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The technician track is where most First Order misfits end up. Technicians typically work alone, and staff who prefer not to interact with others more than necessary, or those who have trouble with it for some reason other than personal preference, are routed to technical as soon as they are judged useful but not in a team-player sense. Because these individuals do best in a quiet environment, and because technical is a small department anyway, stocked with just a dozen or so specialists per deck even aboard the biggest Star Destroyers, technicians also have the relatively uncommon luxury of sharing their personal quarters with only one other tech.

This should make their bunking situations less complicated than most, and indeed it typically does. Fewer people in the room means fewer opportunities for conflict. Therefore, Hux is in a state of disbelief verging on anger when he sees yet another request come across his desk for a room transfer away from Matt, a radar technician who has had three different bunkmates since he was assigned to the Finalizer last year.

If it were anyone else, Hux would promptly boot the troublemaker off his ship, if not out of the Order altogether. But he can’t help feeling an odd, embarrassing kinship with Matt when he again sees obsessed with Kylo Ren listed among his disgruntled bunkmate’s complaints.

Matt is the closest thing Kylo Ren has to a friend, so far as Hux can tell. They met onboard the Finalizer, at the gym. They are similarly awkward and over-large. When Hux has no time for Ren’s attentions he can reliably send him off to work out with Matt, who might be in love with Ren but does not actually represent a challenge for Ren’s devoted affection. Hux has that securely in hand, and part of what he likes about his current arrangement with Ren is the ability to shove him off in the direction of the gym without worrying that he’ll make trouble elsewhere on the ship while Hux attempts to get work done. Matt has a calming effect on Ren, who enjoys being openly worshipped, which is one sort of satisfaction that Hux is not willing to give him.

Hux sighs and flips through his bunk assignment file for the Finalizer’s technicians. The simplest solution, at least logistically, would be to stick Matt on E deck with the tech department’s other problem child, who currently has that deck’s smallest room to himself. He’s a nameless ex-slave whom some smart-arsed officer marked down as ‘Techie’ at one point, a lazy notation that has endured in his personnel file alongside XA234504, which was his slave auction number when the Order purchased him. His former bunkmates all referred to him as Techie when requesting room changes, usually citing loud night terrors that Techie is supposed to be taking sleeping pills to stave off. Even if he were taking his medication as instructed, past bunkmates have described him as “creepy” and “off-putting,” perhaps because of his bionic eyes, the ghost of a slaver’s brand on his forehead that makes him look as if his skull has been hastily stitched back together, or the fact that he can’t seem to look a fellow human being in the face without visibly cowering as if he’s about to be struck.

In that sense, perhaps he is the worst candidate to room with Matt, who has been cited for fighting and other aggressive behaviors numerous times.

But if Commandant Brendol Hux were here he would say that dealing with Matt is exactly what Techie needs. It will either toughen him up at last or break him entirely.

Hux hesitates to apply his digital signature to the transfer, the old softness that Brendol worked so relentlessly to beat out of him staying his hand for one sympathetic moment.

He beats that softness down easily enough himself these days, and Techie will have to learn to do the same if he intends to remain useful to the Order. Hux mashes the button that applies his signature and sends notifications to Techie and Matt about the change in rooming arrangements.

Perhaps it’s just crazy enough to work. If not, Hux will get rid of both of them. His leniency toward ex-slaves and willingness to make allowances for Ren’s eccentricities can only be stretched so far. He makes a note on the confidential section of both Matt’s and Techie’s personnel files:

Last chance for a place aboard this ship shall rest upon their ability to tolerate this bunk assignment.

***

 

The first thing that Matt notices is that the room is way too small. It’s also dark, lit only by an extra-wide data screen, and there’s a guy sitting at the desk in front of it who looks like his eyes are bleeding, like a hunched pale creature who sucks out people’s souls for nourishment, only he also looks terrified.

“Is your name really Techie?” Matt asks, still standing in the doorway with his bag slung over his shoulder.

“Yeah.” Techie’s shoulders jump as if he’s scared by the sound of his own voice. “I mean-- I don’t have a name. They call me that, that’s-- Fine, yes. Hello.”

“I’m Matt.”

“I know, I saw your name on the assignment, um, but there must have been-- Not that it’s your fault, but I think there’s been a mistake because I thought I’d been deemed unacceptable for sharing a room and this one’s really too small for two people, don’t you think? Maybe you could, like. Complain?”

Matt walks into the room and the door slides shut behind him. Techie grabs the back of the chair he’s sitting in and lifts his shoulders. His hair looks dirty, and his eyes aren’t actually bloody but very dark, ringed with red and painful-looking, maybe infected. Matt has heard some of the others talking about a tech with old-fashioned bionic eyes. This must be him. They also said he’d been a slave, which would explain him not having a real name and that clumsily rubbed-off brand on his forehead. Matt has heard that this guy’s eyes are rusting in his face because his former owner stuffed the cheapest kind in after digging out the organic ones. But that part is just a rumor. Though the red circles can't mean anything good.

“I just don’t know if you’ll fit in that bed,” Techie says, and he forces what might have been intended as a laugh.

Matt looks at the bed in question. It’s bolted to the wall opposite the bed that Techie presumably uses, which is scattered with more blankets than regulations provide. Regulation beds are six and a half feet long, just enough to contain Matt, and he sees no reason why these wouldn’t be standard-sized. Both ends of the bed butt right up against the walls of the tiny room.

“I think this was originally designed as a storage closet,” Techie says when Matt looks at him again. “Sorry-- I’m sorry. I don’t know why they put you in here.”

“It’s because I punched my last bunkmate.”

“Oh. You-- What?”

“They let you wear your hair like that?” Matt says, intrigued. “Long?”

“What? My hair--” Techie touches it, fingers shaking.

“The only other man onboard with hair that long is Kylo Ren.”

“I--”

“Do you know Kylo Ren? I know him. We work out together. He’s a personal friend.”

“You--”

“Do you have to put your hair back when you’re on duty?” Matt asks, thinking of the style required of women who wear theirs long. “Kylo Ren doesn’t,” Matt says when Techie just stares at him, his mouth hanging open. “He doesn’t even put it back when we work out.”

Techie seems to have been stunned into silence, perhaps in awe of the fact that Matt is a personal friend of the great Kylo Ren. Jealousy of this fact has ruined many a potential friendship with past bunkmates. Matt tosses his bag onto the empty bed and walks over to see what Techie is doing on his data screen.

“This looks like work,” Matt says. “You work in here?”

“Sometimes,” Techie says, his voice trembling. He’s leaning away from Matt, wincing. “I-- They let me-- I do better remotely, sometimes, if I can get the work done from in here--”

“I do radar,” Matt says. He straightens and steps away, because his proximity seems to be causing Techie some distress. “What do you--”

“Security systems,” Techie blurts, as if he’s being interrogated and is eager to confess, fearing further torture.

Matt thinks of asking, what’s the matter with you? But he’s never liked it when people ask him that, so he doesn’t.

**

For the first few hours Matt isn’t sure why anybody would describe Techie as unfit to share a room. The jumpiness might get on the nerves of some, but Matt can’t help but take it as a kind of twisted compliment. He knows he’s intimidating, and yet he’s so rarely shown the kind of respect that, say, Kylo Ren receives. Matt can’t use the Force, but he’s big and strong and doesn’t put up with anybody’s bullshit, and Techie at least seems to know that. He skirts around the room without looking at Matt, and when Matt addresses him Techie stammers out answers to his questions promptly, unlike the snotty dickheads Matt has roomed with previously, who would tell him he talked too much or specifically that he talked too much about Kylo Ren.

Matt leaves for his shift, and when he returns he finds Techie still hunched in front of his data screen, still working.

“I’m going to the gym,” Matt announces after changing out of his coveralls.

Techie flinches and half-turns from the screen. “Oh-- Okay.”

“I might not be back for a while. If Kylo Ren is there. Sometimes we work out for an hour and a half.”

“Ah--”

“And then there’s showering and so forth.”

“Shower-- Oh, right, well--”

“So I’ll try not to wake you if you’re on rest cycle when I get back.”

Normally he wouldn’t bother to work around someone else’s schedule, but he has instructions from General Hux to make this bunkmate situation work or face ship reassignment, maybe even demotion.

“Thanks?” Techie says, turning fully to look at him. He manages to look scared even while frowning in what appears to be confusion, his fingers tapping over his knee.

“You’re welcome.” Matt grabs his gym bag and goes.

Kylo Ren is not at the gym, which sucks. Matt limits his workout to forty minutes, showers and returns to the room to find Techie still tapping away at his workstation.

“You gonna be at that much longer?” Matt asks, beginning to be annoyed. He needs to sleep soon, and Techie’s nervous energy at the data screen is distracting.

“At-- At, working?” Techie says, freezing with his fingers over his keypad.

“Yeah. When’s your off cycle?”

“Oh, it’s-- It’s now, just. I prefer to stay busy.”

“Well, I prefer to sleep occasionally.” Matt’s voice has tightened perhaps more than he should allow it to. Techie’s shoulders tense up, and he curls in on himself.

“They shouldn’t-- See-- This is why I had my own room, I thought, I don’t understand why, why they want me to get less work done, s-supposedly my productivity was something valuable, I thought--”

“That’s rough, buddy,” Matt says, loud enough to make Techie’s shoulders jump. “But this is the situation we’re in. If you want to put in extra hours, that’s your business, but go do it in an actual workstation while I’m sleeping, got it?”

“Got it,” Techie says, wilting, his voice so cowed that it’s barely audible.

Good. This arrangement will be fine for Matt, if Techie is really so easy to boss around. Most fellow techs aren’t.

Techie gets in bed shortly after Matt has, cocooning himself in those excess blankets. Matt sleeps on top of his blankets, in his underwear. He gets hot easily, but he’s always been “a good sleeper,” as described in the stormtrooper program he was kicked out of for otherwise not fitting in. He hacked open his record when he was twelve years old, and that phrase was one of the few that praised him, along with “displays savant-like focus and proficiency when given tasks that require concentration and independent work,” though Matt hadn’t taken that for praise back then, because he didn’t know what “savant” meant yet.

He’s not only a good sleeper but a heavy one, hard to wake, but he doubts anyone could sleep through the panicked screaming that Techie unleashes in the middle of his rest cycle.

Matt’s heart is pounding even after he’s realized what’s going on: his bunkmate is having a nightmare, shrieking and clawing at the wall and his face and jerking around crazily inside his blankets as if they’re trying to drown him.

“Hey!” Matt shouts when this continues. “Hey! Wake up!”

Techie doesn’t wake up. He grows louder and more frantic, the sounds he’s making so horrible that Matt feels almost threatened by them. Matt swings his legs over the side of his bed with a grunt and approaches the situation in Techie’s bed cautiously, not wanting to end up in the path of his desperate flailing at imaginary enemies.

“Dude!” Matt says, standing over Techie’s bed. “Knock it off! You’re dreaming!”

“No!” Techie screams, as if in answer. He goes still, at least, holding his arms over his face and shaking hard. “Please, no, please don’t, please--”

That wrenches at Matt a little, because maybe the poor bastard is dreaming about having his eyes pulled out.

“Techie,” Matt says, and he kneels beside the bed. He left his glasses on the other side of the room, which is fully dark now, except for the glow from the data screen’s powersave mode. “Wake up, hey. You’re okay, you’re dreaming--”

“No,” Techie says again, weakly now. He sounds like he would be crying if he were capable of shedding tears. “Please don’t, I’ll be good, I swear, please--”

“Hey.” Matt puts his hand on Techie forearm, which seems to wake him but also causes him to shriek and scramble away, until his back hits the wall and his bionic eyes are wide open, fixed on Matt, whose vision is currently blurry enough to make Techie’s eyes appear more like black hollows than eyes. Which is freaky as shit. “You were having a nightmare,” Matt says, standing.

“I--” Techie looks left and then right, searching the room for whatever was attacking him in his dream. “Oh, I-- Shit, fuck. Fuck! Sorry. I’m sorry. Did I wake you-- Of course I woke you, I’m sorry, they gave me medicine for it, but, but it makes me groggy, I can’t get my work done, I’m afraid they’ll discharge me if, if I can’t focus, but I can’t have a bunkmate, I can’t, I thought they knew--”

“This happens a lot?” Matt asks, with dread.

