Actions

Work Header

Molasses

Work Text:

The "for sale" sign had been gone from the window next door for a week, and all they knew about the new owner was...well, nothing. Now, however, there was a large delivery van parked in the back alley and muscly men were moving things about, seemingly under orders from a very pale and very blond man.

He looked mildly upsetting, in Raphael's humble opinion, like somebody you wouldn't dare to look at sideways for fear of consequences of dubious nature; say, a knife in the side or a haunting in the night. Both seemed equally likely.

"What do you make of him?" Raphael asked casually the next time Luvander ducked into the bakery, this time to fetch a display platter of newly plated pastries.

"I haven't seen him yet, have I?" Luvander vanished with the display platter and Raphael resisted the temptation to sneak outside for another look (and also resisted the temptation to take up smoking again, so he would have an excuse to actually go out there), and instead plated the raspberry shortcrust tortes he'd just finished slicing.

"Have we decided on a name for these yet?" Raphael yelled.

Luvander reappeared, looking at the tortes in confusion. "What are those?"

"...Er." Raphael looked down at the display platter, then back at Luvander. "Two layers of shortcrust with raspberry jam in the middle and icing and copious amounts of sprinkles on top?" []

"When did you come up with that?" Luvander didn't wait for Raphael to answer, as the bell sounded from the front room. "Nevermind. Pick something gay. Can't go wrong with that." He vanished again.

Raphael frowned at the tortes. Luvander had named Raphael's last new sweet invention after a Ramanthine war general's hat, of all things []. It had been vaguely hat shaped, he'd admit, but not a kind of hat that'd been in vogue for centuries. He squinted at the tortes. They did look very festive, didn't they?

Having made up his mind, he fetched a small porcelain label and a marker. He wrote the new name on the label, fixed it to the platter, and then picked it up to carry it to the front room. "Behind you," he said, as he slipped past Luvander to deposit the platter onto the empty shelf in the display case by the till.

"Two fiber rolls for you, lovely," Luvander said, handing a female customer a paper bag, presumably containing the fiber rolls in question. "Could I tempt you with our newest creation?" He gestured at the platter Raphael had just carried in.

"Alexander's Jam," Raphael helpfully supplied. "Because they're so festive, see." And because the infamous esar Alexander the fourth had been gayer than a maypole, he wanted to say. "It's like having a party in your mouth," he said instead, eyes flickering to the customer, who looked sceptical.

"They're positively delightful." Luvander swooped in, already wrangling one of the thin tortes into a little box. "Have one on the house - a free sample - no, I insist, dear -"

"I'll, uh, go and get started on the Fragilités?" [] Raphael retreated hastily.

A loud bang came from the back alley, followed by a loud string of curses. Raphael reckoned it would be safer to not look.

***

"When we said we needed to hire a girl to work the till, we did not mean this," Raphael told Evariste, who was currently perched on top of the display case by the till, drinking white wine straight from the bottle.

Luvander, who was mopping the floor in the small cafe area on the other side of the till, cackled.

Raphael ignored him. "Move over." He threatened Evariste with a rag. He'd already covered the display platters and checked the dates; the sweet bakes in that display would be good for a week before they had to be tossed, and as of now only the last few of the week old Apple Fishes had had to be tossed. The rest was of date. The bread shelves on the back wall behind the counter and the window display case had already been emptied into garbage sacks waiting by the back door to be carried over to the dumpsters. All Raphael had left to do before he could call it a day was wipe down the display case. "Move."

"The new guy is opening tomorrow," Evariste said, hopping down from the counter. "There's a sign in the window and all. Chocolatier. Hot chocolate free of charge to the first fifty customers."

"Chocolatier? Not confectionery chef?" Raphael asked. As the resident confectionery chef he felt it important to establish what kind of competition had just moved in next door. All he'd managed to find out was...well, nothing. "I was under the impression that the new guy would be doing sweet baking and confections."

"Nope." Evariste upended the wine bottle, taking another sip. "It's allll chocolate. There's a giant chocolate sculpture in the window and all. Very impressive. An exact replica of the Basquiat, I believe."

"Why?"

Luvander, the resident baker, and the person in charge of all the various breads and rolls, piped up. "Because it's a very fetching building," he said. "All shiny like that." He carried the bucket and mop into the back room.

