The doors swung open and a flurry of color and activity filled the entranceway. Rich plum velvet, dazzling turquoise silk, and delicate gold lace blended together in eager greetings—the pompous guests strutting into the main hall like peacocks on parade.
Ben hung back on the landing of the grand staircase, watching with dull eyes as the excitable crowd was ushered inside. Cithri bowed his head, anxiously welcoming each guest as his arms became full with their heavy coats. Despite the first hints of Spring, the evening air still held a leftover chill of winter.
Ben enjoyed the cool breeze as it crept through the open door, delighting in its frigid caress against his heated skin. The fireplaces were blazing in all the rooms, oil lamps and candelabras brightly lit throughout their home. Ben found it all a bit overdone, the heat and bright glow of the lights stifling. He’d much prefer to retreat to the second floor, take comfort in the solitude of his own terrace, but he promised his mother he would at least make an appearance at her latest dinner party.
Ben watched the last guests filter in, waiting until they disappeared into the sitting room before descending down the stairs. Cithri’s pale face was flushed with color, his skin blotchy in hues of pink and red as he hurriedly hung up the guests’ coats.
“Do you need some help?” Ben asked, stepping behind him.
Cithri jumped in surprise, nearly dropping everything in his arms. “Oh, Master Ben! You startled me—I didn’t see you there.”
“Well?” Ben reached over, plucking a thick wool cloak from Cithri’s arms. The fabric was heavy but not all due to its plush material. Ben could feel the hidden pockets within the lining, full to the brim with interesting secrets.
“You’re most gracious but really I can handle this.” Cithri moved to the small attached room and carefully began to arrange the coats onto their waiting hooks. “Besides,” he said over his shoulder, “you should really be joining the other guests. Mistress Leia is expecting you.”
Ben sighed wearily, his hands already slipping into the cloak’s pocket. “I’ll go join them soon enough.” His fingers brushed against a cracked wax seal and his lips spread into a mischievous smirk.
“Master Ben!” Cithri exclaimed, nervously wringing his hands in front of him. “Please hand over Lord Adasca’s cloak.”
“In a moment,” Ben murmured, pulling an envelope free from the pocket. He peered at the neat handwriting on front, his pulse speeding with excitement. “What do we have here? A letter from a secret lover, perhaps?”
“Oh dear,” Cithri cried, timidly reaching towards Ben. “You really shouldn’t...that is—please, Master Ben.”
“Oh calm yourself, Cithri.” Their poor footman was always working himself into a tizzy. “I’ll return it soon enough. You can’t deny me some entertainment during this exceedingly tedious night.”
“Benjamin Solo!” Ben’s mother’s voice rang out loudly throughout the entrance hall. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
Ben inwardly groaned, shoving the unread letter back inside the cloak before handing it to a trembling Cithri. “I was just about to join you, Mother.”
Leia crossed her arms, her lips pressed into a thin line. She did not look convinced. “Artee Detoux is ready to serve the first course and Lady Maz is asking after you.”
“Not Maz,” Ben pouted. “Please don’t make me converse with her.”
Leia’s lips curved upwards, her eyes dancing with amusement. “Well, my dear, it will be difficult not to speak with her seeing as she’s sitting next to you at dinner.”
Ben’s responding cry was lost to the noisy chatter of the sitting room as Leia dragged him toward his dismal fate of another tiresome evening.
“The hen was just splendid,” Lord Adasca said, lifting his linen napkin and delicately dabbing the grease from his lips. “My congratulations to the chef.”
“Thank you,” Leia preened, “I do believe Beebei really outdid herself tonight.”
“Here, here,” Lord Bakarn agreed, holding his goblet up before slurping noisily from it.
Ben rolled his eyes, taking his own long drink from his glass. The velvety smooth wine did little to distract his great discomfort. These dinner parties were always such a bore. His palms had indents from his nails digging deeply into the flesh, doing his best not to howl in boredom, as Lady Maz droned on all evening about the most mindless things. She was still mumbling on about some distant relation of hers but all Ben could focus on was finding a swift escape.
“Truly a delicious meal,” Lady Baliss chimed in. Her waxy face shone with smug delight. “We thought about serving hen at my son’s upcoming wedding but decided against it. We think pheasant might be a bit more elegant.”
“Is that so?” Leia replied, her lips pulled into a tight smile.
“Oh yes,” Lady Baliss continued. “You know his fiance’s mother is a baroness—there might be royalty at the wedding. We can’t risk serving anything too low brow.”
“Your son must be so excited,” Lady Teral murmured.
“Yes, they both are quite delighted,” Lady Baliss sighed happily. “You know they are so smitten I am sure she will be with child very soon. It will be so lovely to become a grandmother.”
“Aren’t you already? A grandmother that is?” Ben asked. The dining room quickly became silent. Ben suppressed a smile. “Didn’t your oldest son have a child with his governess?”
The silence erupted into hushed whispers. Lady Baliss’ face became white as a sheet before the blood rushed back in, turning into an angry flush of red.
“Ben!” Leia’s sharp voice cut through the air thick with tension. “You seem awfully tired, perhaps it’s time you retire?”
Ben was grateful for the excuse to leave but the dangerous glint in his mother’s eye spoke volumes of the price he would pay later. “Yes, I am quite overcome with fatigue.” He turned towards the guests, who stared at Ben with a mixture of amazement and disdain. “If you’ll all excuse me.”
He stood up, his chair scraping loudly against the floor. The tedious, safe conversation slowly began to fill the room once again as he made his way towards the door.
Ben poked at his poached quail egg, resolutely ignoring the disapproving gaze of his mother. Leia sipped dispassionately from her teacup before setting it down with a loud clang.
“Ben—” she began.
“I know, I know,” Ben cut her off, waving his fork into the air. “You’re gravely disappointed with my behavior last night, I must write Lady Baliss a sincere letter of apology, my allowance will be cut for the week...am I missing anything?”
Leia eyes narrowed and, if possible, her expression seemed to grow in anger. “Enough is enough.”
Ben lifted his gaze, his brows furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve alway had a rebellious streak since you were a child but ever since your father left the country to expand his business you have become quite unmanageable.”
“I’m not that bad,” Ben protested.
“No, you’re worse,” Leia lamented. She sighed and her expression softened slightly. “You know I love you Ben, with all my heart, but this foolish behavior has to end. You’re of age now and can’t just run around causing havoc wherever you go. I know you aren’t the biggest fan of high society and even I will admit it can all become a bit stuffy from time to time. However, your fervent need to constantly shake things up is not amusing nor appreciated.”
“No.” Leia raised her hand in warning. “I don’t want to hear your excuses any longer. It’s time you settled down. I think perhaps we should start looking into finding you a wife.”
“A wife?” Ben repeated incredulously.
“Yes,” Leia simply replied. “I believe if you settled down and had a child of your own, you might be forced to learn some responsibility. Perhaps you might learn about the consequences your careless words and actions cause.”
“That all sounds terribly boring,” Ben grumbled.
Leia crossed her arms tightly across her chest. “It’s high time you grew up, Ben. I expect you to attend social events and balls this season and to treat the dates I chose for you with respect.”
“Dates?” Ben felt his stomach sink.
“Yes,” Leia responded. “I already have quite a few lovely young ladies from respectable families in mind.”
“Is that what this is?” Ben muttered. “Do you want me to marry a baroness like Lady Baliss’ son?”
“Well, there isn’t anything wrong with marrying into a good family.”
Ben scowled, his mood souring by the minute. “And yet you married far below your station.”
Leia’s eyes turned hard, her voice icy. “I loved and still love—even when he drives me crazy—your father very much. I don’t regret our marriage if that’s what you mean.” She paused and turned to Ben with a pleading expression. “If you want to marry for love of course I support you but I hope you’ll give these young ladies a fair shot. Who knows what feelings may come to bloom once you meet.”
Ben sighed in frustration. “I’m just not certain there is anyone in our society I could actually tolerate.”
“You haven’t even given anyone a chance,” Leia countered, her voice assuming a tone of finality. “Besides, your cousin Rey will be arriving next week. Luke has finally agreed to let her be properly introduced to society. She’s grown so much, blossomed into a most beautiful young lady. I’m sure you’ll be delighted to become re-acquainted with her.”
“Rey?” Ben asked incredulously. His tomboyish younger cousin was further away from his type than the ridiculously snooty women his mother would likely set him up with. “No—no.” He crumpled in defeat, his shoulders sagging and his heart heavy. “Fine, I’ll go on these dates of yours.”
“Wonderful,” Leia exclaimed, clapping her hands together and jumping to her feet. “I have some letters to write.”
She swept out of the room, humming under her breath the entire way. Artee Detoux rushed in, clumsily hitting the table with his hip before clearing her dishes. Ben glanced down at his own neglected breakfast and resolutely pushed his plate away.
Suddenly his appetite was completely gone.
The air was oppressively thick, great puffs of smoke settling over the hazy room. Ben rubbed at his face, grimacing as the acrid air stung his eyes. He’d never quite understood the appeal to smoking. No, all he needed was a nice snifter of brandy and his night was made.
This night, however, he felt awfully restless.
The fog outside was relentless, so opaque and foreboding that even the most greedy coachmen refused to be bribed into handing over the reins for a joyride. The patrons that all lingered inside were terribly dull. They puffed on their pipes and carried on the most inane conversations. Ben took it as a very bad sign indeed that even his favorite club was becoming wearisome.
He swirled the amber liquid inside his glass and took a small sip. The brandy, however, was as delicious as always. He reveled in the spicy flavor, letting the liquor settle on his tongue before slowly swallowing it down. He would need much more of this liquid magic if he were to get through the upcoming weeks.
His nights had been tense and his sleep disturbed as he contemplated the events he would be made to attend with the insipid dates he would be forced to endure. It wasn’t just that women stirred very little interest in Ben (although that certainly didn’t help) but that the people in his social circles were terribly devoid of any life and passion. His mother knew of his wild affairs, most people in this gossiping city did, but she also held the head-strong belief that it was just another aspect of Ben’s rebellious youth. She never judged him, never truly scolded him and yet Ben knew she was just biding her time. His mother wanted him married and settled down with a house full of children for many years now.
His stomach churned at the thought of that sort of domestic life. It just wasn’t for him; a doting wife, spoiled children and mindless estate affairs bored him to death. He shuddered to think about the simpering dates he would escort to these balls, young ladies who dreamed of that kind of existence.
Ben was so lost in his thoughts, sipping despondently on the last of his brandy, that he didn’t even hear Thanisson sneak up behind him.
“Ben Solo,” Thanisson whispered hotly in his ear. “You look awfully solemn tonight.”
“Thanisson,” Ben greeted, once his jumpy pulse settled down.
Thanisson pulled up a chair, moving it incredibly close to Ben’s. He sat down and leaned far into Ben’s personal space. “What are you doing all alone over here?”
Ben held up his near-empty glass and watched the low, flickering lights shine against the surface. “Contemplating my future.”
“That sounds awfully boring,” Thanisson snorted. He reached out and placed his hand on Ben’s thigh. “Why don’t we go to a room upstairs and make this night a bit more interesting.”
Ben could feel the heat from Thanisson’s palm seeping through the thin material of his trousers. Small curls or arousal swirled in his stomach. It wouldn’t be such a terrible way to distract himself from his troublesome thoughts. Thanisson was an excellent lover and yet… Truth be told, Ben found the man excessively pompous. Despite his eager hands and talented tongue, Ben was always anxious to be rid of him once their lustful encounters were complete.
“I don’t think so,” Ben replied, removing Thanisson’s hand from his thigh.
“Is this a new game?” Thanisson asked, a disdainful smirk painted on his face. “Are you playing hard to get?”
Ben shook his head, rising from his chair and stretching his long limbs. “Afraid not, Thanisson. I’m just not interested.”
“Not interested?” Thanisson huffed, jumping up as well. He crossed his arms tightly in front of his chest. “When is Ben Solo not up for spreading his legs for the first soft-lipped, pretty gentleman that crosses his path?”
Ben’s jaw tightened and his hands clenched into angry fists. “Goodnight Thanisson,” he said cooly.
Ben could still hear Thanisson sputtering behind him as he walked out the door.
The evening air was cool and damp, the fog still rolling down the street in great waves. Ben leaned against the chilled bricks of the building, crossed his arms and sighed. He made the right decision, of that he was sure. Thanisson was terribly superficial and the meaningless sex was beginning to lose its once exciting shine.
Could his mother be right? Was he ready to settle down? His ideal life did not include a pretty wife and chubby-faced children. At the same time, he couldn’t imagine himself content running around forever with Thanisson or any of his other past lovers. Could there be a happy compromise?
Ben’s mind swam with confusion, his temples pounding with a plethora of thoughts that crashed against his skull. All he was certain of, as he stared out at the dim lights of the city faintly glowing through the thick fog, was the empty chasm in his heart and the loneliness creeping in his veins.
Chapter 2 Coming: 19 May 2017
Gruff laughter rang in Hux’s ears, loud and boisterous. He gritted his teeth to the unpleasant sound, grimacing when Lord Dajaal heartily slapped him on the back.
“And,” Lord Dajaal continued, his plump cheeks ruddy with excitement, “the pathetic little man just begged me for more time, said he had children to feed. As if I should put myself out for his bad business ventures.”
The men chuckled in response, their laughter slowly dying down as they focused on the cards passed around the table.
Hux’s father picked up his cards and held them close to his face. “Some men have no sense of decorum,” Brendol stated. “Imagine, he wanted to buy shares and become part of our club. As if we would let that sort of riff-raff in.”
“The exclusivity lures them all in,” Lord Kallea agreed. “Yet, it takes a certain type of gentleman to become a member. A sharp mind, a quick wit—
“Deep pockets,” Lord Dajaal interjected.
Hearty laughter rose around the circle again. Hux merely pressed his lips together and stared at his cards.
“To think some men would willfully leave our club,” Lord Kallea muttered. “Such insolence.”
“Traitor,” Lord Dajaal spat. “Finn was a fool to leave the First Order. Doesn’t he know we’re the highest respected gentleman’s club in the city?”
Hux snorted under his breath. The First Order was far from the most respected club. It was certainly the richest and likely the most corrupt, but Hux was not deaf to all the harsh murmurs and disdain society held for the establishment.
“He’ll learn the errors of his way soon enough,” Brendol sneered. “I’ll be sure to shun him from any prestigious upcoming events.”
Lord Dajaal placed a few coins in the center of the table, arching his eyebrow in challenge. The rest of the men, including Hux, added to the pile.
“I’m sure he’ll be back in a few days,” Lord Kallea said, exchanging one of his cards. “Crying and begging to be let back in.”
Lord Dajaal picked another card and then sighed, folded his hand, and pushed the cards away from him in disgust. “And we will have the pleasure of slamming the door in his face.”
Lord Kallea smirked, eyeing his hand with pleasure before adding more coins to the pile. “Maybe he’ll be clever, try to use his youthful face and tragic past to land a rich wife.”
“He should be so lucky,” Lord Dajaal scoffed. “All the rich, pretty ladies seem to be getting snatched up right quick.” He tapped his fingers on the table, turning his attention to Hux. “What about you, Hux? You’ve been of age for some time now and still I’ve yet to hear of you courting a single, eligible young lady.”
Hux’s cheeks burned and his palms began to dampen. He cleared his throat, wildly thinking of some excuse when his father started to speak.
“Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?” Brendol said, picking a new card from the pile. “How can he choose one, single woman when there are so many throwing themselves at his feet? His desk has become flooded with an overabundance of desperate love letters and perfumed tokens. My son is merely picky, that’s all.”
The men nodded in sympathy, their understanding faces quickly morphing into frustrated expressions when his father spread his cards across the table.
Once again, a winning hand.
Brendol leaned forward and pulled the pile of coins over to his side of the table. The smug smile that spread across his father’s face did little to hide the cold fury that danced beneath his eyes.
“What a complete embarrassment!” Brendol shouted, shrugging off his coat and throwing it at their footman.
“Father—” Hux began.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Brendol angrily cut him off. “How many more of your failures must I endure before enough is enough?”
Hux’s shoulders sagged, his head bowing forward. He knew better than to reason with his father when he was in one of his moods.
“I can’t be the only one working tirelessly on upholding our family image. I expect you to do your part.”
Brendol marched towards the study. Hux didn’t need to be told that he should follow his father.
“I try my best,” Hux protested, struggling to keep up with Brendol’s swift pace. “I attend all the First Order events, keep company with the right people, praise Baron Snoke’s business ventures.”
Brendol swept into the study and snatched the bottle of gin on his cart. He dropped a single icecube into a tumbler and poured himself a generous drink. “It’s not nearly enough. We have to work harder than any other family, don’t you know that by now?”
Hux opened his mouth to reply but Brendol merely waved his hand, as if Hux were a bothersome fly.
“Oh, I’m no fool. I hear the talk, the scathing gossip: new money,” Brendol’s voice dripped with disdain. “They think they can look down at us, as if our gold isn’t just as valuable as their old, family ties.”
“People hardly look down on us, father,” Hux retorted. The words sounded false the moment they rolled off his tongue. He wasn’t immune to the petty murmurs or wayward glances.
“Don’t be obtuse,” Brendol commanded, his eyes cold and menacing. “I raised you better than to shut your ears and eyes to the world and just float on your way.” Hux had to bite his tongue to keep from pointing out that technically his governess, Lady Sloane, had raised him. “I sacrificed so much of my life after your mother died,” Brendol continued, “worked tirelessly to get us where we are now and this is how you repay me.”
Hux crossed his arms, confusion and frustration swelling in his chest. “I don’t understand what I’ve done.”
“That’s exactly it,” Brendol exclaimed, pausing to take a long gulp from his drink. “You haven’t done a thing! Don’t you see? The only way to further elevate ourselves is to join with a respectable family that has old wealth and lofty connections.”
Hux swallowed uselessly at the lump forming in his throat. “You mean marriage?”
“Of course,” Brendol hissed impatiently. “You’re to start attending social events and balls immediately. The season is just starting up again and I expect you to escort the most well-to-do young ladies in society. I’ll arrange the dates.”
Brendol’s sharp glare cut off any further argument. “You will do right by this family, Armitage.” Hux winced at the use of his first name. “It’s time for you to do your part.”
The steady thrum of carriages pulled along the cobbled roads rose to meet Hux’s waiting ears. The gentle noise was usually a comfort, but this evening he found no solace in its familiar sound. Melancholy surrounded him, weighing heavy on his heart as he gazed at the city below him.
He knew, somewhere deep inside, this day would have to come eventually. However, Hux foolishly hoped he had a bit more time. The idea of courting and marrying a woman of his father’s choosing filled him with terrible anxiety.
He’d always obeyed his father in all things—followed his strict instructions over the years, socialized with only approved members of society, and worked tirelessly to charm those who would improve their standing. Yet, in the moment, Hux’s heart longed for rebellion.
Hux dreaded the thought of going on tedious dates with various, stuck-up women. The truth was, Hux wasn’t sure he would ever come around to idea of being with a woman. He still recalled the day he was feeling unusually bold and approached his father about his preferences.
Hux was fifteen and it took all his courage to enter his father’s study and ask for a word. His voice wavered as he tried to express his disinterest in women and that his preferences lay elsewhere. He’d barely spoken more than a mouthful of words before Brendol sharply cut him off.
His father’s voice was harsh and cold as he told Hux he it was his duty to marry well and provide the family with an heir. His direct words and clipped speech left no room for protest, not that Hux would have been brave enough to speak out again. Hux nodded his head, his vision becoming blurry as his eyes filled with unshed tears. He blinked back his misery and walked away.
Ever since that day, Hux had pushed aside his desires and focused on being a dutiful son and a proper gentleman in society. He had become nearly numb over the years to his heart’s secret longings, pushing away every stray thought and impulse. The prospect of courting and finding a proper bride, however, had cracked open the locked away feelings.
Hux leaned against the cool rail on his balcony, sighing heavily as he watched the streetlamps flicker on. The fires burned brightly, fighting with all their might against the thick fog in the streets. Still, the lights were muted, dampened by the powerful, grey mist.
Hux wished for the umpteeth time that his mother was still alive, that she had lived even long enough for him to truly know her. His governess, Lady Sloane, was compassionate enough but ever since she left their home Hux had been terribly lonely. He ached for a friend, a confidant to reveal all his deepest secrets and hidden thoughts to.
The emptiness spread through his body, settling in his bones and twisting his heart with its icy embrace. Perhaps Hux was being unreasonable, perhaps that sort of connection only existed in the fiction books his father always banned from the house.
Hux resigned himself to his solitude and, after one last glance at the struggling streetlamps, trudged back into his room.
Next chapter coming: 22 May 2017
“Oh,” Leia began, her voice choked with emotion. “You look beautiful.”
Ben rolled his eyes as Rey descended the staircase. She was practically glowing with excitement, racing down the stairs and nearly tripping over her dress. Her hair was pinned in an intricate up-do and her dress was likely more elegant than any clothing she ever wore out in the country with Uncle Luke. The light material swept along the floor, long and flowy, a pale shade of ivory trimmed with bronze and gold. Despite her fancy attire, Ben couldn’t help but still think of her as the gruff tomboy from his youth. He’d much rather they run off to the gardens, find fallen branches and play-fight as knights as they used to rather than attend a tiresome ball.
“You don’t think it’s a bit too much?” Rey asked shyly, unable to hide the eager grin spreading across her face.
“Not at all,” Leia insisted. “You look absolutely lovely. I just wish your father were here to see it. I can’t believe he refused to come for your debut.”
Rey shrugged good naturedly. “You know father. He hates to leave the country, especially to socialize with society.”
“Oh yes, I know my brother all too well,” Leia sighed and shook her head. “I wanted to throw you a grand coming-out ball when you first turned sixteen but Luke refused. At least you’ll get your introduction at Lando’s start-of-the-season ball. Almost everyone attends and it’s always a fabulous event.”
“I can’t wait,” Rey said, glancing over at Ben. Her cheeks flushed with excitement. “Well, Ben, should we get going?”
Ben groaned, his shoulders drooping. “If we must.”
“Oh you must,” Leia interjected sharply. She put on a cheery expression. “Besides, I’m sure you’ll have a grand time with your cousin.” Ben shot Rey a disbelieving look over Leia’s shoulder. Rey, in response, stuck her tongue out at Ben. “And we do have a deal, don’t we?”
Ben had hoped his mother’s insistence of attending society balls and parties, as well as actively seeking out a woman to court, would have dissipated over the last few days. Instead, Leia seemed more determined than ever. At the very least he wasn’t required to bring a lady of Leia’s choosing this evening, even if it meant he was forced to escort his younger cousin instead.
“Yes, we do,” Ben agreed sullenly. He turned towards Rey who was nearly vibrating with anticipation. “Well, come on—let’s get this over with.”
Ben held out his arm and Rey grabbed onto it, only wobbling slightly in her new shoes.
“Have a wonderful time!” Leia called after them as they walked out the front door and towards their carriage.
Rey’s heels clacked loudly on the cobbled road. “Well?” She asked, her expression smug. “Don’t you agree with your mother, that I look just divine this evening?”
Ben paused and carefully looked her over. His lips twisted into a smirk and he shrugged. “You’re not really my type.”
Sharp pain burst into his side as Rey elbowed him, hard. She gave him a scathing look before erupting into a fit of mischievous giggles and rushing towards the carriage on her own.
Ben shook his head in stunned disbelief. His little cousin was still strong as an ox despite her deceptively slight appearance. He held his tender ribs and hurried to follow her.
It couldn’t have been more than an hour but Ben was already bored to tears.
He had been rather successful avoiding Lando’s annual start-of-the-season ball for the past several years and the reasoning for his constant absence was quickly becoming confirmed. Everyone was dressed resplendently—fine jackets and lacy frills, flowing dresses of silk and satin. Ben would likely enjoy observing the milling guests’ sharp fashion sense if it weren’t for their ridiculous behavior. The men puffed out their chests, proudly displaying their velvet vests and intricately tied cravats. The women swirled around, turning this way and that to show off their dresses and heavily adorned fingers and wrists. It was all a strange and superficial dance, no one really paying attention to anyone but themselves.
