rainy_fantasy: (APH - why hello there)
[personal profile] rainy_fantasy
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rainy_fantasy
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] roygbivibgyor
Request: "AU, fluff, human names, chef!Francis/police!Arthur, so Arthur goes to Francis's cafe after work, as usual they eat and argue and have some nice moments~ <3"
Title: To Better Days
Characters/Pairings: Francis/Arthur, suggested Elizaveta/Roderich, Gilbert
Word Count:6,394
Rating: T
Warnings: Cussing & mentions of strippers and alcoholics. You know, the usual...
Comments: This is very long. The story just kind of developed a life of its own! I had a lot of fun writing it though. I hope you enjoy it, roygbivibgyor!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

The bell rang in his ear and warmth met his cold, red cheeks as he walked into the café, breathing in the sweet smell of the pastries that wafted around the small room. His eyes briefly spotted the sign that stood at the entrance and he sat down as he had been told. A nice spot, next to the window with easy access to both the exit and the bathrooms, just in case the boys lied about the menu.

His fingers lightly tapped against the small, round table as he sat comfortably in his chair. The café was filled with similar tables and a long counter next to the kitchen with a delicious variety of pastries up against the wall behind it for special orders and to-go bags. There was also a door leading to the outdoor patio, but that had been closed due to the rain and chilly weather. It was very nice and still shone from its recent opening, though he didn’t know what was so special about it or why the boys had given him that smirk when describing it.

“Hello Sir, are you new here?” a soft, delicate voice spoke, pulling him out of his musings. Something sweet met his nose before his eyes pulled all of the way up the woman’s figure and he met green eyes and a warm smile. Oh, so that’s what they were grinning about.

“Ah, yes, actually,” he finally spoke after quickly restarting his system. He couldn’t look like a fool, not now. How long had he been single? Too long was all his memory could come up with. Far too long.

“Wonderful, well welcome to Jours Meilleurs. Here’s the menu. Would you like coffee or tea?”

“Umm, tea?” he sputtered. Shit, he was losing it. Get it together, Arthur! You’re a goddamn Kirkland! Kirklands don’t make fools of themselves, especially in front of woman!

“What kind, sir?”

“The House Blend, if you have it,” he smiled. When she left him with the menu, going behind that mysterious swing door leading to the kitchen, he sighed, rubbing his forehead. God, he was rusty.

She returned minutes later with a cup and saucer in hand and he had a brief panic attack when he realized he didn’t spend anytime reading the menu. Just breath and ask for a little more ti-

The sound of the mug against the wood was dampened, as if all of a sudden he was drowning in the rain outside, completely miserable and soaking wet. The ring on the woman’s left hand and goddamn fourth finger glinted back at him, mocking him. “You-you’re married,” he found himself saying, immediately biting down on his lower lip as soon as the words slipped out. “Ah, I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have said anything. Rather silly of me, really. After all, it’s none of my business.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” she giggled, waving that godforsaken hand around with an amused smile, “and yes, I am.” His waitress paused a moment to take a good look at it, raising it up slightly to catch the light. She was lost in the gold with an expression on her face that told him there was no hope for any future divorce anytime soon, unfortunately. Wait, no, Arthur! He was not that kind of man. Get it together!

“Well it’s a gorgeous ring,” he smiled half-heartedly, “and I bet your husband is a very lucky man.”

She laughed at this, a wonderful, hearty chuckle, and pulled out her notepad and pen as the mood raised a few notches in his favor. “So, what’ll it be?”

The food was delicious. No, more than that. If he was stuck on the high seas for a month, no, year, he’d gladly have boxes upon boxes of their food. He just told his co-workers that it was “Nice. The presentation was a bit much, but it didn’t hurt anything,” and that was that. Of course when he started to go back almost every other day, they started to bug him about it, and God they could prod hard. Why they didn’t act like that when interrogating a suspect was beyond him. No matter, he had a nice salary and he could use it on whatever he wanted.

