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falling doesn't feel so bad (when i know you've fallen this way too)

Chapter Text

15 März 2024

 

“Thirty seconds to spare,” Amira chastises him gently when he bursts through the back door. She’s standing at the glass doors leading into the restaurant, one hand on the “store open” sign and the other on her hip.

 

“I know, I know, sorry.” Matteo deftly catches the apron that Mohammed tosses at him from behind the counter and ties it hastily as he rushes into the kitchen. “I was fighting some asshole at the market for the last package of black garlic.”

 

“Did you get it?”

 

Matteo takes the little plastic container, several bulbs’ worth of the stuff inside, gingerly out of his bag and shows it proudly to Mohammed. “Paid a pretty penny for it, too. But it’ll taste divine.”

 

Amira flips the sign as the clock strikes eight. Matteo fires up the grill and goes through his routine mise en place: getting together the supplies he needs to make his specials of the day, as well as their popular items. He toasts bread, chops vegetables, and mixes sauces with an easy, practiced hand, all the while offhandedly taking stock of the fridges and what’s running low, noting the items in a hasty scrawl on the whiteboard.

 

The first hour or two, things are relatively slow in the sandwich department; most of their morning crowd comes in for hot drinks and Mohammed’s freshly-baked goods that he preps a couple hours before opening, so that he can take them out of the oven just as their earliest birds arrive to pick up donuts and coffee before work. Matteo will sometimes put crepes on the specials menu if he’s feeling up to it, enjoys their golden curling edges and the fresh fruit he’ll put in them. But typically he just sticks to his breakfast wraps and Toastbrötchen, lets himself take it slow before their lunch rush each day.

 

Closer to noon is when Matteo gets antsy and starts checking his watch more and more, between each sandwich he makes, each customer he greets, each time he flits between the fridge and the serving counter and the grill. His black garlic aioli for today’s special is garnering high praise from customers, Amira tells him, but he hardly hears her. He pretends to not see the knowing glances that she and Mohammed shoot at each other, just tries to push down his anticipation and keep working. Finally, at a little more than half past twelve, the bell ringing above the door prompts him to look up for what feels like the hundredth time, and his heart stutters at the pair of dark brown eyes that immediately find him as their owner takes his customary seat at the counter, at the end that’s closest to where Matteo works behind the grill.

 

“Hello, David! What can I get you today?” As usual, Amira saves him from having to speak in coherent sentences right away. He always has to take a minute to remember how to breathe properly, let alone talk, when David walks in. David, with his full head of soft curls and even softer smile, his eyelashes that are far too long for him to just flaunt them around like this. In his restaurant, no less, Matteo thinks, a little crazily. If it were possible for his thoughts to be out of breath, they would be.

 

“Just fleischwurst on rye, I think.” David’s eyes shift to her when he gives her his order, but refocus on Matteo once she’s walked back to pin the slip on the ticket holder. There are three orders ahead of David’s and he has to look at their tickets multiple times to remember what they are because his brain keeps short-circuiting.

 

Fleischwurst is one of David’s habitual orders. He never gets anything complicated, if not fleischwurst then just a Käsetoast with crevettes or the occasional Lachs auf Sonnenblumenbrot. Matteo is waiting for the day when he can show off his skills at crafting a more elaborate sandwich. But however simple David’s wishes may be, the care that Matteo takes to make his orders is never diminished.

 

He slips past Mohammed and sets David’s plate down in front of him. Brown eyes catch blue, hold him there where he’s bent forward, in David’s space, heart racing madly, and it’s like the world around them stops for a moment, stills in the wake of thoughts unvoiced and gazes unbroken.

 

“Can I get you anything else?” Matteo asks, knowing already what the answer will be.

 

“Some napkins, please.” David smiles that soft smile. Matteo grabs a handful for him. “Thank you.”

 

There’s the smile again, and Matteo lets it wash over him like sunlight. “Let me know how the food is,” he says, like he always does.

 

“I will,” David says, like he always does.

 

Matteo returns to the kitchen and tries very hard to not watch. He doesn’t succeed. David picks up his sandwich in one hand and takes a careful bite as he retrieves a pen from his bag with the other.

 

He draws on four napkins today. Matteo definitely isn’t counting. A little bit of mustard sticks to his bottom lip and Matteo definitely does not feel his mouth go dry when he sees David’s tongue dart out to swipe it away.

 

When Amira goes to clear away his empty plate and napkins, she puts the plate on top of the growing pile in the sink, but sets the napkins on the uppermost shelf of his ingredient rack instead of throwing them away. She smirks at Matteo, who sticks out his tongue at her.

 

“Thanks,” he says anyway.

 

A few minutes later, David goes to pay at the register and Matteo hurries out of the kitchen to meet him there, swallowing down his shyness to give David a grin of his own. He hopes his forehead isn’t sweaty, and that his heart isn’t as visible as it feels on his sleeve.

 

“Can I tell you something?”

 

This is new. Matteo stares at him, while thinking don’t stare don’t stare don’t stare.

 

“Yes?”

 

“You, ah. Have something in your hair.” Matteo’s hand flies up immediately to pat at his scalp but David beats him to it. “Here.”

 

The pressure of David’s fingers is at once too much and not nearly enough as he plucks the thing out of Matteo’s hair and holds it up to him. It’s a little piece of the garlic.

 

“Hah.” Matteo tries to remember actual words. “Uh, thanks.” A beat, and then, “Aioli.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Black garlic aioli. That’s what that’s for.”

 

David just nods, pursing his lips slightly. Matteo hands him another napkin so he can wipe his hand clean.

 

“I’ve never had it before.”

 

Matteo looks away, then looks back. Those same intense brown eyes lock onto what feels like his very soul.

 

“Do you, um. Want to try some? In a sandwich, I mean, not on its own.” Matteo wants to hit himself for how stupid he must sound.

 

There’s something unreadable in David’s eyes. Matteo doesn’t want to dwell on it.

 

“Sure,” David says.

 

“I can give you something to go if you’re short on time,” Matteo offers.

 

“That would be good.”

 

“Okay, just give me a minute and I’ll have that out for you.” Matteo walks back to the kitchen and looks around, a little lost for the first time in his kitchen because he has no plan, no predetermined formula. His goal right now is to just make something that will make David happy. And the fact that it could be any number of things overwhelms him a little.

 

“Okay, okay,” Matteo mutters under his breath, fingers dancing over the ingredients laid out before him. He grabs some rye that he’d been toasting on the grill, spreads a thick layer of butter, and lays down a few slices of tomato, some chives, and a healthy serving of creamy, sautéed mushrooms. A dollop of cream cheese on top that he smooths around with a spoon so it holds the vegetables together. Thin slices of prosciutto topped with salt and pepper and fresh thyme. Lastly, he zig zags the aioli over everything and places the other piece of bread on top.

 

Pleased with his creation, he wraps the sandwich and emerges from the kitchen. David’s eyes crinkle at the edges as he takes the bag.

 

“Thank you, Matteo.”

 

The sound of his name on David’s lips is like something out of a dream. Matteo clears his throat, out of nerves, or maybe out of a sudden urge to blurt out something stupid, he doesn’t know. Instead, he braces his hands on either side of the register and says, “No charge. It’s my treat.”

 

David opens his mouth, seemingly to object, and Matteo stops him. Ends up saying something stupid and risky and brave anyway.

 

“All I ask in return is that you tell me what you thought of it, next time you’re in here.”

 

David’s eyes, deep and intense as they can be, are nothing but warm as he nods. He looks thoughtful, even hesitant, a quirk playing around his lips.

 

“Actually, I wanted to say something different earlier, but I chickened out.”

 

“Ask away.” Matteo’s heart is pounding.

 

“You’re the chef. Usually the chef doesn’t… do this, right? Check out the customers.” David gestures at the cash register. “So. I guess, I’ve just been wondering.”

 

Matteo thinks for a second about how to reply without sounding like the lovesick idiot that he is.

 

Well, you’re the only customer I check out, if you get my drift.

 

“Well, I just like to interface with my more loyal customers.”

