Slasha, Baby 2007
The Secret Ingredient
"Orlando, come here a minute!" Miranda called. "Cate, I swear, he never leaves the back unless I make him. Orlando!"
"Yes, Randy, what? I have sourdough bread in the oven." He wiped a hand across one cheek to get rid of a patch of flour, but only managed to smear it around. "Oh, hello," he added, finally noticing Cate, who looked distinctly amused.
"Cate, this is Orlando, my new baker. Orlando, this is Cate. She runs the homeless shelter down the street."
"Nice to meet you," Cate smiled.
"You too. I didn't know there was a homeless shelter so close. That would explain..." Orlando trailed off and then glanced at Miranda as if deciding he'd said too much.
"What?" She asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Sometimes there's a kid sleeping on the back steps. He runs off when I get here in the morning."
Cate nodded. "There's never enough space at night. Can you describe him to me? I can make sure he's okay and ask him to stop if it bothers you."
"It doesn't bother me." He shrugged. "It's not as if we use the back door for anything at night. And yeah, please keep an eye out for him. I've been a little worried. He looks all of twelve, pale with dark hair. And really blue eyes. I could tell just from the streetlights."
"I think you're talking about Elijah." Cate pursed her lips, considering what to say for a second. "He's a lot older than he looks. And I wouldn't worry too much. Elijah's had to learn to take care of himself."
There was a moment of somber silence, and then, "Orlando, what's that smell?" Miranda asked suddenly, frowning.
"My bread!" he cried, wheeling around and running into the back.
The women chuckled at his sudden exit, shaking their heads.
Miranda handed Cate her coffee and scone. "So would you like me to talk to Elijah?" Cate asked.
"No," Miranda said thoughtfully. "Orlando's right, we don't use that door much. And... well. Let's see what happens."
"You're not playing matchmaker again, are you?" Cate asked, shocked.
"No, no. Not really. But that's the most I've heard Orlando say since he got here, so..." she trailed off with a shrug.
The women exchanged a knowing look.
"Oh." Orlando stopped abruptly. Elijah had crept back into doorway after Orlando went inside, and he'd almost tripped over Elijah while taking the trash out. He wondered how long Elijah had been returning like this for a few more hours of sleep.
He looked down into wide blue eyes for a shocked second, and then Elijah was scrambling out of the way. He winced at the deep circles under those intense eyes and wished he hadn't woken him.
"Elijah," he called.
The younger man froze, a suspicious frown marring his face as he turned.
Orlando shifted, grabbing the closest thing off the cooling rack with his free hand. "Have a muffin?"
Elijah darted forward and grabbed it, clearly unable to turn down food despite his lingering suspicion. He hesitated. "Thanks."
It was almost a week before Elijah returned, so Orlando was surprised to see him. Then again, the first cold front of the season had swept through, and Elijah might not have been able to resist the wind-free warmth of the small alley behind the bakery.
He jumped up as Orlando's footsteps echoed in the small space, breaking the quiet of the early morning.
"Elijah, wait," he called, shivering slightly in his heavy coat.
Elijah frowned and crossed his arms, hands red and chapped.
"You don't have to run off. Come in. I'll get you another muffin."
His frown softened into confusion, gazing warily at Orlando, who turned and unlocked the door. Once again, Elijah hesitated, but followed Orlando inside. Apparently, the offer was too good to refuse.
Elijah sat carefully on the stool he indicated as he puttered about making a cup of instant cocoa and digging up a left over muffin and croissant. Then he began to work, switching on the large ovens, sprinkling flour over the large work table and retrieving the pastry dough he'd made yesterday to roll out. Orlando had almost forgotten Elijah was there until he spoke.
"What are you making?"
Orlando glanced up and saw Elijah shift uncomfortably, so he returned his attention to his task, french rolling pin moving with ease over the cool dough, and began a soft, continuous narrative of how to make these fruit pastries. It was easy to talk about baking, which he'd been doing all his life, and personal anecdotes unintentionally spaced out the technical instructions.
Elijah just listened, raptly, hands cupped around his mug, watching Orlando's confidence with batters and fillings, flinging ovens open and closed as the small room warmed up with heat and the wonderful smells of Orlando's creations.
Orlando had just finished all the breakfast items and was starting on the cookies and breads when Elijah stood. "I have to go," he said, hugging his thin coat close.
Elijah slipped out the back door.
Five minutes later, Miranda swept through the door to open up the shop, greeting him cheerfully.
He didn't think the timing was a coincidence, so he gave her a smile and kept this morning's visit to himself.
"And my sister!" Orlando laughed. "She was so pissed at me! But she wouldn't yell at me in front of her boyfriend, thank God."
Elijah was grinning at him, and it was adorable. He'd realized yesterday that he was keeping track of things to tell Elijah that would coax out his smile. Orlando wasn't sure what he thought about that, so he'd decided not to exam it too closely.
"Do you have a sister or brother?" Orlando asked, quick fingers assembling a batch of cinnamon rolls.
Elijah's face fell immediately. Orlando winced and mentally cursed himself. He'd been careful not to ask Elijah any personal questions, despite his growing curiosity. And of course family would be a sensitive subject given Elijah's... situation.
