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Skilled Hands

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“I apologize for swinging at you with a sword,” Lem said as he leaned on the balcony towards Emmanuel, looking earnestly concerned about it.

Emmanuel blinked at him. “That’s… that’s all right. Not again though, huh?”

Lem looked blankly at him for a moment and then grinned, his lips slipping below his tusks into a gummy smile that almost knocked Emmanuel backward.

How could a man be so naively open and yet so deeply entrenched in something the consequences of which he just did not know? Emmanuel thought he was going crazy. He was convinced that something had gone deeply wrong inside his brain because the moon was full and the night air was cool and here he was smoking on a balcony with a -- tourist. Enemy?

A few things about Emmanuel DeSalle: He was born and raised in Nacre. He was practical and simple and a little stubborn. He liked to explain things to people and his mom said he could have been a teacher but he became a baker like his mama. He loved to teach the other bakers how to make things with their hands. Emmanuel DeSalle was very skilled with his hands and he knew how to time baking bread just right. He didn’t trust anything that didn't have the well worn tread of the grain of his baking table or a predictable ratio of yeast to water. He didn’t trust things that didn’t have a known origin and a predicted end result. Emmanuel’s faith was in his world and he certainly didn’t feel the tug of adventure every so often. He certainly didn’t feel it now.

Lem leaned in to light his cigarette, shading the match from the wind with his broad palm. This was a bad idea. Emmanuel knew it from the moment he saw Lem for the second time, in Nacre. Tristero, this boy was full of terrible ideas. For one thing, looking for a person taken prisoner after barely surviving a battle with a pirate ship seemed like an unsound adventure at best.

But then again, it was Emmanuel who had volunteered to go onto that ship in the first place. For all the disaster he could see coming and all the trouble this grinning orc boy could bring, Emmanuel had a penchant for adventure.

Emmanuel shook himself from the haze of smoke and adrenaline. He pulled away. Lem reached forward, but thought better of it and dropped his hand when Emmanuel broke eye contact.

“Sorry I just. I remembered that I have to… I have, um, dough? To prepare. For the morning.” Emmanuel said, tapping out his cigarette on the balcony.

“Dough to prepare?” Lem asked.

“I’m a baker,” Emmanuel said.

“... not a pirate?”

“My work with Captain Brandish wasn’t officially to be part of the armed crew, no. I was the cook.”

Lem laughed. “I had a feeling neither of us were really in our element at the time.”

Emmanuel smiled without wanting to. Lem made him feel so warm. But the memory of the fact that they met while locking swords was enough to remind him of why this was a bad idea in the first place.

“Right. Anyway, I need to go. To the bakery.” Emmanuel said, jerking his thumb over the balcony.

“But it’s so late,” Lem said.

“Early, in fact. I usually start work at the bakery before the sun is up.”

“Oh… I see.”

“Right, so I’ll probably see y-”

“Could I come with you?” Lem interrupted. “I wouldn’t be in the way at all but I’d really love to see the bakery and I’d get to see more of the city on the way. That is of course if you don’t mind.”

Lem had on a lopsided smile and an eager bright eyed look about him that Emmanuel wished he could ignore. Tristero, this boy’s smile is going to get me in trouble, Emmanuel thought to himself. He sighed. “Yes, you can come.”

Lem followed him out of the hotel room. In the lobby, Emmanuel glanced back to make sure Lem was still behind him. He was gazing dreamily at his surroundings, his nose in the air like a perfect tourist, that goofy smile still on his face. Emmanuel scoffed and Lem looked down again to meet his gaze. Emmanuel didn’t trip on his feet, but it was a near thing.

“Come on,” Emmanuel said, “Don’t slow down. We’ll take the back door.”

Emmanuel went through the kitchens of Tristero’s hotel which were fully staffed despite the temple-like quality of the location. He nodded a hello to the few late working chefs and busboys, many of whom he knew. Lem tried to scoot around the kitchen as unobtrusively as possible, but even though he was small for an orc, that didn’t mean he was small, particularly in a city with a small orc population. The space wasn’t really built for him in the first place. He moved through the kitchen sideways, trying not to bump anything with his arms and apologizing to the people he ran into anyways.

When they got out the back, Emmanuel tried to rush them through the streets as quickly as possible. They were going through unpopulated back alleys but Emmanuel still couldn’t shake the feeling that someone would see him with this stranger and assume the worst. And what was the worst? That he had brought the curse of Nacre to another person? That he was revealing the secrets of their safe haven to the outside world? Emmanuel was so distressed by his anxious thoughts that he was a block of houses ahead when he noticed that Lem wasn’t immediately behind him anymore, but was examining the designs on the pillar of a building.

“Lem!” Emmanuel whisper-yelled as loud as he could without raising his voice. He sped back to where Lem was standing.

“Oh, sorry, there’s just a pattern here I’ve heard about. I always thought it was a dance instruction but it seems there might be more magical and older roots than I-”

Emmanuel grabbed Lem’s sleeve. “We have to go.”

Lem nodded and followed as Emmanuel dragged him through the streets. He didn’t let go of Lem’s sleeve until they had closed the door of the bakery behind them.

Emmanuel glanced around the store. Nothing had been disturbed since he left for a midday nap yesterday. He sighed.

“You can sit anywhere you like,” Emmanuel said. “Browse the shelves or do whatever it is you do. I’ll be in the back.” And then, without looking at Lem, Emmanuel immediately moved into the back of the kitchen that smelled comfortingly of flour and rising dough, grabbing his apron as he went.

