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David loves beautiful things.

He loves the perfect swirl of a piped choux pastry bun before it's baked, he loves neat triangles of perfectly laminated croissant dough, ready to be rolled and piped full of almond filling. He loves the striped spiral of a cinnamon bun, the ragged edge of a soft baked chocolate chip cookie. He loves the snap of a precisely layered millefeuille and the rich ganache frosting of a chocolate fudge cake. He loves crisp chefs whites and perfect sets of piping tips and long, cold marble surfaces for tempering chocolate.

David no longer has beautiful things. He no longer has his sprawling apartment in Toronto. He no longer has the luxury of turning up at work mid-morning to delegate tasks to other people and put the finishing touches on exquisite desserts during an evening service.

What David does have is an alarm set for 2:30 every morning. An alarm that doesn't get any easier, no matter how many months he spends swearing at it or how many hours he brings his bedtime forward by. The alarm doesn't get easier, the mornings never get lighter at this time of day, and David refuses to move his business north of the arctic circle to combat that — mid Ontario was bad enough. The strongest espresso he can brew will never dull the pain deep in his soul when he's up and awake and working before even the most morning inclined of birds start singing.

David doesn't have things that he would have once called beautiful. But he does have his bakery. He has his bakery, and his best friend, and a business manager he's stuck in a perpetually flirty back and forth with. He also has an apartment that reduces his commute to thirty seconds. Forty on the days where it's cold and his keys need a little more force to engage properly in the service doors.

He has a routine. By three in the morning he's had a shot of espresso, he has a pot of drip coffee brewing, and his ovens are slowly heating the kitchen to a more hospitable temperature. Every morning David pulls large blocks of chilled dough out of the fridge and rolls them thin, working quickly to curl long triangles into rustic croissants and dropping delicate rods of chocolate into the strips of pastry waiting to be formed into flaky pain au chocolat. He gently whisks yeast into large jugs of warm water and milk, letting the smell fill the room as the concoctions bubble and foam.

He carefully measures out whole wheat and all purpose flours into large stand mixers, whisking salt and a sprinkle of sugar into each batch. He pours in his yeast mixes and lets the machines do their work, the gentle hum and slap of the dough hooks filling the quiet room. He's grateful for machinery, grateful for the small business grants that allowed him to outfit his kitchen to a decent, if not optimal standard. He watches his bread doughs come together, pulling neatly from the edge of the mixer bowls and creating smooth, elastic forms. David scoops them gently from each mixer, dividing them carefully and plopping the dough into large metal bowls, covering them with plastic wrap and placing them along the warmest countertop in the kitchen to proof.

He checks the time as he pulls his pastries from the oven and slides them gently onto cooling racks. Four o'clock. Stevie will arrive to take over at six. Six fifteen at the latest. He pours himself a cup of coffee and pulls the ingredients for coffee and walnut cake — an ever popular choice for the morning crowd. He smashes walnuts and pulls shots of espresso, pouring ingredients into a clean mixer and scraping down the edges of the bowl as the batter comes together. He pours the mixture into lined tins, leaving a small amount in the bowl — just enough to fill a tiny, individual loaf tin. He slides his cakes into a second oven and retrieves the bread dough, pouring each bowl out onto the clean counter and knocking it back, kneading it gently.

For David, nothing he can make comes close to a hand baked loaf of bread. The gentle rhythm of kneading dough, the push and pull as gluten forms and a sticky, stringy mess becomes smooth and pliable under his own hands. He loves his machines, he really does. He wouldn't get half of what he needed to get done each morning if he had to work manually. The effect is the same, in the end, but he wishes he had more time, wishes he could make it more personal. He divides his rolls onto trays for their second rise, scooping the rest of the doughs back into their bowls to rest. He pulls loaf tins of various sizes out from underneath the counter and stacks them in front of each bowl, ready and waiting.

He takes five minutes to pour himself a final cup of coffee, wandering out into the shop front and perching himself on the stool behind the register. For all he complains about the early starts and the alarm that goes off in the dead of night, there’s a peace he feels at daybreak that nothing can replicate. He sips on his drink carefully and watches as the sun peeks out over the buildings opposite the bakery, the streets turning orange and pink.

David pulls a notepad and pen from out underneath the cash register, placing his mug down and scrawling a quick note.

no raisins this morning, im sorry :( made you a tiny coffee cake instead but stevie will have to frost it (again, sorry) DONT let her give it to you plain. the frosting is important!

The clock ticks over to five am and David's timers wail. He drains his mug, tucking his note under the register drawer and wandering back into the kitchen. His coffee cakes get carefully extracted from their tins and placed delicately on metal racks to cool. He organises the ingredients for muffins — blueberry, banana, chocolate chip — and carefully folds them together. Tall paper cases get placed in wide, sectioned tins and David methodically scoops the light fluffy batter evenly into each one. He sets a timer and takes a breath, mentally preparing himself to load the dishwasher. He gives all his equipment a cursory hose down in the sink, playing an impressive game of dishwasher tetris and loading as much as he can get in before clicking it on. Stevie arrives as he's dividing the bread dough into loaf tins, pulling the plastic wrap off of his dinner rolls and dusting the tops with flour, sliding the trays into the ovens and locking them shut.

He sets various countdowns on magnetic timers, slapping them onto the sides of the associated ovens and nodding over at Stevie. She's perched against the counter, nursing a cup of coffee the size of her head and reading down their checklist for the day.

“No oatmeal raisin cookies today?”

David shrugs. “We’re out of raisins. Loads of freeze-dried raspberries though, use those with white chocolate instead. Oh, but leave enough for the brownies, please.”

“What’s Patrick going to do without his oatmeal raisins though?” She’s smirking at him, which he doesn't need at the grand hour of...six fifteen.

“I made him a coffee loaf. A little one. Please frost it when you do the cakes.” Stevie opens her mouth with a look of glee and he cuts her off quickly. “Do not frost it with a phallus. Regular frosting pattern, thank you.”

She nods and goes back to his list. “Do you want me to start the danishes?”

“Yes please, if you have time, just—”

“—write the number of turns on the top. I know, David. I forgot ONE time.”

“Yes, and that one time we ended up with the saddest breakfast pastries North America has ever seen. Limp, Stevie. They were limp. I’ll never live it down.”

She raises an eyebrow at him and he huffs dramatically, pulling his apron over his head and throwing it at her. She giggles and dodges, letting it fall to the floor and flipping him off as he gathers his keys to leave.

“Sweet dreams, David!” she calls after him in a singsong voice.

“Fuck off Stevie! Thank you!"

By six thirty four, David is groaning under the spray of his shower, rinsing off the thin film of flour and sugar that seems to settle on his skin every morning. By six fifty three he’s crawling back into bed, pulling a sleep mask over his eyes and rolling a pair of soft earplugs between his fingers before tucking them into his ears. At seven am the sound of the sidewalk sign being dragged out and the gentle ding of the bell above the door fade softly as David drifts off and the other half of his bakery awakens into life below him.

-----

Patrick used to have a lot of assumptions about his life. He assumed he’d graduate straight into a job in accounting, or financial consulting. He assumed he’d marry young, be the family breadwinner, take his kids to softball practice. He assumed he’d have a house, a yard to maintain, a dog to take on twice daily walks. He assumed he knew what he wanted and when he should achieve particular milestones in his life. He anticipated a predictable, comfortable life.

