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You Got Blood In My Coffee

Chapter Text

When Tommy had finally raised enough funds to purchase his little coffee shop, the elation was indescribable. Three years of skipping nights of sleep for red eye shifts, stinging on meals, saving every last penny. Years of telling his friends that he couldn’t meet them out for lunch to save those precious cents.

All of his work was finally coming to fruition as he carefully hung the neon sign on the window flashing a beautiful Open in script over a colorful coffee cup, lines of steam glowing above the two dimensional mug.

The deed was finally his after the negotiations and debates. He had managed to secure the location of his dreams. A beautiful spot in the middle of the city that boasted one of the most frequently trafficked streets right outside his doors.

His heart was filled to the brim with hope and the world was tinted gold outlined by the possibilities of the future.

With each customer that walked through the door, Life’s A Grind gained more notoriety for its status as the best coffee in the great city of L’Manburg. Word of mouth was powerful when it came to advertisement and Tommy was located in an extremely convenient spot for curious listeners to access.

It took a few months for Tommy to earn back the money he had spent on this place and a couple more for it to comfortably pad his bank account. He couldn’t go for a walk without being recognized by a caffeine addicted businessman or businesswoman on their route.

He hired a few people to give himself more freetime but there was nothing he enjoyed more than pulling on his apron and sitting behind his counter, smiling at each person who opened the door.

Life was paradise and all of his sacrifices were more than worth it, they were profitable... until they weren't.

A year or two was all it took for him to lose everything.

It all started with whispers as it always does… Quiet words carried by the wind, somehow heard by every set of ears.

Information of a new group expanding their territory through the city sent shockwaves through the public. The mob had never been a problem in the young capital but they had all read the papers ranting about the catastrophe that had occurred in their sister city.

A man named Schlatt had risen past the point where there was any hope to stop him. It had started small with a few bribes to elected officials and officers of the law but soon there was no hope. Manburg had ended in a ruthless dictatorship sending its citizens fleeing toward their gates. If those ideals were headed here then there was a justifiable fear that tinged the air.

It started small, customers' quick suspicion filled glances over their shoulders at other visitors walking through the doors.

The hint of terror that stained each face when someone entered with a bulky bag or oversized outfit.

Quick arguments and finally, the diminishing number of times that Tommy’s door would be opened.

He had gone from the most desirable coffee spot in the city to having territory lines drawn right outside his door. This new group, known on the streets solely as SBI had decided to attempt to stake their claim at the center of the city, in the most inconvenient space possible for the young business owner.

Time went on and as most mob conflicts tended to resolve, it didn’t. The situation could be considered a shaky truce at best and a standstill at worst.

Both the officers and the three mysterious leaders held a metaphorical pistol to each other’s temple, unable to make any movements without risking the consequences. They were like two countries refusing to launch the first missile in fear of the opponent returning the favor.

Tensions were high and the feeling of safety was low but nevertheless, Tommy was a stubborn boy, no matter how many times the shop remained empty, leaving him staring wistfully at the empty streets outside his window.

No matter how many times his financial advisor warned him that the shop could not support its own upkeep.

No matter how many employees he had to let go, he was there at 6:30 am, tying an apron around his waist and setting up pots to brew.

It did not matter to him how his bank account slowly lost its funds like water disappearing through a leaky tap. This shop was his life and he could not give it up easily.

Even with a mule as his spirit animal, stubbornness can only stand for so long in the face of bankruptcy. He could sell everything he owned, live on the streets, and beg for food… spend every cent on the shop and still it eventually would not be enough.

He could feel his dreams slipping through his fingers but instead of confronting that reality, he buttoned his uniform and threw himself into work. Unfortunately, sitting alone in his shop was not much better than sitting alone at home.

Reality creeps up on you no matter what, slowly gaining even if you dedicate your time to avoidance. There is a very set time where you have to turn around and face what you have been trying to escape. For Tommy, that time had come.

He had a week and a half.

A week and a half to decide to sell before he would have to worry about his food supply. He had been living in the shop for over a month, there was no apartment he could sell, he was out of other options.

A week and a half before he had to confront the reality that all of the work he had done in his life culminated in nothing.

When he had decided on the name of his shop, it was intended to be a clever pun, not a reality but Life’s a Grind had never felt like such an accurate statement.

As Tommy spent day after day sitting and waiting, he could feel the deadline creeping up like a predator stalking its prey. The clock was ticking and each second audibly clicked as it passed.

The worst thing about it was that there was nothing that could be done.

Unless SBI and the officers could draw a peace treaty, there was no hope. Tommy was helpless to aid his situation. It was all out of his control.

It felt as though he had been thrown into the bay with his feet encased in concrete. He could thrash and fight but it wouldn’t stop his sinking… It wouldn’t stop the water slowly filling his lungs.

There was nothing that he could do to help the political climate that had ruined his livelihood. If only he could sit the two sides down and demand that they work their shit out.

Unfortunately(or fortunately depending on how you look at it) he didn’t have much contact with mafia bosses or police officers…

Ring

Tommy nearly fell off of the chair he had been sitting on as the door swung open, hitting the bell suspended over the door frame. The sharp chime echoed for a bit as the bell continued to swing. The door closed behind the first customer the boy had in a month.

The man did not match the typical vibe of his regulars(Not that those existed anymore). Most of the people who entered the door were higher ups in the business world, decked out in suits or pantsuits. They held a professional air about them with their briefcases and constant hurry.

Those that did not fall under that category were typically college students.

They sought out his cafe for its vibe, a chill place to do work or chat with friends. They were typically dressed in the latest fashion trends or sweatpants and sweatshirts… there was no in between.
This stranger fit into no category when compared to Tommy’s old crowds. A long brown trench coat was wrapped around a white t-shirt of some band that the teen couldn't recognize. Black ripped jeans completed the look along with black beanie. On his finger sat a silver ring engraved with a number of unrecognizable symbols. A single silver earring cradled the lobe of his right ear with a green gem hanging from the loop.

It was impossibly big and Tommy hated to assume but based on the rest of the man’s outfit, it was likely a fake gemstone. People who liked to flaunt their wealth in real jewelry such as that earring often paired that achievement with name brands and other status symbols.

“Get scared by new customers often?” There was a hint of mockery behind the sly smile. Heat burned beneath Tommy’s cheeks. He fought to keep the embarrassment from showing as he pushed himself out of his seat and took his place behind the counter.

“Wouldn’t know, I don’t get to many of those anymore.” It was intended to be a joke but he couldn’t keep his disappointment from bleeding into it. “Anyway, what can I get you?” The change in subject was abrupt but necessary as Tommy could feel himself bringing down the mood.

He couldn’t afford to scare off the only person who had the guts to visit him despite the potential dangers of traveling to the store.

The newcomer did not seem bothered by the quick switch and paused to look up at the chalked menu colorfully displayed over the teen’s head. “I’m not a huge coffee person so I am not entirely sure.”

“You must feel right at home in a coffee shop then.”

The customer froze. “Sarcasm… Not many people have the nerve to talk to me like that…” He paused to look at the nametag pinned to the boy’s outfit. “Tommy.”

“Not trying to be rude.” Tommy quickly corrected as he felt an uncharacteristic need to justify his comment, something about the look that was being given worried the boy concerning the man’s chances of returning. “It was just an observation. I am happy to help you out in any way possible.”

Another uncomfortable pause.

“You know… Something tells me that customer service doesn't come naturally to you.”

He was right of course… Part of the shop’s reputation included the banter with the owner.

He was never used to sweet talking and he certainly wouldn’t hesitate to call out a customer if they were causing a problem. Now he didn’t have that luxury. Every person who had the grits to walk through the front door meant a couple more seconds of survival for his dream. Each customer he could convince to return meant a gulp of fresh air in the contant drowning he was stuck in.

He could not afford to risk offending someone now, it was the only control he had. If he was selling the shop, Tommy at least wanted to be able to say he had given it his best effort.

“I am a natural born customer servicer, I have no idea what you are talking about... That is not what is important. Do you prefer sweeter drinks? Something more bitter?”

“How am I supposed to know? Just… I don’t know… what are your favorites?”

 

“I made them all! You can’t force me to pick favorites between my children.” The corner of the customer’s mouth twitched giving Tommy a rush of satisfaction.

“Your children? The coffee flavors are your children?”

“Yes. My sweet children that I give to others to drink… wait… scratch that last part.”

The man let out a chuckle, eyes returning to scan the menu. “I-I don’t know then, give me a Caramel Macchiato.”

“Basic” Tommy muttered under his breath, feeling his confidence increasing around the stranger.

“What was that?” There was a clear tone that indicated that the man had heard the comment but was asking for an explanation more than a repetition.

“What was what? I didn’t say anything.” He turned around and began to prepare the drink for the first time in a very long period. It felt great to go through the motions again. Over his shoulder, he asked a quick question as he grabbed both a cup and marker. “Can I get a name for that?”

“Wilbur,” The response came quickly and Tommy scrawled the letters onto the cup.

He finished preparing the drink, topping it off with whipped cream and sliding it across the counter. “Cash or card.”

Wilbur seemed to be distracted by the cup as he squinted at the label. “How do you even read your own handwriting.” He chastised, spinning the drink in his grip.

“It is not my fault that you are apparently blind. It clearly says Wilbur.”

The man held up a card and Tommy clicked the corresponding buttons on his monitor. Wilbur slipped the card into the slot and the computer chimed. Tommy spun the monitor towards the customer for the final steps.

A concerning grin spread over the man’s face as he clicked a few buttons. When Tommy had the monitor facing him again, he felt his jaw drop. On the area marked for the tip he found himself viewing four digits… 2 0 0 0%. His eyes scanned for a decimal place that had to be somewhere within that number but there seemed to be nothing there.

“Uh, Wilbur..” The man glanced back from his attempt to walk out the door. “I think you made a mistake here.”

“Nope, 2000% right? Enjoy the tip.” He had a shit eating grin that almost made Tommy want to reject the money just for spite.

“I can’t accept a $100 tip for a five dollar cup of coffee. That is way too much.”

“Doesn't look like you have much of a choice.” The bell rang again as Wilbur pulled the door open. “Have a good day Tommy. I have a feeling that we will be seeing each other soon.”

The door closed leaving both confusion and elation in its wake.

Tommy stared at the number on the screen until closing time that night.

What had just happened?

Chapter Text

While the chance encounter had boosted morale, one hundred dollars does not mean much in the long run. Flowers of hope were strangled before they could bloom, before the dangerous blossoms could distract from the reality they were grown through. Despite Wilbur hinting at a return, business went on as usual… which is to say that business did not occur. Doubt and fear crept up as reliably as the deadline for bankruptcy.

Life went on and Tommy found himself staring wistfully at the door, waiting for anything else to distract him from the thoughts of failure swirling through his brain. Just as he could feel his image of the latest customer slipping, black spots eating at his memory of the man’s face, the bell rang.

Excitement reared its head within his chest only to be slowly crushed by social expectations. There was no way that he should be this elated for a random stranger he had met once to walk through a door.

“Morning William.” He turned his back to the man, trying to appear as disinterested as possible, busying his hands with the machinery behind him. There was no formality in the address, just a slight hint of mockery.

“Uh, it's just Will… or Wilbur if you insist on being a pain in my ass.” The man sunk into a chair at one of the many empty tables, casually swinging his legs up onto the edge of the furniture.

“Get your feet off my table… Who the fuck raised you?”

“Last time I checked, it was my dad.”

That stupid sheepish grin Will gave as he slid his feet back to the floor irritated the hell out of Tommy despite the urge smile in turn…

What was he thinking… there was no urge, this guy was annoying. There was nothing about him that Tommy enjoyed… He was just another customer.

“What can I get for you?”

Wilbur scanned the menu, “Still won’t give me recommendations?”

 

“I will not feel bad about recommending the most expensive item on the menu. Be careful who you ask for advice.”

