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The Leering Barista

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Hux settles into a warm car, turns his keys in the ignition, and rests his foot on the brake. Stale air roars from the vents in greeting and he slumps, partially, (finally ). His face is impassive as he draws on his seat belt and rights his rear-view mirror, but his youth betrays a certain weariness, the smallest fracture weaving its way through a well-constructed persona. Through the cracks small signs of his humanity glint, present in the new creases of a shirt pressed before work, the liberation of a few heavy strands of hair from an expensive gel’s hold. Day bears into evening, the last stretches of Summer into Fall. Hux backs out of his parking spot.

Ambitious, promising, bold; old praises, renewed every so often. Mostly, Hux is tired, but he barely admits this to himself. Beside him in the passenger seat Hux’s briefcase sits heavy with the work he’s bringing home. The only plans he held for this week- a reunion with an old friend, Gwen- have been dropped in favor of overtime. Hux has no disillusions on what it takes to keep his foot in the door. So what if he is tired- who isn’t?

Hux tries to maintain his faith in this notion as in his daze he veers slightly out of his lane. A car whizzing past seconds after he’s righted himself blares its horn. Hux curses under his breath.

So he’d seek out stimulants again, like any other adult.

It’s with a certain shame he pulls into the Starbucks parking lot for the second time this week- parks his car because of all things, he won’t stoop so low as to use the drive-thru. Brendol Hux’s descriptions of the people who use them still play in his mind (mothers piloting minivans full of trash and undisciplined children; overweight college dropouts driving equally trashed, equally expensive cars) almost two years after the man’s inevitable, fatal stroke. Hux is sure he’d have a second in distaste if he knew Hux comes here so often. “It’s trash coffee,” he’d often felt the need to comment whenever passing a franchise.

Hux fixes his sleeves as he steps out of the car and crosses the cramped lot, ensuring both were rolled properly, smoothly, the action mostly unconscious. His mind is buzzing with the effort of organizing and reorganizing his priorities for the evening, the week, the month, the year. He should have brought home some additional files on his current case and not taken up so much room with that second lawsuit. It isn’t due until January, and it’s a reckless show of favoritism. He wants to work on the case (feels confident in his ability to excel there, having already detected major flaws in the filer’s story, and it would be a major breakthrough if, presenting his work to his boss and impressing him he could claim the case for himself) and that’s precisely why he won’t. Besides, if he neglects any other work, assigned work in the process, what good will that do to impress anyone?

(Unbidden, something prideful in Hux insists he could finish both. Will. He bites this down.)

Mind whirring, Hux barely registers entering the store or the surprisingly short line that disappears before him, and he’s caught standing dumb at the counter without an order ready. His regular order flees his mind now that he’s desperately reaching for it, but there’s something even worse that in his overworked daze he’s failed to recall.

That something cracks a wide, devilish grin, dark eyes glinting with an unconcealed mirth.

Hux scowls, for all the good that it’s ever done him. (Admittedly, a great deal, but never once on this man before him who stares so shamelessly, so rapaciously, unperturbed by any exhausted aggression Hux can muster). He rakes his hand back through his fair hair in frustration and maintaining his scowl scans the colorful chalk menu overhead for something to order. Christ, even the sizes have fled him.

“Deviating from our usual?” Something asks. The engraved name on the tag pinned to his apron begins with a B but the rest is indecipherable, scratched over past recognition. Sloppily, in a poor parody of the original font, he’s tacked on “KYLO” underneath in what appears to be permanent marker. The man may as well have named himself Venti for the absurdity of it all. He moves, feigning a casual shift but purposely blocking Hux’s view of most of the sign.

“Kylo” is tall, bulking, perhaps with a few inches on Hux though Hux could never be certain with the way the man slumps over the counters like a teenager at his first job. It’s as unprofessional as it is unseemly, and his hair follows a similar theme. Wavy and overgrown, it’s tied back in a sloppy bun, the majority of it escaped from its elastic. Though Hux has never worked in the food industry, he’s positive Kylo is breaking several health codes through pure existence in this place.