He didn’t anticipate David Rose.

Patrick can piece together parts of the journey that led him to David. Successfully graduating at 23, getting the post-grad job at an accountancy firm, learning the financing barriers faced by small businesses. That was the easy part, the predictable part. The small ring box burning a hole in his pocket at 25, the terror sitting deep in his gut at 26 as he clutched Rachel’s hand and prayed to unknown deities that the tiny plus sign wouldn’t materialize. Those were the trickier, more complex, infinitely more painful parts.

Breaking his engagement, ending his lease, quitting his job. The parts that passed in a blur. Stammering out confirmation of his newly resolved sexuality crisis at 27, packing up his car and driving 400 miles without a plan. The strangest shaped sections of the jigsaw puzzle that would make up Patrick Brewer, the ones that would have never fitted into the original plan.

Patrick doesn’t have a wife, or kids, or a house. There’s no Saturday morning little league, no dog to walk, no consultancy firm. There’s a tiny bakery nestled between a bank and a florist, located a twenty minute walk from his studio apartment. There’s a best friend he volleys insults and snark with for forty hours a week, a steady stream of loyal small town customers and local artisan vendors to keep happy.

Most importantly there’s David. The unanticipated baker Patrick is falling headfirst for.

Business manager required to help set up small bakery/deli in central Elm Falls
Experience in food service would be beneficial but not necessary
40 hours p/w
Salary negotiable

The advert had been small, tucked into the corner of the classifieds page of a local newspaper. A small business getting off the ground. It was a jigsaw piece Patrick knew he could be, something that could fit here, in his new life. His expectations were neutral but hopeful—home bakers wanting to start a business? Retail veterans wanting to expand?

The reality of David Rose and Stevie Budd couldn’t have thrown him more for a loop. Apparently not siblings despite identical heads of raven hair, a repertoire of perfectly mirrored facial expressions, and an almost telepathic way of silently communicating with each other through gestures and raised eyebrows.

Ex-pastry chefs. Culinary school friends. Brought to Elm Falls through some kind of financial drama with David’s family and a death and subsequent inheritance in Stevie’s, somehow leaving them simultaneously with nothing but enough to buy the entire bakery outright, including the apartment above it.

Two people whose lives suddenly changed direction from the plan they originally envisaged. Two people making the most of the new deal they’d been handed, trying to build something from the scraps left over from their previous lives. It was a cause Patrick wanted to be a part of, despite how chaotic they seemed to be.

“So it’s a bakery; we’ll bake everything here, from scratch. Stevie and I. And serve coffee and drinks. But also a store. Not like, a general store, but somewhere we can sell artisan foods and products. From local people. Local artisans. Honey, jams, cheeses, that kind of thing.” David had explained, his words punctuated with wild hand gestures and expressive tilts of his head. "I've spoken to people in the area, I have them on board if I can set it up. They'll all supply on consignment rather than us having to buy stock, I just want to get people's work out there, and it's difficult for people to do that in an area like this."

"We just need help setting it up. Baking we can do. In our sleep. Trust me, we can run a kitchen. A business? Not so much." If David was the brains of the idea, Stevie was the brawn. Sharp and smart and wildly protective of David. "We just need someone to do the numbers—"

"—and the customers." David had interjected.

"And the customers. If you’re happy to do that. We’re not people people. You seem like a people person. We don't want to do long store hours. 7-1 or something at first. The morning crowd. Early lunch people. We did some research. We think there's money, for small businesses, that we can get. But we need help."

"We need a lot of help."

Stevie had elbowed David at that comment and Patrick knew he wanted to work with these people. Wanted to build this idea with them. It was messy, but it had promise. It was a gap in the local market and involved local people. It was the kind of business that could thrive in a community like Elm Falls if they did it properly.

"I can help. Your idea is solid. It's great, in fact. I want to help, if you want my help. I know how to get you grants, start up money, that kind of thing. I can probably get you enough to cover my costs even. At least for the first year or so, til you get on your feet."

David's smile was small, but sure. Pleased.

"Just. Just one thing. My last name is Rose. Like, those Roses."

Patrick knew those Roses. Abstractly. Everyone in finance had heard of those Roses. He didn't know David was one of those Roses, though he probably would have connected the dots eventually.

"Okay. David, you—"

"I don't need you to comfort me or pity me or whatever. Just. Please don't take any risks. I lost everything once. I can't do that again. I don't have any second chances left."

"No, I uh, I just know a little about that. About losing things. I won't mess this up for you."

"For us." David had corrected. "If that's—If you want."

"For us." Patrick had found himself agreeing.

-----

David Rose is not a morning person. At least, not when it has to involve other people. For the sake of his own wellbeing he's decided that the early hours of the morning don't really count as morning. They're still the night before. He's not a morning person. Patrick is a morning person. He’s never seen it, in real life, with his own eyes, but Stevie does. Every day.

Patrick is a morning person. He turns up at seven sharp, every morning. He makes himself a cup of tea sweetened with honey every morning, David knows that much. Patrick manages to upsell jars of local honey and jams to the people sleepily buying croissants at quarter to eight in the morning. He convinces the pre-lunch crowd that a wedge of brie would go perfectly with the fresh, individual sized baguettes Stevie has just pulled from the ovens. He’s an outstanding salesman, David hears. He may not be the numbers man, but David can read a register report, he knows how often he needs to email or call or physically visit their community of vendors for new stock. He knows they’re doing remarkably well for their first year. He and Stevie probably could have done it alone, but they’re nine months in and David is so grateful for Patrick.

They pass like ships in the night. David is crawling back into bed by the time Patrick arrives in the morning, and the storefront is dark and locked up by the time David resurfaces mid afternoon, recaffeinated and ready to prepare doughs and batters for the following day. Stevie rarely makes an appearance in the store, preferring the solitude of the kitchen. David likes to spend time alone out front, checking the displays, fronting and restocking the jars of preserves, and damaging himself out the occasional jar of yogurt as an afternoon snack.

They’ve been open for three months when Patrick apparently catches on to David’s afternoon expeditions. Tiny handwritten notes start appearing, tucked under the drawer of the cash register and addressed to David. Personal reviews of the day’s baked goods, observations about the customers, choice quotes of complaint or praise.

The banana bread is excellent today — P. Brewer (did not eat three slices before 10am)

Some guy named Bob was asking abt bagels? Said I’d pass on the message. Here it is.

PERFECT ratio of raisin to oatmeal in the cookies today. *chefs kiss*

Sold out of the quad choc muffins v.quickly, like before 9am. Stevie refused to bake more. (David I still don’t understand how they can be quad choc — pls explain)

A customer announced herself as “Darlene’s Cousin” (who tf is Darlene?) and very angrily bought out all the lemon curd? Like seriously 8 jars. Idk why she was mad but she spent $$$ so?

David you know I do inventory too, right? Quit damaging out snacks.

Seriously David, stop taking yogurt. You’re a baker. Bake something to eat.

David begins memorizing the products Patrick raves most enthusiastically about, making extras or getting them into rotation a little more frequently. If he makes a point of sneaking a couple of cookies or a generous wedge of lemon tart onto a plate and tucking it under the register where Stevie will never notice it, well, that's between him and Patrick.