Techie blinks up at him. He looks so fucking eerie, blurred like this, that Matt turns for his glasses, wanting to see him as he really is, which is slightly less creepy.

“I’m sorry,” Techie says when Matt turns back to the bed with his glasses on. “It’s-- They should have told you. It’s every, every night. It’s why I don’t like to, um. Sleep.”

“Fuck,” Matt says, in sympathy and regret. He should have tried harder to get along with Robbini, but that fucker was begging for a fist in his face by the end of their tenure as bunkmates. “Okay, uh. Maybe try a different medicine.”

“I’ve, I-- I’ve tried them all. Even some not meant for humans. Even, even some, some like, witch doctor-type stuff. Nothing works, or it works too much and then I’m not myself, during the day, awake.”

Matt stands staring. Techie peers up at him, cowering a bit and clutching at one of his blankets. When Techie swallows, Matt sees his throat bob with it, and something about the sight makes Matt feel very tired, and vaguely hypnotized by the presence of so much pathetic terror. He could ask Techie what he dreams about, but he probably shouldn’t.

“Have you tried meditating?” he hears himself say.

“M-meditating?”

“Yeah. Kylo Ren does it. He taught me how.”

That’s a lie, and telling it in his usual unthinking way makes Matt’s face hot. That was on his record in the stormtrooper program, too. Lies egregiously, causing peers to distrust and dislike him.

“Actually,” Matt says. “Kylo just told me that he does it, after workouts.” After Matt had very casually and, he thought, coolly suggested that maybe they could grab a drink after working out sometime. “I looked up how to do it. It’s not hard. It’s supposed to clear your mind. I could show you.”

“Show me?” Techie says, pulling his blanket up over his chest like this is a threat.

“Yeah. We could try it right now.” Matt’s heart is still pounding from being awakened by Techie’s panicked screaming. Meditating would calm him, and maybe Techie, too.

“Oh-- okay.” Techie lowers the blanket, slowly.

“You have to sit on the floor,” Matt says, and he does so, to demonstrate.

“Why the floor?”

“Because-- I don’t know, just do it. Sit across from me, like this.”

Techie is either cold or still shaken from his dream. He’s trembling when he sits cross-legged on the floor between their beds, facing Matt. Techie’s pajamas consist of an oversized sweater that has slipped off of his left shoulder and a ratty-looking pair of loose pants, no socks. Matt is still in only his underwear, something he doesn’t really consider until he sees the way Techie’s eyes travel over his chest before popping back up to his face. There’s a faint whirring noise when they refocus.

“Is that-- Do your eyes make noise?” Matt asks.

“Yes.” Techie’s expression actually hardens, then he shrinks again.

“Okay.” Matt rolls his shoulders. “Well, close them. That’s step one.”

“Are you, uh. Are you going to be looking at me?”

“Only at first, to make sure you’re doing things right.”

Techie looks like he’s going to protest, his eyebrows arching. He closes his eyes, then opens one, then closes it again. He’s shaking possibly harder now.

“Take a deep breath,” Matt says.

Techie takes the shallowest breath any human has ever sucked in before audibly dispelling it. He’s on the verge of hyperventilating.

“Techie.”

“What?” His eyes fly open, whirring again. He leans back when he sees Matt’s expression, scooting away from him. “I, uh, I don’t like-- I don’t like knowing someone is looking at me if, if I can’t see them--”

“Fine,” Matt says. “Turn around.”

“But then, then you’ll still be looking--”

“No. I’ll turn around, too. I’ll put my back against yours, so you can feel how you’re supposed to be breathing. And so you’ll know I’m not looking at you. Turn around, do it.”

Techie responds to commands with scrambling urgency, so this actually works: he spins around and allows Matt to scoot back against him after he’s done the same. Matt can feel Techie’s panicked breath all along the length of his spine, and the warmth of him through his sweater.

“Pay attention to how I breathe,” Matt says. “And try to do the same.”

Matt takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Techie tries to match him and fails the first ten or so times, but eventually his trembling calms and he gets closer to Matt’s pace, pressing his shoulders back against the weight of him.

“That’s good,” Matt says once Techie has almost got it. “How do you feel?”

“I-- I don’t know. Fine. It’s better, um, than I thought it would be, it’s okay.”

“Do you want me to move off? Or do you still need help tracking your breath?”

“Um, I-- You can stay, it’s. It’s helping, like this, it’s better.”

“Okay.” Matt is glad Techie doesn’t want him to move. It’s nice, meditating this way. Companionable. “Keep taking deep breaths. Let them out slow, like that, yeah. I’m gonna talk you through the mind-clearing part. What’s something that makes you feel calm?”

“Calm?” Techie jerks a little at the sound of that word, as if it’s a test he knows he’s going to fail. “I, uh. Coding, numbers, the data screen.”

“Huh.” Matt usually thinks of walking deeper and deeper into a quiet forest, but Techie would probably find some way to be terrified of a forest. “Okay, we can use that.”

“Use-- What, how?”

“Imagine a row of numbers on a data screen. Count them as they appear. They’re appearing at a regular interval that matches your heartbeat, and as your heartbeat begins to slow and steady out, so does the pace of the numbers. Can you picture this?”

“I-- guess?”

Techie’s breathing is still even, so that’s something, anyway.

“The numbers don’t want anything from you,” Matt says. “You’re just tracking them with your eyes as they show up on the screen, following the kind of trail that they make.”

He wonders if he shouldn’t have mentioned eyes. When he takes a deep breath, Techie does, too, and he matches Matt’s slow exhale pretty well, his shoulders pressing against Matt’s back as he empties his lungs.

“You’re in a dark room with nothing but the numbers,” Matt says. “It’s quiet, and you’re safe. No one can see you. You can stay where you are for as long as you want. Just watching the numbers as they appear, more slowly now.”

Techie makes a soft noise under his breath, as if he’s overcome with pleasure at the thought of this scenario.

“If you close your eyes, you can track the numbers by the very soft sound they make as they appear on the screen,” Matt says. He’s pulling this out of his ass, but Techie seems to like it. “Would you like to close your eyes?”

“Yes,” Techie says, his voice tremulous and small. “I mean, I-- They’re already closed, were they supposed to be open?”

“No. I meant in the, like, imaginary scenario. Would you like to close them there, in your safe, dark room, where the numbers appear slowly?”

“I-- Yes, I think so. Okay.”

“Close them, then. You can still hear the numbers appearing. There’s a bed behind you, with lots of blankets. Do you want to lie down on the bed?”

“I guess? Yeah?”

“Your body feels heavy and there’s a slight chill in the room. The blankets are soft and warm.”

“Okay, yes, I want the blankets.”

“Go to them. Lie down on them. Feel how calm and quiet the room is, just for you, safe and dark and soft inside the blankets.”

Techie does the whimper thing again. Matt isn’t really sure where to go from here. He’s only ever meditated alone, following a long trail into a peaceful forest in his mind.

“Take a deep breath,” Matt says, and Techie does. They both exhale. “How do you feel?”

“Fine.” Techie sounds surprised. “Sleepy?”

“Good. Do you want to get into your real bed?”

“Maybe-- In a minute? Can we keep going, like this?”

“Okay.” Matt is ready for his own bed, but it does feel good to have Techie pressed against him and also sort of in the palm of his hand. Matt doesn’t have a calming effect on most people. He’s not sure that he’s ever had anything resembling one on any person ever before now, in fact.

“Can you, um,” Techie says, after they’ve cycled through a few more deep breaths and exhales. “Can you keep talking? About the, the room and the blankets and-- Stuff?”

“That’s not really how meditation works. You’re supposed to be silent.”

“Oh, oh-- Okay, never mind, sorry--”

“But. I mean. You normally don’t sit with someone’s back against yours, so. I guess this is just a different thing.”

“I’m sorry, I messed it up, I can’t--”

“No, it’s fine. I like-- This. I like it, so. I’ll talk more. If you want.”

“Yes,” Techie says, very quietly. “Please.”

Matt isn’t sure what else Techie likes, so he just keeps talking about how safe the room is, and how soft the blankets are, and the steady, undemanding sound of numbers appearing on a data screen. He describes the imaginary room’s vents as blowing clean, cool air with a gentle hum, which is true of the room they’re actually in. Techie starts to feel heavier against his back, and his breathing slows.

“Are you falling asleep?” Matt asks.

“Nh? What, yeah, oh. Sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m ready to get in bed. You?”

“Um, okay, yes.”

Matt realizes as he stands that he made it sound like they might get into the same bed. They don’t, but before Techie moves toward his he gives Matt a look like maybe he wants Matt to follow him into bed and press their backs together so he’ll remember how to breathe.

“Thanks,” Techie says, ducking his eyes away. “Thank you.”

“Yeah. You’re welcome.”

“I like your voice,” Techie blurts, and then he sort of dives for his bed, into the blankets, and lies there with his back to Matt, who blinks at him for a few seconds before taking off his glasses and getting into his own bed, too stunned by this sudden bolt of joy to respond.

Nobody has ever liked the sound of his voice before. Even Kylo Ren told him that he must work out in silence, or at least near silence, to maintain concentration. Matt tried not to take it as evidence that Kylo Ren finds his attempts at conversation annoying, but.

For the first time in as long as he can remember, Matt has some trouble falling asleep, probably because he’s listening for any hints of Techie suffering another nightmare. But Techie stays quiet for the remainder of the night.

 

**

When Matt wakes up to get ready for his next shift, Techie is gone.

This is alarming in a way that takes him off guard. He goes over to survey Techie’s blankets, not sure what he’s looking for. Blood? Evidence of foul play? He feels oddly bereft, like he’s failed to protect a fragile thing.

He puts the lights on at ninety percent and does crunches on the floor. He has an hour until his shift and should go to the mess for breakfast, but instead he walks over to Techie’s work station and takes a closer look at the little copper figures scattered about. He hadn’t noticed them yesterday, in the dark. They appear to be made of wire, and they’ve been twisted into the shapes of animals and people, also a few ships.

The room’s door opens and Matt is relieved to see Techie, but only until Techie shouts and jumps backward as if he’s just caught Matt murdering his family.

“Don’t touch those!” Techie says, hurrying into the room. He doesn’t look angry so much as terrified, his hands held out in a kind of begging gesture.

“I wasn’t touching them,” Matt says, though he had been just before the door opened. “What are they?”

“They’re my, like, hobby, I guess, I don’t know, it’s stupid, it’s nothing, just--” Techie groans and squints up at the ceiling. “Why are the lights up so high? Can I please turn them down? Please?”

He’s still squinting when he looks back at Matt, as if in pain. Matt goes to the wall panel and puts the lights on twenty percent.

“That’s still too high,” Techie says, his shoulders slumping. “Please-- Five percent? Please, I’m sorry--”

“Fine,” Matt says, though lowering the lights like this puts him in mind of his evening routine and of sleeping again. “Does it hurt your eyes or something.”

“Yes, and, just. Reminds me of--” He shudders. “A sun. A certain sun.”

“Oh.” Matt wonders if he should ask. “What planet do you come from?”

Techie laughs bitterly and walks to his wire figures, readjusting the ones that Matt touched. He’s holding a little box of Health Crunch that he must have snatched from the mess.

“I was on Fleer,” Techie says, now adjusting figures that Matt didn’t touch.

“I’m from the Outer Rim,” Matt says, though Techie didn’t ask. “Our planet didn’t have a name. The Order took me when I was six. I was supposed to be a stormtrooper, but.”

He hears himself talking in the way that he sometimes does, without feeling heard or like the non-listener wants to not-hear any more.

“You eat in here?” Matt asks, annoyed when Techie opens the Health Crunch and sits at his workstation to eat little fingerfuls of it, his lank hair hanging over his face like a shield.

“Yeah,” Techie says. “I don’t like the mess hall, um. All those people, and nobody tells you where to sit, and they look at you if you’re sitting alone, they look-- Their eyes, and mine--”

He trails off there. Matt considers mentioning that he can relate to getting stared at when he sits alone.

“You shouldn’t eat in here,” he says instead. “We’ll get space bugs.”

