Janey froze in the hallway as the front door swung shut behind her. She knew it was Athena’s evening off, of course, so she supposed she shouldn’t be too worried, but still…
The distinct smell of burning wasn’t comforting.
She shuffled all her shopping onto one arm before continuing forward towards the kitchen. Athena was competent adult. Athena would know how to put out a fire. Athena would not let their house burn down.
It didn’t really explain the source of the burning in the first place.
She braced herself as she pushed the kitchen door open with her free hand, expecting to see smoke, or maybe scorch marks – the signs of some kind of fight? Of a weapons mishap?
Instead, the room looked like a much less violent bomb had gone off.
The sink was full of pots and pans and plastic bowls. The sides were lined with fruit and vegetables and empty packaging. Flour coated one side of a raised cabinet and the surrounding surface. Thin brown fluid spread across the surface and dripped onto the floor. There were patches on the opposite wall of what seemed to be some kind of mushy food. Faint tendrils of smoke still drifted around the room despite the open windows.
In the midst of it all, Athena stood facing the stove like she was in the eye of a hurricane.
Janey was so surprised that she let one of the shopping bags slide out her grasp.
The ensuing thud brought her out of her reverie and simultaneously prompted Athena to spin around, looking surprised and defensive. She was wearing a casual t-shirt, a rare enough sight, but it was sporting way more stains than the blonde remembered.
“Sorry!” Janey ducked down to scoop the bag up.
“Don’t worry, there’s nothing fragile in it.” She straightened up to look at Athena properly, trying to ignore the mess as best she could. Her fiancé was still looking at her in confusion, as if she were the one to just walk into this sight. “What?”
“You’re home early,” noted Athena. “I wasn’t expecting you for another hour or so.”
“Yeah, I… I closed the shop early because I didn’t have much work to do.” Janey hesitated a second before carefully placing her bags onto the only clean spot on the sideboard.
“Uh, yeah. ‘Thena, sweetie-“ Janey gave up trying to think of a tactile way to approach it. “What happened in here?”
Athena glanced around, seeming to take it all in for the first time. “I cooked,” she said bluntly after a second. “Actually, I’m cooking. It was meant to be a surprise, but you’re home early.”
Well. She definitely was surprised. And also flattered, but that didn’t outweigh her mild horror. “Oh.” She paused. “That smell-“
“It’s the food.” Athena turned back to the pan. “I’m making stew.”
“Babe-“ Janey bit her lip. She didn’t want to sound ungrateful. Really, she found it almost ridiculously adorable that Athena was trying to cook. If the kitchen looked any less disastrous, she probably would’ve used it as an excuse to drag her fiancé upstairs before insisting they order takeout. As it was, the mess took priority. Unfortunately. “What, uh- what… what went wrong here?”
“Nothing much,” said Athena, nonchalantly, as if she didn’t clearly have egg on her shoulder. “Some of the original attempts didn’t cooperate, so I tossed them into the sink.”
“And the… everything else?” Janey specifically eyed the flour on the wall.
“Collateral.” Athena tilted her head. “Is something wrong? Because I’ll clean up the mess when I’m done cooking. It won’t take me long.”
Janey guessed her fiancé was vastly underestimating the damage here, but she decided not to mention it. Instead, she gave what she hoped was a gentle smile and tried not to come off as too negative. “No, no, of course nothing’s wrong. It’s just that… you don’t usually cook, is all.”
“Exactly. I figured you could use the break.”
“Aw.” Janey couldn’t help but move forward and press a quick kiss to her fiancé’s cheek. “That’s so sweet. But you know, I don’t mind cooking for you.”
Athena smiled at her. “You deserve the break,” she assured her, squeezing her hand and turning slightly to the stew, which looked more like a congealed mess to Janey. Did you even put flour in stew?
“Hey, ‘Thena, what recipe did you use for this?” She asked after a second, side-eying it.
Athena stirred it as she answered. “I was trained as an assassin by Atlas from childhood,” she said, in a tone that suggested Janey should’ve known better than to ask. “I think I can handle making a stew on my own.”
Oh, no. “Uh-huh,” said Janey, instead, biting the inside of her cheek. Maybe it wouldn’t taste so bad? Maybe, by some miracle, it’d be fine? Maybe-
“Do you want to try some?” Athena scooped some of the ‘stew’ onto her spoon and held it towards her.
Janey tried to think of a single way to say no without implying it would taste bad.
“Sure,” she said finally, trying to keep the reluctance out of her voice. Her fiancé’s pleased expression almost made it worth it – almost. She placed her hand on top of Athena’s to steady the spoon and tried not to wrinkle her nose at the smell – somewhere between burnt coal and a slag heap – as she brought it to her lips.
She took the smallest possible mouthful and still nearly gagged, but she managed to suppress it. One time, Janey had landed face first in a skag nest and had gotten a mouthful of stuff she still didn’t want to think about.
Somehow, this tasted worse.
Her fiancé was watching her expectantly, and she swallowed hard before forcing a grin. “It tastes great,” she lied, and Athena smiled in a way that made her heart lift.
“Good,” she said, placing the spoon back in the pan. “I want this to be a treat for you. You’re always doing the housework around here.”
“Aw.” There’s a reason for that. “But you don’t have-“
“You said that,” interrupted Athena, rolling her eyes. “What’s the point of me having the day off if I can’t spoil you, though?”
“Babe-“ Janey couldn’t help but smile for real this time. Sure, the meal was disgusting, but still, she appreciated the effort. Especially if she managed to get out of eating it. She didn’t say that, though, instead wrapping her hand around her fiancé’s elbow and tugging her into a kiss. It was meant to be quick, a soft thank you before she moved on to trying to figure out what to do with the mess, but it didn’t quite work out like that.
She wasn’t entirely sure what happened. One moment they were standing at the stove, the next her fiancé was pushed against the counter with the sink, their bodies pressed together, one of Janey’s hands around her neck and the other one against the side for balance. Athena’s fingers looped through Janey’s belt, using it to tug her closer as she arched into her. Janey moved her free hand to Athena’s waist, brushing up the bottom of the t-shirt and sliding her fingers against the bare strip of skin there, feeling Athena tug her harder at the contact and smiling. If she could just-
The sudden woosh less than a foot away interrupted them.
Both of them turned to look. For a few seconds, Janey couldn’t register what she was looking at – pan, bright light, smoke-
Then Athena swore and pushed her out of the way, scrambling forward to grab the pan off the stove. Fire. Now there was fire.
“Careful-“ Janey winced as her fiancé grabbed the pan, although Athena didn’t react. “It’ll be hot-“
“I have a high pain tolerance,” said Athena, before smoothly maneuvering around her while holding the flaming pan in front of her. She shoved it under the tap and turned it on as high a pressure as she could, and Janey, finally coming to her senses, quickly turned off the stove top.
For a few seconds, the only sound was the hiss of steam.
Finally, Athena turned the tap off and turned to face her, still holding the pan. She opened her mouth, but clearly couldn’t think of anything to say, and after a second she closed it again.
“So,” said Janey, glancing at the remains of their ‘meal’ – not that it could’ve gotten much worse. “Takeout tonight?”