“You have to, Kylo.”
“I don’t have to do anything, Phaz,” Ren replied, pulling his charcoal further down the canvas, harder this time.
“Not literally, but you owe me!” Phasma pushed her notebook at him, as if reading the damn memos she’d jotted would change his mind. “I calculated all of it, if we split parking and camping costs it’s really not that expensive, and I convinced my friend in California to give us a ride from her place on Friday. We don’t have to get VIP access, we can just buy standard. You love, like, seventy-five percent of these bands. You know you want to go with me.”
“I know, that’s what sucks about this. I went to that rave with you in Miami for Christmas and it fucked up my whole budget. I had to replenish my whole supply stock this last month because of the surprise exhibition Snoke pulled on me. I just don’t know if I can afford Coachella this year,” he sighed. The lines on his canvas were too jagged. He smeared the vine charcoal away with a brush of his thumb, softened it a bit.
“You can’t afford it, even with the chunk of scholarship you get for housing?”
“I can’t afford it because you make me spend all my savings on this kind of shit,” Ren said, winking humorlessly over his shoulder as he ran the charcoal stub lengthwise in a half-circle that spanned almost a full rotation of his arm. Without turning around, he added, “Even if I try to sell a few sketches, some little commissions online, it really won’t be enough.”
“Tell you what. You scrounge up whatever money you can selling your angsty abstract online, and I’ll do all your laundry for the next three months.” Ren glanced up, narrowing his eyes. “No idea why you live at a place with coin laundry anyway. Seems cruel to do to kids in university.”
“The price for living off campus, I guess.” He put the charcoal down on his easel, folding his arms over his chest so that he could look at Phasma with half-lidded eyes. “Alright I’m half convinced. Sweeten it up.”
“So on top of laundry, I’ll cook for you, too.”
“Three times a week?”
“How about twice a week, but I’ll give you any leftovers we have.”
“Done.” He shook on it, then grimaced when he left black and red smudges all over the back of her hand. “Sorry.”
“Nah don’t worry. Comes off easier than glycerine,” Phasma said, as she dusted her hand off on her dark denim pants and left the studio. “I’ll text you this weekend, so you can come over to buy the tickets!”
“Wait a minute, before you go,” Ren stopped her. She turned. “Why are you hellbent on this?”
“What do you mean, like in general? It’s a great time.”
“No, I mean, like…” he picked up the charcoal again, turned it in his hands a few times as he tried to make the next comment sound less pitiable out loud than it did in his head. “Is this like that Christmas rave you took me to? Where you just invited me out because your club members wouldn’t fly to Miami, so you had nobody else to bring?”
“I mean… I’ll be inviting the clubs members to this, too,” Phasma tilted her head a bit, as if she was surprised at his question. “But no. It’s different this time. I hear what you listen to when you’re here working late. This seems like something you’d be into.”
“So based on mutual music interest, you want to fly across the country with me and hang out for three days at a music festival?”
“I think you’re interesting, dipshit,” Phasma said, moving to leave. “Who else would encourage me to do bodyshots off of strangers in the middle of a fucking dance party? Not Hux, that’s for damn sure.” Phasma chuckled to herself, and didn’t take notice of how the mention made Ren’s mouth twitch. “And also, nobody else really wants to split camping with me. But it doesn’t mean I think you’ll be any less fun to have along!”
“Uh-huh, that’s what I thought.” He glanced her way, saw her hesitating as if she wondered whether or not to apologize. He grinned. “A deal’s a deal.” She pulled a face on him, angry for making her think he was really upset. “Looking forward to all those dinners, Phaz,” Ren shouted as she ran out of the studio to her next class.
“I don’t know any of those bands, Phasma,” Hux said, not looking up from the two photos of similar composition lying on the table before him. He was trying to focus on which one contrasted better, but it was hard to analyze the nearly identical photos with Phasma interrupting. She groaned loudly and fiddled in her bookbag for a notebook. He took it from her when she held it out over his photos, and in order to get her to leave him in peace he skimmed through the figures.
“You’ll like them, I’m sure of it. Just give it a chance. Come with me.”
“Why do you want to go so badly?” Hux mumbled. “Seems expensive just to listen to some music.”
“They’ve got this set of mobile art installations throughout the event area, I really want to see them in person. Plus, the stage design, the music, it’s just really inspiring.”
“Seems beneath us.”
“If we split the costs of buying camping passes,” Phasma said, ignoring him, “we only pay forty bucks on top of our tickets, because we can get shuttled from the airport to my friend’s house, then they can give us a lift to the campgrounds and we can pitch our tent there. I already have the tent, so it’s all good.” She was speaking in quick bursts, like a rapid fire semi-automatic weapon.
“I don’t like camping,” Hux replied curtly, handing her back the notebook.
“This is an entirely separate experience, Hux,” she urged. “It’s not like camping out in nature; here, you have stuff to do every minute of the day and every second in the night. You probably won’t even sleep.”
“I like my sleep.”
“Well, you might like staying up and partying even more. You don’t know until you try it.”
“It sounds dirty.”
“It’s not so bad, for three days. Just a bit sweaty. There are these portable shower bags, I have one I used last year, it’s super easy for washing your hair. I have some powder face wipes too, they’re amazing for getting dirt off your body at the end of the day.” Hux looked horrified and Phasma sighed in exasperation. “Look, if you panic and want a shower, I’ll get my friend to let you drive yourself back to her place for a break from the concert. Okay?”
Hux chewed his lip, thinking.
“It sounds loud.”
“That’s the beauty of it, though,” Phasma groaned. “It’s good music, yeah it’s loud, but you really do feel it when it hits you.” She paused, as if an idea had just occured to her. “Think of the photos you could get.”
“Of high hippies dancing naked around at a laser show? No thanks.”
“The colors, the composition. The subject matter you definitely won’t find here on campus. It could be a boost, a critical look on a culture not your own.” She noted Hux had fallen silent and so she went in for the kill. “What was all of that dissertation talk, about ‘finding order within chaos’ and that sort of thing? Wouldn’t a chaotic music festival be the perfect place for that?”
