This story is a gift for the lovely, funny, talented, clever and just all-round awesome Pixie, a.k.a This Could Theoretically Be Sparta. ( /u/1999566/) (Go read her fics if you haven't already - she is a fantastic author, and you won't regret it!) It started as a birthday gift, but stretched out much longer than that, (sorry!) so I think of it now as a well-deserved gift simply for being such a funny, honest, and interesting friend. Pixie, you rock, and I hope you enjoy this little story I've written for you. ^_^
LA PATISSERIE DE LA ROSE
A Delicious Love Story in Six Portions
Pairing: Francis Bonnefoy/Matthew Williams (France/Canada)
Summary: Human AU. Accountant Matthew Williams is used to being unnoticed, ignored, and forgotten. That is until pastry chef Francis Bonnefoy appears like a burst of colour in his dull, grey life.
Venus et Éclair
It was a dull, grey morning as Matthew walked briskly down the dull, grey street. It was the ninth morning he had walked to work down this very street, every one the same, every one dull and grey. Matthew was used to being passed over and unnoticed, but in this new, huge city, he felt completely invisible. This place was too large and unfriendly: hundreds of people hurrying past with their eyes on the ground, practically identical in their grey suits with their grey expressions. Grey buildings lined both sides of the street; grey shops and businesses all blended together. And it seemed that every day the sky overhead was dark with the promise of rain. Matthew clenched his hand around his briefcase, clenched his teeth as the teeming crowd pushed past him unseeing. At least his little apartment was not far from his large office block, so this dull, grey, every-morning walk did not take long.
It was a good opportunity, they had said. A promotion to a new position in the big city. And Matthew had never been good at confrontation, so he had simply said thank you, packed up his dull little life, and moved across the country to become another number cruncher lost in a faceless company. He had been here two weeks now, but no one in his office even knew his name yet. He was pretty sure no one even knew what he did.
Matthew suddenly had to dodge out the way of a man not watching where he was going. Just as he fell against a shop wall to avoid a head-on collision, it began raining heavily. Matthew groaned to himself. This day was starting even better than usual.
Matthew put his briefcase over his head and began to look for cover. His eyes darted along the street, looking for an awning or a ledge or any kind of shelter from the pelting rain. And then, like a bright burst of colour exploding into this grey morning, his gaze fell on the most colourful little shop window he had ever seen. He took a few steps closer, fascinated. Variously shaped and coloured cakes and pastries sat arranged like an art exhibit on white-clothed tables and silver tiers: little fruit tarts, pies topped with berries, plates of red and pink iced biscuits, white dusted muffins, cupcakes of every colour of the rainbow. Matthew almost forgot the rain as he stared at the visual feast, his mouth starting to water, his eyes drinking in the explosion of colour. But he quickly began to shiver, realised the rain was soaking through his clothes, and darted into the shop.
A cheerful little bell announced his arrival as the warmth of the place engulfed Matthew immediately. Inside, the burst of colour was even more intense, along with the sweet, delightful scent of melted chocolate and baking bread. The nostalgic sound of Edith Piaf's unmistakable voice flowed softly through the shop; elegantly framed black and white photographs of Parisian landmarks decorated the walls. A glass counter ran across the back of the room, separating the front of the small shop – the word 'cosy' sprang to mind - from a little serving area behind. Matthew felt strangely comfortable in here; oddly at ease as he looked around at the side shelves of even more exquisitely lovely sweets and pastries. He had already eaten breakfast – pancakes with maple syrup and a café latte at 7am sharp, the same as every morning – but he felt suddenly famished.
"Bonjour, monsieur!" Matthew looked up at the voice. The man behind the counter blinked as Matthew turned, his eyes widened, and he looked Matthew up and down. "Well, bonjour!" he said again, emphasising the second part of the word, then leant forward on the counter and smiled brightly. He had wavy blond shoulder-length hair and slight facial stubble on his handsome face, and was dressed in jeans and a flour-dusted apron. And there was something about the way he smiled, the way he leant easily on the counter, the way his dancing blue eyes ran across Matthew's body – Matthew felt himself blushing red, without really knowing why.
"Bonjour," Matthew responded, somewhat hesitantly.
"Can I give you a… hand, by any chance?" Matthew had to pause and wonder whether the blond baker had actually meant it to sound like that. The man winked and Matthew's eyebrows shot up. Oh. He had.
"No, thank you. It's just…" Matthew looked down at himself, his suit dripping rain onto the floor. He was creating puddles all over the shop. "Well, it started raining, and I didn't want to get wet, but… well, it looks like I have anyway, doesn't it. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to drench your floor. I'll just go."
"No!" The man said it so sincerely that Matthew stopped immediately. "No, please," the man continued, softer. "Stay there one moment."
