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Cook Me Breakfast (And Love Me Forever?)

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“Now what?” Dr. Rosshilde tilts her blonde head to one side, an almost birdlike move that makes Tony feel inexplicably like she’s trying to figure out from what angle to best destroy him.

“Business as usual.” It’s a lie, or at least it rings false. He’s not sure if you can really lie when you don’t know the truth. It will be business as usual for the restaurant. Well, business better than usual as happens when your restaurant boasts a three Michelin star chef. But he knows that Dr. Rosshilde never cared about the restaurant. She’s not asking what’s next for Adam Jones at the Langham. She’s certainly not asking what’s next for Adam Jones. She is Tony’s psychotherapist. This is Tony’s session. She wants to know what’s next for Tony. As if somehow Adam’s shining moment is a defining one in Tony’s life.

“Do you really think that?”

Tony hates that question. It’s one he gets a lot at his sessions these days – ever since Adam walked through his door and vowed to take over his restaurant. God, that man really was an arrogant cock. “I don’t really see how it won’t.”

“Because you can’t imagine the impact this will have on your life or because you know you won’t take advantage of it?”

Now that’s not fair, Tony thinks mutinously. Adam may be almost unrecognizable these days, all smiling and calm and one might even say content, but an almost happy Adam was no more likely to return Tony’s ridiculous, horrifyingly persistent infatuation than the angry, short tempered tunnel visioned Adam had. So obviously Tony wasn’t going to try and take advantage of Adam’s sudden permissive mood.  “We’ll be busy, but the staff can handle it and the kitchen has never run so smoothly.”

“Because Adam is happy?”

“Because we had what we thought was our worst night ever and we survived more or less intact.” He hadn’t ever told Dr. Rosshilde about the one night bender Adam had gone on, though he supposed the blood test probably told her something had happened, she had enough discretion not to bring it up. “And we’ll survive our best night too.”

“Interesting word choice, survive.”

Tony sighs. “I know it’s in your job description, but do you need to analyze everything?”

A raised eyebrow tells him it won’t be that easy to dodge the root of her question.

“Adam has never dealt well with extremes of either variety.”

“And what about you?”

“I’ve never been one for extremes.”

“That’s not entirely true now is it?”

Tony glares. “That was different.”

“Why?”

“Because I thought he was dead!” The words feel like they rip out of Tony’s throat. Even though he knows now that Adam is fine, that he disappeared because it was all too much but that he found his way through, did his penance – shucking a million oysters, Adam, really? – and come back better than ever, Tony can still feel the pain of losing Adam, of thinking the man he couldn’t help but love no matter how hopeless was dead and gone forever, like a hot poker lodged somewhere beneath his ribs.

“And?”

“And it was my fault.” Okay, so after two years of therapy he really should have moved past that guilt. He knows all the reasons he couldn’t have saved Adam from himself, from the life Adam and Anne Marie had fallen into. Maybe he could have saved himself. He could have walked away sooner.

“You were in love with him. Do you really think if you walked away it would have made it better for either of you?”

Tony shook his head. “No.”

“None of it was your fault, Tony. You know that. But we’re dealing with a different kind of extreme now. You thought a man you loved had died, that’s how we met. Negative extremes are the most common reason people end up on that couch. But the other side of the pendulum can be hard to deal with too. So I want to ask you again, you helped Adam win that third star, what now?”

“I have no idea.”

. . .

Tony walks back to the Langham, Dr. Rosshilde’s final words circling in his head, “Tony, for the past two years we have been working on defining your happiness by things you can control. Adam is not one of those things. Your business is thriving. You’ve succeeded in your mission to help Adam Jones back to the top of his game. But you still seem lost. So I’m going to give you some homework you’re not going to want to do. I want you to go on a date. Ask a man out at a coffee shop, attend a speed dating event, go online, I don’t care how. But I want you to go to dinner or a movie, something fun and most importantly, something that has nothing to do with Adam Jones or the Langham, with someone who could have potential.”

As she told him he would, Tony hates the idea. He’s never been good at dating. Relationships are easier. He’s good at remembering things like birthdays and favourite vintages of wine and, as Dr. Rosshilde has been trying to teach him about himself for at least the last fourteen months, he relies so heavily on others to define his self-image that he always kind of melts into the person he is dating, moulding himself into exactly what he thinks they want until he’s so lost to himself the breakups leave him reeling, unsure what part of him were that person and what parts are really him. And if he’s honest, Tony is terrified that the therapy hasn’t actually helped with that. He doesn’t want to be lost again. He can’t handle the kind of heartbreak he felt when Adam disappeared and the restaurant collapsed in his wake. So if Dr. Rosshilde says he needs to date, then he will swallow the fear and put himself out there.

. . .

Online dating is not something Tony ever imagined he would do. It seems sort of… crass, putting together an advertisement for tens of strangers to look over like animals at market. But the idea of speed dating fills him with absolute horror and if he were capable of walking up to a stranger and asking him to go for a coffee he would probably have done so years ago, so online dating it is.

He tries to tell himself he isn’t surprised when several offers of dinner or coffee or just a single fun night “at yours or mine, gorgeous, your pick” poured in in the first week – it’s a lie; he genuinely expected to fail at this. He replies to two and within a week of Dr. Rosshilde’s instruction he date, Tony is sitting across a small round table from Phillip, a software salesman who moved to London from Canada two years earlier after a bad breakup, and still hasn’t quite gotten used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

Phillip is tall and lean and Tony suspects he’s a jogger. He is easy on the eyes, but before the appetizer has arrived, Tony is ready to leave – alone, despite the hand that keeps trying to slide up his thigh. When Kaitlin sends him a text confirming staffing for the next week’s lunch shift just as the waitress is clearing their dinner plates and passing Phillip the dessert menu, Tony puts on his best panicked expression, mutters an apology and nearly bolts for the exit   - though not before swiping his credit card to pay for his half of the check.

He goes to the Langham because he’s having a terrible night and if he goes home he is just going to drink his way through a bottle of something that would be better shared and tomorrow will be yet another terrible day because there is pretty much nothing worse than working in a restaurant with a hangover. So he goes to the Langham, knowing that the kitchen crew will be scrubbing down and his dining room staff will be just trickling out after an exhausting night tending to the full dining room. People, familiar people, that’s what he needs right now. He doesn’t admit to himself that there is really only one beaming smile he’s hoping to see.

. . .

Adam waves a careless goodbye to the Helene and turns back to the kitchen. It was a good night. Steady, minimal cock ups, and three different tables sent compliments to the chef. The little niggling fear that had settled in his gut when they won that third star - the fear that he would end up like Reese, stagnant and unhappy with nothing left to strive for and nowhere to go but down  - is nearly gone. Two weeks straight of solid service without a single crisis or meltdown was wonderfully cathartic.

He is still working on being more relaxed with his kitchen staff, especially Helene who is so talented he sometimes finds himself wishing she didn’t have a daughter to take care of so he could keep her late most nights and drag her in early each morning without feeling like the villain in her daughter’s fairy tale. But they’ve come up with a compromise that gives him time to work with Helene on new menu items without taking too much time away from her daughter. Two mornings and one evening each week, Helene’s mother takes over and Adam gets his cooking partner. She keeps telling him he should take the other nights off, “Get a life, Adam. Otherwise, what’s this all about?” But he can’t. That dwindling, but still present, fear of stagnation, of losing his edge, needles him constantly and so he works sixteen hours or longer most days and never goes more than two without experimenting with something he hasn’t tried before.

