Dreams and Schemes
“What do you mean?” asked Nicolo.
“You can have my house in Shiganshina,” Eren explained. “There’s no building on it, though, only the land. But I inherited it from my father, and it’s not being used, so.”
Eren’s house in Shiganshina hadn’t been rebuilt. He and Mikasa had cleared the ruins of the old house as the town was being reconstructed, but neither of them considered going back there to live. He could never sleep there, as his mind would always go back to that day his mother was crushed underneath the shattered main beam of the house, crippling her. Not even Mikasa’s extraordinary strength could move that beam. The image of his mother being lifted by Dinah’s titan, blood spurting everywhere, would never leave his mind, especially right where it happened.
When land prices skyrocketed at Shiganshina, he and Mikasa had discussed selling the land and splitting the profit, but something held them back. Nostalgia? Guilt? Sentimentality? Despite the tragic memories, it was still the home where Eren was born, a place his mother had loved and built a warm and loving home.
“Won’t one of you want to live there someday?” Nicolo queried.
“Nope, not me,” was the titan shifter’s decisive reply.
“Not even you, Mikasa?”
“Not me, either,” she shook her head, resolutely.
Mikasa had closed her eyes at the moment of Carla Jaeger’s murder. It was too painful for her to see her adoptive mother being violently killed so brutally. She had closed her eyes, but even to this day she could hear Eren’s desperate screams, and the sound of Carla’s bones cracking as the titan broke her body in half.
No, she couldn’t live there, not even for the sweet childhood memories of hours spent running around town with Eren and Armin. Besides, Jean would not want to live in Shiganshina. He still held onto his own childhood dreams.
“I’ll live wherever Jean wants to live,” she added.
Clear hazel eyes opened and looked up into her deep violet ones. “We’ll live in the capital,” he declared cockily, before closing his eyes again.
“Okay,” she agreed as she played with the hair of the two boys she loved, her long fingers mingling Eren’s dark locks with Jean’s ash blond ones.
The capital was fine with Mikasa. I truly don’t care where I live, as long as I have my own little family.
Eren would probably live out the rest of his remaining years with Historia in the royal palace, she thought, or in one of the queen’s country homes. He’d only be twenty three, but from past titan shifters’ memories, he told her he saw Ueli Reiss go from healthy, middle aged man in the prime of life to someone closer to eighty. In his final year as a titan vessel, he aged rapidly, unnaturally so, his face covered in wrinkles, legs weakened to the point he was unable to walk without a cane. It happens to all titan shifters in their thirteenth and final year, it seemed. If she and Jean were to live in the capital, the royal palace would be close by, and she could help look after Eren in his final days.
“Thought you wanted a garden,” Sasha reminded her.
“Can have a garden anywhere,” Mikasa insisted. “A north-facing backyard, or even a potted garden on a balcony that gets enough sunshine. All I need is soil and some seeds.”
“We’ll get a house with a backyard,” Jean asserted, “so our kids can play outdoors, hopefully without stepping on your plants.”
Mikasa touched the tip of his nose with her finger. “I’ll teach them to care for the plants. No one will step on anything.”
“What about you, Sasha, will you live with me in Shiganshina?” Nicolo asked. The possibility was becoming more and more concrete: given the newly built railroads connecting the capital with the coastal towns, they could reach Shiganshina far more quickly than on horseback. It seemed a plausible arrangement.
“I’d love to!” she exclaimed, a note of genuine excitement in her voice. “It’ll be perfect, so close to the sea. We can have lots of fresh and affordable ocean meat!”
“Stop calling seafood ‘ocean meat’, Sasha! Drives me nuts!” Connie said, not bothering to hide his annoyance.
“Well I can’t help it!” she retorted, wrinkling her nose at him. Thanks to Nicolo’s exquisite seafood cuisine, she’d grown to love seafood as much as red meat. Since meat was the perfect food for her, she got into the habit of thinking of the blessings of the sea as ocean meat. It made sense to her.
“Sasha can call seafood whatever she likes,” maintained Mikasa.
“But it sounds silly!” claimed Connie.
