the locally famous Korma Chameleon Hindi Fusion restaurant."

With a quick exhale and a slight slump of his shoulders, he moves forwards and sits down on the grass on the far side of Hannah from Lyra and starts to rummage into his bag, "So as promised from our last conversation..."

Up comes a three-tier bento in a cardboard wrap and attached flatware, which he places on the bench next to her rather than putting it in her hands.

Glancing up at Rashmi, he goes on, "Hannah has promised she won't... greet you properly. And for her that means you've staved off her taking a swing at you. But... she knows more about Devices than I do, and she's also young enough she can demonstrate magics unlike my Mentor. Our disciplines might clash, but we can teach her about Earth while we learn from her about our Devices."

After that, he says to Hannah in a softer tone, "Okay... so... is this about evil Space Uncle, or something bigger?"

As he asks, he digs out an instant ramen bowl and a bottle of water. At least Rashmi gets to see, but Hannah gets to sense him setting everything up, and then he uses HANZO like a microwave to put the bowl inside a small field and then heat it!

Rashmi Terios has posed:
"*Whoa* hello," Rashmi says upon Lyra's greeting, the startled, wary reaction of someone who can *definitely* see what Lyra truly is, has never seen her like before, and is willing to take it on faith that the 'Razorhound' does not in fact intend to make a snack out of her spleeny bits. Mostly.

Clearing her throat, she tentatively offers a hand for sniffing, perhaps a pat or two, but there is *definitely* a healthy amount of 'If you try and bite I will go *that way* very fast.' At Koji's introduction, and Hannah's bow, the redhead clears her throat. Detaching Nicomachea with her free hand, she takes him out of standby-mode with a mental command, upon which he flips himself over gem-side down so Rashmi can set her boxes on the newly-handy surface, and give Hannah a proper, respectful, very Japanese formal bow. "It's good to meet you too, um... Turageru-san?"

Look English is hard enough, expecting a Japanese-raised tongue to twist around Germanesques is asking a lot of a first-timer.

"I, uh.... thanks for not... saying hello with beatings, I suppose...? Also it's good to meet you too, Blauer Grief-san, Lyra-san. This is Nicomachea.

*BONG!* goes the inverted book.

A side glance to Koji, and she cannot help but clear her throat. "...Um. Also, it's 'Indian.' 'Hindi' is the language."

Hannah Steiner has posed:
Hannah's mouth hangs a bit. Koji swiftly takes the wind out of her royal sails, and her brow twitches. Teeth clamp.

She's both at once angry, and yet? Well, it's actually kind of hard to remain angry at Koji Silvia. Not seriously. His ability to boil down situations quickly is actually something she values, but by the Sankt can't he give her some room to grandstand!?


"Sankt give me strength! Mein /name/, is properly Countess Palatine-Apparent Hannah Emilia-Lina Araki-Steiner the Fourteenth you little half-Midchildan-heathen! Frau Terios? Ignore Herr Silvia's rantings, he knows little of affairs beyond this star und yet far more than most." For all her 'anger' she's shooting Koji a smile.

Rashmi's attempts at her name have her choking down a groan, but really, her own accent is a shield. And she more or less beats Japanese into submission with her tongue rather than deigns to assimilate to the entirety into her lessons.

Lyra, also, does a Big Lizard Lick on Rashmi-hand! So far? Seems you've a fuzzy lizard friend, her Master is approving as far as these things go.

Then a shrug. "Again, Koji, I question the wisdom of not teaching frau Terios directly! But I am a woman of mein word! Give me the honor soon, Rashmi!" Comes Hannah with that cheerful kind of violence waiting in her voice that is inherent to many a Belkan, and /especially/ a Steiner.

Bluer Greif meanwhile floats up towards Nicomachae.

<Guten Aben, kine und Mid-Childa. Forgive mein herrin's youth. They are always this way. Consider us allies as long as our Successor wills it> Comes the Ancient Belkan device, respectfully greeting Nico with the weight of a very, very old Warlike Device.

Hannah is also pulling out a knife, because the Belkan is going to stab her food into her mouth as you do. She hasn't quite yet learned how chopsticks work.

Huff. "Right. I am the ruler of Tharkad, und not by choice. I am come to your world, Frau Rashmi, to hunt a Kinslayer und bring him to justice. Speak the name of Steiner at your peril, und perhaps that ruthless, honorless, yellow-striped-backed little MURDEROUS FILTH UNWORTHY OF...!" She's yelling. Perhaps its a good thing she's brought up the barrier. Because her entire face lights up in sheer rage, pain, and the burning light of Revenge as she even tries to put her Uncle's deeds on her name.