Many of these experiments are failures almost from the outset. He’s fairly certain tonight is going to be one of them. It should be simple, a mango gazpacho which he thinks will pair perfectly with the scallops he made yesterday evening as a new dish for their summer menu, but the spicing is all wrong and he’s tempted to give up the idea altogether or at least put it off until Helene is there to bounce ideas, but he has six perfectly ripe mangoes just sitting there and if he can perfect it the dish will be sensational. So he sets to work, sinking into the process and allowing the familiar motions of food preparation and the near silence of the deserted Langham to seep in and soothe away the lingering tension from a busy night.

When Tony walks into the kitchen Adam starts a little before flashing a smile. “How was the date?”

Tony sets a wine glass on the worktop and pours four ounces of merlot. He doesn’t answer Adam’s question, but he doesn’t really have to. The fact that he’s here, at work, two and a half hours after he left and that he’s cracking into the wine tell Adam it was not a success.

“I’m sorry. Maybe the next one.”

Tony sighs audibly. “Well that would be tomorrow.”

“Lining them up like dominoes.” Adam grins, “I’m impressed.”

 “That’s me, very impressive.”

Adam sets his knife aside and looks, really looks, at Tony for the first time in days. His friend doesn’t look well come to think of it. He looks tired, and the corners of his eyes are pinched as if he hasn’t been sleeping well. Adam feels a wave of guilt though he’s not really sure how he could do anything to help Tony. Not honestly anyway. Sure, if he took Tony to his bed it would buy them both a few hours of enjoyment but Tony’s friendship meant something to Adam that was far more important than a night of fun. Tony believed in Adam, always had and possibly always would, which was something Adam had never had before. Sure, he had always believed in himself in the hyped up, bravado over truth kind of way that all the best chefs he knew felt or at least postured, but no one else had ever believed in him the way Tony did.

It could have been a lot of pressure, that unyielding belief, but Adam had fallen more than once right in front of Tony, and usually inadvertently taking Tony down with him, and that faith had never really disappeared. Adam hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but he realizes as he takes in the weary lines of his friend’s face that it was Tony’s unyielding faith that got him that Michelin star.

“You’re a great man, Tony. Any guy who doesn’t see that is an idiot.”

Tony raises an eyebrow.

Adam just laughs and gestures at his own chest as if to say ‘Exhibit A.’

“What are you making?” Tony’s face is a little flushed and he obviously does not want to rehash the details of his date or his prospects, for which Adam is abstractly grateful. He finds he doesn’t really want to think too much about Tony finding a man who appreciates him the way he deserves. He wants Tony to be happy, but he also doesn’t want to lose this.

. . .

After two more dates fizzle before the dessert course, Tony starts suggesting coffee. He isn’t really one for coffee houses, he prefers his tea brewed properly and not served up in a thick porcelain mug with the bag still in it, but coffee dates are usually under an hour in length and he can fit them between services, which is important as there are only so many evenings he can duck out halfway through service before the restaurant starts to suffer. He’s fairly sure Dr. Rosshilde didn’t actually intend for him to set up six dates a week when she commanded him to date, but he’s decided to commit to the effort. She told him to find someone with potential, so, in lieu of running across a gay, interested Adam online, he’s saying yes to everyone who asks.

Richard is already seated at a small round table near the window with a mug of something hot set in front of him when Tony arrives. He’s a few years older than his picture, but he smiles widely and stands to greet Tony with a warm handshake and Tony tells himself an old photo isn’t a legitimate reason to write someone off. He takes the seat across from Richard and nods polite acceptance when Richard offers to buy him a cup of tea.

“I know, tea in porcelain mugs, the horror!” Richard set the mug in front of Tony with another blinding smile. “But I swear, this place makes the best chocolate cranberry biscotti.” 

Tony takes one of the two long fingers of biscotti from the plate Richard sets in front of him. He hasn’t had biscotti since Paris. Since before Adam disappeared, and for a moment he’s transported to a small café around the corner from their restaurant.

It’s raining. It rains a lot in February. Today the rain is almost like the clouds have run out of whatever life force keeps them suspended in the heavens and settled on the rooftops, sending down a fine mist of rain that not an umbrella or raincoat in the world can keep out. It’s a cozy rain, intimate in its soft greyness.

Tony dunked a piece of biscotti absently, eyes fixed on a figure hurrying up the street, shoulders hunched against the cold embrace of the rainy day.

“You’re late.” He says mildly when Adam sinks into the chair across from him.

“Fucking Michel is a useless cunt, you should fire him.”

Tony covers his smirk by taking a bite of sodden biscotti. Michel is a talented sous chef, but he has a temper almost as sharp as Adam’s and the two of them have an epic fight at least once every week. Usually it is over something minor, too much vinegar in the mint sauce, and it almost always blows over in a single screaming match over a few shattered plates. But every few months Michel hits a real nerve and Adam comes whinging to Tony, calling for Michel’s job on a silver platter.

“What did he do this time?”

“See? There’s a this time. Isn’t that reason enough?”

“He’s an excellent chef.”

“He’s a mediocre chef.”

“You’re just saying that because Pierre likes Michel’s saffron sauce better than yours.”

“Pierre is a hack.”

“Which explains why you have that review he wrote about us last month pinned above your bed.” Tony teases. He doesn’t actually know what Adam had pinned above his bed – unfortunately – but from the sudden flush on Adam’s face it appears his guess is close to the mark.

“He ruined the pork belly.”

“Define ruined.” Tony takes another bite of his biscotti. How the management of staffing became his job exclusively he doesn’t even know. But it probably has something to do with the fact that he’s not a chef and therefore his ego doesn’t get in the way of his judgement.

“He put garlic in the fucking marinade. Garlic! Like we’re a fucking mom and pap fusion restaurant!”

Tony draws a sharp breath through his nose and exhales slowly, forcing himself to be calm before asking the only question that really matters. “Did anyone send it back?”    

 “Of course not.” Adam scoffs, leaning back and crossing his arms across his chest, looking offended at the very notion that someone might send his food back. “I changed the composition of the plate into something not quite embarrassing. But that’s not the point. He’s a menace.”

“He’s ambitious. I seem to recall someone else I know who shares that trait.”

“Oh fuck off. I’m not his fucking mentor. I’m his boss. Only no one will let me fire him.”

“If we let you fire everyone you can’t get along with the kitchen would be empty.”

“Fuck you, Tony.”

“I’m serious, Adam.” This isn’t the time, Tony knows it isn’t the time, but there hasn’t been a time in the last few weeks. Adam has always been hyper-competitive and driven to an almost inhuman level, but something is different now. He’s tenser. There are dark circles under his startling blue eyes – eyes which are almost constantly blood shot and no longer connect properly with Tony’s when they talk. So this is not the right time to push Adam about his behaviour, but it’s likely the only time Tony will get.

“So am I. Fire Michel. Fire him, or I’m gone by the end of the week.”  

Tony sat there, staring at the empty chair Adam had almost tipped over in his hasty exit long after his tea went cold trying and failing to figure out what was wrong with Adam Jones and how the hell he could fix it.

“I find it’s best to put in your mouth. The taste buds work best when they actually come in contact with the food.”

Tony blinks and then laughs a little. He’s embarrassed that he let his mind wander so completely. Especially since Richard is handsome and, by the way he’s leaning a little towards Tony with the hand not wrapped around his mug of tea is resting palm up on the table between them, interested. “Sorry, it’s been an age since I had a good biscotti. Just savoring the moment.”

“Well now I say it’s time to savour the flavours, hmm?”

Tony takes a bite of the biscotti. It’s a step above the packaged kind sold at every Starbucks in the world, but it’s nothing in comparison to Paris, let alone Italy. Bland, is what Adam would say, but Tony is infinitely more reserved than Adam, so he smiles and says “That’s nice.”