Ben yawned widely, scanning the room for something to hold his interest.
Rey shot him a scathing look. “You might be a bit less bored if you were to interact with someone.”
“I don’t want to talk to anyone here,” Ben complained, crossing his arms.
“Well I do,” Rey insisted. “Why don’t you bring us around the room so you can introduce me.”
Ben shrugged. “Just go talk to them yourself.”
“It’s not proper etiquette for me to strike up conversation with strangers when I haven’t been introduced first.”
Ben snorted in response. “Do I look like I care about being proper?”
“Ben,” Rey whined.
“Fine,” Ben relented. “But then you’re on your own. I’m tired of being your babysitter tonight.”
“Good,” Rey scoffed in reply. “I’m tired of being dragged down by your boorish attitude.”
Ben rolled his eyes and took Rey’s arm, pulling her away from the wall and towards the center of the room. He nodded his head to a few guests, navigating her through the crowd, when he spotted Lady Maz. His lips curled into a devious smirk.
“Lady Maz,” he greeted. “So lovely to see you.”
“Oh, Ben!” she exclaimed warmly. “What a surprise to find you here. When’s the last time you’ve attended a ball?”
“It’s been a while,” Ben admitted. “I’d love to introduce you to my younger cousin, Rey Skywalker.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance.” Rey gave a little curtsey.
Lady Maz’s eyes grew wide in recognition. “Little Rey, Luke’s daughter?” Rey nodded in reply. “Oh it’s been so many years—look how you’ve grown. How is your father dear?” Rey opened her mouth to respond but Lady Maz cut her off. “Oh, do I have the best stories about your father, back when he was your age. What a witty boy he was. He used to come over my estate when I was with my first husband—or was it my second? It’s so hard to keep track. Well, I married at a young age you know and…”
Ben slowly backed away as Lady Maz excitedly chatted on, her small hands gripping fiercely on Rey’s arm. Rey shot him a desperate look but Ben merely tipped his head and offered her a slick smile. Her eyes narrowed and he knew he would pay for it later, but at the moment all he cared about was his freedom.
He eyed the crowd once more and, finding no one even remotely interesting to chat with, grabbed a flute of sparkling wine and headed towards the far wall. The air was cool that evening and the doors to the back garden were closed. He leaned against the glass and peered outside, wishing he could escape into Lando’s vast hedge maze. His father was good friends with Lando and Ben would often visit his estate when he was a boy. Lando and his father would talk business, drinking brandy in the study and brokering new trade deals. Ben found their conversations exceptionally dull and he would always sneak outside to explore the maze. Ben used to delight in the tall hedges with all their twisting curves and secrets. Once his father began to travel abroad more often and rarely returned home, Ben’s visit to Lando’s estate all but stopped. He glanced through the lightly fogged glass, wondering if the maze would seem as massive and thrilling now that he was older.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Ben startled as a young man sidled up next to him, sipping slowly on his own glass of wine. “Lord Finn, I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Well, the First Order club did try to keep me off the guest list but luckily your mother interceded and demanded I attend. Turns out Lord Lando isn’t fond of that particular gentleman’s club himself and he was only to happy to extend an invite.”
Ben shook his head. “They’re still giving you trouble?”
“Indeed they are,” Finn mumbled, taking another long sip from his glass.
Lord Finn was a pleasant enough young man, though a bit too straight-laced for Ben’s personal taste. He had been invited into the First Order club at a young age but recently had became disheartened by their corrupt dealings and left in some dramatic way. Ben had only heard snippets of the gossip here and there but his mother had been furious. She never liked the First Order club much in any case and when she discovered they were working to destroy Finn’s reputation—just because he spoke up and refused to be corrupted—she stepped in right away. Ben almost felt sorry for the club and its members—it was never wise to get on his mother’s bad side.
“So,” Finn said, breaking Ben from his thoughts. “I see you’ve brought a lovely date tonight.”
“Rey?” Ben snorted. “Not my date, just my annoying younger cousin that I’m being forced to chaperone.”
Finn perked up at the news. “Is that so? She isn’t promised to anyone or anything?”
Ben eyed Finn and the younger man flushed under his inquisitive gaze. “No, not yet in any case.”
Finn nervously cleared his throat. “Good, um, that’s good.”
Ben nodded his head and polished off his drink, grabbing a fresh one from a passing tray. The sparkling wine was a bit sweet for his taste but he would take whatever he could get to help distract him from this tiresome evening.
Ben was ready to try his luck and see if he could find a way to sneak into the garden when the door swung open and a group of late guests arrived. A few older men with pinched, superior expressions walked inside, nodding haughtily to the other guests who greeted them. Once they cleared, Ben’s eyes widened as his gaze fell upon the young man behind them.
He was certain he had seen the young man before, from afar in the streets or at the horse track, but never had he seen him this close. The young man glanced around uncertainly, his handsome face already looking wearisome. He had vibrant red hair, artfully tousled on top and shorter on the sides. His jaw was defined but delicate and his high cheekbones gave him a look of utter elegance. His eyes though, his gorgeous eyes, were absolutely mesmerizing; they were a lovely shade of blue-green, wonderfully expressive and framed by pale lashes. They shone with uncertainty and hesitation, tinted just a hint of disdain.
Ben’s mouth went dry. “Who is that?”
Finn followed Ben’s gaze. “Oh, that’s Lord Hux, Lord Brendol’s son. I don’t know him all too well—I only ever exchanged a few words with at the club. Before I left, that is.”
Hux. The name sounded familiar to Ben’s ears. He recalled his mother speaking in vehement tones about her abhorrence for his father, Brendol. The man was newer money, something his mother didn’t mind, but he had an aggressive approach and certain cruelty which she disdained. He was a leading member of the First Order gentleman’s club, funded by Baron Snoke. Ben shuddered just thinking of the aged and menacing baron. When Ben was younger, Baron Snoke tried to lure him with promises of wealth and position if he would only agree to be one of the Baron’s many young lovers. Ben quickly turned him down and avoided the man’s estate as often as possible, but he still caught the elder Baron watching him with hooded eyes whenever they crossed paths on the streets.
Ben pushed away the crawling sensation building on his skin and looked again towards the young man entering the room. Lord Hux looked an absolute vision with his royal navy tailcoat that perfectly complimented his creamy, pale skin. The copper buttons gleamed in the light of the room, shining brilliantly like stars in the evening sky. Lord Hux chewed his perfect bottom lip and looked around, his eyes dancing across the room.
Ben’s breath caught in his throat as their gazes met. The noise in the ballroom seemed to fade away, replaced by an urgent rushing through Ben’s ears. His heart thudded painfully against his chest. It felt as if the entire room disappeared and only the two of them were left. Lord Hux’s bright eyes widened, filling with equal parts curiosity and fear. It excited Ben more than he could express. Ben’s lips parted, wanting to silently mouth some sort of greeting or acknowledgment from across the room when Rey collided into his side.
“You are dead, Ben Solo,” Rey fumed, grabbing his arms and spinning him around. “I can’t believe you just left me there with Lady Maz! Did you know she has twelve pugs, yes twelve of them—all with their very own personalities, histories and favorite colors.”
Finn appeared at Ben’s side. “Hello! I don’t believe we’ve met yet. I’m Finn.”
Ben rolled his eyes but Rey merely smiled shyly, holding her hand out to Finn. “Hi, I’m Rey.” She flushed and shifted on her feet. “Sorry about that outburst.”
“Not at all,” Finn replied amicably. “I’ve been to a few of Lady Maz’s dinner parties and I know how...loquacious she can be.”
Rey’s smile widened. “Yes, that is a very good way to put it.”
“Well I’m glad you both have been acquainted but if you’ll excuse me…” Ben trailed off as he turned around to look back towards the crowd.
Poignant disappointment washed over Ben as he searched for the handsome gentleman again but was met with only empty air.
Chapter 4 coming: 26 May 2017
Hux was far too hot, his skin feverish, and yet he couldn’t seem to stop shivering. Strong hands caressed his body, their calloused fingertips tracing lines across his chest. He leaned into the touch and surrendered to that heated embrace.
He could feel soft waves tickling his cheek and hot breath washing against his neck but his vision was otherwise blurred. He couldn’t quite make out the face before him. All he could do was smell the earthy, musky scent of arousal pouring off the man in waves, feel the firm pressure of his hardness against his thigh, taste the salty sweat that beaded along his jaw.
The pressure in his groin increased and his stomach tightened in anticipation. White-hot pleasure pulsed in his veins, consuming his body. He trembled in the man’s arms, his own fingers digging into the solid biceps in front of him.
His release rushed forward, intense and urgent. The man swallowed Hux’s cry with a wet, eager mouth. Hux’s heart raced as his vision cleared and he was met with familiar, dark brown eyes.
Hux groaned as came back to consciousness, shifting uncomfortably on his bed. The sheets were tangled in his legs, ruined with the sticky, wet spot where his release began to rapidly cool. He kicked the incriminating material onto the floor and slowly sat up. His head was still hazy from the after effects of his vivid dream.
It had been months since he had a dream like that. He thought he had buried those thoughts deep enough, but apparently they could not be held forever. He sighed, stepped out of bed and walked towards the window.
The setting moon lit his walls with hues of silver; dawn would not arrive for a few more hours. Still, Hux found himself wide awake and unable to return to sleep. His mind drifted back to the memories of his dream, of the strong hands and eager mouth that swept over his body.
His spent cock twitched at the thought but he fiercely ignored its stirring. He quietly wondered what might have brought on this reemergence of lustful dreams. In the deepest recess of his heart, though, he knew the answer.
The very end of his dream rushed back—those intense brown eyes staring deep into his soul.
He sharply turned away from the window and walked towards his bed. He sighed with frustration, laid back down and stared at the ceiling. He willed his body to fall back asleep but his mind raced with forbidden thoughts.
With a heavy heart, Hux watched uselessly as the hours ticked by and his room faded from twilight’s lavender to morning’s unforgiving and watchful golden glow.
Phasma stepped out of the carriage, ignoring Hux’s outstretched hand and landed easily on her feet. With a smug smirk at Hux, she dusted off her modest silver and black gown and began to walk towards the front entrance. Hux couldn’t help but return her cheeky smile and rush to catch up.
He had been dreading another date, as the previous few had been all terribly haughty and self-obsessed, but Phasma was rather amusing. She exuded confidence but wasn’t overly arrogant and her sharp wit kept Hux on his toes. He was pleasantly pleased that she also fenced and they discussed their favorite positions and attacks the entire carriage-ride to the ball.
Hux was a bit winded by the time he rejoined Phasma as she waited for him, arms crossed, at the front door.
“Took you long enough.” She playfully elbowed him in the side.
Hux snorted, straightening his tailcoat. “Excuse me for not wanting to ruin my clothing before the night even begins.” Hux pointedly glanced at the hem of her dress, all dusty from the road.
Phasma merely shrugged, sweeping into the entrance hall as the door swung open to admit them.
Hux’s throat tightened as they stepped inside. While his date may have been more than tolerable, he was not looking forward to the required social niceties of the evening. The guests all floated here and there; young ladies smiled shyly at their dates while the gentleman strutted about with air of nonchalance. It was all so terribly false, a never-ending drama where every actor played their part to perfection.
Hux was not immune to the performance—he had been forced to put on his mask at an early age. As he grew older, though, it seemed more and more often that he forgot his lines and even putting on his usual costume did little to get him into character.
Hux shook off his troublesome thoughts and turned towards his date. “Shall I get you a drink?”
Phasma rolled her eyes in response. “I can get my own drink, thank you very much.”
“I was just trying to be nice,” Hux retorted, his eyebrows drawing in.
“I know,” Phasma sighed. “Forgive me. My mother keeps insisting that I attend these balls with fine, distinguished gentleman and it’s all become a bit tiresome. It’s put me on edge.”
Hux chuckled softly. “I understand. This is only my third date for the season and it’s been a very trying time.”
“To be honest,” Phasma began, snatching two glasses of wine from a passing tray. She handed one to Hux. “I’m surprised you’re not engaged or married yet. Everyone knows your father is constantly looking to blend seamlessly into society.”
“Do they now?” Hux asked, arching his brow.
Phasma’s cheeks pinkened a bit but she brushed off her embarrassment and continued on. “I’m not one for gossip, trust me, but I’m not so blind to notice what’s right in front of me. My family is from old money, thus why your father was so eager for this match. He offered my mother quite a bit of gold to set this up.”
Now Hux was blushing, his face turning red from frustration and shame. “That sounds like father…”
Phasma smiled kindly and squeezed Hux’s shoulder. “And it’s just like my mother to take a little extra money wherever she can—even if it means basically selling her only daughter off.”
“I’m sorry,” Hux replied sincerely.
“Don’t be,” Phasma snorted. “My father would never make me marry against my will. He always wanted a son but he got stuck with me. So, he decided to raise me like a boy—no piano or dance lessons but I can hunt, fence, and drink like a fish. He’s ridiculously proud of me and I have him wrapped around my little finger. My mother’s idle threats don’t worry me.”
Hux slowly sipped his wine, absorbing Phasma’s words. They walked further into the ballroom, smiling and nodding at the guests as they moved about. “So, do you have someone else in mind you want to marry?”
“Certainly not,” Phasma laughed. “I don’t imagine I’ll ever marry. I like my independence far too much.”
Hux couldn’t help but envy her position. “I wish I could avoid marriage as well.”
“Come now,” Phasma teased. “You might still meet a young lady who whisks you off your feet.”
“I highly doubt that,” Hux mumbled bitterly into his glass.
Phasma gave him a sympathetic look, softly patting his arm. She drank deeply from her cup, emptying it and setting it down on a small side table. Her eyes lit up as they glanced across the room. “Oh! Lady Kira is here. I haven’t seen her in ages. You don’t mind if I leave you for a bit and go say hello, do you?”
Hux shook his head. “Please, go ahead.”
Phasma gave Hux another smile before racing off towards her friend. Hux, once again, envied her a bit. He couldn’t even think of one person he thought of as an actual friend. Of course he had many acquaintances from the club, those his father forced him to associate with, but no one he truly felt comfortable around.
His eyes scanned the crowd and he wondered if he should try to make an effort tonight to socialize with the others. He could see Lord Mitaka sweating nervously next to Baroness Lumiya, a rich widow who took a fancy to the young man. Hux shook his head and looked away. In the center of the room was a group of young ladies, giggling and pointing towards the uniformed officers who lined the walls with crossed arms and stern faces. The ladies wore flowy, chiffon dresses in shades of bright canary, vibrant turquoise and magenta. They waved their arms and tittered, looking much like an eager horde of hummingbirds.
Hux turned away, moving towards an empty spot on the other side of the room when he saw him. Hux’s breath caught in this throat and he froze to the spot as the dark-haired gentleman swept into the room. He wore dark trousers, tailored perfectly to fit his long legs. His wavy, thick hair was pulled back in a simple red ribbon. His face was pinched, his expression bordering on miserable. An extravagant young lady clung to his arm, her neck and wrists glittering with heavy jewels. Her blonde curls framed her pink face, her small lips moving quickly as she spoke excitedly to him. The handsome gentleman grimaced as she went on, his gaze sweeping over the room as if he were looking for a quick escape.
Hux’s heart pounded as the man looked towards him, those vibrant brown eyes locking with his. Hux was instantly transported to the other evening, when he first laid eyes on the striking man across the room. It felt, once again, as if time stood still. The man’s gaze was deep and penetrating, as if he could discern Hux’s very heart and soul with a single look.
Heat rose up Hux’s chest, along his neck to spread over his face. He could feel the flush staining his cheeks and his palms grew damp with sweat. Hux’s breath quickened and he swiftly broke the long stare. He wiped his hands on his trousers and hurried to the back of the room, towards the open veranda doors that led to the side garden.
Hux’s rapid heartbeat finally began to settle. The crisp, evening air was a soothing balm to his flushed skin. He sat on the edge of the bubbling fountain, enjoying the coolness of the stones that spread through his thin trousers.
The evening was lovely; the night sky was littered with stars and the moon cast silver shadows across the garden. Hux looked up, following the path of a shooting star. His hands dipped into the fountain, allowing the frigid water to cling to his fingertips.
“I don’t believe we’ve officially met.”
Hux quickly sat up, droplets of water flicking from his fingers to fall along the cobbled ground. He cleared his throat and faced the stranger who watched him carefully from a few feet away.
“No, I’m Armitage Hux,” Hux said, his pulse flickering madly beneath his skin. He clenched his hands into tight fists. “But please, just call me Hux.”
“Hello Hux,” the dark-haired man greeted. His full lips twisted into a crooked smile. “I’m Ben Solo, but you can just call me Ben.”
Lord Ben Solo, Hux thought to himself. He had heard of him and his family before. Hux’s father was always scoffing at Lady Leia’s choice to marry Han Solo, a merchant far below her station. He would mutter about her dinner parties and how dull they must be, but Hux knew his father’s disdain came from his wounded ego. Brendol was never invited to any of her lavish parties and everyone knew how well respected Leia was in their society.
Hux cleared his throat nervously. He was suddenly aware of how long he’d been lost in thought and the heavy silence that had fallen between them. “It’s nice to make your acquaintance. Are you enjoying yourself this evening?”
Ben snorted in reply. “Hardly. My date hasn’t stopped talking about the plethora of gifts and trinkets all of her admirers have sent her.” Ben tilted his head, his dark eyes blazing with amusement. “Did you know nearly all rubies have flaws and there exists only a few in the whole word that are completely perfect?”
“Neither did I,” Ben chuckled softly. “Of course now I do and I also know that my date owns not one but two of these greatly sought-after jewels.”
“Well,” Hux offers, “at least it seems your date is informative.”
Ben smiled at that, stepping closer to stand beside Hux. “I suppose you’re right. How is your date?”
“Phasma?” Hux furrowed his brow, considering Ben’s question. “She’s not all that bad actually. We have quite a bit in common and she’s pleasant enough to chat with.”
“Is that so?” Ben asked, his face darkening with some indecipherable emotion.
“Yes,” Hux continued, “but I wouldn’t say it’s a love connection or anything.” Ben’s expression smoothed and the carefree merriment returned to his eyes. “She’s far better than some of the other dates I’ve escorted.”
“Well, you can hardly expect to find anyone too interesting in this city,” Ben complained. “Our society is an utter joke. Everyone struts around, showing off their wealth and status while attempting to pretend they’re being modest. They smile to your face and fawn over you and the moment you walk away their vicious tongues start to wag.”
Hux stared at Ben, his heart racing at the other man’s bold words. Ben was right, of course, but Hux would never dream to speak the truth aloud like he did.
“You certainly speak your mind,” Hux finally replied.
Ben shrugged. “Life’s too short to hold back and not express yourself honestly.”
Hux smiled sadly at the sentiment, a wistful longing twisting in his chest. He wished he had the courage to be so honest with the world—as it was, Hux could hardly be truthful with himself.
A breeze swept across the garden, rustling a few wayward leaves and fallen flower petals from a nearby magnolia tree. Their fragrance surrounded Hux, filling his senses as they skated along the ground. The wind picked up and the leaves and petals rose and swirled between them in a delicate dance.
The debris began to settle at their feet and Hux’s pulse stuttered as he realized Ben was now standing closer than before. His plump lips were curved in a half-smile. He reached forward and his fingers brushed against the shell of Hux’s ear. Hux shuddered at the contact, an enticing and dangerous thrill coursing through his body.
Ben pulled his hand back and revealed a single magnolia petal caught between his fingers. “This was trapped in your hair.”
Hux’s cheeks heated up and heart pounded fiercely against his chest. “Thank you.”
Ben opened his mouth to reply but he was quickly cut off by a voice across the garden.
“Hux!” Phasma called out, swiftly walking towards them. “There you are, I was looking for you—Oh.” She paused, her gaze moving back and forth between Ben and Hux. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You didn’t interrupt anything,” Hux quickly blurted out, his face burning. Phasma slowly smiled and a careful, vague understanding entered her eyes. Hux turned towards Ben, who had a look of great amusement across his face. “It was nice to meet you Ben, but I must be going now.”
Hux turned on his heel and all but fled back towards the ballroom with a chuckling Phasma in his wake.
Ben followed her gaze, spotting Rey chatting excitedly to a besotted looking Finn. “Yeah, that’s Rey.”
“She’s quite pretty,” Lady Cortess stated before turning towards Ben with a serious expression. “She really should be careful, though, about who she associates with. Everyone knows Lord Finn is not quite favored in society at the moment.”
“Who exactly is everyone?” Ben asked, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
Lady Cortess squeezed Ben’s arm and leaned in to whisper, “Anyone who matters, dear. His dramatic departure from the First Order club has really tarnished his reputation.”
“I see,” Ben said, his eyes turning hard. “I suppose that includes my mother, seeing as she was the one to secure Finn an invitation to this ball tonight.”
Lady Cortess flushed and pulled away. “Well, no—I, that is...” She straightened her posture, smiled with false sweetness and changed the subject. “Ben, darling, why don’t you get me a drink?”
“Can’t you get it yourself?” Ben grumbled. He had spent less than an hour with his current date but it already felt like eternity. He wasn’t sure he could handle anymore of her petty gossiping or arrogant posturing.
“Well, you’re just as rude as I’ve been told,” Lady Cortess huffed. “You know I’m only here at the insistence of my father. Otherwise I would have never chosen to be seen in public with such a miscreant.”
Ben held his hand over his heart in feigned dismay. “You wound me. How will I ever go on with your disapproval? I best hurry off and join the dregs of society over there.” Ben gestured towards Finn and Rey who were still glowing from their jovial conversation. “If they’ll even have a miscreant like me.”
Lady Cortess’ jaw dropped and her cheeks flushed red. She continued to gape at him as he bowed in mock courtesy and walked off.
He was halfway across the ballroom when his eyes spotted a flash of red. Ben’s heart sped up and he paused in his stride, turning to observe the man across the room.
Hux stood with his arms stiff by his sides and his hands curled into tight fists. His handsome face was plastered with a polite smile but Ben could see the tension in his jaw. A waif young lady battered her eyelashes at him. Her small lips moved rapidly, likely simpering on about something mindless and boring. Hux nodded his head now and then but his eyes constantly flicked around the room, looking for a quick escape.
Ben took a moment to really look over the other man, to drink him in. He looked gorgeous, as usual; today he wore a crimson brocade waistcoat adorned with a high-collared cream coloured shirt. His pants were well-tailored and snug to his body, displaying his long, slender legs. Ben’s mouth watered at the sight.
Hux’s date began to laugh at something he said, her high-pitched giggles floating across the room. Hux seemed to wince at the sound, his smile looking more like a grimace to Ben’s watchful eyes.
Ben’s feet began to move before his mind could catch up and in moment’s time he found himself in front of Hux.
“Hello,” Ben greeted, smiling at Hux and his date. Hux’s lips tugged into a small smile and a faint flush spread across his face. “Wonderful to see you again Hux.”
“Lord Ben, isn’t it?” Hux’s date stepped forward. “I wasn’t aware you knew Lord Hux.”
“He and I are recent acquaintances,” Ben replied before dismissing her and turning his attention back to Hux.
“Is that so?” Hux’s date continued, she leaned towards Hux and quietly said (as if Ben couldn’t hear every word), “I hope you’re not too well acquainted.”
Hux frowned. “What do you mean?” Despite Hux’s question being directed towards his date, his eyes never left Ben’s.
Hux’s date began to laugh, sounding much like a small, irritating bird. “Oh, nothing, nothing.” She cleared her throat and raised her eyebrow at Ben. “Just silly rumors and all.”
