They say that if you stare into the abyss for long enough, it stares back at you. Kylo considered this quote as he scrutinised the inside of his fridge carefully. Anything that stared back was probably too far gone to eat.
He was out of cigarettes, and whiskey, and fucks to give about whether he had any clean shirts left. But he did have pizza, which he decided was withered but still edible. He’d get more later. The pizza place up the street pretty much just sent him another large pepperoni with mushrooms every three days whether or not he bothered to place an order.
If he died, Kylo thought morosely as he shuffled from the kitchen with the last slice clamped between his teeth, the pizza place would probably be the only ones who noticed.
Well. That wasn't quite true. Hux would notice. But he wouldn't care. He’d probably call Kylo and lecture him until his corpse got back up and did another three thousand words.
He sat back down at his desk and leaned on his elbow as he gnawed at the pizza. He’d done two thousand so far today, and it had felt like five, and all of it was leaden and awful and he knew exactly what he was going to get back if he tried to submit it. It would work, eventually - it had to. He had to have this novel in Hux's hands, complete and entire, in six weeks. And Hux would annoy him until it happened, presumably because Snoke was waiting for him to do his bit and deliver unto First Order House the latest Kylo Ren pop-horror money-spinner.
His first three novels had gone straight to the top of the NYT Bestseller List, and he knew if he could just make this one do what he wanted it to it would join them; they weren't the most amazing works of literature, but they were good, dark and compelling and possessing a reasonably tight plot and characters most people seemed to like. He set them in small towns, usually - the East Coast was a little bit done to death, but you couldn’t beat it for built-in atmospheric creepiness and the feeling that the only reason that supernatural and horrifying things hadn’t come lurching out of the woods yet was because Stephen King was keeping them all busy levelling Maine.
The third one had been the best yet, the closest to the book he’d had in his head at the start. This one was better. Or at least, it would be - if he could just finish this goddamn Chapter 7.
He’d gone to Snoke two months ago with the outline of his fourth novel, expecting the senior editor to take on the project as he had taken on the first three. He’d always had a personal interest in Kylo’s career, right from the beginning - had even helped him pick his pen name. (He’d never liked Ben as a first name, and Organa-Solo was too unwieldy to look good on a cover.)
But - “I won't be taking this one on as your editor,” Snoke had said silkily. “You see, First Order House is requiring more of my time as Managing Director. So I’ve handpicked the new senior editor. He’ll be working with you from now on, and I'm absolutely certain you’ll be able to turn out just as high-quality a product as always.” He’d smiled at Kylo’s increasing horror. “Don't worry. You’ll like him.”
He had, actually, liked Hux for about five minutes. Snoke had pointed him and his outline at the office that belonged to the new guy, and left him to wait in the chairs outside Hux’s door. Hux didn’t have an admin guarding him, not once you’d gotten this far, but he was on a phone call.
He had a nice voice, Kylo had decided. English, of the very-well-your-Majesty variety - higher-pitched, crisp, efficient-sounding. The window in the door revealed also that he was startlingly redheaded, and about Kylo’s own age, and stunningly, pointily, pretty, with green eyes and… that was quite a mouth. He was biting gently at his lower lip as he thought, and Kylo wanted to offer to do it for him.
He’d leaned on the doorframe until Hux had finished his call, and then let himself in, offering Hux his best smile, the warm and slightly goofy one that he’d found tended to put people at ease.
That was when everything had gone wrong, because Hux had looked up and seen him, and Kylo almost forgot the mouth, and the eyes, and all of it, in how much Hux suddenly looked like all the librarians who had ever shushed him.
“Hi,” he tried anyway. “I’m, uh.”
“I know who you are,” Hux said briskly. “I’ve been looking at your author photo for the last fortnight, since Snoke told me I needed to read all of your books because I was about to be taking a critical role in the midwifery of any further sequels. I hope you’re not going to be one of those authors who believes they’re above being edited - from what I read, Snoke’s been soft on you.”
Kylo tipped his head to the side, a little. “So… you didn’t like them?”
Hux looked levelly at him. “They’re commercial. They’re not to my taste. And I believe you can do better.”
Kylo laughed uncomfortably. “That’s the weirdest compliment anyone ever gave me, dude.”
And Hux actually twitched: “Don’t call me ‘dude’,” he said, the word suddenly alien in his accent. “Or ‘man’, or ‘buddy’, or ‘bro’. We’re adults. Call me Hux.”
“Okay, Hux,” Kylo said, and he could feel the sneer on his face but didn’t feel like reining it in. Touchy little bastard. “You can call me Kylo.”
“You go by your pen name?” Hux wasn’t holding back his incredulity either.
“I do, actually.” Kylo stood, and put the four pages of his outline down on Hux’s desk with a firm pat. “Here’s the newest underwhelming commercial garbage. You should probably read it.”
Then he made himself very tall and stalked out and away from those cold eyes, and went home and wrote a scene where a tall redheaded man was brutally eviscerated by some creature lurking in a dark alleyway.
In the morning there had been an email that simply read: Send it through when you’ve actually written it. H.
He’d ploughed through nearly three chapters in that first week, just on the power of wanting to show him, to make it clear just how good he was, what a prize he was to First Order House and how much Hux should be impressed.
They came back to him bleeding red ink: Hux had mercilessly weeded out all of Kylo's stunting along with tidying his punctuation and his spelling. He’d struck the entire half-chapter poetic allusion to Paradise Lost with the margin note Write your own story. He hated the main character and seemed to care a great deal more about their best friend, who wasn't even important and who Kylo had been planning to kill in Chapter 7 to give the main character some serious motivation. And he'd recommended moving half of Chapter 3 into Chapter 1, for “resonance”, as if that was a thing.
Kylo had wished for physical manuscript so that he could have thrown it down and jumped on it, or crunched it into a ball, or done anything that might have vented some of his anger. Who was this asshole, anyway, and where the fuck did he get off?
He had done some digging, after that, determined to find out. All he could work out was that Hux had come up through Arkanis, the technical publishing arm of First Order House, and had credits on a couple of dozen textbooks. Some of them were even writing credits. Okay, but how did that possibly qualify him to handle fiction?
That much was not revealed by his research, and he retreated to his tiny balcony to sulk and smoke and stare at the glowing monitor on his desk, still displaying Hux’s terse commentary. He didn’t smoke that much these days, but he thought maybe he might grab another pack when he went to get milk.
Out of cussedness, mostly, he saved a second version of the document, one with all Hux’s changes made so he could remember what they were if he wanted them for some reason, and kept working on the first one. His work had been good enough before, and the first three books hadn’t had much done to them - but they hadn’t needed it, or Snoke would obviously have done more, that was what editors did. Hux was just trying to intimidate him. It wouldn’t work.
Two drafts later, he was briefly considering being intimidated. Not because Hux’s edits were getting any less insulting. They were not. Kylo had written the second draft, leaving out nearly all of the suggestions; it had come back to him with one note, and one note only. I will call you at 10am sharp, and you will pick up.
Hux had called. Or at least, the phone had rung. Kylo had turned the ringer all the way down and then stuffed it into his sock drawer and let it go for about ten minutes before he pulled it out again.
Hux had not called him back. Kylo had looked at the missed call notification for a moment, then dismissed it with a sharp and satisfying flick.
But that afternoon Snoke had called, and that call Kylo had taken.
“I’m glad you called, actually,” he’d said, tucking the phone against his shoulder for a second while he poured a cup of coffee. “I needed to talk to you about Hux, I don't think he knows what he's doing and he's -”
“Ben,” Snoke had interrupted, and that wasn't a very good sign at all. He hadn't been ‘Ben’ since the last time he’d cursed out a journalist. “I need you to listen very carefully right now.”
“Okay,” he said. “Sir.”
“Do you believe that I do not know what I am doing?”
“No, no, of course you do,” Kylo said hastily. “It’s just Hux -”
“I chose him out of a field of dozens. I handpicked him, I believe I told you that at our last meeting. And would I have given him charge of the prize of First Order House if he wasn't the best man for the job?”
“But he's not, sir,” Kylo said. “He’s really not.”
“That is enough,” Snoke said sharply. “You will do as I say, Mr. Organa-Solo, if you would like to keep your publishing contract. And that includes treating your editor - my senior editor - as though his suggestions were my own. Am I quite clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Kylo had said mutinously.
The moment Snoke had hung up he’d scrolled to his missed calls and pressed on the one from Hux.
It rang, and rang, and Kylo gritted his teeth harder with every ring. Fucking tattletale, he’d give him something to run and whine to Snoke about.
“You’ve reached Hux,” said the smooth English voice in his ear; “I’m sorry I can't take your call, but if you’ll -”
He wrenched the phone away from his ear with a growl of frustration and hung up, wishing for an old-fashioned handset he could have slammed down. Instead he threw himself down in front of his keyboard and hammered at it:
Very mature, running to the teacher. I don't have to listen to you.
He hit send before he could think better of it, and then stomped outside with his lighter and his cigarettes. Somehow he’d gone through half a pack this week already, and it was only Wednesday, which meant this was being upgraded from a casual vice to an actual habit. Damn Hux.
There was an email waiting for him when he came back in.
Actually, I believe you’ll find you do. I would have preferred to discuss this like adults, but that clearly wasn't going to be possible.
Remember I need Chapter 4 on Friday.
And so, the intimidation, or at least the pretense of it; he hated to admit it, but if Hux had Snoke in his corner, then Kylo wasn’t going to win this one. Not yet, anyway. Not this way. But - it could be done, and he thought he knew how.
He spent the night rereading the first three chapters, the way Hux had left them, and then his version, and trying very hard to read Hux's mind.
In the morning he’d rolled up his sleeves - figuratively, the bathrobe wouldn't stay like that - and gotten stuck in. Hux had a habit of shortening his sentences, breaking them up and shifting them. He liked commas, and didn't like repetition, not unless it became anaphora. He clarified and asked for clarity. He liked flashbacks kept close to their point of causation. He liked explanations.