Her voice cracks. That is not the voice of someone who is Okay.

She suddenly coughs, chokes, and tries to calm herself down.

"I need..." Friends. A karking psychologist at this point.

"Allies. Either forget mein name, or give me your oath. I know this is demanding und unfair. To both of you. But I cannot allow those unwilling to fight a murderer to join mein purpose here." Her voice is just...tired here.

Hannah Steiner has posed:
"Und correction the second, we are a sovereign world /allied/ with Mid-Childa und the TSAB, by ancient treaty! There is, in fact, a difference!" Offers Hannah in very specific, very governmental terms! This is totally a distinction that matters and her not splitting hairs, definitely!

Koji Silvia has posed:
Listening is as much a skill as it is a practice, but Koji's thought process is partly interrupted by:

    << Your Ramen is ready, Young Master. >>

...In a tone of someone who is permanently amused and annoyed, in a slightly younger but still old voice that speaks aloud rather than just via thought.

Taking his bowl, he gets a set of chopsticks and starts to stir things up as steam rises up, and he inhales the scent.

"Okay, Indian. Sorry... My dad always told me saying Indian was insensitive, but he's American, so..." He pauses, because this goes into 'Things Hannah Does Not Get Because It is Cultural Nuance.'.

However, he does watch her go from zero to sixty in a direction he was not QUITE expecting that time. Looking towards Rashmi at the point where she's on 'Murderous Filth', he gives her something of an apologetic look, and then with a more concerned expression, there's Hannah standing there in her spent fury.

Adjusting his glasses, he stirs his ramen bowl a little more, and then moves to stand up, "Hannah?"

He pauses, and seems to collect his thoughts, "This isn't TSAB Controlled space, which is a concept I'm STILL getting my head around, and from what Hanzo has explained, there's been Mages doing stuff here since... well... going back to around the founding of Japan, if not farther back. So that was a thing... and I'm getting off topic..."

The pause lets him slurp up a few noodles, and swallow with only a couple chews, "Okay."

Putting down his food, he digs into his bag and takes out a sparkling lemonade. Walking over, he carefully touches Hannah's free hand and lets her feel it there, "Sit down and have a drink. Please. What you need isn't just friends. Or allies. It's help. You are trying to find one man in a nation of millions and a world of billions. What you are talking about is going to take Time. It's going to take resources and people working with you to a common goal. And all of this presupposes that once you find him, and once you... settle this... that you can even get home."

This is his moment to come clean, at least partly, "Rashmi, my mentor is a former special intelligence operative for the TSAB. There's been no contact from them on this world for more than a decade, and according to her, she was told to deactivate and bury her Devices before going to ground. According to her, that kind of order isn't given unless they believe they have no hope of reaching someone."

He just shakes his head, "I'm sorrry. You're being hit with a lot, and more than you should. If you want to walk from this, I'll still help you with the mall, but... Hannah needs someone here who can help her connect with our world."

Rashmi Terios has posed:

Between Hannah's apparently-justified fury, and Nicomachea's apparently-justified stentorian demolishment of her character has Rashmi herself sort of... standing there, cheeks nearly as red as her hair, looking for all the world like she's hoping twin hurricanes don't decide to meet upon her head.

But then Hannah's fury is dashed against the rocks, and Rashmi's eyes go from terrified to gentle, and she picks the top box off the pile Nicomachea is supporting. Opening the lid, she offers the entire box with another, yet deeper, formal bow, revealing what could almost resemble homemade Twinkies, though never was the snack covered in syrups of a riot of colors, three small snacks to a color, with corresponding floral scents. Rose, hibiscus, sakura, jasmine, cornflower, honeysuckle... Somehow the maker of these desserts has taken the entire Botanical Gardens, and compressed its spirit into kneaded cheese.

"I understand."

While the words are *said* in answer to Koji's offer to leave, there's something about her tone that wraps Hannah up in it as well. "Koji-san is right. You need *help,* and I kinda get the idea that asking for help just... isn't *done.* So..." Looking up, she tips her head to one side, and offers a gentle smile, before speaking again in a *much* more formal tone. "With the gift of chom-chom, I pledge my assistance. May our alliance, our friendship, bring more joy than a world covered in flowers, and last twice as long."

Is it a little weird? Perhaps. But does it feel like the kind of pleasantry-couched-in-statecraft that a lost and lonely head of state might feel most comfortable hearing? Also perhaps.