“I-- I try not to spill, I’ll clean it up if I do--”

“I would sit with you,” Matt says, and Techie finally looks up at him.

Matt turns away and puts on his coveralls. He leaves without saying anything else, the tips of his ears burning.

 

**

The rest of the day progresses more or less like the one before did: Matt finishes his shift, goes to the gym, doesn’t see Kylo Ren, showers and returns to the room, where Techie is working away in the dark.

“You should meditate again before bed,” Matt says as he pulls off his clothes, stripping down to his underwear. Techie turns his cheek toward Matt and fidgets in his seat.

“Would you, um, help me again? I don’t think I can do it myself yet, I’m sorry, I could try, but--”

“I’ll do it with you,” Matt says. Something about the statement tastes obscene on his tongue, maybe just because his pants are pooled around his ankles and Techie is twisting in his seat as if to get a better look at him, his eyes never making it up to Matt’s face. Matt kicks his pants away and assumes the position on the floor, listening for Techie’s slow progress toward him and exhaling gladly when he feels Techie’s back press against his own.

“Could you talk?” Techie asks, this request coming out timid and tiny.

“I’d just be saying all the same stuff,” Matt says. “I don’t have, like, another scenario cooked up. Unless you want to hear about a forest.”

“I don’t know about forests,” Techie says. “I’ve, uh. Never seen one.”

“Oh.”

“You could tell me, you could-- It’s just-- You can say anything, I mean, anything, like. Nice? It’s mostly, uh. There’s this, like, low sort of rumble? Against my back? When you-- Because of the pitch of your voice, or. I like-- That feeling, so. I think it would help me sleep and then I wouldn’t bother you by waking up with nightmares again, maybe, so--”

“Okay,” Matt says. “I’ll talk about the forest.”

“Good, okay, yes, thank you.”

Matt goes through the meditation-inducing scenario that usually just plays out in his head. The planet he was born on was all forest. The trees were enormous, and he lived inside the hollow base of one with his mother and what else was left of their tribe. Some outsiders had over-hunted and over-harvested the planet and those who still lived hidden in the forest were often hungry. Matt eventually came to realize that the First Order was the thief that took all those resources, to fill the larders of the mess halls on their star destroyers and in their stormtrooper training facilities, but it doesn’t do any good to think of that now, or about the fact that his mother probably didn’t have much choice when she gave him up to them. Or if she’s still alive.

Instead he talks about the forest as he remembers it: very peaceful and softly lit, shadowed by all the big trees (fortunately the Order didn’t require wood), probably enough shade to keep Techie’s eyes from hurting, but Matt describes the forest at twilight just in case. Techie sighs and makes little noises, shifts against his back. He’s not really meditating, and neither is Matt. But this is good, too, and soon he feels Techie getting heavier against him.

“Bed?” Matt says.

“Yeah,” Techie says, sounding so drowsy or maybe blissed out that Matt wonders again if Techie might think he’s suggesting they squeeze into the same bed, to continue the pleasurable spine-to-spine connection.

Matt stands and stretches. Techie stretches, too, imitating him in a way that Matt would be inclined to interpret as mocking if he were anyone else. But Techie gives him a nervous little smile after doing it, as if he expects praise for copying Matt’s movements.

“I get breakfast early,” Techie says. “If, if you. Wanted to come, or. Maybe you don’t like to go that early, my schedule’s so fucked up, sorry--”

“Just wake me up when you’re ready to go,” Matt says, and he turns to get in bed, feeling fuzzy like he sometimes does when he watches Kylo Ren’s legs spread around the weight bench as he lifts and grunts.

“Oh-- Okay,” Techie says, and he gets into his own bed.

Not long after that, Techie wakes Matt up with his screaming and pleading and clawing at the air.

Matt feels defeated, watching this from his own bed and waiting for it to stop. When it doesn’t, he crosses the room and touches Techie’s shoulder, which again sends Techie shrieking and ramming against the wall, where he begs for mercy until he wakes enough to see who Matt is.

“S-sorry, shit, fuck.” Techie grabs for his blankets and then just holds them in one fist, which is shaking hard. “Sorry, sorry, I’m sorry, it’s not your fault, I’m incurable, a doctor said that to me, he said, said he could remove part of my f-fucking brain and otherwise I’ll always be, I’ll be-- This, so, I’m sorry, you should probably change rooms, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, fuck--”

“Would it help if I pressed my back to yours?”

Matt is too tired to beat around the bush. Techie blinks up at him. Matt can hear the whir of his eyes as they adjust and readjust, trying to make sense of this.

“Your back?” Techie’s voice is a little husk of a thing, raw from screaming. It makes Matt’s knees weak.

“In bed,” Matt says. “If you were sleeping and you felt me behind you, against you. Like when we sit on the floor.”

He leaves it at that. Techie’s mouth hangs open.

“I can’t get reassigned,” Matt says, sharply enough that Techie flinches. “If I can’t make it work with you, here in this room, they’ll put me on another ship. And I don’t want to be on another fucking ship.” Another ship will not have Kylo Ren onboard. “So do you want to try this or what?”

“Ah--” Techie looks down at the bed, and Matt knows what he’ll say. “Would we even, like, fit?”

“It would be tight but I think so. You’re skinny.”

“And you’d, you’d-- Do that for me?”

“I just told you, it’s for me. I’m willing to experiment until I find some way that I can get some sleep in here. So are we trying this, or do I need to report you for not taking your sleep meds?”

He shouldn’t have said that last part. Techie’s face changes, a kind of shadow dropping over his expression, which, in hindsight, had been hopeful and open and sweet.

“I guess so,” Techie says, turning toward the wall. “If you’re going to, to threaten me. You can do what you want, I guess, seems like.”

So he has consented to being comforted only under duress. Matt hates that part of it, so much that he bites his bottom lip hard to punish it for letting the wrong words out, always. He settles into the bed, feeling awkward and pressing his bare back to the curve of Techie’s spine through his sweater. Techie fidgets and makes little huffing noises under his breath. Matt’s ears are still ringing from the volume of his screaming.

“I could punch you,” Techie says. He’s mumbling, sounds very tired.

“I’m sorry,” Matt says, his teeth grit against the impulse to hold it in. “I didn’t. Mean that, about your meds. It was stupid to say.”

Techie tenses up against him. “What, no, I meant-- In the night, when I’m having the-- I could throw a punch in my sleep, could hit you by accident, so, just, know that, like, sleeping here is not safe for you, obviously.”

“I think I can handle it,” Matt says. Techie scoffs.

For a long time they both lie there breathing a little roughly, wide awake. Matt can feel Techie’s wild heartbeat against his back. It’s so forceful that it seems to shake the bed, or maybe it’s his own heart doing that.

At some point they both sleep. Techie doesn’t wake up until he’s poking Matt’s shoulder and asking him if he wants to go to breakfast.

They eat together in the mess, without conversation. It is indeed very early and Matt feels only half-alive. Techie puts milk on his Health Crunch and eats it with a spoon, hunching over the bowl like he’s afraid someone is going to steal it from him. The milk is the same shade of blue as the blurry old slaver’s brand on his forehead. Matt wonders what color Techie’s eyes were, before they were bionic.

A couple of people give them long looks, but Matt returns these with his unblinking death stare, and they flee.

 

**

That night at the gym, Kylo Ren appears. Matt tries to act as if he’s not overly thrilled to see him, as usual.

“Sup?” Matt says after he’s very casually approached the bench where Ren is doing bicep curls with a weight that probably nobody else onboard this ship can lift, Matt included. But then again maybe he could. Maybe he’ll try, sometime when Ren is not here.

Ren doesn’t look up from his reps until he’s finished with them. Then he throws his sweaty hair back and blinks up at Matt, who hasn’t started working out yet but is already just as flushed as Ren is across the cheeks.

“Oh,” Ren says. “Hey.”

“Haven’t seen you in, uh. A while.”

“Been off ship.”

Ren gets up and moves over to the lat pull down. Matt follows him, again casually.

“That’s cool,” Matt says. “Off ship.”

Ren just grunts, maybe only from the effort of using the machine.

“I got a new bunkmate,” Matt says after a while, maybe stupidly, when he can’t think of anything else.

“I know,” Ren says, and it sends an almost uncomfortably intense thrill through Matt, that Kylo Ren should know anything about him. “Hux mentioned it.”

Hux mentioned it. Hux mentioned it! They’ve spoken to each other about Matt. The General and Kylo Ren, together, maybe even in bed together as everyone says they often are, talking about Matt the Radar Technician and his new bunkmate situation. It’s so unreal and leaves Matt feeling so elated that his mouth goes dry and he blurts the first thing that leaps into his head, which is:

“Yeah, he’s pretty weird.”

Matt feels guilty for saying so, even if it’s obviously true, and he has to stop himself from explaining why, which would probably involve saying something about the whir of Techie’s bionic eyes, which would be cruel. Ren does five more reps on the lat machine before releasing the hand-holds and sitting up with a moan.

“You should respect that guy,” Ren says, finally meeting Matt’s eyes. “The tech with the red hair, right?”

“Right-- Yeah.” Techie’s hair has more of a pink-green glow in the constant dark of their room, so Matt has a hard time thinking of it as ‘red.’

Ren nods. “I was in a lift with him once,” he says. “Used the Force to get a read on him when I noticed his eyes. I thought maybe he was only half human, was surprised the Order let somebody like that serve, you know how they are. He’s all human, and his mind is a horror show. Almost knocked me on my ass to even look lightly. He’s had a terrible life. But he was still standing upright and doing his job, to ensure his own survival. That takes strength.”

Matt’s dry-mouth feeling has increased tenfold. He nods dumbly, feeling a little pinch of envious anger toward Techie for having Ren’s respect like this. Then he really thinks about what Ren is saying: a horror show, almost knocked me on my ass.

“You’re on Hux’s shit list for all the room reassignments,” Ren says. “So you’d better get along with this guy.”

“Right,” Matt says, wanting to run away. Which has never been true in Kylo Ren’s presence before, far from it. Of course there is a shit list, and of course Matt is on it. He’s always on that list, whoever’s making it. “I know. Thanks.”

Matt works out only briefly and forgets to shower before leaving the gym, so he has to do it in the communal hall shower near the E deck bunks. It’s crowded with boisterous stormtroopers at this time of night. Matt doesn’t like removing his glasses for a shower while horny bucketheads are inevitably checking out his immaculately shredded physique, but he’s in a kind of fog anyway, ignoring whatever stares he may be receiving.

When he walks into the room, Techie is working as usual.

“I’m almost done,” Techie says while Matt strips down to his underwear for bed.

“Fine.”

Matt feels an unsettling combination of resentment of Techie and longing to shield him from the oncoming nightmares. He stretches out in his own bed, not sure what Techie will require of him in that sense tonight, and rolls toward the wall.

“Are you asleep?” Techie asks after a while, and Matt considers pretending to be.

“Close to it,” he mutters, his face half-buried in his pillow. Pouts childishly when even lightly reprimanded had been another note on his junior stormtrooper file.

“Oh-- okay.” Techie is standing in the middle of the room, not moving and clearly not knowing what to do.

“Just get in with me,” Matt says, keeping his back to Techie to show him what’s on offer: the long, naked curve of Matt’s spine. “If you want. Seemed to work last night.”

“Yeah-- Yes, it did, thank you, I-- Okay. I’ll just, um. Can I bring some blankets?”

“Sure.”

Techie somehow manages to cocoon himself in blankets without draping any over Matt and while still putting his back flush to Matt’s, only the worn wool of Techie’s sweater between them. Matt takes a deep breath when Techie has gone still against him, and Techie does the same, letting it out when Matt does.

“I’m sorry,” Techie says. “I’m-- Sorry, but could you talk, um, just a little? I think, think that would help?”

“What do you want me to talk about.”

“Oh-- Anything, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not, like, you know. Something, uh, upsetting.”

Matt wonders how many topics might potentially be upsetting to Techie. He’s had a terrible life, according to Kylo Ren, who was himself raised by a brutal old Force master who kept Ren locked away from all human contact until he was battle ready, or so it’s said. Matt thinks about the other details of his day and remembers feeling much calmer earlier, after breakfast with Techie in the mess, when he’d reported for duty and resumed work on a long term radar repair project that is challenging but not frustrating, a rare and perfect combination that wipes all of Matt’s brain function aside save for the work. He can relate, maybe, to how Techie feels best when he’s busy and not thinking about himself as a person so much as a tool for problem solving.

