Cooking Class (attn Ran, Pak)
Mara was doing her best to be attentive, while at the same time making sure Ran didn't accidentally skewer himself or anyone else. She needn't have worried but it was her 'thing' to be the responsible party when Ran was around. However, clumsiness with bladed weapons was not one of his faults. He had stopped flipping his knife end over end when their instructor, a lovely grandmotherly-type woman named Eileen, had shot him a look that nearly turned him to stone.
They were taking a night class, of course, at the Adult Education Center in Nachton which offered all sorts of classes. Cooking was just one. Mara loved the selection and thought she might continue to take some after this one. However, this was only class number two. The first class they had familiarized themselves with the kitchen, organized their stations, learned what was what and what was where, and started learning about knife cuts and such. Mara had found it fascinating and even Ran had kept his mouth shut and applied himself. It wasn't that he didn't want to learn, Mara suspected, so much as Ran habitually had trouble following structured lessons. He was clearly making an effort though.
Pak, too, was well-behaved, and Mara found it amusing that their often gruff, sometimes belligerently brusque Evenhet friend was apparently a good little student. Of course, Eileen was such a sweet lady, everyone's grandma, that just the thought of disappointing her tended to make one feel like a puppy-kicker. Underneath the sweetness, however, she was entirely capable of sending looks like the one she'd given Ran. Mara liked her immediately.
Eileen demonstrated knife cuts for them, showing them the very minute difference between an allumette and a julienne. Tonight they would cook their first meal, a braised pork cutlet with a carrot slaw and sauteed diced zucchini. With only nine people in the class they worked in groups of three which allowed them to remain together.
Keeping half an eye on Ran Mara julienned her carrots and some cucumbers slowly and precisely, putting them in a little bowl to get ready to season and dress them. Usually she cooked desserts since both Jin and Amir had a little bit of a sweet tooth but she was looking forward to learning to make entire meals. It seemed like a good thing to know, although she wasn't sure if she would ever have the occasion to apply her cooking skills as a Nightswoman. She could certainly apply them to a certain tiger and jackal.
Out of the corner of his mouth he whispered to Pak, "Are we supposed to eat what we make at the end of class? 'Cause I'll be honest, I haven't cooked in um... a few hundred years. And then it was on a spit over an open fire."
Honestly there were some nights when he wondered if Amir didn't turn him just so he wouldn't have to feed the human anymore. He glanced at Mara, saw her lips turned up in amusement, and wondered if the same thought had crossed her mind.
"You can't possibly be hungry again."
"I haven't eaten since yesterday!"
Yeah. They'd had that conversation a few times. At first Ran had thought that maybe he just ate more than they did. After a few months with them he knew they were different. Amir was, at times, so far removed from humanity it was eerie. He had gotten better though, bit by bit, while traveling with Ran and Mara. And now he was a different person entirely. With a personality and a sense of humor (gasp) and everything.
Ran chuckled to himself and set to work on his own vegetables, accomplishing the task of doing the julienne in a fraction of the time Little Miss Perfect over there had taken. Eileen came over to check his work, as if doubting he could possibly have done a good job that quickly. Raising her eyebrows, she said, "Very nice, Ran. You sure you've never cooked before?"
Ran shook his head. "Not intentionally," he said with an innocent smile.
Eileen shot him a wary glace, as if she didn't quite want to know what 'unintentional' cooking was, and moved on to Pak.
Mara had proven to be very genuine in her interest and while Ran wasn't screwing around or taking it lightly he didn't seem to have the same gusto, Pak fell some where in the middle. Part of that was her formal education was rather limited and she felt she had something to prove. Of course she didn't know why proving anything should have to deal with pork... maybe she could finally participate in those pot lucks her department seemed to have quite often. Everyone had brought in something to eat during the mad hours leading up to their launch. Pak had as well, but it had been purchased.
At Ran's whisper Pak glanced up for her slightly uneven julienne and smothered a giggle. She'd been having some of the same thoughts.
"Maybe we'll have to switch with another group and offer constructive criticism?"
