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Fic: Heritage - Dinner at John's (1/1)

Title: Heritage - Dinner at John's (1/1)
Author: NP-Complete
Characters: OC's; historical Doctor/Rose
Summary: A Heritage one-shot, occurring somewhere around Chapter 9. John makes dinner for Penny for the first time.
Author's Note: I decided to try writing ficlets as a way of easing myself back into the Heritage universe. This one is based on a suggestion by kalleah. The main story can be found here. Warm thanks to kalleah for beta and encouragement.



It was just getting dark as she rang John’s bell, was buzzed into his building. Standing in the lift, she scraped hair out of her eyes, tightened her hold on her shopping and overnight bags.

John’s door was slightly ajar at the end of the hall, light spilling forth, the sound of brass horns and a woman singing in a low register slipping out. Jazz standards – John must be in a good mood. Leaving the door unfastened after buzzing her in meant that he wouldn’t have to come answer it when she knocked, which meant he was probably in the middle of something.

“John?” she called, when she had shut the door behind her.

“In here!” he called, from the direction of the kitchen. There was a definite smell of cooking in the air, something with warm, earthy spices. She doffed her coat, hung it on a hanger in his closet, and went to find him.

John was indeed in the kitchen, with greenery-speckled cutting boards and used pots on every surface. A bisected onion rocked, forgotten, on the counter behind him. Something bubbled promisingly on the cooker.

“Hello,” she said, leaning against the doorway.

John paused in the middle of chopping tomato, turned halfway towards the door, and said, “Hello!” with a grin.

He looked adorable, hair a bit mussed, cheeks flushed from the heat, wearing a well-worn chef’s apron that was terribly cute on him. She moved closer to him, thinking of stealing a kiss, but hesitated: he looked a bit … messy, with juice on his hands and fresh stains on his apron. And it might not be a good idea to surprise a man with a moving knife blade so close to his fingertips.

John, back at the cutting board, was continuing to chop. There was a smear of something tomato-y on the back pocket of his jeans. “Just let me get this finished,” he said, over his shoulder. “Dinner should be ready in about … fifteen minutes.” He sounded very pleased with himself.

Kisses in fifteen minutes, then, she decided. “Smells good,” she said. “What is it?”

“Polenta,” he said. “With tomato pesto and black beans.”

“Sounds good!”

“Here’s hoping.” He was scooping chopped herbs and tomato into a blender pitcher. He stepped back, to turn to the other counter, and bumped into her.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “Not a lot of room in here.”

“I’ll get out of your way, shall I?”

Out in the other room, she wandered towards a bookcase, glancing at the photographs hanging above it. He didn’t look much like the Tyler side of his family. The picture of his father, in its folding frame, sat closed on top of the bookcase, but she didn’t want to study it again, get caught studying it again. She had a feeling he’d had too much in his life of people seeking his father in him.

There was a wide variety of books in the bookcase – what was John doing with The Portable MBA in Finance and Accountancy? – but she settled comfortably into a chair with an illustrated edition of the Paston letters. So engrossed was she with the letters and illustrations – it was wonderful how much art had survived, and wasn’t it a pity that more hadn’t survived from earlier periods? – that John had to call her twice to the table.

He had the polenta, dotted with green bits of scallion and speckled with oregano, spread out on plates, with the shiny, fragrant black beans scooped on top, smelling of cumin and pepper. It was garnished with the basil-y, garlicky tomato pesto, in attractive stripes – John had apparently gone to the trouble of scooping his pesto into a squeeze bottle and drawing designs with it. It could have been a restaurant presentation.

John was good with food. She had seen him spread an attractive lunch for her, with store-bought soup and pate and bread, and now he had proven that he could cook and present food attractively as well.

He was pouring wine – a New Zealand pinot noir – into glasses as she reached the table. She leaned up and kissed his cheek, surprising a laugh out of him.

“What was that for?” John asked, on a smile, as he set down the bottle.

“No reason,” she said. “Just – you.”

She caught an adoring look as she seated herself. This, all this, and for her. She thought of her own little postage stamp of a kitchen and sent up a quick, forlorn almost-prayer that she could produce something adequate when it came her time to cook dinner.

