A Slight Change of Plans
Written for the Soul Eater livejournal prompt community, 42_souls.
Pairing: Kid/Liz/Patti. Prompt: Ice.
Liz thought that by now she had developed a fairly good perceptive intuition when it came to Kid and the way that his brain worked. She could sense the beginnings of a new obsession even before his mind became fully fixated on it. She could read the signs of impending disaster in the way that his fingers twitched, in the way that his brow would furrow with sudden concentration, or in the way that his gaze would linger just a bit too long on Patti's eyebrows (three days to trim and sculpt to his satisfaction), on a flower arrangement (two weeks to "fix" properly and he actually did not seem to care that the flowers were already dying by the time that he finished), or on the faucet handles of the kitchen sink (which took two months and a full kitchen remodeling to correct in his eyes). She could read these signs the way that some animals could sense an impending earthquake, or a hurricane. Not that reading the warning signs helped, of course, because in the end she was rarely able to derail Kid before he got himself good and stuck in an obsessive rut. Most of the time she and Patti just had to stand back and let his craziness run its course. But still, Liz liked having at least a little bit of warning in advance. And she was proud of her ability to detect those warnings.
Sometimes, however, he still managed to catch her by surprise.
Like the steak thing. She just never saw that one coming.
And it started so innocuously, too. "We should have steaks for dinner," Kid said as they were walking to school one morning.
"Sounds good," Liz said, noncommittally.
"We should go buy some steaks now," Kid added, "before it gets late and they get all picked over."
"Kid, it's eight o'clock in the morning."
"I really think that we should take care of this now, Liz," Kid said, rather nervously.
That was when Patti started laughing, because she already knew that they most certainly were not going to make it to school that day, at all. Kid wasn't going to stop obsessing until he had bought his steaks. And of course as soon as the three of them procured three perfectly symmetrical filet mignons, Kid insisted on returning home to begin preparing them right away.
When they arrived back at the house, Kid asked Liz, "How do you like your steak?"
"I like my steak for dinner, not for lunch. Or for brunch," she answered, glancing meaningfully at a nearby clock.
"Liz, that doesn't answer my question."
"It's too early for steak!"
"Liz, steak should be cooked while it's still fresh."
"All right, all right, all right!" Liz threw up her hands in defeat. "Medium-well! Just do mine medium-well! Patti's too."
She left Kid alone to do his thing in the kitchen. Patti insisted that Liz watch TV and build a pillow fort with her. The sisters were busy doing just that, when Kid reappeared with a ruler clutched in one hand and a crazed expression in his eyes. "Liz!"
"What's the exact ratio of pink to brown on the inside of a medium-well filet mignon?" He waved the ruler around impatiently. "I need to know, preferably in millimeters."
Liz was momentarily amazed that Kid seemed so focused on this matter of dire importance that he neither noticed, nor minded, the fact that he was only holding a ruler in one hand. Or that she and Patti had just completely torn apart one of the couches. "Kid, there is no exact ratio," Liz answered.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, just cook it until there's a little bit of pink left in the middle."
"But how am I supposed to know how much pink?! If there's too much pink then it's rare and not medium-well, but if there's too little pink then you might as well just call it well-done, and what exactly is the dividing line between rare and medium, or medium and well-done? How am I supposed to know how much pink to leave if you won't tell me?!"
Liz stared at him. "Were you seriously planning to measure the amount of pink and brown in the center of our steaks with that ruler?"
"Yes, Liz, that's why I asked you for a ratio. Like 'two millimeters of pink on the inside for every millimeter of brown on the outside.' That would be the type of answer that would actually help me."
"Okay, um… Two to one. Just like you said. That sounds like a good idea."
Kid finally left. Patti frowned at the half-finished pillow fort and said, "Maybe we shoulda told him to make 'em all brown inside."
"Well-done, Patti. That's called well-done. And you're right, we should have." Liz bit her lip and frowned at the television. She could already tell that this was going to be one of those things, and that worried her. Sometimes Kid was perfectly capable of behaving like a normal human being. She knew that sometimes he could cook, clean, go to school, train with her and Patti, or go out to a movie or a restaurant without having a complete meltdown about something trivial. And then there were the days when he's spend three or four hours at a time checking and re-checking the alignment of the picture frames in just one room of the house. Liz could tell that this was going to be one of those types of days.
She finally smelled the filet mignon cooking. It smelled delicious. Maybe she could bring herself to eat steak at ten in the morning after all, Liz was beginning to think, especially if it smelled this good.