And whatever, whenever, of course. Lunch, afternoon tea, snack, and an early dinner (though he half-wished they were open in time for breakfast). Not all in one day, certainly not. He would mix it up and amuse himself deciding while on the job, watching the speedometer, on what he should try that day.

Obsessed was a harsh word. It was simply something nice, and he needed nice things in his life once in a while, didn’t he? “Just shut the fuck up about it, will ya?” was also a suitable and often more effective reply to such accusations.

“So, Arthur, get anyone good today?” grinned Elizaveta, one of the handful of waitresses at Jours Meilleurs who he had become good friends with over the weeks. “Any big drug busts? Murder cases? Terrorist plots?”

“Liz, we’re in the country.”

“Well, you never know,” she shrugged, plopping down into the seat across from him and leaning against her elbow, “there’s always something going on, after all. Always.” She stared meaningful at him, but her face broke into a toothy grin moments later, earning her a roll of the eyes.

“You watch too many movies.”

“And you watch far too little, my friend.”

“I’m just surprised Roderich is okay with watching these. From what you’ve told me, he seems much more like the...peaceful type.”

“That’s why I watch them in our basement, usually sometimes with friends. You should come sometime.”

Arthur shrugged, sipping more of his tea. Hmm, they made a nice blend today. “Shouldn’t you be, you know, serving people?”

It was Elizaveta’s turn to shrug, pointing around the room. “It’s quite calm at this hour. Mrs. George over there takes her sweet time with her pudding, Mr. Smith just started on his coffee, and the rest are already being helped.”

“But this place does get busy, doesn’t it?” he asked, trying to hide the anxiety that snuck into his voice.

“Of course it does, Arthur,” she smiled, patting his hand affectionately as she always did. By this time Arthur just accepted the fact that she was taken and had already moved on. Besides, the more he learned about her, the more he wondered what was in the tea he drank that first day he came there, because damn, was his first impression of her ever wrong. “Hey, do you mind staying till closing? It’s not long till then and you are off from work now, right? I want you to meet someone.” Then she winked, and if he wasn’t worried about her unusually bubbly mood when he first walked in, he was now. Arthur still nodded, but it didn’t keep him from swallowing a big gulp of tea, hard.

So there he was, standing awkwardly in his uniform, fiddling with his black tie, at the door leading to the kitchen as Elizaveta walked through, telling him to wait right where he was and if he moved even an inch she’d hit him square in the head with a frying pan. He certainly wouldn’t put it past her.

Hushed murmurs came from the kitchen with the occasional high pitch filled with excitement coming from Elizaveta, or at least he hoped. When he realized she wanted to meet someone, “Very special,” and had waltzed into the kitchen, his hands got sweaty and his breath grew shallow. This never happened, shouldn’t happen. How the hell could he stay perfectly calm in a car chase or with a gun in his hand, aimed to shoot, but be moments away from turning into a nervous wreck over meeting the head chef? This was silly. Arthur, pull yourself together!

He was excited though, he could at least admit that to himself. The handful of waiters and waitresses had all made their rounds to his table and he knew them all at least by name, but the chef? The chef of Jours Meilleurs? Okay, maybe the boys were right in saying that he needed to find a hobby that didn’t involve knitting and reading, not that there was anything wrong with that, of course.

“Arthur, you can come in now!” shouted Elizaveta, peeking around the door with a wide grin and a strange glitter in her eyes. He swallowed again, quickly rubbing his palms against his pants, and walked through the open door the woman held open for him.

His eyes first met the typical picture of a kitchen, though there were certainly the occasional strange tool he’s never used before along with an enormous amount of ingredients. Everything was organized well, decorated with sprinkles of flower, filling, and other things on the counter or floor, considering it was closing time.