“You really want me to go, don’t you.”
“I’d love to have you with me,” Phasma confirmed, her voice somehow managing to stay firm while she begged. “As president, please think of the exhibition the club could put on after going to something like this. Think of the cohesiveness, of having our experiences align in an installation. Please.”
“I’ll consider it,” Hux sighed.
“Great. Come over Saturday afternoon, we’ll buy the tickets together.”
“ If I buy them, you mean,” Hux called, but she had already left him sitting in the dorm lounge. He heard her accidentally slam the door to the lobby, apologize, and then run off. He sighed again, more deeply, and wondered if she didn’t actually have a small point he could concede to.
The weather being chilly, it was hard for Ren to think of going to a sunny music festival in a couple of months’ time. Even in the nicer of the dorms, like the one Phasma lived in, there seemed to be a constant draft. Ren pulled his scarf tighter around his neck and knocked on her door, thinking dizzily of tanktops and sunscreen.
He didn’t really know what he expected when he walked in, but it certainly wasn’t Brendol Hux sitting backwards on a chair watching Phasma click around on her laptop. By the look on the redhead’s face, the feeling was mutual.
“What’s he doing here?” Hux asked before Ren could even walk in the door.
“C’mon don’t be like that,” Phasma groaned. “He’s going with us.”
“Now hold on a goddamn minute-”
“Oh, lighten up, Irving Penn,” Ren snapped.
“Excuse me? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Try to get out of your carefully composed little box for a second here-”
“I don’t want some emo hipster artist along for the-”
“Fuck you, you pretentious control freak-”
“Chill out!” Phasma yelled. The two men turned to look at her: both Ren and Hux were emitting varied degrees of offense and consternation at her tone, but they did shut up. Phasma squinted at them in an attempt to further drive her point home. “We’re not putting on an art show together, this is just supposed to be a fucking good time. You’d think you two could get past your petty arguments long enough to…” She paused, looking between the two of them. Hux’s ears were pink, and he swallowed hard as he turned away to avoid Phasma’s piercing stare. “What’s going on?” she asked, frowning deeply. Her tone was that of a mother demanding answers, and god help them if they had the wrong ones to give her.
“Nothing,” Ren covered hastily, walking in and setting his bag down by the closet. “Nothing outside the norm.” Phasma raised an eyebrow.
“Then why such a huge to-do?”
“I think Hux was just surprised, and I was too. You didn’t tell us who all would be going. Right, Hux?”
“R-right.” He was still looking off to the side, his brow furrowed. He was trying to project anger, but to Ren he just seemed more suspicious.
“I would have told you if I’d known what babies you were going to be,” Phasma said, eyes flicking suspiciously back and forth between them. Hux’s blush was thankfully not at his cheeks yet, but it was getting there. Ren praised the powers that be when Phasma’s phone rang and interrupted the interrogation.
“Hello? Mi- Mitaka I can’t… I can’t fuckin hear you, hold on. There’s no goddamn signal in this concrete slab of a building-”
With the slam of a door, she left the two of them alone, most likely gone for a few minutes while she hunted down a spot in the lobby by some windows to gather as many bars as she could without going outside.
“So, are you going to back out, or shall I?” Hux asked icily.
“Neither,” Ren said.
“Okay, I will then,” Hux went to gather his stuff, unstraddling the chair.
“Don’t be like that.” Ren hooked his hand around Hux’s leather satchel strap and tugged it down, forcing Hux to sit down hard enough to force a grunt from him. “Look, if you and I don’t go now, she’ll realize something is up between us.”
“That ‘something’ is about to be my lunch,” Hux snapped.
“I really doubt that. I think you’re covering.”
“Barely covering my disdain, maybe.”
“That’s not the adjective I’d use to describe our kisses, but okay,” Ren said, smirking and still holding onto Hux’s strap. With a yank, Hux shook his fingers free and held his bag closer, as if he were protecting a small animal from Ren’s predatory claws.
“Don’t mention stuff like that out loud,” he whispered.
“Like what? Like how you came to the studio in order to watch me work-”
“You borrowed my library card, that was all.”
“- and then you stayed because you couldn’t stop watching me work.” Ren was on Phasma’s roommate’s bed, leaning forward to match Hux’s fiery stare. His was crackling with amusement, but Hux’s seemed designed to kill.
“You had a tantrum over me being there, which you seem to be conveniently omitting from your recollections. I stayed to see if you would destroy any of your high school bullshit in the process.”
“You stayed because I kissed you. Hard. And you liked it.”
“What does this have to do with anything?” Hux bit out, not even denying it as a blush crept up on his neck.
“I never told anyone, as per your instructions,” Ren said as he leaned back, satisfied that he’d won for the moment, “but if you keep pretending you hate me so much for no reason, people are going to start thinking you actually feel the opposite. You’ll be digging yourself a hole, based solely off of protesting too much.”
“Wh… Ugh.” Hux was covering his mouth, his eyes downcast. He seemed to know Ren was right, on some level. “Why the fuck do you care?” he asked through his fingers.
“Oh, I don’t,” Ren smiled and flopped back onto the bed with his arms behind his head. “Personally? I kind of like the idea of people thinking you have some sort of desperate crush on me.”
“Fuck you,” Hux muttered. Ren just laughed. He bit the inside of his cheek, trying to figure out his angle. “So then why are you insisting that I go? Aren’t you worried people will think the same of you, that you have some ‘desperate crush’ on me?”
“I bet they already do,” Ren murmured. Hux tried to keep his breathing steady against the admission, failed. Ren seemed to be listening specifically for that tiny hitch of an inhale, because he chuckled again. “Relax, Hux. I want you to go because it’d be a hoot to see you so out of your element, to see you actually attending a music festival of this magnitude.”
“You think I can’t handle it?”
“All that disorganization? Pfft. You’d spend most of the time in the tent or the beer garden. If you even managed to stay the whole time, instead of taking a cab back to Phasma’s friend’s place.”
“What are you even basing these assumptions off of, pray tell?”