Three hours and many TV shows later, however, there was still no steak to be had. Liz risked stepping into the kitchen to check on Kid, and she found him hard at work dismantling the built-in grill on the top of their extremely expensive stove. There was no sign of the steaks anywhere. Liz approached Kid cautiously. "Um, Kid…?"
"We have to replace this grill."
"Because it is inadequate. It left uneven and highly asymmetrical grill marks on the surface of the steaks. That is unacceptable."
"Kid, what did you do with the steaks?"
"I threw them out, of course. Liz, I couldn't possibly serve such unacceptable steaks to you or Patti."
"Kid, I don't care about the uneven grill marks--"
"It wasn't just the grill marks. I was unable to get the ratio of pink to brown meat correct. And I seasoned them wrong."
"So you threw away three filet mignon?!" Liz stared at him, aghast. How could he be so spoiled?! Liz knew what it was like to be poor and hungry. The fact that Kid was willing to throw away three expensive cuts of choice meet for such trivial, stupid reasons suddenly infuriated Liz. "Do you have any idea how wasteful that is?!" Liz snapped at him.
He paused in the middle of unscrewing part of the grill, his chin trembling. "I'm such a failure!" he suddenly wailed. "All you asked for was a medium-well filet mignon and I couldn't even cook a single acceptable steak for you! I'm so worthless. I'm trash. I'm worse than trash." He dropped the screwdriver and sank to his knees, sobbing helplessly. "Why did I even try to cook steak without the proper grilling equipment in the first place?!"
Liz knelt down beside him, and rubbed his shoulders soothingly while she let him cry himself out. "There, there," she said, half-heartedly comforting him. She was still quite pissed at him for throwing away the steaks, though. Just on principle.
Eventually Kid's tears ran out, and once he'd gotten himself under control again, he promptly returned to his job of disassembling the top of their stove. Liz figured that by the time they'd bought and installed a perfect grill, this whole drama would be over with.
She was wrong.
Kid did not stop at merely buying a new grill. He also bought steak cookbooks – eight of them. Liz was amazed to discover that even one cookbook entirely devoted to steak merely existed, let alone eight of them. And Kid also upgraded the cable television in their home to satellite TV just so that he could watch "Boy Meets Grill" on the Food Network every day at noon. That this required Kid to skip his afternoon history class every day for two weeks in a row was clearly not considered a problem at all in Kid's mind.
And thus began Death the Kid's quest to master the art of cooking a perfect steak.
The first week, he ended up throwing out perfectly good steak every day and crying in frustration every night. But Liz had little sympathy for his tears, considering the amount of food that he was wasting. "Kid," she said, finally putting her foot down (literally) and blocking him throwing a perfectly fine ribeye down the garbage disposal, "if you throw away one more steak, just one more steak, I swear to God, Kid, I swear to God that I will tilt every picture frame, break every candle, and unfold every roll of toilet paper in this house!"
Kid's eyes widened with terror. "You wouldn't."
"Because if you keep wasting food like this, then you deserve to be punished!"
His brow furrowed, considering this. "But what else am I supposed to do with a ruined steak?" he asked.
"One, it's not 'ruined.' It's fine. Two, normal people can eat food even when it's not perfect. You eat imperfect food all the time! Why are you freaking out about this steak thing?"
"Because I need to learn how to--" He suddenly cut himself off, frowning.
Liz was puzzled as to why he didn't finish his thought. Then, after a long moment of silence from Kid, Liz finally grew impatient and said, "Look, let's make a deal. You can keep working on this steak thing until you get it perfect. But every steak that you cook from now on has to be an 'experiment' steak, okay? And we're going to do this scientifically. Like, making each try an experiment. And Patti and I can eat the results and tell you what we think. And that's how you're going to learn how to do it better next time. Got it?"
Kid's face brightened immediately. "Liz, that is an absolutely brilliant idea!"
"You think so?" Liz fought back a slight blush. She wasn't used to being the smart one, and she never came up with any great ideas. But she had, over the years, developed at least a little bit of a creative side when it came to dealing with Kid's conniptions.
And so the steak-tasting began. Kid took Liz up on her offer and threw himself full-throttle into his cooking. He served Liz and Patti steak and eggs for breakfast, sirloin for lunch, and tenderloin for dinner. "Yaaaaaay, steak!" Patti exclaimed, pounding her fork and knife eagerly against the dining room table as Kid served her more filet mignon. "Yaaaaaay, steak!" Patti shouted, the night that they ate Chateaubriand. "Yaaaaaay, steak!" Patti squealed, the day that Kid tried to make flank steak served with Argentine-style chimichuri sauce.
