Hux’s first band had been with Phasma when they were fifteen and though the project, in retrospect, deeply sucked, and they had since fucked too many of the same people to really want to speak to each other in much detail anymore, he still went to visit her at the Finalizer in the early afternoon whenever he worked the early shift at the thrift store across the street. She cashiered and barista’d when they were desperate weekdays between six AM and three PM and during that time no one in their right mind would stay after having received their beverage because she would be blasting hardcore, picking scum from beneath her nails with a paperclip, and glaring daggers at everyone who walked past in the wide wet windows.
“Brendol,” she drawled stonedly when she saw him, and she looked him up and down lecherously though he knew he was not, in the slightest, her type. His Cascadia SS shirt was sticking to him and his jacket had gone a different color and his hair was coming out of its neat slick. Over the weak and tinny PA she was playing Hoax. “Wet out there.”
“Just a bit, Phas.”
The barista on staff, young and scrawny and of unintelligible or indefinable gender, stared at him with eyes bright and cutting. “What’re you having.”
“Large English Breakfast.”
“Stick around,” said Phasma while the barista prepared his tea. “We’re playing Rey’s band’s new 7” next.”
“It’s shit,” said the barista, presumably Rey.
“It’s raw as fuck,” said Phasma.
“Don’t make me follow up Hoax,” said Rey. From behind the counter they glared at Hux again though this time it was more probing. “Aren’t you in First Order.” But they did not wait for an answer. “I was pretty into the split with Cascadia. Even though SS bands are bullshit.”
Hux allowed one eyebrow to cock and Rey pursued him to a table carrying on an unvarnished wooden tray the fixings for his tea — sugar cubes in a royal blue glass bowl, a tiny chipped pitcher of fresh cream. When he sat Rey placed the tray tenderly before him on the coffee-stained table. “All white boy hardcore’s the same,” they said, pulling back and crossing their strong freckled arms. “Naming your band Whatever SS is just another way to try and sound cool and transgressive when in reality you’ve got nothing.”
The cafe’s lone other brave patron snorted from his Wild West villain rear-corner seat through a curtain of illustrious hair. Rey cast him a withering look and went back behind the counter with Phasma. To Hux’s disappointment Rey’s band was good. Kind of a rhythmic Toronto hardcore vibe, he thought to himself, tapping his pen cap against a blank notebook page. Rey must’ve played drums because they were miming some of the more impressive rolls for Phasma, ashy elbows flying. Hux left halfway through the second song feeling rather thin with jealousy and without having put a word down into the book.
When Hux next went to the Finalizer Rey was alone behind the counter. He noted grimly that they were playing a Total Control record which was easily among his own top five LPs of all time. “Hi, First Order,” Rey said. “Another large tea?”
“To go this time, Rey.”
As they prepared it they said “My band got asked to play with yours next week at the Outpost.”
He had to fight to keep from rolling his eyes. “What’s your band called?”
Now he had to fight even harder to keep from rolling his eyes.
“I’m really excited,” said Rey. Indeed when they passed the cup to him across the pockmarked countertop their smile stretched brilliantly into their clear warm eyes and Hux would have been charmed were he not so angry.
Though he had asked for the drink to go he went and sat down in the front window, condensing now on the inside with the warmth. Behind the counter Rey sang along a little under their breath to Carpet Rash and in the same back corner was the same odd man with the wild black hair who tapped to the music the toe of his grimy black loafer.
Next time — Phasma played a band he didn’t know she said was called Dark Ages. Hux had been livid for the past forty-eight hours on account of First Order had been severely upstaged at the Outpost by Rey’s band Resistance the previous Friday evening. Rey was the fiercest drummer he’d ever seen and they played with a bassist and a guitarist who could somehow keep up. Three odd kids who played loud and the singer’s screams were cauterizing. Hux had thought begrudgingly as the crowd began to seethe in slow motion that this was rather what this music was supposed to be like. Half the crowd had left by the time First Order even went on and by the end of their set, after Hux’s amp had quit mid-song at least three times, there were about six people inside, all with their hands sealed tightly over their ears. The rest, including among them most of the folks Hux had ever called friends or lovers or even acquaintances, were in the parking lot out back sharing their weed and metaphorically sucking Rey and their band’s collective cock. At least Snoke hadn’t been there to witness what Hux was already terming First Order’s Worst Show Ever.
“Cool gig Friday,” said Phasma, who was a good friend, or at least pretended to be on occasion.
“Don’t flatter me, Phas.”
She started making him his cup of tea. “You already know it was utter shit. You need to write a new set.”
“I’m working on it, asshole.”
When he sat he noticed with an eerie and unwelcome sort of comfort that the dark haired man was sitting back in the corner again. Because Hux couldn’t write he spent an hour or so intermittently staring. After Dark Ages Phasma played Pissed Jeans’ Honeys. The kid looked like he’d been raised on Mercer Island and by the fineness of his neat pastel Oxfords and the smooth straight plane of his nose perhaps he was a brogrammer. Hux wanted desperately a glimpse into his eyes and hated himself mildly for the weakness. Still he wrote half a chorus.
