Blue cheese...Brie cheese...Greek cheese...Soft cheese...Mature cheese... Mild... Strong... Cheddar...
He squinted as he pushed the cart along, dazzled at the vast array of cheeses and finding himself getting dizzy. He'd been walking past the aisle more than twice now, but there were so many of them, in all shapes and sizes, that he still couldn't find what he was looking for.
The cookbook had been pretty specific, he thought worriedly. He couldn't just use any kind, could he?
Red Leicester... Carbery... Cheshire.. Wha-!
How many ways can you curdle the bloody milk to make it cheese! He felt like screaming.
The rich, heavy aroma of strong cheeses mixed with the milder ones mingled together in a heady miasma almost too overwhelming for his delicate Oriental olfactory receptors. He wrinkled his nose in distaste, but he was adamant in his mission. He had to get that special cheese. For Kaede.
If he could ever find it.
They all look the same, he thought glumly.
Italian Parmigiano...Is that the same as Parmesan? He wondered dumbly. He knew as much about cheeses as he did about cosmetics.
He was just about to give up and run off to grab someone who could help him, like that bored-looking cashier with the dye job gone bad, to help him look when-
Parmesan! Found it, found it!
Grated Parmesan...he read the label on a packet.
Shaved Parmesan...he read on another.
I hate cheese.
"Tadaima." A soft voice startled him from behind, and Sendoh nearly dropped the cleaver knife which he happened to be holding so precariously close to his waist; a ridiculously irrelevant instrument for slicing a piece of smoked ham, but what the hell, as long as it could get the work done-
Rukawa automatically steadied the chopping board which Sendoh was propping against the counter with his hip; it was threatening to tip over and spill its contents onto the floor.
"Be careful. You could cut yourself."
"Okairi-nasai." A smile played at the corners of his lips, his heart swelling with love; Rukawa had purposely, uncharacteristically, brushed his fingers lightly against his, before snatching a slice of tomato from the salad bowl.
"We're having Western tonight?" He observed coolly, trying to act uninterested, but Sendoh knew he was excited. This was the first time he was trying his hand at cooking something other than Japanese or ready-made meals, and the one thing he quickly found out about his koi when they first started seeing each other was that Rukawa loved surprises.
"Mmm!" Sendoh nodded enthusiastically, his spiky head bouncing up and down like a rooster.
"Found my mother's old cookbook in the attic, and there's this one dish she used to make for us all the time, it's my all-time favourite-so I thought I'd make it for you tonight. Hope you're hungry," he finished, glancing out the corner of one eye. Rukawa was leaning against the counter on the opposite side of the kitchen with the dining table between them, watching him, with his hands tucked casually into the front pockets of his jeans.
His face grew hot; Rukawa's intense stare always did that to him, and he could feel it burn into his back. Sendoh waved him away with the knife.
"Run along and take a shower-I've laid out my blue PJs on the bed, the ones you like, since you insist on wearing my clothes all the time-"
Rukawa snorted derisively. Sendoh only smiled. "Dinner's going to be a little late, I'm afraid."
Rukawa ignored him; he turned around and took a mug out off the cabinet. He filled it to the brim with iced tea from the fridge, and soundlessly placed it on the counter near Sendoh's elbow.
It was Sendoh's favourite mug, custom-made, a birthday gift from his team mates a few years back; the inscription read,
"For my own personal use, The Invincible Sendoh Akira-sama."
When Sendoh looked up again, Rukawa was already out the door and up the stairs.
Amused, Sendoh put down the knife and lifted the mug to his lips, just about to take a sip, when he noticed the piece of paper sticking to the bottom from the moisture-
What comes after dinner is what I'm waiting for, the message read in big, bold letters.
Sendoh's face burned again. The cheek!
Rukawa Kaede, you are going to be the death of me. He prayed silently. God help me.
But there was no way the grin on his face could get any bigger.
"What's this?" Rukawa asked suspiciously, eyeing the plate in front of him warily.
"Spaghetti," replied Sendoh happily, ladling more of the creamy sauce onto Rukawa's plate, drowning the pasta in an ocean of white, with speckles of ham.
