Hartley had a plan. It was a good plan. It was a plan to live like a monk until he graduated with his bachelors of science in physics and then tell his parents he was gay.
If they disowned him then, fine. He'd be in a position to get a decent job and his parents couldn't legally touch the trust fund Grandma Phryne had willed to him on her death. It was a good sized trust fund and would last him through to getting a PhD, assuming he managed his funds well.
Unfortunately, Hartley made the mistake of going to a frat party. Where he got drunk on spiked punch and wound up making out with a particularly hot frat brother. Thankfully nothing other than making out, but there were pictures of the kissing which got back to Hartley's parents.
Rachel and Osgood were not amused, but were willing to forgive the 'drunken indiscretion' so long as it never happened again... and Hartley got a girlfriend.
Suffice it to say, there was no way in hell Hartley was going to get a girlfriend. Sure, he could fake date a friend or find a lesbian girl who needed a fake boyfriend to appease her own parents, but... he just couldn't do it. The whole idea was just... no.
So Hartley told them he was gay. And then he packed up the important things in his room, went back to his dorm room, and proceeded to freak out over what his expenses for the next few years were going to be like because now he was going to have to rely on Grandma Phryne's trust fund to cover about two and a half more years of college.
Once Hartley's anxiety calmed enough to think straight, he realized what the obvious solution was. Get a job. Something part time with flexible hours that he could work around his classes and studying, preferably. He wanted an internship, but most of the worthwhile ones (aka the paid internships) required more course experience than Hartley had. He'd qualify for a few of them after he finished up his second spring semester and all of them in the fall if he took summer classes. But until then, he needed to start spreading his resumes around and getting, if not lab experience than at least work experience.
He applied everywhere he could think of - book stores, cafes, restaurants, fast food joints, Walmart... basically if they had a 'we're hiring' sign, Hartley filled out an application.
The first place to call him in for an interview was Big Belly Burger which, Hartley didn't relish the idea of smelling like fries and burgers all day but if it meant making money then he was fine with it. Also employees got free leftovers at the end of the day and discounted food during work hours. Hartley was a college student; free food was free food. The interview went pretty well right up until it came time to discuss the hours Hartley could work.
Turned out they needed someone who could cover a four hour shift that overlapped with two of Hartley's classes. The current employee line up could not fully cover that shift as it was, leaving the restaurant short staffed during the lunch hour on Mondays and Wednesdays. There was no getting around it and Hartley had to politely decline the position.
The next place Hartley interviewed at was a Target but the interviewer was a homophobic dick who thought prefacing his prejudiced humor with the words 'no offense' somehow absolved him of all guilt. Hartley resolved to stop shopping at that Target as he stormed out of the store in a huff.
Third interview, however, was at a little coffee shop near campus called Central City Jitters. The location was so perfect that Hartley could walk there from either his dorm room or his classes, which meant less worrying about gas money. Hartley desperately wanted to work there.
"So, have you ever worked at a coffee shop before?"
Hartley shook his head. "No. But I do have experience with espresso machines."
"Really?" His interviewer, the shop's manager, was about five years older than Hartley, if he had to guess, and had introduced herself as Janet Acker. "Alright, make me our signature drink. The Flash. Recipe is right there," she gestured to the little binder full of laminated drink combos.
Taking a look through, Hartley decided it was simple enough to make. The espresso machine was pretty similar to the one that Hartley had played around with the summer before at his unpaid internship at Rathaway Industries. (There'd been less learning the ropes than his parents had made it sound like there would be and more fetching coffees for assholes who didn't like it when Hartley corrected their work. Also trying not to stare at that one guy whom Hartley had day dreamed about actually asking the dude for his name. Nameless dude had a girlfriend, though, so probably for the best Hartley hadn't worked up his nerve to flirt with him.)
It wasn't long before he was presenting Janet with a completed Flash double-shot espresso.
Janet took a long drink and sighed. "Perfect. What hours can you work? We need someone the most in the afternoons."
"My latest class ends at two o'clock so I should be able to get here by two-thirty."
"How many classes are you taking? Just curious. You're totally hired, by the way." Janet took another drink of her coffee and sighed happily.
"Four. Two Monday/Wednesday classes and two Tuesday/Thursday classes." Twelve hours total. It was supposed to be fifteen, but Hartley'd been forced to drop a class when the professor had changed the hours last minute. Hartley was still pissed off about that, but at least it was an elective course and the only Monday/Wednesday/Friday class he'd been signed up for.