And with the steak always came the apologies. "It's not the right tenderness," Kid stated, even as he served Liz her steak. "It's seasoned wrong" or "The edges are overcooked" or, more often than not, "It's asymmetrical, sorry."
"It's fine, Kid."
"No, it's not!" And Kid tore at his hair in frustration and finally proclaimed, "I have to try again tomorrow!" Every night.
As a side effect of his pursuit of the perfect steak, Kid incidentally perfected several other culinary arts. He taught himself how to make the perfect salad to accompany any type of beef. He mastered no less than five different mashed potato recipes. He learned how to choose the perfect wine to fit any dish. He learned how to make a perfect Long Island Iced Tea for Liz, and the perfect chocolate martini for Patti. And yet, he never could get the seasoning or the cooking technique for his steaks perfected, at least not in his mind. Thus the steaks kept coming, with every meal.
This might have kept going forever if Patti hadn't finally mutinied.
The night that Kid set down a huge (and, according to him, still imperfect) porterhouse in front of Patti, Patti scowled and pushed the plate away. "No!"
" 'No' what, Patti?" Kid asked.
"No more steak!"
"NO! MORE! STEAK!" Patti screamed, stabbing her steak knife into the dining room table for emphasis. "Patti's sick of steak! Patti wants pizza! And puzghetti! And more pizza! NO MORE STEAK!"
"Patti," Kid said, "I need your cooperation until I can make the perfect--"
"No!" Patti leapt out of her chair and brandished her steak knife at Kid's throat as if it were a switchblade. "Now, listen to Patti," Patti said, her voice low and dangerous, her eyes wide and crazed. "It's been three weeks – three weeks – since Kid last made Patti a pizza. So right now Kids is gonna go back to the kitchen, and he's gonna make a reeeeaaaaaaal big cheese pizza for Patti. Right. Now!"
Kid stared at Patti. "All right," he said, slowly, as he backed toward the kitchen.
"AND IF YOU EVER TRY TO MAKE ME A STEAK AGAIN I'M GONNA CUT YOU!" Patti screamed after him. "I'M GONNA CUT YOU SO MUCH YOU'LL NEVER BE SYMMETRICAL AGAIN!!"
"Okay, okay!" Kid shouted, from the kitchen. "I'm making your pizza now, all right?!"
Patti suddenly dropped her knife, and her face bloomed into a cheerful smile. "Yaaaaay, pizza!" Patti laughed, clapping her hands with delight.
Liz jumped up, ran around the table, and hugged her sister fiercely. "Thank you, Patti," she said. Liz had eaten so much steak over the past week that she couldn't even remember what other dead animals tasted like anymore.
From then on Kid did not serve steak to Liz or Patti anymore. But he did not – he would not – give up on his quest to make the perfect steak. This meant that he was back to throwing away his imperfect steaks, of course. And Liz worried about the fact that now he seemed to be spending twice as much time cooking every day as he did going to school or training. Finally, Liz knew that something had to be done to stop him.
It happened the night that they ate macaroni and cheese for dinner. Liz helped Kid clear the dishes, then he immediately shooed her out of the kitchen so that he could try another one of his steak experiments. Liz retreated to her room. She was busy pondering whether she should attempt to do her homework or paint her nails instead, when God himself popped up in her dresser mirror, waving his giant hands at her enthusiastically. "YO YO YO Miss Liz WAZZZZAAAAAP?!"
Liz screamed and threw a pillow at the mirror. "Eeeeeeeeeeeek!"
"D-D-Don't sneak up on me like that!" Liz said, trying to sound like the intimidating tough girl that she liked to be, but unable to hide the tremor in her voice. "And if you want to talk to Kid, he's busy downstairs in the kitchen."
"Actually, I was kinda-sorta hoping to talk to you," the Grim Reaper said.
Liz stared at him. "Me? Why?"
"Because, see, I just found out that Kid failed every single one of his classes this semester. And Patti passed two. But you passed three of your six classes," the Reaper went on, ticking off the numbers on his enormous fingers, "so that makes you the smartest one here right now. Anywhoo, this is a little bit embarrassing for me, you know? Not that I don't have faith in Kid. But I wish that he would try harder in school. I dunno what to do, though. He's too old for me to spank but he doesn't listen when I try to talk to him, either. So I thought that maybe you could help 'cause, like I said, you're the smartest one here. Can you talk to Kid for me, Liz? Maybe he'll listen to you."
