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Five years is a long time together. Although the Eternals have done nothing but make fun of him all those years, maybe they’re starting to warm up to him, because they’d all accepted his invitation to have a dinner together.

Some of the Eternals were there, traveling from different corners of the skies to stay for a few days before they continued on with their lives. At least they were better friends with each other nowadays. As the sun sets and lanterns inside their base flicker on, light conversation and laughter carries over the clatter of the kitchen. He’s got his work cut out for him despite prepping to cook hours in advance, but it brings a smile to his face to think about everyone eventually enjoying the meals he’s making.

But he needs someone to taste test. He might ruin the mood with an ill-timed joke as the night goes on, but there’s no way he’ll let the food ruin it.

A shadow hovers by the kitchen entrance, and he jumps when he finally notices it. “You scared me,” Siete says on a long exhale, smiling when Six shifts his weight between his feet. “Cooking is a delicate science. What if I dropped an entire bucket of salt into the pan?”

“I would have to question why you were carrying a bucket of salt around to begin with,” Six says without missing a beat.

The crackle of chicken and chorizo in the skillet captures Siete’s attention again, and he hums as he turns his attention back. It feels odd being watched like this, but if it means that Six will stick around, he won’t complain. “I must still admit, Six, I’m rather touched. Almost all the Eternals in the base and you choose to hover awkwardly behind me.”

“This is where the food is being prepared. You just happen to be in the way.” Six must be chatty tonight. Really, he’s chatty any time if you find the right thing to talk about. He’s always looking for an excuse to talk if you’ll indulge him.

“I’m making the food, it’s important that I’m here. But you’re in luck,” Siete says, peeking over his shoulder. “It’s at the point where I need someone to taste test. How good are you with spice?”

Six is already halfway out the door when he stops. After a pause, he mumbles, “What do you require?”

He didn’t expect it to be that easy. “Well, I want it to have a kick, but I don’t want it indigestible.”

He watches with an expectant look (because he has slightly more dignity than to call them puppy eyes) and Six lets out a long sigh. and he heads back into the kitchen. It’s hard to tell what’s going on under that mask of his, but he certainly wasn’t expecting the amusement that tinges his next words. “You have no idea what you’ve asked of me.”

He doesn’t, but he’ll consider this a win in the long streak of minor actions that boil down to Six not rejecting social interaction with him. Six had more to him than he let on most of the time, and it was a long-standing interest of Siete’s to poke him and see what happened. 

As he lowers the heat slightly, Six comes up to him, so quietly that the only noise he makes is to set down half of his mask on the counter. That seems to have gotten easier over time; forcibly removing his mask is still met with stuttered complaints, but letting him take it off himself, even if it’s just a piece, usually doesn’t cause as much uproar as it used to. 

Even then, Siete turns away out of habit to grab a spoon for him. He’s removed the piece facing away from Siete, which is still a shame, but he catches a glimpse of his bare face when Six looks at him warily to accept the spoon.

He takes a spoonful of the paella and puts it in his mouth; his ears perk up in something like surprise. Immediately, he turns away, the back of his head now facing Siete. He can’t keep the smile off his face as he waits, making eye contact with Six the second he turns back around. “What?” he grumbles, his voice not its regular low timbre, but far from the nervous high pitched once so common when unmasked.

“Nothing, nothing,” he says, and Six turns to frown at him, displeased. “Was it too spicy?”

Six’s face looks disbelieving. “Hardly. Karm tradition calls that we acclimate our taste buds to extreme levels of spice in case lest it be used to mask the taste of poison.”

“Oh.” Well, that’s awkward. Six has a knack for making things awkward when he doesn’t mean to, but that tends to happen whenever he talks about his past. Siete shrugs it off to bring it back to more casual territory. “So do you not like spicy things?”

“What I like doesn’t matter.” Nothing in his voice gives him away, but his ears twitch again, and he averts his gaze as if he’s forgotten his mask weren’t on all the way. Ah, no wonder he always keeps his hood on. “But to call this spicy is an insult.”

“Not everyone has the same spice tolerance as us.”

“Us?” Six is intrigued now, one eyebrow raised (or maybe both). 

Siete’s got a great spice tolerance. Maybe not trained-as-a-child-assassin levels, but most of the foods he’d grown up with had a kick to them, mostly because egregious levels of spice could hide anything that was still edible but tasted like shit. “You don’t believe me?”

Six lets out a low, rumbling laugh. He must be in a good mood today, and there’s something about Six being in a good mood that always brightens up his own day. He turns around without announcement to rummage for ingredients throughout the entire kitchen.

When it takes longer than a few seconds, Siete shrugs, checking the heat before counting out ten plates for the Eternals and bringing them to the dining room. He comes back to Six before the stove, scooping some of the paella onto a plate before pouring something from a small dish onto it.

He hands it to Siete. The spice doesn’t so much hit his nose as it does run it over with a truck.