Over the next half hour Tony learns that Richard loves food. His job, articling at Quinn, Patterson, and Associates, doesn’t pay enough to allow him to eat out at the nicest places, but he has been cooking for most of his life and he’s excited to find someone to share that part of his life with. He asks intelligent and thoughtful questions, learning more about Tony in less than fifteen minutes of listening than his previous three dates combined.

“I would love to cook for you some time.” Richard says as the date draws to a close. “I make a mean spaghetti bolognaise, I would love your expert opinion.”

Tony agrees to have dinner at Richard’s flat the following night. A second date! He thinks Dr. Rosshilde will be pleasantly surprised when he tells her about this at their next session.

He goes straight from the café to the Langham. Adam will be starting dinner prep in the kitchen and really, if he spends too much time alone Tony thinks he will reconsider the second date and use the phone number Richard scrawled on a napkin for him to call it off.

Adam’s eyes barely flick up to see who entered his kitchen before returning to the ingredients in front of him. “Checking up on me?”

“Should I be?”

Adam’s lips quirk in a partial smile. “Depends on how you feel about consistently excellent food.”

“Oh, I trust you to provide that.”

At that Adam looks up for real, favouring Tony with one of his beautiful smiles. “Glad to hear it.”

Tony smiles back and then forces himself to move from the kitchen to his office. As tempting as it is to linger and just enjoy Adam’s company, he knows Adam needs to see the trust Tony voices every chance he gets. Trust is the one thing Adam couldn’t win back by sheer bluster and raw talent, and it’s something Tony is determined to give him.

. . .

Richard’s flat is small and by the colour of the carpet in the foyer, Tony suspects it hasn’t had a renovation in thirty years, but the kitchen is well laid out and the air is full of the rich, yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread and Tony is determined to have a nice night. For all the decadent food he enjoys almost daily, this is the first time in years that anyone has made food specifically for Tony.

“Welcome to my humble abode.” Richard busses both of Tony’s cheeks before taking his coat and draping it over the back of a chair near the door. “Just popped the garlic toast in the oven so it won’t be long. Can I get you’re a glass of wine?”

“Wine would be lovely.” Tony turns to survey the apartment in time to hide the wince that crosses his face when he hears Richard pulling a bottle out of the fridge and twisting off the top. The room itself is nice. It’s a at least a few square feet larger than Tony’s with a combined living and dining area attached to the mostly open kitchen and a single hallway down which Tony can see three doors. He wonders idly which of those doors hides the bedroom and if he will be going through it later, sated from good food, wine and company.

“Here we are,” Richard says as he sets two glasses of wine on the table, one glass of red and one glass of white with a thin sheen of glistening condensation already forming on the bowl.

Tony feels a kick of guilt for being a judgemental snob. Maybe all the time spent with Adam in Adam’s kitchen kingdom wasn’t quite as harmless as he kept telling himself. He takes the red wine and swirls it gently before holding it up to catch the light from the kitchen through the pale ruby liquid. He raises the glass and takes a sniff identifying notes of cherry and clove before setting the glass to his lips and taking a small sip. The wine flows over his tongue, opening up in the warmth of his mouth to add notes of vanilla and licorice. Tony swallows and smiles. He would never pair a Pinot Noir with a spiced, tomato based dish, but he can appreciate a fine glass of wine, and this one definitely didn’t come from the discount shelf.

“Well?”

Tony realises Richard is hovering over the table, his glass of white half gone already, watching Tony evaluate the wine. A flush rises in his cheeks. He’s definitely spent too much time at the Langham. “Delicious.” He pronounces, suddenly feeling like he has to be the kind of man who makes pronouncements.   

Richard plates two generous helpings of spaghetti bolognese and tosses the garlic bread into a basket before bringing everything to the table. He forgets to ask Tony if he wants fresh Parmesan grated on top until it's already done, and Despite the fact he would have said yes, Tony resist the urge to say "no, actually I prefer my pasta without cheese." Instead he swirls a few strands around his fork and with a quick anticipatory smile at Richard, takes a mouthful. He chews slowly more because he's not certain he can force himself to swallow than because he's savouring the explosion of flavour. If he were blind tasting, Tony would describe the flavours as raw garlic, boiled onion, rock salt, and an entire bottle of "Italian seasoning" from one of those spice racks one buys fully loaded from Tesco. He swallows eventually, silently apologizing to his stomach lining.

Richard is staring at him again with that expectant expression, waiting for another proclamation.

"Well, you've really managed to pack in the flavour, haven't you?"

Richard beams and for the next ten minutes Richard is free to drink heavily from the bottle of expensive Pinot Noir whose subtle complexity has been completely drowned by the over-seasoned sauce, and to make a good show of enjoying the meal.

"It was my grandmother's recipe originally. They basically lived on spag bol during the war..."

Tony nods his socially expected interest and follows the last mouthful of spice masquerading as food with a generous gulp of wine.

"... The hardest part I find is getting just the right blend of spices. I used to roast the garlic first, but you just lose something when you do that, don't you? "

Tony made a show of chewing and hoped Richard would interpret his mumbled "oh god" as some manner of compliment.

By the time the main course, and two bottles of the Pinot Noir, were polished off, Tony is pretty sure he could write the unauthorized biography of the over spiced spag bol from 1939 to the present. He knows how Auntie Ethel had tried substituting chopped Bologna for the ground turkey of the original recipe in the '70s, and how Uncle Bob had used the famous family spag bol to close every new deal his successful carpet company made for forty years.

Tony is also well on his way to being drunk. It's been a number of years since he really hit the bottle and it's possible he's just lightheaded from all the hot air Richard has been blowing. So of course when Richard sets an anemic slice of spice cake in front of him and asks "a little scotch to finish the evening?" Tony responds with a broad grin and "there's nothing I would like more."

They take their dessert to the couch and after one bite of the ironically bland spice cake, Tony settles back against the cushions and cradles the almost full tumbler of scotch Richard had given him. The glass is too full and too straight to allow Tony to fully appreciate the complex aroma. But he gets enough of the sharp sting of iodine and wood smoke to guess that someone made a killing off Richard's lack of knowledge by selling him the best they had in stock.

Richard settles with the same glass of wine he has barely touched all night in one hand. The other hand drapes in an almost casual way in the back of the couch so he is half embracing Tony without really touching him.

Tony has the almost hysterical thought that since he accepted dinner he is expected to put out and drains half the scotch in a single swallow. It burns sharply against his tortured taste buds and sets his eye watering. He sets the glass down on the end table and half turned to face Richard.

Despite delusions of grandeur in the kitchen, Richard is pleasant and handsome. More than anyone else Tony has dated recently, he fits Dr. Rosshilde's mandate. He’s someone with "potential."

Slowly, allowing anticipation to build -or appear spontaneously since he really isn’t anticipating this at all - Tony leans in and presses a soft kiss against the corner of Richard's mouth.

"What are you doing?" Richard half shrieks, flinching away.

"Ummm?" Tony replies articulately.

"This isn't a date." Richard says in a huff as if Tony should know this. "I'm not a faggot. I'm a chef."

Tony fumbles for the tumbler of scotch and downs the rest of it in a swallow. "But we met of a fucking dating site." He spits out. He almost apologizes for the swearing but then he remembers that Richard tricked him so instead of apologizing he rises unsteadily to his feet and points in Richard's general direction. "You are a terrible cook. Your spag bol is the most disgusting thing I've had in my mouth since that time I thought I might be straight and gave Sophie Dixon head." He turns and storms to the door, pausing only to deliver his scathing exit line. "And the only thing in this room blander than your spice cake is your personality."

