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speeding up my heartbeat

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Tahan’s Teas and Treats is peaceful and warm; there’s a fire burning on the opposite side of the room, keeping everything toasty, and all of the chatter is nothing more than a quiet hum underneath the sound of smooth indie music playing over the speakers. It’s the perfect place to work; Sasha’s been here a number of times already, sometimes with Zolf and sometimes with Grizzop (never with Carter, because just the idea of that man in this place ruins the peace it has) and it always seems to help her focus when she’s working on something difficult.

Today, Sasha is curled up on the couch in front of a large table, blueprints and maps and schematics spread out in front of her while she studies them. She isn’t worried about anyone being able to read them - half of them are nearly illegible, thanks to her handwriting being simply terrible, and the other half are coded to hell and back, so that they’d only make sense to her and less than a handful of others (Grizzop and Carter, specifically). 

She taps the end of her pen on the table, a quiet and rhythmic motion that keeps her focused as she stares down at the blueprints for her next assignment. She’s been sitting here for about five hours now, trying to sketch out the best course of action. The mission brief itself was… well, brief , and Sasha always likes a challenge but this particular one is starting to tip solidly into just being frustrating. 

For starters, she has no idea what to do next. She’s gone over the schematics what feels like a thousand times, looking for weak points and possible access points, but everything looks nearly airtight. There just… there has to be a way to get in, something they can exploit. Maybe she should call Grizzop and have him come over to the café, see if he has any ideas. She knows Carter’s been working on it too, but neither of them have come up with anything. Grizzop is good at spotting weaknesses, maybe he could - 

“Sasha?” she hears, and turns around to see one of the baristas standing to the side of her table, holding her caramel macchiato with loads of whipped cream on top. “Caramel macchiato?” 

“Yeah, er - thanks,” Sasha says, slightly losing her train of thought when the barista hands her the drink. She’s very pretty, with the brightest smile Sasha has ever seen, but she doesn’t linger, handing her the drink and then heading back to the counter to help out some other customers. 

She takes a sip, and immediately feels more settled when the sweetness hits her tongue. It’s her favorite drink to have, when she’s sad or stressed out, and she’s yet to find a place that does it better than here. She sets the cup down, ready to study the documents some more, and then she notices the little heart doodles all around the cup, all different shapes and sizes and colors. Sasha stares at it for a moment, a bit confused. It’s not even close to Valentine’s, so it’s not the cup itself. One of the baristas must have drawn them - maybe the one who brought it over. It’s… sweet, almost, and Sasha feels… warmed, and not just from the drink. She smiles a bit, some of the stress and tension bleeding away as she traces one of the hearts with her fingers.

With a renewed sense of energy, she sends a text to Grizzop to get him to come down to the café, because she’ll be damned if they don’t figure this out today. Determined, she spreads out the papers again, examining them all closely. Her phone beeps, and she glances at it for a moment to see Grizzop will be on his way soon. She takes another sip of the macchiato, smiling again at the little hearts, and then gets to work. 

(She doesn’t see the barista at the counter watching her carefully out of the corner of her eye, nor does she see the small blush that the barista gets when Sasha smiles down at the doodles on the cup.)

 

 

Sasha’s fingers tap anxiously against the side of her leg as she stands in the queue at Tahan’s Teas and Treats. It’s more crowded than it usually is, probably because of the cold weather, and there aren’t any open seats in the café. Sasha doesn’t really mind; as much as she’d like to sit and just think about all this for a moment, she really just wants the caramel macchiato and an excuse to not be in her flat right now. 

She’s here because, well. Her and Brock had a fight again. It’s - it was over something stupid, honestly, but Sasha was so mad that she just stormed out of the flat they share and found herself standing in front of the café, debating with herself whether or not she actually needed something. 

She knows she’s being a bit foolish, but… she doesn’t want things to change. 

Brock told her he got into a prestigious university in France - Paris, specifically, working with new kinds of tech. His scholarship is impressive, as well - he’s got a set research position, even as a fresher, and nearly all the kids who’ve gotten into the program he did get snapped up by the big companies right out of uni. It’s incredible, and Sasha is so proud of her little cousin, but if he accepts, he’ll basically be moving to Paris, at least until he graduates. He won’t even be able to come home for the summer holidays. 

