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Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo

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The urinal is so clean it reflects a wobbly version of Ben’s dick back at him as he pisses. He looks straight down to confirm it’s the reflection that’s wobbly, not his actual dick—and once he squints to counter the beer, he confirms it’s the same dick he’s always had. Not wobbly. So that’s fine.

The urinal autoflushes while he’s still pissing. He almost lurches away out of shock but stops himself in time. Just as well—this fucking bathroom has got one of those dudes standing at the entrance with the towel. He didn’t look thrilled when Ben showed up in the first place and the last fucking thing Ben needs is to get kicked out of a fundraiser for pissing on the floor. He can feel the guy staring at him, a tense spot right between his shoulderblades, and he’s pretty sure you’re not supposed to stare at people while they piss, but he’s too fucking drunk to tell the guy that in a way that isn’t gonna provoke a fight.

(It’d be a fight if he said something about it sober too, but at least if he were sober, he wouldn’t risk breaking his hand throwing bad punches.)

After he tucks himself back into his good jeans—the ones with accidental holes, rather than deliberate ones—he shambles over to the sink. There’s a rock stuck in the sole of one of his motorcycle boots, and it scrapes on the tiles, echoes off the walls. The soap is tangy and weird, and the water turns hot almost immediately, so he yanks his hands back, dries them on his pants instead of bothering with the hand dryer. Takes another look back at the windows at the other end of the bathroom—but even if they opened, which they fucking don’t, there’s no way dude at the door is gonna just stand there quietly while Ben has a smoke. Fuck. He needs a smoke more than he’d needed to piss, and he’d really needed to piss.

The show is somehow, inexplicably, still happening when he makes his way back out to the bar. The music is blaring away through a rented sound system—Offenbach, which means it’s a fucking cancan piece, because it’s a fundraiser, and because Offenbach, and because nobody has any fucking creativity, and fuuuuuuuuck. The speakers are about twice as good as what they actually need for a venue this size. Ben’s never been here before but he can’t see that the in-house system would be garbage enough to justify this kind of expense. They’re paying a dude to stand in the bathroom, for fuck’s sake—how bad can the sound system be? Why spend all this money renting bullshit you don’t need just so you can under-use an expensive sound system and spend half your night stumbling over mats thrown down over cables on the floor?

The kickline that’s happening on stage—Offenbach, fucking Offenbach—is lackluster at best. The dancers are wearing cheap skirts and frilly, full coverage underwear, tight smiles yanking their faces taut. If Ben weren’t so drunk, he’s pretty sure he could count teeth. Most of the dancers are kicking higher than their heads, but Ben’s fucking m—anybody can do that with enough practice. The routine is fucking boring, all stuff he can predict like he choreographed it himself.

His choreography would have been better.

He is way too fucking cranky to be at this thing tonight, and he definitely should have stayed home.

There’s a stifled squeal beside him, and he realizes he’s not the only one standing at the back. It’s just that the couple next to him are actually enjoying themselves instead of waiting for the piece to end. They’re enjoying the piece even though it’s bad, except now they’ve noticed that he’s looking at them, and he’s self-conscious about them seeing him. He reaches up, flicks his sunglasses from the top of head back down over his eyes. It’s not enough.

They’re still looking.

“Didcha know," he slurs to them, trying to move their attention away from his face. "The original … thing … with the cancan … crotchless underwear? So, you know, the high kicks—” He gestures, vaguely. “Genitals, errywhere." He pauses a moment, tries to shove his thoughts in order so that his next sentence makes sense. He’s too aware that nobody wants a six foot and change drunk dude slurring at them, but it feels like he’s committed to this conversation now, it feels like he can’t back out, it feels like he shouldn’t have come in the first place so that he wouldn’t be stuck here trying to pretend that this is a conversation he wants to have.

The audience erupts in applause for a completely unsynchronized bow, and Ben claps too because it’s polite, and because the dancers were trying, and that’s definitely something. It’s not their fault that they didn’t have a good choreographer. Lots of people don’t.

The couple next to Ben immediately turn and head for their seats like they can’t wait to get away from him, which is totally fair. Ben would get away from himself too if he could.

"Hey, buddy," Poe says affably at his elbow. He’s holding two more pints, and smells faintly like perfume instead of the cologne he had on earlier. "Making friends?"

Ben shrugs, but lets Poe bump into him congenially on his way back to their table instead of moving away.

He leans down to Poe as they work their way back through the crowd to their table. “This is, uh, not great?”

Poe doesn't respond other than to shrug. “You find the bathroom okay? I know the hallways are a bit of a maze.”

“Bathroom, yes. Windows that open, not so much.”

“Aw, shit,” Poe apologizes. “Sorry, buddy—I forgot to give you the heads-up on that. I forgot you hadn’t …”

Ben winces, tries to cover it by rolling his shoulders like he’s stretching them out, even though he hasn’t been doing goddamn shit to make them sore. He hasn’t kept track of what the Resistance has been doing while he’s been away, has no idea where they have and haven’t performed, what they’ve been doing. It explains why Poe’s so comfortable here, though. “You smell different.”

“Bartender likes me,” Poe says. “It’s alright, though, huh? Kinda floral?”

