"Oh, yeah? Whataya gonna do about it, big guy?" Travis plants himself squarely in Beck's strike zone, his eyebrows bobbing wildly as he leans in. "You gonna put me in my place, is that what you're gonna do?"
Travis's eyes are the reason Beck takes a step back. They've gone flat. Dead, like that moment in Brazil when Beck announced he was going to haul Travis back to his father.
It's not a look he wanted to see again.
He's not even sure how they got to this place. One minute Travis was talking shit about football until Beck started giving him shit back—and the next thing Beck knew, Travis was in his face, begging for a knuckle sandwich.
"Why you waiting, tough guy? I know you can dish it out."
Beck spins on his heel and stomps into the kitchen. This isn't Travis's stupid thunder-and-lightning crap that leads them to messing up the sheets as often as not. This is...something else. It's been happening more often lately, ever since Beck laid down money on this house, as well as a king-sized bed and a second dresser for the bedroom to go with it. He's not sure what's going on, whether Travis is angling for a way out or if something else has crawled up his ass.
Either way, Beck isn't going to be taunted into channeling his own frustration into Travis's face.
He pulls a packet of deboned chicken breasts out of the fridge. Veal is traditional for this dish, but this is one choice he and Travis agree on. Beck lays some plastic wrap down on the counter, slaps a chicken breast on top, and then layers on the fresh sage from the window box, followed by a strip of prosciutto. He carefully settles a layer of cling wrap on top, pulls the smaller mallet from the utensil jar—and lets loose with an almighty wallop.
"Whoa," he says, crowding in far too close to Beck's shoulder. "I didn't know chicken doughnuts were a thing. Are chicken doughnuts a thing? Because I gotta say, man, if this is some new culinary discovery, we might be on the road to fame and glory."
"Chicken. Doughnuts. Are. Not. A. Thing," Beck says through gritted teeth. He peels the deconstructed chicken off the counter and tosses it into the refuse bin. He takes a deep breath, and then tears another strip of plastic wrap from the roll. "We're having saltimbocca."
"Aww, yes! I love saltimbocca." Travis does a wriggly little dance, all signs of his earlier anger gone without a trace. "Have you squeezed the lemon yet? You know that's my favorite part."
Beck sighs and plucks another leaf from the sage plant.
"Squeeze my lemon," Travis sings, followed by a few screeching howls that Beck thinks are supposed to be an homage to Robert Plant.
Beck lifts the mallet, and—just this once—doesn't bother to tell Travis he's gotten saltimbocca mixed up with piccata again.
"I just don't get what your problem is!"
Beck's the one who starts shouting, even though Travis is the one who started the fight. The result is the same as every other time Travis has managed to provoke him this badly: Travis's eyes go flat, and then he steps in, as aggressive as a hooded cobra.
"Yeah? Well, maybe my problem is you. Did you think of that?" Travis jabs his finger into Beck's chest. "Maybe you should just put up or shut up."
There should be a worn path in the hardwood floor by now, as many times as Beck has stomped his way into the kitchen after one of these fights. He's surprised the hinges on the refrigerator door haven't given in, either, but then again, there's a reason he shelled out for industrial grade. He grabs the package of chuck, then, after a second's thought, adds the lamb as well.
Years of practice mean the grinder is assembled in moments. Beck slices the meat with quick, efficient passes of the knife, and then starts loading the hopper.
"Dear God, I hope that's not a metaphor." Despite his words, Travis is grinning, bouncing on his toes as he watches Beck turn the crank on the grinder. "So what are we having? Hamburgers? That fancy meatloaf you make?"
Beck ignores him. He finishes with the chuck while Travis continues to spew out guesses, and then moves on to the lamb.
"Oh, man. Are you making kofta? I looove kofta."
Beck pauses with his hand on the crank. He knows that, just like he knows Travis loves his chicken saltimbocca and his pan-seared halibut and his cherries flambé—and isn't that a hell of a pattern emerging right before his eyes. Travis pisses him off; Beck rewards his bad behavior.
"Oh, come on, man," Travis wheedles, like he plucked the thoughts straight from Beck's head. "Don't stop now. You gonna let us both starve tonight?"
Beck sighs and goes back to grinding. "Start peeling the shallots, and stop pissing me off."
Travis's grin is so wide Beck feels like he's been dosed with konlabos fruit, all over again.
Beck grinds his teeth. He wants nothing more than to punch something right now. Preferably a dense, doughy bread, something like babka, rising high over the bowl and just ready for his fist to sink into its fleshy warmth. But,
A) He doesn't have anything in the works, and by the time the dough would get to that stage, he expects to be long in bed; and—
B) Travis doesn't get to control him like this.
"You want me to do something?" he spits back at Travis. "Okay, then."
He grabs Travis's upper arm. Firmly, but not that hard. Not hard enough for pain to cause the flinch that flashes across Travis's face. It's gone before Beck can react, Travis twisting so he can get in Beck's face all over again.
"Oh, yeah, big man." Travis grins. "What's it gonna be, huh?"
Beck wheels him towards the front door. "You're pissed off. So am I. We're going to burn it off."
"Oh, I like the sound of that." Travis bobs his eyebrows up and down, but his face freezes when Beck digs their running shoes out of the closet. "What? Nooooo. That is so not what I meant."
"Deal with it," Beck says, and squats to change his shoes. After a moment, Travis follows suit, muttering complaints the whole time, but no longer with any real heat. Beck sighs as he steps out the front door, dinner menu starting to take shape in his head.