She suggested hopefully. There was another group of two men and one woman that already seemed to have a knack for this. Pak was of the opinion they were ringers, but she'd wait to see if they burned anything in the first two lessons before saying anything.
Pak shook her head a little. She didn't eat much, just enough to be a cover Ran rather fascinated her. But she let Mara do the needling on this point, her friend knew him better and for longer.
She paused for a moment in her own efforts to admire Ran's knife work. That was just scary, even for a vampire and Eileen seemed to approve. She was jealous. Pak quirked an eyebrow at him as well wondering what unintentional cooking was. But she didn't have much time to think about it as Eileen stopped by her work next. There was a bit of a concerned frown on their instructor's face and Pak wilted a bit.
"I think you got the cucumber and the zucchini mixed up dear."
To Pak they looked the same long and green and vegetable like.
"Is that a problem?"
"Nothing that can't be fixed. Just set that aside and get another zucchini."
Pak waited until she'd moved on to the next student and trotted off to fix her mistake. At least she wasn't Eiryk, there was no blood.
"Care to show me that fancy knife work again a bit slower this time?"
She asked Ran. Pak had little to no experience with edge weapons. Hell the only self defense she knew she was currently learning from Bao and that was all unarmed.
"It was almost Ran on the spit over the fire," she murmured softly, her lips curling up with humor.
Truly, Ran and Amir had never been close to fighting with each other. They had played well off each other, and having Ran along had been fun for the most part, when he wasn't seducing every woman within a fifty mile radius. Even before he'd been turned Ran had had a pretty voracious sex drive. At least, if his bragging were to be believed.
Watching Ran make quick, efficient work of his julienne Mara waited until Eileen had moved off before leaning over to him and whispering, "At least try to pretend you're normal. For the next hour."
Easier said than done. He had bought himself a bright blue apron that said, "Caution: Extremely Hot" on it and had paired it with a pair of flowered board shorts which managed to have no blue in them at all and a bright purple tee. He had fingerless gloves on his hands that covered his arms to the elbows, an impressive array of piercings new and old, and somehow he'd managed to find a pair of contact lenses with - no kidding - chef's hats on them to cover his beautiful gold eyes.
As if reading her mind, Ran offered her a fangy grin. Mara rolled her eyes. "I said, try."
When Pak went to get a cucumber to correct herself Ran brushed off Mara's chastisement. She didn't mean it, he knew that. Ran was Ran and he didn't honestly think Mara or Amir would want him to be any different. And they were really the only two who mattered to him. Maybe that should bother him. He didn't seem to have a lot of very close friends. He had about a billion acquaintances. Best not to think too much on that. He had his family and his family had him, and that was good enough.
When Pak returned and asked him to demonstrate the knife work again he turned the same charming, fangy grin on her. "This is sort of step fifteen or twenty," he said. "Honestly for real knife work you should ask Amir. If you want that kind of education, anyway."
He thought maybe she was asking about the more... violent applications of kitchen knives. And that was Amir's specialty. While none of Amir's vampires were slouches in the hand-to-hand combat department, Ran thought if you wanted to learn an art you should be taught by a master. And Amir was a master.
"He would teach you," Ran said off-handedly. He glanced at Mara, who was nodding. "And he's a good teacher."
Amir had been rough but patient. Ran had met Amir's own Creator, Subira, on many occasions, and had been 'lucky' enough to have a few lessons with her himself. It had been his first experience with having a body part removed, and Amir had been... well, he'd been pissed. Ran had been injured in training before, but apparently Amir was the only one allowed to injure his offspring. It had actually been the first time in his life someone had truly protected him. Ran had never forgotten it... in spite of the fact that Amir had skewered him several times since.
He set his knife aside and started to mix the dressing for the slaw as Eileen directed them, following the recipe written on the white board at the front of the class. Ran watched Pak to make sure she was doing everything properly and not falling too far behind while she corrected herself, but she was fine. Ran had to admit it was kind of pleasant, doing all of this mixing and stirring and tasting. He could actually like cooking a little.
