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Wish Upon a Star (Thx for the deus ex machina, Disney)

Chapter Text

For all that he tried to make himself discreet, Alfredo didn't really think that it mattered if he jumped up and down with a set of crash cymbals. Little Chef was just having one of those nights.

Despite the fact that he was a rat, no one could deny that his friend was also an artist- and a talented one at that. From where Alfredo lingered in the doorway to the kitchenette of his small apartment (much better value than the one he'd first had upon coming to Paris but more practical and homey than the one he'd gotten after inheriting Gusteau's) he was less than a blip on the radar for their Little Chef, who was completely and totally consumed in the making of dinner.

Alfredo never got tired of watching him work, from that very first night in the kitchen when the rat had been almost dancing around the pot of soup that he'd been in the middle of ruining, it was an incredible sight. Not just because a rat was cooking, but because an artist was at work.

Little Chef rarely indulged the way he did that first night, he was far more practical and cooked to get a dish made, but, on occasion, he fell back into the old rapture of what Alfredo was willing to bet was his first time with full control over a human dish. But just now, as he prepared the filet mignon for Alfredo's and Collete's movie night, he was having, well, fun with it. His hips swayed as he battered the fish and he almost melted into the spices as he rifled through the stalks of freshly dried herbs he handpicked. Nothing he did was planned but it was all calculated, all purposeful, and his confidence and passion were evident in every movement down to the twitch of a whisker. Alfredo was just as entranced watching him work as Little Chef was in the food itself.

But where Little Chef probably wouldn't notice if the building caught on fire, Alfredo startled from his spectating at a hard rap to the door.

"Coming!" he called down the short hall and he threw himself in front of the mirror, tugging at his clothes and fluffing his hair in a way that hopefully wouldn't look quite so rumpled (as every part of him was). The knock came again, a little more insistent and he stopped with his fussing, gave his reflection one hard look in the mirror, and said "Don't be weird. She doesn't like it when you're weird."

It didn't usually work but he always tried.

Just as he was about to open the door, the lock clicked and Collette stepped into the apartment, motorcycle helmet under one arm and key ring around her finger.

"I do not understand why you give me a key and then ask me to knock." She scolded, but her smile was teasing and her tone lacked the usual bite of her anger. "Especially when you are always late to open it!"

"Haha… sorry." he chuckles, sheepish, and takes her coat as she shrugs out of it. "Little Chef is having a good time with dinner tonight so I was watching."

"Oh? Merci, is he still? He doesn't do it much at the restaurant anymore."

"I think so, in the kitch- yeah." he cut himself off as Collette brushed past him. He offered a fond smile at her back. He loved how she was always so confident and certain of herself, they were qualities he wished he had himself.

She too kept to the doorway of the kitchen, not crossing into the threshold of the Little Chef's workspace for all that she was a welcome guest. Alfredo had seen it the other way around as well, when Collette was in a particular mood Little Chef wouldn't cross the invisible barriers within the kitchen, allowing her the space she needed to create. It was a mutually understood respect between chefs, when one could cross certain lines but not others. Alfredo himself just tried not to get in the way.

He came up behind her, intending to put his arm around her but ended up hesitating for too long. She reached back and took his hand, pulling him around her like a blanket and leaning her head back against his shoulder.

He never knew where the line was with physical intimacy either, so it was typically better to let Collette make the initial moves to show him the ropes. With permission granted he leaned his chin down over her head and soaked up the warmth of her presence.

Little Chef didn't offer either of them so much as a glance, focused entirely on the meal he was preparing.

"Collette…" he started and she hummed to encourage him just as he was beginning to regret saying anything. "Where do you think… he came from?" he rubbed his thumb against her hand in his and breathed in the smell of her hair. "Just, they aren't all like him. Most of them are just rats. Civilized rats but, and I don't mean that they aren't fine, I don't know, they're just, and he's-!" as he started to get flustered Collette turned in his arms and pressed a kiss into his jaw, cutting him off.

"Our Little chef is just a special case, Oui?" she smiled. "Of course they aren't all like him, he has a special talent. Like Gusteau. Not all humans are like you or me either, cheri." he gave her a dopey smile, hand pressed to where she'd kissed him and she laughed. "He is just what he is, non? No need to think about it more than that. Now, let's set the table before the food is done so it doesn't go cold." She slipped from his arms and into the kitchen, moving brusquely across the floor to the cupboard and moving back out of the space in a matter of seconds.

Alfredo followed her into the dining room, a table for three with only two chairs, right beside the window looking out over the city. Collette handed him the napkins to fold while she set out the plates and silverware but he just stared out the window, worrying the fabric in his hands. His mind circulating that idea of where Little Chef had come from, what he felt, what he'd seen. They didn't know very much about him, after all. Even now Alfredo didn't know where he went on his off hours or what he liked to do beyond food. And how was he supposed to? He was a rat! How were they supposed to communicate? Any better than they did already, anyhow- and that was already impressive. Seeing as… yeah.

"Alfredo," Collette said and he snapped his attention back to her. She glared at the unfolded napkins unimpressed. He shrugged and flapped one of them loose, folding it up and handing it to her to place. Her gaze softened as she took it from him, noticing that he was really thinking about it. "Why is this bothering you all of a sudden?"

"I guess… it always has, a little." He sighs. "Because of Little Chef… I have a life now. I was, a mess, Collette, when I first got that job at Gusteau's. I still am!" He snorts and hands her the next napkin. "It's because of him that I know who my father was, that I have my entire inheritance, that we have La Ratatouille, that I have… you. Everything." He sighed again.

Collette lifted his chin up with a finger and raised an eyebrow at his somber look. Then she took the last napkin from his hand, snapped it open, and folded it the way Little Chef liked his place set.

"Listen, Alfredo. You remember what Ego wrote about the meal he had from us that night?"

"Yeah, I -"

"He wrote, 'It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's,'. He meant that only because Little Chef is a rat but it must be true, non? It was not an easy journey for him to get to the kitchen, just as it was not easy for me, but it was important to him and so here we are!" She braced her hands on the table, making sure she had his attention. "Remembering that, what food and cooking mean to Little Chef, shows that you know him plenty well. Recognize his hardship for what it must have been and know that you see as much of him as needs to be seen for you two to be partners as you are." She smiled. "And as for you, you would have done fine on your own. Perhaps it would have taken a little longer but Alfredo- whatever else Little Chef helped you get- I did not choose you because of the rat under your toque."

Alfredo blinked and then smiled back. It was nice to hear, even if he knew it was not entirely true. And, of course, he knew better than to argue with her.

By the set of her lips, she knew that he didn't quite buy it but she seemed to decide it wasn't worth pursuing when a bell in the kitchen dinged- the sign that Little Chef needed a size advantage with some menial task. Probably maneuvering the frying pan into the oven if Alfredo had noticed the right step from the recipe (which Little Chef had admittedly deviated from promptly and without remorse).

"Try not to let it bother you, cheri." She patted his hand and swept off into the kitchen to handle whatever had come up.

Alfredo glanced out the window again, looking not at the city but at the sky above it, star-speckled and gleaming like velvet.

"I just wish that I could understand him better." He mumbles. He notices that the apartment is starting to get a bit stuffy with the heat of the oven and flips the latch to let the window swing open. "We've shared so much… I wish we could understand each other a little better."

