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Zeke is bored, twirling a coffee stirrer in his hand as he watches Dizzee put the finishing touches on the chalkboard out front. He makes it a work of art every time. Today the special is donuts with rose filling, so he’s covered the board in patches of delicate pink roses. He finishes and wipes his chalky hands on his apron, leaving dusty pink smears on the white fabric. He reenters the shop, bell tingling cheerily, and disappears into the back room to put away his chalk.

 

That leaves Zeke alone behind the counter when the angel walks in. She’s wearing a long white coat, delicate fur collar brushing against her brown skin. Her hair is in a slight disarray, flecked with snowflakes and blown into her face. She rushes towards the counter and begins ordering before he can even remember to greet her.

 

“I need two dozen chocolate cake donuts and a butterscotch latte, please.”

 

Before she finishes speaking, she’s digging into her purse, coins tinkling onto the counter. Apparently, she already know exactly how much she owes. She must be in a terrible rush.

 

Zeke is still frozen, staring at the long lashes brushing her cheekbones as she frowns down at her purse pocket. Dizzee sticks his head out of the back room and notices Zeke’s inaction.

 

“There’s time to stargaze later, Zeke! ”

 

Zeke jumps and blushes, for once grateful for Dizzee’s meandering way of speaking. The girl figuring out he was staring at her would be so embarrassing. He fumbles with the sliding door of the glass display case, pulling out the donuts she’d asked for. Dizzee joins him behind the counter and begins making the latte. Zeke fills the box of donuts slowly, taking the opportunity to drink in every detail of her face.

 

Apparently, he stalls for too long. She shifts uncomfortably and leans forwards, addressing Dizzee as he hands her the latte.

 

“I’m really sorry but do you think your friend could hurry up? I have to get these to my father’s church before the service begins.”

 

Dizzee gives her a mild smile and gives Zeke a not so mild kick to the shins.

 

“Of course, ma’am. Sorry about him.”

 

Zeke hurriedly pushes the box closed and hands it to her. Dizzee has already gotten her the change and receipt, so she turns with a whirl of hair and fabric and heads for the door. There’s a faint “thank you!” and then she’s out of the shop. Zeke darts around the counter and watches through the front windows as she runs down the street and into the church on the corner.

 

When she’s disappeared inside, he turns back to the counter, only to find Dizzee smirking at him knowingly.

 

“Shut up, Dizz.”

 

He only smirks wider and teases Zeke:

 

“You say I’m spacey but at least I don’t moon over customers—”

 

He breaks off with a gasp, eyes focused on the door behind Zeke. The bell tinkles and Zeke turns to see what’s caught his attention. It’s a man, shaking the snow off his broad shoulders. He’s wearing a brown coat with a rough fur collar, blond hair curling around his neck. He looks up at them with big blue eyes, cheeks almost as pink as his lips from the cold, and smiles so brightly the entire room seems to lighten.

 

Zeke smirks; he's exactly Dizzee’s type. When he takes his coat off, hanging it on the coat hook by the door, he exposes thick, muscled arms to go along with his broad shoulders. Dizzee lets out a quiet “eep!” and begins to blush.

 

Zeke saunters back behind the counter, fiddling with the donut display, forcing Dizzee to help the man. He orders a ginger green tea and tips handsomely. He gives Dizzee a friendly wave before he leaves, steaming cup of tea in hand.

 

Dizzee collapses back against the counter, throwing his arm over his face, hiding his blush. Zeke pokes him, taunting him:

 

“Don't moon over customers, eh?”

 

Dizzee groans and shoves Zeke away.

 

“At least I didn't freeze up like you did.”

 

Zeke sputters.

 

“Well, I know how to find her, she said that's her father’s church down the road. You don't have any way to contact your mystery boy.”

 

“Actually…”

 

He holds up a napkin, colorful marker swirling across the thin paper. It's an address, a date, and a time.

 

Zeke’s jaw drops open.

 

How the hell did Dizzee end up being smoother than him?

Chapter Text

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Zeke is fidgeting outside of the church door. He's gotten dressed up, in his new blue suit. He knows he looks good, but he's still unbearably nervous to meet the girl.

 

He forces himself into motion and enters the church. It's small, but well kept. There's a crowd slowly moving into the sanctuary, and Zeke joins them. The sanctuary has red tinted stained glass and hard, wooden seats. He winces when he sits down, sandwiched between a screaming child and an impassive old man.

 

But then he sees her, up on the small stage. She’s wearing a long, pink dress with ruffles on the bottom. She's standing in front of one of the mics, the choir behind her.

 

The service is long and boring, the pastor enthusiastically lecturing the crowd. Zeke pays no attention to what he's saying, just watches the girl instead.

 

And then she sings, and it's like his world has been set on fire.

 

It's a conservative song, and the pianist fumbles through the accompaniment, but she still sounds like a goddess.

 

The pianist…that gives him an idea.

 

At the end of the service, he watches the pastor call his daughter and his wife on the stage. After it's over and the crowd has moved out into the entryway, he makes his way over to the pastor's wife.

 

“Excuse me, Mrs. Cruz? I was wondering if I could volunteer to play piano for some of the services?”

 

The woman turns to him, looking frazzled, and gives him a warm smile.

 

“That would be amazing! We've had such trouble finding a pianist who could cover the later services, we would greatly appreciate your skills, Mr…”

 

She reaches out to shake. She has a strong grip.

 

“Ezekiel Figuero.”

 

“We’ll see you next Sunday, Mr. Figuero.”

Zeke grins; now he has a way to routinely meet up with the girl, who he’s learned is named Mylene. He’s broken out of his happy daze when someone bumps into him. He turns, surprised to find that he recognizes the person.

 

“Yolanda?”

 

She turns around, tugging the girl walking with her to a stop as well.