All right then. Kylo would just write like that. If he could turn in a manuscript that was perfectly Huxed, so perfectly that the man himself had nothing to say about it, then maybe he could go to Snoke and plead his case for freedom from the ginger tyrant.
What the hell is this? read the note on Chapter Four. Have you suffered a stroke? Should I be concerned?
This doesn't even read as though you wrote it. I’m not sure what you're trying to do. I can see there's plot under there, but it's an awful mess from start to finish. I’m not even going to waste time trying to fix it. Burn it, do a ground-up rewrite, and get it to me Monday.
If you paid someone on the internet to write this for you, which is all I can think to assume, you should ask for your money back.
Kylo was lucky that his walls were thick and his neighbours were tolerant. He’d gone on minor rampages before, but now, sitting in the wreckage of his living room, trying to catch his breath and wondering if he might have broken his hand, he was conscious of the fact that had he not owned the place there would currently be hell to pay.
He righted the coffee table, slowly. That had been the most satisfying crash, when he’d sent the books and papers and dishes on it flying. He knew he’d smashed at least two cups and a plate. Then he'd overturned the sofa, which hadn't been as easy as it should have: he really needed to get back to the gym. He’d thrown anything that came to hand for a little while. There was a new book-spine-shaped dent in the wall, and then the hole where he’d actually punched it.
He wiggled his fingers carefully, and decided he hadn't actually broken anything. That was good. His throat hurt a little from yelling, but he’d be all right.
The ottoman had been intact, if upside down, and he’d collapsed on it when the last of the rage had drained away. Now he rested his head on his uninjured hand and pushed his sweaty hair back. It was a little like throwing up: eventually things built up to a point where they just had to come out, hang the consequences, and the best he could hope for was that he’d feel better afterwards. But it was exhausting and he wasn't sure yet whether he really did feel better.
He needed a drink. And a new editor, but obviously that was going to be a lot harder than he’d thought.
He levered himself up off the ottoman with some difficulty, bracing himself on the coffee table; it gave an alarming creak and he reminded himself to check its legs later. His own legs were wobbly enough with the adrenaline crash, but he’d recover. He just knew he’d forget about the table until some point later, when it was covered in important things or he was using it as a stepstool. Or both.
While he swept shards of ceramic off the floorboards, he contemplated the best tactical move out of those left to him. At least he could go back to writing normally. His brain hurt, trying to think in Hux's rigid patterns. They didn't suit him at all. He wanted to write more fluidly, more naturally - less of the didactic academic prose and more like listening to a conversation. Hux couldn't take out all of his style in his efforts to impose order on it. Not that he had tried to get rid of all of it, to be fair, but it felt greatly diminished by the restraint. And this was his book, and he would write it how he liked.
Hux was right about one thing at least. If his gambit hadn't worked, then Chapter 4 was a total loss. He was almost glad about that. He’d forced it into a shape it didn't want to be, just to fit the way he’d had to write it. He didn't honestly know what he would have done if he'd had to try to write the rest of the book that way. It was terrifically hard to write small-town psychological horror without reaching directly for the reader’s lizard-brain and squeezing - all the appeal lay in the fact that the demons lurking under the bowling alley and the general store were the same as the ones that lived under every bed. Even Kylo's. Maybe especially his. He knew a passage was particularly effective when it made him look behind his own doors for a couple of days, and he cherished the thought that someday he’d write something that kept him awake at night wondering if he had invented it, or only put a name to something that had been there all along. Waiting. Whispering until it was finally heard.
But thinking over what he had, and what he was building on top of, as he corralled the mess he’d made enough to be able to live in it, he realised quite suddenly that he’d been on the wrong track. Without even noticing it, while he’d been trying to tell the story he’d had in mind, he’d simultaneously laid the groundwork for something quite different. Which was excellent, because if he started to lean into the left turn now, he could see how he could get the readers halfway through Chapter 6 before any but the sharpest eyes picked up on the approaching cliff jump.
He propped the broom up against the upended sofa and turned on his heel, chuckling to himself at his own cleverness. The debris would wait until the words ran out. This was too good an idea to risk losing.
At 2am, with his forearms aching and his eyes full of hot sand, and Chapter 6 fully complete, he hit send on the email to Hux. He was exhausted beyond bearing, beyond the point where he could do any further good, so he would stop. But he felt like he had brought something genuinely worthwhile into the world, something that really showed him at his best and had set up the rest of the book to be so much better than it would have been, and as he tumbled himself into his bed and let sleep drag him under, he smiled. See what the little martinet thought of that.
His phone was ringing. He dragged himself up from the pillow just far enough to grab it and try to silence it, but in the process, hit the slider to answer the call.
“Ugh,” he groaned at it, half-crushing it into his cheek with the pillow as he subsided on top of it. “What.”
“It’s Hux,” said the voice on the other end, and Kylo contemplated hanging up on him, but realised he’d have to move to do that. “I thought you might like to know I’ve been awake all night.”
“Why?” Kylo said, intending it to mean such a very large number of things.
Hux sighed. “Because I opened that bloody email when you sent it, read it, and then spent the next several hours convinced that something unspeakable was going to surge up from the basement and drag me back to a shadowy underworld with it. Consequently, I need several litres of extremely strong coffee, and wondered if you might need some too.”
“What were you doing awake at two?” Kylo asked, because that was the least confusing part and he thought he should start there.
“Work,” Hux said dismissively. “Kylo, how could you send me such absolute rubbish on Friday, when you can clearly do so much better? This new version is an immense improvement.”
“I was trying something,” Kylo said. “It didn't work, I guess.”
“It most certainly did not,” Hux said. “I meant what I said, about it not even being worth fixing. I’m glad you didn't try.”
“Wait. What other work are you even doing, if you weren't working on my stuff?”
“Snoke hasn't just given me your book, you know.” Hux sounded amused at the idea. “I’ve a lot of reading to do - I’ve been given the job of finding the next Rey Skywalker before Resistance Press does. After the loss of Finn Williams, Snoke knows First Order is depending too heavily on your sales to be able to do well if something doesn't go according to plan.”
Kylo scowled at a spot on the wall, imagining the faces of his rivals. He wasn't sure who he hated more. Finn, he’d thought was his friend, at least enough to talk over ideas. Finn wrote crime novels, which should have been sufficiently different to Kylo's claustrophobic horror stories that it was safe to talk shop. But he'd taken an element he’d known damn well Kylo had been planning to build a book around, made a bestseller out of it, and taken said bestseller to Resistance Press over some bullshit about contract terms. The rumour was that he’d started dating Rey Jakku, the romance novelist who wrote under the name Rey Skywalker, very shortly after having met her at the party their senior editor had thrown to welcome Finn. And the less said about Rey Jakku, the better.
Even thinking about them, and about the whole mess that was Resistance Press, was enough to sour Kylo's mood beyond repair. The idea that this book might make or break his entire publisher was also deeply unwelcome. No pressure, no pressure at all.
“What did you want, Hux?” he said wearily. “Just to call me up and talk about how this book better be terrific or my rivals will dance on the grave of all our careers? Because I gotta tell you, I really didn't need that at whatever o’clock it is in the morning.”
“I.” Hux paused for what seemed like a long time, and Kylo wondered if he'd missed something. “No, actually, never mind,” Hux said. His voice sounded different, almost like he was flustered. “It’s fine. Just keep going the way you’ve begun. I’ll talk to you soon.”
His phone made the bleep that meant that Hux had hung up, and he huffed out a sigh of mostly irritation. What the hell had that been in aid of? Now he was awake, and - wait.
His brain had just caught up to the beginning of the conversation. Had Hux actually asked him to meet him for coffee?
He’d. He’d complimented Kylo. And asked if he wanted to get coffee.
Wait wait wait. No. What the hell.
Kylo dragged the phone out from under his face and called Hux back immediately, even though he had literally no idea what he was going to say. Probably ask him to clarify, or maybe check he hadn't been abducted by aliens and replaced with an exact doppelganger.
The call rang out, and Kylo growled at Hux's voicemail message, hung up and rolled over, burying his face deep in the pillow. This day was already unsalvageable and he’d barely even woken up. He wanted a reset on it.
The process of throwing out his old plot and reframing the story in its new shape took Kylo a day or two. He still thought it had legs, but the wild excitement of that first rush had gone, and he knew he was overthinking it. He kept dwelling on that conversation - on the idea that if this book didn't sell twice as well as the others, First Order was done for. And on whether or not Hux could possibly have been trying to ask him out. And what Kylo would have said, if he was.
Hux hadn't called, which made things harder. His emails, what few there had been, had been straight to the point, no wasted words, and no further compliments. Write more, and make it good. England clearly expected that every man should do his duty.
Kylo hadn't felt awfully inclined to, though. The sofa had looked more and more attractive, and he’d taken more naps - ostensibly it was to lie down and think, but it turned into that sort of light doze in which he sometimes came up with something brilliant, but more often lost an hour. He hadn't gotten more than 500 words a day since that marathon.
After a week of that, Hux did call, and at a more reasonable late-afternoon time, too.
He sounded frustrated. “You’re not going to meet your quota this week. I thought you'd really gotten it off the ground.”
“Yeah, well.” Kylo leaned back in his chair. He couldn't decide if he was irritated with Hux or not. “So did I. But I guess not. That's the way these things go.”
Hux paused, one of those long awkward pauses he was so fond of. “I can't help wondering,” he said, “if I'm slightly responsible for this drop in your output.”
Kylo's stomach dropped. “What do you mean?” he asked, too quickly. Was he going to mention the coffee, was he going to mention the coffee, what the fuck was Kylo going to say about the coffee -
“I shouldn't have told you about the sales figures situation,” Hux said, and Kylo chewed on his lower lip a bit, trying to calm himself with the small sharp pain. “I overstepped, and I'm sorry. It's my job to help you write, not to pressure you to the point where you can’t.”
“It’s okay,” Kylo said. Even though it didn't feel okay - it felt weird, to have Hux apologising to him when it was him who was lying around on the sofa and not putting words on the page.
