CHAPTER SIX
Champagne et Chocolat

.

Francis could not say what was worse about this waiting. The freezing cold; the tight anxiety in the pit of his stomach; the entire surreal reality of where he was and what he was doing. He'd spent the last three days organising this, had blown his entire savings doing it, and he still could not quite believe he had managed it. But at the same time, he did not regret it. After all, what better way to prove to Matthew that Francis was serious about him? To prove he loved him and understood him and wanted the gorgeous Canadian in his life? But if Matthew said no… if he walked away… oh God, if he laughed at him… Francis took a deep breath and tried to stop his self-sabotaging imagination from conjuring up even more awful possibilities. He twisted his hands together and focused on the positives – hey, if all else failed, at least this was a good business opportunity. Francis shifted on the horribly cold, uncomfortable bench, and glanced sideways through the dim light. Actually, he did know the worst part of this cold, nervous waiting. The man who was keeping him company.

"Having fun yet, darling?"

Arthur sneered over his needlework. He was rather violently knitting what looked like a bright pink tea cosy. "Don't darling me, frog. I'm only here as moral support for Matthew when he inevitably rejects you."

Francis couldn't help laughing. It was comforting how some things never changed. "How I've missed your particular brand of vicious, gut-stabbing optimism, Arthur."

Arthur shot him a derisive glare. "How I wish I could return the compliment. Oh wait - no I don't."

Francis just shrugged, tapped his feet on the ground, and glanced again around the dark, barren, damned freezing hall. His stomach twisted in knots, and this silence was driving him mad. He needed a distraction. "So, what are you up to these days, darl- Arthur? Besides shacking up with the most famous quarterback in America?" Francis gave a tiny salute. "Well done, by the way."

"I own a bookshop." Arthur returned the gesture without looking up. "And cheers."

"A bookshop?" Francis nodded thoughtfully and drummed his fingers on the bench. "Lovely. Appropriate. Do you still own that massive collection of Victorian pornography?"

Arthur's hands fumbled and his knitting needles slipped. "Those books are for historical research purposes only!"

"Research," Francis repeated doubtfully. "Nothing… personal, of course."

"Of course not!" Arthur was quickly turning a rather interesting shade of red. "And the collection isn't massive at all!"

"I seem to recall an entire bookshelf full," Francis replied innocently.

Arthur's knuckles were white as he gripped the needles. "It was never an entire bookshelf!"

Francis bit back a giggle. Oh, this was too easy… "Heavy, well-thumbed tomes jam-packed with virgins and incest and lusty, well-hung British gentlemen, conquering and deflowering and…"

A needle snapped. "RESEARCH!"

Francis smirked. "There's no need to be embarrassed, darling, we all have our kinks."

Arthur peered fiercely sideways, reaching into his bag for a new knitting needle. "Sailors, wasn't it?"

Francis' smirk fell immediately. So much for distraction. "If I hear one more word…" he muttered irritably.

More uncomfortable silence, but for the furious clacking of Arthur's knitting needles. Once again, Francis' mind started to turn. It took him five minutes to realise he was chewing on his perfectly manicured nails. "This is crazy, isn't it?" He wasn't even sure whom he was asking. "Tell me, honestly, this is mad."

Arthur paused his knitting. "Honestly?"

Francis' heart sunk. "Yes."

"This is mad."

"Merde." Francis dropped his head despondently into his hands. "What would you do, Arthur? What would you do if someone did this for you?"

"This?" Arthur looked around pointedly. "After barely knowing the bloke a week? I'd freak out, naturally, and run like hell."

Francis felt sick. "Dieu au secours..."

Arthur stayed silent for a moment more. "You're nervous," he said finally. He sounded incredulous.

Francis threw his hands up in the air. "Of course I am nervous! What if Matthew does not believe me? What if he simply turns and leaves? Why am I even asking you this, qu'est que c'est… What if he spits in my face, Arthur?"

Arthur looked much too pleased by that last scenario. "You'll get over it, old chap. Besides, look on the bright side - everyone will be much better off. Besides you, of course, but that's of little consequence."

"You are such a little shit."

"And you are an arrogant, swaggering Lothario." Arthur spat the words viciously. But then he let out a deep breath and tilted his head, his eyes narrowed appraisingly. "Well, most of the time. Which is why this nervousness is so surprising. You actually love Matthew, don't you?"

Francis simply gestured around the enormous room, at the lengths he had gone to for his radiant Canadian. "And you realise this now?"

Arthur wrinkled his forehead curiously. He almost seemed apologetic. "It is a hard thing to fathom that you could care for anything but your next shag. Perhaps I underestimated you."