"Okay, so how about you work from three o'clock to seven Monday through Friday with the option of either swapping with weekend hours when you need more study time during the week or taking extra hours on the weekends sometimes when you need extra cash?"
"Like I haven't even started and I already love this job," Hartley declared.
"Oh, hi, you're new," said the cute guy with long hair and an E=MC^2 t-shirt on.
"Come here often enough to tell?" Hartley purred, eyes racking over cute-guy because... yum. And also Hartley did not need to live a monk-like existence anymore. So if cute-guy maybe asked for Hartley's number...
"Oh, uh, yes," cute-guy blushed, flustered. "Here practically every day. You can always tell when I've got a big test coming up because this is, like, where I cram all night. I'm Cisco."
"Hartley," he responded, leaning forward a little. "So, what can I do for you?"
"Uhm..." Cisco's eyes drifted, definitely checking Hartley out, and then snapped back to his face. "Right. Coffee. A Flash, please."
"That'll be three twenty-one," Hartley told him, ringing him up on the register. To his right, Iris West, Hartley's coworker, started making the drink. She looked pretty amused as she handed off the coffee with a 'hey, Cisco.'
"Oh, hi Iris. Barry and Eddie should be here in a few minutes."
"Awesome." She grinned, looking quite pleased.
Hartley tilted his head to the side slightly as Cisco headed off to set up his laptop at one of the tables in the back, admiring the way Cisco's jeans clung to his ass.
"So, getting a bit of a flirt on there, huh?" Iris teased.
"I'm gay and no longer closeted so bring on all the flirting with hot guys," Hartley responded cheerfully. "So, who are Barry and Eddie?"
"My boyfriends. They're not dating each other yet, but I'm pretty sure they're interested." Iris grinned, adding, "I've been trying to convince them to go on a date together. Wanna help?"
"Will I get to see them make out at some point?" Hartley asked hopefully.
Iris waggled her eyebrows. "Maybe," she said, drawing out the word with a laugh.
"I live in hope, then," he joked back.
Then Barry and Eddie walked into the shop and damn did Iris West have good taste.
An elbow collided, gently, with Hartley's side. "Stop ogling my boyfriends," Iris told him. "They're skittish; you'll scare them."
"They're so pretty, though."
"I know, right?" Iris smirked, very pleased with herself.
They were both skittish, just like Iris warned, and Hartley just knew he was going to have fun tormenting those two. When Barry went to join Cisco for studying, Eddie waited for both their drinks. And Hartley, seeing the longing gaze Eddie had fixed upon Barry's retreating form, couldn't quite resist saying, "now that boy has a very gorgeous ass, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, he does..." Eddie muttered absently, then jolted, eyes wide, as what they'd both said finally processed. "Uh..."
"What did I tell you about my boyfriends?" Iris sighed, a long-suffering noise belied by her amused grin.
"They're really hot, really shy, and you want them to make out with each other?" Hartley asked, all faux innocence.
Eddie made an eeping noise, collected the coffees, and retreated to the study table, blushing hard and avoiding Barry's concerned gaze.
"You," Iris declared, swatting Hartley on the shoulder, "are trouble."
"Welcome back, Cisco," Hartley greeted, putting on his most flirty smile. "What can I do for you?"
"You're in Jacobi's Physics 2 class, right?" Cisco asked. Hartley nodded and Cisco pressed on, "I'm in the Physics 1 class and I could use some help deciphering the notes he posted online. Its all gibberish to me."
"Well, my break is coming up in about," he glanced over at the clock, "twenty-ish minutes, so I can take a look then. Refresh my memory on what part of his gibberish is vexing you. I get off work at 7, so if you're still here then I can start going over it with you, otherwise I'm free all day tomorrow so we could meet up to study if you've got time?"
Cisco's expression turned relieved. "Oh you're amazing. I've got work in the morning, but my afternoon is all clear. Maybe we could..."
"We'll figure it out while I'm on break, then. You're kind of holding up the line," Hartley teased gently.
A very lovely blush proceeded to cover Cisco's cheeks. "Right. Sorry. Um..." Cisco's eyes flicked to the menu and then he ordered a coffee.
