Saturday, September 24, 2011
Cookies, Tea and Cuddles
I rather suspect this is going to be a bit of a TL; DR post, but that’s the way the biscuit breaks? Heh. Yesterday I was having a bit of a shut-in day; I’d contemplated going to another museum or the British Library, but I didn’t really get any further than Boots because I needed some things for my trip to Egypt next week. But as I was kicking my heels picking away at Greywater, one of my flist over at livejournal spoke of how she and her friends were having a lousy pre-autumn Friday and came up with a weekend-long rainy day cuddles, cookies, and tea fest! in the comments of her lj post. And as I’d been chatting to Natalia, my awesome Polish artist friend, somewhat idly the night before about a need to write fluff, this struck me as a Rather Lovely Idea Indeed.
So, I ended up writing three little ficlets. I’m not very good with drabbling, or short stories in general. I had intended each snip to be maybe five hundred words. One’s a thousand, and the other two are about fifteen hundred between them, so…oops. That’s where the TL;DR comes into this. You don’t need to read them. I’m doing it for the lulz, essentially; perhaps the biggest laugh comes from the fact that even when I write fluff I still manage the melancholy. Hell, I should have tried writing something fluffy about Jonathan and Tess or a pairing like them; they do have their angst, but it’s generally buried beneath layers and layers of rainbows and unicorns and cute flying dolphins. And Erasure. We can’t forget the Erasure.
So, I played to the theme. We have cookies, tea and cuddles. Three different pairings. Something for a rainy day, perhaps…? Let's start with two people who probably need more fluff in their lives, really.
If You Can’t Take The Heat
It took him longer than it should have to find the chambers he sought. He’d never have thought such knowledge necessary, but the porter had assured him he really had last seen the Sixth Consul heading for the kitchens.
“He was talking about biscuits,” the man had said, bemused. Ryennkar had closed his eyes, briefly intoned a prayer to a god he had no personal belief in, then taken both his directions and a small lantern on his journey downward.
The deeper he descended, the darker it became; at such an inhospitable hour most of the gas-lamps burned low or not at all. Yet when he finally heard signs of life deep in one of the central kitchens, a lively humming more suited to noon than the deepest hours of night, he slowed his step and clicked the lantern off.
Making no attempt to announce himself, Ryennkar took a seat at the end of the long table nearest the stoves. Only one had been fired, each coal a bright ember in the dark; otherwise, only a single gas-lamp gave the scene any illumination. It appeared not to disturb the man as he bent forward to stir the coal with the poker. In silhouette, in profile, he was as striking a figure as ever. He straightened, pushed his hair back; he’d rolled his sleeves up, and his open collar revealed skin both vulnerable and familiar. Caught up in his work, returning to the bowl he’d set upon the edge of the stove, he paid Ryennkar no heed whatsoever. He sighed and balanced his chin upon one hand.
“What are you doing?”
Startled, the other man looked up. The great dark eyes blinked, expression as pensive and uncertain as a rabbit caught in the path of a fox. A second later his entire face lit up, the cheerful smile something like the creation of a universe in the darkness. “Oh…oh! I’m making biscuits.”
“Biscuits.” Ryennkar rolled the word around his mouth, still didn’t find its shape sensible nor practical. “Arosek, there are people who can make biscuits for you.”
He blinked again. “They’re asleep.”
“So do you not think maybe you should be, too?”
“You’re not asleep.”
“I’ve only just arrived.”
Arosek didn’t react to the growing tension of Ryennkar’s words, only shrugging at logic that could not be argued with. He then wiped at his forehead with the back of his hand, his whole face lightly sheened with sweat. “Would you like to try some?”
The wooden spatula extended towards him, a small lump of dough perched on the end. Ryennkar could only stare at it. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Arosek capable of baking. He was the sort of person who could be good at anything, if he wanted to be. Yet still it seemed absurd.
Arosek frowned. “Don’t you want it?”
“Since when do you know how to cook?”
“I can survive on my own,” he said, wry as he withdrew the spoon, returning both dough and attention to his stirring. “Much as you doubt it, sometimes.”
“You say that,” Ryennkar said slowly, lacing his fingers together, “yet I find you baking biscuits for no reason hours before dawn on the day of the Assembly’s summoning.”
“Is that why you’re here? Because you think I need someone to look after me?”
He’d turned, ceased his movements to give this indignant reply – but Ryennkar could see the pleasure beneath it, too. It only made him sigh.
“No.” And his gaze skipped downwards again, where the long line of his throat slipped beneath the collar of his shirt. “I just came to see you.”
“All right, then,” Arosek said, and with a little skip to his step he reached over, retrieved a tray from a nearby bench. “I couldn’t sleep. That’s why I’m down here.” He flicked the spoon in his direction, again both amused and irritated. “And I do know how to cook, thank you.”