Slowly but surely David starts placing himself closer to Patrick’s orbit, turning up a little earlier for his afternoon shift in the kitchen and letting a little overlap form between his arrival and Patrick’s departure.

David wears shorter sleeved t-shirts, cuffs them a little higher on his arms, starts folding his apron at the waist and tying it looser, letting it sit lower on his hips. He starts rotating a cold proofed focaccia into the daily bread offering — to diversify the range they offer, not because he likes the way Patrick stares at his arms when he kneads bread dough. He prepares quick flatbreads to eat as a late lunch with Patrick — because he knows from Stevie that Patrick rarely takes a break, not because he wants to watch Patrick’s fingers delicately tear the bread apart, and definitely not to hear the sound Patrick makes after he’s dragged the bread through Stevie’s homemade hummus.

David knows Patrick is into guys, that was a tidbit he learned early on in the initial weeks of long hours setting up and settling into their shifts. Stevie had collected several bottles of wine from the apartment and the three of them had sat in the kitchen, loosening each other up and spilling their respective stories in front of them. David and Stevie had tag-teamed their way through their tale: meeting at culinary school and snarking their way through the workshops they deemed pointless, their ill-advised and short lived fling in their junior year. Graduating straight into kitchen jobs they loved, repairing their friendship enough to live as roommates in the ridiculous apartment David’s parents had bought him.

David’s family being swindled out of their money. David and Stevie losing their home. Stevie losing her aunt and finding out she was the sole beneficiary of a surprisingly valuable estate. David’s family relocating to a small town about an hour away, Stevie stumbling upon the bakery for sale, the inclusion of the apartment being the biggest pull for them.

“We were never going to work, romantically.” Stevie had explained in a rare moment of alcohol induced sincerity. “David and I. But we work well together.”

At that, David had made a wishy washy hand gesture, emphasised by an “ehhhhh” under his breath.

“Okay, we work well together in theory. There’s a reason we have our schedule set out the way we do. You probably don’t want us working together together. But we’re on the same page, most of the time.”

“She’s an excellent baker.” David had offered. “I’m better. But she is excellent. This will be excellent.” And he believed it. For the first time in a while, he’d truly believed things were going to go right for him. For him and Stevie. For him, and Stevie, and now Patrick.

Patrick had in turn quietly shared what David suspected was a slightly abridged version of his own story. A long term girlfriend, a broken engagement, a brief but positively (for Patrick) resolved sexuality crisis, a significant move across the province.

So David knows Patrick is into guys. He hears secondhand stories from Stevie about the dates Patrick goes on, none of which seem to stick longer than two or three weeks. He admitted to himself early on in their partnership that he was into Patrick. Into Patrick and his professional button ups, the forearms revealed by Patrick's rolled up sleeves, the trim waist that Patrick ties his apron around. Into the notes that Patrick leaves for him every afternoon, notes that don’t stop, even when David’s early arrival stops becoming out of character and starts becoming part of their shared routine.

Starting to admire the bravery of a man who wears incredibly form fitting all black when he works almost exclusively with white powdered goods every day.

okay, would we call it bravery, or just commitment to the correct aesthetic? (theres cheesecake in the fridge ur welcome)

also i never want to hear the phrase powdered white goods uttered in my bakery unless its while im being arrested by pedro pascal thank you so much

So I should be attempting to grow a mustache is what I’m hearing here.

attempting lol

David you’re showing me up with the whole ‘effortlessly hauling 25kg bags of flour around’ Can I have the number of your gym?

the 25kg bags of flour ARE my gym. just start lifting a finger once in a while. (also thank you for saying it looks effortless — my triceps are immensely flattered. also also the banana muffin is for you)

stevie says some guy in a polo keeps coming in and talking to you. if you start wearing poly blend i will have to let you go im sorry.

But where are you gonna find another business manager-cum-counter boy to be the pretty face of your company? (You and Stevie talk about me? Cute.)

cum :/

Not to get wildly unprofessional to a colleague but that devil’s food cake has got me about ready to propose marriage. Please don’t be alarmed if you find me on my knees.

(David had taken a quick five out in the snow to regroup after reading that one)

Ruth from the bank stopped by and also asked to marry you. When you make your decision please bear in mind that I showed an interest first. I’ve got dibs, Rose.

It takes a week for David to notice Patrick’s edit to the handwritten placard for the devil’s food cake.

Proposal worthy (no, really) Devil’s Food Cake
$2.75 slice
$25 whole

please enjoy todays entirely unrelated treat of ~proposal~ devil's cake. also your interest in my marital status (single fyi) has been registered and noted.

I’ll hold you to that.

-----

Patrick is in trouble. Romantic trouble. Romantic feelings for his co-worker trouble. His back and forth notes with David have steadily gone from daily musings and directions to stashed baked goods to straight up flirting. David has started making earlier and earlier appearances in the kitchen, never early enough to cross over with Stevie (she was right, they’re a nightmare in the kitchen together), but early enough that Patrick gets a show every afternoon while he closes down and restocks.

David outside of work is stunning. Long limbs and tall hair, always immaculately dressed, layers and layers of sweaters and overlaid pants and high top sneakers. Always holding his head up above everyone else. He’s animated and passionate and full of stories and anecdotes from his past life, constantly derailing even his own conversations while he struggles to keep up with his own brain. He’s particular and sensitive and observant. To Patrick, he’s beautiful.

David at work is somehow exactly the same person while wildly different. In the kitchen David is focused and determined. He turns up in a simple black tee and skinny jeans, cuffed at the bicep and ankle. He hauls sacks of flour and sugar like they're nothing, kneads dough with his whole body, hums along quietly to the tiny staticky radio. Patrick never sees David consult a recipe, apparently working entirely from a repertoire stored in his head.

Patrick is fascinated by David. And really into him. And apparently not subtle at all about it.

“Are you two ever going to do the thing or am I going to spend the rest of my life watching you flirt via post-it like you’re tragic Austen heroines?”

Patrick jumps, making a useless attempt to cover the note that Stevie is apparently well aware he’s writing.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So you and David haven’t been writing each other little love notes for the past six months? Am I imagining that?”

“They’re not...love notes. Just work...messages?” God, he’s not even convincing himself.

“Uh huh. Sure, sure. Just a reminder. I do live with David. He’s as subtle as a brick in the back. And is suspiciously able to relay a lot of conversations the two of you have despite the fact you’re barely ever here at the same time as each other. Or you never used to be. Again, we live together. I know his schedule.

“Well that’s creepy.”

“Don’t deflect. David thought he could throw me off by letting me in on the treats he leaves you, like I didn’t clock that literally a few weeks in. He’s into you.”

It’s a battle he’s not gonna win. If David is stubborn, Stevie multiplies it by three and then some. She’s needled him about every date he’s ever been on, and he’s now convinced that information has been making it’s way steadily back to David. She’s been a staunch member of Team David for over a decade, he knows that, but he suspects Team David and Team Patrick might not be mutually exclusive in her mind anymore. He fiddles with the piece of paper under his fingers, his half written note to David.

“Hey. Patrick. Seriously, don’t overthink this. He’ll be down in—” She checks her phone. “—twenty minutes. Give or take. I’ll take the deposit next door. Do what you need to do out here. I will not return home until seven at the earliest. Do not overthink this. David will do that enough for the two of you.”