What he didn’t expect was to see a blond mind smiling at him, dressed in a white, chef’s uniform with a beaming smile and a hand stretched out towards him, blue eyes staring directly at him. His mental image of the chef at Jours Meilleurs had changed often, but at least he knew he was a man, from what Elizaveta told him. Still though, any previous images faded away into this new form and before he knew it, Elizaveta was nudging him to shake hands with a fit of giggles erupting from her grinning form.

“Ah, it’s uh, it’s very nice to meet you...Sir,” he muttered, the words coming out like a train wreck. He carefully took hold of the hand with a firm shake (were chef’s hands supposed to be that soft?) and tried to smile without pushing it. The smile he received in return froze him in that spot indefinitely, but that was before he spoke.

“It is wonderful to meet one of my top customers, Mr. Kirkland. My name is Francis Bonnefoy. I’ve heard a lot about you from Elizaveta here.” He was French, French. Shouldn’t Arthur, by default, be punching him right now? Why instead was he about ready to melt in that honey-sweet tone and accent of his? Take a deep breath, Arthur, and divert your attention. Get your head back onto your shoulders, will ya?

“Oh really, Liz?” Arthur turned, glaring at the woman who looked like she was in heaven for whatever reason. His courage slowly bubbled up at the focus shift and he smirked. “You told him my life story and yet didn’t even bother to mention his name to me?”

She pouted at this, folding her arms over her apron. “Now wait just a minute, Arthur! I’ve known Francis since I was a little girl! I can gab about who I want, whenever I want!”

“You could have at least told me his name!”

“Hold a moment, mes enfants. Elizaveta, I don’t want you scaring away this poor gentlemen when he’s practically our sponsor! Now, Arthur,” he spoke, turning back to him and sending butterflies through his stomach, “why don’t we take a seat outside this stuffy kitchen and have a bite to eat or something to drink? It’s on me,” and with a wink, he walked back through the swinging door into the main hall, refusing to hear any protests or complaints, only the soft shuffling of their feet.

Sliding into a chair around a large, round table, Arthur curiously watched Francis as he hummed behind the counter, fixing up their snack. While his eyes watched him move about, they caught a glimpse of Elizaveta’s green glint under long eyelashes. “What?” he finally said, frowning.

She smiled innocently and giggled softly. “You seem to like him.”

His frown deepened, but before he could reply, the chef had returned with a couple of plates, leaving once more for the tea and coffee. “Uhh, thanks, but I’ve already eat-” Arthur started to say, feeling a little embarrassed about it, especially considering he wasn’t even paying.

Non, eat up. It’s something new I baked just now. I don’t want any trace of crumbs on that plate of yours, Mr. Kirkland, or I’ll be deeply offended,” and for a second he swore those blue eyes were serious, but a sparkle flashed through them and he was half tempted to say his food was terrible.

But no, of course it wasn’t. It was far beyond his expectations and he would have licked the plate if it wasn’t for the company. Elizaveta stared at him with an incredulous gaze, still working on her own pastry as the chef laughed, clapping his hands together enthusiastically. “I take it by how fast you devoured that you liked it?”

Liked it? No, loved it. “It was nice.” Patting his face lightly with his napkin, he watched the man’s facial expression drop slightly.

“Nice, just nice?” There was a hint of strain in his voice now and Arthur started to panic, worried that he actually offended the man.

“Well, umm, the filling tasted really good. And the pastry, well, uhh, the pastry was really fluffy and sweet! It was really good, Mr. Bonnef-”

“You can call me Francis,” he smiled, immediately perking up in an instant. Smooth, Arthur, just don’t do that again, “and I’m glad. Elizaveta, we should add it to the menu starting next week.”

She nodded, mouth full of food.

“Well then, Mr. Kirklan-”


Arthur,” he sung and Arthur cursed his face for flushing. It was just the typical reaction to meeting a celebrity, right? “It’s been wonderful to finally meet you. After what Elizaveta here has told me, I feel like we’re close already. I do hope to see you here at the café soon. Do feel free to stop by for a quick hello in the kitchen. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean up. I’m afraid I have to get home soon.”