This conversation was becoming far too amiable for Francis' liking. He had to break the mood. "Having regrets, Arthur? You're not still upset that…" Francis gestured between them. "That this didn't work?"

Arthur rolled his eyes and sneered angrily. "Oh, come off it, Francis."

Francis wagged his eyebrows. "Admit it, the sex was good." Arthur eyed him doubtfully, and Francis felt immediately indignant. If nothing else, he knew he was good in that department. Francis was a blasted God in that department. How dare Arthur insinuate otherwise! "What?"

Arthur rested his knitting in his lap, leant back on the bench, and fixed Francis with a penetrating stare. "Tell me. Have you ever actually slept with someone you were in love with?"

"Uh…" Francis had to think about that. He thought about it for a very long time. He was almost embarrassed to reply… "…no."

"Oh, Francis." Arthur looked far too smug as he shook his head and laughed. "Just you wait."

Sleeping with someone he loved. With Matthew... The thought of it sent Francis' blood firing downwards and he had to bite his lip. Best not to think too much on that subject right now. He changed it to something suitably horrifying. "You do realise that if Matthew takes me back, that will basically make us brothers-in-law."

Arthur's features changed from smug to horrified in an instant. "Oh, bloody hell. Can you imagine Christmas?"

Arthur drinking all the cooking brandy, Francis' beautifully baked Christmas cake splattered against the wall… "All too easily," Francis groaned.

"I suppose all we can do is hope for the best. He probably won't take you back."

Francis laughed, slapping Arthur on the back with perhaps the slightest bit too much force. "I hate you, Arthur."

Arthur grinned, though it may have been a snarl. "You too, darling."

.

Alfred had been sleeping on Matthew's couch for three days now. Not that Matthew minded, really. It was actually nice to have something help take his mind off things – even if it was coming home to find his bathroom repainted, or his kitchen walls coated in deep-fried grease, or a small collection of paparazzi photographers on his doorstep. At least Alfred's daily exploits added some sense of life to Matthew's otherwise dull, listless, heartbroken days. But even with these small diversions, Matthew still could not stop thinking of Francis. His warm, sexy smile, his teasing voice, that perfect, blissful sense of belonging Matthew felt in his presence. Nothing, no one, had ever impacted his boring life so much. He was almost at the point of finally caving in and running to the patisserie to beg for some sort of hope or closure or who even knew what.

Because, well… what if Matthew did have it wrong? What if he'd jumped too quickly to the wrong conclusion? What if Francis really had liked him... had more than liked him... and everything Matthew had heard to suggest otherwise was simply a misunderstanding? But those questions were pointless. Nothing more than desperately wishful thinking. That bright, brief romance was over, and the sooner he came to terms with that the better.

It was Wednesday morning when yet another diversion barrelled into Matthew's bedroom, whistling tunelessly and flinging open the curtains and tossing a heavy snow jacket onto the bed. "Dress warmly, Matt!"

Matthew rolled over clumsily, batting the sheet from his head and blinking his way to awareness. "What? Huh? Who… Wha?"

Alfred was fully dressed in a thick jacket, snow boots, and oddly enough, a bright pink knitted beanie. He grinned down at Matthew with that daftly cheerful look of his. "We're going out. I've got something to show you."

"Show me? What are you on about?" Matthew brushed the hair from his face and squinted at his alarm clock. "It's 6 a.m. I have to get ready for work soon."

Alfred scoffed as he threw open the closet doors, grabbing random handfuls of hanging clothes. "One day off won't hurt you. Come on, you've been totally boring since I got here. It's time you cheered up a bit, dude."

Matthew groaned and threw the blankets back over his head. Maybe he wasn't so grateful to have his brother here, after all. "I don't want to cheer up. I want to go to work."

"No you don't, you never want to go to work." Matthew yelped indignantly when Alfred pulled the blankets off him. "Now get up, get dressed…" Alfred winked and threw a balled-up shirt at Matthew's chest. "And trust me."

Matthew's stomach lurched at the words. This could not be good.

.

"Alfred, I'm seriously starting to freak out a little here..."

Matthew was also seriously starting to regret letting Alfred talk him into this. The walk had seemed fairly innocent to start with, until the unexpected turn into a narrow, quiet street in the older part of town. Matthew's apprehension had only grown at Alfred's insistence they enter this large, abandoned building, only to find that it was dark, empty, deathly silent, and utterly freezing. A faintly damp, dusty smell hung in the air. Matthew was used to Alfred talking him into this sort of thing when they were kids, but they were far too old now to be traipsing around building sites. Matthew could barely see Alfred in this darkness, but his obnoxious laughter echoed through the vast silence. "Like I said, Matt - trust me!"

