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[personal profile] daemon_angelus

It really hadn't been anything to fret over.
It had been placed on his office table - a neat, thin stack of paper slipped into a plain, plastic yellow file.
The header, in bolded black font, read simply and straightforwardly as Proposal for Chef Ky Kiske's Consideration: To Engage Local Food Establishments in Televised Cook-off Challenge(s).
Ky had retired to his office at around two that night, his chef's uniform smelling a bit too much of roasted lemons and fennel (he'd found the best salmon at the local market in the morning), strands of his long blond hair already coming loose from his signature ponytail.
While waiting for his cup of tea to steep (in one of his prized bone china because it was a totally acceptable hobby collection alright), Ky sank heavily into his cushioned chair, breathing a soft, tired sigh as cerulean eyes passed quickly over the document. (He loved what he did for a living, but sometimes, a hard day's work was just a hard day's work.)
As a three-starred Michelin chef born out of France at the still rather tender age of twenty-six, Ky Kiske was renowned in professional culinary circles for his elegant and beautiful dishes. While some of the more avant-garde gastronomical experts found his food tended to play a little too closely to traditional French cuisine, absolutely nobody doubted the sheer taste, flavour, and flawless presentation of his dishes, and the fierce, raw talent possessed by the young Frenchman.
Ky was also - much to his embarrassment - a rather renowned cooking personality, a household name almost. Although Ky had always just devoted his time and energy to perfecting his chosen art and trade, somehow, somewhere along the way, every major publishing house and television network station had thought to approach him for an opportunity to issue a series of cookbooks or to cast him in their latest cooking show-slash-competition. Ky had, at the end of a particularly exasperating day of shooting in his restaurant, complained slightly to his maître d' regarding what he thought was truly undeserved public attention surrounding him. But all the maître d' replied was that the only people he could blame were his parents for giving him those high cheek bones, perfect fair skin, silky golden hair, the clearest turquoise eyes to die for, and a lean physique most male models would kill for.
So such proposals always found their way to Ky, he would always take a look, he would usually agree (because every opportunity was a chance to learn and grow, right?) and that was that.
Yeah. Right.
"You what?"
The bulky man in a white apron two sizes too small tied around his waist stopped what he was doing (frying off five strips of bacon), holding the blackened skillet above the stove in an attempt to keep the meat off the flame but too stunned to process the next logical step of turning off the gas. Jounouchi Katsuya would have found the image hilarious if the man in question wasn't glowering at him like an angry fire-breathing dragon who'd just been awakened from a centuries-old slumber.
"Uh - I signed ya up for a cooking show - "
"'Cos you cook good, Sol! And I thought it'd be a nice thing for Kliff's to be featured on the TV. And - " the teenage waiter inhaled a deep breath to steel his nerves, "I know you used to be kinda famous and all that, so... yeah."
The man called Sol, who reminded Katsuya of a grumpy dragon, remained still for one more second, jaw slack and eyes vacant, until he gnashed his teeth together, a thunderous scowl forming, as he all but slammed the skillet back onto the (now switched off) stove.
"Of all the goddamn idiotic things - a cooking show - "
"Hey, but like, even Ky Kiske's gonna be in it."
Sol paused again, trying to fit the name to a face or any possible bits of information in his mind but drawing, essentially, nothing. "Who?"
"Ky Kiske, y'know, that famous French chef who runs Magnolia? He's all over the place man, on TV, in books - " "You read?" "- cooking books, and stuff. Real pretty boy, blond hair, blue eyes and all that."
Oh. That guy.
"First off, you're saying his name wrong - it's pronounced like kai kisk, not key, and not with a or an at the back of Kiske - and second - I don't know how much I can emphasise this so it goes through your head - what does it matter that the nancyass French guy is in the show?"
By the time Sol had finished his tirade (practically growling out the last few words), he was inches from Katsuya's face, gold eyes narrowed and glinting dangerously, eyebrows furrowed together with a storm brewing between them and the tightest he'd ever seen Sol's jaw set. While Katsuya was by no means a pushover himself, he still managed the tiniest gulp ever as he struggled to form words that would appease the man before him who kind of happened to be his boss.
"L-look, uh, the TV people have already called me, and they said they're gonna be coming down on Friday for some prep work - with Ky too - so - " Katsuya swore the vein in Sol's forehead was going to explode, but at that exact moment (praise the culinary gods), a customer at the front of the diner called out not-so-subtly for the bill - " - so yeah, enjoy yourself! I'll drop by after school - gotta jet, see ya!"
The teenager didn't dare look back even though everyone in the diner heard the strangled yell coming inexplicably from behind closed kitchen doors.
In all honesty, Sol should have known and had only himself to blame for actually believing Katsuya was capable of relaying completely accurate information.
Because it definitely wasn't Friday yet, it definitely wasn't just the TV people and one apparently famous French chef, and it definitely wasn't just prep work that was going on on the street opposite Kliff's.
In the time it had taken Sol to get a good night's sleep, put on pants and a reasonably not-smelly top plus park his motorcycle at the back of the diner, the magical minions of Magnolia had managed to get a pop-up version of their main branch in Paris up and running - complete with a ribbon-cutting opening ceremony of which half the town and the media had already been informed of.