“Or else the missus might throw a fit, right?” Arthur laughed but the action was strained and his body felt heavy. Another disappointment, he started to think, but quickly stopped his mind from thinking any further.

Pardonnez-moi? Certainly not! I’m single as single can be,” and Arthur caught a purr in his words, sending a rush of blood to his face again. “I simply have plans with some old friends of mine later tonight.”

“Ah,” was all he managed to say, feeling his heart beat considerably faster for some reason. “Well uh, then I’ll see you both another time. Thank you for the treat,” and he was out in a flash, leaving Francis’s hand hanging up in the air. Arthur quickly ran back into the café to retrieve his umbrella, muttering faint apologies before running back outside into the twilight, feeling particularly energized despite the muggy weather.

He was back a few days later, no surprise there, though he wanted to leave a few days in between his last visit because he was absolutely certain that at some point he had made a complete and utter fool of himself. Gilbert, his partner down at the station, was convinced it was girl trouble, that he had hit on one of the waitresses or something (it was hard to tell through all of his drunk mumbles) and later took it upon himself to announce to the entire pub that he finally wasn’t single. After the loud cheers, painful pats on the back, and another round of free drinks, he tried to convince them all that Gilbert was just drunk off his ass and made it up, but they all just laughed and drowned themselves in their mugs again. Now he had a reputation to fix. Wonderful.

The soft tap of his drink against the table was a relief as he looked up for Elizaveta, ready for an epic unloading session over lunch. Instead he met blue eyes, a bleach-white smile, and blond locks pulled into a pony tail. “Francis,” he blinked, not quite sure what or who he was looking at for a moment.

Francis Bonnefoy sat himself in the chair across from him, flicking off a piece of batter on his uniform before turning to him. “Bonjour, Arthur. It’s good to see you again.”

And what was he supposed to say to that? His mind panicked for a moment before coming up with the obvious answer. “It’s, uh, nice to see you too.” He tried to cover up his stuttering by taking a sip of tea, but the burning sensation that suddenly ran up and down his tongue only caused a gagging sound to erupt from his mouth.

The man just chuckled, offering him a napkin to clean up the small spill he created. “It’s a little hot.” Arthur stopped himself halfway from giving him one of his famous death glares, realizing it might not provide the best impression for the man who would be making his food. “I just wanted to stop by and say a brief hello before returning to the kitchen. It’s a bit hot in there compared to the cool air of the dining room.” He wiped his brow for emphasis and Arthur found his mouth slightly agape before quickly shutting it.

“I’m sure.” I’m sure? I’m sure? Is that all you can say, Arthur?

“So, you’re a police officer, Elizaveta tells me. One of the fuzz?”

“Yes, I am,” and he subconsciously fixed his tie, as if it was the final piece to his uniform to that required touching up before he could actually confirm this statement.

“Wonderful, and how long have you been doing that?”

“About five years now. And how about you? How long have you been a chef?”

“Ever since I can remember,” Francis replied as his voice began to fade. He turned his attention to the window next to them, not quite looking at anything in particular. “Professionally though, I’ve been doing it for about the same time. This is the first business I’ve owned and started myself though,” and as he spoke, now looking at Arthur again, his eyes glittered and his smile filled with pride.

“Well congratulations,” Arthur smiled back, somewhat impressed. He could never open his own business, he was sure. Besides, he quite liked being a police officer.

Merci. So enough about me, how has our little town been, Mr. Cop?”

“Good. Quiet. The usual, really.”

“Oh really?” asked Francis as his eyebrow popped up and a leering smile started to stretch across his face. “Elizaveta!” he suddenly shouted, catching the attention of the woman in a green dress and white apron across the room. “He hasn’t found out yet! You don’t have to book a flight as early as we thought!” She turned and gave him a thumbs up and Francis grinned.

“Wait, what?!” Arthur shouted incredulously, his voice jumping up a few octaves.

