Two weeks into the first semester of her freshman year of college and Mako knows exactly where she will be spending just about every minute of her free time. The little coffee shop around the corner from the building she’s living in has the best caramel machiatos that she’s ever tasted (and considering they’re her secret weakness, she’s had quite a few of them). It doesn’t hurt that the two brothers who run the place are extremely easy on the eyes or that they consider her a regular by the fourth time she sets up shop there, already elbows deep in work. The older one, Yancy, just laughs and yells for Raleigh to get Miss Mako’s usual ready and waves for her to grab her usual table. She hasn’t felt so welcome in a place since her father adopted her as a little girl.
A month into the semester and they’ve got a schedule going. Mako has a table that’s been designated as hers and Raleigh always has her drink out to her within a couple of minutes, no matter how busy they are. She even hands over exact change when he brings her a drink and he’ll send her a smile and a wink that make her insides flutter in a way that she decidedly ignores. She has no time for boys right now, no matter how good looking they are or how well they make coffee.
Then he starts bringing over pastries and cookies leftover from the day before, the kind that she always considers indulging in and then lets the impulse go. But Raleigh, Raleigh’s observant, he’s seen her eyeing them in consideration and has taken the choice out of her hands.
"On the house," he tells her the first time he hands her a sugar cookie, “we’re just going to throw it out later anyway."
"Thank you," she murmurs in reply and tries her best not to blush when she takes the cookie from him. Mako’s best defense has always been her composure and she’s not going to let this man take it away from her (she can’t stop the butterflies in her stomach, but those are private and she lets them be).
When midterms come around the coffee shop gets even busier, people trying frantically to get some caffeine into their system and stay awake for just a little bit longer. Mako guards her table jealously, but she doesn’t really have to worry, the brothers put a reserved sign on it for her and when she thanks them it’s Yancy who answers because Raleigh has rushed off to make another drink.
"Raleigh insisted," he tells her, laughing once again at his younger brother. “He knows how bad midterms can be for engineering majors."
His words peak her interest but her studies are calling her and so she lets it go for now. Her father would not be happy at all if she fails out of her first semester of college and frankly, she would never forgive herself. So she sits and struggles until she wants to cry. The exam is in a few hours and it’s too late to talk to the professor or the TA but she just doesn’t understand this one concept and it’s messing up everything. It’s all she can do in her sleep deprived state not to break down in tears (but Stacker Pentecost’s daughter does not cry, she soldiers through and Mako knows that’s what she’s going to do).
And then a fresh mug of coffee appears in front of her and she stares at it for a long time before her gaze drifts up to a softly smiling Raleigh (and no, her heart does not give a painful squeeze. Right now is not the time for crushes). “Need some help?" he asks and she wants to bite out a sharp retort, wants to demand how a barista is supposed to help her but she bites her tongue instead and nods. Mako Pentecost knows when she needs help, no matter what form it comes in.
He sits down next to her and begins to explain the concept in a way that she never thought of and then it just sort of clicks in her brain because she gets it. She finally, finally understands. Now she’s nearly crying in relief and Raleigh must sense that because he gives her another smile and tells her to drink her coffee, caffeine’s the only thing that’s going to keep her clear headed enough to get through her exam.
"How do you know all this?" she asks, now that she has the perfect opportunity to learn more about him, something she’s been wanting for quite a while now, she isn’t going to let it slip past her.
He shrugs in response. “I graduated last year with a degree in engineering," he says and that just makes her even more curious. Raleigh Becket is an enigma, constantly defying her expectations, and one that she wants to solve very much. He must see some of that in her expression because he stands and stretches. “Decided to help my brother here for awhile before I go to grad school, speaking of which, I’d better get back to work."
Her eyes follow him as he walks back to the counter and jumps over it, allowing herself a brief moment to admire the way that his butt looks in his jeans, before he starts helping his brother with the line of customers. Raleigh Becket, she decides, is someone she’s going to spend a long time studying.
After midterms Mako continues spending so much time in the Beckets’ coffee shop that she begins to memorize their schedules. It would be pathetic but she’s smart and observant and she just can’t help noticing. Besides the Becket brothers are some of the best friends she’s made at school and there’s no way she’s giving up spending time with them, even if it does mean she does it while they make coffee and she slaves over her textbooks.
She likes the quiet evenings when there’s a steady stream of customers but not so busy that the boys don’t have plenty of time to talk to her. Yancy always finds some time to come sit with her and they chat about whatever’s going on in the world as a whole or the little things happening in their own little worlds. She’ll sip her sweet, sweet drink and he’ll drink a latte with so much sugar added in that Mako’s pretty sure that it’s as sweet as her own. Yancy makes her laugh and she enjoys spending time with him, but what she really loves is when Raleigh comes over.
He’ll always bring something for her to eat (he complains that he doesn’t think she eats enough and she doesn’t say that there are times when he’s right because she’s just gotten too caught up in her work to remember). Raleigh seems to take some simple pleasure in feeding her because he always grins when she takes the first bite of whatever he’s brought her and then he hands her the drink he’s brought.