“It’s disgusting,” Ben says, and he regrets it the moment the words come out of his mouth, regrets it more when Poe doesn’t respond, just grins back at him and absorbs it the same way Poe absorbs all of Ben’s bullshit. Ben wants desperately to take it back, but he’s too fuzzy to figure out how so he just—he doesn’t. Focuses on getting to their table and sitting the fuck down.

Their table is crammed up against the wall, next to the emergency exit. It’s got a decent view of the stage, but Ben feels visible here, like there’s a spotlight shining right down on his face. Snap’s doing his best to hustle everything along, and Ben is infinitely grateful for it, but he wishes for the thousandth time that he’d just, like, stood in the back or something. He’s tall. He could see Pava’s piece from the back. He doesn’t need to be shoved up against the wall, feeling everybody’s eyes on his back.

Ben sits down heavily in his chair. There’s no room under the table for his legs, and he’s still shuffling his feet around trying to figure out where he’s supposed to put them when Poe glides into the seat next to him like it’s nothing. Poe fits anywhere, always looks graceful as fuck no matter what, but Ben can’t bring himself to envy it when he sees how everybody else watches Poe.

All Ben wants is to be invisible.

“Hey,” Poe says.

Ben turns to realize that Poe’s face is way too close to his and Poe, like usual, is fucking oblivious. The perfume Poe’s got on is sharper up close, the floral scent of it edged in a way Ben hadn’t noticed before, and there’s stray flecks of glitter in the laugh lines at the corners of Poe’s eyes. There’s alternately two of him and then one of him as Ben squints, trying to focus.

“Cheer up, buddy,” Poe continues, and he pats the pocket of his suit jacket, smiling conspiratorially. There’s a light smear of glitter on his jawline, and some on the collar of his gray shirt. “I brought some of the good stuff for after, it’ll be good, we can hang out. Talk about the show.”

"The show’s shit,” Ben blurts, tongue loose from the beer, and he flinches when Poe looks a little crestfallen. “But we can, if you want.” The concession is worth it, because Poe grins, slaps him on the shoulder.

And it might be alright, anyway. If the good stuff is the same shit Poe had last time, it got Ben so stoned he was seeing sounds and feeling colours, and it was an okay way to spend the afternoon.

“Oh, hey,” Poe says, and his hand is heavy on Ben’s arm, the perfume digging up Ben’s nose into his brain. "Hey, Snap’s out, they're starting up again."

“I really hope there’s no magic in this half,” Ben says, but he’s not feeling great about the odds.

Snap is starting in on his patter, making sure everybody gets back to their seats, reminding everyone that it’s a fundraiser for the sexual health centre, blah blah blah. Buy some beer, buy some raffle tickets, clap at all the performances, don’t take pictures or video. Ben has that usual stab of envy listening to Snap talk because Snap is just so goddamn good at bullshitting people, and Ben is all arms and legs and ears and his tongue catching on his teeth when he speaks. It’s way easier to just drink than it is to think about all the ways that everybody is better at being a human being than Ben is, so he takes a swig of his pint, waiting for the music to cue up.

Maybe it’ll be alright, maybe it’ll be like Poe said, maybe—

—and then the horns blare through the rented speakers. Whoever is up next is using The Stripper, and the only saving grace is that the speakers are blaring so loudly that nobody can hear Ben groan.

 

The Stripper is an omen, and the show doesn’t improve from there. The beer helps, but the venue runs out of it during the a cappella group, forcing Ben to switch over to rum. He remembers when his first glass shows up that he doesn’t like it, that it reminds him of his childhood—but something with a smell is better than something without one, so Ben braces himself and tosses it back. By the magic act—because of course there was a magic act—even Poe has given up and gotten his phone out, which means that Ben is the only one laughing when the magician dropped the balls, and had to scramble to get them picked up before they rolled off the stage. Even Snap looks frazzled trying to tie that one up.

The magic act is followed by a fan dance, which is so predictable that Ben sticks a twenty on the table at the start, promising Poe that he’ll be able to call the entire thing—and then spends the entire seven minutes with his eyes closed behind his sunglasses, whispering out the covers and the reveals, the bra removal and the panty removal, the tassel twirl and the flounce off at the end—and he doesn’t even need Poe to tell him that he’s right, because he knows he is. He lets Poe flip his sunglasses up on top of his forehead, lets him check that his eyes are closed—and then Ben opens his eyes, accepts his twenty back with Poe’s faintly glittery twenty dropped on top of it and shoves them into his pocket.

By the time they get to Pava’s finale, Ben is really, really looking forward to leaving.

Snap runs through his patter onstage, distracting the audience enough that nobody notices the table and chairs getting moved onstage by the volunteers—or, at least, nobody would be noticing if someone had bothered to tell the volunteers to pick the furniture up, not just scrape it across the floor. Ben can feel the scrape across the stage in his molars, and he drops his jaw, tries to crack it to get the feeling to stop.

By the time everything is settled, the crowd is a little restless, so Snap cuts his usual patter short. “Coming to you fresh out of the Resistance burlesque troupe, she’s making sure you’ve got a bad feeling about this. Checking out all the possibilities and permutations, it’s Beta Testor!”

Poe whoops at the stage, clapping loudly. Ben finishes the last of the rum, gestures at the waitress for another, and then joins in the clapping.

