CHAPTER SIX

Marshal was in the midst of filling out paperwork when he looked up to find Danny's driver standing in front of his desk. He barely kept himself from jumping in surprise-the guy was like a ghost. "Artie, right?"

The man grimaced. "Arthur," he corrected.

"Sure, sure, is there something I can help you with?" Marshal asked.

Arthur held up a black lacquered box with etched blue cranes on it-a Japanese bento box. "Mr. Worth felt like he owed you a lunch, so here I am delivering it."

There was a weird flutter in Marshal's chest. "Really?" He took the box in his hands, admiring the fancy designs. Cranes standing and flying with a background of grass here and there. The box was held shut by a red elastic band that contrasted brightly. "He didn't have to do this."

"Of course he didn't," Arthur said as though it were obvious.

Marshal glanced at the man. There was nothing in his voice or words, but he was getting a definite sense that Arthur didn't approve of him. It made him wonder what he'd done to get such a negative response from the man. "Can you tell him thank you from me?" Marshal asked. "I'm going to call him, but it'll be nice if it comes from you too. You can tell him that you saw how I appreciate it." He ran his fingers over the lid, liking the way the raised paint felt against his fingertips.

"Maybe you should open it before deciding you like it," Arthur suggested.

"Oh, yeah." Marshal slipped off the red band so he could lift the lid and couldn't help his sigh of pleasure at the escaping good smells.

The food looked beautiful, as though it had been professionally arranged in the three-segment bento box-one large compartment and two smaller. There were four pieces of vegetable sushi and two rice balls in the main compartment along with a few slices of pickled ginger, a blob of wasabi, and a small plastic bottle of soy sauce, all on a bed of rich green parsley. The second compartment had three gyoza and two pieces of tempura shrimp in what looked like a paper cupcake wrapper, and an omelet that had been rolled and cut into what looked like a flower with pieces of decorative ginger sticking out of the top. The third compartment had some stir-fried vegetables on one side and steamed green beans on the other along with another tiny bottle of sauce. There was a small shrimp fork tucked against the side of the main compartment, just the right size for him to eat with in case he couldn't find any other silverware.

"Wow, this looks amazing." Marshal smiled down at the food. No one had ever sent him a lunch like this before. He'd had a few lovers in the past that had cooked for him, but it usually ended up being in apology for something they'd done-like the bastard that had cheated on him with that skinny blond twink.

"Yes, well, Mr. Worth thought you might be hungry," Arthur said. "He felt a little bad that he was unable to enjoy the meal that you prepared, so he thought that he should make it up to you."

"He really didn't have to do that." He knew he sounded stupid, but he was just so surprised.

"He prepared everything himself," Arthur said, "though Olivia had to talk him through some of the steps."

"That makes it even better." Marshal had been fairly certain that Olivia had made the food, but to find out that Danny had with his own hands... "Thank you," he said sincerely.

Arthur looked at him for a long moment, no expression on his face but something lurking in the depths of his eyes. "If you will excuse me, I need to go deliver Mr. Worth's lunch."

"Oh, okay," Marshal said, waving at him. His fingers were almost obsessively brushing against the design on the side of the box. Idly, he wondered if he was supposed to return the empty box when he was finished with it.

Watching Arthur exit the office, he let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding and looked around the room. His shoulders went a little stiff when he realized that everyone was watching him, speculation on their faces.

Part of him wanted to challenge them and tell them to go back to work, but he knew better than that. If he said anything, it would just open the door to their comments. Instead, he carefully replaced the lid and elastic band on the box and slid the bento into his top desk drawer. The food looked and smelled delicious, but it was another twenty minutes before his lunch time, so it would just have to wait.

Keeping his face carefully smooth, he picked up his pen and went back to his paperwork. His heart felt a bit lighter in his chest than it had earlier, and his thoughts kept drifting to the bento and the man that had made it for him.

It was a battle to keep the silly smile off his face.

.*. .*. .*.

Danny was in his office looking over reports that had been couriered to him from the New York branch. It was the worst sort of boring, but it really needed to get done and he had put it off as long as he possibly could.

