Charles curses under his breath as the hot metal burns his sensitive skin.
He quickly encircles his wounded fingers with his lips and sucks on his hurt flesh, as if he could suck out the pain. With the other, still unharmed hand, he carefully picks up the hot lid of the large pot and drops it into the sink. He will have to clean it with cold water so he can simultaneously ease the pain of his burned finger.
He knows that his genius does not automatically extend to all things concerning the kitchen. He wasn't born to cook. His biggest accomplishment this far has been not to get the toast burned and somehow make edible spaghetti. Everything that went beyond this (and heating water) he leaves to Erik. It has never bothered him before. Erik is a great cook. It came almost natural with his talents. He can, after all, stir-fry the rice, chop the vegetables, and carve the turkey, all at once. It was no wonder everything in their kitchen at least contained metal. Even the plates. (Although Charles had insisted on keeping the wine glasses.)
But today Charles was making goulash. Well, at least attempting to make it. Trying. Having a shot at it? He doesn't exactly know how that happened, but this morning he had found himself bend over Erik's old copy of "Kochen", studying it carefully. He loves the simplicity of the title. (Whoever thought of naming a cookbook "Cooking" had to be a genius.)
As he pours yet another cup of broth into the hot, steaming dish, he pours himself a glass of red wine. He'll have to try it, before he uses it on the goulash! What if it is sour and ruins his dinner? That would mean, all his work would be completely wasted!
The recipe was simple enough, chop meat and onions, fry, add cream, broth, red wine and red pepper, cook and let simmer. Google translator was happy enough to help him with what he hadn't understood. Of course, he uses chicken instead of pork. And beef. Chicken and beef. From what Erik has told him, that was what his mother always used. And of course Charles is happy to mimic her. He can even read the faded notes on the wilted paper, instructing to add a few spices.
Taking a sip from his wine he proceeds to stir the cooking stew. If that is what he can call it. He likes the smell already and hopes that he won't mess up. Erik has to like it. Charles wants his partner to give him his sharkiest grin of bliss when he returns from his business trip. Two weeks are just too much. They felt like two years to Charles.
And he knows that Erik loves goulash. It was his favourite dish, and his mother always used to make it when he was sad, on special occasions, or if it was his birthday. And he also knows how much Erik misses his mother.
He still cannot believe that Erik had actually left Germany to be with him, but after five years of domestic bliss, it has started to sink in. A little. (And maybe the position he had been offered, had helped a little in making his decision; but Charles knows, Erik would never have taken it, if they hadn't been together.)
He smiles and adds a splash of red wine. It is already October and it won't be too long until they will go to Germany again, to spend Hanukkah with the Lehnsherrs. Charles has already planned to set them up with a computer and Wi-Fi, so Erik and his mother can skype. Although he has no idea how he will teach her everything without Erik knowing about it. His German is not the best, and she doesn't understand enough English to get his explanations of "downloading" "log in" or "go online". Maybe booking a German crash course would be wise. He wants to surprise Erik after all.
When the goulash is cheerfully simmering on the stove, Charles finally starts to relax. If he is careful enough not to let it burn, it should be fine. He doesn't know whether it tastes like it ought to. But he knows that it tastes good. And that has to do.
He looks at the clock. It is almost five. Erik will be back around seven. Then the goulash should be ready. Google tells him that goulash tastes best when it has been cooked for about two hours. Pouring himself another small glass of red, Charles flops onto the couch and turns on the TV.
When Erik finally steps through their apartment door, it is well past midnight. He drops his keys onto the table and leaves his suitcase in the hallway.
"Verdammte Flugzeuge, verdammte Züge und dann dieser scheiß verdammte Stau!"
He stops dead in his tracks at the scene greeting him.
Charles is sprawled out on the sofa, a cookbook lying on his stomach and fast asleep. The TV is still on, Meg Ryan running away from a painfully eighties New Years party. The adjoined kitchen is dark, filled with a familiar smell.
Raising an eyebrow, Erik turns on the light above the stove and peeks into the pot. The scent of the now cold goulash makes his mouth water, and he cannot help but smile at the set table.
His bad mood vanishes into thin air and he kneels beside his sleeping boyfriend to plant a kiss on his purple lips. His eyes flicker to the empty wine glass on the coffee table. Seems like Charles actually finished the bottle by himself.
"I'm back," Erik whispers into Charles' neck, as the brunette sleepily protests against being wakened. Erik chuckles and leans over Charles, nuzzling his nose against his.
"I brought presents."
That stirred Charles' interest and he peeked open one eye.
"Willkommen zu Haus', Erik..." he mumbles in a sweetly accented German.
He finally opens both eyes and then looks at the clock.
"I'm sorry," Erik says before Charles can say anything. "The train was late and I missed my plane. I had to wait for the next. I tried to call you."
Charles and Erik look at the phone at the same time. Then Erik shakes his head and laughs.
"I told you to recharge the batteries."
Charles smiles and touches the side of Erik's face. Then suddenly his eyes widen and he sits up straight.
"-tastes even better the day after it is cooked," Erik reassures him and ruffles Charles' hair affectionately. "I'll order pizza. Right now you have more important things to do than to cook for me."
Blue eyes look at him and he grins.
"I promised to ravish you on the kitchen table, when I got back; I intend to keep my word."
Charles laughs and brings Erik's face to his.
The pizza arrives just as they finished the first round. Erik doesn't bother buttoning his shirt up and tips the delivery boy a twenty. They take the pizza to their bed and fall asleep two hours later, their limbs entangled in each other.
Erik ends up being right. Charles' goulash tastes even better the next day.