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boys on the radio

Chapter Text

~

Do what you want
'Cause I'll do anything
And I'll take the blame

--Hole

~

The new kid is terrible.

Hux doesn’t even know when he started here, it’s like halfway through the semester and suddenly there is this tall glowering goth kid with safety pins through the lowest set of his ear piercings and regrettable lipstick and the world’s loudest fucking music, it’s not even in English half the time, apparently making his permanent home in the metal shop. Hux wouldn’t care if he didn’t have to go through the metal shop on his way to and from the darkroom, or if the fucking darkroom itself had any soundproofing to match the velvet blackness of its lightproof door and walls.

(He likes the little rotating-blackout-door of the darkroom. Something about it, about the airlock act of passing out of the blue into the black, leaving behind the regular world for a while, appeals to Hux. He likes the high thin reek of vinegar, acetic acid, over the other chemicals that make up the smell of this little red-black sanctum. Even when the other kids are in here, it’s still private, in a way. It is like being cozily tucked inside of someone’s heart.)

This week the new kid has been louder than ever. Hux has stayed at school in the afternoons to work on his projects for several weeks now, because going from class to this limited domain of red sharp-smelling darkness is a hell of a lot better than going from class to his father’s house (eight thousand square feet, secure gated community, with attached golf course) and spending the afternoon studying. He spends the evenings studying, instead, and the afternoons here, tilting little plastic baths up and down with his forefingers, watching the wave slide back and forth across the surface, watching images appear on the blank paper as the chemicals do their work. It’s a kind of magic, although he knows perfectly well how it is done; he does not bother thinking of the chemistry and just watches the pictures appear, as if rising to the surface of some white liquid, slowly at first and then with more and more detail.

He’d picked photography for the arts elective this semester because it sounded less messy than ceramics, the only other class that fit his schedule, and had been slightly astonished at just how much he enjoyed it right from the beginning. Hux was used to being good at things -- at least things that didn’t involve running around or carrying heavy objects -- and he turned out to be a natural at this new discipline. He had been the only kid in the class who didn’t need help developing their first roll: winding the film out of the cassette and into its spiral reel in absolute and utter darkness wasn’t exactly easy, but he knew how it ought to go, and his fingers were deft and sure. He’d had the film in its light-trap tank ready to go while everyone else was still fumbling around. The teacher hadn’t actually believed he had done it correctly in that amount of time, and opened up the tank to check his work, which made Hux clench his fists in the darkness, glad no one could see his face. And then the teacher had said more quietly “Good work,” and Hux heard actual respect in her voice.

After that, she’d taken him aside and suggested that since he was perhaps working at a different pace than the other students, she’d be willing to let him do an independent study with her for the same credit rather than continuing along with the regular curriculum, so as not to hold him back. Hux had been conscious of the other kids’ animosity, but he quite frankly didn’t care, more interested in learning how to do this thing as well as possible. When they’d moved on from the film section of the course to digital photography, Hux had been allowed to continue working on his independent study in film. He spent his free time either wandering around with a camera or holed up in here. Since the beginning of the semester the darkroom had been a blissful quiet lacuna out of time where he could just relax, and now --

Now the new kid has jacked up the music again, some guy singing in German over a heavy electronic beat. Hux has seen the shit he’s been up to in the back room of the shop, this past week: he’s finally got the teacher to let him fuck around with the welding torch under heavy supervision, and has put together a thing apparently called The Dark Side And The Light which looks to Hux like what you would get if you took a Coke can two feet tall, stomped on it, and stuck it on a pedestal. But today apparently his artistic muse has deserted him, because Hux can hear quite clearly over the music a furious counterpoint of fuck fuck fuck shitting mother of fuck fuck fuuuuuuck.