Ben turned towards the young lady. “I do love rumors, you know,” he said with a dark smirk. He leaned in to whisper in her ear. “When it comes to me, they’re almost always true.” He pulled back, trying not to laugh as her eyes widened and her mouth open and closed soundlessly. She looked a bit like a goldfish. “Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll borrow your date.”
Ben hooked his arm around Hux’s and pulled him away, towards a more secluded corner of the ballroom.
“What was that all about?” Hux asked as he allowed himself to be whisked away.
Ben smiled, delighting in the feel of Hux’s arm still connected to his. “Nothing important.”
Hux nodded in reply, pulling his arm away once they finally came to a stop. Ben tried not to mourn the loss of contact too much.
“I suppose I should thank you for rescuing me,” Hux said with a small smile. “I think this date might be the worst one yet. She thought everything I said was delightfully humorous and took it upon herself to grasp my forearm every time she laughed. Her nails are insanely long and sharp—I think I’ll have bruises for days.”
“Poor thing,” Ben murmured sweetly. Hux’s flush deepened and he looked away nervously. “But really, no need to thank me. I was happy to get away from my own tedious date. I don’t know where my mother is finding these girls.”
“I imagine the same place my father is finding my dates,” Hux responded. “It seems the richer and better connected they are, the more tiresome they are.”
A cheer rang across the ballroom as the hostess, Baroness Renar, descended the stairs. She waved at the guests before clapping her hands together and gesturing towards the musicians. Couples begin to form on the floor as a waltz began.
Ben shook his head at the display and turned back towards Hux. It seemed as if Hux were looking almost wistfully out at the dance floor.
“Were you hoping to be part of the first dance?” Ben asked.
“No, not really,” Hux replied. He cast his eyes around nervously. “I’m just a little concerned about not being seen to make an effort. I wouldn’t be surprised if my father has spies here to watch over me.”
“Someone’s always watching,” Ben muttered under his breath. “Your father is really intent on you attending these dances, isn’t he?”
“Terribly so,” Hux admitted. “He believes I’ve gone too long without properly courting someone. He hopes to have me betrothed by the end of the season.”
Ben whistled lowly. “My mother wants the same thing, but I don’t believe I’ll give in.”
“No?” Hux asked, his brows furrowed.
“Oh, I’ll indulge her and go on a few dates here and there,” Ben said. “Otherwise I’m certain she would cut off my allowance and never let me hear the end of it. But marriage? I can’t imagine she’ll ever be able to force me down the aisle.”
“I wish I could have your attitude,” Hux scoffed. “I couldn’t picture ever disobeying my father. Besides, we don’t really have the luxury to do as we please.”
“Really? Ben arched an eyebrow. “From what I’ve heard your father and his First Order buddies love to do as they please.”
Hux scowled and his face heated in an angry flush. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t take you to be one to listen to filthy gossip.”
“There’s a difference between idle gossip and mere fact,” Ben pointed out.
“If you just brought me over here to insult my family name and associations, I think I’ll take my leave,” Hux said tightly, turning away.
Ben reached out and grabbed his arm. “Wait!” Hux paused and slowly turned back around. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I don’t always think before I speak.”
“Clearly,” Hux muttered, but he seemed somewhat placated.
“Maybe I can find a solution for us.”
“What do you mean?” Hux asked suspiciously.
Ideas and plots began to swirl in Ben’s mind. His heart raced and the pieces started to fall into place. “Give me a day to fully think it over and finalize everything, but I believe I may have a plan.”
Hux frowned in confusion. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Listen.” Ben leaned forward, his eyes bright and sincere. “I may have a way to get us out of all of these tedious dates while also keeping our parents satisfied.”
“How?” Hux scoffed in disbelief.
“Meet me tomorrow, at half past noon and I’ll explain everything,” Ben replied in an excited rush.
Hux paused, looking torn. Ben could almost see the conflicted thoughts racing through his head. Hux’s gaze fell to the place where Ben’s hand still curled around his bicep. With a moment’s regret, Ben released his hold on Hux. The music of the ballroom swept around them, blocking out the loud pounding of Ben’s heart. Hux lightly touched his arm, in the same place where Ben’s fingers had previously been. He looked up and finally sighed in resignation. “Where?”
Ben grinned in victory. “Devaron House.”
Next Chapter Coming: 2 June 2017
Hux huffed impatiently, checking his pocket-watch for the umpteenth time. The metal was warm against his cool, clammy hand. He pushed the watch back into his pocket and wiped his damp palms against his thighs.
Of course Ben was late—Hux should have known. Perhaps he never intended to show? Hux’s pulse fluttered with unease and his leg bounced anxiously under the table. He looked towards the door again, seeking dark-hair, full lips and deep brown eyes, but was met with empty air.
Hux’s heart surged with misgivings and he abruptly stood, ready to flee. His frayed nerves could hardly handle the pressure of waiting for a lost cause. He should have never agreed to meet with Ben Solo in the first place. What solution could the other man truly offer Hux? It would be far better for Hux to just resign himself to his unhappy fate.
Hux pushed his chair aside and turned towards the door when he caught sight of a winded Ben.
“Hux,” Ben panted, racing towards the table. His face was red and his chest heaved with his deep inhales.
“You’re late,” Hux retorted stiffly. Ben gripped the table as he attempted to catch his breath. Hux nervously looked around, his pulse racing as others began to glance over in curiosity about the sudden commotion.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Ben explained breathlessly. “My annoying cousin wanted to tag along. I had to shake her off.”
Hux frowned and smoothed his coat. He took another swift surveillance of the room, satisfied to find the other patrons had returned their attention to their meals. “I was just about to leave,” Hux huffed. “I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Come on, I already apologized,” Ben complained, collapsing into the chair. Hux’s brow furrowed and he remained standing. “You get rather prickly about punctuality, don’t you?”
“I do not,” Hux protested, internally bristling at Ben’s accusation. Ben raised an amused eyebrow and Hux tossed his hands in the air in defeat, finally relenting and returning to his seat. “Well, go on then, tell me all about your master plan.”
“You like to get right to the point,” Ben murmured, lifting a menu. “Let me order a drink first.” Ben peered at the menu, running a long finger down the list. “Do you want to share a bottle of wine?”
“This isn’t a date,” Hux hissed, the tips of his ears turning red. He didn’t want to examine how his heart sped up at the thought.
“No?” Ben asked, peering at Hux with those penetrating dark brown eyes. Ben’s face broke into a smile and he set the menu down. “Sorry, I’ll stop teasing you. I really do appreciate you agreeing to meet with me.”
Hux drummed his fingers against the tabletop, refusing to look Ben in the face. “Well, you did say you had a way to get us both out of our tedious dates. Of course I want a solution.”
“Okay, hear me out.” Ben lowered his voice and leaned forward. “We start attending all the balls, dances, and events together.”
Hux’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What?”
“It’s perfect,” Ben continued. “I’ll tell my mother that you and I met and it was love at first sight. I’ll insist I can’t continue going on dates when I’ve already met the one.”
“How is that a solution?” Hux sputtered. “What about the fact we’re both men?”
Ben waved his hand as if Hux’s concerns were a bothersome, buzzing fly. “She’s already mostly aware of my preferences. In fact, most of this damn gossiping city is. I know she’ll be suspicious at first, but she’s always told me if I fell in love she wouldn’t interfere.”
Hux’s mouth dropped open and his heart raced. Ben was…? Apparently Hux didn’t pay as much attention to gossip as he thought. A small spark of envy ignited in his chest at the ease in which Ben spoke of his sexuality.
“In any case,” Ben went on, “my mother will support me in the end. However, I imagine your father might suspect but doesn’t—”
“What do you mean?” Hux cut in. Blood rushed through his ears in a deafening roar.
Ben titled his head and peered at Hux. “Doesn’t your father have some idea about your own preferences?”
“What? No!” Hux’s face flamed at the implication. Could Ben so easily detect the truth? How many others in society were aware of Hux’s deeply hidden secrets? “That is, I don’t—”
“Sorry,” Ben apologized, holding up his hands. His full lips dipped into a pout and his warm brown eyes seemed a bit disappointed. “I didn’t mean to assume, I just thought…”
“I—” Hux bit his lip and remained silent. How could he come clean about years of suppression with a man who was still basically a stranger? He shook his head and changed the subject. “Well, your plan works fine for your mother but what about me? My father would never accept that I’ve suddenly taken up with a man. If anything, things would become much worse for me.”
“Don’t worry,” Ben replied, his eyes lighting up. “I’ve thought this all out. I’ll tell my mother that while you and I are in love, your father doesn’t know—she’ll easily understand why, since she’s quite aware of how fierce and old-fashioned your father is.” Ben’s cheeks pinkened and he cleared this throat. “I don’t mean any offense.” Hux waved his apology off and Ben continued. “Right, so I’ll inform my mother that while you and I will attend these events together we won’t be openly going as dates.”
“That still doesn’t explain how I’ll present this to my father,” Hux interjected, crossing his arms.
Ben sighed in exasperation. “I’m getting to that!” He huffed and leaned forward, the excited gleam returning to his eyes. “You’ll inform your father that the dates you have been on so far are a bit lowbrow and you’ve learned they don’t receive the respect worthy of your family line.” Ben smirked and toyed with the edge of his menu. “I’m sure he’ll love that,” he added under his breath. “Anyway, tell him that Ben Solo has agreed to help you out, introduce you to old-money families and new, high-class associations. He’ll eat it up. This way you can get out of all those boresome dates but he’ll still believe you’re striving to find a proper match.”
“I don’t know,” Hux mumbled softly. The truth was his pulse sped up at the idea. It was rather clever and Hux was indeed eager to escape the tiresome dates his father continued to set him up with. “It all seems a bit convoluted and messy.”
“It’s perfect,” Ben insisted. “At the very least it will buy us some time and get us through this season.”
“Maybe,” Hux relented. His mind swam with the idea, waves of exhilaration crashing in a sea of worry and apprehension. Heat climbed up his neck as he felt Ben’s intense, expectant gaze on him. He shook off the draw of Ben’s compelling eyes and stayed pragmatic. “Perhaps we can fool our parents but what about the rest of society?”
Ben grinned as if he already had captured his prize. “What about them?”
“Won’t it look suspicious?” Hux asked nervously. “The two of us attending events together, being seen out all the time?
“Let them talk.” Ben leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “That’s half the fun.”
Hux’s lips pinched tightly together. “I don’t see how being the center of a scandal or gossip could be any fun.”
“Come on, it’ll be great,” Ben leaned forward again, his voice low, smooth and persuasive. “They love to gossip anyway, we might as well give them something good to whisper about behind closed doors. I’d personally love to make them uncomfortable and undeniably curious at the same time.”
“I don’t know,” Hux admitted, shaking his head. “I’ve spent years making a good name for myself, acting the proper way. I can’t just throw that all away.”
“Do you really, truly care what any of them think?” Ben peered into Hux’s face, his dark eyes swimming with sincerity. They were like bottomless pools and Hux could feel himself falling, drowning, wildly treading to stay above the surface but failing and being pulled into their interminable depths. “Hux,” Ben continued, “you and your father may claw your way into various circles, flattering and bribing those along the way but, take my word, they still speak poorly of you the second you leave the room.” Hux opened his mouth, his expression wounded but Ben pressed on. “I’m sorry. I know that sounds harsh but it’s the truth of this horrid society. We might as well find our own way to get back at them.”
“But my father—” Hux insisted.
Ben swiftly cut him off. “I’m sure he already knows what gossip to listen to and what to ignore. He’ll be thrilled that I’m introducing you to higher society and better connections.”
Hux’s resistance began to crumble. The truth was the whole idea was exhilarating and so unlike anything he had ever done before. Hux had been holding back his desires for years, but still the urges burned brightly inside. Even if he weren't with Ben properly—not the way he could hardly admit to himself he wanted to be—he would still get to spend time in the handsome, engaging man’s presence. Surely he could allow himself this small concession.
“Alright,” Hux finally relented.
Ben’s face broke out into a wide grin. Hux found himself unable to resist basking in the warmth of Ben’s jovial expression
Hux was still humming with excitement, his nerves aflutter with feverish anticipation, when he returned home that afternoon. He burst into the main hall and cheerily handed his coat over to their footman. His face was warm and his head buzzing; thoughts of attending balls and events with Ben filled his mind.
“Where were you?” Brendol’s cold voice rang across the hall, breaking Hux from his pleasant daydreams.
“Father.” Hux nervously cleared his throat. “You startled me, I didn’t see you there.”
Brendol remained unmoved. “Where were you?” he repeated. “I was just at the club and was informed you hadn’t been there all day.”
“No, I was at Devaron House,” Hux explained, his heart slamming against his chest. He knew he would have to tell his father his version of the plan eventually, but he wasn’t prepared to explain it so soon.
Brendol frowned. “What were you doing there?”
“I was having lunch with Ben Solo,” Hux replied. He willed the flush to leave his cheeks and kept his voice steady. “I made his acquaintance recently and we’ve become friends.”
“Friends?” Brendol asked suspiciously. “That boy runs a bit wild—”
“Yes, I’ve heard,” Hux interrupted. His father’s frown deepened but Hux pushed on. “But he was rather friendly at the last ball and I couldn’t let this opportunity pass by.”
Brendol crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“He spoke to me about his cousin, Rey. She’s newly introduced in society and is the heir to the Skywalker estate—”
“That crumbling old castle?” Brendol scoffed. “No one’s been there since Baron Anakin’s untimely death nor since his son, Lord Luke, fled to the country.”
“True,” Hux relented, “however, it’s not about her riches or property but rather her name. She and Ben are well connected to the old-money society. You’ve been saying you want me to raise our family name. Well, this seemed a perfect way to get our foot in the door.”
Brendol paused and considered. “You might be onto something,” he murmured. “You know my distaste for Lady Leia and the simpering uncouth fools that surround her, but even I cannot deny she is well respected in society and has deep connections.”
“Exactly, father,” Hux insisted. He straightened his shoulders and stood tall. Confidence seeped back into his veins. “So you see, I intend to become close friends with Lord Ben, attend events with him and get into his inner circle. I’ll be able to meet even more eligible ladies this way and form better connections for our family.”
Brendol nodded and placed his hand on Hux’s shoulder, squeezing tightly. “I’m surprised son, but pleasantly so. It’s about time you started taking your role in this family seriously.”
Brendol departed, heading towards his study with a thoughtful expression on his face. It was so unlike his cold, stern father Hux felt taken aback. He tried to delight in the proud note in his father’s voice or the words of praise, but instead his chest felt hollow.
His father might have finally displayed some satisfaction towards Hux, but it was all based on a lie. Hux stared at closed door of his father’s study and sighed heartily. It was no use to lament his plan now; the wheels had already been set in motion.
Instead, he thought of Ben’s warm eyes, his witty tongue and his handsome, friendly face. Hux’s pulse sped up and he headed towards his room with a smile on his lips.
“He’s really quite charming,” Rey stated, her cheeks flushed with a happy glow.
Ben scoffed under his breath. His thumb ran along the smooth edges of the stone in his hand. “He’s a bit boring though, isn’t he?”
“He is not! Rey protested, crossing her arms and glaring at Ben. “Just because Finn doesn’t like to wreak havoc at social events like someone I know doesn’t make him boring.”
Ben shrugged and flicked the stone into the small pond in front of them. He watched as the polished rock immediately sunk with a big splash, disrupting the smooth surface and spreading ripples across the water. “I suppose he did have that dramatic departure from the First Order gentleman's club.”
“Well, good for him!” Rey huffed, bending over to snatch a flat stone from the ground. “He told me all about the things that club represents and what they tried to make him do. I’m glad he left.” She frowned at the small rock, as if it represented the evil doings of the club and tossed it into the pond. The stone smoothly skipped along the water, nearly making it to the other side before it sank to the bottom.
“Well, if he makes you happy—”
“He does,” Rey cut him off. “He’s kind and honest and not stuck-up like the rest of the gentlemen who have approached me.” Rey walked towards a nearby dogwood tree and plucked a leaf from a low-hanging brand. She nervously toyed with it as she smiled to herself. “He’s joining Aunt Leia and I for ‘The Tale of Salacious Crumb’ performance. He’s never sat in a private box before.”
“Lucky him,” Ben muttered.
“And lucky you as well,” Leia’s voice rang out from behind him. Ben turned sharply to find his mother swiftly walking to join them.
“Mother,” Ben greeted cautiously. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ll be accompanying Rey, Finn and myself of course,” Leia replied, eyes dancing with merriment.
“Oh, did I forget to mention that?” Rey chimed in with a slick smile.
“I found the loveliest young lady to join us,” Leia continued. “I truly think you’ll like her Ben. She—”
“I can’t attend with her,” Ben quickly interjected.
Leia’s expression darkened. “Of course you can.”
Ben’s heart pounded with anticipation. It was time to put his plan into effect. “I’m sorry mother, but I’m already attending with someone else.”
“You already have a date?” Leia asked, her voice brimming with disbelief.
“I do,” Ben insisted. “You must know, mother, my tepid feelings for women.” Leia raised an eyebrow but otherwise remained silent, waiting for Ben to continue. “Right.” Ben cleared his throat. “Well, I didn’t want to tell you right away, because it’s a bit of a secret at the moment, but I’ve started to see someone. A man.”
Leia sighed. “I truly hope you’re not talking about that Thannison character.”
“What?” Ben asked incredulously. “Goodness no! I don’t mean just meaningless encounters—this man and I are in love.”
“In love?” Leia asked suspiciously. “I didn’t know you even knew that word.”
Ben crossed his arms and put on a wounded look. “See? This is why I hesitated to tell you.”
“Well,” Leia asked, “who is this mystery man?”
Ben raised his chin. “Armitage Hux.”
“Armitage Hux?” Leia’s brow furrowed as she thought. “Wait, do you mean Lord Brendol Hux’s son?”
“The one and only,” Ben replied with a smile.
Leia burst into laughter. “That’s impossible. Lord Brendol would never allow his only son to take up with another man.”
Ben’s pulse quickened. It was all nearly too easy. “Exactly, mother. That’s why Hux and I have been keeping it secret. His father can’t know but we’re tired of having to pretend to enjoy these mindless dates when all we want is to be together.”
“Really?” Leia asked skeptically.
“Lord Hux?” Rey asked. She stepped closer and slowly looked between Ben and Leia. “That haughty ginger gentleman you met with the other day? I remember seeing you two at the last ball.” Rey turned to look at Leia. “I think he might be telling the truth. Ben looked utterly smitten.”
Ben unwillingly began to blush and he lowered his gaze to the ground. He was more intrigued than anything—he didn’t realize his interest was displayed so clearly for anyone to see. Ben could feel his mother’s heavy gaze as she appraised him.
“Well,” she sighed in defeat. “I wouldn’t put it past Lord Brendol to fill his son with fear and cause him to hide his true feelings. Lucky for you, Ben, I would never do that to you.”
Ben lifted his eyes and his lips curved into a small, hopeful smile. “Really?”
“Of course!” Leia insisted. She looked nearly offended that Ben would think otherwise. “I told you that if you found someone you loved I wouldn’t stand in the way.” She paused and pursed her lips. “I won’t deny that I’m not completely convinced of your sincerity but, for the time being, I’ll stop setting you up on dates if you prefer to attend events with Lord Hux.”
Ben stepped forwards and embraced his mother. She let out a surprised gasp, followed by soft laughter.
“Thank you, mother!” Ben held his mother close, relief filling his veins. No more dates, no more pestering and, best of all, the opportunity to spend more time with the intriguing and alluring Armitage Hux.
Ben nervously toyed with his cravat, his anxious eyes peering out into the crowd. The pit was already full to the brim and the balconies were slowly becoming occupied as well. Even his mother, Rey and Finn were heading towards their private box. Ben was thrilled when Hux admitted his family did have a season loan on their own private box. The last thing he wanted was to be forced together in close quarters with his family and Hux—not yet at least.
Patrons all flitted about, gushing animatedly about the the talented actors and fascinating plot of this popular, acclaimed play. Personally, Ben could care less. He ran a hand through his dark hair and rocked onto the balls of his feet to gain a better view of the slowly thinning masses.
That vibrant flash of orange-red appeared amongst the dull crowd. Ben smiled as he spotted Hux, waving excitedly to gain the other man’s attention. Hux’s bright eyes widened and his cheeks flushed a faint shade of pink. He ducked his head and swiftly moved through the crowd, rushing to meet Ben.
“You were almost late,” Ben greeted playfully.
Hux looked about nervously and chewed on his lower lip. “I’m never late,” Hux said stiffly.
Ben frowned at Hux’s stuffy tone and his jittery behavior. “What’s wrong?”
Hux peered up at Ben and let out a slow exhale. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I’m just a bit tense. My father bought the whole plan—he believes our association will help our family's social standing, but it still feels odd to attend an event like this with another man.”
“No need to apologize,” Ben replied smoothly. He leaned forward to speak quietly in Hux’s ear. “As far as anyone can tell, this looks completely innocent.”
Hux shivered and the flush on his cheeks deepened. “Well, as it should—it is innocent.”
“Of course,” Ben responded. He smirked teasingly even as his pulse sped up. Hux was far too easy to rile up and Ben found his reactions undeniably enchanting. “Come, let’s hurry to our seats. The performance is about to begin.”
They walked to their box in silence, a certain heavy anticipation growing between them. The flush on Hux’s face seemed to only grow as they moved to their seats, reaching dangerous levels when Ben pulled his chair extremely close to Hux’s.
Across the theatre Ben could see his mother’s own private box. Rey and Finn were in deep conversation but his mother was watching him carefully with suspicious eyes.
Hux cleared his throat. “That’s your mother, Lady Leia?”
“The one and only,” Ben muttered. “I fear she’s not entirely convinced of our new association.”
The gas lights in the theatre slightly dimmed and the floor lights on stage brightened. Music from the lively orchestra near the pit began to fill the room. Leia’s gaze finally moved away from them and towards the stage.
Ben turned to look at Hux. The sconces on the walls of their private box flickered, casting shadows along Hux’s pale face. His long lashes fluttered as he peered down at the stage, framing his vibrant blue-green eyes. Hux’s gaze flicked towards Ben before nervously looking away.
Ben leaned forward to whisper in Hux’s ear. “Have you seen this play before?”
Hux’s jaw tightened and his body tensed. He kept his eyes strictly facing forward. “No, I haven’t.”
“It’s supposed to be rather clever and dramatic all in one,” Ben continued, his lips so close to Hux’s ear they nearly brushed the delicate skin there.
“Well, I look forward to seeing it,” Hux said stiffly. “Shh, look—it’s starting.”
Ben sighed, relented and forced his attention away from the handsome man next to him and back towards the performance on stage.
Intermission seemed to drag on for ages. Hux quickly lost Ben in the crowd as they spilled out into the outskirts of the auditorium. A few acquaintances approached him, commenting on some gossip about a baron’s son and the leading lady of the play. Hux resisted rolling his eyes and instead nodded along to their excited chatter as he seeked out Ben.
Hux breathed a sigh of relief when Ben fought his way through the crowd and appeared at his side. The relief, however, was short-lived when Ben looped his arm through Hux’s and steered him back towards their private box. Hux didn’t miss the stunned silence from those around them, nor the rush of murmurs as they walked away.
“You should really be more subtle,” Hux hissed, casting a wayward glance back at the gossiping crowd.
Ben merely shrugged his shoulders. “They’re going to make assumptions regardless of what I do.”
“Still…” Hux mumbled. He entered the box and paused. Their chairs were somehow pressed even closer together, nearly on top of one another. Hux cleared his throat. “We should separate those chairs a bit, don’t you think?”
Ben’s expression was full of false innocence. “Should we?” He grinned at Hux. “I’m not so sure.” He pulled Hux towards the chairs and took a seat. “If you’re uncomfortable, of course I’ll move them. It’s just…my mother has been watching us all night. I want to make sure she’s satisfied that this isn’t all a farce.”
Hux glanced at the chairs warily, then out towards the filling auditorium. He could see Lady Leia already in her box and indeed she was watching them carefully. Hux relented and took a seat. Ben shot him a satisfied grin.