Liz scratched at the side of heard, unsure how she felt about the Grim Reaper's words. "You know," she said, "Kid doesn't usually listen to me, either."
"But he trusts you," the Reaper said. "And he admires you a lot."
Liz blushed. She already knew that both things were true, but she blushed anyway. "I'll try," she promised.
"Thanks!" the Grim Reaper said, brightly. "And tell Kid that if he can pass at least one class next semester, I'll get him that M60 that he's always wanted for his birthday."
Ah, bribery, Liz thought. So maybe the Grim Reaper did know a little bit about fatherhood after all. "But Kid wants two M60s," Liz pointed out, "because he keeps saying that just one would be asymmetrical."
"Well, then. He's just going to have to pass two classes, I guess!" And with that, the Grim Reaper vanished.
Liz went back downstairs, and ventured into the kitchen. The dishes from their dinner had been washed and put away, and Kid had already begun working on the steaks that he was going to grill that night. Even though he wasn't serving the steaks to Liz or Patti anymore, he still insisted on cooking three of them, for the sake of practice. Liz forced herself not to dwell on how wasteful that was, or she would just make herself angry again. She needed to stay calm, for his sake. "Kid," she said.
He didn't look up from his steak. "What now?"
She leaned against the refrigerator, watching him. "Why are you doing this?" she asked.
"Because I'm trying to cook some steak."
"Because he have to eat steak. Don't be stupid, Liz," he said. "Eventually even Patti is going to ask for steak again, someday. Maybe soon. I have to be ready by then." He still wasn't even looking at her, though. He was concentrating on slowly trimming the fatty edges off one end of the steak.
"We could go out for steak," Liz suggested.
"No. I have to do this."
"No you don't."
"Yes I do."
"Because I have to."
"Would you listen to yourself?" Liz hissed at him. "You sound like a three-year-old!"
"I most certainly do not."
"Listen," Liz said, trying one last appeal to some sort of logic that might, just might, be able to penetrate through the dense fog of craziness that pickled his brain. "You're always going on and on and on about how you have to become a perfect death-god. I know the way that you drive yourself, Kid, and I know what you're striving toward, too. So why this, now? Why this stupid steak thing? A god doesn't have to know how to cook a perfect steak. A god doesn't have to know how to cook anything at all! We all know that your dad can't even cook toast. Hell, Kid, you know that Sid won't even let your dad near a coffee maker, it always ends up as a total disaster! So why do you care? Since when did a god have to know how to make a perfect steak?"
Kid finished trimming the fat off one steak and moved on to the next one. "You're right," he said, very calmly, but still not looking directly at Liz. "A god doesn't have to know how to make a perfect steak." He worked his knife with a slow precision that would have made Professor Stein proud. "But a man does."
Liz was silent for a moment, digesting this. Then she asked, very quietly, "What does that mean?"
"Liz, I'm really trying to concentrate, here."
But Liz wouldn't back down. "I thought you said you were going to become a great death-god."
"I am. But I have also slightly revised my goals."
"Well," he said, still frowning down at his steak and not meeting Liz's eyes, "You're the one who's always going on and on and on about how you want to be with a good man. So, I'm also going to become a good man. Compared to becoming a god, it shouldn't be too terribly difficult."
Liz stared at him.
He finished trimming the last steak, put down his knife, and finally turned toward her. "Do you still like yours medium-well?"
She blinked, confused, momentarily utterly baffled by his question. Then she remembered. Oh, steak. He's talking about steak. "Uh, sure."
"Do you like mojitos?"
"Good, because I am fairly certain that I've just figured out how to make a perfect mojito. Wait, do mojitos go with beef?"
He seemed so terribly concerned about this issue, that Liz had to force herself not to suddenly laugh. "They do."
Kid was washing his hands already. "Great, I can make you one now." In no time he was busy counting out eight ice cubes to put in Liz's glass.
Liz watched him chopping up fresh mint lives, bemused. "So, tell me. Is making a perfect mojito something else that a good man has to know how to do?"
"I believe that it is."
Liz sighed. "So now you're working on becoming a god and a man. Why do you always have to make things twice as difficult for yourself?"
He blinked at her. "But I'm just doing what I have to do." He handed her the mojito glass, and their hands touched once, briefly, as she took it from him. "Besides," he said, "the end results will be worth it."
"What, you mean becoming a god?"
"No. Being a good man."
Liz suddenly felt a very unwelcome blush creeping up her neck. She took a sip of her mojito and said, "Wow. This is perfect."