The piece is engaging right from the beginning—Pava’s wearing a lab coat, hair sticking straight up, and a blowtorch in each hand. She waits until she’s at center stage to ignite them—but then dances next to the curtains with them once they’re lit. The audience does what they’re supposed to do, gasps at the right parts, but it doesn’t much matter—Ben’s watched them clap for everything so far and they don’t appreciate how hard the stuff she’s doing actually is. They don’t get that blowtorches are heavy and awkward even for somebody with hands as big as his. They don’t know that you can’t just toss chairs up on top of a table and magically have them make something stable enough to climb on even though that’s exactly what it looks like Pava is doing.

By the end of it, Pava’s balanced up on top of a stack of chairs for her final stocking peel, and there’s this moment where Ben forgets to squint and he watches in double-vision, two wobbly images of Pava as she tosses her stocking and swivels to face the audience, her merkin pouring out white smoke that coils around her bare legs.

Ben leans toward Poe. “Dry ice?”

“Nah,” Poe whispers back. “Portable fog, she’ll show you—did I not tell you about the frostbite?”

Ben shakes his head, even though it doesn’t matter. He was gone for years, he can’t expect …

All around him, there’s a roar of applause. Pava stays up on the chairs for a few more minutes, milking the applause, before lightly dropping down onto the stage and taking her bows.

“That’s my girl,” Poe yells from beside him.

Ben cringes, forces himself to keep clapping because Pava deserves this. She had a fantastic performance, easily the best performance in the show, and he’s going to tell her that after, he’s going to tell her—

“That’s all for tonight, folks!” Snap is saying from the stage. “It’s been great having everyone, and—hey, we like you too,” he says to the masked, white-suited figure that has just walked up onto the stage. “But we’re shutting it down here, so I’ll just escort you off this way…”

The white-suited figure leans their head in closer to Snap, passes them something—a piece of paper? An envelope? The mask is weird, some kind of custom-made full-face coverage deal, black detailing on it that Ben can’t make out, something that looks like ears on the top. It looks weirdly familiar to Ben, but his brain is fuzzy and he can’t quit connect the dots. He picks up his glass again, remembers it’s empty.

“What the fuck,” Poe says from beside him, and he half-stands up out of his chair, like there’s something he can do about it even though Snap’s got everything under control. “I don’t know what this is.”

“Sorry about that,” Snap says, and he definitely sounds rattled now. “It looks like there’s a last minute addition to the program—we’re delighted to—”

And at this, the white figure makes some sort of hand gesture, and Snap frowns, looks down at the piece of paper in his hand, and starts speaking again, this time apparently reading directly from whatever is there.

“The D’Qar Sexual Health Centre is honoured to present the headliner from Snoke’s Knights of Ren, the premiere fine arts performance experience, and the only—”

Ben’s heart stops, his blood roaring in his ears, his mouth dry. “Fuck,” he says, and the glass slips out of his fingers and shatters on the floor and he doesn’t move to pick it up, he doesn’t move at all because his legs have ceased to work, and he needs to turn his head to see if Snoke is here, to see where Snoke is, suddenly aware of the spot between his shoulders where people glare at him when his back’s turned. Snoke’s been here the whole time, Ben has been watched the whole time, and if he turns, those pale eyes are going to be fixated right on him and Ben doesn’t know if he’s gonna puke or pass out, and there’s all these people here, there’s so many people here and the room is so full and he’ll never get out, he won’t be able to—

“I gotta get out of here,” he says, and his tongue is thick in his mouth. “I gotta go, he’s here, I know he’s fucking here—” He lurches upwards, tries to leave, but the alcohol hits him all at once and he stumbles, slaps his hands down on the table and just about tips the fucking thing over and—

Poe is there, his hand tight on Ben’s forearm, his other arm slung across Ben’s shoulders, pressing him back down into his seat.

“Hey, buddy,” Poe says. “I gotcha. I gotcha.”

“Snoke—” Ben says.

“He’s not here,” Poe says. “He can’t be here. We would have noticed, Ben, we would have noticed.”

Poe can say the words all he wants, but even when he’s wasted, Ben can see the way Poe’s face has tightened, the change in the way he’s carrying himself. He’s looking for Snoke too, and if Poe’s looking for Snoke, that means anything is possible.

Ben’s breath is coming fast, heart hammering, and he imagines shoving Poe off and flipping the table over, hurling himself out the emergency exit and peeling out of the parking lot on his bike. Slamming into a tree. Dying. Snoke looming over him as he breathes his last breaths. Ben regrets that thought the minute that he thinks it, but it’s in there now, rattling around, his brain stuck on a loop of Ben repeatedly wrapping his bike around a tree while Snoke watches him die, again and again and again and again—

“I’m still running the tracking on BB,” Poe says, mouth right next to Ben’s ear, that shitty fucking perfume burning in Ben’s nostrils. “I’ve never stopped running that program on BB, see?” He lets go of Ben’s arm, keeps his other arm slung around Ben’s shoulder while he drags his cellphone out of his suit jacket, taps it a couple times, tips the screen toward Ben.

The little tracker dot is blinking quietly on the screen, green-is-for-go, the dot located at Citadel just like it should be. Nowhere near here. Nowhere close to Ben. It doesn’t help.