The lights once again dimmed and the noise surrounding them quieted down. Hux shifted nervously in his seat. He could feel the heat of Ben’s body pouring off him in waves and wrapping around Hux in a warm embrace. Music floated from the orchestra up towards their seats; the delicate melody filled Hux’s ears.
Just as he was beginning to settle in, he felt a slight pressure against his arm. He looked over in startled alarm to find Ben’s fingers curled around his bicep.
Ben leaned in close to Hux. “I believe we are about to get to the climax of the performance.”
Hux’s body flushed and his heart sped up. Ben’s words rang in his head, filling him with ridiculous and heady desire. “Oh?”
Ben’s grip tightened and his lips brushed against the shell of Hux’s ear. Hux’s pulse quickened at the contact. “Yes, you see the heroine is about to leave her horrid husband and run off to be with her lover.”
Hux swallowed roughly. “So you’ve seen this show before?”
“A few times,” Ben remarked, pulling back and releasing his hold on Hux’s arm.
Hux felt equal parts disappointed and relieved. Despite the dimness of the theatre, he could feel others’ eyes on him; he could hear their hushed murmurs and gossiping whispers. Hux was both thrilled and anxious at their intensive scrutiny.
He risked a quick look at Ben but found that other man’s attention was fixed on the action on stage. Hux couldn’t help but allow his gaze to linger, drinking in Ben’s strong jaw and full lips. His long, wavy hair was pulled back, exposing his—somehow adorably—overlarge ears. His dark brows were slightly furrowed as he watched the play, his enticing brown eyes sharp and focused. Ben was not handsome in the traditional sense, but Hux couldn’t help but find him utterly gorgeous.
Ben suddenly turned, catching Hux in his transfixed gaze. Ben’s lips curved into a smirk and he raised an eyebrow at Hux. Embarrassment flooded his veins and he could feel heat rising into his cheeks. Hux quickly looked back towards the stage and compelled himself to pay attention to the performance below.
“I thought the ending was a bit predictable,” Lady Malreaux said, sipping on a flute of champagne. “Don’t you agree?”
“I suppose so,” Hux replied cautiously, hoping that would end the conversation. Truth be told, Hux couldn’t quite recall the ending, let alone much of any details about any part of the play. How could he with Ben distracting him the entire time?
Ben re-joined Hux, standing a bit too close, and handed him a glass of sparking wine. He turned his attention towards Lady Malreaux. “I must disagree. I thought that the heroine would leave her husband and lover both and take up with the baker down the road.”
Lady Malreaux’s face pinched in confusion before morphing into mild frown as she glanced at Hux and Ben’s proximity with a disapproving glare. She opened her mouth to speak but Lady Rey appeared behind her, pink faced and glowing.
“Wasn’t that just wonderful?” Rey exclaimed, her eyes glittering excitedly. Lady Malreaux raised an eyebrow at Rey’s outburst but Rey merely glared back until Lady Malreaux scoffed and walked away.
Ben chuckled. “Thank you my dear cousin for chasing off that tiresome woman.”
Rey rolled her eyes and continued. “I thought the play was lovely. I’ve never seen a live performance before,” she gushed.
“It was alright,” Hux interjected, earning a small scowl from Rey.
“We enjoyed ourselves,” Ben added with a smug smile.
Rey smirked at that. “It certainly looked like that from our box.”
“What?” Hux nervously wrung his hands together. “I mean, we weren’t doing anything, just—”
“Now, now, darling,” Ben crooned, placing his hand on Hux’s shoulder. “No need to be shy.”
Hux bit his tongue and plastered an anxious smile on his face. The delicate balance of showmanship and restraint was likely to give him a heart-attack before this season ended.
“Well, Finn and I had a wonderful time,” Rey said with a bright smile.
“Lord Finn?” Hux scoffed. “The traitor?”
Rey’s expression immediately darkened. “He’s hardly a traitor,” she hissed.
“I—” Hux stuttered, feeling wrongfooted. Rey looked furious and even Ben seemed a bit unimpressed. “That’s just what my father calls him...and the other gentlemen down at the club.”
“Oh yes,” Rey hissed. “Your prestigious First Order club. How is it no one has been arrested yet? Baron Snoke must keep the constable’s pockets quite full.”
Hux’s face heated and his hands curled into angry fists. He was certainly no fan of the club his father forced him to join at a young age, but he couldn’t help but feel insulted all the same.
“My, what a lively conversation we have here,” Lady Phasma remarked, appearing behind Hux.
“Who are you?” Rey asked, her eyes narrow and suspicious.
Phasma peered down at Rey. “I’m Lady Phasma, pleased to make your acquaintance. You know, you remind me of my aunt’s little spaniel. What a sharp, loud bark she has.”
“Is her bite as vicious as mine?” Rey asked, crossing her arms across her chest.
Phasma laughed heartily and her eyes filled with amusement. “Somehow I doubt that.”
Rey appeared pleased by the apparent compliment. “Well, I’m Lady Rey and this is my cousin Lord Ben.”
Ben nodded at Phasma as she looked him up and down. “Yes, I believe we met briefly at that dance a few weeks ago?”
“Indeed,” Ben agreed. “I hope you don’t mind that I’ve taken your date from you.”
“Not at all,” Phamsa replied. She offered a knowing smile. Hux felt himself wilting, wanting to disappear into the crowd. “He’s all yours.”
“Oh Ben!” Lady Maz waved from across the room. Ben and Rey both looked stricken.
Rey grabbed Ben’s arm tightly. “Let’s make a run for it.”
“Agreed,” Ben replied. He turned towards Hux with apologetic eyes. Hux merely waved him off.
“I’ll come find you later,” Hux said as Ben smiled gratefully and disappeared into the crowd. Hux reluctantly turned to face Phasma.
“Well, well...” she said with a smug smile.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Hux muttered, taking a long gulp from his wine glass.
Phasma looped her arm around Hux’s and led him away from the emptying theatre and towards a quiet corner. “I am not letting you off that easily.” She smirked and lowered her voice. “Lord Ben Solo, huh? Since when do you two attend events together?”
“It’s not what you think,” Hux protested. He looked around and found no lingering or curious ears. Phamsa was giving him a determined look; it was no use lying to her. “It’s not exactly what you think in any case.”
“Well, don’t leave me in suspense.” Phamsa playfully smacked his arm.
“Fine,” Hux groaned. “Ben approached me with an idea to get our parents to cease setting us up on endless, tiresome dates. He’s told his mother that he and I are in a secret relationship and I’ve told my father that I am spending time with Ben to get in with his family and access his high connections for a better match.”
“And Lord Brendol believed you?” Phasma asked, her brows raised high.
“When it comes to ambition he’d risk anything, even a bit of gossip about his son,” Hux muttered.
“Lord Ben is a bit of a character,” Phasma chuckled. “There won’t be any lack of gossip surrounding you two.”
“I know,” Hux sighed. He glanced across the room and caught sight of Ben and Rey chatting with Lady Leia. Ben was smiling, his whole face bright and happy. Hux’s heart clenched with emotion.
“Oh, I see,” Phasma said, her gaze following Hux’s. Hux quickly looked away and willed himself not to blush. Phasma merely smiled sympathetically and squeezed Hux’s shoulder, speaking quietly in his ear, “You, my dear, are in way over your head.”
Delicate notes rose into the air, twirling about as they filled the parlor room. Ben rested his head against the scrolled end of the couch and listened with half an ear, allowing the intricate melody to wash over him.
Ben watched Rey through half-lidded eyes across the room. Her fingers moved rapidly; they became a near blur as they elegantly flew across the keys of the pianoforte. The serene sounds lulled him into a hazy state and he found his mind drawn back to the other night.
When he closed his eyes he could still see Hux’s face—that striking, sharp gaze, high cheekbones, and pink, curved lips. Ben delighted in every instance of—not so unintentional—hands resting on shoulders and brush of their fingers. Hux blushed so prettily and Ben thoroughly enjoyed being the one to bring that sweet pink flush to his face.
“That sounds lovely, Rey.” His mother’s voice broke the sweet solitude of Ben’s daydreaming. “You’ve really improved in such a short amount of time.”
“Thank you,” Rey beamed, her fingers never faltering over the keys.
Ben slowly opened his eyes to find his mother had moved across the room and was hovering near the couch.
“Mother,” Ben lazily greeted.
“Ben,” Leia returned dryly. “I can see you’re spending your Sunday productively.”
Ben waved his hand dismissively and stretched along the couch. He craned his neck to look out the large windows lining the wall. “It’s misty out.”
“Ah, that explains it,” Leia replied with a snort. “I’m surprised you’re not with your new sweetheart.”
Ben narrowed his eyes at his mother’s tone. She stood over him with her arms crossed. Her eyes swam with skepticism. He cleared his throat. “Well, we can’t spend every moment together.”
“Of course not,” Leia agreed. Her voice became suspiciously sweet. “I must say, though, he did look rather uncomfortable and awkward at the theatre the other day.”
Alarm bells began to ring in Ben’s head. It wouldn’t do to have his mother filled with such doubt so early in his ruse. “Well, of course he was uncomfortable,” Ben retorted. “I’m sure he could feel your eyes, and everyone else’s for that matter, on him. You know he has to be careful that word doesn’t get back to his father.”
Leia hummed disbelievingly. Across the room, Rey switched to a slower, mournful song. The melancholy melody floated through the air. “Finn told me all about Lord Brendol,” Rey chimed in. “He does seem a rather cold, horrid man.”
“Well, that’s never been in question,” Leia scoffed.
“Besides,” Ben interjected, his voice rising above the sonorous music. “Hux is coming over this afternoon for tea.”
“Is he?” Leia asked with a raised eyebrow.
Ben paused, wondering how quickly he could get an errand boy to deliver a message. It seemed he had no choice but to try. “Yes,” Ben firmly stated. “He is.”
Ben barreled past Cithri, nearly knocking him over as the door opened.
“Hux,” Ben exhaled with a sigh of relief. “Thank you so much for coming on short notice.”
Hux smiled, handing his coat to a ruffled Cithri. “Of course, I was happy to come. My father was going to have me join him for a game of cards at the club—I’m thrilled to avoid those tedious men.”
“Still, you have my gratitude,” Ben insisted. “My mother continues to be suspicious—I needed it to seem as if we’re spending more time together.”
“Ah.” Hux’s expression dropped and his eyes turned a shade colder. “That’s why you invited me.”
Ben’s throat constricted and he suddenly felt terribly wrong-footed. He swallowed his misgivings, pushed away his conflicted thoughts and led Hux into the sitting room. “To be honest, I just don’t think she’s quite convinced. We may need to be a bit more affectionate in public.”
“In public?” Hux’s voice wavered. He nervously fidgeted as Ben offered him a seat.
“Nothing too wild,” Ben insisted. “Just little things here and there. And we certainly have to put on a bit more of a show in front of my mother.”
Hux nodded carefully in agreement. His lips were nearly white with how tightly they were pressed together. Luckily the tense silence was broken by Artee Detoux as he entered with the tea-cart.
“Is darjeeling okay?” Ben asked, moving towards the cart. Artee merely brushed Ben off and prepared the tea himself.
“Yes, fine,” Hux replied. “With a bit of lemon, please.”
Artee served the tea and departed, leaving Ben and Hux alone once more.
Ben settled himself on the sofa besides Hux, sitting so close their legs nearly touched. Hux’s teacup rattled on its plate as his trembling fingers squeezed a wedge of lemon into the steaming water.
“Sorry,” Ben said, his eyes sliding over to Hux’s stiff body. “Appearances and all.”
“Of course.” Hux straightened his shoulders and lifted the teacup to his lips. He paused as Ben began to add teaspoon after teaspoon of sugar to his own tea.
Ben paused mid-scoop. “What?”
“Nothing.” Hux smiled playfully. “That’s just a lot of sugar.”
Ben shrugged, grinning shamelessly. “What can I say? I like things sweet.”
Hux chuckled in response and he seemed to relax as he took a small sip from his cup. He didn’t even flinch as Ben leaned his shoulder against Hux’s.
“The infamous Lord Hux.” Leia swept into the room. “So glad to finally meet you.”
Hux shot to his feet, nearly spilling his tea in the process. “Lady Leia, it’s an honor.”
“Please, sit,” Leia commanded with a wave of her hand. Hux promptly returned to the sofa. “My son is apparently rather smitten with you.”
“Mother!” Ben protested. Leia merely smirked at Ben in reply. She clearly was not going to make this easy for either of them.
“Oh yes,” Hux sputtered nervously. “He’s a wonderful young man.”
Ben snorted under his breath at Hux’s proper phrasing. He could feel Hux bristling next to him.
“So,” Leia continued. “Where did you two meet?”
Hux cleared this throat anxiously and gulped from his cup. Ben’s hand fell to Hux’s knee and he gave it a light squeeze. Hux choked on his tea.
“We met at the Cantina club,” Ben said. His hand remained on Hux’s knee, tracing small circles with his thumb.
“The Cantina club?” Leia asked disbelievingly. “Does Lord Brendol know you frequent that establishment?”
“It was his first time,” Ben interjected.
Leia turned towards Ben and have him a cold look. “I’m sure Lord Hux can speak for himself.”
Hux inhaled deeply and sat even straighter than before. Ben started in surprise as Hux’s hand fell over his own. “No, my father was not aware,” Hux replied. Only Ben could detect the slightest waver in Hux’s voice. “As you can imagine there are quite a few things I cannot share with him.”
“Of course,” Leia responded, her expression softening slightly.
Ben interlaced their hands and squeezed gently. Hux shot Ben a small, grateful smile and continued. “Ben was rather relentless in pursuing me. I tried to resist at first but…” Hux shrugged and flashed Ben a warm smile. Ben felt his pulse quicken at Hux’s expression, even if it was all for show. “...well, eventually he wore me down.”
“That does sound like my son,” Leia relented. “So, Lord Hux, do you intend to reveal your relationship to your father eventually?”
“Mother!” Ben frowned, shooting Leia a furious glare. She merely ignored him.
“Yes,” Hux said, though his voice sounded smaller than before. “When the time is right and all.”
“Hmm,” Leia hummed dispassionately. “I suppose we shall see.” She smiled blandly at Hux. “Well, do enjoy your tea, boys. It was a pleasure to meet you Lord Hux.”
Leia turned and left the room. Hux immediately released a heavy exhale. “Your mother is extremely frightening.”
Ben squeezed his hand again before reluctantly letting go. “Don’t I know it.”
“Do you think she believed us?” Hux asked. Ben could still see the flickering of Hux’s rapid pulse against his throat.
Ben shrugged. “Perhaps...she’s rather difficult to read.”
Hux hummed under his breath. He toyed with his teacup, running a finger along the rim. Ben watched carefully, mesmerized. “You know,” Hux said, his eyes still downcast, “you’re quite lucky to have such an accepting mother. My father has no tolerance for anything that deviates from the proper norm.”
“So I’ve heard,” Ben muttered, half in sympathy for Hux and half in anger towards Hux’s father.
Hux looked startled at Ben’s tone. “Does my father truly have such a terrible reputation?” Hux asked. Ben opened his mouth to reply but Hux quickly continued, “No, don’t tell me. I already know it’s true.” Hux picked up the wedge of lemon and nervously toyed with it. “When I was younger all I ever wanted was to be like my father, to impress him. Now that I’m older I still find myself fighting for his approval but everyday that goal slips further away. I’m starting to realize how different he and I truly are.”
“You’re nothing like your father,” Ben interjected. Hux frowned slightly but Ben pressed on. “That’s a good thing Hux, trust me.”
Hux seemed unconvinced but nodded his head and dropped the subject. “What about you? Do you aspire to be like your father?”
“Hardly,” Ben scoffed. He exhaled noisily and took a sip of tea. He generally avoided speaking about his father but he felt he owed to it Hux. It was only fair to share something personal in return. “I mean, when I was a child I craved his attention. He used to have more time for me then but once his trading business took off he traveled often and was hardly around. When he came back home it felt as if we were strangers.” Ben set his teacup down with a noisy clatter. “I know it bothers mother too, all of his prolonged absences, but it’s just one of those things we don’t talk about.”
“I know how that is,” Hux replied sympathetically. “My father and I have a novel’s worth of topics that are not permitted to be discussed.”
Hux reached out and squeezed Ben’s knee. The gesture was surprising but most welcome and Ben leaned into the touch. His hand hovered to join Hux’s when he heard footsteps clicking outside the room, rapidly increasing in speed and sound.
Ben redirected his hand and placed it on Hux’s cheek. “I think my mother’s coming back—we might need to raise the stakes.”
Hux’s brow furrowed in confusion before his eyes widened in understanding. Ben’s heart thrummed frantically against his chest and with a burst of courage he leaned in.
Hux’s breath left him in a sudden rush. His body buzzed with a dizzying mixture of anticipation and trepidation but otherwise he remained frozen.
The first touch of Ben’s lips against his was like lightening; bright and electric. He wanted to believe he stayed stiff and professional, kept his cool and composure. He didn’t. Instead Hux positively melted into the kiss. Ben’s plump lips glided against his, soft and coaxing until the wet tip of his tongue traced the seam of his mouth. Hux gasped in surprise, overwhelmed by the sensation, and Ben slipped his tongue inside.
Blood roared in Hux’s ears, deafening and drowning, taking over any semblance of protestation that may have clung to the edges of his mind. Everything became a pleasant blur as Hux’s tongue tentatively met Ben’s. He tasted of fragrant tea and cloying sweetness—Hux found the flavor intoxicating.
Hux was caught in the throes of the storm, trapped in the whirlwind that was Ben’s eager mouth and hot tongue. He shivered at every restrained lick and gentle nip but when Ben went to deepen the kiss further, Hux pulled away.
He only got so far with Ben’s hands still pressed firmly on either side of his face. They panted breathlessly in the small space between them, both wide-eyed and red-faced. Ben’s eyes were intense and pleading, his pupils dilated and surrounded by a faint ring of gold. Hux could feel the gravity of Ben’s zealous stare pulling him back in when a sharp whistle filled the room.
Reality crashed back in and Hux pulled away, his heart hammering fiercely against his chest. It was all for a show—not a real kiss, just something to convince Ben’s mother of their faux-relationship. Hux slowly turned towards the open door but, instead of Ben’s mother, they were met by a smirking Rey.
“Sorry,” she said, not looking apologetic at all. Her lively eyes danced with merriment. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you two.”
Hux quickly stood up, nearly falling back over as the blood rushed from his head. He grabbed at the back of the sofa to steady himself. “It’s fine,” he promptly said, his voice strained. “I have to get going in any case. Thank you for having me over.” Hux kept his gaze straight ahead, refusing to glance, even for a moment, at Ben again.
“Hux,” Ben said softly. Hux could make out Ben’s hand reaching towards him from the corner of his eye.
“Thank you,” Hux repeated.
He rushed to the door, pushed past a befuddled Rey and raced into the corridor. He didn’t breathe again until he burst out of the main gate and climbed back into his waiting carriage.
Hux stepped out of his carriage and walked up the stone steps towards the main entrance of his own home. He smoothed his waistcoat and tried to control his unsteady breath. He felt terribly flustered and the first twinges of remorse were beginning to uncurl in his chest. His pulse thudded painfully and it seemed impossible to control the erratic beating of his heart.
“Sir,” his footman greeted him as he swung the front door open. “You’ve returned early.”
Hux cleared his throat and nodded dismissively. “Yes. Is my father home?”
“No, Sir. Lord Brendol is still out at the club.”
“Very good,” Hux replied, rushing past the corridor towards the main staircase. His veins flooded with relief at his father’s absence but it did little to calm the nerves still fluttering against his skin.
He climbed the stairs two at a time and only breathed a weak sigh of relief when he reached his room. The door closed with a click and Hux leaned against the frame.
He shouldn’t have run out on Ben like that—it was terribly rude. Beyond that, Hux couldn’t even begin to imagine the sort of impression he left on Ben’s family. How could Hux just leave in a rush after such an earth-shattering kiss? What did Ben think of Hux’s hasty departure?
Hux shook his head and moved towards his washroom. The late afternoon sun was beginning to sink below the horizon and the room filled with rich, golden light. Hux stared into the mirror above his wash basin, surprised to find a stranger staring back. Hux could hardly recognize his reflection; could a person truly change so much so very quickly?
Hux peered into his pale eyes; his pupils swelled making them look nearly black in the darkening room. His hair was disheveled, wild on top with the sides sticking to his damp temples. His lips were red and swollen—they looked utterly kiss-bitten. He lifted his hand and traced his mouth with his fingers.
Unbidden memories rushed in—the feel of Ben’s lips against his, the taste of his hot mouth, the persistent glide of his wet tongue. Hux’s cock stirred in his pants, twitching at the recollection of that fervent kiss.
He tried to push the thoughts away, to drown the rising desire that threatened to consume him whole. It was no use. His cock merely hardened and his heart raced. Hux fell further into the spiral of his desire, hunger for Ben growing with every passing second.
Hux sighed and leaned his head against the mirror. He squeezed his eyes shut and gave in, surrendered to the urgent yearning that would not be quieted. His hand slipped into his trousers and curled around his erection.
Hux shuddered at the touch. His fingers were cool and his cock hot—the contrast enticing and satisfying. He relived the kiss, allowed every little moment and touch to take over his senses. His breath quickened and his hand became a blur—urgent, frenzied, desperate.
When his release rushed from him with an impassioned cry, it was Ben’s name that was on his lips.
Ben chewed on the end of his quill and re-read the drying parchment. The message was innocent enough, just a simple invitation to an upcoming dinner party and dance, but Ben still avidly went over each and every word.
Normally Ben would hardly put any care into a mere letter. He had his fair share of lovers over the years and a quickly scribbled note was good enough for any message he desired to pass on. With Hux, however, Ben felt terribly self-conscious of every single minuscule interaction.
It was foolish, Ben reasoned. It wasn’t as if Hux was in an actual relationship with him—it was all for show. Ben wasn’t even sure if Hux truly did prefer men like he did. Hux was full of denials that day at the Devaron House, but the chemistry between them seemed irrefutable. Ben didn’t want to do anything to push Hux too far, to scare him away. Still, he couldn’t help the sudden rush of emotions whenever he thought of the other man. Hux was the type of person Ben usually avoided in society; he was uptight, overly-conscious of his image, and at times even a bit haughty. Yet he also had a sharp wit, a gorgeous smile, and a fiery spark that burned just below the surface of his icy exterior.
Ben traced the tip of his quill along his lips. The feathery edge brushed and tickled his sensitive skin, reminiscent of the soft press of Hux’s mouth against his. Hux had opened so readily to Ben, surrendering to the kiss with such a hungry eagerness. Ben replayed the moment over and over again in his mind, relishing in the memory of Hux’s tender lips, the gentle scratch of his stubble against Ben’s chin, the taste of tart lemon and tea on his tongue.
Ben burned with desire for the other man but it wouldn’t do to become too lost in such memories. Hux was already beginning to haunt his thoughts, his dreams, his every waking and sleeping moment.
Ben carefully folded the letter, picked up a stick of wax and held it to a nearby burning candle. It warmed and melted. Ben tipped the dripping wax onto the center of the folded letter. With a firm press he pushed his seal into the cooling tackiness.
He would send the letter along to Hux, invite him to this gathering and see how everything unfolded from there. There was no point in obsessing over Hux’s true feelings or what might have occurred if Rey hadn’t interrupted them the other day.
Ben was certain he could keep a level head about this. He smiled to himself only realizing a moment later that his lips were pressed against the still-warm seal of the letter in a soft kiss.
A level head? Ben chastised himself as he quickly pulled the note away from his mouth.
He was clearly in much deeper than he’d like to admit.
All of Ben’s personal coaching about self-restraint went out the window the moment Hux sat beside him.
