Bastian's kitchen, normally his sanctuary, has become anything but since Colin began working with him. There's just something ... distracting about the line chef that Bastian is drawn to, even as Colin refuses to reveal anything about himself. When Bastian tastes a secret project Colin was working on, though, it opens the door to a magical world he never knew existed -- a world Colin is part of.
There are rules to that world, though, and thanks to Bastian, Colin’s just broken them. The consequences are meant to be permanent, but Bastian is determined not to lose the new flavor he’s just discovered, and the man who opened his taste buds, and his heart, to new possibilities. Can he make things right across worlds, or have they already tasted their final course together?
Must have been his imagination playing tricks on him. Or something. Though a faint worry nagged at the corner of his thoughts, images like ghosts that refused to completely fade. Who was Colin? Everyone was there. Everyone but Amber. Why did that seem wrong? He shut his eyes a moment, pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Okay, so,” Bastian said, trying to push his unsettled thoughts aside. He had a mission, after all. A critic to mollify. No, to amaze. He had a new menu to plan and a staff that needed to be taught all about it. And suddenly he knew exactly what he would do.
“We’re going to be shifting to an autumn menu,” he said, “focusing on the feeling of a bonfire, of red leaves and crisp mornings. I want Midwestern heart with a twist. I want appetizers of apples and brie, of bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, roasted garlic and sharp cheddar. Mains are going to be slow-cooked beef, spice-rubbed pork tenderloin, jerk chicken burgers, and cranberry-smoked salmon. Dessert will be merlot chocolate tart, and spice bread with a bourbon syrup.”
It was like his mind suddenly opened to something, like he was remembering what it meant to cook, what it meant to create. The heat of the fire on the stove and the heat of the fire in him once again vibrated at the same frequency. He needed a return, a return to the food he grew up loving, that drew up in him a feeling of ... home. And at the thought he could feel those half memories tug harder, like he could almost pull them free and examine them. Perhaps, with his cooking, he would do just that.
He clapped his hands together. “All right,” he said. “Get to your stations and show me what you can do. Denise, go over wine pairings with the waitstaff and see if we can’t get some early mulled wine. And cider. I want the soup to be a harvest chili. I’m going to be on sauces.”
Sauces. Something about the idea seemed to fit. A smirking face with sharp features. Denise nodded and filed the waitstaff onto the floor to go over the wines while everyone else set to experimenting. Bastian walked over to the workstations. All but one of them was already filled by one of his line chefs. All but one ...
Bastian went to the pantry, found maple syrup, a bottle of bourbon, and he stopped at the fridge to pick up a few slices of thick-cut bacon. Whatever was pulling at him was like a force in his bones, and he worked without talking, without really thinking. Bacon sizzled in the pot. Flipped. Removed. Heat reduced, maple syrup added, then bourbon. Whisked. Tasted.
There was a feeling in this, something dark and luminous all at once, something that nearly unlocked a door inside him, the door to that face, to those eyes, to the name he couldn’t quite figure out. But something was missing. Something was -- he turned the heat down farther still and raced to the pantry.
Ingredients seemed to leer at him, looming, almost threatening him with their variety, with possibilities. But he knew now what he needed. He scanned the jars on the shelves. Found honey. But not just regular honey. Something darker to pair with the syrup, the bourbon. Buckwheat honey. He grabbed it and rushed back to the pot, measured some in, whisked more. Tasted.
There. Like a burst behind his eyelids, he was taken back to that forest, to that night. Colin. The name unlocked and he remembered it all, though of course it still made no sense. Made no sense because it was impossible, impossible for a man to be somewhere and then gone. And not only gone, but erased completely. It was ... something out of a story. Certainly it wasn’t ... wasn’t real.