Chris looked over the menu with Thalia, helping her read and pick something out from the kid’s section. Jared was sitting across from them with their bags, waiting, as he had already decided what he wanted. Apparently, he frequented the restaurant a lot. The host had been quick to recognize him. He kept staring at Chris and Chris was ignoring him to the best of his ability.
“That one!” Thalia pointed to a picture of a steak with a smiley face drawn in ketchup. “Can has coke?”
“If you say it properly,” Chris replied.
Thalia huffed but slowly said, “Can… I…have coke? Please?”
Chris grinned and kissed her head, “Perfect, princess.”
“What about you, Chris,” Jared asked.
Chris shrugged, “I’m not really hungry so a salad would be fine.”
Jared nodded and flagged down a waiter.
“Afternoon, Jared and company. What can I get you?” the young boy asked cheerfully.
Jared was about to order but Thalia spoke before he could, “Can I?”
Everyone chuckled and Jared gestured for Thalia to go.
“One kiddie steek. Beef. And a coke, please,” Thalia ordered, grinning when she finished.
The teenager nodded as he wrote down on his pad, “Great. And what about you gentlemen?”
Jared ordered, “Garlic bread, veggie nachos, and mozzarella sticks for starters. A black pepper ribeye cooked rare and a bud light for me, and for Mr. Scrooge over there the half portion of barbeque ribs cooked medium rare and a ginger ale. The kiddie steak’s well done.”
Chris tried to protest but Jared shushed him and the teenager quickly repeated their order before bouncing off.
“Jared,” Chris argued.
“Chris,” Jared mocked. “You better get used to me forcing food on you. You’re barely skin and bones. You need to put on some fat and muscle and I will be in charge of that until you can adequately take care of yourself.”
“Daddy no eat much,” Thalia gave her two cents. She looked up to Chris and shook her finger in his face, “Not good, daddy. Bad daddy.”
“See, you’re being lectured by your own daughter, Chris.”
Chris grumbled but conceded defeat. He knew it was unhealthy but he felt awkward just spending Jared’s money. He didn’t think cops were wealthy enough to splurge on some street rat single father and his kid.
“Don’t you have work?” Chris asked.
“I’m on leave for the week,” Jared replied casually.
“But, your job…”
Jared sent Chris a reassuring smile from across the table, “Don’t worry. I’ve got a boatload of paid leave days stored up. I haven’t taken time off in years, to be honest.”
“You’re not really taking time off though,” Chris pointed out. “You’re taking care of me and Thalia and getting nothing in return.”
“I wouldn’t say nothing, and you and Thalia are not a job,” Jared replied.
Chris frowned, what was Jared getting out of this? If anything, Jared was on the losing end no matter which way you looked.
They sat in silence. Thalia was busy coloring in a picture with the crayons that the host had given her when they entered the restaurant. She was enjoying herself thoroughly and Chris felt another pang of guilt. He was happy Thalia got to actually behave like a little kid, but it also increased his guilt for the fact that he couldn’t provide her the childhood she deserved.
“What’s your favorite color?”
Chris looked up at Jared with a frown, “What?”
“Favorite color. What is it?” Jared repeated.
The furrow between Chris’ brows deepened, “…What?”
Jared rolled his eyes, “I’m partial to green. Reminds me of forests. You?”
Chris blinked, “Um…orange…I guess.”
“Purple! Ish pretty,” Thalia chimed in, looking up from her coloring for only a second before drawing back to it.
“Any particular reason?” Jared asked Chris, resting his chin in his palm, gaze steady.
Chris shifted uncomfortably, pulling and pushing at the sleeves of Jared’s hoodie, “It’s pretty.” It was the color of the sky the first time he saw it.
Not wanting to have another breakdown on the same day and especially in some place so public, Chris pushed the creeping memories away and asked, “How long have you lived in Phoenix?”
Jared’s eyes widened in surprise and he seemed hesitant but his expression relaxed as he said, “I was born in Denver, Colorado but moved down to Phoenix when I was around ten after my parents died in a car crash.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t—” Chris stumbled, feeling horrible for bringing up Jared’s dead parents even if unknowingly.
“Chris, it’s fine. It was almost twenty years ago. And I love Phoenix. I was raised by a great family until I moved out at eighteen but I see them every so often.”
Chris nodded and glanced over at Thalia again. She had moved on from coloring the cartoon dinosaur to drawing on the back of the paper. He wasn’t quite sure what she was drawing but it looked vaguely canine.
