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Ben was 80% sure that Armitage was the waitress’ cat. Any other explanation would imply that someone would willingly name their child that, and Caitlin just didn’t seem the type. She was down-to-earth, unsmiling, but cordial. She would mention Armitage as a small talk topic, probably so she could avoid talking about herself. She would wipe Ben’s table spotless and refill his cup without asking. She never rolled her eyes when he requested stuff like non-fat, iced decaf vanilla latte with soy milk. She would chat for a few minutes, mention this Armitage at least twice, then leave Ben to his work.

So far, Ben has learned that Armitage is lactose intolerant, kinda fussy, he never sleeps, he’s ginger, and Caitlin mentioned that everybody is afraid of him, sadly. Ben imagined him to be mean, lean and fluffy with a sophisticated meow.

He was quite correct, expect that Armitage Hux was a man.

---

Ben was absorbed in sketching a dream-scene: there was dark fire and a black hole shaped like a man, a looming space shuttle and a sacred village ruined. Charcoal got under his cracked nails as he was hunched over his sketchbook, every line a chain which could keep the chaos at bay.

“We’re closing in twenty,” Caitlin informed him at a certain point.

“Uh-huh.”

He was busy detailing a sandstorm sweeping over the scene when Caitlin came back over his table. He glanced up at her, irritated, and for a moment, he was taken aback. He’s never seen the woman out of uniform before. It must have been getting really fucking late.

“So sorry to interrupt,” she said, and she sounded like she meant it, “but I should really get going, Armitage is probably worried sick.”

“My bad,” Ben muttered, but didn’t know how to apologize further. The chairs were all put up and the floor was mopped. Telling her he didn’t notice the time was a confession he was not willing to make. He hastened to gather his stuff. He had to put the sketchbook in his mouth, and Caitlin inclined her head. She was wearing a funny hat over her ginger hair, a purple atrocity Ben’s mother would’ve liked.  

“Don’t you need hairspray?”

“Mm?”

“For your art.”

Ben shook his head as he put on his leather backpack. He got hold of the sketchbook. “It’s fine, I’m gonna be careful.”

“Would be a shame to see it ruined.”

Ben glanced at her, squinting. “You like it?”

“It’s haunting. Wait here, I’ve got some hairspray in my car.”

“Thank you,” Ben said, and as Caitlin turned, added, “I guess.”

He didn’t know whether he should take ‘haunting’ as a compliment. It didn’t matter, anyway. He was eighteen, and he just got into college. If dean Snoke believed in him, he didn’t care for the opinion of some hippie waitress. Anyway, he might’ve misheard it. Caitlin had such a thick Irish accent Ben sometimes wondered whether she was faking it.

He decided he shouldn’t be lingering by the table and headed to the exit, boots creaking on the shiny floor. He pushed the heavy door open with his elbow and froze. Caitlin was standing by a battered Buick SUV with its trunk open, and a man in a suit was gripping her arm.

“You will let me see him,” he hissed into her face.

“Brendol, for fuck’s sake-”

“Hey, creep!” Ben yelled. “Let go of her!”

The man paid him no mind, towering over Caitlin, who looked like she was going to spit him in his eye.

“I’ve got the right-” Brendol hissed.

“You’ve got a world of pain coming for you if you-”

Let her go,” Ben repeated, tossing his sketchbook aside in the heat of the moment, and ran towards them. It was a chilly summer night, not a soul outside. He reached for the man’s broad shoulder. “Come on now-”

He wasn’t expecting the punch - he fell back and landed in a puddle, breath caught between his ribs.  

“Mind your own business, kid!”

---

Ben preferred not to spend his Wednesday nights punching middle-aged men but oh well, first time for everything.

Brendol was tall, broad, and to his misfortune, a professional. When he grabbed the man's dogtags, he realized that it meant that he was fighting a veteran of all things. And Ben was standing his ground. It made him dizzy with pride.

His dizziness might have also been connected to the fact that Brendol was sweeping the street with his ass. He wouldn’t say that he was losing, but he was certainly disadvantaged. He set his mind to take revenge for his designer leather pants which got soaked as he landed in the puddle. Saving Caitlin was a secondary goal; she could clearly handle herself. She was beating Brendol’s back with her purse.

“Stop it!”

“Bloody little Nosey Parker,” Brendol growled, and pulling Ben to his feet, he broke his pride and joy, his one and only nose by shoving his face against the wall.

Ben was seeing red and Caitlin screamed, “what’s wrong with you!?”

The purse landed again on Brendol’s massive figure, to no avail. He pulled Ben’s hair, smearing the blood all over his features as he rubbed his face over the damp wall.

“Have you learnt your lesson, boy? Have you?”

“Leave him the hell-”

Ben kicked back, and tipped Brendol off-balance. He spinned, and got a hold of the man.

Brendol was strong, but Ben was stronger; a good fighter, but he was better; he was utter trash and it gave him ideas. He lift him up, fireman-style, which took Brendol by surprise. He was counting on it. It all happened really quick: one moment he was gathering Brendol up, and the next he dropped him bodily into the nearby dumpster. Ben slammed the rusty lid on him which closed with a heavy click. He turned to Caitlin, who was just standing there, stunned, clutching her purse.

“Come with me!” he yelled, and started running.

---

All things considered, it was a poorly executed exit plan, and an even worse rescue mission. He had Caitlin on his Harley, speeding away from the scene of the crime. The coffeeshop got smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.

Ben was hurting all over, but adrenaline kept him going, heart hammering in his throat. Caitlin was holding on for dear life, and he realised he had no idea where he was taking her. Home, probably. Far, far away.

“Where do you live?”

“Take the left. What was that?”

“That’s what I’m asking myself.”

The engine roared as he made a sharp turn. Caitlin said, voice flat:

“I’ve left the shop open. And you’ve got your drawings on the ground.”

Ben groaned.

---

Caitlin lived in a condo complex on the eleventh floor. Apparently, she shared the flat with her son.

“Ma, are you alright?”

Her son was smoking hot, and his British accent only added to that. He was wearing a sleek dressing gown over his pajamas, standing in the door and holding Armitage (or Armitage was holding an anonymous cat; Ben was really confused at this point.)

“Ran into Brendol,” Caitlin muttered, and made her way into the flat. “Sends his regards.”

“What?” He looked at Ben, scowling. “What happened?”

