"Give up on your dreams, Susan," Susan mutters as she creams butter and sugar by hand. "Settle for less than the best." She mashes the sugar and butter against the side of the bowl with the wooden spoon. "Don't strive for more."
"Those are terrible things to say."
Susan jumps, sending a spray of butter and sugar across the counter. "Ford! Don't scare me like that."
Ford jams a finger in her direction. "You're a spy. You have to stop being startled. I had a spider drop right onto my face," he points at the center of his forehead, "while I was watching a target from an air duct. I had a mime jump out at me from a church pew."
"A mime in a church? Now that doesn't seem likely."
"The point is," Ford says, "I didn't startle. Not once."
"You know what?" Susan's gesturing sends butter and sugar over to land on Ford. She hastily puts down the spoon. "I spent the whole day with my mom. I do not need anyone else telling me I'm not good enough today." She picks up the spoon and attacks the butter and sugar with force. "I gave you a key for a reason, and that reason was so that you could use the door like a normal person. What are you doing here anyway? I told you I would be at my parents' all day."
"I watched your flat until you came home," Ford says, as if that's a perfectly reasonable course of action for him to have taken. "It's Christmas. I brought you a present."
He comes around the corner, and he does have a present, a perfectly wrapped and ribboned box that he holds in front of him.
Susan tries to take it, but he holds onto it.
"Just open it."
Susan raises her eyebrows, but reaches for the ribbon to untie the bow.
"No," Ford says. "You don't need to do that. Just take off the lid."
Susan shakes her head, but takes the lid off the box. She stares into it for a moment, and then looks up at Ford's expectant face.
Susan puts the lid back on the box. "That's not a present! That's your dick!"
"You love my dick!"
Susan holds up one finger. "One, I like your dick when it's pleasuring me." She puts up a second finger. "Two, your dick is not a present."
"My dick is a perfect present," Ford says. "Do you know how many people would like to get my dick for Christmas?"
Susan ignores the monologue about his dick and cracks an egg into her bowl and adds half a teaspoon of vanilla, trying to imagine what her life would be like with a boyfriend who gave her normal gifts for Christmas. Of course, Jason had done that, but they'd never been very good gifts.
Ford saying her name breaks through, and she looks up at Ford.
"I wouldn't want to give anyone else my dick," Ford says very seriously.
Susan can feel her resolve melting under the intensity of his gaze and her knowledge of how good the sex always is. She looks down at her bowl with the egg beaten into the butter and sugar. "Half an hour. Then you can pleasure me with your dick until the cookies cool."
It is a pleasure, and Susan wanders naked into the kitchen afterwards to frost the cookies. She uses the electric mixer. Not all of the frosting goes on the cookies.
2. Valentine's Day
Susan is less than surprised when their romantic Valentine's dinner is interrupted when she and Ford uncover a drug smuggling operation run exclusively through five-star restaurants.
"Let's just get pizza," Susan says as Ford stares forlornly at the smoking wreck of what was the restaurant.
"Pizza is not romantic," Ford says. "French food is romantic. Sharing a plate of spaghetti so that your lips meet when you slurp at the same strand is romantic."
"That doesn't happen to people," Susan points out. "That's from Lady and the Tramp."
"Dimly-lit restaurants where you can hand-feed each other are romantic," Ford goes on as if she hasn't said anything. "Pizza is not romantic."
"Neither is being hungry!" Susan gestures at what used to be a restaurant. "I didn't get to eat anything before you spotted the cocaine. I'm very hungry, and I'm getting pizza with or without you." She turns and stomps off down the street. She's not sure exactly where she's going, but there's bound to be a pizza place somewhere nearby.
Ford is waiting for her when she reaches one.
Susan does a double-take. "How did you get here before me?"
"I took a shortcut across the roofs," Ford says.
Susan rolls her eyes and goes to the counter to order two slices and a Coke. Ford stops her before she can pay.
"I can buy my own pizza," Susan says.
"I invited you out for Valentine's Day," Ford says. "I will pay for dinner."