They just… haven’t been away from each other for that long in years. The last time they’d been separated for longer than a month was when Sasha got shipped off to boarding school. Even then, she snuck out once or twice a month to tap on Brock’s window and make sure everything was okay at home, now that she wasn’t there to protect him. But this is… Paris isn’t close, and both Brock and Sasha will be busy, so they won’t have time for extended visits, if Brock goes through with it.

… He should, is the thing. Sasha might not like it, might not want to be that far from Brock for so long, but it’s an incredible opportunity, and she isn’t going to be the one that holds him back from that. 

“Caramel macchiato with whipped cream?” the barista asks, and Sasha starts, half lost in her thoughts still. She hadn’t even realised that she’d gotten to the front of the queue.

“Yes, er - how did you know?” she asks, tensing a bit, but the barista just smiles at her.

“I have a good memory for faces,” the barista says. “And remembering orders, although if you would like something else, I am sorry for assuming.”

“No, that’s - that’s perfect, actually… I… yeah,” Sasha says, and then awkwardly pays, not making eye contact with the barista. The payment processes, and the barista hands her the receipt. 

“It’ll be out in just a bit,” she says, smiling, and Sasha nods. 

“Cheers,” she says, and then glances at the barista’s name tag. She’s been in here so much the past few weeks, but she doesn’t even know her name. Azu. It’s a pretty name. 

She steps out of the queue and heads over to the other counter, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet while Azu trades places with another worker and gets started on making a few orders. There are a few people who have been waiting longer than Sasha, and Azu hands them their drinks and pastries with a smile. It’s not long before she’s making up Sasha’s drink, and then carries it to the counter. 

“Here you are,” Azu says, handing the cup over to Sasha. This time, there are little flowers all across the cup, mixed with vines and leaves. It’s

gorgeous. 

“Did you draw these?” Sasha asks, holding up the cup, and she would swear Azu blushes at the question. 

“Oh, yes - I’m sorry, did you not like them?” Azu asks, sounding worried, and Sasha shakes her head quickly. 

“No - no, they’re well cool, I - I really like them,” Sasha says, feeling awkward in her own skin, and Azu brightens.

“I am glad! I like drawing on the cups when people seem sad. Sometimes, it brings a smile to their face,” Azu says, almost shy about it, and Sasha feels that weird warmth in her chest again.

“Yeah,” Sasha says, not sure what else to add, but she’s saved when Azu’s coworker, a smaller Egyptian man, tosses a towel at her head.

“Azu, I need two large black coffees,” he says, clearly repeating himself, but he doesn’t seem all that irritated, and Sasha can clearly hear the teasing in his tone. Azu blushes, and pulls the towel off of her head. 

“Of course, Hamid, sorry,” she apologises, looking slightly embarrassed. “Goodbye, Sasha.”

“Bye, Azu, thanks… thanks for the drawings,” she says, and Azu’s blush deepens. 

Sasha heads out of the café, thinking about what Azu said, turning it over in her mind. The warmth in her chest fades a bit when she thinks about it more, and the drink tastes a little less sweet than it normally does. She probably draws things for everyone who’s feeling sad, Sasha realises, and isn't completely sure why her stomach slightly sinks at the thought. 

She kicks at a rock on the street and glances back toward her flat before walking in the exact opposite direction. They’re going to need to talk soon, her and Brock, but she’s going to put it off until her thoughts are back in order before she heads back. She takes another sip, and even though she’s still not completely sure how to feel about what Azu said, the flowers on the cup do make her feel a little bit better as she starts walking off. 

(This time, she doesn’t see Azu watch her leave with a shy smile on her face, and she especially doesn’t see Hamid come over and nudge Azu with his elbow, teasing her about how obvious she’s being.)

 

 

Sasha finds herself at Tahan’s Teas and Treats more often in the following months, especially when something is going wrong or stressing her out. There’s just something comforting about the place, something comforting about the caramel macchiato that she always gets that helps her center her thoughts. Plus, she keeps getting drawings on her cup, different every time. When Zolf was sick enough that he got sent to the hospital, her cup had a little dragon waving at her on the side. When Barrett was back in town, just for a brief visit, there were birds all around it. One time (she doesn’t even remember what was going on) she got little daggers all around the cup. That one was her favorite. 

