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A Latte By Any Other Name

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Adam loved his job.

After the tedium of factory work, and the physical toil of working in a garage, Persephone’s coffee shop was a haven – quiet, warm, and blissfully empty most of the time. He wasn’t entirely sure how she stayed in business, but he wasn’t about to ask. Persephone paid him generously to lean against the counter and make the occasional drink. He’d begun keeping a book tucked into his apron to while away the time between customers.

And with so few, Adam remembered his regulars’ orders, and often had them waiting – Harold’s cappuccino, the double-shot lattes for Anna and Toby, Dr. Meyer’s small herbal tea.

And then there was him.

Adam didn’t know his name. He just knew his coffee order, and that he was the hottest human being he had literally ever seen.

Also the grumpiest.

He came in every afternoon at around the same time and ordered a large black coffee to go. Adam wished he worked at Starbucks so he could at least ask his name as part of his job.

He’d attempted small talk with him exactly once before realizing it was a lost cause. OK, that wasn’t true, he’d tried a second time because he couldn’t not try to talk to the most handsome man he’d ever seen, but his curt, one-word responses had shut Adam down for good. He wondered why everyone else seemed happy to chat and get to know him. He had that kind of face.

Adam had given up trying to pierce the veil of grump, and decided to just enjoy the view when he was around. 

He was finishing a chapter when the bell tinkled over the door and Declan’s Hot BrotherTM walked in. Adam had started calling him that in his head because, while he didn’t know his name, he had heard numerous one-sided cell phone arguments with someone named Declan, and had pieced together their relationship.

Adam straightened up, turning down the corner of a page to mark his spot, and gave DHB his best smile, which he did not expect to be reciprocated.

His expectations were met.

“Usual?” he asked, piling on a bit of false cheer.

DHB nodded and grunted something that might have been thanks, before turning around and leaning back against the counter, staring pointedly away from Adam.

Adam stifled a sigh and went to make the drink, sneaking a peek at the tattoo that curled up the back of the man’s neck from beneath his shirt. He’d had dreams about that tattoo and what it might look like. He wasn’t sure what it said about him that he was so attracted to someone this unfriendly, but he wasn’t going to try to unpack it. His best friend Blue had already tried to get him to examine why he seemed to have a thing for assholes.

Exhibit A, she’d said, pointing at herself. A for Asshole. Right here.

Adam had argued with her about that. He didn’t think she was an asshole. She had broken up with him for a guy he himself had introduced her to from his History seminar, but she hadn’t been an asshole about it. And she was still his best friend, and he didn’t like anybody (including her) talking shit about his best friend.

He’d told her about DHB, of course, and she’d gotten a look on her face like she was ready to stomp anybody who was remotely rude to him.

He’s not rude per se. He’s just…. socially disengaged. Aggressively so.

 Blue had rolled her eyes at that.

And you want to be the one that breaks through that tough exterior and finds the big, mushy heart of gold inside. God, you’re such a fuckin’ cliché, Parrish.

Adam had cocked his head and appraised her.

Maybe you ARE an asshole.

And she’d nodded, unbothered, like no shit, genius.

Adam pulled himself back into the present and cleared his throat, “Here you go.” He pushed the coffee across the counter and DHB turned around and dug into his wallet, handing over some cash. As Adam turned from the register with his change he saw that DHB was staring at the book on the counter.

He knew an opening when he saw it. And he was ever a glutton for punishment.

“Have you read it? It’s the last book in my favorite series. I’m re-reading it for like the tenth time.”

DHB took his change and shoved the bills haphazardly into his wallet, not answering. When he realized no response was forthcoming, Adam picked the book back up and slid it into his apron.

Yep, that went about as well as could be expected.

He turned to busy himself straightening the paper cups – just something to do until the cloud of awkwardness that Adam had created dissipated.

“I’ve never read it.”

Adam’s head jerked up.

It speaks!

He was about to launch into a detailed plot summary to try and keep this gorgeous, incredibly unfriendly man in front of him, when he saw that the words had been uttered as DHB was rushing through the door back out onto the street.

Adam bit his lip, a small smile on his face.

Progress?

 

**

 

The next day DHB didn’t show up at his normal time. Adam kept glancing at his phone, watching the minutes pass. He wondered if he’d fucked it up by being too forward.

