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He hadn’t heard from Ren in three days, which could only mean a hundred things. He bargained with his anxiety, reasoning that failure could still mean that Ren was doing okay. Mostly, he raged at Snoke in craven silence and cursed the Resistance seven days ‘til Sunday while getting on with his life, having conference calls with coal magnates, strategizing on meetings and finding new and innovative ways of ignoring incompetent emails. Keeping busy used to work, but now he found himself fidgety, constantly checking his phone or grinding his teeth when manners forbid him to do so, waiting for a text, a call, a photo.

He was sitting in the hospital’s waiting room, knees jerking in a nervous rhythm as he scrolled through his log and detected exactly zero personal messages. He forced himself to still and to refrain from sending yet another text to Ren saying “how did it go” and “checking in,” or reassuring him that everything was fine with the hotel but Ren owed him a couple of bucks. Double-texting was desperate enough, and he was already twelve texts too close to being nagging and clingy. His father taught him to state his business and wait for a reply which might never come, but keep his dignity intact. It never worked.

He glanced at the door. Whoever his father’s sudden visitor was, they were taking forever, and Hux was contemplating simply leaving; he couldn’t afford to sit around in corridors, not in my position , he pointed out as he constructed an imaginary dialogue with Brendol, I’m important, I matter, I should be your fucking priority, you should be thankful that I’m here, that I keep coming even though you — right. Like he was ever going to say any of that.

He allowed his head to loll back. He was effectively trapped. Brendol made him bring some of those ghastly Mr Kipling puddings, the Exceedingly Good Lemon Sponge ones, and maybe Brendol could forego a polite visit from his one and only child, but he was expecting those  puddings. Hux drummed his fingers on the box, and then curled his hand into a fist; let out a slow exhale; stared down the ugly blue chair facing him, mind drifting. When the door opened, he started and pulled himself up into a respectable sitting position. He was expecting one of Brendol’s old comrades to step out, greet him with a too-strong handshake, note how he’s grown, ask him what he did and proceed to congratulate Brendol when he said he was a CEO of the First Order.  

A pair of yellow stilettos caught his eyes. He didn’t know any of his father’s acquaintances who’d wear something like that; in fact, he only knew of one person on Earth who could pull it off. His gaze raked over the intricate layers of a flowing turquoise dress paired with an abundance of jewellry and a faux fur jacket, and as it reached Padmé Amidala’s eyes, he knew he had guessed right. She smiled a well-practiced politician's smile, tilting her head slightly to the right. She was like an apparition, a haunting memory of a past she refused to let go.

“Armitage Hux,” she said. “Don’t you ever knock?”

Hux shot a quick glance at Brendol through the open door: he was lying in bed, white as the sheets. Hux turned his attention back to the tiny woman, and, putting the pudding aside, offered his hand.

“Lovely to make your acquaintance, Senator Amidala.”

Her rings dug into his flesh as he clasped her hand. He briefly wondered whether it was an intimidation technique.

“I was just heading out for a smoke,” Amidala said, voice too kind. “Would you like to join me?”

“With pleasure,” he lied through his teeth, smiling, and followed her to the balcony, giving one last glance of what is going on here to Brendol, who, judging by his expression, had no idea either. He kept his gaze on the elaborate bun in which Amidala wore her white hair while trying to untangle her motivations. Her comment on knocking indicated that she was waiting for Hux — that was rather obvious; and he could also see why she didn’t feel like dropping by his office: this was not an official meeting. Still, to have the cheek to come here , of all private places she could ambush him, was a trademark low blow by the New Republic, given that they were involved, and it wasn’t just Amidala’s private vendetta for Hosnian Prime.

He was glad for the fresh air as he stepped forward to open the door for her, and even more glad that he could take out a cigarette. He wanted to offer his lighter like a proper gentleman, but Amidala was way ahead of him, lighting her red Marlboro with a Zippo very similar to Ren’s. Hux frowned at the cheap cigarette.

“Old habits die hard,” Amidala explained, gesticulating with the burning end. “They were my husband’s favourite.”

Hux nodded, caught off-guard, and kept his gaze on the garden as he put his Sobranies to his lips. The trees were ablaze with yellow and orange, and small figures in white loitered below them. His father refused to visit the garden. He always thought that nature was nonsense; Hux had begged for him to choose a clinic in Cornwall, Cheltenham, or Cambridge, because London’s fumes didn’t do any favours for his lungs, but Brendol refused briskly: This is my city; I will live and die here.

“Concerned about my father’s health?” Hux asked, trying to get a step ahead of her, but Amidala just graciously raised a shoulder.

“I do wish him a speedy recovery,” she said, “and I’m pleased that I could have some words with him, but I suppose you know I’m here to meet you.

Damn the woman. He swallowed down the smoke and asked, “Why is that?” What if it’s not about Hosnian Prime, his mind supplied, what if it’s about Ren? The mere idea made his stomach turn. There was a long list of people he didn’t want to know anything about his love life, and Ren’s grandmother was certainly in the top ten.

“I think I felt I had to.” Amidala leant on the cast-iron railing. She looked very out of place in her flamboyant fashion extravaganza, outdressing the elegant building and the glory of the garden, and it made Hux wonder whether she was really there. He was definitely hoping for a negative answer. “My granddaughter was kidnapped,” Amidala went on, and Hux reevaluated his request, wishing to disappear himself. “She came to me. She told me that Ben was accompanied by a tall man with ginger hair, a skinny frame, wearing an expensive suit, whom she suspected to be, well, you .”

“Contrary to popular belief, ginger is not such a unique colouring in the UK,” Hux explained, biding his time. “We make up about ten percent of the general population.” 

Amidala smiled at him bitterly. “Do you deny witnessing Rey jumping out of a window at Claridge's?”

Hux didn’t say anything to that. Amidala let some smoke drift from her red lips, slowly, in a way similar to how Ren did it. She also held the cigarette like him, between index- and middle-finger, the rest of her hand slightly curled.

“They used to be such carefree kids,” Amidala sighed, looking at nothing in particular. “Used to dote on each other. Ben enjoyed playing the big brother. He taught her everything; taught her how to read before she’d go to school, taught her how to tie her shoes, how to beat up the boys who were mean to her. He likes taking care of people. Then Rey was getting older and getting her own ideas. That, he doesn’t like. He tried to control her still, and she was having none of it. They completely fell out by the time he got his MBA. Behaved like mortal enemies. And there was all the ugliness with Ani. And look at them, still fighting.” She took a long drag. “Rey could come around. She could love him again, if she could respect him. But he’s not a respectable person.”