Twenty-ish minutes later, armed with a chai latte, Hartley joined Cisco at his study table. "So, what've you got for me?"
Cisco pointed at some printed notes in Professor Jacobi's handwriting that had been further annotated by a clearly frustrated student. "This literally makes no sense."
That part looked familiar and Hartley scrunched up his nose in thought for a minute before nodding. "Okay, yeah, we complained about this last semester and he was supposed to fix his notes. Looks like he forgot. This part," Hartley grabbed a pencil and circled one of the equations, "is actually his personal shorthand for a much longer equation. I'll have to fish out my notes for tomorrow. This part over here," he underlined another equation, "will start actually making sense once you've got my notes to look at. And this part over here," Hartley flipped through a few pages before tapping a section of explanatory text, "is gonna be on the final exam. Apparently he always puts this in the final. And this..." he gestures to a section that Cisco's hand writing was extra spiky with annoyance for, "makes more sense if you've finished Calc B-C."
"I'm still in Calc A-B," Cisco lamented.
"Don't worry, I got you. I was in B-C at the same time I was in physics 1 and I eventually figured it all out. So now my experience is all yours." Hartley offers Cisco an encouraging smile, pleased by the way the other man's eyes brighten in response.
Asking out a cute guy shouldn't be this hard.
"Cisco, what are you doing?"
Jumping, Cisco whirls around to see Barry standing behind him, eyebrow raised in judgmental amusement.
"Ah... trying to psych myself up to asking Hartley out," Cisco said. He turned to gaze through the window again for a moment before returning his attention to Barry. "I'm being creepy, aren't I?"
"Unintentionally, but yeah. Totally giving off creeper vibes there, Cisco."
"Shit." Cisco drooped. "And I really shouldn't ask him at work. That's, like, putting pressure on him to say yes because I'm a customer and he doesn't want his weirdo customer making a scene even though I totally would respect his answer and..." he trailed off when Barry put a finger on top of the bridge of Cisco's nose, making the engineering student go cross-eyed. "Stop that," he exclaimed, stumbling back a step.
"Got you to stop panic rambling, didn't it?" Barry smiled and said, "I think with all those study dates you two have been having, Hartley would be fine with you asking him out at work. But if you're not comfortable with that then ask him while you two are talking science at the library this Saturday."
"What if he doesn't like me that way?"
Barry rolled his eyes. "Ugh. Maybe Hartley will just ask you out and put us all out of your misery."
"That wasn't an answer."
"Yeah, it was. Now, I'm going to go get coffee and study. Are you going to stand out here being creepy or are you going in there with me?"
Cisco readjusted the weight of his backpack on his shoulders and nodded. "Coffee. Not creepy."
Unfortunately, Cisco and Hartley didn't end up meeting for their usual study date that weekend.
Hartley had to cancel, apparently suffering from either a cold or massively bad hay fever. The weekend after that Cisco was making up hours at work that he'd needed to reschedule in order to get enough study time before finals. And then Cisco went home for winter break after that.
He did buy Hartley a really pretty blue scarf that Cisco thought would bring out Hartley's eyes. But he didn't get a chance to give the scarf to Hartley before leaving because they never had a moment alone together.
But today was Cisco's first day back after the holidays and it was the day he was going to do it. He was definitely going to ask Hartley out and nothing could ruin this for him. And if Hartley said no, then at least Cisco would know he'd tried.
Only... when Cisco walked into Jitters, no Hartley.
"Hey, Iris, where's Hartley?" Cisco asked, settling into line.
Iris looked up from where she was making coffees behind the counter. "He's running late today. Had to talk with his adviser about some mix up with his class schedule. He should be here any minute, though. Our new barista agreed to stay an extra hour to fill in for him, though," she gestured to the girl at the register. "That's Kendra."
Cisco sighed in disappointment. "I'm going to ask Hartley out today. Is that... would it be weird if I ask him out here or should I wait until after he's done with work for the day?"
Iris snickered. "Ask him out when we've got a lull in customers, okay? If only Barry and Eddie could get their act together this quickly."
"They still haven't asked each other out? How..." Cisco face-palmed. "I mean, seriously, this is getting ridiculous in a not-funny way."