Pak's eyebrows shot up. She really had just meant the julienne. What was it with these Anantya relatives of hers? Talk about a wild branch of the family. They all were so, ummmm, efficient and effective in the more aggressive ways of expressing themselves. It was hard to imagine how different her experience as a vampire was from theirs. Before starting her sessions with Bao Pak had been useless in any kind of fight, she could throw things and run that was about it.
Instead of making a comment about Amir cooking Pak found herself asking,
She was actually considering it. It would probably be good to learn from someone other than Bao, not that he was doing a bad job of things but you didn't just learn one programing language and then stop either did you. Granddad was a little intimidating though, he could be. Pak liked him well enough but they had on occasion rubbed each other the wrong way.
She looked between Mara and Ran genuinely wondering about the answer but she had to turn her attention back to fixing her mistake and since she didn't want to cut off and regenerate a finger and then explain that to the class she had to pay attention.
"Do you think it is even worth learning? I have a bit of a different career path from you two."
The lessons with Bao were really more for him than for her, at least that was how Pak saw it. She was starting to get better and even mostly enjoyed their sparing but it was something Pak wouldn't have pursued or even necessarily continued on her own. It also rather suddenly struck her as odd that she was learning all of this from members of another clan, there were people in Evenhet would would be able to teacher, and happy to as well but Pak had never sought them out or even asked. No this was all because Bao wanted her to learn and she felt a little bad about continuously beating him at chess.
Mara truly believed that Amir's skill in weaponry was nearly second to none. Their kind were not numerous; he had held his own against packs of wolves, other vampires nearly his own age or older, and many more opponents that should have been able to take him down. Pak would be silly not to avail herself of this chance. She could live practically forever. To go about being ignorant was dangerous.
"Your career path may not be dangerous, but thinking long-term, are you going to be doing the same thing a thousand years from now?"
Pak was very young as their kind went. She had so much time ahead of her, she should still be learning and learning and learning. In her enthusiasm to make herself understood, Mara up-ended the horseradish into her slaw and dumped far too much in. "Oh, no."
She looked down in dismay. "I'll start over."
He had to bite his lip to keep from laughing when Mara over horse-radished her slaw. Her face was so sad that Ran's tender heart squeezed. He'd been following the recipe quite exactly, being more serious about it than she possibly knew, and he was sure his was good. He waited until Eileen's back was turned and quickly switched his bowl with Mara's.
"There," he said. "No harm, no foul. I like some spice to my food anyway."
He looked down. It was a lot of horseradish. He gingerly picked some out and set it aside, but even with his efforts it was clear that this was going to be a slaw with a hell of a kick.
Now he really hoped they didn't all have to try each other's. He'd have to do some more sleight of hand so he didn't kill anyone.
"Well... you might be right. I might ask Bao's opinion before a rush into anything. I'd like to come out of my lessons alive."
Bao wasn't exactly gentle with her. She'd had more sprains, breaks and dislocations in the time she'd agreed to let him teacher than in her entire life, mortal or immortal. From things that went unsaid and half said she had rather picked up that Amir might be a bit more aggressive with his teaching techniques. Before she could get too serious though Ran offered his two cents and Pak snorted rather ungraciously.
"I doubt they'll hold still long enough for me to do that. Besides.... it would be messy."
Pak frowned at Mara's mishap, it was worse than hers and Mara was trying so hard to learn. Pak would be satisfied if it tasted okay and didn't kill any one. She quickly reached over and took a small sample of the slaw that Ran had switched with Mara and coughed delicately. That was more spicy than she was ready for, but she didn't think it was completely ruined.
"Can't we just add more of everything until the horseradish evens out?"
Granted that would mean they might have to double or tipple the recipe but it seemed possible. It might also be something they should ask the instructor about. That's what the woman was there for after all, to teach them and fixing something that was wrong seemed appropriate. But she didn't want to raise her hand and be all goodie goodie about it.
"You can't have a better teacher than Amir," Mara said stubbornly. "He would be good for you."
Better than trying to repair a broken relationship and learn how to defend herself. Mara's feelings were hurt that Pak would question her advice and doubt her lover and Creator.