"A brother... and a sister." Elijah swallowed. "She died. And I don't know where he is." He shrugged, face averted, clearly uncomfortable.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Orlando asked.
He looked back at Orlando and grimaced. "Not really."
"Okay," Orlando said, and stuffed the cinnamon rolls into the oven.
"False alarm, there wasn't anyone at the front door. I don't know what..." Orlando froze as he registered the scene in front of him. Elijah whipped off the oven mitt, face turning bright red.
"You, uh. You said it was really important to pull them out on time, or they'd be dry, and..." he trailed off awkwardly and crossed his arms, seeming to shrink into himself.
Orlando blinked and blinked again. "If you're going to help," he finally said, "you need to wash your hands."
"You want my help?" Elijah looked completely confused by his reaction, as if he'd expected Orlando to yell at him.
"If you want to. Don't feel obligated. By now, I'm used to slaving away while you sit and watch me."
The confusion melted into an unsure smile that Orlando filed away in his memory, and then Elijah shuffled over to the sink.
"Do you remember what I said about cookie dough?"
This time Elijah's smile was genuine, just this side of cocky. "Of course."
"Then get started," Orlando ordered with a laugh, watching for a second before turning back to his own task.
He had a feeling the cookies wouldn't turn out edible, but Elijah was enjoying himself, so it didn't really matter. Still, Orlando was pleasantly surprised when Elijah thrust a lopsided cookie into his hand a while later with a brusque, "Here." It was good. Very good, considering that Elijah had been working from memory.
Orlando took a second bite and watched how nervous Elijah was growing before nodding. "These are really good." Elijah made a face of disbelief. "Did you try one yet?"
"Yeah. They're not as good as yours."
"Not quite. But, honestly, Elijah. I've been doing this for years. It's my job." He eyed Elijah in a speculative manner. "Is this the first batch of cookies you've ever made?"
"Pretty much." Elijah smiled suddenly. "Unless those tubes of dough count."
Orlando shuddered in disgust. "Perish the thought." Elijah laughed, actually laughed out loud. Orlando smiled in return, a thrill of wonder shooting through him. "Well, finish up that batch. You'll have to take them all with you, you know."
"Because they aren't good enough to sell."
Orlando frowned. "I hadn't even thought of that, actually. I would have insisted no matter what because it was your first try. Besides, I have a feeling if you tried again, or had written instructions, the cookies would be up to Miranda's high standards. You have a real talent for this, it looks like." Elijah was blushing with the praise. "Of course, I'd have to see you try something other than cookies."
Elijah raised an eyebrow. "Is that a challenge?"
"Not right now," Orlando grinned. "We have work to do."
"Hey, Orlando?" Miranda called, rushing into the back. She stopped dead at the sight of two flour sprinkled boys working in the back with identical looks of panic on their faces.
"Miranda, hi," Orlando said, tentatively, guilt replacing a good measure of the panic. "This is Elijah. Uh, Elijah, this is Miranda, my boss."
Elijah had recovered by the time Orlando finished his introduction. His face had gone coldly blank, and he appeared to shrink into himself, as if attempting to make a smaller target. Orlando had noticed the change and was subtly positioning himself between them. Men, she thought, and fought not to roll her eyes.
"It's nice to meet you, Elijah," she smiled. "Orlando, I know it's last minute, but is there any way you could whip out an extra two dozen muffins?"
"Oh, um, y-yes." It was pretty amusing to catch Orlando this off guard. She hadn't known he stuttered. "Just grab the ones on the rack, and I'll make more. I'm ahead of schedule."
Her eyes flicked to Elijah, who was now just looking lost, and back again. "I'm sure."
She quickly boxed up the muffins and left them to it.
"Should I just go then?" Elijah asked when she was gone.
"Why?" Orlando asked in return, a confused frown on his face.
"I know she won't... I don't want to get you in trouble."
"I'm not. She would have said if she was upset, trust me." Orlando shrugged. "You can go if you want, but honestly, it didn't look like she cared."
Elijah looked incredibly doubtful, but he stayed.
"So Miranda offered you a job?" Orlando asked when Elijah wandered back in wearing a dumbfounded expression.
Elijah shook himself, and then narrowed his eyes. "Yes. And you knew, huh? A little warning would have been nice."
"It wasn't my place," Orlando said calmly, tactfully not adding that Elijah wouldn't have believed him if he had. "Did you accept?"
"Yeah. She said... Did you know that I'm supposed to stay with you until I found a place of my own? She didn't make you agree to that, did she?"
"No," Orlando said indignantly. "I wouldn't open my home to someone I didn't like. And Miranda wouldn't make me."
"I've an extra bedroom that you're welcome to for as long as you like."
"You're really okay with this?"
It was like Elijah couldn't believe that someone would do something nice for him. "I would have offered sooner, but..."
"Well, you're very independent. I was afraid of offending you."
Elijah thought about it, frowning. "I wouldn't have been offended. I just. I wouldn't have trusted it. I'm still not sure I do. This whole thing is unreal. I have a job."