 

“Zeke? What are you doing here?”

 

She’s the Kipling brothers’ sister, so of course he knows her. But he can’t think of a reason for her to be in this church, and obviously she can’t think of a reason for him to be here either.

 

“Um, I just wandered in, why are you here?”

 

“Oh, Regina and I are here to pick up Mylene, we’re going shopping.”

 

“You know Mylene?”

 

The long haired girl next to Yolanda, Regina he presumes, interrupts. She leans over Yolanda, clinging to her for support as she jeers at him:

 

“Of course! We her girls!”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I just didn’t realize you knew her.”

 

Regina flips her hair over her shoulder and squints at Zeke. Zeke begins to sweat under her intense, suspicious glare.

 

“Why are you so interested in her? She’s never mentioned knowing you.”

 

Yolanda frowns at that and looks at Zeke more intensely. Zeke fidgets and tries not blush, stuttering out his defense:

 

“Um, I—”

 

Then something in Regina’s face changes, like a lightbulb just clicked on over her head.

 

“Zekey’s got the hots for our girl!”

 

“No, no, don’t talk so loud!”

 

Yolanda and Regina are giggling, clinging to each other as he shoves at them. At least while they’re giggling they can’t talk  and let Mylene overhear. Finally they stop laughing at him and straighten up.

 

Regina smirks at him:

 

“Don’t try to deny it, Zeke. You’ve got it bad!”

 

Yolanda pats her on the shoulder.

 

“Stop teasing him, Regina. He’s pretty good, might even be good enough for her.”

 

It’s not high praise, but it’s more than he expected.

 

“Really? You think so?”

 

She smiles at him. Regina huffs, not as approving as her.

 

“Yeah, I think so. You treat her right, you might be able to make it work.”

 

“Do you think you could help me?”

 

Regina pushes into his space, poking him in the chest.

 

“Uh uh, mister. You want to get with a goddess like that? You’re going to have to work for it.”

 

She’s scary intense and protective. He almost feels like he’s at a job interview, a terrifying business woman glaring at him from across the table. Regina, having said what needed to be said, latches on to Yolanda and pulls her away. They head towards Mylene on the other side of the room. Yolanda gives him a supportive thumbs up and yells back towards him:

 

“I’m sure you’ll be fine!”

 

Zeke sighs, shoulders slumping. Regina has revealed exactly how many obstacles are in his way. But as he watches Mylene greet her friends with a beautiful smile he knows it’ll be worth it.

 

--------

 

Dizzee manages to find the address, after wandering, directionless, for a few minutes. It's a small storefront, with an elegantly carved wood bench out front. It's sign proudly proclaims it as The Writer's Bench. Dizzee stares up at it in surprise; he's been going to a separate subgroup of the writer’s bench for years, but he never knew this one was here.

 

When he pushes the door open, it lets out an annoying two tone noise, alerting the men behind the counter to his presence. It's what he expected on the inside: shelves of art supplies towards the back, tables for artists to work at in the front, and the counter along the wall. The men behind the counter nod at him as he enters, and the cluster of artists bent over the tables look up at him.

 

He’s a little uncomfortable being the center of attention, but he carefully pulls out his book and sets it on the table. The writer’s bench is kind of like a club; they have stores across the city where the members can meet. Being a member gets you a discount on art supplies and a book, which designates you as a member and allows you to collect the signatures and personal information of other members.

 

At the sight of the book, everyone relaxes. He’s greeted with smiles and the men behind the counter even come out to introduce themselves. They shake his hand and greet him excitedly:

 

“Hi! I’m Crash, this is Daze. We run this subgroup. We haven't seen you around before?”

 

“I’m Dizzee. I usually go to the subgroup closer to my house, but I met someone from this group who wanted to meet here. You know Thor?”

 

“He’s one of our ghosts, signed up and hasn’t come in since. If you give us your phone number we can let you know when he shows up?”

 

Dizzee frowns, wondering if he’s been elaborately stood up, but accepts their offer. He buys a few markers to sketch with and then leaves, waving goodbye to Crash and Daze. Even if Thor did stand him up, at least he made some new friends. He tells himself that, trying to ignore the dejection weighing him down. Thor had seemed so interested, maybe not romantically but at least interested in being friends. And he was so sweet and smiley, not to mention attractive…

 

Dizzee shakes himself, trying to brush away the crush that had somehow gotten so intense despite only meeting him once. He’s got to stay positive; maybe Crash and Daze will get back to him soon, or the universe will bring them back together somehow.

Chapter Text

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Zeke is in the antique shop across the street from the coffee shop looking for the perfect gift to give Mylene if she accepts his invitation to go out together. He’s just found it, a rare record of a popular song, when the savage warlords come in. He presses himself against the wall, out of sight. Mostly they commit small crimes, shoplifting and robbery, but they won’t hesitate to attack witnesses.

 

He’s so focused on the warlords perching on the cowering cashier’s counter that he almost doesn’t notice the man come up behind him and snatch the record out of his hand.

 

The stranger takes off, darting past the warlords and out the door. The warlords are in pursuit almost instantly. They’re like wild dogs: they’ll attack anything that acts like prey. The cashier screams for them to get the shoplifters, apparently forgetting that the warlords shoplift themselves, and worse.

 

Zeke knows chasing a shoplifter is pointless, and even dangerous, especially with seven warlords on his tail. But it was the perfect gift, and it’s for Mylene.

 

He sprints out of the shop, following the warlords tearing down the street. They’re much more agile than him, jumping over cars and climbing fences as the shoplifter tries to throw them off his tail. Zeke stays on ground level, using his knowledge of shortcuts to keep up with them, and hopes this doesn't get him killed.

 

The shoplifter takes to a building, bolting up a fire escape. The warlords follow, screaming threats and whooping with the thrill of the chase. Zeke curses, entering the alley that runs along the building, afraid that he’ll lose them. He’s at the end of the building when a shadow falls over him. A cloud? A bird flying past?