"Oh, Ran. That's sweet of you," she said, distracted when Ran swapped bowls with her. Eileen was turned toward them again so Mara couldn't swap back, and she wasn't sure she would have. It would hurt Ran's feelings if she rebuffed his help.
"I don't know," Mara said to Pak when she suggested they make more of everything. "It seems like that would be a waste of food we don't intend to eat."
He did wince when Pak tasted the slaw he'd stolen from Mara. "No no," he said, waving his hand. "I'll just get as much of this out as I can and carry on. Bravery and honor and all of that!"
And, not wasting food was a good thing. And, he was reasonably certain he could follow the recipe. He knew what he (or Mara, in this case) had done wrong so it wasn't as if it were a mystery. Ran could handle that.
Sprinkling the next few ingredients in after removing as much horseradish as he could, Ran tasted the slaw one more time. His mouth burned and his eyes watered. "It's good," he said, choking back a cough. "Really."
It was soon time to work on the zucchini anyway, so Ran turned his attention to that. Dicing it was easy. He enjoyed the knife work, and soon had some very pretty cubes of vegetables sitting in front of him.
Eileen walked by again and tsked suspiciously at him. "Either you're hiding something, or you're going to cut your finger off. I'm not sure which I'd prefer to be true."
Ran chuckled and held his hands out. "All my fingers intact. Promise."
Eileen moved on and praised Mara's patient, perfect cuts. Ran had to laugh. Mara would be the teacher's pet. The cat in her craved the attention whether she would admit it or not.
There was no doubt Amir was good, Bao was scary and he had said Amir had taught him and that Amir could make him look like a rank amateur. And Pak was a reluctant student only practicing once a week with Bao, sometimes not even that much. Thanks to being a vampire she could hold her own against a human black belt but if it came to flat out sparing with another vampire, especially a trained one, the best Pak could do would be to defend herself and look for a chance to run.
Pak watched Ran help his older sister and was rather reminded of Kem. Not that they were the same or anything, in fact, Kem might have laughed at her while she ate the super spicy slaw, but the idea of looking out for his sister. That was the same. Obviously, family was family regardless of clan.
"I just hope we don't have wasabi in next week's recipe."
She muttered as Ran coughed and his eyes watered. She then stepped up her efforts to keep up with the recipe. She bristled slightly when it seemed like Eileen was okay with Ran cutting off his fingers. Yes it was a joke, she was relatively sure, but Pak didn't like the idea of her letting Ran get hurt. She didn't say anything though, Pak was quite happy to remain invisible to their instructor it meant she wasn't a total failure, maybe at some point she'd be brilliant and then she'd be happy to be recognized but until then invisible was fine by her.
But it wasn't to be.
"You -are- going to lose a finger if you aren't careful."
She said and then spent a few moments correcting Pak's knife technique. When she left though Pak did feel a bit more confident and moved more quickly through what she was doing.
"Or maybe she could teach me."
Pak said not at all seriously. Of course, who knew, grandmother type or not Eileen could be a three thousand year old assassin.
And that was it, really. Pak just didn't seem to have all that much interest in learning to protect herself. Mara realized she was a computer programmer, but even Mara hadn't initially been interested in learning to fight. Protect herself, yes, but Amir just kept teaching and teaching. Mara hadn't seen the purpose in it. What would she ever need that knowledge for? And look at her, sixteen hundred years later. Very grateful for everything she knew.
Now was not the time for that lecture, though, so she lifted her shoulders, unwilling to argue, which she hated to do. Ran looked at her and gave her a cheerful smile and a little shake of his head. He knew how non-confrontational she was.
By the time Eileen came by again Mara had finished with her vegetables and had heated the canola oil in her sautee pan until it was just smoking. Taking her pork she put it in, listening with satisfaction as it sizzled just like Eileen's had done. Their teacher had explained to them how you sealed the juices of the meat in by searing it at high heat, and then put it in liquid and covered it to finish braising it. It was an interesting technique. Mara hadn't realized there were so many ways to prepare meat.