Matthew scoffed loudly at that. He almost tripped over a broken beam as he tried to keep up with his mad brother. "Trust you?! Where the heck are you leading me? This is really stupid, Al. I know you've been trying to take my mind off things lately, but really..."

Suddenly, a single overhead light flicked on up ahead. Matthew broke off and halted, staring in surprise at the vertical beam shining down through the gloom. The solitary spotlight illuminated a single object: an old-fashioned lamppost, wrought in wood and iron, with a small sign hanging from its side. Matthew's stomach twisted in a strange mixture of excitement and wariness. He stared for a moment more, stunned and intrigued, before curiosity overcame him and he hurried towards the startling image.

The bizarre polished sign hung at eye level. An intricate red rose was chiselled into the wood, beside four elaborately carved words: La Patinoire de la Rose. Matthew's heart leapt in his chest; his throat went dry. Those words and that symbol were too familiar, too reminiscent of something he had tried too hard to forget. Except for that one word… Patinoire

"Ice rink?" As soon as he said the words, an entire ceiling of overhead bulbs flicked on and flooded the room with light. Matthew had to blink a few times before his eyes adjusted to the brightness. Gradually, he began to make out features of a large, open hall around him: a few rows of stadium style benches, a high, slanted ceiling, cracking white walls. His sense of wariness quickly started to overwhelm his brief excitement. If his blasted brother got him arrested again… "Alfred? Seriously, what's…" Matthew glanced around for his brother, only to find, with a sinking stomach, that he had disappeared. But right at Matthew's feet…

Matthew froze. Everything seemed to slow, and stop, and turn upside down. His skin began to tingle and his breath to quicken. No wonder it was so cold: the floor stretched out before him was covered entirely in ice. But Matthew did not wonder where it had come from, or how he had taken so long to notice, or how this pool of ice could possibly stay frozen inside this old, broken, obviously abandoned building. All he could see, with a soft gasp and a wild rush of understanding, was that the ice was covered in a light red layer. A layer of rose petals. "Oh my God…"

Matthew looked up slowly, his eyes widening and his head going light. At that very moment, a figure emerged between the dark benches opposite and skated onto the ice. Matthew's heart stuttered. He could not move, could hardly think, could barely believe that this was happening and not some dream from which he would wake at any moment now, upside down on the couch and covered in maple syrup.

"Francis." Matthew whispered it, the word falling unbidden from his lips, breathless and stunned.

Francis was almost unbearably handsome, perfectly poised, and frustratingly sexy as he skated easily towards Matthew; his jeans low-slung and his blonde hair falling on his cheeks and, of course, a single red rose held in his hand. It seemed an eternity before he finally skated to a stop at the edge of the ice. He held the rose out to Matthew, cool and warm and smiling. "Bonjour, darling."

The breathtaking sound of Francis' lilting, teasing voice sent Matthew's stuttering heart racing. It was hard to believe it was only three days since he'd seen him. It felt like a lifetime. "Francis…" he whispered again, as though to convince himself.

Francis' chest rose and fell swiftly, though his handsome face was as calm and playful as ever. "Mathieu," he said with a wink.

Matthew had to bite his lip when Francis spoke his name in that familiar, sensuous accent. His traitorous hand shook with desire to reach out and touch him. But he quickly pulled himself together; quickly broke himself from this stunned, honeyed haze. "Francis, what are you doing?"

Francis looked down and tapped a skate against the ice. "Skating, darling. It's a lovely day for it."

Matthew felt incredulous laughter rise in his chest. "Skating? How did you manage this?" He gestured in confusion at the ice. This building was obviously not intended as an ice rink.

Francis' dancing blue eyes stared at Matthew like they were devouring him. It was all so achingly familiar, as though that awful Saturday fight and the following days of grief had never happened. Matthew could almost smell the sweet, delicious scent of cakes in a patisserie, or pasta and wine by a river. Francis shrugged. "It is amazing what one can accomplish with a sporting celebrity and a friend in the destruction industry."

"Sporting celeb…" The words snapped Matthew back to attention. He again glanced around for his absent brother. "Alfred helped you with this?"

Francis nodded. He still held the red rose before him, as though waiting for Matthew to take it. "He's been amazingly helpful. Besides the constant demand for cupcakes, of course."

Matthew paused briefly. No wonder Alfred had been so distracted these last few days… he'd been helping Francis. This was huge! This meant that Alfred trusted the Frenchman, which was an enormous accomplishment on Francis' part. This also meant that Alfred had gone behind Matthew's back, and Matthew was going to kill him. "But… I don't…" Matthew's brain was firing too fast and too madly to keep up. And Francis' gorgeous smile was not helping matters. "Wait, destruction? This building is being torn down?"