“That’s rather harsh,” Hux interrupted. He refused to really defend Ren, just in case Amidala was onto something and built up her whole monologue just to tell him to take his evil hands off her precious boy.

“He went too far,” she announced. “He went too far from us. I’m convinced it’s my responsibility to get him back on the right track.” She put out her cigarette, flickers of cinder flying up. “I’m asking you to get him fired.”    

Hux refrained from gaping, but he knew his expression must’ve been gobsmacked nevertheless. “Why on Earth would I do that?” he asked.

“I understand you hate each other,” Amidala said flatly. Hux curled his hands into fists, his nails digging into the flesh of his palms. Be calm, be calm.

“That’s a well-known fact,” he replied, voice a bit high-pitched. “It doesn’t mean I want him fired. He might be a spoiled wanker, excuse my French, but he gets the job done.”

Amidala arched an eyebrow. “Does he?”

“Indeed.”

“How’s the pendrive, in that case?”

“I don’t know,” Hux grunted, and added, “I don’t know what you’re onto.”

“You have voiced severe critique regarding his methods on a number of occasions. I need you to convince Snoke to let him go. I understand there’s tension between them.”

“He’s still Snoke’s favourite,” Hux objected, mind shouting, he’s mine, he’s mine, he’s— “Are you offering your help ?”

Amidala held up a finger— just a moment —and rummaged around in her purse. Hux scoffed.

“I’m not out of my mind,” he protested. “The friend of my enemy is certainly not my friend.

“The First Order will go down,” Amidala announced, putting a small plastic object in his hand and closing his fingers around it. “It’s not going down with my grandson.” She turned away and walked to the exit, heels clicking on the stone floor. “Get him out, and then follow suit if you want to.”

Hux opened his fist, staring at the pendrive in panicked disbelief. Was it genuine? Probably. He’d need to check it. He’d just stay here a little longer, gaping at the fucking thing. Someone had to do it. He turned it around, watching how the dull grey surface swallowed up the light.

 

*

 

He was distraught and reeking of smoke when he got back to Brendol.

“Got these for you,” he mumbled, dropping the puddings on the nightstand. Brendol didn’t even turn to them. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, his swollen, purple legs hanging off the edge, as if he was getting ready to chase down the senator and then thought better of it. He was looking at his toes, tangled hair falling to his face. He had stopped requesting a haircut every fortnight; he had stopped caring.

“Did she come to kill you?” he asked, voice hoarse. Hux frowned as he pulled out his usual chair.

“I don’t think that’s her style, no.” He took a seat at a polite distance, crossing his feet at the ankles. Brendol frowned.

“You shouldn’t bloody smoke. We’ve talked about it. You told me you quit.”

“Papa—”

“Do you want to end up like me?” His bloodshot eyes flashed at him. “Do you?”

Hux counted to one, two, three, telling himself not to take the bait as he laced his fingers over his knees. “You shouldn’t work yourself up,” he advised.

“Damn right I shouldn’t!” Brendol yelled. Hux briefly flinched. “My heart might stop if I do that,” Brendol bellowed on, “because it’s working too darn hard as it is to keep my lungs from exploding; that’s what my condition entails, thank you very much! I’m not here for your cursed advice! I’m not here for your lies! When were you going to tell me about Hosnian Prime?”

“It did not concern you,” Hux said evenly, knuckles turning white as he held onto his knees too hard.

“You ungrateful little shit!”

“I think I better get going.” He got to his feet, and adjusted his tie, hoping it would help him to even out his expression of bitter disappointment, as well. Brendol snarled at him, but he chose to ignore it. Out, out. For both of their sake’s. He had quite enough of his father’s abuse disguised as concern. He’s swallowed too much of it; it was always bittersweet and syrupy, making him sick.

“You coward!” Brendol shouted after him as he walked to the door, back rigid but shoulders sloped. “You’re killing yourself!”

Hux ignored the rest. He kept on an impassive face, the pendrive burning his waistcoat’s pocket like a promise. He knew that if it turned out to be a fake, it’d crush him to pieces. He messaged Brendol’s doctor that he left his father in a fury and that he was sorry, and then he called a cab.

He definitely wasn’t biting his nails while choking on angry tears on the back seat.

 

*

 

By the time he reached the First Order headquarters, he was more or less composed again, although he didn’t trust his voice just yet, so he merely nodded to the employees who greeted him. He felt safe here, snug like a cog in a perfectly operating machine. The corridors seemed to open up for him, and even riding the lift felt like flying. He turned a familiar corner to his office, and stopped dead on his tracks.

It was filled with…pink. He blinked.

“Sir!” Thanisson jumped to his feet behind his workstation. “There was a guy from GLS—”

“A guy,” Hux repeated. Were those balloons? Like, about a hundred balloons?

“Said these were for you,” Thanisson mumbled lamely. Hux put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, seeing no point in being angry with him, and asked:

“Do you think you could get me my Mac from there? There’s something I must check.”

 

*

 

Own nr: So I’ve done your job, you proper twat. You’re welcome.

*aubergine*: good morning. you got the balloons?

Own nr: Look, he’s alive!

*aubergine*: that’s what I wanted to tell you. don’t be mad.

Own nr: Next time you pre-arrange a grand apology for something you’re about to do, just don’t do the thing! Piece of advice

Own nr: Just stop doing this thing when you ghost me until you have the opportunity to make some grand gesture. I prefer reports of failure to radio silence.

Own nr: Got the balloons

Own nr: Got the pendrive

*aubergine*:  my confrontation w/ rey didn’t exactly go as planned she turned on me as we crossed grosvernor’s square and just suckerpunched me in the face when no one was looking??? knocked me out co

*aubergine*: wait u got the pendrive??

*aubergine*: how?? rey’s friends got the pendrive!!

Own nr: She knocked you out?! What?!

*aubergine*: did u fight w/ her?

Own nr:  No, I did not, that’s not a thing that happens

Own nr: Where are you?

*aubergine*: in a hospital

*aubergine* nyc, ny, us

Own nr: Jesus, are you hurt?