“Do you know much about radar repair?” Matt asks.

“Not really, no, I, uh-- I wasn’t traditionally, like. Trained. I only know how to code programs, mostly security stuff.”

“You want to hear about what I do?”

“Yes! Yeah, okay, perfect. Tell me.”

Matt talks, no detail of his work left unexplained. Techie hums occasionally with interest or understanding, and it feels good against Matt’s back, that little vibration. Matt likes the idea that Techie is absorbing comfort from the “sort of rumble” of his voice, not just hearing his words but feeling them. Though Techie mostly keeps quiet and the talk of radar function and repair is probably dull to him, Matt feels like he’s being truly heard, and like maybe the dullness itself is a balm for Techie, who presses back against the relief of it gladly.

Still, not long after they’ve both drifted off, Techie wakes up with a nightmare and elbows Matt hard in the back once he starts thrashing.

“No, no, no,” Techie chants, and Matt tries to interpret the fact that tonight he’s whimpering more than screaming as some kind of sign of progress. “Please no, please, I can’t, please, no more--”

“Hey.” Matt rolls toward Techie and presses his shoulders down so he won’t get cracked with another bony elbow. Techie cries out in fresh horror at the feeling of being subdued. His eyes fly open, and it startles Matt again to look down into them without his glasses, even when he’s this close and they’re only faintly blurry. They’re still like hollows, so dark. “You were dreaming,” Matt says, hoping that Techie is fully awake as he pants up at Matt, his eyes whirring in wild little fits.

“Wha--” Techie’s voice is soft, more confused than terrified.

“Just a dream,” Matt says, as if Techie’s dreams are anything that can be easily dismissed, whatever they are. “You’re safe, here in our room. I’m here, uh. You’re okay.”

“I’m sorry.” Techie seems to fully recognize Matt only after he’s wibbled this out. “Sorry, shit, sorry, you’re doing all this and I’m not even, it’s not even-- Nothing works, I’m fucked up beyond repair and they should just leave me alone in here and bolt the door shut--”

“I think it is working,” Matt says. “Just slowly.”

“You-- But--”

“You weren’t as loud tonight. And I woke you up pretty easy. So.”

Techie stares up at Matt, still breathing heavily and awash in the glow from the data screen powersave that barely lights the room, casting its sheen of odd pinky-greenness over Techie.

“Sorry,” Techie says again, very softly.

For a while they’re just looking at each other, and then Matt realizes that he’s still holding Techie’s shoulders, the left one exposed by the over-large collar of the sweater. Matt releases him and moves off as much as he can until his back hits the wall, which isn’t very far at all, props himself up on his elbow and rubs at his eyes. His heart is pounding just like it did when Techie woke him up with violent screams.

“Do you want me to get back in my own bed?” Techie asks.

“No,” Matt says, answering this more firmly than he might have if he wasn’t still half-asleep. “Unless you want to.”

“No, I-- No. I want to stay, um, if that’s what you, or, if it wouldn’t bother you too, too much--”

“I could hold you.” Matt says this just to confirm his suspicion that Techie would probably hate that. It’s what Matt’s mother did after he had nightmares as a kid.

“Hold, oh, like--”

Matt puts his head on the pillow, facing Techie while he waits for an answer. He closes his eyes and feels Techie rolling toward him, breathing close to his face.

“I just really need to stay on this ship,” Matt says when he starts to feel embarrassed, his eyes still closed. “So do whatever you need to. I don’t know what comfort feels like to you. I just know I need to sleep, and it’s got to be in this room.”

“This, this is good,” Techie says. “I-- Usually-- It takes me a long time to, like, settle? Settle down? After, but. I feel-- Better, yeah. Like this.”

He’s quiet for a while, except for his shaky little breaths, which tickle against the end of Matt’s nose in a way that should be irritating but isn’t. Matt sinks down close to sleep, not quite able to get below the surface of it, too aware of the nearness of Techie and that he doesn’t want to move away from him, in sleep or otherwise.

“Thank you, thank you,” Techie whispers. He sounds like he’s not speaking to Matt so much as to some greater power that has brought them together in this moment. Hux, maybe. Techie rests his trembling hand over Matt’s and strokes Matt’s knuckles with his fingertips, then takes his hand away again.

Matt falls asleep still feeling the weird electric tingle of that little touch, half-suspecting that he dreamed it.

 

**

The next few days pass easy and comfortable, except for one thing that Matt can finally no longer ignore, especially when Techie gets into bed with him and curls in close, just short of pressing the length of their bodies together.

“So, question,” Matt says, and he sighs, because maybe this will ruin something that he’s otherwise starting to really love. “When’s the last time you, like. Showered.”

“Oh-- oh.” Techie looks up into Matt’s eyes and then down again. He doesn’t seem capable of blushing, but when he’s ashamed the whirring eye noise becomes much more frantic. “I stink,” he says. “Don’t I?”

“No,” Matt says, though he does. “But. Maybe it’s not the freshest you’ve ever smelled, uh. And your hair is, like. Pretty greasy.” Matt has become concerned for the integrity of his pillowcase.

Techie groans and rolls onto his back. He puts his hands over his eyes. He’s at least wearing a faded yellow shirt over his pants tonight, instead of that funky sweater.

“I know,” he says, hands still on his face. “I smell, I do, it’s-- I’m sorry. I’m disgusting, I’m-- Not fit for human consumption.”

Matt’s face gets hot at the thought of consuming Techie. He’s woken up hard these past two days, with Techie pressed against him to varying degrees, seemingly oblivious.

“You’re not disgusting,” Matt says. “You’re just a human who needs to bathe occasionally.”

“I-- I-- The showers though, fuck! I hate them. I hate it, I can’t be in there, with people-- I have--” Techie takes his hands from his eyes and gives Matt a look that tears apologetically at something soft in Matt’s chest. “I have, um. All these-- scars? People stare.”

“There are some times when nobody else is in there,” Matt says, not sure what he can or should say about scars just yet.

“I know that, that’s when I go, I mean, of course I shower eventually, when I start to smell so rank that it’s bothering even me, but I have to, to-- It’s hard, okay, to drag myself in there, because, like, even if you’re not expecting anyone to come in, that’s almost worse, because they still might, the showers are always open, somebody might wander in at any time, and if it’s just you and him in there that’s especially horrible, because then you’re the only thing to look at. Me, I mean-- I am.”

“I could go with you,” Matt says, offering this before he thinks about how it sounds. Techie’s eyes widen and adjust, whirring. “I mean I could stand outside the door and tell anyone who comes by to get lost.”

“But. Okay, but-- That’s not allowed. And you and me, we. We’re already on thin ice, right?”

So Techie must have gotten some warning, too, about needing to put up with sharing his room with Matt or else. Interesting.

“I could stand inside the door, then,” Matt says, trying not to think too much about the fact that Techie might be the one who is actually desperate to make this bunkmate situation work for the purpose of staying onboard a ship where his eccentricities are tolerated, whereas at this point Matt is just using that as an excuse to get into bed with him.

“Inside?” Techie says.

“Yeah, with my back to you, facing the door. And if someone comes in I could just like, stall them while you finish up and get dressed. That way you know you’d have a buffer.”

“A buffer,” Techie repeats, his eyes going spacey. “Yeah, oh. Okay. I mean, I know I have to wash up, I know-- I’m sorry, fuck. You don’t deserve to sleep with rancid garbage in your bed.”

“You’re not rancid garbage.”

“I-- I mean-- You know what I mean.”

They wait a few more hours, Techie insisting on remaining on the other side of the room to protect Matt from his smell, which Matt almost misses once it’s not right up in his face. When they reach the hour when the showers will probably be empty they head there together, and Matt guards the door as planned. Nobody comes in. He tries not to picture Techie behind him, his delicate, soapy hands moving over a horror show of secret scars. A horror show. Matt wants to never find out, and yet he’s constantly thinking about it. He wants a list of people who’ve hurt Techie and wants to use all of his shore leave time to hunt them until they’ve been mowed down.

“Thank you,” Techie says when he’s turned off the shower and dried and presumably dressed. “You can turn around now,” he says, and he’s smiling when Matt does. It’s a small, cautious smile, and it feels like some sort of Force magic that Matt has managed to conjure, something miraculous and sacred.

“You’re welcome,” Matt says, very seriously, as if to seal the spell.

They go to the laundry for two sets of fresh bedsheets and change the ones on their beds when they get back to the room, working without speaking. Matt can smell Techie from across the room now: a kind of soft, soapy fog hangs over his clean skin and damp hair. The fresh sheets smell good, too, if a little industrial in their cleanliness. Matt strips down to his underwear and stretches out on his bed, leaving his glasses on so he can regard Techie clearly as he finishes making his own. He’s smoothing out the wrinkles carefully, bending over to offer Matt a view of his tiny ass that Matt feels guilty about enjoying after all that chivalrous shower protecting.

“Come here,” Matt says, trying the words out. They feel clumsy on his tongue, but Techie moves toward his bed like he’d been waiting to hear them.

Last night they discovered that Techie enjoys putting his ear against Matt’s chest and having Matt’s arm tucked around his back, feeling the rumble of Matt’s voice that way. Following this treatment method, Techie only woke up once, with a panicked but truncated shout, blinked tiredly at Matt’s attempts to soothe him and then fell asleep with his face buried against Matt’s chest, where he slept until morning. So they resume that arrangement now, over the fresh sheets, and Matt has to sternly instruct himself not to put his face against the top of Techie’s clean head and breathe in the scent of cheap First Order shampoo, which has never really smelled that great to him before but suddenly seems amazing, almost drug-like.

“What would you like me to talk about?” Matt is afraid that he’s run out of anything even vaguely interesting to say.

“Mhmm, I don’t know, maybe-- You said-- You were going to be a stormtrooper?”

“Oh. Yeah. I was put in that program. The junior program. When I was six.”

“So, like, how come you’re a tech? You’re obviously, like--” Techie puts one pale soft hand on Matt’s chest, over his heartbeat. “Um, you know, obviously you’re strong enough. To be a soldier.”

Matt has to think about it for a moment, too distracted by Techie’s touch to remember reality. He’s warm against Matt’s skin and he smells so good. Telling him to shower was the best idea Matt has ever had.

“I sucked at stormtrooper school,” Matt says. “Is what happened.”

“Oh-- I’m sorry, fuck, um, if it’s a bad story, you don’t have to tell it.”

Matt files that away: Techie thinks bad stories should maybe not be told.

“It’s not so bad.” Matt dares a brush of his fingertips over the exposed skin above the collar of Techie’s shirt, just to confirm that it’s as soft as it looks. Techie shivers and presses closer, his knee bumping against Matt’s thigh. “I’m better suited for this,” Matt says, meaning his tech position, or helping a shivery bionic-eyed tech who’s had a terrible life sleep through the night. Lately the latter feels like his true calling.

“I didn’t go to any sort of school,” Techie says. “I think I would have hated it. Kids, they-- They stare worse than adults, much worse. Although.” His hand twitches on Matt’s chest. “Back then, I. Didn’t look like this.”

Matt keeps perfectly still, barely daring to breathe, then he thinks: no, not now, before their sacred sleep time. They should talk about something pleasant instead.

“Have you ever gone swimming?” Matt blurts, mining his old memories of home for the one thing he hasn’t talked about yet.

“Swimming-- What, no-- Why?” Techie tenses up as if Matt is about to throw him into the deep end of a pool.

“Just asking,” Matt says, and he rubs his thumb over Techie’s shoulder until the tension eases a bit. “It’s something I liked to do when I was a kid. In the river near the glen where we lived.” It had been over-fished to all fuck and then it got polluted and much too dirty to swim in anymore, but those aren’t pleasant bedtime subjects. “The sunlight would sparkle on the water,” Matt says. “And it made the greatest sound when it rippled over the rocks, this sort of soft and powerful at the same time thing, and it was so clear and sometimes really cold, which felt good when the sun was on your shoulders. And we’d lay on the bank to dry off after swimming, me and the two other kids.”

