Some of Derek's fondest memories are of Christmases with his grandmother, the two of them in the kitchen, the sun a bare sliver on the horizon. The peppermint haze of her breath gusting over his cheek as her elegant fingers worked with his smaller, pudgier fingers, teasing apart paper-thing layers of phyllo dough and drenching them with olive oil. Layer after delicate layer, sprinkling the walnuts, and starting again. She even let him stir the syrup while the baklava baked. With Derek perched on a kitchen stool, she'd tell him stories from when his mother was young. And then he'd watch her pour the syrup over the tray, making sure every square inch was sticky sweet with the honey.
They did it for so many years, she swore once that Derek could do it in his sleep.
The fire, the guilt drives the desire right out of him.
It isn't until little Ava is born that Derek feels the spark to try again. It's not that he doesn't love his boys, or want to pass down his dusty traditions to them. He thinks it might be how Ava looks a little like his grandmother, the knowing glint in her eye, even at eight months old.
He doesn't telegraph his intentions, in case he's forgotten after all, but he figured Christmas Eve morning is perfect for a dry run. The whole pack will be over for dinner, which means the tray will be demolished, whether it's as good as Derek remembers or not.
With a deep, fortifying breath, Derek tiptoes past the kids' rooms and sets out everything he needs: baking tray, dough, olive oil, nuts, cinnamon, brush. The phyllo is as difficult as ever, but with patience and a steady hand, Derek peels it apart, sheet by sheet, until it's time for the nuts and cinnamon, then more dough, more oil, etcetera, etcetera.
The first rays of dawn spill over the horizon as he slides the tray into the oven. He feels good so far, and the syrup isn't that hard. The heavy-sweet scent of it heavenly and heart-breaking all at once. He takes a minute to dwell on his grief, head bowed over the pot, until he hears a quiet yawn behind him. He turns to see Nik at the bottom of the stairs, his nose turned up, flaring with deep inhale.
"What'cha making, Pop?" He shuffles over to the stove and bends low over the pot, taking in huge lungfuls of air.
"Baklava," Derek says, the word coming out raspier than he expects.
Nik's eyes are wide, dark, and a questioning finger hovers over the pot. Derek nods and watches Nik dip and taste, his face gone bright with delight. His low, pleased rumble eases something in Derek's chest.
"How come you've never made this before?" Nik asks, reaching for more. Derek swats at his hand.
"I forgot for a little while."
Nik's face turns thoughtful, his gaze fixed on the pot. "I think you should show me how," he says after a long moment. "Just in case."
"Yeah," Derek says, smiling. "Yeah, I can do that."