“Oh nothing. It’s been absolutely wonderful, Arthur. I do hope you enjoy your sandwich and that you come back soon,” he winked, leaving him with his jaw hanging, his face on fire, and his mind incredibly confused.

The familiar bell rang as two men stepped into the warm café which became increasingly welcoming as the days headed into December and snow began to collect on the sidewalks, the ground, and under his boots. “Gilbert, I honestly don’t know why you want to come with me to lunch. You said you didn’t like it here!” Arthur complained, finding his usual table and relaxing into the cushion of the chair.

“Shush, Arthur! I never said that! There’s just better places for a man like me to spend my time, okay?” Gilbert pouted, sitting across from him and running his hand through his snow-covered, white hair.

“Like the strip clubs?” Arthur frowned.


“You realize you could lose your job if the boss saw you there, especially in uniform!”

“Yeah, of course, and that’s why the boss goes there every Saturday night, right?”

“How do you know he does that! He always says he’s going to stay home and read!”

“He says that to make fun of you, you know that? Roma isn’t as innocent as you give him credit, you know.”

“Well whatever. You keep your own stories to yourself and I’ll stick to mine,” Arthur huffed, looking around anxiously for Elizaveta to provide a proper distraction. The albino just shrugged and pulled off his coat, resting it against the chair.

“Heya Arthur!” came the familiar lilt as she bounced her way over, setting down his usual tea along with a plate holding a mysterious pastry. “Francis told me to give this to you. He said to eat it straight away because he wants your opinion on it, ‘k?” Arthur stared at it, poking it with his fork suspiciously, but nodded to the waitress.

“Hey,” came a tentative voice and Arthur had to look it up just to confirm that it was in fact his partner who just spoke. “H-h-how are you, Liz?” There was a red blush running across his pale cheeks too, he was positive about that.

“Fine,” Elizaveta spat, turning around on her heels, stomping off into the kitchen.

The man looked taken aback for a moment, but immediately recovered with a smirk which looked a little too forced.

What was that?” Arthur finally asked, still hardly believing what just happened.

“Nothing,” he huffed, staring out into the street.

“It didn’t look like nothing.”

“Well it was, okay? And what about you? Who’s this Francis?” Gilbert turned, grabbing a fork and pointing at Arthur’s pastry.

“Just the chef here and hey! That’s mine you git! Hands off!” Arthur shrieked, lifting the plate out of reach of the mooch.

Just the chef, huh? And how am I supposed to believe that when you turned as red as a tomato when Liz gave you that pastry?

“Because it’s true! He just likes my business and values my opinion.”

“Your business. Ha, the boys back at the station are gonna love it when they hear about this!” Gilbert laughed.

“You say anything and I swear to God I will kill you,” Arthur snarled, slamming the plate on the table.

“That sounds like some pretty big words for a guy with a pastry boyfriend,” Gilbert grinned, slamming his own hand on the table.

“He is not my fucking boyfr-

“Arthur?” came a voice to the side of them, diffusing their argument in an instant and turning their heads. If Arthur wasn’t red enough before, he certainly was now as he stared into blue eyes and golden locks. “Have you tried it yet?”

“Ah-h-h Francis! Uhh no, no I haven’t uh. Hold on, okay?” he stuttered out, making a mental note to throttle his partner till he that grin was gone for good.

“Well I need to know now, okay?” he frowned and before he knew it, Francis already had taken the fork right out of his hand, stabbing it into the pastry. In one fluid movement, he opened Arthur’s mouth and shoved the food in, shutting it again and setting the fork back onto the plate.

Arthur stared back, completely sucked dry of any ability to keep the fast beat of his heart hidden and the flame from growing in his cheeks. A moment later his tongue finally got through to his brain and he finally started to chew, working out just how to explain in words how delicious the food was.