 

It’s a bald-faced lie. He normally lets Amira and Mohammed handle the register for all of their patrons, regular or not, and only makes a point to come out of the kitchen every time David is paying his bill.

 

“It’s not because you’re afraid I’m going to dine and dash?” David jokes, a twinkle in his eye.

 

Theatrically, Matteo puts a hand over his heart. “Never.”

 

David chuckles and it’s the most wonderful sound Matteo’s heard all week, maybe ever. That’s what he thinks every time David laughs, though.

 

“Well, thanks again, for this.” David shakes the to-go bag and at last takes his leave. The second he’s disappeared down the street, Mohammed runs over and elbows him so hard in the ribs that Matteo doubles over, winded.

 

Fuck, dude, what gives?”

 

“That was so good! Wasn’t that good, Amira?” Mohammed’s glee is unrestrained. “You two are gonna be so cute together.”

 

“Let’s not jump the gun here,” Matteo warns.

 

“Oh yeah, for sure, that’s what we need to be worrying about, is you rushing into this.” Amira rolls her eyes. “It’s been almost three months, Matteo.”

 

“That’s not that long for a regular! Some people have been coming here for years.”

 

“It’s more than long enough for you to be pining after him like a useless goopy mess.” Amira complains. “Besides, he’s in here like four days out of the week and I’m sure it’s not because he’s in love with me or Mohammed.”

 

“I mean, are you sure, though? Look at me.” Mohammed gestures up and down his body. Amira whips her dish towel at him and Matteo can’t help but laugh when he leaps away from her with a yelp.

 

“The woman with the cold gaze and the towel,” he whines. “Dangerous.”

 

“I’ll show you dangerous,” Amira counters, backing him up slowly towards the walk-in. Matteo watches them fondly, but with that familiar ache in his heart.

 

The rest of the day stretches out endlessly before him like it tends to do after a particularly good David interaction. Every word they’ve spoken to each other in the last twelve weeks sticks to the inside of Matteo’s skull like ink.

 

Speaking of ink, the only thing that makes time go a little faster is when he’s able to take a break near closing to admire David’s drawings for the day. His linework is exceptional as always; on one napkin he’d sketched the interior of the restaurant from his perspective, little people sitting in little chairs eating little sandwiches. On another he’s drawn what looks like Landungsbrücken at the Port of Hamburg, if he’s guessed correctly based on the clock tower.

 

The other two napkins are portraits. One is an elderly woman with a kind face looking out of a bus window, someone David must have drawn from memory after seeing her on public transit. The other one, Matteo realizes with a jolt, is him, if the messy hair and droopy eyes are any indication. The angle of it clearly shows that David had drawn Matteo as he saw him through the serving window from where he sat today. He distinctly feels his heart skip a beat, or several.

 

He remembers the first time Mohammed had barged into the kitchen after they’d closed for the day and demanded unabashedly to see the napkins clutched in Matteo’s hands.

 

(“Amira said that David drew me today, show me show me show me show me.”

 

The sketch was small and rough but undoubtedly Mohammed, with his lion’s mane and indulgent smile, serving a plate of croissants to a customer.

 

“Okay, now you have to date him because I need more.” Mohammed held the little drawing of himself up to the light, staring at it in awe. “Can I keep this?”

 

“Mohammed, no.”

 

“No, I can’t keep it, or no, you won’t date him?” Mohammed poked his side.

 

“No, it’s--” Matteo shoved him away. “You can keep it, yeah. But I don’t even know him.”

 

“Yeah, and you can change that by, I don’t know, talking to him.”

 

Matteo didn’t reply, just bit his lip and tugged anxiously at the hem of his apron.)

 

He thinks back to that time David had drawn Amira counting money at the register and had managed to capture her face in a moment of quiet happiness. It was the kind of contentedness that would only settle over her like a soft veil if a customer complimented her hijab, or whenever Mohammed caught her by the waist in private and snuck chaste kisses on her cheek.

 

(“It’s true, you do go all soft and mushy,” Matteo teased.

 

“Fuck off, I do not.”

 

Mohammed chose that moment to come up behind her and hook an arm around her waist, pulling her against his chest. She tried to slap him away but to no avail. “This proves nothing,” she informed Matteo, blushing despite herself.

 

“What proves nothing?”

 

“Amira gets all gross and lovey-dovey around you and she won’t admit it.”

 

“Not more lovey-dovey than me.” He pressed his cheek against his fiancée’s head and she let out a squeal of protest. “Mohammed!”

 

“I know you’re engaged, but get a room.” Matteo covered his eyes, feeling his own cheeks redden.)

 

But this, this is the first time David’s ever drawn Matteo in their three months of touch-and-go flirting and what Matteo has deemed “significant eye contact” because he’s absolutely a mature adult. He studies the rendition of himself, tries to remember which moment from earlier today David must have picked to immortalize on this little white canvas.

 

“Less pining, more washing dishes.”

 

Mohammed snapping his fingers makes Matteo look up in time to see him come into the kitchen with a stack of empty trays that he has to pile haphazardly into the overflowing sink.

 

“Oh, fuck, sorry.” Matteo sets the napkins back down on the ingredient rack so that he can help Mohammed load the dishwasher. There’s only silence for a few minutes, before the latter says what Matteo’s been thinking since David left.

 

“You really need to go get that boy.”

 

Matteo doesn’t want to admit that he’s right, but he is. He just huffs a little through his nose and carries on, ignoring Mohammed’s furtive glances. Amira comes to the serving window and hangs over the sill, wiping pretend sweat off her brow.

 

“Matteo, we have a couple last-minute takeout orders. But other than that we’re good to close.”

 

She brandishes the tickets at him and he looks resignedly at the sink they’d just managed to clear. “Okay, okay.”

 

Finally, they get the last customers out, they’re done and Matteo can relax, except he can’t because he can’t get stupid Mohammed’s stupid words out of his brain. But he’s stuck here, for the time being, until the next time David walks through that door.

 

And maybe next time, maybe he’ll muster up the courage to do what he’s wanted to do for the past three months.

 

For tonight, though, he’ll just go home and run his fingers over the lines of his own face that David had traced earlier that day, and wonder. And hope.

Chapter Text

2 März 2024

Matteo looked extra sleepy today, David noticed when he walked in.  But somehow it only added to the charm of the way he yawned and  ruffled his hair before he caught David’s eye from the serving window.

Matteo gave him a small, shy smile.

David ate slowly that day.

He sketched lazily, letting his pen bleed through the napkins, breathing black tendrils through delicate white fibers. Like catching a wandering ghost, if lost spirits could be trapped in the spaces between ink and canvas.

He wanted more chances to observe Matteo as he bustled around the kitchen, calling to Amira when orders were ready and, more than once, shoving Mohammed playfully when they crossed paths coming in and out of the kitchen.

He wanted to know what it was like to spend hours working alongside Matteo every day, to watch him put his skills to the test and come up with the exciting dishes that clearly brought him so much joy.

David had never been the adventurous type when it came to food. He was used to getting what he knew he liked and not having to dwell on choices he’d never made before. He didn’t like to go above and beyond just for a meal, which was the original reason why he had come into this place only a couple blocks away from his new job in Berlin. He was hungry, he needed a meal, and he got one. Safe and efficient problem-solving.

It wasn’t so simple now, and for a boy from Hamburg who had longed his whole life for everything else to be as simple as a sandwich, it felt like he had been doing this to himself without realizing, up until now.

No longer did he come into the shop just because he knew exactly how crispy the bread will be every time, or because he could get one of Mohammed’s cranberry muffins to go if he felt like it.

Somewhere down the line, he’d started coming for that recognizable shock of blond hair that usually stuck every which way while still falling into a pair of forget-me-not blue eyes, because he really could never forget Matteo. Wouldn’t begin to dream of it. No, these days, he cared more about the careful hands making his sandwich than the sandwich itself, and he found himself holding his breath to fully take in the timbre of Matteo’s gentle voice whenever he spoke to David.

And yet. He knew that despite the difference in his motivations now versus then, that didn’t mean he wasn’t just another regular to Matteo, another check he could count on cashing in. Sometimes he could almost convince himself into thinking that Matteo did notice him that way as well--he’d caught him staring enough times that it was plausible--but David liked to chalk it up to the fact that he was just weird.