Will exhaled through his nose, ceasing his search of the menu as his eyes landed firmly on the baristi, resolution suddenly appearing within the irises. He cocked an eyebrow, “What is the most expensive item on the menu?”

Tommy felt his shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. “I don’t know… It’s probably the frappuccinos unless you plan on adding like a million expresso shots to a random drink. They can be around ten bucks.”

The visitor gave a sharp clap of his hands, “Perfect, I will take three.”

“Wow… I don’t know if I can legally give you that much sugar. Society is bad enough without you on a sugar high.”

“They aren’t all for me.” Wilbur protested, a slight whine to the voice that was obviously superficial but was added for comedic effect. “One is, the rest are for my dad and brother.”

“Wow, you must be thirty at least and you are still living with your dad… that is a bit sad I am not going to lie.”

“I’m twenty five you dick, plus I have the financials necessary to leave but I help my father with his work. It is more convenient to stay at home.”

“Wow, you actually live with him.” Tommy scoffed. “I was screwing with you. I figured you were just visiting him or something…”

“Well I’m not. The old man is basically senile at this point he needs all the help he can get.” He laughed at the words as if echoing an inside joke that did not quite land for the teenager who was out of the loop.

“I didn’t ask for your life story man. What flavor?” Despite what Tommy said, he had latched onto every detail presented, savoring every new fact he received about the man before him.

I mean… can you blame him? This was the first customer he had in forever and the man just so happened to be a mysterious bitch. He could only get so much entertainment from making sure that the pots were brewing and wiping off the counters repeatedly.

At this point, it all fell into a rhythm. A comfortable rhythm, picking him up from the depths of his spiral and lifting Tommy to a state of content without any effort from the boy himself. Words exchanged felt like a habit, slipping past his lips without any desire or need for a filter.

There was no fear that his jokes wouldn’t land, just a warmth that spread at each chuckle or smile he garnered while fighting his own mirth from showing. It was almost disappointing as his hands routinely topped each drink with whipped cream, effortlessly swirling as his focus stayed on the flow of conversation signifying the beginning of the end.

He slid the drinks across the counter as Wilbur stood to meet him at the register. Two men mirrored with a counter between them, similar in so many ways yet different in all of the right ones. He pressed the correct buttons, dreading the ticking clock.

Tick Tick

The seconds before the bell rang again, leaving Tommy alone once again.

Tick Tick

The seconds before the bell rang for the final time as Tommy handed away the keys.

Time was an enemy. An assassin sneaking up with a bloody knife, leaving millions of hopes and dreams lying in its wake and creeping inevitably towards the wishes of an eighteen year old boy. There was no way to fight it only to run as far as his legs could carry him but his energy was running out.

When it came to pointing fingers at the most dangerous threat to his happiness, the key word was time.

Even as the screen flashed the same percentage of tip, he couldn’t fight through each tick of the clock with enough success to celebrate.

“Thank you so much.” He forced his best customer service smile and hoped that the man would not notice the barrier between the reaction of the lips and eyes.

His brain was looking for mistakes, that was likely why he noticed the slight hesitation with no clear cause. Wilbur must have noticed the false smile… But he didn’t mention it? And there was no reaction despite a slight pause? Tommy must have been overthinking it, looking for anything wrong in the only positive thing in his life at this moment.

How sad was that…

As Wilbur grabbed each beverage and went to turn away, he turned his head one last time. “I will see you later Tommy, I hope you have a great day.”

A nod.

That was all the acknowledgment that the statement was given despite the impact it had on the boy. The small sentence, a common goodbye and prelude to departure, somehow felt more genuine then he could have guessed.

The bell rung out and the door sealed itself behind the retreating figure leaving an emptiness in a once self-fulfilling shop.

An echo of murmurs could be heard, the remains of the once steady crowd that filled the walls. All that was left behind from the happiest time of Tommy’s life. Something that now felt so desperately out of reach that he couldn’t hope to reclaim that joy and satisfaction he had once felt.

Today just was not a good day for him.

Why could he not enjoy the days that brought him reprieve from the silence?


The night came and passed and Tommy was not expecting to hear the sweet chime so soon. “Hey Will,” He greeted before he even turned around, knowing that Wilbur was the most likely candidate for the person who had entered. When he did face the door, he found himself greeted with an unfamiliar face who looked out of place and uncomfortable.

Sun reflected off of blond hair and contrasted the olive green of the man’s sweatshirt.

What was with his only customer’s and black ripped jeans?

The man glanced over his shoulder looking for a person who wasn’t there. “I am sorry, were you expecting someone else?”

A knot of anxiety dropped in Tommy’s gut. His cheeks bloomed a bright red and he quickly shook his head. “I am so sorry, I just don’t get many visitors so I kind of assumed. What can I get for you?”

“Should I be worried about the lack of customers? Typically that reflects the quality.”

The man’s smile indicated it was a tease but the comment still hurt. “Not my fault that SBI set its territory lines right outside my windows.” It earned a grimace from this new visitor who immediately dropped the playful grin.

“I am sorry about that.”

Tommy felt his shoulders rise. “Not your fault, it's not like we can do anything about it… what can I get for you.” The man looked as though he wanted to protest the first statement but he reconsidered and let his gaze fall to the menu.

“I’ll just take a red-eye.”

Tommy’s eyes drifted to the clock on the wall. “At this hour?”

The man shrugged, “I am about to clock in, caffeine helps late night shifts.”

“As long as you know what you are getting into, can I get a name for the order?”

The customer glanced around the cafe, finding it as empty as he had originally perceived. “Uh… It’s Dream but why do you need a name?”

“It is more of a formality than anything else.”

There was a difference in energy compared to Will. While each moment with the trenchcoated man was filled to the brim with jokes and playful insults, the absence of these jokes did not make the interaction any less enjoyable.

Silence felt deafening but also comforting as the conversation flowed with natural gaps and pauses. It felt as though every trait of Tommy’s that Wilbur was unable to reflect was compensated for in the man standing before him. The two customers were polar opposites yet somehow both echoed the most secret parts of the boy’s inner self.

Was that too deep for someone he had just met?

Tommy couldn’t help it. He felt like a puzzle, both men were a collection of pieces. Together they completed the picture that even the barista himself couldn’t view.

As he handed off the coffee and wished Dream a good night he felt a sense of fulfillment that had not been there the day prior.

He felt more understood.

Chapter Text

What was that old saying?

Time flies when you are having fun?

The ticking deadline that had loomed over his life came and went, shoved into the future by the efforts of two very loyal customers. Procrastination was Tommy’s favorite pastime and his brain had comfortably resolved itself to ignoring the deadline until it began to cast a direct shadow over him once again.

He could finally relax, allowing himself to embrace the moment, ignoring the problems he would face. If the end was not knocking on his door, Tommy could spend as much time as he wanted filling his life with other hobbies.

Over the past weeks both Wilbur and Dream had been visiting the shop on a near daily schedule. Wilbur would come in the mornings, the door opening and wafting in the breeze. The fresh air followed him along with a faint scent of leather and smoke, not the stale oder of a cigarette but something more metallic that Tommy had yet to place.

They would talk and joke around as Wilbur slowly sampled his way through the entire menu. After a period of time the man would leave, sun glaring off his glasses and teeth as he always left the store with a smile.

Tommy would spend the next period of time prepping for his next customer. Dream always came at night, a part of the routine for the officer’s work. It wasn’t until he stopped by in uniform that Tommy understood all the night shifts. It made sense that Dream was one of the few people who would be brave enough to chance this territory. He was already in trouble with SBI.

What could a little prance around their borders do that was worse than actively trying to put them behind bars?

Each interaction with his customers followed a clear pattern as reliable as the rising sun and moon that outlined each visitor's figure as they entered.

That is why Tommy was surprised to hear the bell ring around midday.

The doorway was blocked by a looming figure, easily larger than 6 feet tall and built like a football player. Despite the white T-shirt that looked as though it was intended to hang loose, muscles shown through each crease in the fabric.

Loose grey sweatpants covered his legs and black wired headphones trailed from the man’s ear to his pant’s pocket where his phone presumably lay.

As the man walked in the store, he carefully removed the two buds and expertly wrapped them around his fingers, bundling them to be stored in his pocket without getting tangled.

Slight perspiration dotted his temple and a water bottle was clutched in his hand, retrieved from the table he had set it down on to tie the headphones.

“Wilbur said I should check this place out, think you can hook me up?”

The words forced the boy to stop his staring, wrenching his gaze away hopefully before it was perceived as rude. He turned to brew an extra pot for Dream since he would likely be using the one he had prepped this morning.

With his back turned, he gestured his free hand at the menu. “Pick whatever you would like, I’ll take care of you.”

“I’ll take an espresso”

“Coming right up Big Man, can I get a name for that order?”

“Techno”

Tommy glanced over his shoulder. “Like the music?”

The man snorted, something that would have seemed like an odd noise but oddly seemed to fit the man in front of him. “Technically, I guess. It’s short for Technoblade.”

“Huh, interesting.” He felt a desire to question more, to potentially mock the name but he was still feeling out the type of customer that this ‘Technoblade’ would be. Sure, Wilbur was ok with banter and jokes but who knows about his friend.

Plus, the man was not giving him many ques to work with. From the time that the man had entered the door, there had been no drastic change in his expression. Even when Techno had expressed a humorous response, there was barely any shift. Sure his eyebrows moved slightly and the corner of his mouth would twitch but they were not motions that Tommy was accustomed to reading. He was not sure if he could accurately gage this new customer without at least a month of interaction.

The preparation of the coffee took no time at all as he had all of the materials prepared for that night. He ensured that the coffee was at the proper temperature before sliding the small drink across the counter.

“On the house.” He had debated giving away the drink and it was clearly not what the man had expected as his brow quirked a bit more than usual.

Maybe it wasn’t so hard to read him after all

“I can’t let you do that kid.”

“First off, I am not a kid. Second, your friend Wilbur has tipped more than enough to cover your next hundred visits, let alone one espresso. Let me just hook you up this one time.”

The man looked skeptical but shrugged taking the tiny glass. It did not take long to drink the expresso and the man stood up to leave.

“By the way, Techno.” Tommy hesitated, choosing his next words carefully. “I don’t want to come off in an irritating way but I don’t know how well you know the area. It is not exactly the safest place for a run.”

The hulking figure almost made the boy forget his warning. How could he ever think that someone could pose a threat to this man?

“What makes it so dangerous?” There was no tone of curiosity in the words but based on the lack of expression he had perceived from the man, Tommy could not determine if it was from a lack of emotion or just a different way of showing it.

“It is the territory lines of the SBI, there are the occasional conflicts between the gang and the officers that have the potential to produce civilian casualties. When everything got heated, the majority of people just decided to stay clear of the area. I just wanted to make sure that you were not making decisions based on a lack of information.”

There was no worry, concern, or any other expected emotion that showed on the man's face. A slight uptick of the corner of his mouth instead suggested amusement but Tommy could not be sure.

“I appreciate the heads up but I think I will be fine. If SBI want’s to come after me, than good luck to them.”

A slight chuckle escaped the boy’s lips. “I wish them ill fortune then. Be careful who you say that around though.”

“Have a good day Tommy, I hope to see you soon.”

The man left, leaving a familiar empty cafe behind him. The neon light flickered at the door and the boy was left with a whole afternoon to waste. Barring other surprise visits, there was not much left to do.

He pulled out the phone buried in his pocket, opening the screen with a thumbprint and navigated toward the green app labeled Spotify. He scrolled once through his saved playlists randomly stopping as the choices spread bye.

Feeling satisfied with the selection he hit play, grabbing a cloth hanging on one of the cabinet doors and wiping down the counters. He comfortably zoned out with the music in the background and the both familiar and unnecessary motions of cleaning.

When the door chimed again, he was faced with both a familiar face and two new ones.

It was quite a day for new customers.