“We-”

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Come on in!” Caitlin called, and Ben made an apologetic face as he slid through the door, pressing Mr. Pajamas to the frame.

He found himself in a kitchen with mismatched furniture and a small dining table in the middle. The room was clean but crowded, and for some reason a washing machine was there.

“Who is this?”

“Ben,” Caitlin said as she got a tin of cookies, which turned out to be a first-aid kit. “He’s a regular this summer. This is my son, Armitage. You should call him Hux.”

“Um, okay.”

“Why are you bleeding?” Hux demanded. He sounded appalled. He put the cat down, and went to the sink to wash his hands.  

“I beat up your dad, I guess.”

Hux glanced at him over his shoulders. “Nice.”

“Sit, please.” Caitlin kicked out a wobbly chair. “Ben here helped me slap some sense into your father.”

“He hurt you?”

“Nah. He hurt Ben.”

“Happy to help,” Ben added as Caitlin got a flashlight.

“Please focus on the light.”  

“You shouldn’t have interfered,” Hux said, wiping his hands on his gown. Ben peeked at him, seeing stars; Hux had really nice hands, and terrible manners.

“What, I should’ve just let him threaten your mum?”

“It was none of your business.”

“Funny, that’s what he said.”

Hux's face twitched.

“Hush, you two. How’s your head?” Caitlin asked.

“It hurts.”

“Oh, brilliant, his head hurts,” Hux huffed, crossing his slender arms. “I’ll take care of him, you call the police.”

Ben blinked. “Is that a good idea?”

“Does he have concussion?”

“Do check, please. His pupils are very dilated. Poor child.” Caitlin patted his shoulders. The one which was swelled. “You’re really brave.”  

Ben looked at Hux, eyebrows arched in a challange. Hux wasn’t impressed.

“Our knight in a shining armor,” he muttered as Caitlin hurried away. He pushed his hair out of his face with an anxious gesture; Ben watched as fluffy, ginger locks fell back to his forehead, and he swallowed hard. Hux walked closer. “Are you sensitive to light or loud sounds?”

“Can’t say.”

“Do you feel like vomiting?”

“Do you?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“You look like you do.” Ben made an encompassing gesture.

“Well I’m sorry I’m not giddy when it turns out that my stalker of a father…” Hux trailed off. “Anyhow. Keep still.”  

He lay his fingers on his throat, checking his pulse. Ben could feel that it was very quick under his cool fingertips.

“So you don’t have a problem with me?”

“Why would I? I don’t even know you, idiot.”

“See, that’s what I mean, you don’t even know me and you’re-”

Hux pressed his thumb against a bruise on Ben’s jaw. It made him shut up. He could hear parts of a surprisingly cheery conversation from the living room, and Caitlin walking up and down. He licked his lips and glanced at Hux, who was examining a cut above his eyebrow.

“I know a lot about you,” he said. “Caitlin keeps-”

“Koit-leen, not Kath-leen,” Hux muttered, and turned to the first-aid kit.

“What? No. I mean I...She never corrected me.”

“She doesn’t care.” Hux brushed a cotton pad over his busted nose; it stang, and smelled of something vaguely alcoholic.

“What’s the deal with your name?”

“Rhyme it with lux.”

“No, I- ouch. How come you use your father’s name?”

“It’s not my father’s name, it’s my family’s name, and more importantly, it’s not the name he gave me. Now if you would kindly shut up.”

“You’ll never know whether I have concussion if you don’t make me talk.”

“I’ll give you a ride to the hospital. This looks bad.”

Koit-leen left the car at the shop.”

“Fuck,” Hux muttered, and heat crept up Ben’s chest.

“It’s okay, I’m gonna be fine. It’s nothing but a scratch.”

Hux looked him in the eyes, and pressed down with his fingers into the wide crack on his nose. Ben cried out, trying to kick him; he missed. “What the hell, man!”

“Don’t try so hard to look tough.”

Ben made to stand up, but Hux grabbed his shoulders and shoved him down into the chair.

“Fuck you,” Ben snarled. His treacherous cock hardened in his pants.

“I’m going to fix you up,” Hux said, “and then you’re going to leave. You’ve caused enough trouble as it is.”

“I was just trying to help, for fuck’s sake.”

“My mother is too nice to tell you this, but we don’t need your help, Ben.”

Ben glared at him, gritting his teeth. As Hux leaned over, he could see right down his pajamas, catching a glimpse of smooth, pale skin and hard little nipples.

---

“I’m home!”

He was anything but. He was supposed to spend the summer at his dad’s, but Han forgot to mention that he got kicked out from his place again, so he was crashing on Uncle Chewie’s couch, which meant that Ben was crashing on Uncle Chewie’s inflatable boat, stuffed with a variety of pillows.

He made his way to the living room, and found Han watching Discovery on mute. He was tinkering with something, rusty bits and pieces covering Chewie’s traditional Narungga rug.

“Had fun?” he asked, and looked at Ben from behind his glasses. “Jesus, you look like shit.”

“Thanks,” Ben muttered, and headed to the kitchen. “Got into a barfight.”

“You won?”

“Nah.”

“That’s my son.”

Ben got himself some milk, drinking from the bottle. He rolled it around in his mouth, then wiped his lips on his sleeve.

“Met a cute boy though.” He cringed as soon as he said it. Hux wasn’t cute, and he was around twenty, hardly a boy anymore.  

“You’re home early then,” Han remarked.

“I don’t think he liked me.”

“Make him like you then.”

“Yeah, right.” He put the leftover milk back into the fridge, and bumped his head against the door, softly. It was covered with postcards and magnets from all around the fucking world.

“Third time’s the charm. Or complement his shoes. Your call.”  

“I’m gonna take a shower.”

“You do that.”

Ben lingered. He didn’t feel like discussing Hux with Han but he sorta expected him to ask more questions or fuss about his injuries a bit. Unfortunately, that’s not what a cool dad would do, and Han was playing it so cool that he was cold.

He could always talk to Chewie, but if he repeated Hux’s words back to him, Chewie would get a boomerang or some shit and murder his prissy ass to protect the honor of the Solo family.  

---

When he woke, his sheets were embarrassingly sticky. It was his punishment for fantasizing about Hux before going to bed (boat) and for attempting to jerk off in the shower. He hadn’t succeeded; it was weird to do it in someone else’s house, although he should’ve been used to it at this point.