He did tend to stand out, after all. The strange guy who worked in a theatre and always wore black from head to toe. The brooding artist who drew on his napkins and ordered the same boring things every time.

The boy who--well, who had to try harder than other boys to be seen as who he was.

David didn’t blame Matteo, if he could see right through him.

***

9 März 2024

He was late to work today, and late getting out for lunch, so it was almost one o’clock when he finally made it into the shop and he only had half an hour to eat.

Amira brought him his order. “Need anything else, David?” She placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m fine, Amira, thanks.” He managed to get the words out while wolfing down half of his food in a couple of bites. “Just got a lot going on today.”

She nodded at him, pursing her lips slightly. “Doing okay?”

He did a half-shrug. It was about as accurate a reflection of his mood as anything. “Oh, you know how it goes. Sometimes…” He paused. “Feels like everything’s happening at once.”

Amira nodded again, face softening. “Of course, we all have those days.”

David didn’t tell her it had been more like weeks, or months. Instead, he steered the conversation away from himself.

“Tell me what’s going on here lately. I heard Matteo was looking to set up some events here or something like that?” He’d gotten wind of the news through a few of his colleagues at the theatre, who had apparently received phone calls from Matteo asking if they had anyone interested in singing for modest pay and free food. Niko and Samer had both apparently found it very amusing, but David had been deathly afraid that they would jokingly recommend David to perform there, and then Matteo would have found out in the most embarrassing way possible that David sings.

“Yeah, he wants to make this place a little more youth-friendly. Which is funny because we’re all under twenty-five, but our customers tend to be on the older side.” Amira laughs. “We thought that letting a few bands book gigs here would do the trick, but we need to do a lot more before we can actually use this as a space for performers.”

“I know a thing or two about performance spaces,” David grinned. “If you need some help on that front, I’d be glad to do what I can.”

“Would you really?” Amira grasped his shoulder gratefully. “That would be a really big help.”

“I have some sound engineer buddies I can call in.” David scrawled down some names on his one remaining clean napkin. “And set builders. See if we can’t wrangle up a decent stage for you as well.”

“This is very kind, but I feel like we would be asking too much of you.”

“Not at all.” David shook his head. He would do anything to make Matteo happy, of course, ridiculous as it may have sounded.

“Then, let me at least comp your meal for today.” Amira told him.

David laughed. “Okay, fine. I’ll let you know what I manage to figure out and we’ll see if we can have your first band night in here by the end of the month.”

Amira gave him a high five. “Dude, I’m so excited.”

Chapter Text

22 März 2024

 

It’s a late night at the theatre, busy and hectic as Fridays tend to be, and there’s always more to be done so David has stayed behind to try and make a dent in their workload. The torrential rain that started this morning still hasn’t let up by the time David checks his phone to see that it’s nearly ten o’clock. Worse, though, is the notification he’s gotten that the last bus of the night for his route has been cancelled due to a water main break that’s closed down the main road it runs on. He lives too far away to walk unprotected in this kind of rain and make it home without getting pneumonia.

 

“Fuck,” he mutters, kicking the little stepstool that’s next to his desk so that it tumbles away and lands on its side a few feet away.

 

He considers his options as he picks absently at one of his nails. It’s possible he could raid the lost-and-found box for someone’s forgotten umbrella but even then he would still have to walk several kilometers home. He could sleep in the theatre, but might end up freezing his ass off because the air gets shut off at night and spring has only barely started, if the cold snap that’s descended upon Berlin is any indication that the weather is still finicky. If only he hadn’t been so noble as to be the only one left in the building to keep chipping away at their piles of paperwork, he might have been able to cop a ride from Samer before he’d left. Calling someone to come pick him up would make him feel like too much of a burden.

 

He pulls out his phone anyway, biting his lip and scrolling through his contacts list, trying to remember who lives nearby. He texts a couple of people asking to crash at their place and taps out a few more emails, fills out an insurance form, and reads over what little progress he’s made on his script today before he gets a reply from one friend.

 

sorry bro i’m out of town until monday. maybe try stefan? doesn’t he live near Schönhauser Allee

 

David wrinkles his nose. Stefan is one person he hadn’t considered asking for help, mostly because he’s a bit of a pretentious asshole even if he is good at what he does.

 

His phone goes off again and the text from his old roommate says no sorry i’m too drunk to drive and also mmmight get laid lol, because his friends understandably are out drinking and having fun on a Friday night like most people are. David’s used to missing out on having a social life; it’s never really been his scene, after all. Nothing is that appealing to him about going out and getting shitfaced at a bar or hooking up with strangers.

 

Hooking up isn’t exactly something he can do as easily as other people, anyway. Not that he would if he could. Not that he’s ever thought anyone would want to hook up with him. Not that--

 

He tosses his phone aside with a noise of frustration and shoves himself back in his chair so he rolls away from his desk, hitting the wall behind him, bringing his hands up to knead at his face as he slumps down in his seat and contemplates his life choices.

 

And then he stands up and packs his things and he just goes. But when he steps outside the theatre, he doesn’t have a plan, he’s not thinking about where he’s going. He just turns left because it’s automatic at this point; he’s not thinking about it because he doesn’t need to. He just sprints through the rain that stings his skin like bullets and when he reaches Matteo’s restaurant, he skids to a halt so abrupt that he sends water flying in every direction.

 

It’s empty of customers and though the lights are still on inside, they’re dim. Matteo is by himself, his back to David, sweeping the floor. And he’s dancing. David can hear the faint pulse of whatever he’s listening to through the glass, although he can’t tell what song it actually is. Matteo is swaying his hips as he moves between the tables, and he swings his broom to the beat of the music, brandishing it wildly enough that David forgets for a few wonderful moments how cold and drenched to the skin he is.

 

And then Matteo turns and sees him and David feels like a deer caught in headlights, heart racing like he’s seen something forbidden.

 

In a flash, Matteo’s scrambling to turn off his music from the little CD player perched on the counter and letting the broom fall from his grasp. It’s barely clattered to the ground before Matteo has reached the door and flung it open.

 

“David, you--” Matteo’s expression is a mixture of embarrassed and horrified, though he still ushers David inside quickly. “God, you’re soaked. What are you doing here?”

 

“M-missed my bus,” David says. It’s much warmer inside the restaurant but his teeth betray him nonetheless, chattering as his body fully registers the amount of water cooling on his skin. “Didn’t know w-where else to go.”

 

“Let me get you dried off.” Matteo takes his arm and guides him gently to a chair before he runs off to the kitchen. David just sits there in a daze until he gets back with an armful of towels.

 

“Sorry about the coffee stains, I promise these have all been through the wash.”

 

David takes them gratefully. “It’s totally fine. Thank you.” He dabs at his face and tries to pat his hair dry without turning it into a disaster. “Fuck, man, I didn’t think this through at all.”

 

“No kidding.” Matteo barks out a laugh. It surprises David a little, but sets off something in him that he doesn’t quite know how to describe. Like how he had felt when he’d held a sparkler for the first time when he was little.

 

Matteo’s smile is leagues brighter than that sparkler, and David can’t take his eyes off it.

 

He manages to tear his gaze away before it gets too weird and busies himself with wrapping one of the larger towels around himself. His wet clothes stick to him uncomfortably but he’s at least warmed up enough now to talk normally.

 

“Uh,” he says.

 

Well, maybe it turns out he can’t talk for a different reason.

 

“Sorry,” he tries again. “You can go back to…” He gestures at the abandoned broom still lying on the floor. “What you were doing. Don’t let me get in your way.”

 

Matteo rubs his neck sheepishly. “Did you see any of that?”

 

David has to hold back a snort. “Maybe a little.”

 

“Oh, no.” Matteo covers his eyes and takes a few steps away from David before he spins back around, a self-conscious smile on his lips. “I have to ban you from my restaurant now.”

 

“I won’t tell anyone, I promise.” David crosses his heart. “You have my word.”

 

“How do I know I can trust you?”