 

It’s a person. The shoplifter is leaping across the gap in between the buildings, hands grasping for the ledge in front of him. Zeke’s heart stops, fully expecting a body to come crashing down on him, he’s not prepared to have someone die in front of him again

 

He makes it, just barely. His feet hit the ledge and Zeke’s heart jumps back up into his throat, impressed by the masterful move.

 

And then the ledge crumbles. The shoplifter is falling again, hands clawing at the air, silhouetted against the blue sky. Zeke’s heart is on a roller coaster, dropping down as quickly as it had risen.

 

The stranger catches himself, fingers just gripping the edge of the broken ledge. He swings, cursing, the warlords staring in astonishment from the other building. The record slips from his fingers, fluttering down to Zeke, falling on the alley floor right in front of him.

 

The shoplifter stares down after it, desperation clear on his face. It scares Zeke, the despair he sees in the stranger when he reaches out for the record. He picks it up and runs, runs from the strange shoplifter, runs from the warlords, runs from the fateful feeling of the encounter.

 

The shoplifter yells after him, having pulled himself up to safety on top of the building.

 

“Hey! Motherfucker, hey!”

 

Zeke doesn't look back.

 

--------

 

Ra finishes sweeping the floor behind the concessions counter. Sam leans against it, complaining loudly about all the terrible customers that have come in today.

 

“And then he made me recount the change! Twice! What an asshole!”

 

Ra shoves the broom back into the closet and gives her the required:

 

“Wow, that sucks.”

 

Undeterred by his lifeless reply, she continues on, ranting like her life depends on it:

 

“And then there's this girl. She’s really nice, and real cute, but she's gone to see Star Wars twenty times ! I've run her card so often her name is imprinted on my eyelids.”

 

Ra had already perked up at the mention of Star Wars, but that really gets his attention.

 

“Twenty times?”

 

Sam huffs, reclining on the stool.

 

“I'm sure that doesn't sound that impressive to you, Mr. I've seen the original trilogy 200 times each and the force awakens 50 already.”

 

Ra laughs. He was actually impressed, he's never met anyone else who's as devoted to watching Star Wars as he is. Dizzee holds the record for most theater trips he can stand at 34, while Boo quits at 15. He'd love to talk to someone as enthusiastic as he is.

 

“No, seriously, Sam. I am impressed. If she comes by again could you let me know so I can talk to her?”

 

Sam gasps and slaps a hand to her chest, acting offended.

 

“Are you asking me to abuse my power?”

 

Ra snorts, unaffected by her over dramatic sprawl.

 

“What power? You sell tickets at a dying AMC theater. I've got more power than you do, just because I can turn the projectors off and on.”

 

She giggles and gets up, sashaying over to the ticket booth.

 

“You know I’d do Anything for you, sun god. Next time Tanya comes in, she’ll be met with your lady slaying romantic styles.”

 

“Sam! Who says I want to date her? I just want to talk to a fan like me!”

 

Sam rolls her eyes.

 

“I know you'd want to date her because I'd want to date her! Once you see her, you'll understand.”

 

Ra shakes his head, smiling at her fondly as he picks up his car keys.

 

“Yeah, yeah, she's a goddess. You think that about every girl who walks in here.”

 

Sam shrugs and gives him her best innocent look.

 

“How can I help it? Girls are beautiful, you can't dispute that.”

 

Ra laughs at her.

 

“That doesn't mean I'm attracted to all of them, Sam.”

 

“Well, that leaves more for me.”

 

Ra waves goodbye and pushes out of the front door, into the cold night. He looks up at the dark sky, a few stars peeking through the clouds.

 

Tanya. That's a pretty name.

Chapter Text

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Thor sighs, setting his third cup of tea down. He’s come into the coffee shop every day this week, in the hopes that the cute barista will be working again. He must have spent hundreds of dollars on tea by now. But there’s no sign of the man: Thor must be hitting all the wrong shifts and just barely missing him.

 

He’d meant to go to the writer’s bench to meet him, but he got held up by his parents. They’d brought another girl in, and were very insistent he meet her. He had no way of escaping the painfully long dinner they’d put together.

 

He’d come out to them a few years ago, and it had gone better than expected. He wasn’t attacked or kicked out of the house. If he’d come out as gay, though, that might have been different. When he told them he was pan, they heard “I’m confused and can be convinced to change my mind and become the good straight heir you wanted”. So they started throwing every girl they could find at him.

 

And the girls are beautiful, but knowing they’re there because marrying a rich boy sets them up for life really kills any interest he would have had. It wouldn’t be so bad if the girls weren’t so flirty. They spend an amazing amount of time and effort just trying to get into his pants, and that shows what his parents really care about. Not his happiness, they don’t care if he loves his partner. All they care about is having a respectable straight marriage and grandchildren to carry on the family name.

 

There’s something incredibly painful about being treated like he’s so young and dumb that he doesn’t know his own sexuality. And his parents desperately trying to get him to have sex with random girls feels terribly dehumanizing, like he’s just a piece of meat. He’s always had a preference for boys, and his parents efforts only reinforce that.

 

And Dizzee had been so magnetic, almost irresistible. Of course there’d been the attraction between them, almost immediately. He’d noticed the blush on the other man’s face, and he’d had to fight to stop himself from blushing. But Dizzee had been interesting too, with his soft voice and dark eyes. He’d noticed the chalk smears on his apron and realized he had drawn the beautiful board out front. There had been paint stains on his forearms, so he must be an artist. All in all, he’s fallen for Dizzee too quickly, so quickly it’s taken his breath away.

