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Fateful Encounter

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It’s a normal, busy day at the café, and you’ve been slaving away for what feels like hours but in reality has probably only been about twenty minutes, slinging drinks and orders, that you’ve barely had time to say one word to either of your two coworkers you can actually stand. It seems busier than usual, but maybe that’s just because it’s been dead as hell in here the past few days, aside from a few regulars that drift in out of the hot California sunshine.

You’re busy making a heavily-sweetened iced coffee, measuring out each pump of syrup exactly to the demanding customer’s specifications, when you hear the next person step up to the till.

“Hi, how can I help you?” The girl taking orders (you think her name is Stephanie, but you’re not sure) asks in an overly-cheerful customer service voice.

“Hi. I was just wondering what the chicken substitute is made of.”

You pause, almost spilling the iced coffee out of the cup.

You know that voice. You know that voice very well. You were just watching his show last night, and you had his voice in your headphones, coming cheerfully out of your Spotify as you walked to work.

It’s Dan Avidan.

Hands trembling a little with adrenaline, you hurriedly put together the coffee, state the name on the cup as you sling it off, and try very hard not to peek at Dan like a creep from behind the wood partition separating the coffee machines. Stephanie is explaining the ingredients patiently, trying to answer the questions efficiently. She’s a bit new, and a bit overwhelmed by the rush, no doubt nervous about the customers behind him. It’s obvious she doesn’t have the spiel down as easy as more seasoned workers; hell, you can recite the ingredients in your sleep!

But, as you’d expect of Dan, he is patient. He nods appropriately, and apologizes when he decides to go with a “safer option,” the soft smile he gives her as he hands over a twenty in cash making you melt a bit, even though it’s not directed at you.

You manage to go back to making drinks, but only just. Dan’s order is being filled by someone else, it seems, and you can’t really tell from here what his order was, since a lot of the meat substitutes look the same. Not that you care what he ordered, or anything.

As you prepare another Summer Special mango green tea, your mind starts to wander. You haven’t talked to Dan in ages, though you’ve seen little messages popping up in your streams here and there. Communication has been dying a bit between you, and since you’re nervous about actually texting his private number, even though you have it and have permission to use it, you thought that magic part of your life was mostly over.

But no, here’s Dan, in the restaurant you work in, in the middle of the day, trying the food like he said he would that late night ages ago.

You can’t believe it. This must be a dream.

Your coworker, a very sweet gay boy with tattoos covering his neck and arms, hands you a hot mug that smells of the café’s famous jasmine tea. Okay, it’s blazing outside. It’s literally like standing on the surface of the sun in L.A. right now. Who the fuck ordered the hot tea?

You glance at the weirdo’s name, scrawled on the cup in Stephanie’s cutesy third grade script, you swallow and walk to the drinks counter. “Dan, your drink’s up.” You could’ve said that sentence before. In fact, you probably had. “Dan” is a pretty common name, after all. But it feels…different, since you know this Dan.

“Thank you—oh!”

You and Dan lock eyes as he takes his cup. For a moment, the busy air of the café freezes, like it’s just you and Dan in the world right now. Blood is thumping in your eardrums. Wow, wow, wow. You try to remind yourself to be a normal person, and smile kindly.

His returning smile is a bit tight, and you take a guess at why. Dan’s told you himself he doesn’t particularly like big crowds. Since he’s mildly famous and liable to get recognized, you get it. Clearly, he had the same idea that you did; today would be a bit quieter.

“Order up!” Tattoo Boy slides in next to you with the next tray. It must be Dan’s, because he leans forward to catch his attention.

“Hey, can I get this to go, please? Sorry.”

“No problem, sir.” Your coworker takes the tray and slides back towards the kitchen. You sigh, and go back to your work. You can feel Dan watching you, though, which is weird, because there’s a small crowd gathered around your station waiting for their orders, and you can barely hear the indie mix playing from the café’s speakers, never mind what Janet is talking to her boss about on speaker phone, or what Tiara is telling her misbehaving son, let alone be able to feel eyes on you…

But, you think, it can’t be. You’re imagining things. Yet, when you look up as you sling out the next order, you catch his eye, and he holds your gaze, smile this time looking vaguely apologetic. You roll your eyes, and he snorts quietly, bringing the tea to his lips. By the time you look up again, he’s had to weave his way between a group of teens to get his order and, without another word, he’s gone.

Well, you think, that was my one chance.

Even though you’ve actually met him in person before in an intimate situation, this felt more like fate was doing you a favor. Or screwing you over, as the case may be.

It’s a Tuesday. Tuesdays are quiet.

You like Tuesdays. It’s the first downhill slope of the week after the awfulness of Monday, and, better yet, it’s a graveyard in the café. There was one customer who came in right after opening (you open Tuesdays, because you like Tuesdays), and there’s been nobody since. Just you, and your other coworkers. This group is a group you like, because all of you pretty much keep to yourselves, meaning even though you’re around other people, your introvert batteries aren’t going down as fast as usual.

