Sorry this is late, guys. This part is significantly longer than the first, though, so hopefully it'll be worth the wait. ^_~ And please do click my adoptable again, if you feel so inclined, but a word of warning: I'm addicted to watching the MTT Valentine's header, and you might become entranced by it too!
Spinning around, Bill looks over his shoulder to view himself in the little mirror, propped up on the table between their beds. He's let his hair down, though most of it had come free of its loose tie before, and he's combed through it until it shines. Tom had wiped the flour from Bill's cheek earlier, as he'd promised, and Bill lifts a hand to his face and smiles. The water from the pump is still bitterly cold, with the last snows just melted, but Tom had cradled the cloth between his hands to warm it before touching it to Bill's skin.
Bill hums a soft dancing tune, letting himself dream again that he's twirling in Tom's arms. He knows just what Tom's large, slender-fingered hands would feel like at the small of his back, holding him close. Tom is always gentle with him, even more gentle than he has to be, and Bill loves it.
He's still humming as he drifts down the steps, surrounded by the sweet scent of Valentine's cakes in the oven. When Bill steps into the bakery itself, Tom is leaning over to frost a cake with care. He's taken over the job now Bill's on his way out; it's up to Tom now to mix, bake, ice and sell all of it when Bill's off to the square. Bill feels a pang, though he knows Tom's able to tend the shop on his own. But Bill likes working side by side with his twin, just as he knows Tom likes him there, each filling the role he's most suited to. For them it's never been a chore as long as they're together, sharing the tasks and the joy in them.
"Here, let me. Just the one more," says Bill, moving to curl his fingers around Tom's hand, and the frosting-covered spreading knife Tom's using. He smiles as Tom smooths his other palm over Bill's back, down to where Bill had imagined it to be a moment or two before.
"Beautiful, Bill," Tom murmurs, as Bill coats the little cake with icing. There's an art to frosting cakes and pastries that Bill's laughingly tried teaching Tom time and again, just as Tom's tried to show Bill how to use the oven without burning himself, but the lessons are all in fun these days.
"Mm." Bill smiles wider, settling into Tom's hold as he swirls the knife over the cake's top. "I am, or the cake is?"
Tom gives a low, rich chuckle, right at Bill's ear, the way Bill most likes to hear him. "Both. Watch, now." Tom's hand steadies his. "You'll ice your clothes."
"My best set," Bill agrees ruefully, setting the knife down before he can make a mess of himself. "Tom." He knows he sounds plaintive, but right now he doesn't care. "I wish you would come to the dance with me."
"You know I can't, Bibi," Tom chides, using the pet name to soften the blow. "We'll have customers."
As if on cue, the shop door swings open with a jingle of the bell above it, admitting a trio of boys about Tom and Bill's age. They crowd each other forward toward the counter, sheepish looks firmly on all their faces. Bill stifles a laugh; they've forgotten their cakes, just as a few do every year. "See, there. Go on," says Tom, drawing back from Bill.
"What, Bill's off to the dance?" one of the boys, Andreas, exclaims. "There'll be plenty of girls happy, and some disappointed that you're not going, Tom."
"I tried talking him into it, but you know how stubborn he is when he's got his mind made up," Bill points out, wiping his hands on a cloth set aside for exactly this. "He's as bad as David's old mule, sometimes."
The boys break into good-natured laughter, and Bill and Tom share a smile before Bill slips out, leaving Tom to their patrons' teasing. Bill feels lonely and bare despite the finery he's donned for the occasion. He can hear the music rising from the next street, but the tune he'd been humming is gone as he casts a longing glance back at the shop. Tom is watching him through the glass window they'd managed to buy after a good season, and Bill is torn between another smile and his melancholy. He can't help smiling at Tom, though, not ever, and he lifts his hand in a wave. A breeze blows through his long, loose hair just then, as though it's telling Tom its own farewell.
Tom raises a hand to Bill, mouth quirked up at the closest corner, then turns to accept the coins the boys pass over to him.
"I trust him," Bill says softly to himself. With his thoughts full of Tom, Bill follows a knot of girls along the street, hurrying to catch up when they turn and spot him, exclaiming and beckoning for him to join them.
The square is strung with lights, full of lively music and dancers as night falls. Bill moves from one cluster of friends to the next, admiring the lace on one girl's dress, remarking on another boy's fine new shirt. A group of women keeping an eye on their younger children all turn to pluck at Bill's coat, cooing over the fabric. "Such a perfect fit, Bill," says Dunja, glancing over the buttons.
"Tom ordered it for me, all the way from the city," Bill replies, glowing with pride, as much over their approval of Tom's selection as their compliments to him. He loves the coat, dark brown and elegant, and tailored to him, though Tom had never taken his measurements.
"So handsome tonight. But then, when aren't you?" one of the other women asks.