 

He stands up,pulling his coat tighter around himself. He dumps the cup in the trash and reminds himself to buy one of the reusable cups so that he doesn’t have to keep wasting the paper cups. After all, he’s going to be drinking a lot of tea for the foreseeable future.

 

------

 

Dizzee enters the coffee shop, yelling a listless hello into the empty space. The Friday afternoon shift is the worst, in his opinion.

 

Zeke twitches behind the counter and accidentally sends a stack of cups clattering to the floor. Dizzee ignores him scrambling to clean them up and takes his apron off the hook, tying it around his waist. Dizzee joins Zeke behind the counter, watching him shove the cups back into place.

 

“You okay?”

 

Zeke jumps again and turns to look at Dizzee, giving him a weak smile.

 

“What? I’m fine.”

 

Dizzee sighs and takes Zeke’s hands, which are shaking visibly.

 

“Zeke, tell me what’s wrong.”

 

Zeke breathes out, shakily, trying to calm himself down.

 

“I was just trying to buy Mylene a gift but then I almost got killed, might still get killed. The warlords saw me take the record and so did he.”

 

Dizzee frowns. If Zeke has angered the warlords, this could get bloody fast.

 

“You pissed off the warlords?”

 

“Well, no, not really. They weren't chasing me, they probably didn't even notice me. But I was too close to them for comfort.”

 

Dizzee relaxes, now that he doesn't think there might be warlords bursting into the shop any minute.

 

“So you're just nervous because you were near them, not because they actually are coming for you.”

 

Zeke sighs, leaning against the counter and burying his head in his arms.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Dizzee pats him on the back.

 

“Okay. I understand why you're so freaked out but I don't think you need to worry so much.”

 

Zeke groans.

 

“Yeah. Thanks for helping me calm down, Dizz.”

 

Dizzee smiles and starts wiping down the countertop.

 

“You're welcome.”

 

He's picking up the coffee mugs to clear away the counter when Zeke speaks again.

 

“So what happened with your mystery boy?”

 

Dizzee winces, the mugs clattering against the counter. Zeke notices and hums sympathetically.

 

“Went badly for you too?”

 

Dizzee sets the rag down, turning to face Zeke. He gives Dizzee a friendly, open look, encouraging him to expand on the subject.

 

“Yeah, it didn't turn out the way I hoped. I went to the meeting place and he wasn't there. I think I got stood up.”

 

Zeke makes a disappointed “awww” noise and reaches out to pat Dizzee's arm consolingly. Dizzee shakes him off and returns to wiping the counter.

 

“It's okay, it was just a crush, and now it’s over.”

Chapter Text

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Ra curses as he enters the shop, shaking the snow off of himself. He flaps his arms, raining melting snowflakes on their newly mopped floor. Zeke throws his towel at him in vengeance. Ra dodges and retorts:

 

“Is that any way to treat a customer?”

 

Dizzee trips him as he passes the counter. Zeke smirks as he teeters, arms flailing, and quips:

 

“You're not a customer, you're a leech.”

 

Boo follows him in the door, frowning at them.

 

“All you’re gonna get is leeches if you keep it so damn cold in here!”

 

Zeke sighs; he’s spent all afternoon complaining already. Dizzee threatened to shove his head in the espresso machine if he didn’t shut up.

 

“Don’t bother complaining, we can’t do anything about it. The heater broke yesterday.”

 

Ra flops onto one of the couches in the back and curls up, dragging his coat over himself as a blanket. Boo joins him, looking at them disapprovingly.

 

“What do you mean you can’t do anything about it? I know the old witch who owns the place is practically useless, but surely y’all can call someone to fix it by yourselves.”

 

Dizzee throws his hands up.

 

“Fine! But I better not hear any noise out of any of you once I’ve called.”

 

A quick google search later, he’s found an acceptable heating/cooling company and called. His brothers stay silent as he calls. Once he hangs up he glares at Boo-Boo, whose mouth is already half open, ready to speak. He cuts him off:

 

“Someone should be out in about an hour. Happy?”

 

Boo skips off the couch, mischievous smile on his face. He wraps himself Dizz in a hug and coos:

 

“Thank you, Dizz, you’re such a good brother~”

 

Dizzee sighs, letting Boo cling to him.

 

“What else do you want, Boo?”

 

“Can I have some cake?”

 

Dizzee pulls a slice of the chocolate cake out of the case, sliding it over the counter to him.

 

“Let me guess, you already used up all of your allowance.”

 

Boo retreats to the couch, trying to look as innocent as possible while stuffing his face with cake.

 

“Maybe...”

 

Dizzee pulls a few bills out of his pocket and puts them in the cash register. Zeke laughs; Boo is spoiled and he knows it. His brothers love him and he takes advantage of it, but Dizz and Ra always indulge him good naturedly.

 

A doors slams outside, and Zeke looks up to see a truck parked out front. A man swaggers out and enters the shop. Dizzee steps forwards to greet him and they shake hands. Pleasantries exchanged, the man looks around the shop and asks:

 

“I hear your heating isn’t working?”

 

“Yeah, it broke yesterday. It’s back here.”

 

Dizzee leads him towards them, to the heater installed in the back wall. As the man gets closer cold dread trickles down Zeke’s spine. He looks familiar…

 

The man tilts his head and makes eye contact with Zeke, and that’s just the right angle to remind Zeke why he recognizes him: he’s the shoplifter. Zeke freezes, eyes flitting to his backpack on the other side of the room. The record’s in there, he was hoping to ask Mylene out today, so he’d brought it along. Now he regrets that; the shoplifter had seemed like he really wanted it. Now that he’s here, in their shop, who knows how he’ll react.

 

Maybe he won’t recognize me and everything will be okay.

 

The shoplifter definitely recognizes him. The man stops and stares for a moment before breaking off from Dizzee and approaching Zeke. He stops in front of the couch, drawing Ra out of his book, and glares at Zeke.