He likes to play with the syrups and milks and Mako is always a willing taste tester because it means free coffee. Sometimes the things he makes are really good and end up being added to the menu so she feels like she’s contributing a little something when she’s being his guinea pig (even if she knows that he could get his brother to taste his concoctions just as easily). Raleigh always drinks the same thing, coffee with just a splash of milk and no sugar. She’ll wrinkle her nose at that but he always laughs and teases her about her sugar intake. She likes the way he laughs, the way his eyes crinkle at the corners and seem to twinkle at her. When he laughs she thinks that she wants to spend the rest of her life making him laugh.
Raleigh also has a way of explaining concepts to her that make her understand them so much more easily than anything her professor tries to explain. When she finally gets back her midterm, the one for which Raleigh spent an entire hour explaining concepts to her, and sees the big A at the top she nearly jumps and screams in happiness right there in the lecture hall. She goes tearing out of the hall as fast as she can, running towards Becket’s, knowing that Raleigh’s already on shift and will be there. Mako had told him last night that she was getting back her exam today and he’d made her promise to text him with the grade, even more excited than her and certain she’d done better than her predictions of doom.
She can’t send him that text because more than anything she wants to see the look on his face when he hears the news, to see the way that the grin will slowly spread across his face and the laughter that will bubble up in happiness for her. Mako’s grateful that the shop is empty when she comes bursting in because it’s only then that she realizes how embarrassing the scene she would have made could have been. As it is only Yancy’s there and he looks up when he hears the doors bang open and smiles to see her there. For a second her heart plummets to her stomach as she thinks that maybe Raleigh isn’t there after all.
“Hey, Ral!” Yancy calls out and Mako’s heart resumes its rightful place, beating painfully with excitement in her chest.
“Yeah?” Raleigh’s voice comes from the back and Yancy just waves her towards the doors, motioning her to head back. She smiles at him gratefully, hands still clutching her exam papers to her chest.
Yancy winks at her and smiles like a coconspirator as he says “you got a visitor” and opens the door to the back for her so she can step forward and see Raleigh on his knees unpacking boxes of supplies. He looks up at Yancy’s words and his face has confusion written all over it for just a brief moment until he sees Mako standing there.
“Well?” he asks, grin spreading over his face, just as she’d imagined, as he climbs to his feet. Mako doesn’t even know when she starts moving, she just throws herself forward.
“I got an A!” she cries and she sees his grin get impossibly wider before she’s in his arms and he’s picking her up to spin her around.
She grins down at him, feeling on top of the world. “I knew you could do it,” he says and she feels as if she’ll be able to do anything in the entire world at that moment as long as Raleigh Becket believes she could do it. They’re just grinning at each other, Mako lifted up in his arms so that his face is turned up towards her and she looks down at him and Mako just wants to lean forward that little bit so that their lips would meet and she thinks right then that Raleigh would kiss her back with just as much enthusiasm.
But then the moment is ruined because Yancy’s laughter is apparently unable to be stifled and is coming out in choked sobs of laughter that have them both turning to make sure he’s not dying. He’s not, but still the moment where Mako could have kissed him has passed and he puts her down, but doesn’t release her, throwing his arm over her shoulder. She thinks that she could quite happily stay there forever but doesn’t overanalyze it, she’ll do that later when she’s lying in bed and examining the day’s events over and over under a microscope.
For now though, Raleigh calls for celebratory coffee, on the house, and she’s happy enough just to be there. She doesn’t need anything more for now.
By November Mako has taken to using every excuse she can give herself to go past Becket’s. She leaves for class a little earlier than she would normally so that she can walk by the shop, especially on the days that Raleigh works in the morning. She calls herself pathetic but she does it anyway.
Her favorite days are when he’s at the counter and happens to look up as she walks by. He’ll wave at her and she’ll wave back and the warm feeling that ignites in her chest will carry her through the rest of the morning. Once the weather got cold enough to run outside (she hates running in hot, sticky weather and it isn’t until the end of October that she’s willing to run outside instead of the gym) she’ll make sure that at some point during her run she goes past the shop.
It becomes her little habit and she has to content herself with it because in the month since she got her midterm back nothing even close to that moment has happened. Oh, Raleigh’s still as friendly as ever and still brings her drinks and pastries, but it’s not quite what she wants from him. She knows a doomed crush when she sees one, even if it’s herself with the crush, but that doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy the feelings while they last. Besides, Raleigh Becket is one of the most crush worthy guys she’s ever met. The fact that he doesn’t even seem to know how great of a guy he is just makes her like him even more. Then there’s the smile he seems to reserve specifically for her and she knows she was doomed from the moment she walked into that shop.
Raleigh’s 22 to her 18 and has already graduated from school, mechanical engineering with a minor in history to her electrical engineering with a minor in Japanese, not to mention the fact that he’s probably going to be gone after winter break.