One does not fall in love with Debate Club without learning how to read an audience.

Hannah Steiner has posed:
Hannah flicks a brow as strange things like 'Hindi' and 'Indian' float on by, and 'American'! She's done some research after Setsuna took her to task over her many failures, but she's still trying to get the basics of Earth Things down. And also the usual government nerd getting bogged down in various notable rebellions, Empires, and other interesting low-tech - by her standards - warring. No Saint Kings though. She kind of feels sorry for Earth, even if again one Sailor Pluto's words ring loudly about a Millenium of Silver.

Both hands grip the lemonade. She falls back. Lyra cushions her fall. Why are her hands trembling? Knuckles crack with the pure effort to not drop this simple container of lemons. Why is it so hard?

Her had rolls off her head, her Knight Armor feels constricting for her pounding heart. She needs help. By the Sankt some part of that resonates. Twitch. Koji lays out the truth she knows deep down in her heart. She's recklessly followed her Uncle here. Beyond Tharkad, into the place long forbidden and she's only gotten to by means dubious.

She needs help, is far past even her own considerable skills on a world she knows precious little about.

She upends that sparkling lemonade as though its' pure ambrosia.

Blauer Greif is nothing if not warm. <May all our Houses prosper. Und may you usher frau Terios into Strength. Ignorance is easily treated by learning. A lesson mein Herrin needs reinforcing> The old grandma of a Device seems to approve of Nichomachae despite the rivalry between tehir two magic lines. Device Codes exchanged, seems there are new Device Friends afoot!

"...I really desire to hit you right now Koji." Comes Hannah sullenly. Almost...defeated. Tears fall down from under those golden sunglasses, as the young man so neatly pierces through her whole situation. She wants to call him false, wrong, but...her Steiner pride knows he's entirely right.

She then proceeds to just chuck the glass of delicious lemon-water after she's drained it to the sides of her own D-space with a satisfying shatter.

Hannah can't even bother with the effort of cursing out Koji in Space German. She likes him too much.

Chom-chom is on offer. The words don't matter especially, so much as the intent, and Hannah's head clings to them. Oh yeah, she picks the box into her digits and with one fierce knife-stab later? She gives herself time to think via chowing down.

And is up again, and nods with acceptance.

"....You are both fools of the highest calibre. I suppose that makes three of us." Comes Hannah lightly, even as she can't stop the tears nor the smile on her face. Or how she grips her Device so firmly.

She has to learn to keep her feet, and then finally just gives in and lands on bench-and-Lyra-couch alike as she eats.

"His name is Otto Bismark von Karstein-Steiner. Blonde. Tall. Too much und not nearly alike as mein own visage. I do not know what power he may have found here, but he is a crafty, un-Steiner-like soul. Please."

She stabs into the bento before her, and eats, and is trying to not break down in front of her two new friends.

"...I accept your help. But do not die. Do not give your life, I beg you! I have no desire to see two graves made four! Three is the price of mein station, but four is intererable, do you both undestanden!?!?" Comes Hannah suddenly,in a burst of pure love for these two new compatriots. To see their life snuffed out would be beyond disgrace and regard for her fellow persons.

Koji Silvia has posed:
There's this look on Koji's face that Rashmi can see as she lobs the plastic bottle hard enough to shatter like glass on the wall of her personal D-Space, and he points, mouth wide. His expression goes back to the redhead, and his eyes say it all. Lessons on Recycling can come later.

But he also pauses there, looking at her as if he can see from her eyes what she's seeing as well, and then goes back and sits down to his cooling instant ramen bowl, "If you don't mind, Hannah... I think we should table talk about how many casualties this will cause, and I'm gonna eat this first part of my lunch. The thing about lunch is... you can't eat it from the grave. At least I'm not sure you can. Either way... I'm not going to go out of my way to find out. I like lunch too much, you know?"

He digs into his bag, and brings out a small box of microwaveable Gyoza, "I wasn't sure what you'd like, Rashmi. These are chicken and ginger? Is that okay?"

You could SWEAR there's a sigh from his wrist.

Rashmi Terios has posed:
"Chicken and ginger are fine," Rashmi chuckles, apparently leaving the chom-chom in Hannah's care. Odds are they were meant to be shared by all three, but with the mood the Trager seems to be in, flower-flavored simmered cottage cheese can be *all hers.* Even still, she picks up the second, slightly larger box, opens it, and holds it out to Koji. "Samosas. The red ones are beef and onion curry, the yellow ones are chickpea, carrot and pea, and the green ones are mother-and-daughter donburi wraps. Papi was in a weird mood." Once Koji makes his selection, she picks one of each out for herself, and the rest are presented to Hannah.