Alfredo is not a superstitious man. Religious, yes, aware of possible impossibilities, yes (he has a rat for a best friend), but not superstitious. So he doesn't miss the way the whole sky seems to brighten, doesn't miss the extra twinkle in the night sky as he looks out into the heavens. But it is not of granted wishes that he thinks, it's of blessings from his mother and the approval of his heartfelt intentions by some higher power. A wink from someone who understands how he feels.

He turns away, feeling reassured and comforted. Confident that at least he is right to want to know more.

Unaware that he's just wished upon all their heads a night of discoveries.

Chapter Text

 

Sit down, let me tell you a story

Movie nights are one of those human habits that Remy has come to enjoy very much.

He may not be an official addition to Linguini's and Colette's weekly practice, largely ignored for the duration of the film as the two of them settle from dinner and cuddle up as lovers tend to do, but he enjoys being there all the same. On a night like tonight, he'll probably fall asleep before it gets too far along, warm and satisfied as he is from the work done with the filet mignon. It's not the movie that incurs his enjoyment, (though on occasion they are very interesting) it's the quiet happiness that permeates the room and reminds him of when he was young living with the colony without any idea of how different he was.

He wouldn't give up where he was or what he did for the world, but it was nice to feel like it was a simpler time, without actually being back then.

Alfredo and Colette stand side by side in the kitchen, doing the dishes, as per usual on nights where he cooks. (Sometimes Colette provides the meal, and he never minds repaying the favor of washing up. While he has the nose for cooking she has the experience. He is often happier eating her version of a dish than he might be with his own). Remy takes the opportunity to stake out his part of the couch. Seeing as how Linguini is just as prone to falling asleep during movie nights as Remy himself, making camp on the cushions is dangerous- so he carries his scrap of blanket to the arm of the sofa and arranges it around himself in something reminiscent of a nest. It's warm and he settles into it just as the pair come out of the kitchen, leaning on each other just a little and laughing about something they'd each said. Remy smiles and watches them collect themselves on the sofa, finding the remote, throwing their own blanket around their shoulders, and fitting into one another as they sit- like puzzle pieces that don't fit anywhere else in the picture but with each other.

"Thanks for dinner, Little Chef." Linguini says, already yawning. He offers Remy his finger, their personal gesture, and Remy puts his paws on it and nods at him in understanding.

Linguini's sleepy, content grin is not a rare one, but he is fond of seeing it all the same.

Nights at La Ratatouille always run late and so it is only on Sundays, their one day off, that any of them can afford the time for this sort of indulgence. They are all tired, regardless and Remy decides, as Linguini clicks the screen on and a trumpeting french anthem begins to play, that this is one of those nights that he's just going to miss out on. No hard feelings though. The room is already thick with that coziness he loves about movie nights. It's easy to begin drifting off, the movie playing in the background, even as Colette and Linguini begin to argue softly.

"Weren't we going to watch Cyrano de Bergerac?" Colette asks. "What channel is this?"

"It's the right one." Linguini replies, puzzled, and the remote clicks a few times, the light from the television set blinking through a few different channels. But the voice goes on.

"The rest of the world denies this truth," Click. "that of all the cuisine in that world," Click. "France has the best. And within France, to find the best food," Click. "One must go to Paris. And from there the only place to go," Click. "As we all know," Click. "Is to the gourmet kitchen of Chef Auguste Gusteau."

"Gusteau?" all three of them say, Remy perking up out of the makeshift nest and Colette and Linguini both leaning forward in their seats.

"It must be an outdated documentary or something…" Linguini says but Colette shakes her head.

"I know all of the films that spoke of Chef Gusteau."

"You could have… missed one?"

"He was my mentor, I would not have missed one that spoke of him so highly."

Remy watched the screen with trepidation. Something strange was going on here, he could tell. As the announcer waxed on about his late role model he crept out of his nest and jumped down onto the cushions, moving closer to the screen.

"Look, it's Ego too." Linguini pointed as the ex-critic came onto the screen.

"The title is most misleading," He said, adjusting his glasses. "Anyone Can Cook. As a gourmet chef, Gusteau should know better. And yet he, and so much of the world, has come to believe that impossible phrase." Remy couldn't help but smile, knowing that now Ego was much happier, and a believer in that very motto.

"Now that I recognize." Colette wrinkled her nose. "That interview was what started all of it, back then. What a mess."

The film, having continued as they spoke, faded into black. Linguini took the opportunity to flip a few more channels, but the screen remained blank until, in elegant script-

Walt Disney Pictures Presents

Linguini groaned quietly as channel after channel flipped by with only those words showing.

"No matter where I go this is all that's playing. The set must be broken."

"It's fine, cheri. It is about food, and Gusteau, surely that will be of interest to all of us, non?"

"I guess." Linguini slumped back into the seat and Colette wasted no time in leaning back against him. The screen kept rolling.

A Pixar Animation Studios Film

Remy was more than a little suspicious by now. And that feeling only increased as the picture returned, a house in the countryside that seemed familiar somehow, though he couldn't quite detect where he knew it from…

The picture clarified, coming into focus and zooming in closer, and something was tickling his memory, for sure. A blast sounded and one of the windows lit up with a flash. Shortly after that, a wail. Colette and Linguini both seemed confused but relaxed but Remy was starting to feel flat out anxious.

It was almost a good thing that the next string of text appeared on the screen, it validated his worry.

Ratatouille

Just a single word, but a trigger word if there ever was one when used in the presence of these three- especially with all these strange goings-on. "Huh?" Linguini jerked upwards again.

"What is going on?" Colette hissed, at attention as well.

Remy could feel the anxiety coiling into his gut, and the realization of what was going on, what couldn't be going on but what was, came quick and hard as, the closer the picture got to including only the window, the more certain he was of why all of this was causing such unease.

Very suddenly, a crash, the window on screen broke, and there he was, Remy, frozen in the frame, with Gusteau's cookbook held over his head, leaping out into the yard. Colette stood up with a gasp and Linguini's jaw worked soundlessly. And then, as if things couldn't get any stranger. His voice?

"Ahaha... yeah." A voice, a little amused, a little resigned, and a lot sarcastic, rang out from the television set and Remy flinched. "That would be me." Remy jumped off of the couch cushion and onto the floor, scampering over to the base of the TV and bracing himself against it, sniffing at the picture, panicked with confusion, even as the film, his voice, continued to play. "In case you couldn't tell I'm in an… unfortunate situation."

With a snap, the screen went dark and Remy jumped back, startled. He turned back to the humans who stared at him in return, equal astonishment on their faces. Linguini still sat on the couch, the remote in his hand, outstretched towards the television from where he'd shut it off, not knowing what else to do when faced with impossibility.

"What… was that?" He asked, voice high pitched and uncertain. Remy sat back on his haunches and shook his head.

"I… don't know." He said, mostly to himself, but including hand gestures for the human's benefit. "I've never, I don't… How could anyone have-?" He threw up his hands and rubbed at the bases of his ears, where tension tended to gather when he got stressed. "I don't understand…"

"Little Chef," Colette interrupted, tone business-like and leaving no room for argument. "Was that or was that not you?"

How to explain?

"It was me in the picture," He gestured vaguely, trying to communicate. "And it was my voice. But I never said those things! And when that happened, well, I think I would have remembered someone filming me." He rubbed a little harder at his ears.

"It is you, then?" Linguini asked, sounding stricken. "You don't remember it happening but it's you?"

