It's a little past three-thirty one slow Wednesday afternoon, and Cougar has spent the past fifteen minutes staring alternately at a blank Excel spreadsheet and the clock, when Jensen rolls to a stop in his office doorway, revolving gently in his office chair. Cougar looks up and raises one eyebrow.
“Remember that milk candy we ate in Kandahar?” Jensen asks without preamble.
Cougar shrugs. Sweet things have never been his favorite, and Jensen's description isn't ringing any bells.
“The really nice little old lady gave it to us after I fell through her roof. It had pistachios and stuff.” Jensen looks expectantly at Cougar, and Cougar smiles. He remembers now. “Man,” Jensen continues wistfully, “that stuff was delicious.” With that, he spins around and propels himself slowly out the door and back down the hallway.
Cougar closes Excel and opens Firefox. It's unlikely that Jensen was making a not-so-veiled hint – one of the many things Cougar likes about Jensen is that he doesn't go for passive-aggressive suggestions, choosing rather to just say outright what he wants – but that's not the point. Cougar likes cooking for Jensen, and that's really all the reason he needs to type “Afghan milk candy” into Google. The first result gives him the name – multiple variations on the spelling of sherpera – and after that, it's easy to spend two hours combing recipe blogs and forums, puzzling his way through incomplete instructions, recipes without measurements, recipes with bizarre measurements, and recipes written in a mishmash of several languages at once. By the time he shuts down his computer and goes to find Jensen, Cougar has a sheaf of recipes in his back pocket and a plan of attack. He waits until Friday evening, when Jensen is dead to the world, headphones on and all three monitors full of code, to make his first attempt.
It doesn't go so well. In fact, it fails rather spectacularly. Cougar overcooks the sugar syrup, with the result that mere seconds after adding the powdered milk, the whole mass solidifies in the saucepan. He can't even remove the spatula. Cougar sighs, and resigns himself to testing this recipe a few more times. Just as he is about to plunge the pan into the sink and let it soak overnight, Jensen wanders into the kitchen, drawn by whatever sixth sense allows him to detect with uncanny accuracy the precise moment when Cougar has finished cooking something that Jensen might be able to eat.
Jensen takes one look at Cougar standing next to the sink, saucepan in hand, and says, “Cougs, you're not going to wash that, are you?”
“It didn't work,” Cougar says, but Jensen is undeterred. He pries the saucepan from Cougar's hands, shakes his head sorrowfully, and carries his spoils back to his computer desk. The fact that he has to chip chunks of the candy off with a butter knife doesn't seem to deter him.
Cougar waits until the next day to 'accidentally' clean the pan.
The second attempt also fails – this time, Cougar undercooks the sugar syrup, and it never quite sets up. Jensen eats it with a spoon, straight from the pan, because when he's on a coding jag he lives on sugar and caffeine. Cougar figures that at least sherpera has milk and nuts, which makes it healthier than Pixie Stix – Jensen's usual poison of choice.
Attempts three and four go similarly awry – either overcooked or undercooked; while attempt five turns out downright weird, so much so that even Jensen won't eat it. Cougar still doesn't know what went wrong there.
While buttering the pan in preparation for attempt six, Cougar decides that this is it: if this batch doesn't work out, he's admitting defeat. He doesn't even like the damn candy.
Attempt six turns out perfectly. The texture is right, neither too hard or too soft, and judging from the obscene noise of pleasure Jensen makes when he bites into a piece, it tastes good too.
“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” Jensen asks in a murmur as he backs Cougar up against the kitchen counter, leaning in until their foreheads touch.
Cougar smiles because Jensen has, smiles because Jensen can say those words as though they're easy and can still make them mean something every single time.
“Because I do,” Jensen continues, looking over the rims of his glasses to meet Cougar's eyes. “I love you so much, and I have no idea how you put up with me, but I'm really glad you do.”
When Jensen kisses Cougar, the taste of rose and cardamom is milky-sweet on his tongue, and Cougar thinks that maybe he could grow to like sherpera, after all.