One dark, curled lock trembles as the man chuckles, too close to his mouth. Hux tries not to stare. “Perhaps we’re looking for something seasonal?

Every syllable in the sentence is a taunt, but Hux won’t be baited; he knows Kylo’s games by now. He glances quickly behind him, praying for the kind of line that might form on a Tuesday night in a popular coffee shop in a business district, but there’s no one, not a soul.

“No.” He responds, icy gaze flicking back to the blithe one before him, trying to summon every ounce of exhausted spite left in him and trying, for the life of him, not to focus too heavily on the man’s long lashes. He looks like a damned doe.

“No?” Kylo questions, his too-large lower lip jutting out in a false pout. “That’s a shame. We’ve a discount on our Fall drinks, this evening only.” Chipped, black-painted fingernails drum coquettishly on the edge of the counter.

Hux’s eyes dart around Kylo’s shoulders to read the chalk menu yet again, finding no evidence of such a discount. He looks back to the barista, unamused. “Really.”

Kylo nods solemnly. His gaze drifts easily from Hux’s cold glare and settles on his hair.

Hux knows where this is going the second the man’s lips part. “Don’t-”

“…Perhaps Pumpkin Spice?”

Hux almost growls.

A dark brow quirks, and amusement shines across Kylo’s features. “Not your thing, Pumpkin?”

Hux is seized by the desire to punch the man before him, break his sculpted nose (a second time, it would appear by its angle) and watch the blood dribble down over those pornographic lips of his. He’s seized by the desire to leave, to be home on his couch with Millie curled beside him, editing files on his laptop and not here in an overrated but convenient coffee shop, antagonized by a barista far overstepping his bounds. To leave now however would only yield in Kylo’s gratification and his own unspoken defeat.

The only way out, it seems, is through.

“Actually,” Hux returns, “it is 'my thing'. Or will be, tonight, for the sake of this ‘discount.’”

Hux feels he’s performed admirably, in the least setting himself on equal footing with Kylo after the “Pumpkin” remark, but Kylo only breaks into another, larger grin, one that registers unnerving, exasperating, and enthralling all at once. Somehow, Hux has already lost, and more perplexingly, he’s willing to stay on this burning ship, see it through, because something in him is captivated.

This train of thought sends immediate disgust rolling through Hux once recognized, and he’s more than grateful to see Kylo turn to the register to punch in his order and apparent discount. He takes the moment to collect himself and reset his focus. There are far more pressing, legitimate matters requiring his attention, those lending to his career for example, his success, and not an overgrown boy with all the expressions of a puppy and the body of-

“Size?”

“I-” Hux blinks, caught stupid again, and somehow Kylo knows, taking a conspicuous joy in watching Hux flounder before throwing him a rope.

“…The discount only covers Talls and Grandes.” Kylo offers, leaning on his palm now, forever amused.

Hux’s face reddens. “Grande,” he spits quickly.

Kylo punches something into the keyboard of the register and Hux fights to keep his gaze off his hands. Simple but unbidden images of Kylo working with them rise to his mind. Hux imagines them tugging down any of the ambiguous, metal levers all over the shop or pumping shots, syrups, almost too large for the job. Hux imagines them placing perfect swirls of whipped cream on college girls’ drinks and, perhaps in his mouth when the shift is done- he would be crass enough.

“$3.10.” Kylo provides after a minute, snapping Hux from his reverie. He’s wearing a slight scowl now, directed at the computer first and then, more cautiously, in a brief flick towards the security camera behind him.

Hux gets the creeping feeling this “discount” is Kylo’s own as an employee, but regardless, it is a discount. He nods and pulls his debit card from his wallet, swiping it quickly before gracing the touch screen with a wide, elegant signature. Kylo passes him his receipt, and for just a moment their fingers brush before the man ducks away to make his drink. Hux quickly shoves the tainted hand back into his pocket, reminding himself that Kylo will most likely spit in his coffee to ward off the fresh goosebumps along his forearm.