*aubergine*: yeah

*aubergine*: I mean no

Own nr: Can I call you?

*aubergine*: can’t really talk

*aubergine*: hurts to

*aubergine*: plus I think the guy next bed is dying or sg

Own nr: How bad is it? What did that little monster do to you?

*aubergine*: ok as I told u she knocked me out, right

*aubergine*: and I was lying there. in the rain. probs for like 5 minutes max but I got soaked through. ppl probably thought I was drunk & walked on. someone’s dog licked my face and I came to myself.

*aubergine*: called Snoke from a public phone for backup. had to lie abt why the fuck I was in London in the 1st place. told him I was following a trail. screamed at me to get my ass home asap. wanted to tell u once the issue was solved. so u wouldn’t have to worry. I promised u I’d solve it. got my men on the case but I was feeling like wet shit on the plane and it got worse and worse

*aubergine*:  guess what, I’ve got pneumonia

Own nr: I’m going to hunt down everybody who’s responsible for it and make them suffer. I’ll sue the weather.

*aubergine*:  I’m ok

Own nr: You should’ve called me. Before Snoke, before anybody. I would’ve wanted to help, because I care about you just as much as I care about my company. We could’ve figured something out. And you wouldn’t be dying in a faraway hospital and sending me balloons because you forgot how to send a text. I’m so not going to your funeral.

*aubergine*: not dying, I’m fine

*aubergine*: phone died

*aubergine*: in the rain

*aubergine*: fucking piece of shit

*aubergine*: I’m using a nurse’s phone now w/ my SIM. borrowed it. don’t think she’d mind

Own nr: Well you managed to contact Snoke and your men, didn’t you

*aubergine*: that was before I knew I was sick (not dying! ;))

Own nr: I’m afraid I can’t follow your logic. But anyway. What I meant to say is that I’m concerned. Not sure whether that came through, because I’d also like to strangle you.

Own nr: And I want to go see you.  I really-really want to.

*aubergine*: will u?

Own nr: Can’t.

*aubergine*: yeah, figured

Own nr: I’m sorry. It’s all so complicated.

*aubergine* it’s ok < 3

*aubergine*: so tell me abt the pendrive. it’s legit?

Own nr: Yes. I’ll tell you everything in detail over the phone. Wouldn’t want to have it in writing on a stranger’s device

*aubergine*: gotcha. will delete messages tho but probs safer if u call once I’ve stopped coughing my lungs out

*aubergine*: so.

*aubergine*: u never heard the song 99 luftballons?

*aubergine*: it’s in german & I’m making a wild guess here but I have reasons 2 believe it’s abt 99 luftballons

Own nr: No, it’s about the Cold War

*aubergine*: what

 

*

 

Two weeks passed, and he still couldn’t bring himself to tell Ren about his meet-up with Amidala. It would be easier and more proper to do it in person, preferably in bed. He didn’t want to upset him (he was ill, for fuck’s sake, and then he was recovering, and then he was back to work and flooded, and then, and then, and then). He had no idea what sore spot he might accidentally press on. He came up with a lousy lie of an anonymous find, which got Ren totally worked up; he kept inventing alarmingly complex conspiracy theories regarding who would just mail the pendrive to the First Order, and how it was certainly a trap; some of his ideas were frankly genius.

Hux pretended not to be bothered. The Order was safe, and Hosnian Prime had been demolished, which sent the Resistance into a spin, as expected. Amidala’s possible motivations kept him up at night, sure, but it was just one more reason to keep the truth from Ren. Amidala was dangerous, her mystery seemingly unsolvable; so Hux decided to let the issue rest. Easier said than done. It was eating him up. Ren complained that Snoke was treating him like shit, and Hux found himself taking Snoke’s side, because that was the opposite of what Amidala wanted; but it made Ren feel betrayed and send pouty selfies. One of them was captioned “u don’t love me :(” and it shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did.

Hux was big enough to admit that he needed help, so he turned to a person whom he employed to understand how humans worked: Phasma from HR. It only took them three hours in total to agree on a mutually convenient date, and now he was here.

Phasma’s flat had a chic and understated art deco design, each item carefully positioned to get the mood across: shades of cream and stormy blue with white flowers, curvy furniture and bold geometric patterns. The impression was somewhat ruined with all the kid’s toys lying about, bright spots of chaos in Phasma’s elegant order. Her daughter Pepper came running at approximately 220m/h to greet Hux, yelling at the top of her lungs:

“Kitty!”

She smashed into his legs, grabbed his knees and, throwing her head back, shouted up at him:

“Kitty!”

Hux frowned, confused. Pepper’s dark eyes were full with hope.

“Oh,” he blurted out, “oh no, sorry, I haven’t brought Millicent with me.”

Pepper’s smile turned upside down.  She was still holding onto him, and gave him a careful yank. She was a cute kid; Hux rather appreciated her stubbornness, when it was not aimed at him. Phasma came jogging, still in her work clothes, lipstick immaculate. Hux had gone home to put on a different suit for their meetup: a checkered navy jacket with white slacks, and he began to feel slightly underdressed. Pepper had a UFO themed jumper on, but that didn’t really count.

“Sweetie,” Phasma said, hauling her up to high heavens, “Millie is a very busy kitty! I’m so sorry, honey, she couldn’t make it. You know, she has some kitty business to do. What does a kitty do? What does a kitty do, hm?”

“She, uh, she eats mouses.”

“Mice,” Hux chimed in. “She mostly eats catfood, though.”

“She has to eat a lot!” Phasma made a compromise, and signalled Hux to come in. He was clutching a bottle of bourgogne pinot noir; if Phasma was on parenting duty today, they won’t be drinking; not much, anyway.

“Where’s Unamo?” he asked, and followed Phasma and co. to the spacious living room.

“Mummy’s working,” Pepper answered.

“Left for a conference in Berlin, the lucky you-know-what,” Phasma smirked, and put Pepper down to the sofa. She immediately started crawling away. “So it’s just me and the little one.”

Hux placed the wine to the glass table. He saw Phasma’s eyes flash with appreciation. “How are you holding up?”

“Musn’t grumble,” Phasma shrugged, and dropped down bodily next to Pepper, who was hanging off the armrest. She pulled her back into her lap with practiced ease; Pepper shrieked with delight, and Phasma ruffled up her fringe. “Were having lots of fun, aren’t we, dilly-boo? I’m so happy that fiasco with the pendrive is over; it was a proper disaster —  but I’m sure you had it worse than I did.”