There was a light tap at the door before Arthur poked his head in. Danny took his appearance as an excuse to close the file and lean back in his chair. "Hey Artie," he called.

Arthur smiled, though he didn't look exactly happy. "I delivered your special lunch to your honey."

"My honey?" Danny raised his eyebrow.

"What else would you call him?" Arthur asked.

"My friend," Danny said.

Arthur rolled his eyes and threw himself into one of the chairs in front of Danny's desk, his legs spread wide. "Your friend that you've been having dinner with every single night. Your friend that I've caught you text messaging, what is it, five times just during the morning drive? That's what you call a friend, really?"

Danny felt heat warming his cheeks. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Arthur snorted rudely. "You've never text messaged me like that, and I'm your best friend. We've had dinner together, but you've never invited me over for every night in a given week." He quirked his left eyebrow. "To me, it sounds as though you've got yourself a boyfriend and you're just being stubborn about what to call him."

"I..." Danny fiddled with his pen, his cheeks burning hot. "Do you really think he's my boyfriend?"

"What else would you call him?" Arthur leaned forward to grab a cinnamon-peppermint candy out of the decorative cup Danny kept on his desk. The plastic crinkled as he unwrapped it. "Though personally, I think it's a little weird to call a thirty year old man your 'boyfriend.' What do you think is better? Your partner? Your man-friend? Your lover?" He popped the candy in his mouth, his white teeth flashing as he crunched down.

"You're an ass," Danny snapped, slapping the pen down on his desk.

"What can you possibly mean?" Arthur grinned. "He said thank you for the lunch, by the way. He didn't start eating it while I was there, but he did say he would call you later. So I guess you can expect a full on review of your labor of love."

Danny ignored the way Arthur laughed at him when he blushed. "It wasn't a labor of love. He came all the way here to bring me a lunch and I couldn't eat it. I felt bad and felt like I should do something for him."

"O-kay," Arthur drawled, rolling his eyes. "So the next time you see me spending massive amounts of time with some beautiful woman, bringing her lunch and massaging her feet and just generally spending all of my free time with her... we'll all just pretend that it's friendship puppy love, right?"

"There was no foot massage," Danny muttered.

Arthur laughed, a loud barking sound. "You're adorable, you know that? And the expression on your face..."

"You're terrible," Danny said, laying his head on the desktop. "He's my friend. That's all I know for sure he is. He's nice and I like talking to him and he seems to like hanging out with me."

"And why wouldn't he?" Arthur was suddenly serious. "You're a wonderful person and he'd be an idiot not to realize that. You just have to decide what you want from him."

"I don't understand," Danny said.

Arthur's eyes were almost painfully sympathetic. "It's obvious that the guy is crazy about you, though it's not too serious yet. But it's only a matter of time before he tries to make a move and you need to decide what you're going to do about it and how far you're going to go. It's not right to just string him along."

"I'm not stringing him along," Danny said indignantly.

"It's something to think about." Arthur stood and walked to the door. "I left your lunch with Sophia. I've got some errands to run today, so I'll see you later when I pick you up tonight, okay?"

Danny nodded as he left, then picked up the file to try and get back to work. It only took him a couple of minutes to realize that it wasn't going to happen.

He set the file down and sighed heavily. He really didn't know what he was supposed to do, since he had never been in a real relationship.

He had kind of tricked himself into thinking that Marshal was just a friend, so trust Arthur to point out the reality of the situation.

Somehow, all without his knowing it, he had managed to get himself a boyfriend-or man-friend, partner, lover, whatever he wanted to call him-and he honestly didn't know what he was supposed to do about it.

He'd spent most of his life alone. He had adapted himself to a life of being single and had finally reached a mental plateau where he was able to look around and admit-if only to himself-that he could survive the rest of his life by himself. It would be lonely and sad and he would probably go to his deathbed with a laundry list of regrets, but he would be able to handle it.

So what was he supposed to do with the idea that someone out there wanted to be with him? Could he just let himself pretend that he didn't understand the signs of Marshal's affection and force them into a holding pattern of friendship? Or could he possibly let himself take the risk and someday try to return Marshal's feelings?

Danny groaned and thumped his forehead twice against his desk. It didn't help him clear his thoughts and it made his head sore.