After a few moments it stops, and Hux goes back to work. This year he’s been coming to school early, as well as staying late, now that he has his own car; and there’s a particular angle on the pond with the trees behind it in the morning light that he’s been trying to get right for the past couple of days and hasn’t been able to, and he thinks some of the shots from this morning might be closer to what he wants, and he is holding up the contact sheet in the safelight to pick frames when the music outside is suddenly turned up -- turned up high, the bass thumping hard enough to make things buzz. The air in Hux’s chest vibrates with it.

Yeah. No.

He puts down the contact sheet and stalks out of the darkroom -- it is hard to stalk through a tiny revolving door, but he tries -- and is expecting to see the new kid...headbanging, or setting shit on fire, Hux doesn’t even know, but all he’s doing is...bending over the workbench, really close. In the outer shop, not back there where the heavy metal work goes on.

“Hey,” Hux says, or...yells, over the music. “Can you turn that shit down?”

The new kid pays no attention whatsoever: Hux might as well not even be there. His hair is pulled back from its normal disorganized tangle, exposing his entire face, not just the bits of it that are normally visible, and Hux can see that he has a scatter of little dark moles standing out against the pale skin. He is focusing very, very intently on something quite small that’s held in one of those weird tweezery clamp things, and the flame of the torch in his right hand -- the regular torch, not the oxyacetylene rig -- is tuned to a sharp blue point. In his other hand one of the jewelry shop’s alarming-looking dental picks is moving very carefully, with the torch, and Hux is reminded of doctor shows on TV, the intense concentration, the tiny implements.

Despite himself, he watches. The dental pick makes a fractional movement relative to whatever is being held between the tweezers, and a moment later all the tension goes out of the new kid’s shoulders and he turns the torch’s thumbwheel closed with a squeak-pop of gas -- and straightens up, dead torch in one hand, pick in the other, and gives Hux one of the nastiest looks he has ever been granted, by anybody, ever.

Hux can see it when he does the little forceful nodding motion that should send the hair cascading down to cover his face, but it’s still tied back in a rubber band, and nothing happens. The smell of hot metal and flux drifts across the open air of the shop.

The German singer finishes whatever it is he has been singing, and in the echoing, ringing space between that and the next song on the album Hux asks -- despite himself -- “What are you working on?”

~

~

Kylo Ren, whose name is Kylo Ren, thank you very much, by the way, detests most things about this school except for the shop. He’d been prepared to hate everything about the school, and then he’d signed up for Metal Shop I and discovered that not only did they have kind of an awesome facility here, the shop teacher Mr. Tekka was actually pretty cool and asked him a bunch of questions about his previous experience, and when he’d demonstrated that he knew his way around and wasn’t going to set fire to himself or lose any fingers, had agreed to let Ren use the shop to work on his own projects outside of class time.

He’s gotten really into silverwork, on his own. The heavy shit is fun, he loves the sheer power of the oxyacetylene torch, holding a blade of light that can cut right through metal, and he’s working on another piece called Balance that’s the toughest thing he’s ever made so far, and there’s a lot of stuff he wants to do with the forge: he’s already applying to do an independent study next semester instead of taking the regular shop class. But -- when he’s worked out the worst of his moods in heavy metal -- there’s something about the tiny fiddly shit that appeals to the perfectionist in him, and he is trying to get hinges to work because if he can do hinges in sterling then he can make poison rings, and that will be so incredibly sick.

Ren is actually something close to content, or as close to content as it is possible for him to get, except for that one preppy ginger motherfucker who keeps bitching about his music. He has no idea what the kid’s deal is, just that he wears actual sweater vests like Mr. Rogers or something and walks around like he has a stick so far up his ass it’s hard to turn his head, and he’s always in the darkroom while Ren is working in the shop. He’s doing some kind of independent study of his own, apparently, since he’s not in with the other kids.

(Ren doesn’t get photography. Not the old-fashioned kind with film, anyhow. They had perfectly good digital cameras now and who the hell wanted to spend his entire afternoon in the dark fucking around with chemicals that didn’t even get you high? Preppy Ginger Fuck clearly doesn’t have anything even closely approximating a life.)