Evariste and Raphael followed, Raphael throwing the rag into the laundry basket. "This changes everything, doesn't it?"

"Yes, it is very sad that sabotaging the fellow now seems rather unnecessary. I was so looking forward to a nice little game of mutual antagonism," Luvander remarked. Then he grinned. "Better to make friends with him, amiright? Get into his good chocolate graces."

Stripping his apron off, Raphael considered this. "Let's pay a visit next door. Welcome him to the neighbourhood, you know, that sort of thing. He's new in town, yes?" The last part was directed at Evariste.

"By all accounts," Evariste replied, shrugging.

And so it happened that the morning after just before opening hours, the three of them were standing outside the shop next door. Evariste, being unemployed and generally a nuisance, had of course shown up for the occasion. (He'd not brought wine, for once.)

The chocolate sculpture of the Basquiat really was impressive, Raphael noted. It appeared to be made with chocolate in several different colours - he counted at least seven - including red, blue and gold. That last one might perhaps have been edible paint.

Luvander was knocking on the door and Raphael turned his attention back to the door and to the plate he was holding. He'd arranged a little display of five of his best pieces, including one of the new Alexander's Jam tortes. A welcoming gift, as it were.

The door swung open. "Ho! What's this?" The person standing in the door opening wasn't the mysterious pale blond man who'd been in an out of the shop all week, directing movers and deliveries and making strange sorts of noises in the back room. (Oddly, the strange noises had often included swing music.) This one was friendly-looking, with a pretty smile on a pretty mouth - the smile turning into a leer as his eyes settled on Luvander.

"We're from next door," Raphael said, when it was evident that Luvander's attention was equally fixed on the guy. "We, uh, wanted to welcome you to the neighbourhood?" He held up the plate.

A shadow moved behind the man in the door and resolved itself into the pale man Raphael presumed was the owner. "Stop thinking with your dick for a second, Niall, and let them in."

"I can do both, can't I?" Niall retorted but moved aside and beckoned them in. "Welcome, welcome." He continued leering at Luvander as he passed.

Luvander leered back.

"Off to a great start, I see," Evariste commented. "I should've brought wine."

The pale man was looking back and forth between Luvander and Niall, who had retreated up to the counter and seemed to be trading awful pick up lines as Niall prepared a giant mug of hot chocolate, and Raphael and Evariste, who were standing in the doorway uncertainly.

Raphael seemed to be stuck in the role as the only responsible, polite and useful member of the group. "Hello," he said to the pale man, handing him the plate. "I'm Raphael, the confectionery chef next door. I made those. Uhm. Welcome?"

"Thank you." The man was examining the plate's contents. "They look delicious." He looked up, and an awkward silence descended over the three of them. Up close he looked different; he looked tired, but there was something soft and appealing about it, as if he hadn't managed to completely smooth out all signs of vulnerability.

"I'm Evariste," Evariste said, breaking the stand-still and holding out his hand. "I'm only here for the hot chocolate."

Startled, the man shook his hand. "Oh. Yes. Right. I'm Ivory. I do chocolate. The other one is Niall, my shop girl." He cleared his throat, and then extended his hand to Raphael as well. "Forgive my manners. I was raised by wolves."

Ivory's hand was rough, not at all the smooth soft hand of a man who'd spent his life working with chocolate. Raphael didn't comment. "It's quite alright. Uh. Enjoy the sweets? There's more where those came from. I should get back to work - we open in just under five minutes." He glanced at Luvander, who was licking cream off his upper lip suggestively. "Well. If I could extract my baker, that is."

The three of them turned to look at Niall and Luvander.

"Huh." Ivory didn't look in the least surprised.

"Is that a new record?" Evariste mused.

"I didn't time him." Raphael sighed and rolled up his sleeves. "Wish me luck."

Not half a minute after Raphael had managed to drag Luvander back to the bakery (thank you, Evariste, for not helping), did the first customers of the day show up.

***

Not long after the lunch rush, which required both Luvander and Raphael in the front room serving customers, Ivory popped in. Raphael was in the bakery, taking a new batch of Apple Fishes out of the oven, so when he turned to find Ivory standing in the doorway to the storage room, he almost dropped the hot sheet.

