You know, for someone who doesn't have a tumblr, I spend an unhealthy amount of time there. OTL But, seriously, this was inspired by calls for a barista au (if you're reading this, you know who you are -stern glance-) and it was going to be a tumblr exclusive thing before IT GREW A LIFE OF ITS OWN. I had to beat this baby back with a broom. XD And I might also kinda like the stupid thing. (I adore coffee houses btw) So, right, this was also posted on the ukcan tumblr (fuckyeahukcan . tumblr . com). It's not my tumblr (and I hope its not bad that I keep pimping it but its ukcan so isn't that okay?) but its run by a really, really cool guy who's cool (and not just because he likes ukcan). SO GO CHECK OUT THE TUMBLR, GODDAMN.
And for the people who have, thank you and isn't it a wonderful place? :3
Warnings: long-winded relationship stuff, slash, AU, language, OOCness
Pairing: ...C'mon, dearies, you can guess by now right?
Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia. And a damn good thing that I don't.
Matthew is a college freshman, eighteen years old and shy. It's the beginning of the fall semester and he's homesick. He blends in at school, keeps his head down and his nose clean and finishes his homework assignments and readings as they are assigned.
But he stays in Friday nights, Saturday evenings, and has no hangover on Sunday.
His older brother worries about him, swears to every weekend come down the next weekend to visit his baby brother at college. But the next weekend turns into the next weekend and Francis has to fly off to some exotic place to photograph beautiful men and women who have always captured his attention more than plain Matthew.
So Matthew drifts along for the first month, politely avoiding Alfred's invitations to go out partying and instead staying at the library up until the closing bell rings. On the weekends, when he needs to feel the chilled, fresh air against his cheeks, he goes to the quaint, old downtown just outside of campus. It is November. He would be getting ready for hockey with his friends back home. Instead, his jacket collar is pulled up to his lips, freezing rain clinging to his wayward curls and eyelashes. His hands are shoved into his pockets and he loves the cold but he has an exam on Wednesday and he doesn't want to get sick.
So he quickly enters a small café shoved between an antique lamp shop and a vintage boutique. Immediately, the frost on his cheeks melts away to warmth and he breathes in mouthfuls of bitter coffee and almonds and he looks around, violet eyes wide, at the hole-in-the-wall café. There is a wall of worn, tattered books that reach from the hardwood floors up to the cracked ceiling. Booths line the opposite side, the reflections from the streetlights outside reflected onto the polished tables. There is a stage off to the corner and a few armchairs scattered. But the biggest thing is the counter with various, high and low tech machines giving off steam and humming. A display case with pastries and cakes dwarf the cash register and Matthew is sudden struck by a longing for his brother's pastry prowess.
"Can I help you?" The barista asks, interrupting his musings.
Matthew blinks, surprised, and then blushes, making his way up to the cash register. "I'll have a hot chocolate please." He glances at the pastries. "And a lemon tart." He added, almost shyly when the barista looks at him with bright, green eyes.
"$4.80." The barista says, voice wavering between polite gruffness and boredom.
Matthew fumbles for his wallet and pulls out a crisp five-dollar bill and hands it to the barista, not really making eye contact. He puts the leftover change in a chipped tip mug.
He waits near the counter, watching surreptitiously as the man makes his hot chocolate. The barista has sandy hair, choppy and mussed, and his sleeves are rolled up to the crook of his elbows. He had a slight accent, too, Matthew realizes.
"Whipped cream?" The barista asks, quirking a thick eyebrow.
Matthew just nodded and quietly thanked the man upon receiving his tart and steaming drink. He slips off to a booth in the corner and doesn't realize that the barista is watching him curiously, an almost amused glimmer in his eyes.
And such was the first meeting of Matthew Williams and Arthur Kirkland.
Matthew feels at ease in the café. He looks around at the warm light blanketing the interior and smells fresh coffee and feels the warmth of his hot chocolate in his hands and he takes a deep breath and his shoulders slump fractionally. And he smiles, a soft, secretive, half-twist of his lips really, but its more cheerful and welcoming than the half-terrified, apologetic grinning grimace he's adopted since arriving at college.
"You should smile more often." A voice interrupts his musings and Matthew almost jostles his drink.
The barista is wiping down a newly vacated booth, lips set in a somewhat friendly smile.
Another smile, awkward and unbidden, appears on Matthew's face and he finds himself curling in a little on himself, looking down and stammering a quiet thanks. He doesn't know how exactly to react when complimented. He did, once upon a time, but now everything that came easy seems tremendously difficult.