He knew that he wasn't what was commonly termed "normal." He'd had things happen in his life-terrible things-that had changed him forever and he could no longer fit into the mold of normality. No matter that he wished things otherwise.

He chewed on his lip thoughtfully and finally nodded to himself. He would just have to be honest with Marshal and let him know that things would in no way be easy, but that he was willing to give things a chance.

.*. .*. .*.

Marshal could feel Joanna burning a hole in the side of his head with her eyes and more than anything he wanted to yell at her to cut it out. Instead, he gave her a steady glance and calmly asked, "What?"

She smirked. "So, word on the street is that a guy in a suit dropped off that fancy lunch for you. Dare I ask who the sender was?"

Marshal shrugged. "I have no idea what you're talking about." He double-dipped a gyoza half in sauce and popped it in his mouth.

"That's a very fancy box that your lunch came in," she fished, raising her eyebrows.

"Why don't you just eat your sandwich and apple and let me enjoy my meal?" he asked.

"Because I'm super curious about how you managed to get your hands on such gourmet goods," she said, while obligingly picking up her sandwich half-he saw that it was peanut butter and grape jelly, which only made him appreciate his food more.

"Hey, is it my fault that you have an elementary school lunch? I wasn't the one that packed it for you this morning," he said.

Joanna made a face, though her eyes danced. "We both know that I have about zero cooking skills. Peanut butter and jelly is just my speed, you know, unless I want to take up vending machine bingeing again. And we really don't want to go there."

"What you need to do is find yourself a man that knows how to cook," he said.

"Like you did?"

Marshal couldn't help looking around to make sure no one else was close enough to hear. Sure, the Bureau was supposed to be all about non-discrimination, but he'd lived long enough to realize that most policies were entirely dependent on the people you worked with.

"Don't worry," Joanna said. She took a sip of her coffee. "Even if I yelled it from the rooftops I'm pretty sure that no one here would honestly give a damn."

"Better safe than sorry," he said. "And shouldn't you be drinking a juice box with your kid lunch? Coffee seems way too grown up for you."

She snorted. "If I could have my drink of choice here at work, this coffee would have a couple of shots of Irish love in it. Especially since I've still gotta go through all of these reports." She lifted a stack of files a couple of inches before dropping them with a grimace. "Why can't we be out on the streets catching the bad guys?"

"Because we're paperwork ninja," he said. It was one of the sad facts of his career that he had never been shot at, threatened by anyone other than Joanna, or been able to violently take down a bad guy. For the most part, he went to work in the morning and made it home at the same time every night. "We live the life that other agents' wives only dream of. Too bad neither one of us has any kids or anything because we'd be able to spend plenty of time with them."

Joanna chuckled. "But at least one of us has a warm body to go home to, right?"

"Yes, I keep my body temperature to a toasty ninety-eight degrees," he dead-panned, then ducked the pen she threw at his head. "Watch it, you could have put my eye out."

"At least then you'd have a story of danger to tell your sweetie. It might get you some freaky death-risk smoochies."

"Are you two discussing job related topics again?" a cool voice interrupted.

Marshal jumped a little, then turned to see that Agent Barry Landau had somehow managed to come right up to his shoulder. "Whoa, I didn't see you there."

"Duh," Landau said, rolling his eyes. "You and Starkweather were too busy gossiping like girls. Shouldn't you be working?"

"It's our lunch break," Joanna said, not-quite glaring at him.

Landau scoffed. "Is that all you do, come in and eat lunch and talk all day? 'Cause you know, the rest of us are out there actually getting the job done."

"You know what, I'm pretty sure that we've cleared more cases than you ever will," Marshal said.

"Yeah, by doing all the desk work that no one else wants. You spend all day reading reports and filing paperwork. I'm pretty sure the Bureau could replace you two with a couple of secretaries," Landau said. "Two pretty ladies instead of you two... might be nice."

"Why don't you crawl back under your rock or something?" Joanna growled menacingly. Marshal didn't like how she was squishing the remnants of her sandwich in her fist.

Landau laughed. "Smooth comeback, Starkweather." He walked off, back toward the corner where his cronies hung out.