Francis’s head tilted to the side as he waited for an answer while Gilbert sat frozen, his mouth ajar. “It’s good,” Arthur finally spoke after swallowing once he remembered just how to do that, “really good. I think this is one of your best, Francis. The filling was amazing and the frosting you added on top was a perfect addition. I really, really liked it.”

The chef started to grin from ear to ear as a shimmer worked its way to his eyes. “Merci beaucoup, Arthur,” and that was the moment that Arthur could credit when his heart stopped. Not only for the sunny expression that burst through Francis, but also for the added kiss to each cheek before the chef quickly skipped back into the kitchen. Maybe it was just a French thing to do, after all he never quite understood them anyway, but with the mix of a flabbergasted Gilbert, gagging Elizaveta, and his non-responsive body, he realized he could never come up with a suitable argument for that. He was completely and irrevocably screwed back at the station, and yet he realized he really didn’t care what they had to say.

As feeling worked his way back into his muscles before his partner even considered unthawing, he quickly finished his pastry, relishing the sweet, warm sensation it sent through his taste buds and body.

“Hey Arthur, what are you doing for Christmas?” Elizaveta asked as he slipped on his coat, preparing for the cold wind only steps away.

“I don’t know, probably with family or something.”

She nodded looking somewhat disappointed. “Well if you want, you can come to the Holiday party Roderich and I are holding. You-know-who will be there,” she winked, motioning towards the kitchen.

It had been a couple of weeks since the pastry incident with Gilbert. His co-workers would never let him live it down, but he shrugged it off with a smile. Eventually the story morphed into a full-out snogging scene that knocked over half the tables and chairs once Gilbert had had a few too many drinks and soon people began to wonder if even the original story was true. He could already see the fading of interest and that suited him just fine.

Nothing as “spectacular” happened anytime after that. Francis visited his table from time to time to chat about his own business, some new recipes he wanted to try out on him, and ask about how Arthur’s job was going. Arthur also noticed the Frenchman’s appearance more and more in the dining room, but that might have been because he never really payed much attention before.

He was half-tempted to say yes, but he had gotten rather used to having a quiet holiday. Besides, parties, he quickly learned, never suited him. Either he got drunk and terribly embarrassing things would soon occur not long after or he was left to become a wallflower. “Thank you, I’ll ring you if I change my mind,” he smiled politely, bracing himself before stepping out into the blizzard.

Christmas. It was Christmas. Arthur sat on his living room coach, sipping warm hot chocolate with a book laying on his chest. Soft holiday music played through the radio, a warm electric fire heated the room, and his small little tree, decorated in ornaments and lights here and there, filled the corner. His small pile of Christmas presents sat on the small table next to him, mostly from himself. The rest came from distant relatives, consisting mostly of gift cards and money.

This was what he had gotten used to over the years and had grown quite comfortable with. This was Christmas, quiet and calm. Arthur leaned against the cushions, staring outside the window that looked out across the town. Holiday lights decorated houses and shined on the day’s snow from the windows.

He imagined the people inside each house, having a quiet night like himself or enjoying the company of friends and family. His stomach sunk at the thought of what he was missing out on this year. It never quite occurred to him for he never grew too close to anyone to miss out on anything. It was too late to bother going to the party now anyway. They would just have to have fun without him.

Arthur sunk into the cushions, pulling his blanket closer to him as he imagined the faces of those who were probably there right now. Elizaveta, Roderich, Gilbert, Francis...

This wasn’t Christmas.

“Arthur!” came a loud voice from behind his apartment door along with a sharp knock against the wood. “Arthur, open this door right now or I swear I’ll-”

The threat was cut off as he quickly grabbed for the handle, wrenching it out of its frame. “Liz? What are you doing here?” he blinked, staring back at the waitress who wore a terrifying frown on her face.

“What are you doing here?” she grumbled, crossing her arms tightly against her chest.

“I live here?”

“No, I mean what are you doing here all by yourself!”

“Liz, what are you talking about?”