“Other kids, where-- Did the Order take them, too?”

Techie is apparently determined to talk about upsetting things tonight, as long as they’re Matt’s upsetting things.

“Yes,” Matt says, and his tone must say enough because Techie doesn’t ask a follow-up question, just slides his arm across Matt’s chest, and nuzzles his cheek against Matt’s shoulder.

“Tell me more about the river,” Techie says. “I’ve only ever seen a muddy little creek.”

Matt talks about the river until he’s down to describing the quality of certain rocks he particularly remembers, because had a small collection of special ones that he would bring home with him after they’d caught his eye. He kept them in a leather bag and would sometimes spread them out over his bedroll and just admire them. Funny that you ended up being so technically adept after some training, a superior officer said to him once. Considering you were raised in some backwater wood like an animal. He’d been allowed to take the bag of rocks with him at his mother’s insistence, but they disappeared shortly after his arrival at the junior program dormitory, where he shared a warehouse-like room full of cots with ninety-nine other recently acquired assets.

He doesn’t say that part to Techie, but feels like Techie somehow heard it anyway, because he’s running careful fingertips over Matt’s skin, which lulls Matt into an uneasy sleep where he fears his own bad dreams might find him.

If they come, he doesn’t remember them. Techie wakes him up at one point, whining and jerking in his arms. His eyes only open halfway when Matt cups his cheek and whispers that he’s okay, he’s safe.

“I’m sorry I smelled bad,” Techie says, mumbling this when his eyes are closed again. He paws weakly at Matt’s face and sighs. “You always smell so good, you’re so good, you’re like a dream I don’t want to wake up from, I don’t want to wake up, Matt.”

“Go back to sleep, then,” Matt says, and he pulls Techie fully into his arms after he’s done so, holds him tight enough to leave no room for further nightmares and guiltily considers the fact that he’s not as purely good as Techie might think, because he wants to ask already: Is this going to progress into fucking or is it just a freestyle clutching at each other arrangement? He’ll take what he can get, admittedly, but he still wants to know.

 

**

After about a week of continued freestyle clutching and untended mutual morning wood that Matt now feels is being pointedly ignored rather than not noticed, a meeting of the E deck technicians is called, and Techie is required to tie his hair back neatly and put on his uniform coveralls for purposes of attending. Matt can see Techie’s pulse jumping at the side of his throat when they walk toward the conference room together. Each technician must give an oral report to their supervisor about the status of their current project while all the other E deck techs sit and listen. Techie has thrown up from nerves twice this morning already.

“Fuck these guys,” Matt says, repeating the mantra he’s been trying to teach Techie. “Who cares what they think? Just get this shit over with and then we’ll go do something else.”

“Right, right, yes, fuck them.”

Matt has gathered that the other E deck techs have been hard on Techie in the past, though possibly that’s true of everybody except Matt, since Techie allowed Matt into his bed less than two days after meeting him, as if he was such a stranger to kindness that he never even learned to be cautious of trusting it.

They are the last two E deck techs to show up, owing to the fact that Techie’s second incidence of vomiting happened just before they left the room and he then had to clean his teeth again, which took overlong since he was delaying. Everyone stares at them, of course. Matt stares back, raising his lip at a few who are particularly brazen. Techie keeps his eyes on the floor and his shoulders hunched. Matt makes a mental note to teach him about the importance of a confident posture.

“I guess we can get started now,” their supervisor says, giving Matt a disapproving look. His name is Captain Ippley and he’s a lazy shithead who only made officer because he has some kind of Imperial bloodline. Matt once got into a heated argument about the radar capabilities of the second Death Star with him, at a ship-wide department mixer.

Matt doesn’t listen to anyone else’s presentations. This is typical of him, but it’s usually because he’s bored. Today he’s overly focused on Techie’s obviously mounting distress as his turn to present draws closer. When it’s Matt’s turn, he launches out of his seat and into his report before being asked to speak.

“Radar sensitivity restoration project on the starboard-E missile station is ahead of schedule. Six hundred and fifty-eight continuous wave illuminator electron tubes have been upgraded and four-hundred and twenty-nine remain, after which there will be an approximately three cycle-long test period after which the project will be complete and operational. My current projected completion date is three and a half standard months from this date. I continue to work independently, logging eight hours per cycle, which is the optimal per-cycle unit of active work time allowing for the most productivity without sacrificing quality. Thus concludes my report.”

Matt sits. As usual, no one has any questions. He’s very good at what he does and considers himself an effective communicator in a professional setting, most of the time.

Techie is next. He stands, visibly shaking. At least three people snicker. Matt glares at them, but they’re too busy staring at Techie to notice. Matt can hear the faint whir of his eyes as they dart around the table at the various face and then return to looking at nothing in particular, freezing with disassociating resignation like those of a trapped animal.

“I, uh, I have been, as most of you, I think, know-- I have been working on closing the back-- Backdoor vulnerability in our, um, on the motion sensor codes in the, in the cargo holds on this, on our deck here, and it’s a long-term project because there are many, well, the security already in place works against you, see, and that’s a comp--complication that takes some delicate, like, untangling of the p-permission systems--”

“How is your project coming along?” Ippley asks, snapping. “We don’t need a description of what you’re doing. We know what the project is. Progress report, please.”

More barely concealed laughter from the other techs.

“Ah, yes, okay, well, thank you, right-- That is, I was explaining, in this way, because, well, it is behind schedule, but only because--”

“How behind schedule.”

“Um, well, I think, I-- to be con--conservative I’d say maybe perhaps two months--”

“Two months? Are you serious?”

“Oh-- Yes, I’m serious, sir, I’m serious, but if you’d-- Um, it’s actually due to the fact that I discovered additional vulnerability while investigating the known backdoor issue, which, which-- Was, actually, I think-- No, I’m sure, it was something I was asked to do alongside the, uh, when I was assigned--”

“Enough,” Ippley says. “This project is extremely critical and you need to find a way to significantly speed up your progress or I’ll be reassigning it to someone who can. I’ll have to inform General Hux that you are so unacceptably behind at this point. You may take your seat, Techie,” he adds when Techie stands there gaping at him. “Before you have a goddamn seizure in my presence, please.”

Everyone but Matt laughs. Techie lowers himself slowly into his seat, shoulders curling inward.

“Sir,” Matt says, pronouncing the word like a slur when he stands. “If I may. I don’t think you understood the nature of my colleague’s report.”

“Sit down, Matt,” Ippley says, also pronouncing Matt’s name as if it’s a synonym for motherfucker. “I understood perfectly--”

“No, because what he’s telling you is that the project has actually doubled in size since he took the initiative to discover further vulnerabilities that you and your colleagues did not uncover when you assigned him the project--”

“You are out of order right now--”

“--And now he’s doing the work of two or maybe three people and he’s still getting it done fast enough to bolster security by eighty percent on all the priority docks while working now on supply station docks--”

“You have not been asked to comment on this--”

“--And as I have a personal friendship with Kylo Ren--”

(Matt tries not to let the groan that goes up around the entire room bother him; they’re jealous, they’re jealous--)

“--I will be reporting this valiant attempt of my colleague here to accurately complete the work assigned to him as well as your own, and surely my friend Kylo Ren will have a word with General Hux about your lack of insight into the security failures which you were assigned to identify prior to passing the work of fixing them down to someone who actually knows what he’s doing.”

Silence falls. Techie is scrunched in on himself so tightly in his chair that Matt can almost feel him vibrating with tension, disturbing the air in the room. Ippley’s face is red, either with fury or humiliation.

“Congratulations, Matthew,” he says. “You’re in the brig until further notice.”

Techie makes an aggrieved sound under his breath, hopefully audible only to Matt.

Matt takes his seat, shaking now himself, with rage. There’s a buzz on the conference coordinator module at the center of the table, and Ippley answers it, still red in the face.

“Yes, sir?” he says.

“Report to me at once.” It’s Hux. He sounds displeased. Matt is not surprised to learn he was listening in on this meeting from his office. Hux is intimately involved in much of the running of his ship, almost to an inhuman degree, so perhaps with Kylo Ren’s help. “And leave the techs to do their work as assigned. No one shall report to the brig. I cannot afford to have their work suspended. Meanwhile, I will see you in my office immediately, Captain Ippley.”

Hux hangs up then. Ippley dismisses the meeting without daring to return Matt’s victorious stare or otherwise saying another word to anyone.

Matt doesn’t speak to Techie on the way back to their room, not wanting to publicly celebrate in an uncool way. Techie still looks greenish, as if he might get sick again.

“Hux is going to tear Ippley a new one,” Matt says as soon as they’re in the room, in their dark companionable space, and he finds that he wants to grab Techie, kiss him, and lift him wholly off his feet while still kissing him. “You okay?” he asks instead. “Gonna puke again, or--?”

“I wish you wouldn’t-- Please don’t-- I don’t like confrontation.” Techie still sounds cowed, and he’s keeping his back to Matt. “It just, just makes them worse--”

Fuck them, remember? You’re doing a great job and now Hux knows it. You just have to use the right words, that’s important, I can teach you how--”

“Please, just--!” Techie holds up his hands as if to surrender, still not facing him. “I, ah, I need to get to work, there’s lots to do, so much, and now I’ve got all this, like, extra attention on me, so.”

“Fine,” Matt says. He scoffs, hurt, and watches Techie sit gingerly at his workstation, as if he’s just been beaten and is now sore. Techie begins coding while still wearing his coveralls, his hair still back in a limp little ponytail.

Matt leaves for his own shift. He has trouble concentrating on his electron tube upgrades and for the first time since the start of the project he doesn’t meet his self-imposed quota for the cycle. When his eight hours are up he goes directly to the gym, where he borrows workout clothes from the laundry. The pants are too short and the shirt is way too tight. He works out hard and for a long time, until his legs feel heavy and tight and his arms are screaming like things that need to be fed. After a shower, he eats alone in the mess and tastes nothing, his stomach pinching up when he crams his food in too fast.

He expects to find Techie at his workstation when he gets back to the room and plans to ignore him and to maybe even refuse to share the bed with him, though he knows he won’t be able to maintain his wounded grudge if Techie so much as asks to lie next to him or even just gets into the bed beside him without asking.

A brief shock of panic clips Matt’s gut when the room’s door opens and he sees Techie already in bed-- Matt’s bed, the one where they usually sleep, maybe because Techie has too many bad memories of nightmares in the other one. Techie gives Matt a sheepish smile and sits up onto his elbows. He’s wearing a shirt with short sleeves and his usual baggy pants, has let his hair down and may have even trimmed it a little. Something about him looks fresh, different. Maybe it’s just that Matt has never seen Techie’s bare arms before. He can see the scars even in the dark room, from the doorway.

“Sorry,” Techie says, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He prefaces almost everything with that word until he’s calmed to near-sleep levels in Matt’s arms.

“For what?”

It seems like a cruel question only after Matt has heard himself ask it. He walks into the room and stands staring down at Techie, who might be described as having his legs spread apart in an inviting way, but probably he doesn’t know he’s doing it.

Techie shrugs. “Just-- You were trying to help. At the meeting, I-- I’m sorry. Nobody-- I don’t know how to-- be helped, um. I wasn’t a sex slave, okay?”

He blurts that last thing sort of angrily. Matt blinks.

“What.”

“I-- You-- I don’t, like-- Have anything, you know, like a disease or even, even an aversion, um, I don’t know if you just-- Get hard like you do for whatever random physiological reason or if it’s because of me, because I’m there, because-- but you could do things, you could-- I want-- I’ve never, not as a slave or as a, as a person, but. I want to, um. I used to jerk off twice a day in here to holoporn but now you’re always here or I don’t know when you’ll walk in, and. We could just do it. Together, if. You wanted.”

Matt tries to attach this confession to Techie’s earlier irritation with his public protectiveness. He supposes it doesn’t matter how the two are related.

“I mean I assume you already knew I was a slave,” Techie says, sounding just on the verge of angry again. “Everybody knows, everybody-- Talks, I think.”

“Most people don’t like talking to me.”

“Well, most people are f-fucking awful, so.”

“You’re not. But, yeah. I knew.”