 

“You just have to,” David shrugs. “Besides, if you banned me, I’d have to find a new sandwich place. Would you really do that to me?”

 

Matteo shakes his head, snickering. “Never. You’re literally my best customer.”

 

David is about to reply, I’m honored, but he’s interrupted by a sneeze he doesn’t see coming.

 

“Shit.” Matteo is instantly next to him, brow furrowed in worry. “I’m so stupid. Um, we have a washer and dryer in the back. I can dry your clothes for you so you don’t catch a cold.”

 

David feels the world shrink around him, like his skin is suddenly too tight. It’s a feeling he’s had all his life, a feeling that had only worsened over the years as his body changed in ways he wishes it never had. He has to clench the sides of his seat and plant his feet on the ground so he doesn’t spiral into a panic right there in front of Matteo.

 

Matteo must sense it radiating from him anyway, because now there are more wrinkles on his forehead when he follows up with, “Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to strip in front of me or anything. I can unlock the employee bathroom for you and you can wash up in there and do whatever you need to.”

 

And that’s when David knows he’s really gone for this boy.

 

--

 

He breathes in, breathes out, and slowly lets his gaze travel down his own reflection.

 

Standing mostly naked in a tiny little washroom isn’t how he imagined he would be spending his Friday night. But here he is, in just his boxers and binder, bare toes tensed against the cold tile.

 

He’s arranged his wet clothes in a pile on the edge of the sink, and with slightly trembling fingers he pulls on the bulky leather jacket that Matteo had lent him to cover up with in the meantime. The silky interior of it is cool against his skin but it quickly traps his body heat to warm him up. The sleeves are a little too long and he lets the thick cuffs cover his fingers. It makes him feel safe. Protected.

 

He cracks the door open an inch. “You there, Matteo?”

 

“Right here for you.” Matteo replies softly.

 

David is a little weak in the knees. He slowly opens the door more until the gap is just wide enough for him to stick his armful of clothes out to Matteo, who takes them, one of his hands brushing briefly against David’s. The quickest of touches, startlingly warm for how fleeting it is, there one second and gone the next.

 

“I’ll get these dry in no time, just sit tight where you are.”

 

“Thank you,” David says, a little hoarsely, throat strained with something between gratitude and the feeling that he doesn’t deserve such unquestioning care.

 

He hears Matteo’s retreating footsteps and, some seconds later, the faint rattling of metal against plaster as he starts up the dryer.

 

David shuts the door quietly, swiveling to once again look at himself in the mirror and sighing because he knows what he needs to do. Reluctantly, he sheds Matteo’s jacket and hangs it back onto the hook on the back of the door.

 

His binder hadn’t gotten too wet in the rain since he was outside for so short a time, but it’s still damp enough to warrant laying it out for a bit to air-dry until the rest of his clothes are returned to him. Unfastening the binder is enough of a hassle already on normal days but it seems to cling particularly tightly to him now, and he has to spend an extra minute wriggling out of its clutches.

 

The first breath of air he draws into his lungs after they’ve been constricted for hours is always a relief.

 

He closes his eyes and, for a few moments, just focuses on inhaling and exhaling steadily. The rise and fall of his chest and the slow spread of warmth throughout it, as his circulation returns to normal.

 

And when he opens his eyes, he’s able to look down at himself with some semblance of peace, if only temporary.

 

He gently drapes his binder across the sink and then fiddles with the waistband of his boxers, which are not wet so much as just a little cooler to the touch than normal. Thankful he doesn’t need to strip completely naked, he slips Matteo’s jacket back on and zips it up.

 

David isn’t quite sure how he’s supposed to be feeling in this moment.

 

No matter how well he may think he knows Matteo, he also knows that he doesn’t know the boy at all. And yet Matteo has helped him without an ounce of hesitation or reservation. He can’t imagine Matteo would be like this with anyone else, as self-absorbed as that makes David sound. There’s just something about Matteo, he can’t pinpoint it, but something generous and intimate and a little scary in how ready he seems to be there for David. To be with him.

 

As if on cue, there’s a soft knock on the door.

 

David moves so he’s standing a few inches away from it before he speaks. “I’m here.”

 

“Um, I was just.” Matteo stops in the middle of his sentence.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Sorry, this might be awkward of me.” David can hear how his voice is still tinged with embarrassment. It is frustratingly endearing. “I just felt bad that you’d be sitting in there alone so I, um. Wanted to talk to you, I guess?”

 

His voice goes up an octave at the end like he’s doubting everything he’s saying, and David involuntarily puts a hand flat against the door.

 

“That’s not awkward. It’s very sweet of you.” That tension is back in his throat now, the feeling he can’t articulate out loud that Matteo’s sweetness is the kind that David has yearned for, has been missing all these years he’s spent trying to fit into a bland and boring world.

 

He’s sitting alone in a bathroom in Matteo’s restaurant, with Matteo’s jacket protectively shielding his unbound chest, and his clothes drying in Matteo’s dryer, and still Matteo apparently feels like he hasn’t done enough if he doesn’t keep David company.

 

He’s not going to be able to say no to Matteo after this. He hopes that he won’t need to, or want to, for that matter.

 

There’s shuffling on the other side of the door and then what sounds like Matteo sliding down to sit on the ground against the wood. David pulls up the chair that Matteo had left for him inside so he wouldn’t need to sit on the bathroom floor.

 

Silence, for a few moments, is heavy but not unsettling between them. Then Matteo takes a breath and he says, “You’ve been coming here all the time for so long now but I feel like I should get to know you more as a person.”

 

David has to lean his forehead against the door so he doesn’t pass out from shock. He can’t answer right away.

 

“David?”

 

“Sorry,” he says quickly. “You’re totally right. I was actually thinking about that earlier too.”

 

Matteo chuckles lightly. It makes David feel sugary and soft and gross inside.

 

“So, then, tell me about yourself.”

 

David squeezes his eyes shut. “Where to begin?” Where, indeed.

 

There is too much he has to say, too much he wants Matteo to know. The things in those two categories overlap for the most part, though, which makes it a little easier.

 

He starts with what he figures is the normal stuff, the information that is safe and expected. He tells Matteo that he graduated with a degree in design but that he’s always just wanted to write and to direct, to create worlds and tell their stories. David tells him about what it’s like to work in an independent theatre, always losing sleep but never losing love for what he does. Matteo tells David that he gets the same feeling from working in his restaurant.

 

“Lucky us,” David says, “that we both found our calling.”

 

“Yours is cooler though.”

 

“Nah, dude. No one would get anywhere without food, so you’re in the best industry out there.”

 

“I don’t know about that,” Matteo says cheekily. “They say art feeds the soul.”

 

“Touché.” David is glad that Matteo can’t see the stupid grin on his face.

 

“Also, now I feel like I need to go and see all of the shows you help produce because of all the business you’ve given me.”

 

David hums in agreement. “It’s only fair, I suppose.”

 

“Do you act in any of them?”

 

“I used to,” David says. “Things… changed a few years ago and now I just stay behind the scenes most of the time.”

 

He doesn’t tell Matteo that what changed was his entire identity and the debilitating crisis he’d had over it. Niko and Samer and all the others who’d been his friends already had dealt with his transition like champions, but he couldn’t deal with the whispers and glances he would get in the dressing room from actors he didn’t know. Having to come out over and over to every new costume designer and wardrobe crew member was panic-inducing to the point of him throwing up before fittings and dress rehearsals.

 

Eventually, it got to the point where he had to stop performing in front of audiences altogether.

 

Now, when the lights go up on stage, he retreats into the shadows of the wings, the booths above the audience, and the shops in the basement. He stays anywhere that he can be invisible most of the time, and usually in a position of high enough power that his authority won’t be questioned. That’s how he likes it. Maximum security, minimum risk.

 

Matteo doesn’t question what he says, just gives a hum of acknowledgement and asks, “Do you enjoy it?”

 

David isn’t used to people caring, isn’t even used to people asking if they’re not in the same field as him, but he can hear the genuine interest in Matteo’s voice.

 

“Yeah. I guess theatre is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Well, that’s not true. I also would like to go into film at some point.”

