A/N: I feel a little cruel with the chapter name, since I'm still not sure when I'll be back again. I feel a little cruel putting anything up at all since I can't guarantee anything more. There are so many obstacles to posting things!
But I had some friends who were encouraging me to post WiPs today, and even though I don't have the courage to do that quite yet with unfinished behemoths like this lying around, I can do this much and add a little more to what I've completed. I hope people appreciate it and don't just feel like I'm zipping in and out and being unreliable and stuff. I never wanted to leave you all hanging :' )
The end is the start
"Alright, alright, you have made your point." Skinner waved his hands at the gathered cooks as they all nodded in approval. Alfredo couldn't help the wave of admiration and gratefulness that swelled up in the wake of hearing Colette's rallying statement. At the time he'd been terrified. He couldn't cook, he had no 'talent in his own right', and he was certainly no 'undiscovered genius'. Having her support just meant that she was sure to fall with him. "I will not fire the garbage boy- but! He can't just be brought into the kitchen before we know he has the proper qualifications."
If Alfredo had to guess, he'd say Skinner's only qualifications were 'follows orders and will grovel at my feet'. Two things that, at the time, Linguini would have done without a second thought but also had just explicitly proven that he couldn't be trusted to do by messing with the soup. Over the years, Alfredo had a lot of jobs, and most of them were menial labor where he was at the bottom of the totem pole. Yet even among such positions he could still safely say that the entirety of his time under Skinner's command had been one of the most toxic work environments he'd had the displeasure of being part of.
He was manipulative, held a firm grudge, and was always suspicious that something was going on. Admittedly, there had been something going on but for the degree of attention their circumstance could have aroused he felt they'd been pretty secretive about the whole thing and hadn't deserved the scrutiny Skinner afforded them.
"If you have such strong beliefs in the matter, you may be responsible for his education!" Skinner smiled, sickly sweet, and pinched Alfredo's cheek on screen before shoving him forward so that he tripped into Colette's arms. Alfredo on the couch frowned more heavily, glancing away from the uncomfortable moment. Colette and he had grown closer and he couldn't deny his instant attraction to her back then, but Skinner's touch had been entirely unwelcome and watching it made his skin crawl just as much as when it had first happened. "Talent is not the same for ability, we all know this. If he can do no more than make an impressive soup, then he serves no purpose in this kitchen."
The screen flashed to Remy where he was crouched underneath the colander. He and his imagined Gusteau glanced at each other in mutual suspicion and uncertainty. Alfredo felt a surge of comfort and gave the rat in his hands a few friendly strokes to show his quiet appreciation for the silent support. None of the chefs in that kitchen had questioned Skinner, not really. Some of them knew how to get what they wanted or needed, but none, at least none at first, had been willing to outright defend him or even think on his behalf. Colette had that first time, and it had gotten him into the kitchen and under her command. They'd all learned from her 'mistake' and kept quiet. But here was someone who disrespected Skinner on a daily basis once he was an established (if invisible) part of the kitchen, and he at least was on his side. Or at least against Skinner. It was enough for Alfredo.
(He wasn't going to get into the weirdness that was seeing his best friend confiding in and conversing with the image of his dad. He'd never known his father and (even after all that he'd gotten for being his son) wasn't particularly attached to him. Remy had grown up with a loving, if tough, family and had still latched on to this man who he'd never properly met. Gusteau had never been a proper father for Alfredo, but, aside from it being a strange thing to see, he was happy to see that he'd been a decent guide for Remy.)
"Much as I've enjoyed this time in my old kitchen" Gusteau said softly and swept his arms toward the window. "I believe we've explored enough for the first night?"
"First night?" Remy snorted as he turned away from the scene unfolding. "I'm not sure if this was a dream or a nightmare. But I am pretty sure I won't be doing anything more than watching in the future."
"If anyone else is looking for a change in their employment arrangement at this restaurant…? Skinner addressed the remainder of the kitchen and seemed gleeful at the lack of raised hands and abundance of averted glances. "Good! Enough gawking!" He swung back around to face Alfredo and thrust his finger into his face. "And you, don't think this is over." He hissed in warning. "If this was a fluke, I will know. If you orchestrated this somehow, I will know. If you are anything less than the obedient, skilled, and competent cook I expect all of my employees to be you can expect to be back on the job market within the week."
