“Do I have to wear the apron?”
“Yes, you have to wear the apron. Unless you don’t mind getting flour all over your clothes.”
Xander tied the apron around his waist. At least it was a plain green one. Nothing girly. Not that Rupert had girly things in his kitchen. It was all business, this kitchen. Every knife could do double-duty. Gut fish, gut demons. Gut fish-demons, in a pinch. Xander shuddered, and turned his attention back to his new boyfriend, who was leaning in front of the open oven door with a lit match. The gas whoomped on. Rupert shut the door and spun the thermostat all the way down as low as it would go.
“First thing we do is get all the ingredients out. If we’re missing any we run round the shops.” Rupert pulled two paper sacks of whole wheat flour from a cabinet and set them next to a canister of salt.
“That’s a lot of flour.”
“Two batches. I’ll be baking alongside you.” He took down a glass jar of honey with a hand-lettered label. “We need more honey soon. That we get from Mrs Parkes down the road. She keeps bees.”
Xander leaned over Rupert’s shoulder. “Honey? In bread?”
Rupert held up a strip of little packets. “Yeast. They eat sugar and excrete, er, carbon dioxide. Or alcohol, for other sorts. That’s what makes the bread rise.”
“So wait. You’re saying alcohol is yeast piss?”
“Er, yes. Though fungi don’t piss, strictly.”
“Why do I ask you these questions? The answers are always gross.”
Xander leaned against the counter to watch what Rupert did next. He poured a little honey into a bowl of warm water, then wiped the edge of the jar with his thumb. He tasted it, then stuck it out for Xander. Xander licked Rupert’s thumb. Good stuff. Like everything in this kitchen. Xander had been re-learning how to eat over the last months. A lifetime of takeout Chinese and pizza and soup from a can hadn’t prepared him for this. This was real food. Fresh stuff. Raw ingredients. Fresh eggs from the Giles hens. Honey from the lady two miles down the road. Milk from the dude just past her.
Xander licked Rupert’s fingers clean of honey, then kept on licking. And then sucking.
Rupert groaned and pulled his hand away. “Bloody hell, Xan. Don’t. We’ll never get this finished.”
“You started it. You with your delicious fingers, all sticky and sweet.”
“Later. When the dough is rising.” Rupert’s voice was all ragged and husky, full of promise. Xander grinned. He had this guy wrapped around his little finger. Pretty soon he’d have him in bed. All the kissing and the tentative groping had them both right on the edge all the time. Rupert was not going to last another day with this “let’s take it slowly” plan.
A slow seduction. Xander had never done one of those before. It was a nice change. He’d been enjoying it, but he’d had enough.
Rupert got out two big ceramic bowls and handed one to Xander. “The yeast has a good start, so what we do now is begin making dough. That’s simply warm water and flour. A little salt and oil, then we start adding the rest of the flour.”
Flour. A whole ton of flour into the bowl. Salt. Xander watched what Rupert was up to and tried to imitate. He dumped a cup of warm water into a divot in the center of the mound of flour and gave it a quick stir. Mix it in. Mix in more flour. And more. It was stiffening up, and moving the spoon was starting to take muscle.
“Merciful Zeus! Where’s a Slayer when ya need one?”
Rupert snorted. “Use your hands. Flour them up and start kneading. Watch me.”
Xander watched Rupert fold the dough over and push with the heels of his hands. He imitated and fell into the rhythm. After a few minutes, his forearms felt it. His temples were sweaty. “So how long do I have to do this?”
“Twenty minutes. Until it looks right.”
Xander watched Rupert’s hands on his lump of dough. Shirt-sleeves rolled to expose muscled forearms, the kind you earned from swordfighting practice. The kind Xander had been earning himself in the last couple months. Strong arms, strong hands. Callused hands. Scarred fingers dusted with flour. Flour all over the place, in fact.
“I see what you mean about the apron.” Rupert laughed at him. “What?”
“You have flour in your hair. No, don’t touch it! You have more now. Don’t fuss. It’s quite charming. So is the streak on your nose.”
If Rupert’s expression had been any less adoring, Xander might have been pissed by the giggling. But instead he felt funny in his chest. This was the part that left him awed and silent, the knowledge that this man loved him. Had loved him for years, without saying a thing. It choked him up. He was so damn glad Rupert had finally said something.
“Twenty more minutes of this?” he said, to cover.
“Mmm, yes. It’s a wonderful time to get thinking done. Or to revise. Lamicida. Which declension? Go.”
Xander groaned. “Slavedriver. I hate you. First, singular. Lamicida, lamicidae, lamicidae, lamicidam…”
Twenty minutes of kneading later, Xander had something that looked like dough and wasn’t as sticky as it had been. It was a smooth brown lump. He eased it into a bowl, covered the bowl with a towel, and set it next to Rupert’s at the back of the stove.
“Now we wait for the dough to rise.”
“For the yeast to burp.”
“If you must put it in those terms.”
“Oh, I must. I so must. Now what was you said earlier? About when the dough is rising? Which, I happen to observe, it is now doing?”
“Oh,” Rupert murmured. “Why don’t you remind me?”
