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Coffee Shots

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It's 07:30 pm on a Wednesday night and Khai is avoiding his responsibilities by hiding in the pantry and wondering when his life changed tracks so drastically. And how he didn't notice until it was too late to turn back. The buzz of a dozen or so people all engaged at once in several hushed conversations sneaks into his safe haven through the crack in the doorway. He would shut it closed all the way but he's too afraid of locking himself in. Again.

A booming laugh echoes from outside and he can't help but flinch at the memory of the encounter from earlier that the sound drags back out. If only he had stuck to his original plan of becoming an indie director he wouldn't have to deal with overly friendly customers who wouldn't take a hint. God his life was so hard some days. 

"Khai!" His best- and only -friend's voice breaks him out of his brooding as the other man barges into the small room, clearly uncaring of Khai's desperate need to have his existential crisis in fucking peace.

"I thought we agreed I could have fifteen minutes in the pantry at any one time." He complains, glaring up at Bone from where he's sitting on a carton of their best medium roast blend. "It's only been ten."

Bone gives him an exaggerated eye roll at that. Khai doesn't care for it. 

"First of all," Bone tuts "I said you could have fifteen minutes a day. You've already done this twice this shift."

"It's cause people keep being rude and making me want to punch someone okay would you rather I-"

"Secondly!" Bone cuts him off before he can jump into a rant. Tragic, he'd had one all prepared and everything. "I thought you'd wanna know that your favourite customer just walked in."

Khai perks up at that, jumping up and past his tall friend to peek out into the cafe through the small window on the kitchen doors. He can't see shit from there but he trusts that Bone wouldn't lie to him about this. He might be a bit of an asshole about other things, but he never messes with Khai over his big, fat crush on Cute Reader Guy. He's probably just glad Khai has decided to show any interest in someone again after all these years of avoiding people's advances at all costs. 

He takes a deep breath in preparation before walking out into the main cafe. His eyes find the guy in question almost instantly and he can feel himself smiling like an idiot as he spots the man standing on the other side of the counter. Third, as he'd learned Cute Reader Guy was called not too long ago, is stood in front of the cash register- waiting for someone to come take his order no doubt. Bone never serves Third, always making excuses to back into the kitchen the second the man enters the cafe just so Khai can talk to him. All of their employees have been similarly trained into helping Bone wingman successfully, because if there's anything Bone takes seriously in life it's helping people get laid. 

"Hi Third!" He greets, trying to sound casual as he walks up to the register, smile still firmly in place. "The usual?" 

"Khai, hey!" Third says, finally looking up from where he'd been fiddling with his phone. "Doesn't anyone else work here? Why are you always the only one at the counter?" 

"Aww are you tired of seeing my handsome face?" He replies with a pout. He's not bothered, he knows the other is just joking around. They're always doing this. 

"Maybe if you had one." Third quips back with a smirk that makes his heart flutter. 

"You're a meanie. You look all small and cute but you're just a cold hearted man with a sharp tongue behind those innocent looks." 

That one makes Third giggle. Khai feels like he's accomplished a miracle. Third smirks a lot but he hardly ever laughs at Khai's jokes. Which makes no sense, Khai is hilarious.

"Yes I'll have the usual, please and thank you." Third finally answers. He looks around for a second while Khai gets to work before speaking up again- 

"Seriously though," he says "how come I never see anyone else around. Is your partner ditching you again?"

Khai winces at that phrasing. What an unfortunate sentence to hear about Bone of all people.

"Please don't ever call him that again you made it sound like we're married or something." A shudder passes through him at the thought. Ew. 

Third, the jerk, smirks again. 

"Oh I'm sorry, is your business partner leaving you to do everything on your own again?" 

"No he's in the back-"

"-working very hard actually!" Bone cuts in as he saunters out of the back doors, a box of sugar packets they absolutely don't need to restock yet held in his hands. 

Third turns to him, chin up and eyes calculating as he gives him a once-over. Bone gives him an exaggerated wink that gets pointedly ignored.

"Eavesdropping again huh?" It's not a question.

"When you're talking to this loser? Always."

Third gives him an unamused glare, Khai catches him muttering something under his breath from where he's pouring out the espressos into their biggest ceramic cup, but he can't quite tell what he’s saying. Third's usual order is easy, two shots of espressos in the sweetest caffeine option on the menu. These days that's a caramel macchiato with an extra pump of caramel just for him. What can he say? He likes spoiling his crush. 

“Here you go!” he says, placing the coffee in a tray on the counter. 