“Hey, this is my interrogation session. You tell me what you’re doing spending the holidays all by yourself right now.” Oh, so that was it. He opened the door wider for her to come in, already shivering from the draft. “So, you going to answer?” she said, plopping down into a chair he offered her. He felt like he had committed some sort of crime.

“I always spend the holidays like this,” he spoke, hearing a defensive tone make its way into his own voice.

“You said you were spending it with family. Spiders and dust bunnies don’t count!”

“Look, I’m just not good with parties, okay? And I’m fine with being by myself. Is there something wrong with that?”

“Yeah, there is, Arthur. I hosted an absolutely fabulous holiday party for those I care about, but there was something missing. You. I care about you! Gilbert cares about you! He was muttering into his drink about how you always spend Christmas huddled in your little apartment. And God, Francis. I swear to god if I didn’t keep him company, he would have spent the entire time watching the door!

“Arthur, we’re your friends. No one wants to spend the holidays all by themselves. That’s not fun. Everyone deserves their little piece of solitude now and then, I get it, but at this time of the season, it’s impossible to get into the holiday spirit with just hot cocoa and a book!”

Arthur frowned, unsure of what to say. He would have shouted back, maybe even made the effort to stand up, but he knew deep down that she was at least somewhat right. “Well I missed it, okay? Maybe we’ll try again next year.”

“Nope, earlier. There’s a New Years Eve party at Jours Meilleurs. Be there by eight or I’m going to come here and drag your ass there myself. Gilbert, I’m sure, will gladly help.” After that she stood up, taking in a deep, relieving breath and smiled gently down at him, patting his head as if he was her own child. “See ya there, Artie.”

Arthur stood at the entrance of the café, checking his cuffs and fixing his tie. For once he didn’t waltz right through the door, hesitating before he took his next couple of steps. He had every right to turn right around and head home, Liz couldn’t tell him what to do, but he realized he really did want to be here. With a deep breath, his hand pushed open the door, listening to the jingle of the bell on the door.

The party was only just beginning. Tables and chairs had been moved to the back, leaving a large space for a buffet table and a large group of people to mill about. Music played through speakers, but the loudest thing he could hear was the murmur of conversation. It felt exhilarating and he smiled as his feet carried him over to recognizable faces.

“Artie, hey! You made it!” Gilbert shouted, slapping him on the back and pulling him into the group he stood in. “I almost thought you’d cop-out on us. Ha, get it, cop-”

“It’s great to see you, Arthur,” Elizaveta smiled at him, quickly interrupting the man. “You excited for the new year?”

“Yeah, I think I am,” he smiled as his eyes quickly scanned over the crowd.

“He’s in the back, by the way,” she winked.

“Oh, well then I’ll just wait out he-” but before he knew it, the waitresses was shoving him through the flip door, giggling before she abandoned him for the party. His stomach dropped and he gulped before looking up and around the kitchen.

Arthur spotted the chef in the corner by a refrigerator piling plates of food into his arms with a suit on this time instead of his usual uniform and damn did he look nice. “Ah, Elizaveta, great timing. I need your help taking things out,” but when he turned around, his voice faded.

“Hey Francis,” he muttered, shifting awkwardly on his feet.

“Arthur, I’m so glad you came,” the man smiled and Arthur’s stomach did a somersault.

“Do you, do you need any help with that?” Arthur shifted towards him, watching as a particular tasty plate of pastries in his hands begin to head towards the floor.

Oui, merci,” he smiled, passing over some of the plates of food. “You can just set them by the punch on the table. Oh and Arthur? Will you come back in when you’ve done that? I’ve got something for you.” Arthur nodded, blushing slightly as he passed through the door and wormed his way through the crowd. Remarkably nothing broke or fell. How Liz did this everyday with that grin on her face, he never knew.

When he made it back into the kitchen, he waited for Francis to return. He was left alone for only a minute as the Frenchman quickly came in, heading for the back of the room again. Arthur was handed two white envelopes and Francis slipped his hands into his suit pockets as he waited for them to be opened. “They’re Christmas presents. The one on top is from Elizaveta and I while the other one is just from me. I never got to give them to you, so just consider this as an extended Christmas,” he laughed.

