Disclaimer: I don't own VLD!
A/N: Okay, so I know I have like a bazillion fics to work on and ideas to write, but this one won't leave me alone. I've been trying to shove it away for a few days now with no success. So have a modern/coffee shop vs. tea shop/single-parent/surprise kid of a past fling AU? Plus broganes? And Lance and Allura being half-siblings? I'm borrowing my Shallura baby OC Emi from my Lion Cub series.
Coffee Grounds and Tea Leaves
"Can you hurry it up? I'm going to be late, not that you care or anything…"
Shiro glanced over at the businessman who was leaning against the counter, both hands gripping the wooden edge like he was going to break if off. He was tempted to work slower and take his sweet time fixing the guy's complicated monstrosity of an order, but that would mean putting up with an escalating amount of griping. Instead, he continued working at a steady pace.
Crowded with students from the nearby college and the regular lunch loungers, the Garrison was packed. People were sprawled out across the small hole-in-the-wall café, taking up the mismatched tables and couches. The bags, backpacks, and gear scattered everywhere created a maze that would probably drop the coffee shop into a lawsuit one day. The constant chatter sometimes ebbed enough that the pop music Pandora station could be heard over the sound system.
Matt was covering the cash register during the lunch time rush, and he didn't have much patience for the pushy businessman. "Sorry for the wait, but you might've noticed we're swamped."
"Not that you care or anything," added a disembodied voice, the speaker hidden behind a computer screen and a pile of books.
"What was that?" the businessman said, turning toward the table, his face tightening and turning red. Shiro and Matt shared a look, and Shiro put a rush on the stupid order. The faster the man got his coffee, the faster he could leave the shop and not be tempted to get in a fight with Pidge the Infamous Instigator.
"Just an observation of your complete lack of patience," Pidge said, sounding extremely pleased with how she was needling him, "Stand there and wait for your coffee like everyone else, you entitled little kumquat."
"What did you call me?!"
"It's like a small orange," Shiro said. He slapped a lid on the drink and set in on the table, a tense smile on his face. "Here's your coffee."
"Are you just going to let her talk to me like that?"
Shiro's smile became a little more forced. "Yes."
"She doesn't work here," Matt said, though he did throw a sidelong shut-your-face look at his sister. She didn't exactly work in the café part of the Garrison, but she did log volunteer hours at the nonprofit upstairs. "And we do like to promote free speech."
"I'm a paying customer, I can't believe I'm being treated like this." The businessman picked up his coffee and sipped at it, making a face. "It's sour."
"You ordered a combined drink that has a lot of different ingredients, and some of them don't work well together," Shiro explained even as he started on another order. He wasn't going to remake that coffee, so he sure as hell hoped that the man decided he liked it. It was a good thing Keith wasn't there right then. He didn't exactly do well in situations like this.
The last time Keith had gotten into an argument with a customer, he had ended up dumping an entire iced coffee into one of the planters by the counter, declaring that the fern deserved the caffeine more than the customer. That had gone over really well…
The businessman gave all of them a final glare and left, maliciously dunking his coffee into the trash as he stomped out the door. Shiro didn't care that he had trashed the drink, but he did care that it was full when it went into the bag. That meant it was going to leak later, worse than usual.
Leaning back, he glanced at the chart that helped them keep up with responsibilities around the shop, and hah, Matt was supposed to take out the trash.
"Put a quarter in the Ass-Hat Bucket," Pidge said, pointing over at the glass jar in the corner. Every time a jerk came in and made a scene, they put a quarter in the bucket. No one was sure what they were saving up for, but in a few more months, they could maybe afford a cruise to the Bahamas.
"Lay off the paying customers, Katie," Matt said. He snagged a quarter from the tip jar and chucked it into the jar before taking the next order.
"Hey, I pay!"
"Compliments don't count," Shiro said, and she stuck her tongue out at him since she was very mature.
Matt and Shiro fell into a steady rhythm as they took orders and mixed drinks, fighting through the lunch rush. Everyone in the city apparently needed a caffeine fix so they could make it through the second half of the day.
