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Knives Out of Context

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There’s flour everywhere.

Every single work surface is coated in it – counters, cupboards, walls, floor and even the ceiling, though the ceiling also has a bright yellow sticky patch that is sporadically dripping. It’s…impressive.

It reminds Sophie of a terrible horror movie she once worked on, and she’s suddenly viscerally relieved that they hadn’t decided to make a red velvet cake.

There’s a charming little bakery just a couple of blocks away from their office, that Eliot often brings them bread from. If Sophie had known that today was his birthday, she’d have ordered a dozen of their delightful cupcakes for the occasion. She’s not under any illusions about any of their culinary skills – until this precise moment, she hadn’t even realised that Nate’s apartment had an oven.

Nate is understandably less impressed, though given that Parker and Hardison clearly hadn’t asked before they’d commandeered his kitchen for the birthday cake efforts, that is understandable. However, he’s managing to be a lot more patient with their team-mates then Sophie suspects that she’d be if she’d returned to her own apartment to discover a similar scene, mostly, he seems baffled.

“But neither of you cook,” Nate protests gently, carefully avoiding the implication that they can’t, only that they don’t, “would box cake mix not have been a better starting place?”

“Box cake mix? For Eliot’s birthday? Can you not imagine the sarcasm?” Hardison protests.

Sophie can imagine exactly the rant, but she can also imagine exactly the way he’d fight off anyone who tried to take the cake away from him, and the way he’d sneak the leftovers into Tupperware to take home with him. They should have really leaned into it and made the box fairy cakes aimed at kids with the obnoxious coloured icing and the edible transfers, created maximum cognitive dissonance between appalled and touched. She takes a moment to silently mourn the lost opportunity to thoroughly wind Eliot up.

“Flour go boom!” Exclaims Parker delightedly, before slapping a hand over her own mouth, having clearly been holding that commentary in all conversation.

Nate shakes his head quickly, visibly choosing to ignore that statement, before continuing.

“Just…open the windows, get this carnage cleaned up before Eliot gets here and we’ll never speak of it again. Sophie! That place that does the cupcakes will still be open right?” He pauses only long enough for her to nod. “Excellent! Let’s go get some so that we can pretend they aren’t for Eliot.”

The two of them are half-way out the front door when Nate frowns, leans back into the apartment and shouts over to their somewhat hangdog looking teammates.

“No naked flames until the place has been properly aired out!”

~

Alec’s Nana eyes them both with tolerant bemusement, glancing back and forth between where Parker is perched quietly on the kitchen counter and where Alec is holding forth in the middle of the floor.

Eventually, she gets a word in edgeways to ask;

“But why, do you want to learn to cook these dishes? If you want to cook your Eliot comfort food while he’s off his feet, shouldn’t they be dishes from his childhood rather than yours?”

To her surprise, it’s Parker that answers, speaking more than three words for the first time since the pair of them had turned up unannounced on her doorstep.

“Eliot hasn’t spoken to his parents since he joined the army. He…can’t go home either. I didn’t have that kind of childhood, but Alec got…you… so he got some of that, something we could share,” she finishes awkwardly.

“Whatever you’d cook for him if he was here,” Alec puts in quietly.

Nana thinks back on the awkward, gangling twelve-year old Alec had been when he’d first sat in her kitchen over a decade before, the list of previous placements on his file, and allows herself a moment of quiet pride that the stability and care she’d fought to give all her foster kids have imprinted on him so clearly. The way Alec had brought Parker to visit like she really was his Grandmother and the way she hears her own little nuggets of life advice out of both their mouths. She does, after all, know a great deal about making family where you find it, about using ritual and comfort to bind people together. This is something she can definitely give them, even grown up as they are.

“Well let’s start with something straight-forward that you can’t mess up, and then we can work up to dishes that come with stories for you to pass on to this new family of yours.”

~

“Eat this,” Parker demands, plonking the bowl down in front of Alec and thrusting a spoon and fork into his hands.

“Okay,” he agrees drawing the word out dubiously, “am I allowed to ask what it is and why?”

“It’s that stew that Eliot makes, the one that’s like a hug in a bowl? I wanted to be able to make it myself and I found the recipe, but I don’t want to feed it to Eliot until I’m sure I’ve got it right.”

Cautiously, Alec takes a spoonful of the stew, and then another when it isn’t disgusting. It’s not an Eliot-level stew, but it’s hot and filling, and pretty tasty actually, apart from the part where Parker appears to have dumped the entire spice rack into the stew so each component tastes of something else. He’s actually impressed, though unsure how she managed that; shame it probably wasn’t intentional.

“It’s not right, is it,” Parker surmises – the way the seasoning catches in Alec’s throat and causes his eyes to water was possibly the give away.

Of all people on their team, Alec has the most reason to be grateful to Eliot for his efforts to help Parker get in touch with her feelings, with the concept of liking things for their own sake rather than their monetary value, via the medium of food. However, he does occasionally find himself regretting Eliot having let her into whatever arcane system it is that he uses to correspond food and feelings. Neither Parker’s nor Alec’s sporadic culinary efforts are yet up to a level where ‘needs more joy’ or ‘too much sparkle’ are effective bits of feedback.

Parker definitely had a lot of emotions when she was making this stew.

Parker is also doing big sad eyes at him right now, so Alec hastens to take another spoonful of stew.

“You don’t have to eat it to be polite,” she says, leaning forward to pull the bowl away.

Defensively curling his arm around the bowl, Alec pulls it just out of her reach and waves his fork at her in mock threat.

“Who’s being polite? I’m hungry, it’s good stew – albeit weird stew, but I’ve eaten weirder tasting things on purpose,” he argues.

“It’s not as good as Eliot makes it,” Parker replies, an edge of sulkiness to her voice.

Firmly Alec puts down his cutlery.

“Since when was that the point? Eliot’s a trained chef. The point of this whole exercise was to prove to Eliot that neither of us would starve without him, and to convince him to let us look after him when he’s sick or injured. We’re not trying to beat him at his own game.”

“I know, but I don’t like not being good at things I do,” she confesses quietly.

The worst of it is, Alec gets it, they’re both ‘do or do not’ kinds of people, neither of them are good at being ‘ok’ or ‘average’ at any skill they try to master. So instead Alec reaches out and pulls Parker closer, leaning in to let her rest her forehead against his own.

“Me neither. I’d say we should maybe just ask Eliot for help but I think this might be one of those things we need to learn for ourselves. Tell you what, we’ll try again tomorrow, I’ll help.”

“You really think that’ll help?”

“Well practice makes perfect and all that jazz, but even if it doesn’t at least we’ll share the blame.”

~

Eliot pokes the soup suspiciously.

It’s hardly cordon bleu cooking, but it is undoubtedly excellent.

Simple and elegant, and more importantly, exactly what he needs right now.

(He’s battered and bruised, and in plaster from his foot to his hip, due to having broken one of the tiniest bones in his foot, just to add insult to injury.)

It’s the platonic ideal of potato and leek soup, and Eliot can taste the care and affection that went into it’s cooking, into getting the consistency just right.

Parker and Hardison are standing across the kitchen counter, watching him expectantly, and he can’t pretend that he thinks they sent out for this soup. It gives his chest a warm and full feeling that has nothing to do with the temperature of the soup and everything to do with the love they’ve so liberally seasoned it with.

“’S good soup,” he mutters focusing on his dinner, so he doesn’t have to see the way they both light up with pride at their success, “thanks.”