Right now it’s 4:30, everyone else has gone home long ago, and Ren has finished the day’s work on Balance and is blasting Rammstein while he tries, again, to get his tiny silver hinges to work. The problem is that the stock he’s using to make the barrels of the hinge is so thin and fine that the temperature at which it melts and balls up is really fucking close to the temperature at which the silver solder will run between it and the heavier stock he’s trying to attach the barrels to. Getting the heat just right, so that the solder melts and the thin silver doesn’t, is...challenging.

He has already melted two attempts so far, having to shut off the torch and jump up and down yelling invective until he calmed down enough to get his hands steady, and this time he is going to fucking get it right. This can be done, he knows it can be done, so he is going to damn well do it.

Ren dips all the clamps and the pick in the grubby can of water on the bench to make sure they’re cool enough to work with, and sets it up again: oval piece of flat sheet stock held midair in a clamp, the position of the hinge on one side marked with scratches. He has three tiny silver barrels already shaped and ready: two of them will go on this piece, the back of a locket, with a space between them, and the third will be attached to the side of the locket’s face so that it fits between the two others with a silver pin running through all three, securing it all together.

He dabs flux on each spot where the outer parts of the hinge will go; heats the silver from the underneath to boil it off so the bubbling stops; melts two tiny squares of silver solder on a charcoal brick, picks them up one by one with the tip of the dental pick and deposits them exactly where he wants them. He plays the blue tip of the flame’s cone underneath the silver again until each tiny blob shivers and flattens out in a bright flash of liquid metal. The torch is cut off, the sheet silver with its two solder points removed from the clamp and dropped with a hiss into the beaker of pickling acid standing on its hotplate. The whole process takes less than a minute.

He is going to fucking do this.

After a few minutes the silver is clean, bone-white, powdery white, and he takes it out of the pickle and rinses it in water before going to set up the job properly. The piece goes back into the clamp, more flux on the solder points, boiled off again -- the bubbling of hot flux can move delicate components of a piece when you’re trying to attach them, he’d fucked up a couple pieces early on by forgetting about that -- and Ren slides the two delicate cylinders of thin silver onto the tine of a (newer, nicer) straight pick, lining them up with a gap where the third will fit between them.

Then he pauses, turns off the torch, sets the pick down and goes over to the boombox and twists up the volume. Till Lindemann growls die Sonne scheint mir aus den Augen, sie wird heut Nacht nicht untergehen loudly enough to fill the entire hollow space of the shop, fill up Ren’s bones with the music. As the chorus begins, he takes a deep breath, lights the torch again, and gets to work.

The world narrows to this very specific point, the colors of the silver, the tip of the flame. After a few moments movement beyond his workbench tells him that someone else is present; he can just about hear words over the music, but since this has no bearing on the task at hand, it is ignored. Ren heats up the flat piece of silver gently, steadily, judging temperature by eye, and just when the points of solder are about to gleam liquid again he moves the pick in, deft and smooth, and the two thin hoops of metal make contact with the solder points -- and tremble -- and settle, as the solder flows.

Hier kommt die Sonne.

He withdraws the pick, letting out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, turns off the torch, and straightens up to find that he is being stared at: that the sweater-vest kid has approached quite close, while he was busy, and is now looking at him with a peculiar expression on his face.

Ren fucking hates being stared at, despite the fact that he spends a lot of time in front of the mirror making himself as noticeable as possible, eyeliner and spikes and all. He automatically shakes his hair forward into its protective curtain, but of course it’s still held back with the rubber band and nothing happens, goddamnit.

“...What are you working on?” Preppy Ginger Fuck wants to know, in the quiet after the song ends, and he actually kind of sounds like he does want to know. Since he’s spent the entire time since Ren started working in the shop looking at him as if Ren was some type of particularly unpleasant fungus, this comes as some surprise.

“Hinges,” Ren says. Why the fuck is he talking to this kid?