Hux was dressed elegantly as usual; his waistcoat was a lovely shade of amber, perfectly snug against his slim torso. His eyes were more green than blue in the brightly lit room, sparkling like emeralds in the candlelight. He offered Ben a small smile, one that didn’t quite reach his eyes, as he took his seat.
“Lord Ben,” he greeted stiffly.
“Hux,” Ben replied on a soft exhale. His nerves were already on fire and the night had hardly begun.
Hux nodded in response and turned his attention to the roasted chestnut soup placed in front of them. Ben watched with careful eyes as Hux grabbed his spoon, tightly grasping the silverware until the whites of his knuckles showed.
Ben furrowed his brow in concern. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes, of course,” Hux responded unconvincingly. He dipped his spoon into the soup, moving it around without ever bringing it to his lips.
“Hux.” Ben’s voice dropped to a low whisper as he leaned in closer. “Talk to me—what’s wrong?”
Hux sighed heartily and set his spoon down. “My father informed me that he’ll be attending the dance after dinner. It’s been some time since we’ve both attended a ball together and...I’m a bit nervous I suppose. I know he’ll be watching my conduct carefully.”
“Your conduct is always impeccable,” Ben insisted. “You’ll be fine.” Hux shot Ben a look of disbelief but Ben merely pressed on. “Truly, what fault could he find in you? What fault could anyone find?”
Hux blushed at that, reaching for his spoon once more as he stared at his soup. “You flatter me,” Hux mumbled as he lifted the spoon to his mouth.
Ben pressed his leg against Hux’s beneath the table, delighting in the warmth that seeped through their thin trousers. Hux’s eyes widened and his blush deepened but he otherwise remained collected as he continued to eat his soup.
“I only speak the truth.” Ben smiled and lifted his glass of wine, taking a hearty sip.
The courses of food continued, roasted potatoes and parsnips, mackerel with fennel, carrots and peas swimming in a rich butter sauce. Ben kept his leg pressed against Hux’s throughout the meal; the constant pressure and heat was utterly enticing. Ben allowed the conversation to wash over him, choosing instead to focus on the delicious food and intoxicating proximity of Hux.
His attention, however, was quickly snatched back to the table when the arrogant Lord Harko began to spout his usual nonsense.
“Lord Hux.” Lord Harko gestured towards Hux with his fork. “Why did your father not join us this evening?”
Hux cleared his throat and put on an innocuous expression. “He’ll be joining us later, for the dance.”
Lord Harko raised his eyebrow and took a long drink from his cup. “Is that so? Still, it’s odd he choose to not eat with us. I suppose he must be busy brokering deals with Baron Snoke, no?”
“I couldn’t say,” Hux replied tightly.
Lord Harko smiled cruelly. “I suppose you truly aren’t allowed to say. It seems there is a lot of secrecy in your father’s business dealings.”
Hux flushed angrily and his lips pressed into a thin line. His hand fell beneath the table and reached towards Ben, grasping his knee and squeezing tightly.
“Well,” Lady Vane interrupted with false cheeriness. “Shall we move onto the venison? My husband hunted it fresh this morning.”
The conversation moved on and Hux let out a slow, relieved breath. He went to release Ben’s knee but Ben was quicker. He dropped his hand beneath the table and grabbed onto Hux’s, keeping it in place. Hux shot Ben a raised eyebrow, his cheeks filling with color but his eyes swam with gratitude. Ben loosened his grip, his heart thudding in excitement when Hux didn’t pull away.
Plates of venison and roasted apple cluttered the table, their fragrant scents filling the room. Ben, however, could hardly taste the food; he was far too focused on the heat radiating from Hux’s skin.
Dinner continued, courses presented and cleared only to be replaced with even more extravagant dishes. Occasionally Hux would lift his hand to eat or drink, but whenever his hand returned beneath the table their fingers brushed, sliding together in a tentative, exhilarating dance.
Hux’s relaxed demeanor quickly faded once they entered the ballroom.
Ben did his best to hide his disappointment when Hux’s father arrived and Hux swiftly rushed off to greet him. Lord Brendol’s stern face remained stolid as Hux made his way towards his father. Ben couldn’t hear their conversation far across the room but it seemed short, clipped and tense. It took all of Ben’s willpower to not rush over when Hux’s expression fell and his shoulders drooped.
“Are you enjoying yourself?”
Ben jumped as Phasma slipped behind him, her voice full of humor. “As much as I can at one of these events,” Ben muttered.
“Come now,” Phasma teased. “It can’t be all that bad. You seem to have tolerable company in any case.”
Phasma discretely gestured towards Hux who was making his way back towards them. His eyes had lost some of their vibrancy and were instead drowning in anxiety and dejection.
“What happened?” Ben asked, resisting the urge to reach out and smooth the tense lines on Hux’s face.
Hux smoothed his waistcoat and twisted his lips into a frustrated grimace. “Father does not approve of my appearance today. The color is not fashionable, my hair is getting too long and he’s utterly frustrated with my slow progress in finding a wife.”
“Charming man,” Phasma muttered wryly.
“Well, I think you look incredible tonight,” Ben chimed in. Phasma snorted and shot him an amused look but Hux’s frown only deepened.
“He’s impossible to please,” Hux lamented. “I’m certain his eyes are on me now, judging my every move.”
Ben moved closer. His veins thrummed with the desire to protect Hux from his own troubled thoughts. “Don’t focus on that,” Ben insisted. “Let’s just try to have a good time.”
“As good a time as we can have here at least,” Phasma added, repeating Ben’s earlier words with a taunting smirk.
“Okay,” Hux agreed, nodding his head. His eyes however, remained trained on his father across the room. Lord Brendol was beginning to make the rounds, a false smile plastered over his steely face.
Ben exchanged a desperate look with Phama but she merely shrugged her shoulders, admitting defeat with a sigh.
“Why don’t we dance?” Ben asked, tugging on Hux’s arm. “Take your mind off of everything.”
Hux nervously pulled his arm away. “Dance? We can’t dance together. It’s impossible.”
“We’ll get female partners,” Ben offered. “I’m certain I can pull Rey away from Finn for one dance and I’m sure Phasma will be happy to oblige.”
Phasma narrowed her eyes but her expression softened when it landed on Hux’s hopeful face. “Of course,” she relented.
“The next dance is a Pavilion Waltz,” Ben continued. “We’ll be able to be close without arousing any suspicion, at least not from your father.”
Hux nodded slowly and Ben’s pulse quickened with excitement. He rushed off to grab Rey who, after a moment of begging, gave in and agreed to dance with Hux. Ben could understand Hux’s discomfort—he could feel the weight of Lord Brendol’s sharp glare burning into his back. Ben, however, congratulated himself on his clever thinking. Lord Brendol could find no fault with his son sharing a dance with the young lady who belonged to the family Brendol so desperately sought connections with.
The guests all lined up and the music began; gentle notes floated through the ballroom. Ben stood close to Hux, their bodies mere inches apart. He leaned his shoulder against the other man, relieved when Hux’s lips curved into a small smile.
Ben returned his focus to the dance, recalling the steps as he moved forward to meet Phasma in the center. Their hands met briefly as they changed sides but Ben’s eyes remained glued to Hux. Rey met Hux in the center, repeating the steps until Hux returned again to Ben’s side. Hux, too, seemed completely blind to Rey, Phamsa or any of the other dancers moving across the floor. His attention stayed fixed on Ben, his eyes alight with affection and delight. Ben relished in Hux’s open regard and found himself unable to tear his own wistful gaze from that of the handsome man before him.
They continued to move, the music swelling and increasing in sound as the dance went on. Every change of position, every pass, was full of heated glances and discreet touches. Ben’s body burned with the urge to fully reach out and pull Hux into his arms. His fingers tingled when they brushed against the fine fabric of Hux’s shirt.
The true prize, however, was not in any careful touch and heedful contact but rather in the pure joy that bloomed over Hux’s face. His cheeks were flushed a happy pink, his pretty lips spread into a wide grin. Gentle laughter spilled from his mouth and his body became loose and at ease, his face soft and content.
Ben’s heart thudded against his chest, a steady rhythm that matched the melodic music. Hux’s happiness grew and invaded every part of Ben. It felt like diving into the depths of the ocean—invigorating and exhilarating. Ben, however, had no fear of the fierce tide of Hux’s affections which threatened to pull him in deeper and deeper. He was only too happy to drown in that soft laughter, warm smile, and captivating gaze.
Hux’s head was still in the clouds when he returned home that evening.
He hummed under his breath, the melody of the night’s music still fresh in his mind. Hux’s skin tingled and his head swam with the overwhelming sensations of the evening. When he closed his eyes he could clearly hear the notes ringing in the air, feel the warmth of Ben’s hand when it brushed against his, taste the pure joy and thrill of the dance on his tongue.
Hux had just entered the main hall, lost in blissful thought, when his father abruptly stopped before him. The carriage ride home had been silent but that wasn’t unusual for them. Hux merely entertained himself with sweet memories of the evening as he stared out the carriage window and watched the city blur past. He hadn’t noticed his father’s disapproving frown or the tight-knuckled grasp on his walking stick.
Hux huffed in surprise as he walked straight into his father’s back. “Father?”
“That was quite a performance this evening.” Brendol’s stony voice filled the empty entrance hall. He turned around to glare at Hux with cold, menacing eyes.
Hux shifted nervously. “What do you mean?”
Brendol’s lips pressed into a thin, white line. “That Ben Solo was all over you. Everyone was talking about it.”
“Father, you must be mistaken—”
“I make no mistake,” Brendol fiercely cut off. “I’ve heard all the rumors about that unsavory boy. He’s a degenerate, known for his licentious behavior and lewd manners.”
Hux’s pulse thundered at his father’s sharp tone. He could feel the heat rising up his throat to spread across his face. “You can’t listen to all the rumors. Ben is kind and witty and not guilty of half of what society accuses him of.”
Brendol’s expression darkened further. “You’d best keep your distance from that sort. I don’t want his tarnished reputation to affect yours or this family’s.”
“You have it all wrong,” Hux protested. “Father, you have to listen to me—”
“I don’t have to listen to anything,” Brendol spat. “How dare you contradict me? Your lack of obedience is shocking! I can’t allow you to lower yourself and befriend the dregs of society.”
“Ben Solo is hardly the dregs of society.” Hux crossed his arms in defiance but he began to wilt under his father’s hard glare.
“You are a disgrace,” Brendol remarked coldly. “What would your mother think of this? You’re lucky she’s not alive to see what a disappointment her son has become.”
His father’s harsh words echoed across the walls, bouncing against the cool marble to sink into Hux like razor sharp knives. Brendol’s lips curled in disgust as he sneered at Hux before he turned away and swept out of the hall.
Hux’s mouth turned to ash, his body trembled, and he crumpled onto the floor with a silent cry.
A warm spring breeze blew across the garden, rustling the petals on a wild hydrangea bush. Their fragrance rose into the air, rich and sweet. Hux watched a pair of bees buzz by, their vibrant humming filling his ears.
“—well, mother was just beside herself.”
“Huh?” Hux shook his head and nearly walked into Phasma who had stopped in her path.
She threw her arms into the air with mock exasperation. “Have you even been listening to a word I’ve said?”
“Of course I have,” Hux protested. His face began to flush. “Alright, I might have missed a bit at the end.”
Phasma raised an eyebrow and leaned against the bubbling fountain behind them. “Alright, confess.”
“Confess what?” Hux asked, his brows furrowing in confusion.
Phasma dipped her hands into the swirling water and, lifting her fingers, flicked the cool droplets at Hux. “Whatever it is that’s been distracting you.”
Hux frowned and pulled out a crisp handkerchief. He carefully patted his face dry. “I was just enjoying the lovely flowers, that’s all.”
“Hmm,” Phasma hummed in disbelief. Her eyes lit up as she caught sight of something across the garden. “What timing,” she remarked with a mischievous smile.
Hux followed her gaze, his heart constricting when he laid eyes on what had caught her attention. Ben Solo stood next to the hedge garden, a bright smile on his handsome face as he waved at them both. Phasma happily returned his greeting but Hux swallowed roughly and looked away. He could see Ben’s gleeful expression fall from the corner of his eye, morphing into confusion and hurt.
“Let’s go admire the lake again,” Hux muttered, keeping his eyes trained on the ground.
Phasma crossed her arms and refused to move. “What was that all about?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hux retorted stiffly.
“I believe I’ve found the reason for your distraction all afternoon.” Phasma tugged on Hux’s arm until he relented and raised his gaze to meet her’s. “Talk to me.” Her firm voice left little room for negotiation.
Hux sighed and moved to join her in leaning against the cool stone of the fountain. He snatched a stone from the bottom of the shallow basin and nervously ran his thumb across the smooth surface. “It’s complicated,” he finally said.
“What isn’t?” Phasma snorted before softening her voice. “Whatever it is, you know I won’t judge for for it.”
Hux returned the stone to the fountain and watched it sink to the bottom. “It’s not your judgement I’m worried about. My father was furious about my behavior at the last ball. He said I was a disappointment and a disgrace, that I was destroying the years of hard work he’s put into raising our family’s reputation.”
Phasma whistled lowly in sympathy. “He’s not an easy man to impress.”
“No, he’s not,” Hux agreed. “But, honestly, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. He never seems to be satisfied with me.” Hux paused and anxiously chewed his lower lip. “He doesn’t approve of my association with Ben. I really believed our plan was foolproof, that father would be pleased by the connection. He’s forbade me from spending time with Ben, speaking to him, even acknowledging his presence.”
“Ah,” Phasma nodded, her expression filling with understanding. “So that’s what’s been bothering you.”
“Among other concerns,” Hux quickly said, his cheeks heating.
“Do you want my advice?” she asked.
Hux smiled and turned to face her. “Something tells me you’ll give it to me regardless of my answer.”
“Too true,” Phasma stated with a grin. “Personally, I believe life is far too short and that we should chase whatever happiness we can find.”
“I know,” Phasma cut him off. “As proud and strong as I may act, of course I worry about my parent’s approval but I can’t allow them to dictate my every single action. I’m not saying you should run off and get disowned or anything, but don’t deny yourself the minor things that bring you joy.”
Hux mulled her words over, unconsciously glancing back towards the spot where Ben was. He could only glimpse the edge of Ben’s tailcoat as it disappeared into the hedge garden. He turned back to face Phasma. “I have to go and—”
“I know,” Phasma repeated, this time with a sly smirk. “Go on, I’ll wait here for you.”
Hux shot her a grateful smile and hurried towards the tall hedges.
His wave of relief at finding Ben sitting on a stone bench behind the hedges was quickly swept away by Ben’s expression. Hux’s heart clenched with misgivings when he saw the look of despondency and confusion painted across Ben’s face.
Ben’s eyes, however, brightened when he caught sight of Hux. He smiled, almost shyly, and gestured for Hux to join him.
“Hi,” Ben said softly, the corners of his mouth turning up.
Hux sat beside him but found himself unable to look directly at Ben. “Hello.”
“Lovely day for a stroll in the garden,” Ben murmured, leaning into Hux’s side.
“I suppose it is,” Hux replied with a soft chuckle.
“The beauty of the day is no match for you though,” Ben said, his eyes sparkling with mirth. Hux blushed fiercely. He met Ben’s gaze for a moment before nervously looking away. “But,” Ben continued, “I feel like you’re missing something.” Ben paused and tilted his head inquisitively. He examined Hux with his careful gaze for a moment longer before reaching over Hux’s shoulder to pluck a nearby gardenia. He held the flower between his fingers, smelling its sweet fragrance before tucking it behind Hux’s ear. “There,” Ben stated, satisfied. “A lovely gardenia to match your lovely hair.”
Hux’s body felt hot all over. The shell of his ear tingled where Ben’s fingers brushed against it. Ben was smiling at him, so warm and bright like the midday sun. He felt his face heat up and breath grow short.
A burst of hushed giggling, however, quickly broke him from the spell.
Hux turned sharply to find a small group of women passing the hedge garden. They held their colorful parasols in one hand while they frantically whispered behind their other. They stared openly at Hux and Ben, their lips moving quickly as their eyes widened in dismay and interest. Hux became flushed all over again, this time for a very different reason. He jumped to his feet and angrily glared at Ben.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Hux hissed.
Ben glanced over at the gossiping women who merely raised an eyebrow at his forceful stare before continuing their walk. “There, they’re gone now.”
“That’s hardly the point,” Hux sneered, anger and indignation rising in his throat.
Ben huffed impatiently and rose to his feet as well. “I don’t see the issue. Isn’t this part of the plan? To make them all talk?”
Hux crossed his arms and glared at Ben. “That might be a perk for you but I certainly don’t get a thrill out of riling up society.”
“You’re being overly sensitive,” Ben accused. His full lips dipped into a pout but Hux didn’t allow himself to be so easily swayed.
“I am not,” Hux retorted. “I just don’t enjoy being the subject of gossip.”
Ben’s expression darkened and his eyes narrowed in response. “You’re far too concerned with image. You’re just like the rest of them, aren’t you?”
“Just like the rest of them?” Hux’s hands began to tremble and he curled them into tights fists to hide their shaking. “Pardon me for showing some concern for myself and my family’s reputation. Of course you wouldn’t understand anything like that, would you? You only care about yourself and having fun at the expense of others.”
Ben gaped at Hux, his cheeks filling with an angry flush. Hux turned and stepped away, refusing to argue more and further cause a scene. Still, a tiny, hidden part of him longed to have Ben call him back. When he glanced over his shoulder, however, he found that Ben was already stomping off in the other direction.
Frustration, anger, and irritation churned in Hux’s stomach. Utterly vexed, he ran his hand through his hair, startled when the forgotten flower fell to the ground. He stared at the crushed petals for a moment before sighing in defeat and walking away.
The pavement shimmered in the morning light; rays of sun glinted off the drops of dew clinging to the cobbled stones. A faint fog permeated the streets, making everything look gray until the stubborn sun peeked out from behind the thick clouds. Only then did the buildings glow golden for a moment before returning to their drab state.
Ben shifted uncomfortably, adjusting his hat which was already becoming damp with the morning air’s relentless mist. The humidity seeped into his skin, causing his fine shirt to stick to his back.
Rey, however, seemed unfazed by the unfortunate weather.
She looped her arm through Ben’s and excitedly dragged him to yet another storefront. “Oh! Look at the fabric they sell here! Crimson crushed velvet and ivory silk—I bet that would work perfectly.”
“Don’t you have enough gowns already?” Ben asked, stifling a yawn. “My mother spoils you rotten.”
Rey scowled and elbowed Ben in the side. “She does not! Besides, this isn’t for a new gown, it’s for my costume for Baron Snoke’s masquerade party.”
“You’re going to that?” Ben asked incredulously.
Rey straightened her shoulders and stood tall. “In fact I am. Finn’s taking me.” Ben opened his mouth but Rey quickly cut him off. “Of course I despise Baron Snoke and all his dirty dealings but everyone will be at this event and I’ve always wanted to attend a masquerade ball.”
Ben raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t take you for the superficial type.”
“It’s not just that,” Rey said before adding in a hushed whisper, “I think Finn has a plan to sneak into Snoke’s study and find some incriminating papers in order to expose that horrid man. He’s been there before when he was still part of the First Order gentleman’s club and knows the secret passageways very well.”
“Well, I can’t lie—I’m rather impressed.” Ben leaned against the shopwindow and smirked at Rey. “I didn’t think he had it in him.”
Rey’s face glowed with warmth and contentment. “He’s full of surprises.” She peered into the storefront but, instead of going inside, pulled Ben to the shop next door. “Oh! Feathers and pearls. Just what I need for my costume.”
“Are you going as a bird?” Ben asked, quickly jumping out of the way before Rey could elbow him again.
“For your information I intend to be Queen Elizabeth,” Rey stated with her chin held high. “Dare I ask what you plan to dress as?”
“Me?” Ben scoffed. “I have no intention of attending a party at Baron Snoke’s. I do my best to avoid that decrepit man whenever I can.”
Rey nodded sympathetically but a mischievous glint entered her eyes. “That’s a shame. Everyone will be there, including Lord Hux.”
“Hux is going?” Ben asked. His pulse quickened and he fought to keep his voice steady. “I mean, I shouldn’t be so hasty in refusing to go. I do love to dress up.” Rey chuckled as Ben grabbed onto her arm and pulled her into the shop. “Now, do you think emerald or chartreuse suits me better?”
The moon was merely a sliver in the sky and, despite the scattering of glittering stars, the night was dark and ominous. Ben, however, paid no mind to the long shadows and lack of visibility; his entire body trembled with the anticipation of seeing Hux again.
The mansion was lit with few candles, adding to the foreboding and haunting feel of the evening. Ben wasn’t surprised at Baron Snoke’s dramatics; he always did like to put on a show.
Rey quickly detached from his arm the moment she spotted Finn—dressed as Robin Hood, of course—across the room. Ben could hardly mourn her departure, not when his focused eyes were frantically seeking out Hux.
The ballroom was teeming with guests, so very crowded that they were spilling out into the open garden and dim corridors. The dress-code had clearly been taking very seriously; bright feathers, gauzy muslin, rich velvets and ornate masks all adorned the swarming crowd. Ben felt lost in a sea of costumes and characters, unable to identify a single person.
A shine of metallic, a burst of flame, a glimpse of a stormy sea—Ben’s pulse thudded as his eyes narrowed in on the handsome figure across the room. He wore gleaming armor, the light glinting off his intricate chainmail. His mask was the same shiny silver of his costume with hues of gold and copper swirling around the edges. Through the mask Ben could see the oceanic green-blue of his eyes, bright and tempestuous. Beyond the costume and mask burned the golden fire of his vibrant red hair.
Ben’s feet carried him across the floor, moving towards Hux like a moth to a flame. Even without the hints of his bright hair and tempting eyes, Ben was certain he would know Hux anyway. Ever since they met, Ben has felt drawn to Hux like a beacon, like a lost ship at sea that had finally found a safe harbor.
Ben approached Hux, who was now facing the tall windows, glancing out into the dark night sky.
“Sir Lancelot,” Ben greeted, voice low. His fingers lightly pressed against Hux’s exposed wrist.
Hux started, quickly whipping around with wild confusion. He narrowed his eyes as he studied Ben before anxiety morphed into recognition and relief. “Ben,” he exhaled. “You frightened me. Who exactly are you supposed to be?”
Ben grinned, spreading his arms out to fully display his costume. “I’m Mercutio, of course.”
“Is that so?” Hux raised a playful eyebrow. “I suppose that makes sense, I certainly couldn’t imagine you as a Romeo.”
Ben moved in closer to whisper hotly in Hux’s ear. “If I was, would that make you my Juliet?”
“Hardly,” Hux scoffed, nervously moving away from Ben’s close proximity. “Why would I want a tragic ending with an easily preventable death?” Hux cleared his throat and his expression sobered. He anxiously wrung his hands together before continuing. “Ben, about the other day and the things I said—”
“Come here,” Ben interrupted. He wrapped his fingers around Hux’s wrists and pulled him into a secluded corridor.
Hux allowed himself to be led away but did not let up on his apology. “Listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so—”
Ben once again cut him off, this time with his lips. Hux made a small noise of surprise that was soon swallowed by Ben’s eager mouth. Hux’s lips were just as soft as last time, like the delicate petals of a rose. Their masks softly clanged together as Ben licked his way into Hux’s mouth, his hands sinking into Hux’s silky hair.
“Ben,” Hux protested, pulling away. His voice was delectably hoarse. “We can’t do this, not here.”
Ben nipped at Hux’s neck, pressing his tongue against the flickering pulse at the base of his throat. “No one will come by here,” he reassured Hux. “Plus, it’s so dim in the entire estate and we’re completely in costume with masks and all. No one will recognize us.”
“Still,” Hux murmured. He leaned into Ben’s touch, tilting his head for better access. It was clear he was already giving in. “Someone might see…”
“Okay,” Ben mumbled against Hux’s smooth skin, “come this way.” He wrapped his arms around Hux’s waist and pulled him close, walking backwards until they stumbled into the hidden alcove at the end of the corridor.