You have got to be shitting me
Before he could ponder any further (and because he had made the bad decision of checking out the commotion at the front of the diner and was now somehow trapped in the crowd and unable to return to the safety and shelter of Kliff's), some unseen sound person cranked up the volume of whatever ridiculous tune had been playing in the background up till now, as the emcee stepped in view - who was some late-night variety show host whom Sol only recognised when flipping through channels. Really.
The two-bit host cleared his throat, raising the mic and - "Ladies and gentlemen!" Oh for the love of - 
"Today marks a monumental milestone in the gastronomical history of this small, all-American town. Today, we open our hearts and tastebuds - " "And wallets!" someone in the audience remarked loudly and cheekily to obliging chuckles, " - tastebuds - to one of the youngest ever three-star Michelin chefs, hailing from the culinary capital of the world - " Sol dragged a hand across his face and really wished he hadn't decided to be a busybody now.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have the pleasure of introducing the executive chef of Magnolia and personally overseeing this bold, new pop-up branch, Magnolia Eclair - 

"Monsieur Ky Kiske!"
Out of curiosity, Sol grimaced and peeked through the cracks in his fingers. And well, Sol couldn't remember the last time someone knocked him (slightly) breathless just by existing (though to be fair, that had never happened, ever).
Even though he already kind of knew how Ky looked like, it was nothing compared to seeing him in the flesh. It wasn't just because of Ky's looks (although his slender build and effeminate features undoubtedly were something to behold in person), it was just the way he handled himself. His mannerisms - graceful, elegant, polite but firm and unhesitant - instantly distinguished him from everyone and everything around him. When he started speaking and greeting the townsfolk, he genuinely seemed happy to meet everyone in the audience, voice smooth, gracious and humble. Also, Sol was sure it was just the angle of the morning sun and it wasn't like there was an actual goddamn halo around the guy.
As Ky's speech went on, and the longer Sol observed the young Frenchman, something just clicked in his brain (like a match being struck).
If Ky was going to pick a fight with him (okay, technically it was the network people but same difference) thinking he would be able to come out all-smiles, unscathed and victorious, well, Ky had another thing coming. 
A wide grin slowly spread across his features, cat-like, golden eyes alight with challenge and mirth - Sol turned sharply, making his way back to Kliff's as his long, unkempt ponytail whipped around behind him, a single train of thought running through his mind -
He was definitely gonna kick this nancy boy's ass. 
"You're joking."
The junior network staff quickly slapped his hand over his mouth when he realised Ky was within earshot of the conversation, the other staff member panickedly looking over at the three-starred Michelin chef. But Ky didn't seem like he had heard them; in fact, he was just standing stock still, only his features betraying any signs of emotions - a slight frown, his cerulean eyes flitting from side to side and blinking intermittently, biting down the tiniest bit on his bottom lip - as if he was trying to understand -
"Oi, you lost. Now, all of you, get out of my diner."
The tension was almost palpable, no one dared to utter a word (well, save for that one network guy and Sol, of course). As the Frenchman slowly turned to face Sol - the latter putting on his best gloating-smug-victory-grin just because -
Sol could almost hear the thunderclaps forming above Ky's shiny blond head (still looking rather gorgeous, maybe even more so with some ferocity in his eyes and downturned lips bless the boy) -
- and then, suddenly, it was gone. Sol almost swore out loud at the change in Ky's demeanour - busting out a gracious smile, features relaxed and grasping Sol's hand in a firm handshake -
Except, he could still see it, the electricity still swirling in Ky's turquoise eyes and Sol doesn't know why, but a tiny, tiny part of his stomach constricts painfully -
"Congratulations, you won fair and square. I look forward to... further occasions where we may pit our skills against each other, Sol."
And suddenly, almost like a bolt of angry lightning, Sol had a distinct feeling that he had just bitten off more than he could chew.
It starts the very next morning.
"Bonjour, Sol."
Jesus fucking - if Sol hadn't been clutching his motorcycle helmet under one arm and his jacket in the other, he swore he would have thrown a punch at whoever had just spoken behind him (who else but some punkass burglar would try and sneak up on a guy who'd literally just finished parking his vehicle in a vacant parking lot at six in the morning?).
Obviously, Ky had thought nothing about hanging around the back doors of Kliff's (okay, that trash can was a blind spot and Sol really needed to tell the garbage guy not to leave it there) at the crack of dawn, just waiting for Sol to show up.
A long, tired sigh. And the day hadn't even started yet. "Can I help you?" Sol grumbled as he walked past Ky, fumbling with the keys in his pocket and ignoring to make any sort of eye contact with the Frenchman.
"Yes, actually - " Sol lets out another sigh as the doors unlatch with an audible click. The too-chipper and oddly determined undertone in Ky's voice could only spell completely unnecessary and completely unwanted trouble. " - About the sauce you made at the challenge yesterday, I was wondering what you did to enhance the flavour - "
"Aren't you supposed to be a genius? Go figure it out yourself. I'm sure you could do it with enough time, say, oh I don't know, during the morning rush hour back at your own restaurant across the road?" Subtle had never really been in Sol's dictionary.
But Ky merely gives a quick, dismissive wave in Sol's general direction, his expression a picture of intense focus as he concentrated only on replaying scenes from yesterday and the myriad of questions whirling around in his mind. Sol pinches the bridge of his nose when all Ky proceeds to do is lean against the countertop where Sol had tossed his jacket and keys, slender fingers under his chin as Ky continued ploughing through his thoughts aloud. Why god, why do you punish me so.