Matt is unzipping his coveralls, slowly beginning to accept that Techie wants to fuck, that he watches holonet porn and touches himself and thinks about something when he does-- What, what would he fantasize about? Matt wants to know, but his face is hot already and he can’t make himself ask.

“You’re not awful, either,” Techie says. He swallows and watches Matt strip down to his underwear; his left knee twitches. “I, um. I’d have to leave my clothes on, okay? Mostly, like. Trust me, you don’t want to see what’s under here.”

Yes, I do, Matt thinks, but his heart also breaks a little so maybe he doesn’t.

“Whatever you want.”

“Okay. Okay, good. Thank-- Thank you for, for-- And for earlier, with Ippley and those assholes-- I guess, I mean-- Don’t do that again, but. But thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Matt sits on the bed. Techie looks down at his scarred, skinny arms, and he must have wanted to show at least them to Matt, because there they are. The wounds don’t look self-inflicted. Some of the scars are so thick that Matt is surprised Techie didn’t bleed out entirely when they were sliced into him, but maybe whoever cut him knew just where to make it painful but not fatal.

“You can ask me anything you want,” Techie says, still looking down at his scars.

“Can I kiss you?”

Techie looks up, and everything about his expression says yes, please, yes, like an inverse of the desperate begging he does in his sleep. He scoots toward Matt and leans in, his breath coming out choppy when their lips meet.

Matt hasn’t kissed anyone in maybe a year. He went through a period of somewhat intense sexual exploration shortly after being booted out of the stormtrooper program for good at seventeen, and for a while he fucked or got fucked by anybody who was willing, except for stormtroopers, because he was mad at the entire stormtrooper population and still is. Kissing was never a highlight, but this is something else maybe, because Techie’s lips are soft and warm and he tastes a little sweet and minty, like he swilled some mouthwash in preparation for this. Matt hears his own breath coming harder already. His cock is getting hard, too, even before he presses his tongue out to part Techie’s lips.

“Oh,” Techie says. His eyes are closed when Matt pulls back a little to check his face. Techie follows Matt’s mouth and licks at him timidly, timidly, and then so hungrily.

“Do you want to lie down?” Matt asks when Techie’s lips are fat and pink from being kissed. He supposes his own are, too, because Techie is staring at them, looking hypnotized as he nods slowly. “Do you want-- Can I lie on top of you?”

“Yes,” Techie says. He drops down onto the pillow and reaches for Matt. “Please, c’mon, please?”

Since neither of them has jerked off in almost two weeks, their tentative dry humping quickly becomes frantic, and Techie makes noises that sound so close to his frightened dream noises that Matt has to keep pausing to check that he’s okay. Techie grunts in frustration at each pause and finally bites Matt’s bottom lip in answer, his bony hips working madly as fucks his cock up against whatever friction he can find, both of them gasping every time their clothed shafts rub together. Matt buries his face against Techie’s throat, remembering only then that he’s still wearing his glasses, and he feels his balls tightening, cock throbbing, too full, he’s going to come so hard against the jerky little snaps of Techie’s eager hips. Matt groans, wanting that and also not wanting this to end yet, rolling his hips down with shameless need that feels both new and wonderfully familiar, like from the days when he first discovered sex, lying on his stomach in a sterile cot in a crowded room, gasping secret joy into his pillow and feeling certain that he was the only one of all his hundred bunkmates who could do this magic thing. Because he thought it was something he must have brought with him from home, from the woods and the river and the sunlight, a thing that had grown quietly in him like a seed those lost places had planted, and one that nobody would be able to take from him for that same reason: it was inside him, inside him even after all that time away from anything that made him feel special, and it was his alone.

“Oh fuck,” he says and then he’s coming, filling his underwear like he’s a kid again, only now Techie’s wet mouth is open under his when he moans through it.

“Shit, yes, yeah--” Techie whispers. He goes tense all over, whimpers and puts his arms around Matt’s neck when he comes, holding on tight like he’s afraid his orgasm might blink him out of existence if he doesn’t.

Matt lifts his head only because his glasses are pressed awkwardly against his face in a way that’s growing painful. Techie laughs when he sees that they’re fogged up and smudged, and he pulls them off before Matt can, folds them and sets them on the workstation, in their usual place, a spot Techie cleared among his wire figures.

“Sorry,” is, of course, the first thing Techie says after.

“Why are you sorry?” Matt kisses Techie’s face when he moans and wrinkles his nose instead of answering. “That was so-- We can do it again, we can do anything you want, that was just an appetizer.”

“Appetizer,” Techie mutters, like maybe he’s unfamiliar with the word. He grins and loops his arms around Matt’s neck again. “Fuck, you know, um-- So your cock is really, really big?”

“Oh, yeah. It is.” Matt had figured it wouldn’t be news to Techie that he has a huge cock, considering that the soft bulge of it in his underwear is evidence enough, let alone the morning wood Techie has brushed up against. He wonders if he should say something like ‘you don’t have to take it up your ass.’ And of course Techie doesn’t have to do that or anything, but, fuck, if he wanted to-- Matt’s spent cock twitches at the thought. “What sort of holoporn do you watch?”

Techie grins again. It changes his whole face, and even without his glasses on Matt sees Techie’s eyes and all of him as he actually is, not hollow at all.

“Mostly, uhhh. Ass pounding-- Stuff?”

“Fuck,” Matt says, hushed and approving.

“I’m gonna change my underwear, um. I know I, like, conduct myself like a pig, but. I don’t like being sticky.”

“You don’t conduct yourself like a pig.” Matt rolls toward the wall to give him privacy. “Do you mind if I’m naked?” he asks.

“Um, I’d like you to be, in fact.”

Techie sits on the bed and touches Matt’s shoulder to signal that he can look. Matt rolls onto his back, lifts his hips and tugs his underwear off. He uses the still-dry parts to wipe the cold come off his dick. Techie watches this process intently, his lips parted.

“I’m surprised you like all this so much.” Matt didn’t really mean to say that, but now it’s out.

Techie frowns and looks up at Matt’s face. “This-- What, why? Sex?”

“Well, yeah. And--” Matt reaches for him and Techie slides down into his arms, settles in close, bumps Matt’s cock with his knees and sets it toward getting stiff again. “And this,” Matt says, putting his hand on Techie’s shoulder. He runs his fingers down past Techie’s sleeve, over the scars, careful. Techie shivers and sucks in a small breath but also squirms closer. “After someone--” Matt says, his fingers trembling over the thickest scar on Techie’s right arm, which is just over the crook of his elbow. “After-- All this shit someone put you through. I’m surprised you like being touched.”

“Why-- What? But-- I mean, this is different, it’s totally different--”

“I know, but--”

“And I wasn’t sure I would like it until you.” Techie looks vaguely annoyed at Matt for having required him to say so, then his brow softens and he nuzzles his face right up against Matt’s. “You just, uh. Put your back against mine, and it felt like something I’d been needing, like, like-- oh, hey, this is the medicine I’ve been looking for, and you were just. Just so much better than the blankets, and I was really-- Really grateful to get those blankets, once. Some of them are actually, like. Stolen.”

“Blanket thief,” Matt mutters. Techie’s eyes widen before he realizes that Matt is teasing him fondly. Techie smiles but still looks a little uncertain and scolded, so Matt kisses him, kisses him, until they’re both hard again and Techie’s perfect soft hand is on Matt’s cock. Like the kissing, he’s timid, timid, and then his grip tightens and he moans into Matt’s mouth, greedily stroking as Matt fills and thickens in his hand.

“Can I--?” Matt asks, moving his hand toward Techie’s tented erection. Techie nods and pushes his pants down just enough to free his cock and also to partially expose a few horrific-looking scars on his hips and lower belly. Matt takes hold of Techie’s blessedly unmarred, leaking cock and pretends not to have noticed the scars.

“I never thought I’d feel anything good,” Techie says. He’s serious suddenly and almost stern, holding Matt’s gaze. “So, when I did, what, like I was going to-- ah, yeah --to, to not, like, mhmm-- Matt--”

“Shhh.” Matt licks across Techie’s panting mouth. “Don’t have to explain, sorry I asked.”

“Sorry, no, don’t be, I-- oh, oh! --I want you to ask me things, fuck yeah, like that--”

I want you to ask me things. Matt can’t think about that right now. Maybe Matt is the one who’s been afraid of whatever’s at the very raw center of the worst memory held within Techie’s (shivering, shivering, with building pleasure now) body, maybe the clothes really are left on for Matt’s sake and not Techie’s, but whatever the case Techie is biting his lower lip and wincing in what looks like ecstasy, and it must be that because he’s groaning out Matt’s name and coming again, over Matt’s stroking fingers this time.

Techie’s hand tightens on Matt’s cock as his orgasm pulses out of him, and Matt fucks into the ring of his fingers-- so soft, and how are the hands of an ex-slave so soft oh fuck what happened, how did either of them ever get lucky and unlucky enough to be exactly here? Matt comes even harder than he did just a moment ago, which is usually not possible when he’s stacking another orgasm on top of the last. He’s got Techie’s hair in his mouth when he recovers enough to wonder what he’s gently sucking on as he comes down from it.

“Sorry,” Matt says this time, without thinking. Techie hiccups a little laugh and wipes his come-sticky hand on the sheets.

“For what?”

“I slobbered in your hair.”

“You can slobber, like, wherever you want, I like it, it’s, it’s--”

Techie moans like words have begun to annoy him and kisses Matt as if to explain the rest, or to articulate whatever he was trying to say more clearly, and on Techie’s sleepy tongue Matt tastes so many things he never thought he would have again: a secret home that feels untouchably safe, a sense of belonging there and being able to come and go from it as he pleases, and the rare and precious knowing that he will always be welcomed warmly back.

And still he falls asleep without having the courage to ask a single question, telling himself that he doesn’t want to spoil the moment with talk of the past. Techie wakes up in the night with a broken shout, begging the things in his dreams not to hurt him. Matt calms him down with the usual stroking and whispering. In the process, Matt’s fingers accidentally brush up under Techie’s t-shirt, over his side, and the scar he finds there is a monstrous, gnarled thing, and that’s when Matt finally asks:

“Is he dead?”

“Dead?” Techie blinks at Matt in the barely-there light.

“The one who did this to you, is he dead.”

“Oh-- She. She, yes, they killed her and put her head on a stake, I heard it was outside the fortress for weeks, but I never got to see it.”

Techie sleeps like a stone after that. Matt lies awake, heart pounding, and watches the shadows in the room for something that feels like it’s coming for him.

 

**

For a while they continue like this: carefully treading into new territory and then leaping over the ledge at the end of it once they’re hard enough or close enough to coming. One night Matt’s hand pushes all the way up under Techie’s shirt before he can realize what he’s doing and Techie screams and comes at the feeling of Matt’s finger rubbing with thoughtless instinctive interest against his stiff left nipple.

“Sorry,” Matt says while Techie shudders through it beneath him, eyes closed. “Sorry, sorry.”

“Nh, I, that’s so--” Techie grabs Matt’s hand when he tries to pull it out from under the shirt and ends up holding it against one of the scars over his ribs. Matt traces it with his thumb as he watches Techie come back to himself, his eyes whirring, refocusing. “That was good,” Techie says, softly. “Fuh-- Fuck, it was good, I liked it.”

Techie likes most everything Matt tries on him, and Matt cannot help but continue to find this surprising, though he has always considered himself an excellent lover. It’s just that Techie still cowers in the mess if people walk too close to the little table in the back corner where he now sits with Matt for every meal, and he still won’t shower without Matt standing guard and facing the door to give him time to at least scramble into a towel if anyone happens to come in, but alone in their room he is wanton and daring and he doesn’t even flinch at the suggestion that Matt would like to please if it’s okay slobber on his asshole, if he was really serious about the slobbering anywhere proposition. (He was). Matt begins to get the sense that Techie has watched rather a lot of holoporn, and when he suggests that they merge their collections and watch some together, it’s the first time Techie actually hesitates to enthusiastically consent to something sexual.

“It’s just very, like, personal, isn’t it?” he says, trembling under Matt’s arm.

“I guess.” Matt wonders if he should mention that the fact that he just massaged Techie’s prostate until he came so hard that he managed to shoot some onto his own chin is also pretty personal. “Whatever,” he says instead, never wanting to push his incredible luck with Techie. “If you want to keep porn private, we can.”