The thought makes Mako’s good mood sour just a little and she pushes herself just a little harder, enjoying the way that the light rain is cooling her overheated body as she runs through the streets. Raleigh had told her just the other day that he’d gotten a job offer and was considering it. Mako knows that she should wish him well and that she should be happy for him and she is to his face, but she can’t help the little bit of pain the thought of him leaving causes her.
So she’s running away from her feelings in the cold November rain in the evening although she knows that she’ll probably have a cold in the morning. Still, she feels much better than she did when she started and calm enough that she turns down the road that leads past the shop and to her dorm building. The rain really starts to pick up and she swears under her breath as she sprints to the shop, knowing she’ll never make it home before it’s storming. Luckily it’s still early in the evening and the coffee shop is still open for another couple of hours. She’s not sure who’s on shift tonight but she’s praying it’s Yancy because she does not want to deal with Raleigh tonight.
Raliegh takes one look at her when she walks in and bursts out laughing. Her body does the weirdest thing in that her heart starts beating a mile a minute and yet also sinks to the pit of her stomach. She just hopes that she’s not blushing too. Mako’s just grateful that the place is empty and Raleigh had just been cleaning, nobody else to see her in this state.
“Is it raining then?” he asks her in a voice choked with laughter as she stands in the doorway, choosing to drip on the welcome mat than the wooden floor. She shoots him an unamused look that has him letting out a howl of laughter once again.
“It is not funny,” she tells him, trying to maintain as much dignity as she can manage. Apparently that’s not very much because Raleigh grabs a clean towel and brings it over to her. “Thank you,” she says stiffly and he gives her the smile that means he’s laughing on the inside. She tries not to think about the fact that she knows what all of his smiles mean now.
“Take a seat, none of these chairs are going to be hurt by getting a little wet,” he says as he steers her towards the seat she normally takes, the big armchair in the corner near enough to the counter that she can still talk to whoever’s on shift. His hands are warm through her wet clothes and she feels a shiver go down her spine.
She sits and he frowns at her. “Stay here for a moment,” he says and rushes off behind the counter. “You’re freezing and it’s raining. Are you crazy to go out in this weather?” he scolds as he starts putting together a drink and she wants to protest but she’s enjoying the warmth a little too much.
“The weather was fine when I left,” she defends herself and he just gives her a look which tells her exactly what he thinks of that. Then he comes back with a giant mug that’s steaming and she nearly whimpers in pleasure because now that she’s stopped moving she’s realized just how wet and cold she is.
He rolls his eyes at her and hands over the mug so she can wrap her hands around it, breathing in the scent of green tea with a ridiculous amount of honey and just a hint of lemon. “Drink that now and maybe you won’t get sick.”
She smiles up at him, knowing that if she offered to pay for the tea he’d probably yell at her for real. When he brings her a muffin heated up in the microwave with the explanation that no one’s going to buy it anyway by now she just smiles. She doesn’t think about the fact that soon enough he’ll be leaving, she’s just going to enjoy his attention until then.
Instead of going back to cleaning he sits in his usual seat that he uses when he’s helping her with homework and they start a lively discussion about one of her classes, a discussion that’s being continued from yesterday when it had been cut off by her need to go home and finish homework she’d left there. From there they move onto a discussion of some of the classes he’d taken and when the few customers trickle in, dripping from the rain, he’ll get up and get their drinks before coming back to join her. He refills her tea twice and she hopes that it’ll actually prevent her from getting sick.
By the time that the rain lets up it’s closing time. Raleigh offers her a ride home but she refuses politely, unsure if her heart could take that after this evening and he warns her once again that she’s going to catch a cold. He stands in the doorway and watches as she leaves, she can feel his eyes on her up until she turns the corner to get to her building. That night she sleeps very, very well and dreams about the almost perfect end to her evening.
The next morning she wakes up with the sniffles anyway and when she stops at the shop for coffee Raleigh takes one look at her and says “I told you so” and makes her more tea instead of coffee, claiming that it’s better for a cold. Their fingers brush when he hands her the paper cup and her fingers tingle all the way to her class.
Mako normally loves the winter and the break from school that comes with it. She loves the cold air and the way that the world seems to slow down as if it’s been frozen right along with the ground. She’d been so excited that she’d have an entire month at home this year, a month to spend with her father and all of the family friends that seem to congregate at this time of the year. It’s wonderful and fun and everything she looks forward to every year, but for some reason it’s not quite enough. Mako’s not stupid enough to try and fool herself into thinking she doesn’t know exactly why she feels that way and even if she was, her father’s not.
“So who is this boy that’s gotten so far into your head?” he asks her one evening when they’re enjoying some tea in front of a nice fire. Mako doesn’t try to deny it or wonder how he knows. In fact, she more wonders why she ever thought she could keep it a secret. “He must be pretty impressive to keep your head in the clouds for so long.”