Sol knew a person wouldn't be able to make it to the top ranks of any industry - much less a cut-throat, absolutely exhausting and thankless profession like being a chef - without more guts and stamina than the average person, not to mention doggedness, but he didn't realise just how obstinate Ky Kiske could apparently be.
So it continued for about an hour, Ky asking question after question about various aspects of the challenge and why he had lost, where his dish had paled in comparison to Sol's, as Sol went about the morning prep work, mostly grunting out vague one-word answers in reply while chopping vegetables and placing pots and pans with a bit more force than was strictly necessary.
In the middle of a particularly heated (although still one-sided) discussion about the cheese Ky had specially flown in from France the day before, a gentle chime filtered through the kitchen doors. Apparently, it was enough to stop Ky mid-ramble and bring him back to his senses (more or less).
"Oh, I am terribly sorry, I believe you have customers to attend to - "
Sol tries incredibly hard, with all of his willpower, not to roll his eyes, speaking through clenched teeth, "Yes, so could you please get the hell out - "
"Oui, very well," Ky declared as he straightened and dusted himself off, "I'll drop by later again after Kliff's closes for another review session - " "WhatNo, stay away - " "Ten p.m. is closing time, if I recall? Au revoir, Sol."
(Sol hadn't said anything in response to Ky's parting statement because he was sure Ky would come by anyway so why bother, and it had absolutely nothing to do with being slightly distracted by the rather dazzling smile Ky had sent his way before leaving.)
As a result of working in a profession where people expected to be fed their favourite foods every to most days of the week, Sol had come to be particularly fond of his off-days.
So hell hath no fury like a Badguy scorned early on his first Saturday off in months.
The commotion outside his apartment hadn't died down like he'd fervently hoped for the past fifteen minutes, and the crowd on the other side of the door only seemed to be growing louder by the minute. Smothering an angry yell into his pillow, Sol pushed himself off the bed, throwing on the nearest pair of pants he could grab and not even bothering to run a comb through his hair, wild and unruly from sleep.
He reached his door and slammed it open - "Oi, what the fuck is all this goddamn ruckus - "
- to a bunch of about twenty surprised reporters-slash-paparazzi and - framed in the open doorway directly opposite Sol's apartment -
Ky Kiske.
Sol was very sure he was giving the impression of a very pissed off lion or grizzly bear by now. So he doesn't really understand how Ky's features could light up when Sol had appeared, even tilting his perfect little blond head and giving a small wave -
"Why, Sol, I knew you stayed in this building but I didn't expect us to be neighbours. Isn't it - "
"No - whatever it is you're thinking - just - " Takes a deep breath, fingers digging almost painfully into his own door frame, - "No." Again. Why god, why are you punishing me like this.

What did I ever do to deserve this little French bulldog biting at my heels and never letting go -
(The next day, Katsuya helpfully decides to inform him that Sol had gotten his own little article on page sixteen of the daily paper, the headline reading -- 

And by that time, the regular customers at Kliff's were already used to the random, strangled yells coming from the kitchen.)
Sol begins to think Ky really needs to set his priorities right. Not that Magnolia Eclair was being run to the ground or anything like that, but surely a three-starred Michelin chef with the looks any model would be jealous of had better things to do than be a tad too obsessed with a small town cook who just happened to beat him in a television challenge (the thing had just lived out its dramatic viral lifespan for about all of three weeks too).
Surely a decorated and publicly loved figure such as Ky himself had better things to do, other than hounding Sol day after day and moving into the just-happened-to-be-vacant flat across his and basically, wasting time on someone who just happened to be a tiny little stain on Ky's record that no one except the most ardent Wikipedia readers would bother with.
But, unfortunately, like so many things concerning Ky Kiske, Sol found out he was terribly wrong about everything.
Other than running Kliff's, Sol also happened to teach home economics at the local high school. He had taken up the job (with more than a little reluctance) at the behest of Katsuya, who might or might not have been involved in a pranking incident that had driven the previous teacher to, well, kind of, quit. To Sol, it was just another chance at rather easy money; it wasn't like he had any trouble getting the kids to settle the fuck down and make some pancakes.
The first sign that something was off was when Sol spotted the vice-principal - a rather demure elderly lady - hovering outside the home-ec classroom, hands clasped together and looking like she was speaking with someone inside. Sol's pace slowed and his usual grimace turned increasingly darker as he neared his destination, already having a nagging feeling as to who she was speaking to as they passed each other - you've got to be shitting me right, you've got to be -
"Oh, there you are, Sol! We were all waiting for you - "
Sol didn't even try to hide any of the displeasure from showing on his face. But then, if he'd learned anything in the past two months, Ky Kiske seemed absolutely impervious to any of the hostility Sol had shot his way. 

