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Coffee Break

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So there was the thing with the elephants and the newest Zulu character. After most of the confusion was over, Nhlahla the Hunter had informed Philani the Shaman, who had informed Ruthie over in Colonialist Period, who translated to Larry that Nhlahla had been a famed elephant hunter in his day and that upon the sight of poor Dumbo, he'd been unable to control the old hunting instincts, and that he wished to express his thanks to Larry for the desperate gambit with the North Pacific totem poles and the jade lion that had brought him to his senses. And afterwards, at least three exhibits were in shambles.

"How do you guys never trip any alarms?" Larry asked no one in particular as he supervised the controlled chaos of cleaning up in the Early American furniture gallery. A team of Eskimos grunted in reply, but then they'd been impressed into heaving a ginormous solid oak bedstead back into place.

It slid into place with a resounding thunk, and Larry left them after some congratulatory grunting to go check on the Mayans.

"Kind of like the pyramids all over again, huh?" Larry observed over his shoulder to Ahkmenrah, who'd arrived after helping Thomas Edison re-install some lighting that had been knocked down.

"Somewhat," Ahkmenrah said, looking down at the miniature Mayans and the prodigious amounts of manpower and surprisingly sophisticated machinery they'd brought to bear on the vast problem of raising a small side table onto its one-foot-high podium.

"Bet you've seen your fair share of them being raised."

"Just the one. Here."

Larry blinked as Ahkmenrah suddenly thrust an exquisitely made silver tray, pot and assorted cups and spoons into his hands. "You found the coffeepot too?"

"Yes, by the Easter Island head. He told me, I quote, 'Keep safe. For Dum-Dum.'"

"I feel more like a lollipop every day," Larry muttered. "Oh, hey, you guys are finished. Listen," he cautiously crouched to speak to the Mayans, wary of any forthcoming arrows or spears, "I can't thank you enough. Now if you all get back to your exhibit without any trouble, I promise I'll think about not locking you guys up next time. Do we have a deal? Okay."

The whole crowd disengaged from the podium with a cheer and began the long scramble back to the miniatures room. Larry put the silver tray and coffeepot on the table, arranging the cups in a circle, rambling cheerfully. "I'm doing pretty good so far, did you see? Only forty out of 120 shook their spears threateningly at me this time." A gap in the circle. "That's five, where's the other one--" He turned to see the last cup in Ahkmenrah's hands.

"Coffee," Ahkmenrah murmured, turning the little silver cup in his hands, seeing something far away. "Out of everything, I miss coffee."

"Not that I'm arguing with you there," Larry said, longing for a nice bracing shot of caffeine himself, "but I didn't know you guys even had coffee back then."

Ahkmenrah smiled. "The Cushites - or as you call them, Ethiopians - were rather secretive about it. But they could hardly hide the mysterious berries of vitality for thousands of years without some trader being overcome with greed eventually." He put the cup on the tray with delicate care. "It was a luxury in my time, reserved primarily for the Pharaoh and the wealthy élite."

"Yeah, well, 6 dollars a pop still isn't exactly affordable," Larry said. "But hey, if things ever," he raised his voice and three bleating goats scurried off guiltily, "settle down around here - maybe I can make you a cup sometime."

"Lawrence!" Roosevelt appeared out of nowhere, dropping a hand on each man's shoulder. "I believe things are cleared up here, you must be dying for a kip. Starbucks, I think it's called these days? Go on. Nick and I will be able to hold down the fort for a while, won't we?" He winked at the boy, who had materialized from somewhere with Dexter on his head.

"Sure," Nick's smile was beatific and got an answering smile all around, even from the scowling Puritan fixing the walnut cabinet on the wall. "Go on, Dad."

"Um...okay," Larry said, not a little spooked and not just because his son had a monkey on his head. "Not to say anything, but you know you guys are kind of eager to get me out of here--"

"Larry," Roosevelt said sternly, and pushed him and Ahkmenrah along. "You haven't taken a break since you started working here. Are you looking a gift horse in the mouth?"