“It affected us all,” Hux said as he made himself comfortable, earning a smirk from Phasma.

“When was the last time you slept?”

“Just the other night, if you must know.”

“I mean, properly.”

On a rainy day, clinging to Ren, talking about hurricanes. He shouldn’t say that. It was such a fragile, precious secret. He laced his fingers over his knees. “I’m fine,” he said. Pepper slipped away from Phasma again and trotted to her room. The door slammed. Hux jumped, but Phasma didn’t even wince.

“You didn’t come here because you’re fine,” she said sternly. “You brought booze; that means you get a free hour on my couch to moan, and then we’ll open this bottle and drown our sorrows like civilised people. Deal?”

Hux held up his hands in surrender.

“I still think you should see a therapist,” Phasma noted.

“Out of the question. I have too many secrets and responsibilities. I can’t just babble about my problems to a stranger; seventy percent of them are directly related to the Order.”

“They wouldn’t ask for our tax returns.”

Pepper came back, carrying a Hello Kitty make-up purse. She climbed the sofa Hux was lounging on, and grinned up at him, then started searching the contents of the purse with a very serious face.

Anyway,” Phasma went on, “you deserve to relax. I’ve heard Abdul Mahajan is in town.” She raised her eyebrows. “Freshly divorced.”

“Please,” Hux scoffed. Pepper grabbed his left hand, and attacked it with glitter nail polish. “Oh, am I going to be pretty?” Hux asked.

“Gotta look good for Mr. Mahajan,” Phasma sang.

“Shu— Hold your noise.”

“It’s okay, Pepper knows how to say shut up,” Phasma waved it away, and Pepper repeated proudly:

“Shut up!”

“Last time Mr. Mahajan…enjoyed my company, it was what, February? I don’t even think he remembers me.” Maybe certain body parts, he thought. Mahajan was a self-confessed and very, very enthusiastic cock connoisseur.

“Heard he still has an appetite for ginger.” Phasma tapped her nose. Hux rolled his eyes. “Don’t be blasé with me, son, not after a full week of gushing over his hair.”

“He has really nice hair,” Hux admitted. “Shame he keeps it short. He’s also witty and patient and open-minded, up to…challenges, but that doesn’t mean I’m interested.”

“You’re not interested,” Phasma repeated with a very different intonation.

“Right hand,” Pepper requested. Hux obeyed, a bit hot under his collar. Phasma leant forward, ready to attack.

“You have somebody,” she said.

“What makes you think that?” Hux scowled; Phasma was not easily intimidated.

“Oh holy...cow,” she grinned.

“Hold still,” Pepper chided him. Hux glanced down at his glittery nails.

“It’s nothing,” he muttered.

“Like hell. When was the last time you were in a relationship?”

“At Cambridge,” Hux answered readily, “but he had to leave to Switzerland and things got…interesting with the boat club captain, so I wasn’t very tempted to follow him. He broke my heart, anyway.”

“And ever since then, you could trust no man,” Phasma finished dramatically.

“I was just not interested in the concept of a relationship. Besides, I’m very busy—”

“Like Millie,” Pepper interrupted. She deemed her work ready, and dropped Hux’s hand. He smiled a rather exasperated smile.

“Yes. Exactly like my cat.”

“Who is he?” Phasma demanded.

Hux shook his head, ears a bit red. “You don’t know him.”

“No one does,” Phasma announced, getting to her feet and grabbing the bottle of wine. “He’s a mysterious, dark stranger, with long hair and eyes promising trouble, and what a smile, god…!”

Hux kept still, trying not to look terrified, because it was an alarmingly accurate description. Pepper giggled as Phasma raised the bottle above her head, expression mock-possessed.

“He creeps into your room on dark and stormy nights,” Phasma hammed her monologue up. “He comes in through the window with a singular goal in his head: to allure his beloved!”

“I wish,” Hux mumbled, and maybe he sounded a bit more sad than he intended, because Phasma lowered the bottle, looking a bit guilty and solemn.

“It’s not going well?” she asked.

“I lied to him,” Hux said. “I lied to you as well, while we’re at it. Uhm.”

“That’s bad,” Pepper interrupted. She stretched over Hux’s knees, probably getting ready to take a nap after all her hard work.

“Yes, lying is very, very bad. Thank you for my nails; they’re gorgeous.”

“You’re welcome,” Pepper muttered, closing her eyes. “You’re pretty now.”

Hux wanted to pat her head or something, but his nails were still drying.

“Confess up, you pretty little liar,” Phasma said, and then swiftly apologised, “Sorry, my better half is obsessed with the show. Don’t tell her I told you.”

Hux made the zippers-over-lips motion, very carefully. He let out a sigh. “I know who got us the pendrive back.”

“Oh, that? Well, we all know anonymous means confidential—”

“It was Padmé Amidala.”

Phasma’s jaw dropped. “She isn’t dead?”

“No,” Hux frowned, “she’s just retired.”

“I’d die if I had to retire,” Phasma mumbled, and finally sat down again, on the armrest. She hugged the bottle to her chest.  

“She gave it back because she doesn’t want the First Order to face lawsuits while her grandson is still a CEO,” Hux summed up. “He’d probably get ten years, or more. She wants me to get him fired.”

“What, Kylo Ren? Sure, go for it.”

Hux made a face. “Why?”

“Because he’s a jerk,” Phasma scoffed. “The walking and talking definition of unprofessionalism. A bloody nouveau riche. I didn’t know that category still existed, but, well, look at him. I wanted to send him death threats after our e-mail exchanges. He only uses lowercase and refuses to type out any word longer than four syllables.”

“I think that’s a stylistic choice,” Hux offered. Phasma rolled her eyes.

“An insulting one. And then I met him in person—well not me personally, it was a team thing; you get me—and I kid you not, he arrived ten minutes late with a Starbucks , sunglasses on, hungover as all hell.”

“How was I not there?”

“It was in Tokyo.”

“Ah, yes.” Hux licked his lips. “Well, I suppose he was jetlagged.”

“We all were. Except the Mitakas, of course. Anyway, he proceeded to make love to Mandetat—”

“He made love to Mandetat?”