“Smells wonderful,” she said. “Looks good.”

“I’ve never made it before,” he said. “It turned out not to be too difficult.”

“You’ll have to let me do the washing-up,” she commented.

“Oh, you don’t have to,” he said.

They began to eat. She tasted the pesto – fresh tomato; the winy taste of sun-dried tomato; a bit of vinegar – capers? – and lots of basil and garlic. Then she sampled the beans. Cumin, sherry – but, overwhelmingly, black pepper.

She swallowed it, took another bite. Pepper. More than anything else, the beans tasted like black pepper, overwhelmingly so, enough that it tasted almost like graphite, heat aside. And the heat was strong, burning the surface of her tongue.

Was this the goal of the recipe? Some acquired, sophisticated taste? If so, shouldn’t the pepper taste better? Had he used cheap pepper when the recipe was supposed to show off some specialty pepper? She glanced at him, and he was looking down, chewing, a frown coming into place on his face.

“The pesto is wonderful,” she offered, cautiously.

He said nothing in reply, then looked up a bit hesitantly, meeting her eyes. After a beat, he said, “I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to taste like this.”

“The beans,” she said.

“This wasn’t what I expected. I must – something must have gone wrong.”

She didn’t know how to respond. She couldn’t say it didn’t taste so bad, because it did. Complimenting the pesto again would just sound feeble.

“Maybe you misread a measurement,” she offered, trying to sound encouraging.

“I don’t think so,” he said, a bit of strength coming back into his voice. “I’ve never had this happen before.” He sat up, tossing his napkin on the table. “Let me check the recipe.”

He was brisk now, getting up and heading back into the kitchen, with a faintly injured note in his voice that she recognized as part of the phenomenon of Male Scientist Confronting Mistake. He had the male geek’s suspicious curiosity about how it could have come about that he could be in error.

“Here it is,” he said, coming back into the room with the cookbook, sounding as if the evidence was on his side. “One tablespoon black pepper.”

“Isn’t that rather a lot?”

Silence.

“Maybe it’s a misprint,” she suggested.

There was more silence, and then John said, “Even a teaspoon would be a lot.”

It was true. “Then it’s a bad recipe,” she said. “They can’t all be gems.”

No response from John. She tried again. “It probably would be quite good if you modified it to, ‘to taste’.”

“Well, it’s ruined now,” said John. But at least he was speaking again.

“Then you can make it another time,” she said, trying to sound upbeat. “It smelled so good – I bet with just the right amount of pepper, it would be delicious.”

“Mm,” said John, after a moment, as if recognizing that some acknowledgement of her effort was necessary. A moment later, he continued. “Well, we now have no dinner.”

“We’ll make do,” she said. “We could go out for something? Or – or, just make do. It doesn’t have to be fancy. We could just have cheese on toast. Do you have cheese?”

“I have cheese,” he acknowledged. “I have – I bought some Gruyere, for some onion soup. I have a bit of old cheddar – from the grocery; I thought I’d try one of their aged cheddars.”

“Well, that sounds terrific. Oh! Do you have any of the pesto left? We could have pesto on the cheese and toast!”

“I have more pesto,” he said, looking more encouraged. “Ah! And – this was going to be a surprise – I bought gelato for dessert.”

“What flavor?”

“Vanilla.”

“I love the vanilla!”

“I know you do. That’s why I bought it.”

“That’s fantastic. So! Cheese on toast! What bread do you have?”

~oOo~


Cheese on toast is filling, if you eat a lot of it and follow it up with gelato. They sprawled on the sofa afterwards, listening to the music, John with his arm around her shoulders.

“That was good Gruyere,” he commented.

“Be good on the onion soup,” she said.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m not doing any more cooking for a while!”

She raised her head, to look at him. “Really?”

“Look what happens when I try!” he said.

“That wasn’t your fault,” she said. “You did just what the recipe said. It wasn’t your fault that it was … ridiculous about pepper.”

“But I should have noticed,” he complained. “I should have noticed that even a teaspoon of pepper is a lot of pepper, let alone a tablespoon. I shouldn’t have just blindly followed the recipe.”

She didn’t really have an answer for that. “I would have done the same thing,” she finally said.