“Nonetheless,” Hux said briskly. “We’ve found one or two writers with manuscripts we think will help pick up the slack, so you needn't concern yourself with your sales figures before you’ve even finished the book.” He cleared his throat a little. “And if there is anything I can do to help you write more, or faster, you ought to ask. I do believe in this book, you know.”
“You give me a lot of shit for someone who's on my team,” Kylo pointed out. He could feel a smile trying to push at the corners of his mouth.
“I don't know, I think on the whole that's worked rather well, so far,” Hux said, and Kylo was almost completely positive he was smiling too.
So he’d made himself go back to the computer, and he’d written three thousand lumpy and leaden words, half of which he deleted the next day, but at least he was trying, and he got to feel good about that. And the next day, he had an email from Hux that just contained a picture of a bullwhip, and that almost made him laugh.
It had been two weeks after that of uninspired writing and unhappy deleting, and he knew Hux was disappointed with what he’d had to offer. He wasn’t sure where the fire had gone, and Hux ripped apart the chapter the same way he’d torn up one through three, and it wasn’t any good all of a sudden. And neither were they: Hux’s notes were getting shorter, and sharper, and there wasn’t that sense that he’d been smiling when he wrote them.
Kylo understood, of course. Hux only liked him so long as he wasn't actively making Hux's life more difficult. He had his own workload, and if he micromanaged every other author as much as he had Kylo, no wonder he never slept. His was probably a system that relied on every person in it providing the precise input required at the precise time required. Kylo was failing him, and he was irritated, and all of that made too much sense to ignore.
He’d buckled down and worked harder, and taken more smoke breaks and drunk more whiskey to try to fill the place where his inspiration was supposed to live with something, anything. He didn’t want to stop working, even though it wasn’t getting him anywhere. He had been living on pizza, because it would come to him, and then he didn’t have to leave, or stop, or interact with people who didn’t live in the town of Milton Bay, which was someday, by the grace of all of the Muses, maybe going to finally get around to being consumed by an eldritch horror. He hadn’t seen anyone in days and days and days, apart from the kid who dropped off the pizzas, and even he was starting to give Kylo weird looks.
He knew it was strange, but he kept thinking about the way Hux had spoken to him, when he’d thought he'd owed it to Kylo to be a little bit kind to him. Kylo had spent more time than was good for him wondering, like worrying at the edge of a wound: what would have happened if Kylo had lived up to Hux's expectations, if he'd turned in the next two chapters as fast as the last two - if this writer's block had just let go of him. If he hadn't fucked everything up like he always did. Would Hux have become friendly, by now? Would Kylo be used to hearing something other than mild to moderate disdain when Hux spoke?
It didn't matter, and he knew it didn't. As things stood, Hux didn’t want to talk to him unless he was writing, and unless he was going to someday, somehow, finish Chapter 7. So fine. He would write.
But after so long on the same fucking thing that wouldn’t fucking work, Kylo felt like an old sock, worn past the point of softness and into unusability. Any moment a thread would let go and bang, there would be a hole in him and something important would be unprotected.
And the longer he stared at the same stupid paragraphs that still, still didn't fucking work, the more his deadline was starting to catch up with him, the actual threat of contract default looming in addition to the disapproval that was radiating off of each and every email from Hux.
He wasn’t sleeping very much anymore, and when he did, there were nightmares - not the helpful kind, either, that he could write down for future material. Nightmares about Snoke parading him naked, on a leash, through the printing floor; nightmares where hundreds of people turned up to signings, and there were no books for him to sign, because he couldn’t fucking write them, and everyone was there for him to apologise to them so they could laugh in his face.
Nightmares where he knocked on Hux’s door, and Hux looked up and right through him, and couldn’t see or hear him.
It was after a long night of chasing an illusory Hux through a road with heavy traffic, shouting his name to no avail, that the real thing called, and that was all the explanation Kylo had for the fact that when Hux asked, “How are you?”, Kylo replied:
“I’m an old sock.”
“Hm,” said Hux, with more equanimity than he probably deserved. “Are you an old sock with a chapter for me?”
“Fucking -” He made himself stop, and take a breath. “You know I’m not. I can’t fucking write, Hux, I don’t know. I can’t. It’s all shit.”
“You can,” Hux said. “You have. And you will.”
“It doesn’t work like that!” Kylo shouted. “Obviously I have, but I can’t right now, and I don’t know why. I’m losing my mind over it, don’t you think I’d just… fucking turn it back on if it was that easy?”
“You’re being dramatic,” Hux said, which was probably the most infuriating thing he could possibly have chosen to say.
Kylo hung up on him.
He stared at his phone for a few moments; whatever this was, welling up in his chest, he needed Hux not to know about it.
And then it rang again, with the picture of the bullwhip he’d set as Hux’s contact photo filling his screen. He didn’t know why he answered it.
“Listen. Old sock.” Hux was so calm Kylo wanted to punch him. “When was the last time you had a proper meal?”
Kylo felt something snap inside of him - the last nerve, the last straw - and he heard himself say the words, more than he actually had any awareness of saying them. “Come out for dinner with me.”
“Excuse me?” Hux said sharply.
“I mean it. Come out for dinner with me.” Kylo’s heart was racing. “You said, if there’s anything you can do, ask. Well. I’m asking. I don’t know when the last time was that I ate something that didn’t come in cardboard or Styrofoam. I can’t sleep and I can’t write and I’m wearing out in all the important places -” and there was the hole, and he could see how it would ladder but couldn’t stop talking - “and just, that’s all. Come out for dinner with me.”
Hux was working on another one of his trademark silences. “Would this,” he said eventually, very carefully, “be a work-related dinner?”
“I don’t fucking know,” Kylo said. “It’s a meal, okay? It doesn’t have to be a huge thing.”
“Are you capable of making anything not be a huge thing?” Hux asked.
He was fucking laughing at him.
That was it. Kylo slammed his phone down on his desk, hard enough that a crack spidered up across one corner of the screen and the display went black. He didn’t care if he’d just hung up on Hux. And then it was there, and it was broken, and everything he owned was broken, so he threw it for good measure, as hard as he could, taking a sick enjoyment in the crack as it hit the wall on the other side of the room.
He sent half the stuff on his desk after it, but just smashing things wasn’t helping, wasn’t taking enough of the edge off. He could feel the burning in his throat, his eyes and sinuses prickling.
He was not going to fucking cry, not about this, not about him, not about anything.
The instant his fist hit the wall he realised:
For a glorious second, that he was chaos incarnate and could break whatever he wanted;
That if he’d moved three inches to the left or the right, he would have been fine;
That where he’d hit, there was a stud, a big fucking two-by-four bolted immovably into the skeleton of the building;
And then, in a slow and awful wave, that some of the many tiny bones that made up his right hand and fingers were not where they were supposed to be anymore, and that that was a very bad thing.
A second later the pain caught up with him, and he couldn’t move his hand. He just clutched it to his chest with his other hand and tried to breathe through it.
It would, he realised dimly as a coda, probably be okay if he cried now.
His phone was broken, and lost somewhere under something too large to move. He stumbled to the kitchen and found the frost-rimed bag of frozen peas and carrots that he’d had in the back of his freezer since the early 2000s, wrapped the bag in a dish towel and pressed it to the back of his hand.
It wouldn’t help, not really, he knew that from the way it was already swelling and turning awful colours. But it was all he had, and he didn’t know if he could drive right now, or if anyone in his building would be willing to make eye contact with him after all the smashing.
He fumbled the cap off his lone bottle of painkillers, dry-swallowed two and then two more, and laughed horribly at the idea that four Advil would do anything for him.
Then he tucked himself into the corner of the sofa, curled up around his throbbing hand and its sad vegetable compress, drew back and away from all of the bits of reality he couldn't cope with, and waited.
He didn’t know what he was waiting for, or how long he waited for it, but what came was the doorbell.
“Oh,” he said to Hux, who was standing in his hallway with what appeared to be a shopping bag full of stuff. “I’m hallucinating. That’s good to know.”
The look on Hux’s face was the dictionary definition of incomprehension. He stuck a foot in the door as Kylo tried to shut it. “No, you’re not, and what in hell have you done to yourself?”
“I broke my hand, I think,” Kylo said, and held up the strange mitten of dish towel and frozen veggies, now damp and thawing. The pain was weirdly distant, as though he wasn't quite in his skin.
“You what.” Hux pushed past him then, and maybe he wasn’t a hallucination after all, because he was shoving Kylo into a kitchen chair, and putting his bag in Kylo’s empty fridge, and his hands were cold as he unwrapped the cloth and hissed at the bruising that came to light. Kylo felt sick if he looked at it, so he watched Hux instead, and tried to understand.
“I punched a wall,” Kylo said. None of this made any sense, if Hux was real. But hallucinations didn’t have cold hands. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I tried to call you,” Hux said. “You didn’t pick up.”
“My phone’s broken. I broke it. I break things.”
Hux looked around, at the number of dents in the walls, and at the scatter of desk supplies in the next room, and then back at Kylo as though he had no idea what to do with the information. “I’m taking you to the hospital,” he said finally, rewrapping the dish towel carefully over his hand.
The next several hours were mostly a blur. There were x-rays, and a lot of people making disapproving faces at him, and they gave him some pills that made the hand feel not so much better as just irrelevant, which was nice when they had to straighten and reset things. He didn’t like the idea of screaming in front of Hux.
He still wasn’t totally certain Hux was real, but that was a problem for later, when he could think.
They sent him home with more of the pills, and then some others for the next few days, and a good deal of shiny metal and black fibreglass splinting that looked really cool in the streetlights when Hux drove him home again.
But mostly, what he cared about was the fact that the pills that made the pain irrelevant also made him really, really sleepy. And then he was in his bed, and someone had put blankets on him, and that was nice, and in the morning someone would explain everything.
He came back to himself in stages. His hand was really heavy, and sore, and when he tried to bring it up where he could look at it he whacked himself in the nose with something hard and plasticky.
“Fuck,” he yelled, and rubbed at it with his other hand. He wasn’t bleeding, but there were just too many nerve endings in the human nose.