"Shit!" The Apple Fishes had slid towards the edge of the sheet, but luckily none fell to their doom. "Warn a guy, would you?"

"I'm sorry." Ivory's face was expressionless. "I came to return your plate"

Raphael brought the sheet over to the cooling station and slid the Apple Fishes off the hot sheet, which he then dumped onto the stack of other hot sheets left to cool. "Oh. Already?"

"I'm afraid I ate it all for lunch." Ivory looked about for a place to set the plate down.

"Uh, you can set that down in the back room - through there," Raphael explained, pointing at the other door in the bakery. This one lead to a small useless space which had once been a narrow alley between two buildings (the 'floor' was still cobblestones), but had been supplied with a roof as well as walls on both ends and now served as one of two service entrances to the bakery, the other service entrance being to the storage room through which Ivory had entered. "Through the door opposite and you're in the back room. The break table is there."

Ivory vanished, presumably to follow Raphael's directions. Meanwhile, Raphael took the other sheet of Apple Fishes out of the oven before they all burned.

"This place has a very strange layout," Ivory said when he reappeared, sans plate.

"I know. This place used to be two different buildings." Raphael fetched a display platter and started arranging the Apple Fishes on it.

"What are those?" Ivory moved closer.

"Apple Fishes." When Ivory only stared, uncomprehending, Raphael explained: "Luvander thought they looked fish shaped. It's a puff pastry pocket filled with rum-infused apple jam." []

"Rum-infused?" Ivory looked up from the Fishes. There was the tiniest of smiles on his lips, and what looked like could be a single crease at the corner of his left eye. "Should I be insulted that there wasn't one of these on that lovely plate you gifted me?"

Raphael smiled back. "We hadn't any fresh ones. You can try one now, if you'd like. Be careful, they're piping hot. Apple jam burns bad. It's all the sugar, you see. Nasty stuff."

Ivory considered this. "Perhaps another time." There was that tiny smile again. "I wanted to thank you for the gift, and for the welcome. Your sweets are very good. I liked the one with the raspberry jam and all the icing. And the crunchy one with the mocha filling. May I return the kindness?"

"Sure…?" Raphael blinked. "What did you have in mind?"

"Which kind of chocolates do you like?"

"Oh. Uhm." Raphael frowned. "All kinds, I suppose? I'm not picky."

"I see." Ivory regarded him. "Challenge accepted."

And then, abruptly, he left the same way he came. Raphael briefly considered closing the service door to prevent further intrusion, but he was waiting for a delivery - blackberry jam, almonds, eggs, and butter - not to mention he was quite enjoying the music emanating from Ivory's Chocolate Empire.

Raphael delivered the Apple Fishes to the front room swiftly, and then set about putting together a pre-dough for Honeycakes. This was the fourth batch he'd made in as many weeks; the pre-dough needed to rest for a month before it was put to use so he'd staggered the batches in order to be able to bake a load of Honeycakes every Friday for the duration of the holiday season. They'd usually sell out by Sunday, so the Honeycakes had inadvertently become a weekend special. He didn't mind.

He poured five kilograms of honey into a large pot, stuck a candy thermometer in, and turned the gas on. []

***

Within the week, Raphael found his life had settled into a new routine. It was surprising, as he'd changed very little as a person in the past few years since he and Luvander had opened the bakery, preferring to go about his daily life the same way he'd always done - in fact, the only things that had changed at all, were the baked goods they offered up for sale as they developed new recipes and improved old ones.

The fact that Ivory now came round at least once a day - sometimes in the mornings, sometimes after the lunch rush, sometimes after closing - bringing chocolates and test sheets and very little conversation, was just one thing that was different now. The other thing was that Luvander and Niall had taken it upon themselves to turn the alley they shared into a makeshift court of love; Luvander would spend his breaks there, which just so happened to coincide with Niall's breaks, and he'd postponed his sleeping schedule by an hour so that he could spend some time with Niall after closing hours instead of going straight home and to bed.

And Raphael...well. He was due to relieve Luvander of his till shift (they really, really needed to hire a girl to do that for them, they were putting in too many hours as it was in order to be able to both bake and serve customers...and they could afford it now, they really could), having finished all his baking for the day, but first he was going to talk to Ivory about chocolate.