“Hey Tommy, how are you doing?” Dream’s question didn’t even need to be said. It was a habit they had both slipped into and before the words had even been spoken, Tommy had already prepared an answer.

He used the extra time during the sentence to view the two newcomers.

Their comfortable posture suggested that this was not a group of strangers. They unconsciously leaned towards each other looking as though they were seconds away from throwing an arm around Dream’s shoulders. They both scanned the area, barely glossing over the barista himself, instead they focused on the decor and the colorful spread of the menu above his head.

“I like the vibes in here.” One of the friends stepped forward, spinning on his heel and viewing the whole space. He was wearing a soft orange sweatshirt overlaid with a black jacket. His black jeans pants matched with off with black sneakers with white accents. His hair was tied back with a white headband and the ties ran behind him into the sweatshirt hood.

Two small hoop earrings cradled his right earlobe and a golden band sat on his right ring finger. Three gems; one purple, one orange, and one a deep blue were nestled together on the circlet. Around his wrist sat a familiar bracelet. It was made out of braided black string with three beads breaking the pattern. The colors were different than his ring with a green, baby blue, and orange bead. It was the same bracelet that Dream always kept tucked underneath his long sleeve. Upon further inspection, all three visitors were wearing one.

“Thank you, I designed it myself.” Tommy felt pride blossom in his chest. Despite all the difficulties of recent times, he still held great pride in the shop. It was nice to have someone else appreciate it as much as he did.

“Why is a coffee shop open this late?” The other drawled out receiving a quick elbow in the gut from Dream. The last member of the group was wearing a light blue t-shirt and tinted glasses if the same color. He sported white jeans and checkered vans.

“I don’t have a better use for my time. Might as well keep the doors open. Plus, despite all odds, I actually enjoy having conversations with Big D.”

The whole group stifled a laugh and Dream quickly corrected him. “Please call me anything but that… Tommy, meet Sapnap and George, my partners in anticrime.” He gestured to each friend in turn.

Both offered an awkward wave which was returned by the boy behind the counter. “What can I get for you guys? I am assuming the usual for you Dream.”

He received a quick nod and turned inquiring eyes on the two new customers. “Let me guess, he gets a red-eye…” Headband dude was quieted by a similar elbow. “That is what I thought. I’ll take any expresso drink, I am not picky. What about you George?”

The entire group turned to the last member who seemed slightly put off by the attention. “Umm, I don’t know. Let me think.”

“We do have work to get to man.” Dream chimed in. “You can’t make us wait all day.”

“Shut up Dream, I just woke up. I am running a bit slow right now.” After a second pause… “I’ll take a vanilla frap.”

Sapnap stifled a snort. “Of course.”

“Hey,” Tommy jokingly chastised the man. “No judgment in my coffee shop.”

“Aren’t you a little young to own a coffee shop?”

“Why yes, yes I am… Do you have a problem with that Snapchat?” The man held his hands up in surrender.

Tommy slid the three prepared drinks across the counter and went through the process of checking them out.

As they went to leave Dream hesitated, turning back to the boy who was going through his typical steps of closing. “By the way Tommy, stay safe… The heads of SBI have been more active in the area recently and I just want to make sure that you are ok.”

That was not good news but he fought to keep the fear from surfacing. “Just do your job than Big Man.” A forced smile spread across his face. “Get them off the streets and we both won’t have anything to worry about.”

Dream gave a controlled nod. “Take care of yourself.” He turned back and opened the door.

“I always do.”

Chapter Text

When he had promised Dream that he would take care of himself, Tommy had been referring to the SBI specifically. Therefore the verbal pact was not shattered along with the front window of his lovely little coffee shop.

A loud crash woke him from an unsteady sleep and muffled footsteps crept into the store.

Tommy slowly opened his eyes, careful not to make any sudden movements. It seemed that he had gone unnoticed by the intruder who had moved directly toward the counter and likely the register that lay behind it.

The boy slowly sat up from the booth where he was sleeping, sliding out from under the blanket he had draped over himself. He fell into a crouched position moving toward the hope of a better hiding place. Tommy felt no concern toward the register or any other target of the robber. Any cash that he had gained today was tucked away in a safe near the back of the store. The robber did not appear to have brought anything he could have used to open the protective metal.

Even putting aside the obvious lack of theft experience that this man appeared to have, the majority of the transactions had been by card for an extended period of time. There were not many bills lying around the place.

In all honesty, this was probably the stupidest thief that existed in the city. What kind of idiot breaks into a place that is a little over a month from bankruptcy?

Sure… He had a more stable income at this point but it was just enough to get bills paid. There was a reason he had been sleeping on a booth in the cafe. If this robber was looking to get paid then there were numerous other businesses to target.

The only benefit from hitting Life’s a Grind would be the fact that officers would theoretically be hesitant to come close if the break-in was reported. That, of course, was disproved by Tommy’s typical late-night crowd but it was an understandable thought process for a criminal to have.
The man in black disappeared into the back of the restaurant and the kitchen door swung shut behind him. Tommy took the opportunity to dive behind the counter. It was the only cover in the open-concept room, plus the intruder had already checked the space.

When the figure exited the back area and the footsteps echoed toward the door Tommy almost breathed a sigh of relief before the sounds suddenly stalled.

“Why is there a blanket?” The robber muttered aloud and Tommy froze. He glanced around his hidden space, realizing he had forgotten the last piece of evidence that he was in the shop. The steps started again and the boy pressed himself further into the cabinet doors he was leaned against. His head tucked between his knees as he tried to make himself as small as possible but it was all in vain as the footsteps stopped again.

The boy was afraid to look up but a deep chuckle confirmed his suspicions that he was not as hidden as he hoped.

“Well look who we have here…”

Tommy refused to look up on the slight chance that it was a ploy. There was a sliver of hope that the man might be trying to lure him out of hiding.

Suddenly a hand closed around his wrist pulling him from the comforting ball he had pressed himself into. “Look at me when I am talking to you brat.”

He tried to pull his arm back but the grip was like steel, unbreakable no matter the weight he threw against it.

“I couldn’t help but notice that there was a safe in the back room. Something tells me that you know the code.”

A smooth click rattled through Tommy’s bones as the safety was removed from the gun held in the intruder's opposite hand. He couldn’t get out of range of the weapon due to the maintained grip on his arm.

“You are going to open it up for me… Do you have a problem with that?” A quick yank almost took the barista off his feet. The man pulled him to the back room as Tommy fervently shook his head, denying the possibility of him causing an issue.

His knees hit the tile floor as the man threw him down in front of his safe. The lingering pain suggested that the formation of bruises had already begun in the injured areas. Any complaint or comment died in the boy’s head as he felt cool metal press against the back of his head.

Tommy’s hands moved without thought, deliberately punching in the code that he had set a couple of years ago. When the door swung open, the gun was removed and the boy quickly scrambled back as he was shoved out of the way.

“Finally, It took you long…” The man froze as he registered the practically empty interior of the box he had just forced open. A madness glinted in his eye as he whipped back around to the shop owner who had pressed himself against the wall. “Where did you hide the rest of it?”

The question sent a chill down Tommy’s spine. “Wh-what? This is all there is man. I promise.”

A sharp pain flared over the his face as the intruder’s hand met his cheek. “Don’t try and pull this shit with me boy. This cannot be all there is. I cannot have risked all of this for a less than twenty bucks.” The man’s breathing had increased and his hand was pulling at his hair while the other pressed the side of the gun to his temple.

Tommy did not like where this was heading.

“There is nothing here man, most of our payment is online. I am not stupid enough to try and hide anything. You can just take it and go. I promise that I won’t say a word to anyone, no one will ever know you were here. Please… I have nothing left to give you.”

There was no dignity in the beg that fell from his lips, there was no pride or trickery woven into the words. It sprouted from desperation, a fear of the uncertain gleam in the robber’s eyes that showed behind a ski mask. He just wanted to walk away from this without a bullet wound but the chances of that seemed slimmer and slimmer as the man made no movement to leave.

Instead the intruder paced, a frantic flurry of nervous motion. “Think. Think.” The man was rambling to himself as his hands left and returned to his head in seemingly instinctual cycle. “He has to be lying… You can’t walk away with nothing now.”

There was no time to even process before a hand grasped Tommy’s shirt and he felt cold metal press to his skin in a way that was unfortunately becoming a common occurrence for the night. “Where is it? Where is the rest?” Despite the boy’s continued protests, the intruder’s frustration only grew. Every word seemed to only irritate the man more so Tommy just stopped refusing the notion.

His denials died in his throat as shouts overwhelmed his ears. The world went blurry but he could vaguely make out a figure raising the weapon.

A sharp pain coursed through his head and the world went black.


It was supposed to be a day off…

That was Wilbur Soot’s first thought when he noticed the crunch of glass littering the street. Someone encroaching on their territory meant a lot of paperwork that he did not feel like doing.

His second thought generated when he noticed where the glass was coming from.

His hand quickly gripped the door handle only to find his attempts to twist it in vain. The door rattled as he tried again but it remained as locked as he had first recognized.

A seed planted itself in his chest, blossoming to a horrible worry that wrapped its vines around his heart.

“Screw it.” He muttered as he pulled the leather coat off his shoulders, draping it unceremoniously over the bottom of the broken window. Using the protection that the thick material provided, Wilbur vaulted into the shop quickly taking in his surroundings.

Aside from the broken glass littering the floor, nothing about the cafe seemed out of the ordinary. The only difference between his average visits and now seemed to be the lack of lights as well as a pillow and blanket kicked to the side of the room.

“Tommy?” The name started as a quiet question, begging for any sign of someone who clearly wasn’t there. When his eyes landed on the back door it became an honest yell. “Tommy!”

The door swung open as his side hit the surface and he almost dreaded looking around the room he had entered. The first thing he noticed was the blood, a primal instinct drawing his attention to the crimson liquid tracing a line down Tommy’s forehead. Everything after that moment was secondary.

The open safe and the discarded gun didn’t mean anything next to the bleeding boy he had grown so fond of. Wilbur’s fingers found themselves at Tommy’s neck desperately praying for a pulse. When he finally found a reassuring rhythm, Will sank back into the wall allowing himself to relax a bit.

After his breathing returned to a normal state he went through basic checks. The blood was coming from a raised lump on the boy’s head, Tommy would probably wake up with a hell of a headache but he would be ok. That was the most worrying injury but the most infuriating one was the bruising that ran across his cheekbone.

Someone had hit the teen and that very fact made Wilbur’s blood boil.

Someone had hit Tommy and that someone was going to die for it.

He felt his fingers trace the injury before pulling himself away to a more respectful distance. Wilbur’s hand met Tommy’s shoulder and shook. For a second, there was no response and Will felt his gut turn but a sharp groan broke the crushing silence.

The kid’s barely conscious attention was immediately directed at the head wound but the second he could think through the pain, he turned to Wilbur with fear-clouded eyes. Tommy scrambled away and each terrified movement was a knife through Will’s heart.

“Woah, woah Tommy. It’s me, it's Wilbur.” He raised his hands in a placating surrender. “You are safe.”

They sat for a second in a stalemate, one afraid of what the consequences for moving might be and the other scared of instilling more fear into the trembling boy.

“Wilbur?” The word was quiet but it was all the man needed to hear at that moment. He let his arms stretch out and the boy collapsed into them.

“Hey buddy, are you ok? Who did this to you?” He received no verbal response, just a simple shrug but that was fine. It was understandable for the boy to be overwhelmed. Wilbur was perfectly ok to just sit here, rubbing circles on the kid’s back.

It took a bit of time before the film cleared from Tommy’s eyes. Will had no idea how long they had been sitting there before the boy pushed him off.

“I have to open the shop.” The kid disappeared out the doors and Wilbur stared at the closed entrance in shock. It was as if a switch had flipped turning him from a frightened kid to the normal Tommy that he was used to seeing.