Today, strangely enough, nothing is going wrong. Her last job went off flawlessly, and they even got a bonus for going above and beyond. Brock is settled in Paris, and Sasha’s moved in officially with Zolf now, and everything is looking up. She just likes it here.

And… she has noticed something, recently; namely, that no one else gets drawings on their cups - at least, never when Sasha’s there. It’s something she’s been watching, and as someone who gets paid to notice things, it’s been easy enough for her to pay attention and realise that Azu doesn’t draw them for everyone. Sasha, so far, is the only person who she’s seen Azu draw something for. 

Which… speaking of - Azu is heading over to her table with her drink in hand, and there’s a little doodle of a snake tying itself in a knot on the side. 

“Good morning, Sasha!” Azu greets, and sets the cup down on the table. “I didn’t see you in the queue, but I’m happy you came by today!”

“Hey, Azu,” Sasha says, and takes the cup in her hands, taking a quick sip. “Have a nice weekend?”

“I did, actually!” Azu says. “My brother is in town visiting. I haven’t seen him in a while, so it was a very nice surprise. How about you?”

“Yeah, er - good. That’s good. Mine was good, too. Moved flats, moved in with a friend… s’been nice.”

“Oh! I’m very happy for you. It’s always nice to share your space with someone you care about.” Azu says, as kind as ever. “I’m sorry, I must be distracting you. I’ll let you get back to it.”

She starts to turn away. Sasha’s hand reaches out and grabs her wrist - gently, and only for a moment before pulling her hand back to her side. Azu stops, turning back to her. 

“Hey - Azu. How come you always draw these?” Sasha asks, and Azu pauses for a moment.

“What do you mean?” she asks, but Sasha can see the edge of anxiety in her gaze as she carefully doesn’t meet Sasha’s eyes. 

“The doodles. On the cup.”

“Oh. Oh! Those. Yes, I… just like to doodle. And I think it brightens people’s days, sometimes, and I like to do that as well,” Azu says, and Sasha put the cup down, shaking her head.

“No, I mean -“ Sasha blows out a frustrated breath; she’s not frustrated at Azu, never could be, but she’s frustrated with herself for not being able to word things. “For me. I - I’ve been keeping an eye out, right, and you don’t draw them for anyone else, yeah, it’s just me, and - I’m - okay, I really like them? But I don’t know… I mean. Why me?”

“They seemed to make you smile,” Azu said, with a shy grin. “And you have a very nice smile.”

Gods. She says it so easily. 

“Oh,” Sasha says, a bit dumbfounded. “Oh, that’s - er, cheers? That’s -“

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Azu says, and Sasha shakes her head.

“No, you - you really didn’t. Promise. I just was… dunno. People don’t really… do stuff like this. For me, I mean. It’s been… nice.” Azu looks slightly concerned, and Sasha starts to panic a little bit, realising she may have accidentally revealed a little bit more than she meant to. “It’s - that came out wrong.”

“So you liked them?” Azu asks, and if Sasha didn’t know better, she’d think Azu was actually scared for the answer.

“Yeah,” she says. “I like them, honest.”

“That’s good,” Azu says. “Because I like you, too.”

She’s definitely blushing. And Sasha is… well. Out of words. 

“Me?” she asks, because what else is she supposed to say?

“You shouldn’t sound so surprised,” Azu teases, but Sasha can recognize the undercurrent of nerves in her voice. “I’m sorry, that’s very forward of me, isn't it?” 

“Nah, you’re - you’re good… Er, Azu? I - I like you too,” she says, and that warmth in her chest is back with a vengeance, spreading out throughout her body. “Would you, er…”

“I’m off in an hour,” Azu says, and, wow, her smile really does light up an entire room. “If you would be interested.”

Sasha nods, not sure of what else to do. “We could get c - I mean, no, that’s dumb, you work in a coffeeshop, er, we could -“

“There’s a nice park nearby?” Azu suggests, somehow not laughing at Sasha, and Sasha gives her a weak thumbs up. 

“Yeah, I’d - that’d be good,” Sasha says. She wants a hole to come along and swallow her up less, now, which. Progress, she supposes. “The park. One hour.”

“One hour,” Azu repeats, and then nudges Sasha’s drink toward her with a smile. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me too,” Sasha says, and picks her cup up. She takes a sip of the caramel macchiato to hide her own smile as Azu walks back to the counter, and then gives her a little wave.

One hour.