"No, no," Colette interrupted. "This happened, but he does not know how it could have gotten onto our screen." Remy shot her a thumbs up to support her theory but she did not seem at all reassured of her understanding. "Something very strange is going on here." She mused. "But... I'm not so sure it's a bad thing."

"Not a bad thing?" Remy exclaimed, "How is this not a bad thing? I don't exactly like my life story being broadcast-"

"Little Chef," Colette interrupted. "I am sure this must seem strange to you, I agree it is off-putting but is there really such a problem with it? Aside from the methods through which the footage was obtained, that is. And for whatever reason, it doesn't seem as though we will be able to avoid it except by not watching anything at all tonight."

"And we could do that!" Linguini jumped in, "If that's what you want we won't watch it, honest! But…" he paused, fiddling with the remote. "That's… you, right? That's what your voice sounds like to other rats?"

Remy nodded.

"I've never heard it before." Linguini explains, "And I don't know anything about, you! This is the only chance that I, we, could have to learn more about you. I don't want to miss that chance... if you're okay with it."

Remy stared at them both for a second, uncertain if he could believe his ears. They wanted to watch… him? Him doing all of that silly kid stuff from before he even knew anything about cooking? Just him, like every other rat, digging through the trash? He was ashamed of his life then, for all that he'd been living in ignorance. He didn't want them to see it!

But… Linguini's eyes were earnest and pleading. He didn't see it that way. He saw it as some sort of bridge between them, which, in a way, it was. They could understand his words in this, somehow. Whatever he said, they'd understand, no charades required. And even if he couldn't control what he said… him on the screen wouldn't say anything that he wouldn't say himself, right?

It wasn't going to be the most glamorous view of him, but if Linguini wanted so badly to see his life before Gusteau's, then maybe it was an opportunity that he could afford him, just once. And Linguini was right on that count as well. When else would they be able to communicate this story? It was, wow, almost two years ago now that he'd left that cottage.

Everything that happened there was an article of the past. Linguini and Colette both knew he was different from every other rat now, no matter his origins.

"Fine, go ahead." He waved his paw at them, turning back to the TV. "If you want to see it, just… don't judge me."

Linguini looked once more at Colette who nodded her assent and the picture flickered back to life at the press of a button. Despite it running on a public channel, the film didn't seem to have run any further, stopping when they had and, now, when they'd tuned back in, continuing as though nothing had happened.

"What kind of a situation?" His voice said, wry with the understanding of that particular fact. "Ha, good question. Right from the get-go there's my species. Rat." The picture changed to show a silhouette of a stereotypical rat, claws bared, eyes red, fur mangled. Remy cringed at the image- and though he didn't notice, Colette and Linguini did as well, both looking vaguely angry.

"It's not a problem that you're a rat, Little Chef." Linguini said, speaking over screen-Remy's voice as he continued. "In case you didn't know, being a rat isn't easy. It's tough. Finding food, finding shelter, finding anything you could possibly want. Rats have got it the worst. I mean, look at this! We're all so eager to eat garbage, cause that's all we can get to. I hate it." Across the screen a horde of rats scampered across the ground towards a compost heap, leaping into the garbage without hesitation. Remy shrugged back at Linguini, because, well it sort of was a problem. It had been a problem all his life, for all that he hadn't realized it until about where the film had started up. "Really-" Linguini insisted but Colette hushed him.

"If my species weren't bad enough, I don't fit in with them either. And the thing that makes me stick out there- my senses for flavors and scents- is what spawns the rest of my life's struggles." Remy was on screen again, and his voice no longer spoke over the scene playing, it was just him saying things that he had said once. He remembered saying them- "Gotta be flour, that cream texture would be duck eggs- not chicken-, sugar, of course, mhmm, hint of vanilla extract, and is that…"oconut?" Colette snorted and Remy glanced back to glare at her.

"Sorry, Little Chef." She grinned, "But it strikes me as funny that at one point you deduced that there was flour in a cake. Your highly developed senses serve you better in our kitchen than in that garbage heap." And, while she was teasing, Remy could see what she meant. The sly way that she'd included she was glad he was with them, and the light humor she'd applied to all of this... It showed that it was not embarrassing in the way that he felt it was. She would treat it as nothing more than a laugh, the way one might snicker at baby pictures. Remy appreciated that more than she could know but he offered her a hesitant smile and nod to try and convey what it meant to him.

"Even among rats, you have a better sense of smell?" Linguini asked, and Remy nodded. On-screen Emile erupted from the center of the cake, deterring Remy from venturing any further in his investigation.

"How can you tell all the different things apart?" Remy glanced back at Linguini as if to say, 'Yes, I'm better, as you can see.' "It just tastes like one thing to me!"

"No wonder you smell everything before you put it in a dish." Linguini muses, seemingly flabbergasted by the revelation.

"Meet Emile. One of my little brothers. The one I'm closest with." His voice played over the scene again, freezing the image of his brother covered in cake. "He thinks what I can do is cool, though to me it's just natural. I can't even help it."

"Your brother…" Linguini breathed. "I know him! He hangs around you all the time. I never realized…"

"You have human names?" Colette asked and Remy raised an eyebrow at her.

"We have names." He said, pointing at them and then at himself. "Not just human, not just rat. Just names."

"Right, sorry." She agreed but her face remained thoughtful and Remy could tell that she was considering what his name could be.

At this rate, they'd probably find out. Which… might actually be nice.

On-screen, his dad was sniffing through the rubbage, and Remy's own voice was in the middle of explaining their relationship. "Aside from being clan leader, in charge of keeping us all safe and organized in this world that wants to kill us, he's also the world's least supportive dad. Namely, my dad."

"Does that make you, a prince or something?" Linguini blurts and Remy snorts.

"Not a prince," He shakes his head. "But it comes with some benefits."

"I hear you questioning- 'So you can taste and smell stuff. Big deal, what's the point?' Well here's the point. Aside from the fact that I eat trash to survive, which is generally unpleasant for everyone, there is this nasty habit of being a pest to other species.His own voice asked on the screen before tuning back into the scene itself. "Whoa, Dad, no, stop!" He lunged and snatched the apple core from his dad's paws, holding it out of reach. "Why would you eat that? Can't you smell-" He took an extra whiff and held it away from his face, expression souring at it. "That? There's a lot of rot in this pile but this..."

"What's 'this?'. There's nothing wrong with it, or the rest of the trash- find your own meal." His dad groused, annoyed at having his food taken away. Remy didn't listen and led them across the yard and lifted the corner of a tarp leaned against the house. Underneath it were boxes of rat poison.

"'That' ended up being rat poison. Someone, as usual wanted us gone." His voice explained and Linguini gasped in worry. Remy glanced back at him and held his paws out- settle downI'm fine. It was sweet how much he cared though. "But I'd saved Dad, and probably a lot of other rats from it. So now my... pickiness was useful at least. That made us all happy for a bit, till I figured out just what my new job entailed."

Remy laughed as this scene came on. He remembered it well, one of the most boring and torturous jobs he could have imagined. Not only were very few of the items poisoned, which made everything monotonous, everything also smelled bad. Half rotten fruits and moldy bread and everything in between. Nothing even remotely pleasant for the entire three days it had been his job.

"Uh-huh. Day in and day out, smelling trash for rat poison."

Colette laughed too when she realized what was going on. He shook his head as he watched himself try to spice up the experience just a little by saying "Close to godly" instead of the same old "Clean". But that just confused the other rats.

"You really were quite out of place, weren't you, Little Chef?"