Bill is spared from answering when two of the little girls dart up and tug on his hands, drawing him into the center of the square. "Come on, dance with us, Bill!" one of them urges him. He laughs and lets them whirl him around, taking the next dance with a girl who's only five, and so small he can lift her with ease.
"Now me, Bill, please?" another begs when he's done. Bill's already breathless, but the blacksmith's son, Gustav, winks as he sweeps in to aid Bill, and between them they manage to give each of the little ones a merry dance.
Finally Bill begs for a rest, wiping a hand across his forehead and retreating to the sidelines. Through the crowd, he catches a glimpse of Lisabet and Georg, murmuring to each other and sharing the cake Georg had paid Bill for, just that morning. Bill smiles. They'll be wed exactly when he thought they would, and he's pleased for them. He looks to the side, meaning to point them out to Tom, but he remembers that he's alone when he finds Nathalie there instead.
"Bill, you came," says Nathalie, beaming up at him. "You did after all, and now you have to dance with me." She's holding her cake that has no name printed across it, but Bill sighs inwardly, knowing she means him to have it. He feels sorry, because she is sweet, and she's been a great friend to chat and gossip with through the seasons.
"I'm not here much longer," Bill tells her gently. He knows by the fading light that it's been an hour, at least, and he's suddenly aching to be near Tom again. "There's someone waiting for you, Nat, and I've got someone waiting too."
"What, who- Bill!" she calls after him, as he turns to go. He glances to where Gustav watches them, and they nod to one another. The blacksmith's son has patience; he'll wait until Nathalie's forgotten her infatuation with Bill, and Bill doesn't think that will take long.
As for Bill, by now he can't remember why he'd ever consented to leave his Tom behind.
The shop window is dark when Bill arrives back there. He wonders at that, knowing Tom must have closed the bakery a few minutes before ninth hour, something they've never done before on Valentine's. "Tom?" Bill calls, as he opens the door with a quiet jangle of the bell to announce him.
"In back," Tom replies, and Bill peeks into the darkness. There's a light on in the back that tells him that Tom must have a candle with him, probably so he can see to clean out the oven.
"You closed up early?" Bill questions, slipping behind the counter. Then he gasps and lifts a hand to his mouth, looking into the back room. There's no candle, but little lanterns like the ones in the square hung here and there. Even better, there's Tom at the center of the room, dressed in his finest Sunday clothes to match Bill, his braids pulled back in a neat tail. His hands are held out and closed around whatever's in them. The oven's not burning, but Bill is suffused with warmth anyway when Tom gives him the smile Bill knows belongs only to him.
"Happy Valentine's, Bill," says Tom, as Bill drifts nearer to him, feeling like he's in a blissful dream.
"Oh," says Bill, and looks again at the lanterns. "Oh, that's why..." He doesn't have to finish: that's why Tom had persuaded him out to the dance, so he'd have time to prepare the surprise.
Tom nods, and opens his cupped hands to show Bill what he's holding in them. Bill draws in a breath, heart speeding in his chest at the sight of the cake, frosted in pink and white. The colors are woven into patterns that are delicate but still lopsided, though Bill knows how hard Tom must have worked at this. Across the top, his name is printed in a graceful arc, B-I-L-L. The pretty script is painstaking yet smudged, here and there. More than anything, that's what makes Bill smile so wide, he swears he'll have sore cheeks afterward.
"It's not perfect," says Tom, speaking softly but not at all uncertainly. Of course he knows what Bill thinks of the gift, and that Bill is going to accept it. They're one person, one soul, two bodies, and what one of them wants, the other surely will, just the same.
Bill nods and brings his hands up to cradle Tom's, feeling the work-roughened knuckles against the smooth skin of his own palms. "It is," says Bill, eyes shining. "It's perfect, and you are."
They've never exchanged cakes, the two of them, though siblings are meant to. When their mother had lived and tended both the bakery and the two of them, Bill and Tom had eaten the ones Simone set aside for them, one from each batch for them to share. And then, when she'd left her shop to them, they'd been content to watch their friends courting one another whenever Valentine's had come around. After all, they've always known they're made for each other, so there's been no need for cakes, or dancing.
Until now, Bill thinks, as Tom's slow smile warms every part of him. "You have to ask me to dance, when we're done," Bill tells his twin, breaking off a tiny piece of the cake and lifting it to Tom's mouth. Tom opens his lips obediently and closes them around the sweet bit of pastry, and around Bill's fingertips along with it.
Bill gasps softly, drawing his fingers back after a moment to brush them over Tom's lower lip. A crumb lingers there, and Bill dares to dream that he could steal it with his own lips, if only he can muster the courage. "You have to say yes," says Tom, his voice a little rough in a way that sets Bill's heart to hammering still more quickly. "Dance with me, Bill?"