Matthew waited, a little unsure, as the baker disappeared out the back door. He reappeared a moment later with a white, fluffy towel in his hands, then walked through a gap in the counter by the wall and handed the towel to Matthew. Matthew smiled carefully as he took it.
"Thank you," said Matthew as he placed his briefcase down and dried his hair, feeling a little awkward at using this stranger's towel. Now that he was so close, Matthew could see that the baker stood at an equal height to his own, those dancing blue eyes still travelling up and down. He smelt like caramel and spun sugar. And why did he keep looking at him like that? Like he was almost amused, his eyebrows raised and his lips curled upwards.
"But not at all. You are on your way to work?" The man's voice was heavily accented. He could possibly be from Quebec, but something about him seemed undeniably French.
"Yes," replied Matthew. "Or I was, before the rain caught me."
The man tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Let me guess. The suit tells me… investment banker?"
Matthew exhaled sharply in amusement. "Close. Accountant."
The man wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Oh, I do apologise." Matthew rolled his eyes and tried not to laugh. "But please, forgive my rudeness. My name is Francis. Welcome to La Patisserie de la Rose!" Francis held his hand out and Matthew took it in a firm handshake. Francis' hands were smooth with flour.
"Thank you. I'm Matthew." Matthew quickly found himself fascinated by those dancing blue eyes. Just what was going on here? This man certainly seemed interested in him. But then maybe he introduced himself to all his customers like this. "Your patisserie is… well, it's amazing. Do you make all these yourself?"
Francis nodded slightly, his expression pleased and proud. "Every one, my dear. I am an artiste, and these are my humble creations."
"They're incredible," said Matthew honestly, his eyes falling on a fully formed and intricately decorated gingerbread house, complete with marshmallow windows and liquorice latticework and even a chocolate chimney. "I can't believe I've never noticed this place before, and I walk past every day. Of course, I've only been in town two weeks." He realised too late that Francis had called him 'my dear' and felt just a little awkward again. But then, Francis seemed like the type of man who could get away with using endearments like that with virtual strangers. Or the type of man who simply didn't care.
"Two weeks, hmm? That makes sense. If you had been in before, I surely would have remembered."
No, he definitely seemed interested. Matthew had to wonder at the statement. He was not the type of person people remembered. He was not the type of person who was flirted with by complete strangers, either. Beneath the awkwardness and slight confusion, Matthew was also starting to feel strangely flattered.
"So exactly where on earth did you drop in from?" continued Francis easily.
"Just a little town up north. You wouldn't have heard of it… no one has. I must admit, I'm not used to a city this big."
"This is nothing to Paris, my dear." Francis pronounced it the French way, and Matthew nodded to himself. French – of course.
"Paris? I wondered about the accent."
Francis sighed dramatically. "Oui, Paris, the city of my heart, and where I perfected my trade."
Matthew looked over a little table display of exquisitely embellished red velvet cupcakes, then back at Francis with a tiny, uncertain smile. "You are very talented." Matthew wasn't sure if he was flirting back, and wasn't sure if he wanted to. It was definitely not something he was used to.
"You are too kind to say so. But my artwork is not just for looking, Mathieu. Tell me." Francis' blue eyes twinkled playfully. "How can I tempt you this morning?"
Matthew tightened his grip on the towel. How did Francis make those innocent words sound so – well – un-innocent? Matthew swallowed and stammered. He had quickly reached the limits of his flirting ability. "Uh… well, I don't really know…"
Francis smirked and beckoned him with a finger before walking back to the counter. Matthew followed, slightly dazed, his eyes travelling downwards of their own accord. The way Francis walked - the phrase 'sex on legs' immediately entered Matthew's mind, and he mentally slapped himself for thinking something so ridiculous. He placed the towel down on a stool by the counter. Francis reached into the glass cabinet, pulled out a tray of bite-sized desserts, and laid them on the counter. Matthew studied them closely. Perfectly smooth, round, white meringues topped with little red berry tips. Matthew gasped when he realised what they were. "Oh!"
"My own version of the famous Nipples of Venus," said Francis, grinning wickedly. "Or, if you prefer, I have these…" Francis reached again into the cabinet, bringing out another tray of unusually shaped desserts, and laid them beside the meringues with a flourish. Matthew recognised immediately what these were. The miniature log éclairs had two little chocolate orbs attached at one end, and a darkened little sculpted end at the other.
"Oh!" said Matthew again, feeling his cheeks burn bright red. He had to stop himself putting a hand to his mouth, determined not to look like some sort of blushing schoolgirl. What sort of man made pastries like these? He forced himself to look directly at Francis. "Please tell me they're not cream-filled."
Francis laughed lightly, then gestured dramatically over the two trays. "So, Mathieu. Which do you prefer?"