Of course, Ran and Mara were talking from the point of view of being equals with Bao. Pak did not have the same view of him since he was her Creator. Ran had always found Amir's middle vampire to be far too dry-humored and straight-laced for him. The only thing they had in common, really, was circumvention of the rules. Bao operated within a very strict system of rules and laws, and he was an expert at manipulating those to his ends. Ran just used a grenade and exploded them. Two very different means to similar ends. He figured Bao probably thought he lacked technique, but from Ran's point of view there were many things he could do and many places he could go where Bao would be neither comfortable nor welcome.
Setting his nuclear-spiced slaw aside, Ran looked at his smoking saute pan with a dubious expression. He picked up his meat with a pair of tongs and was just about to plop it in there when the oil in the pan just went up in flames. Ran blinked at it, holding his pork chop suspended over it.
"How about pork flambe?"
He wasn't particularly concerned about the fire, but Eileen rushed over and doused it with salt, then whisked the pan away. "Start that oil again, Ran," she said, a 'tsk tsk' tone to her voice. "And don't turn it up quite so high."
Ran hardly had time to say anything, an uncommon occurrence with him. He glanced at Mara, who was trying not to laugh, and then at Pak. Shrugging, he leaned of to Pak and said, "She is kind of a ninja. I wonder if we could get her to teach Amir a few things too."
He placed his uncooked meat to the side, bent down, and got another pan out from beneath his cooking station. Measuring out he oil he put it in the pan, adjusted the heat, and tapped his foot, watching to see when it hit just the right temperature for searing.
Pak laughed out right at Ran. She had no idea how much, if any, Mara or Bao had told Ran about their relationship but she absolutely knew they were different. There were distinct similarities too.
"Amir actually has a sense of humor now and then."
Bao did too but it was so understared that it was easy to miss and Pak didn't always appreciate it.
There wasn't much time to laugh about it before Ran started a fire. Having spent a great deal of time with Eric that quickly turned around to find a lid for the pan. As she search she quipped at Ran,
"I don't think that is the recipe we're doing tonight."
heir instructor came over and put the fire out before she could find a lid. It was a useful trick and one she would relate to Alex just in case you didn't know he would probably have more use for it then she would. Leaning over to Mara Pak observed,
" I didn't even know you could put fire out with salt. Maybe she should have told us that the first day or did she and I just wasn't paying attention?"
Oddly enough it was a timely lesson you could always learn something you and you never knew when it would be you suck. It might be another three hundred years before she cooked again, well other than their lessons, but fire had been around a long time and it never hurts to know how to put one out. Or learn how to use a knife...
Figuring she couldn't do any worse than Ran, Pak was a lot less hesitant to start her own meat. Of course, she made the opposite mistake and let the oil get hot enough. Their instructor, however, seemed to miss that minor error, but who could blame her after such a flashy mistake. Pak didn't even know she had done something wrong she was too busy laughing at her uncle.
" I don't think Amir is the type to learn how to sear anything. I could be wrong, but that is just not the impression I get from him."
Of course, the same was true of Ran, and maybe even of her. But who was she to judge?
Leaving it aside she turned to check her braising liquid, a mix of chicken stock, herbs, spices, and raisins. It smelled delicious and was simmering gently. Once the cutlet was seared properly Mara removed it from the pan with the tongs, popped it into its new home, and went to work on her zucchini.
Eileen had gone over this recipe with them at the start of class. The whole point was to learn to use the methods they'd discussed so far. Mara enjoyed seeing the particular reactions to hot or cold that different foods had.
She glanced up at Pak when she speculated about Amir's cooking methods, wondering where her friend had thought that one up. "He doesn't usually go for searing, no," she said with a little smile. "A good dice is much more his style."
But then, that discussion was how they got on the current topic anyway, so she let it go there lest they run full circle.
Eileen shot him a warning glance but it was one Ran was familiar with; she was laughing at him, she just didn't want it to show. Amir did it better.
"I think she mentioned it at the start of class tonight," Ran admitted about the salt thing. "I would have remembered, but she was on it pretty quick."
He thought he would have remembered. He put his own meat into the pan once it was hot enough (but not too hot) and listened as it sizzled merrily away, something Pak's wasn't doing all that well.