He nods, crumpling up his note and running the final report on the register. Stevie disappears then reappears from the kitchen, fully bundled up for the weather. She takes the cash bag from him and swipes two cookies from the display, holding a finger up to silence him in a manner that is so David-esque it throws him a little. She’s halfway out the door when she pauses and drops her voice into a tone radiating a sincerity he’s never heard from her before.

“I like this for you. For both of you. Don’t overthink it.”

She’s gone before Patrick can respond. He fusses around the storefront, restocking a handful of products and mopping the floor clean of the salt and slush tracked in from the snow outside. He makes David a coffee, steaming milk and pulling espresso before carefully combining them with a generous dose of caramel in a heavy mug. The back door slams open as Patrick is putting the finishing touches on an overly decadent hot chocolate for himself, revealing David, right on time to Stevie’s schedule. He’s bundled up in an enormous parka, a knitted scarf wrapped tightly around his face despite the fact he would have spent less than 20 seconds actually out in the cold. Patrick is so fond of him.

Patrick slides the mug of coffee carefully across the nearest countertop as David strips down, the residual warmth of the ovens enough to leave him in his jeans and a long sleeved tee. David groans as he sips from the mug, the drawn out oh my god you’re my hero, thank you enough to leave Patrick feeling overly warm in his thick wool sweater.

David starts pulling bins of flour out from under the countertops and large jugs from the cabinets, measuring out yeast, sugar and milk, and Patrick’s internal refrain of don’t overthink it, don’t overthink it, don’t overthink it suddenly falls out of his mouth in a blurted “Will you teach me?”

David raises an amused eyebrow at him. “Teach you what?”

“To bake. To make bread? That’s what you’re doing first, right? The bread dough? I want to learn. If—if you’re willing to teach me. Sorry, you probably just want to get on with your work, sorry, I’ll just—”

“Patrick. Shh. I’ll teach you. You wanted muscles? This’ll get you them.” He pauses and waves a hand at Patrick. “Not with that sweater on though. Off.”

Patrick flushes and strips off his sweater, taking half of his undershirt with it. He finally untangles himself in time to catch the tail end of David’s gaze raking up and down his torso, the tops of David’s cheekbones stained pink with what Patrick assumes is embarrassment. He reties his apron around his waist and washes his hands, making a point of scrubbing under his nails with the little brush David keeps in a catch-all next to the sink.

“I mean, it’s not open heart surgery. Not that I don’t appreciate the attention to detail but you don’t need to be that fastidious with the handwashing.”

David pulls out metal bowls and sifts flour and salt into them carefully, handing one to Patrick and letting out an approving hum when he turns and sticks his face into the jugs of milk and yeast.

“Okay so we want bubbles. We’ve got them. The yeast is what will make the bread rise. No bubbles? Sad, flaccid bread.”

“Flaccid.” Patrick grins.

“Shut up. Take this, and make a little well in your flour — like a volcano in the middle, you can use your fingers, and pour all of it in.”

Patrick follows his instructions and watches as David carefully incorporates the flour into the liquid with his fingertips, swirling and scooping it until it becomes a sticky ball.

“Okay, once it’s like this, you need to start working it. It’s gonna stick to your hands at first, so try to only use one until it becomes a little smoother.” David tips his bowl out onto the counter and scrapes it clean with his dirty hand. “You kinda want to, like, push it? With the heel of your hand—” he points to the heel of his hand, apparently in case Patrick had forgotten the basic terms of hand anatomy, “—and curl your fingers up to pull it back? And just do that over and over until it becomes smoother. Less sticky.”

It just sounds like an enormous amount of innuendo to Patrick, but he thinks he follows it. He mixes his flour in with the milk, tips it out onto the counter, and tries to mimic David’s hand movement. He’s watched David do this an embarrassing amount of times from the door of the kitchen and he makes it look effortless. Patrick is not finding it effortless. He’s putting a lot of effort in with very little return, in fact. He drags his hand through the mess on the counter, scooping it with his palm and trying to roll it forward like David did. Half of the mixture is stuck between his fingers and it’s just not coming together. David has a beautiful, soft ball of dough that he’s rolling under his hand, and Patrick’s looks like he’s thrown up all over the counter.

“Uhh, David? It’s not really working.”

David looks over and his eyebrows shoot up. “Ah. Okay. Show me what you’re doing.”

He moves closer to Patrick and watches as he repeats his motions, dragging his hand back, scooping up the mess of wet flour and pushing it forward.

“Okay, most of that is stuck to your hands, stay still.” David pulls a small metal tin from somewhere and sprinkles a little extra flour over Patrick’s hand. “I don’t really want to add more — it might make your loaf dry, but we gotta do what we gotta do. Try again.”

Patrick shakes the excess flour off of his hand and tries to mix it in with his dough. It helps, a little, and he scoops the mix into something resembling more of a ball. With his clean hand, he scrapes the stringy bits of dough from between his fingers, dumping them on top of the main ball and flattening it all together with his hand.

David reaches over to pull his own ball of dough closer to them. “Watch me again — push forward, then roll back. Forward, then roll back.”

Patrick watches as David rolls his wrist, the muscles in his forearm shifting carefully. David’s sleeves are rolled to his elbows and Patrick wants to tuck his fingers underneath them and feel how David’s upper arms move as he gently kneads the dough. He swallows and refocuses on his own hand, doing his best to mimic David.

“I thought you were a musician?” David chides gently. “Definitely assumed your hand coordination would be better than this.” Patrick looks up, embarrassed, but David is smiling softly at him, no real malice in his tone. “I’m gonna help you, stay where you are.”

Patrick pulls his hand from the still slightly sticky mess on the countertop, but David grabs it, guiding him back to the dough. “I said I’d help, not do it for you. Rule one of teaching — you’re not gonna learn if i just do it for you.”

He wraps his hand over Patrick’s (his hands are really big, Patrick thinks absentmindedly), linking their fingers and rolling their hands over the dough, pushing it out away from Patrick and pulling it back again. It feels like the same motions he’s been trying all along, but it must be different, because it’s working. Patrick’s dough is coming together, becoming smoother under their joined hands.

“There we go.” David murmurs, dragging out his vowels. He’s so close Patrick can feel him breathe against his neck. David smells clean and nutty, and Patrick thinks about the tub of almond oil moisturiser he’s seen laying around in David and Stevie’s living room. Don’t overthink it, he repeats to himself, and twists his body around to half face David. Vindication rolls pleasantly down his spine when David’s eyes flick unmistakably to his mouth, so he gathers all his courage and leans in, closing his eyes and pressing his lips gently to David’s.

The kiss is soft and chaste and Patrick has half a second of panic that he might have misread David’s months of blaring signals when he doesn’t really get a reaction. David must be reading his mind, or perhaps his body language because he pulls back slightly, letting out a soft sigh before bringing his spare hand up to Patrick’s jaw, tilting his head slightly and kissing him.

Patrick brings his cleaner hand up to rest on David’s waist and lets David deepen the kiss, licking the taste of coffee and caramel out of his mouth and sucking gently at David’s bottom lip. David’s hand tightens around Patrick's where they’re both still knuckle deep in bread dough and he lets David maneuver him until he’s pressed against the edge of the counter, his body loose with relief. Lets David kiss him until his brain goes fuzzy and his whole body is thrumming with joy and want. They finally break apart when the squish of dough underneath their joined hands becomes a little too gross feeling for the moment they’re sharing, and Patrick can’t help the smile he feels break across his face.