Susan shares a what can you do? smile with the woman at the counter, and another one when Ford orders two more slices and "Coke. Not Pepsi. Not some off-brand cola you're trying to pretend is the same thing. I want an actual Coca-Cola."
The pepperoni, when their slices arrive, is heart-shaped.
Susan holds one up. "See? Romantic. We're even in a dimly-lit corner. No hand-feeding. I'm so hungry I might bite your hand off."
"I've had my hand bitten off," Ford says. "A shark bit this hand off." He holds up his left hand. "And I pulled it out of him with this hand." He holds up the right.
Susan rethinks her stance on hand-feeding and shoves a piece of pepperoni into Ford's mouth.
He stops talking to chew, and Susan gets to eat her pizza in peace. She's feeling much more cheerful after, and they go back to her place for the chocolate covered strawberries and champagne that was supposed to be her contribution to their Valentine's date.
Susan turns away to scoop up the bag she put Ford's present in and turns back to find that he's holding a box wrapped in paper covered with hearts.
Susan hands Ford the bag. "Happy Valentine's Day."
Ford stares down at the bag. "You got me a present."
"Yeah, well." Susan shrugs. "I wouldn't want to break up a drug smuggling ring, burn down a restaurant, and have pizza with anyone else on Valentine's Day."
Ford reaches into the bag and pulls out what is, now that she's looking at it in his hands, a really very wispy piece of black lace and silk. Ford looks between it and her. "Is this for me to wear or for you to wear?"
Susan nearly chokes on her champagne. "Me."
Ford thumps her on the back. "I was just asking. I wouldn't object to wearing something like it. I'm secure in my masculinity." He pulls Susan toward him and sets the bag and lingerie aside. "Your turn."
Susan's thinking about Ford in lingerie, so she opens the box on his lap without thinking.
"Oh, come on. That's your dick again." Susan looks again. "Is that a flavored condom?"
"Strawberry," Ford says. "It's red, for Valentine's Day."
Susan puts the lid back on the box and picks up the lace and silk. "I'm putting this on." She points at the box. "You take that off."
Susan meant the box and the condom, but only one of them comes off. The condom doesn't taste as good as the real strawberries, but what Ford does to her in return makes it worth her while.
3. Fourth of July
"Isn't this exciting?" Nancy gestures at the rooftop, the hot dogs on the barbecue, 50 Cent.
"This is the best Fourth of July party I've ever been to," Susan agrees. "Of course, when I was growing up, my mom used to say, 'The best way to honor our country is to stay quiet and not make a fuss.'"
"You should really stop listening to your mom," Nancy says.
"Yeah." Susan scrunches up her face and shakes her head. "I really should."
50 Cent approaches them with a plate. "Here's the hot dog you asked for," he says to Nancy.
"Oh, 50 Cent, thank you." Nancy takes the plate from him and pats his cheek.
50 Cent looks vaguely alarmed.
"Where's your boyfriend?" Nancy asks.
"I have no idea," Susan says. "I invited him."
"This is not much of a party."
Susan turns to see Ford dressed like one of the waiters. "It's the best Fourth of July party I've ever been to."
"This," Ford says emphatically, "is not a great Fourth of July party. I once attended the White House's Fourth of July party as a Virginia senator's senior aid. I once infiltrated Bruce Springsteen's Fourth of July party as a flagpole. I once attended a Fourth of July party thrown by Beyoncé as Nicki Minaj's date."
"Whoa," 50 Cent says.
"Oh, you shouldn't be so trusting, 50 Cent," Nancy says.
"Every word of that is true," Ford insists.
"Sure it is," Susan says. "Come on, let's get some food."
After they've gotten hot dogs, chips, and watermelon and found a place to sit, Susan says, "You didn't have to sneak in here, you know. You were invited."
"An agent should take every opportunity to stay in practice."
"Sure, buddy, just don't come crying to me when someone mistakes you for a waiter and wants you to get them a drink."