He set to work immediately, bringing out his favorite bowl and mixing water, flour, and yeast with his hands. The busy work was enough to distract him from the problem waiting to happen that was rattling around his shop. Well, not rattling. Lem had gone strangely silent and Emmanuel didn’t quite know what he was doing out there anymore. He put down the dough he was kneading and wiped his hands on his apron as he turned with the intention to leave the kitchen to see what Lem was up to.

But Lem was in the doorway, leaning on the door frame and bent over so his head didn’t hit the top of it. When Emmanuel turned to look at him, Lem moved away from where he was leaning, standing up straight inside the back room and shaking himself off.

“Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to bother you I can go back out if it’s-”

“No. No, it’s fine,” Emmanuel said, waving a hand. “Come on in if you like.”

Lem walked into the back, looking at the empty shelves where the loaves would be laid out on either side of the walls with a strange wonder.

“Don’t they have bakeries where you come from? ” Emmanuel asked. “Surely the New Archives know about baking bread.”

Lem smiled as he ran a finger over the wood. “We do, but I believe you might use a slightly different method than I’m used to.” He shrugged and laughed, “That being said, I can’t say I’m exactly an expert on bread making.”

There was one part of Emmanuel screaming that what he was about to do next was a bad idea, that he was offering too much yet again and that if he really wanted to be rid of Lem he wouldn’t invite him to experience even one more thing in Nacre and would do better to just ignore him as much as possible with very little leeway. But he elected to ignore that voice.

“I could teach you, if you wanted,” Emmanuel said.

That made Lem flash his brilliant smile again and Emmanuel knew he would regret this later. Emmanuel beckoned him over to the table with him.

“Put on an apron so you don’t get flour everywhere. I have an extra on the wall. I don’t think it’ll quite fit you but it’ll have to do for now. I’ve already mixed most of the ingredients together so we’ll mostly be kneading and shaping the dough. Usually I would start with a larger batch, but I’ve already got one rising for tomorrow and the batch from yesterday is almost ready to put in the oven so we’ll have plenty in the morning.”

“I thought you said you had to leave, otherwise you wouldn’t be ready for the morning?” Lem asked, walking over to the table. The apron he had looped over his head only came down to his waist and there was no way he would be able to tie it round the back.

Emmanuel grinned and looked sheepishly back at his dough. “Well, I. It never hurts to be safe,” he said.

Lem shook his head gently. “Well then, what can I do?” he asked.

Emmanuel broke off a lump of the dough. “You can practice with this.” He took some for himself to demonstrate. “You start by kneading it, grabbing it and using your knuckles to really work the dough.”

Lem began to work his fingers into the dough. Emmanuel hadn’t expected his large hands to be so graceful, but he was a musician, after all. He watched Lem gently massage the dough with his thumbs.

“Are you done kneading yours?” Lem asked Emmanuel who had let his bit of dough go limp in his hands.

“What? Oh,” Emmanuel looked at his hands and hurried to get back to work on it. “Just about. Next we’ll be shaping it into loaves. You take the dough and work it under, tucking in the corners.”

Lem watched with dedicated observation, his soft eyes trained to notice detail, watching Emmanuel spread it out with this palms and tuck it under with his fingers. Emmanuel glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. He looked so concentrated on the task at hand, his lips pursed together, his hands leaning on the table. Emmanuel ducked his eyes back down, his face feeling slightly warm.

“Would you like to try?” Emmanuel said.

Lem nodded and took the loaf in his hands. His gestures weren’t inaccurate but he didn’t grip the bread as firmly in his hands as he should to allow the shape to come out evenly. Emmanuel watched him for a moment, itching to say something but unsure how to correct him without being rude.

Then Emmanuel cracked. “Oh, just-” he reached out and touched Lem’s hand before pulling away immediately. It would be rude to guide his hand without asking but- “Let me- Can I just... Show you? I can guide your hands if…”

Lem nodded.

Emmanuel put his hands on top of Lem’s which were so much larger than his. He guided Lem’s palms, pressing down on top of them and pressing them deeply and evenly over the dough, then curling them around the bottom. He repeated the motion, using the direction of his thumbs over the top of Lem’s hands to hint at the direction he wanted to go. Emmanuel’s heartbeat sped up without his say so. Lem’s dough shaped itself evenly into a rather decent looking loaf but Lem appeared to have lost his concentration.

Instead he had let his hands go limp beneath Emmanuel’s and was looking over at him. Emmanuel noticed and stopped moving his hands. He looked up at Lem. He didn’t think orcs could blush but he also hadn’t had the opportunity to pay this much attention to an orc before.

Lem brought one large hand up to Emmanuel’s cheek, tucking his fingers behind Emmanuel’s ear and at the back of his neck. “Can I?” he asked.

Emmanuel swallowed. “Thank you for asking,” he said. Then Emmanuel took a deep breath in and raised his eyes to Lem. “Yes.”

Lem brought his lips down to Emmanuel’s and kissed him once, gently. He broke away and hovered an inch away from Emmanuel’s face. “Okay?” Lem asked.

Emmanuel grinned and nodded, grabbing Lem two handed by the front of his shirt and pulling him in for another kiss. And maybe Emmanuel just liked the adrenaline and the adventure and getting this orc archivist covered in flour, but maybe that was fine for now.