Hinges?” It’s not incredulous, it’s -- well, maybe kind of impressed. “That’s tiny.”

Ren takes the piece out of its clamp and drops it into the pickle beaker, watching to see if either of the solder joints crack: both little cylinders stay firmly attached. “No shit, Sherlock,” he says. Just then the boombox erupts into Ich Will, and Preppy Ginger Fuck winces like it actually hurts, and...okay, maybe it is a little loud. Ren goes to turn it down, and then turns it off: he’s lost the mood, the drive, the whatever-it-is that makes him go on working on a thing. He’s done it, he’s put half of the hinge down, and that means he can do it, and anyway he needs to figure out what the fuck is going to go on the front of the locket before any more work is done. He feels -- tired, and irritable, anticlimactic.

Ginger is still standing there, because apparently he can’t take hints. “Can I see?”

Ren is about to tell him to fuck off, but there had been that little flicker of impressed, and right now he...kind of wants someone to recognize that he’s just done a difficult thing. He takes the silver out of the acid again -- chalk-white, it always looks so ghostly, unreal -- and rinses it before holding it out.

Ginger takes it between thumb and forefinger, carefully, and Ren notices he has incredibly skinny wrists, like a girl’s, the bone right under the surface. He examines the silver oval, saying nothing for a few moments: long enough that Ren is about to break the silence himself, or snatch it back, when he responds with “This is the back of a locket?”

“-- Yeah. Well. It’s more like an experiment, I wanted to see if I could do it. I want to make poison rings.”

Ginger hands the piece back. “How did you make the hinge barrels?”

“Bezel wire,” he says. “Thin, flat, really flexible.”

“So they’d all automatically be the same width without having to measure,” Ginger says, nodding. “Did you make those, too?”

He’s looking at Ren’s rings. Ren has two of them on most fingers, and one on each thumb, and they represent about a month and a half’s worth of steady improvement. The great thing about silverwork is that you can walk into class and walk out again ninety minutes later with a brand-new ring on your finger, no waiting around for anything to dry or get fired. He will never understand the ceramics people, some of their shit takes weeks.

“Yeah,” Ren says, and almost holds out his hands for inspection before scowling fiercely and stuffing them in his pockets. Why is he talking to this kid, anyway?

“You’re good,” says Ginger, finally taking the hint and backing off. “You’re actually kind of...really good. But the music’s too loud. I wouldn’t care except for there’s no soundproofing in the darkroom.”

“So wear headphones,” Ren tells him, hands still jammed in his pockets. “Listen to your...whatever that classical shit is you play.”

Ginger rolls his eyes. “Yeah, right, I need to wear headphones because you need to be an inconsiderate dick and incidentally damage your hearing and mine?”

“Pretty much,” says Ren.

They’re weird eyes. Ren hasn’t seen anyone with actual orange eyelashes before, at least up close: it makes the blue-grey really stand out. Right now they’re narrowed at him with -- oh, there it is, there’s the you’re a fungus look. Ren narrows his right back: and you’re an asshole. “What’s your name, anyway?” Ginger asks.

“Ren,” he says. “Kylo Ren.”

It still sounds really cool. And...gets another eyeroll from Ginger. “What?” Ren demands. “What’s yours?”

“Hux,” says the kid, and Ren snickers.

“‘Hux,’ for real? Man, middle school must have been a fucking nightmare for you.” The breadth and scope of potential horrible nicknames is impressive.

“Yeah,” Hux says, “it was. Just keep the volume down.”

He walks away -- no, Ren thinks, stalks away, that is actual stalking going on there -- and disappears back into the revolving darkroom door.

Ren packs up his stuff, locking the sheet stock away in Mr. Tekka’s office, closing the tank valve on the torch, turning off the hotplate under the pickle beaker. With a last look round, he slouches out of the shop to go wait for his ride, not entirely sure why he is feeling like quite such an asshole and not liking it in the least.

~