Justin knew how to cook.
He knew that was surprising, knew he looked like the kind of guy who couldn't boil water and couldn't think of a reason why he should learn. But he'd spent a lot of time when he was growing up sitting in his mother's kitchen, or his grandmother's, one leg tucked under him on a wooden kitchen chair, watching as they cooked. He liked the way they moved around each other, stepping lightly in the cramped space, fluid as dancing. He liked to listen to them talk, telling stories he only half understood about people he wasn't sure he knew. He liked the way their voices sounded, overlapping, making a music that sang to him of home.
His mother wasn't the type to let him just sit there, either. "Everyone should know how to feed themselves," she had told him, putting a knife in his hand and making him peel potatoes. "Just cause you're a boy doesn't mean you need to starve to death." One Christmas there'd been a cookbook in with his presents. "If you can read, you can cook," his mother told him when he opened it. He'd groaned and shoved it under the couch and moved onto the next gift, but when no one was looking he'd pulled it out and opened it up. He liked the idea that he could follow the directions and learn to make something good. His mother had caught him paging through it and ran a hand through his curls. "You'll be glad I made you learn someday."
He was. He didn't get a chance to do it often, he was in the studio or on the road so much. It was a pain in the ass trying to do anything more than heat up frozen food on the bus, and the guys made fun of him, although they always ate what he cooked. But it was nice, when he was feeling homesick, to be able to make something he remembered his mother making for him, to swing deftly through the tiny kitchen, singing to himself and thinking of home. He rarely made anything fancy, rarely opened up the cookbook anymore, but cooked from memory a few things he really loved.
Justin was glad, too, that on the few occasions when he had a day or two off with Chris, they didn't have to go out, or order in. They were so constantly surrounded by people that they almost didn't notice it now, but it was nice, every once in a while, to spend a weekend without seeing anyone else, not even the pizza guy. And he liked to move through his big shining kitchen, feeling competent and graceful, while Chris sat on the counter and watched him with grudging admiration.
"This is kind of weird," Chris said. Justin was kneeling in front of the refrigerator his maid had filled, looking for the eggs. "You look like the kind of guy who'd live happily on takeout Chinese and 7-11 burritos."
"I love 7-11 burritos," Justin said, and crowed happily as he unearthed the eggs. He reached around Chris for a bowl. Chris grabbed his shirt and kissed him.
"If only your fans could see you now, making with the Julia Child." Justin pulled away and cracked an egg. "Do you even know who Julia Child is, or are you too young?"
"Course I know who she is," Justin said. "Joey and I watched her, like, corn a beef on TV the other day."
"How do you corn a beef?" Chris asked. "Does it involve corn?"
"You'd think," Justin said. "But it doesn't. There's a lot of salt, I think, and, um. I'm not sure. She's got kind of a weird accent. But there wasn't any corn."
"Hmm," Chris said. "That seems counterintuitive." He watched Justin for a few minutes and laughed. "I went to bed with a rich famous popstar and woke up with a culinary icon."
"Hey," Justin said, "keep making fun of me and you don't get any."
"Any what?" Chris said. "Any dinner?"
Justin swung his hips a little more than was absolutely necessary as he opened the refrigerator again. "Any anything," he said, glancing at Chris over his shoulder.
Chris laughed again. "Hey, I'm not making fun. Hell, this is every man's fantasy. Or it would be," he said thoughtfully, "if you were naked."
"I ain't cooking naked," Justin said. "I might lose something important."
"Well, we wouldn't want that," Chris said. "Maybe I'll get you one of those white frilly aprons. It'll cover up the important bits but I'll still have a nice view of your ass."
"Keep it up, funny man," Justin said. "You won't be laughing when you're not getting any."
"I'm completely serious," Chris said. Justin tossed a dirty look his way and Chris laughed again. "Well, come on," Chris said. "I need something to look at. This is kind of boring."
"Here," Justin said, and put a bowl in front of Chris. "Make yourself useful. Whisk that."
"Do what now?" Justin handed him a whisk. "And what exactly am I supposed to do with this - whatever it is?"
"That's a whisk," Justin said. "You whisk things with it."
"Okay, see, I don't cook," Chris said. "That's what I have you for. The whisking and the blowjobs."
"Everyone should be able to feed themselves," Justin said. "Get off the counter."
"The same thing really should be true of blowjobs," Chris said, sliding down. "Tragically, for most of us, it just isn't possible. But the world really would be a better place -"
"Here," Justin said, standing behind him and putting his hands over Chris'. "You do like this - no, hold it a little looser. Right, like that. And you just keep moving it like that until you get, like, a white froth."
"Are you having flashbacks to the beginning of our relationship?" Chris said, and Justin bit his ear. "Okay, that can't be hygienic. People are preparing food here."