He looked relieved to hear it. "Good," he said. Then he stepped away from her, and returned his attention to preparing the soon-to-be-wasted steaks.
"Hey, Kid," Liz said, trying to get his attention again.
Liz bit her lip, suddenly unsure if she had the words to say what she wanted to say, or if he was even ready to hear it. I don't give a rat's ass whether you can cook a steak or make a mojito, she wanted to tell him. That's not what makes a good man a good man, don't you get it, you freakin' idiot?! she wanted to shout at him. You're going about this all wrong! You have no idea what makes a good man, let alone what makes a decent human being! she wanted to scream at him. A good man is somebody who understands what it means to really care about somebody other than himself, and he has to be someone who loves me, and he has to be someone who loves Patti too, she wanted to explain to him. And you already understand that part and I know how you already feel about us, Kid, she wanted to say to him, I know because I've touched your soul, and I know that you're already a good man even if you don't know it yet, and I wish that you would please please please stop beating yourself up over this stupid steak thing!
But Liz took one look in Kid's eyes, and she knew that there was no point. Her words wouldn't reach him, not tonight. He had steaks on the brain and he was barely even pretending to listen to her anymore.
But someday he would understand. Maybe he would even figure it out on his own, without Liz having to bash him over the head with the truth. Someday, surely. Liz had seen his soul grow a lot in the few years that she had known him, and she knew that he still had a lot of growing up left to do. For her part, she did too.
So she couldn't say those things to him yet. Instead Liz said, "Kid, do you know what else a good man knows how to do?"
He frowned, seriously considering her question. "Program a VCR?" he speculated. "No, wait. Install a new kitchen sink. You're trying to tell me that you want a new kitchen sink, aren't you."
"Um, no. I was actually going to say 'French kiss.'"
Kid looked scandalized. "Liz!"
"Aw come on," she said, determined to have a little fun with him. "Pucker up."
"I can't! Not now!"
"What, is this some sort of hygiene thing, or something?"
"No, but..." He looked away from her. "I am nowhere near worthy enough to kiss you right now."
For a moment, Liz stared at him, utterly stupified. Then she laughed. She laughed and laughed and laughed, because she couldn't believe how ridiculous he was being. He was a god, and she was just some lowlife white trash homeless girl he'd met in a back alley in Brooklyn, and he thought that he was unworthy to kiss her?!
Kid, unfortunately, seemed infuriated by her laughter. "What's so funny?" he demanded.
"Why do you think that you're unworthy of me?!"
"Because I can't even cook a decent medium-well steak and you--"
Liz put down her mojito glass, grabbed him by the shoulders, and kissed him hard, before he could finish his protest.
Then she slowly pulled away from his lips. He stared up at her, blinking, stunned. Liz licked her lips and said, "Don't you dare put me up on a pedestal like that, Kid. Don't you dare. That's not what I want from a man, and that's not what a good man does. I'm the one who decides who I want to have kissing me, okay? And who's worthy or unworthy or whatever, that's not even part of the equation." She reached down and tenderly brushed his hair from his eyes. "Grow up, Kid."
"I'm trying to."
"I know you are." And he was doing so much of it for her sake, too, which made it all that much sweeter. Liz let go of Kid's shoulders and stepped aside. "So, uh. Do you need any help cooking?"
"No, Liz. I can do this."
"Will you at least let me do the dishes later?"
"Absolutely not. You never wash them well enough, and you never manage to put anything away in its correct place."
Liz rolled her eyes and stepped out of the kitchen. "Remind me never to French you again."
"Was that supposed to be a French kiss?" he called after her. "If so, then you did it incorrectly, Liz. You neglected to use your tongue."
Liz paused in midstep, then turned back toward him. "I did forget to do that, didn't I."
"Kissing should be done properly, Liz."
Liz licked her lips again, and stepped toward him. "Well, if there's one thing that I've learned from you," she said, "it's that if you screw up something the first time, you have to keep trying and trying again, until you get it perfect."
Kid was ultimately not able to figure out the secret to cooking the perfect steak that night. But he did teach Liz how to do something else absolutely perfectly instead.
Well, this one obviously deviated pretty far from the original "ice" prompt. My first draft of this story wasn't even about steak at all! But I like the end result - this version - much better than what I originally wrote. So, um, let's just go ahead and count the eight ice cubes in Liz's mojito as being enough mention of ice to say that I fulfilled the prompt. Okay, then! I hope that you enjoyed it, and C&C is always appreciated! - Nenena