“To put it mildly,” Phasma tipped her head to Pepper, who twitched in her light sleep. “I was next door, and we’re talking about really thin slide-doors and even thinner walls, and I listened to the whole thing, a life-changing experience, let me tell you, and the next day— well, guess who showed up five minutes late with a Costa like a moron and hates herself for it, but she didn’t get any sleep?” She pointed at herself. Hux couldn’t really see her clearly. Apparently, his eyes welled up. “Oh damn. What’s wrong? What, you’re dating Mandetat?”

“Not him,” he grit out. Phasma covered her mouth with her palm, and whispered a very soft “Fuck.” Hux really wanted to get up, walk to the bathroom, wash his face and calm the hell down, but Pepper was still using him as furniture, so he had to suffer the humiliation of a tear rolling down his face as he sniffed.

“I didn’t mean— Huh. So. Admittedly, I don’t know Ren really well,” Phasma said. “And his past actions don’t necessarily predict his current behaviour; also, I’m sure that that thing with Mandetat was a one-night affair.”

“I’m not jealous,” Hux hiccuped. “I wouldn’t expect him to hold my past against me, but for the record, rolling around with Mandetat speaks of a banal taste I don’t really associate with the Ren I came to know rather well, he’s that bland sort of good-looking, you get me?”

“He has good bone structure,” Phasma said. “Yours is better.”

He tipped his head back and tried to blink away the tears. “Anyway,” he told the chandelier, “it’s just stress. Obviously, we’re keeping it a secret. And it’s long-distance. And it’s also very new. And remember the pink balloons I said I ordered to raise awareness of breast cancer?”

“Yeah?”

“Those were from him.”

“He sent you balloons to raise awareness of breast cancer?” Phasma asked, baffled. He let out a shaky laugh.

“No, it was a shitty cover-up— By me, I mean. He has these annoying romantic gestures, and he’s really so much, but I can’t get enough; do you know what my wildest fantasy is?” He looked at Phasma, who shot a worried glance at Pepper. “My wildest and very PG fantasy is that he’s ill and I’m taking care of him,” Hux confessed. “I imagine myself making him chicken soup and wiping his sweaty forehead. I think I’m going insane. He got pneumonia recently, and I couldn’t even send him a get-well card; or wouldn’t, I don’t know. I can’t express myself very well when it’s about emotions. It comes so easily to him. He lives his life like it was a movie. It’s like he always knows what to do or what to say to make me happy, and I just can’t keep up.”

“Have you ever discussed this with him?” Phasma asked, still looking like she really needed the drink she was holding. Hux signalled her to get it open.

“I’m not sure I could,” he admitted.

Phasma popped the cork with her bare hands, and offered the bottle to Hux. He grabbed it, minding his glitter-sticky fingers, and took a painful gulp.  

“You have to try,” Phasma said.

Hux frowned as he swallowed, and passed the wine back, heaving choked breaths. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I was— It’s only gotten complicated very recently, with the whole business with his grandmother. We’ve been so lucky so far. It’s the longest we’ve been apart, and it’s driving me rather crazy. I just want to be with that idiot, but I’m not a child; I know the world won’t obey my whims, that—”

“Please,” Phasma interrupted. “Please. Talk to him.”

“We talk every day.”

“Don’t play dumb. You know what I mean. Promise me you’ll talk to your horrible boyfriend.” She handed him the bottle again, and he raised it for a toast.

“I promise I’ll talk to my amazing boyfriend.”

Phasma smiled softly, and Hux squeezed his eyes shut and chugged down a good portion.

“You’re very thirsty,” Pepper mumbled, and he almost spat out everything.

 

*  

 

He made progress in the evening by sending Ren a text which read “Goodnight, Ren, I’m thinking about you.” Waking up he realised it actually said “Gpodbight Ren thinkif abput you” and contained more emojis than absolutely necessary; he blamed the wine. Ren had replied with a “for fuck’s sake catch some Zs” and a kissy face.  

Work before noon was pleasantly uneventful; he had a meeting, two conference calls, some time to review reports and a personal interview with Mandetat, where he told him his employment had been terminated. His face wasn’t that pretty when he was crying. Then he asked Thanisson to grab him some lunch from Vivat Bacchus, and he was happily dipping the best grilled sea trout in town into a minted pea pureé. He checked his phone, and almost choked on a stray samphire. Ren had sent him a video almost an hour ago. He opened it greedily.

The shaky image of Ren’s flushed face filled the screen; he was taking a morning jog in Central park, gloriously sweaty and panting, tight blue jacket zipped down to allow a good view on his glistening chest.

“It’s cold as balls!” he announced, and Hux mumbled, unable to take his eyes off his bouncing pecs, “Zip it up; you’ll catch your death.”

“...a personal record, and guess what, I ran into your family?”

Hux lowered his fork very slowly. Ren spun the camera around, and zoomed in on a group of rabbits in the dewy grass.

“Fucking unbelievable,” Ren heaved. “You have relatives everywhere. Said hi. I think they like me.” He turned the camera back to himself, and raked his fingers through his damp hair. “I think we should invite them over for dinner, huh? Love you, bye.”

Hux was met with his own dreamy expression reflected on the black screen. He peered up, looking around in the office through the glass walls; most of his employees were out, trying to make the most of their forty minutes break. He rewound the video, and watched it again and again; just seeing Ren made his chest tight, although he was really worried about Ren running around technically half-naked. He checked the weather report for New York; 19°C, but sunny. Put on something, he typed out, deleted it, let out a heavy breath, counted to ten, and set to type again.

Own nr: We need to talk. Can you facetime me?

Own nr: (NOT a breakup message!)

Own nr: Relationship maintenance. No need to worry. Although I do have some bad news, I think

Own nr: Physically I’m perfectly healthy. I’m anaemic but that’s nothing to worry about, I’m taking my vitamins. Also, I can upset my stomach very easily. Right now I’m fine. Haven’t slept much.

He was about to apologise for being such a bother, but Ren sent him a request for a video call. He accepted it without thinking, and greeted him with all the chins the angle he was holding his phone showed.

“Shit! Hi, sorry. I didn’t mean you should facetime me right now.”

Ren grinned. He was utterly gorgeous, hair freshly washed and fluffy, his pinstripe suit perfect with a paisley tie. It almost distracted Hux from the fact that Ren was sitting in a car.

 

 

“Good morning, sunshine!”