While they worked Ran said to Pak, "So how are things in the IT world? Did you ever pull the prank you wanted to pull on... well... on whoever it was you wanted to pull it?"
Pak had tried to enlist his help at their first meeting, but Ran had (for once) realized that aiding her, even in jest, could be seen by other eyes as an act of war. There were some lines even Ran would not cross. Irresponsible he may be at times, he was not disloyal.
Still, he wanted to know if Pak had done what she'd set out to do.
Pak shot him a wicked grin. She genuinely liked that desert and rather hoped Ran would take her up on the challenge even if Eileen didn't teach them that particular recipe.
Mara was doing a fantastic job, hers smelled so good that Pak was almost thinking about eating. Smells like that really made it easy to tempt her. Pak thought it might help keep her a bit human too, even if she didn't indulge too often.
"She is a bit like a ninja, or maybe she just knows how much trouble you are. There is one in every class I'm sure."
With a frown Pak poked at her chop that just didn't seem to be doing anything.
"Do you think I should turn the heat up?"
That she asked Mara, not that Ran wasn't doing well but if you were going to ask for help better to ask the teacher's pet than anyone else. And she was concerned about the lack of action. Of course, it was better than burning it to a crisp. Wasn't it?
She giggled at Ran's question.
"I think we have a temporary truce and I don't want to be the one to break it right now."
That and some of her best ideas right now would affect a lot of other people and Pak had already made the mistake of messing with other people when she adjusted the clocks. Plan B had to do with Kem's car and she knew that would open her baby up to retaliation and that just wasn't a risk she was willing to take.
She left her station long enough to remove Pak's cutlet from the pan and set it aside. Then she turned on the burner and added a touch more oil. "There. Let it get hot, and then put it back on," she said with an amused little grin. "That should fix it right up."
She returned to her station but not without poking Ran in the middle of his lower back, just to the side of his spine. He squirmed and made an awkward strangling sound, and dropped his knife with a clang. Eileen turned to look at them but by then Mara was back in place.
He was. Mostly. Ran just didn't see the point in being serious when he could have fun with a thing. That included work.
Mara fixed Pak's inoperative burner by, well, operating it, and then returned to her station. As she passed though she hit him with her sharp little fingernail right where he was incredibly sensitive on his back. He yelped and released his knife as he wriggled away. Then he mumbled an apology to Eileen, picked his knife up, took it to the sink and dropped it in, and grabbed a new one.
As he passed Mara he gave a little growl, but she only smiled charmingly at him. She was so cute... the little wench. He would get his revenge at some point, but at the moment he had a pork cutlet to braise.
Pak claimed there was a truce in place and Ran snorted. "How utterly boring," he said blandly. "Truces were meant to be broken. Why not be the first? You certainly shouldn't be the last."
Mara gave a delicate little cough. "That's our Ran," she said, "ever the diplomat."
"Diplomacy is for pussies."
"Case in point," she said with a little laugh.
Pak said weakly. How did you forget to turn the stove on? Fire was a concept that was older than any vampire she'd ever met, pretty basic. Pak grinned, clearly embarrassed.
"I'll try it your way though, thanks."
She bit her lip at the play between Mara and Ran trying to keep from grinning. She was a touch jealous of it too but not because she was... okay she had a little crush on Ran but she really didn't want to make the first move. With a little bit of effort Pak pulled her attention back to the cooking. Her oil quickly got up to temperature, but not over, and she added the chop. This time it did sizzle merrily.
"There is something to be said for a preemptive strike and if you are subtle enough it can be... diplomatic?"
OK diplomacy wasn't exactly Pak's strong suit either. She wasn't a politician and didn't care to be, she'd danced the dance and was quite over it. She rolled her eyes at Ran's pun and gambling a little took a queue from Mara and needled Ran in the side.
"Don't you like pussy... cats?"
Wait, that was flirting. Damned. She hadn't meant to do that, but it was out there now and too late to take it back. Instead of calling attention to it though Pak concentrated very hard on the next step in the recipe.