"It was. Until I rescued it." Francis lifted one shoulder and shifted slightly on his skates. Matthew was rather impressed at how easily he was managing on them. "I have been thinking of expanding the patisserie, after all."

"Expanding? Wait, you own this place?" Matthew had to stop to breathe. He had spent the last few days trying to forget Francis. After all, the last time they had spoken Matthew had turned and stormed away, certain their brief flirtation was over. Now, he was not so sure. "Francis, what's going on?"

Francis took a deep breath, dropped the rose, and carefully took Matthew's hand instead. Matthew's skin burned at the touch. With Francis standing before him, Matthew could only now realise how much he had missed him. And it was stunning. He could not think of a reason to pull away. "Do you see that little room in the corner?" Matthew looked where Francis pointed, to a small glass-walled room built into a front corner of the hall. "A little café. With good French coffee and velvet cupcakes and the best éclairs in town. And this -" Francis tapped the ground with his bladed boot. "- of course it will be bigger, and properly enclosed, but..."

Matthew whispered. "Patinoire…" What he had always wanted; what he had told Francis last week by the river. A little skating rink, somewhere friendly, with hockey and dance lessons and a little café by the rink… Now Matthew was beyond stunned. He was utterly astonished. Had Francis had done all this for him? Bought an ice rink for him? Surely not… that was crazy…

"Oui. La Patinoire de la Rose. An extension of la Patisserie. A brilliant business idea, no?" Francis continued before Matthew could respond. "However, I actually know very little of business. And nothing at all of ice."

"You skate well." Matthew was too bewildered to think or say anything else.

Francis lowered his eyes and gave a tiny shrug. "Darling, you flatter me. I learnt this morning."

Matthew suddenly felt very warm despite the frozen air. "You'd make a brilliant hockey player, I'm sure."

Francis leant forward, his very warmth misting around Matthew and enveloping him. "I see myself as more of a figure skater, personally."

"Of course." Matthew smiled slightly, losing himself in that warmth and that smile and those dancing blue eyes. "With feathers and sequins and a truckload of glitter."

Francis gasped, his eyes flashing. "Fabulous, darling!"

Matthew let out a breath of laughter. Oh, this came back so easily. And how much he'd missed this, missed Francis, missed the way he made Matthew feel… but as much as Matthew wanted to fall into Francis' arms, he could not completely forget the events of that awful Saturday night. Matthew shook this bewildered, teasing fog from his head and tried to look angry, or hurt, or at least confused. "But, what has this got to do with me? Do you want business advice, or tax breaks? I thought you were done with me, Francis. I thought this was over."

At that, Francis paused. His hold on Matthew's hand was light, yet so strong... Matthew wondered why he did not pull away. Francis' smile fell and his expression turned determined. "Forget this, Matthew." Matthew's eyebrows flew upwards, but Francis continued unfazed. "Forget the ice, forget the café, forget this madness and just listen to me." Francis looked intense and hopeful, apologetic and wonderful all at once. Matthew had no choice but to listen to his simple, earnest, honest words.

"I want you, Matthew. No one else. You. From the first moment I saw you walk into my patisserie, I knew I had never wanted anyone more. Mon Dieu, Mathieu..." Francis closed his eyes, opened them, sighed like he did not know how to express this. Finally he simply repeated the words, spoke them like they were obvious. "I want you."

How did Francis make it so simple? Matthew could only half-heartedly ask an explanation. "At Gilbert's place. They said…"

"Charlotte - Antonio, Gil..." Francis turned his head sharply, his expression drawn between pain and laughter. "I will always be honest with you, Matthew. Yes, I have had a lot of sex. I won't deny that. But, in my entire life, I have never once been in love." Francis caught Matthew's eyes in an honest, head-spinning gaze. "Not until I met you."

Francis' words melted the last of the freezing cold. Instead, Matthew felt a tingling heat spread through every part of him. Was he supposed to be angry? He could not even remember why. He could only feel relief, and belonging, and Francis' hand like fire in his own. He could only believe him. "You say you want me…" Matthew let the words trail away.

Francis' lips were so close. Matthew's hands, his blood, his very bones ached for those lips to be closer. "Yes. In every way. Not as a game, or a conquest, or a joke. Not as someone to use and throw away. Not what you were no doubt thinking the other evening, after hearing those horrible things, those things that meant nothing. No, Mathieu, I want to know you. All of you." Francis reached out a hand; Matthew almost fell forward when he brushed his cheek. "I want to know what makes you laugh; what makes you cry. I want to know how you sigh, how you moan, how you taste." Francis' lips turned up slowly, softly. "I want to see how you look when you wake up in the morning. And I want to spend forever finding out."