"So um... I don't intend to *ever* die if I can help it, Hannah-san. Also, it might help to know that Nicomachea isn't... really *specialized* for direct combat.


"...That, yeah," Rashmi says after a moment. "And I promise you, Hannah-san, when you grew up not even knowing magic is real, and being indifferent at math, learning six-dimensional *space math* so you can halfway understand forensic mana analysis in a short amount of time is... A lot. So... please forgive me for probably doing worse now, than you did at five." This allowance is simple fact, and Rashmi does not in the least sound upset by the understanding that she's playing grown-up games with kiddie talent.

"But either way, we're telling you this to help you feel a little bit better; if my safety is more at risk than it is when we're fighting a Ferris Wheel with a clown face, then we have bigger problems than *just* my safety."

Hannah Steiner has posed:
The sound that comes out of Hannah's mouth at 'tabling how many people she's likely to get killed by seeking Justice for her parents' is far, far, too much like the hiss-growf's her Guide Lizard gives. Must be the long association. Lyra certainly is smarter than your Average Furry Reptilian Space Abomination!

"I am hungry." She admits, and not even tries to sound Proper and Royal. No. She's just weary. She keeps all that suffering deep inside, but lets just a bit of it out thanks to two beautiful souls.

And she smiles. Smirk! "Many, many more lunches mein dear herr Koji! By the Sankt, I must sound like a pessimist!" Pause. She shoves more food in her mouth. It's odd, but very, very good! A unique taste. Suddenly she's pounding down Bento and Chom-Chom shamelessly! Cheese is, as it turns out, flipping great for a Steiner. Wood-chippering of nomfs vaguely done, she finally returns to a Device and User.

<Understanden. Potential for indirect fire support noted und appreciated> Comes Blauer Greif. She's too old to not understand proper Combined Arms Tactics.

Blauer Greif then helpfully uploads several Belkan command matrixes and back-line magic spells. It's all in Space German Device, so there's quite a bit of cross-Device translation to do, but it's done in good faith.

All of a sudden, Hannah slumps back into her seat, and closes her lightless eyes.

And then she's laughing. Rashmi has caught her heart in some dire joke, and she coughs out in amusement as she finally brings it all to an end! And leans back in her bench and Lyra aside!

"What do they /teach/ you all in this backwards little dirtball?" Comes Hannah at 'space math' not being commonplace. Pause. Cough. Lyra baps Hannah several times for her rudeness!

"A...acht! N...no Lyra! Repent! I repent! frau Rashmi I shall teach you!" Both Razorhound and Belkan pause.

"'Clown Ferris Wheel' is an entirely new setence und do not repeat that. I...should rather break such an abomination." Comes Hannah, finally just flopping out and eating proffered food from both.

Her heart feels warm. These are friends. Compatriots, perhaps. And by Justice left aside or not, she's going to keep them alive if it kills her.

Koji Silvia has posed:
After magic-cooking a set of six gyoza that are passed to Rashmi, Koji takes a split between the three so Hannah has some samosas as well, and settles for a bit of silent lunch with the group until Hannah's finished devouring her own hearty share of things and speaks up. He's only just finishes his own things and is carefully packing his meal into the bowl to be tossed later when he answers Hannah's question.

"We're still stuck on splitting the atom, needlessly plundering our natural resources, and being ruled by short term goals. There was a bit about... 50... 50-ish years ago where we the Americans went to the Moon. So... as far as education goes, we're not exactly what you'd consider enlightened or advanced. But we make do, in our own primitive sort of way. I mean... we've got cool anime. So at least our dream of what the future could be is pretty nice."

He stands up, and reaches a hand to help Rashmi from sitting if she needs it, "Let's just not be TEAM Clown Ferris Wheel. For some reason, it sounds a little TOO on the nose, right?"

Rashmi Terios has posed:

Di... Did Nicomachea just sass?

Rashmi pauses, blinking at her book, then shakes her head and collects the empty boxes. The last, and largest, she hands to Koji. "I don't know if your parents planned dinner or anything, but... with Papi's compliments."

And inside is a double-order of fish curry and white rice, and an array of appetizers. Rashmi's mouth quirks up at one corner. "I told him who I was meeting, and he said 'If that boy cooks as much as they brag on him about it, boy needs a break.'"