Matthew's eyes went wide and his mouth almost fell open. Surely, he couldn't be asking… Francis winked. Oh. He was asking. The room felt suddenly very hot, despite Matthew's wet clothes. Well. This was one way to ask a sensitive question… Matthew took a deep breath, told himself to man up, and very deliberately reached out and picked up one of the little éclairs. Francis' grin widened. He looked positively thrilled. Matthew suddenly did not know what to do with his hands, with his eyes. Francis looked pointedly at the éclair in Matthew's hand and inclined his head slightly.
"Please. Tell me what you think."
And now came the dilemma of actually eating a pastry shaped like a penis in front of a man he'd just met. Matthew wasn't quite sure if there was a correct manner to do such a thing. But he certainly wasn't about to back down now, so he just met Francis' gaze evenly, and placed the éclair in his mouth. And then he forgot to feel awkward, or embarrassed, or any of it. Because this was the most amazing thing he had ever tasted. The hard chocolate layer cracked between his teeth and gave way to a silky, white chocolate centre that melted on his tongue. The contrast of textures played on his senses, the touch and smell and incredible taste of it; the brief richness of dark cocoa, the sweet burst of flavoured cream, the lingering lightness of sugar-dusted pastry. Matthew couldn't stop his eyes fluttering closed, the final taste like an explosion on his taste buds, and he swallowed almost regretfully. His fingers lingered on his mouth and he drew his bottom lip between his teeth, took a deep breath and sighed. "Oh, wow."
Francis laughed breathily and Matthew's eyes flew open. "Was it good for you?" asked Francis, his eyes slightly lowered, his cheeks just the tiniest bit darker.
"Wow," said Matthew again, unthinkingly. He had never tasted anything like that in his life. "That was the most incredible thing I've ever had in my mouth."
Francis looked quite self-satisfied. "I hear that a lot."
Matthew dropped his hand and laughed shakily. What a completely embarrassing, new, strange, amazing situation. "Uh, I mean... I'll take a dozen."
Francis shook his head and folded his arms. "No."
Matthew blinked his wide eyes, taken aback. "No?"
"No. I could not stand to have you make such a display without me there to watch. It would be a betrayal, darling." Matthew raised an eyebrow. Darling, now? "If you want more…" Francis' expression twisted deviously, "You'll just have to come back." Matthew wasn't sure whether to feel flattered or just really annoyed. He glanced back down at the plate of pastries, but Francis took it away and placed it back under the glass. "Uh-uh. I think I shall allow you… one a day, yes?"
"You can't do that!" said Matthew indignantly.
Francis smirked. "Oh, but I can, dear Mathieu. After all, I need some assurance that you will return to me, don't I?"
Despite his annoyance, Matthew felt a warm glow in his chest. Francis must really be interested in him to go to such elaborate lengths to see him again. Matthew studied the baker closely: his alluring smile and teasing expression, the seductive way he leant against the counter and gazed with heavy lidded eyes. Matthew realised that he wanted to see Francis again, too. He had never met anyone so brazen, so… intriguing. Matthew sighed and rolled his eyes in surrender. Francis grinned in triumph. "Fine. But it's terrible customer service. What do I owe you?" Francis frowned, and Matthew knew immediately he had said the wrong thing. He began to stammer an apology, but Francis just shook his head and clicked his tongue.
"Ever the accountant, no? Please, Mathieu." Francis placed a hand to his chest. "All I require in payment is the great pleasure of your company."
At the mention of his work, Matthew suddenly gasped. Oh, he had gotten so carried away… "Oh, no! I'm going to be late!"
"And such perfect timing. It has stopped raining."
Matthew jumped up and rushed for his briefcase. He looked out the window at the clearing skies and saw that Francis was right. "I'm so sorry, I have to dash! Oh no, and I've already been late twice this week… Um, thank you, Francis, and it was nice to meet you, and…" He turned back to see Francis resting his chin on his hand, smiling at him softly. Matthew immediately forgot the rest of his panicked rant.
"Tomorrow, yes? Until then." Francis waved his fingers lightly. "Au revoir, mon cher."
Matthew bit his lip, then smiled across the charming, bright little shop at the bold, captivating French baker. "Yes," he replied, nodding. "Tomorrow."
Matthew stepped out of the patisserie and, before taking off again down the street, glanced back at the door he had just walked out of. There was an intricate red rose carved into the wood. The entire patisserie was more like something from an enchanting little Parisian alley than this grey, industrial street where all the buildings looked the same and no one looked you in the eye. And yet, now, the dull, grey world seemed just a little bit brighter. Matthew spent the rest of the day thinking of Francis, of visiting the little patisserie again tomorrow. And Matthew realised, that for the first time in weeks, he was actually looking forward to something.