The service entrance to Ivory's shop was wide open, swing music filling the alley. Raphael knocked on the door frame as he made his way inside.

Ivory, currently moving liquid chocolate about on a giant marble slab, looked up. His face remained largely impassioned, but there was the slightest hint of a smile around his eyes. He was really quite handsome, and not at all as unsettling as he'd appeared at first. "Hullo," he said. "To what do I owe the pleasure? You can turn the music down if you like."

What kind of bake would Ivory be? Nothing with chocolate in it, Raphael thought. Something with a smooth texture and spice, maybe a rough base? Marzipan, or something creamier? Hazelnuts and tart cream cheese, maybe cherries.

Raphael turned the volume down. "I have need of your chocolate expertise," he said. "Remember that commission I told you about? The anniversary tortes for Anastasia and Antoinette?"

"Yes."

"Well, here's the problem. The chocolate I get from my grocer is somewhat...inadequate, for the task. It's perfectly fine chocolate," he added, pointedly, before Ivory could snort, "but the thing I'm trying to put together for Antoinette is veering more and more into your territory and the flavour profile isn't working out."

"What's the problem?" Ivory hadn't paused in his work, and his hands flitted expertly over the slab, moving the chocolate about. Temperature sensitive work, Raphael knew.

"It's too bitter. What I'm looking to do is combine two different chocolates on a macaroon-esque cookie, you know, like the ones I make for the Fragilités, anyway, one chocolate will be in a chocolate mousse and the other as the coating on top. I want something that's dark and rich, but sweet. Like you wouldn't expect it to be sweet when you bite into it, but it is sweet." [] Raphael described the confection with his hands, gesturing. "The mousse is perfect, but the coating is too bitter."

"Is the mousse white or dark?"

"Dark. White was too sweet, it turned out."

Ivory considered this. "I'll bring over some samples tomorrow. I'm assuming nutty or coffee bi-flavours over fruity?"

"Ideally, yes. Thank you." Raphael smiled.

"No problem." Ivory inclined his head. "How's the other one coming along?"

"All right. I just need to decide what the kicker is. I was thinking rum-infused prunes, but now I'm wondering if maybe I should try vodka, only vodka just doesn't go very well with the cream."

"I don't think vodka would go very well with cream, ever," Ivory commented. There was the tiniest frown line on his forehead. "Or prunes, for that matter. Why prunes?"

"They're sweet and soak up alcohol well. They're also fairly unpleasant, in my opinion...I don't mean that Anastasia is unpleasant!" Raphael cleared his throat. "I, uh, I just meant that she's made of harder stuff than she looks, you know? So you have this sweet little torte, right, puff pastry crust, large dollop of prune-and-whatever-alcohol, whipped cream on top, and the whole thing covered with a semi-thick layer of undecorated white marzipan. [] Looks like a sweet little innocent thing, right? But then, you bite into it and wham." He slammed his hand into his palm. "Then she gets you."

"I see." Ivory's eyes were crinkling. He finally stopped pushing the chocolate about and scooped it into a piping bag, a few seconds later he was making intricate chocolate swirls on non-stick parchment paper. "That's a very, shall I say, candid assessment of our esarina."

"Ahh, yes, I suppose so." Raphael eyed the clock on the wall. Luvander would have his hide soon if he didn't wrap this up. Luvander could also wait another few minutes, Raphael decided. Talking to Ivory (sometimes 'at' more than 'to') was comfortable. Like a hot cup of tea - no actually, that wasn't quite right. Tea went cold eventually. It was more like... Like a small fire, perhaps, the kind that starts with just a little spark but then grows larger and brighter until it's blazing hot and all-consuming. "But it's a good idea, right? A sweet torte with an unexpected punch, paired with a dark and dangerous looking chocolate concoction that turns out to be smooth and sweet. With a bit of a crunch, of course. Can't not do crunch for Antoinette."

"Mmmh." Ivory assessed the chocolate swirls. "Have you considered whiskey instead of rum? Something dark and smokey?"