"Barry isn't out as bi to his parents yet and Eddie is worried about his parents finding out he's in a ply relationship." Which, admittedly, Cisco had known Barry wasn't out to his parents yet, but he hadn't really considered in terms of how it might make taking the final steps to hooking up with Eddie difficult for him. And, just, people got weird about polyamory so, yeah, Eddie's parents would probably freak. Barry's parents, at least, already knew Iris was dating both Barry and Eddie and seemed okay with it.
"Well, they'll get there eventually," Cisco muttered, more to himself than to Iris. Anyway, time for coffee.
Hartley paused right before the window to Jitters. Cisco was at the counter doing the flustered blushing thing that was so cute. For Kendra.
He'd clearly misread things.
Hartley'd thought that, when Cisco came back, he could ask the cute engineering student. But... it seemed that maybe Hartley wasn't really all that special after all. Friends yes, which was great, but...
He swallowed hard and closed his eyes. Hartley had a crush and of course he'd imagined it was requited. But why would he get so lucky?
Stealing himself, Hartley walked in and smiled and waved and headed behind the counter and pretended everything was okay. Which he probably wasn't doing a very good job because everyone was giving him worried looks. But, you know, at least he sort of had an excuse in that he'd spent a good thirty minutes longer than he should have clearing up his adviser's screw up with his class schedule. He'd been put in the wrong class. Well, it was the same as the class he'd signed up for - same time slots even - but a different professor. Hartley'd eventually just logged into the class sign-up website and shown his adviser that, yes, she'd done his schedule wrong and he wasn't starting the semester with the wrong professor.
His adviser didn't even apologize for the screw up. Admittedly, Hartley'd been kind of an asshole about it but considering her absolute insistence that he must've signed up for the wrong class by accident, well... Hartley felt justified in being pissed off.
And now he was upset with himself.
Around six, Hartley excused himself up to the roof to take a break, bundled up against the cold, hands wrapped around a fresh cup of hot tea, and trying not to cry. Because he really, really liked Cisco.
Oh shit, this was clearly Iris' meddling right here. Customers weren't allowed up here during the cold season.
"Uh, hi," Hartley looked up at Cisco and smiled wanly. "So... what brings you up here?"
"You, actually. You seemed really upset and I wanted to make sure you're okay. Also, there's something I wanted to give you. I meant to give it to you before the break, but..." Cisco fished a neatly wrapped box out of his bag. "Merry Christmas."
Hartley took the box hesitantly. "I... I actually got something for you too, but its back in my dorm room." It was a Star Wars themed Metal Earth kit that came with what were basically high end jewelry pliers. It'd been on sale, so it wasn't really too much of splurge, but Hartley'd imagined the intense look on Cisco's face as he built the delicate R2-D2 or Millenium Falcon models and just... wanted Cisco to have them.
"Maybe I can go with you when you're done with work?"
Hartley nodded. That sounded fine. Ideally Hartley'd go home alone to cry over his broken heart and ignore his roommate Axel's mostly good-natured mockery. But he could wait a little longer for the self pity party if he, at least, got to see Cisco smile over the kit.
Cisco plopped down on the bench by Hartley and nudged him a little. "Go ahead and open it."
Carefully undoing the wrapping, Hartley ignored Cisco's urging to just tear it open already. And then he opened the box.
It was a blue scarf. A TARDIS blue scarf. And soft. So soft that Hartley couldn't resist the urge to bury his face in it. "Oh, wow, this is so comfy," Hartley praised, snuggling the scarf against his cheek.
"You're just ridiculously adorable when you do that."
"You think I'm cute?" Hartley immediately flushed because he... he really didn't mean to just blurt it out like that.
"I've... I've been trying to work up the nerve to ask you out for weeks, actually." Cisco twisted his hands together nervously. "I really like you, Hartley."
"You do?" Hartley perked right up. He also felt like an idiot because... he'd seen Cisco do the cute flustered thing for lots of people when he first met them. But Cisco always got over it, except with Hartley. He kept doing the cute flustered thing just for Hartley's flirting.
Hartley really needed to stop letting his anxiety bite him in the ass like this.
But Cisco was nodding, all adorable and flustered. "Y-yeah, I do. Do you... maybe like me too? I just... there's a Princess Bride quote along at the student union this Saturday and I'd really like to go with you. As a date. If that's okay?"