"This is what we should've been doing the whole time, eh Remy? Finally got a place where your tasting is a help, not a hindrance!"

Remy snorted again at that, much as himself on the screen did, quickly falling into the same old argument with his dad. Colette, however, had immediately picked up on an important detail.

"Your father just called you 'Remy'." She said, triumphant. She looked to him for confirmation to be sure, the eagerness in her expression undeniable. "Is that your name, Little Chef? Your real name?"

Remy smiled back, similarly excited at the reveal of this particular information, and nodded.

"Remy?" Linguini said, sounding almost confused. "Reeeh-meeee." He tried it out again. A smile grew on his face and he pushed himself off of the couch to crouch on the floor. He held out his finger, the way he had when thanking Remy for the meal, and said, with a grin wide enough to light up the room. "It's nice to meet you, Remy!"

"Oui!" Colette bent down and offered her own hand, "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Monsieur Remy." Hearing his own name on their lips was like a dream, one he'd never realized he had, come true. The epithet of "Little Chef" had never bothered him, but hearing them both use his real name was a new level of connection and understanding. Of course, they still couldn't understand one another, but now his name, his identity, was more fully theirs to know. He took both of their fingertips in his paws and beamed right back up at them.

Chapter Text

Gotta grow like a weed to bloom like a flower

Learning Little Chef's name was like finding the last missing piece to a puzzle which had sat almost complete for several weeks. Remy. It suited him, she knew that much with absolute certainty. And from the warmth in his eyes as he looked up at them, their knowledge of his name meant as much to him as it did to them.

There is only so much that can be learned or understood about another from gestures and body language. Now, suddenly, they could hear his voice, knew his manner of speaking, knew his name. And that seemed to open up a world.

"Remy," She said primly, putting every stress on his name. "You should sit on the couch with us."

"Yeah, Remy," Alfredo snorted with glee, copying her tone and attention to the new term, grin so wide it threatened to extend past the limits of his face. "Come join us!"

Remy didn't hesitate in nodding and stepping into Alfredo's waiting palm. Almost instinctively, Alfredo's thumb came up to rub over the rat's head and Remy nuzzled right back affectionately.

They settled back onto the couch in the way that Colette always loved about their movie nights, except Remy stayed in Alfredo's palm rather than skirting back to his temporary nest where he would usually fall asleep halfway through the film. None of them had any intention of sleeping through this one, she was sure.

No sooner had they found their places than Alfredo was drawing in a sharp breath, a realization striking him.

"Can... I still call you Little Chef, though?" Linguini asked, concerned. "It's been so long, I'm used to it- but, I mean, it's also. You. To me it's you."

Remy didn't hesitate for even a second as he set his paws again on Alfredo's wrist, the understood gesture for sincerity, and nodded empathetically. Alfredo almost seemed to wilt with relief and Colette was struck with the urge to laugh at his honest distress at potentially having to abandon their fond nickname.

As they'd spoken, the film had continued without pause. However, it didn't seem that anything more than a brief argument between Remy and his father had occurred. Indeed, it seemed that their feud was still enduring on some level.

"Without food, you starve." He lectured, "I can understand wanting something to taste good but listen! Survival is more important. Survival is what we can afford."

"A callous perspective," Colette sniffed, disdain coloring her tone. "Here you have a most distinguished palate and the only way for you to survive is by eating scraps. To treat food as though it is only sustenance- it is an art!"

"If survival is so important then why are we picking at garbage that is laced with rat poison?" Remy argues "Okay, so we're thieves and we take what we can get, but let's take food that isn't poisoned, something that we're happy to eat instead of just something that'll let us exist!Remy encouraged, and while she knew that Remy, under Alfredo's empathetic request, no longer took anything without providing reimbursement in some way- not even rat sized portions that wouldn't be missed- she'd never thought he'd been for stealing. Not beyond the necessities, anyhow. For Remy, better food would have been a necessity, should have been if it wasn't. Desperate times called for desperate measures and the dining options available to him were certainly… desperate.

Remy did not seem happy with the revival of his past moral lapse either and he shrunk in Alfredo's hand as though expecting a change in the human's perspective of him, but, of course, none came. Alfredo seemed more wrapped up in the word 'poison' being thrown around so regularly. Humans really had built the world for themselves, the world where every other species was in a fight for its life.

The film continued as she contemplated all of this until Remy's voice came in over the scene once more.

"Humans are dangerous, cruel, and selfish." Colette blinked in surprise but smiled. To be resting in a human hand while watching a movie in a human living room, when he'd been raised to think that humans were dangerous and best off scorned, was a real accomplishment, no matter how little credence he'd ever given those teachings. "That's what Dad has always said and I guess I believe it. I can see it, at least. But, they're not all wrong to be like that, and they're not all bad. In order to live you need to be happy. Lot's of humans talk about making a difference. A need to contribute to the greater good. I want to do something like that."

On the television in the film, Gusteau's old cooking show was running. It was one of those moments when he'd been feeling especially inspiring- and Remy was entranced like it was gospel from a preacher.

Things only really got interesting when he picked up a piece of cheese and a strawberry from the bowl behind him- and took a bite.

"Whoa!" Alfredo breathed as pools of color dotted around Remy as he savored the flavor.

"And bringing flavor, tastes, beauty" The rat narrated over top as the visualization of the taste danced in the background. "Bringing this to my colony... that would be some greater good. Just having it for myself felt pretty good." The strawberry was more delicate, with shimmering, curved lines arcing through the background.

"Is that you too?" Alfredo presses and Colette is ready to tell him that no, this is not another length in the distance between him and his culinary-minded friends, when Remy nods. "That's amazing! No wonder you have to smell everything to see if it goes well together- you can actually see how they might mix."

"Is that true, Little Chef?" Colette asks and when he nods at her again she scowls. "So close you are to the food you eat, such vividity in what you taste and see- and still you must eat garbage. What a misérable circumstance."

"We didn't have to just take what was given to us, we could create! I could make things!" He enthused on screen, and Colette marveled at the colors that mingled and spread across the screen. It was like some sort of synesthesia, where Remy could see taste sensations. No wonder he had been so passionate, so desperate to find good food.

Before Remy could do any more exploration of the kitchen a woman asleep in an armchair woke up, and in a panic the rat rushed for the window, pausing to look back only after he was sufficiently hidden in the tall grass.

"And with a discovery like that... I couldn't just let it go."

What a dangerous secret for a rat. It seemed that in order to find the beauty and passion that he worked with daily now, Remy had had to grow tough and dodge many bullets. Like a weed that couldn't quite be pulled and eventually grew into what people then realized had been a flower all along.

"Oho yeah! This is what I'm talking about!" The rat on the television screen, Remy, tapped his paws together with excitement as he sniffed out a patch of wild mushrooms. They were nothing impressive to her or Linguini, but to him, who had spent most of his life thus far eating trash, it was an incredible find. And more than that, it was an ingredient, something that could be used as he explored his new passion.

"Emile! Look at this look at this!" He called up to his brother on screen and while Colette had never pictured their small friend to be so excitable she couldn't blame him. The opportunity was one he'd never had before. To experiment, to make something good.

"Your enthusiasm is palpable, Little Chef," She smiled at him and he looked up at her, grinning, still a little sheepish, from where he was curled comfortably in Alfredo's hand.

"Even though Emile doesn't share my interests in food or humans or... pretty much anything. He'll listen to me, and keep me company, and most importantly, keep my secrets. He's a good sounding board." The narration dropped off as Emile piped up: "Remy, stop walking like that, something could see you."

