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Ivy made the decision to sneak into the new kitchen in their headquarters when she heard the clang of pots and pans. She’d just finished cleaning up after spending some time downstairs fixing a truck that was one day going to be an awesome getaway car. And then she had been planning on spending some quality time reading comic books.

But the sound of Shadow-san’s grumbling accompanied by the sound of knives whooshing through the air had been too tempting to ignore.

So, she’d tiptoed to the doorway, hoping to see some flashy moves.

And then she poked her head inside the kitchen.

Shadow-san was making a kind of rolled egg omelet in a square pan, his movements smooth and unhurried. He was wearing a spotless red apron that had mysteriously appeared on a hook in the kitchen one day.

“Good morning,” he said, nodding respectfully.

Ivy waved at him.

The rice cooker was humming happily along and bread dough was rising in a bowl under a damp tea towel. There was a whole heap of tiny sausages shaped like octopi on a dish to the side.

Maybe they were cooling?

Or Shadow-san was snacking on them?

In any case, Ivy was going to eat at least three.

The rest of the house was a mess. Half assembled furniture in most of the rooms, paint still drying in others. But the kitchen was so organized that it gleamed.

Every ingredient and spice and cutting board were right where they should be.

“Zack won’t be happy about the fish,” Ivy said, pointing at a pan where salmon in some kind of sauce was being grilled.

“Then he will eat his miso soup and like it,” Shadow-san said, pointing with chopstick at a large pot on the backburner. “The fish is for us.”

“Oh,” Ivy said. “Can I help?”

“Please take the grilled salmon off the pan and put it on these two plates to cool,” he said, pointing again. “And turn off the heat as well.”

Ivy did so, careful not to burn herself. She’d grown up wolfing down her cereal before school started. Sometimes, when she had recycled enough bottles, she’d taken Zack to the nearest diner before her shift at the shop, where they’d had waffles and eggs and bacon.

She’d fried a few eggs in her time and poured an ungodly amount of orange juice. These days she mostly made porridge for Carmen, since it was the only thing that she kept down except applesauce.

But no one had ever made Ivy breakfast before.

“Good,” Shadow-san said, nodding as he put the rolled-up omelet on a plate as well. “Follow my lead on how to make rice balls.”

“Alright,” she said, watching as he scooped up some cold rice into his hands and then added a rounded thing.

“These are Japanese preserved plums,” Shadow-san said, covering the plum with rice and then making a kind of a ball.

Ivy scooped some rice into her hand and put a plum on top, making a ball. They kept on doing that until they ran out of cooled rice.

Ivy heaped the dirty dishes and pans into the sink as Shadow-san washed his hands in the bathroom. Then she wiped the kitchen counters, listening to the sounds of Carmen tossing and turning on the sofa and Zack building a dresser somewhere.

She’d woken up earlier this week to the sounds of Shadow-san teaching Zack the fundamentals of stealth, telling him how to move, how to keeping his mouth shut was an essential part of it. And she’d seen the approving glint in his eyes when she’d showed up in her workout gear and started doing warmups before lifting weights.

It was a sweaty and chaotic routine, full of running, dodging invisible enemies and bench-pressing her brother.

Somebody had to be the tank on the team. And that person was going to be her.

 

Ivy washed her hands under the tap with some dish soap and then wiped her hands on a clean dishcloth as Zack showed up in the doorway, a wide grin on his face.

Then he saw the fish.

“I’ll just wait until you two are done,” he said, making a face. “I’ll finish building that dresser for you, Ivy.”

“Hm,” grumbled Shadow-san. “I’ll keep the soup warm, then.”

He ladled the soup into small bowls as Ivy put a rice ball on two dishes and added the salmon slices. Soon the omelet had been cut up into slices like a cake and sausages were heaped into a bowl.

“This is a lot more work than just pouring some cereal into a bowl and adding milk,” Ivy said as they sat down. “Or buttering toast.”

“I always dreamed I’d be able to have the time and money to make a traditional Japanese breakfast with many dishes for someone else than just myself,” Shadow-san replied, pressing his palms together. “I’m glad that it has become a reality.”

“It’s really nice,” Ivy managed, thinking of the ramen bowls that appeared sometimes in the kitchen on cold days. Once there had been a jiggly cheesecake there on a stormy Sunday afternoon, left behind as Shadow-san went abroad on a mission. “I’d like to learn more about how to make it.”

Shadow-san nodded.

“Let’s eat,” he said, bowing a little.