Feeling vaguely triumphant, Tony stalks to the elevator and throws himself in the first available cab. “Fucking Adam Jones. This is definitely his fault."

The ride seems to take forever. God, so many corners. But then the driver stops and there’s the Langham. Tony could kiss the pavement. At least the pavement wouldn’t flinch. He doesn’t know how much he actually pays the driver. It doesn’t matter. He’s home.

Except someone seems to have moved the kitchen, because he could have sworn it was right here, but this is clearly the gents’.

When he goes to where the gents’ should be he finally finds Adam. “I have arrived!” He announces gaily.

Adam looks up and suddenly his face looks all pinched, Tony thinks that look is called worry, but mostly he feel too light to care.  “Are you drunk?”

Everything is swimming a little, but Tony thinks Adam is laughing at him. He frowns. “I’m not drunk.” A horrifying idea crosses his mind. “You can’t get drunk on garlic, can you? So much garlic. Just... just.. garlic.” He gestures broadly with his hands, trying to convey to Adam just how much garlic was in the sauce, the butter, the bread, probably the poxy spice cake.

There is a loud crash as the platter Tony inadvertently brushed off the counter with his gesture hits the group and Tony jumps and spins around in what should have been a graceful move, but instead nearly falls on his face. 

“You’re a menace.” Adam is definitely laughing now as he extends a hand to steady Tony.

Adams hands are lovely.

"Richard's spag bol was fucking awful." He says helpfully, perching delicately on a kitchen stool despite its repeated efforts to dodge him.

"How about I make you something delicious to soak up all that alcohol?"

Adam is so considerate. Tony thinks he might have to stay in love with him even if Dr. Rosshilde thinks that is a destructive pattern. "You make spag bol?"

"I make amazing spag bol. Three Michelin stars don't lie."

Tony eyes Adam suspiciously over the large glass of water Adam is pressing into his hands. "Richard said he made the best spag bol in England."

"Yes, well, clearly Richard is a dick and was just trying to get into your pants."

Tony smiles sympathetically. Oh sweet naive Adam. "It's your fault you know."

"I'm sorry?"

"You should be."

"No, I mean, why is this my fault?"

Tony pauses for a second. His head feels heavy but also like its floating. A hysterical giggle escapes his throat before he remembers he's angry at Adam. "You made me Someone."

Adam's face is all crinkled in confusion so Tony tries to explain. "You got the third star and now wannabe foodies wannabe mates with your maitre d'." Adam still looks confused so Tony throws out the piece de resistance: "Richard was straight."

Adam looks flummoxed. It's the same look he had when the salesmen they mistakenly thought were Michelin men sent back the sabotaged meal and Tony rises from his stool before remembering that it's not his place to hug away Adam's pain.

"But you met him on a dating site."

Tony shrugs, sloshing water onto the floor. Wait, why is he holding this? He stares accusingly at the now only three quarters full glass.

"Drink," Adam commands. "I'll make you some food."

“Spag bol!” Tony shouts happily. “Only,” he adds in an undertone, “make sure you sauté the onions and garlic. It’s really not good when you don’t.”

Adam smiles indulgently. “You got it boss.”

. . .

Adam can’t remember the last time he saw Tony drunk. At least not properly drunk, with the drunk-grin and the slight air of confusion in everything he says. It’s kind of sweet, the childlike glee on Tony’s face when he takes a bite of pasta and realizes it is as good as advertised, but it’s also a little heartbreaking. Adam isn’t a sentimental guy, but he can’t help but feel an ache for Tony and a deep anger at any man who would use him just to get ahead.

Of course, Adam realizes belatedly, he’s a hideous hypocrite because using Tony to get ahead is exactly how he came to be here, a three Michelin star chef, head of Adam Jones at the Langham.

He takes the empty plate from Tony and hands him another glass of water. “Drink.”

Tony complies much more readily now that Adam has apparently proven himself trustworthy with a plate of pasta. He downs the glass in a few swallows and then sets it decisively on the work top. Despite a generous helping of pasta and three glasses of water, Tony sways slightly on the stool.

Adam isn’t sure exactly what to do with him, but he realizes Tony wouldn’t want the entire staff knowing. Bad enough to have a horrible date – Adam still can’t really believe anyone is that big of a dick – without your gossipy hotel staff spreading stories of how you had to be poured into a cab by the head chef at two in the morning. As he cleans the last of the dishes they used tonight, Adam makes a decision.

He dries his hands on his apron and then moves to Tony’s side. “Alright, my friend, let’s find you a nice quiet place to sleep, okay?”

“Hmm?” Tony tilts his head to one side. Unfortunately his balance on the stool is precarious at best and the rest of his body follows.  

Adam only just manages to grasp Tony’s shoulders in time to keep him from smashing his head into the worktop. “Yeah… definitely need to get you horizontal.” He shakes his head. “Come on, Tony, up we get.”

It’s more than a little awkward, trying to maneuver a reluctant Tony to the elevator bank without attracting the attention of the entire night staff. Tony and upright have a complicated relationship. Every time Adam tries to get him to move under his own power it’s as if Tony’s legs turn to Jello.

“This isn’t outside.” Tony informs him when the elevator doors finally slide open.

“I’m not putting you in a cab like this,” Adam tells him, shoving Tony into the elevator. “Trust me, you don’t want to be that drunk guy who sleeps on the front steps of his building because he was too wasted to get inside. I’ve been that guy. The hangover is hell.”

Tony twists so his chest is pressed along Adam’s side. His eyes are unfocused but his forehead is furrowed in concern. “I thought you died you know.”

For a second it’s like the world has stopped. Adam blinks slowly and forces a breath in into his lungs. He knows he hurt Tony when he disappeared. He hurt everyone. He was a selfish douchebag. But this…?

The elevator doors slide open with a ding before Adam can from a response. Tony is still staring at him with that dazed, concerned expression.  “Tony…”

“This isn’t outside.” Tony pushes away from Adam and staggers crookedly into the hallway. “It’s going to be hard to get a cab in here.”

The elevator doors start to close. Adam sticks his hand out and stops them. “No cabs for you, Tony. Just a nice comfy bed.”  He shepherds Tony down the hall, unlocking the door with one hand, while blocking Tony’s attempt to walk right past it with the other. “In here.”

Tony pauses halfway into the room. His eyes narrow when he takes in the admittedly messy room. “Are you taking advantage of me Adam Jones?”

 “Would I do that?”

Tony frowns. “No.” He steps into the room and Adam thinks he hears Tony mutter, “Unfortunately,” and it’s another kick to the chest. 

Adam wants to apologize. But for what?  For not falling in love with Tony? Is that even something he can apologize for? The drugs, the shit he did because of the drugs or blamed on the drugs, the disappearing, the being a total asshole, sure, he can apologize for that. But he has never been in love in his life, so it seems wrong to feel guilty for not falling in love with Tony. He can’t apologize for that. And even if he could, there’s no way Tony is remembering any of this in the morning.  

“Go to sleep.” He says nodding towards the bed. “Things will be better in the morning.”

Tony toes off his shoes and then collapses on the bed. He burrows his head into the pillow and mumbles something incoherent.

Adam fetches the ice bucket and sets it in the crook of Tony’s elbow. “Just in case.” He says softly.

There is a groan that could have been ‘thank you’ or ‘fuck off’ and Adam smiles. “Sleep tight.”

. . .