 

“You’re that skinny motherfucker who stole my record.”

 

Zeke tenses, ready to grab the backpack and run if he needs to.

 

“You stole it from me first, man.”

 

The shoplifter snarls and slams a hand down on the table. Ra jumps, putting the book aside and sitting up.

 

“I need that record, motherfucker!”

 

Dizzee steps forwards again, holding out a placating hand. Zeke snarls back:

 

“Why do you need it? Why do you need it so bad?”

 

Then the door’s bell rings again, heralding the entrance of another person. The woman enters the shop like a tidal wave, drawing all their eyes and filling the air with tension. She purses her red lips and lights a cigarette, looking over the shop until she spots the shoplifter. Then she grins and coos:

 

“Shao, baby, what are you doing here?”

 

Zeke shivers at her voice, syrupy sweet and filled with implications. The shoplifter barely looks any older than Dizzee, and she’s got to be at least twenty years older than him. Hearing her call him baby makes Zeke’s skin crawl. The shoplifter hunches in on himself, all the bravado from before disappearing. He looks at her like she’s a snake in the grass, just waiting to lash out and bite into him. She runs her eyes up and down his body and bites her painted lip.

 

“I’m working right now, Miss Annie. I told you I’d come by your place later.”

 

She breathes out a cloud of smoke and gives him a patronizing smile, striding towards him and wrapping a possessive arm around his waist.

 

“Well, alright. But you know how I miss you when we’re apart.”

 

She lets him go and moves to the counter, gesturing for Dizzee to come serve her.

 

“How about one of you boys get me a coffee?”

 

Dizzee moves forwards, his face cold and emotionless in that special way that he uses to hide his hatred. A neutral Dizzee is a Dizzee plotting your demise. He makes the coffee with none of his usual care and hands it to her, taking her money. She grins fakely at him and stuffs a hundred dollar bill into the tip jar. As she turns to leave she waves at the shoplifter, calling out to him:

 

“Don’t be late, Shaolin, and don’t forget my record!”

 

The silence after she leaves is so heavy it feels like someone’s piled bricks on his chest. Zeke stares at the shoplifter with a new understanding. When they make eye contact again, the stranger snarls at him and turns back to the heater. He growls as he begins prying it out of the wall:

 

“Lets just get this over with.”

 

They’re all looking at each other, aware that something terrible is going on with the stranger, but no one knows what to do about it. So they sit in stunned silence and stare as he digs through the wiring in the wall. He works quickly and efficiently and in a few minutes the heater roars back to life. He shoves it back into the wall and rushes back to the counter, holding his hand out for his payment. Dizzee pays him and he leaves the shop, fleeing as if they’re waiting to pounce on him.

 

Letting him leave without saying anything about the slimy woman leaves a bad taste in Zeke’s mouth, but what else can he do?

 

--------

 

Zeke is still moping after the encounter with the shoplifter when Mylene comes into the shop. She enters, shaking the snow off her shoes, and takes her gloves off, stuffing them in her pocket. She steps up the counter and orders another butterscotch latte. Zeke makes it slowly, hands shaking with nerves. He can feel the brothers watching with anticipation and that only makes him feel worse. He hands it to her and rings her up.

 

As she turns to leave, he gathers up her courage and chases after her. He pushes through the door and onto the sidewalk in front of the shop, calling after her:

 

“Mylene?”

 

She turns and gives him a soft smile, making his heart beat faster.

 

“I was wondering if maybe you’d like to go out with me?”

 

Her smile falls and she looks down, trying not to meet his eyes. His heart sinks.

 

“I’m sorry, Zeke, but I’m not looking for a boyfriend right now.”

 

He tries to ignore the ache in his chest, like his heart is breaking.

 

“Um, yeah. Okay. But if you ever are, I’ll be here.”

 

She nods, hair hiding her face.

 

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

 

She turns and walks down the street, away from him. He squashes the urge to chase after her and begins the slow trudge back inside. As soon as he enters the shop, Boo and Ra are on him, asking:

 

“How’d it go?”

 

Zeke passes them by and collapses onto the couch, trying his best not to cry.

 

“My heart got shot out, man.”

 

They hum sympathetically, looking ashamed of their earlier excitement. He’s grateful for their support, even if it feels suffocating at times.

 

“I’ll be okay, guys. I’ll get over her.”

 

I hope.

Chapter Text

-----

Mylene lies on the bed, moping as she stares at the rough paint of the ceiling.

 

“That cute boy at the coffeeshop, Zeke, he asked me out. I told him no because I don’t really want to commit to something right now? But he seemed really nice. Maybe I should have said yes?”

 

She whines and buries her face in the pillow. Yolanda shifts, putting her legs up in Regina’s lap, and leans in to kiss her.

 

“I dunno, Mylene. Commitment seems pretty good to me.”

 

Regina smirks at her and purrs:

 

“Zeke ain’t shit compared to me, though.”

 

Mylene smiles at them fondly, but quickly goes back to moping. Regina sighs and gets up, turning on the radio and turning it to Mylene’s favorite pop station. Then she pulls Yolanda up and dances with her around the room, calling to Mylene:

 

“Come on, girl! Stop lying there crying and let us cheer you up!”

 

Mylene smiles weakly and lets them pull her up, joining them in dancing. They cavort around the room, getting more and more energetic over time. Mylene slowly comes out of her shell, letting them spin her around the room. Regina reaches over turn the music up and Mylene considers telling her to turn it down before it pisses her father off, but she’s having too much fun.

 

Regina turns to them, grinding up against Yolanda, making her blush and giggle. Mylene’s pulled into the fold, dancing in between them as they lean in for a kiss. It’s perfect, being with her friends who love each other and her so much—

 

Then the door slams open. She freezes, staring at her father towering in the doorway. Regina and Yolanda freeze too, pulling apart and staring at him with wide eyes. Mylene can feel the storm coming but can’t do anything to protect herself from it.

