Welcome, those of you coming here via Fool for Love! As promised, here’s the story “Killer Lasagna” in its entirety.
(for those of you who came here directly, you have to return to Fool for Love for the recipe, and to enter the contest…)
WARNING. MODERATE ADULT CONTENT BELOW. READ ON AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
A Cosa Nostradamus story
by Laura Anne Gilman
I was soaking wet, shivering, and covered from fingertips to elbows in a rather elastic, utterly disgusting goo.
“Don’t touch anything. Don’t… oh god, where’s the drop cloth?”
The fact that we had a drop cloth near the front door was probably an indication that something had gone terribly wrong, somewhere down the line. I was too busy trying not to touch anything – and stressing about what the goo might be doing to my skin – to worry about that right now.
“What the hell happened?” Lou had the drop cloth under me, and Monica, the new intern, had grabbed a towel from the kitchenette and was running it under the faucet, I hoped to get this shit the hell off me.
“The Pyrisi resisted arrest.”
“We don’t arrest any-oh. Joke.”
“Except he did resist.” Nifty had taken a few minutes more to hand over the fatae to the appropriate officials before following me home. “Messily.” He, of course, hadn’t gotten a drop on him. Bastard.
“Oh god, is that ichor?” Monica almost dropped the towel, staring in horror.
“Yes, and it’s not getting any less itchy,” I snapped. Droplet fell to the cloth below me. Thankfully, nothing sizzled, or my already-strained grasp on my nerves might have cracked, never to be rebuilt. Then Lou had the towel and was wrapping it carefully around my arms, stroking the goo off, rather than trying to rub or scrape. Almost like we’d done something like this before.
We had. My life needed a serious reconsideration.
The towel was sodden, but my arms were clean – or at least, cleaner. The ragged remnants of my sweater made me want to cry.
“Come on, off with that,” Lou said, helping me lift it up over my head. I heard it land somewhere else, hopefully into a trash can. It had cost me nearly $60, half-price, at a going-out-of-sale store, and I’d never be able to replace it. But it had kept my skin mostly unscathed.
C’mon.” Lou was leading me to the sink now, and I paused long enough to kick off my shoes, leaving them on the drop cloth for Monica to deal with. That was what internships got you, around here.
The warm water on my arms stung a little, then the last of the goo was washed off, and I finally, finally, relaxed.
“Please tell me none of it got in my hair,” I said.
“You’re clear, chica.” She slipped into Spanish – not that the others in the office couldn’t figure it out, but it gave me a semblance of privacy and dignity. She was Cuban and my mother’d been Puerto Rican, but our accents were both straight New York City. “Are you all right? Really?”
“Si. I was more startled than anything else. And pissed off. Are you sure none of it got in my hair?”
Normally, I’m a wash-and-wear girl; my hair has been through so many iterations of color and cut that a little Pyrisi ichor probably wouldn’t faze it. But I’d just had it cut and colored last night, damn it, and it needed to look good.
“Hey there, Dandelion.” Nick was at my left elbow, holding a grey sweatshirt. “Cold?”
“Thanks.” I took it, and pulled it over my head. I wasn’t actually cold – our landlord kept the offices at a comfortable 68 degrees year-round – but it probably didn’t look fabulous standing in the waiting area-slash-break room in just a bra and skirt. The sweatshirt swam on me, but didn’t come down to my knees, so it wasn’t Nifty’s or Nick’s. Pietr, then, because I would have recognized if it were Venec’s. Lou might have sweatshirt stashed somewhere, but Sharon – or Monica – wouldn’t be caught dead in anything like this.
“Nifty’s back safe?” I knew he was: I had a perfect memory, and could recount the moment he came in, the sound of his voice and what he said, but I asked for reassurances anyway.
“Back safe and giving a full report, “ Nick said. Then, because he was Nick and couldn’t help himself, added “and I’m sure he’s being perfectly fair and businesslike describing how you ended up elbows-deep in ichor.”
“I told you; it blew up.” And the worst thing was, I knew that Pyrisi blew up and exploded when they were nervous, and I still crowded it. My fault. Nifty would probably be gentler in his report than I would. The teasing was going to come after.
“Blew up real good,” Lou said, still in Spanish, and I laughed, aware that it was more post-stress noise than any real humor.
“I’m clocking off for the day. Okay?”
Lou, in addition to being mother hen and office manager, was also the keeper of the time board. We all checked in and out so you could tell at a glance who was on a job and who was available, but Lou was the one who kept it all in her head, as well as what jobs were coming up.
“It’s almost five anyway,” she said. “Go.”