Wilbur’s hand slipped into his pocket, pulling out his phone. He did not even need to glance at the screen as he opened a group chat simply named Sleepy Bois.

W:Hey guys, I am not going to make it back home for a while… Something happened at the coffee shop.

T:Is everything ok? Do you want my help?

W:I am going to need your help tracking someone down

A bubble appeared at the bottom of the screen signifying that Techno was typing and it stood there for a couple of countable seconds. When the text finally came through, the length did not reflect the time it had taken.

T:Who are we killing?

Chapter Text

Activities that most would classify as boring, WIlbur referred to as a relaxing break. In the confusion of his busy life, he could not remember the last time that he had the time to simply lay back and kick his feet up. That cumulative vacation time he had been saving left him with the ability to spend the day lounging on the booth of Life’s a Grind just chatting with Tommy about whatever came to mind.

The teen had made it clear that he did not want to talk about the state Will had found him in. Their conversation curved naturally around the subject, flowing through riverbeds that had already been sculpted. Neither of them dared to put in the extra effort to carve through to the topic that had yet to be approached.

The first task they embarked on was cleaning the shop. “Is there a broom?” Wilbur asked only for Tommy to ignore the question and walk into the back room. When he returned, he held the sought after tool and a dustpan to pair with it.

Will strolled up and grabbed the handle meeting resistance as they playfully tugged at it. Finally wrenching it out of the barista's grip, Wilbur held it over his head and out of the reach of the cursing child. He proceeded to sweep up the broken glass littering the floor despite Tommy’s protests that he didn’t need any help. The crystalline fragments were scooped into a set of coffee mugs that now stood on the counter seeming to taunt the pair with an unspeakable subject.

“Bit drafty in here Tom.” Wilbur’s voice carried over the slight hum of the wind passing through the street outside.

“Fuck off man. What do you want me to do about it.” The boy tossed Wilbur’s leather jacket back in his direction and he let out a quick “oomph” as the heavy garment hit his chest. There was no venom in the comments, this was very typical. In fact, if he didn’t know any better Will might have concluded that Tommy was completely unfazed by the whole event.

There was no change in the boy’s energy, no tone shift in each little humorous comment. The only physical sign that something was wrong was the bruising painting his face. He seemed to be perfectly fine.

Despite that fact, appearances are not always an accurate representation of reality…

Key pieces of knowledge cut through the curtains that the boy threw up, shredding the air of normality that he tried so hard to exude.

Wilbur had seen him this morning, he had seen the truth.

He had noticed the fear drowning any other expression as Tommy scrambled away, desperate to protect himself from a perceived danger.

Will had felt the boy’s hands twist his shirt as if terrified to let go.

It was as if his view of the boy was now split, distorted through a new lens. The space that Tommy took up was not only filled by the mature business owner who had demonstrated such passion for his work, someone who had provided for himself in an increasingly difficult time, and someone who could crack a joke and banter with the best of them. It was shared by a terrified boy, struggling to make it by, and rattled by the danger he had found himself in.

There was not one persona that was more accurate than the other, there was not one mask and one true Tommy. The two overlapped, blending together to form the kid like red and blue images create a third dimension. They complimented and defined each other.

Will had only been able to see the full picture up until this morning. When he had found the boy bleeding in the back of the shop he was able to discard the perspective he had held on so tightly, to see each layer that made up the kid he had come to think of as a close friend.

As he dropped onto the booth by the counter, observing the boy’s work, the split was clearer than ever.

It didn’t change anything about his view of the kid, there was no dramatic shift in their friendship, and no big moment where a heavenly chorus sang and light shone down from the heavens as Will had an epiphany. The realization was solely marked by an alteration in appreciation, a deeper understanding of the other.

The day flew by effortlessly, the pair keeping each other entertained and soon the sun dipped below the top of the window.

Tommy turned to heat up a coffee pot, peaking Will’s interest at the sudden change in their routine which had remained consistent for the last hours. “What are you doing over there?” He threw a balled up napkin hitting the boy in the back of the head.

“Hey, you better clean that up. I will not have your filth mucking up my spotless cafe.” Tommy chucked the balled paper back in Wilbur’s direction. “If you must know, I am preparing for my favorite customer.”

 

“I’m already right here.” He threw his hands up in mock offence and sat up, leaning against the back of the booth.

 

“Wow, that is a very original comeback. I marvel at your wit.” Sarcasm dripped from his tongue.

“I thought I was your only regular.” Wilbur pressed a hand to his chest and gasped. “Are you cheating on me? I am being forced to fight for my honor.”

Tommy snorted, “You would lose that flight Big Man. He’s got a gun.”

What?

Everything stopped.

Fear and worry flashed through Wilbur.

Was this mysterious customer competition? How many dangerous people did Tommy associate with?

The change in emotion was apparently visible as the barista dissolved into laughter. “God I wish you could see your face.” He gasped out between his wheezes. “He’s a cop, he is allowed to carry a weapon.”

Oh

Thank God it was not another threat to the teen.

Wait…

Oh shit, did he say a cop?

Now, when Wilbur Soot had accepted a position at the head of the family known as the SBI he had done so with extreme caution. It is dangerous to take such a public position and he did not want to put him or his loved ones at risk of legal action.

The three leaders had spent an extensive amount of time preventing any evidence that could link them to the family’s actions; he had nothing to fear from encountering an officer of the law.

Except for one thing…

Wilbur Soot was also a bit of a prick.

He enjoyed flaunting his immunity despite the groans of both Techno and Phil, giving statements that were one word away from damning confessions and creating wildly unbelievable alabis only for them to just barely check out. It was not an unknown fact among the police force that he was a member of SBI, the officers just could not do anything about it.

The problem presented itself in the fact that this was not a reality that he wanted Tommy to be aware of. He hated hiding facts from a friend but after hearing the strife that the mob’s actions had caused the boy he just could not bring himself to reveal the truth.

He had come here to Life’s a Grind to try and lessen the blow of the consequences that his own actions had caused…

He had stayed because of Tommy.

He was well past the point where he could consciously do something to spark hatred in the boy’s eyes. Wilbur was too dependent on their morning routine to draw a dagger and cut ties.

He needed an excuse to go before this third party showed up and that would not be too difficult to pull off but it pained him to leave Tommy in a moment of weakness. “If you are replacing me then fine!” He made a show of pulling the jacket over his shoulders. “I guess I will just go.”

“Do you actually have to head out or are you screwing with me?” The innocent curiosity and longing that overwhelmed the kid’s face begged Wilbur to stay, to break the seal and reveal every little thing that he had hidden away.

“Unfortunately yeah, I have to leave.” Will exhaled slowly, trying to forgive himself. “Techno needs my help with something. Plus, you are about to be busy, you won’t have to be scared and alone for too long.”

 

Tommy’s face screwed up. “Fuck you bitch I am fine alone. I don’t know nobody!”

Wilbur stroled up to the counter and ruffled the boy’s hair. Tommy pulled back, hands going up to fix what was already a messy hairdo. “I would hope you know at least me at this point… I will see you tomorrow morning Tom.” The barista just nodded, clearly fighting the lifting corners of his mouth.

“Not looking forward to it. Drive or walk unsafe.”

The bell rang and Wilbur was gone.


“This was going to be a lot of paperwork.”

That was Dream’s first thought when he noticed the crunch of glass littering the street. It was not often that criminals encroached on SBI territory nor the areas held by the officers. Obviously there were a few souls who dared it, whether they could be considered brave or stupid, but it was not often that he found break ins in an area that could piss off both groups.

His second thought generated when he noticed where the glass was coming from.

Life’s a Grind seemed lively as ever, neon lights flashing on the window still left intact. Tommy sat behind the counter doing his typical busywork, back turned to the officer. As his boots let out a Crunch on the glass still scattered outside the shop Tommy whirled around, a slight reaction of fear and panic before catching Dream’s eye and giving a smile and a wave.

Outlined by the lighting of the store as well as the neon that shone on the street outside illuminating the dark street, a deep green and purple bruise shone on Tommy’s face. Dream immediately felt an unfamiliar rage burning within him. It took a lot to get the man angry but this was one thing that would quite possibly send him over the edge.

He pushed down the fire building within him that begged him to destroy whatever criminal had dared to hurt this kid, instead throwing on a mask of normality. “Should I come in through the window or the door?”

“Take your pick Dream. Both are wonderful points of entry. I personally recommend the door as a window sill is a bit of a step for someone of your height.”

“I am literally the same height as you, what are you talking about?” The officer playfully protested.

“When wearing five inch platforms, sure. You getting your regular?”

Dream nodded before steeling himself for the question that he had to ask next, unsure of how the boy would react after clearly avoiding the subject. “What happened Tommy? Who did this?”

There was a slight flinch that would likely have gone unnoticed if Dream had not already been analyzing the teen’s body language before Tommy’s shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “Some idiot broke in last night. He wanted the safe and wouldn’t believe me when I told him that the contents were all I had. Oh! That reminds me!.”

He disappeared into the storage room in the back after grabbing a napkin off the stack on the counter. Dream was not sure what to expect when the door swung open again but it definitely was not the kid holding a gun using the napkin to prevent directly touching the cool metal.

“What is that!?” Dream exclaimed, this case just got a lot more serious and Tommy’s lack of acknowledgement just got a lot more worrying.

“If you don’t know what it is, I may become slightly more worried about the quality of police training nowadays.” He set the weapon on the counter, muzzle faced away from both people in the shop, and slid it closer to the policeman. “Robber left this behind, I was hoping you might be able to use it for fingerprints or at least confiscate it for me.”

Dream gingerly handled the gun ensuring that he emptied any ammo and clicked the safety into place. The noise that the locking mechanism made triggered a slight hesitation in the barista causing the officer to observe him with concern.

“I am fine man.” Tommy protested as he caught the man staring. “I didn’t even get hurt. The guy just rattled me a bit, that‘s all.”

“What is that then?” Dream gestured to his cheekbone which the boy immediately turned his head to hide from view.

“Don’t worry about it, it is just a bit of bruising.”

“I am going to find this guy for you.” The statement was said with such finality and assurance that the boy’s eyes widened in surprise.

“How are you going to do that? He wore a ski mask all of last night and he is long gone at this point.” It hurt to see the lack of hope demonstrated by the kid but Dream didn’t let himself feel discouraged.

“Could I get the security footage? Maybe he left more clues than you thought?”

“I would give it if there was any. Those cameras up there,” Tommy gestured to the devices around the room. “They haven't been turned on in forever. I shut them down to save electricity ages ago.”

“You just want to give me a challenge.”

“Hey, Dream.” Tommy slid the cup across the counter and met the man at the register. “If you catch this guy I will give you free coffee for a month.”

“George and Sapnap still have to pay?”

A genuine smile lit up Tommy’s face, the first one of the evening that fully reached his eyes.

“Of course! Do you think I am made of money?”

Chapter Text

“Murder…” Dream muttered as he threw down his coat. “I am going to murder somebody.” He dropped into the chair sitting aside his desk gently setting the cup of coffee next to the silver company-issued laptop.

“Is there a specific target of this murderous rage or are you just trying to see if we would be able to catch on to you?” Sapnap’s chair hit his as the arson and forensics expert pushed off of his own desk, rolling across the shared office space. He leaned over the back of his chair peering down on Dream who had sunk into his own seat.

“There is a very specific target. Someone broke into Life’s a Grind last night, shattered the front window and everything. Think you could help me find out who?” His partner almost fell out of the chair from his already precarious position. Sapnap scrambled to correct his balance before getting out of the seat entirely.

“Holy fuck, is Tommy ok?” The genuine worry emulated Dream's own and even George had poked his head up from behind his own computer. He offered no verbal input but his eyes were just as questioning as any statement that the tired man could give.

“He’s mostly fine,” Dream offered, trying to negate the worry. “He didn’t lose much in terms of cash but the property damage isn’t pretty. There was glass all over the street. Kid is alive despite everything but there is some nasty bruising on his face.”