Tony wakes slowly.  His head feels heavy his mouth tastes like stale liquor and old garlic, but he feels rested in a way he hasn’t in years. He draws in a deep breath through his nose and goes suddenly still.  He knows that smell.  It quickens his pulse, although right now he can’t say for sure if that’s fear or arousal. Why the fuck is he in Adam Jones’ bed?

A quick mental check tells him he’s fully dressed. Is that a relief? Probably. The last thing he remembers is… “Uuugh” he groans. Richard. Fake-foodie, fake-gay, fuck-headed twat Richard.

“Good morning sunshine.”  

“Fuck off.” Tony buries his head even more deeply into the pillow. If he takes a deep breath, pulling as much of Adam’s scent into his lungs as he can, he doesn’t think Adam notices.

“Now I know you said no to breakfast, but you really need to eat this or today is going to be hell, and I really don’t want to risk my perfect record, so sit up, man up, and eat everything on this tray.”  

Adam’s blithe chatter is like tiny little needles stabbing at Tony’s head, but despite the hangover, Tony is almost touched by the gesture, but not touched enough to want to emerge from the dark cocoon he has created in Adam’s bed.  

Adam, however, is a sadistic bastard. “Up!” He commands before pulling back the blankets in a sharp gesture and letting a stream of noxious sunlight at Tony’s face.

“Why?” Tony almost whimpers, trying and failing to shield his eyes.

“Because I never let you do this for me.”

The sudden gravitas cuts through Tony’s hangover and he sits up – too fast, way too fast, fuck Richard, jumped up wanker, and his overpour – and tries to catch Adam’s eyes.  “I—”

Adam’s eyes flick to Tony’s for half a second. He shakes his head. “Don’t.” He passes Tony a mug of coffee and tilts his head towards the heaped tray on the bedside table.  “I have to go, but take your time. You’ve got an hour until the staff arrives for lunch service.”

“Adam…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Adam hovers awkwardly for a moment at the door, an inscrutable expression on his face. “I’ll see you tonight?”

Tony takes a mouthful of coffee before responding. “Knowing my luck.”

“Another internet guy?” Adam doesn’t look as amused as he usually does when Tony tells him about his dating misadventures.

Tony nods.

“Good luck.” Adam’s smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

Tony eats most of the breakfast Adam made for him without really tasting it. He’s too busy trying not to think about the sad lonely future he can feel looming over him, or about the bleak look in Adam’s eyes.

 . . .

Yevgeny Shostakovich is the first man Tony has felt truly attracted to since the day Adam walked into Jean Luc’s dining room an entire lifetime ago. Other men have been attractive, but not the punch to the gut, heart stalls out, brain short circuits gorgeous. Tony finds it hard to focus on reading the menu because he keeps being distracted by Yevgeny’s strong jaw, close cropped light brown hair, Roman nose with just the smallest bump marking a place it was probably broken once, and pale grey eyes.

 When the waitress arrives, batting her thick black lashes at Yevgeny, Tony orders the special because it’s the only think he knows the restaurant has.  

“I’ll have the same.” Yevgeny’s voice is deep and carries a lilting hint of Russian that decades on English soil can’t quite banish.

The waitress writes down their orders and with a last flirtatious look at Yevgeny, which he ignores entirely, she leaves them in peace.

“So, Tony, what is a beautiful man like you doing on a dating site? Are the men in London blind or stupid?”

It’s a cheesy line, but Tony can’t help but be charmed, which is pretty much how the rest of the evening goes. Yevgeny is brazen and Tony is torn between blushing and laughing, and most importantly, he doesn’t think about Adam Jones at all.

When they finish eating, Tony accepts Yevgeny’s proposition that they “Keep this evening going a little longer.” They walk down well-lit streets seeing little of what they pass because they’re caught up learning everything they can about each other. Tony learn that Yevgeny has never eaten at a restaurant with a dress code, and he has definitely never heard of Adam Jones and the Langham. In fact, his idea of a perfect meal is a steak and kidney pie at his local, though he doesn’t indulge as often as he would like as a personal trainer needs to take at least a little care in his diet unless he wants to be very unemployed.

In turn Yevgeny is fascinated by Tony’s years working for Jean Luc in Paris and asks any number of questions that prove he truly has never been in a high end restaurant in his life. It shouldn’t be as charming as it is, but Yevgeny’s looks combined with the bitter memory of Richard put Yevgeny in the best of lights.  When they finally circle back to the restaurant Tony is sorry the evening has to end.

“I would really like to kiss you.” Yevgeny informs him frankly, one hand gently wrapping around Tony’s elbow.

Tony reaches up and cups the man’s strong jaw and presses his mouth to those generous lips he admired so much over dinner. It’s an almost lazy kiss. Yevgeny’s mouth parts under Tony’s. He tastes of the gelato they ate on their walk and the wine they had at dinner.  When they part it’s a moment before Tony opens his eyes and lets the rest for the world in. there were no firework, his heart didn’t stutter, but it was a nice kiss. The best he’s had in far too long.

“I will call you?”

Tony nods and then, just because he feels he can, presses a final closed mouth kiss against Yevgeny’s lips. “You do that.”

 Tony begins to walk back towards the Langham out of habit but changes his mind partway there. Adam will be in the kitchen alone working, but for once Tony doesn’t want to forget his evening. He wants to savour it. Sending a quick text so Adam won’t worry, he hails a cab and takes it back to his apartment. 

. . .

It has become something of a ritual, Tony showing up just after the kitchen crew has cleared out for the night, always with a bottle of something in one hand, a glass in the other, and a story about the latest moron he met on the internet.  It strikes Adam as strange that Tony suddenly seems to have embarked on a mission to date all of the eligible gay men in London, but everyone has reacted to their big win differently and Adam finds the ritual of working on a new dish while listening to Tony recount the latest disaster comforting. Dangerously so. In the moments between when his last staff member ducks out into the night and the second he catches the familiar scent of Tony’s understated cologne creeping in over the notes of bleach and spices that linger in the air at closing time Adam feels his pulse slowing, practically feels his blood vessels dilating, familiar sensations as his body prepares for another hit.

It would figure, he thinks stabbing into the pork loin on his cutting board with more vigour than strictly necessary, that his complete fuck up of a brain would turn what is likely the healthiest relationship he has ever had into some kind of addiction.

“Alright Adam,” Helene unties her apron and folds it. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Say hi to Lily for me.”

Helene’s smile is warm at the mention of her daughter. “She better not still be up.”

“In the morning, then.”  Adam amends. “You should bring her by Saturday, she can help taste test the new dessert menu.”

“Seriously?”

Adam swallows the flare of hurt at the genuine disbelief on her face. Yeah, he’s been a dick, but he’s changed, and he thought Helene of all people had noticed. “Only if you want. She’s quite the cake connoisseur.”

“Cheers, Adam. I’m sure she would love that.”

Adam has a smile playing about his lips for nearly an hour after Helene leaves. Here, in his kitchen, cooking food for the pure joy of it, Adam is happy. It’s only when he pulls the braised short ribs from the oven that he realizes something is missing. Or rather, someone. 

On most of his date nights, Tony slumped into the kitchen half-drunk right about now. Adam tells himself it’s no big deal, that Tony’s date went well, that his friend’s absence isn’t because Adam somehow fucked up again or because Tony is drunkenly passed out on some street corner. Still, he can’t help checking his phone every few minutes.

The fifth time he glares at his phone there’s a new message. “Seems not everyone on the internet is a wanker. I’ll see you tomorrow. - T”  

The quiet kitchen doesn’t feel quite as perfect as it did half an hour ago; it feels empty.

. . .