Hux’s eyes were dark in the shadowed corner, his pupils blown wide. Ben could feel himself sinking into their tempting depths. His lips were parted, already swelling from their previous kiss. His neck was beginning to bloom reddish-pink spots where Ben’s teeth had sunk in. Hux was an utterly delicious sight and Ben was a starving man.
“Can I?” Ben asked softly, his hands coming to rest on either side of Hux’s flushed cheeks.
“Yes.” Hux’s voice wavered but his gaze remained determined. He nodded his head and stepped closer. “Yes.”
Hux’s breath caught in his throat when Ben’s lips met his again. It felt different this time, less tender but also less frantic. There was an assurance in this kiss, an unspoken promise that was passing between their lips.
He couldn’t help but wonder how much of it was real and how much was part of the plan? Could it truly be for show when no one was there to observe them? A flurry of thoughts and arguments rattled in his head, threatening to overtake him, but then Ben deepened the kiss and all coherent thought flew out the window.
Ben’s tongue begged for admittance and Hux gave in, opening his mouth and accepting Ben’s wet heat. It was electric and Hux groaned into the kiss, his body unconsciously swaying closer to Ben’s. His armor pressed against Ben’s chest but his accompanying pantaloons were simple and thin. Hux’s heart raced when Ben leaned into his touch, their legs tangling together.
Ben nipped at Hux’s lips, his sharp teeth digging in only to soon soothe the tender flesh with his hot tongue. Hux felt himself melt into the embrace and Ben easily took control, moving Hux backwards until he was pressed against the wall.
Ben’s hands fell from his face and drifted down to land on his hips. His thumbs dug into Hux’s hipbones, gentle at first until it grew and morphed into something desperate and needy. Hux’s body buzzed in every place they touched; his lower lip, the hollow of his throat, the length of his thigh.
Arousal pooled in his stomach and spread through his veins, lighting up every nerve. His cock stirred in his pants, filling and growing with every touch. It soon became an urgent ache as Ben’s hands slide to his base of his back, fingers splayed at the swell of his ass. Hux longed for friction, for something more; he nearly cried in relief when Ben pulled Hux’s body against his.
His growing erection brushed along Ben’s hard thigh. It was like an explosion of sensation—this mere touch—and Hux was lost in the feeling. He felt dizzy with heady desire when Ben’s own hard cock pressed into his leg. He felt so big, so long and thick. Hux’s mouth began to water, his breath left him in short little gasps.
Then Ben began to move.
It was complete heaven, this building heat and delightful friction. It was nothing compared to the frantic, shameful rutting Hux would partake in against his mattress late at night when the urges took over. This was warm weight against his thigh, hot exhales in his ear, long fingers pressing into his skin. This was Ben Solo grinding against his body, his dark hair tickling Hux’s cheek, smelling like amber and musk.
Hux’s cock throbbed with pleasure, the sensation building and tightening in his groin. He eagerly rode Ben’s muscled thigh, wishing they were somewhere more private and could remove the pesky layers of clothing between them.
Hux titled his head back, allowing Ben’s agile tongue to trace a hot, wet line along his throat. His skin tingled, burned; he longed to catch on fire and dissolve into the flames. He was ready to tell Ben as much when a surprised gasp filled his ears.
“Oh my,” a young lady giggled. “It looks like we’ll have to find somewhere else.”
The gentleman she was with chuckled in agreement and they quickly walked away. Hux could hardly hear their retreating footsteps over the thundering rush of blood through his head.
“Hux,” Ben said but the noise was muted and no competition for the panic that overwhelmed Hux.
“I—uh,” Hux stuttered, pushing Ben away. He readjusted his costume and smoothed his disheveled hair. “I need a drink,” he finally managed, pushing past Ben and quickly walking back towards the ballroom.
Hux’s hands still trembled as he lifted the glass to his lips and drank generous gulps of wine. The faint burn of the alcohol did little settle his rattling nerves. He nervously glanced around, seeking out a familiar face to distract him. Perhaps he would be able to spot Phasma among the teeming crowd. Instead he was met with a sea of masks, every guest disguised in feathers, lace and velvet.
His heartbeat began to slow as realization seeped into his veins. He couldn’t make out one person from another, how would anyone know it was Ben and him in that alcove together? Even the tipsy couple who interrupted them was indistinguishable to Hux—what were the chances they recognized him?
He took another sip of wine, this time enjoying the velvety feel of the liquid on his tongue. Perhaps he was a bit too hasty to panic and run off. His stomach twisted when he thought of Ben’s eyes, full of longing and disappointment as Hux hurried away.
Hux set down the glass of wine and searched the crowd again, his gaze attuned to find Ben. He maneuvered through the guests, making his way through the ballroom. The few candles did little to assist in his search and Hux could feel frustration rising in his blood. Everyone was laughing, flirting, dancing and paying no mind to Hux’s fruitless search. Every now and again he would pull a familiar figure aside and ask if they’d seen Ben, but they would only shrug in incognizance and return to their conversations.
He turned down one of the many winding corridors of Snoke estate and breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted Ben at the end of the dark hall. His comfort, however, was short-lived when he saw that Ben was not alone. A slender man with dark hair, dressed resplendently as Alexander the Great, was standing close to Ben. Too close. The man touched Ben’s shoulder and smirked maliciously, leaning in to whisper in Ben’s ear.
“Excuse me.” Hux lightly tapped the arm of a nearby woman he recognized from previous balls. “Who is that man with Lord Ben?”
The woman turned to follow Hux’s gaze, her red lips curling into a knowing smile. “Oh, him? That’s Lord Thanisson, one of Lord Ben’s many lovers.”
Ben’s lover? One of many?
The words echoed through Hux’s head, their incessant clanging increasing in volume until every other sound in the room turned into a faint buzz. Hux stumbled away from the woman—who already had turned back towards her partner—away from the scene before him, and fled as far as he could get from the slow break of his aching heart.
“You seem distracted, darling.” Thanisson’s sly voice vibrated in Ben’s ear as he leaned closer. He placed a firm hand on Ben’s arm. “What’s wrong?”
Ben shoved Thanisson’s hand away with a frustrated huff. “Nothing’s wrong and I am distracted.” Ben looked over Thanisson’s shoulder to peer down the dark corridor and into the faint glow of the ballroom. “I’m looking for someone.”
“But I’m right here,” Thanisson purred, pressing his chest against Ben’s.
“And I’m not interested,” Ben growled, pushing Thanisson off him.
Thanisson’s flirty smile quickly morphed into an angry frown. “What’s gotten into you? First you reject me those weeks ago at the club and now this?” Thanisson’s eyes turned hard and cruel. “Does this have to do with the rumors about you and that Hux boy?”
“Don’t,” Ben warned, his voice low and simmering with ire.
“What? Thanisson scoffed, crossing his arms. “Am I not even allowed to say his name? What could you possibly get out of a repressed, ignorant young man like him?” Thanisson’s lips curled into a taunting smile. “Oh, or is that it? The thrill of the chase? Do you want to be the one to defile him? I wouldn’t mind having a go once you’ve had your fun.”
Ben’s vision turned red and he stepped forward, grabbing Thanisson’s shirt with tight fists. The fabric bunched in his hands as he pulled Thanisson close. “Don’t you ever speak about Hux that way again.” A glint of real fear entered Thanisson’s eyes and Ben fiercely pushed him away with disgust. “This is your only warning.”
Ben stalked away, his pulse thundering in his ears. He needed to find Hux, to make sure the other man was okay. He seemed so eager, so very pliant and willing in Ben’s arms, but perhaps Ben had pushed him too far. The memory of Hux’s warm lips was already fading, replaced with the biting chill of inevitable regret.
He entered the ballroom and craned his neck but couldn’t catch any sight of that lovely vibrant red hair or striking light eyes. Hopelessness welled in his chest as he pushed through the crowd.
“Ben!” A hand curled around his arm and squeezed tightly. He turned to find Rey beaming at him. “Where have you been? I have to tell you what Finn found—”
“Have you seen Hux?” Ben quickly cut her off.
Rey bristled at the abrupt interruption, her lips dipping into a frown. She relented, however, at the sight of Ben’s desperate, pleading eyes. “I saw him a bit ago but he was on his way out. He seemed in a terrible rush.” Ben’s stomach sank at the news. “Is everything alright?” she asked, worry lacing her voice.
“I don’t know,” Ben solemnly replied. His chest ached with a multitude of misgivings. He reached out and patted Rey gently on her cheek. “Go rejoin the party, have fun. I think I’m going to call it an early night myself.”
Rey’s protestations faded into the background as Ben marched towards the door. He pulled off his mask and let it clatter the floor. With a heavy heart he stepped into the cool evening air and stared hopelessly at the inky night sky.
Ben picked at the cuff of his sleeve, his eyes already beginning to glaze over with boredom. The rest of the guests, however, buzzed with excitement as they milled around the room. The great cellist, Folux Pozur, was rumored to play at this parlor performance and everyone was filled with feverish anticipation—everyone but Ben.
After nearly a week of falling into a dejected slump, Rey insisted that Ben join her for the performance held at Lord Bakarn’s parlor. He was quick to refuse but, after she caught him staring woefully at his third letter to Hux—once again returned unopened—she refused to take no for an answer.
Now he found himself wandering the room listlessly, his mind still brimming with thoughts of Hux. Could their brief stint in the corridor at the masquerade ball really have offended him that much? Hadn’t they built some sort of friendship, a treasured connection, at this point? Why wouldn’t Hux just tell him directly what the issue was?
These endless questions continued to haunt him and keep him awake at night. He was so lost in introspection, still replaying the events from last week, that he barely noticed when the subject of his thoughts entered the room.
However, that glimpse of golden-red hair, perfectly coiffed as usual, quickly caught his eye. Ben’s pulse quickened. His feet began to move before his brain could even catch up with the action. He felt the rest of the room fade away, his body trembling with the need to reach Hux and speak with him.
Hux’s eyes met his and instantly went cold. It was so unlike Hux’s usual open and warm expression he reserved for Ben that it stopped him right in his tracks. Hux’s jaw was stiff and he swiftly turned away to converse with a nearby lady.
Ben’s heart clenched but he refused to give in so easily.
He continued his path, only stopping when he was a few inches away from Hux. “Good evening,” he greeted, willing his voice to stay steady.
“Hello,” the young lady replied. Hux remained silent.
“So sorry to interrupt,” Ben continued. “Might I borrow Lord Hux for a moment?”
The lady began to nod her head in assent but Hux quickly cut in. “I’m afraid I don’t have a moment.”
“Hux,” Ben pleaded, reaching out to lightly touch his arm.
Hux pulled away as if he had been burned. “I hope you enjoy the music this evening,” Hux said. His voice was stiff and overly polite. It sounded stretched thin enough to break. “Truly though, I must be going.”
“But the performance hasn’t even began,” the lady protested, her brow furrowing in confusion.
“Yes,” Ben cut in. “Please stay. Perhaps we can talk after the concert is over.”
Hux straightened his shoulders and turned to face Ben. His eyes were like ice covered moss; stark, frosty, and unforgiving. “There’s nothing to talk about.” He turned towards the lady and plastered on a forced smile. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Hux swiftly swept out of the room without a second glance. Ben’s stomach twisted and he tried to give chase to the other man but was quickly thwarted by a large group entering the parlor. By the time Ben finally made it through the main hall and to the front entrance, Hux was already gone.
He let out a heavy sigh and leaned against the wall.
“Another lovers spat?” Lady Baliss asked, suddenly appearing next to Ben.
Ben turned his head quickly to glare at Lady Baliss. Her face was full of feigned sympathy but her eyes shone with devilish mischief. He frowned at her false expression. “What do you mean?”
She shrugged but her sinister smile widened. “Well, I just saw Lord Hux storm out of here before the performance began. He looked just as stricken as he did when he raced out of Baron Snoke’s estate the other day.”
Ben’s jaw tightened and his hands curled into angry fists. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh?” Lady Baliss blinked with mock confusion. “A few of us saw you chatting up Lord Thanisson that evening. We all assumed you’ve moved on from your infatuation with Lord Hux and cut him loose.” The blood drained from Ben’s face as realization slowly dawned in. “I suppose we can’t really ever change who we are,” Lady Baliss continued with a solemn sigh. She patted Ben’s arm and turned away to enter the house.
Ben felt dizzy, overwhelmed and his entire body burned with the need to find Hux right away and explain everything. He took a shaky step forwards and then an other. His vision was blurred and his mind reeled with all the implications of what Lady Baliss had said. He had reached the cobbled road outside of Lord Bakarn’s home when a hand curled around his arm and pulled him quickly back.
An approaching carriage halted suddenly and the horse reared its head, neighing in protest.
“What’s your problem!?” The driver shouted. “Watch where you’re going!”
Ben stuttered out an apology but it was merely a whisper in the air. His heart thudded against his chest as the driver cursed at Ben again and calmed his horse, urging it to continue down the road.
“Are you okay?” Ben turned to find Rey watching him with alarmed eyes, her hand still tightly gripping his arm.
“Yes, thank you.” Ben’s body thrummed with adrenaline. “I’m sorry, I have to go. I have to find—”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Rey cut him off. “Look at you, you’re shaking!” She shook her head in concern and looped her arm around his. “Come on. Let’s go back inside and calm you down.”
“No,” Rey said firmly. “You’re in no state to be wandering the streets at night.”
Ben opened his mouth to protest again but one stern look from Rey quickly shut it again. With a heavy sigh of defeat he allowed himself to be pulled away from the road and led back inside.
His mind, however, still swam with longing to find Hux and explain everything once and for all.
I promise way less angst/clearing the air in the next chapter! <3
Hux gripped the hilt of his foil and adjusted his position. Spring was slowly fading away to be replaced by a humid Summer and the air in the fencing parlor was thick and muggy. He turned his thoughts away from the uncomfortable, sticky feel of his skin and back towards his opponent.
Phasma’s eyes were sharp and determined but Hux was quick on his feet. He dodged her first attack and followed it with a well timed esquive. She, however, easily sidestepped his counter-attack.
“Is that the best you’ve got?” Phasma taunted, her expression glowing with merriment.
Hux replied with a reprise but once again Phasma was quicker. She easily deflected the blow and returned to the en garde position. Hux scowled and lunged again, only to have her sidestep his attack and make an attack herself. She smirked as her foil smacked against his thigh.
“I’m just tired today,” Hux responded sourly. He curled his fingers tightly around his hilt. “That’s all.”
Phasma raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Something tells me this is more than fatigue.” She leaped forward with a feint and when Hux raised his foil in defence she struck again. Hux growled and attacked right away; a flurry of strikes that just met the air. Phasma smirked. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“It’s nothing,” Hux protested, returning to his en garde position. He lunged forward, nearly catching Phasma off guard but their foils met in the middle. He sighed in frustration and retreated again. “What do you know about this Lord Thanisson?”
“Thanisson?” Phasma scoffed. “He’s terribly pompous. I’ve had the displeasure of sitting next to him at dinner parties in the past.”
Hux’s blood ran cold, a biting contrast to the burn of his heated flesh, as he thought about that man again, leaning in and whispering in Ben’s ear. He adjusted his footwork and prepared for the next attack. “So I suppose you know all about his affair with Ben?”
Phasma’s bark of laughter was a welcome distraction and Hux took advantage with an aggressive lunge. She stumbled backwards but managed to dodge the point of his foil. “That’s what this is about?” she asked breathlessly.
Hux lowered his foil and turned away to face the small windows which lined the walls. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Phasma sighed and lowered her foil as well. “I’ve heard rumors, of course, of their past liaisons but those two haven’t been seen together in ages.” He could see her from the corner of his eye as she returned to position and raised her foil again. “You’re a fool if you can’t see how crazy Ben is about you.”
Hux quickly whipped around at that, his cheeks heating in dismay. “It’s all for show,” he sputtered. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. None of this is real anyway.”
“Don’t play stupid, Hux.” She pointed her foil and raised an eyebrow in challenge. “We both know that isn’t true.” Hux opened his mouth to protest but was swiftly distracted as she lunged forward with a series of attacks. He only deflected a few before she pushed past his defenses and, with strike after strike, forced him to the ground. Phasma stood over him with her foil pointed to his chest and a satisfied grin on her face. “My game.”
Hux crumpled yet another half-written sheet of parchment in his hand and dropped it to join the other four abandoned attempts on the floor. He’d spent more than an hour in the study, drafting letter after letter to Ben, but with no success.
He pushed his quill away and allowed his head to drop into his hands. Despite his most sincere efforts, he couldn’t seem to find the right words to express himself to Ben. How could he offer an apology about his cold behavior without revealing his heart? Phasma might be convinced that Ben returned his sentiments, however Hux wasn’t so certain.
It might be true that Ben and Thanisson weren’t lovers but no one could deny Ben’s flirtatious nature. Hux felt dizzy trying to separate how many of their interactions were for show and what hints of truth lay in those warm smiles and small touches.
The late afternoon sun began to set outside and rays of golden light fell across the mahogany desk. Hux watched the bands of gold illuminate the wood through his fingers. Dusk would soon give way to evening and Hux wondered if his father still expected him to join him at the club. His father has insisted Hux accompany him when he departed earlier but Hux protested, feigning a headache. His father had narrowed his eyes in suspicion but let it go with only one or two snide comments.
The headache wasn’t entirely false. He could feel pressure building behind his eyes the more he thought about Ben and this web he had somehow entangled himself in.
“Sir.” His footman appeared in the open doorway. “You have a guest.”
Hux’s brow furrowed in confusion as he turned to face the door. He certainly wasn’t expecting anyone and all his father’s acquaintances knew he would be at the First Order club until late that evening. “Who is it?”
“Lord Ben Solo, sir.”
Hux’s heart thudded painfully against his chest. “Bring him up here,” Hux replied, his voice tense. He felt stretched thin and fragile, on the verge of breaking all together.
The footman nodded in reply and departed back towards the main entrance. Hux jumped out of his chair, collected the crumpled letters on the floor and quickly tossed them into the fireplace. The flames sputtered as the parchment curled and burned, disintegrating into dust.
Ben stood uncertainly at the door. His lower lip began to swell beneath his sharp teeth as he worried on the pink flesh. The dying light of day filled the room with its muted glow. Ben’s handsome face was half concealed with shadows and half lit up with hues of gold. He looked an absolute vision and Hux felt himself unconsciously step forward, towards Ben’s magnetic pull.
“Ben,” Hux greeted. His voice sounded unbearably loud to his own ears in the heavy silence that had fallen between them. “I—I didn’t expect you.”
Ben stepped forward as well. He looked utterly nervous and unsure, so unlike his usual confident nature. “No, I’m sorry for just showing up like this. I really needed to speak with you and I was afraid you would refuse me otherwise.”
“About that,” Hux began. “I’m truly sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“No,” Ben interjected. “I’m sorry. I think there was maybe a misunderstanding—”
“You don’t need to explain—”
“Please, let me—”
“Really, it’s not necessary—”
“Hux!” Ben said firmly. They both fell silent and then broke into soft laughter. Ben’s entire face changed when he laughed. The lingering anxiety left his eyes and was replaced with warmth and affection. “How about I talk first and you can speak afterwards?”
“Why do you get to go first?” Hux questioned, his voice light and teasing.
Ben smirked. “Wouldn’t you rather have the last word?”
“You make a good point,” Hux agreed. He was unable to hide the grin which spread across his face. His whole body buzzed with gratitude for Ben’s presence; he had missed the other man terribly.
Ben looked behind him, his eyes darting about nervously. “Is your father home?”
“No.” Hux shook his head. “He’s at the club and won’t likely return until later this evening.”
“Good.” Ben breathed a sigh of relief and turned to close the door. Hux’s pulse sped up at the sound of the soft click of the lock. He turned to face Hux, took a few steps closer but stopped a foot away from him. “I don’t want to lie to you Hux. I’ve certainly...enjoyed myself in the past and it’s true that Thanisson and I were once lovers but that’s been over for quite some time.”
“Ben…” Hux’s cheeks heated and he turned to look away.
“Wait,” Ben pleaded. “Just let me finish.” Hux nodded and slowly turned back to face Ben. “I’m an incorrigible flirt, I know that, and I haven’t shied away from the pleasures of the flesh in the past but—well, this is different. I don’t want to push you or make you uncomfortable but I can’t help but want to be near you, to speak with you, to make you smile…to touch you.”
“Ben,” Hux repeated, taking a step closer.
“I know this was all my idea, to create this facade but the truth is, well—”
“Ben.” Hux closed the distance and the rest of Ben’s endearingly rambled speech was lost against Hux’s lips. Ben’s immediate surprise was quickly swept away, replaced with an enthusiastic hunger. His tongue traced the seam of Hux’s lips, parting them. Ben’s mouth was an inferno of wet heat. Hux moaned into the kiss, each heady sound swallowed by Ben’s waiting mouth.
Ben’s arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him close. Their bodies pressed against one another; their hands were both wild as they ran through each other’s hair, glided along their backs, dug into their hips. Hux found himself gasping whenever their mouths broke apart. His veins flooded with arousal and his cock throbbed urgently in the confines of his trousers. Hux boldly shoved his thigh between Ben’s legs and rubbed his growing erection against him.
“You’ll destroy me,” Ben murmured, burying his face into Hux’s neck. His teeth sank into the sensitive skin, playfully biting along his throat. Hux titled his head back, giving Ben better access as the other man ravished his heated skin. He rutted against Ben’s muscled thigh, relishing the delightful friction and heat building in his groin. “Hux,” Ben asked breathlessly. “Can I…?”
Hux wasn’t certain what Ben was asking but he was only too willing to agree. He nodded eagerly, his heart in his throat when Ben’s hands dropped to undo the fastenings on Hux’s pants. Even the light pressure of Ben’s fingers against his desperate cock was intoxicating. Hux swayed towards Ben, his breath coming out in short, harsh pants.
“You’re so beautiful.” Ben’s voice was soft and full of worship. He released Hux’s straining cock from his pants. The cool air against his heated flesh was a welcome sensation. “I’m going to take care of you—will you let me?”
“Yes,” Hux whined, rocking towards Ben. The tip of his swollen cock rubbed against the fabric of Ben’s trousers. “Please, Ben.”
“Don’t worry,” Ben promised, curling his fingers around Hux’s cock. “You’re in safe hands.”
Hux whimpered at the pressure, pushing up into the tight circle of Ben’s hand. Having another man’s hands—Ben’s hands—on him was like paradise. He already was trembling and on edge when Ben smirked and sank to his knees.
“What are you—”
Hux’s question was cut off with a sharp cry when Ben took his cock into his mouth. Hux’s hands fell to tangle into Ben’s dark waves. He pulled and tugged, tightened and loosened his grip with trembling fingers. Everything else faded away except for glorious pressure of Ben’s mouth. Hux’s cock was surrounded by wet, delicious heat. Ben’s tongue ran along his shaft and swirled around his swollen head, meanwhile his hands tightly gripped the base of his leaking cock. He squeezed and stroked, matching the motions with the bobbing of his head. Hux’s entire body shuddered, his pleasure rising and building like a summer storm. The thunderous sensations were overwhelming, lightening bolts of arousal spreading through his limbs.
Hux glanced down and the sight of Ben’s full lips wrapped around his cock pushed him over the edge. Incoherent words spilled from his mouth as his release rushed from him. He tugged roughly on Ben’s hair, his cock throbbing and emptying itself into Ben’s waiting mouth.
Hux staggered backwards as Ben pulled away with a soft, wet pop. His lips were red and swollen, his hair messy and his cheeks beautifully flushed. Hux felt dizzy in the aftermath but Ben was quick to return to his feet. He rushed over and pulled Hux into his arms, pressing wet kisses along his throat.
“Did you like that?” He whispered low against Hux’s skin.