“Thanks,” Arthur replied, surprised and embarrassed. “I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything...”

“Don’t worry about that, just open them!” Francis smiled and Arthur quickly complied. The first envelope contained a gift card to Jours Meilleurs. It contained a weeks worth of meals, free of charge, according to the scribbled writing on the back. “We wanted to give you something in thanks for all of your business and company. You’ve come so often that you’re practically apart of the café family now,” and all Arthur could do was try to hide his blush by looking down at the next envelope.

He carefully opened this one, finding a slip a paper with neatly-formed letters on one side. “Five free...cooking lessons?”

“By yours truly,” Francis winked. “Elizaveta told me you liked to cook and so I figured you might find it fun to learn how to make a pastry or two. What do you say?”

“Francis I...” he stuttered, feeling a full-blown blush grow more prominent on his cheeks. “Thank you, really. That sounds like fun and both of these are so nice and,” and his water works were beginning to turn on, damn. This was not the time, Arthur!

“I’m glad you like them. Now, let’s get back to the party before they start to wonder about us, shall we? You can leave your gifts on the counter for now.” Francis grabbed his wrist and pulled him out into the dining room as Arthur nodded, quickly wiping away any remnants of tears on his face.

They milled about, laughed, and remarkably stayed sober (at least on his part. Gilbert on the other-hand...). He had been asked to dance a few times with the sweetest of all French-accents and Arthur blushed furiously, but managed to nod a few times. The beat of the music was far too fast (like his heart) to consider the dancing romantic, but whenever their dance steps pulled them close, Arthur caught the hint of a smile on Francis’s face and heard his heart beat louder than anything around him.

“Okay guys, everyone have a champagne glass?” Elizaveta shouted over the crowd, holding one of her own. People nodded and whooped as she grinned. “Good, well there’s one last minute of this wonderful year and one minute till the next, even more fantastic year. I’m not going to give a speech as I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, but you guys better shout so my hometown in Hungary hears ya loud and clear, you got that?!” and the crowd agreed, taking their places around the large clock set up near the counter.

The murmur of excited anticipation ran through the group as Arthur gripped onto his champagne glass. “Ready?” Francis grinned to his right, inches away. He nodded, swallowing hard as he anxiously watched the seconds ticked down. His usual New Years was spent on the couch, just like his Christmas, only with enough booze to start his new year with an incredible headache. This time it was already different, exhilarating in fact, and to top it off, he was determined to start it with a cheesy tradition.

Inching close enough to be shoulder-to-shoulder with Francis, he watched the seconds make it into the thirties, twenties... “Hey Francis? I just wanted to thank you for opening this café here. I certainly wouldn’t be standing here without it,” Arthur grinned, already hearing his nerves shake his voice.

Francis lifted his hand to pat his back, smiling one of those dangerously tempting smiles. “It’s my pleasure, Arthur.”

As everyone began to scream the last ten seconds of the year, each number felt like a pound to the chest. Once it made it to five, four, three, his face leaned closer and his words began to fade. Whether Francis had the same thing in mind or simply caught on quickly, Arthur noticed his eyes locked onto his own and the hand on his back hook around his waist, pulling him closer.

“Two, one, HAPPY NEW YEAR!” the crowd cheered, blowing horns and laughing, but Arthur found himself paying more attention to the lips that pressed against his own and the hand that pulled him tight against his chest.

This year, he was certain, would be one of his best, only challenged by the one after, just as long as there was Jours Meilleurs with Elizaveta and the best pastry chef in his heart, Francis Bonnefoy.


Jours Meilleurs - According to my (hopefully correct) sources, it means "Better Days" which I thought suited the theme of the story well. It was also somewhat influenced by the Goo Goo Dolls's song.
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