He squeezed her shoulders without saying anything. She turned around, squirming, so she was facing him.

“You do know that things don’t have to be perfect every time, don’t you?” she said. It sounded ridiculous, like a line from a film, but it needed saying.

John made a slightly wry face, as if acknowledging the cliché of the question, but took it seriously. “I just want …” he said, speaking up a little. “I just want things to be good for you.”

“They are,” she said. “I want to be with you. I like spending time with you. What we eat – it’s nice when it’s nice – and you always serve a nice meal – but it’s not the reason I come here.”

“You don’t love me for how I feed you?” he said, humorously.

“Good food is good,” she said. “But I come here, go out with you, because I want to be with you. Not because of what you feed me or what we do.”

His eyelids were lowered, the lashes veiling his eyes, and his mouth was soft, vulnerable. He tightened the arm around her, pulling her to him, holding her close, her face buried in his shoulder.

“I think,” said John, when he had let her go enough to look her in the eye, “I think that you may be too good for me.”

“There’s no such thing,” she said.

“More than I deserve, then.”

“That’s not true, either.”

“In that case,” said John, “In that case, I think I had better get used to being happy. And showing appropriate gratitude, of course.” He hands were moving slowly up and down her back, pausing to savor the curve of her shoulder, the roundness of her backside.

“Gratitude?” she murmured back.

“What about—” and he whispered a suggestion into her ear. “How does that sound?”

She considered her response. “Appetizing,” she said.




Comments

( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
dettiot
Jan. 3rd, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
How great to return to this universe! I've loved Heritage, and this story fit in just right.
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
Thank you! I enjoyed returning to it, too!
earlgreytea68
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)
I have very much missed Penny and John. I loved getting to see him in the kitchen, all that happy enthuasiasm and then his self-dissastisfaction when it all went wrong. You have the perfectionist issue down pat. And the little detail of the pesto in the squeeze bottle, which makes you know he spent *so* much time on this and wanted it to be *so* perfect...I can feel how terribly disappointed he was. (And I did immediately think, when John said it was a new recipe, that it was very ambitious of him to try it.)
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
Yes, it was ambitious, but it sounded tasty, and the instructions seemed simple enough. He didn't expect to be betrayed by the ingredient list. He was definitely kicking himself for not questioning the tablespoon of pepper, even though I think most of us (definitely me) would have followed the recipe without even thinking about it.

I've missed John and Penny, too. I often write about them in my journal, little bits of scenes that never get turned into anything solid.
rosey_jo
Jan. 3rd, 2009 03:52 am (UTC)
Hurray! It is nice to peek in through their window again. I really liked the "Male Scientist Confronting Mistake" part, as well as his belated recognition that he should acknowledge her effort. Thanks.
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 01:04 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
justlook3
Jan. 3rd, 2009 04:05 am (UTC)
This was quite lovely, I was reading (and enjoying) Heritage before but never commented and I wondered what happened to it. I hope you continue with it soon!
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 01:05 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for commenting!
prynne12
Jan. 3rd, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
I'm so glad this isn't dead. I huggle John!
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)
I'm so glad this isn't dead. I huggle John!

He could use the hug -- but he's getting them, never fear.

Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
pixystixy99
Jan. 3rd, 2009 05:06 am (UTC)
I didn't realize just how much I've missed these two until I read this. I'm so glad you've given us a bit more of "Heritage"! Your portrayal of them makes them come alive from the page and I especially like how Penny sees John's insecurities and self-doubts so easily and reassures him that he doesn't have to be perfect for her to be with him (which is how I'm sure he sees his relationship with Rose). Thanks for this lovely little fic!

(And Happy New Year to both you and your kitty, hope you are both feeling better!)
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I missed writing them, too!

Insecurity and perfectionism are definitely John issues. I hadn't thought of it until you mentioned it, but it was probably good that Penny established early on that she didn't expect or need him to be perfect. He tries hard to please -- and, as we've seen in chapter 14 and 15, he has a lot of resources at his disposal when he chooses to use them.