"That guy is a real dick," Joanna said, glaring after him.

Marshal looked at her, his eyebrows feeling like they were touching his hairline. "That's really all you've got to say about him?"

She shook her head, the corner of her mouth twisting. "That's all I can say about him at work. I'll write up a list of his attributes and email it to you later. Off the clock."

"You're a real piece of work, Starkweather, you know that?" he laughed.

"Finish your food, Newman," she said.

It was their personal joke. They had called each other by their first names from the very first moment they'd met. It was as though they had been born to be partners, there was just this instant sense of camaraderie and comfort.

.

He knew it was kind of stupid, but he'd waited until Joanna left to use the bathroom before calling Danny. It wasn't like he was afraid of being teased, it was just that he didn't want to give her any ammunition.

"Worth," Danny answered.

"Ooh, you answer your phone like people on TV do," Marshal teased.

"Marshal," Danny sounded suitably pleased. "I didn't think you were going to call."

"How could I not?" Marshal asked. "You made me the best lunch I've had in a really long time. Thank you, it was delicious."

He could almost hear the blush in Danny's voice. "Since you tried to serve me a lunch I felt that I owed you something. I'm glad you liked it."

"I more than liked it. I might have to have you cook for me again," Marshal said. "I didn't know you could cook."

"I can't, not really," Danny said. "Olivia pretty much talks me through all the steps, otherwise I'd probably have burned the kitchen down years ago. Still, it's something I like to do. I just kind of tie in various regional recipes to my... my city projects."

Marshal leaned back in his chair. "So because you're building Tokyo, you made Japanese food?"

"Exactly. It was while I was building Paris that I found out I really don't like flan and that the only French food I really like is French fries." Danny laughed. "I'm not a big egg eater, and that's what's in a lot of French cuisine. That and wine."

"But you like Japanese food?" Marshal asked.

"For the most part," Danny said. "There are some things I could really do without, but I do like eating sushi and I've been having a lot of fun making it and other Japanese food. I even learned how to make my own tofu," he laughed. "It's actually pretty easy, though I had no idea what to do with the okara at the end."

"Okara? What's that?" Marshal asked curiously.

"It's the leftover stuff when you make tofu. There's all kinds of recipes and stuff out there for it, but I wasn't exactly enthused about the idea of eating a bunch of crumbly yuck. That's why, next time, I'll just use soy milk to make tofu instead of messing around with the dried beans and everything."

"Just use soy milk? How do you do that?" Marshal was genuinely curious. He liked tofu, but he'd somehow gotten the impression that it was one of those impossible to make foods. The kind that he mentally placed in the 'Permanent Mystery' drawer of his mental archive.

"I was surprised, but tofu is really easy to make. Once you've got soy milk, you just basically heat it up and mix in a coagulant and it kind of makes itself from there. The hardest part of making tofu is cooking the dry beans to make the milk, then having to figure out what to do with the okara afterward." Danny sighed. "Olivia said I had to eat it because I was the one that made it. It looks like crumbly white scrambled eggs or something and I hate to admit it, but I didn't even try it."

"What?"

Danny laughed. "Don't tell Olivia, but I snuck it into the garbage can when she wasn't looking. I feel bad because she went to all the trouble of making it into unohana to kind of keep with the whole Japanese food theme, but I couldn't even make myself try it. Every time the fork got close to my mouth, I would mentally picture maggots and that was the end of me."

"You're very strange," Marshal said.

"You don't even know the half of it," Danny said. "It's like how I really love clams, but if I look at them when I'm eating them, I gross myself out and just can't do it." There was a short pause where Marshal could almost hear Danny thinking. "Do you mind that I'm weird?"

"If I minded, do you think I would want to hang out with you?" Marshal asked. "Besides, you're really not as weird as you seem to think you are. I've met some honest to goodness really weird people in my life and you're really not all that high on the list."

"Thank you," Danny said, which made Marshal wonder what he was thanking him for. "Are you coming for dinner tonight?"

"Unless you're de-inviting me, I've got no plans to be anywhere else," Marshal said.