Third comes up and gives him a small smile as he grabs it. Khai feels his heart melting just a little bit more. He swears he might just be a little bit in love here. Third is so cute and confident and calm and pretty and Khai is oh so weak for this man he barely even knows. No one’s ever made him feel quite like this. Not since the whole fiasco in college with his first boyfriend, which eventually made him swear off dating. 

But the less said about that, the better. 

He spends the majority of the last few hours of his shift stealing glances at Third. The man is sat in the little corner booth near the back, hidden away from the front but mostly visible from where he’s standing behind the counter. It’s his favourite booth, Khai has noticed. Third always beelines to that seat every time he’s here. He gets his coffee, gets settled and just reads for hours. Like the mysterious love interest in an indie movie. 

At first, Khai had been far too intimidated to talk to him. He used to think if he tried to strike up a conversation the man might hate him for disturbing him. But then one night, when Third had been the last customer left and he’d been walking around cleaning up, he’d managed to shyly ask about the book he’d been reading. Third had spent the next half hour just talking to him about the novel- some complicated psychological thriller -and while the plot went completely over his head he came to find out Third definitely didn’t mind talking to him.

Since then, he’d go over and just chat with the man whenever there weren’t too many customers around. And since Third usually came in at night that had quickly become a common practice. Third would come in and read, and when the customers were gone near closing time Khai would go over with two fresh cups of coffee and they’d just talk about whatever. 

Tonight, the last customer left an hour after Third came in, which gave him a good thirty minutes before closing time. 

“Hey.” he greeted as he placed the tray of coffees and cheesecake onto the table. “Good book?”

“Not at all.” Third grunts, going straight for his second cup. Khai had noticed he’d finished his first pretty quickly but he hadn’t come to the counter for a refill. He wonders why. 

“Then why are you still reading it?” Khai asks. 

“Just because.” the short man says, gaze fixed on the foam of his cappuccino. “I don’t like leaving things unfinished.” 

The way he said that sent a slight chill down his back. There was a strange sense of heaviness to the words. Almost like they meant more than Khai could know. That was the thing about Third- it seemed like there was always so much more to the man than Khai would ever know. Third really was a lot like a movie protagonist in that way; all mysterious and alluring. Khai could never get enough. 

“So,” Third says, quick to change the topic for some reason “how was your day?”

“Oh you know, I burned my thumb on the steam wand, got flirted with by three girls who wouldn’t go away until I gave them a fake number and Bone left work a whole hour early because he had a date. So the usual really.”

“Sounds rough. You should've chosen a different partner-” Third says, smirking at the offending word. “-to go into business with.”

“You’re doing that on purpose now!” Khai complains with a pout. Third laughs and leans a little too close and says-

“So what if I am? What are you going to do about it?”

And that’s where he hits a wall. For months now he’s been pining over this man who, for all intents and purposes, has shown at least some signs of maybe liking him back. But every single time it feels like something might happen, Khai chokes up. He’s not sure if it’s because he’s just that out of practice or if his past apprehensions are holding him back, but there’s something wrong for sure. 

Because here is the perfect opportunity to make a fucking move already and he just- can’t take it. Like a loser.

“I- um-” he finds himself stuttering “I should start clearing up now. But, like, you should stay and read- or- or tell me about your book while I work? It’ll be nice to have company.”

“Sure.” Third says with a curt smile. 

Khai wishes he could read him better, but Third is far too good at closing him off when he wants to. As long as Third feels like it he’ll smile and smirk and express his glee over Khai’s antics freely, but the second the conversation goes somewhere he doesn’t want it to or Khai does something he doesn’t like he’ll close up. It’s like there’s a mask he slides on and in an instant the warm person Khai is so smitten with is replaced by a much colder, almost uncaring version of him. 

Khai wishes he would stop messing up and getting shut out like this.

Still, despite the clear change in demeanour Third stays and talks to him the whole time Khai is closing up. He offers to help but Khai declines, not because he’s a gentleman but because they have a whole system and Third just wouldn’t know how to do it right. That gets him an exaggerated eye roll but he takes it as a victory because anything is better than that uncaring mask. 

Third’s smirk is back by the time Khai finishes locking up so at least he’ll have a nice image of him to last him the week or so until he sees him next. 

“I’ll see you again next week?” Khai asks as Third starts to leave.

“Maybe.” Third says, but Khai knows it’s a yes. “If I have the time.” 

“I’ll see you soon then.” 

Third doesn’t say anything, simply shaking his head at Khai before walking away. Khai watches him leave for a moment before crossing the street to where his car is parked. As he gets in, he turns to get a final glimpse of Third before he’s gone and spots something that sends chills down his spine. 