Stacker isn’t even looking at her, just casually drinking his tea and watching the fire burn, but Mako can feel the weight of the question he’s asked, pressing down on her. Once again she thinks that the only thing she wants to be when she grows up is her father with his calm voice and reassuring face and indomitable will.
“He works at the local coffee shop,” she tells him and Stacker finally looks at her to raise his eyebrow.
“He doesn’t attend university?”
Mako blushes at her misstep and the impression that she must have given her father. “He graduated last year and his brother owns it. Raleigh is helping out his brother for now but he’s considering a few different job offers.”
Stacker’s eyebrow has lowered now as he thinks over the new information. Mako waits quietly and tries not to fidget as he comes to his own conclusions. Mako’s learned over the years that to just keep talking now will not make Stacker’s estimation of Raleigh any better, still, that doesn’t erase the urge to give more information, to give Raleigh all the praise he deserves. She bites her tongue to keep from saying any more.
Her father takes a few moments to come to his decision, keeping his steady gaze on her face the entire time. “Well, the boy doesn’t seem to be hurting your studies,” he concedes and Mako’s heart leaps because this is about the highest praise Raleigh will ever receive from her father before they ever meet face to face. Well, if they meet face to face. Mako can’t say with any degree of certainty that they will, as much as she wants them to. But if they do at least she knows that Raleigh’s not going to have an upward battle in unfavorable conditions from the very beginning in front of him.
“No, he has not. He’s been helping me,” she says and Stacker nods in such a way that it signals the end of the conversation. She doesn’t mind, she knows her father would prefer not to discuss boys with his teenage daughter, for all that she’s in college and is technically a legal adult. It’s something she suspects he’ll never be comfortable with no matter how old she gets, at least until she finds the man she’s going to spend the rest of her life with. Mako thinks that at that point Stacker might feel comfortable enough discussing this mythical man with her.
In any case it’s a moot point at the moment because Mako’s only ever been out on a few dates and right now her heart seems to be set on someone unattainable. She’s glad that her father’s put an end to the conversation now, it would only serve to make her feel bad, thinking about the hopelessness of her crush and this is not the time of year for that.
Herc Hansen, her father’s partner on the force back when he was a detective, shows up the next day, his son in tow. Mako and Chuck have always been tangentially aware of each other but they’ve never been friends and Mako somehow doubts they ever will be. He’s the same age as her and goes to the same school only an hour away but he’s completely different from her. She tries and fails at not comparing him to Raleigh and is frankly unsurprised to find him coming up short. It makes her miss campus and the coffee shop all that more acutely and that night she starts a countdown to the day she goes back to campus.
Every morning for the next two weeks she crosses off a day on her calendar, one day closer to going back to school. She purposely doesn’t address the fear that haunts her that Raleigh might not be there when she gets back. She does her best not to think about the fact that she’ll have been gone for a month, he could very well have accepted one of his multiple job offers and have left before she makes it back to town. The fear niggles at the back of her mind as she drives back as soon as she possibly can, eager to find out whether or not her fears are baseless.
She barely takes the time to drop off her luggage in her dorm (which her roommate has not yet returned to) before heading out to the shop. The door opens with a little ring of the bells that she’s always loved and she smiles at Yancy behind the counter. Her heart starts dropping just a little when Raleigh doesn’t immediately appear and that’s when the door to the back swings open and he comes out carrying a box.
Her heart leaps in her chest when he immediately notices her, as if he’s got a Mako homing device in his head and the smile that spreads across his face makes her knees go a little wobbly. She grins at the both of them but can’t help if her eyes linger a little longer on Raleigh, drinking in the sight of him. He’s chatting a mile a minute, having already abandoned his box to start making her favorite drink, something he won’t tell her what’s in and only he knows how to make. He claims that this way she’ll be forced to keep coming back and she bites her tongue to keep from telling him that the drink really isn’t why she always comes, that he’s the reason why. She’s pretty sure she’d never live down the embarrassment that would be sure to ensue if she let that little tidbit slip out.
Second semester as a whole is much better for Mako. She actually makes friends in her calculus class, two boys who never stop arguing with each other. Raleigh laughs when she tells him about Newt and Hermann, who are both actually getting their doctorates and are her TAs but then she never has been able to make friends her own age. It’s okay though because frankly she doesn’t think very much of the boys in her classes. All of them seem to be too concerned with partying or too obsessed with their own self-importance to actually be worth her time. At least that’s what she tells herself, ignoring the voice in the back of her head telling her that it’s all Raleigh’s fault.
Raleigh ends up meeting Newt and Hermann one night when a tutoring session runs a little late and they decide to relocate from the classroom to the coffee shop. Neither Newt nor Hermann have ever been to Becket’s but they very quickly become acquainted with it, which isn’t hurt by the fact that they come in with Mako.