Rey was filling teabags with a long silver spoon and playing a record by Shoppers. Overrated, Hux tried to tell them, but then he found himself actually listening to the music, which he had not actually really bothered to do before. Rey prepared his tea before he could even ask and for a second he felt a little guilty for all the rage and hatred. “Great set,” he said finally.
He sat again at his table by the window. After Shoppers Rey put on some old Gag 7” raucous and sweating like an old friend of his youth. For a while he wrote. He did not know how long it had been when the door swung open and the winter mist exhaled inside with the brogrammer late of the back corner who had wrapped himself to the chin in layers of soft black wool against the rain, hair wet, humid and wild, and who asked Rey in a soft shattering voice for a cup of coffee, and who turned into the room as he pulled off his soft black leather gloves tearing at the seams around his long white fingers, and who was very beautiful or something, beautiful and distantly frightening like the sight of the mountain in the clouds to the South — like the fault beneath the earth at the edge of the sea. And who smiled just a little with a strange brittleness when he saw Hux writing at the table in the corner beneath the window.
He realized after some time that the sound he heard was not in fact just his long-misplaced libido roaring static feedback in his ears but rather it was the music. He began to consider perhaps this was not a brogrammer but rather some mysterious and rare varietal of human he had not yet encountered in all his searching.
Rey’s taste was troublingly peerless. Next Hux went in there they had Swans on and the long dark shadow of the not-brogrammer was in its customary back corner writing rapidly, left-handed in red pen upon a sheaf of paper scattered across the table. For coffee there was a long line and Rey manned the espresso machine waltzing their long awkward self in a weird rhythm to the fragmenting beat. Still they spared him a quick smile when they heard his tea order.
“On the house,” they said, breathless from work. Sweat in a fine sheen upon their cheeks and forehead. When he dug for his wallet regardless they stilled his hand. He had not noticed before the fine blue tattoos upon their fingers. “Ben paid for it.”
Rey’s head tipped along with their delicate eyebrows toward the shadow in the back corner.
When Hux sat at his customary table he felt an altogether not unpleasant nausea. Yet Ben the not-brogrammer did not look up from his work; he had cuffed his sleeves up just short of his elbows and his wrists were narrow and fine-boned, freckled here and there in some symbolic patterning not unlike his face; his cheeks were flushed, he had his lower lip tight enough between his teeth Hux worried — hoped — the skin would break… and beneath the table his knees were parted and one of them bounced rhythmically, hypnotically, with nerves.
They both wrote until long after the rush ended. It must have been nine or ten in the evening when Ben stood abruptly and gathered his papers and, leaving his coat, stormed out into the rain to set all his work afire upon the sidewalk. When it had become embers he turned again into the window as though to see if his reflection had become different beyond his ashy hands, and his wide dark eyes met Hux’s through the glass.
Hux went home and put Brown Sugar on the stereo and jerked off on the couch.
Phasma was hungover and playing Ivy atypically quietly as she nursed a ginger ale. Ben was in the back corner, writing again, slower this time, as though he he were sore from his previous fevered foray. When Hux sat at his customary table their eyes met and Hux’s gut did something unsavory.
He wrote for an hour but nothing he liked and he took what remained of his tea with him and walked in the pathetic sun up Union aimlessly, thinking he might take advantage of the rare winter rainlessness to walk to Volunteer Park or take the bus to Madison Beach. But as he waited at the corner to cross Twelfth Av he felt someone come up behind him hovering almost at his elbow and it was Ben, who was still adjusting his great black scarf about his long white neck inside the raised vampiric collar of his wool coat — tall, taller than Hux by a good few inches, thin but strong, wild, windblown. It felt odd to behold him even in such pale light — such grey Seattle winter light hardly even like light at all.
They walked to Hux’s place; no one was home, it was freezing cold inside and an utter mess. Several bongs on the coffee table, a broken mirror haphazardly swept into a corner, abandoned mattresses slept on by strays of assorted species, condom wrappers, smashed cigarettes, mud and grime tracked in Doc Maarten prints, the wreckage of a cassette tape Hux’s roommate had smashed with her bootheel while wasted. “Do you want a cup of tea?” he called to Ben from the kitchen.
Ben was sitting on the collapsing pink couch in the front window absently looking through Hux’s cassettes. “No,” he said, “thank you.”
“Anything to eat?”
Ben just looked at him framed as he was by the doorway and the cat leapt up behind him on the windowsill like some familiar.
They went to bed. Hux’s room was also very cold (he had left the window open) and his tangled blankets reeked of cigarettes. The sex was odd mostly because in the middle of it Hux’s roommate came home and they held very still so she would not know something was afoot. She sang to the cat, and then she left. Ben was laughing into Hux’s shoulder but his every muscle he held very tight. It was delicious agony. Down the street someone tried for twenty minutes to start a car.
“Why did you pay for my drink?” said Hux after while they shared a joint. “Why did you burn all your work the other day?”
Ben didn’t answer. Rather he said, “Is First Order writing new songs anymore?”
“God,” said Hux, “We suck now.”
“Cause you’ve played the same set for two years.”
“I’ve never seen you at a single one of our shows.”