Why, just. Someone. Tell me why this is happening.
"Welp, looks like Mr. Kiske here is way more qualified than me to teach this class, so good for everyone, have fun, I'm out of here - "
"Wait, Sol - "
Ky manages to catch his forearm two steps down from where he had exited the classroom, Sol forcing his expression into neutral as he casts gold eyes back towards Ky, firm resolve weaved into the other man's grip and expression, "I insist we conduct this class together. There is - " and then, something falters; it's written in the tiny parting of Ky's lips, the crinkle in his forehead, the tiniest loosening of his fingertips on Sol's arm - "There is... much I can learn from you still, I'm certain of it, so won't you please... stay?"
Sol is very sure a simple request such as this isn't supposed to knock the wind right out of you nor cause a wave of guilt to swell in your heart and gut. 
The neutral facade stays on for two more seconds, before Sol relents, sighing as he replies simply with "Fine - "
And he doesn't even need to turn around to know that Ky is smiling one of his dazzling smiles again.
"Okay class, thank you all for being here and I'm glad I have this chance to be able to teach all of you a little something." Ky pauses (deliberately), then gives a wry smile, cerulean eyes twinkling with that little bit of mischief - "I hope." - to the amusement of the students. Damn, the kid was good. Sol can't remember how long it took before the class felt even mildly comfortable around him (but then, comparing him and Ky was as good as comparing chalk and cheese).
Sol had pilfered some poor kid's chair and was now watching from the corner nearest to the door (he said he'd stay; he didn't say he'd be the one doing the heavy lifting), quietly and suddenly appreciative of the fact that he was allowed this chance to observe Ky up-close without the fear of being arrested for anything vaguely criminal. 
He'd already warned Ky before they entered the classroom not to draw attention to him in any way ("Not even a 'I would like to thank Mr. Badguy for allowing me to be here in his place'?" "No, not even that. Definitely not that.") so Ky was already well on his way educating the little punks about different cuts of beef. Sol had to admit, it was a topic that was easy to follow and much more practical than the brats might first think (Sol might have grinned a little too widely at the thought of half the class having graduated and now struggling through university, then they'd thank Mr. Kiske and his lesson on the neglected but equally worthwhile and delicious cuts of beef one could pick up from the local market - )
"Sol, anything you'd like to share with the rest of us that seems to have put a great big smile on your face?"
Dammit, boy - the grin instantly turns into a scowl - and Sol knows Ky did that on purpose, the Frenchman's too-bright smile hiding a razor's edge of smugness, the challenge only too evident in turquoise eyes - 
Sol leans back nonchalantly. "Nothing much, just thought it'll be better to use more of the oregano than the rosemary for that cut of beef there." Ky's smile loses some of its beaming luminescence - "The gardening teacher in this school is kinda hardcore, so don't expect the stuff from the herb garden here to taste like what you can find outside."
He hadn't said that to one-up Ky in any way (okay, that wasn't completely true) and for the most part, it seemed like Ky was genuinely considering Sol's suggestion, all thoughts of poking fun at each other forgotten. After a few more moments of sampling some of the oregano, then rosemary - during which Sol swears Ky can't be that oblivious about how (good) he looked while doing it (picking off one or two leaves, holding them gingerly between his thumb and index finger as his tongue peeked out to - )
Ky's face lights up as realisation dawns, and Sol almost snort-chokes at the genuinely thankful smile Ky gives him, "I think that... is a brilliant idea, yes. How about that, you learn something new everyday." Ky had already redirected his comments and attention back to the class -
- And Sol can't decide if he wants to burst out laughing or give into some basal instinct to flash his canines like he'd just discovered something delectable - either way - 
The damn kid really was clueless about just how much he affected other people.
Their relationship - whatever it was - started to take on a much more amicable tone after that. Ky continued his almost daily visits to Kliff's, almost like he was looking forward to them - and Sol had come to admit that the days on which Ky couldn't drop by were much blander and unappealing -
And then, there were days like this.
"Eat it, Ky! Just a teeny, tiny bite - " Katsuya urges the other blond male, palms clasped together, with one eye peeking out at the French chef - the latter looking as if the culinary knowledge he'd been building up his whole life was suddenly being completely uprooted and questioned - "I promise ya it's good - "
"Non, it sounds like an absolute monstrosity - "
"Ky, I'm hurt," Sol proclaims melodramatically, a hand over his chest that was totally incongruent with the sly smirk stretching across his face -
"Fried chicken and waffles, Sol!" Ky turns with an almost pleading look, somehow hoping to find sympathy from the older American - and then promptly remembered whom he was talking to - so he just casts wary cerulean eyes back at the thing that Sol had put in front of him five minutes ago -
"Kyyy, it don't taste good if it gets cold - " Ky tries very hard to ignore how Katsuya is waving a set of cutlery near his face.
"How did you Americans come to be so fond of this - "
"Trust me, it's good. And in any case, I made it, so whatever it is, it would taste good."
(There's something in Sol's sentence that makes Ky's heart skip a beat, like some synapse connection in his brain being bypassed. It wasn't about how Sol seemed to have bordering-on-arrogance pride in his own abilities - but rather - )
Ky slides his eyes towards Sol, catching his gaze with an almost electric intensity - "Trust you?"
Sol answers with a light, playful grin - but there's something deeper and unfamiliar hiding behind sharp golden irises - "Yeah - trust me."
(It makes Ky's breath hitch, but he rationalises it as having to face the fact that he was going to put the weirdest concoction he's ever had the pleasure of trying into his mouth - ) 
- thanks Katsuya with a strained smile as he extricates the fork and knife from his hands, again politely ignoring Katsuya's comments on how it tastes best when ya use ya hands man, gingerly cuts a piece of tender, crispy meat together with a section of the fluffy, admittedly delicious-smelling buttermilk waffle - 
The way Ky's eyebrows shoot into his fringe, coupled with the sudden widening of his eyes, says it all - blinks a few times, before resuming his chewing in earnest - 
Katsuya claps a hand to his knee, sunshine laughter spilling forth, "I knew it would be good! Sol's chicken and waffles can't be beat!" 
- Ky sheepishly turns to Sol, the fork still upon his lips as he gives the other man a bemused, slightly apologetic smile -
- feels the heat of a sudden blush on his face (brushes it off as embarrassment) - when all Sol does is give an almost warm grin in return - 
"Told you to trust me."
(A fleeting searing thought - that maybe he should from now on.)
Somehow, somewhere along the way, they'd ended up having the habit of waiting for each other to finish closing up before heading back to their apartment complex together. It made sense, didn't it - they were next-door neighbours, their restaurants (one All-American diner) were opposite each other's, it wasn't like they were complete strangers, and Sol had a means of personal transport while Ky didn't - 
Usually, Ky would be the one coming over to Kliff's - since he had his staff to help with cleaning and locking up while Katsuya had to leave one or two hours before closing time to prepare for school the next day. Ky's still not too sure what to make of the overly kind, slightly wry smile his maître d' would have whenever Ky starts to be a little distracted closer to the end of the shift, almost itching to leave (he's not quite sure when that habit formed as well -) Sometimes, it feels like his staff knew something that he didn't - but they would tell him, right? It wasn't like Ky fashioned himself as a strict, no-nonsense head chef ruling with an iron fist in his kitchen - 