Ford disappears after the third time that exact thing happens. Susan figures she's on her own for the rest of the evening, and finds a spot on one of the loveseats by herself when they turn out all the lights so they can watch the fireworks.
She lets out a yelp when a hand settles onto her thigh. The lights on the roof are off, but there's enough light coming from the city around them that she can see Ford when she turns in his direction.
"You have to stop being startled," Ford says. "It's not good for a spy."
"Or you could stop sneaking up on me," Susan retorts. She squints at him in the dim light. "Are you wearing a red, white, and blue suit?"
"Of course I am," Ford says, as if it's perfectly reasonable. Susan will never understand him.
"And I brought you a present," Ford continues.
Susan squints at the box on his lap. It seems to have fireworks on a black background, which makes it difficult to see in the semidarkness.
"Fourth of July is not a gift giving holiday," Susan says.
"Just open the box, Cooper."
Susan does, and then hastily slams the lid down. "That is your dick," she hisses. "We are in public and that is your dick."
"It's dark," Ford says. "I once had sex with a woman in the front row at the opera without being noticed."
Susan slaps her hand over his mouth to keep him from continuing. "We are not having sex in the middle of this party."
Ford scowls at her, but looks up when the fireworks start and stops trying to convince her.
The party goes for hours after the end of the fireworks. Susan absolutely refuses to have sex in the middle of it, but sneaking off to the bathroom for a quickie that extends to the two of them missing a not insignificant portion of it having sex in the bathroom hardly counts as the middle of the party
4. Susan's Birthday
"You don't have to cook," Susan says dubiously for at least the fourth time.
Ford points a spoon at her. "I once prepared a meal for the New York Times restaurant critic as Gordon Ramsay. I once catered a dinner for forty people with nothing more than the contents of a single woman's kitchen."
"Plenty of single women keep well-stocked kitchens," Susan admonishes.
Ford continues as if she never interrupted. "One time, when she had the flu, I appeared as Martha Stewart on her very own show. I can make dinner for five."
"Six," Susan says. "Sharon said she was bringing someone."
Ford mutters something about mushrooms and returns to doing things Susan finds it best not to ask about in her kitchen.
"Oh," Nancy says when she arrives with a cake box and a questionably wrapped gift and sees Ford in Susan's kitchen in one of Susan's aprons, "you didn't have it catered."
"No," Ford says. He points the whisk in his hand at Nancy. "I did not have it catered. I-"
Susan takes the cake box from Nancy and puts it in the fridge. Then she takes Nancy by the arm and guides her out of the kitchen. "Let's just leave him alone." Once they're probably out of earshot, she says, "If it's terrible, we'll order pizza."
To everyone's surprise, it's not terrible, although Susan privately thinks putting both mushrooms and nutmeg in one dish was not the best idea.
"I had no idea you could cook," Sharon says. The guy she brought works upstairs and seems somewhat bemused to find himself at dinner with a mix of agents and basement-dwelling support staff.
"Isn't that exciting?" Nancy says. "There are always new things to learn about your coworkers."
"With the life I lead," Fine says, "this is hardly exciting."
"It's not exciting," Ford says. "It's a celebration, of Cooper."
"Oh, it is." Nancy picks up her wine glass. "To Susan."
They all toast, and things get quiet for a few minutes while they eat.
Ford and Fine's conduct deteriorates as dinner goes on, so they rush to dessert as soon as everyone's finished eating.
Sharon helps Nancy put in and light the candles on the cake, which leads to more candles than strictly necessary in a rather random pattern. The group sings, Susan blows out the candles, and they eat cake.
"Susan, you have to open your presents now," Sharon insists shortly after the cake has been served.
"Right now? Oh, okay." Susan hastily sets her cake aside when Sharon hands her a large, heavy gift bag. She takes out the tissue paper at the top. "Twenty pounds of flour. Thank you, Sharon."
"I know you'll use it," Sharon says, "and I thought condoms would be tacky."
"Right, and this one's from Nancy," Susan hurries on. Nancy's gift is rather zealously taped, and Susan borrows the knife Ford offers her to unwrap it. "Oh, thank you." She holds up the hunk of metal the package reveals. "It's so" she eyes the metal as if it will reveal its secrets to her, "unique."