He passed the last dregs of the joint back to Hux across the mess of blankets piled in his lap.
“Do you play music?” Hux asked.
“A little bit.”
“What kind of music?”
Ben gave him a nervous kind of grin. He found in his pack a demo tape he said was his, despite its having no j-card and no case, and when he left he clasped Hux’s shoulder and shook his hand, jarringly sterile considering they had just been naked together, and disappeared down the block. His scarf like a cloud of bats in the wind off the sound. One swelling shadow person arisen from the forest.
He got stoned and played the tape. It was Merzbowian harsh noise, dizzying and hypnotic layers of fluctuating static and electronic squeals, punctuated on occasion by unintelligible and anguished vocals, cackles and moans, muted occult recitations. It was half an hour long and Hux listened to all of it straight through feeling like he was being swallowed into himself and/or floating above his body in the gathering dusk. When he finally ejected the cassette he saw there were letters carved into the plastic body above the wheel of tape like some archaic rock carving: KR.
Rey was listening, intriguingly, to Brian Eno and sketching a flyer when next Hux went to the Finalizer.
FIRST ORDER (usual suspects. all new set!!!!)
RESISTANCE (new kids on the block. 7” release!!!!)
KYLO REN (first show!!!!)
AT OUTPOST MARCH 31! 9pm SHARP! RESPECT EACH OTHER / RESPECT THE SPACE!!!!
“No,” said Hux immediately when he saw it.
“Come on,” they said. “Please?”
“Who’s in Kylo Ren?”
Rey had already begun to prepare his cup of tea. “That’s Ben’s noise project!” they said brightly. Hux flushed on account of by that logic he had been in Kylo Ren not three days previous and hoped in the pitchy dusky darkness they did not see. “I’ve never heard anything so evil in my life,” Rey said. “It’s horrible. I’m like, anxious about being in the same room with it.” But they were beaming, with lots of white teeth. “Anyway he agreed to play a show with us for the 7” release and you should headline.”
“We don’t have a new set yet.”
Rey pushed his cup of tea across the counter. “All you have to do is play for ten minutes.”
“It takes more than ten minutes to write ten minutes of music.”
“I know that, asshole. Will you at least think about it? You’ve got two weeks to figure something out.”
On the way out, likely with steam coming out his ears, he quite literally ran into Ben and spilled half his hot tea over his own hand. Apologies were exchanged. “Are you playing that show with Resistance,” said Ben. He was holding delicately to Hux’s wrist under the guise of brushing the liquid from his coat.
“I don’t want to,” said Hux.
“You should play it.” It was misting sideways as was customary and the sky was dawn-dark through it was past noon and they were standing very close on the wet sidewalk. It was always so silent in this neighborhood this time of day this time of year silence bleeding down out of the unseen mountains though the city and into the sound. There were a few minuscule droplets of liquid containing worlds sitting in Ben’s long eyelashes. Then he let go of Hux’s wrist. “The Resistance 7” is pretty good.”
“Yeah,” said Hux begrudgingly, “they’re a good band.” He swallowed and Ben watched his neck. “I liked your tape.”
“Thanks,” he said. “It’s, um, rough.”
“It’s really scary.” Unsaid: where in you did it come from? Could I get to that place? Would I want to get to that place?
He went home, jerked off, wrote a two-minute song and recorded it on his phone, fell asleep on the couch and was awoken after some indeterminable time by the knocking upon the door. Outside the light had not changed. Ben was there watching at the silent construction site across the street whose chill brutalist concrete grey blended almost seamlessly with the sky.
“Have you been crying?”
“I fell asleep.”
Ben brushed past him and inside divested his woolen black layers slowly while Hux shut and locked the door.
He wrote a couple more songs that weekend and texted Phasma to tell Rey he would get the rest of band to play the show. Most if not all of the songs were about fucking Ben except supremely abstracted with a great deal of referencing to the Void, etc. While making dinner he laughed darkly to himself that it seemed simply having sex semi-regularly was enough to lift him from his creative slump. And yet not much about the sex was regular. At least by Hux’s admittedly unprofessional standards.
The show: Hux arrived just before Ben’s set and pushed his way to the front of the crowd to stand beside Rey who had begun to sway even in the growing swell of feedback like they were charging for a fight. Ben himself was like a tall narrow black cloud, a spiral of volcanic smoke, behind all the small machines he’d set up on a piece of plywood set atop a keyboard stand. It did not seem like he saw Hux or anyone or anything at all. He was nervous but not because he was not himself. Somehow he was taller. He’d tried to shut his face down and it hadn’t really worked.
Someone turned the lights off and the room was bathed in a smooth and electric deep blood-red. Beside him he felt Rey press the heels of their hands into their eyes. It seemed very sudden that the sound came shaking up out of the world tectonically. He found he could not even watch Ben because the sound was coming from somewhere else. Somehow he was bringing it through his body but it must have hurt. He wrestled with it like some demon he had summoned inadvertently.
The universe was condensed to motion. The floodwater ebb of the noise — the pilot flames of some great burn spreading behind it char, blackness, ash, ash into eternity, wind-gathered dust. Beside him, Rey’s rhythmic rocking. Ben’s voice, when he covered his eyes with his hand and spoke, the humanity in the sound wrecked in the storm, like a luckless doomed charmer to the snake he’d collected.
