Working with the knife was soothing now that Barret had two hands again, and he chopped the onion slowly, working to remember exactly how to do it. It had been years since he'd last chopped up an onion, and even longer than that since he'd last cooked anything. He swept the onion off of the cutting board and into a bowl that Marlene was holding out, and the moment she had it all, he bit down on the piece of bread he'd been holding between his teeth, caught the bread as it fell, and set it on the counter. Marlene giggled, and she watched as he added green onion and bell pepper. He cut everything as small as he could manage, and while it wasn't exactly the neat piles of evenly diced vegetables he once could have done in half the time, he wasn't rushing.
Marlene was watching everything he did, and any time he opened his mouth to explain what he was doing or why, she furrowed her brow at him and went, "Hush, Daddy. I'm memorizing."
In some ways, he was grateful. It meant that he could focus on what he was doing, not on trying to avoid explaining to her that he only cut everything so small because Myrna liked it that way. Because Myrna used the cornbread to make dressing on special days, and she wanted it smooth and even, with nothing in it that would be noticeable after she crumbled it up and started putting everything else in it.
The last pan of her dressing had been the year before the fire. Marlene hadn't been born yet, and Dyne and Eleanor had come over for dinner. Guests were always a special enough occasion for dressing, and Myrna had spent most of the day in the kitchen with Barret, watching him cook first, then taking her turn and transforming the simple round pans of cornbread into something that he could have found no where else.
He blinked away the heat in his eyes as he added the pinch of sugar, added a little salt and the seasoning blend that had taken him close to two months to remember how to make. He fried bacon, set it on a plate, and Marlene dumped the vegetables into the pan with the bacon fat before she set to crumbling the bacon itself, shaking her fingers because it was too hot to handle at first.
He smiled as she started to blow on it, and then he reached over to grab it for her, to crumble it himself, only to damn near drop the piece because it was hot—
And he dropped it as he felt how hot—
He frowned, turning the hand over and studying the fingertips. There was no sign of burning, no singing or anything else (of course there wasn't; it would take a lot more heat than that to damage the arm he'd gotten from Old Man Sakaki), but he had ... he had felt it.
It wasn't possible. He had remembered what it felt like to hold hot bacon, to try to break it into small pieces entirely too damn early (he remembered Myrna laughing the first time he did it in front of her, laughing and taking his hand and bringing his fingers to her lips) and he had dropped it from sheer reflex.
It wouldn't have been the first time.
Marlene didn't say anything as he dropped the piece again, just pointed at the skillet he was holding on the stove, and he focused on it again, on moving the onion and the bell pepper so that it wouldn't burn. She blew on the bacon a little more, and the moment it was cool enough for her to handle, she broke it up into the smallest pieces she could do. Barret smiled, and they put the bacon back in the bowl, added the vegetables to the bowl too when they were done.
He missed the stone cookware that he'd had in Corel. Missed the way you didn't pour the vegetables into another dish and add the meal and the milk and the baking powder and the egg. Instead, he would have added the meal and the milk and the bacon into the same pot he'd just cooked the vegetables in, and the whole thing would have gone into the oven.
Marlene took the baking dish that Tifa had set out the moment she'd heard Barret say that he wanted a piece of cornbread, and she slid it into the already heated oven.
Barret dropped his hand— his real hand— on the top of her head, and she smiled up at him. When he leaned back against the counter, she tried to hoist herself up to sit beside him, and he let her try it for a minute before he laughed and reached for her. The moment she was sitting comfortably, she punched him lightly on the arm and grinned.
"So. Cornbread," she said, and she glanced back at the oven. Barret nodded, and after a minute, she looked at him. "It's a Corel thing, isn't it?"
"Corel thing?" Barret raised an eyebrow as he looked at her, studying the way she was intently watching the oven, as though she could somehow see what the bread was doing inside. She nodded, and he snorted. "Nah. Ain't a Corel thing. A Wallace thing."
Her smile widened, and she looked away from the oven in order to see him, her eyes narrowing as she raked her gaze over him. "Yeah? A Wallace thing." When he nodded, she tilted her head. "You learn from your daddy?"
"Mother," Barret said, and Marlene went quiet at that for a minute. He couldn't stay quiet for long though, and when she didn't immediately offer him a question to focus on, he continued with, "Her mother taught her, you know? Then she taught me. Now I'm teachin' you."
She nodded, and for another moment, she was quiet. She was learning that from Tifa, he decided after a minute of looking at her, seeing the way she tilted her head back, the way her expression drew together when she was thinking. Tifa did that, and honestly, she could have a hell of a lot worse role model than Tifa.
(He still looked at Tifa sometimes and wondered where his tough girl had gone, why she seemed to simply fall apart when she'd found Cloud. For a few weeks after Cloud had arrived, Barret had hated him because of the way Tifa was different around him.)
Before Barret could start talking again though, Marlene looked up at him, and she said, "I like it being a Wallace thing." His brows furrowed, and she smiled widely up at him before she leaned over to prop her head up against his arm. "I like being a Wallace with you," she murmured.
He couldn't stop the way his smile spread over his face, and he reached over with his hand – the prosthetic, he realized belatedly, but Marlene didn't seem to care – and ruffled her hair. She didn't stop him. "I like you bein' a Wallace too."