Ben was just finishing the last of the clean-up behind the counter of his little café when he heard the bell on the door jangle—twenty minutes after he’d turned the sign to ‘closed’ for the night. But before he could say anything about it, the man shivering just over the threshold beat him to it. “Sorry, I know it’s after hours! But your door was still open, and I was hoping I could wait for an Uber in here.”
He was a familiar face. The man had come in from time to time, but Ben mostly recognized him as the person who picked up Ahsoka—one of his staff—after her later shifts; she hadn’t been shy about talking about him either, after Ben had mentioned it. Currently the other man had his hands tucked up into his armpits, a scarf wrapped around his neck but no other outerwear to speak of; they hadn’t gotten snow yet, but the sudden drop in temperature was enough to leave him pale. Ben rounded the counter before taking a chair down from one of the smaller tables and turning it out invitingly, “Please, by all means.” He took down the other chair as well before scuttling quickly behind the counter again. “This is no weather to be out in without a coat.”
“Tell me about it,” his good-natured laughter shook with his body, “Thanks so much.”
When Ben returned it was with two open to-go cups in hand; he set one down in front of the other man before seating himself. It looked like he was about to protest, but Ben cut him off. “No, no, you need to warm up.” He held up his own cup. “Besides, I always make too much on my way out.”
Momentarily abandoning his phone, he wrapped his hands around the cup—filled with the House Special hot chocolate—with a deep sigh of relief, smiling down at the snowflake-shaped marshmallow floating on top. “Thanks again.”
Ben sipped at his own hot chocolate; he waited until the other man had done the same before telling him, “I’m not sure Ahsoka’s ever actually mentioned your name...” A nickname, maybe, but he wouldn’t presume to use it.
He startled, another quick smile quirking his lips. “Anakin,” he extended his hand briefly before reconsidering—the cold still deep in his fingers—and returned it to the cup again, “Anakin Skywalker. And you’re Ben, right?” Ben answered with a nod. “I’m surprised you remembered my face.” Surprised but pleased, it seemed, if his expression was anything to go by.
“Well, I was happy to know someone’s making sure Ahsoka gets home safely when she closes,” Ben chuckled, “That girl thinks she’s invincible.”
He sipped his cocoa again and took the other man in. Ben knew him to be broad-shouldered and tall, but he appeared far smaller now, folded in on himself as he was for warmth. Though he’d mostly stopped shaking it was taking time for his color to come back, making his eyes a startling blue; a more muted hint of the same still tinged the fullness of his lips. Ben directed his thoughts, and gaze, elsewhere. “And are you the same way,” he asked, keeping his tone friendly, “Wondering around out there with no coat?”
It surprised a laugh from the other man. “Ah, no, actually,” he ducked his head as he raised his cup to his mouth again, “that wasn’t in the plan this morning.” He added, honestly, with a tip of the cup, “This is really good. Thanks, again.” Rolling his eyes at himself, “Again.”
“You’ve never ordered it before?” Ben’s surprise was obvious, “It’s the most popular thing on the menu this time of year.” And, he knew, Ahsoka was mad for it herself.
Anakin shook his head. “I’m more for the food. I have a pretty severe scone habit—the cinnamon ones?” He slanted a bashful look at Ben. “It’s why I don’t actually come in more often.”
“Oh, that big a problem, eh?” Ben couldn’t resist teasing.
“Yeah,” the word was exhaled on another laugh as Anakin nodded, “It would get embarrassing fast.”
Quiet settled between them for a long moment, oddly comfortable. “So, what changed your plan?” Ben brought the subject back to break the silence, clarified, “Brought you shivering to my door?”
Anakin flushed, bringing welcome color to his cheeks. “Oh, ah,” he darted a glance to his phone, “Gregor, down the way? I think the change in weather came on faster than he was expecting. He’s got a bed waiting for him at a shelter, but doesn’t have sturdy enough clothes yet. So...”
Ben, like the other shop owners on the strip, knew the man in question: a veteran who’d lost his home. Most tried to offer him help when they could and Ben was no exception, giving Gregor work whenever he was feeling up to it. His brows rose, “You gave him your coat?”
A self-conscious shrug, “He needed it a lot more than I did.” Anakin picked idly at the cardboard sleeve on his cup, “I’ve had rough patches before, now that I’m not I like to make it easier for people who still are.”
‘Oh no,’ Ben thought, ‘cute and kind.’
Before he could scold himself for the thought, though, he heard Anakin muttering, “Come on, app...”
Tilting his head, “Something wrong?”
“I, ah,” a frustrated huff of laughter, “really didn’t think I’d have this much trouble getting a driver.” Anakin picked up his phone and gave it a stiff shake, as if that would help. “But no one’s accepted the fare yet.” Looking between the phone and Ben he shook his head, standing again. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to keep you.”
Ben’s eyes widened in comprehension as Anakin set aside his empty cup and turned back toward the door. “You can’t go back out there!” he protested. The words left his mouth before he could think better of the idea, “I can just give you a ride home.”
For a moment Anakin only blinked, fish-like, at him in surprise. “Oh, I—” another quick, dismayed glance at his phone, “I couldn’t ask you to do that, I’ve already put you out enough.”