You’re looking forward to your break. You’ve made yourself a nice sandwich, a toasted vegan (of course) ham and cheese that’s keeping warm in the oven, and you’ve got a glass of your favorite boba tea waiting in the wings. You begin tapping out a melody against the granite counter, shifting on your feet in front of the cash register. You’ve been assigned the till today, which is fine. You don’t mind it. You like the café and its patrons, generally.

The bell over the door tinkles, signifying a customer, and you feel all of your coworkers’ heads snap up at once, yours included.

You’d know that mop of curly hair anywhere.

“Hi,” Dan smiles. He looks more tired than the last time you saw him, dark circles accentuating the crow’s feet around his eyes. He ducks into his elbow as a yawn crawls up his throat, and you can help looking down, looking at anywhere besides his face.

“Hello, sir,” you say, mostly to his chest. He’s wearing a baby blue shirt with navy trim around the collar and sleeves. He looks very good in blue, particularly in this shade of blue. He doesn’t wear a lot of colors, and now, thanks to the Game Grumps Power Hour, you know why.

You disagree with him, though. You think he looks good in many colors, blue being one of them.

Dan snickers, cocking his hip. “Hey, my eyes are up here,” he teases. His voice sounds a bit hoarse to your ears, though you think most people wouldn’t be able to tell. It’s just that you know that tone of voice now, this unguarded tone he must use with his actual friends.

You shyly look up, trying to smile normally, though you can feel the nerves in it. You’re bolstered, though, by the kind look in his eye, a sort of fond but longsuffering look that you imagine must be common amongst older siblings. “Do you know what you’d like to order?” Your tone has less of the customer service flavor to it, allowing yourself to tease him back. It feels like the easy familiarity of your first private meet-and-greet with him, the catalyst to this…whatever “this” is.

You’re living most fans’ dreams…without the copious amounts of sex, anyway.

Dan shrugs, still easygoing in manner, though his shoulders hang a bit lower afterwards. You figure he must be tired; you’ve been seeing his name pop up in the insomnia streams you’ve been hosting. He gives a cursory once-over of the menu, and frowns. “What? No hot sandwiches? I’m appalled.” He pouts—literally pouts!—and you can’t help but giggle.

“There are a few, but we typically don’t serve them in the summer,” you explain, rummaging under the desk against your thighs for a seasonal menu, “but the chef can make it for you, no problem.”

Dan peruses the plastic menu you’ve handed him, humming thoughtfully. You get ready to type in the order when his eyes light up, as you know he’s probably found whatever he wants. “Mm, the vegan ham and cheese looks good. I haven’t had red meat in years.” He slides the plastic menu back towards you as you type in the code and price.

“It’s really good. The ham tastes just like ham. It’s crazy.”

“Oh?” Dan tilts his head, grinning. “Well, I’ll probably be a poor judge. Can I have the same tea as last time? That was really good.”

You nod, typing it in. “We’re kinda known for that tea, actually. I could probably sneak you a few bags.”

“Oh my God, if you could, that would make my day!” Dan hands over cash to pay, and shoves two twenties into the tip jar.

You blink at his generosity. “Th-thank you.” Technically, all of you split the tips, but still. That’s a lot of tips.

Dan waves it off. “Hey, I know what it’s like to live off tips.” He smiles, and you find yourself smiling back.

After the order goes through, you hover a bit since there’s nothing for you to do. Dan spends a moment chatting with the girl working behind the bakery partition, and you see him eyeing one of the iced cookies. He goes and sits down, though, after receiving his tea, selecting a booth in the far corner of the restaurant. You can’t see him from where you are, so, a bit disappointed in a way you can’t rationalize, you go back to work.

“Hey, [Y/N],” one of your coworkers, Jo, gets your attention. They smile. “Can you bring that guy his food for me? I’m about to go home for the day.”

“Sure, no problem,” you say in a way that is completely automatic, “You okay?”

“Yeah, I was put on half shift for the day.”

“Lucky!” You groan. Jo grins, and they head to the back room. You pick up the tray, and, as an afterthought, add the cookie to it. You can pay for it yourself when you go back up. It’s a bit presumptuous, especially because you’re aware Dan eats carefully due to a nigh-debilitating chronic illness, but oh well. The deed is done.

Dan looks up and smiles when he sees you approaching his table, which makes your heart climb up into your throat. Even after all this time, he still makes you a little nervous to actually be around. It’s weird, because he’s so calming after that initial heart attack. His eyes light up like a child’s when you place the food in front of him, and you can’t help but giggle. He’s weirdly adorable for someone who could probably be your brother, or even your uncle.

“Oh, you brought me the cookie I was eyeing!” Dan lifts the cookie, examining it closely.

“Yeah,” you shrug. “It’s just a vegan sugar cookie mix, with vegan icing. Nothing too special.” You realize that you sound a bit on edge, wondering if this, of all things, will make him fly off the handle at you. Customers have exploded in your face over far less.