Then he remembered what the hard thing on his hand was about. He’d hit the wall, and then… Hux had rescued him? That really had to have happened, or why would he have a cast on now? But it still didn’t seem plausible.
He rolled over slightly and spotted the kitchen chair that someone had dragged in next to the bed. Okay, he didn’t remember having done that. But someone clearly had, and on the seat of the chair, right at his eye level, there was a tumbler of water and a paper towel, folded into quarters, with two pills resting on it.
TAKE THESE, the paper towel read in large black letters.
He didn’t need to be told twice. The more awake he got, the more things hurt, and it seemed to be spreading from his hand to other parts of him too. That was not a trend he wanted to encourage.
Tucked just under the edge of the water glass was a folded sheet of printer paper. He snagged it with the fingertips of his bad hand as he drank the water, trying to get the pills out of his throat. Shaking it open hurt too, but he didn’t feel like waiting.
The handwriting was neat, angular, eminently legible, somehow exactly what he’d expected.
There’s food in the fridge when you’re hungry, and the rest of your painkillers are on the kitchen table. It’s two of the Tylenol every six hours, or four hours if the pain is very bad, and don’t take more.
I have work, obviously, but I found your phone and I’ll try to get the screen replaced. If you need anything, send an email. I’ll see it. Otherwise I’ll be back after work.
Do me a favour and don’t try to write today. Just sleep as much as you can. You need a break.
Not the kind you have.
A dad joke? Who was he?
Kylo let the note fold itself back up and laid down again. As much as he disliked, on principle, the idea of Hux telling him how to live his life, at least today's advice dovetailed with what he wanted to do. Which was mainly to stay in bed as long as he possibly could, while the good drugs held out and he could sleep without the dreams.
He napped until they wore off again and the ache in his hand woke him. That meant a trip to the kitchen, where his painkillers were set out on the table, with all of their lids off and resting carefully on the tops of the bottles. For some reason, noticing that brought with it a wave of emotion that almost choked him. It had to be the drugs and the exhaustion; why else would he be standing in his kitchen on the verge of tears, contemplating the unbearable neatness of this tiny space where Hux had been, and where in his wake things were better.
There was a spinach quiche on the top shelf of his fridge, already sliced, and a little plastic clamshell of strawberries. He chased the pills with a wedge of quiche, left the berries for later and took himself back to bed, trying very hard not to think dangerous thoughts like someone cares about me.
It was impossible not to think them just a little, though, quietly, and where no-one could hear.
The doorbell woke him again, several hours later, and he dragged himself to the door to admit one editor, grouchy-looking, and laden with shopping bags.
“What’s all that?” he asked, sitting down at the kitchen table as Hux piled everything on the kitchen counter.
“Ugh,” Hux said, slipping the strap of a laptop bag off over his head. “No questions, please; not yet. Not until I’ve had a drink.”
He extracted a bottle of wine from one of the bags, and began throwing cupboard doors open. “Don’t you have wine glasses?” he asked, staring into the one that housed Kylo’s mismatched collection of coffee cups.
“Not really,” Kylo said. “I had some, but. They broke.”
“Why does that not surprise me,” Hux said, and sighed, and selected a blue mug reading World’s Greatest Grandpa. “I suppose it doesn’t matter to you.”
“No,” Kylo said honestly. “I don’t usually… have people here.”
“And the shocks just keep on coming.” Hux got the wine open and poured a good few inches into the mug, then put his face in it for a minute or two.
“I take it you had a tough day at work,” Kylo said.
Hux looked at him over the top of the mug. “You could say that, yes. I do so enjoy going to work on two hours of sleep, with a very full schedule of meetings, and getting a lecture disguised as a helpful enquiry into my welfare on top of it all by a managing director who wants to make sure that I am equal to the task assigned to me.” He leaned back against the countertop. “I trust at least you slept.”
Kylo nodded. “I got your note.” He rested the cast in the crook of his other arm. “You didn’t have to do. Everything.”
“Unfortunately, you’re wrong about that.” Hux took another long swallow of wine. “I am responsible for making sure you produce a book, on time and to the standards expected of you. Which means, and I have been reminded in no uncertain terms of this, that I should be across whatever needs doing to ensure that you can do that.”
“You’re not my assistant.” Kylo scratched his head in confusion.
“Do you have an assistant I don’t know about?” Hux said bleakly.
“No,” Kylo admitted.
“That’s good,” Hux said. “Because if you did, you would clearly need to fire them for gross incompetence. But I don’t have time to find you one now. We have a little over a month to get this book publishable, which means maybe three weeks to write it, and I am afraid that there is absolutely no way you can do it by yourself, in this bedlam, with one hand. Oh, here.” He dug into the front pocket of his laptop bag, and extracted Kylo’s phone, now with a new and unblemished screen.
He stuffed it into the pocket of his bathrobe. “Thanks,” he said. “Do you want money for that?”
“I put it on the company card.” Hux smiled thinly. “Along with the wine, and the food I brought, because frankly, you cannot expect to be able to work at your best if you are eating nothing but rubbish.”
Things slid slowly into place, as he watched Hux drain the last of his glass of wine and pour himself another.
“You’re here to babysit me,” he said.
“I would prefer not to put it like that,” Hux said delicately. “I am here to ensure that you are functional, so that you may narrate the remaining portion of your novel, which I will transcribe.”
“Tonight?” Kylo said. “Because I’m on a lot of drugs…”
Hux set his mug down on the counter and began pulling things out of the bags and dishes out of the cupboards. “Given your novels, that might be less of a problem than you would think,” he said over his shoulder.
While Kylo tried to work out if that was an insult or not, Hux plated up raw vegetables, crackers, and some sort of garlicky dip, and set them on the table. “Eat,” he said. “And have your pills, if you need them.”
Kylo took a carrot stick, but let it dangle between his fingers as he looked at Hux. Facts were slowly seeping in past the painkillers, and one thing had become obvious. “You came here last night to have dinner with me.”
Hux sighed. “I came here last night because you asked me to,” he said, as he sat down at the table with Kylo. He was staring into his wine as though it were a teleprompter. “And I told you if I could help you, I would.”
“Don’t you have better things to do than making sure I eat my greens?” He could almost see the frustration coming off Hux, like waves of heat. “You’re a senior editor. There should be people to do this for you.”
“Well, there aren’t,” Hux snapped, “and you haven’t exactly made this process any easier for me yourself, you know. You should be capable of making sure you eat your greens. But clearly, you are less concerned with not dying of malnutrition, or completing the work Snoke has already paid you for, than with elective in-home demolition work -” Then he dragged a hand over his face and sighed again, deeply. “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate.”
“No, actually.” Kylo leaned back in his chair and pointed at Hux with the carrot stick. “You are a cranky bastard, who is going to make a great grumpy old man in ten years’ time -”
“I’m thirty-four,” Hux spluttered, “ten years?”
“- but I owe you a pretty big favour for taking me to the hospital last night, and getting me back home.” Kylo watched the annoyance ebb away from Hux’s face, to be replaced with… mostly just tiredness. “I don’t really remember what happened for most of last night, but I do know that whatever it was, it was a lot better than what I would’ve done if you hadn’t shown up.”
Hux nodded, and hid his face in his wine mug again.
“So I am going to let you get away with giving me a little bit of shit for this.” Kylo brandished the carrot stick dangerously. “A little. Don’t wear out my good graces.”
“You have those?” Hux almost looked like he was smiling, behind the mug. “Where’ve you been keeping them?”
“Drink your wine,” Kylo said, and bit into the carrot stick.
Hux in close quarters was everything Hux via email should have prepared him for: sharp-tongued and quick to sting, seemingly unaffected by the alcohol until nearly the bottom of the bottle. (He hadn’t let Kylo have any - “not with your painkillers,” he’d said, but the way he’d clutched the chardonnay protectively to his chest suggested he mostly just wanted it for himself.)
He’d flitted around Kylo’s kitchen, tidying as though it was just what his hands did, tucking things away, rinsing their plates. Then he’d moved onto the living room, and the corner that served as Kylo’s office. He kept up a running commentary about how impossible it was to produce coherent work in a messy environment, and made tch noises at the damage to the walls. Kylo knew he should have been annoyed - should have been bristling at the nerve of Hux, coming in and cleaning like he had some right to do it - but it wasn’t like he truly preferred to live in a mess. It was just what happened when everything else was more important than cleaning.
The compulsive tidying was making Hux calmer, though. Kylo could see some of the clench of the muscles around his jaw and around his eyes letting go, and if letting him rant about how Kylo ought to alphabetise his pencils and colour-code his junk mail was what it took to soothe him, for some reason Kylo found he didn’t mind. Especially since Hux didn’t want help - in fact he actively prevented Kylo from helping, batted his hands away and ordered him back to the sofa.
His evening dose of painkillers was starting to kick in now, and the sofa seemed to have its own gravitational field. He sank into it, and propped his feet on the wobbly coffee table as he watched Hux collect the last of the things Kylo had thrown, squaring them neatly away until Kylo’s desk looked more like Hux’s.
“There,” Hux said finally, “now I can work in this space.”
“Bravo,” Kylo said from the sofa. “If I’d known you stress-cleaned I’d have invited you over weeks ago.”
Hux shot him a sharp look, but flopped onto the other end of the sofa with a surprising amount of weight for such a skinny guy. “If you take advantage of this knowledge, you will live to regret it.”
“But you like it so much, and I’m so good at messing things up.” Kylo grinned at him.
“That you are,” Hux said wearily.
“I mean, look at you.” Kylo waved a hand to encompass all of Hux. “Great King Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt, and here you are, sleeves rolled up, drunk, on my sofa.”
“I’m not drunk,” Hux said. “I have been drinking.”
“Nope,” Kylo said, and grinned some more. Why had he never noticed how much fun it was to tease Hux? “You’re actually hanging out with me, and you haven’t called me an idiot or insinuated that I’m some sort of giant baby or even told me to get back to work in, like, ten whole minutes. You’re wasted.”
