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Can't Even Keep a Bakery Running

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Oh, she was going to kill him next time she got her hands on him. Y/N was going to fire him, and then she was going to make him remake everything, and then she was going to kill him. That no-good, incompetent, two-faced bastard of a boy had gone and mucked up another delivery by eating everything. God, if only his attitude matched the beautiful face she’d hired him for. How was she supposed to keep a bakery running if her delivery boy couldn’t make it across town with intact cartons? Not to mention the fact there was a war happening, now, and it had sliced off more than a quarter of her customers, and her supplies, and her profits! And the crown had threatened to shut her down more than once!

“What ever has the ground done to you to deserve such a look, madam?”

She wasn’t glaring that hard. Snorting, she clenched her dust cloth in her fist and began complaining before she even knew who she was talking to.

“Well, the ground is apparently not interesting enough for my godforsaken errand boy Michael to keep his damn eyes on long enough to—“

Her words died in her throat as she looked up at the poor victim of her complaints.

The first thing she noticed was how he seemed to tower over her even at her full height, his broad shoulders and sturdy neck giving him an imposing appearance. His face didn’t quite match—it was almost delicately featured, high cheeks, a thin nose, soft grey eyes that seemed ageless, a strong, clean-shaven jaw. His dark hair was pulled back and pressed beneath a navy blue tricorn that matched the rest of his expensive-looking entourage. By the looks of him, he had no more than five years on her, just at the peak of his handsomeness. The blood-red tie around his neck gave an almost ominous contrast to his crisp white jerkin and linen shirt.

His sculpted lips split into a smile at her no doubt dumbfounded face.

“Long enough to what?” he asked, his now very noticeable English accent coating her ears like honey.

Y/N reined herself in and continued. “Long enough to get to a customer without eating most of the delivery.”

“I would think that is a testament to your skill,” he responded, as if they’d known each other for thirty years rather than thirty seconds. “Surely no one would pilfer your cartons if they were sod-awful, yes?”

She could feel a blush rising in her cheeks, and pretended to shade her eyes to (hopefully) hide it. Something in his eyes told her he caught it anyway. “I-I suppose.”

He took in a sharp inhale, looking up at the sign above her door.

“I take it this is your establishment, then?”

Y/N nodded. “The Vanilla Bea; she’s mine, alright.”

His head cocked slightly. “An interesting name. Might I inquire?”

She drew a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. “My sister’s name was Beatrice. She was the inspiration for opening a shop in the first place.”

He nodded, keeping whatever thoughts he may have had to himself.

“I was actually looking for a bite to eat myself,” he commented. “I must admit I’m quite curious to know the baking that makes delivery boys unable to control themselves.”

The comment brought a smile to her lips, and she started towards her shop. “I’d be happy to help you.”

The gentle tingle of the doorbell helped soothe her nerves, and the smell of the muffins baking in the back room grounded her flighty head.

Just as the attractive man stepped onto the paneled floor, the timer on the counter that signaled her current batch’s time ran dry.

“Feel free to take a look around,” she told him, slipping behind the counter. “I’ve got to go switch batches right quick.”

The man, who was tucking his tricorn under his arm, nodded.

It didn’t take long to pull fresh blackberry muffins from her oven, and she smiled proudly at them. Fresh fruits like these were something of an anomaly nowadays, what with the rising taxes, but the Natives that visited the outskirts of the city to trade in the market were kind enough, and one very sweet old lady appreciated her odd stitchery projects in exchange for a small basket of fresh berries.

She shuffled the ashes around a moment to maintain even heat, and slid in the couple pans of cake that had been setting while her muffins baked. Setting the piping muffins into a presentation basket and covering it with a cloth to keep the heat in, she returned to the front of her shop. Tricorn had clasped his hands behind his back, under the navy cape that covered one shoulder, gazing out the window, and she noticed the bright red ribbon keeping his short hair back.

“See anything that catches your fancy?”

He turned back to her. “Indeed. But you’ve made it much harder to choose, bringing this wonderfully-scented basket out.”

“These are blackberry muffins,” she said, setting them down on the counter and kneeling behind the counter to swap out the appropriate hourglass. “Not too sweet, with a touch of cinnamon. Tuppence, if you’re interested.”

It took a moment to get the right one- it was towards the back of the cupboard under her counter. When she rose to her feet, Tricorn had offered his hand, two shiny pennies pinched between his fingers.