Remy, perhaps comforted by the lack of loud noises and shouting now populating the general vicinity, peeked out from beneath the colander and, after setting it back down as quietly as he could, started once more for the window.
"I believe you mentioned a resume? I trust you brought it to convince me of your culinary merit, and then took matters into your own hands when I quite reasonably explained we had no open positions for cooks." The way Skinner says it makes it clear that if Alfredo were to argue the point he'd have no luck. Skinner was reciting exactly what had transpired- as far as any outsider would be concerned. "Nevertheless, I will look at it now, you have my attention. Though that is not something anyone here wants." Alfredo busied his hands with combing at Little Chef's fur, remembering well the terror Skinner had inspired in him at this exact moment.
"Actually," Alfredo was stammering on screen "most of my c-cooking experience is… for myself! At home. Very little professional guidance. My resume really isn't… applicable to a place like this, since, out of respect -"
"I don't want to hear it." Skinner hissed. "The only thing I want to hear is you agreeing with me or your refusal of the position- preferably the latter. Do I make myself clear?"
"C-Crystal." Alfredo's head bobs with the force of the nod and Skinner pushes away, brushing the white of his uniform down as though manhandling Afredo had gotten it dirty.
"Good. If we are quite done discussing terms I believe there is food awaiting your attention. Rotten food. For tonight we still need a garbage boy and you will begin learning your place in this kitchen tomorrow. Until then," His grin sharpened. "Have fun with the-"
There was hardly a pause, but, from the camera angle of looking over Remy's shoulder as he clambered over the edge of the window sill, the moment of realization and change in address was obvious. Skinner's eyes caught on the rat's small form, widened to almost comical proportions, and his jaw dropped. "RAAAAAAAAT!" He yelled and whipped out a shaking finger, while groping behind him for something to use as a weapon. The sound startled Remy from where he'd been just shy of clearing the sill and escaping to freedom. His hand found Alfredo's mop still leant against the wall, and turned it on Remy at once, swinging it around with a yell.
It caught Remy squarely and hurled him against a copper pot that was sitting on the counter. Alfredo flinched and tried to erase the image of his friend's limp body smacking into the hard surface. His perspective the first time through hadn't let him see how much it could have hurt, nor how disoriented Remy seemed afterwards, but now it was all too clear. Don't worry. He begged himself. He's fine, he's right here in your hands, that was all in the past. In the moments it took for Remy to shake off his disorientation the rest of the kitchen had rallied around, bringing their most deadly instruments to dispose of the vermin they saw in their kitchen. Alfredo remembered not wanting to kill him, but he also remembered that token disgust, had felt horrible for the woman whose soup had been contaminated, and the need to make up for what he'd done wrong.
So when the only thing being shouted was get it, get it, someone get that rat kill-
He watched as his screen double fumbled for something, came up with a mason jar, and, thanks to pure luck, scooped the rat off the counter and clapped the lid on top.
"I got it!" He yelped, holding the jar aloft so everyone could see it and stop waving around knives and mallets. "I got it, don't worry, I… I got it."
Unlike the first time that he'd experienced this particular event, he paid attention to the rat in the jar. Alfredo had been scared, hadn't known what to do or what Skinner was going to do to him, and it showed on his face, but not like it did on Remy's. The rat crouched low in the jar, eyes wide and tiny body shivering. Alfredo felt guilt creeping up the back of his throat- like he didn't have enough of that already.
"Don't just stand there! We can't be seen with a rat in our kitchen, get rid of it." Skinner ordered and Alfredo flinched, perhaps less at his words and more at the bloodlust in his eyes, tightening his hold on the jar as thought to protect the creature inside.
"How?" He asked, voice strangled.