“Yes,” Hux laughed, his lungs filling with joy. “Wow, that was—it was—”
“Shh,” Ben murmured. He held Hux close, subtlety rubbing his own stiff cock against Hux’s leg.
Hux pulled back slightly, his hands nervously cupping Ben’s erection. “Should I—” He exhaled anxiously and began again, “I’ve never…”
“It’s okay,” Ben reassured him. He pulled back to peer into Hux’s eyes. They were dark and inviting, soothing and warm. He cupped Hux’s face and rubbed his thumb along Hux’s bottom lip. Hux’s tongue darted out to playfully lick at his finger. “Gorgeous creature,” Ben mumbled. He moved back to undo his own trousers and pull out his cock.
Hux’s eyes widened as they dropped down to gaze at the impressive sight. He couldn’t help but swallow nervously at the enticingly thick length of Ben’s cock. His pulse fluttered anxiously at the thought of trying to fit Ben’s massive erection in his mouth but his nerves were soon placated. Ben merely grabbed Hux’s hand and led it to his cock.
Hux’s fingers curled around the hot flesh, allowing Ben’s hand to cover his. He set a steady rhythm, his breath coming quicker as Hux increased the speed. Soon Ben’s hand fell away and it was only Hux in control. He quickened his strokes, squeezing tighter as he carefully watched Ben’s face. His cheeks were flushed with arousal and his dark lashes fluttered wildly. Hux felt heady with power, overcome that he was the one responsible for drawing this reaction from Ben.
Ben’s hands rose to grasp Hux’s shoulders and then he was gasping; a string of filthy and delightful words and sounds escaped his parted lips. His cock pulsed and his release spilled over Hux’s knuckles, coating his fingers with Ben’s warm seed.
When the tremors finally subsided, Ben pulled him close and captured his lips in an intense kiss. Hux allowed himself to become lost in the passionate embrace.
His previous fears and misgivings faded away with the dying light of the afternoon. When he opened his eyes again, the room was painted in cobalt, the shadows of evening spreading across the walls.
Ben kissed him over and over; soft lips and teasing tongues, gentle caresses and whispered words. Hux closed his eyes once again and surrendered to the night.
Ben collapsed onto the bench with a defeated sigh. His shirt stuck to his back; his heated skin was damp, covered with a fine layer of sweat. A shadow fell over him. The shade was a lovely respite from the relentless beating of the sun.
Rey crossed her arms and peered down at Ben. “You have absolutely no stamina. We’ve hardly walked more than a quarter mile.”
“It’s hot,” Ben whined. He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed the beads of sweat collecting at his temples.
Rey joined him on the bench, ignoring his cry of dismay now that his precious shade was gone. “Such a spoiled city boy,” she muttered good naturedly. “It’s much more hot out in the country.”
“Now you see why I never visit Uncle Luke.” Ben closed his eyes and tilted his head back. Now that he was sitting the sun didn’t feel all too horrendous. He let the warm rays gently fall across his face.
“And here I thought it had to do with your last disagreement,” Rey scoffed.
Ben scowled but kept his eyes shut. “Your father can be a very stubborn man.”
“That’s true,” Rey agreed. “But so can you.”
Ben lightly flicked her arm in reply, wincing when she retaliated with twice the force. He raised his hands in defeat—with Rey, he knew best when to surrender.
“Still,” Ben said after a few moments of comfortable silence. “I’m glad he allowed you to stay with us for the season.”
Ben could feel the surprise radiating off of Rey. “Don’t sound so shocked dear cousin—your company isn’t all that terrible.” Rey snorted and leaned against Ben’s side. “It has been a lovely season thus far,” he continued. “Even the unseasonably warm weather has been tolerable. The hydrangea trees have bloomed beautifully this year, their fragrance is just intoxicating. Even the parties and balls have had their charm.”
“Why, Ben Solo,” Rey giggled. “You’re absolutely glowing!”
Ben finally cracked his eyes open and found Rey leaning over him with a smug smile. “Am I?” he asked with false ignorance.
“You’re utterly smitten, aren’t you?” Rey playfully smacked his arm.
Ben couldn’t fight the faint flush which rose into his face. “I won’t deny I’m happy…”
“More than happy it seems,” Rey insisted. “Does Hux feel the same way?”
“I don’t know.” Ben sat up straight and restlessly toyed with the hem of his sleeve. “I think so...I hope so.”
“What about his father though?”
Ben sighed heartily. “I’m concerned about that too but…I don’t know. I have faith we can figure it out somehow.”
Rey smiled warmly and patted Ben’s arm. “Well I hope you can find a way to make it work. I know what it feels like.”
“Do you?” Ben asked, brow raised.
“Yes,” Rey asserted, her cheeks turning pink. “Finn and I truly have formed quite a connection.”
“Finn,” Ben scoffed. “Such a boring fellow.”
“He’s charming and sweet,” Rey protested. “Much more agreeable than the snob you’re running around with.”
Ben sharply turned to face Rey. They held each other’s gaze intensely in a fierce showdown. The silence stretched on until finally Ben broke, erupting into laughter. Rey soon followed, tilting her head back and falling into a fit of giggles.
A gentle breeze blew past and carried their laughter away into the warm spring air.
Ben’s chest expanded to the point of nearly bursting as he glanced across the ballroom again. Once more his eyes met Hux’s. Their gazes locked together and filled with affection.
Hux looked, as always, an absolute vision. This evening he wore an azure cravat, complimented by a light gray waistcoat and navy trousers. The colors brought out the blue in his eyes causing them to shine brightly like a perfect cloudless summer sky.
Ben listened to Rey with half an ear as he stared, delighting in the coy glances Hux kept shooting his way.
“—don’t you agree?”
Ben turned to look at Rey and blinked slowly. “Of course?”
“You’re not even listening, are you?” Rey asked exasperatedly.
“I am,” Ben protested. “You were saying…” Ben chewed his lip and tried to recall her last topic of conversation.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Rey laughed. “Why don’t you just go over to him already?”
“We’re trying to be discreet,” Ben replied. Across the room, Hux took a sip of wine and peered over the top of his glass to meet Ben’s eyes once again.
“Discrete?” Rey scoffed. “I wasn’t aware you knew the word.”
Ben rolled his eyes but any cutting reply was soon forgotten as Hux took another long drink from his glass. Beads of crimson wine clung to his lower lip. Ben internally groaned as Hux’s pretty pink tongue darted out to lick the droplets away.
“Perhaps I’ll go for a stroll in the garden,” Ben finally stated. He caught Hux’s eye again and subtly motioned his head towards the veranda doors. Hux eagerly nodded his head in assent.
“Hopeless,” Rey muttered good naturedly. “You’re both hopeless.”
She squeezed Ben’s arm and walked away to join a group of young ladies. Ben distractedly bid her farewell; his thoughts were entirely consumed on retreating to the garden as soon as possible.
Stepping outside, Ben was relieved to find the garden all but empty. Despite the nice, warm night the guests seemed content to drink and dance inside the ballroom. He walked towards a row of finely manicured hedges and waited. His pulse thudded with anticipation; he felt much like a young boy again, eagerly awaiting his next adventure.
Ben had always prided himself on keeping a cool head in most situations—he couldn’t fathom how that all had changed so quickly. Ever since he first laid eyes on Hux, Ben had found himself completely out of his element. Years of boredom and wearisome existence all melted away the moment he spoke with Hux; ever since he looked into those vibrant eyes so full of emotion, since he touched that smooth skin and watched it flush between his fingers, Ben had felt a thrill he hadn’t experienced for years.
“You look awfully lost in your thoughts.” Hux’s voice broke Ben from his whimsical musings. “Care to share?”
Ben shook his head and pulled Hux close. Hux let out a startled laugh. “No,” Ben replied. He leaned in and pressed a chaste kiss against Hux’s lips. “I don’t want to waste any time talking.”
“You’re insatiable,” Hux retorted wryly. He worried his lower lip and nervously glanced over his shoulder. “We’re too close to the garden doors, come on.”
Ben allowed himself to be pulled further into the carefully arranged hedges and deeper into the extensive garden. The light from the lamps in the main courtyard faded and were replaced with the gentle glow of the full moon. Hux’s face was covered in shadows, only highlighted by the moon’s silvery reflection again his pale skin.
Ben’s hands slide into Hux’s hair, tangling his fingers into his finely styled locks. “Is it safe now?”
Hux answered by leaning in and capturing Ben’s lips into a kiss. His mouth was hot and pliant and offered no resistance to Ben’s searching tongue. Ben deepened the kiss and tightened his fingers in Hux’s hair, pulling him closer in order to devour him better.
The embrace continued for a few minutes more before Hux finally pulled away breathlessly. “I missed you,” Hux murmured softly.
“And I you,” Ben replied. His hands fell from Hux’s hair to cup his jaw. He rubbed his thumb along the smooth skin of Hux’s cheek. Music from the ballroom spilled out into the garden as a lively waltz began to play. The melody was faint from deep within the hedges but the notes still carried over into the night air. “Shall we dance?”
Hux chuckled in reply but allowed Ben to take his hands and lead him into a dance. Ben spun Hux around, their feet kicking dust into the air as the music built up and crescendoed. The melody winded down and Ben interlaced their fingers, ending the dance with a soft, sweet kiss.
Muted applause sounded from the distant ballroom but all Ben could hear was the fierce pounding of his heart and Hux’s happy exhale. “I wish we could dance in there together,” Hux sighed against Ben’s lips.
“We could.” Ben nipped at Hux’s mouth, playfully biting his lower lip. “If we really wanted to.”
Hux shook his head sadly and pulled away. “It’s a nice fantasy in any case.”
Ben frowned at Hux’s words and tried to bring him close again but Hux had already stepped back and turned away to look wistfully up at the night sky. Ben stepped forward and placed his chin on Hux’s shoulder.
“I wish I could chase away all your worries.” Ben wrapped his arms around Hux from behind.
Hux leaned back into Ben’s embrace. “I just wish things were simpler and that this fleeting happiness would last.”
“Don’t say that.” Ben pressed a kiss to Hux’s neck. “There is nothing fleeting about my feelings. We’ll find a way to make this work.”
“Ben,” Hux exhaled softly. Ben shivered at the way his name sounded as it fell from Hux’s lips. Hux turned around and their mouths met again. Ben drowned in the heated kiss, his lips chasing Hux’s when Hux pulled away once more. “I should really get back now,” Hux said mournfully but his eyes glittered with warmth and affection. “Thank you for the dance.”
Hux moved to walk away but Ben caught his hand. He raised it to his lips and pressed a fervent kiss into his palm. “When can I see you again?”
“Soon,” Hux promised with a glowing smile. “Soon.”
Hux cleared his throat and lifted his glass. “The wine is quite good,” he offered. Brendol merely raised his eyebrow in response. “Is it from the usual vineyard?”
Brendol methodically cut a piece of meat and placed it in his mouth. After several agonizingly slow chews he swallowed and replied, “It was a gift from Baron Snoke, a token for our continued loyalty.”
“Mmm,” Hux hummed, feigning interest. His skin vibrated with unease but he couldn’t quite place why. There was an odd energy in the air much like the calm before a vicious storm.
“You haven’t been to the club in quite some time,” Brendol stated mildly though his voice carried an unspoken threat.
Hux set down his fork and gave up on the pretense of eating. “No, I’ve been a bit busy.”
“Running around with that Ben Solo boy,” Brendol said gruffly. “Even though I expressly forbade it.”
Hux’s pulse began to quicken. “Father—”
Brendol lifted his hand and Hux’s mouth swiftly fell shut. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. I refuse to allow you to disgrace this family with your unsavory alliances. I’ve clearly allowed you too much freedom when what you need is discipline.” Hux couldn’t help the snort that escaped him at his father’s words. All Hux had ever known was strict discipline and personal restraint. Brendol, however, was not amused. His shrew eyes narrowed further. “Do you find this funny? Is it all a joke to you Armitage?”
The blood drained from Hux’s face and he straightened in his chair. He knew that tone and also knew what it proceeded. “No, Sir. I apologize.”
Hux winced and prepared for the angry tirade that was sure to follow. Brendol, however, merely set down his own fork and interlaced his fingers. He leaned forward, rested his chin on his joined hands and stared at Hux. It was utterly new territory and Hux felt more anxious than before.
Brendol’s lips spread into a sinister smile. “No need to apologize son. Luckily for you, I have been hard at work to secure your future and our family’s reputation.”
“What do you mean?” Hux’s body filled with dread.
“I’ve found you a bride,” Brendol stated, unclasping his hands and reaching for his wine glass. He lifted it up and held it towards Hux. The flickering candlelight shone through the crystal causing a kaleidoscope of shadows to fall across the table. Hux felt much like the broken patterns spread across the fine linen—torn apart and shattered.
“A bride?” Hux asked weakly.
“Yes.” Brendol polished off his glass of wine and set it firmly on the table. “She’s of good stock, comes from a family with admirable connections in the old money crowd. Her dowry is quite generous and her father is a founding member of the First Order club.”
Blood rushed through Hux’s ears in a deafening roar. His father’s words were all but a jumbled blur inside his head. “Please, Father,” he begged. “I can’t…”
“You can and you will!” Brendol stood up sharply. His chair screeched shrilly against the hardwood floor. “I have indulged you long enough. It’s high time you do right by this family.”
Hux clenched the sides of the table, anything to stop the tremors which threatened to take over his entire body. “I haven’t even met her yet,” he protested. His mind raced to discover any excuse to prevent this change of plans. “Don’t I need to properly court her?”
“You need only obey me.” Brendol’s voice was firm and final, woven with formidable threats. “The wedding will occur next month, at the end of the season.” Hux rose to his feet at that. He grabbed at the back of his chair as his legs shook and his head spun. “Where do you think you’re going?” Brendol asked.
“I need some air,” Hux stuttered. He staggered backwards and turned to race out the room.
“Come back!” his father roared to his retreating back. “You can’t run away from this!”
His father’s biting words faded as Hux rushed down the corridor and to the front door, escaping into the dark, misty night.
“Sir, do come in!” Cithri ushered Hux inside the entrance hall. A storm had broken on his way over and a heavy downpour fell from the sky. Rivulets of water streamed down Hux’s neck, from the saturated tips of his hair to collect in the hollow his throat. He shifted anxiously, watching his drenched clothing drip and form a puddle on the pristine marble floor. “I’ll go fetch Master Ben for you.”
Hux nodded as Cithri hurried off. His throat was tight and constricted, preventing any proper words to escape his lips. The air was cool inside the house and Hux’s wet clothing began to stick, clinging to his damp skin and sending shivers through his body.
“Hux!” Ben rushed into the entrance hall, followed by a frenzied looking Cithri. “I wasn’t expecting you, is everything alright?”
“I’m sorry to have come here unannounced.” Hux’s voice was hoarse and small, on the verge of breaking. Cithri stepped forward, his arms overflowing with towels. He began to frantically pat Hux dry.
Ben reached out, grabbed the towels from Cithri’s hands and dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Cithri bowed, muttering to himself as he disappeared down the hall. Ben stepped closer and began to carefully dry Hux’s face and hair. “You’re shaking.” Ben’s eyes flashed with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” Hux continued. He swallowed past the lump forming in his throat. “Is your mother home?”
“No.” Ben shook his head and gently placed the towel around Hux’s shoulders. “She’s out at a dinner party this evening and Rey is at the theatre with Finn.” Ben’s hands cupped Hux’s face. His thumb traced the edge of Hux’s cheekbone. “Do you want to come upstairs and dry off? I can have Artee bring us some tea if you’d like.”
“Okay,” Hux agreed. He allowed Ben to grab his hand and lead him towards the winding staircase. They paused outside Ben’s room for a brief moment before Ben pulled him inside. The storm raged on outside and rain battered the tall windows which led to Ben’s balcony. His room was surprisingly cozy; a modest fireplace lined one wall with his bed pushed against the opposite side. He had a small desk in the corner and an overstuffed chair placed close to the large windows. “So, this is your bedroom?”
“Thrilling isn’t it?” Ben grinned.
Hux smiled softly in return. “I like it, it’s very comfortable.”
Ben walked over to the fireplace and picked up the fire iron, poking at at the flaming logs. The blazing wood shifted and a burst of fresh light and heat spread into the room. He placed the iron down and turned to face Hux, concern writ clear across his face. “You should remove your wet clothing. I don’t want you to catch a cold.”
“Are you sure you’re not just trying to get me undressed?” Hux asked wryly, amusement filling in his eyes.
“I wouldn’t need an excuse for that,” Ben cockily replied, earning a faint laugh. Hux raised a playful eyebrow but relented and removed his damp tailcoat. carefully placing it on the floor. Ben’s expression grew serious and he stepped forward. “Will you tell me what happened?”
“I feel so foolish,” Hux admitted, shaking his head. He kept his eyes trained to the floor. “I didn’t mean to burst in so dramatically.”
Hux started when Ben’s hands reached out and clasped his own. He looked up to find Ben close, his dark eyes swirling with emotion. “You’re always welcome here.”
“Thank you,” Hux replied quietly. He cleared his throat and slowly pulled his hands away. “I got into a bit of a disagreement with my father.” Hux took a shaky breath and continued. “He’s found a bride for me and I’m to be married in just a few weeks.”
Ben reached out again. “Hux—”
“I don’t know what to do!” Hux swiftly backed away. He could feel the overwhelming panic return to claw at his chest. “He left little room for argument, I just—I can’t...tell me what to do!”
Hux continued to move away until his back hit the wall. He slid down, crumbling to the floor with his head in his hands. He could feel Ben follow him, slowly and cautiously, as if Hux were a skittish animal.
“It’ll be okay,” Ben reassured. He crouched down to join Hux on the floor. Hux lifted his head. Ben was a blur behind the film of unshed tears collecting in Hux’s eyes. “We’ll figure this out.” Ben reached out and cradled Hux’s jaw. “Together.”
“I wish I could believe it were that simple,” Hux mumbled. He blinked rapidly, embarrassed as a few tears escaped from the corners of his eye. Ben merely wiped them away with a swipe of his thumb. “I wish I could always be with you,” he added softly.
Ben leaned in and rested his forehead against Hux’s. “I’m here right now. I’m not going anywhere.”
Hux met Ben’s lips in more of a gentle caress than a kiss. It felt as if they were sealing a promise, as if the simple touch was cementing something sacred and unbreakable. The kiss, however, soon turned more heated. Ben’s tongue sought entrance and Hux readily complied, opening his mouth to Ben’s heated embrace.
He allowed himself to be lifted up and wrapped firmly in Ben’s strong arms. His frayed nerves began to settle, replaced with the buzzing anticipation that always followed Ben’s touches. Ben made quick work of Hux’s rain-soaked clothes, dropping them in pieces along the floor as he moved Hux around the room. Hux felt starved for Ben’s lips and he continued to capture them in kiss after hungry kiss. He was so caught in the moment he hardly realized that Ben had removed his own clothing as well.
Lightning struck outside, bright and electric, filling the whole room with its unearthly glow. Hux’s arousal flared at the sight of Ben, completely nude and lit by the vibrant flash of light. The room darkened again; the only source of light was from the flickering flames of the fireplace. It cast shadows over Ben’s handsome face which suddenly looked a bit unsure.
Thunder clapped loudly, vibrating through the entire house. It’s brash sound filled Hux’s ears, matching the wild beat of his heart. The constant fear, however, suddenly felt like a distant memory. Instead, Hux felt brazen and bold.
“I want to be with you.” Hux stepped forward and placed his hand over Ben’s naked chest. “In every way.”
Ben swallowed nervously. “Are you sure?” His hand trembled as he placed it over Hux’s. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You couldn’t,” Hux insisted. He closed the distance between them and pressed their bodies together. “I trust you.”
“Hux,” Ben groaned, surging forward to meet Hux’s embrace. His hands glided across Hux’s back to rise and tangle in his hair. “Hux, Hux,” he continued to chant. His praises and cries were soon lost to Hux’s mouth as their lips met again.
Hux felt heady with desire. Ben’s cock had filled and was pressed against his bare thigh. They had fooled around a bit but they had yet to be as close as this and the sensation was overwhelming. The feel of so much exposed, smooth skin was driving Hux wild. His hands roamed over Ben’s body, his nails scraped along heated flesh.
Ben led him to the bed, carefully placing him on his back. He spread Hux’s legs and situated himself in between. Hux attempted to control the trembling of his limbs but to no avail. “Are you sure?” Ben asked, pausing in his movements.
“Yes,” Hux nodded, urging him on. “Yes, please.”
Ben conceded, placing soothing kisses along his chest and down his stomach. He paused at Hux’s cock, which was hard and twitching with need. He flicked his tongue along the shaft but moved on, much to Hux’s chagrin.
“I need to get you ready,” Ben’s voice wavered. His own hands shook as they reached towards his bedside table to grab at a small jar. He dipped his hands inside and Hux watched with equal parts fear and excitement as his fingers glistened in the firelight. “You have to promise me you’ll tell me if it starts to hurt too much, if you need me to stop.”
“I promise,” Hux breathed, though he couldn’t imagine ever wanting this to end. He wanted every single part of Ben, pain and pleasure included.
Ben’s fingers trailed down Hux’s stiff cock to rest against his hole. Hux involuntarily jumped, his nerves and natural reactions taking over. Ben pressed more comforting kisses along his thigh, however, and Hux slowly began to relax. Ben’s fingers rubbed against his hole, carefully tracing the rim. The sensation was different but most welcome and Hux’s body began to loosen. When the first finger slipped inside Hux began to tighten and clench again but Ben paused and murmured reassuring words against his skin. Eventually Hux’s body opened to the feeling, adjusting until Ben’s second finger joined the first.
The stretch was hot and intense but after the initial flare of pain the burn became pleasant. Before he knew it Hux was rocking back onto Ben’s slick fingers. His body craved more.
“I’m ready” Hux insisted, spreading his legs further. “I need you—I want you to…”
“Do you want me inside you?” Ben asked, his voice low and husky. Hux shivered at his tone and merely nodded, unable to answer. Ben slathered himself further with the contents of the jar, slicking himself before lining up against Hux. The first press in was excruciating and Hux wildly grabbed at the sheets with tight fists. “Are you okay? Should I stop?” Ben sounded breathless, as if he were holding back to the point of breaking.
“No, don’t stop.” Hux breathed deeply and forced his body to relax. The pain once again faded, replaced with that pleasant throbbing. “Keep going.”
Ben groaned as he continued to push forward, sinking into Hux at an excruciatingly slow place. Hux’s head swam, his body pushed to the edge. The constant shift of slight pain and extreme pleasure was intoxicating. Soon he felt himself meeting every one of Ben’s thrusts. He arched his hips, clawed at his back, panted into the darkness of the room.
Occasionally lightening would strike outside, illuminating Ben in shades of silver. He looked celestial; his strong jaw clenched, his dark hair falling across his face, his plump lips parted and gasping, his broad shoulders and muscles flexing with each movement. Hux titled his head back and surrendered to the man above him.
The pleasure increased, rising to unbelievable heights. Hux felt much like the storm raging outside—wild, reckless and invincible. Ben’s hand slipped between them, still slick from before. He gripped Hux’s leaking cock and pulled in time with his frantic thrusts. Hux’s cry was louder than the booming thunder. His entire body spasmed as his release rushed from him, spilling hotly between their still moving bodies. Ben froze, groaning with wild abandon. He thrust in once, twice more and then stilled completely. Hux could feel the wide stretch and incessant throbbing deep inside. He winced when Ben slowly pulled out of him, his swollen rim sore and aching.
Ben climbed off the bed but before Hux could mourn his absence, he returned with one of the discarded towels. He carefully wiped Hux and himself clean before settling back onto the soft mattress.
Ben pressed a gentle kiss against Hux’s mouth and pulled him close. Hux’s lids became heavy and his eyes drifted closed. He tried to keep a level head, remind himself of the events of the evening and his pending responsibilities, but he found himself unable to in the warm circle of Ben’s arms.