There was no shift in the physical expressions of the listening officers but a rage blazed behind their eyes. “Alive despite everything?”

Dream nodded sharply, carefully withdrawing the weapon he had wrapped in his coat. The very weapon that Tommy had slid across the counter that morning. Sapnaps face dropped and George stood up to see what had caused the gasp, looking over the computer that had been hiding the item.

“Robber left this behind and Tommy asked me to take care of it. I told him we could find the asshole, do you guys think you could help me?”

There was no hesitation before they both nodded, Sapnap accepted Dream’s offer of the gun before leaving the room to run fingerprints. George sat back down and the clacks of his keyboard soon echoed around the shared office. Dream found himself over George’s shoulder with a hand placed on the back of the programmer's chair.

“Does Tommy have any security footage?” George pulled up the street view and began to open another tab before Dream shook his head.

“Unfortunately not, all we have to work with is the city cameras and the weapon itself. What can we see?”

 

They stared at the monitor so hard that spots began to form in their vision. George scrubbed through the footage of last night before selecting a time around 3 AM. The camera caught a black figure strolling up to the little shop. There was very little that could be made out about the man as he seemed to blend into the shadows of the street.

Dream cussed as the footage grained and then refocused, the man had his face pressed up against the glass, viewing the inside of the shop. He left for a period of time and both officers just moved on, convinced it was just a coincidence and there was another assailant.

That opinion was changed as the man returned, holding a lumpy bag. When the figure's hand disappeared into the fabric it withdrew a stone that was big enough to fit snugly into the palm of his hand. The man cocked back the rock and threw it, shattering the window with ease.

The bag containing the remaining projectiles was dropped off his shoulder and lay at the front of the store. The robber entered the building with no apparent precautions for the shattered glass and they lost a view of him. Around forty five minutes later the figure ran from the store grabbing the bag as he disappeared out of camera range.

“Follow…” His thought didn’t even need to be finished as George immediately scanned the other cameras in the area. There were a couple of images of the man sprinting by but they were spaced out enough that there was no clear idea of the final destination.

The man seemed to be skating the border between SBI and city territory before George hissed a quick “Fuck.” He gestured to the screen and Dream had to bite back his own curse.

The last image they could find.

The last camera view of the man who had hurt Tommy.

Was a clear shot at his back as the man sprinted directly into the SBI’s sector.


Wilbur dropped his back on the couch sinking into the soft material as the clacks of a loud keyboard echoed through the room.

“Techno… Fuck off.” Will’s palm met his forehead as a headache showed signs of forming from the clash of each click with the thoughts of revenge swirling through his mind.

“I was literally here first. Do you want to find the guy or not?”

A groan slipped from his lips as Wilbur pressed his hands to his ears muffling the noises. “Did you at least find out which cop has been visiting the shop?” His own voice sounded weird passing through the obstructions he had placed in the way. Techno just chuckled a bit. “What?” Wilbur sat up. “What is so funny?”

The monitor that Techno was looking at lit up with security footage. With the speed that it had appeared, it was obvious that the file was already ready to be queued. The sly smirk that spread across his brother's face caused Wilbur to hesitate before he leaned towards the screen.

Three very familiar officers practically skipped up to the store. Each step they took towards the coffee shop was a personal mock to Wilbur, defiling something he held dear. They were throwing playful punches and likely bantering in that annoying fucking way they did but it was hard to tell with the grainy footage. The trio never could shut up when they were around SBI so why would it be any different when it was just the three of them?

“Of course it had to be the Dream Team.” He could feel blood rush to his ears as Techno’s knowing smirk burned into him. “Stop looking at me like that.”

“What? Aren’t you upset that they are getting too close to the kid Dad told you not to get attached to?” The burning spread from Will’s ears to his cheeks and he fought to keep the effects of the natural flush from showing.

“I am not attached…. He just makes good coffee. What can I say?”

Techno quirked an eyebrow and stared, rubbing in each second that Wilbur had to sit in his excuse. “Suuuurrreee. Although, I have to admit. It was pretty decent coffee.”

Wilbur gave a playful shove, rolling the chair that Technoblade was sitting on away from the computer. His brother simply grabbed the desk and pulled himself back. “You know that our favorite trio is after the same guy we are? I have been tracking their lab process and it matches with identity checks.

Wilbur perked up at that information. “Have the assholes found anything?”

The answer he received came in the form of a slight shake of his brother's head. Trying not to feel discouraged, Will found his hand clasping the back of Techno’s chair, glancing over his shoulder at the information displayed on the screen.

“They are looking right now actually. As annoying as the Dream Team can be, they have more information than we do. Tommy gave them the gun and without the security camera footage giving us anything there is no other way of knowing who this guy is.”

Wilbur cussed under his breath. “I knew I should have grabbed that thing while I could.”

Techno grossed his arms with a disbelieving glance. “Oh really… You should have just waltzed out of the shop with a weapon that Tommy had possession of. How would you have pulled that off?”

“You know what I mean, dickhead. Is there anything we can do?”

A quick shake of Techno’s head was all it took to subject both of the boys to an hour and a half of boredom. They filled the time with whatever they could, random games, books, or even a quick tournament of rock, paper, scissors.

The boredom ended with a series of vibrations. Both brothers locked eyes before glancing over to a rather inconspicuous phone laying on the kitchen counter.

In many other homes, that would be no big deal. In the Craft household, this was a very special phone.

Simply referred to as the ‘work phone’ the thing rarely rang if it was not important for the family business. Its line was filled with SOS calls, business deals, and other slightly illegal proposals.

As the two of them towered over the ringing phone, they realized that this was exactly the call that they had been waiting for. The contact name sat displayed on the screen slightly distorting as the device shook. 5 letters and the cure for the extra time the boys had been thrust into.

The name on the phone was Dream.


The tests had come back, Dream knew who the target of his aggression was.

The security footage had come back with nothing and Sapnap’s searches of the database for a registered weapon had come up just as blank. Their last piece to search through had been the fingerprint database.

Now, any forensic scientist will tell you that fingerprinting is an extremely flawed system. It is very rare to get a perfect print and even when the subject had left one behind, there was a large margin of error.

The mark itself is left by the oils secreted by the skin and like everything else created by humanity, it breaks down eventually.

Lifting each print is a nightmare and has a high chance of damaging the marks that are left.

It would be blissful if life were like a television show. Where a print could be lifted and point to an exact suspect, where it would be presented as an inevitable conclusion without a shadow of a doubt.

That is not the case in reality.

Any print that was taken would need to match up to a database only filled by people who had been previously arrested, it was a clue, not a conclusion.

Fortunately, this clue was the final straw that narrowed down the man they were looking for.

George did what he did best. He scoured the footage, gaining a general height and weight estimate using other objects in frame. There was no way to determine age or sex as the build that was visible did not clearly hold defining traits for either one. The only way they knew the suspect was male was from Tommy’s description.

With that knowledge, they narrowed down the criminal database. At this point, they were banking on the man having been brought in for a prior crime and the fact that he had scampered into SBI territory after the robbery raised the chances that this was not the man’s first offense.

The list they received was short enough, roughly 30 men who fit the description. With Sapnap’s analysis of the partial fingerprints, he had found on the gun they had been able to successfully narrow it down to one.

Manifold, Jack
Born in L’manburg
Charged for Larceny
Released on Parole

He checked all the boxes: medium build, lived in the area, had a history of robbery, had financial motivation. Everything fit.

With this knowledge in mind, Dream’s attention fixed to his phone, something that had been taunting him since he had watched George trace the path of their mysterious robber. He knew who he had to go after, he knew he had the evidence to persecute, now he just had to confront what he knew he had to do.

SBI

A contact name that was entered in after a particular threat was issued by the family. He had made sure to save the number in case he would need it in a situation similar to this. Now he just had to hope that they had not changed their career.

His fingers worked on his own as his mind attempted to persuade him out of the actions. The line rang and tension grew.

Apprehension reared its ugly head with each tone that sounded. That feeling built and boiled, a line of tension that drew more and more taught.

“Well well well… hello Dream.” A taunting drawl echoed across the room. “What brings you to call such a lowly and innocuous family?”

With those simple words…

The line snapped.

Chapter Text

Three officers march toward a territory border. They move toward no battle. There is no fight in their itinerary, yet all the same, their bodies are posed for war.

There are no extra weapons, no heavy-duty vests, nothing but squared shoulders and determination that could slay an immortal.

There were no grins, no hope of overall change or progress. Instead, each trio met at the undrawn line with mirrored sneers and nonverbal hatred. Anyone passing by would have wondered the deeds that needed to be committed to cultivate such a bitter distaste of another group of people. Anyone reasonable would have concluded that the murder of a family member was a reasonable, though untrue, option.

George fussed with his uniform, fighting down discomfort under the men’s scrutinizing gaze. He attempted not to feel outmatched against the force that was the members of SBI.

Siren’s signature trench coat was missing, possibly left at home in the rush that had been the organization of this meeting. Of course, it was always possible he just did not want to wear it. The man wore a collared white shirt under a forest green sweater. His thumbs sunk into the pockets of black khaki pants, a silver belt buckle matching the metal of the man’s ring.

It was alluring, friendly almost. That was where the danger of the man lay. He was a living flytrap, baiting anyone he meets with sweet nothings and words overflowing with honey. Once an unsuspecting victim fell for the deceit, the trap would snap closed revealing the danger that lay beyond his careful facade. The only thing threading a thin crack through Siren’s persona was the black mask caressing his chin and cheekbones. The dark, silver-stitched material contrasted an otherwise homely image.

Blood God did not follow his brother in keeping up with current fashion trends nor a welcoming aesthetic. His wardrobe was clearly thrown together with very little thought to the image it would present. It simply consisted of black khakis with a matching button-down. The only splashes of color presenting from the silver chain looping through his belt buckles as well as the necklace hanging around his neck. A black suit jacket was pulled over the musculature that bulked the man far past anyone else in the group. A red handkerchief was tucked into his pocket, a bitter reminder of what the family could do related to that specific maroon.

The Angel himself almost made George have to stifle a laugh. He appeared as though he had been pulled from an old-timey black and white mafia movie. The irony of the pinstriped suit was not lost on the officers nor was the matching green and black hat.

Then there was Sap, Dream, and George. Sitting there in basic uniform, nothing intriguing and no story to present.

“Well?” It was Siren who spoke first, Wilbur Soot breaking the silence that had settled on the group and cutting through the tension like a hot knife. The problem with cutting a line under tension was that there will always be recoil.

It had not been an entirely stress-free couple of days for the three of them and Dream wasn’t necessarily known for keeping his cool. The man was like a pot of water. It took a lot to get him boiling but once he reached that point, he was likely to overflow.

“What do you mean, well?” The masked man snapped back. “I told you exactly what I needed over the phone. You were the one who wanted to set up this stupid meeting. All I need is permission to go get one guy without sparking all-out war, you cool with that, or are you as childish as you appear.” Wilbur’s eyes darkened, hinting with a new malicious light. “Are you really petty enough to not let us go get one single criminal that ran through here?”

“Now tell me Dream…” The tone was low, vibrating at a deadly calm. Siren’s words echoing through the air, it could almost be attributed to some supernatural power or gift. The man had an aura, taking every word that dripped off his tongue and shoving it through the ears of others. “Why should I… Why should we give you any favors? There is no benefit here, for all we know you could be going after one of our own.” The last sentence sounded as though Siren was disturbed by the very thought but George couldn’t decipher why that could be the case. “There is no reason we should help you, not when we do not even know details as simple as who you are after.”

“We just want Jack…” Dream froze at a spark in Siren’s iris, a flash of excitement that the man had been unable to hide. Taking a deep breath he mentally took a step back, examining the conversation that had occurred.

Why would Siren be interested in Jack Manifold? Why would he care about a random name of a man? This was personal for Dream because of Tommy… Why would an SBI leader be invested?