"You always look so terrified." The barista continues, sharp and too close to the mark. "Like you're about to run away if someone looks at you wrong. But when you smile…" He trails off, catching himself and clearing his throat roughly.
Matthew looks down at his drink, eyeing the dregs of whipped cream at the top, now melted into the chocolate and milk. "I don't really have much reason to smile." He admits, quietly.
"Well, do you like the hot chocolate?"
Matthew just nodded and the barista stood up, tucking the wet rag into his black apron. "Then smile, you sod." And then he headed back towards the counter, grabbing some abandoned books and placing them onto the shelf with the same care he used to dollop whipped cream or make steamed milk leaves on a café au lait.
Matthew is still smiling as he leaves the café.
Matthew finds himself returning back to the café every week, usually scrounging up enough change for a hot chocolate (because it was a perfect thickness, with just enough sugar to be bittersweet and enough heat to warm, not scald, his belly) and maybe a pastry.
Eventually, Matthew manages to try all the pastries but realizes the spice cake, lemon tart, and chocolate chip muffins are the best.
On his eight visit, Matthew brings his laptop. On his twelfth, he brings his calculus problem set. The papers clutter the table. One of his spare notebooks is used as a coaster for his hot chocolate while his other one is open, covered in his sprawling scrawl. With one hand working his calculator and the other absently spinning a mechanical pencil, Matthew realizes he has no way to finish his spice cake and that realization is more distressing than the fact that he has at least 13 half-finished problems and less than a day to complete the problem set.
The barista walks past him once, then again. On the third time, he pauses, hovering next to Matthew's table, and stares very hard at the work. And he says, in that gruff manner of his, "You're wrong."
Matthew's shoulders stiffen.
But the barista leans down and he smells like burnt coffee and sweat and Matthew feels his cheeks heat up. Then, the barista points at one problem and says, "That is the incorrect derivative. Try again."
And he walks away. Matthew, frustrated, erases his work and tries again and again.
Then it makes sense.
When the barista passes by him, Matthew thanks him softly.
Matthew goes to the café once a week, usually on Thursdays. He comes in around four pm and stays until eight pm. He waits until the barista leaves after his shift. He usually watches as the sandy-haired man leaves, waving at his co-worker before exiting, the bell ringing at his departure.
One day, however, Matthew comes in late thanks to a review session that ran late. His barista is already pulling off his apron when the bell rings and Matthew is greeted by the other barista. Trying to keep a frown off his face (because Matthew likes consistency, likes the way the green-eyed barista makes his hot chocolate—because once he came in during lunch and the pretty female barista put too much milk and not enough chocolate and he's wary of new baristas now.)
"No worries. I'll get this one, Anders." The barista says, quickly putting his apron back on and giving Matthew a quick grin. "Hot chocolate and lemon tart?" He guesses.
"Yes please." Matthew says, relieved and a little embarrassed at being so easily read. He reaches for his wallet but the barista leans over and covers his hand with his hand.
"It's on the house." The barista says in a low whisper, a crooked grin on his face. "And if you even try to tip me the right amount, I will skimp on the whipped cream."
Matthew, eyes wide, just nods, a helpless half-smile on his face.
"C'mon, bro." Alfred whined, slinging an arm around Matthew's shoulders.
Matthew doesn't know why Alfred insists on calling him 'bro' or any permutation of the endearment, but he doesn't have the heart to tell the born and bred Kansas Citian and all American boy-next-door to back off. His roommate was a pitcher all through high school and had an easy smile for anyone who happened to glance at him. He was a Libertarian when drunk and had a worrisome fetish for fast food. But he was a good guy who decided that he and Matthew would be best friends and might as well be brothers since they were born in the same month (and maybe even conceived on the same day because Matthew was born a few days late and Alfred a few days early) and liked watching basketball.
Alfred is all shades of golden and Matthew doesn't know why the gregarious blond bothers but it's nice because Alfred is like that older brother that he always wanted.
No offense to Francis.
The pair is coming back from the only burger place in town, Alfred having spent a good part of the morning wheedling and whining until Matthew abandoned his English composition and agreed to having dinner. They cross the street, barely looking both ways, their cheeks ruddy from the cold February air, and Alfred continues to try and coax Matthew into going to the frat party that night.
"There'll be girls. Girls with huge tits, low standards, and nonexistent morals." Alfred added, winking. "Just flutter those doe eyes at them, say that your last girlfriend stomped all over your heart and that you're still so broken and BAM. Boobies, boobies everywhere!" Alfred laughed, loud and free and Matthew actually snorted.
"You're so weird." He shook his head and saw that the café was coming up. "Want to stop for dessert?"