 

Ramon steps into the room and swats the radio off of the cabinet, sending it smashing to pieces on the floor. Mylene flinches and Yolanda pulls her away from her father, Regina pushing in front of them protectively. She’s told them about him, how he hits her sometimes, but didn’t expect them to ever be in the line of fire.

 

“Papi—”

 

He turns to them and roars:

 

“I never would have expected this of you, Mylene! Listening to that horrid music, yes, but sodamy? What have you been doing with these two?”

 

Her first instinct is to protest, she isn’t with Regina or Yolanda, but they are with each other and she can’t throw them under the bus like that! What if he takes it out on them? So she keeps her mouth shut and hopes he won’t be too angry.

 

“You can’t even lie in defense of yourself?”

 

Regina steps forwards, hands out placatingly:

 

“Mr. Cruz—”

 

He screams and grabs her by the arm, pushing her towards the doorway:

 

“Get these whores out of my house! You go with them, Mylene, and don’t come back!”

 

She pulls a frozen Yolanda with her, making a break for the door. They thunder down the stairs, afraid that Ramon might change his mind. Lydia sticks her head out of the kitchen, horror on her face as they run for the door.

 

“Mylene? Mylene!”

 

Mylene doesn’t stop, just pushes the door open and runs down the sidewalk as fast she can, the tears on her face burning in the cold air. Regina is cursing, pulling a sobbing Yolanda along. They don’t stop running until they’ve made it to the Kipling house, pushing in the door and collapsing the kitchen. Mylene curls in on herself, sobbing as what happened truly sinks in.

 

Regina and Yolanda cling to each other and reach out to Mylene, pulling her into the embrace. Regina mutters, trying to comfort them and, maybe, herself:

 

“It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.”

 

-------

 

Thor has this down to a science by now, slipping out of the house early to visit the coffee shop before going into work. Sometimes he gets there too early, before the store even opens, and has to deal with the sullen glares of the workers who aren’t the one he’s looking for. He’s too early again today, and braces to piss off whoever is working the opening shift today.

 

But when he looks through the front window, he sees him. He’s hunched over the counter, fiddling with something, head bowed and brow creased with concentration. Thor feels his heart skip a beat, excitement and apprehensions fighting in his mind. Finally he’s here, but now what? How does Thor explain standing him up? What if he’s missed his chance and now Dizzee hates him?

 

Then Dizzee looks up and their eyes meet through the glass. They both freeze and stare, anything but each other becoming irrelevant. Thor takes in every detail of his face, left breathless by his beauty. Dizzee seems equally affected, staring wordlessly back at him. Finally, Thor manages to move and knocks on the door, smiling at him. Dizzee jumps and rushes over, fumbling with his key ring. He smiles back as he unlocks the door and swings it open, letting Thor into the shop.

 

Thor steps inside and instantly freezes up again. What does he say? If only he had known beforehand that Dizzee would be here, he could have brought flowers or something. He stays silent too long, the awkwardness hanging in the air, and Dizzee turns away from him.

 

“I have to finish opening, but go ahead and take a seat. I can get you a drink if you want?”

 

“Um, sure. Chai tea latte please?”

 

Dizzee gives him a small smile and goes back to work. Thor pulls out his sketchbook and begins doodling, which helps keep him from staring at Dizzee too much. After a few minutes of drawing he’s much more relaxed and feels like he can talk to Dizzee without panicking. Soon enough, Dizzee comes over with a pair of drinks and slides into the booth. Thor takes the cup and puts his pencil down, giving Dizzee his full attention.

 

After a moment of silence, Thor speaks:

 

“I’m really sorry for not being at the writer’s bench. I got blindsided by my family and couldn’t get away.”

 

Dizzee smiles again, this time wider and filled with relief, as if he had actually thought Thor had purposely stood him up. He takes a sip of a coffee and replies:

 

“It’s okay, since it was an accident. And you’re here now.”

 

Thor fidgets with his pencil, trying to hide how glad he is that Dizzee isn’t mad at him. Now that the first hurdle has been crossed, Thor does what he was planning to do at the writer’s bench. It’s less appropriate here, but whatever. He pushes his book across the table, towards Dizzee. Dizzee looks at it appreciatively, eyeing the sketch of the flowers sitting on the table in between them. Then he tries to hand it back. Thor stops him.

 

“Take it. Make the sickest, wildest, freest piece you’ve ever made in it.”

 

Dizzee looks down at the leather cover, eyes shining, but is interrupted by the door opening before he can reply.  Another customer enters the shop, looking around in confusion when they see the empty counter. Dizzee darts off to take care of them, but, to Thor’s delight, makes sure to take the book with him.

 

Unfortunately, then the morning rush begins, and Dizzee is busy until when Thor has to leave. Thor pushes through the counter and smiles apologetically at him.

 

“Hey Dizzee? I have to go.”

 

Dizzee, looking slightly frazzled, nods.

 

“Okay! My next shift is friday afternoon, see you then?”

 

Thor laughs.

 

“Yeah. And this time I won't miss it.”

 

Dizzee grins and hands him another sketchbook, one that isn’t Thor’s.

 

Thor takes it and smiles at the buttons hand sewn onto the cover, an intriguing fashion choice that Dizzee seems to have applied to almost all his clothing. Dizzee gives him a moment to process that he’s holding Dizzee’s book and then speaks:

 

“Will you do the same in mine?”

 

Thor is infinitely glad that Dizzee had reciprocated the gesture, he had been nervous that it had been the wrong move. But now he knows it was the right thing to do.

