As promised, Sasha did return, but not as any of them had planned. She came back in a body bag.
Nicolo had spent the night baking her engagement ring, an exquisite little thing only a highly gifted chef could ever craft. He woke up very early in the morning to prepare her special welcome back meal. All for naught.
Somehow he managed to get himself to the cemetery, weeping in sorrow while some heartless Eldians abused him.
He was so devastated he nearly lost his mind and tried to kill the young girl Gabi Braun, a brainwashed warrior candidate who shot his fiancee as an act of revenge.
Without his precious Potato Girl, what should he do now?
Ah, Sasha, beloved Sasha. He had wanted to spend the rest of his life cooking for her, watching her eat, seeing that smile on her face and feeling so alive he could sing. She had been the love of his life, his hope and inspiration.
It was her family, simple folk from a hunting village who turned out to be wiser and kinder than anyone he knew, that gave him the strength to carry on. They showed him what true humanity was all about, what empathy and understanding was all about. They taught him the meaning of the word forgiveness.
After Eren and the Nine Titans made their sacrifice and brought balance into the world, Nicolo decided to stay on the island. A letter he received from Sasha before she left, one she smuggled into the pocket of his workplace apron and which he discovered later in the day, became his guidebook in life. She wrote:
“My sweet Nico,
Just a note to tell you I miss you already. Being with you was the best thing that ever happened to me. Each moment I’ve spent with you has been the most wonderful time of my life. You are my light and my very favorite thing in all the world: more than potatoes, more than meat, more than any food ever. Because of you I’ve tasted the finest dishes the world has to offer. Because of you I’ve experienced true love. Because of you I am the luckiest, happiest girl in the world.
I’m going on a very dangerous mission, but no matter what happens, please know that my heart is always with you. You deserve every good thing the world has to offer. You’re a genius, the best chef in the entire universe, and the kindest, loveliest man I’ve ever met. I’m proud to have known you, and proud to be your sweetheart.
I love you forever.
PS. I’ve thought about what to name our restaurant in Shiganshina: Carla’s, after Eren’s mum. Mikasa said she was beautiful and generous and loved to cook for her little family.
PPS. If things go badly on my mission, do watch over my sister Kaia. She idolizes me, sees me as her saviour. She’ll be devastated if anything happens to me. Please be there for her.
PPPS. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: I believe in you. Whatever happens to me, never let go of your dreams.”
Nicolo stayed in Paradis and in a few years established himself as the most highly regarded chef and restaurer on the island.
His flagship restaurant in the capital was simply named Sasha’s, and became famous worldwide for its unparalleled, creative takes on the humble potato, amongst other vegetables.
Food critics, gourmets and gastronomes from all over the world conquered their fear of the island in order to eat at the trendsetting restaurant. To their surprise, they found that contrary to popular belief, the country was not populated by cannibals. To their delight, they found Sasha’s to be every bit as incredible and groundbreaking as the brave adventurer gourmands have claimed.
His weekend restaurant in Shiganshina, Carla’s, became well-known locally through word of mouth. Soon it developed a loyal clientele, many of whom demanded the restaurant open during the weekdays as well.
The place served pub classics, gastronomic delights featuring good old-fashioned cooking with a twist. Aside from competition-winning pies, perfect steaks and off-the-cuff trifles, it also served a version of Carla Jaeger’s one-pot stew that had been Eren’s favourite. Within three years the restaurant opened five days a week and became the most popular diner in Shiganshina.
A few miles from Daupa village, Sasha’s hometown, Nicolo built a restaurant specialising in wild game after hunting became legal once more, and named it The Bow & Arrow, after Sasha’s weapon of choice.
All around the island his restaurant empire grew, and as of this writing, he and his team are planning to open a branch of Sasha’s in Marley, their first restaurant in the continent.
Continuing his involvement in Queen Historia’s campaign for better nutrition and food education, Nicolo opened a culinary academy, offering scholarships to orphan children who have come of age and wished to work in the restaurant business. It was open to everyone who wanted to learn more about the food industry in general.
Amongst the first batch of graduates was Sasha’s adopted sister, Kaia Brauss. As part of the final exams, every candidate had to cook an original dish for a panel of judges to grade. Kaia’s creation, a uniquely gorgeous take on a meat and potato staple, brought tears to Nicolo’s eyes.
“What inspired you to cook it this way?” he asked her.
“I thought of my sister Sasha, thought of what she’d have liked me to cook for her wedding day, and came up with this,” Kaia explained, tears falling down her cheeks.
She passed with flying colors, top of her class. After working for years as a sous chef at Carla’s, she was promoted to head chef, and eventually masterchef overlooking the latest group of restaurants in Stohess and Kalaness. Kaia kept her head down and put her nose to the grindstone, coming up with one hit cuisine after another. As an instructor at the culinary academy, she was highly rated and mentored hundreds of orphan children.
Every month since Sasha died, Kaia visited her grave, keeping the gravestone and surroundings clean, tending to the flowering plants around it.