Alfred just gives him a disbelieving look. "If you have to ask, dude, then you don't know me."
"Oh, I know you. I also know your waistline." Matthew teased, earning a huff.
They enter the café and Alfred bounds towards the pastries. "What's good?" He asks loudly, earning a few dirty, disdainful looks from other patrons.
"You'll like the banana bread." Matthew said, going ahead and ordering for them both.
"He's charming." His barista said dryly, accepting the wrinkled twenty from Matthew.
"Alfred just an overgrown kid." Matthew said fondly.
"…You've been coming here for months now and I know your brother's name and not yours." The barista said, off-handedly.
"Matthew. I-I'm Matthew." Matthew said, a little embarrassed at his slip in manners and forgetting that he and Alfred aren't actually brothers. "I don't know yours—"
"Arthur." The barista says, handing him his lemon tart. Arthur gives him a faint smile. "I believe this is the longest conversation we've ever had."
Matthew laughed, then. "I guess so." Then, he turned away, saying goodbye, as he went to stop Alfred who about to bring a shelf of books down onto his head.
"He should laugh more often as well." Arthur said quietly to himself.
"It's too hot for hot chocolate dude." Alfred complains when Matthew orders it.
Matthew gives him a glare. "It's too hot for complaining but I don't see you shutting up."
Arthur snorts at the bite in Matthew's tone and can't help but feel a little proud. He's steaming the milk when Matthew says, "But it's the best."
And Arthur is caught off guard by the compliment and accidently burns himself, muffling a curse. He pretends that the flush on his cheeks is from the steam, from the burn, but he can't say the same for the unfurling of pleasure in his chest.
Matthew in nineteen now. He spent the summer in Marseilles with his brother. He fell in love and fell out of love with a beautiful Vietnamese model with almond colored eyes and dark hair that fell like a thick sheet over her shoulders and down her back. She looked right at him during a photo shoot and came up to him at a party two week's later.
She had pressed her fingertips against his cheek and smiled at him and Matthew had whispered poetry into her hair out on the balcony.
They had kissed soft and tender but eventually she left to pursue her career, following it to Milan and Tokyo. And Matthew had returned to his little college town, a little older and a little more romantic and missing the best hot chocolate in the world.
"Welcome back." Arthur says, green eyes flicking over his face. "I just finished powdering the lemon tarts."
Matthew smiled at him and Arthur liked that the blond was holding himself a little taller.
Alfred and Matthew still live together and Alfred still leaves his socks on the floor and drinks Matthew's milk but Matthew just laughs and punches his roommate in the shoulder and asks if he wants to go get burgers.
And Alfred stills, giving Matthew a curious look before its replaced by a bright smile. "You got laid, didn't you? Matt, you dog, you!"
And Matthew tries to dodge the noogie but he relents and the two leave the dorm, laughing and sharing their summer stories.
Matthew comes back to school with a plan to do something. Sort of. Francis is paying for his education and doesn't really care if Matthew becomes a doctor or lawyer or even an artist or musician.
Matthew is decent at many things, good at some, but not brilliant at a single one.
"I don't know what I want to do with my life." Matthew admits when Arthur walks by.
Arthur sighs. "No one does, really, at your age."
The student gives him a curious look. "You can't be that much older than me."
"I'm not." The barista huffed. "But I am still older."
"Did you always want to be a barista?" Matthew asked, suddenly.
Arthur snorted. "Yes, in fact I said to my mum 'Mum. I want to be a barista by trade. Being a glorified coffee maker would make me ever so happy.'" The sarcasm is thick in his tone and Matthew flinches, bangs falling into his eyes. Arthur sighs. "I meant no…I mean…I didn't mean—" He shook his head, sighing.
"No, it was a stupid question." Matthew mumbled.
Arthur sighed again and walked away and Matthew slid further down into his seat, feeling stupid.
But, two minutes later, Arthur returned with another slice of lemon tart. He slid across from Matthew and pushed the tart towards him. "On the house." He said when Matthew started to protest. Then, steepling his fingers, Arthur said, "I wanted to be a musician. Then I wanted to be a writer. But, when my brother got drunk and bought the lease for a coffee shop, I took my degree in economics and put it on the shelf to gather dust so I could learn how to make a proper cup of coffee."
"…Your brother owns this shop?"
Arthur looked away, features sobering. "He did. I inherited it after he passed on."
"Don't be. He was a twat." The barista said quietly. But the haziness in his eyes was enough to make Matthew reach over and pat his hand once before just squeezing it warmly.