 

“Like little independent films or big Hollywood blockbusters?”

 

“Both, I guess. I don’t know about the whole name-in-shining-lights type of fame, though. That’s not really my brand.”

 

“What is your brand, then?”

 

David pauses, trying to decide if his gut response is inadvisable. But he thinks, Fuck it .

 

“Vampires. Or aliens, stuff like that. What you would consider edgy shit, I guess, but I don’t like to think of it that way.”

 

“I like aliens.” Matteo says, and he sounds like a little kid so David has to hold back a laugh. “Space, in general.”

 

“I like how fucking terrified it makes me feel,” David says unthinkingly. “Thinking about being out there, except out there is really nowhere. So much nothingness. It takes off some of the pressure of existing here, where everyone wants you to be something.”

 

Sometimes I just want to be nothing.

 

He doesn’t say the last part out loud, already knows he’s babbling. Matteo is silent for a few moments and David thinks that he’s gone and ruined it so early on, but then.

 

“I used to want to go out into space just so I could scream where I wouldn’t even be able to hear myself.”

 

And David feels his heart seize up, like someone’s reached into his chest and taken hold of the muscle, even as it beats frantically against his rib cage like it’s trying to escape its fate. It’s painful, and it’s unmistakable, and this is how David knows that he’s in love.

 

He kind of can’t believe how easy it is to talk to Matteo like this, like they’ve known each other for years even though they’re only having their first real conversation, as themselves and not as chef to customer.

 

David loses track of how many times he presses his forehead against the door as he giggles at something Matteo says, and how many minutes pass them by as they chatter on like old friends, souls who knew each other a lifetime or two or ten ago. He only knows that he’s stopped thinking about everything weighing down on him at the moment in favor of searching for his next words that will make Matteo snort, or groan good-naturedly, or sigh in a way that twists David’s insides up like taffy. 

 

Eventually, Matteo realizes that the dryer has long since stopped, and he runs to get David’s clothes for him. David doesn’t want to say goodbye to Matteo’s jacket, but he reluctantly takes it off and puts his binder back on. In those precious minutes, he’d felt like his whole world had shrunk down until it seemed nothing existed outside the walls of Matteo’s restaurant. But as he looks at himself in the mirror again and smooths his hands down his flattened chest, it all comes rushing back, as all-consuming and unstoppable as a black hole.

 

He comes out of the bathroom to Matteo looking at him with that shy smile again, and David can’t help but smile back. They hold themselves there for a moment and David lets himself pretend a little longer that they’re still the only two people in the world, just for a second, because the pitch black night outside the windows might as well be that of deep space. The rain has stopped.

 

“It’s late. I’m sorry to have kept you this late,” David apologizes like it’s second nature.

 

“Don’t be, seriously. I’m glad you dropped by even if it was because of the shitty weather.”

 

“Yeah, I’m… glad too.” David says it slowly, because he’s surprised by how true it is. He looks at his phone then, and brings a hand to his face. “Fuck me, it’s almost midnight. I don’t know how I’m getting home.”

 

Matteo’s embarrassed again, because he flushes enough for the color to spread down his neck. David wants to reach out and see if his skin feels as warm as it looks.

 

“I only have a bike because I live close by, but I could possibly give you a ride home?”

 

“Not a chance,” David says immediately. “I’m too far away from here for you to ride there and back.”

 

Matteo bites his lip and David knows then that he’s done for.

 

“Then… at least let me take you back to my flatshare? We have a pretty nice couch, and food, and hopefully whatever else you might need.”

 

David freezes up because he knows that it would be a bad idea not to turn his very tempting offer down, but he’s so lost in the blue of Matteo’s eyes that he forgets how to say no.

 

“Are you sure it won’t be any trouble for you?”

 

“Not at all. My flatmates are all gone and even if they come back, they’re all very nice. They won’t question it if someone’s sleeping over, we have people pass out in the living room all the time.”

 

David feels like he’s been treading water for so long that he’s forgotten how it feels to be on dry land. And here’s Matteo, throwing him a lifesaver and taking him to the shore he’d never thought he’d see again.

 

“Okay. Thank you. So much. I mean it.”

 

Matteo leads him out back to where his bike is, wiping the rainwater off the seat and the pillion with a rag he’d taken from the kitchen before swinging his leg over and nudging the kickstand up with his foot.

 

“Hop on.”

 

David does. He doesn’t know where to put his hands, first grabbing the back of the pillion with both of them before opting to gently grip Matteo by the waist. “This is okay?”

 

“Completely,” Matteo assures him, and with no further ceremony, zips off into the night.

Chapter Text

19 Februar 2024

 

It was one of those days where Matteo woke up and wished he hadn’t.

 

Every little inconvenience irked him unreasonably. He felt little twinges everywhere in his body that he couldn’t make sense of and grimaced his way through his morning routine. On days like this Matteo tended to ignore all the notifications on his phone, opting instead to blast his music loud enough so it echoed off his bathroom walls to try and drown out the thoughts bouncing around his brain.

 

Alas, he had never quite figured out the secret to getting rid of brain noise. He only ever waited for it to subside on its own. He let a lot of things just happen to him, the world always rushing and rushing around him, over him, like he was a stone in a stream being slowly worn down over time. It was all too fast, too loud, too big.

 

Too much.

 

Mohammed, as usual, was already hard at work when Matteo trudged through the back door about ten minutes before they were due to open. He must have had a particularly sour look on his face because Mohammed’s cheeriness immediately faded when he caught sight of Matteo.

 

“You okay?”

 

Matteo didn’t know how to answer. He knew that Mohammed knew him too well to not see through any lie he could fabricate on the spot. But he still tried his best noncommittal shrug, and felt the guilt boring a hole in his stomach when wrinkles appeared on Mohammed’s forehead.

 

The relentless buzzing of his thoughts only got louder when Matteo made his way into the kitchen and went through the fridges to try and coax himself into the calm that routine usually brought him. Today was one of those days that it just wasn’t working for him, though.

 

When their first customers started trickling in, he was forced to muddle through the turbulence in his mind at least enough to process the tickets Amira pinned up for him as she chatted idly to Mohammed about something to do with her brothers. He didn’t pay attention to what they were saying exactly but it helped, even if only slightly, that his friends were just carrying on like normal. It made the world seem less unforgiving. Slowed it all down a little.

 

And then it all came crashing down.

 

He was half-listening to Amira’s retelling of some story about Essam he’d heard a hundred times before, but her voice faltered before falling silent, and he looked up from the sandwich he had been in the middle of making to see what had interrupted her.

 

It wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before, he saw the same kind of thing happen multiple times a week, didn’t even think much of it normally. But today was not the kind of day he needed to hear, to see the middle-aged man in one of the booths bring a fist down on the table in an attempt to quell the antics of his child who was trying to clamber over the back of the seat.

 

Matteo couldn’t distinguish the words the angry father was saying in a raised voice, not quite yelling but headed in that direction, because he couldn’t make out anything over the deafening white noise taking up all the available space in his head.

 

He couldn’t do this. Not today, not now, not here.

 

He didn’t know how he ended up in the walk-in, hands clamped over his ears and head tucked between his knees as he crouched in the tiny space between one of the metal racks holding some of Mohammed’s baking supplies and a battered old cardboard box filled with potatoes. But there were voices outside, voices that sounded like Amira’s and Mohammed’s if he was hearing them through water, distorted and not quite substantial enough for him to make sense of the individual syllables.

 

Then the door opened, and there was Amira, nothing but worry lining her face as she knelt down beside him, laying the back of her hand softly against Matteo’s cheek.

 

“I’m fine,” Matteo whispered, unable to fight the instinct of brushing away any concern directed at him.

 

“You’re not.” Amira said, not unkindly. Her knuckles stroked up and down his face, gentle and soothing, and he squeezed his eyes shut tight in an attempt not to cry.

 

“Then why am I like this?” Matteo hated that he sounded so much like a child in that moment, but it was how he felt.

 

“Matteo, there is so much about you that cancels out all the bad stuff. It’s just that sometimes,” Amira sounded sad then, and Matteo looked up to see her looking at him with glassy eyes, “you need a little push towards the light.”