Resistance played quite well and Hux led First Order through what he thought was a reasonable set and on his way out with his guitar and amp everyone clapped his back and Rey even hugged him and Phasma gave him a friendly middle finger but he was really looking for Ben who was out on the street smoking a cigarette and talking to Snoke. They said goodbyes. Ben had all his stuff in a suitcase he dropped without ceremony on the floor of Hux’s room. He undressed himself; he was not at all trying to be sexy but he was. His nervous sweat. And his voice rubbed raw from screaming. All the tension in the long body Hux thought he might soothe with his teeth.
He knelt between Ben’s bent-up knees upon the bed and the moonlight came in through the clouds and the window and the streetlight muddled through the ivy and the bamboo and the pines and the light it cast upon his skin was white and golden and liquid and fragmenting. “Where do you come from,” Hux said. He was losing control of his fucking mouth. “Where does that thing come from.”
“God — from hell. It comes from hell.”
“Little far to go.”
“No,” said Ben without sound. “It’s here, it’s —”
His back arched — architectural; God, Hux thought, he was good at that. Freckles scattered ungeometrically upon his belly. A shelf of fine and itemizable ribs delicate as fishbones and protecting probably just some sculpted idol of ash and blood beating time in his chest upon a skin drum.
“It’s in me, Hux; it’s right here.”
God help him if it didn’t turn him on. “It’s in you?”
As were two of Hux’s fingers at present. “Yes,” Ben rasped, “yes, yes.”
“Do you want it out?”
“No,” he said, he shook his head and his dark wild hair fanned out like an inkspill upon Hux’s sheets, “no, God, no.”
All the bands in the neighborhood practiced in this underground concrete bunker, an eerie dark space with very high ceilings, walls throughly muraled esoterically, where one room had been set aside solely for cigarette smoking upon moldy vinyl diner chairs. Hux was in there chain-smoking and revising some of the lyrics in his notebook (“in you I fucked the void inside myself”) when he heard the sound.
Down here usually you could assume anguished screaming was part and parcel of the rehearsal sessions of some shitty and altogether doomed emo band. But when it was this anguished, Hux thought, perhaps it was thoughtful to investigate.
He knocked upon the offending door as loud as he could manage and, not entirely to his surprise, Ben answered it. Hux had not seen before the delicate face looking anywhere near as murderous. His eyes were red and sweat beaded upon his brow. “Oh,” Hux said, “were you recording just now?”
“What are you doing here?”
“We practice here too. I’m working on lyrics.” He held up the notebook which was thankfully closed. “Are you recording?”
Ben opened the door a little wider to let Hux in. “No,” he said. The room was bathed in the same bloody red light from the show and in the silence and windowlessness it was almost as though it were the only color in the world. Other than the lamp with its red bulb and the machines arrayed upon the table silently flashing lights to delineate their settings the room was bare and so ascetic it seemed like a chamber wherein monks beat themselves with ropes.
“You were just — screaming?”
Ben glared when he brushed past Hux. He was rather on that tenuous and heart-racing edge between being moderately freaked out and irretrievably turned on. “I’m not — happy,” Ben said, “with any of this.” He indicated with a sweep of his hand the machines. “It’s not —” But from there he could not go on. He pressed his hand over his mouth as though it would keep him from screaming again.
“Everyone gets, you know, mental blocks.”
“You just have to go deeper.” Even as he said it he regretted it but for some reason he kept going. “All the way to the very core of what makes you yourself — like, to the ninth circle of that hell you were telling me about. And then deeper.”
He was definitely now mostly turned on. Perhaps it was the red light. Ben leaned in and kissed him; they fucked on the concrete floor. It was perhaps the most uncomfortable fuck Hux had ever participated in and afterwards he noticed they had both skinned their knees and one of Ben’s elbows, and there were a few tiny pebbles embedded in the heel of his hand, and a cryptic collage of wet marks on the concrete. He was so lightheaded from — he told himself — the humid sweaty airlessness of that room and the eternal blinding red light that after the fact he found himself obliged to knock Ben’s knees apart again and lick his ass until he cried.
“Do you feel better now,” Hux said finally, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
He got up and dressed and went to the liquor store to buy a fifth of whiskey they then shared together in the red room.
Kylo Ren played a show with a couple other bands at this venue across I5 and Hux showed up fashionably late as he still did not have Ben’s phone number, hated the other two acts, and did not want to appear overly invested. Of course, Rey was there, with one of the guys from their band, a sweet-faced black kid who, rumor had it, had spectacularly quit his job as a developer at Microsoft to work at an anarchist bookstore. Ben was in the corner holding a fifth of something in a paper bag and speaking intently with Snoke. His eyes met Hux’s for a second then moved away and Hux tried in relative vain not to feel weird about it and instead he went to talk to Rey.
They hugged him warmly and then their bandmate — Finn, was the kid’s name — shook his hand. “Who’s that guy talking to Ben?” Rey asked.