“Just look at you. You love order. First glance could tell you that much.” Ren lifted a hand to lazily gesture to Hux’s entire being in the chair. “Hair slicked perfectly to the side, precision cut, blouse meticulously creased… it all translates to your photography too.”
“Meticulous accuracy only gets you so far, and it has gotten you far, Hux. However. You could use a bit of chaos, I’m thinking.”
“Fuck,” Hux breathed, the anger taken from him at the positive mention of his work. Ren rolled to his side, glancing up at the redhead.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like your-”
“Shut. The fuck. Up.” Hux pressed a hand to his cheek, trying to cool it down. Phasma would probably come back at any moment, and Ren figured Hux didn’t want to look like he’d been fighting or blushing.
“So you’re not going then?” Ren asked, unable to hide the disappointment from his voice.
“Of course I’m still going. I already bought my ticket,” Hux replied. He heard the squeak as Ren got up, but didn’t expect him to throw his arms around his shoulder excitedly. “Get off me, you big idiot! What’s come over you?” He pushed Ren back onto the bed, where he bounced right back up to his feet again. He wasn’t even trying to disguise his eagerness. It made Hux scramble to scrape every trace of emotion off of his face except for his telltale sneer.
“This is great,” Ren said, ignoring him and clapping him on the back. “Now I don’t have to pay even more for the campsite!” Hux rolled his eyes.
“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”
“No,” Ren insisted, Phasma’s footsteps nearing the door and causing him to lower his voice to a whisper. “Trust me. It’s going to be fantastic.”
“This is not okay,” Ren said, yanking his rolling suitcase out from under Mitaka’s clumsy feet for the third time since they’d started walking along the automatic sidewalk.
“I’m sorry!” Mitaka called from behind him, but Ren was not speaking to him. The four of them were tired and cranky and slightly late because of a parking incident where Phasma couldn’t figure out how to grab a weekend ticket; they’d had to shuttle after that, to get from one airport terminal to the other, and almost missed the last bus. Currently, their red-eye to California was boarding and they were still several gates away.
“We’re almost there,” Phasma said, glossing over Ren’s complaints for what felt like the millionth time that evening.
“Don’t make me sit with him, Phaz,” he breathed on her shoulder as they walked, “I will cut a bitch.” From up at the front of the caravan, Hux snickered to himself.
“Be nice,” she warned. “You and Mitaka bought your tickets last, so you get to sit together.”
“Hey Kylo,” Mitaka piped up, “I wanted to ask you, actually, about your opinions on the summer lecturer they chose for our art history course?”
“Let’s get this straight right now,” Ren whirled, pushing up his sunglasses from the bridge of his nose and still walking forward on the moving sidewalk as he spoke, “I am going on this trip to drink in the dark anonymity that people share when getting royally fucked up together en masse. Do not make me think about homework.”
“Swear to god,” Hux groaned. “We’re already late because this asshole and his stupid piercings just about set off the metal detector, now we have to listen to him wax poetic-”
“They did not, the TSA lady said I could keep my eyebrow piercing in-”
“Then why did you take so fucking long!”
“Everyone shut up and go left here, it’s Gate 28 and we’re boarding.” Phasma’s clear voice cut everyone back down to silence; everyone except Kylo.
“Phaz, please, please, switch with me, I am begging you,” Ren pleaded, fumbling with his ticket to give to the flight attendant. Phasma rolled her suitcase forward, ignoring him as best she could. They handed their tickets to the flight attendant at the front, Hux moving in first. “You’re part of that club together, you’ll have so much to talk about.”
“I can’t help the tickets, Ren.” Phasma took back her ticket from the flight attendant and put it in her purse. Hux paused, watching the whole spectacle from inside the jet bridge.
“Look you don’t understand. He does one more thing and I’m going to-”
“I call window seat!” Mitaka chirped happily. Phasma turned just in time to catch Ren as he jumped up like he was going to smack Mitaka over the head with his carry-on, and she held his hands down at his sides. In the background, Mitaka’s suitcase split open, vomiting clothes and essentials into the aisle.
“Okay, you know what? Fine!”
“Phasma, don’t give in to his-” Hux was cut off by a slice of her hand through the air as Phasma pushed past him to go help the poor kid.
“Don’t worry about it, Hux. Fucking Crylo can have my spot.”
“The window seat?” Ren asked, a bit too eagerly.
“Yes, whatever it takes to shut you up!”
“No, no, absolutely not,” Hux protested, “my seat is clearly the one marked as window, you get the aisle if anything.”
“I sleep better by the window,” Ren shrugged, positively giddy that he’d gotten his way. Not even Hux’s panicked glare could dampen his good mood now.
“You plan on sleeping?”
“It’s a red-eye Hux,” Ren scoffed, like he was the idiot here. “What else would I do?”
“You’re not even going to look out of it, but you want to sit by the window?” Hux asked. The absurdity of the situation made him pause, which gave Ren just enough of an opening to push past him into the plane first. Hux turned, searching for someone else on his side, but Phasma was already preoccupied with helping Mitaka pack up his spilled belongings and was not paying attention to the after effects of Kylo’s tantrum. “I bought the fucking window seat!”
“Unless you’re offering me your shoulder to snuggle up on while I sleep,” Ren said as he picked up his tiny rolling suitcase to stow up above them, “which I wouldn’t be averse to,” he watched as Hux reddened predictably, and Hux wished he could fit up Ren in the stowaway compartment, “then I suggest you shut up.”
“You’re such a dick, Kylo Ren.”
“Whatever,” Ren said, slamming into the window seat and sighing happily. He seemed to not even be absorbing how much Hux hated him right now. “Five hours from now, we’ll be landing in California. Isn’t it exciting?”
“Whatever,” Hux mimicked back. He could hear Phasma and Mitaka entering the plane and getting situated on the other side of the aisle, further to the front. He settled into the seat, put in his headphones, and tried to ignore the way Ren’s arm was hogging the only armrest.
Hux dozed fitfully, kept waking up to his cheek pressed into Kylo’s warm biceps. Every time he’d push away, disgruntled, he’d have a harder time getting to sleep. The fact that he’d had to take out his own earbuds and could therefore hear the slight echo of Ren’s pulsing EDM was another factor to Hux’s insomnia. He spent a lot of time counting the tiles on the patterned carpet below them, thinking it would lull him into bored sleep. It did not.