It bugs him a little, though, and so does the fact that Techie still won’t undress in front of him, despite the fact that he’s now fine with Matt’s hands under his clothes where he can feel the scars, and the fact that Techie’s nightmares continue despite the attentive presence of Matt’s fucked-out body next to his in bed is also disheartening.

They’re lying awake together after a particularly bad one, hearts pounding, when Matt feels like he’s either got to ask about what happens in Techie’s nightmares or say some other life-wrecking thing, and he still can’t work up the nerve to do the former, so he puts his hand on Techie’s face and braces himself for the latter.

“I’m madly in love with you,” Matt says with determination that might sound a little angry, like he’s telling Techie this as evidence that he doesn’t need to have bad dreams anymore.

Techie flinches and smiles at the same time, drawing the back of his hand up over Matt’s chest until his cool fingers are resting at the hollow of Matt’s throat.

“Okay,” he whispers. “Me too.”

It’s insane, a month into even knowing each other, but Matt has always bonded quickly with the few people he has bonded with in his entire life.

“Those other kids from my planet,” Matt says, and he has to swallow something that’s still rising when he says the rest. “They died, in the program. The girl, she-- Was small, she-- There was an accident during training. I should have protected her, but. And then the boy killed himself, later.”

“Fuck,” Techie says. He scoots closer and puts his forehead against Matt’s. When Techie takes a deep breath, Matt does, too, and they exhale together.

“I’ll kill anyone who hurts you,” Matt says, feeling clumsy with the sentiment, his voice thick. “That’s all I’m saying.”

“Ah, all you’re saying?” Techie sounds like he might be close to falling asleep again. He kisses Matt’s lips very softly. “You’re the only friend I’ve ever had,” he says, his mouth moving against Matt’s. “And I-- you-- madly, yes, exactly like that, me too-- And I’d prefer it if you didn’t, um. Don’t kill anyone, please, just keep doing this, just stay here, okay, and anyway nobody hurts me like that now.”

Like that, Matt thinks, and then he falls asleep, maybe willfully or because he’s terrified.

A few days later they’re doing their usual pre-sex nighttime routine, Matt standing guard while Techie showers, Matt wondering what Techie’s pale skin looks like when it’s wet and soapy, and Techie calls to him across the hollow echo of the otherwise empty shower room.

“Yeah?” Matt says, startled. He doesn’t turn.

“Um. Could you, do you think-- Could you, like, wash my back?”

Matt is still reluctant to turn, wondering if this is some kind of test.

“You don’t have to,” Techie says. He sounds disappointed. “Sorry--”

“No, I will.”

Matt turns. He’s had his hands all over Techie’s chest by now, up under his shirt, but Techie usually lies on his back in bed, effectively concealing the scars there. They are many and they are bad and Matt can’t breathe for a second, but he stays calm and takes off his shirt, pants, glasses, and toes it all into a pile with his shoes. He’s not wearing underwear, though he didn’t expect this.

“I just, I figure no one will come in,” Techie says, peeking back over his shoulder at Matt as he walks closer. “I mean, they usually don’t, and, like, I’ve caught people, um, fucking in here during the slow hours and I just turn and go and leave them to it, and I don’t care if people know we’re fucking, I mean-- Do you?”

“Course not.”

Matt puts his hands on Techie’s shoulders and kisses the back of his wet head. Techie isn’t trembling, which seems like a good sign. He passes Matt the soap.

Matt is the one who is shaking when he brings his soapy hand to Techie’s fucked-up back. The scarring is so bad in some places that he’s surprised Techie’s spine is still intact. He puts his other hand on Techie’s hip and washes him carefully, as if some of these might still hurt. The smooth, pale skin between the scars is so soft that it feels like a different kind of injury, one that’s being done to Matt as he presses against those still-soft places with his soapy thumbs. Not for the first time, his own hands feel way too big-- stupidly big, like henchmen.

“Thank you,” Techie whispers. He’s got both of his delicate hands pressed to the tiled wall and his head hangs forward a bit between his arms. “Thank you, thank you, that feels. So good, thank you--”

He sounds like he’s thanking Matt for healing him, which makes Matt stomach pinch up with the deep regret of not really being able to, and his eyes blur over and get wet and leak.

“I fucking--” Matt says, and then he’s not sure what he was going to say. He wants to kill someone and to keep touching Techie very gently at the same time, and it’s disorienting, especially because whoever did this is apparently dead, so he can’t pretend that he’s going to find them and shred them or that his doing so would change anything.

“You could go lower,” Techie says, tossing his wet hair out of his face and looking back over his shoulder. He seems calm, anyway, and seems to be asking Matt to touch his ass.

Matt checks the door. Nobody’s there. He takes a deep breath and wipes his eyes clear with his wrist.

“Please?” Techie says, arching his back. His fingers twitch on the wall.

“Yeah,” Matt says. His voice isn’t as thick or broken up as he feared it might be. “Okay, just. Give me some conditioner, that works best.” It’s not like he’s never fingered someone in the communal showers before.

But this is special, different, like everything to do with Techie. Matt looms close around him, glad that he’s broad enough to shield the sight of Techie’s slender, naked body from anyone who might come through the door behind them. He slides one hand down between them and mouths at Techie’s neck as he teases his slicked finger along his crack. Techie moans, and when Matt’s chest presses against the texture of Techie’s wet scars they both shudder and Matt holds him tighter, presses him closer.

“Oh,” Techie says when Matt’s finger works at his hole, and “Oh,” again when it breaches him for the slow press inward. “Fuh-- Yeah, thank you, yeah--”

“Thank you,” Matt echoes. “For letting me-- See you.”

“Mhmm.”

“I’ve been wanting-- I mean-- You trust me, right?”

“Your fuh-finger is in my ass, so yes, I do--”

“I mean with-- Never mind, just. I love the way you look.”

He feels like Techie won’t believe him, but he doesn’t object, just clenches up around his finger and pants as his hips start to twitch back, lets Matt press against him and hide him from view.

“The room, ah, we should go--” Techie says when Matt has two fingers deep inside him, pumping slow. “Ah, I need-- More, you, your-- I want to, please--”

“Okay.”

Matt is afraid to think he knows what Techie means, and afraid of everything to do with Techie, really, when nothing in his life much scared him before. Even when he waved goodbye to his mother he’d been clear-eyed and excited to ride on a space shuttle, though only because no one had quite explained to him (or, possibly, to her) that he would never see her again.

Back in the room they both get quickly naked again in the comforting dark glow, hair dripping onto their shoulders. Matt’s curls cover his ears when they’re wet. Techie runs his fingers through them like he’s trying to revive their usual bounce.

“I didn’t want to show you my porn because half the, ah, videos I’ve saved are of guys who look like you,” Techie says.

Matt is leaning up over him on all fours, slicking his cock, shaking.

“Me?” Matt has never met anyone who really looks like him, with the possible exception of Kylo Ren, though that might just be wishful thinking, and anyway their coloring is totally different.

“Not-- I mean, not exactly like you, but, like, big. Muscle-y and tall, and I have a whole folder called Size Kings.”

“Size Kings?”

“The, uh, the ones who take the big cocks? They’re the size kings. They like them-- I like them. The cocks, I mean-- The really big ones. And blond hair, and big lips, oh, fuck, you’re just-- like something I dreamed up, only good this time, and then there you were, only I did really hate sharing the room, at first.”

Techie is tight and Matt is feeling more protective of him than he ever has, but with their combined determination and lots of kissing and patience and whispered questions and answers Matt manages to get all the way in, balls deep, to the hilt, and then their stomachs are trembling together and they’re both looking at each other in wide-eyed awe, breathing the same kiss-thick air.

“Feels like I’ve never been inside someone before,” Matt says. “Like this-- not like this.”

“Well, ha--ah, you haven’t, like this, because you’ve never been in me.” Techie is stroking Matt’s hair, and there’s a hint of strain in his voice but it’s soft and butting up against something so satisfied already. “You can move,” he says, whispering this in Matt’s ear.

“Can I?” Matt isn’t sure. He feels blissfully contained, held still and afraid to lose this sensation of being exactly where he should be, and he moans when Techie squeezes around him.

Like all their initial forays into new material, it’s tentative at first and then quickly desperate, breathless, frantic and loud toward the end, both of them nicking each other’s lips with their teeth when they try to kiss. At several points during this almost-conclusive reverie Matt remembers that Techie has never done this before and that his cock is huge and that this is the one person he’s going to actually protect, beneath him and wide open around him, and at those points he slows down and kisses Techie more softly, and in response Techie digs his heels into Matt’s back and falls to almost cursing him, telling him to move, please, keep going, yes, like that. At one point they both laugh and it feels so good, so good, and then Matt is almost sobbing and then he comes.

After pulling out very carefully and feeling somewhat guilty for how Techie’s little hiss as Matt’s cockhead slid out was almost arousing enough to get him hard again, Matt crawls downward, kissing scars on his way, and takes Techie into his mouth. They’ve done this a lot, trading places and sometimes even after the nightmares, to calm each other down. Techie puts his legs over Matt’s shoulders, which usually means he wants Matt’s mouth even lower, and he moans in confirmation when Matt pulls off his cock and laps at the slick red mess he’s made of him. When Techie comes in Matt’s hand, Matt’s mouth still working on him, in him, they both slowly deflate until Matt can’t even move except to lift his head and rest his cheek on Techie’s still-twitching thigh.

“Thank you,” Techie is saying, over and over, eyes closed. His lips look all bitten and there’s come shining on his chest, over the scars like a balm, and his damp hair has soaked the pillow. He looks down at Matt and smiles sheepishly when Matt kisses his thigh.

“You’re welcome,” Matt says.

Techie laughs then, really laughs, like he’s high or something.

“What’s funny?”

“Nothing, just-- The way you say that, it’s-- I like it.”

“Well. It’s good manners.”

That makes Techie laugh harder. He reaches for Matt and pets him and kisses him when he sees the sort of lost, half-hurt expression on his face.

“I love you,” Techie says. “Did I say that yet?”

“Sort of. Yes. I know.”

They clean up and settle in for sleep, both of them naked. Techie seems to need the blankets, so Matt gets under them, too. He touches Techie everywhere, gets touched everywhere; they both get a little hard again, but Matt understands that there’s something else to do rather than fuck a second time, and that keeps him from getting particularly aroused and in fact kills his erection entirely when his heart starts to pound from the dread of it.

He kisses Techie’s eyelids. His lips are shaking. The room is dark and safe and the air vents hum softly. The blankets are warm. Techie takes a deep breath, and Matt holds his in when Techie exhales.

“Are you never going to ask me how I lost them?” Techie asks, his lashes fluttering over the bionic eyes.

“Do you want to tell me?”

“I-- No, but I want you to know. Which requires, um, telling you. I just-- I hate talking about it, reliving it, like the dreams, but I’m also starting to hate not talking about it, so?”

“Tell me. You can tell me.”

“There was an orphanage on Fleer.”

Techie rolls onto his stomach, sits up on his elbows and stares at their pillow. Matt touches his back, puts his hand over the worst scar and moves his thumb very slightly, encouraging him, telling him: it’s okay, it’s okay, I’ll go there with you this time, into the nightmare.

“I was always there, I-- Don’t know who my parents were, nobody ever told me or any of us how we’d ended up there if we’d shown up when we were too young to remember. It was Imperial-controlled until I was about five-- I mean, I don’t really know how old I am but they estimated --and then all the resources the Empire had given us dried up and things were even scarcer and people got meaner and more desperate and-- Eventually we were all sold. I was ten and really skinny, small for my age. This gang bought me and trained me to crawl into ductwork and hack into people’s systems, to steal their credits.”

Matt remembers calling him a thief, blanket thief, and how Techie’s face had changed. He moves closer, kisses Techie’s bony wrist.

“They weren’t nice to me, but they weren’t, like-- They didn’t go out of their way to hurt me. If I disappointed them they’d punish me, like, withhold food, slap me maybe, tell me I was worthless, but. Nothing was really that bad until-- Until this new leader killed the head guy and took over, when I was fifteen. This woman.”