"That I know. I meant the sauce." Rukawa tentatively poked his fork into a piece of ham, twirling a few strands of pasta around it. He was hungry and he looked hungry. But if he wasn't careful, Sendoh wouldn't hesitate to force any kind of crap down his throat; not that Sendoh was a bad cook, he was better than most, but there was only so much his stomach could take.
"It's called carbonara. I made it really creamy-the creamier the better. You'll love it, trust me."
"Creamy?" Rukawa's forehead wrinkled. "Cream?"
"Double?" Rukawa squeaked.
"And Parmesan cheese."
"Cheese?" His voice sounded even smaller this time, his blue eyes as wide as Sendoh had ever seen them.
"Relax-it's rich, I know...but don't you worry about a thing-" he laid his hand atop the kitsune's briefly. "One time won't make you fat, and besides you'll only burn those calories off shooting the hoops tomorrow morning so eat as much as you like. There's plenty."
"That's not what I'm worried about," Rukawa mumbled under his breath
"Uh...nothing." He forced a tiny smile.
He was still not smiling much, if at all, but Sendoh knew it was only a matter of time. He'd won Rukawa's heart, that much was obvious, so it was only a matter of time before he could finally make the Ice Prince laugh. He wanted to be the first to hear him laugh.
"Kaede, what is it? You look worried." Rukawa appeared to have shrunk in the blue pyjamas and he seemed to be deep in thought as he played and toyed with his food. He had yet to take the first bite. This was not the reaction Sendoh had in mind when he was preparing the meal.
"Nande monei yo," Rukawa finally said, lifting his head. "Itadakimas."
He hesitated for a few seconds longer before giving Sendoh a brave little smile and began to eat, taking a tiny bite.
Sendoh laughed. "You're acting very strange. Kae-chan."
At the mention of Sendoh's pet name for him, he looked up and stared at the man sitting across the table, focusing his energy on chewing very, very slowly, and carefully; like he had diamonds in his mouth instead of pasta. His stare was strangely soft, almost trusting, kneading the creamy bolus on his tongue against the inside wall of his cheek, savouring the taste almost reverently.
Sendoh waited in anticipation.
"It's good," Rukawa mumbled, sounding almost surprised. He slowly put his fork down.
Sendoh narrowed his eyes. Something seemed amiss. Rukawa was staring down at the plate of food mournfully, longingly, but for some reason, he was not digging into it with gusto as Sendoh thought he would.
"What's the matter, Kaede? Don't you like it?" His heart began to sank, his own appetite beginning to recede, and he had yet to take a bite himself.
Rukawa bowed his head, and a shock of unruly dark hair tumbled down, obscuring his eyes. "No! It's...good. Really. It's just..."
"Are you not hungry? Do you not like Italian?" Sendoh pressed, a little concerned. "I'm sorry, I should have called and asked if you'd mind having Western for dinner-I guess I was waaay over my head..."
"No!" Rukawa shook his head vehemently. "It's...absolutely fine. I'm alright, really." He stared into Sendoh's downcast face and took a deep breath. His koi had gone to all the trouble preparing this wonderful meal-
He forced a wan smile. "Let's eat, okay?" He picked up his fork again, and with much more conviction now, began to eat.
Sendoh's face brightened instantly, and Rukawa was very relieved to see a smile had already found its way back to his lips.
Sendoh cheerily picked up his own fork and began to dig in.
He woke to a pitch-dark room in the middle of the night, the deafening silence greeting him ominous and watchful, like there was something that had woken him up and it was lurking in the shadows. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but as much as his heavy head wanted to pull him back into the peaceful world of slumber, he felt something nag at the back of his mind, that something was not right, that he had to wake up.
He was aware of a warm presence pressing against his back. Oh right. Rukawa.
A ghost of a smile curled his lips slightly at the memory of the successful dinner, and what came right after. And what they had for 'dessert'.
Sendoh flipped onto his other side, his chest colliding with the younger man's pyjama-clad back, jostling him a little. An almost inaudible gasp from the other side of the bed caught Sendoh's attention.