“C’mon, it’s okay,” Poe says. “Snoke doesn’t go anywhere without that car, and he’s not here. We would have seen. I’ve gotcha, buddy. There’s more drinks coming. We’re gonna get through this, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

“I’m not watching this,” Ben says. “I’m not—I can’t—”

“—proud to present the Knights’ headliner, the Master of the Knights of Ren—”

“Whiskey down,” Poe says, sticking a shot glass in Ben’s hand.

Ben downs it without thinking.

“Another.”

He downs the second one too.

“That’s right,” Poe says, voice low and close, the weight of his arm across Ben’s shoulders calming and heavy. “Close your eyes. Think about how fucking pissed Pava’s gonna be to have this asshole in here trying to steal her thunder. Do you figure she’s dumping glitter in his bag backstage?”

The whiskey burns his throat, mixes the beer, the rum, the anxiety in his stomach into something writhing and unsteady, and Ben tips his head up to the ceiling and gags. He’s moved his head too fast. His vision swims, greys out, and he groans and puts his head down on the table, puts his hands on the back of his head like there’s any chance of it blocking out the sound.

Poe’s fingers trace over his back, rubbing gentle circles between his shoulderblades. “That’s right,” he says. “Everything’s gonna be fine, we’re almost done and then we’re gonna get the fuck out of here. I still got that stuff in my pocket, we can get into that after. Everything’s fine, buddy.”

The applause settles down into silence, dead silence, punctuated by some sort of soft whomp noise that Ben doesn’t recognize, and then the music kicks in.

Ben doesn’t recognize it, can’t even tell who the composer is, and he should fucking know, but it’s like the answer just keeps sliding away from him because all he can think about is Snoke. It starts out with some fucking drum explosion that rattles around inside Ben’s skull, harsh and disjointed, the rhythm something that keeps breaking out from 4/4 into 5/4 and 7/4 and then back into some fucked up triple thing, and Ben is too fucking wasted to get his head around what the fuck is happening between his ears. There’s way too many drums, and the horns are just wailing and it doesn’t matter when things finally quiet down because the offbeats are where all the onbeats are supposed to be and he can’t relax into it, he can’t relax into anything because there’s no way Snoke didn’t mean this for Ben. Whatever this is, this is meant for Ben. Snoke did this to Ben deliberately, and—

The percussion snaps, bones breaking right in Ben’s ears.

Poe’s hand on his back slows, and then stops moving completely.

Every time Ben thinks he’s got the music figured out, the rhythm changes and he’s lost again. With his head down like this, it’s too fucking hot to function or breathe properly, but he doesn’t want to look up, can’t look up—

The audience is dead silent. Even Poe isn’t hollering like he normally does, hardly seems to be breathing at all.

“Fucking hell,” Poe says softly from beside him. “I can’t—you’ve gotta see this,” he says.

Ben groans. There’s a rattlesnake coming out of the nearest speaker and his teeth are on edge.

“No,” Poe says from beside him. “Ben, you’ve got to—fucking—oh shit,” and his hand spasms on Ben’s back, pressure suddenly there like Poe is almost pushing himself to standing but thinks better of it. “Shit, that was close.”’

Ben looks up. For a moment, Ben’s vision is all blue-purple haze, endless feet of fabric hung floor to ceiling, the fabric pooling on the floor like water. Ben squints, tries to bring the images together into something coherent, follows the fabric upwards until he finds the place where it gathers, the place where it wraps around …

Ben swallows, the whiskey sharp in the back of his throat. There’s a pale redhead wrapped up in the silks, tall and angled with a flat chest, hair slicked back against their head. No makeup, no body glitter, nothing except naked skin held in bondage fifteen feet off the floor. Their feet are extended—dancer feet, toes pointed. Calves tight and muscled, body held parallel to the floor with arms stretched out, spinning slowly in a circle to force everyone in the audience to look. The redhead’s skin is marble, is porcelain, is untouchable, their hands tight on the silks as they move their legs, somehow pike up and unwrap the silks to hook them on the other side, still spinning, and Ben feels sick just watching, his vision splitting into triplicate.

He knocks the side of his head with his fist like it’ll force him to focus. It doesn’t. It can’t.

The horn motif from the beginning comes back, and the redhead splits the silks, crosses them and does something with their legs, then flips upside down into a full split facing the audience, feet still perfectly pointed, legs tight, and Ben stares for what feels like a full minute before he finally finds his voice.

“Is ….”

“Stark fucking naked,” Poe says from beside him. “Yup.”

There’s matching fabric tied across the redhead’s eyes in a blindfold, but Ben can feel him fucking glaring anyways, can feel that spot in his shoulderblades tense up even though there’s no way the redhead even knows who he is, let alone knows that he’s here.

The music is crescendoing now, the arrhythmic beat getting worse and more intense, the horns coming in shriller, and the redhead pikes up, scales the silks back up to the top quicker than Ben can follow, something happening with his feet that causes the silks to swing around, and it’s too much movement. Ben can’t follow it, can’t follow it at all.