Xander pushed him gently back against the counter. Rupert might be nervy about his first time in bed with another man, but he was not nervy about the kissing. And damned if he wasn’t amazing with the kissing. Xander’d had his share of other people’s tongues shoved in his mouth by overeager partners, and his share of hot makeout sessions with total strangers. This was different. When Rupert finally let you taste him, it was after ten minutes of teasing, little flicks along your lips, diversions to kiss the edge of your jawline all the way to your ear and back down your throat, then finally giving you the deep slow open-mouthed kiss you’d been begging for all along, the kiss that taught you you’d only been kissed by dilettantes before now.
Xander pressed his hips against Rupert’s, seeking that bulge to grind against. There it was. He seriously wanted to see Rupert naked. Soon. Now. Wanted to taste him. Though maybe that would be moving too fast. Keep it slow. Make Rupert beg. Zeus in a swan suit, Xander was about out of patience. He needed this man. Needed him more than he’d ever needed anybody.
Rupert’s cellphone buzzed in his hip pocket.
“Bugger.” Rupert disengaged just enough to dig it out. “Giles here. Oh, hello, Armitage. Yes, yes.”
Rupert listened for a minute. Xander tilted his head. Armitage was Rupert’s estate caretaker, the guy who’d done all the work while Rupert was in Sunnydale. Retired Watcher. Sounded like demon business, in fact.
“Oh dear. I’ll be along directly to clear it up.” Rupert snapped the phone closed and said another one of those weird Brit swear words.
“There’s something in the fountain in the village center. It just frightened a a pensioner. Probably a Grummitch. The village has a colony somewhere.” Rupert sighed. “It’s not particularly dangerous. I’ll call Buffy. She’s in Bath, shopping or drinking mochas or possibly both.”
He bent to Xander for one last kiss, then flipped open his cellphone. Most annoying job on the planet.
An hour and a half later, Rupert returned from the village. He stomped into the kitchen through the back door, all windblown and damp. Soaked from the thighs down, in fact. Xander put down his book on small unit tactics and stood to greet him.
“Buggering hell,” Rupert said, pleasantly. “The damn things wanted chocolate biccies. Gingernuts wouldn’t do. I stood in the fountain for damn near ten minutes trying to decipher their kitchen Latin.”
Xander cocked his head and stared at Rupert for a second, then decided not to ask. He’d get Andrew to tell him what the deal was with Grummitches some other time. “Where’s Buffy?”
“Refused to come. Said there was no way she was going to cut short her shopping for a Grummitch. Slayers! My grandmother always used to say that in her day Slayers obeyed their Watchers and were respectful, but I’ve never known one to pay a moment’s attention to anything I say. Grandmother lied to me.” Rupert leaned against the counter and looked meditative.
Xander had heard this one before and didn’t particularly need to hear it again. “Yeah. Right. So, um, poofy dough? It’s really poofy now.”
Rupert refocused and switched smoothly to cooking mode. He twitched the cloth off the bowls of dough and made a satisfied sound. He stuck a finger into one of of the lumps. “Perfect. Now you just squash out the gasses and make them into round blobs again. Right, just like that.”
“Okay. Now what? Another hour or so?” Xander waggled his eyebrows, imagining that Rupert would need a nice long, hot, boyfriend-equipped shower to wash off the Grummitch.
“No, just half an hour this time. Plenty of time for me to change. Back down in a tick. Why don’t you get out your Latin grammar? I want to show you what I had trouble with just now.”
Xander sighed. At this rate it would be next year before he managed to get laid by his own boyfriend.
One unwanted grammar lesson later, the dough was finally loaf-shaped and sitting in greased pans. The pans were old, black with use and almost slick enough not to need any grease at all. Rupert’s huge oven was heating up. Xander bent over the dough and looked at it. It was pale tan, with brown flecks from the wheat bran. Smooth. It didn’t look like it would turn into bread, but he’d learned that baking was weird. Things underwent strange transformations in the oven. And yeast was extra weird, what with the burping.
“Is this another rise?” he asked.
“Not exactly. More like a bit of a rest period for the dough.” Rupert picked up Xander’s book on tactics from where he’d discarded it on the kitchen table. “This discusses a typical rifle squad,” he said with a puzzled voice.
“Yeah. Andrew said it could be adapted to our use. Crossbows instead of M4s. The stuff about moving in urban territory is all perfect as is.”
“Mmm.” Rupert turned the page. “Yes, I see what he means. Must read this myself.”
“Um, now? We have some time to kill, and–”
Rupert put down the book. “Only ten minutes. Then we pop them in the oven. And then–”
The two men grinned at each other. Two hearts beating as one, Xander thought. Or two other body parts, maybe. If he was lucky.
About fifteen minutes later, he was feeling pretty lucky. Rupert slid the pans into the oven and levered the door shut decisively. Xander untied the apron and hung it on the wall hook where Rupert’s was. They stood poised, looking at each other, for about ten seconds. And then they slammed into each other. Game over. Hands everywhere and frantic kissing. Rupert pushed Xander against the table and swept out a hand. Xander’s books went flying. Xander fell backwards onto the table, pulling Rupert down with him. He wrapped his legs around Rupert’s waist. Rupert was half on top of him, biting at his neck.