"I don't even know why you started this damn argument in the first place!" Beck yells.
"Yeah, well that's obvious, isn't it?"
Beck closes his eyes. He's out of ideas at this point. He's dragged Travis out for a jog half a dozen times now, and every time it's helped them both calm down. What it hasn't done is stop Travis from trying to wind him up in the first place. If Travis were merely after a good meal, he wouldn't be so determined to drive Beck crazy, especially since Beck has been trying his damnedest to spoil Travis when he's in a good mood.
"Come on," he says in as calm a voice as he can manage. He slips his hand down Travis's forearm until their fingers tangle together, and then he turns them towards the kitchen.
"You're going to cook?" Travis asks as Beck pulls out the small container of pumpkin puree he'd set aside for just this recipe. "Yessss! I knew you could do it, big guy!"
"We're going to cook." Beck presses a paper-wrapped bundle of Italian sausage into Travis's hands. "Get that started browning."
Travis opens his mouth, his brow wrinkling, but after a moment he shrugs and does what Beck says. Beck sets the pasta water to boil, then starts gathering the rest of the ingredients. Everything's going great, their movements in simpatico, shoulders companionably bumping from time-to-time, Travis's mouth blessedly quiet for once—until Beck folds the arugula into the sauce and flips the burner off.
"That's it?" Travis takes a step back, eyes hard once again.
Beck glances at the pasta mix. "Yes? I know it doesn't look that great right now, but once I plate it up—"
"That's not what I'm talking about." Travis shoves Beck's chest, with enough force that Beck has to take a step back to keep his balance. "We never finished the fight."
"What fight?" Beck huffs out a breath. "What the fuck, Travis? Why don't you just tell me what you want?"
"What I want?" Travis snorts, then rolls his eyes like Beck's twelve eggs short of a dozen. "What I want is for you to get it out. Just get it over with, damn it!"
Sweat prickles up on Beck's skin, but everything underneath is ice cold. Travis can't be saying what he sounds like he's saying, but….
Walker, Sr.'s beady eyes and mealy mouth flash before his eyes for the first time in months, and Beck has to step away from the stove, his gut churning threateningly.
"Are you really asking me to hit you? Is that what you want?" Beck asks softly. "Do you want to get hit?"
"No, I don't want to get hit! Are you dumb, man? I never want to get hit!" Travis shouts back. A second later his shoulders slump, all the fight gone out of him. He rubs a hand over his face. "But it's a hell of a lot easier to take a punch when I know when it's coming."
"Travis." His throat closes up after that. Beck wants to reach out, wants to pull Travis in for a hug and maybe give him a shake—but that's the absolute last thing Travis needs right now. He takes a deep breath, and another, until he can get the words out.
"I have a temper," Beck says, and God, it hurts that he can't put this all on Walker, Sr., but part of becoming the man he wants to be has been learning to face up to the hard truths. "I let myself be run by it when I was younger, and I hurt people because of that. I hurt myself, because that's how your father got his hooks in me. And then, because he told me to, I hurt even more people. Including you."
Travis shifts his weight. "Yeah, well. I might have been kind of a dick a time or two, myself."
"Kind of?" Something in his neck has never been right after that trip down the mountainside—but that's not what's important right now, so he holds up his hand when Travis opens his mouth. "The point is, I have a temper, but I control it now, not the other way around. You don't have to keep trying to provoke me, because I promise I am never going to hit you again. Never."
Travis's throat works. Beck takes a step closer, until he can brush Travis's knuckles with his own.
"You know what else?"
Travis shakes his head.
"I'm never going to let anyone else hit you again, either. Especially your father." Beck grips Travis's shoulder. Gently. "You believe me?"
Travis gives him a shaky nod. He glances away, but Beck can see him blinking away the shine of tears.
A second later, he looks back to Beck, grin blindingly bright. "I can't promise the storms'll never come in, though." He takes a step back, wriggling his foot in the air. "You're not afraid of a little thunder, are you?"
"I think I can handle it," Beck says, dry as a good merlot. Travis comes dancing in, and Beck scoops him over his shoulder, grinning as Travis cackles all the way to their bedroom.
"Okay, but their theories are so wrong, you have to watch it," Travis says, dogging Beck's steps as he strides back and forth through the kitchen, trying to figure out what the hell happened to the nutmeg he bought last Tuesday. "I mean, we're talking pyramids-were-built-by-aliens level of bad."
The freezer. Why the fuck had he put it in the freezer?
"There's this one bit I really want your opinion on, though. I mean, yes, it sounds just as crackpot as everything else, but you remember the cave where we found El Gato, right? So I was thinking—"
Beck slams the freezer door shut and spins around. "Travis! I'm not going to watch your stupid documentary with you!"
Travis swallows hard. His jaw tightens, his eyes go flat.
Shit, Beck thinks.
Then Travis sighs and rubs his hand over his face. "I know it's a stupid documentary," he says. "But that's why I want to watch it with you."
"Yeah, I get that." Beck reaches out, briefly gripping Travis's shoulder. "And I will. Later. But you know I have to get these samples made up right now, or there's no way I'll get the job."
"Yeah, sorry. I guess I got a little carried away, huh?"
Beck snorts. "Just a little."
"I'll get out of your hair," Travis says. "But tonight it's just you, me, and a bunch of architecture-obsessed aliens, okay?"
"It's a date." Beck leans in, brushing his nose against Travis's, and makes a mental note to make up some chocolate fondue.
(Page 2 contains recipes mentioned in this story.)