The redhead waits, blindfolded eyes staring out at nothing. The drums hit out of the middle of nowhere, startlingly loud, and just at the peak of it the redhead actually lets go, actually fucking falls from the top of the silks and it’s in sheer silence that Ben watches him drop, hurtling toward the stage and Ben is going to be sick, he is going to be sick watching this guy crack his skull open on the stage of a shitty fucking charity event.

The silks jolt and catch.

The redhead is upside down, so close to the ground that the chunk of hair that’s come ungelled from his head is actually touching the stage. The silks are wrapped around his ankles like bondage, and Ben can see everything—the arches of his feet, the muscles of his thighs, the points of his hips and his cock lying flat and soft and small against his stomach, his abs tight and his clavicles visible, the flush in his face where the blood’s rushing to his head, that fucking blindfold still perfectly wrapped around his eyes, his arms extended a la seconde and next to Ben, Poe is standing up and applauding, the entire fucking audience is standing up and applauding and all Ben sees is the redhead’s skull cracked open and his brains strewn across the stage like a dropped jello salad and Ben is—

—he’s going to be sick, the whiskey and the rum and the beer and Snoke and BB and that fucking floral perfume and Ben can’t even trust his eyes because everything is in and out and doubles and triples and there’s broken glass crunching under his boot when he shoves himself up, reeling, the chair tipping over as he lurches to his feet and he staggers forward, landing heavy against the emergency exit and shoving it open, stumbling over his own feet as he tries to at least get to the alley but he doesn’t get there before he’s throwing up, vomit splashing off his motorcycle boots and black dots dancing in front of his eyes.

Even over the sound of the alarm system going off, he can hear the standing ovation thundering from inside the venue.

 

Chapter Text

Ben wakes up, and everything is awful. His head is spinning, his mouth has been packed full of garbage, and he can feel every individual hair on his body. There's light jabbing through his eyelids right into his brain, and his dick is so hard it hurts. The sheets are pulled over his head. They’re purple. They’re not his.

His stomach roils, and Ben clamps his mouth shut to keep everything in. His guts are liquid, and stale vomit stings in the back of his throat. He takes a cautious breath through his nose.

Floral perfume. Floral perfume and strange sheets. A shower running nearby. Fuck fuck fuck.

Ben does not have a good track record for picking up girls in bars. Especially when he’s been drinking. He doesn’t remember the last time he picked up a girl. He doesn’t remember anything about last night.

Blackout.

This is bad.

He wonders if there's a chance he's still got his phone. There isn't, though. He doesn’t look. There’s no way that he’s still got his phone when he doesn’t even know where he is, can’t remember how he got here or who he got here with.

He cautiously reaches down. His body aches, skin dragging on the sheets like sandpaper. He’s pretty sure the flower perfume girl is still in the shower. He wants the option of faking that he’s still asleep, if it comes to that.

There’s no lube or residue on his stomach. He’s still wearing his underwear. Ben hesitates, then sweeps his fingers shallowly under the waistband of his briefs. His pubic hair is just hair—no lube residue, no crusted cum, no dried body fluids. Probably no sex. He brings his fingers up to his nose, hesitantly sniffs. It’s sweat and filth, stale booze seeping out of his pores. No recent showers. Almost definitely no sex, then, because nobody’s going to fuck him when he smells like this. Ben removes his hand from his underwear, avoids touching his hardon. Wants the fucking thing to just disappear in case he has to leave fast.

Ben tries to lift his head off the pillow, gives up. He won’t be leaving fast. If he’s lucky, he’ll be able to roll out of bed onto the floor before he pukes.

If he’s gonna puke on himself, he’d rather not have a boner while he does it.

The shower stops.

Fuck.

Ben freezes, waits. Keeps his eyes shut, keeps his head under the covers even though he’s suffocating under the sick-sweat smell of his own body and—

“Hey, buddy.”

—and relief washes over Ben in a tidal wave because it's Poe, it's just Poe, Ben’s underwear is on and he's in Poe's bed and he didn’t do anything stupid last night because Poe was there. Ben’s too fucking dehydrated and hungover for feelings, but his eyes sting anyways, and it’s suddenly easier to breathe even though he’s still got his stupid head jammed under the covers, even though he’s choking on his own stink.

"I dunno if you're up, but your clothes are in the wash, alright? I'm gonna make some food, just come out whenever."

There's silence for a moment, but Ben doesn't really feel like talking right now so he just stays bundled up in the blankets and waits. Sure enough, there’s the rustle of Poe getting dressed, the fwip of his belt as it pulls through his belt loops, and then the quiet creak of the door as Poe leaves, shutting it tight behind him.

Only then does Ben actually relax, wincing every time a new part of his body touches the bed. He hasn’t worn out of the limit of Poe’s patience this time. Not yet. It’s coming—eventually, Ben will need too much (again), and Poe won’t be able to give it (again), but today isn't that day (yet). That fact alone makes Ben feel better, even though this hangover has drained out every shred of his will to live, and Ben hasn’t had much of that lately to begin with. He extracts his head out from under the covers, tries to glare at the window that's beaming sunlight at him—but even just narrowing his eyes is too much, so he stops.

There's a glass of water on the bedside table and a couple pills. Ben starts to sit up, and his head spins and his stomach convulses, and he breathes slowly and swallows hard and stays very very still.

He's still drunk.

He’s not going to get out of bed.