Hux snorted, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back into the sofa. “Perhaps I’m going easy on you because you’re injured.”
“See? Wasted.” Kylo prodded Hux’s calf gently with one toe. “I don’t think I should let you drive home.”
Hux did actually consider that. “I should get a taxi,” he agreed eventually. “I’ll do that.”
“Or you could… stay over?” Kylo didn’t know why he was saying it, but it felt right. “Crash here? For a bit, anyway. You’ll be sober in a few hours.”
“I need sleep to function,” Hux said. “Particularly tonight. Today was hard enough, I’m not repeating it tomorrow.”
“So? This sofa’s great for sleeping on.” Kylo patted the arm of it, like an old friend. “I have slept on it so much while waiting for you to tell me to get back to work. Trust me.”
Hux grimaced. “I don’t sleep on sofas.”
“Sure, sure, Your Majesty.” Kylo shook his head. “Sometimes I think you’re gonna strain something from holding yourself so far away from reality. But by all means. Spurn my sofa.” He stroked the arm, as if to console it. “Just… sit here with me for a little while. Read something on your laptop. I know you brought it with you, which means you probably want to work until 2am. So just do the work. Here.”
“Fine,” Hux conceded. “I do have a lot of reading to do.”
The blue light of Hux’s laptop and the golden light of the lamp on the side table were not enough to keep the room from being dark, and between that and the painkillers, and the fact that Hux didn’t like to speak while he was reading, there wasn’t much to drag him back to wakefulness. He turned himself and tucked his knees up, with his injured hand cradled between his belly and his thighs, and leaned his head on the high back of the sofa.
“You can go to bed,” Hux said, not looking up from his screen.
“Nah,” Kylo said. “It’s too early. It’s only, what, eleven?”
“11:14,” Hux said. “You’re tired. I’ll go.”
“Don’t. The whole point of this was that you not go,” Kylo said. “Stick to the plan. I’ll be fine. I’m just a little dozy. I’m thinking about the book. Not sleeping.”
“You should sleep.”
“Not sleeping,” Kylo said determinedly. “And you’re not leaving.”
Hux raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment.
Kylo put his head back down against the sofa, and tried to think about Milton Bay, and about his hero, and his current seemingly insoluble predicament. There were too many variables against him, too many traps Kylo himself had set, too many factors that stacked up with each other to stand between Jimmy and success.
Fucking Jimmy. Kylo had come to the realisation several days ago that he hated his protagonist. Which was fine: he didn’t have to love every character that came out of his brain, so long as he wrote them consistently. But Jimmy was too clever by half, and didn’t want to do the things Kylo needed him to do in order for them to get on with the story. And every time Kylo tried to make them happen anyway - well. That was why he still didn’t have a Chapter 7.
He turned the situation around and around in his head, closed his eyes and tried to think about the geography of Milton Bay, the architecture, any tiny detail that might help him…
He came back awake with a little noise - surprise, disorientation, whatever he felt like blaming for the quiet ah? that made Hux look up at him from the other end of the sofa.
“Go back to sleep,” he said.
“Wasn’t sleeping,” Kylo slurred.
“You have been for almost three hours,” Hux said. “It’s a bit late to try to fool me on that score.” He shifted, stretched - shut his laptop with a sudden and decisive snap. “And I’m fully sober, and am going home, in case you were worried about missing any more of this grippingly exciting evening.”
“No,” Kylo whined - whined, and wasn’t that embarrassing, but he could hear himself and there wasn’t anything else to call that tone of voice.
“Get some proper sleep,” Hux said. “I’ll come back tomorrow night and we’re actually going to try to do some work, so I’d like it if you were prepared.”
In the morning, he hurt, and he was almost out of the really good drugs and taking the others meant it didn’t really go away. He had thought he might try and write anyway, or at least hunt and peck at the keyboard for a bit, but after it took him the better part of twenty minutes to try and button up a shirt with one hand and one that could sort of brace things but not manipulate them, that idea was much less attractive.
This was really fucking inconvenient, this cast, and he felt like enough of an idiot that he was determined to at least try to do something. He couldn’t write, and he couldn’t diagram, but there was nothing stopping him from thinking.
He ran a bath, and hung his bad hand over the edge, and soaked, and thought; he laid spread-eagled on a towel on the bed, air-drying, and thought; he threw the button-down in the laundry and pulled on a t-shirt and a hoodie, and thought; he didn’t smoke because there weren’t any left, but he stood on the balcony and sucked on the end of a pencil, and thought; he paced, and flopped, and stood, and curled up, and hung upside down off the sofa in case the change of perspective would help.
And then, somewhere in the angled sunlight of the late afternoon, staring at the ceiling, he felt it - the little shift in his brain, like someone had shaken it very slightly and everything had just fallen into place.
He bolted up from the sofa with a yelp and seized his phone.
I’M GONNA KILL HIM :D
Hux: … him, who?
tell u when u get here 2 hard 2 type
Hux turned up at 6.30 on the dot with two plastic containers that turned out to contain penne arrabbiata, tipped them out onto plates, and shoved one across the table to Kylo. “Eat this,” he said, “and then tell me who you plan to kill, since I assume I am to be an accessory to the crime.”
“I’m gonna kill Jimmy,” Kylo said, in between hasty forkfuls. Whoever Hux’s source was, they made a mean arrabbiata, and he wanted to get as much of it as he could before he had to start talking in earnest and it got cold.
Hux nodded. “Didn’t I tell you to do that all along?” he said. “Because I’m fairly certain that was just about the first thing I recommended.”
Kylo sighed. “Can’t you at least pretend to be excited? I’m going to do it, anyway. I hate that little prick, he’s too damn good at everything and if I feed him to the nameless oozing dark then I can write the rest of the book as Stephen.”
“The bait and switch, because you set it up that Stephen was for the high jump.” Hux speared three or four penne on his fork and waved them at Kylo like a pointer. “Yes. So Jimmy wanders in where he shouldn’t be? Does he know what danger he’s in or does he just - stride boldly into the woods, secure in the armour of being the protagonist, and then - erk?” He made a motion at his own throat, like trying to stop something from choking him.
“Erk,” Kylo confirmed. “I’m not gonna tell him. I’m just gonna do it. No warning. A tentacle in the dark. Or whatever the fuck this thing has. It’s just wham, lights out, fuck you Jimmy, and Stephen watching from a safe place so that he knows for sure that it’s all up to him and his inadequate coping skills now.”
“What about Bethany?” Hux chewed thoughtfully. “I always thought she deserved better. She’s got Jimmy’s gun, can’t you do something with her now you’ve killed her awful boyfriend?”
“Heh. Maybe she should rescue Stephen.” Kylo paused. “Actually. She should definitely rescue Stephen. And she can bring Tezza with her, have a girls’ team-up, and then I don’t have to have her kiss him in the excitement of victory.”
“The readers will probably expect her to kiss him,” Hux said.
“The readers will deal,” Kylo said, and piled about a quarter of his pasta onto his fork. “No-one will blame Bethany. Wouldn’t you rather kiss Tezza than Stephen?”
“Well. No, but I would prefer Stephen to behave more like Tezza if he were to be worthy.” Hux looked down at his plate.
“Fair enough,” Kylo said, and he wasn’t going to blush, he wasn’t. But. Hux had said it. Or at least, implied it. At the very least Hux had to be bi, and that meant.
That meant that he had to play this cool now. “Actually I’d probably rather kiss Stephen too.” He tried to grin, and thought it came out okay and not at all like a serial killer. “Tezza would hex me and then kick me in the balls.”
Hux snorted. “She would. I like her.”
Kylo grinned at him. “You would.”
Once the last of the pasta was gone (Kylo had stolen the last two forkfuls out of Hux’s bowl; he’d wrinkled his nose at Kylo but had allowed it) and the bowls were rinsed, Hux headed out to the living room with Kylo trailing behind.
“How do you usually work?” Hux said. “All in one document?”
“Yeah, it’s on my desktop.” He held up a pre-emptive hand - “Yes, it’s backed up. I also save it to USB every couple of days. I don’t trust the cloud.”
Hux put up an eyebrow, but said, “Fine. Then you’d better log me in.”
He sat down in Kylo’s chair, and batted at the mouse to wake the screen up. Kylo leaned past him, trying very hard not to think about the fact that he’d never been this close before, and typed in the password: “Vader123,” he said, “if you get locked out. Capital V.”
“Vader?” Hux looked at the stack of books on the desk shelf with sudden interest. “So you’re a fan of Star of Death, are you? I might have known.” He pulled the hardcover from the stack, expertly keeping the others from slipping. “This is a nice edition.”
“Don’t,” Kylo said quickly, but it was too late - Hux had opened it, and the leaves had fallen open to the dedications page.
“‘For my dear Padmé,’” Hux read. “‘The voice in all my dreams; the way home. Anakin.’” He eyed Kylo suspiciously. “Wasn’t Padmé his wife? How much did you pay for this?”
“I didn’t. I inherited it.” Kylo sighed. “He was my grandfather.”
“Oh,” Hux said, like the lights had come on in his head. “The grandfather of modern horror. Is the actual grandfather of the face of modern horror. Well, isn’t that something.”
“Now you’re going to tell me you don’t like his books either.” Kylo plucked the hardcover from Hux’s hands and clutched it protectively to his chest.
Hux looked sideways. “Well. I recognise that they’re classics.”
“You philistine,” Kylo said, aggrieved, and hugged the book tighter. “Don’t you sully my first editions with your nonbeliever fingers.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like them,” Hux said.
“You didn’t have to.” Kylo set the book gently on the top of the stack, stroking its cover. “I know what you sound like when you’re being scornful.”
“I think you have that confused with my regular voice,” Hux said.
“No, I’m fairly sure that is your regular voice.” Kylo turned away and headed for the sofa. “At least according to my data.”
That might have been a sigh. Or it might have been a laugh. But Hux didn’t laugh, therefore it was a sigh.
“Chapter 7,” he said.
“Delete everything I have there,” Kylo said. “All of it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Completely. It’s trash. You know it and I know it.”