“Hey, how come she gets to leave early?” Nick was pouting, his arms crossed against his chest in best put-upon fashion.
“Because she has plans tonight, m’ijo and I am guessing that you don’t.”
“Plans? It’s -oh.” I could hear his voice change, even as I headed for the closet to grab the spare coat I kept there – the one I’d been wearing today had fallen victim to the Pyrisi same as my sweater – and grab my bag. “Plans. Right.”
I was the only one in the office with a date for Valentine’s Day. Well, not the only one.
I didn’t translocate back to my apartment, much though I was tempted. It’s not as easy a thing as twitching your nose: any use of current burns calories, and slinging yourself across space burns a hell of a lot of calories. And since I didn’t want to pass out before dinner, or ruin my appetite, I took the subway like everyone else.
I’d gone through three apartments since moving to New York. The first I’d gotten kicked out of, when a mischief imp decided to make me his target. The second, someone was killed upstairs, and my co-workers had staged an intervention to get me out. I still think that they overreacted, but I had to admit that my new apartment – all of seven months – had one feature that the other two had sadly lacked. An Actual Kitchen.
Friends who didn’t live in New York laughed, but having something more than a galley kitchen was a miracle, and the moment I’d seen this apartment I’d been lost. Now, I got home, changed out of the remains of my work clothes, kept the sweatshirt on and added a pair of jeans, and reached for an apron to throw over it.
Valentine’s Day is a silly, commercial holiday where all the restaurants, chocolatiers and florists salivate. But I had always still loved the holiday, even when I was a little kid and all it meant was that my mentor would sneak a tiny box of chocolates into my lunchbox with a note telling me I was loved. So when Venec had oh so casually mentioned that by the way, next week was Valentine’s Day, he knew damn well he wasn’t going to get the traditionally “oh it’s just a silly holiday” scoff from me. But I didn’t want to go out anywhere fancy. Food was love, in my family. I was going to cook for him.
And not just any food, either. I might be Anglo-Latina, and my mentor, lord love him, was as WASPy as they came, but the only proper meal for blustery February day was a hearty lasagna. I pulled the ingredients out of the fridge, set them all on the counter, and stared at them.
“You can do this. It’s just Venec. You’ve cooked for scarier people before.” I’d cooked for heads of state, in fact, and heads of Council, and once rather terrifying night, I’d cooked with the current darling of the cordon bleu set, while J sat back with a glass of wine and laughed his genteel ass off at the two of us. Cooking for the guy who’d been my boss for nearly four years, who’d been inside my head more times than I wanted to consider, thanks to the Merge we’d somehow been tagged in for almost that long, who’d only recently become my lover…
He didn’t judge. Not about stuff like this. Stuff like this, I knew, the effort really was what mattered to Ben. But the end result mattered to me.
And he knew that. So, no pressure, and a hell of a lot of pressure. That was probably why I’d been so stupid at work this morning: stress.
The meat went into the pot for browning, then I strained it off and set it to rest, while I put together the sauce. The secret to a really killer lasagna is the sauce: you have to add just the right stuff and then let it simmer down. I left it to do its thing, and turned on the stereo, punching up a soft rock station. IPods and whatnot maybe the modern choice for music tech, but for a Talent, it’s better to keep it as simple as possible. My stereo was grounded seven ways from Sunday, and the speakers were old enough to be pretty resistant to current surges. The Pretty Reckless kept me company as I soaked the fresh noodles in water, laid them out on a sheet, and sent a surge of current through them. It wasn’t the traditional way to cook pasta, maybe, but they stayed soft and fresh better than boiled, in my experience.
While the sauce simmered, I cleaned up the kitchen, then went and put fresh sheets on the bed. Hey, it was Valentines Day, right? We’d only been having sex for a few months, so it was still this weird new thing. Weird because I’d been in his head before I was in his body, so to speak, and we weren’t either of us exactly inexperienced, but it still felt…new. Really new, like First Time New.
I’d tried to figure it out a couple of times, but finally shrugged and was just enjoying the ride.
Once the sauce finished simmering, and the apartment was in respectable-for-seduction shape, I layered the lasagna into shape and popped it into the oven, then went to change. Venec might be used to me wearing grungies and covered in various and sundry icky substances at work, but that wasn’t quite the mood I was going for tonight. My hair was still its normal white-blonde fluff, so I went with a deep red wrap dress that just barely reached my knees, and thigh-high black lace socks. I considered jewelry, but other than the pearl ear drops I’d had since I was a teenager, I went without.
