Ashe raised both his arms up, stretching his sides. Sleeping curled next to his husband was wonderful, and Ashe didn’t think it would ever stop being wonderful, but it always left his muscles in knots when he woke up.
Well! A small price to pay, all things considered.
The light from the sunrise crept into their kitchen at a snail’s pace, painting Dedue’s skin as he opened the lock on the icebox next to them. Ashe was struck by how well the simple life seemed to fit him.
Neither of them could ever slot into it completely. Nightmares and old regrets still cast shadows on their lives years after the end of the war. Kisses and quiet promises to never grow apart filled and soothed some of those aches nicely, though, and Ashe was grateful for the quiet life they had earned-- even if only to watch Dedue at peace.
Ashe finished wiping down the counter, and Dedue hefted the lamb cuts they had prepared the night previous onto the counter in step. Ashe gave himself a moment to feel giddy about how well they worked together: If I leaned in closer to listen, he thought to himself, I think our hearts would beat in sync.
Dedue unwrapped each cut of meat delicately, and the gentleness of his hands was almost enough to distract Ashe from the bright aroma of the marinade. They used the same marinade for almost every meat dish they cooked (something that would have killed Ashe’s father if he were alive to know), but none of their patrons had called them out on it yet. So.
Chili powder, garam masala, turmeric, and far too much ginger and garlic paste. Part of what Ashe loved about Duscur cuisine was that it was always so fragrant , unlike the careful disinterest of so much of Fodlan’s cooking (as much as he loved it, too). Even if they were making a distinctly Fodlan-style dish this morning, just the aroma of the meat was enough to take him to simpler times in the Academy and stolen moments just after the war, learning to cook beautiful dishes with someone he loved at his side.
Dedue turned his head and caught Ashe staring at him. Ashe felt his face heat up.
“So,” he squeaked. “Shepherd’s pie?”
Dedue smiled at him, gentle enough to twist Ashe’s heart. “Shepherd’s pie.”
Prepare mashed potatoes.
For how easily the movements came to him, nothing Dedue did in the kitchen was mechanical. Fast, yes; smooth, even more so; but he always treated food with a sort of reverence as he prepared it.
Leonie had visited with her mercenary band a few months previous, hanging around the kitchen and offering to help where she could. Ashe still remembered her giggling while watching Dedue chop an onion, exclaiming “Gods, at least take it out to dinner first!”
Dedue had chuckled along with her, but Ashe, then and now, found the way Dedue worked sort of… beautiful? His hands were big, but they were overwhelmingly gentle almost as if to compensate. The occasional scar or callus left the skin of his hands down to his palms rough, but he would always hold Ashe so carefully, so genuinely that Ashe would always have to keep his heart from bursting in turn.
“Are you alright, Ashe?” Dedue said. “You have been staring into space for some time now.”
Ashe blinked. Dedue had finished dicing the potatoes. Next to him, the water was already boiling.
Ashe yelped and minced a handful of garlic cloves at record speed.
Saute onion, carrots. Add lamb and garlic when they begin to colour, and stir to combine. Sprinkle meat with flour when cooked through.
Ashe prodded at the lamb chunks in the pan to check if they were cooked through yet, wiping the sweat off his face with the front of his shirt for what felt like the thousandth time. The meat smelled delicious, and the heat of the kitchen was something Ashe had learned to love with time, but he was sure even a drop of sweat in the food had to count as some kind of health code violation.
“Would you like a hankerchief?” Dedue asked, sounding amused.
And then there was the problem of Dedue, who had gathered all their ingredients and fired the ovens beforehand like a good chef. Dedue, who now hung at Ashe’s back, speaking in a tone so lovely and private that it was driving Ashe mad even as he talked about something as benign as napkins.
Professionalism! Professionalism! A customer could come down at any moment, and how would it reflect on their business if they found the innkeepers cuddling in front of their meal?
“I’ll--” Ashe’s voice cracked, oh Goddess-- “I’ll pass, thanks. Um, do you think we should let the lamb cook a bit longer?”
Dedue leaned forward, and the warmth of his chest pressing against Ashe’s back was a wonderful reminder that Ashe made terrible choices, constantly, and shouldn’t have been entrusted with this inn or anything at all, ever.
“I think it is fine as it is,” Dedue murmured.
“Great,” Ashe croaked.
Add tomatoes, chicken broth, rosemary, and thyme. Stir to combine and simmer until sauce has thickened.
Ashe always felt a little pity for the plants in their herb garden. What a life to live, only deemed worthy to live for your clippings.
“The plants are not sentient,” Dedue would say, smiling whenever Ashe brought it up.
Dedue always took such good care of them, weeding and clipping as delicately as he did anything else. He handled their clippings like they were made of gold.
Maybe the plants aren’t sentient, Ashe would always say back, but at least they have the best gardener in Fodlan to take care of them.
Spread lamb mixture into baking dish, topping evenly with mashed potatoes. Bake until crust is golden brown.
“You seem distracted today, Ashe. Is something the matter?”
“Oh no, it’s just, um…”
Ashe had been hoping Dedue would interpret Ashe’s spaciness as being awake so early. And he was tired, so he wouldn’t even be lying if he said so. But after catching Ashe ogling him three times-- no, four times now-- Dedue had sighed, crossed his (strong, gentle) arms and turned to face him, looking worried.
Ashe was a grown man. He did grown man things, like paying taxes. Weeding the garden. Shaving, on the nights his face decided to grow hair. He and Dedue were married now for Goddess' sakes, but here he was acting like the same lovestruck boy he was at the Academy. Wasn’t the point of marriage that you had grown so comfortable around your partner that you could spend your life with them without trouble? Would it be a sign of weakness if he spent most of his time at work wanting to-- to--
“Dedue?” Ashe asked.
“All the pies are in the oven, right?”
“And we don’t need to start lunch yet?”
“We do not. Ashe, are you feeling unwell?"
Ashe looked up to meet Dedue’s eyes, feeling his heart lighten a little as he stepped closer and took Dedue’s hands in his own. He ran his thumb over a scar and relished in the surprised little noise Dedue made at the touch.
“Hi,” Ashe said, and then, “Good morning, Dedue.”
Dedue moved to lace their fingers together properly, smiling. “Good morning, Ashe.”