"I don't care!" Skinner waved his hands vehemently. "Just do it fast! Kill it, but don't let anyone see." Skinner lowered the mop, easing something Alfredo hadn't realized was tight in his stomach. "You're dismissed for the night, garbage boys take out the trash so just- take care of it!"
The screen panned quickly across the cooks, all with their weapons of choice and Larouse looking disappointed as he clicks off his blow torch. In his hands, Little Chef shivers a little and Alfredo glances down, taking in his friend's ruffled appearance.
He glanced down at the rat perched on his knee; seeing all this couldn't have been easy for him. Where Alfredo had stood to maybe lose a job, Remy had been surrounded by people all too willing to take his life. How Remy had held on to that first ideal, that he wanted to make things and contribute to greater goods, with all this hatred aimed at him, Alfredo couldn't fathom. Carefully, he shifted his hands closer to the rat and cupped them up around him to remind him of where he was, in safe hands, protected and supported. Little Chef started at the motion but caught himself and peered up at Alfredo with a puzzled twitch of his whiskers before his body seemed to loosen and he shook himself, as though to physically adjust his composure.
"Hey there, Little Chef." He said, soft. "No shame in being scared of it. I'd have been terrified. I was terrified and I wasn't even the one about to get murdered!" The rat blinked and then tilted his head, sagging slightly in resignation. He made a few rapid movements with his paws and then dropped them to his sides in realization that Alfredo wasn't following what he was saying. It must not have been too important, or else far too difficult to pantomime, because instead of trying again, slower, Remy just shifted in his palm so he was a little closer to Alfredo's thumb and then leaned against it as he watched the movie continue.
Already outside, Alfredo was pedaling away from the restaurant per Skinner's orders. swerving on his bike to avoid the car parked on the far side of the alley, Remy's jar clutched beneath his arm. Skipping most of the chaotic ride, he was suddenly shown pulling up to the Seine. He leaned his bike against the wall and with a hesitant glance at the jar in his hands, approached the edge of the river. Remy pressed his paws against the glass, body shaking with anxiety. In his hands, Little Chef pressed himself a little tighter against Alfredo's thumb.
"You were going to drop him in the river?" Colette asked, surprised. A frown was etched across her face as though in marble and her hand was clenched in the fabric of her pants, but her body belied no other tension. "That's a slow death."
"I didn't, I couldn't think." He stopped, held his head up from where it wanted to look down at his friend in his cupped palms. "I didn't want to deal with… a b-b-b." He gulped. "Body."
On screen, Remy turned anxious circles in his jar, pressing himself against one side, the river side, trying to get further from Alfredo rather than further from the water. The guilt Alfredo had felt creeping up the back of his throat dropped back into his stomach like a particularly heavy stone, filling his mouth with a sour taste similar to bile.
Suddenly, the screen showed Remy's view point, Alfredo's screwed up features as he readied to drop the jar, the water coursing beneath him, the glass walls making his erratic breathing echo.
The music of the background rose into crescendo and Remy pressed his paws against the glass, staring into Alfredo's eyes, imploring for mercy.
"Euahhhhhh." He groaned softly averting his eyes at the same time himself on screen broke.
"Stop it!" He shook the jar a little. "Stop it. Stop it." His voice broke and he looked away, letting out a shaky breath. "Come on, it's simple, just drop the jar." He whispered, but when he looked up again Remy was still staring, and Alfredo watches his own rigid expression melt. "Ohh, what am I doing." He sinks to sit on the cement bank of the river. "This isn't what I wanted at all. I was fine with garbage boy, what am I gonna do?" He clutched the jar to his chest.
"I'm such an idiot." He said aloud, because how he could ever say that to the rat he was about to toss in a river to drown?
"You certainly can be." Colette said wryly as he continued to explain his anxiety at the situation he was in.
"I can't remake that soup- I can't make anything! You're the one who made it." Alfredo accused, giving the jar a vicious shake. Remy was braced in a small ball against the bottom curve of the glass, eyes blown wide in fright. Alfredo winced at the way the glass magnified his face, making the anger in his eyes seem all the more extreme. "You got me into this, and I can't even blame you! You're a rat, you don't know what you did. You're just… incredibly lucky. I'm never that lucky." He mutters.