“I’d love one.”

His hands were rough, but gentle, and she tried to quell the blush that rose on her cheeks again.

She noticed his ring as she deposited the coins into her cash box beneath the counter and pick up a sheet of thin paper to package the man’s purchase, and almost paused, and fought to keep a frown from pinching her mouth.

If he noticed the slight change in her demeanor, he didn’t mention it. She chose a red ribbon from her scraps to match his red ribbon, and neatly wrapped the warm bread with trained fingers.

“Do enjoy,” she told him, searching his face one more time. His mouth turned up into an amicable smile, revealing nothing of his mind.

“I believe I shall indeed. If you are--”

There was a sudden clashing outside, cutting him off, and he turned his head to the window.

“Ah, I am afraid that is my cue. I do hope you get your delivery boy under control.”

And with that, he was gone, with a swish of his navy and crimson cape.

~

A couple days later, she had the door propped open- it was early fall, and the cooler weather had yet to roll in. She could afford to squeeze in a couple more days of letting the smell of her baking lead customers to her.

Today, she was pinning some light garlands on her window frames. Every year, she dried the last flowers of summer and hung them in early fall to bring a little bit of warm cheer to her shop. Her regulars liked it well enough, and the children that trailed after their parents would occasionally pick one to bring home when they thought she wasn’t looking.

She had her strings of flowers gathered in a basket beside on a chair by the door, and stretched up onto her toes to drape a string over the corner of the far window, by the counter.

She paused a moment and propped her hands up on her hips, listening to the shuffling of people outside, the slight hiss of the sand running in her hourglass, and the laughter of the dogs and children that scampered through the alleys. Closing her eyes, she drew in a deep breath of sweet-smelling air.

After a moment, she turned back to her basket to get the last strand that would span the front of her counter, she noticed something else among the flowers.

Striding to the basket, she picked up the slim envelope of fine paper, peering out of her front door to see who might have left it. It had no indication of who it might be, either, but the handwriting addressing her business was smooth and curling. Seeing no one but the common rabble, she stepped back inside, and gently tore it open.

Inside was a five pound note, and a slip of paper with the same fine handwriting.

Your baking is indeed phenomenal. I should like to know you will remain in business, so that I may visit again in the future.

-H

She blinked at the note, and its message, and her brow clouded. There was only one person who matched the circumstances, and, oddly enough, the script. Who was the man with the blue cape?

~ to be continued...

Chapter Text

He didn’t come back for almost three months.

Snow was falling heavily the evening he returned, and she was hoping she’d be able to get home. Her mind had been coming back to ‘H’ all that day, and what it might stand for.

Henry? Hannover? Harvey? She hoped to God it wasn’t Humphrey. Or maybe it wasn’t any of them. ... Hank?

She was mulling over his name, sweeping up excess flour from her worktable, when her door jingled. For a moment, she groaned — she was still technically open, but it was the tailing minutes of her day, and she enjoyed leaving before darkness fell. Hopefully, whoever had come in would be quick.

“Hello!” she called with what she hoped was a cheerful tone, despite her feet suddenly alerting her to their aching. “I’ll be out in a moment, I’m just tidying up back here.”

She dumped the handful of crumb-y flour into her wastebin and blew off her countertop, gathered a damp cloth on her way out to dust off her hands, and slapped a smile on her face. She was scrubbing in between her fingers as she emerged, ready to greet her customer, but any semblance of words died in her throat as her eyes landed on the navy-clad man leaning against her front counter. He was just as stunningly attractive as last time, if not more, with little snowflakes melting on his shoulders. Y/N felt as though she might melt with them under his smoldering gaze. His tricorn was once more tucked under an arm, hair tied back. The stormy wind outside had blown a couple strands free, and providing him an artistically dishevelled look, and there was a neatly stitched cut on his jawbone, perhaps a week or so old.

“Hello again, Y/N.”

He must have noticed how her face changed because he shifted his weight. “You are quite popular around town. It was not difficult to hear your name spoken fondly from several people.”

“I- ah, wow,” she stuttered, brushing a lock of her long bangs out of her face.

“I digress.” H lifted his hand in a short gesture, and she noticed he held a blackberry muffin like the one he chose last he was there.

“Tuppence?” he inquired. Good memory.  