“Are you in a taxi?”

“No, it’s my car; I’m just not driving it. What’s up?”

Hux bit his lower lip. “I’d much rather discuss it later.”

“Fuck, you’re extremely kissable today.” Ren tilted his head, and handed over the phone to the chauffeur. “Look at my extremely kissable boyfriend!”

“Oh my god,” Hux hissed, covering his face with his hands. He heard a polite female voice saying “He looks very nice, sir,” and then Ren’s proud chuckle. He dared to peer back at the screen, which was once again showing Ren.

“You said you have some bad news,” Ren said. “I would rather not delay hearing it. So it absolutely does not concern your health, yeah?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“So you’re not pregnant, then,” Ren concluded, and Hux barked out a surprised laugh. “Hah! That was a smile!”

“If I was blessed by the Almighty Lord and carried the fruit of your loins, this is how you’d treat me, the father of your children? Dumming the joyful tidings bad news?”

“No, I do want kids, in the long run, though I suppose we’d have to look into other methods than praying for a miracle.” Hux thought about Pepper, and Kylo went on: “Anyway, I suppose you didn’t call me to talk about family and whatnot.”

“Actually, yes, I did. In a way.”

Ren  looked puzzled. It was almost comical. “Let’s hear it, then.”

“I wasn’t being honest with you when I said that the pendrive was an anonymous find.”

“I know,” Ren shrugged. “I knew you lied. Didn’t really care. Supposed you did it to spare my feelings, since it would’ve been my job to get it; I tried to play along and give you a better cover-up story, but you weren’t having it.” He winked at him, but the smile he had on looked forced. His easy manner hurt Hux more than a screaming match would have.

“I apologise. I—” He shook his head. “I really felt I had to, mm, conceal the truth.”

“Hey, it’s okay.”

“Do you trust your driver?”

Ren frowned. “With my life. She’s getting me through New York traffic. Why?”

“Your grandmother gave it to me.”

Ren’s face darkened. “I’ll have to call you back.” The screen turned to black.

Hux told himself not to panic. Of course Ren wasn’t taking it very well; the whole reason he didn’t tell him in the first place was because he knew he wouldn’t. He looked at his plate, and realised he wasn’t hungry anymore. Nevertheless, he took a bite of his dessert: a bar of caramel-filled chocolate. That was not food; that was emotional support. He was hardly finished with it when Ren called him again. He hesitated taking it, then frowned and hit accept. They were grown men; they could talk about it like adults.

“Sorry about that,” Ren said, storming through the vast lobby of the First Order Tower. “I had to think it over. What does she know? Morning.”  He gave a high-five to the receptionist, who greeted him with a huge smile.

“She doesn’t know about us,” Hux confirmed, hoping that Ren’s phone would keep at least his part of the conversation private. Ren gave a high-five to the cleaning lady as well, and grumbled:

“Okay, that’s— Okay, that’s what I was afraid of. Why did she come to you, then? Of all people?”

“She heard we were mortal enemies.”

Ren laughed sharply and entered the bright lift. Somebody seemed to follow, so he covered the screen and said, “Sorry, could I have the elevator just for me? It’s a very important call— I owe you. Thanks.” The doors closed with a soft chime, and he raised up his phone again. “My family means nothing to me,” he said. “They all abandoned Grandfather when he needed them the most. They’re all traitors.”

“She wants you to leave the First Order,” Hux summed up. It was almost easy—just a couple of words—potentially damaging and dangerous, but now that they were out there, he felt lighter.

“That’s rich,” Ren spat. “Why the fuck would I do that? I love it here; they love me. I have you. If Snoke stopped being a pain in the ass — you didn’t mean that my personal interests shouldn’t interfere with orders from Chairman Snoke, did you? When you said that.”

“Of course not.”

“She can’t tell me how to live my life.” Ren rolled his eyes, the spoilt brat coming out for a second. The lift’s door opened, and he slipped out. “So that’s the big secret?”

“As you can imagine, I was rather shocked. Also, I was afraid how it might affect you.”

“I want to kill somebody. How are you?”

Hux sighed inaudibly. Ren made his way through a corridor, fuming, mumbling something Hux didn’t quite catch, but which seemed to contain only swear words with the occasional article. He stopped by a sleek metal table, where a smartly dressed young man was just unpacking his satchel. The camera then turned to a water dispenser, and Ren’s voice sounded a bit far-off.

“Hey, Slip, can you tell me when’s my earliest meeting?”

“Eight fifteen, boss.”

“Can you push that back by thirty? Important call.”

“I’m on it.”

“Thank you; you’re the best. Do not disturb, please?”

Hux then saw the pixely vertigo of Ren’s office: an industrial design with worn leather chairs, an immense book shelf, huge loudspeakers, a jungle’s worth of plants, and something which looked like decorative armour. The phone was tossed to Ren’s massive desk, and then Hux heard screaming and something smashing. Then there was music. If he guessed right, Elvis Presley. He glanced at his wristwatch; still got twenty minutes.  Ren dropped to the desk, and picked up the phone.

“Sorry,” he said. “I just can’t believe my fucking family. Like, can you believe them?”

“I’m gaining more and more proof of their continued existence,” Hux said. Ren laughed, weakly, and messed up his perfect hair in a nervous gesture.

“I really gotta chill. It doesn’t matter. Fuck them. I just hate that they’re dragging you into this.”

“I’m kind of their arch-enemy,” Hux comforted him. Tried to, anyway.

“That’s Snoke. I guess you’re Nemesis Number Two. So, if you see Snoke fall, run.”

That was two out of two Skywalkers with the same suggestion. He didn’t comment on it. “If he falls, it’s because I’ve pushed him off a cliff. Don’t worry.”

“Are we conspiring?” Ren asked, amused. “I don’t actually...wish him ill. I have so much to thank him for, but the whole thing with Rey and her stupid friends...he wasn’t handling it well.”

“No, he wasn’t.”

There was a moment of companionable silence; they were just looking at each other, Hux feeling like he could fly.

“So you’re not cross with me?” he asked, just to be sure.

“Mm.” Kylo pouted. “I’m a bit mad, to be honest. I understand why you lied to me, but you were taking away my right of choice by protecting me. You could’ve said, ‘I’ve got some upsetting news involving your family; are you ready to hear it?’ and I would’ve thought it over.”