Matthew decides, on a whim, to submit a short story to the campus literary magazine.
When it is published, Alfred hangs it up on the fridge.
The violet-eyed blond blushes each time he sees it, but he can't quell the blossoming of pride in his chest and he takes to carrying a mini notebook everywhere with him.
Matthew also decides to start up a hockey league on campus.
Matthew is twenty years old. There is a week old bruise on his jaw when someone had managed to knock off his helmet and send him sprawling to the ice.
It is January.
His teammates surround him in the café. Anders, who works there after Arthur and is also a defenseman, is early for his shift but Arthur says nothing as he watches Matthew in the center of the players.
Arthur pretends its not obvious, but his gaze falls again and again on that blond and the way his indigo eyes light up and the way his hands flutter around while he speaks. Matthew catches his eye and smiles, shyly, just like he did the first day he tumbled into Arthur's establishment two years ago, looking lost and terrified and oh-so alone.
Arthur decides to hold monthly poetry readings in the café because popularity, never high to begin with, is dwindling and though he's not in financial trouble, he doesn't want to raise prices so much or else the Starbucks a block over will win.
Matthew comes in on one such day, halting on the third step in, surprised by all the students milling around the stage and the huge line at the register.
So he takes his usual booth and pulls out his notebook and starts writing, not really fleshing out any idea but putting down words, feelings, and twisting language to suit his desire.
He writes about a beautiful girl sashaying down a catwalk in Milan and the way her dark hair catches starlight. He writes about battles on ice and the heady rush of power. He writes about the best hot chocolate in the world and of the distant, fleeting feeling of something missing.
Arthur finds him, twenty minutes later, when the rush dies down and the first amateur poet is on stage.
"It's on the house." He whispers, sliding Matthew a mug of hot chocolate. "We're all out of lemon tarts, spice cake, and chocolate chip muffins, I'm afraid."
But Matthew just smiles at him.
It is the middle of April and the rain thunders to the ground in sheets of grey, streaking down the glass and scattering shadows of raindrops on Matthew's laptop. The coffee shop is noisy, people bustling around, some talking and others reading the well-loved books that are provided for on the bookshelves. It's warm and comforting and the ringing of the bell trickles into the background.
Matthew has finished his general education requirements and so the days of bringing in calculus and biology are over and now he's writing a political sociology paper and he's actually enjoying it.
There are more people in the café now, having sought shelter in its warmth from the rain. Others are students congregating in the armchairs, around the glass coffee table, as they complain about coursework.
Matthew has a half-eaten lemon tart to his right and a smear of whipped cream on his nose. He doesn't realize it until Arthur points it out.
"Oops." He laughs, wiping at his nose with the bump of his wrist and Arthur just sighs, exasperated and hopefully a little fond.
"What are you working on?" The barista asks, busying his self with wiping down the table behind Matthew's.
"A comparison of the political institutions of Canada and the United States, with a focus on Canada." He sighs. "I want to write 'Canada Fuck Yeah' across the top and just be done with it."
" You've been spending too much time with Alfred. And, your professor may not appreciate that." Arthur's voice is disapproving but Matthew hears the laughter held in.
"I don't know. He's from Thorold. He might just give me an A for the semester." Matthew knows, without glancing back, that Arthur is confused at the connection, so he adds, "It's the most patriotic city in Canada."
"This is the best banana bread in the world." Alfred says glowingly. "Better than my mom's!"
"I'll be sure to let Belle know." Arthur responds, rolling his eyes at the student's excitement when he takes his little white plate with a slice of banana bread with a fork next to it.
"Who's Belle?" Matthew asks.
"She's my baker." The barista says, a little hesitantly.
"You mean you don't make all of this?"
"Heaven's no." Arthur is blushing now and his speech is a little more flustered. "I'm not much of a baker…or cook." He admits, green eyes intent on picking out nickels to give Matthew for change.
Matthew doesn't say anything.
So Arthur rambles. "And Belle is really amazing with an oven. There is really nothing she can't make and she is a magician with a whisk, really." He pauses, depositing Matthew's change in his hand.
"I like the lemon tarts." Matthew said mildly. "But I like the hot chocolate even more." He might be blushing so he quickly turns away before the pink blossoms into red.
Arthur might be blushing too.
Matthew goes to New York for the summer. Francis is there and the photographer's apartment is filled with beautiful people at all hours of the day. Matthew is interning somewhere in Manhattan so he misses most of it, but when he returns at night, he's thankful that he's dressed in a sharp suit because Francis would disown him if he slouched in like a common businessman.