"Tomi," Bill breathes, and leans to capture the bit of cake, and Tom's mouth, too. The kiss is brief, as Bill breaks away after a moment, all delighted, giddy laughter. Tom's gaze is full of the same unconditional affection he's always shown, and he sets the cake carefully in Bill's hands. It's Tom's turn to feed Bill, and he does. The bite plucked from Tom's fingers is the sweetest Bill's ever tasted.
Tom takes the cake up, then, before Bill can ask what they're both thinking, and sets it on the table where he does all the mixing and shaping of the dough. "Dance with me," says Tom quietly. Bill lets himself be drawn into Tom's hold, with Tom's hands settled familiar and safe on his back. Gone is all the emptiness Bill had felt, out dancing on his own. This is what they've been waiting for all along, and they move together, foreheads pressed together, noses brushing with every step.
"I didn't know why you were chasing me out," Bill confesses, cradling Tom's jaw on either side as they dance. "But I trusted you, Tom. I always trust you."
"I know," Tom murmurs, and purposely nudges Bill's nose with his. "I'm sorry I had to-"
"Don't be sorry. Don't ever be sorry for this," Bill scolds him, brushing at Tom's cheek with his thumb as though he's found a streak of flour there. He can't wait any longer then, and he pulls Tom's face closer still to his, pressing his lips to Tom's. Bill is impatient, but Tom is always careful, slowing the kiss and taking his time in exploring first Bill's lips, then his tongue, then their mouths are fully joined as passion takes control.
"Bed, take me to bed, Tom," Bill says breathlessly, when they have to pause to take in air. Tom's eyes flash with wanting and he kisses Bill again, deep and firm. Without breaking away, Tom sweeps Bill up into his strong arms, and carries him to the stairs. Bill is never once afraid that Tom might drop him; he knows Tom would never lift him to begin with, if that was a danger.
It doesn't matter which of the two beds they go to, not in Bill's mind. That's one distance they've kept between them until tonight, and those last walls are crumbling down. Bill's bed is Tom's and Tom's is Bil's, and Tom lays Bill down on one of them. Bill sprawls there in his fine outfit, mussed and ready for anything Tom wants with him.
"You trust me with everything, Bibi," Tom whispers, husky-voiced as he leans over Bill, braced on both arms. "Even this?"
"This, more than anything, Tom. Please, this," Bill urges, and pulls Tom down to lie above him. And Bill's right to trust, so right. Tom strips Bill down and takes him apart so tenderly, gentle and fervent all at once, and when they're done, Bill begs in the dark for Tom to do it again.
Tom does, and gladly.
The next morning, Georg and Lisabet come to the bakery, hand in hand, laughing like a pair of schoolchildren. Bill greets them with a knowing smile. "Married by next season, can you believe it?" Georg crows, and releases Lisabet's hand to draw her against his side. "I've got you to thank, Bill, you and Tom. I'd never have gotten up the courage to ask her, if you hadn't talked me through it."
"And the cake was beautiful," Lisabet chimes in, smiling shyly first at Bill, then at her husband to be.
"Oh, oh, and can you believe it?" Georg asks, with a wide grin. "Nathalie finally stood up to dance with Gustav at tenth hour, and by the end you'd never seen a pair so in love- well, except for my Lisabet and me."
Lisabet looks worried at that. "You didn't have your heart set on her, Bill, did you?"
Bill shakes his head, his expression nothing but serene and happy. "I'm so glad for them. Here, your bread." He passes the wrapped loaf over, and accepts the copper coins he receives in return. "And they're not the only ones I'm glad for. I'll have to tell Tom I was right. You two will be wed when I guessed you would." Bill tips them a wink, and Lisabet blushes.
They're off to tell the whole town of their engagement soon enough, though Bill muses with a chuckle that it won't be much of a surprise to most of them. Bill takes advantage of a time with no customers at the front of the shop and slips into the back. Tom turns to him, catching Bill's hand to twirl him out, then brings him back in and holds him close.
"What did I tell you?" Bill asks, laughing and laying both hands against Tom's chest, loving the feel of the cloth apron and the firm muscles beneath it. Those are his, all his; every inch of Tom belongs to him. "Georg and Lisabet are to be married, and soon."
"Tell me, then," says Tom warmly. He carries the scents of flour, and sugar, and soot from the oven, and then the musky scent the two of them share. "When will we be married?"
Bill pretends he's startled at the question. "I'd thought we already were."
"Good." Tom nods, and brings a hand up to link his fingers with Bill's.
"Ah, now I'll be covered all over in flour," says Bill, tsking affectionately at his twin. "You'd better clean it off me later."
"I will," Tom promises, and Bill holds his breath as Tom leans in close.
Then the bell above the bakery door chimes merrily, and Bill has to draw away, laughing again. "Later," he tells Tom, who chuckles and shakes his head, going back to the pastry dough he's kneading.
It's not just the promise of later that puts a spring in Bill's step as he goes to greet his customers. It's the promise of tomorrow, and next Valentine's, and the next, all spent with Tom. It's the promise of forever.