Thank you for the New Year's wishes! The kitty is feeling better after his IV fluid treatment -- purring and affectionate. I'm over my cold. We're both feeling better! Hope you, your family, and your animals are all in good health!
glory_jean
Jan. 3rd, 2009 05:33 am (UTC)
Great to see more of the Heritage story - especially involving the early days of their togetherness.
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
Thanks! I enjoyed writing it. I hope to do more soon!
kalleah
Jan. 3rd, 2009 08:18 am (UTC)
Male Scientist Confronting Mistake

This never ceases to make me giggle. The "scientist" is entirely optional, of course.

I love this little vignette so much.
np_complete
Jan. 5th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!
helygen
Jan. 5th, 2009 08:18 am (UTC)
Oh this is lovely - an adorable little look into John's insecurities and Penny's awareness of them. I'm new to the Heritage universe but I'm already hooked on these two!
np_complete
Jan. 6th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I hope to have another one out fairly soon (famous last words, I know!)

Would you mind telling me how you found the Heritage stories?

Thanks again for reading, and for commenting!
(no subject) - helygen - Jan. 6th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
irishaithne
Jan. 6th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
God I love me some John and Penny! So good to see some writing from you again - hope there's more to follow :)

His eyelids were lowered, the lashes veiling his eyes, and his mouth was soft, vulnerable. He tightened the arm around her, pulling her to him, holding her close, her face buried in his shoulder.

“I think,” said John, when he had let her go enough to look her in the eye, “I think that you may be too good for me.”


My eyes welled up at that. Guh! But, really, Penny's just good for him. Whenever he gets hung up on his issues, a part of me wants to smack Rose for measuring him against the Doctor, even if she didn't realize she was doing it.

Can't wait for more!
np_complete
Jan. 8th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
But, really, Penny's just good for him.

Yes she is! Her appreciation, her affection, her accepting nature -- they're all good for him.

Can't wait for more!

I'm working on it! Thanks for reading, and for the encouragement!
(no subject) - irishaithne - Jan. 8th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - np_complete - Jan. 9th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - irishaithne - Jan. 9th, 2009 03:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - np_complete - Jan. 14th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - irishaithne - Jan. 17th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
electrictoes
Jan. 7th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Oh, wonderful. I'm happy inside.
np_complete
Jan. 8th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
jlrpuck
Jan. 13th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry--I really did think I'd commented on this when I originally read it.

Poor John! It's so like him to want everything to be *perfect*; it's part of his charm, really, and it's an indication of how desperately he needs to learn to be loved for who he is, flaws and all.

And bless Penny; she *does* love John for who he is, including his rather endearing desperation to make things "perfect" for her. I'm so happy to see her tell him, frankly and lovingly, that things don't need to be perfect every time.

This is a delightful story, and thank you so much for sharing it. I've missed Penny and John.
np_complete
Jan. 14th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
I've missed John and Penny, too. I hope to spend more time in their world from now on. :)

Yes; poor John tries very, very hard to please, especially in the beginning. The idea that he might be appreciated for himself, apart from anything he does for her or can bring to the table, is a new one (or perhaps a long-forgotten one). It's when he begins to have a little faith in this idea that he switches tacks slightly, bringing Penny farther into his private world, and testing her willingness to truly share his interests.

Thanks so much for reading, and for commenting!
whochick
Jan. 20th, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
I heartily approve of both the NZ Pinot Noir and Penny's take on crappy recipes.

I've quite literally done that myself.
Poor John.
np_complete
Jan. 24th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
The Pinot Noir coming from New Zealand was in honor of an old friend of mine, now living in Auckland, who advises me on Whovian history, British word usage, and wine. (I've never told him I'm writing fanfic, but I suspect he's figured it out.) I've read there are some good wines coming out of NZ these days. I figure that will be even more true in 2045.

I've definitely had John's experience with recipes, although fortunately not when I was serving food to guests (although I did once forget the egg in some cheesecake brownies. Gooey.) Most recipes are sound -- but every so often there's one that just makes no sense.

Thanks for reading, and for commenting!
kellywiag
Apr. 28th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
Hello, I have just found the heritage universe and think its lovely. I read it all the other day on Earlgreyteas recommendation. I love the characters and what you have done with them.
np_complete
Apr. 29th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad you are enjoying it!
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )