Note: I'm so sorry this took months for me to finish. I hope the ending isn't anticlimactic after all that time; I've just felt unmotivated to write anything lately, but I had fun finishing!
Each step away from the apartment complex felt heavier than the last. Abel glanced toward his mother, whose green eyes were flitting like little birds as she took in their surroundings, lips pursed, perked and pink, an expression of high-class witnessing low. She smiled at a group of kids playing across the street, but otherwise that expression was set, locked in surprise and charm and a dash of amusement.
Abel stopped mid-step and awkwardly put his foot down. "This isn't a good idea."
Cheryl turned around, her curls bouncing much like the pearls on her wrist. "The bread?"
"You know what I mean."
The smile Abel thought he had seen earlier now grew prettily. "I think we should give them some time."
"They hate each other," Abel said, hearing the disappointment and frustration in his own voice. "At least Cain is trying, but Dad…"
"Ah, ah," she shushed him, holding up a finger. "You're trying to dictate the situation, dear. Let things play out. By the time we get back, they'll either have found a common ground, or they really will hate each other. At the very least, it'll expedite the process; less awkward 'rising action' that way. Didn't you learn anything in your literature courses?"
Abel stared at her, mouth open like he wanted to argue, but he couldn't find the appropriate words. "That's dramatic," he said at last, frowning like he always did when he was stuck on a problem.
She sniffed. "Hardly. You're just unpracticed. But, well, this is your first relationship, hm?" She smiled again, and it was suddenly shark-like. "You'll learn. Come along now. Let's get that bread. And Ethan, you didn't tell me your neighborhood was so- so cultural! How darling."
It took a moment for Abel to follow, and it took even longer for him to dispel his dumbfounded expression.
The room was warm, saturated with the smell of spices and a tension Cain swore he'd always remember. He looked at the table, the stovetop, and back toward the foyer like it might make Abel return any more quickly. Meanwhile, the little clock above the stove softly ticked, punctuating the silence in a way that made Cain want to grit his teeth.
Abel's father looked just as uncomfortable. He stood with a disgruntled sigh and went to the counter to pour more wine into his still half-full glass. He pointedly avoided looking at Cain, choosing to stand by the stove rather than resume his seat.
It went on like that for several minutes, both men trying to ignore the other, both men keeping their backs straight and their lips turned down like correct posture and sour expressions were suddenly high priorities.
Thomas was the first to break, and his words were laced with bitterness. "What the hell do you want? Money? Is that it? Do you want me to bribe you to go away?"
Cain's knuckles whitened around his beer. He thought about ignoring the old man, but the blatant accusation in the air was too thick, too aggressive. "No," he gritted, glaring up from his chair. "I don't want your money, and I certainly don't need it."
Thomas snorted and motioned around the kitchen. "Like hell you don't. Look at this place."
"It suits us fine."
"It suits you, maybe," Thomas pointed out, grimacing, the graying line of his eyebrows pulled down. "My son deserves more than this. He certainly deserves more than some- some cheap mockery of a living and a gypsy mistake of a relationship."
The chair scraped loudly against the floor as Cain stood, anger and embarrassment heating his face. "Fuck you," he spat, sharply enunciated both syllables. He didn't care that he had promised Abel to refrain from cursing, didn't care about anything besides getting this asshole and his opinions to shut up. "Abel and I aren't some fucking fling."
"Ethan doesn't know what he wants. He's been under stress, but eventually he'll come to realize how foolish this all is," Thomas said, wine glass forgotten on the counter. "You must realize he's too good for you. He's educated and compassionate well thought of, and you're just a colonist, and a…" He paused, like the words were too bitter to speak.
Cain's eyes narrowed, lips curling in a snarl. "A man," he filled in. "I'm a colonial man."
Thomas shook his head like it was a shame, looking unimpressed and at a loss for words over his son's rash decision. "He's confused, that's all."
"I hate to break it to you," Cain sniped, hands forming fists at his sides, "but your son loves taking it up the ass."
Thomas' eyes widened in surprise for the blatancy, but he was quick to glare. "Look, you outclassed son of a bitch, I want you gone. I want you out of my son's life and on the next shuttle back to the shithole you came from, or I swear to God I'll do everything in my power to make your life on Earth a living hell. Do you understand me?" He shook, livid and close to spitting, his hairline reddened by the time the words left his mouth.
Cain's scowl made his nose wrinkle, and he stalked forward slowly, meaningfully, his shoulders tight with threat, until their faces were inches apart. "Listen up, grandpa," he gritted out, forcing himself to keep his voice under a shout. "I'm here. That's not going to change. You can bitch about it all you like, but you and your fucking threats can go jump out our poor, paint-stuck window, because I happen to fucking like your son, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some judgmental, decrepit-"
"What's that smell?"
"Don't try to change the fucking subject, you pretentious ass," Cain growled, giving Thomas a shove.
Thomas looked affronted and stepped back, brushing at the front of his shirt. "I'm serious, you little shit. I smell something."
Cain scoffed and opened his mouth to make some snappy retort when he suddenly froze.
As if scripted, both men simultaneously looked at the oven, and their anger dissipated in the wake of an onslaught of surprise and dread. "Do you think…?" Cain started, but then he smelled it too, the undeniable scent of burnt shortcake. "Oh fuck."
They darted for the oven, almost comically frantic. When Thomas opened the door, smoke curled toward the ceiling, revealing the crisp black top of the evening's dessert. Cain felt his stomach sink at the sight.
"Don't just stand there!" Thomas snapped. "Get it out!"
Cain reached a hand forward before catching himself, and he had to ignore Thomas' comment about "idiots not knowing when something is hot" as he quickly rummaged through drawers until he found a pot holder. He placed the lightly smoking shortcake on the stovetop and stood back at an angle, tilting his head like a different perspective might help the cake. "Shit. Shit."
"Shit," Thomas agreed solemnly.
They stood in silence, grim-faced as they watched the ruined dessert stay very well ruined.
Cain grabbed a knife from the kitchen block. "Maybe if I just… shave the top off…" As soon as he began to carve, the bread crunched and crumbled.
"You're just making it worse," Thomas sighed.
"What the hell do you suggest, then?"
Thomas shrugged, and they were silent once more, like two men would be in the aftermath of witnessing an accident.
"It's your fault," Thomas offered lightly after several moments had passed, and Cain only groaned in response, using his free hand to rub his face.
"Abel's going to kill me. Tonight was supposed to be perfect."
Cain put the knife back in its block and felt all energy leave him. He sat down heavily in his previous chair before downing the rest of his beer. He was surprised when Thomas sat opposite of him, and even more surprised by the sullen look on the old man's face.
"You're not the only one in trouble," Thomas assured him. "Cheryl will blame me for not remembering to help. Wretched woman will probably make me listen to Josh Groban on the way home." He shuddered, disgusted at the thought.
"You have no idea."
Cain gave him a pointed look. "Uh, I'm dating her son, a true mama's boy if I ever met one. I definitely have an idea."
Thomas snorted, but he nodded. "Ethan has always taken after his mother." The line of his mouth twisted briefly, but he only shrugged. "They're both dramatic."
"Fuck us," Cain grumbled. "We're both in for a lecture."
Silently agreeing, Thomas stood only to return with the wine bottle, and Cain couldn't help but smirk when the old man poured himself another full glass.
"I'm not trying to pick a fight, you know," Cain started. "But I'm not going anywhere. I meant that."
Thomas took a long drink. "You don't love each other."
"Who're you to say?"
The kitchen clock ticked in the silence, and Thomas took another drink. "He wrote home about you several times. His 'talented fighter, Cain.' He told us you became his best friend."
Cain tried to sound casual as he retrieved another beer. "Oh yeah? He said that."
"Said you were 'passionate and quick to act', didn't know he meant you're a reckless ass, but yeah, he did. Truth be told, I was shocked he got along with a colonial so well."
Cain grimaced and looked away, running his tongue over his teeth and tasting beer. "He's not as close-minded as you."
"I believe you used the word 'pretentious' a minute ago. I'm surprised your vocabulary is that broad."
"Hey!" Cain glared, tapping the table with the bottle in his hand. "Just because I'm not blonde and rich doesn't mean I'm fucking uneducated."