"Is it really so strange?" Linguini asked as Remy brushed off his brother's concern about predators and explained how constant paw washing was a hassle and that dirty paws contaminated the taste of food. Colette couldn't help but think that dirty paws couldn't take too much away from what was already the taste of trash. "I don't spend a whole lot of time around other rats but your… colony did you say? Your colony seems to do it often enough."

Remy began to explain as best he could in his usual gestures but Colette focused on the film, watching the bliss as he breathed in the smell of the cheese morsel. And then as he ran about, picking out every possible flavor to add. She wasn't sure how good it would actually be, but he cared enough to make it worth attention. What was just a small chunk of cheese and a mushroom to her was every possibility in the world to him, and he treated them like treasure, adding rosemary and sweetgrass to his horde and responding appropriately when Emile discounted its individuality.

"No no no, Emile! I know that you don't understand but that trash is... trash! And this," He held up the mushroom. "This isn't! This could be something great!" He held the food close to his chest, shielding it from Emile's intentions.

"Then where are you gonna put it? We're supposed to be back soon and then if it's not in the pile you could get in trouble for hoarding..."

"Pfh, like every unit in the colony doesn't have a personal stash." Remy interrupted, stern. "And either way, I'm not risking it. Listen," He fumbled for the right words to make the tasteless rat understand. "You aren't very picky, but with this we could make something great. Make it! Not find it but create something amazing. You and me!"

"Fine." Emile straightened onto his hind legs and looked around. "So where are we gonna make this, huh, I don't see anyhere. Oh well, I guess we tried but we're just gonna have to go ho-"

"Nooo," Remy drew out and pushed against his brothers shoulder with a slight laugh. "You don't even know what you're looking for. We need somewhere to cook this... Oh!" The background came into focus, smoke puffing out of the chimney and Colette had to put a hand to her mouth to muffle her laugh at the delight on Remy's face. "There!"

And suddenly they were up on the roof, the mushroom speared on a part of the weathervane which Remy was turning slowly, looking content to sit there for hours as he explained: "I think I'm getting the hang of this." He said. "The cheese is melting nicely, and the heat is really bringing out the smell of the mushroom..." He took a deep breath in to smell it and sighed. In the background, lightning flashed down in a distant thunderstorm. Alfredo tensed at her side and Colette could see what was probably making him nervous. But Little Chef was still there with them today, he could not have been too badly hurt if the storm did get so close before they were done cooking.

"Uhh, Remy, that's the fourth lightning strike in the past few minutes... and I think that one was closer than the others." Emile murmured, just as concerned as Alfredo. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Remy standing up in her partner's hand, putting his paws on his thumb as a gesture of comfort. But what was he comforting him about… "I don't know what this human thing is for but it's kind of close to the sky so maybe we should wait till the storm dies dow-"

The living room lit up with the lightning strike that came down, attracted to the metal of the weather vane. Alfredo jumped and then had to jump again to catch Little Chef as he tumbled out of his grasp. Colette flinched at the sight, mind working with the possibilities of a rat surviving an almost direct lightning strike-

"Jeezus, Little Chef!" Alfredo wailed, both hands cupped around the rat in his grasp, as though he was made of glass (and indeed he appeared to be a bit shaken by the sight himself).

The strike had been over in an instant though and already the two rats were on the ground, fur fuzzed comically with the electricity, and Remy was already recovered, raving about the taste of the mushroom.

"WOW, Emile, Emile here, have a taste, what do you think it's it's, electric! Incredible! Isn't this so much better than if we'd just thrown it all on the pile?!" He spun in a circle with the sound, and if she hadn't seen him before the strike she'd think the energy was left over from the strike- but no, every bit was simply the extreme enthusiasm of a discovered love. It was like watching Picasso realize that paints could make pictures.

Even Alfredo was chuckling, though he still seemed a little concerned about the electrocuted state of their friend. Little Chef buried his face in his paws and shook his head as, on-screen, he continued to make sound effects and make plans for the next storm until-

"But it can be better, I, I can do better than this! We need spices!"

Emile didn't look impressed. Not with the lightning, and not with the necessary inclusion of saffron.

"Spices." Emile winces, still smoking from the lightning strike. "I don't like the sound of that. You don't just mean the stuff that's around here, do you?"

"Not a chance." Remy grinned, seemingly ignorant to his brother's lack of equal enthusiasm.

"I think it is cute, Little Chef." Colette comforted. "And who could blame you? Your very first creation! You should be proud." He smiled at her gratefully.

"Who is that?" Alfredo asked and Colette looked up just in time to see the sleeping face of an old woman before the screen zoomed in to focus on Emile, in charge of holding the mushroom while Remy sorted through the spice rack in search of saffron. "She was there earlier too."

"She must be the owner of the cottage." She mused and Alfredo made a noise of vague understanding as Remy nodded.

"Be more quiet!" Emile warned, keeping his voice low. "There's a human right over there!" But Remy, winding his way among the spice bottles, shook his head and didn't pay any attention to his volume.

"Not a problem, little brother. I've never woken her up before and I've been louder than this."

"Before?" Emile frowned but Remy didn't pay him any mind. "Remy, how often do you come in here?"

"Often enough..." Remy evades. "Listen, this is what I love doing. Learning about the scents she keeps bottled up in these shelves, watching her television shows. They make me happy. And they teach me how to do things, like make this taste good! The answer is saffron. When in doubt Gusteau always uses saffron.

"That he did," Colette smiles. "And with fabulous results!"

"Gusteau?" Emile asked "He's human right? What human would teach a rat to cook?" Remy looked only too happy to answer.

"First of all, Gusteau has a television show. He teaches humans all over the world how to cook his dishes, with passion and earnesty that a lot of chefs lack!" He said, dropping down to the next shelf and flipping the cookbook, Gusteau's cookbook, closed so that his brother could see the picture of the man they were talking about. "But you see this? 'Anyone Can Cook' is the title of his cookbook, and if that isn't an invitation to cooks like me, or the closest I can get to one, I don't know what is. He's here to teach me as well."

"'Anyone Can Cook', the title... Remy you can read?" Emile asked.

"How else am I supposed to get the recipes he doesn't cover on the show." Remy dismissed. "It's much faster to read than to follow his steps."

"You taught yourself to read?" Alfredo asks and Colette is inclined to agree. Reading was not always an easy task even for humans, but Remy treated the accomplishment like it was a small feat. He nodded at them but his attention didn't stray from the screen; something in his expression was fond.

"You're even reading like a human," Emile groaned. "If Dad finds out he's gonna make you taste test for poison checking!"

"No he won't. Then he'd lose his poison checker." Remy said, his voice taking on a mocking tone. It didn't last long though, sobering as he continued. "I know he doesn't like humans, but they know a lot, and if we know how to read we can take advantage of it." He sighs, stilling in his search and holding a bottle of orange extract and looking at his reflection in the glass. "One day I'm gonna tell him. Convince him that it's worth us knowing. I'll show him how it's just another way of stealing. They gather the information and do the work, while we reap the benefit. That'd probably get his attention." He perked to attention for a second, pointing at Emile to emphasize. "But. I don't want his attention yer so you're not gonna say anything, right?"

"You are the older brother, non?" Colette asks and Remy nods at her, spreading his paws as if to ask, 'how'd you guess?'. "The way you hold yourself," She explains, "And how Emile goes along with your ideas, even if they are dangerous, hmm?" She smiles and he rolls his eyes.