Some part of him wanted to ask how and when he’d learned; Ryennkar himself certainly had no recollection of the man ever doing anything of the sort when they’d been children, either during termtime at Truron or upon the few occasions he’d accompanied him home to his family estate at Wendar. But then, when he thought now of that great half-empty house and the long hours his friend had been left to himself within its walls, he thought maybe he understood.
That same friend was now taking the dough and rolling it between his palms, somehow both careful and careless in his actions. Ryennkar stood and stepped forward without a word. Arosek blinked up, surprised, but Ryennkar did not stop. With long fingers he reached out to catch him lightly around his wrist. Those wide eyes stayed on his and the other man made no motion to break the hold – not even when Ryennkar inclined gently forward and pressed Arosek’s fingers, slick with butter and the remnants of the dough, against his own lips.
“Oh, so you are hungry, then?” he asked, and even though he smiled still Ryennkar caught the tremor in his voice.
“Always.” His own smile began to curl upward, deeply flavoured and seasoned with promise as he met Arosek’s gaze. A flicker of tongue, a trace of warmth from tip to knuckle, and the other man’s breath hitched. “Delicious.”
“I…” He wavered, but Ryennkar knew he was already lost even as he looked to the stoves with half-panic in his eyes. “They’ll burn,” he said, finally, faint. And Ryennkar only snorted.
“They’re not even in the oven.” This time, when he leaned forward, his lips brushed instead against the warm shell of Arosek’s ear. “Is is even hot enough yet?”
He drew back. Something close to a dozen different expressions warred their way across his face, and Ryennkar wondered if he hadn’t read this recipe wrong. Then with sudden finality Arosek pushed the bowl aside. Hopping up onto the table he tilted his head and opened his arms wide to accept the aid of another.
“Yes,” he said, and pulled himself free of the apron. “I think it’s hot enough, now.”
After posting that, I have this mental image of my poor mother burying her head in her hands and wailing “Oh Claire, can’t you write something with a girl in it?”
Yes. Yes, I could.
A Little Something For The Ladies
“Don’t slump, Nan, it’s unbecoming.” Then, added with the subtle yet distinct horror of a born fashionista: “It’s also going to wrinkle your dress something terrible. Think of the lace! It’s Ivernian.”
“Oh, what does it matter?” Scowling, Nan slinked even deeper into her chair and contemplated disappearing. “I’d look like a monkey in ball gown no matter where the damn lace was woven!”
“No, the silk comes from Ivern, the needlework is done in Gerat – and I didn’t realise you’d ever seen a monkey in a ball gown.”
And the only reason Nan didn’t choose that moment to vanish was simply because it would have been to avoid Alara – and she was the only person in the vicinity who could have stopped her. Instead she just dropped her eyes to glare at her embroidered napkin. “Huh. You have no idea what I’ve seen.”
In the silence that fell, Nan refused to look up; with arms crossed, she thinned her lips and let the low hum of the tea-rooms do the work for her. Then, the other woman sighed.
“Please, Nan.” One hand reached across the table, a delicately gloved hand resting on her lower arm. “Can’t we just have one civilised afternoon together?”
“Civilised?” Nan glanced upward, half in despair. “Honestly, Al, what does this really matter?”
Her face, as lovely and grave as any cameo carved in ivory, did not move. Yet Nan felt guilt begin to coagulate, low in her abdomen, even before Alara chose her careful words.
“It matters to me.”
“But why?” Nan rubbed her eyes, looked down at her fingertips to see she’d got the shimmering shadow all over the tips of her kid gloves. Cursing, she dropped her hands to her lap, held them there as she met Alara’s impassive stare. “I mean, sure, you make a better lady than I do. You always will. But you’ve usually got a sword strapped to your hip and I know you’ve not given up your twin daggers just to sit down in here…and you and I both know you’ve probably got half a dozen other blades hidden gods-know-where even in that ridiculous dress! And yet you’re all up for looking like we’re two silly twits out for tea? What’s the bloody point?”
Alara remained still as stone, spoke only one word. “Nan.”
Immediately she dipped her head, ashamed; it wasn’t as if Alara had activated the compulsion, as knight could always do to their magian, but then she hadn’t needed to. Nan knew she was in the wrong, no matter how reluctant she was to co-operate. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be.” She reached for the teapot, the feathers upon her neat little hat bobbing elegantly with every movement. “If you keep behaving like that, you won’t be allowed any cake.”
Nan sat up straight. “But that’s the only reason I agreed to this!”
Pausing now, on the verge of pouring, Alara gave her an incurious look. In reply, Nan sighed, leaned back in her chair. Much as she would have preferred an argument, she could not embarrass Alara, not here. “No.”
“I’m glad,” she said, pleasant; she moved the pot forward. “More tea?”
“I really don’t like tea.”
She sighed. “Please, Nan.”