Remy, seemingly unable to help himself rolls his eyes.
"Lucky," He snorts. "I'm lucky. What for? The chance to swim in the Seine?"
"I wish you could talk." Alfredo murmurs on screen. Seated on his couch, Alfredo snorts, startled by the return of that train of thought. In his cupped hands, Little Chef emits a soft squeak that might also be a laugh. "That way you could tell me what you did to it. Then I might stand a chance." He glances down at the jar in his hands, resigned and obviously not expecting what he's about to get. "Could you show me how it's done? Maybe point?"
"Yes!" Remy bellows and thrusts himself up against the glass, paws pressed into it as he nods. "I can definitely point! I will, I'll, I'll teach you! I- Anything you want- I swear, just let me out of the ja-oh, no, don't dropme,don'tdrop-"
The perspective bounced back into Alfredo's and Remy's words cut off into desperate squeaks and half whistles. Alfredo could remember how surprised he'd been to receive a… coherent response from a rat. Nodding wasn't something he'd thought rats… did. He thought they smelled stuff and ate garbage and got… killed. Anything more than that? No. It had shocked him into nearly dropping the jar onto the cobblestone, which could have created a lot of sharp edges for Remy. At the time his main concern had been his own mental state, not the wellbeing of the creature he'd nearly killed… three times by then?
"Did you just answer my question?" Remy, plastered against the back side of the jar again in search of balance and stability, looked up upon being addressed and nodded again, just as frantic. He'd barter anything for survival. "You understand me okay? And, and you know how to respond?" Another nod. "Am I going crazy and just, just, hallucinating you?"
Remy paused and shrugged, but gave a slight shake of his head.
"No you're not crazy or no he's not hallucinating you?" Colette snorts and his friend raises both paws in an exasperated expression of both, maybe.
"This is crazy, I've gotta be crazy." Alfredo says to himself, bracing his palm against his face and rubbing at his eyes. When he looks down, however, Remy is still looking up at him, eager to please if it will save his life. "Did you…" He hesitates but then pushes on. "Did you know what you were doing? When you made the soup? Can you, really cook?"
Remy hesitates before answering too, but he nods.
"So you know… how to do that? You could make that same soup again?"
The rat bobs his head up and down, insistent this time. Confident.
For most of the time that Alfredo has known Little Chef, he'd thought that he was some sort of expert. At first he'd thought all rats had his sort of talents, and when that was obviously untrue, he'd started thinking that his friend had trained himself into this ability. But more recently, not just tonight but for a few weeks now, he'd been noticing how much he changed what he did from day to day and how much he'd improved from those first few days they were in the kitchen together. Little Chef was a novice- a talented one, but a novice still.
Looking at his friend's expression on the screen, Alfredo realized that he probably had no clue if he could remake the soup, he was just saying whatever was going to save his life.
"Can you… help me make the soup?" He asks, and Alfredo remembers the way hope had risen up inside of him, warm and bubbling. "And, and other things? So I could cook? I could really make stuff like that?"
"If you truly intended to learn how to cook," Colette muses, "Then how did you end up with Little Chef in the kitchen with you?"
"Well, he couldn't teach me overnight." Alfredo explains. "And Skinner wanted me back in the next day. The plan was that he'd help out until I could do it myself- that was my plan anyway. But I never really… caught on, and we were both happy, doing things the way we started out. In the end it was easier that way."
"So that's the deal, right?" Alfredo is saying on screen. "We're partners on this, right? I'm gonna let you out and give you a place to stay, and you're gonna teach me how to cook. That's how this is gonna go."
Remy braced his paws against the glass and waited as close to the entrance as he could as Alfredo knelt in the dust and carefully unscrewed the lid, easing the top off as though making the exit available slower would make the rat less likely to run.
Alfredo had known he'd run. Because that's what he'd do. He'd be scared out of his mind, he'd be so far from trusting any human ever again, he'd run as far as he possibly could.
He'd known he'd run, but it still took him by surprise. Then and now.
