Title: The Joy of Cooking
Pairing: team gen
Notes: Mmm, Thai food. Set post-season one. 3000 words.
Summary: Eliot cooks. The rest of the team 'help'.
Eliot liked to cook. There was something Zen about it, creating order from chaos, the steady, precise motions of the knife. Most of the time, he found it to be a relaxing and even therapeutic activity.
The key phrase here, of course, was 'most of the time'.
"What are you doing?"
She was sitting about four feet away along the counter. He was standing over the hotplates, spatula in one hand, the handle of a pan in the other. He had three of the four burners going at once, steam rising steadily, steam hood whirring away overhead. The counter space between him and where Parker was perched was strewn with ingredients, various implements, and a cutting board or two.
Eliot said, "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"I know what you're doing, but what are you doing right now?"
He was, right now, doing about six things. But the easiest answer was, "Frying garlic and ginger."
There was a pause, just long enough for Eliot to get distracted adding the onions.
"It doesn't look very hard."
"What? I didn't say it was." He shot her a look from under furrowed eyebrows, then as he flipped the contents of the pan and lowered the heat a little, reminded himself that this was the girl who thought fortune cookies constituted a meal.
Of course, she wasn't the only one who ate like a kid. Hardison seemed to subsist entirely on hot pockets and orange soda, and the other two seemed to be almost as bad, for all that Sophie, at least, had to know better. It was no big surprise that all the local take-out places had their regular orders on file, even though they'd only been settled in Portland a month.
At least the new digs had an okay kitchen. He could work with it, anyway, he'd certainly made do with worse. It wasn't like anyone else was going to use it. No, the microwave didn't count. And neither did the coffee maker.
Stepping away from the stove, he moved to one of the cutting boards and started on some vegetables. Parker was still watching, quiet for the moment, like that was going to last. On cue, she began swinging her feet, bouncing her heels in an irregular pattern off the cabinet door beneath her, creating an off-beat staccato accompaniment to his steady chopping.
"Did you need something, Parker?" he said tightly.
She shrugged, feet still drumming. "I'm hungry. Can I eat something? That?"
He didn't even look where she was pointing, just said, "No."
She retracted her pointing hand. When he glanced over barely three seconds later she had a mouthful of something. Hadn't even seen her move, not that he would have expected to.
He thumped down the knife and faced her. "What'd you take?"
She shrugged. "If you can't tell, it couldn't have been important."
In her mind, he realised, she probably equated 'no one noticed it was missing' to 'not really stealing'.
"It tasted okay," she offered.
"Yeah, great. Thanks." He turned to sweep carrot and cauliflower into a pan.
Which could have been any number of things. Had she swiped her finger in the shrimp paste? He just didn't even want to know.
"Yeah," he said, pouring out a half-cup of fish sauce, "gotta have something salty."
He bit back his first answer, which was something along the lines of 'because shut up that's why', and said, "Because Thai food is about creating a balance between the five elements of taste - sweet, salty, sour and bitter."
"That's four," she said, which earned her a glare.
"I was getting to it. The fifth one is the heat. You gotta have a little spice, too."
She seemed to accept that overly simplified explanation, thinking about it while he braced himself for whatever was going to come out of her mouth next. Salvation came in the form of an interruption.
"Something smells fantastic in here." He looked over as Sophie poked her head around the doorway and surveyed the scene. "You've already got a fan, I see."
"Eliot's teaching me to cook," Parker said, with what he really hoped was a heaping dose of irony.
Sophie paused in the middle of the room, eyebrows lifting. "Well, if anyone could manage it," she said, continuing over to hover at Eliot's elbow.
He turned his back on Parker in order to give Sophie a look of emphatic denial. No, he mouthed, having a sudden, highly disturbing image in his head of Parker combined with knives and high temperatures. A situation that could not possibly lead to anything but the need to duck and cover. Sophie, though, just smiled, mildly amused, and leaned over to breathe in the fragrant steam wafting up from the Tom Yum. Her hair fell against his arm and she turned her head to smile up at him. He inched away, reaching for the next ingredient.
"I have dreams about your green curry, you know," Sophie drawled. "Can I taste?" She'd already picked up a spoon, edging it towards one of the pans on the stove.
"No, you can't." He disarmed her before she could blink and tried shooing her away. She lifted an eyebrow as he waved his hands at her. He put down the spoon and the great big knife and tried again. "Get. You're crowding my space, and I need my space. It's a chef thing."
With an easy laugh she moved away, settling with her hip leaning next to Parker's spot on the counter.
"I had a dream about Eliot once," Parker began. "Actually, it was about Eliot and a horse." She paused, the creepy-Parker-smile falling suddenly. "I don't want to talk about it."
He looked down and chopped a couple chillies very intently. Then he grabbed a few more and chopped those too. Hell yes, leaving the seeds in, because he felt a sudden need to burn everyone's taste buds off. Even if that included his own - he was fine with taking them all down with him.