He's pulled out of his thoughts when Sol slides into the booth seat across his table, coffee mug clinking as the other man sets his own drink down with a tired grunt (Ky's tea had already gone past just-that-right-temperature-of-deliciously-scalding about five minutes ago; he tries to suppress his dismay at this). It's rather rare that Sol would want to stay any longer than was necessary past closing hours. Maybe it was just that kind of Sunday night - when the customers tended to head home early for the next work or school day - (that kind of Sunday night when Ky ends up studying the man before him, all thoughts of the menu for tomorrow and balancing the books for his home branch leaving his mind unbeknownst even to him - )
It's that kind of night, dark and quiet, swelling with unspoken secrets - like a bubble waiting to pop, maybe not unpleasantly - and he just needs to reach across to break the silence (to break walls he can't see but feels) -
"What did you use to do before running Kliff's?"
Ky sees Sol's shoulders go suddenly rigid, his usual grimace turned down even further, almost in slight disgust, his right hand going to thumb absently at the handle of his coffee mug.
A beat passes, then two, before Sol sighs and his expression softens somewhat, preferring to switch his gaze to stare out the window, although Ky wonders if he's really looking across the street at Magnolia Eclair or reliving a scene from his past.
"Twelve years ago - I guess when you were just a tween," Sol cracks a grin at this, "I was doing your job."
If Ky wasn't already halfway through swallowing his own mouthful of lukewarm tea, he would definitely have spat it out.
"You probably don't believe it, but I used to run in the circles you do now. Of course - " and Ky can't help the slight shudder that goes up his spine when Sol's gold eyes catches his own, sharply and purposefully, "you're a bona fide prodigy, but I could hold my own back then just fine too." A pause. Then Sol shifts to look at nothing (maybe everything) once again and if possible, his expression closes off even more - "You ever heard of a place called elDraque?"
Stifling his own incredulous disbelief at the fact that Sol was capable of speaking slightly advanced non-standard American English (bona fide? Spanish even??) - "Which chef hasn't? That place pushed the frontiers of gastronomy, of cuisine, of the very meaning of food 
"If I may borrow a description from a fairly well known food critic and perhaps, appeal to your sensibilities - " the small mock-humble tilt of Ky's head draws a short chuckle from Sol - "the dishes being created at elDraque leaves every other chef asking themselves, like Eric Clapton seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, 'What do I do now?'
"A real loss that it only remained in operation for three years before shutting down - " 
The pieces click into place in Ky's mind. And the incredulous disbelief was back tenfold.
"Sol, y-you mean, you worked - "
"I was the executive chef at elDraque."
Ky can scarcely believe the words he's hearing - takes about four times longer than usual to even process them -
"But, wait, I thought the executive chef at elDraque was a man called Frederick - "
Ky pretends he doesn't see the annoyed twitch in Sol's brow - "I am Frederick - "
"What, but - "
"Do you honestly think any self-respecting parent would name their son Badguy?" Sol almost feels like he should retract his earlier compliment about Ky's intellect - "Changed my name when I came back to the States. And no, someone else went to fill in the form and yes, I can't be assed to change it."
Ky would be laughing - if he could get past the giant mental block in his head that was Sol used to be the executive chef at one of, if not the most respected institutions in the culinary world - manages to get out a "Was it the original owner of Kliff's? The one who helped you settle back down here - " once he'd got his bottom jaw to clamp shut again - 
Sol doesn't meet Ky's eyes, just stares into his mug of coffee that he's sloshing about lightly, one arm slung across the back of the booth seat - "Yeah, I owe Kliff quite a lot. He taught me most of what I knew before I left for, y'know," cracks a small grin, "greener pastures over the pond - " brings the mug to his lips, perhaps to hide whatever he was afraid was showing on his face - "He wanted me to take over this place, take care of it for him in his stead." (Ky tries not to let any surprise show, when he sees the curl at the edges of Sol's lips - into something that's unlike what he's ever seen on the other man so far - nothing sharp or prideful or conniving - just an honest, slightly weary smile - Sol's golden eyes softening just a little from their usual sharp piercing gaze - )
And the moment is gone as quickly as it came. 
It was the morning of a rather important day for Ky and Magnolia Eclair.
With a few months worth of service and experience in, Ky had arranged for peers, culinary insiders and some of the more influential media personalities to attend a tasting session. Or, as Sol had put it, come eat my food and tell everyone how good it is so I can earn more money. (Ky had paused in scribbling down some ideas for the tasting menu to frown disapprovingly at Sol, but hadn't actually disagreed).
So when Sol left his apartment that morning (after sleeping in a little later than usual), the last thing he'd expected see was Ky at their floor's lift landing, looking a little worse for wear with a black scarf tied snugly enough to cover everything between the bottom of his nose and collarbones. Sol quirks an eyebrow, wondering if Ky had some sudden urge to get back in touch with his Parisian fashion roots again, as he approached the other man slowly, trying not to startle Ky when -

