Notes: "Deleted scene" from AGL, requested by parron. The prompt was "housewife". Fits within Chapter 3.
Baralai began the ritual as he always did, by washing his hands in a basin of soapy warm water. After emptying the bowl and rinsing it, he set it aside and began collecting the ingredients for the evening meal, making sure he had enough of each and laying them out in order of use on the counter. Once everything was in place, he began on the bread, first mixing together the ingredients and then kneading the dough. He pressed into the mass of dough, pushing it against the counter, folding, pressing again. The stresses and strains of a day spent in long meetings with argumentative people flowed through his hands and into the bread, disappearing into the flour that dusted the countertop. He rolled the dough into a loaf shape and then set it on the breadboard to rise, gently draping a towel over it. He picked up a dishcloth and, with a single hand motion, used it to sweep away the extra flour along with all of his troubles, then shook it out in the sink, where it all washed down the drain together. Very satisfying, he thought, to be rid of a difficult day so easily.
Then it was time to start on the stew. The spices he measured out into a small bowl; vegetables and herbs were chopped with a sharp, gleaming knife which he rinsed and then used to slice the meat. That task done, he washed the knife and put it away, sliding it into the wooden block where it would wait for the next meal in safety. He tossed the meat into the metal pot heating on the stove, the hot oil sizzling as the meat made contact, plumes of steam filling the air. Baralai let it sit for a moment before retrieving his favorite wooden spoon, stirring the meat until it was cooked on each side, then adding the rest of the ingredients, the aroma of onions and carrots and herbs and spices mingling with that of the meat. He closed his eyes and took in a deep whiff, satisfied with the pleasant, homey scent. Once the mixture had a few more moments to brown, he poured in half a bottle of wine along with water and some broth he had made a few nights earlier. Once the stew was boiling, he turned down the fire, gave the contents of the pot one last quick stir, clapped on the lid, and slid the bread into the warming oven. A quick wipe down of the counters and it was time to settle in and wait. He poured himself half a glass of wine and carried it over to the kitchen table. Paperwork and reports waited for him there, the inevitable result of representing Bevelle on Spira's Ruling Council, but he opted to ignore it and relax instead. Paine would be home soon, and he would be better company tonight if he left his work aside for the evening. Instead, he pulled out the book he had borrowed from the old temple library, laid it out flat on the table, and started to read, his attention only half on the story as he sipped his wine and thought.
Every night, Baralai would come home and make dinner. It was not so much about having food to eat, although now that he'd had more practice, Baralai genuinely believed that he was able to prepare a much better meal than he could find in most cafes or any mess hall. Of course, Paine surely appreciated it, he thought with a smile, since she wasn't much of a cook herself. She might joke sometimes about having a housewife, but they both knew that he was more suited to the task of running a household, and she was grateful that he had taken on the responsibility without discussion or argument. But it wasn't just for Paine, either; he would still cook on the evenings that her duties to the Spira Defense Force kept her away from their cottage in Luca, or when he dined alone in his Bevelle apartment. No, it was the cooking itself that Baralai found rewarding. As a ward of the temple and then a priest of Yevon, Baralai's life had always been based around ritual. Following recipes to create a meal was very much like casting spells, preparing potions, or leading prayers, and the repetitive actions of chopping, kneading, and mixing often lulled him into a meditative state. And the resulting relaxation could last for hours, especially if he sat back afterwards with a glass of wine and his beloved Paine to enjoy the company of both.
At that thought, he looked up from his book and checked the time. Late afternoon; she would be home before too long. For now, he would have to content himself with the wine. He took another swallow and settled back in his chair, closing his eyes for a moment, the twin scents of bubbling stew and cooking bread transporting him to the childhood he imagined he could remember. He could hear a dark-haired woman talking to him as she made the evening meal, even though he could barely picture her face and had no memory of his father at all. But then, he hadn't even been three when they'd died, when Sin had destroyed the small farmhouse nestled along the coastline just outside Bevelle, beyond the region of the city protected by Evrae and the warrior monks. One of the nuns had taken him to the ruin once, and he had walked atop the stone foundation, tracing the places where the walls had once stood. It was the only real home he'd ever had, and back then, as a seven-year-old boy learning the ways of Yevon, he'd assumed he would never have another.
Baralai opened his eyes and looked around the cottage with a contented sigh, taking in the simple furnishings and the copper pots that hung neatly on the wall and Paine's spare sword resting on hooks over the fireplace. "Home," he murmured to himself with a smile. The world had changed enough to give him one, and he had changed enough to hold on to it. It was not something he planned on taking for granted, ever.
Warmed by the thought, he turned back to his book until his sense of smell told him that dinner would be ready soon. He closed the book, then stacked the papers that lay across the table and squared them neatly against their edges. After placing the pile on top of the book, he set them all aside and walked into the kitchen. As he lifted the lid of the pot for one more stir, the rich aroma of meat, wine, and vegetables filled his senses and he breathed deep with another sigh. He heard the front door open, then footsteps pad through the living room and into the kitchen before they stopped behind him. Two slim, strong arms wrapped around him from the back and a chin nestled into his shoulder. "Mmm."
He dropped the spoon into the pot and turned around to look into the crimson depths of Paine's eyes. "You like my stew?" he asked as his hands fit themselves into the curve of her waist.
"That too." Her smile was warm and it drew him down into a kiss. He tightened his arms around her and knew this was home.