Suddenly the scene changed and it was Remy's father, up with the rest of the colony.

"Hey, you seen Remy and Emile come in?" He asked the rat next to him. The other rat shook his head and continued on his way. Remy's father chewed on his lip and glanced away from the work being done, as though he could see where they were by looking into the distance. "Those kids are giving me anxiety every day." He shook his head and turned back to the group of rats scurrying about. Remy cocked his head at the screen.

"This is the first time we have seen something that doesn't directly involve you." Colette voiced what she was sure he had also picked up on. "It seems that the perspective is not limited to just you, Little Chef." He nods, thoughtful.

"How old are you, Little Chef?" Alfredo asked and Remy startled at the question. He ducked his head, bashful, and then held up three of his tiny claws. "Three years old?" He clarified, shocked. "You're so young!"

"Not for a rat, non?" Colette explained. "They mature much quicker than humans."

"Still," Alfredo said. "And that would only make you… a year old when we met?"

Remy shrugged, glancing away as though to avoid facing the conversation- and Colette could understand. Even three years was so much younger than her and Alfredo. Yet it was nothing he should have been defensive about. No more than he was defensive about being a rat.

"Look at this, Gusteau's show!" The scene was back to Remy and Emile. In the living room, the television blared as Remy jumped down from the spice rack, the saffron in hand. "His is a lot better than all the other chefs. It's easy to follow, but not simple. Of course anyone can cook when he's the one teaching.Both turned to watch Gusteau, and Remy settled, grateful, in Alfredo's hand again, focusing on the film once more. Colette sent Alfredo a meaningful glance as he opened his mouth to say something more- 'drop it.' And he nodded without much argument, shutting his mouth and pressing his lips together for good measure.

"When you cook, it must not be out of duty, it must not be done without conviction." Gusteau explained, and Colette remembered this interview. It was from a year or two before she'd joined his kitchen, the cooking channel was rerunning an older one- but certainly one of his most inspiring talks. "Cooking, it is dangerous. It is scary. Creation is this way in all settings. To be a chef you must step beyond the boundaries you see before you, even if those boundaries are best off not crossed. You must learn that by trying. And if everyone says not to, you must do so anyway, or live without knowing what you could have accomplished."

What that must have meant to Remy, to a rat who loved to cook, struck Colette hard and fast. The shot of his face, melting from the emotions stirred by the statement, only exacerbated the point. "There is no limit to what anyone can accomplish. We are all undiscovered masters in our own right."

Remy, the one still sitting in Alfredo's hand, looked close to tears while Alfredo's mouth hung slack in astonishment and awe. It was a strange relationship they had. One's father was the other's idol, and yet it had played no part in the formation of their friendship. At least that she knew. And meanwhile, Remy probably knew more about Alfredo's father than Alfredo himself.

"Cooking is not the only mastery in this world!" Gusteau continued. "But it is one of creation and joy which can be felt even by those subjected to the work of those that do master it."

"That's what I want to do." Remy sighed.

"Gusteau's words ring bright and joyous to us all, but in recent days they have been showed in grief." the narrator of Gusteau's show said. Remy's face dropped into confusion and Colette realized what was going on, and how it was sure to break their friend's heart.

"Little Chef?" Alfredo asked as the narrator explained the details of the great chef's passing. "Are you alright?"

The little rat shrugged his shoulders and discreetly wiped at his eyes, obviously affected by the scene but also having long come to peace with the knowledge.

On-screen, however, his expression was stricken and he seemed to disregard any thoughts of secrecy he may have had as he scampered forward to stand close to the television, as though distance would change what was right before his eyes.

"Dead?" He asked, and Colette reached over to comfort him, but before she could something disastrous happened on the screen.

The TV clicked off, and the old woman who owned the house stared straight at Remy with wide eyes.

Chapter Text

The thing about gunshots

Alfredo tensed at the old woman's gasp, as though just her acknowledgment of Remy's presence was enough to cause problems. Which, it was. Little Chef was a rat, and that meant that everything was a danger to him, even if it took Alfredo a little while to realize that.

On screen, Remy squeaked, and the rat seated in his palm startled at the sound. He turned to Alfredo and motioned to his ears with his paws, and then to Alfredo and Colette.

"Oui," Colette answered for him, "that is what we hear when you speak."

Remy didn't look pleased about that, but the matter was quickly dropped. The old woman, who he'd thought would maybe call an exterminator the next day or something of that variety, pulled a rifle from the umbrella stand. Lifting it up to her face she took aim, straight at Emile, sitting frozen on the counter.

"Get out of there!" Remy called to Emile, as shots fired around them, Alfredo could feel his grip tightening around Little Chef, reassuring himself that the rat was just fine through all the chaos, he'd come to Paris after all this so he must've been okay-

"Folle," Colette muttered, her fingers digging into the arm of the couch. "She shoots up her own kitchen to kill two rats who haven't even taken anything?"

"I thought you said she never wakes up?" Emile shouted as he scrabbled at the wall, gripping tiny handholds to pull himself to a higher shelf.

"She hasn't! Clearly, you would have known if she had!"

Remy winced with every jump and slide and near miss that he and Emile endured, but Alfredo was on the edge of his seat, gritting his teeth with a frightening force.

"What does she think she's doing?" He asks, "Rats are so small, they're hard to hit, aren't you hard to hit?" He doesn't really pay attention to Remy's answer. He's not sure Remy answers at all.

"Emile! Stop, you can't go that way, you'll -!" Remy has no time to finish his call as Emile scrambles up some exposed piping towards the ceiling. The woman hefts her rifle again and this time there's no where for the red rat to turn. Alfredo shuts his eyes.

Shots ring out, clattering, panicked cries, the music- how had he not noticed the music before?- is frantic and fluttery, it makes him anxious. In his hands, Little Chef is warm and solid but it doesn't feel like enough when every bang of the screen could just as well have been his friend- gone.

"Alfredo," Colette puts her hand on his shoulder but it's tense as well. He opens his eyes to look at her, but first, he sees the screen. He sees the rifle pointed straight at Emile, sees Remy's hands fly up to shield his eyes, and he shuts his own again with the determination to not open them again.

The rifle clicks, empty, and Emile starts calling for Remy to help him.

It sounds like a nightmare.

"Quick, you've got to get back over here, swing this way-" And then Little Chef's voice devolves into the squeaking he's so accustomed to. Colette's hand on his shoulder is lighter now, and she rubs brusque circles there, showing that she is with him. Little Chef in his hands puts his paws on his thumb and presses, trying to reassure him.

Why is he so anxious when it's Remy that was in danger.

He's over it. Some part of his brain says. This happened some time ago, and he knows exactly how it ends. You don't. But you asked to, remember?

And he had. So with the resolution to watch whatever the universe had decided he should see, he opened his eyes, just as Remy and Emile scrambled to the top of the chandelier and the barrel of the gun was raised once more.

A powerful shot, smoke, his hands clenched involuntarily.

"Oh." the woman grunted with disappointment as no corpses fell down from the ceiling. What did fall was dust, and cracks that spread through the drywall. She stared upward with dawning horror as she realized that she'd jeopardized the stability of her own home.

"Serves her right." Colette sniffed.

With a tremendous crash, seemingly the entire ceiling fell into the kitchen, and seated on every inch of debris were rats. Hundreds of rats, perhaps over a thousand. Squeaking and chirping to each other and turning to look at the old woman that had been harboring them unknowingly.