“Why, will I get the cake if I try?”
“Mmm.” Even though the little teapot was heavier than it seemed, Alara’s calm expression showed no strain as she tilted her head, deep in thought. “Actually, I was thinking I might let you see if you can locate the rest of the blades under my bodice.”
Nan’s eyes widened. “What, here?”
“Of course not.” Then her lips, deep crimson and perfectly set, curved upwards in the most delicate and welcoming of smiles. “I was rather thinking of the powder-room, myself.”
Her eyes skipped sideways, then back. It never ceased to amaze her, how something as simple as a smile could transform that beautiful face from an elegant aristocrat’s to that of a cheerful young woman. There was no decision to be made. She held out her cup. “I’ll have the whole pot, thanks.”
Though it was quiet, hidden behind a hand, Nan still heard the lady-knight of Sai’Ona laugh as she carefully filled the tiny teacup. As she then busied herself with refilling her own, Nan raised it to her lips and shook her head.
“And here I was, thinking you were such the lady.”
“I’m all woman,” she said, soft and sincere, and with a snort Nan raised her tea-cup.
“Cheers to that.”
“Slowly, dear,” she reprimanded, but her smile had turned low, and secret; something just between them, even in the crowded tearooms. “You want to savour it. It makes the taste so much better.”
“I suppose you’d know?”
Alara gave no answer. She merely smiled over the rim of her cup and took a long sip of her own. And for the first time that afternoon, Nan looked forward to learning more about being a lady of the land.
…I think I owe someone an apology. Heh. But to complete my little trilogy of rainy days and comfort seeking, I have one last couple to go. Unfortunately this turned deeply melancholy on me, but I’m hoping there’s enough hope in there to make it happy.
Thought of You
“Could you stop the rain, if you wanted to?”
He traced a finger through the dust on the window, leaving a serpentine curve in its wake. “Would you not want to?”
“There’s a balance, in these things.” Entering the study fully, she came to where he had folded himself into the windowseat. As she perched beside him the long skirts of her gown swirled about her like a whirlpool. “Yes, I could stop the rain. But should I?”
“Would you?” he insisted, and she shook her head.
“This is starting to sound a lot like semantics.” Though the conversation had barely begun she had decided to end it; pushing up from her place at his side, she turned as if to leave. He missed her even before she had gone, and though he did not want to reach out with a hand, he stopped her with a word.
Her reluctance was revealed in how quickly she turned back. “Yes?”
“Are you angry with me?”
She stared at him for so long he felt ridiculous for having asked. But when her expression softened, her lips twisted in a wry smile, he knew he’d been right to do it. “No. I’m not.”
“It sounds like you are.” A crease appeared in her brow, and he shook his head, went on. “I don’t want it to be this way. Rylea could never cope with my work – but after everything I thought that you would.”
“Or that I should?” she asked, sharp, and he couldn’t help but parry.
“What was it, that you were saying about semantics?”
She closed her eyes, briefly. Already he regretted it; his life was too short to waste in arguing with her over things that could not be changed in either of them. Then she opened her eyes, her own decision made. Without words, with the rain to accompany the rhythm of her bare feet, she returned to him. Sliding into the space at his side she wound her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest.
“She had a point, I think.” Her voice was muffled, her lips the movement of butterfly feet against his skin even through the thin cotton of his shirt. “She just wanted you. Whatever time you could have together, she thought she should take it, hold it, never let it go.” And she sighed, her face hidden by the spiralling dark curls of her hair. “Is that really so strange, that she would?”
His arms went about her in turn, held her closer. The rain outside continued to beat a light staccato against the dusty glass. No, he thought, it is not so strange. There was no need to say it aloud – it lay between them as it always did, a shadow and a shroud yet to fall. He would always have her. But she would not always have him.
“But would you stop the rain, if you could?” he asked, soft, and she moved her body deeper into the curve of his.
“Even if I should, it doesn’t mean that I would.”
“Because there’s a balance to these things?”
“It’s the way things are,” she murmured, and somehow, he smiled.
“So let’s just stay this way,” he returned. “I don’t have to go anywhere, not right now.”
She gave no answer in words. All she had to offer in that moment was her warm body, heavy with the scent of the sea. He welcomed her presence without reservation. The rain still fell beyond their window, relentless and cool – but they were sheltered by the glass. And as he bent his head to press a kiss to her lips, he figured that it should be, could be, would always be enough to remind him that behind the clouds, the sun would still shine.
Hilariously, as I was working on these stories my sister messaged me on facebook and demanded I make her Belgium slice as she had a craving. It seemed to sit so well with the general theme of the afternoon that I did so. But I’m away from my well-stocked and well-applianced kitchen, and ended up using a can of Guinness as a make-shift rolling pin. A can of Guinness. I’m wondering if this grants me automatic Irish citizenship, actually.
…god bless you, Guinness.