He tries not to let his eyes water. Judging by the flicker of amusement in Six’s eyes, he’s not successful. “I didn’t have everything I wanted,” Six says, definitely with a hint of a smile, “but this should be sufficient to prove my point.” In one hand he scoops up the paella with a spoon, and with the other he holds Siete’s jaw—lightly, but as a clear desire for his intention. 

With a half-crooked grin, Six brings the spoon to his lips. “Eat.”

This thing is going to kill him. But Six is offering it, his fingers cold despite always being wrapped up in gloves, just holding him in place. Of course he has to try it. His entire digestive tract dreads the decision he’s made as he opens his mouth and eats the spoonful offered to him before he can think about regretting it.

Six lets go of him. “Good.”

He would miss the contact more if he had any sensation left in his body. His digestive tract is currently having an out-of-body experience.

The spice Six added coats the roof of his mouth as the spice from the chili peppers he originally added ignites his tongue, and he tries not to cough. It’s pure spice. He can’t taste anything. Through his tears he sees Six smirk as he takes the spoon Siete is holding onto with his life grip and helps himself to a spoonful of the unholy mixture.

He won’t be defeated by this. He absolutely won’t be, even as his vision starts to blur with the tears. Six looks far too smug about it; he’s never seen this look on his face before, and as much as he’d like to treasure it, he treasures his life more at this moment.

His mouth goes numb as he finishes chewing, and it burns down his throat when he swallows, and somehow, underneath the burning sensation, there’s an aftertaste that leaves him wanting more.

Six licks his lips when he finishes his mouthful and gets another spoon, holding it in front of Siete’s mouth.

No, he decidedly does not want more.

“Oh my Go’,” Siete cries out as the spice begins its hellish journey through his digestive system. He lets out something that is actually a sob, which might have alerted the rest of the Eternals to check up on him if someone hadn’t just broken something large and made out of glass in the den. He can’t even find it in himself to be disappointed about Sarasa potentially breaking a window again, because—“Milk.”

Six’s smirk only grows as he takes his time walking over to the fridge and pouring a glass of milk. Siete chugs it like a man dying, dribbling down his mouth as he gasps for air. Six stares and then takes another spoonful of the paella, adding even more of his spice from last time. It’s unfair how unaffected he looks. But then again, the reason he’s unaffected isn’t very fair in the first place, and Siete is stuck with the delirious thought to ask Siero if tastebud transplants exist, just for Six.

Six says something, but he can’t take it anymore. He stumbles like a drunken man, tripping and falling on top of Six. The spoon he’s holding clatters to the ground, but Siete barely registers it as he stumbles out of Six’s arms and nearly faceplants against the fridge. He’s shaking as he chugs the milk straight from the carton. It’s just over halfway full, and Siete downs every last drop of it before slumping down in front of the fridge and wheezing.

At some point, Six had come to crouch before him, visibly worried.

Siete clumsily forming words. “That was good. ’n’ bad. Don’t”—he gently makes a noise that sounds like he accidentally put ten thousand pieces of silverware in the garbage disposal—“look so worried.” 

Six’s face smooths out immediately, a failed attempt at neutrality. “I’m nothing of the sort.”

“Your mask’s off. I can see your face. Aww, you’re worried?” He wheezes out every single word breathlessly.

Six scoffs, but he doesn’t go back to grab his mask, which Siete considers a small victory. “Do you expect me to shovel food through my mask?”

He again dodges the accusation of looking worried, but even through his tears, he can see the worry in his stance, his ears alert atop his head. It’s the same battle-ready awareness, unmoving and waiting for predators, but instead only applied to whether Siete is about to die or shit himself.

Thankfully, neither happen. “Of course not.” He lies down and curls on the floor, feeling the cold tiles against his cheek. He thinks he hears Six make a noise of concern, but it could just be his own intestines. “I was just thinking I don’t see you around at these dinners much anymore.”

After a moment of consideration, Six shifts so he’s sitting crosslegged. He’s not looking Siete in the eyes, instead scanning his body with the same sort of scrutiny he’d apply to potential injuries on the battlefield. It’s sweet in its own way. Only after his inspection reveals no outstanding injury does he relax by a fraction and say, “I see no reason to join. I eat perfectly well on my own.”

He’s getting his bearings back, but the floor is nice, and so is having this time with Six uninterrupted. A moment with Six and only Six, even if it only happened because Siete deliberately embarrassed himself again. “I don’t doubt that. But where else are you going to get a dinner and a show this good?”

Without warning, Six leans forward and presses his hand to Siete’s forehead, and his face flares with heat again, like a second coming of the spice. All too soon, he leans back and stands once more. “I suppose you have a point about the entertainment.” The amusement is back in his tone. “I’ll be sure to mock you at the dinner table at how you find this spicy,” he says without looking, but Siete can sea the a hint of a grin on his lips when he leaves.