“Oh, no. Don’t,” she insisted. “I can hardly make peace with the note you left me last time. It’s the least I can do. Anything here you like, on the house. Just put it here and I’ll wrap it all up.” She tapped the counter and tossed her towel over her shoulder.

He lifted a brow and studied her. “You are sure?”

She nodded, but the intensity in his eyes almost made her voice waver. “Absolutely.”

His eyes searched her face for another second before he cleared his throat. “Well, it would be reprehensible to deny such an offer.”

She didn’t have a response, and consciously steadied her breath in the downtime, as he perused.

“It’s getting quite late,” he mentioned, and she looked up to see him glancing back at her from the wall clock on her left. “Are you often open this time?”

Y/N looked back down to retrieve a ribbon. “I was actually preparing to close when you arrived,” she admitted. “But don’t fret over it, it’s always a pleasure to see y—returning customers.”

When he didn’t move to speak, she continued. “By the way, I never learned your name.”

“Haytham,” he answered after a moment. “A pleasure.”

Haytham. Somehow it was... downright accurate. Everything, down to his set shoulders, his gilded clothes, and his hazy, almost cheeky smile said Haytham. He picked up a small pre-bagged sack of ginger snaps, each no larger than an acorn, as Y/N was drifting through her thoughts.

“Those are addictive,” she warned jokingly. “I’ve taken to eating a dozen at a time.”

The smile that graced his lips made her own mouth curl. “I do believe I’m brave enough.” He set it down on the counter and Y/N inclined her head, ducking to retrieve another ribbon, bright yellow this time.

“That’s all?” she asked, tying the little cloth around the neck of the bag. “You’re welcome to anything, really.”

“In favor of a chance to visit you again, that will be all for today.” His grin turned into a smirk more than anything else, and she hoped she wasn’t blushing like she thought she was.

She drew in a breath to hide her nervousness and glanced out the window. “If that’s it, I should get home. You’re absolutely welcome to come by anytime. If you’re early, you might even catch the bread while it’s warm.”

“Of course. I shall enjoy these, I’m sure.” Haytham gathered his treats in his broad hands and granted her a beautiful smile. She waved him goodbye before she gathered her coat and her keys, heading for the door after it jingled shut behind Haytham. The promise of her hearth, waiting at home to warm her, kicked her feet into stepping into the snowdrift beyond her porch after she locked her front door. The wind bit at her cheeks and her hands, and she shoved her keys in her pocket and tucked her hands under her arms. Her coat helped a little, but she’d have frost clinging to her eyelashes before she got home.

Suddenly, a dark cloth shielded her head and shoulders from the frost, and she flinched into a firm chest.

“So sorry.” Haytham’s voice was close to her, raised in volume against the howling wind. “I would be remiss to allow a woman to freeze on her way home.”

Part of her worried; a man with arms (and skills, presumably) like his could likely kill her in a moment. But the rest of her welcomed the slight shelter his cape provided from the frigid winds. She pointed him to her residence, and could hardly feel her fingers fumble for her keys when they arrived.

“Please come in,” she gestured, and shut the door behind him. “I can’t just leave you in the snow.” She found her matches and shed her snow-drenched coat, shivering in the chill of her empty house. The matchbox grappled with her momentarily, as her cold-stiffened fingers couldn’t grasp the matches to get a solid spark going.

She snorted in frustration as she dropped the match in her hand and knelt to pick it up. As she rose, a calloused hand covered hers. She stiffened as Haytham’s warm hands took the matchbox and the match from her, striking it easily. A small flame flickered to life between them and danced in his eyes as they examined her. After what felt like a year but what couldn’t have been longer than a second, he turned from her and lit the lamps in her entryway, using two more matches in the process.

“A-uh, feel free to hang your coat,” Y/N managed after a moment of staring after him, entranced. “I’ll... get a fire started.”

She busied herself with sweeping the ashes in the fireplace away, hearing her new guest step past her to her bookshelf. “You live alone?”

She chose some kindling she’d split earlier that week and gathered it in the center of the pit, then reached for some wood. Maybe it was a poor idea to be readily honest, but he hadn’t given her any red flags yet, other than that thick cross ring. “Yes,” she answered. “My father left my mother when I was six, she never remarried. I lost Beatrice to a British rifle when my family first came to the colonies. My mother couldn’t cope with the loss, and she passed not a year later.”