Matthew's blood fired and sent his head spinning. All his concerns melted to nothing, dispersed like his heavy breath misting into the frozen air. He could see no lie in Francis' eyes. This might be too slow, or too fast, but it was everything he ever wanted to hear. And maybe it was stupid, and maybe he was wrong, but maybe this was the most important moment of his life, and maybe Matthew just had to believe. So Matthew gave in. He fell forward, reached for Francis' collar, and pulled him into a desperate, perfect, at-last embrace.

Francis breathed a small gasp of surprise. It took him a moment to respond, and when he did it was more intense than Matthew could have ever hoped or imagined. Francis practically devoured Matthew's lips as he kissed him, grasped his arms and his head and his waist, breathed in sharply and pulled him as close as he could possibly manage. He obviously forgot he was on skates, however, and promptly stumbled, until Matthew had to struggle to hold him up. Wild laughter met between their lips. The familiar scent of lavender and spun sugar sent a delightful, shivering wave across Matthew's skin. It felt incredible to touch Francis again, to be held in his arms, to be pressed together from chest to thigh. It felt right; it felt like home.

Francis laughed against Matthew's hair, his eyes bright and relieved and overjoyed. "Should it be this easy?"

Matthew shook his head, mad joy bubbling through every part of him and turning his head light with the perfect bliss of this perfect moment. "I don't know. I've never done this before."

Francis winked. "Are we doing it right, do you think?"

"I don't know. Does it matter?" Matthew did not wait for an answer. He just pulled Francis into another kiss, all the comfort and belonging and easiness of Francis' arms falling into place around him.

Francis' lips were soft and steady and smiling, his frozen hands pressed to Matthew's heated cheeks. When he broke the kiss, his breath tickled Matthew's cheek, and he attempted to look serious. "No, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you understand." Francis ran his thumb over Matthew's parted lips. "Matthew, I've never felt for anyone what I feel for you. Please give me a chance to prove that to you."

"Prove it?" With a jolt of reality, Matthew remembered just where they were standing. An ice rink, a café… His throat tightened; his chest soared. "You're asking me…"

Francis interrupted, as though in a rush to explain. "You said to me, last week by the river. That you wanted a small ice rink." Francis grasped Matthew's arms tightly, gazed into his eyes earnestly. "This is for you, Matthew. This is for us. La Patinoire de la Rose." Francis looked up at the glowing ceiling, over at the wide, peeling walls. "Give this a chance, mon cher. Give me a chance."

Matthew shook his head in amazement, his eyes wide and his heart racing. Francis certainly knew how to surprise him, but at least this remained the same – he always knew how to make Matthew feel special; important; adored. "This is the biggest, craziest, most unbelievable thing anyone has ever done for me."

Francis looked briefly uncertain. "So it's a bit much?"

"Of course it's a bit much." Matthew lowered his eyes and laughed softly. "But that's just you, isn't it, darling?" He glanced up through his lashes, breathed in Francis' presence. "Francis, I can think of nothing better than being business partners."

"I can." Francis placed his hand at the base of Matthew's back, leaving trails of fire with heavy fingers. "How about just... partners?"

Matthew reminded himself to breathe. "The term is a little impersonal, don't you think?"

"Darling, I completely agree." Francis tilted his head, so his words were almost a whisper in Matthew's ear. "I always preferred 'lovers,' myself."

Matthew fought back a moan. He realised now, he had only ever doubted Francis because Matthew doubted himself. But the truth had been there all along, from the first moment. Francis wanted him. Francis loved him; and Matthew felt the same. What more was there? This time when their lips met, it was with the promise of a future between them. Matthew's life turned and changed and started in this single moment, in a single, brilliant burst of colour. And while Matthew knew it would be different now, he also knew that it would never be dull and grey again.

.

"Champagne?"

Matthew raised a single eyebrow, and Francis started to feel a little unsure. The afternoon had passed in a colourful blur. Gliding slowly on the small pool of rose-covered ice, hands clasped and eyes locked; an easy, peaceful afternoon spent laughing and touching and planning a future together. Matthew was so graceful and strong on the ice, all his delightful shyness and brilliant sarcasm washing away the last of Francis' doubt and anxiety. Francis was simply filled with pure joy and relief that Matthew had accepted his words; had understood him. And now they were back where they started: in La Patisserie de la Rose, although this time in Francis' luxuriously decorated bedroom above the patisserie. It felt like a threshold; like all their moments spent together had led them here, and to what lay beyond this.

Francis hadn't been sure how Matthew would react to the deep red velvet and black silk of his bedroom décor. And now he wasn't quite sure where to go from here. He'd had dozens of men in this room - he knew how to do this. But he also knew it was different this time. And without an idea how to act in this new situation, Francis clung to his same-old methods. He just shrugged lightly when Matthew stared at the champagne bottle. "Apparently it is the done thing."