"Just like you!" Nancy says.
Fine gives her a jewelry box that holds not only a duplicate of the cupcake necklace that went into the lake with De Luca, but also matching earrings. "Oh," Susan says, "thank you." The first one did save her life, so she's able to muster up a bit of enthusiasm. The smallest bit.
There's a pause after that while everyone waits to see if Ford is going to give her a present. He doesn't.
Somehow Fine leaves with Sharon and her date. Nancy looks between Susan and Ford, downs her glass of wine, and says brightly, "I'll leave you two alone." She does nothing to hide her broad wink from Ford.
Susan walks her to the door and turns around to find that in the time she was doing that, Ford has changed into a trench coat and is holding a box with "Happy Birthday!" wrapping paper on it.
She's half expecting it, but she still groans when she opens the box. "Come on. This is not a present. This is just your dick!"
"Not just my dick." Ford whips off the trench coat. He's wearing a black lace and silk teddy that drapes around his dick and its box.
"Oh," Susan says, looking at him. "Oh, that's not just-" She nods. "Okay, you're getting better at this gift thing."
They don't spend much of the night sleeping.
5. Their Anniversary
"This is," Susan paused to consider the contents of her dining room table, "unexpected."
Ford frowns at her. "It's our anniversary. This is what we had on our first date."
The four bottles of champagne and scattered packages of beef jerky do make a little more sense under those circumstances. Then Susan fully takes in what Ford said.
Ford's face falls. "You forgot. How could you forget, Cooper?"
"I didn't forget!" Susan protests. "Well, I did, or not really, I just didn't realize."
"Realize what, Cooper?"
"Well, I just don't think about us like that." Susan winces. Probably not the thing to say to the boyfriend trying to make a romantic gesture. "No, that's not what I mean. I just mean." She gives up and crosses the room to kiss Ford. "Happy anniversary. I didn't get you anything, but I'll make you some of those cookies you like."
Ford isn't mollified. "My feelings are very hurt, Cooper," he says. "I watched the first love of my life get thrown out of a plane and get hit by another plane, and that didn't hurt this much."
"I doubt that's true," Susan says automatically, before the change in phrasing from the other times she's heard the story registers. "The first love of your life?" Her voice wavers a bit.
"Yes, of course," Ford says impatiently. "You're the second."
"Oh," Susan says, struck by that, and by the feeling it evokes in her chest. And by the way her eyes fill with tears. Tears because of Ford. Because he said something nice. She kisses Ford again. "I love you too."
"Of course you do," Ford says.
"Let's have some champagne," Susan says quickly to forestall whatever litany of experiences Ford is going to follow that up with.
Ford pops the cork on one of the bottles. Susan reaches out to grab it out of the air before it can break something.
Ford doesn't seem to notice as he pours champagne into a pair of glasses. "Happy anniversary, Cooper."
Susan smiles, suddenly full of overwhelming affection for Ford, infuriating as he can be. "Happy anniversary, Ford."
Susan tears into one of the beef jerky packages. She's chewing on a piece of it when Ford somehow appears right in front of her with a wrapped box.
Susan swallows the jerky. "This better not be your dick."
"Just open it, Cooper."
Susan sighs and takes the lid off the box. "Come on, this is just your dick."
"It's not just my dick," Ford says. "It's my dick and my balls."
"That doesn't make it better!" Susan puts the lid back on the box. "You really have to get better at gift giving."
"There is no better gift I could give you." Ford puts his hands on Susan's shoulders. "Listen, Cooper, I could go buy you jewelry or expensive kitchen equipment," he says them the way other people might refer to vermin falling on their heads in the workplace, "but those would just be things. This is my dick and my balls, the very things that make me a man, and you are the only person I want to give them to."
Susan gets that same feeling in her chest again, and she hasn't eaten enough of the beef jerky for it to be heartburn. "Ford, that's really, well, actually I think that's a pretty narrow definition of masculinity, but otherwise that's very sweet." She takes the lid off the box. "I accept."