The three of them are discussing something political by the time the shop slows down enough that Raleigh can join them but Mako immediately loses track of the conversation when she sees the bandage on his hand.
“What happened?” she demands, grabbing his hand. She’d have been embarrassed by how forward she was being if she hadn’t been so concerned.
It’s a long moment before Raleigh pulls his hand away, as if he was enjoying the contact just as much as she was. “I just burned my hand cooking last night. Spilled some boiling water on it,” he says with a shrug, trying to brush off her concern. If it was anyone besides Raleigh she’d have sworn their ears were turning pink but this was Raleigh, who seemed to take everything in stride and she can’t imagine him blushing for anything. Especially not a situation like this.
“You should put some lavender on it,” she tells him and that sparks a lively discussion on the benefits of herbal remedies versus Western medicine, with Hermann surprisingly taking the side of traditional, herbal medicine and Newt firmly in favor of Western medicine. Raleigh is mostly silent although he doesn’t seem to prefer a side and Mako’s drawn into the debate, Hermann drawing on her experience as a little girl in Japan.
The argument takes so long that they end up staying until close, something that Mako has done on more than one occasion. The difference tonight is that Raleigh is the only one left in the shop and he did not finish everything before close as he normally did. In fact, he jumped to his feet swearing when Mako pointed out the time.
Newt and Hermann gave their goodbyes in a very distracted fashion, promising to come again soon before leaving, all of which was done while continuing their argument. Raleigh had run to the back to grab something, Mako didn’t even know what, but while he did so she grabbed one of the towels kept in the cabinets below the condiment station and began wiping down tables. There were only a few but whoever had sat there had left them a mess, with crumbs and paper cups and napkins littering the surfaces of the tables.
She was on the third one when Raleigh came back to the front dragging a broom in one hand and a mop bucket in the other. “You really don’t have to do that,” he said, looking a little puzzled as to why she was still here. “You’re not an employee, at least not yet,” he joked, a long standing one that Yancy often liked to call upon.
Mako just smiled in response and kept cleaning the tables. “It is my fault that you did not finish your work already so I would feel bad if I did not help now.”
“Nothing I say is going to convince you otherwise, is it?” Mako gave him a smile and he just sighed and went to work. Between the two of them they managed to get everything clean and ready for opening the next morning within half an hour. Which would have been perfect except by then it had begun to sleet outside and Mako stood at the window, staring out at the weather glumly.
“There is no way you’re going to walk home in that,” Raleigh said as he came up behind her after having put away the last of the cleaning supplies. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t,” she protested, a knee jerk reaction. “I’m just around the corner, I can run it.”
“It’s my fault now that you have to deal with this weather, I can give you a ride.” Raleigh smiled down at her and took her hand, pulling her through the shop and out through the back, where his truck was parked. Or at least what she assumed was his truck since there were no other cars in the small lot.
She had to try very hard to keep the blush off her face as his warm hand in hers was stirring up several emotions that she’d thought she’d gotten a good handle on. They didn’t talk in the car as they sat there for several moments as it warmed up and then Mako directed him to where she lived. Well, she told him the name of her dorm building and he drove her there. It was only when they pulled up in front of the building that Raleigh said anything more.
“Hey, give me your phone,” he said and she handed it over without protest, although she did question why. He flashed that smile that made her go weak at the knees at her in response and then held up his ringing phone, her number displayed across it.
“So in case I can’t find that lavender I can call you,” he told her and she tried really, really hard not to think about the fact that they had just exchanged numbers. Something she’d kind of been dreaming about for months.
“Please do,” she responded, a little proud of herself for keeping the emotion out of her voice. “And thank you so much for the ride.”
“My pleasure,” he winked at her and she slid off the seat before running for her building. Once she reached the doors she turned back to wave at him and he flashed his brights before pulling away.
Later that night she lay in her bed staring at her phone, where his number was now saved. Gathering her courage she sent the text that had been waiting for half an hour. ‘Thanks again. See you tomorrow!’ She woke the next morning to see the response and had to keep herself from making too much noise and waking her roommate.
‘No problem and looking forward to it :)’
By March Mako had almost given up on anything coming of this friendship. It’s not that she’s managed to get over her ridiculously large crush on one Raleigh Becket so much as the fact that she’s been carting around this crush for about six months and absolutely nothing has come of it. She’s pretty sure that he just thinks of her as his little sister. In fact, she’s almost certain that that’s the case.
Since they shared their numbers almost two months ago they’ve been in constant contact, even on the days when they don’t physically see each other. Sometimes she’ll be at the shop when he’s not and she’ll text him, telling him that she wants his coffee (he still refuses to tell her what’s in the drink he calls the Mako Special but she knows she’ll get it out of him one day, it’s only a matter of time). He’ll respond and that’ll spark a whole conversation that won’t end for hours unless one of them has something urgent that means they can’t be on their phones.