You just told him you liked a book, you didn’t write your number on his cup and wink at him.

He took a moment to think about whether that might be something he should do, before shaking off the idea. If this guy didn’t even want to have a pleasant conversation about books with Adam, he probably wasn’t going to react well to being propositioned via disposable cup.

When he didn’t come back the day after that, Adam started feeling exceptionally shitty.

And then a little angry.

And then a lot angry.

He hadn’t said anything inappropriate! He hadn’t even pushed it. He counted the words up in his head. Twenty! Twenty words! And this fucking misanthrope bails from his daily routine just to get away from him! It wasn’t even a pick-up line! He would have said the same thing to a little old lady who was looking at his book.

Adam decided that Blue was right. He was predisposed to being attracted to assholes, and it stopped now. He was going to find a nice person to date. A kind person. A person who appreciated a goddamned book recommendation.

 

**

 

Adam didn’t expect him to appear that third day following the disastrous twenty words of doom. He’d changed his name from Declan’s Hot BrotherTM to Declan’s Asshole BrotherTM in his head and felt a certain satisfaction in the reclassification. He took him out of the “Hot Asshole Who I Want to Touch” folder and placed him in the “Hot Asshole Who I Still Want to Touch, But Is Also a Jerk and I Will Ignore for My Own Mental Health” folder.  Both of these folders had grown a little too full over the years for Adam’s liking.

But at two o’clock sharp the bell over the door tinkled, and Adam looked up to see his recently re-filed asshole standing in front of him.

He was holding a copy of the book.

He had a look on his face that Adam would have called nervous if he could conceive of this guy ever feeling nervous. He assumed DAB just glowered at nervousness and it scurried into the shadows never to be seen again.

But he was holding the paperback in front of him with both hands, twisting it in a white-knuckled grip. It looked like he about to rip the poor thing in half. Or possibly use it to bludgeon Adam to death.

Adam cocked an eyebrow quizzically at him and waited.

Nothing.

Well, if he wasn’t going to say anything then Adam would just behave as if everything were completely normal… and not like a male model was trying to silently rob a coffee shop with a fantasy novel.

“The usual?”

Declan’s Asshole Brother (no, he was going back to 'Hot'… he was starting to seem too weird to be an asshole. Declan’s Weird Brother maybe?) blinked like he’d forgotten where he was for a second.

“Yeah.”

Adam began to make the drink, stealing glances at the still motionless man in the middle of the shop. He was putting the lid on the cup when he realized that his frozen companion had managed to walk to the counter and had released the strangled book, setting it down gently. Adam resisted the urge to reach over and smooth out the bent cover.

“Here you go,” he pushed the coffee across the counter and waited for the man to take out his wallet.

He didn’t move.

Adam waited silently. He’d learned his lesson the other day. His words were dangerous. They repelled hot men.

But this was ridiculous.

“Are you OK?” he asked tentatively.

That was only three words. Three words was fine.

Declan’s-Hot-Weird-Maybe-Not-An-Asshole-Brother seemed to remember that it was his turn to do something and grabbed his wallet, shoving some cash across the counter. Adam took it and turned to the register.

“It was good.”

Adam’s head shot up. He spoke! DHWMNAAB spoke!

“The coffee?” Adam asked.

“The book,” he answered quietly.

“Oh!” Adam smiled, “Yeah, I love those books! But did you understand what was going on…? I mean it’s the final book of five…”

“I… read the others, too,” he said, speaking directly to the countertop, “I bought them all when I left the other day.”

“You read all five books in…” Adam did some rudimentary mental math, “… seventy-two hours?”

Declan’s-Hot-Weird-Probably-Not-An-Asshole-But-An-Astonishingly-Fast-Reader-Brother nodded and continued his conversation with the formica counter, “I have trouble sleeping… and you said you liked them…”

You could have told Adam his hair was on fire and he would have asked you to please come back later he was in the middle of something.

DHWPNAABAAFRB finally lifted his eyes to meet Adam’s, “I… wanted to find something to talk to you about… and this seemed like a good strategy…”

Adam could feel the grin coming, and as much as he wanted to play it cool, he couldn’t stop it.

“What’s your name?” Adam asked.