The rain continued to beat against the windows and the sound, along with Ben’s steady breathing, lulled Hux into a comforting, peaceful sleep.
Sunlight streamed through the windows; faint gold and amber rays crept over the horizon. The early morning light kissed Hux’s hair making it glow like the dying embers in the fireplace. Ben smoothed his thumb across Hux’s delicate cheekbone. His skin was warm and soft beneath Ben’s fingers. Hux’s lashes began to flutter and he slowly opened his eyes. His brows furrowed in confusion before his pupils swelled in realization. A faint blush spread across his face and he burrowed his head against Ben’s shoulder.
“Morning,” he mumbled into Ben’s skin.
Ben pressed a kiss onto the crown of Hux’s head. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes.” Ben could hear the smile in his answer. “And you?”
“Mmm,” Ben hummed, pulling Hux away to peer into his eyes. “Better than I have in ages.” He leaned forward to capture Hux’s lips in a sleepy kiss. “How do you feel?”
“Sore,” Hux chuckled softly, blushing once more. Ben didn’t think he’d ever tire of causing that lovely flush to grace Hux’s cheeks. “But I feel good, amazing really.”
“Then I’m glad.” Ben turned onto his side to face Hux. He looked angelic with the morning sun rising behind him. His entire body was illuminated and outlined in gold, his fiery hair looking much like a crown. Ben’s heart thudded painfully against his chest. He felt it swell to the point of bursting. Affection and adoration filled his veins, pumping eagerly through his body. “Hux?”
Hux blinked slowly and offered a drowsy smile. “Yes?”
“I—” Ben swallowed nervously, the words stuck in his throat. He couldn’t deny his feelings anymore. His rising emotions would not be quieted. There was no point in lying to himself and lying to Hux through omission. “I’m ridiculously in love with you.”
Hux’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. Ben’s pulse stuttered and his stomach twisted in the heavy silence that followed. He was soon flooded with relief when, instead of jumping out of the bed and running away, Hux reached out to grab Ben’s hand. Hux lifted it to his lips and pressed soft kisses onto Ben’s fingers. “And you,” he whispered into Ben’s hand. “I love you, so much it hurts sometimes.”
Hux’s gaze remained lowered and his face pinched as if this confession cost him nearly everything. Perhaps it did, but he wasn’t alone. Ben himself felt light and giddy, like he was floating above himself and looking down. It was unlike anything he’d experienced before, this careful and delicate thing that grew between them. Ben found himself holding his breath, afraid that even a weighty exhale would blow away the moment.
Hux’s gaze finally lifted and Ben saw his own fear and joy reflected back in Hux’s pale eyes. They moved together, their mouths meeting in the middle. The tender kiss that followed filled in the silence, expressing all the other thoughts and feelings that Ben couldn’t find the words for. Hux was so supple in his arms, his mouth open and pliant. Ben ran his hands along his back, through his hair, tracing patterns all along his heated skin. Arousal begin to pool in his stomach and he reluctantly pulled away. Hux’s eyes were full of heat, his pupils thick with desire. Ben’s cock twitched in interest.
Ben cleared this throat, fighting to push away the urge to climb on top of Hux and demolish him. “So, what now?”
“Well,” Hux murmured, his voice low and husky. “I’m still rather sore but we could always—”
“No,” Ben cut him off with a soft laugh. “I didn’t mean that, but I’m glad to know where your mind is at.” Hux’s cheeks burned that brilliant shade of red. “I mean what will you tell your father?”
“My father?” Hux sat up, suddenly looking very awake. “What do you mean?”
Ben reached out to grasp Hux’s hand again. “I want this, us, to be real. I want everyone to know the truth.”
“This is real,” Hux snapped, pulling his hand away. “Why does my father need the details?”
“How can you ask that?” Ben bristled, sitting up himself. “Your father is busy arranging a wedding for you. Of course he has to know the truth about us. I won’t be your secret lover while you marry some ignorant high-society woman.”
Hux rose out of the bed, his face now flushed with anger. He snatched articles of his clothing off the floor. “I never asked you to do that but what you’re saying is impossible. My father will never accept this.” Hux gestured wildly between them.
“Who cares if he does?” Frustration welled in Ben’s chest. “Are you really so afraid of one man’s opinion?”
Hux angrily re-dressed, his eyes narrowed and burning with indignation. “It’s not just one man, it’s my father. I know you delight in scandalizing society but this is different. I can’t just go against him.”
“Why not?” Ben crossed his arms, a stubborn expression crossing his face.
Hux threw his arms into the air. “You’re being unreasonable.” He paced, now fully dressed, across the room. “You clearly don’t understand.”
“I think I understand perfectly.” Ben’s heart hardened and furious hurt took over. “You’re just a coward, aren’t you?”
Hux’s eyes went cold. “How dare you?” He spat. “A coward? Fine, I’d rather be a coward than an immature, selfish man who only cares about himself and his own desires.”
Hux’s word cut into Ben like daggers, piercing their way through Ben’s thick skin. Hux turned sharply away and rushed towards the door. Ben opened his mouth to reply; to angrily retort, to call Hux back, to plead with him to stay. No words formed and instead he gaped uselessly as Hux stormed out of the room, out of the house, and out of his life.
“You wouldn’t believe the sort of dowry my late husband’s family asked for,” Lady Malreaux huffed. She leaned closer and smirked devilishly. “Of course now that the poor fellow has passed on I’ve inherited his entire estate. I suppose it all worked out in the end.”
“What a happy ending,” Rey replied flatly. She nodded in farewell and grabbed Ben by the arm to pull him away. Ben allowed himself to be dragged off. “Goodness,” Rey muttered quietly once they were safely across the room. “I can’t believe she goes around bragging about something like that.”
Ben shrugged. “Welcome to our society.”
Rey frowned in concern. “What’s the matter? You’ve been in a properly dejected funk for the past few days. This party can’t be that tedious just yet, can it?”
“It’s nothing,” Ben mumbled, sighing into his glass. He took a sip but even the expensive wine tasted like ashes in his mouth.
Rey crossed her arms and stared at Ben. “Don’t lie to me.”
Ben scowled in reply and remained silent. His body, however, betrayed him as his gaze caught a flash of red from across the room. Hux was standing stiffly next to his father as Brendol chatted up some influential baron. Even from this distance Ben could see the dark circles under Hux’s eyes; their usual vibrant shine was all but gone. Ben longed to go over and press kisses on the smudges of purple which stained his pale skin.
Ben polished off the rest of his wine. “I need another drink.”
He stormed off to a nearby table with Rey hot on his heels. “Don’t you think you’d feel better if you just talked about it?”
Ben poured himself a generous glass of wine; drops of crimson splashed over the side to drip onto his tightly gripped fingers. “I highly doubt that.”
His gaze, once more, was drawn across the room. Brendol had abandoned his son and Hux stood alone. Ben’s chest expanded with a dull ache and his desire to go to Hux surged to a crescendo. The light, cheerful music filling the room was a sharp contrast to the dark, clawing emotions consuming him. Perhaps he could go to Hux, pull him aside and try to explain his position? Surely Hux would have cooled down from the other day and be more understanding. Hux’s gaze lifted and locked with Ben’s. They flashed with hurt and desire before turning hard and cold. Hux narrowed his eyes and looked away.
Perhaps not, Ben sadly mused to himself.
Rey followed Ben’s gaze before he looked away. She grabbed his arm and her expression softened. “Oh, I should have known.”
Ben angrily snatched his arm away. “What do you know?” He turned away and stalked towards the side doors and out to the garden.
Ben moved quickly towards the flowering trees, hoping to escape into the cool air of night and away from the stifling tension in the ballroom. Rey, however, would not let him go.
“Ben Solo,” she huffed as she caught up to him. “Stop running off.”
“I’m not the one who’s always running away,” Ben muttered bitterly. Rey raised a questioning brow and Ben sighed in defeat. “I love him,” he admitted.
Rey snorted in response. “Well I could have told you that. So you finally confessed to him? Lady Phasma and I bet on how long it would take.”
“Well, I’m glad my love life is so amusing to you two,” Ben huffed.
“Oh, please.” Rey waved her hand. “As if you’ve never indulged in speculation before.”
“That’s hardly the point,” Ben protested. He walked towards an elm tree and began to anxiously pick at the bark.
Rey followed, placing a soothing hand on his shoulder. “So? What happened? Did he not reply?”
“No, he did.” Ben sighed and leaned against the tree. He looked up, watching the stars glitter and shine from between the branches. It wasn’t that long ago he was sharing soft, secretive kisses with Hux under the evening sky. “He feels the same—”
“Well, that’s great!” Rey exclaimed. “We knew he did, of course.”
“You don’t understand.” Ben’s heart twisted at the memory. “It’s over now. He’ll never come clean to his father or be seen with me in public. Clearly appearances are more important than true feelings.”
“I’m sure it’ll just take time,” Rey said gently.
“I highly doubt it.” Ben pushed off the tree and began to pace. “He’s utterly controlled by his father and the expectations of society. He’s so concerned with his image he can hardly even admit his true feelings to himself. And he has the audacity to call me selfish—he’s the one who’s only thinking of himself.”
“Ben,” Rey chided, “I’m sure that’s not true. This is all new to him, you just need to be patient.”
“I can’t believe you’re taking his side.” Ben scowled petulantly.
Rey sighed and rolled her eyes. “Now you’re acting like a child.”
“I am not!” Ben frowned and lowered his voice. “I adore him, heart and soul, but I can’t and won’t be someone’s dirty little secret.”
“Is he asking you to be one?”
“Yes, no...I don’t know!” Ben threw his hands in the air in frustration. “You’re not listening to me,” he groaned bitterly.
“I’m listening,” Rey explained. “Trust me, I am. But are you? Do you hear yourself? Don’t you think that, perhaps, you’re being a bit unfair and harsh?”
Ben crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. “What do you know about any of this?” The hurt, anger and confusion from the past few days swirled about in his stomach. The lack of sleep was certainly no help either. Frustration rose in his throat. “A few stolen kisses with some obscure gentleman and suddenly you’re an expert on love?”
“Ben!” Rey face darkened, her eyes filling with hurt. They soon turned cold and her voice dropped, fierce and full of fury. “You know, Hux is right. You can be undeniably selfish, even when we were children everything was about you. You’re so caught up in your own self-inflicted drama you’re blinded to what’s real and what’s the fantasy you create for yourself.” An angry flush spread rapidly across Rey’s face as her voice became colder and more clipped. “If you keep pushing away those who care about you, you’re going to wind up all alone.”
She spun around and stomped out of the garden—even the clacking of her shoes against the stone ground sounded angry. The noise echoed in Ben’s ear, each click feeling like a punch to his gut. He watched her, helpless and at a loss for words, as she disappeared back into the ballroom.
Her words rung through his head and his frustration at her outburst quickly faded into melancholy. Did Rey have a point? Did he truly push away all those who tried to get close to him?
He looked back up at the sky, wishing the daunting night had the answers he so desperately sought. The stars merely flickered in reply; the universe seemed content to keep its secrets.
The final chapter is here at last! Thank to everyone who has come along for the journey. All your comments, kudos and support has truly encouraged me along the way. I hope you all enjoy this final installment. <3
Lyrics at the end are from Smashing Pumpkin's song, Stand Inside your Love (hey! that's the title of the story ;] )
Hux’s room warmed, steadily becoming hot and stuffy. Twilight’s temperate air was quickly chased away by the rising sun, its golden rays relentless as they streamed through the tightly shut windows. Still, Hux remained on his bed.
He watched idly as the light hit motes of dust, observing their delicate dance as they floated through the air. It was mesmerizing, in a way, but did little to distract Hux from the turbulent thoughts which pounded mercilessly in his head.
Ben had looked so distraught the other night—his pain was clearly writ across his face. Several times Hux nearly caved in and went to him, if only to soothe his troubled expression and chase the misery from his eyes. Hux knew the feeling; he, himself, was drowning in a sea of frustration and longing.
Sleep had alluded Hux that night, and all the nights that had followed. In fact, he had remained in bed for the entirety of the day yesterday and was tempted to do the same today. Perhaps he could feign a headache again. Hux sighed and pushed himself off the bed. He knew better than that. His father was already suspicious and it wouldn’t do to fan the flames of his doubt.
Still, Hux wasn’t sure how he could face his father, or anyone for that matter, and not betray the burning thoughts and emotions which threatened to consume him whole. The years spent suppressing his feelings came back to haunt him now. The spark had been ignited, likely from the first time his gaze fell upon Ben, and now the fire would not be quelled.
Hux walked over to his window and peered up into the mid-morning sky. A few wispy clouds stained the otherwise pure, pale blue sky. They were no match for the fierce, rising sun which brightly burned and spread its light along the earth. Hux squinted at the powerful, golden glow before admitting defeat and moving away from the window.
Perhaps Ben had been right—maybe Hux was indeed a coward. The words were harsh, especially falling from his lover’s mouth, but there might have been truth to them after all. How long had he lived under the control of his father, utterly weighed down from the fear of disappointing him? How many years had he spent carefully navigating the treacherous ocean of society, cautiously aware of every slight action he made?
Hux’s heart ached and his stomach twisted with the injustice of it all. He finally found someone who brought him true joy, who made him smile and laugh, who made him burn with desire with just a mere glance and yet Hux had pushed him away.
The pain and confusion swiftly transformed into anger and indignation. He had always done exactly as his father has asked but it was never good enough. His building fury rose into an inferno as he marched out of his bedroom and down to the main floor. The edges of his vision blurred, his heart pounded fiercely against his chest as adrenaline flooded his veins.
The door to his father’s study was slightly ajar. Hux took a deep inhale to steady his nerves and pushed his way inside.
Brendol looked up briefly before returning his attention to the multitude of papers strewn across his desk. “Ah, you’re finally out of bed.”
“Yes.” Hux nervously cleared his throat. Fear and misgivings began to fill his lungs but he resolutely cast them aside. He refused to falter. “I need to speak with you, father.”
“You won’t believe the cost for your upcoming wedding,” Brendol muttered beneath his breath. “I may just ask for an increased dowry—or have her father pay for these expenses.”
Hux gathered his courage and stepped forward. “About that...I can’t marry her.” Brendol’s quill paused in his hand but he didn’t look up. Hux forged ahead. “I’m sorry, I understand she represents an opportunity to elevate our family’s standing but—well, I’ve fallen in love.”
Brendol finally looked up at that. His eyes were cold and sharp like flints of steel. “Fallen in love?”
“Yes.” Hux straightened his shoulders even as his voice shook. “With Ben Solo.” Brendol’s eyes narrowed and his weighty silence continued. The air was heavy with tension. Hux swallowed nervously and pressed on. “I’ve always been interested…” His voice faded and he tried again. “That is, you must have known—”
“Of course I know,” Brendol roared, his cold eyes now blazing with fiery rage. “I’m no fool, I know everything. You think that matters? Your personal preference is irrelevant to all of this.”
“How can that be?” Hux pleaded desperately. “Please father, I can’t submit myself to misery for all my life.”
Brendol stood, his stern face relentless in its anger. “You can and you will. Do you think I wanted to marry your mother? She was a means to an end.” Hux opened his mouth in dismay but Brendol merely waved his hand in disregard. “Oh I know—you’re a romantic, weak. You think we should all marry for love and have happy endings. Well, that’s not how the world works. I did my best to toughen you up but my years of hard work have clearly proved useless.”
“Father,” Hux begged. His body trembled and his heart sank with every furious word that spilled from Brendol’s mouth.
“No!” Brendol stalked over to Hux and grabbed his shoulders. His fingers dug into the tender flesh of Hux’s arm. “I refuse to hear anymore of this nonsense. You will push your desires aside and do as I say.” Brendol released Hux and took a step back. He straightened his tailcoat, breathed deeply and lowered his voice. Despite all that, his tone remained harsh and menacing. “Listen closely. You will do as I say and offer no complaints.” Hux timidly nodded his head. Brendol patted his cheek in approval, as if Hux were a prized dog. “Now, go calm yourself and get dressed. We’re attending Duke Drayen’s grand ball tonight and we shall announce your engagement there.”
Hux staggered out of the room, stomach churning and heart twisted beyond repair.
Duke Drayen’s estate was overflowing with high society, all adorned in their very best attire. The ball marked the end of the season and everyone always went all out to impress. Ladies wore great plumes in their hair, their necks glittering with their ancestor’s jewels. The men strutted about in rich velvets with gilded buttons, lest they not shine as brightly as the women.
The ballroom was the most luminous of them all, though. Its tall ceilings boasted meticulously crafted ornate moldings while the floors shimmered with pearly marble. Rare and exclusive art hung on the walls. Many a guest stopped to admire the paintings, eagerly sipping champagne from delicate, crystal flutes.
Hux had no care for the opulent show of wealth and prestige. He moved through the crowds, desperately searching for Ben. His head pounded with his father’s disapproval but his heart ached with longing. The contrast of the two left him dizzy and he hardly even noticed when he walked right into Phasma.
“Hux!” She exclaimed, startled. “Are you alright? You look awfully pale.”
“I’m—” His voice trembled and he shook his head. “No, not really, but I have to find Ben.”
Her eyes flashed with concern but she nodded in assent. “Alright, we’ll find him together. Take my arm.” Hux gratefully linked arms and allowed her to navigate him through the crowd of teeming guests. “What’s happened?” She asked softly.
“My father,” Hux muttered bitterly. “What else could it ever be.”
“Hux,” Phasma began.
“Look at me,” Hux laughed ruefully. “I’m a mess. He always does this to me, transforms me back into a quivering boy.”
Phamsa stopped, pulling him aside with a firm hand. “Listen,” she said steadily. “You are so much more than your father. He only has power over you if you allow it. You’re stronger than you know.”
Hux could feel his eyes prickling with gratitude but he quickly blinked the tears away. Instead he leaned in and quickly hugged his friend. “Thank you,” he whispered into her hair. Courage began to fill his veins and his unsteady heart started to quiet. “I need to find Ben,” he repeated again, his voice much calmer this time.
Phasma looked over his shoulder and her lips curved into a small smile. “I know just who to ask.”
Hux turned around to find Rey rushing towards them. “Rey, where is—”
“The garden,” she breathlessly cut him off. Her eyes glittered with excitement and her cheeks were flushed a happy pink. “He’s waiting for you.”
Hux nodded solemnly and raced towards the side doors, leaving a giddy Rey and intrigued Phasma in his wake.
A gust of cool, evening air wrapped around Hux as he stepped outside. The garden seemed empty and utterly quiet save the gentle babbling of a nearby fountain.
“Hux.” Ben’s soft voice floated towards Hux. He quickly turned to see Ben stepping out from the dark shadows of an elm tree. He carefully stepped closer, pausing a few feet from Hux. “I hope this is private enough, we can move further into the garden if you prefer.”
“It’s fine,” Hux replied. “Ben, I—”
“I’m sorry for how I acted before,” Ben interjected. His dark eyes swam with sorrow and longing. “I said a lot of harsh things I regret. I know I’m not always the most considerate person but I want to change.” He quietly laughed to himself. “It took a bit of groveling to get Rey to forgive me, but she had some great suggestions on how to better express myself and my desires to others.”
“Listen,” Ben continued. “I have a new plan, much better than the previous one. I spent all night thinking it up—it’s perfect. I found a way we can still be together, in secret, without your father or anyone else figuring it out.”
Hux shook his head. “I don’t care.”
“You don’t?” Ben’s face crumpled in hurt and disappointment.
“No.” Hux stepped forward and smiled. Ben’s eyes flickered with confusion and apprehension. Hux held out his hand. “Would you like to dance?”
Ben, still wary, nodded his head. “Yes, of course.”
He placed his hand in Hux’s but, instead of leading him into a dance, Hux firmly gripped Ben and dragged him back inside. “Not out there.” Ben’s eyes widened but his lips spread into a smile. A new song began and music filled the ballroom. Couples met on the floor, bowing to one another before their hands met and linked. Hux’s hands became damp, his heart thudding with anxiety, but he pressed on. “Shall we?”
Ben’s grin widened further. “I’ll lead.”
The music swelled around them, filling his head with its intricate melody. Hux leaned into Ben’s arms, allowing the other man to keep him steady. He felt comforted in Ben’s embrace, safe and protected. Affection and adoration shone in Ben’s eyes. His gaze remained firmly fixed on Hux’s flushed and happy face.
The music continued but the sonorous notes did little to hide the wild whispers and growing murmurs of those around them. The guests were a blur as Ben spun him around; their shocked and dismayed voices, however, were crisp and clear.
From the corner of his eye Hux could spot Phasma, grinning happily with an equally excited Rey beside her. She winked playfully when Hux briefly met her gaze.
Ben leaned close and whispered in his ear, “Everyone is talking about us.”
“I don’t care,” Hux repeated his earlier words, earning a warm smile from Ben. “I love you and I refuse to hide my feelings any longer.”
“Darling,” Ben murmured into Hux’s hair. Hux flushed under the sweet affection. “Should we get married then?”
“What?” Hux’s cheeks burned even as heart fluttered hopefully beneath his chest. “We couldn’t...that is—we can’t get married.”
“Haven’t you realized by now?” Ben asked, his breath hot in Hux’s ear. “We can do anything, absolutely anything, we want.”
Ben’s words sunk into Hux’s heated skin, slipping into his bloodstream like the sparkling wine he drank earlier. He felt reckless and wild, spurred on by Ben’s quiet confidence. He pulled back to stare into Ben’s sincere eyes before leaning forward and capturing Ben’s lips in a kiss.
The music finally faded, a shocked silence filling the ballroom. It was quickly interrupted by Brendol’s angry voice.
“Armitage Hux!” Hux pulled away and turned to face his approaching, wild-eyed father. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Hux’s body trembled with fear but he stood tall, refusing to let go of Ben’s arms. “Dancing with the man I love, father.” Hux prided himself on the steadiness of his voice. “The man I intend to spend the rest of my life with no matter what you say.”
“How dare you disgrace me like this!” Brendol charged forward, his eyes blazing with fury and disgust. “You’re an utter embarrassment.”
Hux opened his mouth to reply, his arms clinging to Ben hold him back as the other man seemed ready to lunge towards his father. He never got that far. Brendol was swiftly stopped in his furious path as Lady Leia stepped in front of him.
“I think you’ll find, Lord Brendol,” Leia’s cold voice reverberated throughout the room, “that you’re the one creating an embarrassing scene.”
“Get out of my way,” Brendol spat, his face turning red.
Leia merely crossed her arms and stared him down. “Lord Finn, Lord Lando!” she called out sharply. “Please see this man out and don’t allow him to re-enter.” She turned to look across the room. “I’m sure Duke Drayen will agree.”
Duke Drayen, who had stood silent and shocked during it all, nodded his head. “Of course, Lady Leia.”
Brendol sputtered unintelligently but his cries were lost to the increasing volume of the gossiping guests as he was dragged away. Duke Drayen clapped his hands and the musicians played once more. The music mingled with the astonished murmurs of the crowd.
Hux turned to face Ben again, who wore a bemused expression across his face. “I suppose you’ve finally given society the shock you so desired.”
Ben laughed and pulled Hux close. “That was rather entertaining,” he admitted. He leaned forward and whispered against Hux’s lips, “But the only thing I truly desire is right in front of me.”
Hux smiled against Ben’s mouth, pressing a soft kiss to those lovingly plump lips. The music rose again, wrapping them in its melodic embrace. The rest of the room faded away until it was just the two of them, laughing and dancing and kissing as if nothing else mattered.
Truly, Hux thought to himself as his lips met Ben’s once more, what else could matter than this resilient and beautiful thing that had grown between them like wildflowers in a concrete garden?
Nothing, Hux answered in soft kisses and warm smiles, nothing at all.
~~*~~ ~~*~~ ~~*~~
You and me
Meant to be
And for the last time
You're everything that I want and asked for
You're all that I dream
Who wouldn't be the one you love
Who wouldn't stand inside your love