It’s one of those days that she finds herself spending more time smiling at her phone than writing her paper that’s due in a few days for one of her general education classes. The fact that their relationship, friendship, whatever it is, is interfering with her ability to study should concern her but she can’t quite bring herself to care. Mako is well aware that she’ll finish this paper on time and she’ll get a good grade, if she has to spend a sleepless night the night before it’s due in order to manage that, well then that’s her problem. For now she gets much more pleasure out of her conversation with Raleigh and she needs it after a rather stressful day. It’s only when she realizes that that she discovers just how much she’s come to rely on Raleigh and she puts the phone down, not responding even after it starts vibrating again.
She doesn’t know how long she spends staring off into space thinking about that little revelation when Yancy sits down across from her, giving her one of the cookies. “Raleigh told me to give you that because he’s pretty sure that you haven’t eaten today,” he says by way of explanation and that makes Mako blush just a little and duck her head. She hasn’t, but she also hasn’t told Raleigh that. Yancy watches her reaction and sighs before running a hand over his face.
“Thank you,” she tells him and quickly texts Raleigh to tell him that she’s eating the cookie Yancy gave her, knowing he’d want the report. That just makes Yancy heave a sigh.
“The two of you have got to stop dancing around each other,” he tells her in a voice that’s part exasperated and part amused. She just gives him a blank look and he looks like he’s seriously contemplating just face planting on the table. “Are you two really that dense?”
Mako is pretty sure what he’s talking about, she’s not actually that dense, but her heart’s in her throat and is beating at the pace of hummingbirds’ wings so she can’t bring herself to say anything in response. If Yancy is saying what she thinks he’s saying then maybe she doesn’t have to give up quite so soon after all. She’d like that.
“I do not know what you mean,” she tells him, she’s guarded her heart too carefully and for too long to let some boy rip her apart now, especially when it’s not even the boy it belongs to. “Raleigh and I are friends.”
His eyes kind of light up at her words and she knows she made a misstep. She should not have said that last bit. “You have every idea of what I mean so why the hell are you pretending not to?” his voice is still tinged with annoyance but now she hears genuine curiosity and she knows that she’ll never get out of this discussion now. For all that she might be in love with Raleigh Becket, his older brother has also become something of a brother to her as well. Yancy Becket just has a way about him that seems to pick up strays and bring them into his family. He’d done the same with Newt and Hermann when he met them and she knows the story of how Tendo Choi became the Becket brothers’ third half.
Yancy likes to take care of people, especially the people he’s close to and there’s no one he’s closer to than his younger brother. Mako knows there’s no way on Earth that she’s going to get out of this conversation unless there’s some kind of emergency but she sincerely doubts there will be, he wouldn’t have come over here without first making sure that whoever’s on shift could handle the shop without him. Mako’s stuck now, no way out. Plus, she’s one of those people he really cares about too so he’s doubly determined to have this conversation.
“I do not think that he feels the same way about me that I feel about him,” she finally manages after mulling the situation over for a long moment. She goes back to chewing on her lower lip, an old habit she’s never managed to get rid of, as she waits for him to respond.
Yancy gives her a look that tells her he thinks she’s crazy. “Mako, that boy practically worships the ground you walk on. He feels the same way, trust me, I’ve known him his entire life. He’s completely gone over you.”
“That does not mean that even if we tried for anything it would not ruin our friendship.”
That little pet worry bursts out of her before she can stop it. It’s not something she’d ever even really let herself think about, this worry that if somehow Raleigh and she did manage to begin a relationship and it ended badly she’d lose the man who’d become one of her best friends, if not her best friend. It’s a fear that she tries not to think too much about, especially because she hadn’t thought he’d ever return her feelings and she’s still not even convinced that he does, no matter what Yancy has just said.
“Then you’re just going to make yourself both miserable,” Yancy scolds her, rolling his eyes. “You can’t let fear of a possibility that might never even happen stop you from going for something that would make you very, very happy. I’d think the reward in this case outweighs the risk by quite a lot.”
Mako takes another bite of her cookie to keep herself from having to answer because she needs the time to think over her words. She’s saved though when the subject of their conversation walks through the doors just then.
“Mako! You’re still here,” he calls out, his face lighting up with a smile when he spots her and with what Yancy has just told her still ringing in her ears she wonders how she never noticed how he did that, how her presence makes him light up and she can’t help the smile forming on her face in answer to his.
He comes over and stops at the table, standing over her while Yancy shoots her secret looks that really aren’t as subtle as he seems to believe they are. “I thought you’d left because you never responded,” Raleigh tells her, crossing his arms and looking like a little kid that was denied a cookie. She thinks it’s adorable even though on anyone else she’d probably find it a bit immature. With Raleigh it’s just who he is and she can’t help but find it cute.
“Sorry, my fault,” Yancy cuts in and Mako’s a little grateful for his interference. This time at least. “We got caught up talking,” he tells his brother as he stands and starts backing away from the table. “But I should get back now and the two of you can just continue your conversation in person.”