"Well, you'd know."

"Ouch, darling. So, no champagne?"

Matthew shook his head and closed his eyes. When he opened them they almost seemed to blaze. With his lip between his teeth he took a single deep breath, brushed the hair from his neck, and sent Francis' blood pumping downwards. The air fairly crackled with sudden tension between them, their eyes fixed by an invisible thread. Francis' palms started to sweat, his breath quicken, his muscles tense. Then Matthew walked slowly across the room towards him. "I don't want champagne. I don't want roses. I don't want fancy words and grand gestures. It's exactly as you said to me today, Francis - I only want you."

Francis did not know how to respond. It took him a second to realise that he was nervous. How utterly ridiculous - he wasn't supposed to be nervous! He was the confident one, the one with all the words and all the moves - the one who did the seducing. He wasn't supposed to feel his hands trembling and his neck burning; to feel like his fragile heart was about to pound through his skin. He was suddenly aware of just how different this really was. No one, in all his years, had ever made Francis feel like this.

Matthew reached him, and for the briefest second, Francis was uncertain as to where this was leading. But then those blazing eyes blinked, and lowered, and Matthew was his shy Canadian once again. Francis practically gasped in relief. He slammed the champagne bottle into the bedside ice-bucket, took Matthew by the waist, and kissed him deeper and more thoroughly than he'd ever kissed him before. Just like that, Francis was certain again, and there was absolutely no doubt where this was leading.

Matthew returned the kiss with equal intensity and quickly receding shyness; pressing his hips to Francis' and grasping his arms with surprising strength. By the time they fell onto the wide, silken bed, lost in the throes of each other, the champagne was forgotten. Then Francis felt everything that came before simply wash away, and this was like the first time.

Because when Francis lost himself in Matthew's heat and breath, it was more than just their bodies that connected. This was more than the fast, frantic madness Francis was used to. This was taking the time to learn Matthew's body - what made him sigh, what made him cry out. The way Matthew moved with Francis, against him and around him, like their bodies were made to fit together. This was losing himself in the breathiness of Matthew's sighs, the softness of his skin, oh God the sounds he made. This was the culmination of all those glances, all those touches; it was the destination, and it was the beginning.

This was the first time – because it was his first time with Matthew. Francis had never experienced sex like this. It was the first time there was nothing dominant, and nothing submissive about it; Francis had never felt this equality, and those words did not apply. It just stretched on forever, over and again, and it wasn't about who was where and it wasn't about control. This was about sharing themselves and being with each other and, really, it didn't matter a damn who ended up inside the other.

The night passed in a light, intense haze of touch and scent and sound, in another world where nothing existed but Matthew, and nothing mattered but him. By the time they lay tangled in the sheets, sated and breathless, the light through the windows was already turning grey. Their lips still moved lazily, laughter rising easily between them. Their fingers still traced light, grounding circles on sense-heightened skin. With one arm firmly clasped around Matthew's waist, Francis grabbed the champagne from the ice bucket and took a long sip.

"Well."

Matthew squeezed Francis' side. "Well."

So that was the difference – sleeping with someone he loved. It was more than Francis had ever dared imagine. He laughed softly. "What do you know. He was right."

"Huh? Who?"

"Oh, just something Ar..." Francis stopped himself. Not something he wanted to think about in this golden moment. "Nothing." He kissed Matthew's head, the edges of his hair damp with sweat.

Matthew just hummed lowly and pressed a kiss to Francis's skin, draped lazily across his chest. Francis doubted he even understood the words. But then he suddenly gasped, his eyes widening when he noticed the tray on the bedside table. "Oh, Francis... You've got chocolate as well?!"

Francis glanced at the small tray of specialty creations he'd placed there earlier: little heart-shaped spirals of dark chocolate, each topped with a different coloured peak. He had spent three days designing them, using only the finest ingredients and the most stringent methods. After all, he needed something to replace the éclairs. "The done thing, darling."

Matthew reached eagerly for the tray, but Francis handed him the champagne and picked up a piece first. He lifted it to Matthew's lips, smiling, a warm glow filling his chest. Matthew laughed breathily, his lips slightly swollen, his cheeks still flushed and gorgeous. "Really?

Francis winked, though his heart was practically convulsing. After hours beneath the sheets, he still only wanted more of Matthew. "Leave me some of my silly romance."

Matthew rolled his eyes, but his lips could not stop smiling. "I love your silly romance." He took the chocolate with his teeth, then his eyes fluttered closed. He gave a faint moan as he tasted it, grasping Francis' hand and rolling his tongue over Francis's fingers. Francis' already heated skin burned with a familiar stirring. Matthew's eyebrows shot up and he glanced down smugly. "Again?"