Eventually, the stress of having had classes right before driving immediately to the airport and boarding the overnight flight took its toll on Hux, and he passed out with his temple resting on Ren’s shoulder. He woke up to a nudge, a gentle tap on his cheek. He felt warm, so comfortable and warm, that he nuzzled deeper into whatever he was resting on. Another nudge, more insistent. Hux blinked his eyes open with difficulty, unaccustomed to the bright light he was faced with.
“Good morning,” Ren whispered onto Hux’s temple, his voice husky with sleep. The nudge had been from his nose, from a little nuzzle as if Ren had fallen asleep with his face in Hux’s hair. That finally snapped Hux out of his sleepy daze, and he struggled to pull himself up from where he’d inevitably fallen onto Ren’s chest through the night. Oblivious to Hux’s discomfort, Ren jutted his chin out towards the window. “Check it out.”
The sun was rising slowly over the horizon, back from where they were coming from, dyeing the whole ocean of clouds beneath them a sherberty pink. Before them, the world was still an indigo hue, still asleep in the early hours of the morning. Hux exhaled, leaning further over Ren’s chest to get a better view.
The fact that Hux could feel Ren’s voice rumble from inside his torso gave him a jolt of pleasure, one he didn’t want Ren to notice. He turned to check to see if Ren had felt it too, and he felt Ren extend his arms up. Hux nodded, trying not to think about how easy it would be to snuggle back up to the warmth under those arms as Ren reached for the ceiling in a languid stretch.
“It is,” he replied weakly as he moved back to adjust into his own seat. Ren relaxed and stayed turned away, but that had been too close for comfort. Hux unbuckled his seatbelt and got up for a bit, just to have a chance to stretch and maybe splash cold water on his face before they started to land. Ren, meanwhile, smiled a bit to himself at the goosebumps he’d felt on Hux’s arm when it had brushed against his own.
It was fucking hot. Already, even in April, even at seven in the morning it was fucking hot. The group was changing clothes in the airport bathrooms, seeking desperate relief from the layers they’d brought for the plane’s chilly air. Mitaka had donned a pastel gradient tiger-stripe top over loose fitting board shorts that he was tying with a drawstring.
“You’re missing half your shirt,” he joked, pointing to Ren’s black crop top.
“Don’t make me hurt you,” Ren replied, ignoring him as he fluffed mousse through his curls in the men’s bathroom mirror. As usual, Mitaka just nodded, making Ren almost feel a little bit guilty. Almost. Hux came out of a stall, however, white blouse crisp and light against his skin and all thoughts of guilt fled Ren’s mind. In fact, Ren completely forgot what he was doing for a moment, and even wondered why his hand was at his hair until Hux frowned at him through the mirror.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. I mean it’s mousse. Just…” Ren shrugged, “freshening up.”
“No I mean, what the fuck is it that you’re wearing?” Hux repeated, gesturing to Ren’s bared midriff.
“Don’t be mad,” Ren smirked. He leaned to one side, drawing his skin taut over one hipbone at it sloped down towards the low-slung denim. “It’s free to look.” Mitaka blushed and hurried out of the restroom, and Hux hesitated like he wanted to do the same. Instead, he tucked a stray hair behind his ear and started to apply sunscreen to his arms. “Afraid to crisp up a bit?” Ren asked, giving his hair one last scrunch and then swiping any remaining residue from the mousse on his jean shorts.
“I will burst into actual flames if I go out for five minutes without protection,” Hux confirmed. Ren laughed, then packed his toiletries away and zipped up his bag.
“Better hurry, the taxi bus is taking us to Phaz’s friend’s place in like twenty minutes.”
“Give me a second,” Hux snapped, rubbing lotion into his face as quickly as he could.
“Here, let me help,” Ren insisted, grabbing the tube from him before Hux could protest. He squeezed out a huge dollop onto his palm, then knelt to catch Hux’s calf in his hands. Hux gasped at the sensation, and Ren had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. He dragged his hands along Hux’s skin, methodical and rhythmic, and thought back to what he’d said before about someone having a desperate crush.
As if he’d heard Ren’s thoughts, Hux began to vigorously rub lotion into his arms. It was like he wanted the whole ordeal to be done with. Ren smiled, breathing in the scent of coconut and chemicals, and went to work on Hux’s other leg in the same punishing massage. He wondered absentmindedly if Hux was tensing because the lotion was cold, or because he liked the way Ren dug his thumb into his muscles as he lotioned him down; either way, Ren had to stop himself. He was getting carried away, enjoying this too much. He wanted nothing more than to lean forward and lick the curve of tendon at the back of Hux’s knee, to trace the musculature all the way up to-- Ren stood up abruptly and clapped his hands together, accidentally making Hux flinch.
“Let’s go, Snowflake.”
“Oh, bite me, Strippergram.”
Phasma’s California friend was named Vitas, and Hux intensely disliked her. She had a coarse way of talking, as if she were spitting food at you instead of words, but luckily they only had to deal with her for about an hour in her dirty van on their way to the festival.
It was cramped and uncomfortable. Vitas was bringing along two other friends of hers, who were so disinteresting that Hux forgot their names immediately upon introduction, and Hux breathed an audible sigh of relief when Vitas lamented that they would not be camping together. Phasma had secured them a tent spot, whereas Vitas had a parking spot. They’d be far away enough that at least during the night they’d have some respite from her screeching.
“So I hear you’re big into photography,” Vitas said as she parked, finally turning her attention onto him an hour after meeting him. Hux ignored her, but he heard Ren snicker.
“He’s fantastic,” Mitaka said, the admiration not even an ounce concealed from his voice. “The way he uses light and movement, it’s a very particular style he has.”
“Interesting,” Vitas said in a way that conveyed that it wasn’t, not to her. Hux scowled and gathered his things, hating the way her van smelled of clover and bubblegum.