He reaches out to touch the water glass, and it’s still cold and his skin twitches as soon as his fingers touch it, so he gives up. Fuck making an effort. He's gonna die right here, in Poe's tacky purple sheets with his gross-smelling pillows and his second-hand glitter.

Ben contemplates flipping the pillow to help with the perfume smell—kinda floral, right?—but that would require moving and moving will mean puking and fuck that noise. Fuck every noise. Fuck existing.

Ben puts the covers back over his head, rolls onto his stomach, and passes out again.

 

It's later when he wakes up, the sunlight lower and less aggressive. Ben is fucking dying, over-sensitive to everything.

His hardon is gone, but he’s got these weird half-images of drowning and bondage and marble statues stuck in his head, and he wonders if Poe was watching documentaries in bed or something after Ben passed out, if some weird ancient Rome shit got subconsciously implanted into his brain.

He gets out of bed slowly. Dry heaves a couple times but is able to keep it clamped down. Uses the tepid water to wash the stomach acid back down his throat where it belongs. The water makes his stomach cramp, because of course it does. He puts his hand on Poe’s wall to steady himself and breathes through his nose to get through it. His body aches. He wants to punch something to make himself feel better, but Poe's place is nice, so he just thumps his fist on his bare thigh like that's going to help things.

It doesn’t. He doesn't have any bruises because he’s been lying on his couch like trash for the last—week, two weeks, whatever—instead of working. His fist thwacks solid against the unmarred meat of his leg and his hangover twitches weakly and nothing changes. He doesn’t remember the last time he worked, thinks he’s been dormant for—ugh, for a while.

Nothing he does is gonna make him feel any better. He might as well get the fuck out of Poe's room, quit contaminating it with his presence.

Ben shuffles into Poe’s ensuite, contemplates the shower. Decides water hitting his body is going to make him scream. No shower, then.

He rests his forehead on the wall while he pisses and contemplates death.

He squeezes some of Poe’s toothpaste from the tube directly into his mouth. The texture is disgusting, and the thought of putting his finger in his mouth to squish it around is horrific. He spits the gob of toothpaste back out again and washes it down the sink.

The water is so loud it echoes.

Poe had said something about clothes, but Ben doesn’t see his when he stumbles back into the bedroom, and there’s no point to borrowing any of Poe’s. Ben steals a fuzzy blanket from the back of a chair. He wraps it around his shoulders and chest for warmth, leaving his legs exposed, and then slowly emerges out into Poe’s condo.

There’s other people here, excited voices coming from the living room. Ben considers turning around to go back into the bedroom, hiding until they leave, but his body keeps moving forward without him.

One of the people in the living room is Pava. “No, no, no, pause it—right fucking there, do you see that?”

“You’ve got your arm right in my line of sight, Pava,” Snap gripes. “I can’t see shit.”

Ben keeps walking toward the living room, leaning his shoulder up against the wall for stability. Fuck, his body hurts. Everything hurts. He’ll just see what they’re watching, grab some food from the kitchen, and head right back to Poe’s bed.

He wonders if he’s gonna have to ask Poe to come lie beside him and pet his hair or if Poe is just gonna know that’s what Ben wants without Ben having to ask for it. He's hoping it's the latter. Doesn't think he can ask anybody for anything right now, much less ask something of Poe.

“Just, like, zip it back,” Pava is saying. “No, keep going. I swear there’s a strap there, you just have to look at the right angle.”

“I am way too straight for this,” Snap mumbles.

“Damn right you are,” Poe says, and Ben can hear the laughter in his voice.

“We’re not talking about the Dameron exception,” Pava says. “We’re talking about how the fuck this dude didn’t just rip his dick off in the silks, so if you could please just zip it back so we could watch it again—”

Ben realizes, belatedly, he’s walked too far and is now actually in the living room. He’s still contemplating walking backwards into the bedroom and just pretending none of this ever happened when two things happen simultaneously.

The bad thing is that Poe notices him, and flashes him a quick grin. “Hey, buddy,” he says. “You’re up!”

The worse thing is that the tv is showing a pale redhead suspended in aerial silks, blindfolded. His face is severe, jaw tight, hair gelled back against his skull. The aerialist’s legs and arms are extended, pale and ghastly in the stage light. The blue-purple fabric is pulled up between his legs to cover one hip, but not the other. His exposed hipbone is jutting out, hard and unyielding.

The bottom drops out of Ben’s stomach. Incoherent images that he had dreamt suddenly make a lot of coherent sense. Drowning. Bondage. Marble statues. His dick twitches. Ben shrugs the blanket off his shoulders and wraps it around his waist. He can feel his joints grating as he moves. His skin aches.

“I’m dying,” he says in response to Poe. He gestures at the screen, wincing when he moves his hand too fast. “The fuck is this?”

“Riiiiiiiiiight,” Poe says, ruffling his own hair with his hand. It’s that thing he does when he feels awkward about something. “So, uh, remember when I was like ‘hey, you’ve gotta see this’?”

Ben shrugs. He doesn’t remember goddamn shit, but there’s no point in admitting it, and if he’s cagey about it, Poe will just fill in the blanks for him.