Dan nods, setting it down. “Well, that’s good, then! Problem solved!” He begins carefully removing the toothpicks holding his sandwich together, and you turn to walk away, when suddenly, “Hey, [Y/N], are you on break?”

“No, but I can take one.” You turn, hesitating in confusion. “Why?”

Dan leans his chin on his hand, smiling. “Wanna come sit with me?”

You could scream the answer, really, but instead, you reply in an even voice…somehow. “Sure!” You begin to walk over, but Dan shakes his head.

“Go and get your food, or whatever. I’ll be here.” As if to demonstrate this, he leans back in his chair with a grunt, producing a hairband from the pocket of his jeans. He begins trying to tame his hair into a ponytail, the hairtie between his teeth.

You grin, because it’s a silly sight, really, watching a celebrity do something so mundane, and go get your sandwich and tea. You then hesitantly approach the table, unsure if you are still welcome. Dan has a little yellow notepad sitting by his wrist, pencil tapping absently against the pad, making a soft fmph sound that is almost deafening in the quiet restaurant. His hair is up in some kind of facsimile of a manbun, probably to get the weight of it off his neck, and you can see he’s taken all of two bites out of his sandwich, his eyes focused on the paper.

He’s wearing glasses, which you somehow failed to notice before, and he’s slouching, scribbling at the paper, and you wonder if, before he saw you, this was just going to be a quiet place for him to work.

Just as you’re about to retreat, Dan spots you and waves you over. Feeling shy about pretty much everything right now, you sit down across from him, afraid to even touch your food.

“So,” Dan sets his pencil down and takes a bite of his sandwich, chewing a moment before he continues, “I think I should explain what happened last time.”

You can hardly remember what he’s talking about, but then it occurs to you. “Oh! Don’t worry about that. It’s fine. I totally get it.”

Dan makes a face. “Yeah, but I still feel bad for bailing, since I came specifically to see you.”

You nearly choke on your boba tea. “What…?”

Dan laughs kindly. “I mean, I was in the area, so, uh…figured I’d check it out.” He yawns again. “I lost my bet with the cosmos, unfortunately, so I tried again. This time? Jackpot!” He grins, big and goofy, and you can’t help but mirror it. “Quiet atmosphere and you! I should play the lottery.”

“You know,” you say teasingly, finally taking a bite of your own sandwich, “I could get a restraining order against you for that.”

“What, for playing the lottery?” Dan grins in the same way that he grins at Arin when he’s just done something that will no doubt annoy the other man. It kinda makes you feel like you’re floating, that he’s this comfortable with you.

You shake your head and take another bite of your sandwich, hoping to encourage him to do the same. You’re almost done with your first half and he’s barely four bites in. To your surprise, the social psychology works, and Dan lifts the sandwich to his lips, taking a hearty bite this time instead of the more polite bites he’s been taking so far.

“You know what I mean.”

“Mm. But you won’t.”

“No. You’re lucky you’re pretty.”

It slips out of your mouth before you can stop it, and you immediately wish you could delete it, like you can delete posts online. But Dan is just giving you an amused look.

“You think I’m pretty, huh?”

You nod, blushing.

“Well, join the club. My makeup artist says I’ve got the “cheekbones of a god,” or something like that.” He makes an airy, effortless gesture with his hand and you watch, mesmerized. He’s got beautiful hands, and, really, all of him is a stage presence, even when he’s not trying to be.

That’s a relief, at least. “Glad to hear I’m not the first. I was scared you’d up and leave.”
Dan shakes his head. “I’ve been subjected to far worse, believe me.”

You look at the lines in his face, the way you swear he’s been thinner lately, and nod. You believe him.

“Still,” Dan says, as if the conversation from before never stopped, “I figured I should say…for the record, I wanted to have lunch with you and just…talk.”

“Why?” You ask. “I’m not really, uh…” You stop yourself before you can say anything self-deprecating that might lead to pity comments, but they swirl in your head all the same. Worthless. Worth your time. Important.

Dan bowls over the unsaid comment. “I like you.”

You look down at your sandwich, picking at it. “…oh.”

“Yeah. You’re different.” Dan twirls his finger through a curl that has gotten loose and bounced into place against his cheek. “You…treat me like a human. It’s nice.” He sips his tea. “Like I’m not just Dan Avidan of Game Grumps and Ninja Sex Party. Like I’m anonymous again.”

You nod, unsure of what to say, except that you know Dan values his privacy, values keeping his personal and public sides very distinct. You couldn’t imagine playing a part the way he does day in and day out. It must be exhausting.

You suppose, for him, being treated like he’s just an ordinary guy is as relieving as therapy.

“I want the chance to get to know you,” Dan goes on, “and you can get to know me, too, I guess.”

You raise an eyebrow. “Is this like an AMA?”

Dan’s lip quirks into a smile. “I mean, if you’d like it to be.”