He discreetly spilled some orange juice over the stain and put it in the laundry basket, a lie ready about breakfast in bed. No one was around to ask him about it; Han and Chewie left a short note about an unexpected drop off.

---

He ended up in the coffeeshop. He didn’t know what he was expecting; certainly not the cup of extra whip soy latte with caramel drizzle which Caitlin handed to him before he could even sit.

“On the house,” she said, and turned on her heels. He was just standing there, small mug in huge hands, and muttered, “Okay then.”

He was early. His usual seat was taken, which he regarded as a personal offence. He channelled all his emotions (and there were just too damn many of them) into his art, and didn’t even notice when Caitlin made him a refill, but his mug never emptied.

He could get used to it.

He could return back to normal. Creating. Chilling. Minding his own business. Just - fuck, he was sketching Hux’s smug face, wasn’t he?

“Shit,” he hissed.

He couldn’t even quite remember whether Hux had freckles. He grabbed his eraser and made a huge mess. Fucking Hux. And like, fucking Hux. As a concept.

He must’ve summoned him from the pits of hell, because the man entering the shop was most definitely him. He was wearing a fitted navy blue suit with boat shoes; he even had a slim tie on. It was all wrong, with his unruly hair and everything - the pants were too short for him and the shoulder pads were a bit excessive, but he was working it.

“What do you want?” Ben barked as Hux reached his table with long steps; he looked confused, angry and lost, and kept looking around.

“Clearly, I’m interrupting.”

“No, I’m here, I’m listening.”

Hux frowned, focusing on him, finally. “I figured I owed you coffee. I forgot you practically spend your summer drinking iced latte.”   

“Is that a problem?”

“That’s not what I meant. You’re making it difficult, Ben.”

“Well I’m sorry-”

Hux lift his palm up, which, for some reason, made him bite back the boiling insults. Hux curled his fingers, and Ben was watching them move, enthralled. He should’ve drawn his hands.  

“I behaved poorly the other night,” Hux explained. “I wanted to apologize to you in person, and make up for it. How do you feel about biscuits?”

Ben never heard the word uttered with so much vigor. He was intimidated and slightly turned on. “Sounds cool?”

“How about seven thirty, chez moi?”

“I don’t know the place but sure, okay.”

“It’s French,” Hux said, exasperated. “It means ‘at my place.’”

“Excuse-moi for not speaking fucking baguette.”

“It’s basic. It’s really basic. Also, you’re being stereotypical.”

“And you’re being an asshole,” Ben snapped.  There was no way Hux was actually sorry. Probably his mother set him up for apologizing; but then again, why would Caitlin do that in addition to the wordless refills? Ben glanced at the counter. She and her colleague were rather busy with customers, he wasn’t even sure whether she noticed Hux entering.

“Listen, I know I blew a gasket,” Hux began, and since Ben’s brain was on autopilot, he said:

“See, you should’ve just blown me.”

There was a slight pause. He stilled. He made Hux fall silent, and it was bad. He didn’t dare look up. He didn’t dare to move.

“Well, you definitely need to rethink your...approach, but something like that could be arranged,” Hux offered, and Ben met his eyes, finally. They were cold, but considering; also, Hux was staring at his split lips. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

“No, I ah. No. Good idea.”

“Chez moi?”

“Oui.”

“Seven thirty?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t be late.”

“Yeah. No.”

Hux smirked, or something like that. He went on his merry way, and Ben watched him step to the counter, mouth slightly open. He said something to his mother in a singsong language. Shit. Was he speaking Gaelic? Jerkface. Caitlin looked pleasantly surprised to see him, and leaning over the counter, pulled him into a hug with one arm. Hux kissed her forehead, and jealousy flared up in Ben with irrational vehemence.

---

He went for the Outcast Witch from Deep Space look with his date outfit, and he didn’t regret it one bit. Of course, Hux had the audacity to slip into casual, ditching the sexy suit and donning skinny jeans and an oversized Boston Celtics tee. He still looked like sin: wrath and lust all in one.  

Ben wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to shake his hand or lick his face, so he just awkwardly sidestepped him, hands in his pockets.

“What’s cookin’? God, it smells amazing.”

“I’m making gingernuts,” Hux said as he kindly kicked the door close. Ben looked at him, horrified, and Hux walked past him, mumbling, “Yeah, yeah, it up.”

“You had so many options,” Ben blurted out. Hux put on a pair of slightly burnt oven gloves, and bent down to check on the biscuits.

“I wasn’t going to bake you a cake. Make yourself useful and feed the cat, please, I can’t work with you under my feet.” He shot him a glance. “You’re early.”

“Nice to see you too,” Ben grunted, and grabbed the can of catfood he spotted on the counter.

“I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“Can’t wait.” He made his way into the run-down living room, stepping over books and boxes on the ground. “Here, kitty, kitty!”

“Don’t patronize her.”

The cat  came running and mewling, and guided Ben to the bathroom. Her bowl was halfway filled with dry food.

“Spoiled little thing,” Ben mumbled, spooning out the juicy meat. He checked whether she had enough water. ‘Course she did.

Ben felt weird. He was kinda relieved that Hux hadn’t dropped to his knees as soon as he entered - he’s fooled around, but he never had anything like a one-night stand. Still, he was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to go like this.

He had no idea what to do with the empty can, so he just put it next to the trash bin and washed his hands. He glanced in the mirror. Beaten and broken, but he looked okay. He was trying his best, at least. Hux would like him. He would. They all did once his shirt was off.

“Fuck,” he muttered, drying his hands with the nearest towel. Clothes were hanging on a railing above the bathtub. As far as he could tell, Hux wore mostly black. There. A similar interest. Dressing like they were mourning the shits they never gave.

He stumbled back to the living room, trying to recall some stuff Caitlin told him about Armitage Hux. He should’ve paid more attention.

The room was stuffed with an unnecessary amount of furniture. It was all nice and homely, but he could hardly make his way through it. There was a loft bed installed, which Ben assumed to be Caitlin’s; she somehow managed to squeeze a small desk next to it. Hux had a mattress on the ground. It was neatly made, the cover a chic black and white design.

On the bare brick wall there was a madman’s mind-map, the kind Ben had only ever seen in movies. He leant closer, careful not to step on the mattress. A variety of photos and articles were connected by red strings. There were propaganda postcards praising the soviet space program, a painting of Napoleon Bonaparte, and a map of the British Empire. The Union Jack appeared here and there again, there was a Brexit article and something about the Blitz. Most of the stuff Ben just didn’t recognize. The handwriting on the sticky notes was illegible.