 

Thor has to shake himself out of his daze and pulls himself away from the counter, waving goodbye to Dizzee as he leaves. Only once he’s out of sight does he allow himself to react. He shoves Dizzee’s book into his bag and skips down the street, excited energy thrumming through his limbs. It gets him weird looks, but he’s too happy to care what anyone else thinks.

 

-------

 

The rush has finally ended, so Dizzee retreats to the couch in the back and starts paging through Thor’s book. It’s messy but still beautiful, filled with smudges of pencil and splashes of ink. Along with Thor’s art are signatures, many of which Dizzee has in his own book. Dizzee almost drops the book when he turns to the next page. Growing out of the page, shrouded in flowers so well drawn they look real, is a portrait of him.

 

It’s beautiful.

 

He’s so entranced by the drawing that he startles when Zeke pushes open the door. He dumps his bag of stuff on the table and disappears into the back room to get his apron. Dizzee quickly hides Thor’s book in his jacket and returns to the counter, greeting Zeke when he comes out of the back room. They work together in a peaceful silence for a few minutes.

 

Then the brick comes sailing in through the glass of the door, the shattered pieces tinkling down on the tile. Zeke and Dizzee stare at the sparkling field of shards, marred only by the red mass of the brick, in shock. They aren’t allowed to stare for long; Napoleon steps through the hole, rapping his knife on the doorframe for attention as he enters.

 

“You punks are running a store on our turf without paying for protection.”

 

Despite the hoard of jean clad muscle pouring into the shop, Zeke snarls back:

 

“You’re asking for protection now? I think the street rats have gotten too big of an ego.”

 

Napoleon lunges towards Zeke, dirty hair flying, and screams in his face:

 

“We’re the savage warlords! All we find, all we fucking keep!”

 

Zeke tenses and Dizzee wonders if he’s really planning to start a fight. The boy next to Napoleon—who is somehow, terribly, even younger than him—snarls and spits:

 

“I’m gonna kill you!”

 

Before he can make good on his threat, there’s a loud crack. The warlords flinch and search for the source of the sound, settling on the man looming in the doorway. He smashes his cane into the doorway again and roars:

 

“Savage warlords, be on your way!”

 

They glare at him, but listen and stream back out of the shop, running down the street and whooping like hyenas. Papa Fuerte brushes off his tailored suit and steps up to the counter.

 

“How are you boys today?”

 

Dizzee lets out the breath he was holding and gives him a smile.

 

“Fine, sir.”

 

Technically, Papa Fuerte is a lawyer. But he’s not just rich, he’s got connections too. All in all, he’s not someone to be messed with, and not even the warlords will pick a fight with him. He orders a coffee and chats for a few more minutes before leaving a sizable tip, with an extra wad of cash to pay for the door, and sauntering out of the shop. Once he’s gone, Dizzee collapses into a chair, shaking himself as if that will make his fear dissipate faster.

 

“Zeke, man, that was close. Now that the warlords got an eye on the shop, what are we gonna do?”

 

Zeke is silent, he doesn’t have an answer. Neither of them do.

Chapter Text

-------

Zeke is behind the counter, wiping it down while waiting for the next customer when the newly repaired door swings open. He’s instantly alert, customer service persona on call. A moment later he lets it fall as he sees who’s entered.

The shoplifter swaggers in, bright eyes glaring at Zeke. Zeke steps out from behind the counter to confront him, hands on his hips. Shaolin adjusts his hat for a moment before snarling:

“Where’s my fucking record man?”

Zeke shrugs before grabbing his backpack and pulling out the record, holding it out towards the other man.

“Here’s your record man, take it! I don’t have much use for it now.”

“What’s that mean?”

Zeke lets out a bitter laugh.

“The girl turned me down and I’ll probably be dead soon anyways, the warlords are after the shop.”

Shaolin laughs, a cruel, quick noise.

“You’re not really afraid of those punks? They ain’t shit.”

Zeke doesn’t know why it hurts, he barely knows the man, but it does. It must show on his face, because Shaolin’s face falls. That only makes Zeke angrier and strides closer to the other man, yelling:

“We can’t all be hard rocks like you!”

Shao takes a few steps back before squaring his shoulders and holding his ground. Zeke doesn’t stop quick enough and they end up face to face, their noses almost touching. Shao snarls, lips curled and teeth flashing:

“Fuck you, I ain’t to blame for your problems.”

Zeke turns away, striding towards the back of the shop.

“Get out.”

Shao sneers but obeys, heading towards the door. Zeke disappears into the back room.

-----------

Bang.

Cadillaic sighs.

“Shit. Get this motherfucking dead kid off my motherfucking floor!”

“Yes sir.” sighs Wolf.

Then comes the closing of a door.

“Shit, where did that little bastard Napoleon go?”

----------

Shaolin swaggers up to Les Inferno, his bravado hiding the discomfort squirming in his stomach. He’s never excited about seeing Annie, but today especially he’s afraid of she’ll react. It’s taken him longer to bring her record than she had wanted, and that’ll make her angry. When she’s angry, she takes it out on him. Nevertheless, he doesn’t have a choice, so he climbs the stairs to the second floor where she waits.

He enters the room, record tucked protectively under his arm. She waits for him, reclining on a couch behind a bead curtain. Her eyes gleam as she watches him approach through a cloud of smoke which she breathes out. He brushes through the bead curtain, red plastic glimmering and dancing with the movement, and takes a seat at her side.

“Hey Miss Annie.”

She grins, her red painted lips pulling back into a huge smile. She wastes no time, one of her hands sliding up his thigh. He twitches, but doesn’t resist. When she speaks it’s sultry:

“Shaolin, baby, I missed you. Did you bring my record?”

He pulls it out and presents it to her.

“Right here, ma’am.”

She runs a finger over the edge of the case, glorying in it after having coveting it so long. Then she gestures at the record player across the room:

“Put it on, darling.”