Said woman dropped her gun with a gasp, stunned, and then turned, running from the room with a frantic wail.

"Let's move!" Remy's father bellowed "You all know the drill, go!" and the clan moved as one, rats streaming across the floor, along the counters, across everything. In the midst of it all a flash of blue, Remy was running too- but suddenly he stood up.

"Gusteau!" He gasped and turned, fighting against the tide. For a moment Alfredo questtioned where he was going, but then he realized the only possible answer. He was trying to reach Gusteau's cookbook, still settled neatly on the counter, untouched by the chaos.

"The book!?" Colette demanded. "She came after you with a gun and you are worried about a cookbook which there are thousands of copies of?" Remy shrugged in his palm, sheepish, but that had been where his priorities were at the time, and Alfredo could relate. He may not have known his father, but Gusteau was the kind of man that inspired, and he'd been a source of light for Remy. He couldn't blame his friend for wanting to cling to that.

On screen, Remy had reached the book and was pushing it to the window when the woman reappeared, this time outfitted with a gas mask and menacing spray nozzle. Remy whimpered and Alfredo echoed it helplessly, stroking his friend's fur with shaking fingers. Only the humans were watching now, Remy wasn't even bothering to look towards the screen, just patting Alfredo's hand and looking up at him with worried eyes.

"Mon Dieu," Colette muttered. "This woman, for not noticing her house was infested, is very prepared!" Remy squeaked at her angrily and after a quick run through of her sentence, her face colored. "Pardon, for not noticing her house was your colony's home."

The window shattered as Remy jumped through it, the cookbook held over his head. Greenish gas, pesticide, trailed after him but he didn't slow enough to let it reach him. The rats raced through the grass, each seeming to know exactly what to do as leaves were moved to uncover ramshackle rafts made of old junk. It seemed that the colony had been ready to mobilize. Everyone boarded and they were on their way without too much difficulty- except Remy who lagged behind with his book.

"Sound off! Is anyone missing, check for your neighbors!" Remy's father was counting the rats in his boat and, as he met Emile's eyes just long enough for yhe red rat to drop them to the ground in shame, he whipped his head around to the house. Realized who was missing- "Remy? Does anyone have Remy on their boat? Son?" He turned to the boats but no one answered, there was no answering cry. He leaned over the edge of the makeshift raft, almost falling into the water, and faced the shore, eyes blown wide with the panic of a parent looking for his son, and Alfredo's heart ached.

They argued a lot, but they obviously cared a lot for each other.

"Wait up! Just, just a minute!"Remy was running and, slower than the rest because of the book, and his voice caught in its pages. It wasn't until he reached the stream and tossed the book into the water that the other rats noticed him. "I'm here, Dad? Dad I'm here!" He started paddling.

"Stop the boat, Remy is still on the shore!" the patriarch called, "Here," he motioned one of the larger rats who had a spatula in his paws towards the side of the boat. "Hold that out for him, Remy, you can grab the paddle." It was said like an order and a truth but he looked like a scared man as he said. His voice remained steady as Remy splashed through the water towards them, chanting encouragement. "Keep coming, we'll pull you in! Remy reached, and Alfredo relaxed at the hope that that could be it. And then he jumped as a shot ripped through the air, striking the spatula held between the two rafts, and Remy and his family were forced apart all over again.

"She's still after you?" Colette asked through grit teeth. "Tell me where this is and I will make her sorry for all of this!"

"No!" Remy yelled as their boat was pulled into the drains by the current. Alfredo flinched at the desperation in his tone. He'd lost his family too, under much less abrupt circumstances but he'd still come to be without one. It was painful, no matter how it happened.

"Dont stop! You've got to keep trying!" His father called, determined to encourage. Remy snatched up the abandoned spatula, but before he could begin to use it another shot rang out, and pierced right through it, adding even more holes to the already inefficient paddle. Still, Remy plunged it into the water. Luckily, with the help of the current, he escaped into the tunnel before the old woman could get another shot in.

"Oh, thank you…" Alfredo moaned, sinking back into the couch. From here his friend should be fine. Catch up to the boats, come to Paris, come across Gusteau's…

"Dad? I'm okay! I'm coming!" Remy yelled down the tunnel, breathing hard as he paddled for all he was worth. "G-give me just a second!" The voices of the colony, especially his dad, echoed down the tunnel, encouragement and concern- but very suddenly they cut off into distant screams and Remy slowed in his paddling. "Hello?"

Alfredo sat up again, suddenly on edge.

"Guys? Emile? Hello?" He called again, wincing as his raft passed underneath a dripping drain. Out of the gloom rose two tunnels and, after a moment of deliberation, he paddled his raft towards the one on the left. He'd not gone further than a few feet down this path though that his eyes widened and he turned around, trying to paddle against a strengthening current.

"Are you kidding?" Alfredo cried, gasping as Remy was thrown, yelling, over the edge of a waterfall, losing the book, his paddle, and any sense of composure or safety. "Little Chef!" He cried as the small form was tumbled and catapulted about underwater. They were rapids, violently churning waters that tossed the rat around like a leaf in the wind.

"Mon dieu." Colette whispered again, hands clenched tight in the fabric of her shirt. "Through all this you went?"

In his half-clenched hands, Remy nodded, expression mournful, but resigned.

When the waters allowed him to surface once more there was a glimpse of the book, also swept along this way, and then they swallowed him again, the roar of rushing water enveloping everything as the rat was twisted and thrown through the tunnels. Finally, there was just enough calm for Remy to swim for his raft, and reaching it offered some solace as he clung to it through the remainder of the rapids.

Splayed out on the book, feet wide to keep his balance, he looked hopeless. Rung out and half drowned and alone. Even with the water now calm all he seemed to have the energy to do was drop his head onto the book and shut his eyes.

"Remy…" Colette murmured, and though the name was still new to them it held every ounce of sorrowful familiarity. She reached over to him and slipped her finger along his back, rubbing his head. The rat soaked up the comfort, all without straying his attention from Alfredo.

"Why… Why are you looking at me like that?" he stuttered and Remy's expression fell flat.

"Because he is worried about you, mon cher." Colette explained. "You're quite pale."

"What, me?" He exclaimed. "He's the one that just got shot at! Almost gassed, nearly drowned."

"Yes but it's over now." She comforted. "He is well, with us and safe, non?"

In his hands, Little Chef nodded eagerly. Alfredo forced some of the tension out of his hands and brushed his thumb through Remy's fur.

"Yeah." He said, still uncertain. "Yeah…"

"I don't know how much time passed. There was no way to judge." They all looked up, startled. The film had continued without their attention, and Remy seemed to have drifted to a small patch of concrete, part of a workman's tunnel, perhaps. Narrating now, Remy's voice continued as on screen the small rat spent his time curled in the smallest corner he could find, drinking water by the drop from a leaky pipe and turning with ginger paws the soaked pages of the cookbook. "I kept waiting for something to change, for there to be light, for a sewer rat to stumble across me, to wake up and find out it was all a dream. I kept waiting but in the end it was just me." Another page turned and the image of the food, delicate and high quality, was enough to make Remy's stomach grumble. He turned away from it with remorse, and instead focused on a drawing of Gusteau, smelling a cake with his five stars glittering beneath him.

"Looking back, how long do you think-" Colette began but cut herself off with a gasp as Gusteau's picture moved.