Raleigh seems happy enough with that solution, and Mako’s pretty pleased herself, but she doesn’t miss the looks that Yancy’s shooting her over Raleigh’s head. Apparently he seems to think that if their relationship is going to be taking any turns Mako’s the one who’s going to have to do the steering.
Two weeks later and Mako has done absolutely nothing with her new knowledge of the situation. In fact, she’s done less than nothing, because she’s been avoiding Raleigh every chance she gets. She replies to his texts in the shortest manner possible and actually goes to the library to study rather than the coffee shop. She tells herself it’s because midterms are starting and she needs to concentrate on her classes more than she needs to set whatever’s happening between her and Raleigh straight and she almost believes it. But then she’s always been pretty good at lying to herself.
Plus she’s been laying on her bed for almost an hour just staring at her phone, where there’s a blank text message waiting for her to write something and she needs to do this. She needs to get it out there because she’s not sure how much longer she can go without at least letting him know how she feels. This confession is more for herself than anything else, she decides, because she’ll go crazy if she doesn’t manage to get some resolution for her feelings. Mako’s sure of it.
So she musters all of her courage and hurriedly types out the message and sends it before she can stop herself. ‘Hey, want to get dinner this week?’ and as soon as it’s sent she’s already regretting it. There are a million and one ways she could have worded that differently and all of them would have been so much better than what she sent. She feels like a complete idiot and hopes for one fleeting moment that all the cell towers will go down right at this moment and he’ll never receive the message. At least that way she’ll never have to be embarrassed about the fact that she sent the lamest message to him ever. It’s worse than those texts she exchanged in high school and she can’t help the agony of embarrassment.
Mako can’t even make herself study because she’s only got one exam left and she knows the subject backwards and forwards, there’s no way she’s not going to ace that exam. All that’s left to her is laying on her bed, trying not to think of her utter humiliation.
That’s when his reply comes. ‘Sure! Does tomorrow work for you?’
It’s all she can do to keep from screaming in happiness, but that would be heard by others on the floor so instead she leaps off her bed and does a victory dance. Her roommate walks in while she’s in the middle of the dance and they both freeze, staring at each other while Mako’s Shibuya pop music blares all around them. Then her roommate just silently closes the door again and walks away. This isn’t the first time she’s caught Mako dancing and Mako’s pretty sure it won’t be the last. She’s at least gotten over the embarrassment of that.
‘I can do that. 6 sound good?’ she replies and waits with bated breath for his reply. It doesn’t take long to come at all.
‘Sure. I’ll pick you up from your dorm.’ Mako’s on cloud nine for the rest of the evening, even when she leaves to go to the shop, having decided that she knows Raleigh’s not on duty (he responded too quickly for that, when he’s working he has designated times for checking messages and she’s not going to think about the fact that she knows that) so she figures it’s safe enough to go there to study. Besides, she works best when she’s there.
Her hair’s a mess and her clothes are not the most flattering things she owns, just a tshirt and yoga pants, but she won’t see Raleigh so she really doesn’t care because she’s comfy. She throws her things into her backpack and then speeds out of the dorm, waving at her roommate as she passes the other girl.
Yancy is standing at the counter when she comes in and he smirks at her but she doesn’t really think about what that means, just grins at him and waves in response before heading to her table, which is still miraculously empty. She hasn’t been here in a week and she’s reveling in the comforting sense of familiarity. She’s going to get much more done now than she has the last few days, she’s certain of it.
When a mug appears in front of her with a brownie (her favorite) she looks up and smiles at Yancy, only it’s not Yancy standing there. It’s Raleigh and suddenly her mind is screaming at her. She freezes, eyes going very wide as she takes in the fact that he’s there, she’s dressed for comfort, and she asked him out less than an hour ago. Her mind goes completely blank and she just blinks up at him for a moment before she feels her entire face go red and she has to look down.
“Thank you,” she manages and when he pulls up the chair right next to her she thinks that she might die. This is not at all how she wanted this first meeting to go after texting him. Not at all. Still, she’s Mako Mori and she can handle this situation because no boy, not even Raleigh Becket, is going to break her. No matter how this goes she’ll be fine, she knows that in her very bones.
“Didn’t expect to see you tonight,” he teases her, his leg so close to hers that she can feel the heat of him next to her. She curses herself when she can’t stop herself from blushing.
Then her response slips out before she can stop it. “Well, I always work best here. The atmosphere is perfect.”
She gets maybe two seconds to go over that in her head and she thinks that maybe that was the stupidest response she’s ever given to anything ever, including the time she tried to tell her dad that she wanted a panda for a pet (and that was after he’d vetoed the cat and the velociraptor).
“Or maybe just the company,” he says, leaning close to her and then it hits her that he’s flirting with her and her eyes go so wide that she can practically feel them popping out of her head, but she does her best to respond, no matter how awkward she might be.
“Possibly,” she tells him and gives him her best smile, her eyes going back to their normal size. It’s what he does next that she really doesn’t expect.