"Kaede? You're awake?" he squinted in the dark. In the silhouette of the moonlight, he reached out and lay a hand on Rukawa's back. He frowned when his hand came away wet. The pyjama top Rukawa was wearing was soaked with sweat.
Sendoh sat up and reached for the bedside lamp, and a split second later, the whole room was bathed in the dim soft light of the lamp.
"Hey," he called out softly, laying a gentle hand on Rukawa's shoulder, alarmed at how tense the muscles felt, bunched and tight. A few seconds later, he felt them shudder and relax as Rukawa shakily let out the breath he had been holding, and it whistled past his lips jerkily, as if the act of breathing itself was hurting him. Sendoh craned his neck forward, hovering over the hunched figure to look at his face.
Rukawa's eyes were closed, his forehead furrowed together as if in pain, but he was obviously awake. Beads of sweat glued his hair to his scalp.
A bad dream? He wondered silently.
Without hesitation, Sendoh scrambled off the bed, jarring Rukawa again, eliciting a small groan from the ailing boy, and he reluctantly opened his eyes to see Sendoh's worried face looming over him as he knelt on the floor beside him.
"Kaede, daijoubu?" He whispered anxiously, his messy hair not quite as spiky, more tousled from sleep, his face younger than his years. "Did you have a nightmare?"
Rukawa didn't answer as another spasm gripped him, and he inhaled sharply, closing his eyes as he fought to keep the pain at bay. He was visibly shaking.
"Kaede, what is it?" Sendoh was seriously worried now. "You're shaking!"
His gaze trailed down from the younger boy's ashen face to the arms clutched so tightly around his middle, the knees brought so high up the chest they nearly touched his chin. Sendoh held the palm of one hand against Rukawa's cheek, feeling the clenched jaw twitch under his touch.
"Is it your stomach?" He asked softly.
Rukawa could only nod. Cobalt eyes peered under heavy lashes, wet with beads of moisture. The pain was so intense it brought tears to his eyes. He knew it was going to hurt, but he had no idea it was going to be this bad.
"Damn," Sendoh cursed under his breath. It must have been the pasta. Or the double cream, it must have gone past its expiration date; although he was careful to check that it would only expire sometime in the middle of the next week, but damn those people must have got it labelled wrong.
And now he'd gone and given his kitsune a case of food poisoning.
"Damn it," he cursed again louder this time, wincing in sympathy as Rukawa went still again, his breath hitched deep inside his lungs. He waited with bated breath, letting his hand rest on Rukawa's cheek. He waited for it to pass, and when Rukawa finally exhaled again, he withdrew his hand, but he knew the relief was only temporary.
"I'm going to get you something for i-" He was about to rise when a clammy hand caught his wrist.
"It'll-pass," Rukawa whispered. He sounded so weak, and Sendoh felt like kicking himself.
"I'm just going to go get some medicine from the-"
"It'll pass," Rukawa repeated softly, but not with less conviction. "It always does."
"Eh?" The grip around his wrist loosened, and Sendoh went down on his knees again, bracing his arms against the bed, leaning forward till his face was inches from Rukawa's.
"Don't worry about me. Go back to bed." Rukawa gasped again, his body shuddering as another bout of cramps overcame him.
"Go back to be-Are you mad?" Sendoh asked incredulously, his eyes clouded with concern and exasperation. "I gave you food poisoning, and you expect me to go back to sleep?"
Feeling feverish now on top of the cramps and nausea, Rukawa could only glare at him. "Do'ahou."
"It's not food poisoning, you baka." He said coldly.
"No!" He nearly yelped. The cramps were worse now, if that was even possible.
"It's really not?" Sendoh asked again, still not understanding.
"No, it's not..." He was exhausted but the pain hammering in his gut was unrelenting. Shit.
"Then what is it then?" Sendoh demanded.
Rukawa studied his profile for a while, unsure if he should tell the truth. Poor Sendoh, worrying himself to death.
Sendoh was going to kill him. He just knew it.
What the hell. Out with it. Here goes nothing.
"I'm allergic to dairy products," he mumbled.
Sendoh thought he'd heard wrong. He blinked. "Did I just hear you say what I thought you did?"