“Nice try Siren.” Dream found great pleasure watching the flame die from the rival's eyes. “I don’t know why you want the name but there is no reason for me to give it to you.” His eyes shifted over to Blade, who had remained quiet throughout this whole exchange. “You asked why you should give me any favors… I think that Blade can answer that question.”

Both Siren and the Angel whipped around to the third member who refused to meet anyone’s eyes but Dream’s. “You sure you want to call it in now? This is a one-time thing.”

“I have never been so sure.” With that resolute answer to his question, Blade gave a firm nod to the surprise of the Angel and the irritation of Wilbur.

“What the fuck! Blade we had an arrangement.” It was rare to see someone so unintimidated at the rage of Siren but Techno simply shrugged him off.

“That arrangement is null and void, it is always going to be trumped by that favor. This is the only time he can use it, the last thing tying me to them. We don’t start a war with them for crossing the border and me and Dream are even.” The man offered a hand and the officer shook it sealing an agreement that left both of their acquaintances drowning in confusion.

The three officers moved briskly past the SBI, each resisting the desire to shoot a mocking look at Siren. It would be fun to get some payback but the deal was safety from the borders, not from pissing off the head of a family. They had a job to do and they could not risk anything that might obstruct that. They moved further into enemy territory, steadily searching for the target of all of this effort.

Discomfort crawled through Dream, recognizing the deal he had made with the devil. Here he was risking his job, his life, and even his friends in an attempt to bring justice to one boy.

Regret sank its claws into him, tearing through resolve and determination. Just as he began to question, the memory of Tommy shone as clear as day. The boy’s slight tremor as he slid the gun across the counter. The speck of fear in his eyes at every sudden movement that Dream had made. They were likely things that would wear off, fears lost to the sands of time and long forgotten by the time Tommy was an older man but that did not matter.

Someone had placed that fear in the boy’s heart. Someone had pointed a weapon at the kid who made Dream’s night.

It was at that moment that Dream made his decision. No matter what it took, he would get Tommy his justice.

When it came to avenging the boy, the ends justified the means.


“What the fuck was that?” Wilbur whirled on Techno the second that the officers were out of sight. “We need that name! I cannot let them beat us to the guy. The second that whoever was stupid enough to rob Tommy is in handcuffs, we can’t do much without retribution. You just handed away the warning sign that was supposed to protect the kid.”

“Relax Will,” Techno’s voice was irritatingly calm in the face of his clear irritation. “I know it is less than ideal but this kills two birds with one stone. It gets that favor out of the way and we have a first name. We have way more resources beyond the line. There is no way that the Dream Team can beat us to finding this man. They don’t have anywhere near our connections.”

 

“What favor?” Wilbur was near shouting, hands held out as his palms faced the sky. “How the fuck did you end up in debt with Dream of all people.” The slightest twitch was all that he could decipher from Techno’s face.

He had struck a nerve

Technoblade brushed past both Wilbur and Phil who was silently watching the exchange. “We have someone to find, hurry up.” The change in subject was so abrupt that even Phil flinched a bit. It would have to be a question for another day.

For now, they had a criminal to track down. So much effort for no reward for the SBI.

This would not increase their power, their wealth, or their respect. Going after this mystery robber had a much higher chance of hurting the family than it did helping it.

Despite all of the risks, all three of them agreed… Wilbur and Techno had talked enough to convince Phil of the necessities of the actions. This boy was worth vengeance. He was worth any damage they sustained on the tract of revenge.

No matter who got hurt or what they lost, it did not matter.

When it came to getting revenge for the boy, the ends justified the means.

Chapter Text

Today was a perfectly normal day for a very normal guy named Jack Manifold. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and nothing could possibly go wrong.

Right?

It was evening when he first noticed it, the hairs on the back of his neck stood and a heavy weight seemed to descend upon him. His shoes stuck to the ground, legs locking as his head twisted, searching for the source of the gaze he could feel burning through him.

There was no one there.

Pushing down the fear that rises, Jack moved along with his day, feet meeting pavement in a steady rhythm, calming him with each little repetitive clack.

It took another ten minutes for the feeling to overwhelm the lid he had slammed upon it. Taking the long way home, he avoided his apartment hoping that the feeling would subside before he neared a place where he felt safe.

After another fifteen minutes of walking circles around the way home, Jack gave up resigning himself to whatever discomfort was growing. The front door of his apartment building opened with no need for a key. The rusted lock had gotten stuck enough times for the residents to just accept the open access.

His mindless stroll landed him in front of the door marked with a tarnished steel fifty-nine. Slotting his key into the lock it effortlessly turned and his hand twisted the doorknob pushing the door open eliciting squeals from the old hinges.

Taking a few steps into the room, he dropped his stuff with a sigh of relief from the sudden lack of weight on his shoulders. He carefully fumbled around the wall looking for the light switch when a sharp click sounded. A light appeared, and despite what outside sources may claim, Jack stayed quiet and composed as he whirled around toward the source of the noise.

On his couch sat Siren, one of the most powerful men in the entire city, one hand curled around the cord of Jack’s living room lamp while the other caressed the weapon sitting in the man’s lap.

Jack’s eyes darted to the doorway only to find the Blood God’s frame blocking his escape.

“Why don’t you come join me.” Siren’s words flowed, hand gesturing at the empty armchair across from him. “We have a lot to talk about.”

Jack’s brain was scrambling, searching for things he could have done to warrant the attention of two out of three members of the family who controlled this portion of the city. His mind entered survival mode, coerced by the gun whose barrel was now aimed uncomfortably close to his major arteries. He found himself sinking into the chair, nervously tapping his leg to dispel any energy from the adrenaline that had shot through him.

“Um…”He froze, unsure of the dynamic in the room but upon seeing no reaction from Siren, choose to continue. “What did you want to talk about?” It was a hesitant question and something in him died at the twisted grin that he received.

This was not a good visit.

Siren’s body language was tense, a snake poised to strike and that energy was directed at a man who had no idea what he had done to trigger the reaction.

The aggression that was lining every muscle of Siren’s figure had no way of being perceived as defensive, there was no reason for Siren of all people to fear him. There was a different source for the instinctual fear that kept Jack frozen to his seat.

There was no doubt that Siren was venomous, his reputation preceded him. SBI was dangerous, they had fought for the power they held leaving a trail of challengers lying in their wake.

The question was not whether Siren was dangerous.

The question was whether he would actually bite.

The man was not coiled in a corner begging to not be seen, he was a mamba, dangerous and actively seeking targets upon which to use his venom.

Siren was playing with him, enjoying every drop of terror that was squeezed from the visit.

Enjoying watching him squirm as the Blood God moved from his position by the door to Jack’s side.

The worst part about it was that he could not figure out the reason why. Was he just unlucky enough to walk past a man who needed to vent his aggression or did he slip up, mess with something he shouldn’t have?

The only thing he could think of was that coffee shop but he had barely touched the place. Sure the window was probably expensive but he only got like twenty dollars from the theft. Everyone stole around here, it was part of what made this half of the city so appealing. As long as you don’t get caught and you don’t piss off someone powerful, it was basically free reign.

Apparently, he had failed at that last one.

“I just think we should talk about your recent activities, Jack.” The dangerous sweetness wove its way through the sentence. It seemed friendly, inviting, admiring.

The undertones were none of those traits. The voice slightly tremored with a very missable rage. Anger painted walls blood red, covered by a thin layer of primer to mask. It froze Jack, fear twisting through his gut as he forced his face to remain passive.

“What do you mean? I haven’t really been doing much.” He fought for a conversational tone but a grunt from the Blood God caught him off guard, barely managing to not jump off the chair.

The malicious glint in Siren’s eyes made him regret ever speaking in the first place. “Oh really…” The villain drawled. “No big plans? No birthdays? No robberies?”

He knew… He had to know… But how? Why? Why did someone as influential as Siren care this much about some cafe.

Suddenly a loud shout cut through the building tension.

“Police open up!”

“Fuck everything,” Siren muttered under his breath, gesturing toward the door. Blood God moved towards the entrance, hand gripping the doorknob. He looked back at his brother who nodded in confirmation.

“Jack Manifold, if you do not open this door we will use…” Dream’s voice cut off as a very different man than he expected opened the door.

“Hi Dream.” Blood God’s voice held clear hints of amusement. “How can I help you?”

“You bastard, what are you doing here?” Said bastard took a step back, nonverbally inviting the three cops into the room. Sapnap tensed as his eyes found the gun laid on Siren's lap.

“We promised you safe passage through the territory, not the perp you were searching for.” The deep voice echoed across the otherwise silent room.

All three officers tensed and Dream wheeled upon the massive man in anger, an anger that was quickly dissipated as Techno’s hand crept warningly towards his hip.

“Are you serious Blade? I thought we had an agreement. This is definitely a great way to even the score.” The sarcasm mixed with the anger lacing Dream’s tone creating a concoction that would cause many to at the very least pause but the Blood God didn’t even flinch. He simply offered a shrug.

Throughout the entirety of this interaction, a very confused robber was sitting on his own living room chair with a gun cementing him in place. He watched the interaction like a game of tennis, head tracking each player and trying to absorb every piece of information he could. He was grasping at straws, any control he had over the situation was long destroyed.

He had no idea why he was being targeted by not one but two separate groups who were threatening both him and each other while standing in his apartment.

He began to rise only to drop back at a quiet “Uh uh uh.” That Siren whispered as he pushed himself off of the couch. The man kept his Jack in his peripheral as he walked up, slinging an arm around his brother. “Dream, you gave it your best shot but we beat you to him. Sucks to suck I guess. You can move on with your life, we have this taken care of. ”

“Listen guys, this isn’t just some random arrest for us. It is personal. He hurt someone that we care about and I can’t just let this slide.”

Siren laughed, a slight mocking huff that left both Jack and the officers with a spark of confusion. “You aren’t the only one that this is personal for… I said,” He paused, emphasizing each word separately. “We… have… this… handled…”

The air seemed to turn stale, hanging in one place undisturbed by any movement. As dangerous of a standoff as the lines that had been drawn carving the city into pieces.

Unable to take the silence, Jack pushed himself to his feet immediately regretting the motion as he found himself staring down the barrel of five weapons.
“Woah woah woah.” He raised his hands in surrender. “I am so beyond confused right now. Why are you all here? What is going on?” The glares he received almost made him return to his seet but he pushed on. “Why are you all here?”

The officer in green lowered his gun marginally, allowing a full view of his face or at least of most of it and the black mask covering his nose and mouth. “You robbed someone who I care about and I am just here to make sure that justice is obtained. He deserves a bit of revenge.”

“Who?” Jack exclaimed unable to put the pieces together. “All that I’ve done in the past year was practically take candy from a baby.” The noise registered before the pain did. Siren’s smoking barrel lowered and pain erupted from Jack’s ear. His head was ringing, echoing the shot that had skimmed the outer edge of his cartilage.

“You are going to regret that.” The venom oozed from every word. Jack had stepped too close to the snake. There was no avoiding a bite.

“What? What am I going to regret?” It was not intended to egg on the men, they simply were questions spawned of a curiosity and lack of understanding.

The officers and their sworn enemies locked eyes carrying a silent conversation that ended in a sharp nod.

The officer in green was the first to holster his gun and take a step towards the door.

“W-w-wait!” Jack stuttered out, taking a step in the direction of the officers only for the threat of another bullet to stop him in his tracks. He avoided eye contact with Siren, keeping his focus on the men he was talking to. “You can’t leave me with them.”

His pleas were ignored as the officers exited the apartment. The last he heard from them was the green officer’s question as he closed the door.

”Can we at least have what is left of him?”

Chapter Text

Beams of light streamed through the windows of Life’s a Grind. If there were birds in the middle of the city, Tommy was sure that they would have been singing.

Can pigeons sing?