"Yesterday, you were all about 'great leaders carefully examine the situations in front of them'!" Larry called over his shoulder. "Or something." But he headed for the guard office with only a minimum of complaint.

 

+

 

Larry really didn't like the idea of leaving the Museum when technically he was abandoning his duty (not to mention he could possibly get fired), so they compromised by getting coffee at a late-opening Starbucks around the corner and taking their drinks to a bench across the street in Central Park. It was cold as hell, but at least they could both keep an eye on the Museum.

"C'mon, I saw it. She was definitely into you."

"I don't know about that," Ahkmenrah demurred, but he was smiling into his cup.

"Ahkmenrah, fourth king of the fourth king, totally gettin' his groove on with the Starbucks baristas." Larry nudged the other man gleefully. "What would your ancestors think?"

"Probably the same thing ancestors have thought through the ages," Ahkmenrah said dryly. He deepened his voice in a passable imitation of a paternal sitcom dad. "Good-looking, but unsuitable. I expect you to do better, son."

He'd shed the crown and ornate royal robes for Larry's spare set of civilian clothes and a thick coat that someone had left behind in the office. He seemed to be taking the cold remarkably well.

Larry laughed. "I don't know, my dad was ecstatic when I got any dates."

"But I'd venture to say that you weren't expected to make a favorable political marriage to further the interests of the empire."

"Well, yeah, I guess." Larry trailed off, as it was clear that Ahkmenrah's attention had been entirely captured by the coffee he'd just taken a careful first sip from. Dark eyes slipped closed while Larry watched, almost unwillingly fascinated with the picture of the pharaoh, snowflakes in his eyelashes, going boneless with bliss on a park bench in the middle of the night.

Larry found himself uncomfortably warm. Ahkmenrah's head tilted back slightly, his throat working smoothly, his lips barely parted, and - yeah, wow, that was really, really hard to ignore.

Larry kicked viciously at his brain. "So...does Starbucks have anything on Ethiopia?"

Ahkmenrah opened his eyes halfway and made no move to straighten up from the loose, open sprawl he'd gone into. "Hmmm...it's been a very long time since I last had qahweh," he said dreamily. "This is much sweeter, and I didn't know coffee could be creamy. I think I find it preferable."

"You guys never thought about putting milk in your coffee?"

"The purer the drink was, the more value it had."

Larry grinned. "My kind of people." His own coffee was as black as the baristas would make it.

Ahkmenrah quirked a half-smile and took another sip. Fortunately for Larry's brain, he didn't react nearly as sensuously to the second as he had to the first, but he did close his eyes again...and then a third sip and after that one he licked his lips. Larry abruptly wrenched his gaze away as if stung and pretended he'd been staring moodily at the Museum the whole time.

"Is something wrong with yours?"

When Larry looked back, Ahkmenrah and his huge eyes were arranged in an innocent expression that cherubs could've taken pointers from.

"Uh, no. I don't think so. Not really, no."

"Well...good. Because," Ahkmenrah gestured at the cup clutched forgotten in Larry's hand, "you haven't had any yet."

"Oh. Um. Yeah, uh...no, I'm pretty sure it's fine." What am I, thirteen? Larry kicked his brain some more.

Ahkmenrah's innocent expression melted into a pure, winning smile as if Larry had been charmingly witty. Except what he'd actually done was stammer something embarrassingly incoherent, so, pretty much, Larry officially had no idea what was going on anymore.

"So, I think we should probably head back, because," he stood up abruptly, waved a hand aimlessly and tried an awkward grin on for size, "you know, no telling what they've been up to, right? I mean, it's been like five whole minutes since we left." He chuckled tentatively, looked down at the coffee he still hadn't taken a drink from for some reason, and decided it would be a good idea to remedy that immediately.

By the time Larry lowered the cup, Ahkmenrah had also stood and taken a few steps towards the Museum, and Larry hurried to catch up because, he was telling himself firmly, that was not a come-hither expression the pharaoh was throwing his way over one shoulder.

 

+

 

So the first time Nick called one of Larry and Ahkmenrah's semi-weekly coffee runs a "date," Larry did the only thing he felt he could, under the circumstances, and spit his drink everywhere.