Eliot Waugh did not learn to cook from his parents.
For one, that would have been considered far too girly in a court of small-town-Indiana public opinion. The only thing he and his brothers were allowed to do in the kitchen was stack up the dirty dishes, or fix the pantry shelves when they periodically collapsed. For another, his mother was a good cook, but in an Indiana sort of way; lots of cornbread, big slabs of meat and potatoes. She didn’t know how to rise a soufflé or make delicate shrimp puffs, turn quail eggs into an entree without breaking the shells or pipe tiny, pastel coloured macaroons which would have looked at home in a Parisian window. That was the sort of cooking Eliot liked to do, and he’d learned it in college, with the help of a lot of internet recipes and trial-and-error dinner parties for his friends from the art department.
It was part and process of what Eliot joked was actually his undergraduate thesis project; turning himself into himself. Into the sort of person who could host dinner parties that a particularly sexually liberated French dignitary would have felt welcome at, and do it all without spilling a drop of cooking wine on his perfectly folded cravat. By the time he graduated the arts program and received his interview at Brakebills, he was far enough through this process that he felt comfortable announcing his incredible cooking skills to the whole Physical Cottage once he was assigned there, and swiftly stole the role of overlord of all social activities at said cottage by power of his high tea parties and a rather constant flow of chocolate eclairs. After a few months, he began mixing more cocktails than cake batters, but that was okay, because by then everyone knew exactly what sort of man he was. It was all part of the Eliot Waugh package, and that had to be an impressive package, no matter which way you looked at it.
Quentin Coldwater learned to cook from his father, which is to say that he never learned to cook at all.
He tries, though, so very seriously, which is the most endearing thing in the world. He tries and he genuinely doesn’t understand why his instant noodles mixed with beans doesn’t, like, blow Eliot’s mind. The first time he tried to cook a romantic dinner for Eliot, it all ended up charred to the bottom of Eliot’s favourite frying pan, and Eliot actually left the house. “You’re such a bitch,” Q had complained when Eliot came back with arms full of takeout instead, but he was laughing, and Eliot would have stuck to his guns regardless.
And now —
“Q, if you truly love me, you’ll get the hell out of my kitchen.”
Quentin rolls his eyes, immune as ever to Eliot’s complaining, and continues slicing cheese right onto the counter with entirely the wrong sort of knife.
“I’m serious,” Eliot plunges on. “You even being in here will make things burn. I still haven’t decided whether I think someone put a particularly inventive curse on you or whether you’re just that tragic, but I will not let you ruin this dinner.”
“I’m just making a grilled cheese, El. Nothing to do with you. I’ll be out of your hair in a second and then you can get on with your — is that blood?”
Eliot rolls his eyes. His boy is so charmingly dumb. “It’s pomegranate juice, darling. I’m making it into a citrus glaze to go with the — okay, listen, you’re doing that wrong.”
Quentin gives a huffy, furrowed-brow look which, on his face, could indicate either begrudging amusement or extreme irritation; only the fact that he’s turned it on Eliot suggests the former.
“Okay, to repeat myself, it’s grilled cheese, El. I have made it a thousand times before. I know I’m not the best chef, but, like, not even you can make grilled cheese too complicated for me.”
After at least four years of knowing each other and possibly fifty-four depending on how you look at things, Eliot thinks Quentin should have more faith in his ability to class up anything he gets his hands on by now. “I absolutely can. Call it a vegetarian croque monsieur; sourdough bread, a layer of bechamel sauce with garlic and bay leaves, a hint of nutmeg. Topped with baked gruyère and a sharp white cheddar. Fried rather than toasted, of course, just enough to make everything melt but not quite enough to char the bread.”
Quentin grumbles, “I think at that point it’s stopped being a grilled cheese and started being a way for you to jerk off over your own culinary expertise,” but he’s looking a little forlornly down at his pile of unevenly sliced yellow cheese.
Eliot, because he is hopelessly in love, and because it has only been three months since he got to step into his own body again and make his grand declaration and then mess things up a bit more before slowly finding their way into this, a rhythm of taking-it-slow while also being very aware of just how deeply they love each other and never spending a single night apart, sighs. He abandons his pomegranate-citrus glaze and the duck it’s going on for later, and steers Q away from the counter with both hands on his shoulders. Q only protests a little bit as he goes.
“Just let me do it, baby. I promise I won’t sneak in any ingredients you can’t pronounce, but I’ll at least make the cheese slices even.”
Quentin makes a few half-hearted comments about how he is, actually, a probably 24-year-old man (because with how much time they spend in different worlds, nobody’s really managed to figure out how they should keep track of birthdays anymore) and doesn’t need Eliot to do everything for him, but he takes a seat at the island even as he’s complaining, watching Eliot pick out a sharper knife and finish up what he started. Eliot doesn’t deign to respond to Quentin’s grumbling, but he doesn’t really need to, because the knowledge hangs perfectly clear between them: Eliot likes taking care of Quentin.
Quentin doesn’t need it. His skills in the kitchen are tragic, but he wouldn’t straight up starve without Eliot there or anything. It’s just that. Well. That. Eliot just likes taking care of him. And it’s been a long, long time since he got to do that, so he’s making up for it now. He doesn’t like how Quentin noticeably lost weight while the monster had Eliot, how when Eliot came back one of the first things he noticed was that Quentin was now smoking more than he ate, more of an Eliot coping mechanism than a Quentin one. He doesn’t like how everything else about Quentin seems just a little bit damaged since El’s been back too; how he never seems to sleep more than a few hours at a time anymore, how he’s a little quieter, how it’s clearly been a long time since he had a real conversation with any of his friends. Now that Eliot’s back and everything’s growing towards being some semblance of calm again, Q is gradually doing better, but Eliot wants to help speed that process along in any way he can. So. He traps Quentin in bed with his own limbs to make him sleep, and invites all their friends to hang out whenever possible, and feeds him. A lot. Even if all Quentin wants to eat are things so simple that Eliot’s offended by having to make them.
So. He cuts neat slices of cheese, and makes sure the sandwich is toasted evenly in a dash of herbs, and cuts it into neat little triangles with a flourish. He hopes Quentin hears the I love you in every action, because it’s there, it’s all Eliot’s thinking.
“Et voila,” Eliot says when he’s done, trying to cover up the fondness in his voice, and clatters the plate down in front of Quentin. Quentin looks tired, sat at the island with his head propped up in his hands, shorter strands of hair flopping in front of his eyes, but not as tired as he did a week ago, and certainly not the week before that. Eliot’s heart goes warm. “One grilled cheese for your unrefined palate.”
Quentin rolls his eyes, but he leans across the island and angles his chin upwards anyway, halfway between offering and demanding a kiss. Eliot obliges.
He lets himself sink into the kiss for just a moment. Chaste, close-mouthed, but so sickeningly domestic that it’s almost more thrilling than the filthy kisses they shared in the darkness the night before. Eliot’s had a lot of passion in his life before, still does, but rarely has he ever had this. Someone to kiss over a sandwich, just for a moment. Someone so special that you’re just glad they’re there, even if they’re serving no great purpose. It’s warm and comforting and so, so small, but Eliot can feel the fracture lines in his weathered heart healing every time Quentin sighs a little breath onto his mouth.
He lets himself enjoy it for a couple more seconds, and then pulls away. Picks up his pomegranate again, and then raises a pointed eyebrow when Quentin sets about to eat his sandwich right there.
“Hi, Q? This is nice and all, but I wasn’t joking before. Get the hell out of my kitchen.”