Cacophony had never been Mark’s friend. Floating on his back, cradled by the Gulf of Mexico, that was his heaven. Publix, with its crowded aisles, screaming babies, rude employees, and misleading signs matched hell more closely than any of Dante’s seven levels. Although, to be fair, if he wasn’t starting the second week of his shedding cycle, he might not be quite this tense.
It’s not even eleven on a Wednesday morning. How can there be so many people? He stared at the miso soup recipe. The library book weighed heavy in his hand.
A woman shoved past him with an overflowing cart (complete with yowling toddler; Yaweh spare him) and the dragon swallowed his natural growl. She couldn’t know his state of mind.
“All right. Step one: dashi.” He frowned at the shelves of the International aisle, scanning cans, boxes, and jars. “What is dashi, anyway?” With a sigh, he flipped to the back of the book. At least he’d been vouchsafed an excellent glossary. “Here we go. Dashi: bonito tuna flakes.” Mark groaned. “Bonito? Like the Spanish word for pretty?” He grinned. “Wait. Tuna flakes. This is talking about a fish stock, like for fish stew. If I can’t find it in this aisle, I know right where there’s a good alternative.”
Nodding, he flipped back to the recipe. Tofu. Okay, that’s easier. At least I know what that is. He found the soy product. A whole shelf of it. Silken tofu, soft tofu, medium tofu, firm tofu… “Why me? If it wouldn’t blow the whole surprise, I’d call Luke and ask at least three questions.”
Mark crossed his arms, holding his place in the book with one finger. Well, since I’m making soup I probably want something on the softer side that will cook quickly. He scooped up a box of silken tofu.
There was only one more item on the recipe: seaweed.
Maybe I could just go down to the beach and… He snorted. Who knows what’s in the water around here? Besides, this is supposed to be some kind of special seaweed, I’ll bet.
“Wakame seaweed… But there’s only konbu seaweed.” As long as it had been cleaned and purified, wasn’t one seaweed like any other? He’d swallowed enough of it while in his water dragon form. And if it all tastes the same to me…
Mark glanced at his watch. “Holy — ” He looked around, expecting to see a mother with her children right behind him. He was safe. “But how can it be almost eleven-thirty?” He’d only convinced Luke to stay out of the house until one. He needed to get going.
I can do this if I hurry. What’s next? There’s always rice with a Japanese meal, right? I wonder if Luke will mind if it’s instant rice.
An hour later, Mark gaped at the disgusting soup. He’d given up the burned insto-rice for lost.
He itched both arms, growling at the continued shedding. It was easier this time, but taking two weeks out of his life to shed his scales was not his idea of convenience.
His stomach rumbled and he licked his lips, chasing the last of the salt. “At least some of this tasted good.” He scowled at the empty can of Russian caviar. The fish eggs had been meant for the sushi, but the fish had given up the ghost almost before he’d started. When he’d opened the caviar, the strong aroma had called to his dragon nature. Moments later, he’d swallowed the can’s entire contents.
Speaking of fish… I don’t think dashi’s anything like fish stock. The boiling soup stank so heavily of fish that Mark had opened all the windows and even lit a few of Luke’s scented candles. Lavender, autumn leaves, and fish didn’t combine well.
He stirred the glop, wincing when a large seaweed leaf stuck to the spoon thanks to the silken tofu. The soy product had turned gelatinous. “Are we really supposed to eat this?”
“What is it?”
Mark jumped, dropping the spoon; it vanished into the bubbling liquid. “Oh great.”
Luke reached past him and turned off the burner. “Do you want me to move that off the heat?”
“Please.” If Luke didn’t recognize the soup, this Hanukkah gift was in big trouble. “It’s miso soup, but I can’t figure out why it’s the wrong color.”
“Did you add the miso paste?”
The dragon groaned.
Luke conjured two oven mitts out of thin air and carried the pot to the table. He poofed a trivet into place and set the pot down. “It’s… all right. This is your first time with Japanese cooking.” He returned to Mark’s side and lifted the lid on the rice.
“Don’t bother. It’s burned.”
Luke kissed his lover’s cheek. “How did you know I like it that way?”
The genie’s eyes twinkled. “Prove it.” He carried the rice to the table as well. “Is there more?”
“There was supposed to be sushi, but…” Mark held up the can of caviar. “It… I…” He studied the floor between his feet as heat climbed his cheeks. “It tasted really good.”
Luke took his hands. “I don’t mind. Let’s eat before the soup gets cold.”
Two minutes later, their bowls full, Mark watched his lover take a sip. And wince.
And smile. “It’s fine without the miso paste. Maybe you’ve created a new dish.”
He can’t mean that. Mark sipped a little of the reeking broth, repressing the need to gag. “Luke, you don’t have to eat this,” he said when he could breathe.
“It’s fine.” Luke took another sip, managing not to wince this time, though his smile was less convincing.
Discretion may be the better part of valor, but I refuse to poison him. Mark stood, picked up both bowls, and carried them to the sink.
Luke followed, wrapping his arms around his lover from behind. “Mark, it’s your first time. I don’t mind. And it’s really not that bad.”
Mark’s throat tightened. He turned in the circle of Luke’s arms and smiled a little. “Can you magick us a real version of what I was trying to make? Please?”
A crease appeared between Luke’s golden eyebrows. “Will you at least tell me what prompted this? You’re not a bad cook, my Mark, but Japanese food is a little complicated, especially the first time you try it.”
I’m blushing again. “I didn’t know you were an expert with origami. But the body of the model you made was flawless and I thought if you know that Japanese art so well you might enjoy Japanese food. I didn’t think it would be half this hard.”
“You know all about the spirit of Hanukkah, my Mark.” His tender gaze changed, igniting the air. “Come on. I’ll magick us some miso and then we’ll enjoy a little holiday play.”