 

“You and Mohammed are my light.” He said, wiping at his nose and trying for a shaky smile.

 

“And you’re ours, habibi.”

 

At that, Matteo leaned his head against Amira’s hand and he closed his eyes again, but this time it was out of gratitude.

 

25 February 2024

 

Matteo had just set down David’s order in front of him when the bell above the door rang. He looked up, ready to greet the incoming customers when he caught sight of who the visitors actually were.

 

“You owe me a muffin, Florenzi.”

 

Matteo brought a hand to his face. “Damn, I forgot we had that bet.”

 

Leonie strode towards the counter where Mohammed was standing protectively over the tin of blueberry muffins he’d just pulled out of the oven not five minutes ago. Behind her, Sara shot Matteo a look that was equal parts amused and apologetic.

 

“Nooo, Leonie. These are for… uhhh. A catering order?” Mohammed had always been a bad liar, Matteo thought helplessly.

 

“A likely story,” Leonie tutted. “Hand one over.”

 

Mohammed plucked one from the tin and extended it to Leonie, but snatched his hand back at the last moment.

 

“Wait.”

 

Leonie raised an eyebrow, then stepped back so she was leaning most of her weight on one foot and crossed her arms. “What’s the issue? I bet Matteo that he wouldn’t have a date on Valentine’s Day and I won. Fair and square. That muffin is mine. It’s been a week and a half and you can’t drag this out anymore.”

 

Matteo was mortified. He was sure that David would be laughing at him, but when he dared to spare him a glance, Matteo saw his gaze darting between Leonie and Mohammed with the kind of concentration one would use to follow a tennis match, a smile creeping slowly over his features, and Matteo thought, oh no.

 

“I hate to say it, but she’s got you there, Matteo.”

 

“Stay out of this, Amira!” Matteo whined. The last thing he needed was her of all people ganging up on him with Leonie and Sara.

 

“I’m just being impartial.” Amira raises her hands in mock surrender. “But maybe we need a real outsider opinion.”

 

“No,” Matteo said.

 

“David.” Amira turned to him.

 

“No,” Matteo insisted fruitlessly.

 

“You were in here on Valentine’s Day, weren’t you?”

 

“I was, yeah.” David looked like he was enjoying himself too much for Matteo’s good.

 

“So you can confirm for us that Matteo was indeed alone on that day, as in,” Amira waves a hand at him, “sans a date?”

 

“I recall as much, yes.” David shot Matteo a look that shot a spike of heat straight down his spine. He was fucked.

 

“How am I supposed to have a date on Valentine’s Day when I'm here working all day?”

 

“Matteo, you’re literally talking to a lesbian couple who runs a restaurant together,” Sara piped up. “You can try a little harder than that.”

 

“Well, I.” Matteo faltered. He was being backed into a corner. “Just haven’t gotten the chance to play the field in a while since I’m… so busy.” Busy pining over the same guy who was now one of the deciding hands in his fate, apparently.

 

“Mr. Florenzi,” Leonie said with a wicked twinkle in her eye, “are you implying that you put your career ahead of your love life? Even you can’t fall into that gay cliché.”

 

Matteo had lost. He’d made a bet with Leonie in a moment of stupid, reputation-risking courage that he would ask David (without revealing his name to her or Sara, of course) out on Valentine’s Day, but he’d chickened out because of reasons.

 

And now here David sat not two feet away from him and Matteo felt an unexpected surge of that same bravery again.

 

“You’re right. Take the muffin.”

 

Mohammed groaned as Leonie swiped it from his hand with a triumphant grin.

 

“But,” Matteo said, knowing how evil he was about to be and loving it, “the reason I didn’t go on a date that day is because the person I wanted to ask was in the restaurant at the time and it would have been very humiliating if I’d been turned down.”

 

Leonie almost dropped her muffin, her eyes widening as his words sank in. “Wait, what the fuck?”

 

“Matteo, you can’t do this to us,” Sara complained.

 

“Of course I can.”

 

“Oh my God.” Leonie looked like she was having a crisis. “Matteo, I need to know.”

 

And Matteo knew he’d hooked them.

 

“Not telling you.”


The next twenty minutes of indignant screeching from Leonie were well worth the muffin he’d lost to her.

Chapter Text

 

23 März 2024


David’s hands don’t leave his waist the entire way home and Matteo almost can’t handle how warm his fingertips are through the thin fabric of his shirt. Wants to know how warm they’d be without that extra barrier, but shakes the thought from his mind as soon as he brakes to a halt outside his building and David releases his grip on Matteo.

 

They’re silent all the way up the stairs and down the hallway until they get to Matteo’s door, where he fumbles a little with his keys in the dark. David helpfully turns on the flashlight on his phone.

 

“Thank you,” Matteo says.

 

David just makes a little noise in the back of his throat, and Matteo wonders if he’s also feeling too bashful to really say much.

 

Once inside, Matteo flips on the light switch and luckily it seems that the flat is indeed deserted. No illumination spills out from under any of his flatmates’ doors and he doesn’t hear anyone answer when he calls out an experimental greeting.

 

The clock on the oven reads just past midnight when he steps briefly into the kitchen to grab a glass of water for David. There’s mail on the table that hadn’t been there when he’d left the flat that morning and he sifts through it quickly to make sure none of it is his.

 

When he returns to the living room, David is still standing more or less where he had been before, looking a little awkward and out of place, but his face immediately brightens upon seeing the water in Matteo’s hand and he goes, “Oh, I’m parched. You’re a savior.”

 

That makes Matteo’s stomach flip a couple of times before he feels the beginning of butterflies materializing where his intestines should be.

 

He has to force himself not to watch the way David’s throat moves when he downs most of the glass in a few swallows. Wisely, Matteo takes the chance to duck into his room and grab some makeshift bedding for David. He picks up the spare pillow from his bed and gives it a cautious sniff for the scent of weed that sometimes lingers on his stuff. It’s been almost a week since he last smoked, though, and he had done laundry since then.

 

From his closet he grabs a couple of soft blankets, and then heads back out to David.

 

“I think I might have a toothbrush for you too, but here,” Matteo holds out the bedding to David, “go ahead and make yourself comfortable while I look for it.”

 

David takes the pillow and blankets from him with a grateful, “You really don’t have to,” but Matteo insists, “Only the best service for my best customer.”

 

Pink dusts David’s cheeks and it’s so pretty Matteo has to try very hard to not completely lose his grip on himself and lunge forward to take ahold of David’s face.

 

Instead, he swivels on his feet to go into the bathroom that he shares with Hans and rummages around in the little drawer on his side of the sink. He does find a toothbrush in there, still wrapped and brand new, and it’s only when he rips off the plastic packaging that Matteo realizes his hands are shaking.

 

He takes a few breaths to try and settle his nerves, and thankfully his voice doesn’t give him away when he calls to David, “Good news, I found one!”

 

He hears the padding of sock feet approaching and David appears in the doorway. Matteo proudly hands him the toothbrush.

 

“I’ll let you do your business here, then. Anything else I can get for you?” Matteo involuntarily smiles at how familiar the question sounds on his lips and his expression is instantly mirrored on David’s face.

 

“I think I’m good, thanks.”

 

“No napkins needed tonight?” Matteo jokes.

 

David just laughs and shakes his head, a hand flying up to cover his grin and Matteo almost tells him, don’t, you’re beautiful.

 

What he actually says is, “Well, they’re in the kitchen if you change your mind.”

 

“I’ll be sure to remember that.”

 

David lets him go first in the bathroom, so Matteo quickly brushes his teeth and runs a damp towel over his face before mustering every ounce of self-control he has left to leave David alone for the night.

 

“See you in the morning? Unless you run out on me,” Matteo says without thinking. He kicks himself internally for making a joke in poor taste. But David doesn’t seem to mind.

 

“You won’t have to worry about that. Besides, I was assuming that this was a bed and breakfast, Matteo.”

 

Matteo just stares at him for a few seconds, amazed, before snapping himself out of it, though the sound of David saying his name like that , like a waiting challenge, is still ringing in his ears.