"Are you sure?" Sophie was saying in her therapist voice. "Sometimes talking about a disturbing dream, you know, letting yourself experience it in a calm, safe environment, helps with the trauma."
"What about my trauma?" Eliot muttered, only not quietly enough.
"Yeah, what about Eliot's trauma?" Parker asked. "Because there was a lot of it." Eliot chopped harder. "In the dream," she added, before finally, thankfully, falling silent.
Sophie rolled her eyes and dropped the subject in favour of frowning at him. "How much of that are you putting in?"
He pointed the knife at her without looking up. "No back-seat cooking." He touched a spoon to the curry base and touched the spoon to his tongue. After a few seconds, when he could still see, he decided the others would be fine.
There was a lack of talking, then, for about a half minute, while Eliot worked, right up until he realised they were being a little too quiet. When he glanced over, the were both looking innocent, mid-chew.
"Like a couple-a kids," he spat out, dumping out a can of coconut milk with a little more force than necessary.
Muffled laughter was all he got in reply.
Like any boy who'd grown up with sisters, there had been moments in his youth when Eliot had longed to be an only child. Lately, he'd found himself occasionally longing for the days when all he had to worry about was whether someone had been in his room. With Parker and Sophie, you knew they had been, and it was more a question of what they'd stolen, what kind of surveillance equipment they might have left behind, and whether or not anything would be exploding any time soon.
"Hey, food? Cool," Hardison said as he came in and went straight for the refrigerator. "What is it, I'm starving."
Of course, then there was Hardison. In some respects, an even bigger pain in the ass.
"Who says any of this is for you?" Eliot said, and was promptly ignored.
"Eliot's making us his suspiciously authentic Thai food," Sophie informed him.
"Oh," Hardison went all big-eyes over the orange soda he'd just raised to his lips, "the suspiciously authentic Thai food again? You know, I can't recall, we ever find out why -?"
"Not yet." Sophie crossed her arms over her chest and gave Eliot that look of hers, the one that said, 'I already know, so you may as well confess, you know you'll feel so much better when you do, and then maybe I'll take my shirt off as a reward'.
The woman could get a lot into a single facial expression. But where on anyone else it would be impressive, for Sophie it was like saying 'hi'. He remembered one time after they'd only been working together officially for a few weeks. She'd touched his arm lightly, looked at him, and the next thing he knew, he'd been moving furniture in her office for like an hour while she just stood there and kept changing her mind.
"We eating soon?" Hardison said. Eliot felt him coming up behind him. "Looks good, can I just -"
"Don't make me hurt you."
Hardison backed up, hands splayed defensively. "Whoa, okay the man's got his whole vibe going, 's cool, let's not disturb that."
He wasn't scared off for good, however, bouncing up onto the counter on the other side of Parker - conveniently putting both women between him and Eliot - rather than fleeing the area. He sat there and worked on his soda, while Parker started swinging her feet again. Eliot focused on stirring, and waited. Any second now.
"Is it an embarrassing story, do you think we'll laugh at you?"
Sophie. In some ways, so very predictable.
And in others, so much more bat freaking crazy than any of them.
"There's no story," he said. "I spent some time in Asia, you guys know that."
She shrugged. "So have I. So have a lot of people."
"There's no story!"
Sophie sighed. "I'm afraid I remain unconvinced."
"Well it was a very unconvincing lie," Hardison said.
Okay, so the truth was, there was a story. It was a pretty good one. But explaining it all would A, take too long, and B, require Eliot to kill them afterward. So instead, he said, "I dated a chef, okay?"
Because it's not like he hadn't. Ever. He was pretty sure there'd been a chef in there somewhere.
"Of course you did." This time Sophie's look said 'I don't believe you and we will return to this interrogation at a later time'.
Hardison was shaking his head. "Man, what have you got like a bingo card? You just need a auto-mechanic and like a zoo keeper and you win the meat platter?"
"It must be difficult for you to understand," Eliot said with a pleasant smile. "You know, the whole 'dating' thing." Yeah, he did the air-quotes. Yeah, it was purely to get that little start of indignation out of the guy.
"Oh - I - you know that - you did not - I date, okay?"
"Who?" Parker asked.
"Yeah, Hardison, who?" Eliot echoed.
"People. Plenty of peop - girls. Women. Shut up." He drank his soda fiercely.
Feeling a lot more charitable towards the world - because nothing cheered a guy up more than pissing off Hardison - Eliot turned back to the food. He squeezed out the juice from one half of a lime, then the other. Really, the guy made it too easy.
Hardison, for his part, subsided with a little huff, arms folded over his chest. Sophie reached past Parker to rub his arm in a comforting fashion. "Don't worry, you're young, there's plenty of time to start dating. No need to rush it."
Parker cracked up. Eliot cracked up more.
"What's so funny?"
Eliot looked over to see that Nate had arrived on the scene, looking at the four of them expectantly.