The walk to their campsite was a pleasant one once they broke away from Vitas and the gang. Spring was giving way to summer, heat rolling in so gradually that even Hux couldn’t ignore its warm embrace. The colors surrounding them were vibrant but not tacky. Installations of sculpture, both metal and inflatable, edged their vision as they walked. Everyone was wearing light, airy clothing that fluttered in the breeze. The sunshine above them glinted off bronzed skin and beaded sweat, and Hux was grateful for Ren’s mocking tone to distract him from the surge of lust he felt in looking out over the ocean of bodies.
“Bet you wish you were missing half your shirt now, eh, Mitaka?”
“I dunno, I don’t think I could pull it off like you,” he answered genuinely.
“Dude, don’t say nice things to me, it makes it harder to pick on you,” Ren sneered.
“That’s the point.”
“Shut up and get your bags ready for inspection,” Phasma ordered, turning around as they sidled up to the security line. Ren got quiet, suspiciously so, and the suddenness made Hux clench his jaw reflexively. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Ren moved a little baggie from the pocket of his backpack to the inside of his low-slung acid-washed cutoffs. He swallowed hard, determined not to say anything. Security moved them through, and they were barely out of line of sight before Ren crowed in victory.
“Easy as fuck,” he laughed, pulling not one, but three bags from what was apparently an inner pocket in his jeans.
“The fuck is that?” Hux demanded.
“Chill out,” Ren said, as if it were the only answer to Hux’s question. Hux sighed, shoved his sunglasses up further on the bridge of his nose, and followed Phasma to their camping spot.
It wasn’t exactly a tent that she unrolled. It was more of a tarp that she installed on some stilts, like it was meant to give some shade or respite from the morning dew. They could stand underneath of it if they hunched over, and she tossed Hux and Ren two sleeping bags from her pack.
“Phasma, I swear to God,” Hux growled. “You said you had a tent.”
“You’re going to be glad there’s no tent, once nine a.m. rolls around tomorrow,” Ren said. “It gets hot out here quick.”
“It’s the desert, you idiot, it gets cold before it gets hot.”
“I’ll keep you warm,” Ren winked. Hux sputtered, ignoring him since he was obviously just trying to get a rise out of him.
“And for privacy?” he demanded. Realizing how that sounded after Ren’s remark, as if he had taken him up on the offer, Hux struggled to stammer out a clarification. None came.
“I brought covers, if it makes you feel any better,” Phasma said, pointing to one of her bags. “Don’t sweat it. This is going to be good.”
“I just don’t-” Hux swallowed his words, cut off by Ren suddenly grabbing him by both his shoulders.
“Hux. I know this is going to be hard for you, but I want you to try, okay?” Ren lifted his sunglasses and pulled them back so that his hair was smoothed away from his face; he did the same to Hux’s. Ren looked at him earnestly, so close that Hux could smell the mousse he’d crinkled into his hair only hours ago. When he spoke, his voice was steady and low. “It’s hard, but I want you to try and reach up, deep inside yourself, and grab that stick you have shoved up your ass-”
Hux shoved him hard, throwing Ren back into the grass where he tumbled like he’d expected the blow. Phasma and Ren laughed, but Mitaka looked frightened.
“Lighten up,” Ren said, his back pressed to the ground even as he laughed. “This’ll be more comfortable, promise you.”
“I just… I don’t like crowds,” Hux said. “I was hoping to have a tent to kind of shut them out, y’know?” The honest admission made him feel small, so he pushed back his shoulders in an attempt to counteract it. Ren was watching him with narrowed eyes.
“I’ve never known you weren’t a fan of crowds,” Ren said. “You seem pretty confident at all our exhibitions?”
“I just worry I’ll get lost in them if I’m in them, I don’t mind them if I’m on stage or presenting something,” Hux answered, not sure why he was being so forthcoming. Maybe it was the way Ren had looked at him so openly before he’d made that joke-- or maybe it was the heat getting to him. He watched as Ren nodded, rolled over, and then began to unpack his bag. Ren lifted out two camelbacks and handed them to Phasma for her to fill at the fountain.
“Look, I didn’t know. I’m sorry. Anytime you get crowd-sick, you tell me,” Ren said from where he was squatting by his duffel bag. “I’ll let you climb on my shoulders.” Hux frowned, not sure if Ren was joking or not. They were practically the same height, the effect would be absolutely ridiculous. Hux knelt on his sleeping bag and tried to ignore how much the idea of having Ren pick him up appealed to him.
The first few hours were easygoing as people arrived in droves. Friday was the simple day, the day before the excitement started, at least to Ren. The festival atmosphere of the first day involved a lot of sun, a lot of people hydrating like they had their shit together, and a lot of walking around. He took the group to the Sahara tent first, but when a group of people started shouting for no reason Ren could see Hux’s eyes go anxious, so they made their way through the crowds back outside.
“Make sure you’re drinking water,” he bent to say in Hux’s ear over the ambient sound of some woman making guttural noises into a microphone onstage.
“Give me some,” Hux answered, pulling at Ren’s water strapped to his back. Before Ren could even give him permission, he was sucking at the tube. “How do you do this?”
“Here, bite it gently, pull it forward in your mouth,” Ren reached forward to hold onto the tube as Hux did as he was told. “Now drink.” Ren was aware of his gaze straying, of how Hux’s throat looked when he swallowed down the water, and of how strongly he was reacting to having Hux do what he told him. Even something so simple as watching him drink water made him react. Ren looked up only when Phasma tapped him on the shoulder.
“We’re gonna grab Vitas,” Phasma said over the music, motioning that her and Mitaka were going to walk away. Ren nodded, not sure if Hux had heard. He didn’t mind. Hux was incredibly cute, decked out in his long-sleeved white cotton shirt and sucking on the camelback greedily. Ren would be lying if he said he hadn’t been thinking of getting him alone anyway.
“Tired of the crowds yet?” Ren asked Hux when he was done drinking. He put the tube in his mouth to take a gulp himself before Hux drank him dry.
“Yeah, I kind of want to take a break.”
“Here, hop on.” Ren took a knee, and Hux backed away.
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Come on, you’ll be able to see so much better!”