Oh. Oh.
Sol sighed. Of course the boy would fall ill. To be honest, it was a miracle he hadn't caught anything in the past few months since moving here. Sol even started to suspect Ky had never looked up the meaning of rest or taking a break given how hard he worked himself - not only running both Magnolia Eclair and home-branch Magnolia more or less singlehandedly, but somehow finding the energy and time to bother Sol at his place almost every day of the week on top of that.
The sigh had finally caught Ky's attention (he'd been staring rather blankly at the illuminated lift button) and -
"Oh, it's you, Sol. Good morn - "
"Get to bed. Now."
"Huh - wait, what - Sol - "
Grabbing Ky by the wrist (and trying very hard to ignore the pleasant warmth bleeding through from where his fingers come into contact with the sleeve of Ky's white dress shirt), Sol leads Ky back to his apartment.
By the time they make it back to Ky's door, Sol may or may not have been a little worried at how quiet and compliant Ky was being (no protests beyond the initial exclamation of disbelief and he'd obediently handed over his keys when Sol asked for them).
Once inside (where Sol had succinctly ordered, "Bed. Sit. Change."), Ky's sick-addled mind seemed to finally have caught up with the turn of events halfway through changing into more comfortable clothes, just as Sol had come back into the room holding a cup of earl grey with a slice of lemon in it.
"Wait, if I stay in bed, who's - "
Clink. "Could you like, not talk through your sweater?" Sol snaps a little as he tugs at the hem of the sweater Ky had been struggling to put his head through. Ky blinks a few times when his blond head emerges from the top, his ponytail already tangled and loose from the motion, cerulean eyes slightly puffy and dazed. Sol can't help but be secretly relieved that Ky can't seem to focus on whatever was in front of him because he sure as hell hopes he doesn't look as worried as he feels.
"Merci. But, no - the tasting is today. If I don't go, who - "
"I will."
Again, it takes about ten seconds for Ky to process the information before responding, "How - "
Sigh. "No one else can. I'm the only one besides you who knows the menu and yes, you've only been talking about it for the past two weeks, so yeah. And - " Sol's voice catches, but it seems Ky was still sharp on these things even when he was nursing a cold, nodding resolutely - 
"I know - sneeze - executive chef at - sniff - elDraque, remember." Ky gives a lopsided smile as he reaches for some tissues from the bedside table where Sol had left the cup of earl grey.
"Right." Sol doesn't dare meet Ky's eyes and he hopes Ky doesn't hear the waver in his voice, before he stands and heads for the door. "Just give your maître d' a call and let him know what's going on. I'll take care of things from there."
"Sol - "
Pauses with his hand on the door knob, gold eyes meeting blue -
"Thank you."
- before Sol answers with a tch and mumbles something about troublesome nancyass French kids as the door closes behind him.