“That’s Snoke,” said Hux, “He’s been around for a long time. Did you guys ever hear that band Empire?”
“Right, but like, just.A lot of people think they were the best hardcore band ever from Seattle. Snoke used to play with them sometimes.”
“He seems like a creeper,” said Rey.
“That he is.” Hux could’ve elaborated on that if he wanted to, but he rather didn’t: Snoke had made an odd, startling, and vaguely nightmare-inducing move on him when he was fifteen, playing shitty shows at since-shuttered venues on whose premises his underage self definitely should not have been allowed, in his first band with Phasma. “If he starts to layer the flattery onto you real heavy then you’re in deep trouble. Especially because he likely doesn’t mean it.”
“Does Ben know that?” asked Rey, looking over to the back of the room with concern furrowing their brow.
Hux had assumed everyone over the age of twenty-one in Seattle understood Snoke’s creepiness to be implicit, even those who idolized his sometime career. But Ben seemed to be far enough on the periphery of the scene that perhaps he hadn’t gotten the memo. “I’ll talk to him,” Hux said. He wondered whether he should get to it before or after the fucking that was certainly imminent. It was a bit of a downer conversation especially if Hux got into the histories, which he wasn’t certain he should. He didn’t think anyone knew about it except Phasma, whose bursting into the alley behind the venue to vomit mostly peach schnapps she’d stolen from her mother’s pantry could not have been better timed.
This set was even better than Ben’s first because he — or the other thing — was not quite so nervous. Again, the red light, Rey’s rhythmic rocking, the enormity of the sound Ben summoned piece by piece and then set to battle with bodily. He seemed at once that he was very small inside it and like he was the most powerful thing that was. The words of his distorted vocal were unintelligible but the emotion of it was legible clear as day and it was pain. And it was the realest and most soul-deep burning and cauterizing pain Hux thought he had ever felt from another person and possibly even from himself.
When he finished he stepped back covering his mouth as if horrified at what he had done and the audience began to applaud confusedly aside from Rey who was wildly cheering.
Once the house lights had come back up and the hubbub had died down Hux went up to where Ben crouched onstage packing up his machines in the suitcase. When Hux clasped his shoulder he tensed and looked up; for one short and fearful drowning moment he did not recognize the eyes.
There was a strange and cold thrill of fear in his stomach when he went outside with Rey and Finn to share a cigarette. Finn had to leave shortly thereafter to catch a late bus to Redmond and when he did Rey kissed his cheek. After a while Ben came out lugging his giant suitcase pursued by Snoke with whom he immediately set to conversing and Hux found his conversation with Rey (they had been discussing the Total Control record) had become, for both of them, rather a means to an end. Rey’s bright eyes kept drifting toward their corners. Finally they leaned forward to say something very quietly almost in Hux’s ear. “Try and look out for him, okay?”
Down the sidewalk Ben in all his black wool layers stood looking up at Snoke with his back against the blackwashed brick wall of the club, and the expression upon his face was something odd that Hux did not think he had seen before. Rey clasped his arm and turned to go and Hux turned to Ben, trying to communicate via spiritus mundi and deeply embarrassed by the intent and the content of the message, come back, come back, come back to me. It seemed Ben might’ve heard it for a second because he turned to Hux and their eyes met, but then Snoke’s followed. Turning away to follow Rey through the darkened silent neighborhood toward the overpass felt disconcertingly like severing one of his limbs.
It was another ten days until he saw Ben again at the Finalizer, relegated to his customary back corner with his scattered papers. Outside the sun had made just enough of an attempt at existence to illuminate a few of the mountains and islands distant in the haze across the sound. Phasma was behind the counter playing This Heat and the expression she gave Hux when he came in seemed rather an attempt at sympathy. He wondered how much of this whole deal she’d picked up on. She was smart and had lasted two semesters into a psychology degree at Seattle Central, and she was also an avowed gossip.
He sat down with his tea in the window and felt Ben watching him. When he looked up the eyes were very cold. Then they moved away again.
Hux wrote for at least two hours. It had been a long time since he had felt at all heartsick and he had forgotten how inspiring it could be. thought he had enough material now perhaps for a full LP and it was all about this stupid bullshit of course relegated to abstract metaphor. For a while he brainstormed ideas for titles, tours, t-shirts, cover art, etc.
When he got up and went out he paused at each street corner for Ben to catch up but he did not.
He went to see some bands at the Outpost hoping Rey and/or Finn and/or Phasma would be there but none of them were and in fact the show was populated mostly by people in bands he hated, people he had slept with in his late teens, and Snoke, who Hux decided to pretend he hadn’t seen. The only person he could summon even peripheral interest in talking to was the third member of Rey’s band, whose name was Poe and whom Hux dimly recalled having met once before while extremely fucked up, but Poe ran off to 7-11 to get 40s and it was of course at this moment as Hux smoked a cigarette and absently scrolled through his Instagram in the back parking lot in the eternal sideways mist, that Snoke — tailed, of course, of course just to make this whole thing the worst ever, by Ben, slinking like a dog — approached him like some ghost of Christmas past.