“Nonsense.” Ben wasted no time in getting to his feet and clearing their cups before locking the front door. “I can’t very well let you go out there to wait for a driver that may never actually come when my car’s just out back.” He jogged back to the employee closet to get out his coat, plus a spare he kept for emergencies; the fit would probably be a bit off, but it was better than nothing for Anakin to go back outside in. A little more rooting around behind the counter and he realized how forward he must have seemed. Well, everything could still be undone if he’d overstepped. “Unless,” he proposed, reaching, “you’re uncomfortable because we don’t really know each other.” He could’ve kicked himself as soon as he’d said it; Ben was less of a stranger than an Uber driver would have been now.
But Anakin didn’t point that out, only snorted, a wide grin breaking out on his face as he ducked his head. “No, no—Ahsoka talks you up way too often for that to be a problem.” He looked up at Ben from beneath his lashes. “You’re sure it’s no trouble?”
He cleared his throat before offering a reassuring smile and shaking his head, holding up the spare coat in offering. “It’s just this way.”
The other man held up his phone so that Ben could see him cancel his ride request. He came around the counter with only a slight hesitation, gratefully slipping into the coat and zipping it up as he followed Ben through the back of the building. Anakin breathed out another laugh as he read the different labels on the closed doors they passed along their way, “I sort of feel like I’m stepping behind the magic curtain here.”
Reaching the back exit, Ben turned to wink, “I trust you’ll keep the secrets.” Then, as he gripped the door handle, “Brace yourself—”
The wind was harsh, hitting them hard as the door opened and worsening the cold. Ben’s car was the only one left behind the café and he waved Anakin on to it, starting it remotely with his key fob before locking the back door. The younger man already had his seatbelt buckled by the time Ben settled himself in, turning off the radio and hitting a few more buttons on the console. “I have to know,” Anakin asked, holding up a familiar single-serving package, “Did you seriously just put a cinnamon scone in the pocket of this before you handed it to me?”
“What can I say?” Ben admitted, “There’s a shortness of kindness in the world, I thought you deserved some tonight.” And how could he not feed such a fan?
“I don’t know,” Anakin looked out his window to hide his face, “today’s the first day we really met and you’re driving me home to keep me out of the cold. That’s already pretty kind, if you ask me.” He turned back with a cheeky grin, “You know, I’m going to eat this right now.”
Ben couldn’t hold in his bark of laughter as he handed over his phone, “Perhaps after you key in your address?”
Anakin heaved a sigh, but temporarily abandoned his attempt to tear open the wrapping. The map app took his address without complaint, its electronic voice already starting to give directions before Ben had plugged it into the stereo. “Ah, not very far at all,” Ben remarked as he put the car in gear.
“Why I thought I’d be okay walking back from the mechanic, originally,” Anakin chuckled, then hummed in pleasure as he took his first bite of his scone.
“I’d wondered what happened to your car.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Anakin told him between bites, “just due in for inspection. Why am I—” He looked around himself suddenly as if trying to figure something out before turning to Ben again. “Are these heated seats?”
Lips quirking up, “That they are.”
“Fuck,” Anakin groaned, drawing out the word, before finishing his scone, “This is heaven.” He curled his frame deeper into the seat as Ben tried not to laugh; it was a losing battle. It took Anakin another moment to settle himself completely, body canted toward Ben. That oddly comfortable silence settled over them again for the next two streets they drove down. “Ahsoka really wasn’t kidding,” Anakin said finally, “all the times she’s talked about how nice you are.”
Ben felt heat creep up his neck at the attention, the softly spoken words. “You mentioned something about that before, I think.”
“Probably,” Anakin nodded amiably. “She talks about you a lot, I think,” a huff of laughter, a little awkward, “I think she’s been trying to get me to come in more, to talk to you.”
“Ah...” The heat crept higher, Ben could feel it in his ears now. “Perhaps that’s part of why she speaks so often about you, too.”
Anakin rolled his eyes at the woman in question, “That doesn’t usually go well for me...”
“Singing your praises, I promise,” Ben chuckled. “What a good friend you are, how you’re always there when she needs you. How good you are with your hands, which, frankly—” he teased with the truth, surprising a cackle from the other man, “I was never quite sure how to take.”
“Hopefully she was talking about how good I am at fixing things, or mixing drinks, but...” he shrugged helplessly.
“That’s not helping!” Ben laughed, starting to have far too good a time for the ride to be over.
But that didn’t stop the electronic voice from coming over the speakers, ‘You have reached your destination.’
Surprised, Ben hit the brakes harder than he’d meant to, then pulled over to the curb more sedately and parked. The house they were in front of looked small, but well-loved. “This the right place?”
Anakin tilted his head to look past him, give the house a cursory glance before nodding. “Hey, thanks again for all the help,” he fiddled idly with the empty wrapping he still held, dropping his chin, “Getting me warm again.”
“Please, it was just—”
“Not something everyone would do,” Anakin insisted.
Ben wanted to wave off the praise. It seemed a little off to accept it, he thought, from a man who had literally given someone the clothes off his back earlier that night. But he didn’t get the chance, as Anakin started talking again.
“I could return the favor,” the words came coyly, “I don’t bake, but I do make a pretty good hot toddy.” A small smile curved his lips, he looked up at Ben through this lashes again. “You could come in, if you wanted.”
It could very easily become a Problem for Ben if the other man ever realized how effective that look was against him. But, he thought as he turned off the car, it was a chance he was willing to take. “Yes, alright.” Arching a brow, “You can show me one of the ways you’re good with your hands.”