The next few weeks seem to blur together. Tony spends his afternoons and evenings at the Langham and his nights and mornings with Yevgeny. They sleep together on the second date and then nearly every night afterwards. Tony doesn’t ever wonder if he should have waited for the third date or until they had some kind of relationship talk. Everything with Yevgeny just feels easy.

It’s not love, but it’s orgasms and even a little cuddling and Tony thinks that might be even better. He doesn’t miss Yevgeny when they go a day without seeing each other, but he is always happy to see him and the sex is the best he’s ever had. Given time, Tony thinks he could fall hard for Yevgeny Shostakovich.

Despite their vastly different culinary palates and experiences, they have a surprising amount in common and Tony finds himself telling Yevgeny things he never imagined saying aloud to anyone but Dr. Rosshilde. He talks about his father, and about losing his mother, and one night as they lay twined together between his Egyptian cotton sheets, sated and still a little tipsy from the bottle of sake they shared over sushi – well, Tony ate sushi, Yevgeny tried two pieces before declaring himself an anti-pescatarian and digging out a bag of tortilla chips and a head of broccoli – Tony tells Yevgeny about Adam.  

“I met him when I was twenty. He was just a kid. Eighteen, straight off the plane, desperate to prove himself. He was such a cocky little shit. Convinced he was God’s gift in the kitchen. I guess that never really changed. But he had these hilarious ears. They weren’t huge, but they stuck out of the side of his head and reminded me of Dumbo wings. He’s grown into them, he grew into all of his features. But sometimes I miss that kid. The gangly, Dumbo eared kid who had the most intensely blue eyes I had ever seen and wanted so badly to matter in that world that he spent every last dime he had on a plane ticket and washed dishes for barely enough money to live for six months before Jean Luc decided to give him a shot with the food.”

Yevgeny traced the shell of Tony’s ear with one finger. “And you fell in love with him?”

“Immediately. I think he fulfilled some kind of saviour complex for me. I took one look into those desperate blue eyes and I wanted to take care of him.” Tony huffs out a self-deprecating laugh. “Of course Adam never wanted anyone to take care of him.  He still doesn’t. He’s absolutely the worst when he’s sick. I promise you there has never been a worse patient than Adam Jones. He once threw a bowl of soup at Anne Marie, Jean Luc’s daughter.”

“Did he --?”

“Love me back?” Tony interrupts. “No.  I thought once…” He swallows and shakes his head, refusing to let the memory surface. “But no. He never wanted me in that way.”

“And now?”

“It’s really nice to see him happy. There was a time I didn’t think I would ever see that again.” Tony knows he has left out a lot, Dr. Rosshilde would say he left out all of the most important information, but  it feels like he’s told Yevgeny the most important truths about he and Adam and for now that feels like enough.

“So this isn’t a rebound for you?” Yevgeny props himself up on his elbow and his grey eyes hold Tony’s.

Tony reads the sincerity in Yevgeny’s tone and expression and forces himself to think through his answer rather than spitting out the knee-jerk ‘Of course not!’ When he finally responds it feels like letting go of something he didn’t even know he was still hanging on to for dear life. “I think at the beginning that’s what all this – the internet dating – was, but no. You’re not a rebound.” He recalls Dr. Rosshilde’s instructions and his mouth lifts in a smile. “You’re someone with potential.”

“Potential.” Yevgeny kisses him softly. “I like that.”

. . .

“I think it’s working.”

“What’s that?”

“Your master plan to get Tony to stop being in love with me. I think it’s working.”

Dr. Rosshilde’s hands still for a moment and she trains her sharp eyes on Adam’s face. “Is that what you think this is about?”

“Of course that’s what it’s about.”

“You don’t sound particularly pleased with me.”

Adam drops his eyes to the needle still in his arm. It’s a moment before he can figure out what he wants to say. He knows these sessions are supposed to be just about giving his sample and that he should leave the unburdening for group, but the Dr. Rosshilde he gets on blood draw day is infinitely more approachable than the Dr. Rosshilde who runs the group session with a permanent soothing smile and constantly understanding eyes. He wants the real woman, the one who told him Tony was in love with him all those months ago when everything felt like life and death. “I miss him.”

She extracts the needle and presses a cotton ball against the spot for a few seconds. “Perhaps you should follow his lead?”

Adam snorts. “Online dating? No thank you.”

“It doesn’t have to be online dating. Just, putting yourself out there. Maybe meet someone new. Someone who doesn’t work in your kitchen or carry around your baggage with you.”

“Someone new I can disappoint?” Adam knows self-deprecation is like catnip to Dr. Rosshilde, but he can’t help it. The thought of meeting someone new and ever getting to a point where he has to disclose his past is not one he relishes.

“Perhaps a topic best left for group, hmm?”

Adam smirks. “Are you putting an end to my free sessions?”

“I think boundaries are important, don’t you?”

The question feels pointed and Adam suddenly feels wrong-footed. What the hell did Tony tell her? But he doesn’t ask because he knows that crosses a line. Which is progress, actually, knowing there’s a line and choosing not to cross it. Even six months ago Adam would have asked. He wouldn’t have been able to help himself. But he’s changed. Grown up, he thinks – finally – and so he sees the line and steps away from it instead of pushing past.  

Dr. Rosshilde packs up the sample kit and stands. She pats him on the shoulder as she steps past him. “You’re doing well, Adam.”

 Adam finds himself clinging to those words half an hour later as he sits in group feeling woefully inadequate. They're talking about things they're grateful for and Adam wants to roll his eyes and say something snide because there's nothing about his addiction he's grateful for and he hasn't yet moved far enough past it that he's able to look at any aspect of his life without colouring it with the self-loathing and general anger his still feels whenever he is confronted with his past and all the things his addiction destroyed. But then Edith, a middle aged alcoholic seated directly across the makeshift circle from Adam begins to speak and it's as if she's speaking for him, words he didn't even know he wanted to say but sentiments that resonated to his core as she described a love Adam had once thought only existed in fiction but now realizing with earth shattering clarity exists in unrequited romance and in unwavering friendship.

"My Alex never gave up on me." She says if with kind exasperation as if she almost thinks less of him for his faithfulness. "He got mad, of course, but he always believed I could do anything I set my mind to, even sobriety. He wasn't some toady. He didn't bow to my every whim or let me walk all over him. He got mad, challenged me, said no so many times I sometimes wanted to murder him, but he never abandoned me, never gave up hope that the woman he fell in love with would one day wake up and see him standing there, never more than an arm's length away, waiting."

Dr. Rosshilde thanks Edith for sharing and turns her sharp eyes to Adam. "What about you, Adam?"

He wants to glare at her, or say something flippant, like how he's grateful two business men from Birmingham were mistaken for Michelin men so Michel lost his chance to sabotage Adam's career. But Edith's words had penetrated the walk he usually erects for group and instead he says simply, "forgiveness and second chances."

He thinks she will ask him to elaborate but instead she smiles at him in approval and understanding and moves on, for which Adam is also deeply grateful. He's not sure he could articulate the thoughts circling his brain even if he wanted to. It’s like 5am, only instead of everything he regrets, all the mistakes he has made in his life – oh God there are so so many – it’s just Tony and all the ways Tony has been showing Adam he loves him for forever and all the ways Adam is a dick who will never ever deserve Tony but maybe it isn’t about deserving.

He doesn’t hear the rest of the session, doesn’t even notice the room has cleared until a warm hand clasps his shoulder. “Adam?”

He looks up into Dr. Rosshilde’s face. She looks so knowing that he almost spills out the whole mess, but he can’t find the words to start so he just returns the half smile she’s giving him.

“You’re doing well.” She repeats and the words are strangely soothing.

“I don’t know about that.” He says, rising to his feet. “But thank you for everything.”