“Understood. Can I make up for it?”

Kylo licked his lips, thinking. “Would you enjoy it if I spanked you?”

“Would I enjoy it?” he sputtered.

“Yeah.” Kylo narrowed his eyes at him.

“It wouldn’t be punishment if I enjoyed myself too much, would it?”

“It wouldn’t be to punish you; it would be to teach you a lesson. And even if it’s punishment, you should at least be into it and give your consent.”

Hux frowned. “I don’t think that’s my cup of tea.”

“No spanking,” Ren raised his free hand, like a good scout boy.

“Maybe we could experiment later, with a more casual, lax approach, but...I don’t feel ready now.”

“That’s okay. What would you have me do, then?”

Hux looked around. People were starting to pour back to their places, although there was still some time left. Bloody workaholics and overachievers like himself. He couldn’t help but smile proudly, and turned back to the screen.

“Are we doing this?”

“What would I be doing,” Ren purred.

“I don’t know; what would you like to do? I’m in my office.”

“Figured. Nice skyline. If I was there, I wouldn’t be seeing much of it. I’d climb under your mahogany desk—”

“Oh, are you going to give me a blowjob? Not very original.” He parted his knees nevertheless. Ren couldn’t see it; it was out of frame.

“I’m giving you something better. You invite in your client, someone very important. I pull down your pants as you talk with him, trying to get a deal across. I get my fingers wet, and start fucking your little hole with them.”

“That’d require me to sit rather leisurely,” Hux chimed in. “Also, it wouldn’t be fair to the poor gentleman, risking  exposing him to such filth.”

“He doesn’t exist,” Ren reassured him. “And you’re getting wet from my spit.”

“Fuck.”

“He leaves. He doesn’t suspect anything. I’ve been working on your hole so long, it’s so wet and loose.”

“My office has glass walls,” Hux said. “They would—”

“No one is looking. I don’t know, it’s dark. Would you like that? There’s darkness and I’m fingering you in the empty building, after your late night guest has left—”

“I’m never—”

“Shh. You’re taking it so well. I can fit three of my fingers in easily. I’m tapping at your prostate, just how you like it - a light pressure, almost a tickle. Would you like to cum like this? Stretched over my fingers, pants pooling around your legs? In your chair? Same one you sit in every day?”

“I rarely work at the weekends,” Hux corrected. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

Ren’s eyes widened. “Are we doing a watersports scene?”

“No! No. I’m— fuck, I’m getting hard. Here. Now. And it’s my lunch break so people tend to just waltz in.”

“I got you hard just by my words?” Ren teased, dropping his voice.  

“Your face had something to do with it at well. You look obscene.”

Ren bit his lips. “Find an empty conference room. Lock the door.” He ended the call.

“Fuck,” Hux mouthed. He glanced at his pressed trousers; he wasn’t tenting them, per se, but they were tight enough to leave little to the imagination. He cursed and grabbed his Macbook. He was holding it in front of his crotch like a shield as he left his office, trying to play it off casually. Thanisson dropped his chopsticks and jumped to attention, still munching on a sizeable prawn dumpling.

“At ease,” Hux waved to him. “I’m just sneaking out to practice my speech in private. Could you give me a card for Conference Room F, please?”

“Of course, sir,” Thanisson saluted, and got it from a secured drawer. “Which speech it is, if I may ask?”

“The one that is giving me a headache.”

“Well, if you want me to proofread it, I can absolutely do that.” He handed over the card, and Hux forced on a reassuring smile.

“Much appreciated.”

Thanisson turned his attention back to his wonton, and Hux marched away at a reasonable speed. He was out of breath when he reached the conference room and keyed himself in. It was the same one they had the emergency meeting in when the pendrive scandal blew up; he walked to the desk Ren had bent him over to play with his arse. He settled the Macbook on it and pulled out a steel chair for himself as he started a call. He was bathed in buttery sunlight pouring in from the see-through ceiling. It was a good lighting on him, making his face look sharper and his lips darker; he should have Skype sex in this room more often, he decided.

Ren greeted him with a hungry smile, sitting on the desk where he left him. He must’ve found a tripod for his phone, because the image was no longer shaky. “That was quick,” Ren commented.

“Shut up.” He reached for his belt, and Ren tsked.

“Uh-huh. You owe me a show. Your tie first.”

“I don’t think we have the time.”

“Your tie,” Ren demanded, and had the audacity to snap his fingers. It went straight to Hux’s cock. He started undoing the Windsor knot, and Ren hummed his appreciation. “Feel the silk caressing your fingers. Now your vest— no, not the jacket, I said vest. Now the ivory shirt. You know what I want to see. Show them to me.”  

 

 

Hux bared his nipples, holding his shirt open, heart beating fast. He knew they were hard, begging to be touched.

“Beautiful,” Ren said. “Stroke them— just with your palms, run them through your lovely chest. Now squeeze. Look at those firm little titties.”

“From a biological point of view, I don’t have—”

“Have you ever had them fucked?”

“Once or twice. I’d been wearing a bralette. Gave the guy ideas.”

“I bet,” Ren growled. “You will put on a bralette for me, right? Next time. Something lacey, I think. Pinch them now. Oh yeah. That’s where I’ll bite them and suck them. Then I’ll fuck your chest, come all over your pretty neck. Would you like that?”

“Why don’t you join in?” Hux asked, fixing Ren’s shirt with his gaze. He wanted to see it part for him, to see those gorgeous pectorals and the hard muscles revealed.

“This is all about you now, Armitage,” Ren said, flicking his lapels playfully. “This stays on. Come on now, I want to see what slutty panties you’re wearing.”

“Not fair,” Hux complained, but he got up nevertheless.

“Turn around. Show me that tight ass.”

“It’s nothing much,” Hux said, unbuttoning his trousers and lowering them to his knees. Nothing much was an understatement: his knickers were virtually nonexistent, three stripes of fabric tied to a jewel heart. Ren groaned.

“I can’t believe you go to work in these.”

“Makes me feel confident.”

“Of course they do. They show off your peachy ass. Bend over. Grab your cheeks — really grab them, get two fistfuls. Aren’t they exquisitely soft? Knead them. Come on, I would. That’s it. Oh, they’re getting pink.”   

“That tends to happen,” Hux gritted. The position was very awkward, but he hoped it’d at least give Ren a good look. He sounded very pleased.

