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the old guard coffee house

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“The angry man is back,” Nicky murmured under his breath as he leaned back towards Andy, raising an eyebrow. Andy only snorted, and shook her head. He’d been angry from the moment he’d walked in the shop for the first time, though misspelling his name- Nicky had never met a Yusuf before, and it was easy to mishear things in the busy shop- well, it certainly hadn’t helped. He hadn’t gotten it wrong once since, though the glare he got made him double check it every time. He always came in a few minutes before nine, and a few minutes after twelve, always rushing and carrying stacks of papers. Nicky wondered what he might be doing, rushing all the time, but living in London meant that any profession was possible, really.

He knew how much Booker had to work, studying, and saw the same harried look in his eye sometimes. Perhaps the handsome- not that Nicky had paid much attention on that front, not for a long time, no, and his faint blush after serving him was from the lingering embarrassment, and not anything else, no matter what Booker liked to say when the shop door closed behind Yusuf’s freshly-caffeinated back- perhaps he had a similar job.

“Good morning, how may I help you today?” Nicky asked, plastering a smile on his slightly flustered face as the other man approached the counter. It was met with a scowl, and Nicky almost recoiled as dark eyes with deep bags met his. “Your usual?” 

The shop was quiet- Yusuf often came in during lulls, so Nicky had the chance to get to know his order. Black coffee. Nothing special. And a concerning amount of sugar, but nothing else. Really, he didn’t even need to write the name on the cup, but it was protocol. After those hipster children had made complaints about not getting the full coffee shop experience. Starbucks had a lot to answer for.

Carefully, considerately, Nicky wrote out his name. It was the only one he ever really concentrated on, anymore- well, ever. He figured most people were more intent on what was in the cup, but he wasn’t going to make that mistake with him again. Handing the cup back to Andy, he turned to face Yusuf.

“Exciting day planned?” he asked, deadpan. Yusuf glanced at him, frowning a little and shaking his head. Not… the reaction Nicky had wanted.

“Work. Just… work.” He shrugged a shoulder, and Andy set the now full cup on the side. Nicky set it on the counter, smiling at him slightly, encouraging. 

“Well, have a good day at work, Yusuf. ” Nicky nodded as the next customer trailed through the door. He nodded back, almost surprised, and took his cup with a muttered ‘ and you ’. Nicky breathed out a deep sigh and shook his head as the man left. It was nearly a smile, that time.

There was always a rush before people got into work- usually a little before Yusuf turned up- and a second one after they arrived, sent out to fetch the office coffee. They barely had a moment to think until shortly before the lunch rush was expected to happen.

“Oh, have a nice day , Yusuf, I’m so happy to see you, Yusuf…” Booker called out from where he was cleaning down the tables in the now-empty shop. He’d paused to check his phone, sliding it back into his apron after glancing at the name, and was leaning back against an almost finished table. “Anyone would think you had a crush on him. You could just put your phone number on his cup, you know, instead of his name at all.”

“I- I do not . And I will not!” He replied, emphatically as he busied himself cleaning the counter in front of him. “I want to make sure he knows I simply misheard him, and now…”

“Now you need him to know how sorry you are.” Andy cut in, reaching out to shove his shoulder gently. Turning to the back office, she shrugged a shoulder. “If you really like the man you call almost exclusively ‘the angry man’ when he’s not in the shop,” she frowned a little and shook her head. “Just remember how he treated you, you don’t need to keep making an effort. Serve him and move on, and if he does anything to upset you again, he’s not coming back.”

“I… appreciate the concern, Andy.” Nicky said with a nod, but Booker’s words were spiralling in his head. Why was he so concerned with what the ‘angry man’ though? Why was he so obsessed with making him smile? He was snapped out of his thoughts as the door to the office shut. Andy probably had plenty to do back there, and he and Booker could deal with anything on the shop floor without her. The three of them worked well together- their own little team.

Glancing over at Booker, Nicky frowned a little. He was glancing at his phone repeatedly, slipping it away as soon as he thought someone might be looking at him. Leaning forwards on the counter, he called out to him.

“Book, the phone isn’t going to turn into a monster, what has you so worried?” He asked, resting his chin in his hands. “Annoyed another poor girl?” 

“Ah, very funny. No, it’s… it’s about my classes, about the Bar exam. It’s coming up now and I’m just… worried.” Booker replied, frown deepening as he put his phone away quickly. “It’ll all be fine, Nicky. No worrying.”

Booker had been at school for what felt like forever, changing his majors until he was the oldest member of his, supposedly, final choice- Law. He’d joined the coffee shop’s little family when he’d gotten into law school, apparently having finally run out the sizeable inheritance he had been given by some distant family member through the seemingly infinite years of schooling. Nicky cared for him, but he didn’t understand him. He, too, had been unsure what he wanted to do when he reached adulthood- but instead of joining the army, as his father had wanted, he found himself settled in London, and working in a coffee shop while he tried to figure out what came next. He was still trying to figure that out. 