"You'll get used it," Orlando reassured him.
"You know," Elijah began, a mischievous smirk curling his lip, "Miranda said you had no end of good things to say about me." Orlando started to blush. Elijah took a small step forward. "I suppose I should say thank you."
"I only told her the truth," Orlando countered. "Now, come on. Let's get these dishes clean and go home."
"Home," Elijah repeated, stunned again. Orlando smiled.
Orlando hid a smile as Elijah ran his fingers through his newly cut hair once again. He'd gotten paid for the first time today, and they'd run a few errands before returning home to have a celebratory dinner. His hair was short and soft now, completely different than the wavy mess that had been there before.
"I love watching you cook," Elijah said from his seat at the bar. Orlando's hands never seemed rushed, and he moved with a confidence that captured Elijah's attention every time. Right now his long fingers were forming dough into biscuits.
Orlando made a face. "You'd think I'd get enough of it at work."
Elijah didn't reply, too distracted by Orlando biting his bottom lip in concentration.
It was suddenly too much. Too much Orlando, everywhere, all the time. Too many gentle smiles and casual touches that lasted just a hint too long. He loved it, but it was also driving him mad. Elijah got up and walked over, trapping Orlando against the counter.
"What-" Orlando started, but was cut off by Elijah's mouth slamming up against his.
He was still a moment, shocked, and then his hands, still sticky with dough, were on Elijah's waist, pulling him closer. Elijah was leaning against him, almost biting into his mouth, and Orlando parted his lips, letting Elijah control the kiss.
He wanted this. So much.
Orlando freed a hand and cupped the back of Elijah's skull, long fingers parting the short hair down to the scalp, and Elijah made a rough noise into Orlando's mouth.
Then Elijah remembered and abruptly pulled away.
He didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't Orlando giving him an understanding smile and running one of those beautiful, capable hands down his throat to rest on his shoulder. He almost forgot himself again, then, but the cold pit of fear in his stomach refused to give way.
"I want this. I do," Elijah breathed out.
"Then what's the problem?" Orlando asked, voice lower and darker than Elijah had ever heard it.
"I'm so afraid," he admitted. "I just know that I'll wake up in the morning, and you'll be sick of me. Miranda will realize I have no idea what I'm doing and fire me. And I'll be back on my own." He clenched his fingers into fists to hide the shaking.
Orlando just pulled him close again, but this time just to hold. It was so strange, after going weeks in the past without touching another person. Orlando kissed his temple and sighed.
"I can't promise you that nothing bad will ever happen. But you can't let your life be ruled by fear."
Elijah, who sometimes felt that his whole life was made up of fear, frowned in sudden anger and took several steps back. "What do you know about fear?" He leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms.
Orlando wanted to just reach back out for him, to take it all away, but he knew he couldn't. He smiled tightly. "More than you know."
Elijah's blue eyes focused in again, distrust and pain evident. "Sometimes I think that it's just not worth it at all."
Orlando studied him, as if deciding something, and then began to talk, weariness heavy in his tone. "There was an accident a few years ago. Pretty bad one. A car went through the front window of a restaurant. I'll show you the scars sometime." Another tight smile as Elijah caught on to the point of the story and took an instinctive step forward as if to comfort him. "I walked away from the wreck, eventually. My boyfriend wasn't that lucky."
There was horror on Elijah's face now, but that was all right, because there was understanding as well.
"I used the insurance money to go to culinary school. I threw myself into it. Even stopped talking for a while. To anyone."
When Elijah had spoken to Miranda, she'd mentioned in passing how taciturn Orlando was, and he'd thought it strange at the time. It was amazing to think that the constant string of words Orlando had given him was something he didn't share with anyone else. That it was just for Elijah.
He took another step forward and ran his thumb across one high cheekbone, not to wipe away any tears, but just because he wanted to.
"I can't promise you that nothing bad will ever happen," Orlando repeated, this time with a depth that Elijah recognized as hard won experience. "But I'm right here. I'm not planning on going any where." He sighed and captured Elijah's hand in his own. "We'll just have to fight for the rest of it."
Elijah squeezed Orlando's fingers and took a deep breath, thinking he understood. After all, he'd been fighting for years just to survive. And this was definitely worth fighting for.
He leaned into Orlando and turned his face up for another kiss.
They were sprawled out in Orlando's bed, sweat soaked and sated. Elijah traced his finger tips down Orlando's ribs, grinning when he knew exactly which spot made him shy away from the touch.
"We have to go to work soon," Elijah commented casually to the ceiling.
"Shh," Orlando admonished. "Don't say such horrible things."
Elijah just laughed. "You love it."
"I guess," Orlando said, grudgingly, but it was belied by his warm smile.
It was quiet for a moment, and then Elijah caught his gaze, eyes serious and wide. "You didn't have to save me, you know," he informed Orlando, a quiet kind of strength in his voice. "I would have been okay."
"You're probably right," Orlando answered finally. "But I'm glad that I did."
He didn't think that anyone had seen the soft, shy smile that was curving Elijah's lips before now and was absurdly grateful of the honor.