“All right.” Hux clacked the delete key theatrically. “Done. Now what?”
Kylo pursed his lips. “Start with this. The sunset was making wildfire out of the oaks at the edge of the forest as Jimmy drove up to the parking lot. His wheels on the gravel were the crackle of it, popping and spitting, the heat of the last rays through the glass just enough warmth. And like a real fire, he wanted to get closer.”
“It’s a wildfire, though,” said Hux, still typing. “Would he really run up to it?”
“This idiot? Maybe. Strike the line.” Kylo thought for a second. “End the para just before it. Next para: He left the Camaro at the edge of the lot -”
“Nah,” Hux interjected. “You’ve got ‘at the edge of’ already. Try again.”
Kylo huffed with irritation. “This would be so much easier if I could see the screen.” He got up from the sofa, reluctantly, and grabbed the nearest of the kitchen chairs. It was hard to wedge it in behind the office chair, but he did his best.
“All right,” he said. “He parked the Camaro next to Stephen’s dad’s truck, and from the glove compartment, he pulled the bell, the book and the candle that Tezza had insisted he take, even though he didn’t know what good they would do him. But the silver bullets were with Bethany, and Stephen had said he was bringing his book of incantations. He could feel his own strength of conviction, a hard white light in the centre of him. They were going to find this thing, whatever it was. End para. As soon as he stepped out of the car, the illusion of fire vanished with the bite of the wind. End para. ”Stephen,” he yelled, “where the fuck are you?” End para.”
He shifted in the chair; turning his head to look at the screen moved all of his weight onto one side of his butt, and it was already starting to hurt. Kitchen chairs weren’t meant for this.
“There was no reply but the wind in the leaves, and Jimmy sneered. So much for backup. Stephen had probably already gone in without him, which completely - uhh… no. Which was exactly what Jimmy had told him not to do. End para. ”Stephen,” he yelled again, “Stephen!””
“Where is Stephen?” Hux asked.
“I’ll figure that out in a second. There’s a couple of places in the forest.” He shifted on the chair again. “You know what, no. This isn’t working.”
“What isn’t working?” Hux said tiredly.
“I’m not comfortable. This chair sucks, and I can’t stop thinking about how much this chair sucks, so I’m not going to be able to concentrate. But if I take that chair, then you have to sit on this one, and you’ll be even crankier, and then I’ll get mad and kick you out. There’s only one solution.”
“You behave like an adult?” Hux raised an eyebrow at him.
“Oh, ha ha,” Kylo said. “So funny. No. Email that to yourself, grab your laptop, and we’re gonna sit on the sofa.”
The sofa was much better than the chair. Not just because its extreme depth of squish was comfortable no matter how Kylo chose to sit. Also because, for him to see Hux’s screen, Hux had to come and sit right next to him.
And sure, Hux kept his shoulders very square and his back very straight, and he didn’t laugh at Kylo’s jokes even though they were fucking funny, but his arm where it pressed against Kylo’s was warm, and his typing was quick and accurate, and Kylo hardly noticed how long they’d been working until Hux stifled a yawn and said “Good grief, it’s past midnight.”
“I guess it is,” Kylo said, leaning in even further to look at the tiny clock readout on the laptop. “We’re nearly done this scene. Let’s wrap it up there. And then tomorrow we can kill Jimmy off once and for all, and I’ll think about what Tezza’s ritual has done - you bring dinner, I’ll bring the sofa, I’m pretty sure we have a workable plan here.”
And he might have spent the whole of the next day waiting impatiently for Hux to show up, but so what? It was just the excitement of finally seeing his way clear to the end of Chapter 7 and beyond. Jimmy met his undignified and unheroic end; Kylo cheered; Hux put in a page break and typed the words CHAPTER 8 at the top of the new page and Kylo stopped victory dancing for long enough to demand high-fives. Hux did not give them, but he did pat the sofa cushion next to him for Kylo to sit back down again, and that was almost as good.
The next night was somehow even better; Kylo made microwave popcorn, which Hux deigned to eat, and they bashed through the rest of Chapter 8 and a content edit that made him understand the careful machine that was Hux’s brain. He seemed to notice everything, and he asked so many questions - somehow so much less irritating when Kylo was pressed up against him on the sofa and he could smell the sweet lime scent of whatever hair product it was that held Hux’s hair so immovably slicked to his skull while they moved paragraphs around and Hux made notes for his consideration.
Two weeks into Hux’s projected three weeks, they were nearly up to the end of Chapter 12. Things had slowed down a bit from their initial pace, but it turned out that while Hux as an editor at a distance had been the most infuriating person on the planet, Hux as the guy he told his stories to wasn’t quite so bad. He’d watched Hux’s face as he narrated Bethany’s near-capture and dramatic escape, Stephen’s deduction of all the wrong facts, and Tezza’s slow descent into ritual-aided psychosis, all of them trying to shove back at the power of the darkness, all of them not powerful enough themselves; and as the puppetmaster, Kylo had danced them all round the crumbling reality of Milton Bay, and listened to Hux’s breathing speed up as he typed the tense bits, let him suggest ways to make everything very much worse, and just… lived in the story for hours at a time every night.
He had come to several conclusions along the way. The first was that he needed to be kinder to this sofa and stop flipping it over every time he got angry. He owed it a peaceful existence, after how much time he’d spent on it with Hux.
The second conclusion was that Hux was clearly very, very single, and didn’t have any engrossing hobbies that were more important to him than his job. Weekends meant little, apart from the fact that Hux would turn up after errands instead of after work. And nobody ever called him while he was scribing - nothing but work emails ever offered any distraction from the story, and those, Hux would glance at and then dismiss for the time being. When he was with Kylo, he seemed to belong entirely to Kylo. If the words had stopped for the time being, he would move to something else, never not busy, but he stayed every night until midnight or later, waiting for the words to come back. And they did, because the way Hux breathed “yes” at him when he got something that felt right was a better motivator than all the bullwhips in the world.
The third conclusion was that for all that his editor was still kind of a jerk, with a sharp tongue and no ability to hold it back when it came to the story, and for all that he wasn’t any gentler with Kylo outside of story time… for all that, sitting on his sofa with Hux at his side was the best thing that had happened to Kylo in months.
His hand still hurt all the time, a low-grade background ache that ramped up every time he tried to move it, and he missed the meditative peace of dissolving himself directly into the story. But he felt better overall. Maybe it was the vegetables, Hux probably had something there. Or maybe it was the consistent bedtimes, or the fact that he’d accidentally quit smoking again because it was too hard to operate a lighter left-handed, and cut out alcohol because of the painkillers. Or maybe it was just having someone around who almost smiled at him sometimes. Whatever it was, it seemed to be doing him a great deal of good.
It was nearly 2am, and they should have stopped by now, they should have stopped hours ago - he knew his creative powers were waning. But the end of Chapter 12 seemed just close enough that he wanted to keep going. They could make it. He was sure of it.
He had pulled Hux’s laptop onto his own lap ten minutes ago, for a backread - just to make sure he had the setup that he’d put into Chapter 8 right. He could scroll one-handed, and - yes, there was the grimoire page Tezza needed to know about, and yes, the secret ingredient in the spells that none of them had noticed - “Okay,” he said, paging back down, “we can do this.”
There was no response from Hux, and Kylo looked up. “Oh,” he said softly.
Hux’s eyes were closed. His head lolled at an angle against the back of the sofa, and that couldn’t be comfortable, certainly wouldn’t be in the long run, but his breathing had evened and deepened while Kylo wasn’t paying attention. Probably without even his own consent. But there he was, lips slightly parted, hands open and relaxed on his thighs, face softened from its customary sneer. Asleep.
Something small and very fierce happened in the pit of Kylo’s belly.
He saved the document and set the laptop on the coffee table, as quietly as he could.
Why didn’t he have two functioning hands? He needed two functioning hands for this - but if he’d had two functioning hands, Hux would never have been here, never have come here, never have spent so much time here that he’d let his guard down enough to fall asleep on what was admittedly the best sofa in the world for that.
Carefully, so carefully, he piled up all the throw pillows, and slowly eased Hux sideways onto them with his good hand bracing the slim shoulders. Hux didn’t even twitch when Kylo pulled his ankles up onto the sofa - he must have been so much more tired than he’d let on, why had they kept going, why hadn’t he stopped them? His eyelids were blue with fatigue, and Kylo felt slightly awful that he hadn’t even noticed.
But there, now. He looked much more comfortable like this, and that would do to atone for Kylo’s sins.
Almost. He cast a glance around the apartment. Spare blankets. Spare blankets. Anything blanket-like. Kylo ran hot, usually, and he didn’t bother with afghans or really even more than the single duvet on his own bed, but Hux needed something over him. The living room was too drafty, he’d wake up cold.
He sighed, and went and gathered up his own duvet. He didn’t really need it anyway, this time of year. He kicked it off halfway through the night more often than not. Hux could have it. Hospitality, guests first, and all that.
It had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the way it felt to tuck his own blanket down around Hux’s shoulders. And that thought certainly wasn’t what kept him warm enough to curl up in his own bed, with his bathrobe draped over him, and sleep.
He woke to sunlight, and a warmth he hadn’t expected: his duvet was back, tucked around him now, his bathrobe hanging off the back of the door, and he almost wondered if he’d dreamed the way Hux had looked in the soft light of the side table lamp.
The living room didn’t help him; all the pillows were back in their places, plumped and squared up, with nothing about them saying someone slept on me last night. The laptop was gone, the dishes cleared. Everything was in perfect order.
Of course he wouldn’t have stayed. There was no way Hux would ever have slept as late as Kylo did. But to leave Kylo doubting that he’d even been here at all…
He flopped down onto the sofa with a sigh, burying his face in the nearest throw pillow.
And breathed in, and suddenly started laughing, and clutched the pillow to his face.
Hux brought sushi that night, and they didn’t talk about it; but Kylo tucked his toes under the edge of Hux’s thigh as he talked Hux through Tezza’s breakdown and Bethany pulling her back out of it, through the strange light in Tezza’s eyes and Stephen climbing out on the roof to see that there was something wrong with the sunrise.