"My love life," Hardison said. "Apparently."
Nate snorted, crossing his arms and leaning there in the doorway. "Compared to who?"
"E-exactly. Hey, exactly. Y'all are all just as pathetic as I am." The cheerful look faded slightly and he hurried to add, "More pathetic. More."
Parker seemed to want to cheer Hardison up, patting his shoulder in a way that suggested she was merely imitating a gesture she'd seen on children's television. "See, you should feel less bad because no one else is having any sex either. I haven't had sex in -" she stopped abruptly, though her lips were still moving.
"Um," Hardison began, while gently guiding her hand away from his shoulder so that she would quit patting him.
"Yeah, Parker, sometimes it's okay not to share," Nate said.
She deflated a little, and Sophie tried to reassure her. "No, actually, you're right though, because we are all a little pathetic."
"Speak for yourselves," Eliot said. He was pretty sure none of them knew that the last date he'd been on had been that thing with Nate's ex-wife. Which didn't even count. Not that he wanted it to count.
The fact that Maggie might have wanted it to count was beside the point, even if it was like the one part of the scenario that wasn't pathetic. It was actually kind of awesome. In a 'never sharing that thought with Nate ever' kind of way.
"And hey," Nate said, making Eliot return to shredding a bunch of basil very carefully, like he wasn't just thinking about the guy's wife, no siree, "for some people it's a valid choice, you know, being lonely and bitter."
This time it was Sophie who snorted. "And you think that makes it less pathetic."
Eliot glanced over to catch Nate considering the question, and coming up with, "Weren't we talking about Hardison?"
"You guys," Parker said, "is this all a sexual frustration thing? Because they have masturbation for that, you know."
One of those nice, awkward, Parker-induced silences descended on the kitchen until Nate, furiously pinching the bridge of his nose, said, "You know what would be great?"
"If Parker never said anything like that again? Ever?" Eliot said.
"That, and maybe, hey, dinner! Look, it - it looks great, Eliot. How about we serve up and eat?"
He appreciated the change in topic, but no. "It's not ready."
"Are you sure? Looks ready." Nate wandered over and leaned over the stove, hand hovering as he decided what to sample.
"Oh, I wouldn't," Sophie warned.
Eliot planted his hands on the counter and turned his head and just stared at him good and hard.
Unfazed, Nate just held the look and grabbed a shrimp up out of the sauce. Still with the unshifting gaze, he dropped it by the tail in his open mouth. He chewed and swallowed. "Perfect," he announced, and rubbed his hands together. "Let's eat."
And this was why the man was in charge - balls of hard-cut diamond. Which, now that Eliot thought about it, pretty well explained the whole thing with Sophie. But while Nate ran the team, he did not run this kitchen.
"I'm not done," he growled and remained stalwartly where he was.
Parker and Hardison, who had jumped down off the counter all excited, looked crestfallen. Sophie said, "Well, what's left to do? Can we help?" While elbowing Nate out of the way in a decidedly unsubtle fashion.
"We'll set the table," Hardison announced, grabbing Parker and setting about raiding their well-stocked supply of paper plates and napkins.
Nate shrugged and went with it. "I'll do drinks."
Only one of them was left, then, standing there looking hopeful. Reluctantly, he turned over the spatula and directed her to not let anything burn. Because there was a time to stand his ground, and then there was, well, Sophie.
There were only a few things left to do, really, he just wasn't going to be rushed. So he took his damn time, checking on dessert which was chilling in the fridge alongside a couple of ripe mangoes he was going to slice up just before serving. While there, he retrieved the dipping sauce and the salad he'd put together first thing and stuck in there earlier. Then it was only the garnishes left, and getting everything served out properly because presentation was important.
"You know, this could use a little cumin," were the ill-considered words spoken as he set about transferring the soup into five waiting bowls.
"Nate!" he said.
Nate appeared and dutifully lead Sophie away by the wrist. "That really a good idea?"
"What? Nate, learning to accept constructive criticism would be good for him, it's a valuable skill."
Arguing, they left the kitchen. Eliot ignored them, and focused on the fact that he was once again alone with his food. Yeah, it was nice. Relaxing. No distractions. But then, he was kind of finishing up anyway, and it wasn't the kind of food you ate on your own.
He found them gathered around the new conference table, in their new conference room, in their new city. The table was laid out with five places. Sophie was moving around lighting candles, which was kind of nice, except they looked like the scented kind he swore he was allergic to. Probably revenge for having her evicted from the kitchen. Nate, meanwhile, was flicking through channels on the giant TV wall, and Hardison and Parker each had a hand deep in a bag of Cheetos. Hardison, realising a few seconds after Eliot appeared, stuck it hastily behind his back.
Eliot pretended not to see, even though what the hell. Because yeah, they were a pack of heathens who acted like they were in college on a good day, but they were his people. Apparently. Orange Cheeto-fingers and all.
"Guys," he said, "now I'm done."