Clothes. Bad. Clothes had to go. He began pulling Rupert’s shirt out of his jeans, so he could get his hands on that chest.
“Oh my god, my eyes! Ew!” Buffy’s voice, from the general direction of the back door.
“I suggest you stop looking and go away, Buffy.” Rupert, bless him, did not stop with the hand on Xander’s thigh, even though Xander’s heart had leapt straight up into his throat. Exhibitionism was so not his thing.
“Can’t. Sorry. What the heck are you up to humping Xander on the table-- again I say ew-- when there are demons running around in your own village? What happened to sacred duty, blah blah bitty blah?”
Rupert stopped then, and raised his head enough to glare at Buffy. “What?”
“You know, sacred duty? That thing you’re always on me about doing? I stopped off to check out that Gromit thing you said was such a pain.”
Rupert stood up and tugged at the tails of his shirt. Xander pushed himself upright and attempted to adjust himself in his jeans without being too obvious.
“I took care of that an hour ago, Buffy.” Rupert had that tone in his voice, the one that said he had infinite wells of patience that somehow his Slayer had managed to run dry.
“Yeah, well, there’s another demon in the fountain now. An M’Fashnik. It’s smashing the statue of that guy, admiral ha-ha.” Buffy did the Nelson laugh perfectly. You forgot Buffy had a brain at your peril.
“Bloody fucking hell!” Rupert let loose a long streak of invective, only some of which was in English.
Buffy put her hands on her hips. “Xan, you are corrupting my Watcher.”
“No way. I am not up to this level. This is heavyweight professional swearing.” Xander propped his chin on his knee and listened with admiration.
Rupert stuttered to a halt and sighed. “Weapons. Get the axe from the front rack.”
There was a broadsword hanging in a scabbard by the back door. Rupert snagged that while Buffy scampered to the weapon rack by the front door. Xander hopped down from the table. There was no way in which this didn’t suck, but there was also no way he was going to argue. Demons had to be killed. Xander scrubbed at his hair until it stood on end. Maybe tomorrow they’d have some uninterrupted time. Maybe tonight, even, depending on when Rupert and Buffy managed to hunt it down, hack it up, and bury the bits.
Rupert was pulling on a sweater. He headed for the back door, then turned around and came back to Xander at the table.
“Xan.” Rupert brushed his lips against Xander’s ear. “When I get back, I want to find you in my bed. No matter how late. Move into my bedroom. Would you?”
“Yeah. Yeah. No problem.” Xander grinned. His heart was pounding. Oh yeah. He took a big fistful of Rupert’s sweater and pulled him down for one more kiss.
“Do you two never quit it? C’mon. We have a demon to kill, Romeo.” Buffy had her arms crossed and she was tapping her foot. She elbowed Rupert in the side on his way past, and winked at Xander. And then they were gone, off to do the worst job in the world, the one they were best in the world at.
It was past ten. The bread had long since finished baking and cooling. It was only a little burnt. One loaf, anyway. The others had been fine. Xander had eaten about six slices with marmalade for dinner. Eventually he gave up trying to study Latin in the kitchen and took himself upstairs to check out Rupert’s bedroom. Move some clothes in, maybe. He grabbed a few necessities and went down the hallway to the door Rupert went into every night. He slowly creaked open the door and stepped in.
Rupert’s bedroom was nicer than Xander’s. Xander suspected he’d been sleeping in the room that had been Rupert’s when he’d been a kid. Single bed, a lot of bookshelves, a desk that was a just a bit too small for Xander to feel comfortable at. Rupert’s room felt different. It was no kid’s bedroom: this was the official head-of-household bedroom. Much bigger, with east-facing windows and a huge cushioned window seat. Older furniture.
He inhaled. It smelled like Rupert did. Sandalwood and leather and tea and books, and the sweet summer air from the open windows. Yeah. Xander was going to like sleeping here. He grinned. If sleeping was what they did. He had a suspicion there’d be a lot of other stuff going on for a while.
Most importantly, this room had a huge bed. Plush. Lots of pillows. Xander stripped to boxers and t-shirt and arranged three-quarters of the pillows in a mound at the headboard. He propped himself up on them and resumed reading the squad tactics book. He tried not to worry too much. Buffy killed regular demons in her sleep these days; her Slaying stat was what Andrew called a natural 18. Eventually he dozed off, the book face-down on his lap, all the lights still on.
A hand on his shoulder woke him: Rupert, at the bedside, smiling down at him. He stank of demon and mud. Xander rubbed at his face and focused. Yeah, Rupert was covered in black goo and his sweater was shredded at the waist. He had a big streak of mud on his face. He looked happy otherwise, the way he always looked after a good Slayfest. Xander grinned up at him.
“Must get the blood off,” Rupert whispered. He was gone again. Xander half-dozed through the sound of the shower running. He came awake again to see Rupert slipping in from the hallway, dressed in his fluffy black robe. His hair was damp and sticking up. He locked the door behind himself and came over to Xander’s side of the bed.
“Where were we?” he said.