When another customer appears behind him, Hux travels further down the counter to wait for his drink, fidgeting with his collar and drawing his phone from his pocket to check the time all in an effort not to search for Kylo among the handful of employees behind the counter. He’s seen him work before, had countless other bruising encounters with the man (enough Hux has mostly learned his schedule and how to avoid him), but he’s beginning to find him almost endearing in the worst way, somehow not wholly regretting having dealt with him tonight. He’s tipping into dangerous territory, and it’s relief when a woman’s voice, not a man’s, calls out his order from somewhere behind him.

“Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte!”

Hux turns around and quickly takes his drink from the counter. He takes a blind sip on his way to the door and unsurprisingly scalds his tongue. With a grimace at the temperature (but surprisingly not the taste) he exits the shop and heaves out a sigh of relief as he’s greeted by the cooling air outside. Fifteen more minutes and some traffic and he’d be home with this all behind him.

Hux does a brief pat at one pocket for his wallet, then at the other for his phone, and having secured both, takes another sip from his coffee, cautiously this time. It’s good, he finds himself admitting, and as he crawls into his car he feels at peace enough to take a peek and what is scribbled across his cup this time. Kylo is notorious for leaving botched attempts at his name, even pet names at Hux’s expense, and he expects this time he’ll find “Pumpkin” if the man hasn’t fallen back on his comfortable, trusted “Sux” again.

Instead of any name however, or words even, Hux finds a jumble of digits on the cup and nearly chokes on the coffee just sliding down his throat.

They're written crookedly and break awkwardly where Kylo appears to have run out of room halfway through, but it’s a phone number nonetheless and an unfortunately legible one. Hux stares for a long minute in deliberation before regrettably pulling out his phone.

‘I could easily have you fired for this, you know.’ Is what, of all things, he sends to the number.

He doesn’t receive a response for several long minutes and of course he doesn’t; the man is at work with a security camera at his back. This doesn’t stop Hux from lingering anxiously in the parking lot, taking frequent sips from a drink he’s grown somewhat fond of all while trying to convince himself just to drive home.

When Hux’s phone finally buzzes, he unlocks it instantly.

‘but you won’t will you?’

Hux snorts at that; replies ‘Presumptuous.’

Kylo’s next response is almost instant.

‘you find me intriguing.’

‘Dubious.’

‘attractive?’

Hux falters there, ultimately resigning. ‘Potentially.’

‘enough for me.
r u free friday?’

Hux knew it would come to this. At least he can answer truthfully, even if some adolescent part of him begs he makes the time. ‘No.’

‘sat?’

‘No.’

‘ok look my breaks over in like two minutes when are u free’

‘I’m not.’

Hux should leave it here. He’s had his curiosity sated.

He doesn’t, can’t, still deigning to reply when his phone buzzes:

‘indefinitely?’

‘Close enough.’

‘what kind of job do you even have?’

‘I’m a lawyer.’ Probably too much information. Again, he needs to withdraw, stop while he’s ahead.

‘oh shit so you really could have me fired’

‘I could even if I wasn’t.’

‘i guess
look ok shit i rly gotta go
can u at least come back to the shop tomorrow?
could get you a drink for free just come closer to 8’

‘Eight?’

‘Its when my shift ends
get to take a cup home but i can give u mine
rly gotta go
y or n?’

‘Charming. I’ll consider it.’ Hux replies as if anything is left ambiguous at this point, as if he isn’t already damned to return.

‘<33’

As Hux backs out of the parking lot, he wonders, tiredly, what’s become of his self control. Glancing briefly down at his cup in its holder and spotting the crooked numbers across it, he finds he doesn’t care as much as he once might have.

In the very least Hux can find comfort knowing his father has woken up half the cemetery rolling in his grave.