“Spread them for me. Get that string out of the way, I want to see… There it is. Can’t wait to get my mouth on it, to lick it for you.”

“Fuck,” Hux sighed.

“I loved eating you out. Getting you dripping wet for me. I’ll prepare you for my cock like this, make you nice and loose, make you come, use that with the lube. Fuck you while you’re still shaking with your previous orgasm. Turn.”

The lace in the front could hardly contain his erection; it was standing at attention, so hard it was paining him.

“Pinch the tip, carefully.”

Hux obeyed; precome dripped down the slit, making him whimper.

“I love your cock so much,” Ren said, his eyes burning through him. “I love to touch it, taste it, smell it, suck it. Get it in your hand.  Did you bring lube or any other kind of lotion?”

“I didn’t,” Hux forced out.

“It might hurt a bit. But you want it to hurt, right? You think you deserve it. But we’re not doing it to punish you. You did what you thought best at the time. You’re also not really into discipline and punishment.”

“I liked the Foucault book, although he tends to be sloppy with his research.”

“Yeah, he had some massive overgeneralizations,” Ren mused. “Y’know what else is massive?”

“Please don’t finish that sentence; just pretend we never mentioned Foucault.”

“Back to duty,” Ren said, grinning. “Pull the panties down to the base; keep them there. They’ll squeeze you a bit; I think you’ll like it. Now spit.”

Hux would usually just lick his fingers. He spat, most of his saliva ending up on his chin, and lowered his hands above his cock, awaiting orders. Ren looked him up and down, appreciative, then met his eyes.

“Go wild.”

Hux grasped his cock and started pumping it so furiously that he had to take a hold of the chair with his free hand, almost toppling over. It felt so good, with Ren watching him and controlling his motions: Can you go faster? I think you can.

“Love the nails, by the way.”

“Turns out I don’t have nail polish remover at home,” Hux panted.  “I’ve been playing it off as a fashion choice the whole day.”

“It isn’t that, huh? Is it in preparation for Halloween?”

“No, I don’t do Halloween.”

“You’re missing out. It’s my favourite holiday.”

“It’s not a holiday.”

Ren clicked his tongue. “Stop.”

“You can’t make me stop just because I’m voicing criticism—”

“Stop, crack your wrist, resume at a gradual pace.”  

Hux obeyed, pouting. “I’ll send you a greeting card and some candy,” he mumbled.

“That’d be very nice of you. Have you ever uploaded a video of yourself doing this? I could watch it all day. You look like a dream.”

“I wouldn’t compromise myself like that.” Hux twisted the shaft, and gasped. “Fhu— Should I send that greeting card as a video message?”

“Oh yeah. I’m still getting candies, though.”

“No, you don’t. You’ve been wicked.” He twisted his cock again, and his knees buckled. He dropped down to the chair, no longer able to stand.

You ’ve been wicked,” Ren shot back.

“We can both be wicked,” Hux allowed, spreading his legs as far as his trousers would allow him. His hips twitched, dry fist flying over his pulsing cock.

“Are you close?”

“Very.”

“Can you come for me?”

“Mm, might? Fuck, fuck, fuck…!”

“Armitage.”

He looked up, looked into Ren’s eyes, hand keeping its pace. “What?”

“Come for me,” Ren said softly. Four more pulls, and he screamed his orgasm, kicking out and then throwing his head back. It was sudden and brief, but left him an utter fucking mess. He managed to catch most of his come in his palm, the rest ending up on the floor. He was staring at it, blinking, hearing Ren saying, “Pocket square.”

“What?”

“Use your pocket square.”

“No, it’s cashmere, it cost me fifty-seven pounds.”

Ren raised an eyebrow. “And it’s just sitting around in your pocket.”

Hux sniffed, offended, but got it out with his free hand. He cleaned his palm, head still spinning with the force of his orgasm.

“That’s a good boy. Don’t button up just yet. Clean the floor.”

“I can never use this again,” Hux mumbled, mopping up with his shirt undone and dick hanging out, but if this was some peculiar kink of Ren’s, so be it.

“You could mail it to me.”

“Ew, gross.”

“I didn’t say you have to,” Ren shrugged. Hux rolled the handkerchief to a ball, and tossed it to the trashcan. Was it incriminating evidence? He’d have to bury it under all the paper cups and sandwich wraps. “May I make myself decent?”

“Could you stroke your cock for me first?”

“I just came.”

“Indulge me. Please?”

Hux made a face, and ran his fingers over his limp member as he sat back on his heels. He hissed. His touch felt achingly good, sending pins and needles through his skin.

“One more time. That’s it. Suck on a finger. Tease it up to the tip.”

Ahh!

“That’s all I wanted,” Ren flashed a wide smile. “Tuck it away. Gently. How does the lace feel against it?”  

“Nngh!”

“Button up. You don’t have much time left. Thank you for the experience. Feeling better?”

“I— Yeah, obviously, yes. You?”

Ren tilted his head. His eyes were clouded over. He must’ve been rock hard by now, if he didn’t manage to come in his pants untouched. “I’m kinda sad that this is not my actual job. Making you come undone. I’d love that.”

“Should I return the favour?” Hux asked, fastening his tie.

“Mm, I would love you to, but yeah. Time-zones. Responsibilities. Ugh.”  

“Yeah,” Hux mumbled, hand hesitating over his tie pin. He was undeniably ready. It was time to say goodbye and leave. He found he couldn’t do that. “Uhm, Ren?”

“Yeah?”

“I, uh. Usually take bonfire night off. I mean, the whole day. The fifth of November. Millicent is scared shitless of the fireworks and I love to be with her. If, well. If I could bring her with — could I come visit?”

“Of fucking course,” Ren blurted out.

“I don’t think Snoke would suspect anything, and it’s followed by a weekend this year; that’d give us roughly three days.”

“I don’t think I can take the fifth off, not without Snoke ripping me a new one, but you— I could pick you up at the airport and give you a key? And we’d have the whole weekend for ourselves and I’d cook for you and we could go to the beach, and. Fuck. Yes. I mean—”

“It’s a date,” Hux said, a genuine smile curling up his lips. Ren laughed, somewhat dazed, and announced:

“It’s a date!”

“See you on the fifth,” Hux whispered, and touched the screen reverently. Ren put his fingers to his.