"That's very okay," Hartley leaned over and kissed Cisco on the cheek. "I've been trying to work up the nerve to ask you out too. Today kinda sucked. My adviser screwed up my schedule and didn't want to admit it and I've been... I've been having kind of bad anxiety problems lately. I've been thinking I should probably schedule an appointment with the campus therapists but trying to make myself actually do it makes my anxiety worse and... and I kind of got all jealous when I saw Kendra get you flustered earlier and thought maybe I'd misread your interest in me and got upset with myself for reading things that weren't there. Which I was, just the opposite of the conclusion I jumped to."
Cisco reached over and took Hartley's hand. "I'm not gonna say that Kendra isn't pretty, 'cause she is and you know meeting pretty people flusters me..."
"It shouldn't, you're way more gorgeous than she is," Hartley grumbled.
"But the only person I want to date is you. And I'd like to help you deal with your anxiety, so whatever I can do to be supportive there..."
"Come with me when I have my first appointment? I mean, it'll be boring for you waiting outside so..."
"I'll make sure I've got plenty of books to read on my phone."
"Is that code for fanfics or actual ebooks?"
Cisco hummed thoughtfully, then shrugged. "Depends on whether I've caught up on Secret Agent Loki by then or not. Otherwise, definitely fanfic. There's this hugely epic Harry Potter fanfic I found with time travel and the Founders. I'll have to show it to you later, you'll love all the attention to detail on old languages."
"So... does this mean I can call you my boyfriend?" Hartley asked.
"Only if I get to call you my boyfriend too," Cisco replied cheekily.
Hooking an arm through Cisco's, Hartley set his tea aside and cuddled up against Cisco's side. "You're already the best boyfriend. Seriously. You know I'm a mess under the flirting and bluster and you like me anyway."
"You're a cute mess," Cisco muttered snuggling closer too. "So how much longer is your break?"
Hartley checked his watch. "Like, two minutes. We should probably head back inside."
"Eh, lets wait a minute longer. I like this. It's nice."
"So, how was the appointment?" Eddie asked when Hartley and Cisco settled down at the table.
Hartley's shift started in fifteen minutes so naturally he was already at work at the group's usual study spot, hanging out for gossip until it was time to go to work.
"Well, I can say with certainty that being disowned by my parents made my anxiety issues worse. So the obvious has been confirmed," Hartley shrugged and folded his arms on the table and put his head down. Cisco settled beside him, running a hand up and down his spine soothingly.
"Yeah, the first few appointments with a new therapist always sucks," Eddie agreed. When he saw the curious expressions aimed his way, he added, "I'm also in therapy. For depression. My anti-depressants help a lot."
"Therapy solidarity," Hartley declared, shifting so that he could hold a hand up for a fist bump.
Eddie bumped and then... did the Ba-da-la-de-la thing from Big Hero Six. Hartley and Cisco promptly cracked up.
"So I told my parents about Barry and me being bi and... I might also be disowned soon," Eddie said nervously.
"Sucky parents solidarity?" Hartley sat up. "If you need help figuring out finances and stuff, I can help. Also, if their names are on your bank account, you might want to have them removed. Make sure your car's title is in your name. You know, stuff like that."
"Oh," Eddie looked faint. "That's... that's a lot of stuff to freak out over."
Hartley nodded, "like I said, I can help. Luckily I had that all sorted out in anticipation of being disowned, though I didn't expect it to be so soon. I thought for sure I could get a full bachelors of science out of them money wise before getting kicked to the curb."
"I think maybe I'll just sit here and quietly panic for a few minutes," Eddie groaned and now he was the one face first against the table.
"Eddie, are you okay?" Barry and Iris both looked very worried as they walked up.
"Just freaking out over possibly being disowned. Again. Because Hartley pointed out that I should get my parents names off my bank account. And my car is actually legally their car so I could easily not have a car soon." Eddie made a pained noise and was instantly being cuddled on two sides.
Barry kissed the top of Eddie's head. "So maybe this is a terrible time to ask, but I'd... I'd really like to start officially dating you."
"Awww," Cisco murmured to Hartley. "They're so cute."
"I know, right?"
"No comments from the peanut gallery," Iris commanded, though she looked utterly thrilled at this development.
"Yeah, Barry, I'd like that too."
"What's today's date?" Hartley asked.
"January eighth," Cisco replied.
Hartley groaned. "Dammit, I owe Janet fifteen bucks. Couldn't you guys have waited for Thursday?"
Iris, Barry, and Eddie exchanged looks and then threw their napkins at his face.