Shiro still wasn't as fast as Matt, but he was learning quickly. The whole café slash nonprofit thing had been Matt's idea and part of his graduate work, and Shiro had been glad to join his friend in the venture once he launched the business. It was a lot more relaxing than his last job…
The café mostly emptied out after lunch, leaving only a few students from the college and a couple tourists in the dining area. Pidge was still there, taking up a whole table with whatever project she was working on. Since it had slowed down, Matt had joined his sister and they were techno-babbling at each other. Shiro didn't bother trying to keep up and turned his attention to the disaster area that was the bar. Time to start cleaning.
He had gotten a couple dishes done when he heard something like a person knocking on wood. Wiping his hands on a dish cloth, he looked around. He had heard the door open, but no one new was in the shop. That's when he noticed a pair of bright blue, almond-shaped eyes peeking over the edge of the counter. Why did those eyes look so familiar?
"Hey there," he said, and the eyes grew wider, staring at him. For a moment, they lingered on his cybernetic right arm, crinkling a little in what he hoped was excitement or wonder. Sometimes kids thought the arm was cool. Others were scared by it. The eyes disappeared as he stepped forward, and he had to lean over the counter to see the kid.
The little girl took another step back, her chin tilting up so she could meet his eyes. She looked like she was somewhere around seven or eight, with a heart-shaped face, brown skin, and black hair that had a hot pink streak in it. She was wearing black glittery leggings, a sparkly pink skirt, a pink short-sleeve t-shirt and a black hoodie vest over that. She also was missing something really important.
"Where's your adult?" Pidge asked, peeking around the edge of her computer. "Or your babysitter?"
"At work," the little girl said, still staring at Shiro.
"Are you here all alone?" he asked, frowning. Who would let a little girl just wander the city by herself? And shouldn't she be at school? He looked past her at the door, wondering if someone was actually with her and just staying outside for the moment.
"Are you Takashi Shirogane?" she asked, as if he hadn't asked her a question first.
He lifted an eyebrow. "Yes…"
"Are you sure?"
Shiro blinked, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth even though he was still concerned. "Yep, I'm sure."
She bit her lip and put her hands on her hips, shoulders squared, back straight. While she seemed confident, it also looked like she was nervous. Shiro was about to ask about her guardians again when she launched a question at him. "Doyoulikepeanutbutterandbananasandwiches?"
She took a deep breath, stepped forward, and put her hands on the counter. Going up on her tippytoes, she looked him in the eye and squinted. "Do. You like. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches?"
"Who are you and what are you doing here and why don't you have an adult?" Pidge demanded.
"I have to say, I agree with Katie," Matt put in.
Shiro crossed his arms over his chest. "If I answer your question, will you tell me why you're here without an adult and how to contact someone for you?"
"Fine," Shiro said, "I like them a lot, actually."
The little girl's eyes sparkled, and she bounced on the balls of her feet. Her nervousness didn't disappear, but it did fade. "I knew it, I knew it!" She spun around once. "No one else likes them, so I knew you had to. 'cause I like them but I'm the only one, so you have to like them, too."
What in the world was going on… Shiro looked over at Matt and Pidge as the girl twirled around again. Both of them looked like they were just as confused as he was. Walking around the counter, Shiro stopped near Pidge's table.
"Again, who are you, kid?" Pidge said, pointing at the little girl, "And why are you obsessed with sandwiches?"
The girl froze and chewed on her lower lip for a second, those familiar eyes flicking up to meet Shiro's gaze. Wait. Hold on. He knew someone who had eyes that exact same color, but it had been so long since he had seen her...almost eight years.
"I'm Emi Altea, and I'm seven, and I'm your daughter," she told him, enunciating each word carefully, like she had rehearsed saying it. She tilted back onto her heels. "Can I borrow your phone so I can call my mom? She's going to kill me so dead."
While Matt and Pidge proceeded freak out at about the same level of shouting, Shiro sank down into a chair on the opposite side of their table. Now it was his turn to stare, his brain having trouble processing what she had just said.
Altea… Blue eyes like the cloudless summer sky…