“What’re you working on, princess?” Chris asked.
“Woofy,” Thalia said, not looking up. She was completely engrossed in her task.
Chris nodded, “It’s fantastic.” When he looked up, he saw Jared with a raised brow.
“Woofy?” Jared mouthed.
Chris chuckled and shrugged, mouthing back, “Wolf?”
Just then, the teenager from before came back holding a tray with two plates and their drinks.
“The nachos’ll take another couple minutes,” he said as he set down the plates and drinks. Chris’ eyes widened at the sight, his stomach roaring to life and mouth watering.
Jared and the teenager chuckled making Chris flush.
“Enjoy, I’ll be back soon,” the teenager chirped.
Jared was giving him a smug look that Chris didn’t like. “What?” he huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.
“And you said you weren’t hungry,” Jared smirked, reaching out to grab a piece of bread that was spread with some yellow substance and chopped bits of leaves. He bit down on it and Chris could hear the crunch. Everything smelled so good.
“Daddy?” Thalia called for his attention, tugging on the sleeve his borrowed hoodie. She looked longingly at the food and Chris grabbed one of each item, setting them on her plate.
“Careful, they’re hot,” he warned her, his hands were slightly burned but it wasn’t anything he wasn’t used to.
Chris helped Thalia cool down the food and watched her bite down on the golden brown stick. She squealed in surprise when, as she tried to bite off a piece, a thick rope of gooey yellow cheese came with her.
“Mmm!” Thalia grinned, mouth full and cheesy. “F’sho good!”
Chris smiled and helped her cut the string of cheese. While she chewed on that bite, he cut up the rest of the stick and the bread on her plate so it would be easier for her to eat. When he finished, he noticed that his plate was filled with several sticks and one of the breads.
“Eat,” Jared ordered, munching on one of the sticks. “Or I’ll come over there and force it down your throat.”
Chris couldn’t tell if Jared was only kidding and took the threat to heart, picking up the bread slice and hesitantly biting down. He nearly moaned at the burst of flavor on his tongue. Since meeting Jared, his taste buds had gone from one heaven to another.
He was vaguely aware of Jared watching him but Chris was more focused on getting as much food in his and Thalia’s stomach as he could. They finished the garlic bread and cheese sticks before the last of the starters had arrived.
“Wow, that was fast,” the boy laughed, taking the empty plates and placing a larger one down before running off to tend to another table. Triangular chips were laid out in a circular pattern coated in melted cheese and various vegetables and sauces. Chris and Thalia were more familiar with this food item.
“Oh!” Thalia pointed. She reached over to grab a piece and blew on it before popping the chip into her mouth. “Daddy, try!” She grabbed another piece, one that was practically about to collapse due to the number of toppings on it, and held it up to Chris.
Chris bent down and let Thalia pop the piece into his mouth. It was warm and gooey with a bit of a cold touch from the thick green sauce.
Chris chewed and nodded, “It’s yummy.”
Thalia beamed, “Mush better than b’fore.”
“Where did you have them the last time?” Jared asked innocently.
Chris hesitated but Thalia spoke for him, “Behind in alley. Was yucky.”
Jared’s eyebrows rose and Chris bit his lip, ducking his head. His appetite was suddenly lost.
“Well, you won’t have to eat food like that again. Now, eat up, I want you to eat until you feel like your stomach’s going to explode,” Jared encourage. He shot Chris a look, “You too, Chris.”
They ate in relative silence, Thalia providing most of the commentary by questioning what each little topping on the nachos was. When they finished that plate, Chris attempted to try out the drink Jared had ordered for him. It was fizzy and the first sip had him coughing, the bubbles had shot up his nose.
Jared was laughing at him and Chris didn’t know what made him do it, but he grabbed a piece of leftover lettuce from the nachos and flung it at the cop when he got his lungs under control.
“Bad daddy!” Thalia exclaimed even as she giggled at the display.
Jared plucked the leaf off his shoulder and popped it into his mouth, nodding along, “Yes, bad daddy. That’s twice today right, sweetheart? What’s daddy’s punishment going to be?”
Chris turned beet red and was grateful that their waiter chose that moment to return with their orders.
“Here ya go! Kiddie steak for the princess, ribs for the tomato, and steak so raw it’s practically still mooing for Uncle Jerry Bear,” the boy listed, placing each item as he called it out in front of the respective person.
Chris ignored the tomato comment and raised a brow at Jared, “Uncle Jerry Bear?”