One day, on the ninth anniversary of Sasha’s death, Connie found Nicolo weeping by her gravestone.
“I’ve betrayed my sweetheart,” he confessed to Connie.
“I’ve fallen for someone else…”
“Oh, man,” Connie sighed, gazing at the masterchef with sympathy. “You’ve mourned Sasha for nearly a decade. I think she’d want you to be happy. I feel she’d understand. You can keep on loving her in your heart, while also being with someone new.”
Nicolo had indeed been very loyal, remaining single the whole time. He wore a macaroni necklace Sasha made for him as a joke, until it disintegrated into the ether. He didn’t date anyone after Sasha, but instead buried himself in his work as a restaurer and chef and teacher. And now this.
“I’m in love with Kaia, Sasha’s own sister. How could I feel such a thing?” the Marleyan wept in guilt and shame.
“Listen to me,” Connie said. “I can’t speak on behalf of Sasha, but she was my best friend and I’ve known her for years. She may have been greedy when it came to food, but with everything else she had a kind and generous heart. You know this as well as I do. More than anything, she’d want you to be happy. She’d want her own sister to be happy, too. I don’t think Sasha’s so petty that she’d impose a lifelong monopoly on your heart.”
“I miss her, Connie,” Nicolo sobbed with searing honesty. “Every day I think of her, and I know I’ll be longing for her until the day I die.”
“Well, I miss her, too. Can’t express just how much… quite impossible to put into words. But I know one thing: that she wouldn’t want me or any of the people she cared for to be miserable on her account. You look miserable, Nicolo. Do you think Sasha likes seeing you this way?”
“No, I suppose not.”
Connie put a hand on his old friend’s shoulder. Poor man, he thought. He had fallen in love with a most unique girl who made such a huge impact on his life he couldn’t forget her. But why did he have to forget? Wasn’t it possible to honor Sasha’s memory but at the same time love again? He searched his memories for something relevant to share with the grieving restaurer.
“I asked her once, back when we were still cadets, why she stole a potato from the kitchen and ate it in front of her superior, when she knew quite well she’d be punished for it. Do you know what she said?”
Nicolo shook his head, “Tell me.”
“She said, I figure the potato’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. She said, we might die tomorrow, so we better take life as it comes, making each day count, and that includes eating a freshly baked potato,” Connie reminisced.
The Marleyan couldn’t help but smile. Typical of Sasha, risking punishment for a piece of spud!
One time the masterchef spotted Jean at The Bow and Arrow. “Happy Birthday to our dear Sasha,” he said, a sad note in his voice. Soon they were sitting at the bar, Nicolo crying into his glass of whiskey as he shared with Jean his dilemma.
“Sasha lived each day to the fullest, Nicolo,” Jean pointed out. “I think she’d want you to do the same. She wouldn’t want you to cling to what might have been, is what I think.”
“I could never forget her… ”
“You don’t have to forget her. Treasure her memory. Be grateful for the way she changed your life. And then live your life, old friend. Isn’t the human heart capable of loving—truly, deeply—several people in one lifetime? Of loving another person after the death of another, without diminishing either of those loves?” Jean asked rhetorically, speaking from experience.
He somehow managed to convince the sorrowful chef to go home.
Another day, Mikasa arrived home to find a weeping Kaia at her doorstep.
“I can’t believe I’ve fallen for my own sister’s fiance,” the young woman confessed to her. “What should I do?”
Mikasa sighed, letting her in and bringing her a cup of tea. “Kaia, look. If you think Sasha’s so inconsiderate and narrow-minded that she’d prevent you and Nicolo from having your shot at happiness, then you know nothing about her.”
The young woman hung her head. “Sasha was my angel sent from heaven, a gift from the gods. She gave me my second chance at life. But now I’m stealing her beloved. How could I do such a wicked thing?”
“It’s not wicked, and it won’t be ‘stealing’, Kaia,” she told her.
The two chefs agonised over their feelings, and it took them a while to learn to come to terms with them. The 104th’s assurances played a huge part in helping them to move on.
“You know that cliché about having only One True Partner, one single soulmate and only one? It’s bullshit,” Jean opined to Kaia, with a vehemence that surprised even himself.
She stared at him, unconvinced but hopeful.
“Trust me on this,” he continued. “The one soulmate concept is the most screwed-up idea a cruel world could ever invent. If we are only allowed one true love in life, what happens to those whose partners have died? Do we condemn them to a life of loneliness, a life of unwanted solitude, because their only love is gone? Are we that terrible a species?”
Kaia shook her blonde head. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
“You see, there are people out there who take on dangerous jobs that might get them killed. Soldiers like me and Sasha. There are plenty others out there: firemen, lumberjacks, steel workers, oil rig workers, miners, and the like. We understand the likelihood of dying on the job. If that happened to me, I wouldn’t want my poor wife Mikasa to be alone forever and die in desolation and grief. I’d want her to find someone new, to love again, to be happy once more. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I think I understand,” Kaia replied, “but Sasha’s my sister, and Nicolo was her fiance. I feel like an evil witch…”
“Sasha cared for you both very much. All I know is that she’d want you two to be happy. Together or apart, it wouldn’t matter to her, as long as you’re happy.”