Rukawa just stared at him blankly. But inside, he was bracing himself for what was about to come.
Dairy products...what does that mean?
Dairy...His eyes widened into the size of saucers.
"Rukawa, teme!" Sendoh's voice rose as blood rushed to his face.
"What the hell did you think you were doing!" His voice rose another notch. Sendoh was amazed at his own temper. His mouth closed, and opened again. And he closed it again. He didn't know what else to say, he was so mad.
Rukawa watched as Sendoh's face got redder and redder by the second. He dug his fists into his sides, sighing. Great. Just what he needed. Now Sendoh was mad at him.
"Gomen." For once in his life, he was driven to apologize. Gladly too, because he was in too much pain to argue.
Sendoh could just gape at him. He rocked back on his feet, resting his full weight on his heels. Raising a hand to his forehead, he studied the pitiful figure lying curled up in front of him, whose shakings still hadn't died down. And the fact that he had just apologised, Rukawa Kaede had just apologised to him for something he didn't do...that was an indication that he was in some serious pain.
Sendoh Akira, what the hell have you done? He cursed himself silently.
He took a few deep breaths. Calm down. You won't be of any help to him if you don't calm down.
He knew he hated cheese for a reason. And double cream too. He hated double cream with a passion now.
"What should I do?" He asked gently.
Rukawa's eyes flew open, their usual icy, clear blue now clouded with pain. You're not mad at me? He searched Sendoh's face for any trace of anger but there was none left. Sendoh's eyes were soft, kind. Caring. And very worried.
Rukawa licked his parched lips. "Nothing, really. I'll be fine."
Sendoh's frown deepened. "Do you carry some kind of medicine? Did you leave it at home? I'll go get it, just tell me where to find it-"
Rukawa almost smiled. His house was two train stations away.
One hand unclasped itself from his belly and crept across the bed, reaching for Sendoh's. "There's no medicine. It'll pass. I just-have to ride it out," he exhaled painfully, his naturally pale face now as white as the pillow he was resting on.
Sendoh rose anyway. In alarm, Rukawa unconsciously tightened his grip. He didn't want Sendoh to leave.
Sendoh squeezed the cold, clammy fingers reassuringly. If only he could transfer some of his body warmth into the cold, limp hand. He smiled benignly. "I'll be right back. Kae-chan."
Sendoh filled the hot water bottle at the tap. His eyes darted to the clock on the kitchen wall.
I'll be damned. How long has he been in that much pain anyway? He asked himself silently. Rukawa, you idiot.
Just as he was about to step out of the kitchen, he froze, suddenly noticing the bowl with the leftover pasta sitting on the dining table. Disgusted, more at himself than at anything else, he didn't give it a moment's hesitation; he picked the bowl up and chucked the whole thing in the rubbish bin.
Rukawa felt the bed shake as Sendoh climbed back onto it, and the next second he felt something warm press against his torso. He peered down at the object warily.
"What is this?"
"It's a hot water bottle."
"What do I do with it?" He asked dumbly. He was not thinking straight, the pain was making him a little stupid.
"Press it against your tummy. Here, let me do it." Before Rukawa could protest, Sendoh circled his arm around Rukawa's slender waist, lifted his pajama top gently and carefully lodged the water bottle securely against his abdomen. He didn't remove his hand immediately, instead he rested his head on the same pillow Rukawa was lying on and breathed in the kitsune's hair, which to his delight, smelled of his own favourite shampoo.
"You used my shampoo again, didn't you?"
"You use my toiletries, you wear my clothes, but you couldn't tell me you couldn't eat my spaghetti?"
He felt Rukawa stiffen. Alarmed, Sendoh lifted his head a fraction. "Does it still hurt?"
Rukawa answered with a soft grunt. Sendoh wrapped his arm around him tighter, pressing the water bottle even harder against his lover's stomach. "Stay still. Then it won't hurt as much."
For once, Rukawa obeyed him. He flattened his hand against Sendoh's, stroking it thoughtfully. A bold move of affection for someone like Rukawa. Sendoh's heart soared a little.
"It's your spaghetti." Either Sendoh was hearing things or he really did hear Rukawa speak.