“I kinda forgot that I had that phrase coded into BB for voice recognition, or BB coded it itself, or it picked up on keywords, or whatever, so it, uh, started recording, and, uh, here we are. Illicit footage of the dude that crashed the fundraiser.”

Ben lowers himself into the nearest chair so that his legs will stop shaking. The chair is asymmetrical by design, the back uneven and the armrests different heights, and it feels like it’s here specifically to torment Ben and his hangover, is keeping him just unsteady enough that he feels he’ll fall out of it at any moment. The chair’s only saving grace is that it has another blanket draped over it. Ben pulls this over his shoulders.

“The one piece,” Snap says, still looking fucking cranky, “that I actually specifically said in my intro—which, in case you hadn’t noticed, was provided to me verbatim and which I could not deviate from—was not to be recorded, and Poe fucking Dameron just butt-records it with his jacked-up phone.”

“Did I, or did I not,” Poe says, “get you stoned as an apology?”

“You obviously need to get him stoned again, he’s grumpy as shit,” Pava says. “Hand over the remote, Dameron. I’m trying to watch this.”

Ben opens his mouth. Almost pukes when his tongue touches his teeth. Shuts his mouth.

Pava starts the video again, and Snap and Poe lean into the tv, staring at the redhead’s flat ass as he climbs up the silks. The percussion in the soundtrack is killing Ben’s head even though it’s cranked right down. Bones breaking and rattlesnakes. Ben grinds his teeth to try and clear his head out. It doesn’t help. His head is a fucking mess. Worse than usual.

“Right there,” Pava says, flailing out with the remote and victoriously pointing at the screen with her other hand. The redhead is frozen at a three-quarter profile, just starting to turn back to the audience, his muscles taut in the harsh stage light. “Do you see that? It’s a fucking strap, right on his hip. I told you he was wearing underwear.”

“It’s not a strap,” Snap says. “It’s a shadow. Dude has pointy hips. He’s naked, I’ve been telling you the entire time. Like, I wish that was not the case, because now I’m on fucking video running a show that breaks about eighteen different liquor laws, and I've been alternating staring at this guy's cock and his ass for over an hour and it’s very much not my thing, but he is definitely naked.”

“I gotta agree with Wexley on this,” Poe says. “I think he’s naked the whole time. I mean, there’s literally no place in this routine that he could have taken off underwear. It’s just not an option.”

“But look,” Pava says, and she starts fast-forwarding through. The blurred movement makes Ben’s head spin, and he shuts his eyes, tips his head up at the ceiling and tries to think about how it felt when the room wasn’t just constantly tilting all the time. He’s certain it was a hell of a lot better than this, but it also seems like something he might have made up.

“Like, what’s with that?” Pava continues.

Ben hazards a look, and it's nothing but pale thighs and pointy hips. His stupid dick twitches again, like this visual is relevant. It sure as fuck is not, and his dick can go to hell.

“He’s got his bits tucked back between his legs,” Snap says patiently. “I’m sure Poe can demonstrate for you—do not do that now, dude.”

“Eh,” Poe says, his voice moving as he heads toward the kitchen. “It won’t be the first time you’ve seen it, Snap.”

“This isn’t Coruscant, I shouldn’t be subjected to this.” Snap sags back into the couch, stares at the ceiling. “Like, we can’t have this happening at events that we’re at.”

“We’re at all the events,” Pava reminds him.

“That’s what I mean,” he says. “If this thing blows open, they can shut the entire scene down, and it’ll be Yavin all over again. No venues, no performances, no income. We’d be fucked. We’d have to move again, and Pava still isn’t unpacked from last time.”

“Nobody called the cops,” says Poe from the kitchen.

“Especially not after the donations,” Pava says, “I’m surprised they weren’t just sweeping the money off the floors afterward with how fast everybody’s wallets were opening.” She sounds bitter at this, and that triggers something in Ben’s head, makes him remember bits and pieces of her piece now, how good it was.

“Your piece was really good, Pava,” he says. It's the most coherent thing he’s said and it makes him sound like a fucking idiot. Probably looks like one too, wrapped up in these fucking fuzzy blankets in this weirdo chair. Fuck.

Pava shrugs. “Nobody’s gonna remember it,” she says. “Not when this dude is up there with his cock out just about smashing his head into pieces on the stage.”

Ben’s fucking stupid brain thinks about crime scenes and police tape. He clamps his hand over his mouth, figuring he’ll breathe through his nose until the urge to puke goes away.

He accidentally thinks about jello salad.

It turns out he can actually run back to the bathroom without dying.

It’s a close call, though.

 

“On the upside,” Poe says, “I got your clothes out of the dryer. You don't have to wander around my place in your gotch and a fuzzy blanket unless you want to.”

“Ha,” Ben says humourlessly. The tile is cool against his bare legs, and he’s got his head propped back against the wall. There’s a glass of water on the floor beside him, because Poe is an actual adult and Ben is a trainwreck.

Poe sits down on the floor, leans against the doorframe. “I was thinking of repainting the ensuite,” he says. “Something dramatic. Black, but, like, with a shimmer in it. White accents.”

“Don’t have to watch me,” Ben says. “’m fine.”

“But maybe it’d be better if it was striped,” Poe continues, ignoring Ben’s interruption. “Vertical, or horizontal?”

“For fuck’s sake, Poe.”