“David…” he breathes.

“Okay before you say anything I just need you to know that for me, this is a long, long time coming. So if you need to let me down gently, please make sure that it is. Gentle, I mean.”

David is quiet, nervous, like they haven’t been building towards this with months of stashed treats and handwritten (yeah okay, fine Stevie) love notes hidden around the bakery.

Patrick pulls David close and kisses him again; it's firm and, he hopes, reassuring. “David. What do you think we’ve been doing all this time?”

David squirms and Patrick kisses him again. “We’ve been flirting, David. Or at least I was.”

“So you’re not just really into my baked goods?”

“Oh, definitely. Definitely into your baked goods. But also you. David, I’m really into you.”

David’s smile spreads slowly across his face until he reins it back in, biting his lip and tilting his head back. “Okay. Okay.”

Patrick grins at him, lifting his hand up between them, still covered in bread dough. “And much as I want to keep doing this, and trust me, I really, really want to keep doing this with you right now, I think this is done for. And you have actual baked goods to prepare, without me derailing you.”

David shimmies his shoulders, just slightly. “You can absolutely keep derailing me.” He stills, before exhibiting a full body cringe. “Oh god, why does that sound ten times filthier when I say it. Just forget. That I said that to you. Please.”

“Absolutely not. Might write it down. For posterity.”

“You’re a menace.”

“I know.” Patrick whispers, leaning up to kiss David again. “But you have work to do. For our business.”

“I mean, I could...not. Just for today? I can get it done tomorrow. Or Stevie can.”

Patrick starts scrubbing his hands as David scrapes the remnants of his dough into the trash.

“Nope, Stevie doesn’t deserve that. Do your work David. And then let me take you out tomorrow?”

David nods, eyes wide. “Yes. Yes, I would like that very much, thank you.”

“Okay.” Patrick replies softly, “I’m gonna go. Let you do what you need to do. We’ll talk tomorrow?”

“We can talk whenever you’d like.”

Patrick has never heard David speak so softly, like he’s afraid if he talks any louder he’ll break what he’s carefully building between them. He pulls on his sweater and coat, wraps his scarf around his neck and jams his hat on his head. He pulls David in gently for one last kiss, trying to throw all his promises and hopes and desires behind it. If David’s dazed look when he pulls away is any indication, he thinks maybe he’s achieved his goal.

-----

Are you decent?” Is the catcall that jerks David out of the perfectly good sofa nap he was trying to have, an attempt to sleep off some of the adrenaline still jittering around his body as a result of finally kissing Patrick.

“Yessssss.” He groans, sitting up enough to look over the back of the couch and prove it to Stevie while she sheds all her layers by the door.

“Anything you want to share with the class?” She asks. Far too knowingly. With the distinct air of someone who’s meddled and wants to see if it paid off.

“Why would I have anything to share with the class?”

She stares at him. Stares through him. God, they’ve been friends way too long.

“Fine.” he says, flopping back down into the nest of cushions he’s created for himself. “Patrick and I kissed this afternoon.”

“Just one kiss? Was he that bad? Were you that bad?”

“Many kisses. There were a number of very good, very enjoyable kisses. Happy?”

“Very.” She grins, sticking her head over the back of the cushions to leer at him. “You wanna talk about it?”

He really does.

“Yes. I would very much like to talk about it. Thank you. We’re also gonna talk about where you’ve been.”

“No we’re not.”

He raises an eyebrow, but lets it go. He really does want to talk about Patrick. Really, really does.

-----

For the first time in almost a year of absurd alarms, David doesn’t hate getting up. He doesn’t hate the dark, or the cold, or the way he has to heat up his key with a lighter to get it in the door. He doesn’t hate the chill of the kitchen while his ovens heat up, or the stress of figuring out which ingredients to use up on their final trading day of the week.

He pours his coffee, rolls his pastries, lets his bread dough proof. He mixes brownie batter to use up the remnants of all three kinds of chocolate chips and mashes overripe bananas for banana bread. David is scooping generous mounds of oatmeal raisin cookie dough onto sheet trays (something special for Patrick. He wanted something special to give Patrick this morning) when he hears the front door ding open and panics. It’s five in the morning. It’s still dark outside. He's raising his cookie scoop in a ridiculous attempt at a threatening pose when his soon-to-be assailant sticks their beanie shrouded head around the doorframe.

Patrick.” David breathes. “Jesus Christ you nearly gave me a heart attack. What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Woke up at like four. Couldn’t sleep. Thinking about stuff. You know, us. Yesterday. Stuff.” He breaks off with a grin and David needs to kiss him. Immediately. Patrick’s cheek is cold from the walk when David reaches up to hold it, but his mouth is warm and welcoming, like home, David’s brain unhelpfully provides.

“It was good stuff, good thoughts though, right?” He blurts out when they break apart. “Not, regrets, or anything like that?”

Patrick just smiles softly. “No, no regrets. Feels like it was a long time coming. Relief, I think. That I can finally do it.”

“So you’re here at this ridiculous hour because?”

“I just wanted to see you David.”

David feels his belly flip gently and smiles. “Oh, okay.”

“Stevie will be here in an hour, right? I’ll do setup round the front. Something distracted me yesterday.” He winks, or at least David thinks it's meant to be a wink, the whole face twitch Patrick had aimed at him.

“Okay, okay. Yeah, I still have things to get sorted here or Stevie will kill both of us. Just, before you go, let me—” He wraps one arm around Patrick’s waist, his other hand cupping the back of his neck to lean in for a downright filthy kiss, all tongue and teeth. Patrick looks shell shocked when they finally pull apart, dazed in the best way. “Just something to keep you going out there.” David smirks. “Now off with you. I really do have stuff to do, a bakery to run.”

“Oh, now he’s the professional.” Patrick calls as he heads back out and leaves David alone in the kitchen again. David leans against the sink and squeezes his eyes shut while he washes his hands, allowing himself thirty seconds of just bathing in the joy he feels radiating through his body. The joy of Patrick, so excited about David that he woke up early and turned up to work two hours ahead of schedule in the depths of winter. The reluctant joy aimed towards Stevie, nudging them the last couple of steps over the finish line to each other.

He picks his scoop back up, scraping the last of his cookie dough onto the sheet and sliding it carefully into one of the ovens. This morning Patrick is gonna get the best goddamn batch of oatmeal raisins he’s ever eaten in his entire life, David will make sure of it.

Despite Patrick’s initial interruption, and multiple subsequent interruptions where he claims he cannot possibly complete another task without a motivational kiss, David finishes everything he needs to do, writes Stevie’s handover, loads the dishwasher, and makes Patrick a mug of tea before the clock even ticks over to six.

Patrick inhales a cookie before David even has an opportunity to plate them for him properly, and David takes advantage of the early morning privacy to lick the taste of brown sugar and cinnamon out of Patrick’s tea warmed mouth, pressing him gently against the counter and resisting the urge to pull at Patrick’s sweater or run his hands through his hair. David gets to go home soon, Patrick has an entire shift to do yet. Patrick however has no such issue to contend with, and his fingers creep under the hem of David’s shirt, his thumb rubbing gently at the soft skin above David’s waistband. It’s literally six in the morning, and David is absently wondering whether he wants to risk pressing a little harder against Patrick’s body when the service door clunks open with a rush of cold air and a sleepy drawl.

