Ori ducked into the first shop he found when the rain started pouring down. He was too concerned about his bag at first, ensuring the laptop inside hadn't gotten wet. He couldn't afford a new one yet. He breathed a sigh of relief that the bag had done its job and kept his laptop dry. That's when he the smell of coffee registered and he looked around, noticing that the coffee shop had a warm, cozy feel to it, with people sitting in small groups, talking quietly. A couple people sat alone, working on laptops. Finally, Ori looked at the counter and swallowed hard. One of the tallest men he'd ever seen stood behind it, a dark green sweater stretching across his broad shoulders and a scar bisecting his right eyebrow. Clutching the strap of his bag in both hands, he approached the counter. The man wore a name badge that said 'Dwalin' on it. "Welcome to Durinson's Coffee. What would you like?"
"Oh! Um." Ori could feel his cheeks heating over his stammer, lifting his eyes to the menu on the back wall, fidgeting with the strap. The man's voice was deep and gravelly with a slight Scottish burr to it, sending a shiver down Ori's spine. He focused on the menu, hoping to find something fairly cheap. "A hot chocolate, please."
A smile twitched at the corners of Dwalin's mouth. "What size?"
"Small is fine." Ori fumbled in his pockets for his wallet.
He nearly dropped it when Dwalin reached for a cup and wrote on the side. The sleeves of his sweater were pushed up past his elbows, revealing tanned and tattooed forearms. "What's your name, laddie?"
"Ori." His heart hammered in his chest and he swore his cheeks were on fire.
Muscles rippled as the taller man wrote Ori's name on the cup, setting it to one side. Then he entered Ori's order on the cash register. "That'll be $3.45."
He carefully counted out the money and offered it to Dwalin. "Here."
Dwalin accepted the money, his thick, tanned fingers brushing Ori's pale skinny ones. "It'll be ready in a few moments."
"Okay. Thanks." Ori shuffled to a table that had a good view of the counter and set his bag down on it.
He was still in the process of wrestling his laptop out of it when that gravelly voice called, "Ori!"
Leaving his bag, Ori retrieved his hot chocolate, wrapping his cold hands around the cup gratefully. He returned to his table and finished wrestling his laptop out. Just as he'd set it to boot up, his phone chirped in his pocket, alerting him to a text message. Pulling it out, he groaned when he saw that it was from Dori: Ori, are you all right?
I'm fine. He texted back. Out of the rain.
You didn't slip and fall, did you? Ori stifled a groan of dismay. Honestly, from the way Dori fussed over him, you'd think he was still a kid instead of a grown man.
"Everything all right here, laddie?" The unfamiliar voice belonged to a man about the same height as Ori (maybe a little taller), his snow-white hair and beard neatly trimmed, his expression kind and polite.
Ori smiled sheepishly and quickly sent Dori a response, No, I didn't, Mum. Stuffing his phone into his pocket, he addressed the newcomer. "Yes, everything's fine."
"I'm Balin Fundinson and the behemoth behind the counter is my brother, Dwalin." Balin gestured behind him to where Dwalin was busy making drinks as a young man with golden hair took orders from the line of people.
"It's nice to meet you. I'm Ori Rison." He offered his hand with a shy smile.
Balin shook his hand, his smile genial and warm. "Welcome to Durinson's Coffee. I'll leave you to your work now."
"Thank you." Ori watched him return to the counter and murmur something to his brother. Dwalin nodded and continued his work.
Tearing his eyes away, Ori finally took a sip of his hot chocolate and turned his attention to his laptop, continuing his search for a job.
* * *
"He likes to read, said all that matters to him is that the story is good."
"Says he loves violin music, regardless of genre. Something about it is soothing to him."
Dwalin wished he could speak to Ori himself, but the lad always managed to come and go between his breaks. If he didn't know better, he'd think Ori was doing it on purpose. Normally, on his days off, Dwalin didn't come to the shop, but today he made sure he was there a little before the time Ori usually came in, give or take. He sat down at Ori's usual table with a couple muffins and a mocaccino. He looked up in time to see Ori walk into the shop. Kíli, who was working the register, waved when he saw the lad. "Hi, Ori!"
"Hi, Kíli." Ori waved back and Dwalin could see him glancing around.