Hux might’ve been a psychopath.

He glanced away, uneasy but interested. There were two photos which weren’t connected to the mind-map. One showed Hux with his mother, and it seemed pretty recent: apparently, they were in a thrift store, Caitlin in a silly hat and Hux in an animal print fur coat and sunglasses, blowing kisses. The other photo was crumpled and faded; Hux must’ve been around twelve, hair parted and slicked back. He was with his father, both sporting tuxedos. Ben recognised the purse which Brendol was holding: it was Caitlin’s. What a gentleman to hold the bag of his ex-wife (ex-girlfriend? past mistress?). Ben frowned. He didn’t understand why Hux would keep the picture. He didn’t understand his wall at all.

He dropped his eyes back to the mattress. It was surrounded by stacks of books, and some of them were knocked over, probably by the cat. He crouched down for the scattered copies, and let out a surprised huff. They were all sci-fi paperbacks. He heard Hux enter, and looking at him balancing the biscuits and some tea on a tray made his chest feel really tight. He held up His Master’s Voice.

“You like sci-fi?”

“Well, when it’s good literature, yes.” Hux put the tray on the coffee table, the mugs and the kettle clicking together. Hux frowned at them.

“How about movies?” Ben asked. “It Came from Outer Space ? The Thing ? The Tingler ? The Angry Red Planet ? The old school stuff?”

Hux hummed, putting his hands in his pockets as he came to stand by Ben. “Those were bad.”

“You’ve seen them?”

“They were bad.”

“No, they were bad. You gotta learn to appreciate trash movies.”

Hux scrunched his nose in distaste. “Or learn to admit to yourself that they’re trash, and a waste of your time,” he said. “I don’t like the ones with aliens anyway.”

Ben looked him up and down. “You don’t believe in aliens, Scully?”

“I believe in them, I just don’t like them.”

“What do you like?”

Hux took the book back, and held it up. “European sci-fi, for a start, especially the sci part.” He carefully put it back to its rightful place, which appeared to be on the pile of pillows. “Spaceships. Political allegories. Workings of an imaginary society. Superweapons and mysterious machines.” He straightened up, and dusted off his hands. “See, a great many things.”

“Robots and shit?”

“No, no robots. They’re overused.”

“I just can’t win,” Ben mumbled.

“Authors just shit on the Three Laws all the time; even the fucking Foundation sequel trilogy, I mean, what was that?” There was a brief silence. “One of your favorites, I presume?”

“They were approved by the Asimov estate.”

“It’s fanfiction.”

“It’s not.”

“It is.”

There was a pause again.

“So. You’ve got a nice living room.”

“Sit down and eat your biscuits, please,” Hux sighed.

Ben rolled his eyes, and gently grabbed Hux’s hips to guide him out of the way. God, he was slim. Ben’s hands felt huge on him, and he had an urge to bruise, to grip. Who would have thought that shitting on his favorites was a turn-on.

He fled to the couch. It was a faded pink, inaptly covered by a comforter. Ben collapsed into its embrace, color high on his cheeks. Hux soon followed, taking a seat quite close to him. He crossed his legs. He had such elegant gestures. It was driving Ben mad. Hux’s feet was touching Ben’s calf. He reached out for a biscuit, and stuffed his mouth full.

“You like it?”

“Oh my god,” he moaned.

“Don’t speak with your mouth full. Just nod.”

Ben nodded. The cookie was heavenly, sweet and spicy and crunchy. Hux got one for himself, and nibbled on it in his refined manner, covering his mouth while chewing. Ben swallowed, hard.

“What’s up with the suit?” he asked, and reached for his tea. It burned his tongue, but he really needed it.

Hux waited with his reply till he was finished with his biscuit. He wiped his lips with his thumb. Those fucking lips. “What suit?”

“The suit you had on.”

“Why, it’s for work.”

“You work?”

Hux frowned at him.

“What?” Ben grumbled, and took another scalding sip.

“Nothing. Your conversation skills.”

“May I inquire about your occupation, my dear sir? I’d be much delighted to hear all about it.”

“Isn’t the tea still hot?”

“It is,” Ben gritted. Hux seemed satisfied. He laced his fingers on his knee.

“I work in a bank.”

“Oh, uh. I figured you like numbers.”

“Well, I do. It’s just a part-time job, though. I’m a history student, and I also do dialect coaching and proofreading.”

“People pay you for that?”

“I wouldn’t do it otherwise. I really wanted to work for the Museum of World War Two, but they only offer unpaid internships. Like, please.”

“You should go for it.”

“Why?”

“If that’s what you’d really like to do,” Ben shrugged. Hux uncrossed his legs, and took another biscuit. Ben followed suit.

“You may have noticed that my mother is waitressing nine to twelve hours every day in an understaffed café,” Hux noted.

“That’s what I’m saying. She likes her job.”

“She has a degree in applied linguistics. MA.”

“Does she?”

That’s what she likes. But you know, she’s a woman, she’s an immigrant, she has an accent. How many female linguists have you even heard of?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any linguists, actually.”

“So, you see, it’s not like I have a choice,” Hux went on, “it’s not like I can follow my Disney dreams and do an internship for shits and giggles. I work my ass off in the summer, I do part time shit during the semester, I do the shopping, I come home, and clean and cook and wait for my mum to turn up, wondering whether father got her. He doesn’t pay us a penny, by the way, and he still expects to be praised for putting me through Eton, while I’m buried under student loans and the rent is totally ridiculous and we’re two months due because we had to have the fucking car fixed-” He trailed off, and cleared his throat. Ben shuffled in his seat.

“I’m sorry.”

“Forget it. Word-vomit.”

“No, no, it’s fine, I mean, it sucks, of course you wanna share it-”

“I don’t want to share it. It’s personal. I’m just a bit worked up. Let’s talk about something else.” Hux fixed his gaze on the window. Ben wasn’t ready to take his eyes off him, but he felt like he had to, so he turned away. Coughed.

“Music,” he supplied.

“Good idea,” Hux nodded, and fumbled for his phone. Ben meant it as a topic, not as a suggestion, but whatever. Hux opened the YouTube app, then put the Samsung on the table. The quality was kinda shitty. Ben listened for a few seconds intently, putting on a good face. It was some experimental post-rock noise band. They apparently mixed radio reports with bagpipes and electric guitars. Ben supposed it was quite original, at least. Terrible, but original.