“Well, good morning colleagues.”

David whines and reluctantly pulls back from Patrick’s mouth, letting Patrick rest his forehead against David’s shoulder, his “Good morning Stevie!” muffled against David’s tshirt.

“Not to interrupt—actually no, absolutely to interrupt because it’s too early for me to have to watch the pair of you make out in my place of work.”

Patrick grumbles, embarrassed, while David snarks at her. “Okay you killer of joy, you’ve made your point. I’m gonna go. I need a nap.” David pulls back and looks down at Patrick. “I’ll see you later?”

Patrick nods, “Mmmhm, seven?”

“Seven.” He kisses Patrick gently, one more for the road, ignoring the exaggerated groan Stevie lets out. “You can figure out your own handover. I will NOT see you later.”

Stevie glares at him. “I’m not coming home!”

“We STILL need to discuss where you’re going all the time.”

“No we don't.”

“Yes. Yes we do.”

Patrick places himself strategically between them. “David, it’s bedtime. Stevie, you do whatever you need to do.” He turns to David. “Look at me.” And then Stevie. “Look at me. I’m the grown-up now.”

David shimmies unconsciously. “Ooh, okay Tom Hanks.”

“No, that’s not — that’s not how the movie — You know what, it doesn’t matter. Go to bed David. Please.”

David grins. “Yes captain.”

-----

Those were the best day-after-a-first-kiss cookies I’ve ever eaten. Coincidentally, it was the best first kiss I’ve ever had. I’d like more of both, please. If that’s something you’re interested in :)

David awakens to the soft thud against the windows he’s learned to identify as a snowstorm. When he sticks his head up above the windowsill his fears are confirmed, it’s basically a whiteout. He throws on a hoodie, his thickest socks and the hideous winter coat Stevie forced him to buy for this exact scenario, pulls his phone from it’s charger and pulls a hat down over his ears. When he finally battles his way down the stairs and through the kitchen doors, there’s a hot drink party going on in his store that he apparently wasn’t invited to. Patrick, Stevie, and the woman from the bank, (he wants to say Ruth?) huddled around enormous mugs of hot chocolate, topped with the good marshmallows that Patrick explicitly forbade David from damaging out.

When Patrick looks up, he at least has the decency to look sheepish.

“It’s a whiteout, David. There’s no way I’m getting home in this.”

“How long has it been snowing this badly?” David asks. It’s clearly been a while, but he was asleep, he has no idea.

“Since about midday.” Stevie’s voice pipes up. “I told Patrick to go home when it started but someone didn’t want to go home without seeing you.”

Patrick flushes and David feels his face soften. “You could have come up instead of getting stuck here.”

Patrick grins. “And wake His Majesty up? Not a chance.”

Stevie decides to save David’s face from melting completely into an expression he won't be able to take back. “Ruth’s never gonna get her car out of this, so I figured as the only people here that live on top of their business, we should be good hosts. I propose a snow sleepover.”

A sleepover.

David looks nervously over at Patrick, a sleepover is kind of speedy for the day after a first kiss, regardless of how long he’s been thinking about it. But Patrick’s face is soft, hopeful. Like it doesn’t have to be anything more than just a sleepover. Like David is more than just a warm body to Patrick. It feels...good. Unusual, and new, but good.

“If that’s okay?” David had almost forgotten Ruth. “I don’t want to intrude or anything.”

“Okay, well it’s my apartment as well as David’s, and I say it’s fine. You can stay with me, I have a queen. Despite the amount of naps David takes on it, the couch really isn’t built for sleeping on.” Stevie stares at David, daring him to object.

“No, no, of course.” If anything, it might help him reign himself in with Patrick. Their walls aren’t particularly thick and he’s never been the biggest fan of exhibitionism. “Stevie, if we’re gonna lean in to a sleepover we have pizza stuff upstairs? We can make dough down here, use the ovens?”

She nods, gesturing to Ruth. “Come up — I have sweats that will probably fit you.” David looks at her curiously, but lets it go. He’ll take the moment with Patrick.

David shivers as the door swings shut behind Stevie and Ruth and he turns to Patrick. “Is this okay? A sleepover? I know it’s a bit fast for a first date and also not a very good first date, but —”

“David. It’s fine. Pizza? If Stevie is involved I assume a few bottles of wine? Getting to spend low stakes time with the boy I like? Sounds like a good date to me.”

David can’t help but wrap his arms around Patrick’s shoulders and draw him in for a soft, exploratory kiss.

“Even if my best friend is third wheeling it?”

“David I don’t think she’s third wheeling. I think it’s more like a double date.”

Wait, what.

“A double — no. Noooo. Stevie’s not — no! Really? Oh my goddd I’ll kill her if she’s been keeping this from me. How do you know?”

“David it’s been weeks since I took any cash next door to deposit thanks to a suspicious level of helpfulness from her. And Stevie hasn’t shown any new interest in any other aspects of the financial side of her own business, so I’m guessing there’s something else at the bank she’s interested in.”

“Oh my god.”

“David.” Patrick’s tone is warning. “Don’t meddle. Let them have this.”

“Fine.” Patrick raises a non-existent eyebrow at him. “Fine.

“Thank you.”

“I’m the boy you like, huh?” David wiggles.

“Yes David. I thought I’d made that clear.”

David draws him in for another kiss. “Always good to check.”

True to his reluctant word, David not only behaves himself, but enjoys his impromptu home double date. They build ridiculous pizzas and David watches through the oven door like an impatient child to see the crust crisp up and the cheese bubble. Stevie burns the roof of her mouth after an overambitious bite of a slice, causing a fond yet concerned look from Ruth that has David wondering if Patrick is indeed correct about the two of them.

Enormous pails of popcorn get cooked on the stovetop in the apartment and David is inexplicably outvoted 3-1 on a movie choice. He grumbles an absolutely appropriate amount about being forced to watch a film that is apparently both action and sci-fi, despite Patrick’s repeated response of Just watch the movie David, you might enjoy it.

“So they’re soulmates?” he whispers to Patrick.

“No, they’re Drift Compatible. Watch the movie, David.”

“Okay, all I’m hearing is compatible.”

Patrick just pours him another glass of wine, giving himself the larger top-up, David notes.

“...are you sure this isn’t a love story? This is a literal soulmate trope being played out here.”

“They’re piloting giant robots David.”

“And to pilot those giant robots together they have to let each other see their deepest, darkest, secrets and memories Patrick. That’s the most romantic fucking concept in cinema.”

“Okay David.” is all he gets back, but Patrick snuggles a little closer and pulls the throw blanket up a little higher over their bodies, so he feels placated enough, for now.

“Do you think we’d be drift compatible? If we had to pilot giant robots?” David murmurs from beneath the mountain of covers and blankets he’s got piled on the bed. Patrick’s wearing a borrowed pair of pajama pants that pool around his ankles and a shirt that stretches deliciously across his shoulders and he’s in David’s bed. Patrick's early morning had caught up with him during the climax of the movie and David had half pushed, half carried him to his bedroom, whispering a suggestive good night to Stevie and Ruth and receiving two middle fingers from Stevie for his trouble.

