He was dreading the dinner with the Pruitts. It was still a couple of days away, but dear Fate was he not looking forward to it at all! Who knew what nonsense Brigitte had fed them! His comfortable and lazy life could be in jeopardy if more ‘socialization’ with Brigitte’s social circle became a routine. He wanted a quiet and slothful future, not to climb social ranks in a world that was not his and couldn’t satisfy his indulgences. Maybe he should leave after all? He had been pushing it by accepting Brigitte’s generous accommodation. He had sighed many times over how much easier it would have been to pretend an anonymous hacker had found out about her identity as his patron and had given him the evidence to prove it. Then, he would thank her for her help in Tristan’s name and sadly end this romcom (fake) fleeing to some nice island with some very nice service. Unfortunately, Brigitte Pruitt was not just a pervert. She was a very rich and paranoid pervert. She hadn’t left a single trail of proof of her being connected to his patron’s organization that any hacker could find, him included. He suspected that it was because she had not allowed herself to be connected to the organization at all, working through numerous middlemen and leaving no paperwork with her name on it. The fact that West, his agent, had no freaking idea who she was, but had still been worried and combative over him being in a relationship, showed that orders came from somewhere else, very below the chain for Brigitte to be recognized by someone like West.
I could always fake the evidence, a sneaky thought came to mind. With his skills and the technological backwardness of this time, he could produce evidence so realistic, even Brigitte herself would not dare call it false and think she had been careless instead. But just as the thought came, he squashed it away. They had a game going on, him and her. The rules were set, it would be cheating to use knowledge unavailable to the time they were playing in.
The fact that he had never thought of using his skills as cheating before conveniently slipped his mind.
Looking at the time, it was nearing four in the afternoon. He better get started on dinner or it wouldn’t be ready in time for when Brigitte returned. He left his bedroom and walked down the stairs as he thought of dinner options. Mm, he wanted to go a bit elaborate today. He hadn’t done lamb in a while. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten lamb. So options then: braised lamb, lamb tagine, lamb kebab... Oh! crown roast of lamb! That would go great with some baked artichokes and... His attention was suddenly removed from his mental menu and firmly stuck to the kitchen.
Were his eyes failing him? That couldn’t be Brigitte cooking up a storm in his kitchen, could it?
He blinked. Nope. No hallucinations of any sort. Brigitte wasn’t where she was supposed to be — at work — but in the kitchen, trying to cook... something? The burnt smell of meat wasn’t very telling of what the heck she had been intending to do in the first place.
He leaned on the wall, arms crossed. He really wanted to see what her explanation for this was. He had assumed cooking was his duty as per their unofficial ‘roommate agreement.’ It had made him feel a bit better to have something to do. She had every other chore covered, and wouldn’t compromise even a bit on that. And he was too lazy to actually demand to do housework now. Asking about maids and cleaning staff had been met with a blank stare on her part that also led to rest his worries about other people invading their privacy. So. what was she doing now? She may be courting him — in her very weird and stalker-ish way — but wasn’t she overdoing it with the spoiling? He was already freeloading in her house and living like a pampered cat. If she took away cooking duty from him, even he, lazy as he had become over many worlds, would feel a bit ashamed. The only price he was paying for her indulgence was a couple of hugs every day. She hadn’t been unreasonable in that way, for him to feel vindictive with housework. Heck, she hadn’t even escalated her pursuit, even when he had been expecting her to. Not that he was willingly expecting or wanting or actually thinking about it at all! It was just... she was a pervert but had not behaved like a terrible pervert so... so he wanted to reward her a bit... just a tiny bit!
He felt his cheeks heat at his thoughts. Why was he acting so stupid?!
He coughed, to get her attention, and willed his traitorous thoughts away.
“You are back early.”
She jumped, literally jumped in surprise. Luckily, she didn’t have a knife on her at the time.
Tristan couldn’t stop gaping somewhat at the sight. That was the most unaware and vulnerable he had caught Brigitte, ever. She turned to face him, her expression the picture of calm and discipline. She spoke, collected as always, but her fingers tightened their grip over the spoon. She was nervous. Tristan allowed himself to laugh. She was nervous!
“I didn’t expect you to be awake from your nap so soon.”
Instead of hearing her words, Tristan’s attention had far better things to focus on. Was that olive oil on her shirt? Was her chin stained with flour? He had never seen her so... so unbecoming. And yet, she still spoke with a confident tone, as if she was dressed for a banquet.
It was an image so contrary... and so cute.
That last thought doused his laughter in cold water. He couldn’t be thinking of her as... Was he?