He tried mostly in vain to smother the eye roll and the nauseous feeling stirring in his stomach like a weather system. His cigarette started tasting even more like death than usual. “Can I bum one, Brendol,” said Snoke. He had this terrible rasping voice from smoking, probably heroin, definitely decades of screaming.
Hux gave him a look mostly because he wasn’t sure Ben knew his first name. But still he took his pack out from his pocket and offered a smoke to each of them. He watched with relative horror and a vague stirring of stupid fear when Ben leant in with the delicate fluttering of his thin eyelids so Snoke could light his cigarette with a silver lighter Hux unfortunately recognized. “You all’s new set sounded good last month,” said Snoke.
Hux looked to Ben, who, after all, deserved some credit. “Thanks,” he said, but Ben was looking at Snoke’s boots. Hux felt something crazy stretching up his spine through all the blood and lymph, something like that crazy thing he often got onstage, that thing that made him feel like his hair was standing on end, like he was about to grow black wings out his back, like the next time he screamed some living being would come out of his mouth, attached to him still by umbilical, bloody and writhing upon the floor. How did this happen, he almost said. The words were in the back of his throat. How did this happen so quickly and why is it happening to me? Instead he found himself searching the lot desperately for Poe to no avail.
“You have plans to record that material?”
Fuck you, Hux almost said. “I don’t know. I can’t afford studio time right now.”
“I could always — ”
Ben looked up. “No,” said Hux, immediately, on instinct. “It’s alright.”
“Suit yourself. Kylo Ren’s recording a new tape with me.”
Was that bile in his throat or residual ash? “Is that so.”
Snoke looked at Ben with a carrion bird’s expression straddling piteous and predatory. “He’s honing his craft, his artistry. It’s a real — untested, untapped talent. He’s beginning to sharpen his anger, his pain — sharpening his emotions into a weapon.”
From inside, thank God, a well of noise. Snoke dropped his cigarette and twisted it out with his boot against the wet concrete. His big hand settled against the back of Ben’s neck and squeezed. Ragged fingernails in red bloody beds against the pale wires and cords, the delirious chocolate spatter of birthmarks… Running through Hux’s mind — oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. He was sure his eyes had grown six sizes and there was probably blood streaming from his ears such was the pounding in the drums of them of his wild stupid heart. “See you inside,” said Snoke. He let go Ben’s neck and Ben made a sound.
When he stalked off Hux found suddenly he could almost breathe. Ben had turned to watch him go and Hux saw inside his collar the red marks upon his fragile translucent skin.
"He doesn't like you very much," said Ben, turning back to him. His voice and expression were not so much cold as they were spectral and almost otherworldly. Hux wondered if he was high and if so on what and if Snoke had given it to him. "He thinks d-beat hardcore is outré and you're in denial."
"I'm a little too old for him now," Hux said bitterly. "I would have thought you would be too."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means he's a fucking creep and always has been and isn't interested in the fucking slightest in your art, your talent or your anger or your pain, blah blah blah."
Ben leant in and the wind took his hair and all his black fabrics like some cloud of bats pursuing him. "Do you give a shit about my art, Hux?" he hissed.
"I give a shit about you as a person for some reason."
Ben kind of smiled as though he were possessed. Perhaps he was? ”Do not delude yourself into the belief anything any of us does on the individual level matters in the grand scheme."
It was like talking to the other creature who came out of his body in the sound and the red light. This was the self he had channeled all the anguish into and it was this self he summoned when he performed. And now, under Snoke’s influence, he was trying to live it all the time. A guilty thrill went up Hux's spine. As an extreme performance in a genre characterized by extreme performance it was brilliant. But as Ben's friend (?) and apparent occasional fuck buddy it was mostly just disturbing. "What matters is the work," he said, but there was something in his eyes, a dizzying shift, oil and water. When he next spoke it was with a deep and shattering uncertainty. "I don't care what you feel about me."
They left together shortly thereafter and Ben walked two steps behind Hux all the way up the hill to the house, which was empty and pitch-dark but for the dim oily light from the stove. The kiss they shared upon the threshold in the darkness was so violent Hux tasted blood.
He had never managed well his fear or his jealousy or his memory or nostalgia. He practically threw Ben on his bed and undid what was relevant and pushed Ben’s t-shirt up beneath his arms to show the knots of his spine and the layered slats of ribs, freckles, skin — God, the skin — the belly, which trembled, the trail of fine dark hair beneath his navel, the constellation of birthmarks inside his hipbone. When they fucked Ben still had the t-shirt and one sock on and one leg in his pants and Hux had only bothered to undo his jeans which he was beginning to deeply regret. Ben’s cold hands were up inside his shirt against his ribs and belly and up in the long rift of his spine and his shoulders… “Is this how you do it with him,” escaped Hux’s mouth; perhaps he had meant to say something else.
Ben bit his lip; the hands slipped away, splayed out on the bed, fingers curled in delicate as some pale flower, and his pushed-up t-shirt showed one rosy nipple and a wisp of the dark soft hair in his underarm and the shining wet spots across his belly left by Hux’s mouth… “No,” he said, and Hux saw it in his face, he would be cruel to match Hux’s cruelty: “no, he never — he never looks me in the eyes…”
He wasn't sure whether it was true or whether it made him feel tender or furious but he did know after that he took a strange satisfaction in the knowledge that the fabric he still wore probably chafed Ben’s delicate skin raw.