“David are you asking if I think we’re soulmates?” Patrick’s eyes are bright in the strange whiteout light, a hint of glee creeping through the tiredness.

“No, I’m not. Because you explicitly argued that the movie was not about soulmates.”

The moment drags between them in the dark.

“I’d let you know all my deepest, darkest secrets and memories.” Patrick’s whisper is barely there, but it manages to traverse the six inch gap between them.

It feels too fast, too much, like something that should be filling David with fear and horror and the desire to push Patrick away.

Instead, what falls gently out of his mouth is an even quieter “I think I would too.”

-----

Patrick had sworn to himself he’d take this slow, take his time, make sure David knows how all in he is before getting carried away. But that was before he woke up in David’s bed, in David’s pajamas, with David snoring gently into his shoulder, pressed up against Patrick’s body like a long, octopus-limbed koala. The light spilling through David’s blinds indicates a night of more snowfall and a questionable probability of Patrick getting home. It’s a problem for later though, one he can’t bring himself to try and figure out while David’s arm is slung across his chest and their feet are tangled together.

David shifts and stirs, rubbing his face against Patrick’s shoulder and blinking slowly awake.

“Good morning.” Patrick whispers down at David, careful not to spook him. David stills where he’s still tangled up with Patrick, clearly trying to make a quick decision on whether or not he’s allowed to be so close. Patrick takes pity on him and presses a kiss to his forehead, wrapping a hand around David’s wrist where it’s resting on his sternum.

“Still snowing?” David mumbles.

“I think so.”

“Mmm, okay.”

David is clearly still half asleep, so when he grinds his hips gently against Patrick’s thigh, it takes everything in him to stop David and make sure he’s actually awake.

“David.”

“Hmm?”

“Hey, wake up.” He places a gentle kiss under David’s eye and he blinks awake again, looking up at Patrick and smiling. Patrick can see the processing run through David’s sleep addled brain and register what he’s doing.

“Oh, oh, shit, sorry.”

He goes to pull away and Patrick rolls with him, grabbing eye contact.

“No, no, David. Hey. Not sorry. Just want you awake.”

David blinks owlishly at him and Patrick needs to kiss him, morning breath be damned. He leans in slowly, pressing his mouth gently to David’s and shuffling forward so he can line their bodies up again.

David pulls away ever so slightly, putting enough distance between them that he can whisper against Patrick’s mouth. “This isn’t too fast? I don’t want you to regret this. I don’t want us to regret this.”

Patrick smiles, brushing their noses together gently and feeling around under the covers for David’s hand to hold.

“Not too fast. Just the right speed.”

“You sure?”

I think I’m falling in love with you, is what Patrick thinks. “I’m not gonna regret you, David,” is what he says.

David sighs as his face softens, a product of relief and his residual sleepiness. Patrick pulls him close and kisses him, soft and sweet and lazy, a hand resting at the small of David’s back, encouraging him to rock gently against Patrick. He licks gently at David’s bottom lip, coaxing his mouth open and lazily slipping his tongue in to curl against David’s. Patrick has never felt so much want combined with a complete lack of urgency, like he wants to stretch the moment out for the entire morning.

The snow thumps gently against the windows, punctuated by David’s soft sighs and pleased hums as Patrick runs a thumb along his jaw, lets his fingertips trail down David’s arm and grip softly at his hip. They rock together under all David’s blankets and covers, enough to let arousal pool in the base of Patrick’s spine, a warmth that spreads gradually down his thighs and up towards his ribs, but so gentle and lazy that he feels no need or real desire to chase it.

He lets a soft groan rise up from deep in his chest when David pulls away from his mouth to nose along his jaw, leaving soft, wet kisses on the sensitive skin below his ear. He lets David forge his own path, a trail of barely there kisses down his neck, David’s day old stubble scratching pleasantly against Patrick’s overheated skin. He feels David reach up to pull the collar of his borrowed tshirt aside, sucking what is definitely going to be an impressive mark into the dip of his collarbone. He brings a hand up to scratch gently at the soft hairs at the nape of David’s neck, rolling his hips against David’s and taking the time to revel in the broken moans that sound like they’re being so carefully punched from David’s lungs.

Patrick feels like they lay together for hours, the strange light giving no indication of the passing of time. David gently pushes Patrick’s shirt up to expose his ribs, letting his hand roam across them and pulling a squirm and a huffed laugh out of Patrick every time he brushes the ticklish spots under his nipples.

The few sexual experiences Patrick has had with men have been lust driven. Full of pleasure and frantic movements and desperate want and need. Patrick hasn’t had quiet, slow sex in a very long time. Sleeping with Rachel had often been quiet with concentration and focus, quiet gasps and grunts, a mood Patrick let himself believe defined romance. He’s never experienced quiet like this, the kind of quiet that feels like it’s screaming a thousand emotions all at once.

This moment, moving quietly with David under far too many blankets, feels bigger and more reverent than it has any right to be. This beautiful, smart, sarcastic man Patrick has found himself sharing almost every aspect of his life with, pressing him down into an unfamiliar mattress and gently tugging at his borrowed pajama pants, letting their moment creep forward with tiny increments of escalation.

David reaches over him briefly to rummage in the drawer of his nightstand, letting out a gentle ‘aha’ when he closes in on his goal. He pulls back to look at Patrick properly, a soft “this okay?” breathed between them. Patrick nods, “yeah, yes David, definitely okay,” and pulls at David’s own pajamas, hissing at David’s cold, wet hand against his flushed skin. David wipes his hand on the leg of Patrick’s pants then reaches up to Patrick’s hip to pull them flush together. Patrick drops his forehead to David’s collarbone as the most guttural groan falls out of him, composing himself and pulling his head up to pull David into a messy, open mouthed kiss, licking into his mouth and rocking helplessly against his body.

Patrick can't remember ever experiencing sex like this, the kind that punches him in the gut and leaves him feeling breathless and overwhelmed with want and affection, that makes him want to drag out the feeling forever whilst chasing the crash and swell of the finish line. They’ve wound each other so tight with gentle touches and dirty rolls of their hips that it’s easy to fall apart at the same time, the heavy air of the room filled with stuttered gasps and broken grunts and wet, aimless kisses.

They breathe together through the aftershocks and comedown, the sweat cooling on their skin and condensation rolling down the insides of David’s windows. The snow continues to fall and Patrick lets himself settle into the peace he feels.

Whether he wants to or not, whether he’s ready or not, he’s falling in love with David Rose.

-----

Somehow, it feels like nothing really changes. Patrick starts turning up a little earlier in the mornings so he can send David back to bed with a kiss. David continues to leave baked goods under the register for Patrick’s breakfast. Stevie comes up with increasingly inventive ways of expressing her distaste of walking in on them in the kitchen most mornings. Her relationship with Ruth settles into something serious, and David sways between still mad that Patrick knew before him and kept it from him and genuine joy that she’s found her own Patrick in this new life of theirs.

They celebrate a year, then eighteen months of the bakery being open, the numbers getting better and better with each quarter.

“Enough to keep you on staff a little longer?” David had joked.

“Enough to hire someone new entirely with money left, David.” Patrick had replied.

It feels wrong, somehow, to open up their business to a new person. To have someone other than the three of them involved in the little world they built and now maintain together.