“What are we having?”

“Godspeed You Black Emperor. They’re an acquired taste.”

Ben wanted to say my ass is an acquired taste, but thought better of it, and merely nodded.

“I love how it builds up,” Hux went on. “Not many people share my opinion. Allelujah, Don’t Bend, Ascend was voted one of the most unpleasant albums ever made.”

“It’s not that bad,” Ben lied.

“Helps me to calm down.”

“Right.”

The silence which followed was the most uncomfortable one yet. Ben squirmed, and clenched and unclenched his fingers. Let out a long breath. Hux took another biscuit. Ben chanced a glance at him.  

When he leant in, the idea was to cheer him up, this sad boy with his sad music and pretentious tastes. He bit down on the end of the cookie Hux was munching on; it cracked in half, and crumbs fell into their laps as their lips brushed. Hux let out a surprised huff, and Ben swallowed it down. His heart was hammering in his throat as he gently nibbled on Hux’s sugar coated bottom lip, cupping his face. He pulled back a bit, and their glances met. Hux’s eyes were heavy-lidded, pupils fat.

“That was disgusting,” Hux said, and Ben winced, but then Hux caught his lips with his, and licked. He tasted spicy and sweet, and most of Ben’s anxiety melted away. Hux got hold of his shoulders, and started pushing him back. Then he climbed on top of him, barely breaking the kiss. The couch creaked under their combined weight. Ben’s heart was beating rapidly; he might have imagined it, but the music seemed to get heavier as Hux straddled him. He was so fucking pretty. Strands of his hair fell over, tickling Ben’s face. He let his hands roam down to Hux’s bossy little ass, and squeezed. Hux made a greedy sound in his throat. He started moving his hips, rubbing their erections together and oh fucking hell.

They locked gazes again.

“Never stop,” Ben begged, and Hux smirked. He found a perfect rhythm in-sync with the weird music and Ben got so hard that it made him lightheaded, a panting mess. Hux palmed his bulge, and pressed down.

“Do you mind?”

“Shit, shit, fuck,” Ben whimpered, hips bucking as Hux unzipped his pants. Hux was so focused and beautiful, his eyes burning as he hooked his thumbs in the waistband of Ben’s underwear. His cock sprang free, heavy and leaking.

“Gorgeous,” Hux said, and Ben’s breath hitched. Hux made to lie back, and Ben panicked for a moment.

“We’re switching positions,” Hux announced as he sprawled out on the couch. “Kneel over me.”

“Uh, okay,” Ben blinked. “Like this?”

“Yeah. Fuck my mouth with that big cock of yours. Shut me up with it.”

Ben broke the world record for unwrapping a condom. He was never so glad that he came prepared. He rolled it on, gave himself a few firm strokes, and looked at Hux. He was kneading the comforter, restless between Ben’s thighs, flushed and so fucking ready.

“How rough can I be with you on a scale from one to ten?”

“Guess,” Hux snapped.

“Eleven?”

“Twelve, you knob. Come on, feed it to me.”

“So thirteen is like, too much?” Ben teased as he got a fistful of Hux’s hair. He never felt more in control. Hux snarled at him, and Ben circled his lips with the tip of his cock, watching in awe how its weight pulled down Hux’s plush bottom lip. Fuck, he looked good like this. He pushed in, and Hux’s throat yielded, tight and hot and wet. Ben let out a low grunt.

Hux was still fully clothed. That wasn’t fair, but he let it go for the moment. He was enjoying himself a little too much, having Hux choke on his fat cock, fucking his throat raw. He was pulling his hair, wondering whether he was just having the best wet dream ever. Hux pulled back just as it all got fucking divine and definitely real.

“No, hey,” he complained. “Come back, you gotta come back.”

“I want it up my arse,” Hux announced, voice hoarse. He looked determined. He nudged Ben off of him, who sat back on his heels, cock aching. Hux regarded him, scrutinizing, then got to his feet.

“Where are you going?”

“Props,” Hux said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Ben followed him with his gaze, catching him licking his lips like he was chasing a taste. He could hardly keep his hands off himself, and it was quite telling that he would have been happy to jerk off to the image of Hux walking away from him. Hux got a shoebox and looked at him, frowning.

“Get naked.”

“How about you?”

“You first.”

“Can I just… I really need to come.”

“Guess what, me too.” Hux dropped the box to the couch, and swept his hair back with a flick of his wrist. “Shirt off. Calm down. Think of binary black holes.”

“How is that supposed to help?”

“They’re terrifying,” Hux shrugged.

“You’re strange,” Ben told him, peeling off his loose shirt. Hux sucked the air in through his teeth, and Ben was ready to receive compliments on his fine physique. Hux just bent down, expression vacant, and touched his fingertips to an angry bruise blooming on Ben’s side. Oh. Right. He looked like shit. He’d almost forgot.

Hux brushed his knuckles over a half-healed wound, transfixed, and Ben started to feel a tad awkward with his pants around his knees and a decidedly weird guitar solo screaming in the background. Hux then pressed his lips to a swelling scar on his left collarbone, and bit down, gently. Ben yelped. Hux lapped at the scar, and muttered:

“Why would you…”

“I wanted to help,” Ben said, voice even deeper than usual with arousal. “I told you.”

Hux peered up at him. “But why would you want to help?” he asked, confused and slightly pissed. He put his palm over Ben’s abused ribcage, and then ran his hand up his chest as he straightened himself up. The front of his pants got in line with Ben’s face. He was very, very hard.

“If I knew about the reward, I’d have let him break a few bones, not just my nose”

“I’m not rewarding you.”

Ben glanced at Hux’s straining fly again, then met his eyes. “Take it off,” he said.  

“Why me?” Hux tilted his head. “Did he break your poor hands?”

“Did you just…” Ben muttered with feign disgust, but he started working with the hooks and buttons of Hux’s unnecessarily complicated jeans. Any pretence of being appalled melted off his face when he caught sight of lace against Hux’s skin. “Are you wearing. Like. Panties.”

“I happen to be.”

Ben yanked the jeans down with so much force that Hux almost tripped over and fell to the coffee table.

“Careful…!”

“You’re such a slut,” Ben growled as he pulled him into his lap. “With all due respect, obviously, no judging. God, lemme look at you.”

“You like them, huh?”