Venec had a slight ‘lady of the manor’ kink, I’d discovered, and pearls worked like whoa.
He was late. Not horribly late, but enough that he was aware of it. But there had been crap at the office he had to sign off on, and then traffic was god-awful, and he should have just Translocated but when you spent your entire day wrangling current, it was nice, on your off-hours, to just not. He could smell the lasagna from the hallway outside. Benjamin Venec paused outside Bonnie’s door, and rested his hand on the doorframe. He felt like a sixteen year old showing up for his first prom, or something. Which was ridiculous. He’d been in her apartment before. Hell, he’d stayed overnight in her apartment before. But all that had been…different.
This, God help him, was a date.
Which would explain the fact that he was wearing a suit – not the one he wore in the office, when he had to meet with new clients, or the black one he kept for funerals. This was a suit Ian would have approved of: dark blue wool with the faintest hint of pinstripes, with a darker blue tone-on-tone tie and possibly the most expensive shirt he’d ever owned. Bonnie might project a casual punk-pop girl facade, but he knew the man who’d raised her, knew the community she’d grown up in. He could meet her on that ground, too, even if she had shot down his suggestion that they get reservations at one of the newest, hottest restaurants in town.
Only his shoes, polished to a fare-thee-well but still old, were familiar. Well, that and the bottle of wine in his hand. It had been sitting in his apartment for three years now, since Ian had handed it to him on his birthday, and told him to open it when he finally got his head out of his ass.
Ben was pretty sure that tonight qualified. Also, Bonnie’d had a tough morning. A nicely aged Italian could take the edge off that.
He knocked, and then tried the door, sighing when he found it unlocked. For a PI who saw much of the worst the world could throw, Bonnie could be painfully trusting at times. Unless – he tested the air around the doorframe, and nodded when elementals hummed around him. She had some defenses set, at least. Anyone other than a familiar Talent came in, and she would know immediately.
“Hey,” he called, setting the wine on the table and sniffing the air appreciatively. Whatever it was, it smelled amazing.
“Hi.” He looked toward the bedroom, and felt his eyebrows rise. “That’s a much nicer look than this morning.”
“You didn’t see me this morning.”
“I heard. A lot.” He shouldn’t tease her, but the case had ended well, and nobody had been hurt – not even her dignity, from Nifty’s report - and that made it okay. Besides, he’d lay good odds money those socks stopped just above the hem of her dress.
“You’re not so bad yourself.” She had this way of looking at him that made his toes curl. It wasn’t anything overt, and it didn’t even touch the Merge – which, thankfully, had mostly gone dormant since they started spending off-duty time together – but it could hit him like the first touch of a blowjob.
And great, now his brain had gone there, and so had the non-thinking brain. And from the gleam in her eye, she knew it, too.
*Should I not even have bothered to get dressed?* Not words, not even thoughts, but a capsule awareness of what he was thinking passed between them, the Merge making even casual pings more powerful.
“Oh, I like the suit,” she said, coming closer with a deliberate grace. “Very nice. Hot, even.” Her gaze traveled from shoulder to ankle, and then back again, pausing about halfway up. “Nice fabric. Good drape. Fashionable color and cut. I approve.” And then she was in front of him, sinking to her knees as though she were jointed like cobra, her hands busy and then Jesus god she took down the zipper with her teeth.
He didn’t know why he was surprised. She’d shown remarkable agility in other areas before and -
And then her hands were busy again, and he decided to just not think so much for a while.
Benjamin Venec was a tough guy. A stand-up hardass who didn’t blink until he decided to blink, and god help the human or fatae who thought otherwise. That’s the front he put up, and for a front, it went down pretty deep. But put your mouth on a guy’s cock, and you get an idea of who they really are. I could feel his thigh muscles straining, but his hands in my hair were gentle, almost delicate. He could get forceful when called for, but he also knew when to let me call the shots, and just enjoy it.
He was utterly and totally grounded, in all the meanings of the word.
“I should wear this suit more often,” he said, his voice a little choked up, and I hrmmmmed thoughtfully, turning his words into an actual choke. That in turn made me laugh, and his fingers tightened, just enough to warn me off. The lasagna would be done soon anyway, and I didn’t want him done first. This was supposed to be foreplay, not the finish.
As though I’d summoned it, the oven let off a chime, and I gave his cock one last swipe with my tongue before – reluctantly – releasing him. His hands slid down my back, helping me stand up, and then he was kissing me, promising a return-of-favors at some later point.
“Zip yourself up,” I said over my shoulder, already halfway into the kitchen. “This isn’t that kind of eatery.”
