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Bean By Bean

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John knew he was kind of crap at saying things in general, and saying specific things in particular, so the morning after Rodney mumbled that thing, that very specific, particular thing that had John blushing so hard he was grateful for the cool underside of the pillow he'd stuck his face under, and even gladder Rodney was half-asleep and hadn't realized what he'd said, John went back into the roasting room and set to work on a new blend.

He sifted over the beans for an hour, making a special blend from the terrific fair trade green stock he'd scored from Northern Guatemala. He chose espresso beans since Rodney had lately gotten into espresso drinks—triple cappuccinos and lattes without foam, or his latest obsession, a café con leche where the milk had been frothing in John's ancient hot chocolate machine, minus the chocolate, steaming it slowly over the day so all the sugars condensed into a thick, hot soup.

The roast finished right around the time Rodney was looking up from his computer, glassy-eyed from poring over the budget numbers the museum had sent him. Rodney hated paperwork, and he especially hated when he had to justify his staff and his interns—he loved those kids, regardless how much he yelled at them, and it killed him to have to turn any of them away, so John knew Rodney would be beating himself up if he couldn't make the finances work.

"Hey," John said, keeping the hand carrying the bag of fresh beans low and to the side as he sidled up to the counter. Rodney's head had lifted like one of those crazy desert animals, the ones that sat up on their hind legs and stood tall to peer alertly around them. The smell of freshly roasted coffee did that to Rodney every time; John would have thought he'd be inured by now, but apparently the guy was hard-wired that way.

The beans made a clattering sound as they poured into the burr grinder, and then John set the portafilter underneath and flipped the switch to start grinding.

"New batch?" Rodney asked over the grinder. He sat up in his chair and stretched, yawning. John caught the flash of belly under Rodney's plaid shirt as it hiked up over his khakis and had to suppress a smirk. Vasso, the resident busybody, had looked up from her paper in the corner and would never let him live it down if she caught him leering at his boyfriend in the middle of the day.

"Sort of an experiment," John replied. He pulled the portafilter and tamped it down, then racked it in the espresso machine before filling a second one with the freshly ground blend. It smelled amazing—rich and complex and just a little bitter. Which was appropriate, really. John felt his nerves jittering a little as he flipped the switch to make the double shots, and went over to fetch Rodney's mug.

"Wait, what're you—" Rodney made as if to grab it back, unwilling to part with even the cold dregs, but John lifted it out of reach.

"Got fresh coming," he said. His voice broke in the middle, like he was coming down with a cold or something, and he saw Rodney's blue eyes narrowing. John hurried back to the machine and steamed Rodney's mug clean before pouring the two finished shots in.

Timing was important now, so he went over to the hot chocolate machine and pushed down the tab to release the steaming, thickened milk into the espresso. The colors swirled together and the coffee frothed up to the rim. Grabbing a clean saucer, John placed the mug on top and turned, only to find Rodney right there behind the counter with him.

"Oh, hey," John said, trying to hide his sudden embarrassment. He told himself he wasn't really ready, even though this was the whole point, and he rubbed his free hand over the back of his neck.

"Is that for me?" Rodney said, as if he didn't know. As if he were asking something else.

"Yeah, it's—I made you a new espresso blend," John said abruptly. He held out the cup hesitantly, his neck heating. He was pretty sure now, from the way the color was rising on the blades of Rodney's cheeks, that Rodney hadn't really been asleep this morning after all, and remembered what he'd said to John.

"A new blend? Just for me?" And how could Rodney seem so surprised? John cursed himself a little, but nodded, smiling. Rodney held his hands out and took the cup, the steam rising from it smelling milky and sweet and just a little bitter. He took a sip, his eyes on John, and said, "Ow! Ow, hot, hot-hot." But he was grinning, and he licked the foam off his top lip, which was a good thing otherwise John would've had to do it himself, Vasso be damned.

"Is it all right?"

"It's perfect. I love it." Rodney took another sip, still staring right at John, and this time when he was done John couldn't hold back. He leaned over the cup and licked the foam right off of Rodney's lip, pushed his way inside Rodney's sweet mouth and kissed him, and when he pulled back, John said—

"Yeah. That's exactly what I was trying to say."

And Rodney smiled.