"Pay attention," Justin said. Chris whisked diligently for a minute or two. Justin let go of his hands and turned away.
"So what are we making for dinner here?" Chris said.
"We have already made macaroni and cheese for dinner. It's in the oven."
"Bad news, kiddo," Chris said. "You don't put that shit in the oven. You put it in a pot and mix it up with the cheese packet. Didn't you read the side of the box?"
"God, how did you survive on your own?" Justin said.
"I know sixteen different ways to make Ramen noodles," Chris said.
"Fabulous. Maybe you can make me a big Ramen buffet for my birthday."
"Nope," Chris said. "Never making them again. Once I got a little money, I promised myself. As God is my witness, I'll never eat Ramen again. Do you know what that's from?"
"I'm from the south, Scarlett," Justin said. "Less chatter, more whisking."
"I'm not doing any more whisking until I know what this is for. You said dinner was already in the oven. I'm feeling like you're giving me busywork here."
"That's for dessert," Justin said.
"Mmm, raw eggs," Chris said. "Now that's a delicious dessert. I'm surprised we haven't run across it more in our travels. Is this your own recipe?"
"It's for lemon meringue pie, you dumbass."
"Pie?" Chris said. He stopped whisking. "Justin, I can't make pie."
"You definitely can't if you don't keep whisking." Chris's wrist moved frantically, and egg slopped over the side of the bowl. "Jesus Christ," Justin said. He put his arms back around Chris and guided his hand. "This really isn't that hard."
"Seriously, J," Chris said, watching his hand intently, "I don't know how to make pie. I can't cook."
"This is really more helping than cooking. Just keep doing that until I tell you to stop." Justin started to move away, and Chris grabbed his sleeve. "Come on, I gotta check on the pie."
"What if I fuck it up?"
"Don't, okay?" Justin said. He looked at Chris. Chris wasn't kidding. "Are you having some sort of weird freakout over the meringue?"
"No," Chris said. "No, I just don't wanna screw it up. I told you I didn't know how."
"Here," Justin said. He put his hands back on Chris'. "Here we go. Relax. Breathe. Whisk." Chris relaxed, breathed and whisked. Justin didn't let go. "All right. See? It's gonna be good. And if it's not, well, we're rich famous popstars now. We'll throw it out and go buy a new pie."
"What if they don't have any pie?" Chris said, but he was smiling. And whisking.
"Worst case scenario: we don't get any pie. Which isn't great, but, you know, we'll live." Justin leaned his chin on Chris' shoulder. "You're doing good."
"Okay, is this a froth?" Chris said. Justin nodded. "What do I do now?"
"You said -"
"I lied. That was just when I was gonna come check on you. You've got to do it till you get peaks." Justin added sugar, a little cream of tartar. Chris kept whisking. "Okay, that's good."
Justin took the bowl from Chris and spread the meringue over the pie. He opened the oven and slid the pie inside one-handed. Chris hung over his shoulder and watched.
"Wow," Chris said, "that looks like a real pie."
"It is a real pie," Justin said. Chris leaned back against the counter. His hands glided over Justin's hips and pulled him in smoothly. Justin kissed him and dropped to his knees.
"What are you doing?" Chris said.
"Well, there's no more whisking," Justin said, and started to unbutton Chris' jeans.
"Good point," Chris said lightly.
"Now who was complaining a minute ago about things not being hygienic?"
"That was completely different," Chris said. "There was, like, food right there. Open containers. A breeding ground for bacteria and disease and --"
"Be quiet a minute, huh?" Justin said. He finished unbuttoning Chris' jeans. He sat back a little on his heels. Chris ran a hand over his head and caught his breath. The kitchen was warm and sunlight gilded the windows. Chris' fingers traced small circles on Justin's cheek. They had been alone together for thirty-two hours.
Justin kissed Chris' thigh, then stood up and got himself a glass of water. On his way back to Chris, he flipped the oven light on and saw the macaroni and cheese bubbling in the upper oven, the meringue turning golden in the lower. Chris hooked a finger under the waistband of his sweatpants and pulled until Justin was standing next to him against the counter. He plucked the glass out of Justin's hand and took a sip. Justin reached down without looking and buttoned Chris' jeans. Chris smiled at him.
"I made a pie," Chris said.
"Well, you helped -" Justin stopped. "Okay, you made a pie."
"It was pretty easy."
"Baking's pretty easy. The rest of cooking can get kind of freestyle, but baking's all about following the directions. You do the same things over and over again, and it turns out the same every time."
"You like that, huh?" Chris said. He sat up on the counter and Justin leaned into him.
"Yeah," Justin said. "It's comforting. You know, you do what you're supposed to and it turns out good. That's nice, you know?"
"Yeah," Chris said. "That's nice."