 

“Oh, yeah. Of course it is.”

 

“See you in the morning, then,” David says.

 

“See you in the morning,” Matteo echoes.

Chapter Text

23 März 2024 (cont.)

 

David wakes in a daze, not entirely sure where he is at first, though he is warm and comfortable beneath two layers of blankets with half of his face smushed into a soft pillow.

 

And then Matteo’s voice reverberates through his memory.

 

“See you in the morning.”

 

He’d turned on his heel to leave David to get ready for bed, before glancing back as he reached his door, and said shyly, “Sleep well, David.”

 

“You, too, Matteo. Thank you.”

 

And that had been that. David had waited an extra ten minutes until he saw the strip of light beneath Matteo’s door flicker off and blend into the darkness of the rest of the apartment. He'd then made his way to the bathroom and taken off his binder, stashing it carefully in his bag before brushing his teeth and looking at himself in the mirror for several heart-pounding moments.

 

It was crazy enough that he’d ended up at Matteo’s restaurant so late that night. But now Matteo had let him into his actual home, where he slept and ate food, where he, from the looks of the Xbox controller by the TV, played video games and just chilled like any other human being. David didn’t know why that all felt so unreal, that Matteo was this whole multidimensional person behind the chef David had known for the past few months.

 

But he did know that he wanted more, needed more of Matteo and his intriguing, beguiling, enchanting self. 

 

David is brought back to the present by the sound of a door opening slowly, and a softly uttered “Fuck,” when it lets out a rather loud creak of betrayal anyway.

 

Matteo walks past David, who makes the split second decision to greet him instead of feigning sleep for a few more minutes.

 

“Good morning.”

 

Matteo jumps. “Sorry, I hope I didn’t wake you.”

 

David shakes his head, pressing his lips together to keep from smiling because Matteo looks like he’s seen a ghost with how wide his eyes are. He pulls the covers up a little so they brush the bottom of his chin.

 

“I was going to whip something up, maybe a little French toast. Any requests?”

 

David can’t really believe his luck. “No, that sounds amazing.”

 

“Okay, I’m glad. It’ll be ready soon.” Matteo nods at him, maybe a little awkwardly, but the smile spreading across his face is like the first bloom of a long-awaited spring. “The bathroom is still all yours, of course. I don’t think Hans came home last night and he’s the only other one who uses it.”

 

“Thank you. I’ll be sure to thank him as well if I run into him.”

 

“Okay,” Matteo says as he heads into the kitchen, “but if he says anything to you, don’t believe him. Especially if it’s about me.”

 

David laughs at that. “Noted.”

 

He waits until Matteo has disappeared fully from sight before quickly throwing back the covers and half-running to the bathroom. Fortunately, he’s spared any unwanted interactions with Matteo’s flatmate and makes it into the kitchen without fuss, sniffing the air eagerly.

 

“Smells delicious,” he tells Matteo, who turns red all the way down to his neck. David wants desperately to see if the flush reaches below his collar, maybe spilling across his chest like wildfire.

 

“You can sit there and this will just take another minute.”

 

David is tempted to say something cheeky or flirty or borderline innuendo, like But I wanted to watch the master at work though, or Don’t I get to have a little taste first? But he dutifully pulls out a chair at the table Matteo had indicated and props his chin on the heel of his palm, watching the other boy carefully flip the toast in the pan one last time before plating each of their shares with an easy, practiced grace.

 

At first David thinks they might just eat in silence, but Matteo fills the air between them with so much jabbering that his brain can’t really keep up at first. It’s the kind of nervous rambling that David himself is familiar with, paired with the way Matteo’s gaze keeps darting to meet his and then break away again before reconnecting, like he’s playing a game, or maybe experimenting. Asking to see, to be seen.

 

And David sees him, alright. David has seen him, and wanted to be seen for so long, even before seeing Matteo, that he now drinks in the sight of this boy in front of him with a kind of hunger that scares him with how deep it seems to reach into the pit of his stomach.

 

Being with Matteo now, in this moment, also makes David realize that he’s never seen Matteo eat. He worries over the way Matteo scarfs down his toast like a starving dog, barely stopping to swallow between his words, and David has to wonder if he devours his food so quickly because he only thinks about the meals he makes for others rather than himself.

 

David suddenly realizes that Matteo’s now talking about a band that he’s asked to come and perform on Friday, and how Amira said that she had gotten a few people from the theatre to help turn the restaurant into a respectable venue, and did David by any chance have anything to do with it?

 

Oh, David thinks to himself.

 

“Oh,” he says out loud.

 

“Amira wouldn’t tell me who she got to bring in that stage or provide us with the right sound equipment, but I figured it might have been you.”

 

David pushes his last bit of toast around his plate. “Mmm. Maybe.”

 

“It so was you.”

 

“Yeah, it was,” David concedes, looking up with a smile.

 

This time, when he meets Matteo’s gaze, those blue eyes hold his for many seconds longer than necessary.

Chapter Text

23 März 2024 (cont.)

 

to: theatre david

12:32

hope no one got mad at you for being late to work

 

from: theatre david

13:05

hahaha no worries. not many ppl here have the power to do that anyway

 

to: theatre david

13:27

that’s good. i’m still sorry i made you lose track of time though

 

from: theatre david

13:56

it’s really fine, don’t worry about it! i don’t regret it

 

to: theatre david

14:11

i don’t regret it either.

 

from: theatre david

14:12

:)

 

to: theatre david

18:49

dude i’m still doing prep work for jonas’ band night and i’m like struggling

 

from: theatre david

20:01

what’s up?

 

to: theatre david

20:25

i just haven’t done anything like this before and ummm

20:25

idk i want it to go really well but i’m worried i’m not doing enough

20:26

should i put up flyers or something??? 

 

from: theatre david

20:29

that’s an idea. and you still have time to figure stuff out

 

to: theatre david

20:48

okay we’re closing up soon, can i call you in the next 30 min??

 

from: theatre david

20:53

of course

 

The clock reads 21:21 when Matteo hits David’s contact name on his screen and puts his phone to his ear. David picks up after the first ring.

 

Matteo says, “Hey,” at the same time that David says, “Hi,” and they both break out into awkward giggles.

 

“Hi,” Matteo tries again.

 

“Tell me what’s going on,” David says. His voice is tinny over the speaker but Matteo still swoons a little over it regardless.

 

“Um, okay. So I’ve been talking to customers all day and being like, ‘Hey, we have this thing going on this Friday if you wanna come and support a local band!’ and whatever, but I feel like I’m not reaching enough people that way? But I’m just not sure how else to get the word out, you know?” Matteo reflexively brings a hand to his neck. He knows he’s babbling, but now that he’s got David in his ear he can’t help but let all of his worries bubble up and burst open like butterflies from their cocoons.

 

“Okay, earlier you mentioned maybe doing flyers yeah?” David asks.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, I’m still at the theatre for a couple hours at least. I can whip something up on the computer pretty fast and run it by you?”

 

If this had been an in-person conversation, Matteo would not have trusted himself to hold it together in front of David. Even with all this physical distance between them, he almost drops his phone.

 

“Oh, my God.”

 

“Sorry?”

 

“Oh! I, um. Sorry, I meant. That would be, um. Fucking amazing, actually.”

 

Matteo is a moron and he knows it’s showing but his brain is having major issues catching up right now.

 

“Cool, okay.” He can hear how David’s grinning behind his words and it makes his chest feel something strange and overwhelming and undeniable, like a pipe has shattered somewhere and he can’t shut off the outflow of emotions flooding his mind.

 

“Are you sure this won’t be too much trouble?”

 

“Not at all. You gave me a place to sleep last night and fed me this morning for free. I owe you.” David says all of this in a tone so matter-of-fact that Matteo is almost worried he’s offended David.

 

“That was nothing,” he tries to object anyway but David tuts at him.

 

“I highly disagree, but we’re getting off topic. Give me, like, twenty minutes max.”

 

“Okay, okay. Thank you so much, seriously.”

