Despite her housewife duties, Jo Yi has never enjoyed cooking. It’s a rather tedious chore - much more than cleaning or washing or gardening. The latter chores have been fun - almost therapeutic for her. It’s how she had let go and indulged in her frustrations of the day, or allowed herself to relax amidst nature and its soothing energy.
Cooking, on the other hand, has always just reminded her lack of personal agency in that house. While considering everyone’s preferences and wants, she had to sacrifice her own. She doesn’t hate the process of cooking, as much as she hates the emotions and people she has associated with it.
She wants to cook for herself. Eat for herself.
As a woman, she’s always been considered either her father’s daughter or her husband’s wife, and now that she has neither, she is excited to reinvent herself in such colors where she’s free to be herself.
She wants to garden the plants she wants. She wants to do her chores in her own time for herself. She wants to cook and eat what she wants.
Whatever she does - she wants to do for herself. She’s done living by other people’s expectations and society’s rules. She’s divorced not dead. She’s not going to give up on life and sulk in sadness for the rest of her life, not when she wants to do so so much more.
One day, when the Inspector, Yi Eon, she reminds herself, and her are hiding out in this village, pretending to be a couple, the topic of cooking comes up between them. In their pseudo-marriage of sorts, she has luckily been treated to his luxurious meals on their journey and exploration. Frankly, she hadn’t expected a man of his stature and social position with two faithful attendants to be that good to a cook and that interested in cooking as well. She isn’t an unhappy wife or a bride, at least when it comes to being treated kindly and lavished with food. She appreciates that quite a lot.
Food, she finds, is a peace offering between them. It’s an acknowledgment of trust between them. It’s an intimate gesture than means more words than either of them share.
It’s building blocks of love.
And so, in this little house, that the townspeople here have given them, Jo Yi and Yi Eon discuss their dinner.
It’s a terribly domestic discussion and it’s in moments like these she forgets that this is fake and this marriage isn’t forever.
She hasn’t sworn off love or men, and with Yi Eon, may be she thinks she’s ready to begin again. With him, she’s ready to try again.
What a shame it’s fake though.
So her “husband” and her bicker over dinner. Jo Yi has always seen food as a survival necessity merely - she has no particular attachment to it, and while she enjoys some meals and dishes more than others, she’s not picky.
Yi Eon, she’s learnt over the past few months, is a snob when it comes to his food. He’s willing to spend hours, drop exorbitant amounts of money on exotic and expensive products.
She can’t relate to that but she appreciates the finished dishes and reaps their benefits.
Today, they’re making some form of dumplings. It’s a dish from the dynasties near west of Goryeo.
She hasn’t ever tried such dishes but she’s quite keen to try it.
“Now you try it,” he instructs her after showing her how to roll out the dough for each individual dumpling.
Carefully, watching him, she follows his steps. It’s not perfectly circular but he grins and she feels like she’s passed with flying colors regardless.
The next time, he’s behind her, her front pressing against the back of her spine as he curls into her. The heat from him is burning her and she can’t leave it no matter what.
He grabs her hands and kneads the dough softly, treating her with a gentleness and care reserved for fine china.
“Press down the middle and roll it around the sides,” he tells her.
She follows him as such. The patience and intuition he uses in his job is harnessed here; it manifests itself into his need for perfection as he works, the care and experimentation with which he creates genuinely finger lickable dishes.
“Add the stuffing into the middle. Don’t put too much or too little, just about this much,” he shows her and she copies.
Then with practiced precision of his hands, he twists and molds the dough to wrap beautifully around the mixture inside.
“Pinch it,” he tells her softly, grabbing her dumpling and making one pleat.
She smiles at him gratefully.
In companionable silence, they spend the next hour making these soup dumplings that she’s ecstatic to try.
There’s so many of them, and when she tries to inconspicuously sneak one into her mouth, his hand smacks hers away out of nowhere. She’s pouting at him cutely, hoping to get a taste, when he’s setting the dumplings into the steam containers, where they’re ready to be steamed and turned into proper soup dumplings.
She’s never had this delicacy before but her husband - she really needs to stop making that a habit - tells her it’s soft and delicious and practically melts in one’s mouth.
She’s salivating in anticipation at his descriptive comments and she tugs at his hanbok impatiently every few minutes.
“Is it done yet?”
“Just a few more minutes.”
Just a few more minutes turns into a full half hour and she’s ready to rip out the sweet and savoury smelling dumplings out of the steamer by the end of it.
“Is it done now?”
He opens the top lid and a cloud of mist from the container rises, he looks down carefully, poking around with his chopsticks.
Finally, he declares, “Yes, they’re ready for consumption.”
In her haste and impatience, when he sets the dumplings in front of them, she immediately grabs one and puts it into her mouth where it explodes in a burst of flavor and heat.
“Hot. Hot. Hot,” she tries to make out, searching for water.
Yi Eon frowns at her, but grabs her chin gently and takes a towel to wipe around it. He grabs the glass of water and coaxes her mouth open before carefully letting her sip the cold and refreshing water that soothes the burns on her tongue.
He’s tsking when he notices the pinkness of her tongue, the tinge of a burn.
“Are you okay?” He asks, his fingers hovering near her lips and his hands by her jaw.
“Mhmm. Am fine,” she reassures him, huffing.
“Be more careful, next time.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
It’s in moments like these they forget they are pretending. Forget that there’s a whole conspiracy that needs to be investigated which connects to his hyung, the Crown Prince’s, apparent murder.