He expected Hux to tell him off.
Bethany shot three things that couldn’t have been birds, and weren’t birds, but screamed like birds when they fell, and Tezza spoke words that made the hair on Stephen’s arms stand up, and Kylo’s hand brushed against the top of Hux’s forearm and he left it there, expecting Hux to say something.
Stephen went into the forest.
“I don’t think I can sleep after that,” Hux said, with a wobbly sort of laugh, “and certainly not by myself - let’s just keep going.”
Hux made a pot of coffee, and they split it, and Kylo got the blanket off the bed and tried to get it around both their shoulders to keep off the chills. Not that they shivered because they were cold.
Jimmy’s voice rang out in the empty streets of Milton Bay and things came to his call.
Jimmy was dead. Jimmy was dead.
Stephen lay at the base of a tree, sobbing in a language he didn’t know, the words spilling from his mouth.
Bethany prayed over Tezza as she twitched and shook, and then abandoned prayer and just held her until her eyes stopped glowing and she told Bethany where they could find Stephen. If there was anything left of him to find.
The shadows found Stephen first.
“Oh, Christ,” said Hux, shoving his hands into his hair, “it’s 4am, I have to sleep - why did we have to do this in the dark, Kylo?”
“It works better in the dark,” Kylo said, and pulled at Hux’s arm - “Sleep here. I’ll leave the light on.”
“This is bloody ridiculous,” Hux grumbled, but leaned into Kylo’s shoulder. “God, I’m so tired, I hate you.”
“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” Kylo said.
Hux thumped him gently on the thigh with his fist. “So much hate.”
In the end Hux napped sitting up, a pillow pressed between his cheek and the bony outcrop of Kylo’s shoulder; every now and then a dream made him shudder and clutch at Kylo’s arm with sleep-weakened fingers, but he settled again if Kylo pulled the blanket tighter around them.
Kylo couldn’t sleep at all, but it wasn’t the fault of Milton Bay.
Hux was awake by seven, still owly as he rummaged in the kitchen cabinets for more coffee.
“It’s in the one over the fridge,” Kylo said, and Hux jumped a little, spinning quickly to see where he was.
“Jesus. Don’t sneak up on me. Not today. My nerves are shattered.”
Kylo grinned, and leaned on the doorframe. “I didn’t actually mean to do that.”
“You did,” Hux said accusingly, “because you’re trying to write a scary book.”
“There is that.” Kylo pushed off the doorframe and started digging out clean mugs. “I guess the book doesn’t suck, then.”
Hux laughed despairingly, dragging a hand over his face. “No, Kylo, it does not. It very much does not. And I hate to admit that, because it was much easier when I could tell myself I didn’t care what happened to… all of these characters, and didn’t like the way they talk to each other.”
“Oh no,” Kylo teased. “The clinical scalpel is blunted with inconvenient feelings.”
“Very inconvenient,” Hux said, and turned back to the coffee.
His hair was coming unstuck, slipping forward past his ears to brush the hollow under his cheekbones. Kylo wondered if it was as shiny without the helmet of product - if it would be soft.
He couldn’t picture any part of Hux being soft, but he found he enjoyed trying.
“Do you have to go to work today?” he said, instead of any of the things he was thinking.
“I should,” Hux said. “I am horribly tempted to call in and say I’ll work from home, I will be good for absolutely nothing today.”
“Does it count as work if you’re here with me?” He tried to make it sound less gentle than it did, less flirtatious, but there wasn’t much that could be done about it.
“Maybe?” Hux looked dubious. “To be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine I’ll be much use to you either. I can’t edit for toffee on three hours of sleep.”
“What if I don’t need you to edit?” He leaned on the counter. “What if we just write more, you and me, today, and we fix it later? We have time.”
“I don’t even know if I can do that,” Hux said. “I’m not certain you fully grasp how tired I am.”
“Mm,” Kylo said. “I didn’t sleep. I think I can extrapolate.”
“Oh God.” Hux leaned his forehead on the cupboard door. “Two underslept madmen, trying to write a bestseller.”
“Succeeding at writing a bestseller,” Kylo corrected. “But seriously, if you go, all I’m gonna do today is nap until you come back. Why don’t you just… join me?”
Hux gave him a long look, and he added hastily, “By which I mean. Sleep. Not sleep with me, although - no, Kylo, stop, you are making this so much worse.” He knew he was blushing. “Separate beds. Broad daylight. Fully clothed. Naptime. That’s all I’m proposing.”
“I don’t sleep on sofas,” Hux said.
“First of all, that’s a lie, you do, and second of all, who cares, you can have the bed. I’ll take the sofa. No great hardship.” Kylo shrugged, trying not to see the obvious bad idea inherent in the offer, and hoping Hux wouldn’t either. But seeing Kylo’s bad ideas and pointing them out was pretty much what Hux did for a living, and…
“You know what, fine,” Hux said, setting the coffee down on the counter with a thunk, and Kylo nearly staggered with the shock. “I don’t suppose you’ve changed your bedsheets in the last month - if you have spares I can put on, you have a deal. I am actually quite dizzy with exhaustion, and in daylight I am relatively confident I shan’t see eldritch horrors in every corner of your apartment every time I try to close my eyes. So yes, although I cannot believe I am saying this, and am clearly delirious: thank you, I will stay and join you in your fully clothed and entirely unsuspicious naptime.”
“I’m pretty sure there aren’t any horrors,” Kylo said. “You cleaned.”
“Well, I did bin that one thing in the back of the fridge,” Hux said, and rubbed his eyes. “Damn, I’m tired. Come on, find me the bedsheets and leave me to die.”
Kylo had never seen anyone strip and remake a bed as fast as Hux, nor do it with such precise corners on the sheets. It was like some sort of ballet, the way he whipped the fabric into shape and tucked it under the edges of the mattress. He stuffed the pillows into new cases, which always took Kylo hours of negotiations to manage, and then he crawled under the topsheet, fully clothed as specified, and flattened himself out on the mattress.
“Sleep well,” Kylo said, “and wake me when you can function.”
“You too,” Hux said, into his pillow - his pillow, Hux was in his bed - but the acknowledgement that he really was going to sleep now was such a powerful sedative that he was incapable of doing anything about that extremely important fact aside from smiling as he toppled onto the sofa and dragged the blanket over himself.
It was okay. Everything would be okay.
Someone was shouting. He opened his eyes just enough to note that it wasn’t him, and that they were still doing it. It was coming from the bedroom.
He gathered the blanket at his neck like a cape and stumbled to his feet.
Hux was wrapped up in the topsheet and thrashing at it. He did not appear to be awake.
“Nn-aah,” he shouted into the pillow, “no no no -”
Too much noise. How was anyone ever going to get any sleep with that going on.
There was only one real solution, one thing that he knew in the depths of his still-somnolent mind would work. It had worked before, on the sofa. He climbed onto the bed beside Hux, swept the duvet out and over them, dropped a heavy arm across Hux’s chest and let himself go boneless again.
Hux whimpered once, grabbed hold of Kylo's hand, and then was silent.
Kylo was asleep in three breaths.
It was much later that there was a shove at his chest, a quiet curse - “Kylo, would you wake up -”
“M’awake,” he mumbled, without opening his eyes.
“You’re crushing me, get off.”
“Too loud.” He patted vaguely at Hux. “Shh.”
“Oh, for - roll over.” The hands shoved at him some more.
He sighed, and sprawled onto his back.
“Thank you,” Hux snapped, deeply annoyed. “What on earth are you doing in here? You promised me separate beds.”
“Just tryna sleep,” Kylo groaned. “You were yelling. Dreaming. Woke me up.” He forced his brain online, as much as it would get without stimulants. “It looked bad. Thought if I was there maybe you’d stop. You did.”
“Oh.” Hux sounded much less annoyed all of a sudden. More… very embarrassed.
“My fault anyway,” Kylo said, trying to pry open one eye so he could look at Hux, who was now sitting up and hugging his knees, staring off into the darkened corner of the room looking distant, worried, rattled. “I’m used to a head full of monsters. You’re not.”
“That’s as may be,” Hux said, which was not an answer, and something Kylo made a note of for later, but: “I think I’ve had enough sleep, anyhow. You?”
“Meh,” Kylo said. “I guess I’m up.” Having gotten this far, and since Hux clearly wasn’t going to stop talking, it was a reasonable assumption. “You’re making the coffee.”
“Don’t get up on my account,” Hux grumbled. “I wouldn’t have woken you, except that you ensured that I had to; you weigh about as much as my car.”
“You would’ve just snuck away again, huh?” He was trying to make a joke, but somehow it didn’t really feel funny.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I have to go home eventually.” Hux swung his legs off the bed, and pushed his hair back. “I’m certainly not staying over another night. I’ve imposed far too much already.”
“You’re not imposing,” Kylo said. There had to be a joke, there had to, before he actually said something he meant, and he found it just in time: “You’re too skinny for anyone to call you that. Like an orange on a toothpick.”
“Will you kindly fuck off, Kylo Ren,” Hux said, enunciating every last one of his consonants. He rolled the R.
“I’m not sure this is the strongest position for you to negotiate from,” Kylo said. “You’re in my bed.”
“Yes. I am.” Hux stared at his feet. “Which was clearly a miscalculation, but - I hadn’t quite expected you to be here too.”
He still wasn’t smiling, and suddenly Kylo couldn’t either.
“I’ll just go,” Hux said, at the same time that Kylo said, “Hux, don’t.”
“No, I’ll go.” Hux stuffed his feet into his shoes. “I’m sure you’re very tired and don’t need me here at the moment. And I really must get some things done, and. Yes. I’ll.”
“Are you coming back tonight?” Kylo said, rather desperately.
“We’ll see.” Hux evaded the question, and Kylo’s eyes, and snatched up his laptop bag and his jacket and was gone.
He’d fucked everything up. Just like he always did.