Thomas held up a hand in a placating manner. "Ah, yes, I know. I've just been surprised one moment after another ever since he returned home."
Cain took a long drink, shrugging to that. "Lot to take in."
"Look," Cain began with some agitation, toeing the foot of the table as he tried to distract himself from the light blush on his cheeks. "You guys don't have to see me much or anything. It'd make Abel – Ethan – happier, but I know I'm the last thing you wanted for him, and if it's going to be like this every time then I'll just make sure I'm working when you visit or whatever because this whole thing was supposed to go great, and Abel was so fucking excited for all of it." He sighed, motioning pointlessly with the hand that held his beer. "But you don't like me and I don't like you, so…"
Thomas swirled the low contents of his glass before pouring more. "It was supposed to go perfectly, huh?"
Cain rolled his eyes. "We practically rehearsed. I had fucking rules."
"Oh yeah?" Thomas raised a brow. "Like what?"
"Like no cussing. Fuck me."
They were both surprised when Thomas laughed, but he quickly drowned the noise in his glass.
"And this sweater," Cain continued as if he hadn't heard, tugging the collar away from his throat. "It's hot and itchy and I feel like a fucking hipster. I'd never wear this. And how the cake is ruined and Abel's going to be pissed, and I'm still not sure why it's called a 'pound' cake in the first place."
Thomas shrugged, the knowledge entirely lost on him. "Do you have the recipe? We could try to make another; at least have it in the oven before they get back."
"No. I have no idea how Abel made it."
"Well, we're two capable men; I'm sure if we put our heads together, we can think of some solution to this mess."
Cain hummed under his breath. "Yeah, you're right."
"It's called Pinterest, Ethan, and it has the cutest ideas for fall decorating. I'm going to make your father buy me all the crafting materials I need."
Abel laughed at his mother's earnest enthusiasm as he used his free hand to pull his keys from his pocket. "I'm pretty sure he's not going to be overly fond of that."
Cheryl let out a rather undignified raspberry. "Bah, whatever. I always get what I want."
Laughing again, Abel nodded and opened the door to the apartment. "Yeah, you definitely- Oh my God."
The entire place smelled like burnt bread, and when Abel turned the corner past the foyer, he found his father and Cain – whose sweater was in a heap on the floor – drunkenly sprawled out on each end of the couch. His eyes did a quick scan for fight wounds, but both men seemed to be unmaimed. "What, um, what happened?"
"Abel," Cain addressed him, shaking his head like he had witnessed something tragic. "The cake- it's fucked."
"Fucked," Thomas repeated.
Abel heard his mother give a little "oh my" from behind him. "You let it burn?" he asked. "And you're… drunk? Why are you drunk?"
"Did you know your windows won't open?" Thomas asked, voice slurred and concerned. "That's a safety hazard."
"Fucked," Cain said again, nodding his head like he his mind couldn't move beyond that point. "Like, really."
Abel stared in shock, only half-remembering to close his mouth before he peered into the kitchen to see flour-covered countertops, half a stick of butter on the floor, a cup of milk sitting by itself, and sure enough, a blackened pound cake sitting atop the trash can. "You…" He shook his head and scratched the back of his neck. "You guys really suck, you know that?"
Both men gave drunken hums of affirmation.
"Well," Cheryl said, clapping her hands together. "They didn't kill each other. I'd call it progress!"
Abel gave her a disbelieving look. "They trashed the kitchen, and then they trashed themselves."
"They tried, dear." She smiled widely, pearls shining to match. "I just hope you have more wine!"
"Beer's in the fridge," Cain supplied.
"Oh, thank you, Nik!"
"You're getting drunk too?" Abel asked warily, wondering how his whole night of preparation had gone to waste.
"No, no, Ethan. I just like to have a drink with my meal. Come on, hon. We'll enjoy dinner together, and then we'll laugh at those idiots when they bond over their hangovers. It'll be fun!"
As his mother began to retrieve bowls from the cabinet, Abel spared the couch another skeptical look. "Um, do you two need anything?"
"No rules!" Thomas advocated vehemently.
"Fuck rules!" Cain agreed.
"And sweaters. Fuck those too."
Both men began to cackle, and Abel wondered if he liked them better when they hated each other.