“You can’t kinkshame me, you’re literally the one wearing them.” Ben wished he could look away or mask his interest in any way, but the contrast of neatly trimmed ginger hair and the pale blue lace was, well, aesthetically pleasing. Hux’s cock peeked out, pink and cute and very lickable, and Ben suddenly didn’t know what to do.

“You had these on when you dropped by the coffeeshop, didn’t you?” he croaked.

Hux smirked. “I might have. Will you work me open, or what?” He gestured at the shoebox, and Ben finally tore his eyes away from the fucking panties.

“What’s in the box?” he asked, trying his best not to make a se7en reference. He had an inkling that Hux wouldn’t appreciate Fincher.

“Playthings.”

It definitely peaked Ben’s interest. He reached for it, and Hux got hold of his shoulders so he wouldn’t fall back. Opening the box, he was met with an abundance of dildos, anal beads and… stuff.

“Okay, okay,” he muttered, rummaging through the box’s content while Hux sat proudly on his lap, “so you uh, wear lace panties to work, and you have a sextoy collection, and you’re...you, Hanukkah came early this year-”

“Mazel tov, Benjamin, now, for the name of whatever God you worship, get on with it.” He added: “They were gifts.”

Ben set his jaw, brows furrowed. Preoccupied with jealous thoughts, he got his hands on a random toy, and Hux cooed: “You want to milk me?”

“What?”

“That’s a prostate massager.”

Ben scowled at it. “Why does it have a loop?”

“That’s a cockring. Two in one, you see. Very economic.”

“Do you have an um, a plug or something?”

Hux arched an eyebrow. “Depends. Do you know how to use it?”

“It’s not rocket science.” He held up the massager-ringy-thingie. “This is definitely space technology.”

Hux chuckled. The corners of his eyes wrinkled up when he did that. Ben kissed him; he had to.

---

Hux was bent over the armrest, panties halfway down his slim thighs, shirt pushed up. Ben was fucking him with the friendliest plug he could find. It was heavy in his hand, slippery with lube, and he wasn't sure what was he exactly supposed to do with it, but judging by the filthy sounds Hux was making, he wasn't doing that bad. Maybe he had a natural talent. Hux was trying his best not to hump the armrest, and in return, Ben refrained from palming himself. He wanted to say something, preferably something hot, and somehow what slipped out was a slurred "I'll give you such a good dicking."

Hux flinched. "What the fuck do you want with Dickens?”

“A threesome, I guess,” he grunted, and twisted the plug. Hux cried out, and arched his back. Fuck, he was so ready. Ben ran a teasing thumb over his wet crack. “Apparently I enjoy fucking English guys,” he murmured, voice low and velvety.

Hux trembled with pleasure and anticipation, but of course he wouldn’t let him have it easy. “Anglo-Irish,” he corrected. “Is Dickens a euphemism or something? Is it what I think it is?”

“No, it’s, like, my dick-”

“Did you name your cock Dickens?”   

At that point, Ben just gave up. He slammed the plug home, earning an undignified yelp. Hux collapsed, and Ben loomed over him, whispering into his ears: “You can call it Charles.”

“What’s wrong with you,” Hux sighed, squeezing his eyes shut. Ben kissed him on the cheek, utterly smug and happy.

“Ya want Charles to go to funtown?”

“Shut up.”

Ben kissed the corner of his mouth. He pressed closer, hard cock sliding over the plug. He rubbed against it, and Hux let out a needy moan.

“Are you ready for me?”

“Give me a second.”

Ben hummed, and moved on to mouth at his nape, busted nose buried in his hair. He smelled of cinnamon. Ben bit down, rolling his hips, and slid his hand under Hux’s shirt, brushing his fingers over a pert nipple. Hux was radiating heat.

“Ben?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re good at this,” Hux said, with a tone of pleasant disappointment. “So far.”

“You didn’t expect me to be?” He gave his nipple a pinch. Hux gasped, softly, then bit his lips.

“Honestly? Guys as hot as you are usually terribly boring.”

Ben pulled back a bit. “You think I’m hot?”

“I think you’re disgusting,” Hux deadpanned. “Whatever, fuck me. Press that gross body against mine.” His lips twitched , and he cried out in delight as Ben smacked his ass.

“You’re not funny,” Ben growled, and slapped him harder this time, watching how the plug jittered.  

“Don’t get too into it. Not here. Let’s go to bed. I want to see that revolting face of yours as I ride you.”

Ben grabbed a fistful of his hair, and pulled him to his feet. Hux wavered a bit, giddy with malice, and craned his neck so he can look him in the eye.

“That’s what you get for fishing for compliments,” he concluded, and licked a wet stripe over Ben’s nose.  

Ben narrowed his eyes at him, and made for his throat. He squeezed. Hux let out a pleased little whine, and let Ben guide him to the mattress. He made a show of gripping Ben’s wrist, but didn’t try to shove him away. Ben eased his grasp and asked:

“You okay?”

“Thrust me to the bed,” Hux wheezed.

Ben nodded, his head swimming and heart hammering. He yanked Hux’s shirt off, and pushed him down. Hux must’ve landed on the plug because he whimpered out loud. Ben was sure he was going to pass out. He crawled to Hux on all fours, and claimed his lips.

Hux quite literally climbed him.

---

Ben was lying on the mattress, spread-eagle, and Hux was bouncing on his cock, panties pushed aside. It was the dirtiest thing Ben ever did. He felt like he was never going to be the same after this. The sounds were obscene, flesh on flesh, raw and wet, and Hux gasping for air.

Ben couldn’t take his eyes off him. He was a wild thing, elegant, primal, looking at Ben like he was challenging him. Ben wanted him closer and deeper, his cock aching with the need to release. He arched up to kiss Hux’s chest, and the boy chuckled.

“You look smitten.”

“Maybe I am,” Ben said, rocking into him, faster, harder, and Hux’s head lolled back as he sighed. Ben kissed his chest again, savouring the smooth skin.

“Choke me again,” Hux panted. “Choke me with those big bloody hands.”

Ben reached for him, and closed his fingers around his neck, transfixed. Hux’s eyes fluttered shut, and a strange calmness spread over his features, lips parted.

“Nudge me if you’re…” Ben mumbled, and swallowed down as Hux clutched around him. He needed more. More of it. More of Hux.