Jared growled, “I’m gonna kill you, Mickey.”
The teenager, Mickey, grinned, toothily, “Love you too, Jare. Call me if you need anything else and enjoy your meals.”
Chris continued to watch Jared, waiting for an answer. If he could get the embarrassment off of him for even a moment, he’d take it. Besides, he was honestly curious about the ‘Uncle Jerry Bear’ thing.
Jared heaved a sigh, “Mickey’s part of the family that took me in when I moved down to Phoenix. A bunch of the younger ones took to calling me that and I would greatly appreciate it if the both of you erase that horrid name from your memories.”
“Jewwy Bwear,” Thalia tested.
Jared groaned, “Please don’t, sweetheart. Now, eat up. Both of you. After this we’re grabbing a booster seat and heading to the hospital.”
Chris frowned in confusion, wondering why they were going to the hospital, as he cut Thalia’s steak for her into bite-sized pieces she could manage.
“Just a checkup,” Jared assured him, grabbing his knife and fork to cut into his meal. It was really red and did look quite raw. “Have either of you been really sick before?”
Chris shook his head, “Thalia had a fever once when she was one and I haven’t gotten more than a slight cold since I was around ten.”
“Still, best to make sure,” Jared said.
Chris nodded but he worried about the cost. Hospitals were expensive and he really did not want Jared spending so much on them. He and Thalia also had no form of identification.
“Chris, don’t worry about the cost. I want you two to be healthy and safe,” Jared added even though Chris hadn’t said a word. Was he that obvious? “Now, eat.”
Chris picked up his knife and fork but felt a blush coming onto his face. He didn’t know how to go about eating what Jared had ordered for him. It looked to be completely bone slathered in some reddish brown sauce. Jared seemed to have figured out what his dilemma was.
“Ribs are finger foods in my opinion. I usually separate each rib and eat with my hands.”
Chris did as suggested and hesitantly picked up one piece, fingertips against the two ends of the sauce coated bone. He bit into the piece, wary of the thick bone and once again, his taste buds dissolved in a sense of euphoria.
Jared was watching him, he didn’t seem to stop, but Chris was more focused on the food. He let Thalia try a bit and she loved it so he set one piece on her plate.
“So, you like beef?” Jared questioned, munching on a piece of his steak.
“First time having it,” Chris replied.
Jared cut another piece and speared it on his fork. Chris finished up the first rib and picked up his second, but was stopped by Jared pointing his fork in Chris’ face.
“Try it, I wasn’t sure if you’d be fine with rare so I got you what most people had,” he said, wiggling the piece of meat by Chris’ mouth.
Chris flushed but Jared didn’t seem like he’d be putting the fork down any time soon.
“C’mon, just one bite,” Jared insisted with a small grin that was almost teasing, but Chris was sure he was imagining it.
Chris bit his lip before lowering the rib he was about to eat and leaning forward. His mind flashed back to just that morning when Jared had fed him some egg but the effect was rather worse since Jared was initiating it this time. Chris screwed his eyes shut as his tongue poked out slightly and his lips wrapped around the piece of meat and fork. When he pulled back and opened his eyes as he chewed, he started briefly at the sight of Jared’s eyes. After blinking and looking again, he realized he was just seeing things. There was no way Jared’s eyes had turned gold. They were still that warm brown, although now Chris felt as if they were more heated but he lowered his gaze and mumbled, “It’s good…”
Jared cleared his throat, “Hm, yeah, so which do you prefer?”
Chris shrugged, “Food’s food.” He still couldn’t quite bring himself to look at Jared. He glanced at Thalia, completely oblivious to the hurricane storming Chris’ heart and mind. She was almost done with her steak and was sipping at her drink. Her picture was sitting to the side and Chris could make out a fluffy tail and pointed ears. It still looked mostly canine, if ‘woofy’ did indeed mean ‘wolf’, but the ears were rather cat-like.
“Yeah, but you’ve got to have a preference,” Jared pushed.
Chris shrugged and attempted to try his drink out again. He managed to take a sip without the bubbles shooting up his nose and found he quite liked it. It was an odd taste on his tongue, a little sweet, but he liked it.
“Do you need another bite to decide?” Jared asked, spearing another piece of dripping steak and holding it up to Chris.
Chris put his glass down before he started hacking from the drink going down the wrong tube and shook his head, “No! I-I mean, they’re both good. Anything’s fine with me.” He didn’t have the luxury to be picky.