"Why I couldn't tell you. You said it yourself. Because it's your spaghetti."
Realization dawned on him as to what Rukawa really meant. Once again, Sendoh found himself struggling with his emotions; he didn't know if he should feel amused, or angry, or flattered-but he was exasperated. That, he knew he was.
"Ah, Kae-chan," he reprimanded, fighting the urge to literally knock some sense into the fox boy's head. "You baka." He laughed. He couldn't help it.
Feeling a little hurt, Rukawa pried his hand away from Sendoh's, but without having to look, Sendoh found and grabbed it again.
"You think I care more about the damn pasta than I care about you," he whispered in Rukawa's ear accusingly.
Rukawa went still again, but this time it was from what Sendoh said. He wasn't sure how to respond so he just shrugged.
"You knew it was going to make you sick, didn't you?"
Rukawa shrugged again.
"Didn't expect it to hurt this bad. It's usually just a mild ache," he said truthfully.
It was now Sendoh's turn to stiffen. "Usually? You mean you've done this before? Making yourself sick on purpose?"
Rukawa rolled his eyes even though he knew Sendoh couldn't see it. "How else was I supposed to grow tall, you dumbass?" He muttered.
Sendoh gaped. "But you drink milk almost every day!"
Rukawa shrugged for the hundredth time that night.
"You're crazy, you know that?"
"It's not crazy when you have a reason."
Sendoh glared at the back of his head. "Baka. You'd still grow tall no matter what you drink. It's in your bloody genes!"
"And leave everything to chance?" Rukawa asked coldly. "I still have to beat you, remember?"
Sendoh clucked his tongue. "You're the only person I know who would still say such things even when he's as sick as a fox."
That sounded weird. Rukawa frowned. "It's dog, do'ahou."
"What, foxes don't get sick?"
"I don't know. But I bet they die, sometimes. Death by cheese."
And lo and behold, Rukawa started to giggle. It was such a foreign sound. Sendoh's heart almost stopped.
"What?" He was still giggling softly, albeit a little crazily, as if he couldn't help himself, as if it was out of his control.
"Are you dying?"
Rukawa was seriously considering the question. After a beat, his giggles died down. "No."A pause. "At least, I don't think so. Why?"
"You were laughing." Sendoh's voice was filled with awe and wonder.
The last of Rukawa's smile faded from his lips, as the impact of Sendoh's words dawned on him. He breathed in deeply. An uneasy silence befell the room.
"Gomen," Sendoh said, finally breaking the silence.
"For nearly killing you."
"But don't EVER do that again, okay?" Sendoh's hot breath prickled against the nape of his neck as he brushed his lips against his ear.
"Do what?" He whispered coolly.
"That crazy stunt you pulled."
Much to his dismay, his feelings betrayed him again, and the Ice Prince smiled in the darkness for the last time before closing his eyes to give in to his exhaustion for some much-needed rest.
"It's not crazy when you have a reason."
Sendoh's heart soared in his chest; that was the best reason the kitsune could ever give him. Deep down Sendoh knew that that was the closest thing to 'I Love You' he would ever get from the Ice Prince, but from someone as self-centred as everyone made him out to be, that was as close as he would get to revealing his true feelings.
And at that moment, Sendoh knew that he was the luckiest guy on earth.
He hugged the younger man as tightly and as gently as he could without hurting him further. "I think I love you too. Kae-chan."
And in the balmy darkness of the rising sun, Rukawa Kaede smiled in his sleep.
Glossary: Tadaima-I'm home/I'm back
Okairi-nasai-Welcome home/You're home
Nande monei-yo-It's nothing/Nothing's the matter/Somewhere along that line
Itadakimas-I humbly receive this meal with my sincere appreciation
Do'ahou-(Oh come on!)
Rukawa, teme!-Rukawa, you!
1.The reference to Sendoh's mug has been shamelessly lifted from Getbackers' Midou Ban's mug. :)
2.I was in dire need of some SenRu h/c but of course you need a proper plot for that. Hence, 'CheesyLove'.
3. If you'd enjoyed it even a bit, please do leave a review. I love hearing from my readers.