She struck a match, and her kindling lit quickly. “I’m sorry,” he said, sounding genuine.

“Me too,” she murmured.

In a moment, her wood caught, and her sitting room was brightened by growing flames. She stood, brushing off her hands, and turned to Haytham. “Would you like a cup of tea? I can’t very well let you go out in that weather, not without something warm in you, at the least.”

He inclined his head. “Please.”

She nodded and gestured to the shelved collection before him as she ventured towards the kitchen. “You’re welcome to peruse, if you’d like.”

~

Haytham’s fingers brushed hers again as she handed him his tea, and her heart skipped another beat.

“It’s black. Sugar?”

He shook his head. “No, thank you, love.”

Haytham remained standing, looking over her books, and Y/N took a seat opposite him with her own cup, content to sit in silence.

His eyes wandered across her shelves, and she watched the fire dance and hiss a song to its audience as they spent a few minutes in a comfortable lull. Y/N spent more time inhaling the warm, sweet steam from her tea than she did drinking it, but her guest hadn’t so much lifted his from his saucer yet.

Suddenly he turned, setting his teacup down on the side table. He chose a book tucked into the corner of the far shelf, half-hidden from the light, as if he hadn’t noticed it before. She was mesmerized by his slender fingers as they lifted the book from its shadowy corner.  

Y/N’s heart sank as she recognized it, and downed half of her scalding teacup to hide her discomfort. Haytham ran his fingers along the blood-splattered face cover of the book he held, and when he opened it, he paused.

“What’s this?”

“My sister’s logbook, for her shop.”

He lifted a small sheet of paper from between the first two pages so she could see it, though she could read the lines as well as if they were carved not on the paper but directly on her mind. “And this?”

Her voice quieted. “His name. And his symbol, so I never forget it.”

His eyes met hers with an intensity she hadn’t seen in him yet. “Do you know what it means?”

She didn’t answer him, searching his flickering grey eyes, and said nothing.

This intrigued Haytham, and his head cocked ever so slightly, a thin lock of hair falling over his temple. He looked back down at the sketched symbol, then back up at her. She drew in a breath, shifted her weight and folded her hands over her lap. For a moment she stared into the fire before speaking.

“That man, the redcoat that killed my sister, was one of them. All I know is that they are called Templars and I want nothing to do with them.”

“Why do you have this?”

Y/N hung on her silence for another moment. “Beatrice was even more fiery than me. One of them wished for her hand in marriage, but she was far more concerned with her budding business than the responsibilities of a housewife. She spurned him one too many times, so I am aware. He cornered her in an alley. She didn’t stand a chance.”

Her voice weakened and broke, and a tense, pregnant quiet fell over them. Even the fire took a moment from whispering inside the hearth. Y/N blinked tears from her eyes, just like every other time she re-lived the memories.

“I was young and brash, then,” she continued. “I wanted vengeance, so I looked for someone to help me. When I came to the ... Assassins, they’re called, I was told there was nothing they would do that would not give them away to their enemy.” She took a short breath, staring into her teacup as though Beatrice’s face would show itself in the swirling liquid. “The Assassins idled while my sister was murdered and refused to help me find the Templar responsible. She died because of their fight.”

“Surely keeping this must be painful for you,” Haytham lifted the book in his hands. “Isn’t it a reminder of your sister’s death?”

“That’s why I keep it,” she explained, standing still as a deer in sights, and watching the firelight dance on the dried splatters. “I’m forced to remember her, even as life returned to normal. I keep it so I remember whom I can trust... and who I can’t.”

A short huff of cynical laughter made her look up from the book as she came to stand before her guest, and his eyes had a sad kind of twinkle in them, as if what she said struck two different chords within him. She didn’t have the courage to ask about it, but she didn’t need to, nor could she have even if she had the guts, because he shut the book swiftly and tucked it back into its place.

His eyes bore into hers as he spoke, burning into her skull. “I apologise for having intruded upon your time and your tragedy. Thank you for the tea. Hopefully, I will see you again, under better circumstances.”

Before she could react, Haytham retrieved his coat and hat, and left, into the howling wind and swirling snow. His tea remained untouched on the table by the window. Y/N pinched her nose. There was no telling if she would see Haytham again, especially since she pretty obviously voiced her disdain for his organization. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so open with him. Maybe... it was a good evening for an early bedtime.