When he woke at dawn to the sound of a siren on Twelfth Av his bedmate had fixed him with the odd dark eyes. “Ben,” he said, half-asleep and hardly thinking, hardly really remembering, some stupid warm thing spreading in his gut.
“It feels wrong,” Ben said slowly, “It feels wrong when you call me that.”
That woke Hux up for sure. They lay staring at each other on different sides of the same ragged pillow.
At the Finalizer three days later — during which time Hux had hardly slept, and had called in sick to his shitty job, and had endlessly harassed his bandmates into assisting him in the recording of at least half a new EP — Rey, immediately upon seeing him, started begging Hux to come with them that night to the Outpost.
“Blue Squadron is playing,” said Rey, as if Hux cared, “and Death Star, have you seen them?”
“Not for like, four years.”
“Exactly! You have to come.”
Hux thought Blue Squadron were perhaps the most pretentious band in Seattle but since Rey’s band emphatically placed second he thought he wouldn’t mention it. Maybe it was worth it to see Death Star, though they always recorded with Snoke. He was trying to remember the last time he had seen them and if at the time he’d even been legally allowed to drink, though certainly he had been drinking anyway.
“Please,” said Rey.
Hux said alright and regretted it immediately when he turned up after another day of little sleep and found Death Star had cancelled and had been replaced, of course, by Kylo Ren. He was turning to immediately depart despite having already paid when Rey came barreling in the door pursued by Poe and Finn all of whom immediately commenced to clap Hux repeatedly on the back and herd him like some wayward cow into the next room and directly to the front of the makeshift plywood stage. Poe pressed a fifth of whiskey into Hux’s hand and he took a rather generous swig of it, kind of feeling guilty when he passed the flask back about how much it seemed to have lightened.
“Did you see Death Star cancelled,” said Hux, attempting expressionlessness.
“Too bad,” said Poe.
“I’m almost as happy seeing Kylo Ren again,” said Rey.
Hux was feeling already bitter and nauseous from the whiskey on an empty stomach. “Are you all into his shit?”
“Yeah,” said Rey, who had bristled, hands tucked in the pockets of their big leather coat. “I thought you were too.”
“I am,” Hux said, “it’s just…”
But he didn’t want to spoil that, and perhaps that was private, how royally it was facade. How that facade was eating him up and under whose tutelage. All of this is facade, he thought, suddenly; Rey’s jacket’s facade, my shirt’s facade, this basement’s facade… The whole record First Order was working on was facade. Like a fondant layer over the sore piece of him — the armor, the black and studs and the screaming, that he was wearing over the fact he was a freaked out heartsick loser.
“It’s really,” Hux said finally, “really. He needs to — hone his craft.”
Rey, rightfully, rolled their eyes.
Hux, with nothing else to do about it, drank more. Finally Poe just let him hang onto the flask because someone was going out to the liquor store to bring back more booze. Ben showed up sometime in the middle of the first band and stood at the corner of the room behind the stage in his big black coat motionless with his long arms folded over his chest. Hux let himself get shoved around by the human sea though he felt a bruise or six under his skin spreading after a few songs. After a while he stood still and watched Snoke like a snake in the crowd who parted upon sight of him slink to the front. Watched Ben incline his magnificent head and the gnarled hand again wrap his neck. Thumb up the crease behind Ben’s ear.
Hux went outside; his vision was on the precipice of blur; he very nearly fell on his ass on a swath of black ice. He crouched and smoked three cigarettes in overly quick succession and listened to the sound from inside and the bar noise from above and the sensation of the running loop inside his own mind: I will not go back inside, I will not go back inside, I will not go back inside…
The windows were frosted with sweat and condensation; the light inside was red. The clouds blew over upon a swath of stars. He wondered if Ben and Snoke were really fucking.
He stood, dry heaved in the forgotten planters with the dead things, and went back inside. Rey was up front watching Ben set up his machines from his suitcase and Snoke was in the back corner with his eyes following Hux through the crowd.
A joint was passed from whence who saw and Hux took it; so did Rey. All the light cut out but for the red. And it was so hot in there underground Hux had to stand on his toes and lift his face to the ceiling for something resembling a real breath. Rey had thrown their leather jacket somewhere and pushed the sleeves of their t-shirt up onto their shoulders baring a host of stick-and-poke tattoos, and they had commenced in anticipation their slow rhythmic rocking. Then the sound came at last with bloody violence like that kiss from the threshold. Like a bat to his face. Rey leaned back on their heels as though struck by a harsh wind. Everybody bowed their heads. Before them Ben looked for the first time not fearful of what he had done or might do. But it wasn’t Ben, Hux’s mind supplied, not really.