Remy moves carefully, slipping over the lip of the jar and putting all four paws on the cobblestone before taking deep breath and looking up at Alfredo.
And then he bolts.
Once more they were in Remy's place, his heavy breathing filling the room with sound as he sprinted across the cobblestones. He glanced back and, seeing the growing distance between Alfredo and himself, started laughing. It was startling all over again to hear the rat's own voice, as he hadn't spoken for several minutes now and for Alfredo, who'd always known his friend to be silent, it had been long enough for him to forget the circumstances of the movie.
The sound was gleeful, but also surprised. Remy was amazed that he'd been able to weasel his way out of that situation. He runs until he reaches the shelter of the shadow underneath the bridge. Once in the dark he risks a look backwards, taking in Alfredo's defeated posture and resigned expression. He snorts and turns back to focus on running, but he doesn't make it far. His footsteps slow and he glances back again, expression fading into uncertainty. Finally he stops and sits up, pressing his paws to the base of his ears and rubbing, in the way that a human might rub at their temples.
"Remy-" Gusteau swirls into existence in the space beside Remy's ear, poised to provide advice and wisdom, but the rat holds up a paw with a sigh.
"I see it."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean I see it, okay?" Remy snaps back. "I see what you mean. Your point, whatever." He takes a breath and then settles back onto all fours, hesitating for the first few steps but then padding back towards Alfredo, who is just pushing himself back up off the ground, fiddling with the jar in his hands. "He's like me. A little. Just… enough that I'm gonna give this a shot." He allows. "And this way, when I end up dead for it, at least I don't have to listen to you anymore." Gusteau smiles and nods even though he's floating just behind Remy's head and the rat isn't looking at him; he disappears in the breeze the same way he'd materialized. "Cat's claws," Remy mutters to himself. "I'm never going to be able to make my own decisions again."
"Was that... a swear?" Alfredo stammers and Remy, who has had an arm wrapped around the mans's thumb for the past few minutes, glances at him and nods, cheeky. He pauses and then wobbles his paw back and forth, sort of, but not quite.
"More of an expletive then," Colette smiles, sounding amused, and Little Chef snaps his fingers to her and taps his nose.
On screen, out of the shadows there came a slight patter. Alfredo looked up, hope blooming on his face, and found Remy's tiny shape moving towards him in the dark. He paused at the edge of the shadow, as though uncertain as to whether or not he really wanted to take that final step. But then he did, and Alfredo's face lit up with gratitude, relief, and just a touch of warmth.
"This is the start then?" She asked, voice soft. "Not like I expected."
"Well, there was more to it than that." He shrugs. "And it wasn't that… dramatic when it happened. I couldn't believe he'd come back."
In his hands, Little Chef squeaks in what he thinks might be exasperated agreement, like he's still not sure why he turned back either- even after just watching the internal dialogue that led to the decision.
(And watching this hurt a little, for Alfredo. Because Alfredo had held him over a river and meant to drop him there to drown. Most of him did, anyway. And even when he didn't, all he thought about was himself. It was Little Chef, who was pitted against the entire world, who turned back for Alfredo's sake. He hadn't deserved the courtesy.)
"But he did." Colette reminds him. "He thought about it and he did. Alfredo, you don't always think before you speak or act, and other times you second guess yourself until you do nothing at all. You are imperfect, but you must give yourself some credit. And if not because you think you did something right, then because we think you did something great." She waves at Little Chef, who has stood up on his hind legs to glare at him. The rat raises a paw to Collette in a familiar gesture- what she said. He shakes his head and places both paws on Alfredo's wrist, giving him another meaningful look before turning back to the screen. Something inside of him, like the strings that had been being plucked in all the wrong places before, loosened just slightly, the tension not gone but not reverberating through his whole being.
Colette was right, this was just the start.
A/N: This feels like a landmark, finally together...? But there's still so much to go, so much I want to work with, so much I'm sure that people want to see! My sincerest apologies.
I feel selfish asking for it but if you can, spare a moment to let me know what you think. Your feedback and support go miles, truly. Thank you for reading and hopefully, I'll talk to you all again soon.