The models barely give him a cursory look until Francis introduces him. Then they flutter their eyes and give him a thin smiles but Matthew escapes to the balcony because they make him uncomfortable.
It is there he meets a ghost and she smiles right at him and he smiles back and when she kisses his cheek, he feels the heavy weight of her hair fall around them before he kisses back.
The model comes to visit him at school since she is staying in New York for a few months. She pulls up to campus in a sport's car, wearing devastating stilettos and a red dress that shows off her legs. Matthew gets jealous looks but he ignores them as he walks hand in hand with his girlfriend to the coffee shop.
Arthur greets them both, in that cold manner of his, and when he gets Matthew alone, Matthew is expecting a 'welcome back' but Arthur just hands him his change and wordlessly makes both their drinks.
Matthew is twenty-one years old and he has just had his heart broken for the first time in a long time.
Alfred tried to cheer him up and, upon failing, left him with Arthur, his blue eyes begging the barista to do something.
"You're being pathetic." Arthur said sharply, brow furrowed, giving Matthew some of the tough love he needs (though doesn't really want). It is closing time and Matthew has barely touched his lemon tart and his hot chocolate is now cold milk.
Matthew curled in on himself, face crumpling and spindly fingers knotted into his hair.
Arthur spends the next hour consoling the heartbroken boy, wiping tears off his cheeks and murmuring gentleness into his wheat-colored locks.
"Francis slept with her. She slept with Francis." Mathew repeats both sentences twice, alternating each. Then he laughs, self-deprecatingly and it's an ugly sound and the coffee shop is empty for them both. "She said it didn't mean anything but it doesn't change anything."
Arthur is quiet, Matthew is sprawled in his arms, his face in Arthur's collar and its okay because they're both squashed on one side of the booth and Matthew isn't crying anymore.
"You should write about it." Arthur says quietly. "And, for what it's worth, you deserve better."
"How come you give Matthew free food?" Alfred pouts.
"Because he doesn't take advantage of my generosity. And he doesn't insult my eyebrows." Arthur retorted, bristling at the memory of Alfred's repeated hints on self-grooming.
"Or maybe you just love him." Alfred laughs before his eyes, sharper than Arthur gave him credit for, paused on his face. "You love him." He sounded almost awed, voice softening.
Arthur blushed high on his cheeks. "And if I did?" He said, defensively, sparking already.
But Alfred just grinned. "Then I'd be glad. Because you'd treat him right."
"I am in the most beautiful place in the world…and all I can think about is how nice it would be if you were by my side." Matthew reads, under his breath. "Is it so wrong? Maybe it is, but I want your promise, sealed with a kiss and soothed with a whisper. I want your heartbeat against mine and I want to feel our knees bumping under the covers. I want the eternity promised on in your eyes and glistening on your lips and I—"
"That's beautiful." Arthur interrupts, wet rag clenched in his hand. "Even though it came from that whore's betrayal, its still beautiful."
Matthew blinks, something in him stilling. He hadn't even been thinking about that.
Matthew is twenty-one years old and still as stupid as he was when he was eighteen.
He is about to take a bite of lemon tart, the taste of the best hot chocolate in the world still on his tongue. He looks up, sees Arthur handing another customer his change. He looks down, sees the dregs of a whipped cream heart.
He looks back up and Arthur is looking at him, something akin to longing in his eyes, tightly restrained and perhaps ignored.
And he just sits there until Arthur comes over.
And when Arthur is close enough, Matthew says, "I'm an idiot."
And Arthur laughs, short and sharp but it makes Matthew feel warm, "Yes, I suppose you are. It's hopeless and nothing can be done."
But Matthew reaches for his hand and entwines their fingers. And Arthur stills, wariness in his features, but he doesn't pull away.
Matthew is going to be a sociology major. He's graduating that spring and sometimes he sees a future as a writer. He's already had the best hot chocolate in the world in a coffee shop nestled between an antique lamp shop and a records store (because the boutique was sold last autumn). And he doesn't realize he's smiling until Arthur whispers, "You're the most beautiful when you smile."
"Probably because I'm smiling at you." Matthew's smile widens a little more and Arthur snorts, because it's a cheesy line compared to others that Matthew could come up with, but its sweet and a little dorky (reminiscent of the terrified freshman who sought refuge in the coffee shop so long ago) and that's enough for Arthur to squeeze their joined fingers before untangling them.
The model is Vietnam. And I wrote this all in one sitting, so forgive the rushed aspect of it. And, yes, this is it. Matthew and Arthur live happily ever after.
See? I give them happy endings.
...The next one might not be so happy. -laughs evilly and saunters off-