"It makes no sense to wait for the world, Remy." the chef encouraged and Remy let out a surprised squeak, finally diverting his attention from Alfredo to cover his face and shake his head in what Alfredo could surmise was an approximation of "oh, no no no no no."

On-screen, Remy peeked underneath the page, as though it was something else speaking and moving the picture. But, of course, it was just another page of text after that.

"It has never helped you find the path you desired before, why should it start now?" Gusteau continued, unbothered by Remy's apparent suspicion. "You are a creator, a creature of discovery! Set out! Explore!"

"I can't.He snapped, bitterness in his tone... but sorrow was woven into it in a way that could not be ignored. "I'm alone. All the 'discovery' that I did put me here. It got my family killed, got me lost, ruined any kind of home I've ever had. It left me alone in a sewer talking to myself! Like a crazy animal! Rats aren't creators. I was stupid to try and go against that." His voice held none of the positive energy Alfredo had come to associate with it in the so far short duration of the film. Maybe positive wasn't quite the right word, but it was always about moving forward, always looking for and finding new opportunities, always optimistic about the future. Remy had always seemed before to be passionate about something, an argument, a spice, a smell, an idea, but now he just seemed angry and self-deprecating.

"Is that what I taught you?" Gusteau probed.

"No. But you were wrong. All of this was wrong.He laughed at himself and then glared at Gusteau. "You're dead too, you know. It didn't work for you either." He turned away, arms crossed and expression resolute.

"Maybe not, but that does not mean it won't work for you," Gusteau argued. "New things are never easy. For you, this will still not be easy. But that does not mean you should not keep trying!"

"Keep trying what?" Remy glared at the picture, spiteful. "There's nowhere to go. Say I leave this sewer, what then? I find another kitchen? Another colony? Get caught again, or kill them too?"

"I don't know. But that is the beauty of this!" Gusteau raised his hand in encouragement. "It may not be what you want. It is dangerous, uncertain, frightening. But I don't know what waits for you, and neither do you. If you stay here we both know how it will end. Here, uncertainty is far better than our certainty!" Remy seemed to consider that, but Gusteau wasn't done. "You have always wanted to forge your own path! Now, finally, you can start your journey!" Remy glanced up at the pipes that he could climb to reach the surface, then back to the picture. Gusteau was still again, nothing but a flat illustration, but the idea had been planted, and Remy's expression hardened with determination.

"There is nothing wrong with imagining yourself company, Little Chef." Colette excused, voice soft. Remy waved a paw at her in dismissal and her tone hardened. "Truly, this is a difficult time for you, whatever you can find comfort in is more than excusable."

Remy unburied his head to make more gestures but Alfredo couldn't decipher them and, from the confused expression on her face, neither could Colette. Finally, he just waved his paws about in an approximation of "I give up," and waved at the screen like "you'll see."

For now, all they were seeing was Remy climbing his way up the pipes, and into the space between walls- it was strange to see the view of moving through such small areas which would normally be completely inaccessible to him or Colette, but Little Chef, of course, looked perfectly comfortable as he followed his nose out onto a kitchen counter. He moved cautiously, but was caught up in whatever he was smelling, carefully scenting the air until-

"There!" He smiled and jumped onto a cutting board where half a baguette lay. There was a perfectly rat sized chunk sitting right there for him and he picked it up looking like he was about to be in heaven- until a cork popped free of a wine bottle in the next room over and cheers went up. Remy crouched low as though to hide himself and glared out at the crowd, a party in the next room, accusing and suspicious. Not taking his eyes off of them he moved the bread closer to his mouth and was about to take a bite when-

"This is not what I meant by discovery!" He looked at the chunk and let out a cry of surprise when it appeared that he was holding Gusteau's head, which was frowning at him in disappointment.

"I don't need discovery right now I need food!" He argued, at first relieved that the interruption was just his own imagination and then annoyed at the intervention of what Alfredo was beginning to realize was an approximation of his conscience, or something like it- a force that encouraged him to pursue things when he wouldn't acknowledge them himself. "Regardless of what I'm going to do about... about cooking. This is good bread! No one will miss it and really need it!" He snaps. His stomach makes a low growling sound just after and between that and his tone of voice Alfredo can really tell- Remy is really hungry. None of them knew how long he was in that sewer for but for sure he was due for a meal.

"You will not eat it, I'll tell you how I know!," Gusteau asserted. "You say no one will miss it, this is true! At the end of the night, the remainder of the loaf will be saved and the remnants on this cutting board swept into the trash. Eating it now and eating it then is not so different. And you, Remy, do not eat trash anymore." Colette made a sound of agreement off to the side and in his hands, Remy flinched. "You are living your own life now, and no matter how hungry you are, we both know that you want to make something for yourself, not find another's leftovers."

"Hold on- you told yourself not to eat?" Alfredo blurted out.

"I agree, Remy. There is a line between thievery and necessity." Colette glared at him. "You are a cook, but that does not mean you don't have the right to take food when you need it."

"You're not being fair to yourself," Alfredo said, steadfast as Remy looked up at him, astonished. "I don't like stealing, but you deserved that much! You could've been in trouble if you didn't find anything later." He paused and a horrible thought came to mind. "You did find food later, right?"

"Persist! You are a stubborn rat, you'll find what you really need..." Gusteau said on screen as he disappeared into the bread crumb and Remy waved vaguely at the image, like, 'yeah, what Gusteau said. I got something, eventually.'

With a sigh, Remy set the chunk of bread back on the cutting board, cast another glance back at the party, and then dove back into the smaller than crawl space between the walls. The myriad of scenes he passed were eclectic but telling of where he was. A painter with a mostly finished image of a naked woman, a lover's quarrel, with a wide gunshot that almost hit the rat hidden in the walls but which ended with a passionate kiss. A dog chased Remy back into the walls, a mousetrap was gingerly skirted around. Emerging onto the roof the iron grating and winding vines made the perfect footholds as the rat scampered up the side of the building, leaping from pipes and chimneys to balconies and vines and then back again.

Colette breathed a sigh beside him and he was inclined to agree. This was his world, their Little Chef's world. He was privy to a piece of everything that happened, he had an in to every room in Paris, and the means to get wherever he pleased. It was all much more dangerous than it would have been for either of them, but this easy movement was something they could never claim. The certainty to his movements as he leaped and climbed and made his way to the roof, led by his nose and his instincts.

And on the roof… Paris. There it was, as though it had been waiting for him all his life, laid out like a postcard. It was a breathtaking view, and suddenly Alfredo had a far better understanding as to why his friend was so attached to windows with a view of the Eiffel tower.

He loved Paris, with every ounce of his small body he loved this city, you could see it in his face as his eyes gleamed with understanding.

"It's just like the pictures." He said, astounded, "I... How could I not notice-" And then a grin, a half laugh to his words, "From the sewers, it looks like anywhere else but I'm in Paris!" His voice was awestruck as he took in the view, amazed at his own shortsightedness but also, good fortune. "From the start of all of this I wanted..." He breathed. "This."

"And now you have it." Gusteau's sighed in agreement, and both he and Colette gasped as the frame swiveled to include the familiar sign that stood on the roof of Gusteau's. Somehow, by some miraculous coincidence, Remy had not only been beneath Paris but also almost directly beneath the restaurant which had housed the very chef that inspired him.

"What are the odds of that?" Alfredo whispered but Colette shook her head.

"Those are not odds, mon cheri. That is Fate herself."