 

They say their goodbyes and Matteo hits the end call button with an unexpected giddiness. He falls into a chair, more puddle than human at this moment, and rubs at his face to try and regain some semblance of stability. His heart might pound its way right out of his chest at this rate and he isn’t exactly keen to test its limits if he’s trying to give it away to David.

 

He taps out a couple messages to David of what exactly to include in the flyer and then slumps down in his chair after David responds with a thumbs up emoji. He doesn’t count the minutes that pass before his phone buzzes again and it once again almost slips from his grasp in his haste to check it. It’s an image from David, and he taps on the little square to enlarge it so he can zoom in.

 

David’s made the background of the flyer a nice light blue, the shade of it eye-catching but not glaring. Across the top, in large, embellished font, it reads MAMMA FLORENZI’S . Below that is an invitation to the shop’s first Live Music Night along with the name of Jonas’ band and its members. The date and address are clearly indicated, along with details of the discounts Matteo has decided to provide for their customers that night.

 

 

to: theatre david

21:47

it’s perfect

 

from: theatre david

21:47

you sure? i was gonna tweak it a little more

 

to: theatre david

21:48

you don’t need to

 

from: theatre david

21:49

it looks a little basic to me idk

 

to: theatre david

21:50

it gets the job done without being too flashy or dramatic

21:50

it’s good the way it is :)

 

from: theatre david

21:50

ok :)

 

to: theatre david

21:51

thank you

 

from: theatre david

21:51

not a problem!

21:53

how many copies do you want me to print?

 

to: theatre david

21:54

oh god idk… how many do you think we need

 

from: theatre david

21:55

probably a hundred or so? how many free drinks are you planning to give away lol

 

to: theatre david

21:56

good point. yeah maybe like 150 to be safe? how much do i owe you

 

from: theatre david

21:56

it’s on me, no worries

 

to: theatre david

21:57

are you sure??? isn’t printer ink expensive

 

from: theatre david

21:57

that’s why i didn’t give you a really saturated background lol

 

to: theatre david

21:58

mmm smart of you

 

from: theatre david

21:59

thank you i do try

 

to: theatre david

21:59

i can pick them up from you sometime tomorrow?? when do you get into work?

 

from: theatre david

22:01

i actually wasn’t going to go in tomorrow

 

to: theatre david

22:02

oh why not?

 

from: theatre david

22:03

lmao niko says that i’m working too hard and need a day off

 

to: theatre david

22:03

honestly i support that

22:04

what are you gonna do on your day off then?

 

from: theatre david

22:04

i was thinking maybe i could come and hang up the flyers with you

22:05

if you want

 

to: theatre david

22:06

you sure you’re not sick of me yet?

 

from: theatre david

22:07

mmm tbh i am

22:08

but i think i need another day in your company to really be sure

 

to: theatre david

22:08

rude

22:09

but if you’re making a serious offer

 

from: theatre david

22:09

i am

 

to: theatre david

22:09

then i greatly appreciate it

22:09

and i accept

 

from: theatre david

22:09

okay awesome

 

to: theatre david

22:10

i can get my friend hanna to fill in for me at work

22:11

and we’ll make a day of it. get ready to be sick of me

 

from: theatre david

22:11

it’s a date then

 

to: theatre david

22:11

:)

Chapter Text

 

24 März 2024

 

from: sandwich matteo

10:08

sorry i’m running late i promise i’m otw!!

 

to: sandwich matteo

10:09

i’m gonna throw all these flyers in the gutter if you don’t show up in the next 2 minutes

 

from: sandwich matteo

10:09

nooooooooo

10:09

the bus is being very slow

 

to: sandwich matteo

10:10

sux lmao

 

from: sandwich matteo

10:10

:(

10:11

you’re so mean why did i agree to this

 

to: sandwich matteo

10:12

why are you taking the BUS if you can BIKE here instead

 

from: sandwich matteo

10:13

because i’m lazy :)

 

to: sandwich matteo

10:13

smh

 

David shifts the thick stack of flyers he’s cradling from one arm to the other, grinning down at his phone with each new message from Matteo that he gets. He’s waiting for Matteo to meet him in front of the theatre, feeling like there’s a balloon slowly expanding inside his chest at the thought of spending the next several hours with him.

 

He’d been late to work yesterday because he and Matteo had gotten carried away with talking after finishing their French toast, and David hadn’t wanted for a second to leave. Last night he’d burned through half a package of blue printer paper for Matteo, because David had made two hundred copies instead of the hundred and fifty Matteo had requested.

 

With Matteo, David knows already that he will always seek more. He wishes he had an infinite supply of time and energy to devote to him, and it terrifies him how willing he feels to give all he does have to Matteo. How easy and fated it appears. How they feel like two puzzle pieces waiting to be interlocked.

 

His phone vibrates with a new incoming text.

 

from: sandwich matteo

10:16

i made it off the bus!!! i’m coming

10:16

don’t you go anywhere

 

David thinks with a private smile that he would find it quite difficult to go too far when his heart has clearly tethered itself to Matteo’s.

 

“Hello, you.”

 

David turns and there’s Matteo, looking how he always does, both a little sad and a little hopeful in the way his eyelids droop down over those startlingly blue irises and his smile, sweet and soft, sits lopsidedly on his chapped lips.

 

Matteo takes a step closer to him, the rest of the world pausing for a heart-stopping moment in which David thinks he’s leaning in for a kiss. But Matteo just reaches out and takes about half the flyers out of David’s grasp. The world resumes spinning as abruptly as it had halted.

 

“Thank you for these. Wow, they look really good.”

 

David gives a modest shrug. “They’re quite simple compared to what I usually do.”

 

“Tell me more.”

 

Usually when people ask David about his work it’s more out of politeness than anything else, but there’s an uncanny note of dedication in Matteo’s voice that makes David yearn for this boy to know everything about him. Even the things David never tells anyone.

 

He tells Matteo, while they set off down the street, about how Niko was the first person who’d talked to David when he was a first-year university student. From there, they’d planned out a future together as friends and business partners, both of them in majors that would eventually serve them hilariously little in opening a nonprofit theatre of their own. Samer had joined their little venture less than a year before they’d secured the property, but David honestly can’t imagine having gotten to this point without him either. After all, Niko was the business side of things but Samer had brought in his brother, who’d brought in Henry and the rest of them who'd formed the foundations of a team that now David knew he’d do anything for.

 

“It was kind of inevitable the way it turned out, though. We all wanted to act, we all wanted to write and direct and produce, but on our own terms, you know? So we carved out a space for ourselves, as cheesy as that sounds.”

 

“That’s so cool, though.” Matteo looks at him, eyes wide and willing, and David has to break away from his gaze. “Why do you wanna hang around me when you’re clearly too cool for me?”

 

“Stop downplaying yourself. You opened your own restaurant, that’s not easy either.”

 

Matteo shrugs, and to David it’s maddening the way he brushes off every compliment, every bit of praise like he doesn’t deserve it. He wants to know what’s made Matteo like this, why he can’t admit to his own accomplishments. David suspects it’s the same reason that Matteo always seems melancholy. He desperately wants to reach into Matteo’s mind, into his life, and scoop away his troubles, expel his swirling thoughts and doubts and whatever else is weighing down on him.

 

But instead he settles, in this moment, for tugging the little cup of Blu Tack out of Matteo’s grasp and sticking a flyer to a battered old door they’re passing. He wants so badly for Friday night to go well for Matteo, knows in his heart of hearts that a little extra recognition is definitely something Matteo has earned.

 

“I’m really happy that you’re doing this.” Matteo says, unexpectedly, then corrects himself. “That we’re doing this.”

 

“Are you talking about the flyers, or about this being a date?” David asks, not really believing what’s coming out of his own mouth. Saying the word out loud has a striking finality, like the full truth of what they’ve begun is out there now in the open and can’t be taken back. And David is so nervous for Matteo’s answer that he nearly misses it.

 

“It can be about both?” Matteo says it like he’s asking for permission.

 

David gives it to him by getting in close to drop a fleeting kiss on his cheek. Matteo blushes down to his neck and David counts it as a victory.

 

“Well then, I’m happy too.”