“If you need more time to study, I could take a shift or two.” Nicky offered, shrugging a little. He usually had at least a couple of days off a week, and rarely had much to fill it outside of cooking and baking- and there came a point where even a coffee shop couldn’t sell everything. That, and he was glad Booker was finally finishing something. But Booker shook his head.

“I should be fine, at least for a few more weeks. Just waiting for emails, about my practice results.” He glanced back at his phone, shrugging a little before slipping it back into his apron pocket.. “But none yet. Soon, I’m sure.”

Nicky was, at least, glad that his job didn’t involve exams. At least, not often. Sometimes, Andy would start quizzing them all on whatever subject took her fancy that day, and they certainly felt like examinations of a kind.

He shrugged off Booker’s agitation, and occupation with his phone, and went back to cleaning his station, greeting the trail of customers that started to come in, leading to the evening rush. For people needing caffeine to get through the rush hour home, The Old Guard Coffee House  was a much needed stop.

By now, Yusuf had missed his second appointment at the shop- usually a little while after the lunch rush- and as the days went on, he missed another, and another, until he came in a little after noon a few days later.

Andy raised an eyebrow at how Nicky straightened a little, turning to face him fully with a smile. 

“Yusuf, how can I help you today? You haven’t been in for a while.” Nicky said, second guessing the words as they came out of his mouth. But this time, he did get a ghost of a smile. 

“Ah, a black coffee, please. I’ve been… busy, with work.” Yusuf rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck. “I was starting to forget what the outside world looks like.” As he pulled a face, Nicky chuckled and went to write his name on the cup, but Yusuf’s hand shot out and curled around his wrist gently. 

“Oh, I-”

“It’s- I’m sorry, for how harsh I was before. I… I had had a bad day, and I am used to people mocking my name.” Yusuf shrugged a shoulder, looking at the cup. “But some of my friends, at work, they call me Joe.”

Blinking, Nicky nodded and looked up at him with wide eyes. He was willing himself to not blush, not now, don’t make it obvious- and then Joe let go of his arm, muttering an apology. Writing Joe, in big clear letters on the cup, Nicky handed it back to Andy with a harsh look. Andy took it, miming her lips zipped shut, and made the coffee. 

As they waited, Nicky tried desperately hard not to stare. But now he’d seen the man smile- albeit faintly, barely- he wanted to make it happen again. Unfortunately, he had nothing to go on.

“So… where is it that you work?” Nicky asked, waiting for Andy to set the cup down. Joe blinked back for a moment and shrugged a shoulder.

“Oh, I’m a lawyer. More of a… dogsbody, at the moment. But one day I’ll be able to run my own firm. Take on clients I want to, you know?”

Smiling and nodding, he glanced over to Booker, sat in the corner on his break. While there was enough space in the back office to sit and take a break, Andy’s precarious piles of paperwork made for a much tenser lunch than you needed after dealing with customers all morning.

“One of my coworkers is studying to be a lawyer, maybe one day he will work with you.” He smiled as Andy finally set the drink on the counter, and handed it over to him. “I hope you have a good, less busy day today, Joe.”

“Ah- and… and you, Nicolo.” Joe said, squinting a moment at the nametag on his shirt. Nicky was about to correct him- his paperwork might have said Nicolo, but no one outside of Italy called him that, apart from the owner of this place. But all too quickly, as he was processing how his name sounded in Joe’s mouth, the other man was gone.

With Nicky left gaping a little like a fish, Booker chuckled into his sandwich. It seemed that last part had, at least, been loud enough for him to hear.

“Oh, Joe and Nicolo , hm? When I first came here-” Nicky cut him off with a short noise, and one of the charity pins they sold aimed for his head.

“When you first came here you were insufferable, so it seems nothing has changed, hm?” Nicky shot back, though he was grinning. “Well, Joe actually smiled today. Perhaps I was wrong, labelling him the angry man so soon.”

Andy snorted from behind the counter, shaking her head a little. “I’ll believe it when I see him smile more than once- and at someone other than you.” She draped herself over his shoulders for a minute with a smirk. “No one can help smiling at you, Nicolo. ” Almost squawking in distaste, Nicky turned to swat at Andy as she danced away into the back office. “I have work to do, so play nice.”

Nicky huffed a breath as he perched on the stool behind the counter. Booker was finishing his break- they took it in turns, who got to go on break before and after the lunchtime rush. But soon enough the queue started forming, and the day continued as it usually did. 

Except for the man that Nicky now couldn’t get out of his mind.