She picked up a roll of omelet biting into it and finding that it had seaweed in it and the sweetness of soy sauce. And that the salmon had been marinated in some kind of miso-based sauce.

Ivy let the textures and tastes wash over her as she bit into her rice ball and spooned soup into her mouth.

The bread kept rising and the rice cooker kept humming as they ate.

“These sure beat cold leftover pizza,” she said, picking up a sausage-octopus with her chopsticks and almost swallowing it whole.

“Indeed?” Shadow-san asked, looking up from his soup. “I’m glad.”

“Are we going to go shopping for clothes too, someday?” Ivy joked, finishing her soup. She did have some solid staples in her closet, as well as some practical outfits and fancier ones. But seeing the way that Shadow-san looked in store windows was as education in itself.

“We’ll do that,” Shadow-san said, a small smile on his face.

 

They loaded the dishwasher and washed the pots and pans in silence, Shadow-san checking on the bread and scooping steaming rice out of the rice-cooker with a wooden spoon into a huge bowl. Sometimes he’d stop to sip his green tea.

Ivy had seen the huge rice bags in the pantry, so she was not surprised when apparently endless amounts of rice came out of the cooker. The warm water and soap washing over her hands as she scrubbed a pan was soothing and familiar.

She suspected that if she opened the fridge this evening for a midnight snack, she wouldn’t just find the bento boxes that Shadow-san had packed, but perhaps a few snacks as well. She’d once caught Zack eating candied ginger from a huge jar, which he’d then smuggled into his room.

Soon everything was in the drying rack except the large pot containing the warm miso soup.

Shadow-san was arranging rice balls on Zack’s plate, as well as the rest of the omelet roll. He filled the little bowl with sausage octopi again, leaving the soup bowl empty.

“Thanks for the meal,” Ivy said, wiping the counter again with a damp cloth. It didn’t strictly need it, but if living with Shadow-san had taught her anything, it was that it was better to double-check things. And besides, he was a methodical man who appeared to have stored up all his parenting instincts for decades and they were all flooding out now.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Shadow-san replied, looking at the way he’d plated everything and nodding. It looked like something Ivy would see on Instagram.

“I’m going to make waffles to celebrate when Carmen’s better,” Ivy told him as Zack strode into the kitchen and sat down by the table. His mouth was open, as if he had been planning to announce that he’d finished building the dresser, but was too distracted by the food to remember what he was going to say.

“I’ll look forward to that,” Shadow-san said, watching as Zack took a big bite out of his rice ball and gave him the thumbs up.

“Great!” Ivy said. “Then we have a plan.”

“Dibs on eating the tester waffles!” Zack said, still chewing.

“Hm,” Shadow-san grumbled, watching as Zack ate loudly. “I’ll go check on Carmen.”

“You go do that,” Zack said, piling more food onto his plate and ladling soup into a bowl. “Thanks for making food!”

“I’ll watch the bread,” Ivy offered, patting the bowl on the counter.

Shadow-san somehow managed to disappear as soon as he’d left the kitchen, his footsteps silent on the hardwood floors.

 

“It’s nice to have an adult in the house,” Ivy said, picking up her phone to search for waffle recipes. She gestured to the full fruit bowl to the side and then to the tasteful curtains. And then to the washing room, where their clothes were being washed properly by a nice machine. There was no need to go find a laundromat, or to live on snacks and restaurant food like they had when they hadn’t had a HQ yet. “You know, when you think to yourself: ‘I need an adult to handle this situation I’ve gotten myself into.’ And Shadow-san is right there in the living room, doing his weird numbers crossword?”

It would take them at least a few more weeks to get everything in the house sorted and in working order.

“One day I’m going to mess up and call him ‘Shadow-dad’, Zack said, finishing his soup. “I know it. You know it. We all know it.”

“It’s inevitable,” Ivy said. “I am going to take photos of his face when you do. And then I’m going to show them all to Carmen.”

“It’s gonna be a great time,” Zack said. “He’ll complain, but he’ll be secretly pleased.”

“That’s just the way it is going to go,” Ivy said, bookmarking a promising recipe. When she put her phone back into her pocket, she could hear Shadow-san try to maneuver a pharmacy’s worth of medicine, creams and electric heat blankets into the living room. All bought with V.I.L.E’s money, of course. They had all the paperwork from the hospital, too.

Things were going to be fine.

They had a ninja parent figure on their side now. Not to mention an amazing super thief.