Life was looking good for TommyInnit. Despite the slight setback that was referred to as being robbed at gunpoint, there had been a surprising lack of lasting impacts. He had woken up to the sweet disappearance of the chilling draft that had been keeping him up the last few nights.

Someone had stopped by yesterday and replaced the broken shards that had been the only remaining physical reminder of the night. When Tommy had protested that he did not order the services, the worker had simply shrugged and stated that the job was already paid for. Later the same day, another confused worker had shown up claiming he was here to fix a broken window.

Aside from trying to explain that there were no windows left to be fixed to the one poor guy, the day was honestly quite boring.

Do not take that to mean that Tommy was dependent on either Dream or Wilbur to entertain him, he was able to have fun on his own. Both of his customers have separate lives and they do miss days of coming to the shop… just not typically at the same time.

The shop was empty and boredom has always been Tommy's greatest weakness. The deck of cards typically tucked in a drawer behind the counter was used for many rounds of solitaire before he even felt any weight building on his eyelids.

The reason why today was superior to the quiet day that came before could be summed up to a very simple sound that rang through the cafe. The bell rang as the door swung open, a bit earlier than it typically would. Tommy perked up expecting to see Wilbur’s tall frame standing at the entrance.

He was surprised to see a familiar green instead. Dream seemed hesitant, taking a stutter step at the doorway the second he and Tommy made eye contact. Feeling nervousness swell, the barista forced a fake smile across his face, eyes scanning every slight motion searching for the source of such a change in demeanor.

“Hey Dream… Did you get a shift change?” It took a second for the officer to acknowledge his words. The man seemed lost in his own thoughts shaking his head as if to clear a fog and finally looking in Tommy’s direction.

“Wha… Oh. No, I didn't change my work hours. I just had a long night.” That seemed to be all the barista would get out of the man so he turned to his machinery.

“Sounds like a very enjoyable experience.” That earned a scoff in response, a sense of normalcy flooding the pit of worry that had been threatening to swallow him. “Anything I can get you to make sure that today is a bit better?”

Dream nodded. “Surprise me with something.” He sat upon a stool and laid his head heavily on the table in front of him. His arms cradled his skull, cushioning it from the wood below.

Minutes later, Tommy placed the drink in question on the table, pulling up a seat, eyes carefully outlining the tension lining Dream’s shoulders. Something was wrong. There was something that he wasn’t being told. “Are you sure you are ok?
“Tommy, do you know a Wilbur Soot?” Of all the questions that he had expected, that was not what he had prepared to be asked.

“Um… I mean, yeah.” Tommy chuckled nervously, trying to cover his apprehension. “He…” The bell rang.

“Hey Tommy, how are…” Wilbur froze. Tension lined every muscle in his shoulders as he made direct eye contact with Dream. Both of them seemed stuck, pressure building, hiking up an invisible gauge.

“If you guys are going to fight or something, can you take it outside? I just got the window replaced, my property damage quota was met for the month.”

Both snapped their gaze towards the boy, breaking a staring contest that had started the second they had noticed the other. Tommy slipped off the stool he had been sitting on and took a hesitant step backward, holding his hands in front of him in a placating gesture.

“We aren’t going to have any problems, are we Will?” Dream forced through gritted teeth.

The latter shook his head vehemently. “I would never cause an issue in my favorite cafe.”

“You flatter me Wilbur.” Tommy returned to his spot behind the counter. “What can I do for you?”

“Just get me the regular.” The sentence was said with a hint of humor despite the heaviness that still sat in the air. Will made the same joke each week but it still never failed to be funny.

“You know damn well that you have no regular, you bastard. What are you trying today?” Even Dream smiled a bit at that as Wilbur placed his actual order.

While Tommy prepared the coffee, he was surprised as the officer piped up. “Hey Tommy, you remember the guy who broke in here?”

The barista intentionally kept his back turned, avoiding having to make eye contact with the man as he suppressed a flinch. While avoiding having to face the two of them, Tommy also missed the venomous glare Wilbur gave, a careful warning that was promptly completely ignored.

“Sap, George, and I tracked down who he was. I just wanted to let you know that you are not going to have to worry about him anytime soon. SBI took care of him. Apparently, the guy who broke in messed with people they cared about.”

“First good thing that has come out of those fuckers existing.” Tommy missed Wilbur’s flinch at the words, continuing his thought. “It’s about time they did something to pay me back.”

When he turned around, finished drink in hand, confusion sparked at the dejected Wilbur and Dream’s victorious smirk. “Did I miss something?”

Both customers immediately dropped into a more neutral position. Will smiled, taking the offered coffee and meeting Tommy at the register. “You didn’t miss anything.” As they finished the transaction, Wilbur started toward the door to leave. Dream gathered his stuff and stood.

“Wilbur, could you wait for me outside? I want to have a word.” Will paused for a second before nodding and exiting the building.

Tommy looked at Dream expectantly. “What can I do for you big man?”

The officer paused again, demonstrating the same hesitation that had caused Tommy to worry when he had first entered the store. “Listen Tommy… I know he is a paying customer and everything but try to stay as far away from Wilbur Soot as possible. He is a dangerous man and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” The words were said in a light joking manner.

“I am serious Tommy. This Is not me kidding around. Take a look at the people my job requires me to deal with and please believe me when I say that I would never joke about something like this.”

Tommy’s smile dropped a bit and he nodded, wiping the counters down with a wet rag. “By the way, thank you for the window. Tell Wilbur the same thing for me.”

Dream smiled, simply shrugging his shoulders. “No idea what you are talking about. Have a good day Tommy.”

He received a nod in return, leaving the store and finding himself face to face with a bitter rival. Wilbur’s arms were crossed as he leaned against the side of the building. “If you want to start something, can we at least get out of the view of the shop's windows?” Siren spat. When the officer didn’t make any movement to change their location he gazed back through the window at the barista who was trying extremely hard to make it look like he was not watching the interaction. “What did you tell him?”

“I am not starting anything. I know what the consequences of that decision would be but let me warn you, I have never been so tempted to break the standstill.”

Wilbur chuckled, pushing himself into a fully standing position. “Oh really? Do tell.”

“Why are you here? Why are you interested in Tommy?” Dream had to fight the instinct to let his hand slip to his waist. It would be seen as a clear threat if he did… something that would not be forgivable if he wanted to keep this conversation civil. “What do you want with him?”

“What? A man can’t enjoy a good cup of coffee.” The bastard siren was looking increasingly punchable as Wilbur realized what the purpose of this conversation was. “I could ask you the same question. Why do you care how Tommy gets his paycheck?”

“I am going to tell you the same exact thing that I told him. Stay away. If you feel that guilt about ruining that poor kid’s business then send him checks, or even better move the territory border away from his front door. There is no reason for you to be getting him involved in your life.”

“Does Tommy not deserve to have a say in who he associates with? Who are you to tell him who he can and cannot be around?”

“That would be the case if he had all of the information. He has openly stated his dislike for SBI yet you continue to manipulate his perspective of you. I knew you were twisted but this is different. This is you inserting yourself in the life of an innocent kid who, if he knew the truth, would want nothing to do with you.” Something flashed across Wilbur’s face before being quickly schooled back to neutral. If Dream didn’t know that he was talking to someone incapable of the emotion, he would have thought it was fear.

“I have never lied to him. He doesn't care what I do for work or he would have asked.”

“And if he asked, would you tell him?”

There was no response. Just silence and a look of contemplation that gave Dream exactly the answer he was looking for.

“Leave him alone, Wilbur. I don’t want him getting mixed up in this.” Dream gestured between the two of them. “If you won’t remove yourself from his life, I will have no hesitation in telling him about your little family business. If you won’t cut ties, I am going to let him do it himself. I don’t care which choice you make but you better make one quickly.”

A venomous disdain warped Wilbur’s face. “It is not up to you to try and protect him. Tommy can make choices for himself.”

 

“Then I will make sure he has all of the information to make those choices.” Dream turned his back on the man walking in the direction of home. “Goodbye Wilbur. I hope you make the right decision.”

He left Siren in his wake, the man for once feeling as though a situation was not entirely in his control.

Chapter Text

“Tech, what am I supposed to do?” Wilbur’s hand carded through his hair, fighting through imaginary tangles and bringing a semblance of calm with the familiar motion. “I can’t lose this… I can’t lose Tommy… Dream holds all of the cards and he is more than willing to lay them on the table if it means keeping such a ‘perceived danger…’” His fingers curled into bitter air quotes. “away from Tommy. While I admire the sentiment it is really a pain in my ass during this particular moment.”

He mumbled, random words and disconnected thoughts as he continued to circle. Techno tried to make any sense out of the ideas forming in his brother's head but could not connect any dots. His back was turned, the television fighting to drown out the constant rhythm of feet on tile. “Do we have anything that I could use against him?”

Techno snorted, throwing an arm over the back of the couch and facing where his brother was pacing in the kitchen. “Yes actually.” Wilbur perked up, stalling his constant movement for the first time in around an hour. “We have a huge amount of blackmail that would be extremely effective against the person who we have been stuck in a stalemate with for over a year.” His sarcastic slight was quickly met with a specific finger as the taller continued his walk. “Why don’t you just tell him? ‘Surprise Tommy, I have been a head of SBI for a decade.’ I am sure that would be very easy to gloss over.”

Wilbur vehemently shook his head. “No, no, no. You don’t get it… Tommy can’t stand SBI, arguably for a good reason. You saw what the territory lines did to his business. I tell him that the failure of his dream was directly my fault and there is no shot that he even tolerates being near me for a second longer even if I am trying to explain myself. The bastard cop knows that, it is why he is being so fucking smug. I am out of options.”

“Then just let him go.” Something sprung up in Techno’s gut at those words. A small little demon, fighting upwards telling him that separation would be the worst possible solution. He ignored it, focusing on his brother. If they were losing Tommy anyway, there was no reason to confront whatever that swell was. “Sometimes these things just don’t work out Will, you have plenty of other friends. If he hates your guts then he hates your guts, if he is a good friend then he can get over it.” The pacing stalled.

“Should he?”

That caused a pause as Techno’s expression morphed in contemplation. “What do you mean?”

“Are the damages and struggles we caused him worth forgiving?”

“That is a question that only he can answer Will. He is a grown adult, despite the joke that you two have sunk into. Tommy has been supporting a business as well as himself for an unknown amount of years.” Wilbur seemed put off by that statement, both of them not wanting to accept the signs pointing towards the 18-year-old boy having been on his own for a while. “As much as I hate to admit it, Dream is right. It is only fair to the kid that you give him the truth. The only way to take the cards out of the officer’s hands is to steal them and place them on the table yourself.”

 

“There is no way that goes well. We ruined everything he cares about.”

An idea formed, something so genius that he was shocked that he had not considered it until this very moment. Disappointment sprung up at his past self. Even as Wilbur had come to him with a list of businesses, showing the declines in their profits due to SBI activity, even as his brother had asked him what they could do to help, Techno had not come to the seemingly obvious conclusion that struck him like a bolt of lightning in that exact moment.

“If we ruined everything he held dear then why don’t we fix it?”

Wilbur’s confusion was evident which is impressive seeing as the man often had a high amount of control over his expressions. “What? How can we fix it? We can’t move the line. We can’t change the civilians' aversion towards the border.”

“Listen… I’ve got a plan, but we are going to need Phil’s permission. I am also going to need to reach out to Ranboo.”

“Ranboo? Why do you need the press’s help on this one? What are you planning?” Each question was quicker than the last, a flurry of thoughts without answer.

Techno felt the corner of his mouth twitch, knowing the irritation that his next statement would bring.

“I guess you will have to wait and see.”


Today was a pretty normal morning for Tommy. Wilbur was either running late or not coming so he spent a considerable period figuring out how to waste the rest of the time he had. He decided on experimenting. There were a lot of drinks that were tried and true, concepts passed down from menu to menu, cementing their place in coffee shop history.

I wonder what would happen if I put the ingredients of a pink drink with expresso?