"Whiskey?" Raphael blinked. "Isn't that highly unus...ual…" he trailed off, gears grinding. He fumbled in his pockets for a scrap of paper and a pencil, and made a couple of hasty notes. "I will test it. Thank you. I've got to go - see you later!"

Raphael turned the volume of the music up before he left. He failed to notice the grin on Ivory's face.

***

Pros of living directly above the bakery:
- No commute (note to self: install slide instead of stairs)
- Breakfast pastries
- It's close to the market
-

Cons of living directly above the bakery:
- Everything smells like sugar
- EVERYTHING
- If it doesn't smell like sugar, it smells like marzipan
- If I have to listen to Luvander and Niall romance each other one more time I will stab somebody

"What's this?" Ivory was studying a scrap of paper pinned to the wall above Raphael's work station. "Modern poetry?"

Belatedly, Raphael remembered that in addition to containing the fourth test recipe for what would likely end up being Blackberry Crunchies - to be finalised some other day, as he'd not yet put the final touch on the Antoinettes - the scrap also had an embarrassing little list he'd scribbled in frustration the previous day.

Really, didn't they live somewhere? Did they have to stand right below his window, day after day, and sound like a badly regurgitated romance novel?

"Just a recipe," Raphael said, and ate another chocolate. When he'd finished, he dutifully filled out the chart Ivory had supplied him with.

How exactly he'd become test bunny for Ivory, he didn't know, but he wasn't about to complain any time soon. Why Ivory kept him on as a test bunny was far more puzzling; to Raphael everything simply tasted delicious - whatever variations there were between the pieces Ivory gave him (neatly numbered), he couldn't tell the difference. Everything Ivory made was heavenly.

Perhaps one day he would admit that the chocolate he bought en gros to use in his own baking was subpar, but today was not going to be that day.

"Perhaps we should lock them in a cupboard and ask them to be done with it," Ivory suggested. He nodded towards the back alley.

The window was inordinately grimy, but it was functional enough to show them that Luvander and Niall were out there, standing below the overhang (just beneath Raphael's window, as usual), and were likely trading sonnets. Or bad poetry. Possibly pick up lines. Or suggestions on what kind of erotic acts would be suitable for any given situation.

"It's a fascinating display, I must admit." Ivory sported a little smile. This one was different from his usual; there was a tug on his upper lip that told Raphael that he was being sardonic.

Funny that, how he could tell Ivory's almost invisible smiles apart after about two weeks of knowing the guy, but yet couldn't taste the difference between chocolate #3 and chocolate #4. Or chocolate #5, for the matter. Wait, was this one lighter in colour? Hard to tell, given he'd already eaten the ones before it. Raphael bit into it.

"A bit like...actually, you know what. I give up on trying to find a nice simile." Raphael finished the chocolate morsel off. Delicious. As always.

They continued watching the strange display through the window, Raphael chewing on chocolates (he was on to #7 now) and Ivory tapping a rhythm out with his fingers on the tabletop.

A third person showed up in the alley - Evariste, by the looks of him - regarded the two lovebirds, and then suddenly stepped forwards. He grabbed both of them by the neck, then pushed them together. Somebody squealed - Luvander, Raphael thought - and somebody else was flailing - Niall, likely - and then…

Stunned, Ivory and Raphael watched as Luvander and Niall started eating face, and Evariste dusted his hands off. A few seconds later, he stood in the doorway to the useless space. Ivory and Raphael turned as one to stare at him.

"What?" Evariste shrugged. "Luvander never kisses first," he explained. "Neither does Niall, by the looks of it. I took the matter into my own hands. You may thank me later. With wine. Copious amounts of it." At this juncture he pulled a bottle of wine out of what looked suspiciously like a crocheted bag designed specifically to hold a bottle of wine and nothing else, and opened it.

Raphael had a nagging suspicion that Evariste had made the bag himself, which begged only the question: why did it hold only one bottle of wine?

"I still think we should've just locked them in a cupboard," Ivory said. This time he wasn't smiling at all, but there were creases around his eyes. Secret smiling.

"I say," Raphael agreed, smiling fondly. At Ivory that was, not Luvander and Niall, who did not deserve fond smiles, and not at Evariste, who never deserved fond smiles.

Evariste looked between them. "Really!" He threw up his hands (wine safely deposited back in the crocheted bag) and stalked out of the bakery.