“It doesn’t have to be anything extreme,” Patrick had patiently explained to him. “But having someone here in the afternoon could let you extend your hours a little. Even if just to sell the vendor products. It doesn't need to mean more work for you or Stevie, but longer store hours could bring more money in. We could have days with no bakery, just open for vendor products.”

It made sense, when put forward by Mr Sensible Business.

“I’ll think about it.” David had said, surprised to find that he meant it.

Patrick still leaves him notes, something David didn’t know he desperately wanted to continue until it does.

A guy came in this morning (a doctor or vet based on his scrubs) and said there was “MUFFIN better than banana nut first thing in the morning” when buying a half dozen. I am running away to live in his world of baked good puns. I will miss you dearly.

David, soft cheese physically cannot be ‘broken’. I’m gonna start charging you for all these things you eat. I'll take my first payment in the currency of that thing you did last night.

omg stevie and ruth were making out on the counter when i came back down this afternoon and now i need to bleach my eyeballs. also please buy more disinfectant i used a LOT

David if you suggest a no making out in the kitchen rule you know you’ll have to follow it too.

says who. i’ll put a david exemption clause in. i know a guy who knows contracts.

David I’m not a lawyer.

You looked Very Cute in your cardigan this morning. Please wear it for date night next week so I can take it off you :)

sry for the floury handprint on your butt. actually im lying im not sorry you have a great butt and i need to mark my territory from mrs brooks

Mrs Brooks only has eyes for you and she needs to get in line. Don’t think I won’t tell her that.

-----

“Why a pastry chef?” Patrick murmurs into David’s shoulder, early on a bright Monday in August. Patrick loves Mondays, one of few days David gets to sleep through the night in its entirety. He’ll head down midway through the afternoon to prep for the following day, but for now he’s all Patrick’s. All of his bed-warm skin and curly hair and low-slung pajama pants. “Seems competitive — doesn’t everyone want to do desserts?”

David shifts, snuggling deeper into the mess of sheets tangled around them.

“Adelina taught me to bake when I was little. Our nanny.”

Patrick smiles, imagining a tiny David, covered in flour, apron trailing around his feet.

“We had chefs, cooks, an entire kitchen staff. A world’s worth of cuisines being produced in a mansion in Toronto. Everything we ate was made for us; it just appeared. Adelina taught me how to make things myself. I always wanted cupcakes, so when I was seven she turned round, all ‘Master David, if you want to eat cupcakes you are going to learn how to make your own cupcakes.’ So she taught me. It was the first recipe I learned. Four, four, four, two. Four ounces each of flour, sugar and butter. Two eggs. Twelve cupcakes.”

Patrick pinches his side softly. “And how many of the twelve did you then eat, on average?”

“That is something that stays between Adelina and I.”

“I’ll ask Alexis then.”

David pushes him away gently, huffing a disgruntled laugh when Patrick doubles down and clings even closer under the covers.

“Alexis went to boarding school when she turned twelve and then Adelina didn’t need to be there anymore, so she went home. The last thing she told me was to make her proud, even if she wasn’t there to see it. She said she’d be able to feel it, right here—” He places his palm flat over Patrick’s heart. “—when I made her proud. She was always proud when I baked. So, pastry chef.”

“She’d be proud to see what you have here. I’m proud of you.” Patrick whispers, curling his fingers around David’s where they’re still splayed across his chest. “I’m proud of all of us.”

David kisses him softly. "Me too."

Patrick follows David down into the kitchen in the afternoon, bringing his laptop to work through a handful of vendor contract renewals while David works through his start of week checklist.

David throws together a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies, pulling dough from the freezer, a habit he’d fallen into when Patrick started staying more regularly on a Sunday night, spending the Monday afternoons with David in the kitchen, eking out their time together as long as he could.

Patrick taps away at his laptop, making notes on the paper copies of the contracts with changes they want to make, questions about product availability, and production rates. David rolls long sheets of pastry, wrapping them around flattened blocks of butter and squaring them off neatly. He grates large blocks of cheddar for cheese scones and slowly caramelizes onions in a large pan on the burners ready for flatbreads later in the week.

He watches as Patrick breaks the warm cookies apart carefully with his fingers, dunking them into a glass of milk and licking the drips and crumbs off his fingertips, winking terribly at David every time he’s caught staring. The late summer sun streams through the windows at the front of the bakery, causing a halo of light around Patrick where he’s sat at the counter.

His hair is soft and curly where it air dried in the morning and the light brings out the copper tones in the shorter strands on the back and sides of his head. David watches him dunk cookies and wipe his hands on his jeans, listens to him sing along quietly to the soft folky songs he has playing from the speakers of the computer, watches him tuck his pencil behind his ear and chew on his thumbnail as he tries to do the mental math of a particular contract clause.

David thinks about Patrick being proud of him, thinks about Patrick gasping underneath him the night before, thinks about Patrick leaning into his hands like a cat as David washed his hair gently in the shower that morning and the realization washes over him slowly, like it shouldn’t be a surprise, like he’s known it all along.

Water is wet, the sky is blue, David is in love with Patrick. He loves Patrick.

“Hey.” David murmurs. Patrick looks up, a small, curious smile spreading across his face.

“I love you.” David's voice is confident and sure, but as soon as the words leave his mouth he feels tears well up, feels the tightening of emotion in his chest. Patrick’s smile just broadens and he slides off his stool, moving carefully across the room to envelop David in a soft kiss, his hands framing David’s face. When he pulls away, he runs his thumbs delicately under David’s eyes to brush away his tears, pulling a chuckle from deep within David’s chest.

“I don’t want to steal this moment from you, because I know you hate having your thunder stolen.”

“I really do.” David whispers.

“But I love you.”

David isn’t sure how long they stand there, swaying together gently in the sunlight, but it doesn’t matter. Patrick is proud of him, Patrick loves him. He loves Patrick. He’s in love with Patrick.

-----

It happens almost three years to the day since the bakery opened, and a couple of weeks shy of their two year anniversary. An otherwise nondescript Monday. David leaves Patrick in the apartment fiddling with a new system for stock management and heads down to the bakery, running through his mental list of prep work for the following day. Mondays hold the most promise, the freshest range of ingredients for the week, the most flexibility. He takes his time, making himself a coffee and pulling butter from the fridge, laying it out on the counter to soften a little.

He slips his earphones in and wanders through to the storefront, rearranging the jars of honey and watching the dust motes dance in the low winter sun. He tucks his hand under the cash register, feeling around for Patrick’s note. They’re not as frequent as they used to be, but Patrick always makes sure to leave one on a Saturday afternoon, ready for David to find on Monday.

He pulls out the piece of paper, folded into a neat triangle, a little doodle of a heart shaped cookie on the outside. David sits on the register stool, taking a sip of his coffee and unfolding the paper with one hand.

So, in my opinion I have successfully held my place in line for you for multiple years. Quite a feat. (Not that I think Ruth was ever a true competitor.)

You noted and apparently registered my interest in your hand at the time, but it’s been a while and no-one has contested my claim, so I kinda want to try and see if I can make it official.

I don’t have a cake to do this with (how many years working in a bakery and I’m still a shitty baker?) but I’m hoping this is a reasonable substitute.

I love you.

Marry me.