The next time Ky wakes, night had fallen and there was someone knocking rather insistently -
"Coming - whoa - " Ky isn't exactly used to being ill (enough that a wave of dizziness hits him as he swings his feet off the bed to get up), so it takes a second or two for him to recalibrate how to make it to the door without tripping and splitting his head like a watermelon.
"Ky, you alive?"
He coughs into his hand before answering, "Yes, Sol, I'm very much alive, just feeling a little under the weather still." Manages to reach the door, and pulls it open - "You must be disappointed."
- to Sol, smiling wryly as he pockets his hands. "Not at all."
The familiar aroma of lamb, herbs, fish and a myriad of other ingredients fills Ky's senses (if a little dulled because of his blocked nose) when Sol saunters past as he lets himself in.
"It went well, I presume?"
Sol shoots Ky a self-satisfied smirk, "Of course."
Ky would have laughed but he ends up having a small fit of coughs instead. He doesn't see how Sol's expression clouds over instantly as he reaches for some tissues.
"Thank you, again. I - " (The way Ky has his head bent, eyes fixed to the floor, hiding his expression behind a handful of tissues - Sol can tell Ky's not used to relying on someone else too), " - don't know what I would have done without your help." 
Couldn't have just said 'you', huh. Heh, maybe I'm just getting ahead of myself -
"No one in the dining area knew you weren't the one calling the shots in the kitchen. Had the maître d' tell all those big wigs that you wanted utmost privacy today so you could bring out the best dishes for them."
Ky laughed-sniffed at this - "Really know how to work those VIPs, huh, Mr. Frederick - "
- and receives a light twack to the forehead - "Ow - " "Don't call me that."
Ky sniff-laughs again, "Sorry - Sol? Where are you going?"
"What's it look like? Taking a bath." Sol gives Ky a toothy grin from over his shoulder, canines flashing slyly, golden eyes gleaming, "C'mon, I deserve at least that much as a reward for today, right?"
He shuts the bathroom door before Ky could protest further.

It's been a long while since Sol had a bath, like, in an actual bathtub. A really really long while.
Somehow, whoever had done up Ky's apartment had made every room bigger in comparison to Sol's own. Sol's not sure if it's because his flat always looked like a bomb had went off somewhere or if it was just plain bias on the landlord's part.
The bathroom was brightly lit, faux marble tiles giving it a luxurious feel, and the bathtub was rather large and roomy for one person (Sol wasn't exactly small) and - you're shitting me, is that a jacuzzi function??