“You should tell him.”

“He’s happy.”

“Is he?”

Adam considers this for a moment, sees the way Tony smiled at him just this morning. It was a bright, carefree smile, like the ones they used to exchange when Adam was the struggling new sous chef at Jean Luc’s and they spent the wee hours of most mornings getting drunk with the kitchen staff and complaining good naturedly about the slave-live of the restaurant employee while secretly loving every single second. The kinds of smiles Tony gave him before he learned to be reserved. “Yes. I think he is.”

“Perhaps.” She pats him on the shoulder as she moves past him to clear the coffee cups and other debris left behind from the group session.

Adam bids her goodnight and walks all the way back to the hotel, running that one word through his head the entire way. It sounds like hope.

. . .

Four weeks after their first dinner date Yevgeny cancels dinner because his old friend Paulo is in town for just one night and he wants to see him. Tony says it’s fine, because what else could he possibly say, but Paulo feels significant in a way he can’t put his finger on.

All night Tony is on edge. He never breaks his professional façade when he’s front of house, but he spends as much of the evening in his office as possible, and doesn’t set foot near the kitchen.  The last thing he needs to see when he’s fighting the paranoid thought that Paulo is more to Yevgeny than an ‘old friend’ is to see the man he told Yevgeny he would probably always love.

At ten Tony calls Yevgeny to say goodnight. The call goes to voicemail and the little knot of worry in his stomach grows. He goes to bed early and passes a restless night trying not to assume the worst.

Of course when his phone rings at nine am sharp and it’s Yevgeny asking if Tony can meet him for lunch, he can no longer shake the worst case scenario from his mind.

They meet at a pub downtown. It’s not one they have ever eaten at before, for which Tony is grateful. He would rather not do this somewhere that holds happy memories of he and Yevgeny splitting forbidden pub foods or making out in a dark corner booth.

Yevgeny looks awful – still gorgeous, but like he hasn’t slept and is nursing a hangover from hell. Tony slides into the red pleather booth across from him and waits silently for Yevgeny to begin to speak.

The details aren’t quite what Tony’s imagination conjured for him, but the gist is the same. With eyes half filled with tears of regret, Yevgeny tells him about Paulo. How they met five years ago, fell in love, and lived together for three years before Paulo’s job as a photojournalist sent him on the trip of a lifetime to Kenya and Yevgeny asked him to stay. Yevgeny tells Tony he really thought he was over it, but that the moment he heard Paulo’s voice on the phone, saw his face over a candle at dinner, he knew those feelings are still there, never left, and it’s not fair to Tony that Yevgeny stays with him when those feelings are still so strong.

Tony nods in all the right places. Of course he understands. No one understands the pain of thinking the love of your life is gone forever more than Tony. He even manages to smile before kissing Yevgeny hard and walking away.

He walks for a long time. He’s not even sure where he’s going until he ends up in front of the Burger King Adam once dragged Helene to. He remembers when she told him that story, how he had been shocked and apologetic until he realized she was laughing about it and then he was laughing too. Food for the people. It was something twenty-one year old Adam would have done just to make a woman think he was more impressive than he knew he was and in that moment Tony had missed that Adam, the pre-drug, pre-redemption-run, pre-any Michelin star Adam, the Adam who had just loved food and wanted to learn everything there was about it, so much that it was a physical ache in his chest. Without really considering if he was hungry or not, Tony steps inside and orders a Whopper and fries. Food for the people.

He’s too nauseated to eat it. But he takes the tray and finds a table in the middle of the restaurant, where the noise and the late lunch crowd are the thickest and he can let it roll over him and he doesn’t have to think.

. . .

“Have you talked to Tony?”

Adam looks up, surprised to see Kaitlin in the kitchen when the servers are still setting up the dining room for lunch service. “Not since yesterday. He’s not here?”

Her eyes belie her worry even as she smiles and says he’s probably stuck in traffic.

Adam watches her until she disappears from view and then tries to turn his attention back to the lam he’s prepping, but he can’t focus. His attention keeps wandering out into the dining room, and beyond that to the streets of London where he tells himself Tony is poshly swearing as he realizes he’s about to miss the beginning of the lunch service. Except, Adam can’t remember Tony ever being late and as the seconds tick by Adam’s stomach tightens in worry. Something is wrong.

“Helene!” He calls, waiting only until her eyes meet his before telling her she’s running the pass at lunch today. He puts David in charge of finishing prep on the lamb and then trades his apron for a jacket and steps out into the alley.  

 He has no idea where to go. But the logical first step in determining whether or not Tony is actually just running late or if one of the worst case scenarios circling through Adam’s brain has come to pass is to just call him. Of course, he’s sure Kaitlin has tried more than once, but he pulls out his phone and dials anyway.

“I’m alive. I haven’t been kidnapped or drugged or otherwise harmed. Tell Kaitlin I’m sorry.” Tony says in lieu of a greeting. His voice is flat and there is so much background noise Adam can’t be sure, but Tony does not sound okay. He sounds like he’s barely holding it together.

“Tony…” He doesn’t know what to ask so he lets the silence hang for a moment.

“I can’t believe you actually brought a chef here.”

For a moment Adam thinks Tony is drunk, and then he remembers that Helene told Tony about the Burger King interview. Now he knows something is wrong. “Stay put. I’ll make sure Kaitlin knows you’re alive and then we need to talk.” Not that Adam is the right person to talk to in any life crisis, but he can’t just let Tony sit in a Burger King wallowing in… well, he’ll find out what in a few minutes.

Kaitlin doesn’t look as comforted as Adam thinks she should when he tells her he’s going to go check on Tony. But she tells him she has the restaurant under control and promises she and Helene will do Adam Jones and the Langham proud and he gives her a broad smile in thanks. He flags down a black cab because he’s not entirely sure Tony will actually wait and he really doesn’t want to chase his friend all over London.

He needn’t have worried. When he steps through the door to Burger King he sees Tony immediately.  He stands in the doorway for a moment, taking in the untouched tray and the frozen, glassy eyed expression on Tony’s face. He doesn’t need to ask what happened. It’s obvious from the tableau Tony presents that the relationship that had made him smile so happily only a few days ago was over.

In ten steps Adam is standing in front of Tony’s table, looking down at unseeing eyes. “Walk with me, now.” And it’s not an offer, it’s an order.

Tony blinks twice and then rises to his feet. He may be Adam’s boss at the Langham, but right now he’s not in any shape to boss anyone.

They don’t really talk as they walk down the streets of London. But they don’t need to talk. Around them restaurants serve their lunch crowds, but Tony’s head chef isn’t serving lunch, he’s wandering aimlessly and silently beside his oldest friend and for once he thinks he is exactly where he is supposed to be.

Eventually Tony starts to talk. He tells Adam about Yevgeny and then about Paulo and Adam curses under his breath and claps Tony on the shoulder.

“I’m sorry man.”

“It’s okay. Mostly I just miss the sex” That makes Adam laugh – after a moment of what Tony hopes is shocked silence because Tony never talks about sex and not disgust at the thought of Tony having sex.  They return to the restaurant in time for the dinner rush and that night Tony is back in the kitchen.

. . .

They don’t talk about Yevgeny again, or that afternoon, but somehow everything is different after that. Tony notices that Helene never stays in the evenings anymore. If she and Adam want to work on something together they do it Saturday mornings, almost always with Lily and Tony sitting side by side at the chef’s table offering loud criticism of the dishes they are served. Tony hasn’t ever really been a kid person. He’s an only child. But Lily holds a special place in his heart and teaming up with her against Adam and Helene most Saturday mornings quickly becomes one of his favourite things.