Tommy tipped the containers together watching the different consistencies swirl and mix creating a murky salmon color. He brought his lip to the edge of the cup and carefully tipped it into his mouth. It met his tongue and his taste buds didn’t quite know what to do with it. It wasn’t necessarily bad but it would definitely not be making the menu.

As he dumped the contents down the sink, he heard the door chime. “Hey Will.” He said, looking up to meet… not Wilbur.

He really needed to stop assuming who was walking through his door

It wasn’t Dream either.

Standing in front of him was an unrecognizable man in a suit. A briefcase was grasped in his right hand, a limb that was course and displayed numerous scars from small cuts or slips. This man was a tinkerer, worked with metal or machinery based on the depth of some of those scars. He had a golden necklace around his neck and the shirt resting beneath the jacket was a mintish green.

“I’m sorry sir, my name is not Will.”

“No, no. You have nothing to be sorry for.” Tommy quickly scrambled to make the area of his experiments more presentable in the most inconspicuous way possible. “What can I get for you today?”

“This is Life’s a Grind right?”

“Umm,” Tommy felt something wrap around his gut and squeeze. “Yes… Why do you ask?”

“Oh nothing,” The man shrugged and locked his gaze on the menu above Tommy. “I just wanted to make sure.”

As the man decided what he was getting, the bell rang a second time. Tommy faced the door before shouting out his greeting, having learned from his mistakes.

It is a very good thing that he did as the woman standing in the door was definitely not one of his typical customers. “Welcome to Life’s a Grind ma'am. What can I get for you?”

The woman standing in the door was wearing a form-fitting simple dress that was light pink in color. A broach rested on her chest, a rose. She looked at the other customer who gestured for her to go ahead of him.

She placed her order and as Tommy prepared the drink, he barely registered the bell ringing a third time. When he turned back to ask how the woman would be paying, he found another unfamiliar face standing in the line.

It took over two hours for the steady stream of customers to quell as the typical period of obtaining a morning coffee was passed. It was never to a point where it was overwhelming the number of drinks that Tommy could produce but it was still more action than the shop had received in over a year.

It couldn’t be a coincidence that he had received such a sudden uptick in attention. He would need to ask Dream if something had happened with the border in the past week. It was at times like these that Tommy regretted how disconnected he was from the outside world. He left the shop to deposit money in the bank and get groceries, there was not much time to learn about the current events.

The bell rang again and Tommy prepared himself for another new customer. Instead, he was met with a familiar mop of curly brown hair. “Will! You will never guess how my day went!” His hands worked without the need for his attention as he prepared a random beverage to give to the man.

The overwhelming joy of productivity was boosting his mood to an indescribably happy state. That quieted a bit as he noticed how nervous Wilbur looked. The man had sat down at a table close to the counter, with a newspaper laid across the surface in front of him. Will’s eyes weren’t scanning through the articles, picking out any interesting tidbits, they were fixated on something that Tommy could not make out.

His body language was off, shoulders slumped making him appear much shorter than he was plus the lack of response to Tommy’s enthusiasm was out of the ordinary. “Will? You good man? Is this just caffeine withdrawals or is it something actually serious? Am I going to have to cut you off?”

It earned a slight exhale from the other but Wilbur instantly returned to his sullen appearance. “Tommy, can we talk about something?”

Uh oh… that can’t be good

“Sure! Let me just finish this up for you.”

His hand wrapped around the warm cup feeling the temperature seep into his own fingers. As he sat down across from his friend. As Wilbur accepted the coffee cup, the tension lining his every movement was more evident up close.

As he took a sip of his drink, Will spun the newspaper around gesturing to a particular article in the same place he had been staring.

“There is something I need to tell you, Tommy.”

Chapter Text

The headline glared back at him from its mantle across the top of the page.

SBI Announces Amnesty to Customers of Local Buisnesses

Tommy re-read the title three times before moving on to the blurb of text that lay beneath it.
Leaders of the infamous mafia family referred to as the SBI contacted reporter Ranboo Beloved with an important announcement late last night. For over a year, the city has been struggling to maintain the flow of its economy due to the large rift separating the two sides of L’Manburg. With the officers of the law stuck at a standstill and the family refusing to back down on their claims, workers have been cut off from their clients and places of work alike. As of this morning, all of that changes.

When asked by our reporter if they planned to move the border or allow safe passage for the everyday citizen, the Angel of Death had this to say on the matter, “We have taken into consideration the impact that our claims have had on the working class of the city.”

Tommy scoffed a bit at the prestigious verbiage.

”Siren, Blade, and myself have been trying to find a way to maintain the resources that are required to complete our jobs without hurting the city any more than we have. We are not Schlatt… We have never had plans nor ambitions that even approach his. We are here because we believe that we have the potential to be what is best for this city, even if it does pad our pockets a bit.

Up until this day, we haven’t found a sustainable way to complete the tasks that we had in mind without sacrifices but the three of us have decided it is unfair to ask business owners to make those sacrifices anymore. We were inspired by a little coffee shop sitting on the border to make some changes to the way we have been doing things, so it is only fair that our initiative begins and ends there.

For the foreseeable future, anyone who had purchased an item from Life’s A Grind along main street will be granted free passage through the border and our claimed territory for the day. Each week a new business will be selected for this free pass, allowing each owner the benefits of selling a ticket through the border but the coffee shop itself will remain a constant.”

As a recap of the remainder of their conversation, Ranboo reported that after this week there will be a total of two stores granting this free passage with one remaining constant and the other changing based on the shop reported. Our paper will be the first to report on the change as SBI’s contact was through our staff. Stay tuned for how this will all turn out.

The paper hit the table and Tommy’s eyes refused to leave the sentences. No words were said, just a shocked silence as he tried to win a staring contest with an unmoving object.

“Tommy?” Wilbur waved a hand in front of his face trying to break the constant gaze. “You there?”

His cheeks hurt as his face split into a grin. “Wilbur!” He lept from the chair, hopping a bit as energy surged through him. “Will, this is incredible!”

Wilbur felt an indescribable fondness toward the man in front of him but this was the easy part… He still had to tell him.

It would be so easy to just leave it at this.

To just let Tommy be happy, let him enjoy the success he was bound to experience in the up and coming weeks.

It wasn’t too late to just walk away and leave the kid in his joy.

But Wilbur was a selfish man. He valued his friendship with the barista more than he cared about the chances of rejection. It was not worth it to leave and never know what Tommy’s reaction would have been. He had to be the one here, to be the one to see the kid’s face fall, if he wanted any chance at preserving what he had.

He would have to ruin this temporary high if it meant that he could stick by Tommy’s side for whatever other good things life would throw at him. The kid deserved the world and even if the fates did not have paradise in store for the rest of his life, Wilbur would be there to ensure he received it.

“Hey, Tommy…”

“Wilbur this is incredible! Those fuckers are finally doing something good for the city. It's about time, everything has gone to shit since they showed up… Will?” He paused finally realizing that his friend was not sharing his enthusiasm. “Wilbur…” A short contemplation. “How was Life’s a Grind the inspiration for their idea?” He stopped, brain-wracking for answers to his questions. “Why am I the only owner who gets a permanent spot on their little ticket list. What is so special about this place that they took interest in it?”

“It’s not the shop that is special… It's you, Tommy.” Wilbur began slowly. “We thought…”

“We?”

Both froze.

One stopped as the pieces connected in his head. The other was anticipating a reaction.

We… You mother fucker Wilbur. How could he keep this from him? Will and who else? Let me guess, fucking Techno? That is the only other person who has known you and I am assuming that most people don’t go near you with a ten-foot pole.

Tommy’s thoughts raced.

Wilbur reached out a hand only to get slapped away. The man was expecting that, not even sure what he had been trying to do, but it hurt all the same.

Tommy’s hands went to his hair, a coping mechanism that mirrored his own, a similarity that seemed taunting to realize given the situation. Will was careful not to move, not wanting to startle the kid or force any reaction. If Tommy needed time to process, he was more than willing to give that.

The longer the barista had to calm down, the less likely he was to immediately kick the older man out.

Each second ticked out, an audible noise that rang through Wilbur’s ears.

Tick Tick Tick

Each second toward a decision that would affect his comfort and happiness.

Tick Tick Tick

Each second lost to a situation out of his control.

Tick Tick Tick

Normally, a lack of control would suffocate him. Fear of the unknown and the multitude of the variables tying him up in the very strings he was designed to pull. This was different though.

He was not outsmarted by some dick in a uniform who was giving him an ultimatum, he had not lost his touch nor his talents. This was not a time when the reigns were yanked from his hands. Instead, he had let go willingly, handing them off to someone he trusted.

This was an act of faith and now he could only trust and hope that he had made the right choice. He opened his mouth to finally admit the last of the truth.

Ring!

The door swung open violently showing an officer comfortably out of uniform with a paper in hand.

“Oh, you bastard…” Dream was noticeably pissed as he narrowed in on Wilbur. He quickly moved toward the table, placing himself between the man and Tommy. “What do you think you are doing?”

“Dream?” Tommy’s questioning voice broke through the rage that had built. “I have said it before and I will say it again. If you want to start something, please do it outside of the shop.”

The officer staggered back as if he had been pushed, his jaw-dropping a bit as he peeled his eyes off of Siren and they flickered towards the boy. “Tommy you don’t know who you are defending. If you had all the information, you would join me instead of trying to stop something. I promise you, I won’t break anything, except this fucker’s nose.”

Wilbur pushed himself off of his chair, ready to move but not necessarily antagonizing anything.

“Please Tommy…” He pleaded. “Just one good hit, it would be worth it, I promise you. He deserves it anyway, he's…”

“Siren?” Both Dream and Wilbur locked their gaze on Tommy unsure of what they had just heard. “Is that what this big speech was for? To clue me in?” His eyes left Dream and wandered to Will. “Is that what you were about to officially tell me?”

“Listen Tommy…” Dream started only to get cut off.

“How long have you known?” Wilbur butted in.

The question was met with a shrug. “A few minutes ago. You literally referred to SBI as ‘we’ and thought that I would just gloss over that? Plus, you aren’t exactly subtle big man. You have tipped me over $100 since the day you showed up. It is not hard to connect pieces once I have been given a reason to actually pay attention to the puzzle.”

“And you aren't mad?” The voice was hopeful, honey-coated, and shining with a light that Tommy couldn’t wait to extinguish.

“Oh, I’m pissed. Like indescribably so. But I am also a mature adult who can handle his own problems without throwing a punch.” A scathing glare was cast towards Dream. Both of those who faced him sunk their shoulders, slightly cowering under the gaze.

Tommy’s eyes drifted back to the paper that was sitting on the table. “Is this real?” He picked the paper up, gesturing with it towards Will. “Is this an actual thing that you are planning to coordinate to help border businesses?”

Wilbur immediately nodded. “Let's just say you should probably color code your cups so we can better tell if the drink was bought that day. Or maybe wristbands or something like that is a better solution. I was hoping to brainstorm it with you a bit.”

“And who is providing the funding for me to do that?”

“I can take care of any transition costs for the businesses selected, it is not something I am just going to provide do you.”

Tommy nodded contently before pushing himself into motion. He shoved Wilbur back towards his chair ignoring the protest he received. Once the man sat, shrinking under the look that the teen shot him, he gestured for Dream to sit in the chair opposite.

There was even more protest to that decision which quickly quieted at a wave of Tommy’s hand.

“Listen, you two are my most loyal customers, I can’t have you up in odds within the lovely atmosphere of the coffee shop. You have both screwed me over.”

“But I…” Dream started.

“You have both screwed me over.” Another pointed look. “By not telling me sooner, so here is the deal. I am probably done with customers for the day while everyone tries to figure out if the paper is telling the truth. We are going to sit down here and figure some stuff out… Isn’t that right boys.”

They turned to each other, hesitantly nodding.

“Yes Tommy.”

The answer rang in unison.