“I don’t care,” Hux said, looking uncomfortable. Ren looked around, saw nobody he recognized in the crowd, and capitalized on it. He stood, brought Hux close, and moved his mouth to his ear. He noticed that Hux tilted his head back, as if he expected Ren to kiss him. Ren had to suppress a smirk at that.
“I really don’t like that Vitas girl,” Ren said by his ear.
“Oh? Me neither.”
“I have a proposal, in light of the circumstances.” Hux waited, listening. “I vote you and I break away from Phaz, and just join her up later tonight when the real fun starts happening.” He pulled away, assessed the look of suspicion on Hux’s face, and moved back to the soft skin beneath Hux’s earlobe. “I can take you to some of the less crowded stages, you can see if you can get some shots of the statues they have out by Gobi?” Ren pulled away, smiling. It was so hard not to dance. This setlist was so good, so full of energy. Nervous, but feeling inspired by the music, Ren swayed a bit as he waited for Hux to answer him. Hux looked like he was going to smile but didn’t want to, and it was adorable. “Sound good?” Ren asked, grabbing Hux’s hands and forcing him to move along to the beat. Hux laughed out loud.
“You look like a complete moron!”
“Who cares, nobody knows us out here,” Ren twirled Hux in a circle, then brought him in close to hug him and lean over one shoulder. Hux smelled like the beach and pressed automatically backwards to fit into the curve of Ren’s chest. Ren felt himself vibrating with power, with the ability to make Hux bend even slightly. He smiled against the redhead’s shoulder. “We can do anything we want out here, and it won’t matter.”
“There are cops on horses, Ren, I think you’d get caught doing some things.”
“You’d be surprised,” Ren answered, pulling away to drag Hux to one of the other stages. He pulled out his phone to text Phasma they’d meet her at the ferris wheel in two hours so they could scrounge for dinner. He wasn’t sure if it went through, because he had almost no signal, but he didn’t really care.
Hux wasn’t fond of the statues at Gobi, but he seemed to bloom like a freshly watered plant at the Mojave tent. There were fewer people, and he seemed to delight in taking fifteen minutes to perfectly time several shots of a man throwing poi sticks in the air. Ren watched him, drinking him in, wondering if he was going to be like this the whole weekend. He was more than curious as to how Hux would kick back, if he would kick back. Hux eventually came over to where Kylo was relaxing and sat down beside him on the fake grass.
“Are you bored?” Hux asked.
“No, not at all, I like these guys. Whoever they are,” Kylo grinned. He had come this close to saying he liked watching Hux, but he worried that would make him feel self-conscious.
“I think…” Hux paused, trying to figure out how to word it. “I think I’m done taking pictures for now.”
“Are you enjoying yourself then?” Ren had to laugh at Hux’s immediate expression of contempt for Kylo even asking. “Alright. Want to grab a beer?”
They walked over to the beer garden lazily, showing their ID at the gate to get in to the age-restricted area. It was pretty full, being right before dinner and one of the only places to get drunk if you hadn’t snuck in booze yourself. Hux found a free couple of seats by the edge of the enclosure and went to sit. Once Ren bought over their beer, Hux took his with a smile that Ren didn’t recognize. Ren mirrored it automatically, and Hux glanced away with a shielded stare, like he’d been caught.
“Come on,” Ren said, sipping from his plastic cup, “don’t to that.”
“Stop yourself from having fun with me.” Ren watched Hux stiffen a bit, and he reached into the pocket underneath his camelback to pull out a flask. “I get it, I really do, especially since we’re alone. But you should relax. Here, take a swig.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing illegal. I just don’t feel like paying seven bucks for a drink here every time I want to get a bit of buzz.” Ren held out the flask, waving it in Hux’s direction. The redhead took it, hesitating only once; he unscrewed the top and took a long drink from it.
“Fuck,” Hux sputtered. “I hate warm vodka.”
“Almost as bad as warm beer,” Ren chuckled, taking the flask and tucking it back in the hidden pocket by his water bottle. “If you want more, you let me know.”
“No thank you. I’d prefer sunscreen.”
“What, to drink?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Pardon me,” Ren mocked, slipping his bag off his shoulders. He grinned at his own joke, down into his bag where Hux probably couldn’t see. “I’m sure I have some spray in here somewhere.”
“Why are you being so accomodating?” Hux asked, making Ren pause in his searching through his backpack. “Offering me rides on your shoulders, letting me drink your booze, telling me we can leave the bigger crowds, applying goddamn sunscreen to me. Why go through the effort?”
“I already told you,” Ren said, annoyed that Hux was making him repeat himself. Ren tossed Hux a can of spray sunscreen, and he watched the redhead spritz some over his arms and face. He looked super young when he did that, it was beyond charming. Ren struggled to keep a straight face.
“I gave you a hint. You keep calling me stupid, but you can’t figure this out for yourself?” Ren laughed cruelly. He was rather enjoying this dance.
“I need a reminder,” Hux admitted once he’d rubbed the sunscreen into the skin around his lips and thought for a moment without any luck.
“Hmm…” Ren swirled his beer around, letting the foam collect a bit around the edges. He watched Hux put the sunscreen back in his bag. “Remember the first time I kissed you?”
“It would be hard to forget.” Hux’s tone was not wistful, it was resentful.
“Tell me about it,” Ren prodded.
“You pushed me. Right up against your charcoal scratch marks,” Hux said without hesitation. Ren glanced up, watching Hux remember, listening as the trace of disgruntlement dropped from his voice. He was staring off in the distance, watching the Ferris Wheel turn against the horizon while he pulled out details of their first kiss. “You used your entire body to make that piece, you worked so hard on the dynamic movement. I watched you put yourself into it. And then you pressed me up against it like it didn’t even matter. I left handprints and everything, and it didn’t matter to you.”
“It mattered,” Ren said gently, not wanting the memory of it to fade from Hux’s eyes. “You ruined it, but you also made it better.”
“Careful, Ren,” Hux warned with a smile, still not looking at him. “People are going to think you have some sort of desperate crush on me.”