He'd sloshed some water out when some bubbles found a way to be where they never should be but eventually, Sol got the hang of it and was now really enjoying the whole experience; water steaming comfortably, the tiny jets helping to relieve the fatigue and aches from the day -
Sol thinks he could get used to this. 
Out of the corner of his eye, Sol spots several bottles of bath oils and bath salts within reach. Many of them seemed to be gifts that Ky had yet to open or use - arranged in matching colours and names, with their plastic seals and labels still on. Figures that Ky wouldn't have had the time, or let himself have the time to take long baths and just fucking relax.
Curious, Sol snatches one of the more pleasant if dodgy-sounding bottles - Lavender Dreams, pfft - tears open the packaging, and proceeds to dump all of it into the bathtub -
Just as Ky pops his head through the door. Who, even in his groggy state, immediately focuses on the upturned bottle in Sol's hand. Sol just grins the same toothy grin from before.
Ky sighs. "And here I was worrying that you might not be used to the facilities and what not." He shakes his head slightly in resignation and gestures for Sol to carry on. "Go ahead, they're mostly housewarming presents I'd received and I hardly touch them anyway."
"Wanna join me then? S'not fair if I used up all your products by myself." Smooth, real smooth, he chides himself in his head. 
Ky seems to seriously ponder the question, before shaking his head lightly again. "I appreciate the offer, but I'd better not. Last thing I'd want is to pass my cold to you."
Right. Trust Ky Kiske to take dick-logic seriously and actually reject it with magnanimity and humanitarian concern for another person's well-being. Sol hides any disappointment he might have felt with a nonchalant shrug, closing his eyes as he leans back. "Suit yourself."
"Well then, do take your time - I believe I bother you on a more than regular basis, so if this is enough to count as repayment, then please enjoy the bath as long as you'd like."
Again, Sol tries not to let any of his displeasure show, but his tone ends up a little more clipped than he'd hoped - "Yeah, yeah, I'll clean the place up once I'm done. Wouldn't even know I was here - "
"Why would I want that?"
By the time the words register, fully register, and Sol snaps open his eyes again, Ky's already gone with a soft click of the bathroom door.
Sol blinks stupidly at the closed door for a few more seconds, wondering if he'd heard wrong, before he lets out a snort of laughter, a small smile playing on his lips.
So this is it, huh - this is how we're gonna be -
- they'll both be stubborn at each other because no one else is hardheaded enough to even register in their field of vision - then Ky would say something that would catch Sol off guard and hit Sol in a soft spot he never even knew he had -
Sol ducks his head underwater - and the world goes silent, only his own thoughts reverberating in his head - 
And you'll make me fall even harder for you.
But then, Sol thinks, maybe, just maybe - 
He could get used to that too. 
Important and nice things continued happening for Ky and Magnolia Eclair. Glowing reviews followed the tasting (although he would occasionally receive special requests for that divine tasting fried chicken and waffles that Ky was absolutely sure wasn't on the tasting menu), with the restaurant remaining fully booked - the reservation list stretching for months - and of course, awards being given out.
I do hope Sol managed to find a suit in time, Ky thinks to himself as he stared absently at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, slender fingers working deftly to get a knot out of his dark blue tie. He pauses in between looping the material together - I hope... I haven't imposed on him - 
A familiar knocking sound, impatient and loud, shakes Ky out of his thoughts. He sighs, a small fond smile playing on his lips as he makes his way to the door, finishing up a perfect Windsor knot.
"Ky, open up. I wanna get this over and done with as quickly as possible - "
"Yes, Sol, I'm sorry to have requested such a - " - pulls the door open to Sol - who was usually in jeans and a t-shirt on a good day, sweatpants-shirt-optional on a bad one - clad rather smartly in a black suit. The jacket was tight around the other man's shoulders but hung loosely otherwise on top of a slightly rumpled white dress shirt, left unbuttoned at the collar with a carelessly knotted black bowtie slung from his neck because of course Sol wouldn't have bothered with any of that - "T-troublesome thing of you." Ky tries rather hard not to gulp.
Sol shrugs, seemingly unaware of the slight discomfort that was suddenly plaguing Ky. "Whatever, let's just hurry and go."
When Ky stays motionless for a few more seconds, Sol catches cerulean eyes with a slight smirk, mirth dancing along its edges - "What?"
Ky masks whatever he was feeling with a laugh. "Is this what they call - 'you clean up nicely'?"
The smirk stretches into a full-on grin and - "I don't know. You tell me."
Ky scoffs - again, to mask his abruptly flustered nerves - before he reaches up to the loose bowtie hanging from Sol's collar. "Please, you couldn't even tie this properly - " 
Sol rolls his eyes and drawls out sarcastically - "Thank you, dear - "
- To which Ky responds by pulling very hard very suddenly on the two ends of the ribbon he had been tying.
Sol gags slightly, hand instinctively grabbing Ky's to snatch it away - "What the fuck - " and Ky looks appalled for about half a second before he snorts out a laugh - but there's something unfamiliar clouding his eyes now, the ends of his amused smile not really reaching them -
"Sorry, seems I can't take these sort of jokes - "
"Why not?"
Time stills - seems to condense and freeze the tension and emotions in the air between them - and Ky is suddenly very aware that Sol was still gripping his hand (thumbing absently at where the end of Ky's palm met his wrist out of what Ky surmises is probably a nervous habit of Sol's). He looks up, hoping to search Sol's face for any clues, answers, as to how he was supposed to respond to a question like that - 
And Ky feels like his heart could explode just from how badly it was thundering.
"I - don't - "
"I said - " Sol tugs hard on Ky's hand, and they end up just a breath apart - this close, Ky can see Sol's eyes gleam a vivid shade of gold, sharp and demanding - "Why the hell not?"
Ky remains slightly slack-jawed, eyebrows drawn together, breath hitching - What was he supposed to say? That he'd practically been in love with Sol, of all people, for the past seven months and he didn't even have any idea how it'd all happened and what would Sol think of it, this, them, and Sol had better - for the love of all things holy - not be toying with his feelings -
Ky sucks in a breath, shutting his eyes as he calms his nerves and steels his resolve. When he opens them again, the same electricity - the one Sol had seen after the cook-off challenge (the first time they'd met) - burns in them once again and -
He pulls Sol forward the last inch - and that's all he really needs.
It's like nothing's changed (except, everything has) - they still see each other almost everyday on the way to and after work; they're still running their respective establishments with the same, maybe even less fanfare than before (besides the initial oh my god I totally called it and we're so happy for you-s, to Ky's sheepish blush and Sol's annoyed scowl) -
They both fall into place like they think they always should have (it's a wonder they took so long to realise - both of them blame the other's utter thickheadedness and stubbornness) -
Sol think it's okay though, even when Ky has to make the occasional trip back to France to check up on his home branch -
(Slides golden eyes away from charring strips of bacon to the counter just behind him, where he'd unwrapped a flat package earlier in the morning - a present - he'd realised almost belatedly as he pulled the white ribbon off from around the light blue box with a bemused expression - 
Brows shooting into his fringe when he'd shook the cover free and was faced with a pristine set of chef's whites, folded with the embroidery clear for all to see - his first name, stitched in black, under Magnolia and Magnolia Eclair -
And on top of it lay a simple note in flowing, elegant cursive - )
You know what they say -

Your food's gotta have soul.


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July 2017


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