Unperturbed by this (always the best course of action when it came to Evariste), Raphael filled out the last fields in the chart Ivory had given him. "Now that you've thoroughly ruined my appetite with all this chocolate," he said, putting the chart down, "want to grab dinner?"

"With me?" Ivory glanced at the alley. Evariste was already at the end of it, vanishing out of sight, while Luvander and Niall were still in a passionate embrace that would soon enough become illegal. In public, anyway.

"I find company nice when eating out of street food wagons," Raphael told him. "Come on. Let's go out the other way." He folded the test sheet and put it in the breast pocket of Ivory's flannel shirt.

Ivory looked like he wanted to say something (a subtle change in tension around his mouth), but eventually just nodded and followed Raphael out through the shop.

A thin vanilla sponge soaked with cherry liquor, maybe, and another soaked with orange liquor, and a cream cheese mousse in the middle. White marzipan to cover, his finest and smoothest.

***

"What's this?" Ivory peered into a large mixing bowl sitting atop Raphael's working table. "It looks like...marzipan, but liquid?"

It was just after nine, so the morning rush was over, Luvander was alone in the shop manning the till and Raphael was getting the day's sweet bakes done. Well, most of them, anyway. They'd only needed one refill (Marzarin tortes, named for some important Arlemagne person who'd visited that one time; the torte had been so popular with their customers that they'd not retired it from their sortiment) [], so Raphael was putting together the first Blackberry Crunchies. Testing was over with, and these were going into the shop.

"You're not far off the mark," Raphael told him. "It's a marzipan meringue. Raw marzipan mixed with powdered sugar and egg whites. Like the inbetween of macaroons and marzipan. When baked, it's crunchy on top and moist and chewy on the inside."

Ivory didn't respond to this, only settled against the table and watched as Raphael went about his business. The prebaked shortcrust base was cooling on a rack, blackberry jam was waiting in a piping bag, and Raphael was scooping the marzipan meringue into another piping bag.

"How's the chocolate business going?"

"Chocolate always sells." Ivory quirked a little smile. "It helped setting up shop next door from you."

Raphael looked up from the mixing bowl, eyebrow raised. "Yeah?"

"You get a lot of traffic. Niall tells me we get a lot of customers carrying bags with your logo on them." Ivory's smile widened almost imperceptibly. "Not that was I deliberately counting on this to happen."

"Oh, sure you were." Raphael flashed him a grin. He finished filling the piping bag, then checked the shortcrust base. They'd cooled enough, in his estimation.

Mere three minutes later, there was a fat stripe of jam down the middle of the bases, and another, even wider, layer of marzipan meringue on top. Raphael whisked them into the oven and set the timer.

Ivory watched as Raphael cleaned up the workspace. His fingers were tapping out a rhythm on his thigh which Raphael recognised as something from his swingy playlist. Really, Ivory ought to consider the neighbours and not leave the service door open all day. Bad form, that.

The oven pinged just as Raphael was emptying the dishwasher. "Oh!" He left the rack where it was to instead fetch the Blackberry Crunchies from the oven.

They were a little dark around the edges. "A minute less in the oven, I think," Raphael said, making a face. He prodded the top. Crunchy. "Let's see what they look like inside?"

Ivory gestured for him to get on with it.

"I should know it by now, but you're really not a man of many words, are you?" Raphael fetched a sharp knife, then started cutting.

"Mmh," Ivory replied.

"Lovely. Look at that!" On the table were now thirty rectangular slices. Raphael lifted one up to show Ivory the cross section. "Looks perfect, doesn't it?" []

Ivory acknowledged this with a slight nod. Raphael put it back down, very pleased with himself.

"Soon as they've cooled a little we can have a taste, and then I'll plate them. I was going to call them Blackberry Crunchies. What do you think?"

"It's descriptive." Ivory shrugged. His eyes were fixed on Raphael. "You don't have a problem with waiting? I have noticed this about you."

"I'm very good at waiting," Raphael told him. "Especially when it's good stuff I'm waiting for." He winked.

Ivory's tiny smile transformed into a large, delighted grin.

Like that, Raphael thought, grinning back.