They bickered for a few moments. Why was it called seafood, Sasha asked, when no one says landfood? There’s red meat and white meat, Jean said, so why not call seafood blue meat or something? Blue meat means extra rare beef steak, Nicolo informed him. Doesn’t white meat mean both chicken and fish, Mikasa asked. Yes, it does, confirmed Nicolo. What about lobster meat? someone asked. On and on they went. In the end, the term seafood still doesn’t make sense, opined Sasha.
“Shut up, ya’ll. Call it whatever you like,” sighed Eren, playing judge. “Can we go back to the house thing?”
He didn’t have much time left on this planet, so he thought he should settle his affairs as soon as possible. Putting the land he inherited to good use was a start. He’d be helping out his friends, and once the venture becomes profitable, it could become a source of passive income for Mikasa. Her ambitious boyfriend who planned on marrying her had dreams of living in the most expensive part of the island.
Mikasa’s income from the house could go to their child’s education, Eren mused. Their kid would be his nephew or niece, but a dead uncle was a useless uncle. He might as well make sure he had something to contribute to the child’s—or children’s—wellbeing in the future.
As for his own future kid, well, Queen Historia was wealthier than all seven of them combined, and was, in fact, one of the richest people on the island. It won’t be a financial legacy he’ll be leaving his kid, but something else altogether. He’d have to plan for that, too. But first things first.
“As I said, I’d love to live in Shiganshina,” Sasha reiterated. “We can take the second floor of the house. That should be enough space.”
“Well, it’s settled then,” affirmed Eren. “There’s a builder in the neighborhood, Alfred Rosenberg, an old family friend. Dad saved his wife and kids during the plague. He should be able to help.”
“Don’t have enough savings…,” Nicolo confessed, glumly. “I’ll need to find investors, raise the money…”
“I’ll be your first investor,” Eren volunteered. He had some money in the bank. When he was fifteen and they finally reached the basement of his house, they not only found Grisha’s journals, but also bank statements and property deeds, along with his Last Will and Testament.
After Shiganshina was rebuilt, the banks, whose vaults were buried underground and were therefore unharmed during the battles, opened their business once again, offering citizens access to their previous savings. Eren and Mikasa split the money as stated in Grisha’s will.
The titan shifter had offered to give up his share to his adopted sister; he was going to die young, what would he use the money for, he’d said. He knew she wanted a family and home of her own someday. No, that’s not what it says in the will, Mikasa pointed out, shaking her head in refusal.
“You could offer to make Mr Rosenberg co-owner,” Jean suggested. “Heard all the builders on the island are raking in profits, from all the rebuilding projects they’re inundated with. If this Rosenberg’s any good, he’d be half-buried in dough these days.”
“Yeah, I hear he’s good,” Eren reported. “Rebuilt half the town, in fact.”
“Good, then,” Jean nodded. “Offer a profit sharing scheme, Nicolo. He’ll build your restaurant as co-owner, and once you start to make a profit, you pay him back. In memory of Dr Jaeger, hopefully with little to no interest. Eren and Mikasa will also be co-owners, but they won’t ask for their share until you’re profitable, because they’re good people. Once you’re in the black, you can give them their slice of the pie.”
“I’d need some kind of collateral for the building,” Nicolo reminded him.
“You’ll need to borrow from the Reeves Bank,” suggested Jean. “They have this low-interest loan plan for small enterprises, to encourage entrepreneurship. All the banks on the island are rolling out similar plans. That’s how my cousin Jules started his hardware store in Trost. You’ll be in debt, but I don’t think Flegel Reeves will fleece you. We’ll ask Commander Hange to see to that. He owes them big, you see.”
“But who could possibly agree to be my guarantor?” Nicolo asked, a shadow flitting across his eyes. He knew his friends meant well, but they were all still young and none of them came from particularly wealthy families.
“Historia will,” Eren replied with certainty.
Nicolo’s eyes widened. “The queen herself? Isn’t she, um, like, not allowed to dirty her hands with private enterprise?”
“Not directly, is what I mean. She’ll ask someone, who’ll ask someone, who’ll ask someone. You know the game. After all the help you’ve given training the orphanage kitchen staff on planning and cooking them nutritious meals, I’m sure she’ll be glad to return the favour. I’ll speak with her on your behalf.”
“Wow, it’s all coming together,” Sasha exclaimed, happily. “Oh Nico, imagine a restaurant of you own!”