Jared stared him down for a second longer before popping the piece into his own mouth and dropping the subject. They went about finishing off their meals in relative silence and when Chris was licking his fingers clean, he was full and completely sated for once in a long, long time.
“Desert?” Jared asked.
Chris looked to Thalia who had hope gleaming from her eyes. He nodded, “Yeah, if that’s okay.”
“I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t,” Jared said as he waved to get Mickey’s attention.
“Desert I’m guessing?” the teen asked as he picked up the empty plates.
“Mind bringing the menu back, sport?”
“Yeah, give me a sec.”
Mickey spoke quickly to a coworker and a woman around Chris’ age turned up with two menus. She sent Jared a flirtatious smile and Chris watched with a hint of amusement as Jared paid her no attention. When she turned her efforts onto Chris as she handed him the second menu, hand touching his in a manner that was far from casual and longer than socially acceptable, he shrunk back in discomfort.
“We’ll take a couple moments,” Jared spoke up firmly. It was a clear dismissal.
Chris breathed a sigh of relief when she left and flipped open the menu to the back where pictures and a list of the offered deserts were printed. His eye was drawn to a picture of a creamy white cake with a base of golden brown, topped with fluffy whipped cream, bright red strawberries, and glistening red syrup.
He let Thalia look over all the choices until she decided on a chocolate lava cake.
“Hmm, what’re you two getting?” Jared asked, looking up from his own menu.
“Choco lawa cake!” Thalia chirped, pointing at the picture on the menu that Chris had laid flat on the table.
Jared smiled and hummed, “That looks good. What about you, Chris?”
“Oh, no I’m fine,” Chris assured him even as his eyes dropped to the strawberry cheesecake again.
Jared raised a brow then sighed as he shook his head. Chris wasn’t sure what that meant. Jared caught Mickey’s eyes and the boy bounded over with what Chris figured was his usual grin.
“So how can I help satisfy your sweet tooth?” he asked, looking to Thalia first.
Thalia poked the picture of the chocolate mound with chocolate sauce and a side of ice cream, “This one please, mishter.”
Mickey grinned and nodded, “Alrighty, ma’am. It comes with a scoop of ice cream. What flavor do you want? We’ve got vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and coconut.”
Thalia pursed her lips and looked to Chris and Jared for help. Thalia had never had ice cream before. Neither had Chris so he didn’t know what she might like.
Jared came to their rescue, “Vanilla. And a strawberry cheesecake plus the bill would be great, Mickey.”
“Refills while you wait?” Mickey asked, gesturing to Chris and Thalia’s empty glasses.
Chris looked to Thalia who shook her head before replying, “No thank you, we’re fine.”
“Okay, be right back.” Mickey took their menus and scurried off.
Jared leaned forward on the table and nodded to Thalia’s drawing, “Can I see Woofy?”
Thalia grinned, nodding, happy to share her drawing. She grabbed the paper and handed it over to Jared who carefully examined it. He looked at it for a couple moments before smiling at Thalia as he handed the drawing back, “It’s very nice, sweetheart. Woofy is beautiful.”
Thalia’s cheeks turned pick as she giggled and hugged the drawing to herself.
“Why don’t you sign it?” Jared suggested. “Artists usually sign their name on their pieces.”
“Daddy?” Thalia looked to Chris for help.
Chris smiled warmly, “Grab the pencil. You’ve practiced this.”
Chris gently guided Thalia as she carefully wrote out her name in capitals along the bottom of the paper. Her ‘T’ had a crooked hat and all the lines were a bit shaky but she had greatly improved in writing since Chris had begun trying to teach her while they were on the streets. She had only really needed Chris for confirmation for a couple letters.
“Great job, princess,” Chris praised, kissing her head.
Jared nodded in agreement, “Keep that safe, and we’ll hang it on the fridge back home.”
Thalia frowned as she gave Chris the picture to tuck away in a pocket, “How?”
Jared grinned, “I’ll show you when he get back home after visiting the doctor.”
Mickey returned soon after carrying two plates. He set one that looked like an almost exact replica from the picture Thalia had pointed at in front of her. It was a conical lump of chocolate cake covered liberally in a dark chocolate sauce and a white powder. One scoop of creamy ice cream was set beside it. Mickey set the second plate in front of Jared and Chris bit his lip looking at it. It looked much better in real life than in the picture.
Mickey handed over two small spoons to Thalia and Jared and set a small leather booklet next to Jared before telling them to enjoy and leaving them be.
