Azar sighed as she wandered into the kitchen, intent of raiding Kooza's huge pantry for something to help her sleep. She nudged the pantry door open with her foot, chin tucked into her chest as she braided her hair back for sleep. When she glanced up, she jerked back with a gasp. Sarkan stood within, a variety of ingredients held in his arms. "Azar," he greeted evenly. He raised an eyebrow. "Did I interrupt something?"

Azar flushed, realizing her fingers were still tangled in the half-finished braid. She finished the braid and tied it off, letting her arms hang down with a small sigh. "I just wanted some tea," she said, feeling unaccountably foolish. She looked at the ingredients Sarkan held, curious. Flour, sugar, baking soda, vegetable oil…All held in a small, rather battered cake pan. "Are you baking?"

"Yes. Normally Ilkin would take care of it but he's sleeping." Sarkan reached out a long arm, collecting another ingredient: Baking chocolate….Azar felt her mouth water. Whatever Sarkan was baking, it had chocolate in it.

She blinked and Sarkan was holding out the intricately carved box that held Kooza's entire supply of tea. She took it with a nod of thanks and backed out the pantry, holding the door open for Sarkan as he carried his armful of supplies to one of the long counters, setting the pan down with a metallic rattle. Azar walked over to one of the large stoves, grabbing the kettle to fill it with water before setting it on the burner, cranking the heat on.

She paused, considering the oven dials and turned, intent on asking Sarkan what temperature he wanted the oven at and found herself stifling another gasp when she discovered Sarkan, standing just within the edges of her personal space. He stared down at her, a peculiar emotion flickering in the back of his eyes. He raised an arm and Azar averted her eyes, flinching back from him. She inwardly cursed herself as he reached past her and turned on the oven, setting the temperature for whatever he was baking.

"Azar…" His voice was low and tense in a way that she had never heard before. That was a lie, she realized after a moment. He had often breathed her name in that same voice late at night tangled in the sheets as he ran sweat slick hands over her body, tracing nonsensical patterns out on her skin. It was full of an emotion that he so rarely showed.

"Don't," Azar managed to choke out, hating how weak the word sounded. "Just…don't Trickster." He drew back as if burned when she used his title, eyes sliding shut for a moment. Azar breathed a sigh of relief, able to think more clearly without him standing so close. Sarkan drew back further and Azar felt a weak giggle escape her. "Even now…You try to make me more comfortable."

Sarkan inclined his head but said nothing. Azar crossed the kitchen, taking an oversized mug from one of the cupboards and rifled through the tea box for something soporific. She picked one after several moments' perusal and poked the tea bag down into the bottom of her mug. When she glanced up, Sarkan had busied himself, starting to mix the ingredients for his cake. She watched him for a moment, noticing how he didn't seem to notice the flour clinging to his suit and hands. His back was a study in tension, at odds with the grace with which he mixed everything together into a rich looking batter. A piercing whistle broke the uncomfortable silence and Azar jumped before glancing at the stove. The kettle's whistle hiked up another few decibels and Azar winced, hurrying over to take the damn thing off the burner before her ears started bleeding. She poured the boiling water into her mug, gritting her teeth as a few scalding drops managed to splash on her hand. She set the kettle off to one side and flexed her fingers a few times to make sure that the burns were nothing truly serious.

"Are you alright?" Azar managed to not jump this time when Sarkan spoke. She looked up to see him standing a short distance away, cake pan in his hands.

She nodded, rubbing a thumb over the tender skin. "Just a few burns." The next sentence tumbled from her mouth before she could censor it. "Why would you care?"

Sarkan's hands tightened on the cake pan's handles. "Do not make the mistake of thinking that because I protected Cyrus that I do not care for you Azar," he said softly. Azar shivered at the look in his eyes as he walked past her to slide the cake into the oven.

Glancing down at her mug, Azar saw that her tea was almost done steeping. She grabbed a small sugar bowl and the small bottle of half and half from the kitchen's fridge for when the tea was finished steeping. She blinked and sighed, realizing she had forgotten to get a spoon. She turned and jumped for what felt like the hundredth time. Sarkan's lips twitched as he held out a spoon to her. She took the spoon with a sigh. "What tea are you using?" Sarkan's voice had lost some of its tension but it was still soft.

"…Valerian," Azar answered after a moment. A small, vindictive part of her grinned in triumph when Sarkan slid back half a step, guilt flickering in his eyes. Valerian was one of the better herbs to use in sleeping tea. She had never had any cause to use it before.

"Azar…"

"What kind of cake are you baking?" she interrupted him before he could say anymore.

Sarkan watched her for a moment before sighing. "Chocolate chip," he replied. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against a nearby counter, apparently content to say nothing more.

Azar nodded. Ilkin's chocolate chip cake was standard fare for whenever someone wanted something sweet. The Charivari leader was perfectly capable of baking more complex delicacies but the cravings for those were rare. She had a private suspicion- backed by a few offhand remarks from Sarkan- that for all of his sophistication, Sarkan had grown up in a much plainer environment. That subtle preference had probably permeated Kooza much like Sarkan's sweet tooth had.

Glancing down, she saw that her tea had finished steeping. She fished out the soggy tea bag and dumped it in one of the many little trashcans scattered around the kitchen. She added in two teaspoons of sugar and a dash of half and half to blunt and sweeten the tea's natural flavor before picking up her mug. Sarkan looked at her but didn't move from his position. "I'm for bed," she said quietly.

Sarkan inclined his head. "Good night Azar," was all he said.

Azar murmured a reply and left, sipping at her tea.


AN: Please tell me this came across as awkward. Because it damnably awkward to write. *sigh* Sadly this story arc won't be as cheerful as its predecessor, Foundations because there's not a cheerful way to handle the fact that Sarkan hurt Azar and they're both incredibly uncertain of where things will go from here.