There’s a man, staring at Third’s retreating figure from a few spots ahead of him. There’s something about the way the unknown figure stares at Third, or the way he moves to follow him the second he turns the corner into the dark side street, that puts Khai on edge. This man, whoever he is, seems to be following Third. And Khai is sure his crush is in some sort of danger. 

So he does the first thing he can think of and rushes out of the car to follow them. 

His heart is racing in his chest as he runs back across the street and turns down the corner into the side street. It’s a narrow road with no lights and Khai can’t see much but he can hear sounds of struggle down the road. He follows the noise, the only thought in his head being that Third is in danger somehow and he has to help him.

He’s not sure what exactly it is that he’s expecting to find when he finally catches up with them but this is not it. 

Third’s there and so is the mystery man but things aren’t quite what one would expect. Third has the man- who’s at least twice his size -in a choke hold. The attacker seems to have been pushed down to his knees and Third has an arm around his neck and a hand at his mouth, muffling any noises he might make. Khai never gave much thought to how strong Third could be under his baggy clothes but, apparently, the small guy was strong enough to choke a man to death. 

“What the fuck?” 

He’s not sure when the words leave him but they do and now Third has heard him and he’s looking straight into Khai’s eyes and where there had been pure rage just a second ago now lies panic. Third is panicking. Probably because Khai just saw him trying to kill a man. Fuck. He should’ve stayed in the fucking car. 

“Khai?” Third says, grip visibly slacking from around the attackers neck “What are you-”

He doesn’t get to finish that sentence because that momentary distraction is all the stranger needs to twist out of his grip. There’s more struggling and Khai tries to get himself to move, to help, but he’s stuck frozen in place as the guy slams Third’s head against the tarmac. Third is limp and bleeding and the man is reaching for a gun and Khai cannot. Fucking. Move. 

“W- wa-wait!” Khai manages to stutter out through the panic choking him from the inside, just as the attacker has the gun poised to shoot Third. 

The man turns slowly towards him, like the killer out of a shitty horror movie, and he looks surprised to see him still there. Almost like he forgot about Khai, or maybe he thought he’d have run off? He’s sure any sane man would have, by now. But Khai knows that even if his panic didn’t have him frozen to the spot he never could have left Third there. 

“You should’ve run.” the man says, and wow those parallels to cheesy horror movies don’t end huh?

“I-” he’s not sure what he was about to say. Beg for mercy maybe? But it doesn’t come to that.

“And you should’ve pulled the fucking trigger.” Third hisses from behind the man. 

Khai didn’t even see him move but suddenly he’s up and kicking the back of the guy’s knee which has him crashing down. There’s another gun and this one’s in Third’s hand and unlike the attacker Third doesn’t hesitate to aim it at the man’s head and pull the trigger. Khai expects the loud bang he always sees on tv but it doesn’t come. There’s a pop but it’s not what he’s expecting and he’s never heard a gunshot in real life before but that doesn’t sound right. Did it even work?

But then the man is crumpling to the ground and there’s blood pooling around his head and maybe it’s just that it’s dark and Khai’s eyes have barely adjusted but it looks too dark to be real. All of this feels too dark to be real. To be happening to him .

“He-” Khai whispers, staring at the blood as it continues to spill out of the man. “He’s dead?”

“That is what happens when you shoot someone in the face, yes.” Third mutters from somewhere ahead of him. “They die.”

“Right.” he really wishes he could look away now but he can’t. 

“Oh fuck.” Third whispers, “Khai! Look at me-”

He’s suddenly right in front of him, holding his head and pulling his face away so he’s not looking at the blood anymore. That’s probably a good thing because he really wishes he’d never seen it to begin with.

“-I’m sorry you had to see that.” he hears Third saying over the buzz in his head “And I swear I’ll explain everything, okay? Just let me text for back-up.” 

Khai looks down to see that Third is no longer holding a gun and the weapon has been replaced by his phone. The light of it shines too bright in the dark but it lights up Third’s face just enough for Khai to note the trail of blood falling down his face. 

“You’re bleeding.” he points out, still feeling pretty out of it but also like the panic is starting to subside just a little. Somehow, Third’s presence is still reassuring to him. Even after he just watched him kill a man in cold blood. 

Third hums like he’s telling him some inconsequential story and keeps texting. 

“Third!” looks like it’s Khai’s turn to yell now “You’re hurt!”

“It’ll be fine.” Third says, voice slurring and eyes drifting even as he does. “It’s just a minor concussion or something. I’ll be fine.”

And then he passes out. Khai’s just glad he re-learns how the fuck to move right in time to catch him before he hits the tarmac and gets hurt even more.