“What if I do?” Hux glanced over, his expression horrified. It made Ren laugh out loud. “Would that really be so bad!”
“I hate you in so many ways,” Hux insisted.
“I know,” Ren smiled to himself.
“Ha! It’s not like that at all. You’re just as much an inspiration as you are a pretentious fuck.”
“Hmm…” the metaphor seemed to please Hux irrationally, even as Ren insulted him. “Explain,” he ordered as he lifted the beer to his lips once more.
“I can’t get complacent around you. Around you, that darkness I cover the canvas with will always be dynamic, always ever-changing. I gotta keep on my toes, what with your ever-critical eye looming over my shoulder and all that. That might be what I like so much about you.” Ren finished off his beer, then stood up. “You ready?”
“Ready for what?” Hux asked, like he both hoped and dreaded the answer.
“To go see the next show at Gobi.” Ren held out his hand. He was surprised when Hux took it and followed him out of the crowd, finishing his beer on the walk and throwing the cup away at the gate.
Hux felt tipsy and sunkissed, a warm combination that made him feel like an ember aglow in the crowd of burning people. He and Ren were swaying with everyone, only slightly dancing. He could feel anxiety on the edge of his vision, but was keeping it pleasantly at bay. However, that (paired with the glow of the sun he was absorbing) made him unstable. He felt on the verge of collapsing, weakness threatening to take over- but he couldn’t be sure in what sense. He tugged on Ren’s shirtsleeve, desperate for a distraction.
“Pick me up.”
Ren didn’t have to be asked twice. He knelt, and Hux straddled his back. Ren lifted him, carried him higher. Hux reached up to the tent ceiling, watched the lights playing off of the canvas. Something in him was telling him that this was not who he was, this was contradictory, but he couldn’t be fucked to listen. What had Ren said, about nobody knowing who they were here? Nothing seemed to matter as much, when he put it that way. After only three songs, though, he hunched over and brought his lips to Ren’s ear.
Without putting him down Ren started wading through the crowd as the crescendo of the song burst forth. It was amazing, being in charge of him like this. If Ren had wanted to stay and dance, he wasn’t complaining. He was obeying Hux’s whim, immediately. It was a delicious respite from the brooding, sensitive artist Hux had clashed with at their university. When they took the studio out of the equation, Ren was almost… likeable.
Ren walked them through the crowds, and Hux tried to absorb everything so that he could forget that last thought. Luckily, Coachella seemed to offer an overstimulation of the senses now that the sun was setting. There was a fully mechanized, thirty foot tall, robot astronaut walking around, looking like something out of a fever dream, something that shouldn’t exist within their realm of reality. There were floating sculptures, like hot air balloons flying low, skimming over the edge of his vision and making him feel delirious. It sounded like nine artists were performing all at the same time, all with conflicting and cacophonous sounds, some close and some far. The lights, the sounds, the feel of Ren’s back under his stomach; it was overwhelming. And it wasn’t even dark yet.
They met up with Phasma and company for dinner, with Hux dismounting from Ren less than gracefully. He felt the urge to trail his hand along the exposed skin of Ren’s back as he let go, felt like Ren would’ve loved it-- but he felt more exposed than the drama queen beside him wearing a crop top and cutoffs.
He couldn’t begin to explain it. Just knowing that Phasma was around, that she and Mitaka knew him from outside of this heaven and hell of lights and darks, it made Hux less daring. He had a standard to uphold, representing not only himself around them but their club. Secretly, he wished he could shed that part of himself, just as Ren had suggested he do before. He craved being alone with Ren again, yearned for a chance to test out this crush Ren claimed to have. Hux wondered if Ren would kiss him again, if he would try to do more. What were the limits here, if nobody knew who they were?
The problem was, there were people who did know who they were surrounding them. Even when he noticed that Phasma was awfully giggly, usually her tell for being high off her gourd, Hux just couldn’t get past it. Even when Mitaka practically fell asleep at the picnic table, Hux couldn’t be rid of his shell. The fact that he craved becoming nobody so much had him questioning himself.
Hux spent most of their meal -an expensive but delicious one- trying to convince himself that Ren was probably just infatuated with him because Hux was his better. At first, when Hux was still warm from the straight vodka and beer he’d chugged, it was easy to do so. Something like an ego stroke. It began to sound more and more hollow the more his buzz wore off, however. It began to sound like nervous denial. The appeal of staying in his head wore off just as quickly as the alcohol, and Hux tried to distract himself with music instead of thoughts.
The group walked around from tent to tent, Hux losing himself in a few songs and swaying a bit to the music, but otherwise he felt slightly empty. Even though he knew he should be experiencing the festival, his mind was occupied with Ren.
To make matters worse, Ren seemed to not have a care in the world. The asshole was acting like he hadn’t said anything potentially life ruining in the beer garden. He kept dancing stupidly, like normal, like when he had spun Hux before and held him close without having any reason to.
Around ten or so, Hux wasn’t exactly sure, Mitaka had to go to the emergency tent. The idiot hadn’t drunk any water since they’d gotten to the festival, and everyone was less than sympathetic as the night started to wear down and the vodka flask was emptied. Both of Vitas’ nameless friends went with him to get him a hydration drip, while Vitas herself stuck around the trio and rummaged in her bag for something. When the group split, she brought out a little baggie of pills.
“I hear the Sahara tent is going to be spiritual,” she shouted, opening the ziploc and laying one of the tablets on her tongue. Phasma reached for the bag automatically, grabbing out one of the tiny pills and swallowing it down. Vitas offered it to Hux, and he found himself staring at Ren for direction. Ren raised an eyebrow, and then shook his head.
“First night’s always sober for me,” Ren said, “I want to fully experience the depth of the music, with only my mind as the enhancer.” Hux thought his eyes were going to fall out, he rolled them so hard. Ren leaned over, sticking the camelback tube in his mouth. “You shut up and hydrate.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Hux said past the soft tube in his mouth. He was thirsty, though.
“You didn’t have to,” Ren said, pointedly watching Hux’s neck as he swallowed. Hux flushed, realizing slowly that the sensation of Ren recognizing and watching him was vastly different from that of the others knowing who he was. This, he liked.