He could not bring himself to watch Snoke watch; it felt voyeuristic. Nor could he bring himself to watch Ben’s face or his hands so he watched Ben’s knees and sometimes Rey. With his machines Ben created a series of sweltering electronic loops sweating static and then he took his mic, and emerged from behind his table and climbed onto the floor, stretching the long black cord behind himself like an umbilical, and the crowd cleared away from him as though magnetically repelled. Ben went for Hux first then moved away — Hux was too drunk to react to it anyway — and went for Rey, and took their narrow face in his hand, which was gloved, fingers tight about their jaw, and looked into them as though he would read their mind or put some thought there. Whatever he said or screamed was lost to the static but when Rey turned back toward Hux they were crying, real tearing heaving sobs soundless in the room.
Rey left after that claiming to be in search of Finn and Poe but with red still in their eyes and marks upon their face and a tense, cold rigidness to their back. Hux regretted, not for the first time that night, being so drunk. He collapsed on one of the disgusting couches in the back of the room during Blue Squadron’s set and scrolled dizzily through his Instagram.
Ben wandered over finally and sat beside him on the couch. Perhaps he was less sober even than Hux. “Where’s our mutual friend,” Hux asked him.
They left together. Because it was closest they went to Ben’s studio and lay down on the floor under Ben’s coat. They were both of them too resoundingly fucked to do more than shuffle weakly against each other until they gave up.
Hux’s shoes were still on. He wondered if Ben was asleep. “He doesn't deserve to touch you,” he said. “I don’t know that I deserve to touch you.”
Ben was looking up at him and Hux was too drunk to tell or care which of him it was in there. “I feel like… you know in Arizona they have all that toxic waste buried underground.”
“You’re not toxic waste,” Hux lied.
“I feel possessed.”
That, however, Hux could not deny. He wondered if it was too much to touch Ben’s face. “It’s alright,” he said, though it emphatically wasn’t. “I don’t possess you.”
Ben laughed once, then he looked very serious. “No,” he said, “you don’t.”
They slept, both fitfully. When Hux woke, mouth parched, eyes dry, head slamming like a door, a crick in probably his every muscle, completely unsure when or where he was or how he’d gotten there, Ben was gone.
It turned out it was noon, so Hux went to the Finalizer. Rey was there, also hungover, and when they saw Hux in the doorway they climbed out from behind the counter and pushed him back outside through the still-swinging door. It must have been everyone in the city was also still hungover because it was quiet on the street, wet and gray, the sparse mist silver and cold. “What the fuck,” Rey said. They were trying not to cry.
“I thought you said you were going to talk to Ben about that guy!”
“I don’t — he didn’t — it’s not really your business, is it?”
“He’s my cousin,” Rey hissed. “Or I guess he was cause he disowned our family. He won’t speak to me.” Now they were really crying. “He’s had — I don’t know. I’m trying to help him but he won’t let me.”
“It’s not like he pays any credence to a word I say.”
“You better than me.” They pressed at their wet eyes with the ragged sleeve of their hoodie. “Hux, your band fucking sucks and usually you’re an asshole. But you’re not a purely terrible person.”
It was hard to pretend it wasn’t even a middling blow. “What the fuck do you want me to do?”
“Fucking talk to him,” they said, hackles up, “you piece of shit.”
“I only see him at shows and now he’s got a guard dog.”
Rey sighed and hesitated, chewing their lower lip. After a while they drew from their pocket their wallet and from its folds a worn red business card they pressed into Hux’s hand.
The address was on Fifteenth Av. Hux went home and fell asleep again and when he woke up, still hungover, he made a cup of tea and put on a Stone Roses record he’d bought in high school. Then he fished from his pocket the card Rey’d given him and put his boots on.
It was a small dark club at the end of the strip of apartments and shops where the buildings faded into Volunteer Park and the thick lush greenery, darkening now with the end of the day. Once there’d been a house around here where they’d had shows — Hux had been quite young, perhaps it was even before his and Phasma’s first band. He remembered choking on cigarette smoke in the lush spring beneath some big rhododendron flowering with the old blooms rotting, bruised with steps, upon the sidewalk… But this bar was different. It seemed empty though the door had been thrown wide to let the wind cut the stale smoke smell that was thick inside and in the back someone was playing piano, and there was a girl wiping down the bar staring past him out into the afternoon.
For the first time he realized he had no idea what he was doing, or what or who he was looking for, and the smell of alcohol turned his stomach, but he walked toward the back in the dim red light and the darkness. Whoever was playing piano was good — the sound was spilling over itself, mellifluous as a waterfall, silver cascades, keys tumbling over and over one another to the floor. A breathless laughter and a long dark sob, rain. Distant thunder and soundless lightning, and a wind that moved in the trees carrying with it something unseen.
There were a few folks watching and the pianist was Ben. You could hardly tell it was him but for the hands because his face was all but hidden behind his hair. Hux watched for a long time uncertain what this elucidated but sure he had made his way behind some veil as you are always kind of doing in the Northwest, a whole demon geography of veils, darkness behind and beneath, quiet stirring laughter in the earth. You could hear it in the music and it was even in this, in its wovenness, in the delicacy of the sound there was some possession, a haunting without a name, or with every name.
When Ben finished the movement he looked up, flushed with exertion, and he saw Hux and was not surprised. They looked at one another for a moment in the darkness, the smoke and the breath and the sound, still in the room, and the red light. Then he bent to his work again.