***

Fridays the bakery closed early, but this particular Friday Raphael was still in the bakery at four. Actually, still wasn't entirely accurate, as he had popped out for three hours earlier in the day to deliver the Antoinettes and the Anastasias to the palace, and then to teach the Head Baker how to make them.

He'd gone with dark rum and prunes, in the end, for the Anastasias.

Raphael was still in the bakery at four on a Friday because he'd taken an order for an Othello cake for some bigwig's party on Saturday, and Othellos had to be made a day in advance so it could set overnight, or it'd simply fall apart when cut into. []

And then of course he had to finish assembling this weekend's batch of Honeycakes so they'd have any to sell the rest of the weekend; he'd only had time to do half the batch this morning, and they'd almost sold out of them before closing.

"You are still here." Ivory stood in the doorway to the storage room. Raphael may or may not have left the service door open. The excuse may or may not have been 'fresh air'.

"Yep." Raphael finished kneading the marzipan for the cover, and put it through the pastry machine to be rolled out thinly. "Did you just close up?"

"Mmh. Came by to see if you were home."

At this Raphael paused. Ivory had never paid him a private call before. "Given how much time I spend in here, one could say this is actually where I live," he said. "What's up?"

Ivory shrugged.

Raphael put the slab of marzipan through the pastry machine again. It came out marginally thinner. He repeated the process another three times.

"I wanted to ask you out," Ivory said after a while. "On a date."

"Date? Already? I was enjoying this slow burn." Raphael gestured between them. The fire had only just gotten started. He adjusted the settings on the pastry machine and put the marzipan through again.

He felt Ivory's eyes on him.

"You didn't say no."

"What'd you have in mind?" Raphael finally deemed the marzipan thin enough and carried it over to his work station.

"I signed us up for swing dance class. First class is tonight."

Coconut and liquorice, Raphael thought. Hidden under a cover of white chocolate. Sweet and surprising. Not tart at all. He turned to look at Ivory, who was, for once, completely unreadable. "Very forward of you. How many dates is that?"

The corner of Ivory's left eye crinkled. "The first one's a tryout class. I always wanted to learn."

"And you want me to learn with you?"

"I suspect swing dance is more fun with a partner."

"Mmh." Raphael turned his attention back to the marzipan to cut it to measure. "Do you know how to assemble Honeycakes?"

"Honeycakes?"

Raphael pointed at Luvander's work station, where Raphael had put down the Honeycakes. He'd already cut them lengthwise, they just needed filling, coating and slicing. "You do these while I finish up this Othello. I want a shower before I go out with you."

Silence. Then: "What do I do?"

"Apple jam on the bottom half, buttercream on the top half, assemble, chocolate coating on top. Sprinkles. Cut." Raphael pointed his thumb at the storage room. "Jam and buttercream in the fridge."

Ivory vanished into the storage room, then reappeared carrying two white buckets neatly labelled in Raphael's hand, and set to work.

"That's a yes?" Ivory asked after a while, having assembled the first five cakes.

"Something like that," Raphael replied. He was frowning at the Othello and counting the layers. Something seemed off, but all the layers were there. "Like I said, I was enjoying the wait. What's wrong with this cake?"

Without looking, Ivory replied, "knowing you, probably the alcohol content."

"Oh! Right. Of course. I forgot the port."

Ivory laughed quietly and Raphael filed the sound away. The alcohol cupboard in the storage room was a mess of half empty bottles, almost empty bottles and only a few unopened ones. They were low on rum, it looked like, and Raphael made a mental note to put in an order for more. He found the port hiding behind an almost empty bottle of almond liqueur.

He almost tripped over Ivory, as he was standing right behind Raphael when he turned around.

"Why wait?" Ivory asked. "I don't want to wait anymore. I want to know if we're on the same page."

"We're on the same page." Raphael stepped up to him, his eyes flickering to Ivory's lips, then up at his eyes. "Just. Let me fall in love with you slowly, yeah?"

"I -" Ivory's throat made a little sound. His eyes had darkened, and Raphael was sure it wasn't a trick of light. He'd had those lightbulbs changed two weeks ago. "Okay," Ivory said, voice rough. "Okay."

Raphael touched his thumb to Ivory's bottom lip. "Thank you."

The End