“The hell it’s not,” he said, and I giggled, the crap of this morning already far, far away.
That, of course, is when something broke down my front door.
*Alarm alarm intruder!* buzzed in my head. Well, at least I knew that the elemental alarm that we’d installed worked. Not that I really needed it, seeing as how I was about ten feet away from said intruder. Another Pyrisi, this one intact and, apparently, pissed off. My poor door hung drunkenly off the hinges, and I had a flicker of thought – oh Christ, I’m going to get kicked out of this apartment, too.
“You. You the small who busted Kamalloy.” He was glaring at Venec, who – idiot that he was – did that shoulder-squaring-off thing guys did when they got into a dick-off. Oh hell, and why couldn’t the Merge have found me a nice sensible female?
*because the Merge wanted sperm for your eggs* Ben pinged at me, all dry dry and dry, with just a hint of duck-and-cover. The Pyrisi hadn’t seen me yet, which meant I was the secret weapon. But what the hell… Pyrisi were about as current-resistant as a stick of wood, that’s why we’d had trouble this morning. We were going to have to do this Null-style.
Thankfully, Venec had never let any of the PUPs – including me – get too dependent on current. We were all half-decent dirty fighters, able to pick a lock with Null tools, and trained to improvise. I let my gaze flit over the kitchen, trying to see what could be used as a weapon. Knives – I’d have to get in too close. Frying pan – nicely lethal, but again, too short-range. I needed something that would hurt the Pyrisi, that I could throw with reasonable accuracy, and…
My eye landed on exactly what I needed, and I sent back a ping *distract it for 10 seconds*
The sound of things breaking in the other room made me wince, but it gave me the seconds I needed. I translocated to the front door, figuring that whatever was going on there would have moved away from the entrance. Sure enough, I was about five feet away from them, and the Pyrisi had its back to me – mainly because it had Venec in a headlock.
I lifted the lasagna pan in my oven mitt-clad hands, and brought it down straight over the Pyrisi’s head, cheese-first.
After Nifty had shown up to help haul Kamalloy’s buddy off – we dumped them in the drunk tank overnight, and then let the Pyrisi clan leader do whatever scolding was needed, in cases like this where the Council had no interest – I’d finished cleaning up the chair they’d broken, and scraped the last of the lasagna off the floor. Thankfully, they’d missed the few actual antiques I had in the apartment, and the lasagna had missed the rugs, so it was just a matter of, well, scraping and sorting. All the skills we had to collect evidence, but some things, you still had to do manually.
“Well.” His gorgeous suit jacket and tie – now splattered with tomato sauce and melted cheese – had been sent off to the dry cleaner’s, leaving him in shirtsleeves and slacks. He’d kicked off his shoes at some point, and I stared at the grey toes of his socks, wondering if they were cotton or cashmere. Cotton, I decided. Ben liked quality, but he’d think cashmere was a silly indulgence. I’d have to change his mind. Then I wondered if any of the lasagna remaining in the pan was salvageable, or if we were going to have to order in. The thought – stupid, stupid, to order in takeaway on Valentine’s Day, tonight of all nights – made me want to cry.
“Hey,” he said, and crouched down so that we were eye-to-eye. “Hell of a first official date, huh?”
My mouth quirked, even though I didn’t feel much like laughing. The Merge had been quiet between the two of us since the first time we’d had sex – like he’d said, it was all about us making small Talent, and so long as the magic thought we were doing that, it was happy. But high stress and strong emotion woke it, too, and right now the air between us was sizzling with current. Literally.
“At least he didn’t have a chance to bust out the goo,” I said, finally accepting the ridiculousness of the situation, and some of the sizzle died away. But there was still enough between us to power the entire apartment. As usual.
He reached out and swiped a finger across my collarbone, and then lifted it to his mouth, sucking on it in a way that had to be intentionally obscene. “I love lasagna,” he said, and this time the finger slid vertically, down into my cleavage, then used that finger to pull me closer. I didn’t exactly resist.
It wasn’t as though we’d ever thought we could leave the job at the office. We were just going to have to learn to roll with it, I guessed.
“We’re messy,” Ben said his lips just a breath away from mine. “I’ll get the wine, you run the shower.”
And maybe, really, romance was where you made it. Right?
copyright 2013 Laura Anne Gilman
permission to link, not to copy.
Author’s Note: I wrote this for fun, to participate in the bloghop. However, if you enjoyed this, and feel that the work that goes into entertainment should be rewarded, I’ll ask you to toss a dollar or two toward your local food bank. I feed your reading, you feed someone else’s hunger.