They rolled off the mattress. Ben held him down, and thrust into him again. There was a choked-off moan. Ben pulled out completely, enjoying the slow burn of it, and pushed back again. He could feel Hux’s pulse against his gripping fingertips, how hard his heart was beating. Hux coughed, and reached down to touch himself. He rubbed his palm over his panties as Ben watched him. He took out his lovely cock, glistering with precome. He stroked it, teasing, up and down and-

“Fuck”, Ben moaned, slamming in deeper. “I’m going to…”

“My face,” Hux croaked.

“Wha’?”

“Come on my face.”

Ben came at the thought of that, just when the music reached an angry climax.

---

He was lying on the ground. He refused to leave. It was a nice ground. Worn wood.

He could hear Hux mulling about. He emerged from the bathroom, armed with a wet towel and donning a fresh pair of panties (white, this time), dressing grown thrown over his shoulders. Ben let out a low whistle, which earned him an eyeroll. Hux knelt beside him, and started wiping his cum from Ben’s abdomen where he’d rubbed himself off. “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable on the bed?” he asked.

“Can’t move,” Ben muttered. Hux tsked, lips tugging up as he got to his feet. “You have a beautiful smile.”

“Oh, now we’re having pillow talk?”

“Nah, we’re having a post-beautiful-smile talk.” He might’ve imagined it, but color seemed to be rising to Hux’s cheek, bright pink and blotchy.  “Sorry I couldn’t uh, on your face.”

Hux rubbed his neck, a self-conscious gesture. “It’s fine. Wouldn’t have been safe anyway.”

Ben watched him walking to the couch. Hux scooped up the cat (when did she get there?), kissed her nose, put her down, and started pulling off the comforter, with the tabby circling around his ankles.

Ben wondered whether he should get dressed.

Hux headed to the kitchen. Ben heard the familiar noises of a washing machine starting, and Hux returned, worrying his hands. He looked at Ben. His eyes softened. “Has anybody ever told you that you don’t fuck like a nice guy?” he asked. Ben licked his lips.

“Usually I try harder to uh. Fuck like a nice guy.”

“Hah.”

“Yeah.” He sat up, and started searching for his underwear. Hux was blatantly staring at his crotch, expression vacant.

“Tea?”

“Yes, please.”

“Might be cold.” Hux poured out a serving for two as Ben recovered his dignity, jumping on one foot as he fought with his Calvin Kleins. Hux took a careful sip, and scowled. “Uhh.”

“That bad, eh?”

“You don’t want to know. I’ll get you your biscuits.” He disappeared into the kitchen again, cat in tow. Ben bided his time by putting on his socks very, very slowly. “How are you?” Hux asked from the kitchen.

“Um. Fine? Blissed out? Bit uh, like flustered, I guess, but in a mixed way-”

“Jesus. Physically.”

“I’m okay,” Ben shrugged, and winced. His shoulder was still swelled, and it had turned an angry color. He put on his shirt and his shawl. Hux returned with a roll of tinfoil, and Ben looked him up and down. “You?”

“Mm? I’m good.” Hux touched his fingertips to the bruises around his neck, smirking to himself.

“What will your mum think?”

“That I had someone over. If she asks me about it, I’ll tell her I had a great time, then we’ll eat leftovers and watch Gilmore Girls.”

“Uh-huh.”

Ben watched him wrapping up the cookies. How his hair fell over his clever forehead. How the light hit his beautiful face.

“What about your plans?”

“Uh. Dunno whether dad will be home. I guess I’ll just fuck around on youtube or read or something.” He cleared his throat, shifted on his feet. “I’m finished with the stuff I brought with me, and Uncle Chewie is a Trekkie, but I might find something interesting in his collection, who knows. Will swing by the café tomorrow, though. As always. To draw.”

“Have fun,” Hux said, handing over the biscuits. His voice was warm. Ben felt his heart sink.

“You too,” he muttered.  He hung his head as he made his way to the exit. Hux followed him, staying a few steps back. He gathered up the cat when Ben opened the door.

“Um,” Ben said. “This was nice?”

Hux closed the distance between them. He kissed him; he kissed him like he’d die without it. “Thank you for everything,” he said, breath hot and wet against Ben’s lips. Then he closed the door in his face.

---

Ben parked his Harley. The Falcon was in the garage, and there was a DeLorean there he didn’t recognise. Han was probably having company. He tried to turn invisible as he snuck into the house. Creeping from shadow to shadow, he stumbled upon stacks of crates in the living room, and managed to not knock over a few. He danced away from immediate danger, and got to the staircase safe and sound.

Then he was just standing there, gripping the railing. Going upstairs just seemed pointless. He could hear laughter from the backyard, and he realised he didn’t want to be alone with Errand of Vengeance and the remnants of the biscuits Hux baked for him. He chanced a peek out of the window. It was just Uncle Lando, sharing a beer with Han, practically sitting in his lap as Chewie busied himself with cooking sausages over an open fire. Ben briefly wondered whether Uncle Lando and Han were back together. Probably not. He grabbed an abandoned jacket (Chewie’s, too big for him) and stepped outside. Dusk fell over Chewie’s shabby garden, considerably improving the view. He squinted in the glow of the campfire.

“He lives!” Han shouted, lifting his beer in salute.

“He hungers,” Ben said as he loomed closer. “Hi, Uncle Lando.”

Lando flashed his GQ smile, and raised his hand for a fistbump. Ben was getting too old for that shit,  so he just grinned at him, awkwardly.

“What happened to your face, Benny boy?”

“A brick wall.”

“Chewie is making dinner,” Han commented as Ben peeked over his shoulder to look at the fire. He frowned.

“You know I’m vegetarian.”

“He’s making marshmallows and caramel apples later, you love those.”

Chewie signed to him that he made some grilled cheese sandwiches if he wanted some. Ben signed that he’d eat later thanks. Han signed to ask whether they were the ones with spinach and artichoke because he hated those. Chewie signed something along the lines of mozzarella and fuck you. Lando was probably starting to feel left out of the nonverbal conversation because he chimed in on a totally unrelated topic:

“Han says you got your eyes on a heartbreaker?”

Ben shot a dirty look at Han which conveyed this is why I never tell you anything. Han held up his hands, sorry not sorry.

“Don’t wanna talk about it,” Ben mumbled, and grabbed a bag of marshmallows. The adults shared a knowing glance.

“Teenagers.”

“Oh, woe.”