“Our own,” Nicolo corrected her, grinning, before letting out a long sigh.
His biggest dream. Could he dare dream? On this godforsaken island? With their precarious future? But he looked up at Sasha’s face, shining with hope, and felt strengthened. Home wasn’t a place, he finally figured out, it was a person. He gazed into Sasha’s eyes, huge brown orbs twinkling with infinite possibilities, and he knew: he had found a home. With her by his side, he felt capable of anything.
“If the restaurant only opens two or three days a week, the building would be in the red for a long time…,” he said cautiously, considering all the risks.
“Build a three-storey building over the basement,” recommended Jean. “Basement will serve as the storage area, ground floor would be the kitchen and eating space. Second floor would be for you and your family. Third floor, a room-and-board for renting out. That way the building will be earning something regularly.”
“Great idea!” advocated Eren.
“My mum rents out my old room, the entire second floor of her house in fact. It’s too big for her now that I no longer live there. She only needs one floor for her living space,” explained Jean.
“You could hire one of the neighborhood mothers to help out as kitchen staff during the weekend,” Mikasa suggested to Nicolo. “There are a lot of widows there now who might be looking for a job…”
“Is the house in a residential area?” Nicolo wondered aloud. He was worried about zoning restrictions.
“Zoning isn’t too strict in Shiganshina, not after we discovered the sea,” Eren disclosed. “There are a bunch of small restaurants dotting the neighborhood, a couple of them a few doors from my house. Family-run, you know, with four tables, that kind of cosy place.”
“Also a few coffee shops, some with just a counter and a few seats,” Mikasa added.
“Sounds like you won’t have any rivals, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Connie opined.
“I’m more worried about turning a profit. With a weekend restaurant I’d have to be really famous to draw in customers.”
“You are famous!” Sasha protested. “All the top brass in the military know who you are. It’s a real shame the public don’t get to taste your creations. They ought to be given the chance. Your food will change their lives, I’m sure of it!”
Darling Sasha, Nicolo thought fondly, her enthusiasm is so infectious!
“Kiyomi Azumabito told me about places called 料亭 ryoutei in Hizuru,” mentioned Mikasa. “They’re exclusive restaurants, some of which open only a few days per week, and you’d have to make reservations in advance. That way you’ll know how many are coming and won’t waste precious ingredients. She said 隠れ家 kakureya or hidden gems are often found in residential areas, very discreet and sought-after.”
“We’ll ask Captain Levi to use his influence with the press, so they can cover you with some positive PR,” Jean suggested.
“All you need is to cook them journalists a full course meal, just like you did for us,” Connie claimed, “and they’ll be all over you. Remember that seafood dish you made for us before, when we were building the port? The seafood one-pot thingy? Was so good I sometimes dream of it at night!”
“Ah, that,” the chef grinned. His famous hot seafood pot specialty. One of his signature dishes, it contained a stew of prawns, scallops, mussels, whole crab, octopus and lobster, with an ocean-deep marinière broth of new potatoes, parsley and ripe tomatoes, spiced with chili and liquor. It was a completely engrossing single dish, very much beloved by the military officers he cooked for in the capital. “Worthy of a fight,” one of the generals had declared, smacking his lips at the satisfyingly glorious mess of seafood.
“When your mum becomes human again, I’ll cook it for her, too,” Nicolo told Connie.
The friends carry on, discussing the details of Nicolo’s own kitchen, encouraging this talented chef amongst them to dare to dream.
Real estate was the most expensive factor in opening a restaurant on the island. But Eren’s generous offer had half of his problem covered already. Shiganshina had become a very vibrant town once again, the trendiest, “it” place to be, thanks to the opening of the port. A restaurant there would be a good first step in the right direction.
Nicolo was deeply touched that day. They didn’t care that he was Marleyan. To them he was their friend, the best chef they’d ever encountered, and they genuinely wanted him to succeed.
That night, he slept with Sasha in his arms and a huge smile on his face. Maybe dreams do come true, after all.
Thank you so much for reading! Please take a moment to share a thought or two in the comment section below. Your comments give me life and are a real source of encouragement. xoxo – hana
Next – Chapter 3: Marry Me
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