"Good. Um, I..." Danny trailed off, then nearly shouted, "Well, I should let you go so you can get some work done. Um, see you tonight."

"See you," Marshal said, just before there was a click on the other end. He had to wonder what had made Danny act so abrupt. It had been a little odd.

"So, did I just catch you talking to lover-boy?" Joanna asked, coming up from behind him.

He jerked a little in his chair. "Jesus! What is the deal with people sneaking up behind me today?"

"It just goes to show how distracted you are," Joanna said. "And were you talking to your main distraction?"

Marshal sighed, finally giving in. "Maybe."

She grinned. "Ah, that's nice." She went around to her desk. "I expect to receive all kinds of vicarious smoochies."

"There haven't been any smoochies yet," Marshal said.

She frowned disappointedly. "Really? No hot vicarious smoochies for me to mull over in the dead of night?"

"Not a single one," Marshal said just as sadly.

"Well, don't worry," she said brightly, "it's only a matter of time. One minute you're receiving handmade gourmet meals, and the next you'll be receiving handj..."

Marshal waved her to silence. "Uh uh, we're not even going to go there. There's a big leap from vicarious smooches to... well, you know." He looked around to make sure no one else had snuck up on him. The last thing he needed was to be the generator of even more office gossip.

"Still, it's all in the same realm of awesome," Joanna chuckled. "I'm a lonely single woman and I take my thrills wherever I can find them."

"Maybe you should give up the single life and find yourself someone to smooch on," Marshal suggested.

She made an exaggerated sad face. "But all the good men are gay. I'm tired of dating complete and utter losers just because I don't have a penis."

"I guess that's just your cross to bear," he said.

"You're a cruel, cruel man," she said. "My not being a boy has made a misery out of my life since the day I was born. You should have heard my dad going on and on about the father-son baseball team we couldn't join. I think he gave me a complex."

"Which explain so much."

"Hey! I've worked very hard to come across as well adjusted and fairly normal and I really don't need you undermining my... my normalhood."

"Your 'normalhood'?" he raised an eyebrow. "Are we just making up words and throwing them into the conversation now?"

"Says the guy who has a boyfriend." Joanna sighed desolately. "I'm an incredibly lonely woman that only has my cat for company and you want to bring me even lower. There's a very good chance that I might just go home tonight, gorge myself on ice cream and pumpkin pie and gain six hundred pounds."

"Which will really help you find a man," he said, rolling his eyes.

She gasped, pressing her hand to her chest. "You're such a bitch!"

He smirked at her. "I know."

They laughed and went back to work.


AN: If you've got soy milk, why not make tofu?

4 cups soy milk
coagulant: choose one–
1) 1 tsp liquid nigari
2) 1 1/4 tsp granular or powdered nigari
3) 1 tsp Epsom salt
4) 2 Tbsp lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
5) 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
water

1) Measure coagulant into a dry cup. Add 1/2 cup water to coagulant and stir until dissolved. Set aside.

2) Pour soy milk into a pot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring from time to time so it doesn't burn. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

3) Remove pot from heat. Add half of the coagulant and stir vigorously in a whirlpool pattern 5-6 times, then bring spoon to a halt upright in the soy milk until it stops swirling/moving. Add the remaining coagulant and stir gently in a figure-eight. When you notice it start coagulating (looks a bit like cottage cheese), cover and let sit for 15 minutes.

4) Line a colander with a clean tightly woven cotton cloth and set it over a bowl that can support it. Ladle soy milk curds into the cloth (the solid bits are curds, the liquid is whey).

5) Fold cloth over soy milk curds to cover, top with a plate, and add about 1 1/2 pounds of weight on top (evenly distribute the weight). Press down firmly until the liquid draining slows to a few drops, about 2 minutes. Let stand 15-20 minutes.

6) Once the tofu has firmed up the desired amount, transfer it to a bowl of cold water. Gently run cold water into the bowl for 15 minutes, not touching the tofu.

7) Serve immediately or store in fresh cold water in the fridge.

This recipe was written for someone with just a colander and some regular kitchen supplies. If you've got a tofu press, the recipe still works and you can use that. The colander method might give you some oddly shaped pieces, but once you cut them up it doesn't really matter.