Even Chewie chuckled. Ben snorted, betrayed, and fucked off to a faded beach chair a safe distance away. He collapsed on it, and stuffed his mouth full with marshmallows, sulking. The conversation turned to Tasu Leech, and no one was paying any attention to him.

He was missing Hux. Like, already. He wasn’t sure whether he’d see him again. Probably not, and it made him so angry that he could punch something, several times, with a baseball bat. What the hell did Hux mean by thank you for everything. Why did he kiss him. Why did he agree to invite him over in the first place. (He wanted me. He needed me. He had me.)

He just… he wanted to go back to DC. Go back to mummy’s. Right. Go back to Leia and the influx of  this guest or that, the House and the Senate, her interns and assistants and closest friends, or cousin Rey whom Ben would have to babysit. He wouldn’t be able to have a heart to heart with mum, she was too important. He’d just have to hide in his room and blast Echo and the Bunnymen on full volume but no one would take a fucking hint and they would never leave. If they did, they’d just start calling.

Thinking of DC made him think of Hux again. Suppose he’d have him over, it’s just a one hour flight. He’d show him his room, grandfather’s prints for Galaxy magazine on the walls, his plants, his anthologies. Maybe even his drawings. And maybe they’d make out on the bed. Put on some Godspeed You Black Emperor and blow each other. They’d go to the roof afterwards, and talk and talk and talk, away from everybody, away from Earth in their very own pocket universe.

He touched the biscuits in his pockets. They felt like a promise.

They could go on a roadtrip. Visit sites of popular conspiracy theories. Discover abandoned buildings and sneak into top-secret facilities. Go camping. They’d go to the Badlands in Dakota and check out the astronomy festival, and fuck under the open skies. They’d cuddle by the fire and tell stories, and Hux would be wearing lingerie and Ben’s jumper and socks, and he’d look very cute.

Ben whimpered out loud.

---

He watched the sun rise with his back to the coffee shop's wall. The sky burned with blue and orange, and the air had a salty smell.

He started actually needing the coffee he was waiting for. He didn’t get much sleep. He remembered dozing off and then waking to Han covering him up with a blanket. He kept his eyes closed. Han touched his face, and he could hear Uncle Lando asking,

“Is he okay?”

Han didn’t say anything, but his fingers ghosted over the scars on his face, and Ben felt like crying.

Now he was here, and he was mostly okay. When he spotted Caitlin, he drew himself up to his full height, and waved. “Hello!”

She had her hands full, so she didn’t wave back, but she seemed almost relieved to see him. “Hello yourself! Up early, are we? Help me with these.” With that, Caitlin loaded half of the boxes she was carrying to Ben’s hands. He stumbled back a bit under their weight.

“God, what’s in here?”

“Coffee.”

“Who would have thought.”

“I know, right?”

There was a brief silence after that. Caitlin fumbled for the keys, and Ben kept his gaze on her forehead, because he wasn’t ready to meet her eyes yet. Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail. She pushed the door in with her elbow, and noted:

“I had a talk with Brendol.”

“Shit.”

“Nah, he was…charming. He can be. Anyway, he asked about you.”

“Yeah?” Ben muttered.

They dropped the boxes on the counter. Caitlin let out a puff of air, and put her hands on her hips. “He was really impressed.”

“By what?”

“By you. He kept explaining to me incredibly specific stuff about your technique, and all that.” She measured him. “He noted that you have ‘room for improvement,’ though.”

“Thanks?”

“He has an academy. If you’re interested.”

“I’m um. I already have a scholarship. Here in Massachusetts, actually. R.E.N College.”

Caitlin seemed pleased. “I refused to tell him your name. Anyway, if you ever feel like joining the special operation forces, you know who to call. Can you help me put down the chairs?”

“Uh, sure.” Ben blinked a few times, and then set to work. He got as far as three chairs when he just couldn’t hold it in any longer. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something?” he said with a slight tremble.

“Out with it.”

Ben gripped the edge of the table, and let his hair fall over his face. “Do you think Armitage would go to a date with me?” he forced out, and squeezed his eyes shut. There was some shuffling, and Caitlin made a considering sound.

“Well, he won’t say no if you take him to an escape room or a haunted house.”

“He believes in ghosts?”

“He likes to be mean to the people who do. He has this blog… Anyway. He also likes organic ice cream, maybe that’s a better idea. Why?”  Ben could tell that she was looking at him, so he busied himself with the chairs, face burning. “Are you asking me for permission to date-”

“No! No. No. I was just wondering whether, uh. You think. Personally. As an opinion. That he’d like to go out with uh, me.”  

Caitlin didn’t say anything, and Ben started panicking. Just a bit. He was almost finished when Caitlin noted, “He likes watching the ships in the port. He’ll fall very silent and he’ll expect you not to talk.”

“Oh.”

Caitlin put down the last chair, and propped up her elbows on its back. She looked lost in thought. “He likes long walks. Trespassing. Jaywalking. He walks with a purpose and cannot be stopped. He’ll comment on the people you meet. He appreciates it if you challenge his observations. He’ll point out the moon.”

“Point out the moon?”

“Like,” Caitlin made a vague gesture, and dropped her voice, “look, there’s the moon.”

“Um,” Ben cleared his throat, “does he expect an answer to that?”

“Just… don’t disagree. And don’t say “yes, it’s beautiful,” or something like that. Beware the Stiff Upper Lip. When it’s the Face Twitch, he’s five second away from a nervous breakdown. He likes pancakes but despises crêpes. His favourite ice cream flavour is strawberry and chocolate. He has a peculiar sense of humor. He’s always cold. He loves it when you ask for his help with a crossword. Um, what else?”

Ben rubbed his nose, embarrassed. “I guess I’ll just have to find out for myself, huh?”

Caitlin chuckled. It was good-humored. She pushed the chair in, and walked to the stool, kitten heels clicking on the floor. “There’s one more thing you should know.”

“Yeah?” Ben turned to her. She looked very serious.

“If you don’t treat my son well, I’ll break every single bone in your body.”

“Uh. Okay. Wow. Permission granted?”

“Every single one of them,” Caitlin said, and put on her apron. She adjusted the bow on the back. “Now. Good morning, what can I get you?”

Ben missed a few beats. “Tea? Black tea. With uh, soy milk.”

“Coming right up.”

Ben nodded, and went to his usual seat, feeling like a great weight had been lifted, feeling like he’s been blessed. He sat down, and the day started.