The two young men exchanged words and Ori shook his head at a question from Kíli. Then he turned and headed for the table, stumbling to a stop when he saw Dwalin. He raised a hand in greeting. "Hi, Ori."
"H'lo, Dwalin." Smiling shyly, he shuffled forward and set his bag on the table.
He glanced at Kíli, who shook his dark head slightly, and then back at Ori. "You're not thirsty today?"
"No, not today." Ori shook his head and busied himself with pulling his laptop out of his bag.
Dwalin looked closer at the lad. There were dark circles under his eyes and he was so pale that the light dusting of freckles across his nose and cheeks stood out easily. He watched the lad's hands as he opened his laptop and could see them shaking. He pushed one of the muffins towards Ori. "Here."
"That's your muffin." Though Ori pushed the plate back towards Dwalin, his fingers lingered.
He shook his head and pushed the muffin towards him again. "Which means I can do what I like with it and I choose to give it to you."
After a moment, Ori pulled the muffin close and took a small bite, chewing slowly. Dwalin watched him, and then got up to approach the counter. Kíli smiled up at him. "What's up, Mr. Dwalin?"
"Give me a cup of water." He ordered the lad. "Please."
A moment later, it was in his hand. He returned to the table and set the cup beside Ori's muffin. He swallowed and looked at Dwalin curiously. "For me?"
"I didn't get it for me," he retorted with a gentle smile, sipping his drink pointedly.
Blushing, Ori took a long drink of the water. He fidgeted with the power cord for his laptop. "Kíli said this is your day off?"
"Usually." Dwalin nodded, watching as Ori nibbled at his muffin, as if he was trying to make it last. "Thorin does his best to work around our schedules."
Ori looked up curiously. "Thorin as in Fíli and Kíli's uncle?"
"And my cousin." He pushed his other muffin towards Ori. "He prefers to work evenings because that's when his boyfriend can come in and ogle him."
A blush reddened Ori's cheeks and he quickly took a sip of his water, only to start choking. Dwalin quickly stood up and pounded on the lad's back. After a moment, Ori held up his hand and he stopped. His voice hoarse, Ori told him, "I'm okay."
"You sure?" He couldn't help hovering for a little longer.
Ori nodded. "Yes."
"Okay." Dwalin sat back down, taking the opportunity to push the second muffin even closer to Ori.
The lad eyed him with a raised eyebrow. "You already gave me a muffin."
"You look like you could use another." He shrugged, absently pushing the sleeves of his sweater up to his elbows.
Ori's shoulders slumped. "Do I look that bad?"
"No, but I've been watching you." He could feel his cheeks warming as he admitted that.
He blinked at Dwalin. "You have?"
"Yeah." He nodded. "And I think you can help us out."
"What can I do?" Ori's eyes were wide with surprise and disbelief.
Dwalin leaned across the table towards Ori, lowering his voice. "Bifur, one of the other workers, was in a car accident and won't be able to work, which leaves us stretched a bit thin. Do you think you can manage being a barista?"
"Would this be a long-term position or just until Bifur can get back on his feet?" Ori looked skeptical as he leaned closer, but Dwalin could see the hope in his eyes.
"Depends on how well you work out." Dwalin offered him a reassuring smile. "Me, Balin, and the boys have told Thorin about you and he said you'll get the standard ninety-day probation, and then we'll see how it looks."
Ori sat back in his chair, staring at Dwalin in stunned disbelief. "You've talked about hiring me? What about advertising for new workers and the like?"
"Thorin does things a little differently." He shrugged slightly, also sitting back. "Durinson's Coffee is a family-owned and run business. He wants workers who can fit in the team as a family. We think you can do that."
A smile slowly spread across Ori's face, the first Dwalin had ever seen from him and it took his breath away. "I accept, then."
"Good. Come back tonight around 6:30 so you can meet Thorin and he'll give you the paperwork." Dwalin grinned, relieved.
Ori reached across the table and caught Dwalin's hand in his, squeezing firmly. "Thank you."
"Thank you." He returned the squeeze and pushed the second muffin until it bumped the first. "I'll see you tonight."
With that, he stood up and left the coffee shop. Working alongside Ori was going to be interesting.