Shaolin stands up and crosses over to the record player, enjoying the distance from her. He puts the record on and the pakoussa remix begins to filter out of the speakers. He hesitates before returning to the couch, dancing slightly to the music. Annie rises and joins him, pulling his hands around her hips and putting her around his neck. They sway together, slow dancing along with the music.

She grins up at him, her hands starting to wander, and he closes his eyes.

----------

As Shaolin sneaks out of Annie’s room, leaving her sleeping, cadillac stops him. He grabs his arm and pulls him bodily to a halt before barking an order:

“Hey, you! Make this car disappear before the end of the day.”

Shaolin is handed a key, a tiny disco ball keychain dangling off it. He takes it and leaves as quickly as he can.

“Yeah, yeah.”

----------

As Shaolin is pushing the car, an idea strikes him. Who knows if there’s something valuable in the trunk?

He opens it, staring for a moment before choking and retching. A child stares up at him with dead, blank eyes, the side of his head bloodied.

“What the hell?!?”

He looks around for anyone who might have seen before closing the trunk and finishing his job, pushing it into the river.

----------

Chapter Text

---------

Zeke and Dizzee enter the shop together. Dizzee goes to flip the lights on while Zeke heads towards the back. There’s silence for a moment and then there’s a yelp and Zeke comes running out. He skids to a stop by Dizzee and whispers:

“Dizzee, man, there’s someone back there!”

Dizzee turns to him, wide eyed. That makes its sound like they’re about to get ax murdered:

“What do you mean?”

Zeke stutters:

“They look like a kid?”

Dizzee relaxes slightly and heads towards the back to check it out. Zeke walks at his side, looking nervous. They enter the back room and Dizzee looks around, not seeing anyone, until he notices the broom closet is open and there’s a figure curled up on the floor of the closet.

Long brown hair splays across the floor and a jean jacket covered in patches covers the person like a very rough blanket. One of the patches boasts: savage warlords. Dizzee gasps:

“What is Napoleon doing here?”

Zeke checks the back door, ans says:

“The lock’s broken. That must have been how he got in.”

Dizzee sighs and runs a hand over his face.

“Okay, so what do we do.”

Zeke shrugs and says:

“Kick him out, unless you want to call the police on him.”

Dizzee frowns at that.

“No thanks. I guess I’ll just wake him up?”

Zeke nods hesitantly and Dizzee sighs but steps forwards and pokes at the sleeping boy. Napoleon stirs, before his eyes snap open and he cowers back against the wall behind him. It’s such unusual behavior for the gang member that Dizzee feels a little bad. He shushes the boy and says:

“We’re not going to hurt you, Napoleon.”

Napoleon looks up at him with big, scared eyes, slowly filling with tears. Dizzee curses mentally and exclaims:

“Hey hey hey!”

Napoleon stutters out:

“They killed my brothers.”

Dizzee sees Zeke's face fall and feels his do the same. Not that he really knows the kid, but it sounds like something terrible has happened.

“Okay. Is that why you’re hiding here?”

Napoleon nods, tears beginning to drip down his cheeks. Dizzee continues:

“I assume it’s not safe for you to go out?”

Another nod. Dizzee sighs thinking through their options, which are not many. He looks at Zeke, knowing he isn’t going to like what Dizzee has to say, but he says it anyways:

“Would you like to stay here?”

Both Zeke and Napoleon are gaping at Dizzee. Zeke recovers first and shouts:

“What the hell are you thinking, Dizzee?”

Dizzee groans and shrugs:

“I’m not just going to let him get killed. And you know the shop’s owner will never come down here to check anyways. He’ll be easy to hide, he can sleep on the couch at night and help us out during the day. And it’s just for a little while.”

Zeke’s retort is cut off when Napoleon asks weakly:

“You would let me stay?”

His voice shakes and his cheeks are tearstained, which only makes Dizzee feel more sure he’s made the right decision. Zeke is looking at the kid, seeming to soften. Finally he sighs out:

“Fine, he can stay.”

Dizzee cheers internally and steps closer to Napoleon, extending a hand. The kid takes it and lets Dizzee lead him to the couch, where he takes a seat.

“First things first, you need to take that savage warlords vest off...”

--------

Ra ra is vacuuming a hallway in the theater, sucking up a truly impressive amount of popcorn, when Sam interrupts. She runs over frantically, clicking off the vacuum and dragging him towards the front desk. Ra ra lets her; as weird as Sam is, she usually has a purpose behind the weirdness. She pulls him behind the front desk and begins apologizing to the customer waiting:

“I apologize, Tanya, I was having trouble with the card reader. Ra Ra here can help you.”

Ra feels his eyes widen at the name--Tanya--and suddenly realizes who the customer is. As he steps forwards to run her card, he looks her over. She’s beautiful, holding herself up with complete assurance. She wears a brightly colored jacket that he bets she made herself. She gives him a kind smile as he runs the card and hands her the ticket. He’s so engrossed with looking at her that he almost forgets that this is his shot. He stutters out:

“Going to see force awakens again, huh? I’ve seen it almost fifty times.”

Her eyes widen at that and she grins wider as she replies:

“Wow! This is my thirtieth time.”

Ra wants to talk further with her but the customers behind her are beginning to grumble. He quickly grabs a pen and scrambles to write down his number. He hands it over to her.

“Here, if you ever want to talk about star wars.”

She takes it and something in her smile changes, becoming more of a smirk. She not so subtly looks him up and down and then says:

“Thanks. I’ll call you!”

Before heading towards her theater, hips swaying. Ra stares after her, frozen. Next to him, Sam whoops loudly. She grabs his shoulder and shakes him, yelling:

“Damn, bro, she is into you! Nice work.”

Ra ra finds himself blushing furiously and he swats at Sam:

“Come on, get back to work.”

He heads back to his vacuum, head still spinning.

-----------