"It's your fault, my dear!" Francis felt practically giddy. This was like being a teenager again. He tapped Matthew's lips. "Now, you must tell me what you think."

"Delicious, darling." Matthew smirked and bit Francis' fingertip lightly. "But perhaps a slight rest is in order."

Francis groaned and gave an exaggerated frown. "But only slight, yes?"

Matthew pushed his shoulder and laughed. With the champagne in his hand he fell back against Francis' chest; their sweat-dampened skin starting to cool and their bare legs tangled together beneath the sheets. He sighed contentedly. "I could get used to this."

Francis could spend a lifetime getting used to this. He could not imagine anything more wonderful. He ran his hand over Matthew's bare chest and whispered against his neck. "You'd better, mon cher."

.

Six months later

"Hahaha! I told you you couldn't keep up with me, Arthur! Arthur? Why do you keep turning in circles?"

"Because I can't stop oh bloody hell whose brilliant idea was it to put men on ice this isn't natural bugger bollocks shit shit shit…"

"Let go of the railing, Lovino… here, hold my hand. I will not let you fall!"

"I'm not going to fall, bastard! Stop holding onto me! I know what I'm do… don't let go!"

"Hey, Roddy baby, look at this! Look at me jump! Ha, wasn't that awesome?! Roddy, baby, are you watching?"

"Yes, yes, Gilbert, I'm still watching. That's very nice. Now, why don't you go off and race the loud American?"

"Ludwig! Catch me! Spin me! Lift me! Turn me! ARGH LUDWIG HELP!"

"Mein Gott, PLEASE watch where you are going, Feliciano… Entschuldigung, Lili…"

"That's okay, Ludwig, everyone's smashing into me today. I got totally slammed between Gil and Roderich earlier, and Arthur's had me over the railing twice. Eliza, where are you dragging me..."

"Come on, Lili dear, you're about to give poor Ludwig a stroke."

"What did I do?"

Matthew was floating on ice. He smiled serenely as he glided through his small group of friends, shouting and racing and taking advantage of having the rink to themselves. Although Kiku and Herakles preferred to keep Francis company in the corner café, where Bruce and Lars were currently concocting God knows what in the kitchen. La Patinoire de la Rose had just seen its first mad, hectic, jam-packed day open to the public. Matthew was pretty sure Alfred's attendance and Roderich's afternoon concert in the café had helped to attract customers, although Francis' new heart-shaped chocolates had walked out the door and Matthew's junior ice hockey lessons were already fully signed up. All in all, opening day had been a wild success.

Alfred raced up from behind and tapped Matthew's shoulder. "Race ya, Matt!" It was a familiar cry from years of winter holidays spent with his brother, racing along frozen rivers and in ice rinks colder than this one. Matthew grinned back and raced to close the head start Alfred had given himself. He passed him easily: this was one place where Matthew could always beat his brother. He raced past Antonio holding a scowling Lovino by the waist, turned around Lili and Eliza coming to Arthur's rescue, and dodged Gilbert hefting Feliciano into a lift while Ludwig and Roderich watched and rolled their eyes. Then, up ahead, Francis suddenly appeared; a bottle and glass in his hands, handsome and sexy and smiling brightly as he leant against the railing. Matthew's heart leapt and spurred him to skate even faster. He flew up to Francis, steadying himself against the railing, ignoring his brother's cries of outrage from behind. Francis leant over and gave Matthew a quick kiss, a wave of scented caramel wafting from his hair. "Congratulations, darling."

Matthew shrugged modestly in response and took the offered plastic cup of champagne. Matthew was filled with elation and pride for what he and Francis had accomplished in six months. La Patinoire de la Rose was unlike any ice rink Matthew had ever seen. The high ceiling was studded with lights encased in ornate silver designs. The once cracking walls were now replaced with a wooden finish, decorated with carefully glass-protected artworks. Bunches of roses sat in pots around the hall, specially bred for the cold. Everywhere he looked, colour burst, while the warm, delicious scent of baking pastry wafted from the nearby café.

Matthew only managed a small sip of the champagne before Gilbert skated up beside him and snatched it from his hand. "Awesome! Time to christen this baby! Give me the bottle, Francis."

Francis' expression twisted in horror when Gilbert wrenched the bottle from his hand. "If you break that, Gilbert…"

Gilbert just stuck out his tongue. He took a swig from Matthew's glass, handed it back to him, then raised the unopened bottle in the air. "OI! Attention!"