“—Tristan? Tristan? Beloved?” her touch on his cheek took him back to the present and away from thoughts he should not have.
He pushed her hand away, angry at her and himself for what he had been thinking. “Your hands are dirty.”
“So is your cheek now,” she retorted. “But better than thinking sad thoughts, isn’t it?”
Why could this infuriating woman so easily read him? He could feel a blush warm his cheeks. Again. “Decided to take on more housework?” Splendid distraction, he patted himself sarcastically in the back. He wished he could slam his head on the wall, several times. What an idiotic attempt at changing the conversation.
She eyed him for a while but thankfully moved on. “Not quite,” she returned to the kitchen sink and cleaned herself before grabbing some napkins and cleaning his cheek from flour. “I know you enjoy cooking and I wouldn’t dream of depriving myself of the delicacies your hands create. I just... wanted to show you that if you ever tire or wish to no longer cook, I could take over with no worries.”
This woman was really... “And can you,” he started, staring sceptically at the table, “take over?”
She coughed, likely embarrassed by the results of her efforts. “With some time, I can surely prepare more edible food. I just need practice.”
He walked over to the rubbish, from where the smell of burnt meat was coming and looked at the many slabs of wasted meat stashed there. “How much more practice are we talking about here?”
She refused to meet his gaze. He was a bit surprised at that. Not being able to cook wasn’t a big deal at all. Was she really that concerned about it? “You never need to worry yourself about anything that you do not wish to do. Whether a house, art supplies, cleaning, or cooking. I want you to know that. I can provide such material things.”
He couldn’t stop the warmth slipping into his chest. How did this stupid puppy keep saying such touching things without repeating herself?
“Very well then!” he said and grabbed the apron she had forgotten to put on. “I don’t want to be poisoned, so I’ll have to teach you myself, don’t I?” Then he helped her wear the apron.
She smiled at him. “Thank you, beloved.” He blushed fiercely.
“No one allowed you to call me such nauseating names, so stop it. You are becoming ridiculous.” As he reached for cleaning supplies — he couldn’t cook in the mess she had created— Brigitte embraced him from behind. Her breath tickled his ear. “But I like it. Beloved.”
He pushed her away. “Shut up!” His face burned with embarrassment. Why was she so attractive? What the fuck was he doing thinking her attractive? “Stop being such a pervert and help me clean up your mess!”
She chuckled and grabbed the dish rag. “As my beloved wishes.” He looked away in annoyance. What had possessed him to think of her as cute?! A pervert was always a pervert! She just hid it better!
Two hours passed, and he couldn’t believe someone could be so bad at cooking steak and preparing a simple salad. It was like she was allergic to... no, it was like the food was allergic to her and kept dying horrible deaths in her hands.
There she was, butchering a stalk of romaine lettuce, instead of cutting it. The lettuce would be screaming if it could. His eyes were definitely twitching in disbelief at least.
“OK, just... let me show you,” he couldn’t stand it any longer. He covered her hands with his and slowly moved through the motions with her. “We don’t need to be so forceful, just do it like this. This width is good enough.” He looked up to see if she understood, but was surprised at how close their faces were. She wasn’t looking at how he was helping her cut the lettuce at all. She was staring at him, grey eyes warm with affection and —.
He moved back as if burned. “Right, so do it like I showed you. I’ll marinate the steak.” He hurried away, increasingly aware of her lingering eyes.
In the end, as they set at the table, they prepared to eat what Brigitte, with Tristan’s help, had made.
Tristan cut a few pieces of meat and chewed it slowly. It was a bit overcooked but not too bad. He took a spoonful of salad. A bit on the salty side but still good. Overall, a great improvement and a lovely dinner. It was no crown roast but at the moment, he had no more cravings for lamb, but for the meal in front of him. He looked at Brigitte. She was frowning as she ate.
“It’s... edible,” she said after swallowing as if it were an insult. He laughed. Was she comparing her food with his? He had been a master chef in a previous life. Her comparison was ridiculous.
“No complimenting yourself at the dinner table.” Her eyes met his, surprised. He blushed faintly. He had made no secret of his pickiness and sensitive palate. “I might just give up on cooking if you keep going on like this, you know?”
She smiled. The food was much more delicious on the second tasting, and she knew it was because of the sweet person in front of her. Tristan continued with dinner and pretended not to see the burning eyes watching his every move.
Years down the line, it somehow became a routine, for the two of them to spend Friday nights cooking together. But Tristan wouldn’t think about that until a long time later.