Thalia immediately went at her cake, digging the spoon into the center of the cake, and giggling when liquid chocolate spilling out onto the plate as she cut the cake in half.
“Daddy!” Thalia pulled on Chris’ sleeve to get him to look.
“Yum, don’t waste any okay?” he told her. Thalia nodded and shoved a spoonful in her mouth, moaning at the taste.
Chris was happy she was enjoying herself, getting to eat new food that was safe and tasted good. He glanced over at Jared and watched as the other man spooned a piece of the creamy cake. It cut smoothly and Chris couldn’t drag his eyes away as Jared lifted the spoon to his mouth, sucking off the bite slowly.
Chris swallowed and looked away to somewhere safer.
“Chris,” Jared called not a second after Chris forced his gaze away.
Jared pushed the desert towards the center of the table, “Wanna share? I don’t feel up to eating the whole thing.”
“Um, are you sure?” Chris asked, eyes dropping to the cake. Jared had only taken that one bite. Why had he ordered it if he wasn’t up to eating it after only one bite?
“Chris,” Jared rolled his eyes. “One thing you should know about me. I don’t say things I don’t mean. So when I offer you something, I’m one hundred percent sure. Now, here try it out.”
Chris went to take the spoon but Jared had a different train of thought. He cut off more from the cake with the spoon he’d been using, getting the glazing, cake, and base on the spoon for one bite, and held the spoon towards Chris’ face.
What was with Jared and feeding him?
Chris stuttered, “I, uh, you don’t have to…”
Jared raised a brow, “What? I already told you I’m fine with you having some. Come on, try it and tell me if you like it.”
Chris bit his lip and glanced around, noticing that other people were noticing Jared just sitting there with a spoon raised in the air towards Chris. Chris held back a groan and tried to force his cheeks to stop heating up as he leaned forward once again and quickly took the offered bite. When he drew back and let the cake practically melt in his mouth, the soft creamy texture of the actual cake contrasting wonderfully with the cookie-like base, he saw that the spoon was still coated in the remains of the creamy white cake. He gulped and felt his throat dry when Jared licked the spoon clean.
“How’d you like it?” Jared asked. Was it just Chris or was Jared’s voice huskier?
“It, uh, good,” he shakily replied.
“Daddy, it’s!” Thalia corrected. Chris frowned in confusion before realizing his mistake. Jared’s chuckling made his cheeks light up.
“Sorry, you’re right, princess. My bad,” Chris pulled his attention from Jared to focus on Thalia. Thalia was much safer. And she had chocolate all over her face.
Chris grabbed some napkins and cleaned her up. “Careful, princess, or should I call you a messy puppy?” he teased.
Thalia pouted and dipped her fingers into the chocolate sauce on her plate, swiping it across Chris’ cheek. She puffed her chest in pride at the accomplishment.
Chris laughed and retaliated by coating one of his fingers with chocolate and bopping Thalia’s nose.
“Hah!” he cheered.
Thalia tried to look at her nose, resulting in her eyes crossing which only made Chris laugh more. She finally stuck her tongue out at him and wiped at her nose, getting all the chocolate off and then licking her hand clean.
Chris wiped at his cheek as well and licked off the chocolate that streaked across his hand. He hadn’t had chocolate in a long time but it was as sweet as he faintly remembered.
“You missed a spot,” Jared said, pointing to the corner of his mouth.
“Oh, did I get it?” Chris rubbed at his mouth but Jared just chuckled, signaling that no, Chris did not get the spot. Chris frowned and rubbed furiously but Jared kept shaking his head.
“Here, I’ll get it for you,” Jared said, leaning forward.
Chris panicked, looking away, “N-no, you don’t-I can get it.”
Thalia was watching the two of them with her spoon in her mouth. Her brow was furrowed and she took the spoon out of her mouth, lips parting as if she were going to say something, but she glanced over to Jared and then took the last bite of her cake and ice cream.
Chris looked back to Jared, wondering what Thalia had seen, but jumped in surprise when one of Jared’s hands caught his chin while he used the thumb of his other hand to wipe at the corner of Chris’ mouth. However, because Chris had jumped and gasped in shock, Jared’s thumb slipped.
The both of them froze.
Jared’s thumb was in Chris’ mouth.
A/N: DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN. Fun fact, when I wrote this months ago, I was just as surprised as Chris and Jared by how things turned out. Also, have y'all guessed what their apparent fetish is? :P