Raleigh runs his hand through his hair before muttering “oh, screw it” and leaning in and kissing her. His lips are soft, softer than she expected, and it takes her a moment to process what’s happening before she kisses him back, enthusiastically. His hands cup her face while her knots in his hair and he tastes of coffee and chocolate and Raleigh and she thinks that it’s the best thing she’s ever tasted in the entire world.
He pulls back for a moment so that they can grin at each other and dimly Mako can hear Yancy laughing at them but then Raleigh leans in to kiss her again and the entire world fades out until it’s just the two of them.
Mako is on cloud nine. It’s been a full week since Raleigh kissed her and it’s possibly been the best week of her entire life. She’s seen him every night, even on the nights where all they do is sit in the coffee shop as they did before. It’s wonderful and terrifying at the same time because it’s like nothing she’s ever felt before. Sure, she’s had a few boyfriends before, but none of them were like Raleigh. None of them were her best friend first, none of them knew her inside and out like he did, and that’s actually a lot more frightening than she expected it would be, but at the same time it’s so much better.
Raleigh gets this look on his face whenever he sees her, as if her mere presence makes his entire day so much better, and every time she sees it her heart beats that little bit faster. She can’t help answering that smile with one of her own. Just last night when she’d walked into the shop and he’d been at the counter he’d given her one of those smiles and she hadn’t been able to stop the blush in response. When he gives her those smiles it’s like he thinks she’s the most perfect person in the world and she can’t help how happy that makes her. Yancy likes to make retching noises when he catches them at this, which cause Raleigh to go and jump on him and she’ll laugh at the brothers. Even with midterms this week had been as close to perfect as was possible.
“What are you thinking about?” Raleigh asked as he dropped into his seat, the one that he always claimed at her table and she now referred to mentally as his chair. “Looks like you’ve got some deep thinking going on,” he joked, reaching out to tug on one of her short pigtails.
She swatted at his hand but he moved it away too quickly, returning for one more successful tug before retreating for good. He laughed at the look Mako gave in return for his antics. He seemed to find any excuse he could to touch her now, as if he was touch starved and she was the only person whose touch he could stand.
“Nothing much,” she tells him and he gives her that look that means he wants to hear all of her thoughts no matter how insignificant they might be and it gives her a little thrill to be able to know all of that about him just from a facial expression. Still, she doesn’t really want to talk about the fact that she’s been mooning over him for the past fifteen minutes so she changes the subject. “Have you decided what you’re going to do in the fall?”
Raleigh groans and his head drops onto the table while she laughs this time. “I hate these decisions. All I care about is getting a decent wage and being close to you and Yancy,” he complains, but she knows the truth. He misses working with mechanics and she’s already pretty certain that he’s going to take the job in the next town over. It’s only a fifteen minute drive and the job is a good one, but she’ll let him come to that conclusion on his own, even if it takes him longer to get there.
“That’s just a part of being an adult,” she tells him, reaching out and running her fingers through his hair (and okay, she might be as touchy-feely as he is).
He pouts up at her and she just smiles at him, no matter how cute she thinks he is right now and how unimportant it is that she gives in and reassures him that he’ll make the right decision, she is not giving in to that look. It’ll set a precedent that she does not want.
“Are you still planning to come with me to visit my father next weekend?” she asks, knowing this’ll take his mind off of the future and job-hunting very quickly.
“I’m hungry,” he says, sitting up again. “Let’s go get something to eat.” He’s avoiding the question, they both know that, but that’s okay. She knows that he’s already agreed to go, he won’t back out now so she can let him get away with not thinking about meeting her father for a little while longer. He does have every reason to be nervous about it, after all. Stacker Pentecost is pretty intimidating.
“Okay,” she agrees, getting a little thrill at how easy it all is now. She has every reason to go out with him now, as they’re dating, even if they haven’t put a label on their relationship yet. Mako’s looking forward to that though, she can’t wait to call him her boyfriend.
“Great, I’ll go grab my stuff,” he says and jumps up, walking a few feet before turning back suddenly. “Quick question,” he says, his words starting to run together as he speaks probably as quickly as he possibly can, “Can I call you my girlfriend now?”
“Yes,” she says, most emphatically and he grins at her, taking another step forward and kisses her quickly before rushing off to the back. She can already feel the burn in her cheeks from the giant smile on her face but she doesn’t care. Apparently Raleigh can already read her mind, but she loves that now more than ever because he’s hers now, officially.
Yancy glances up from ringing up a customer as Raleigh rushes past and then he looks at her to give her a look that tells her that he’s wishing her luck with his puppy of a younger brother. It’s something that he’s already told her out loud more than once. She thinks that luck has nothing to do with it, the fact that Raleigh might be her soul mate is more than enough, but she’ll keep that to herself for now. There’s no need to rush, the world’s not ending any time soon, they’ve got the rest of their lives to spend together.