It helps, he admits to himself, that whatever the spark was between Helene and Adam was that had always looked a lot like arousal to Tony’s admittedly green eyes has been replaced by an almost fraternal affection and the deep respect of one skilled craftsperson to another.  They’re friends, and colleagues, but if there was ever any real sexual tension it is long gone.

Adam has changed too. He hasn’t broken a dish in anger since before he won his third star, and Tony can’t remember a time he saw a kitchen crew as bonded as theirs is most nights. Sure, it’s not all perfect. There’s still yelling, a lot of yelling, and once every couple of weeks a diner will send back a dish and Adam gets that look on his face that tells Tony he’s barely holding it together. But miraculously he does hold it together and they get through another night.

Tony doesn’t ask Dr. Rosshilde directly about Adam, he knows she can’t tell him anything interesting without breaking doctor-patient confidentiality, but he always hopes she will let something slip during their sessions. He knows Adam is still submitting to weekly blood tests and for the first time since Adam reappeared, Tony feels like the guilty one in their friendship.  Nearly a month after Yevgeny left him, Tony tells Dr. Rosshilde he doesn’t need her to test Adam any longer.

Deciding to trust Adam completely feels a little like stepping off a cliff. But Dr. Rosshilde smiles broadly at Tony and he knows without her saying anything that she thinks he’s making the right decision. He wonders if he should have done this months ago.  

After that he feels like Adam’s eyes are always on him. He doesn’t actually catch him at it often, but it feels like every time he walks into the kitchen he feels like he’s being watched, studied. When their eyes do meet there is something like approval in Adam’s gaze and Tony always looks away first. It makes his neck feel hot and his shoes oddly too small and Tony starts to avoid coming in to the kitchen during operating hours because he’s half convinced he will get captivated in those eyes and end up tipping over a whole service onto the floor.

He manages to keep it up, the avoidance and the not embarrassing himself by destroying a service, for an entire week before Adam appears in Tony’s office with two plates of food.

“You’re avoiding me.” Adam sets the plates down and pulls up the second chair.

“I’m not.”

Adam raises both eyebrows incredulously. “You never come into the kitchen during service.” 

“I’m managing the front. You’ve got the kitchen under control.” 

Adam looks unconvinced, but he pops a scallop in his mouth and the interrogation is on pause at least until he finishes chewing.

Tony takes a deep gulp from the glass of wine he was enjoying with the evening’s bookkeeping. 

“You haven’t been dating either.” 

Tony looks down at his plate and pretends it takes all of his concentration to load up a perfectly balanced forkful of food. “I don’t think online dating is for me.” 

“So you’re still trying to meet someone?”

When Tony flicks his eyes up he reads a clear challenge in Adam’s. “Not actively, no.” 

“So you’re avoiding the kitchen and you’re not dating.” Adam ponders this for a second before a look somewhere between shock and horror flits over his face. “It’s David isn’t it? If he messed you around I’ll fire him in a heartbeat, you know that right?”

Tony rolls his eyes. “I’m not dating David. He has a girlfriend. Didn’t you used to live with them?” 

Adam shrugs, his eyes sparkle. “So you’re…?”

“Single, celibate, going to die alone and likely eaten by wild dogs? Yes, yes, and dear God I hope not but probably. Happy?”   

“Ditto. Only I sincerely hope you’ll notice your head chef is gone soon enough to avoid that last one. Are wild dogs really that much of a problem in London?”

Tony laughs. “It’s a Bridget Jones thing.”

“Bridget who?”

“Jones. 1990s book and later movie about being thirty and single in London. Don’t worry, I don’t think you would have been able to relate.”

Now it’s Adam’s turn to roll his eyes. “Because I’ve of course never been single or lonely in my life.” 

Have you ever been single and lonely in your life?” Tony is genuinely curious because if he’s honest he always thought Adam got with whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted and though he’s not sure that’s a healthy way to live, from the outside looking on it looks pretty fucking great.

“Not so lonely anymore.” Adam holds Tony’s gaze. “Not in the last few months anyway. I never said thank you did I?” 

“For what?”

“Everything. This kitchen, the staff, believing in me, just... being here.”

“It was my genuine pleasure.”  

“Helene thinks I manipulated you into it.”

“Well, maybe, but it really has been much more pleasure than pain.”

Adam smiles and turns his attention to his food. They finish eating in silence and when Tony rises to clear the dishes, Adam lets him without complaint. He follows Tony to the kitchen, however, and settles on the stool Tony usually occupies and leans back, elbows resting on the worktop to watch Tony scrub the plates clean and set them in the drying rack.

When Tony turns around the look in Adams eyes stops him in his tracks. He’s seen that look enough times to think he knows what it means and he has to stop himself from looking behind to see who just appeared in the washing up sink because it isn’t possible that Adam is looking at Tony like that. That look usually comes about 72 hours before yet another female staff member shows up with mascara stains on her cheeks and quits in cloud of shattered porcelain and screaming. But then Adam is standing up and Tony still can’t move. He doesn’t move until Adam crowds him back against the sink, those blue eyes leaving Tony’s only to flit down to his lips and then back up. For a breathless moment Tony is certain he slipped on his way to the sink and is now in a coma because it’s the only explanation that makes sense in his brain, but then Adam’s calloused left hand is cupping Tony’s jaw and they’re kissing. Or rather, Adam is kissing, Tony is still doing his best impersonation of a deer caught in the headlights.

Adam breaks the kiss but he doesn’t move away. He rests his forehead against Tony’s and just breathes. His hands move to rest on Tony’s shoulders and then slide around and he twists his fingers into the short hair at the nape of Tony’s neck. His hold is firm, keeping Tony in place, but Tony knows if he tried to move away he could, easily. But of course he can’t move away. He’s rooted to the spot and his brain has short circuited because the entire world has been reduced to those fingers in his hair, the hot, breath on his face and the pounding of his heart against his rib cage.

It feels like they freeze there forever, but it’s only five breaths. It takes five breaths for Tony to believe he didn’t hallucinate this and he isn’t somehow forcing himself on Adam, and he definitely never really got over that whole thing where his happiness depends on Adam’s happiness or the desperate wish that one day Adam’s happiness might actually be his to control or at least contribute to.

It takes five breaths for him to kiss Adam back. Adam kisses like he cooks, bold, fearless, and better than anyone Tony has ever known.

"I have a room upstairs. And I make a mean breakfast" Adam whispers against Tony's throat. His hands have wandered down to cup Tony's ass, and they're pulled so close together Tony can feel Adam's heart pounding through his chest and a stirring of definite arousal against his belly.

"You're going to cook me breakfast instead of falling in love with me?" Tony echoes his own words from months ago when Adam was a broken version of himself and Tony wished there was an off switch for love. He doesn't feel that way now.

He tilts his head to give Adam better access to his throat and cards his fingers through Adam's hair and thinks they should probably get upstairs before this becomes something they can't stop and they end up ending their first time together disinfecting the kitchen.

Adam pulls back just far enough to lock those startlingly blue eyes on Tony's face. That heady look of lust is still there in the blown pupils and ragged breaths, but there's something else too when he answers: "I thought I might try to do both."

And it's not a declaration. It's not requited love, not yet. But it's hope. And then Adam is half pulling Tony towards the elevator, pausing every few steps to kiss or caress or both and it's fireworks, and then it's Adam Jones in his room at the Langham and it's orgasms and a little bit of cuddling and Tony is happy.

In the morning Adam cooks Tony breakfast and it's just eggs benedict and coffee and savoury kisses. It's just food, but it feels like everything.