The group drew closer to the railing, coming to a slow stop on the ice. Arthur continued in circles for a few moments until Lili and Eliza helped him to a halt. Feliciano broke into applause. "Yay! Speech!"

Matthew shook his head firmly. "No, Gilbert, you really don't have to…"

Gilbert ignored him. "Now, I'll be the first to say that I never thought I would see our Francis settling down."

Francis groaned loudly. "Is he really doing this?"

Matthew rolled his eyes, but couldn't help smiling also. He was incredibly grateful for the amazing help he and Francis had received from everyone - including Gilbert. This small group already felt like a family. "Yeah, he's doing this."

"How can we stop him?" asked Francis.

"Got a gag?" muttered Ludwig.

Antonio giggled. "Ask Roder… OW! What? Come on, it never gets old!"

"BUT," Gilbert continued, unperturbed, "I will also be the first to say, he couldn't have settled down with a nicer guy. And, although an ice rink is sort of freaking weird…"

"And bleedin' insane, bloody hell…"

Lili giggled as she held Arthur by the shoulder. "Arthur, it's not as hard as you're making it! Just spread your knees, bend over a bit, and make your strokes longer…"

Eliza patted Arthur on the back as he was hit by a sudden coughing fit. "Lili, darling, try and think before you speak..."

Gilbert continued again, unfazed. "…the thing is, people say a lot of things are freaking weird, so whatever. This is Francis and Matt's thing. And if it's their thing, and it works for them, then that's all that matters." Gilbert winked at Roderich then glared pointedly at Antonio. "Whatever some boring, vanilla people might think."

Roderich shook his head and muttered, "The vulgarity…"

"He's right, you know," said Alfred loudly. "I've tried telling Arthur that he shouldn't care what people think about his freaky old porn books, but he still keeps the entire bookshelf hidden in the basement."

Francis snickered. "An entire bookshelf, was it?"

Arthur made a strangled sound somewhere between a furious growl and a frustrated scream. "You JUST WAIT until I get off these bloody skates, the BOTH of you!"

Feliciano clapped his hands together and cried, "I don't think the ice rink is weird, I think it's fantastic! It's almost as cool as those brownies Bruce and Lars gave me earlier!"

Silence fell for a moment. Ludwig managed to stomp away angrily on his skates, heading for the café and muttering something about Dutch stoners and their Australian accomplices.

Francis took the opportunity to cut in. "Lovely speech, thank you, Gil…"

"Oh, I'm not done…"

Roderich smiled forcefully and squeezed Gilbert's shoulder. "Oh, you're done, Gilbert."

Gilbert rolled his eyes. "Fine, whatever. I suppose nothing remains then, but to say..." He grinned and raised the bottle. "Here's to Francis and Matt's awesome new business venture, to their awesome new life, and when the inevitable happens, I call Best Man. To La Patinoire de la Rose!'" Gilbert shook the bottle furiously, popped the cork, and Matthew jumped back in shock when he sprayed the golden bubbles across the assembled group.

"You GERMAN BASTARD!" Lovino shouted furiously as he received the main brunt of the drenching wine.

Antonio cried out indignantly, "So unfair, Gilbert, I want to be best man!"

"Champagne showers, ve!" Feliciano held out his arms and spun circles in the spraying champagne, while Arthur looked utterly horrified.

"What the bloody hell are you doing, you blasted Kraut, I could've drunk that!"

"Hahaha!" Alfred laughed wildly. "Look, Arthur, if I open my mouth I can catch some of it!"

Lili gave a sharp cry of surprise, shaking the champagne from her hair and running a hand down her neck. "Ohhh, now I'm soaking wet!"

Eliza stifled a groan. "Lili, sweetheart, now you're going to give me a stroke…"

Shrieks and laughter filled the air as the small group dispersed, spreading out onto the ice to escape Gilbert's frenzied yet surprisingly skilled champagne attack. Matthew turned into Francis' arms, accepting his valiant attempt to shield him over the waist-high barrier. "Well," said Francis, laughing, his warm lips against Matthew's ear. "I suppose that makes it official. Welcome home, Mathieu darling."

Matthew felt his chest swell at the words. The last six months had been bright and colourful, beautiful and marvellous, more wonderful than Matthew could have ever imagined. Every dream he had never dared to dream had burst into reality. Matthew had once thought his life was dull and boring: the same old grind, day in, day out. But Francis had changed all that. He had brought the colour into Matthew's life. This was home now, and it was incredible how a place so cold could feel so warm.

Matthew smiled into Francis' blue eyes, bright and warm and dancing, and felt that familiar delicious tingle in the base of his spine. "Why, merci, Francois. Everything's perfect…" Matthew winked and squeezed Francis' hand. "…darling."

The End.