It took about twenty minutes for them to move through the crowds over to Sahara, where a huge crowd had gathered under the lit canvas tent to see a famous DJ blast EDM over the eager congregation. Ren grabbed Hux’s hand as the crowd pushed forward, a living entity with a mind of its own. Phasma and Vitas were lost to it, panting over the glowsticks and maddening rhythms of the music absolutely submerging them. Hux lost his breath at one point, when the crowd lifted up as if they were all of one mind and then began to jump when the DJ commanded it. It was a weirdly spiritual thing, being sober and yet being completely encapsulated by the crowd mentality. Hux found it terrifying, and beautiful, and harrowing. He vowed he would never admit it to anyone.
When a lull came over the crowd as the mix began to take a new twist, and when Hux was about ready to kick the asshole next to him for stepping on his feet for the twentieth time in the last hour, Ren pulled him to the side. Hux followed, not like he had many choices when Ren had him by the wrist. They waded to a more shallow part of the crowd, where drunk people swayed and couples danced on the frayed edges between tents when they couldn’t decide which artist they wanted to see more.
Hux went to ask what they were doing, but Ren whirled him around and pushed him up against one of the tent support poles. In a second, Ren was kissing him, his lips pressed against Hux’s and tasting of salt and slightly like the rubber of the camelback. Hux pulled away at first, agonized at this being in public. He kept thinking to how he’d gripped onto Ren so desperately in the studio the first time, how frantic he’d been for more, how he’d had to end it before they’d gotten carried away. How could people watch that, how could he let people see that?
But Ren didn’t push Hux any further. He stood there, seemingly content to tease Hux with soft caresses in tempo to the music that crashed against them in wave after wave. It began to pick up, and Hux felt Ren’s leg between his thighs. He opened them for Ren, let him press closer, and even reached his hands up to grab the skin of the back he’d been teased with all day. When Hux pulled him back into an insistent kiss, Ren groaned against his mouth, and Hux had never felt more powerful.
The tempo shifted once more, their kiss matching pace, Ren’s hands tangled in Hux’s hair, Hux’s hands in the waistband of Kylo’s pants, their palms grazing the last droplets of sunshine from each other’s skin as the lights of the night shifted and glossed over them in an anonymous bath of divinity. They could be anyone, making out in the corner as the bass dropped, and it was all the drug they needed. Hux rode the high, grabbing Kylo fiercely when the feverpitch of the music reached a crescendo and fell away from them, leaving them feeling like the pit of their stomachs had dropped out. Hux deepened the kiss, felt incandescent when Kylo respond in kind by slamming him harder against the support pole in his desperation.
Hux wished to god they had a tent they could go back to, wished they had privacy to finish what they were starting. But it was going to be three days of this torture, of having Ren so close and knowing that he would do whatever Hux wanted if he only asked, without a space for them to release any of it. He knew he should stop, should slow things down before he grew too infatuated with the sensation, but Hux found it impossible with the way Ren’s warm tongue grazed against his. Growing more daring, testing his boundaries, Hux moved his hand from where it was gripping Ren’s ass and trailed it along his hipbone until Ren reached down and caught his hand to stop him. He dragged his mouth from Hux’s, moved it to his ear.
“If you really want to jerk me off here in front of everyone, I won’t stop you,” Ren warned, “So you’d better be careful where you put your hands.”
“You’d let me do that to you?” Hux shouted by his ear, afraid he’d hurt Ren’s eardrum but more frightened that he wouldn’t hear the question. In answer, Ren pulled back and searched Hux’s face for a reaction. Sensing no hesitation, Ren moved Hux’s hand forward, past the front of his boxer’s, never breaking eye contact. Hux looked away first, looked towards the sea of people moving and growing ever more frantic as the DJ led them to yet another crest. They were searching, just like Ren, for immediate release. Hux, like the man at the podium in front of the throng of people, held all of the power within the palm of his hand.
He was lucky Ren liked his cutoffs loose and low slung. It gave Hux enough access to slip his hand around his massive erection (had he seriously gotten this hard just from kissing?) but still left very little wiggle room, so to speak. Before Hux had time to evaluate what he was doing, Ren was kissing him again. Hux faded back into himself, his own obvious arousal pressing hard into the front of his khaki cargos and against Ren’s thigh. Ren began to move against him in long, slow gyrations, his hands roaming over Hux’s body as he used Hux’s hand for his own pleasure. The music swelled, the pace quickened, Ren’s tongue found entrance into Hux’s mouth, tangled with his, and Hux felt as if he were the one steadily approaching a public orgasm instead of Ren.
As if he could sense it, Ren slowed down. He kissed him more lightly as the crescendo hit and faded, ground less aggressively into Hux’s palm as the music tempo changed with the mix. His teeth let go of Hux’s lip (even though Hux didn’t remember him biting it to begin with) and his ragged breath drew a line from Hux’s mouth down to his neck as if he were taking a break and steeling himself for the next onslaught of an attack.
“I don’t want you to finish like this,” Hux said with difficulty. He did want Ren to finish, desperately. He wanted it to the point where it physically hurt. However. “Not in front of everyone. Not tonight.”
“Why not?” Ren asked, curious but obedient.
“I’d like it way too much,” Hux answered, his voice steady and raw. Ren’s cock throbbed in his hand, as if he loved that idea more than the idea of his own orgasm. Before he could get carried away, Hux pulled his hand from Ren’s waistband and slid it along the length of his abdomen. “Just kiss me,” he said against Ren’s mouth. “Slow. Build me up.” Ren moved in as if to obey him, but Hux moved back slightly so that he could add, “And maybe I’ll reward you later.” Ren groaned in delicious agony, circling his hips near Hux’s.
“Anything you want, and nothing you don’t,” Ren said, dragging his mouth to Hux’s ear to make sure he heard him. And then he had captured Hux’s mouth again in a languid kiss, as if to reassure Hux that he wouldn’t regret the decision. The music peaked, burst forth in a glittering arc of lasers and fog, and Hux swore he heard the lyrics, I need this , but he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t in his head.