It took a long time before they could let go of the feelings of disgrace and remorse.
“You say Sasha was a gift from heaven,” Connie told them when they approached him for counsel once more. “To me, she’s the giver of gifts. She gave me the gift of genuine friendship. Of laughter. Of fun. Maybe, just maybe, she gave you gifts in that way, too?
The two chefs glance at each other.
“She rescued Kaia as a gift for Nicolo, and she rescued Nicolo as a gift for Kaia. That’s the way I see it,” Connie continued. “Sasha didn’t just have the biggest appetite, she also had the biggest heart.”
Nicolo sobbed quietly. “That’s true, she did… she really did…”
“I feel she’d bless your union,” Connie opined. “She’s simply that amazing.”
Ten years after the Battle of Liberio, Nicolo and Kaia tied the knot. They named their firstborn daughter Sasha.
“She saved my life,” Kaia explained to her little girl once she was old enough to understand. “A titan was devouring my crippled mother, and I was so shocked and terrified I just sat there and watched, completely frozen, waiting to die. But Sasha appeared and grabbed my hand and forced me to run. She fought off the titan with only a bow and a few arrows. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.”
Little Sasha, nicknamed Lisa, sat on the laps of her Uncle Connie and Uncle Jean and Auntie Mikasa, whenever they visited one of the restaurants, and listened wide-eyed as they told her true stories of her namesake.
“Back then meat was very expensive and eating it was a treat amongst treats,” Connie remembered. “Before going on a dangerous mission our superiors managed to procure meat for everyone. Sasha grabbed an entire roast and tried to eat it by herself. She loved meat that much! Eren and I had to tie her up.”
“Did she get to eat afterwards?”
“No, not that night. But she survived the mission and later on met your father, who cooked a lot of great dishes for her. So she did get to eat all kinds of food.”
“One time, there were men after us, so we went into hiding in a cabin in the woods,” Jean recounted a story for the child. “We were very anxious, downcast, nervous. We snapped at each other and got pissed over small things. Then Sasha tried to pilfer a piece of bread from the food supply, and we began arguing with her.”
“Because she did a bad thing?” asked the child.
“You’d think she’d done a bad thing, but that wasn’t the case at all. What she did relieved the tension, made us take a hard look at our uptight selves and laugh. She made us feel at ease with ourselves and find camaraderie in each other’s company again,” explained Jean.
“She saved my life once,” Mikasa revealed as she hugged Lisa to her chest. “Eren and Historia had been abducted and I was apprehending one of the culprits, but got distracted and failed to notice the man reaching for his gun.”
“Oh no! Did he shoot you?” Lisa asked, wide-eyed.
“Sasha caught him with her arrow just in time. She was high up near the ceiling but had eagle eyes. A crackshot, the steadiest hand I’ve ever seen.”
One time Lisa had the chance to visit the royal palace. Queen Historia took her to a corner of the royal gardens, where there was a small bronze statue of a girl with a bow and arrow.
“She was punished for eating a potato during formation,” Historia recalled, “and was made to run laps on an empty stomach. I saved some bread and water for her; she was so hungry and tired she pounced on me before falling asleep on my lap.”
The queen squeezed the child’s hand as she looked at the sculpture and sighed. “What I wouldn’t give to break bread with her once more.”
It wasn’t just Lisa who was named after Sasha. Jean and Mikasa named their own daughter Sasha Carla Kirschtein, or Sharla for short. Connie named his Sasha Millie Springer, or Sally for short, the middle name being his mother Mildred’s nickname.
These little girls were a testament to Sasha Brauss’ enduring memory. She neither built empires nor captained industries, but she was beloved and treasured by the people who knew her.
“Daddy, tell me about my namesake,” Lisa would demand at bedtime, spurning the book of fairytales, wanting to hear about real-life events instead.
Sasha may be gone, Nicolo explained to his daughter, but her legacy lives on. “She has touched and changed my life in the most wondrous of ways, and my cherished memories of her continue to inspire and uplift me through the years.”
Whenever Nicolo and Kaia looked at their lovely family and their successful restaurant business, they remembered who they owed it to, and said a prayer of gratitude, to a beautiful young woman with huge brown eyes who loved meat and potatoes.
That’s it for this story. Thank you so much for reading! Please please please take a moment to say hi in the comment section below. It’s so lonely and discouraging to find out I haven’t got any readers. Your comments are the only way I know my stories are getting read. Even just one sentence from you will give me the encouragement I need to keep on writing. Feel free to use a pseudonym and dummy email address. Please say something—anything at all—just to let me know you’ve finished reading. Comments do mean the world to me—THANK YOU. xoxo – hana
If you enjoyed the story and have come here via Archive of Our Own (AO3), please leave kudos there to help improve the story’s ranking. Thank you! xoxo – hana
Back – Chapter 3: Marry Me