She does make the cookies, but not before they've gone two rounds and spilled at least two bottles worth of champagne all over the dining room table. The floor under it may never be the same.
+1. Ford's Birthday
"What's all this?" Ford asks suspiciously.
"Dinner." Now that he's here, Susan lights the candles on the table and turns out the overhead lights. "Happy birthday."
"How did you find out my birthday?" Ford asks. "That's highly classified information."
"And I have a very high clearance," Susan reminds him. "Besides, I just asked Sharon for it."
"Sharon," Ford says darkly. "Sharon should not be telling my secrets. The bond between agent and the voice in his ear is a special, sacred thing."
"Uh-huh," Susan says. "But I didn't have to ask her what you would want to eat for your birthday." She brings a pair of plated dishes out from the kitchen.
"Cottage pie," Ford says.
"And beer," Susan says. She goes back to the kitchen to pour a pair of porters into beer mugs. She gives one of them to Ford and taps their glasses together. "Happy birthday."
Ford drinks from his beer before trying the cottage pie.
"How is it?" Susan asks. "I've never had it in England, so I don't know how it compares."
"This is the best cottage pie I've ever eaten," Ford says. "I've had cottage pie in every pub that offers it in England."
"That would have to be a lot of pubs," Susan says skeptically.
"I've had cottage pie at the best ex-pat bars in the world. My mother used to make cottage pie. This cottage pie is better than any of those."
"Well, that's good," Susan says, a little flustered by the effusiveness of his praise.
Ford cleans his plate, and again after Susan offers him seconds. He stops there, and Susan swaps their plates for dessert. She puts a single candle in Ford's slice of sticky toffee pudding, lights it, and sings "Happy Birthday" to him.
"You're off-key," Ford says when she's done.
"Just make a wish and blow out the candle," Susan says.
Ford gives her a look that says he could do better, but he blows out the candle.
"This is also very good," Ford says when he tastes the pudding. "You are an excellent cook, Cooper."
"Oh, thank you," Susan says. "I've always liked cooking. My mom used to say, 'That's your only talent, Susan, and you're only average at it.'"
Ford points his spoon at her. "Your mother is wrong." Unlike his usual pronouncements, he doesn't follow that up with anything. It's sweet of him.
"I have a present for you," Susan says after they finish dessert. "Wait there."
It takes her a couple of minutes, and she mutters to herself in the bedroom. "What are you thinking, Susan? Sure, he's sexually adventurous, but this might be a terrible mistake. Deep breaths, Susan. Deep breaths."
She comes out of the bedroom carrying the box in front of her. It's wrapped in paper with brightly colored balloons and "Happy Birthday" written all over it. She takes the box to where Ford has moved to the couch.
"Happy birthday, Ford."
He glances up at her, probably able to see how nervous she is about this, and then takes the lid off the box. He stares down into it, and she looks down too. The black of the silicone dildo looks very black against the white inside of the box.
"It's a dick." Ford looks up at her.
Susan flushes and tries to close the box, but Ford won't let her.
"The first love of my life once gave me a watch that showed two time zones so we would never be far apart in each other's thoughts. My mother once gave me a new coat when mine was stolen during the coldest winter England has ever seen."
"Wouldn't the coldest winter England has ever seen been during the ice age?"
"Kathie Lee Gifford once gave me tickets to see The Lion King on Broadway," Ford goes on. "None of those were as great a gift as this is."
"Oh," Susan says. "You like it?"
"It's the greatest gift I've ever received," Ford says.
Susan looks down at him. "Are you? Are you crying?"
"It's a wonderful gift," Ford says with no hint of embarrassment.
Susan has to agree with him when she discovers how much he enjoys what she can do with it.
"You're the best, Cooper." Ford clumsily pats her shoulder. "The best."
"Eh, you're not so bad yourself."
Ford gets out of bed and brings the rest of the pudding back with him. Susan upgrades him from "not so bad" to "current love of my life."