It had been very difficult to destroy his living room, one-handed, and the joy had gone out of it; he’d barely even flipped the coffee table before he was just impossibly exhausted and couldn’t bear to go on with it.
He was too tired to clean it up, either, even though that necessarily meant that Hux would see it. It didn’t matter. Everything had been going so well, and Hux had - Hux had slept on his shoulder, and now…
He probably wouldn’t even come back tonight. Not after Kylo being a massive creep and crawling into bed with him - what had he been thinking? He hadn’t been thinking. Of course Hux didn’t want to be around him.
He tried to plot out some more of the chapter, but his brain didn’t want to cooperate. The next thing to write was the scene where Tezza realised she couldn’t let Bethany go after Stephen, not alone - not without her, not ever again, and the last thing Kylo wanted to think about at length and in exhaustive detail was romance. Not even in the context of being about to be devoured by some shadow creature.
Why wasn't there one he could feed himself to? It would simplify so much.
He couldn’t go back to bed. There wasn’t any point. He couldn’t sleep, and the sheets smelled like Hux, and why did he even want that prickly jerk in his bed anyway? Why was he spending so much time and effort even thinking about him?
Instead he curled up on the sofa and stared out the window for a long time, watching the shadows lengthen.
He didn’t even really hear the first knock at the door, but the second was more assertive, and he hoisted himself up off the sofa.
Hux was standing outside, laden with bags, staring at his shoes.
“Come in,” Kylo said, but didn’t wait to see if he did or not. He picked his way back across the debris in the living room and laid down on the sofa with his back to it all. Whatever happened, it wouldn’t be because he actively did something stupid this time.
“Oh, Kylo,” Hux said, from the doorway to the kitchen. He sounded so disappointed that Kylo was glad he couldn’t see Hux’s face. People were disappointed in him a lot, but it was easier when he didn't have to look at them.
“You didn’t have to come back,” he said.
“Well, I realised you can’t cook dinner with one hand,” Hux said, “and I couldn’t very well leave you to starve. So.”
“You don’t have to be here just because you feel sorry for me,” Kylo said into the cushions. “If you don’t want to be here - and why would you - just. Go. The book’s nearly done, I can sort of type, I can do it myself.”
“Stop that,” Hux said, from behind him; there were sounds of shuffling papers.
“Stop what?” Kylo said thickly. “Telling the truth?”
“The only person feeling sorry for you is you,” Hux said. “From where I stand, you climbed into bed with me, and... I know you thought you were helping. Neither of us were thinking very clearly - I should never have been here at all, it was a serious lapse of professionalism. I shouldn’t have allowed it, and I’m sorry. But what there is to forgive you for, I forgive, and I'm sure I made far too much of it this morning. Nothing untoward happened nor was meant to, I probably slept better than I would have alone even if it is rather hideous that I woke you, you obviously feel bad about it or this room wouldn’t be such a bomb site, and I don’t suppose you’ll do it again.”
“No,” Kylo said. “I’m sorry, Hux, I never meant -”
“No, you didn’t.” Hux sighed. “And I know that.” He thumped a stack of papers down onto the side table. “Let’s just agree that there won’t be a repeat performance. And then we can move on with our lives and get this book finished.” He sounded very weary, almost defeated.
“Okay,” Kylo said. It didn’t feel okay, not at all - the idea that there would be no more nights on the sofa, with Hux warm at his side - but he didn’t deserve them. And clearly he’d put Hux through enough.
He made himself sit up and paste a moderately pleasant expression on his face. Hux, gathering another armful of Kylo’s scattered things, glanced up at him and returned the not-quite-smile. “Are you hungry?” he asked.
“I don’t even know what time it is,” Kylo admitted. “I guess I could eat.”
“All right,” Hux said, and all further discussion was kept strictly to the preparation and consumption of a pair of fairly elaborate sandwiches until they had been dispatched, and they retreated back to the sofa.
Kylo kept a careful distance between himself and Hux, mindful of professional boundaries, and wedged himself firmly into the corner of the sofa as Hux turned on the side table lamp against the deepening darkness. “Where’d we stop?” Kylo said.
Hux scrolled quickly, and read: “Bethany stared out the window of her bedroom. “Can you run?” she whispered to Tezza, squeezing her hand.”
“Okay.” Kylo cleared his throat, thought very hard about being a 23-year-old witch, lying in the arms of the girl she’d been in love with since tenth grade, and let Tezza speak: “”Where are we going? It’s not - you know it’s not safe out there, not until sunrise at least.” Para. Bethany shook her head grimly. “I know,” she said, “but - Stephen won’t last that long. Not even with your spells. We can’t lose him. And if you can’t go, I have to.” Para. Tezza looked up at her, then - a blonde Athena, the war goddess Bethany, lipstick like blood on her mouth and Jimmy’s gun holstered on her hip. She was glorious in the candlelight, and Tezza loved her, had always loved her, but never more than at this moment. Para. ”We can’t lose you, either,” Tezza said. Para. Bethany laughed. “What am I that’s so special? Anyone can shoot, I’m not - not like you, Tez, not -” Para.”
“Inside the circle they were safe, Tezza knew it. Nothing could enter, nothing could leave, and in the tiny space that was all that was left of the world where Tezza could name without hesitation all the forces that she could command, she looked at Bethany.” Kylo stared at the angles of Hux’s profile and let the words come, dangerous and raw though they were. “Just looked, for a very long time, as though she could memorise the shape of Bethany’s mouth, the perfect slope where her upper lip met the lower; as though she could draw power from the flutter of Bethany’s eyelashes or from the green flecks in the hazel of her eyes.”
In the lamplight Hux was outlined in gold, a precious gift that was not Kylo’s to possess - but could be gazed at for a time, like a museum exhibit, if never touched.
““Tez,” Bethany said. “Are you still with me?” Para. ”You can’t go without me,” Tezza said, firm and final. Para. ”Don’t be silly,” Bethany said, “what good would it do if you’re not strong enough yet?” Para. She stroked her fingertips through Tezza’s curls, absently, and Tezza reached up to clasp her hand. Para. ”You just can’t. I won’t let you. Don’t you know, Beth?” Para.”
Hux was staring down at his keyboard, the light bouncing blue off the ocean-colour in his eyes, and Kylo wanted - wished, hopelessly, not even daring to give the wish form.
““What am I supposed to know, Tez?” Bethany asked gently. “You’re the one who knows everything.” Para. Tezza laughed, and it hurt her chest, but she reached up with her other hand and cupped Bethany’s cheek. Soft. Warm. Alive. Para. ”I know,” she said, “that if I don’t do this it doesn’t matter how long either of us live, I’m gonna regret it for the rest of my life.” And she hooked her fingers around the corner of Bethany’s jaw, and pulled her down, until Tezza could sit up enough to close the distance and press her lips to Bethany’s lipstick-sweet mouth. Para.”
Hux’s hands shook; he mistyped, and backspaced and retyped, and didn’t look up.
“Bethany shifted, to lay Tezza back on the floor, still in their circle, and followed Tezza’s mouth with her own, claiming a dozen tiny kisses. Para. ”Beth,” Tezza whispered helplessly. “Please let me come with you. I’m tired, and I’m weak, but - I’m still good for something. And if you die, I won’t be good for anything, ever again, Beth, not - not ever.” Para.”
Kylo’s chest hurt too. He could never write emotional scenes without getting involved, and this one… with Hux so close, and yet that uncrossable inch of clear space between them… it was too hard to be Tezza, getting everything she had ever wanted. But he had to go on. “Bethany stroked her fingers over Tezza’s hairline, pushing back the baby hairs that always escaped her ponytail, just the way Tezza always did herself. “I won’t go without you,” she promised, against Tezza’s lips. “I won’t.” Para. But it wasn’t enough. She had to be clear: a witch knew better than anyone that a spell unspoken could not be worked. “Beth,” she whispered, “Beth, I love you, I love you so much. You can’t leave me. Please.””
He bit his lower lip cruelly and stared at his knees, fighting back the burning behind his eyes.
“Para?” Hux said softly.
He nodded, and Hux hit the key, and moved his hands back to home row.
“Bethany kissed her again. “I won’t. I need you too, Tez.” And the spell was complete, the circle of it formed; Tezza could feel the strength blooming in her, and here at the end of the world it was all she needed.” His throat hurt, and he swallowed against it, coughed to try and clear it. “Sorry. Para.”
“Kylo?” Hux said, sounding terribly unsure of himself. “Can you… I think - I’ve done something wrong, I don’t think I quite got it. Can you run me back through that last sentence of Tezza’s?”
And Hux was looking at him now, and could probably see how hot his face was, and the dampness in his eyes, but he looked up anyway. He was lost. He might as well at least be honest about it.
“I love you,” he said, staring into Hux's eyes, and whether it was Tezza speaking or just himself, he didn’t know. “I love you so much. You can’t leave me. Please.”
“Oh, damn,” Hux said, like something shattering, and leaned in and kissed him.
The laptop slid to the floor as Hux reached for him, clutched desperately at the side of his face to hold him; Kylo seized his shoulders and pulled Hux half into his lap.
“Do you want -” he gasped.
“Yes,” Hux said, and buried his face in Kylo’s hair. “Yes.”
And it was the yes of finally, finally having gotten something right.
by Kylo Ren
First Order House
A group of high-school friends, now in their aimless early twenties, discover that their old summer holiday spot has become home to an ancient horror bent on devouring the world.
The latest in the loosely-associated series, The Dark Side, Moonrise is a cracking addition to Ren’s oeuvre. As always, he weaves a setting that does more of the heavy lifting than the plot does, through masterful use of atmospherics; however, the set of characters he has chosen to provide the narration are a significant improvement on his usual, as Ren steps outside of the mindset of the young white male protagonist to give us the truly memorable characters of Bethany and Tezza. There are genuine moments of chilling fear and Ren truly makes us feel how much is riding on the ability of these young people, barely convinced of their own adulthood and their freshly discovered powers, to step up and save themselves and their world.
Our Verdict: Buy It - but read it with the lights on.