Techie takes a deep breath, lets it out. He sinks down to put his cheek on the pillow, turns toward Matt.

“Sometimes I think the cruelest thing she did was making me call her Ma-Ma. Even though everyone called her that, and. It didn't mean anything, but. I’d wanted a mother for so long, all my life, I’d wanted that more than anything, um. It seemed like this magical thing.”

“It is.”

Matt hopes this doesn’t sound like bragging. Techie knows he didn’t get to have a mother for very long, anyway. But she gave Matt so much that he still has. It’s trickled all the way down to Techie, really. The impulse to give comfort when someone screams in the night-- Matt wasn’t allowed to, in the warehouse dorm with the ninety-nine other beds. But he’d wanted to, because that was what you did, and his mother was the one who taught him so.

“By the time Ma-Ma took over I was too big to fit in most ductwork,” Techie says. “They’d trained me to monitor the security systems at their hideout, and that was what I did. That my was whole life, in my-- In my dark, safe room. Safe enough, anyway. Until her, but. Mostly she just ignored me and expected me to do my job, just. Stupidly, once, about two years after she took over, when I’d been awake for almost three cycles and looking at the security screens was hurting my eyes so much that I couldn’t even keep them open, but we were under siege and the other gang was relentless, and. I couldn’t hold them open, I just couldn’t even hold my eyes open anymore, the screens burned, I was tired, I couldn’t think, I was delirious, I was so-- So stupid, I was crying like a-- Well, she said. If my real eyes were too weak, she’d replace them with, with. These, and. She did. She didn’t personally insert the new ones, but she personally took out the old ones.”

Techie is shivering now, and when Matt gathers him close he hides against Matt’s chest, clings. Matt wonders if that’s not basically the end of the story. His heart is pounding; he knows Techie will feel it and hopes he’ll know what it means.

“I always thought I was pretty, like, tough, before that,” Techie says, his voice muffled and small but angry, too. “But it-- Having that, just. Knowing that could happen, what she did-- It changed me, um. And then my cowering would annoy her. I was there for about five more standard years, just. I felt like I got smaller and smaller. Trying to hide, but. When a rival gang member killed her and took over I didn’t even feel any relief or a sense of revenge or anything. I thought, will he be even worse? But he didn’t have any use for me, he shut the whole hideout down and sold me almost right away. He could have killed me to save himself the trouble, he almost did, but something stopped him. I don’t know what. Pity? He had a woman with him who looked at me different after she’d touched my forehead, I think she was a Force user, I think I felt her in my head, um. The Order bought me when the slaver described me as a ‘human security droid.’ My eyes were a feature, he said, because I could work long hours, and I would be loyal, he said, because I had no place else to go. And the Order-- They were better. Are better, I. Love the Order, actually.”

Hearing Techie say so makes Matt feel certain at last that he hates the Order. He kisses the top of Techie’s head, takes a deep breath, lets it out, listens to Techie do the same.

“So that’s how I lost my eyes. And all my dreams are-- Her, still alive. Coming back, doing it again.”

“But I’m here.” Matt feels stupid after saying it. Techie peeks up at him. “I mean-- I meant it. No one hurts you without getting through me, and they won’t.”

“I know that, when I’m awake. Just not when I’m asleep. Um. Thank you for listening.”

Matt starts to say ‘you’re welcome,’ but stops himself, embarrassed. Techie seems to hear it anyway, or maybe he sees it in Matt’s eyes. He smiles.

“I do feel better,” he says, whispering. “Now that you know.”

“Good.” Matt tries to hold the rest in, but he can’t. He’s-- jealous, concerned, panicking. “Do you really love the Order? You love them, too?”

“Well-- Not in the same way! I know they don’t care about me except for what I can do for them. But they don’t beat me.”

“Hm.” Matt tries not to take it personally, that not beating Techie might be all it takes to win his love. He knows he’s being oversensitive, but. “It’s just that I might want to leave someday,” he says, because he’ll feel better if he says it out loud, like Techie. “Since, I-- Have realized. Since coming here. That they are not so good.”

Not for the first time, he wonders if their bunks are monitored. But there are so many bunks, so many techs and stormtroopers and officers. It would take another entire Finalizer-sized population to review all the data feeds on a regular basis.

“Leave?” Techie has gone tense in his arms. “Leave the, leave the ship, but, but you said-- You said you wanted to stay, that you had to, had to sleep here because you have to stay here--”

“I’d take you with me.”

“Take me, take-- Take me where?”

“I don’t know.” Matt was thinking: back to my planet, but he knows the Order has stripped it bare of everything he loved about it, except possibly the trees. He hopes the trees are still standing. “I’d like to find my mother,” he says, keeping his voice low and hidden within their blanket cocoon, just in case. “To find out if she’s still alive, at least. She would-- She would love you, too. She would. And even if she’s-- I would love you, I would take care of you, we could--” He hears himself and feels his eyes burning, his face getting hot. “I guess it’s stupid.”

“Not stupid, not really. I know-- I know the security codes, um. They do trust me, they do think I’ve got nowhere else to go. But you, and me-- Maybe-- maybe someday? And in the meantime, like. Maybe we can dream about it together. I want to change the dreams, I want to, to sleep through the night, um. I never really thought I could, but I also never told anyone that story before. The one I just told you.”

Matt thinks he understands. It feels like letting go of something very heavy. It felt that way when he told Techie about the kids from his planet, the ones he couldn’t protect. It’s not gone, after, but it’s behind you, and not being dragged along just by you anymore, relentlessly in hand.

“Maybe if I talked about it just before we go to sleep,” Matt says. “Maybe then it would turn into a dream.”

“Yeah, yes, you could-- We could try. I love, you know-- I love hearing you talk, anyway.”

So Matt talks about the forest-- not the one on his old planet but a hypothetical forest on a new planet they’ve found together. He talks about it as if Techie is there with him, holding his hand, learning what a river looks like when the sun sparkles over its rushing water at midday. Drinking from it because it’s untouched by the Order or anything like them. Techie falls asleep as Matt is describing the process of making a campfire.

Matt has a harder time getting to sleep, and when he wakes up it’s from some bad dream that’s already fading as Techie whispers he’s okay, everything’s okay, and when he sleeps again he dreams of the forest. Techie is there, walking ahead of him, turning back to smile. Techie has pale green eyes in the dream, clear and bright and unafraid, and when Matt wakes up to more of his gentle petting, this time to rouse him for breakfast before their shifts, he feels like this is proof that Techie was there with him, really there in the dream, and that he’ll really be there when they run away together someday.

Matt wants to ask: Were your eyes green? Did I see them last night? But it seems like an insensitive question, so he holds it in for now and watches Techie eat Health Crunch with blue milk for breakfast. He’s squirming a little in his seat but doesn’t seem unhappy about his soreness. He keeps smirking at Matt like it’s the first of many secrets they’ll have together.

“You okay?” Matt asks anyway.

“Yes, yeah, of course.”

Matt believes him, because when some sneering techs walk by Techie doesn’t cower or flinch or even seem to notice. He’s gazing at Matt from over his bowl of cereal, his posture still not wonderful but at least not resembling that of someone who thinks everything he has will be snatched away from him at any moment. He eats his breakfast like he knows it belongs to him, that no one will take it away, and he looks at Matt the same way.

 

***

Hux wants a cigarette but is too fucked-out to move. He considers asking Ren, who is similarly fucked-out and lying with his head resting on Hux’s stomach, to use the Force to snatch them from across the room, but Ren would almost certainly refuse. Hux should really stop stroking Ren’s hair, considering this certainty that Ren would leave him cigarette-less either to spite him or because he claims to care about Hux’s health, but Ren’s hair feels magnetized to Hux’s fingers at times like this, two fucks into the evening and both of them close to sleep, so he goes on stroking.

“Will you go have your workout now?” Hux asks, because he should really get rid of Ren for the evening. Ren has been clingy lately, always around. Hux has minded it less lately, hence the hair-stroking and the remark about working out in the form of a question rather than a command.

“I lost my workout partner,” Ren says. He’s watching Hux’s face, kissing his come-crusted belly and stroking his ribs with one big hand. It takes Hux a moment to pay proper attention to what he’s just said.

“Matt? What’s happened to him?”

“Nothing. He’s using most of his rec time to fuck around with his bunkmate now.”

“His bunkmate? The bionic-eyed one?”

Ren tuts like a soft-hearted Republican at that, but he’s grinning. “Yeah, that one. You engineered that, didn’t you?”

“Engineered what? The bunk assignment?”

“Yeah, so that my other biggest fan would fall in love with someone else.”

“What! I most certainly did not, you lunatic. And I might like-- This, but I don’t consider myself your fan, for fuck’s sake, don’t flatter yourself. I put those two in a room together precisely to keep Matt onboard and at your service, so I could shove you off onto him when you needed some idiot’s adoring attention.”

“Hux.” Ren is still smiling. “You’re getting all worked up.”

“Fuck you.”

Hux shoves Ren off of him and goes to the refresher to clean the come off of his belly, imagining that he’s wiping away the more intangible residue of Ren’s affection as well. He splashes cold water onto his cheeks until the last of the sex flush has faded, lest Ren think his stupid teasing has had some effect.

When he returns to the room he observes Ren’s continued presence in his bed with a queasy mixture of annoyance and relief. Ren still looks pleased with himself, which makes Hux want to physically harm him, but he’s also yawning and flexing and there is something so unfortunately, uniquely appealing about him, despite the many downsides.

“It’s good though,” Ren says. “What you did for those guys.”

“I did nothing for them beyond solving a problem on my ship.”

Hux goes to his bureau and digs out his cigarettes. He turns back to Ren when he lights one, defiantly. Ren raises his lip. He won’t let Hux smoke in his room, so now they always fuck in Hux’s.

“It’s such a tremendous weakness,” Ren says.

“We all have our vices, you sanctimonious prick.”

“Vices-- No, it’s not a vice. It’s essential, regrettably, like nourishment. I’m talking biology here, Hux, science.”

“Well, yes, although nourishment would be a stretch. As I’ve told you, I’m addicted, I started in the Academy when I was thirteen--”

“I’m not talking about your cigarette, or your pathetic excuse for smoking it twenty-one years later. I’m talking about this need to connect to another human. Companionship and touch and fucking and all this shit. We all need it for optimal health. Only a Jedi would be too stupid to deny that.”

“Ren.” Hux pinches the bridge of his nose, the cigarette smouldering between his two extended fingers. “What the fuck are you on about now?”

“Matt and Techie. That’s what he calls him, Techie, that’s his name. But what I’m talking about is weakness, Hux, which leads to comfort-seeking, which leads to attachment. It’s required of our bodies like food and oxygen, but unlike those things it also fucks us over, or anyway it can.”

“Us?” Hux is too tired to do much with this beyond use it to pick on Ren. “So you’re including yourself in this weak group of needy humans?”

“Of course. Am I not in your bed, General?”

Hux rolls his eyes and takes a drag. He can feel himself flushing.

“It’s like medicine,” Ren says, pulling back the blankets as if to invite Hux into his own bed. “Or-- More like the vitamins you get from sunlight, or the supplements you have to take if you don’t see the sun. It makes me feel weak, yes. I wish I didn’t need the vitamins either. Or the sun. But there’s nothing to be gained from pretending I don’t. C’mere.”

Hux smokes for a little while longer before moving, but when he does move, he goes to Ren and sits next to him in bed, close but not touching.

“Did you just compare me to a sun?” Hux asks.

“Are you offended? I know you think they’re rather disposable.”

Hux wants to ask, Do you? Am I?

Ren smiles, and it’s cruel at first, but then it’s not. Hux tries to pull back when Ren leans in for a kiss, but he doesn’t really want to go and doesn’t get far. He opens his mouth for Ren’s tongue. Soft, soft-hearted little fool. But that’s his father’s voice, and Brendol didn’t know everything. He never would have foreseen that Matt the radar technician would neither break wibbling Techie into pieces nor bully him into some semblance of toughness. Brendol took his share of supplements, but he never saw the sun.

“Please don’t think about your father while we’re making out,” Ren says, mumbling this against Hux’s lips.

Hux punches him in the sternum. Ren tries to act like it didn’t hurt, bites Hux’s lip hard, then kisses him again.

 

 

****