“I mean, it’s not a huge ensuite. Horizontal stripes are probably gonna make it look small.”

Please stop, Ben wants to say. Leave me here to die. But Poe’s too fucking stubborn to leave, even when Ben is nothing but garbage.

Ben waits. Poe waits with him.

“Vertical,” Ben says.

“Yeah,” Poe agrees. “That’s what I think too.”

Ben swallows. His stomach is calmer after puking. Standing up might be a thing in a bit. Showering might not make him scream.

“You should go,” Ben says. “I’ll shower. Pava and Snap—”

“They have weed and food,” Poe says dismissively. “They’re fine.”

“I—”

“Hey,” Poe says, and he runs his hand back through his hair. “I just—I feel responsible, alright? I should have—fuck, I should have done something.”

“Don’t,” Ben says. He knows Poe isn’t just talking about last night, about Ben puking in the alley. He knows Poe is talking about—about the thing before, and the other stuff. The Knights, and Snoke, and Ben’s breakdown and everything that went wrong. Ben doesn’t want to talk about that shit. It had nothing to do with Poe. It was just—it was just a thing. Ben’s brain is broken. It was bound to happen eventually. It’ll happen again later. It won’t be Poe’s fault then either.

“I don’t know what the fuck Snoke is trying to pull,” Poe says, and he’s not making eye contact with Ben. He’s staring at the ceiling. “And this whole thing just feels—wrong. I’m not happy about it. It feels like Snoke was trying to prove a point, and I just—I don’t know what the point was. It was something. And, I mean, it’s fine that we’re focused on figuring out whether or not dude was wearing underwear. It’s entertaining Pava, and I get a kick out of Snap being a grumpy old man, but I just feel like we’re missing the point of the thing, yanno?”

Ben takes another drink of water. It’s an actual legitimate swallow this time, not the tentative sips of before. He feels the cold slipping down his throat, coating his stomach. His skin starts to unfurl from his bones. The dread stays. “Might not be anything,” he says. It’s a lie, but sometimes he can make those sound like the truth.

Right now isn’t one of those times, though, and he wishes for sunglasses, wishes for a mask, wishes for something to hide his face and disguise his voice.

Poe snorts. “Have you met Snoke? It’s a thing. It’s just a question of what fucking thing it is.”

“I’m too hungover for this,” Ben says. He pulls his knees into his chest, wraps his arms around them. As though making himself smaller is going to make him less vulnerable. Snoke knows all the spots to hit anyways. It doesn’t matter what Ben does or doesn’t do.

Poe’s face softens. “I’m sorry, buddy. I shouldn’t—I’m sorry. Can I get you anything?”

Ben shakes his head, as slowly as possible. His brain still ricochets around inside his skull. “I’m just—I’ll shower. Get dressed . You said … food?”

Poe grins at him, stands up and takes a couple steps forward. Extends his hand out to Ben. “Yeah, buddy, there’s leftovers. I’ll warm you up something.”

Ben puts his hand in Poe’s, lets Poe lean back and counterbalance him as he slowly gets to his feet. Everything is woozy and awful, but he’s at the point of the hangover where he’s just miserable. He won’t die. He squints, blinks a little as he lets go of Poe’s hand. “Thanks, Poe,” he says. He takes a couple steps toward the shower, reaches in to turn on the water and get it started.

“Anytime,” Poe says, leaning back against the doorframe again. “Lemme know if you want company.”

“Poe,” Ben says plaintively. “I just puked. I’m a mess. Stop.”

Poe winks, takes a step back, holding his hands up like he’s innocent. Grinning. “I’ll go warm that food up for you.”

Ben sighs, shoves his underwear down his hips. Leaves it on the floor, and steps into the shower, slides the shower door shut behind him.

Part of him wants Poe to come back, but mostly? Mostly, Ben’s glad when he doesn’t.

 

The shower, somehow, improves things. Poe’s got shampoo and conditioner—separate, even—that smell like eucalyptus. Way less offensive than the floral perfume, but weird. After Ben washes his hair, he hunts around for some kind of soap. The first bottle smells like lavender. Gross. The second bottle is clear, but the liquid inside looks like it’s got glitter in it, which is a definitive fuck no. The third bottle is lube, and Ben puts it back the moment he realizes, wipes his hands on his thighs. Pretends he hadn’t forgotten it would be there, of course it would be there, because—

Ben stops looking for soap, turns the water hotter like it’ll make a difference. Like it’ll scald the booze out of his pores. He pours more eucalyptus shampoo into his hand, washes himself that way. Tries to scrub all the booze-sweat out of his skin, but he’s not sure anything is going to make a real difference. He somehow smells like beer and whiskey all at the same time, and sometimes he almost thinks he smells—or tastes—rum, so it’s no fucking wonder, really.

He’s prepared for Poe’s towel to be way too short for him, but Poe’s invested in some monstrous towel that actually mostly covers him. Ben wraps himself in it, leans back against the wall for a few minutes to let some of the steam dissipate, to get reoriented to his body again. He’s hungover in that way where everything aches, but the heat of the shower has pushed the aching back a bit, and he can smell himself now without wanting to gag.

He doesn’t even consider putting his underwear back on, just pitches it right into the trash and pulls his jeans on commando. His dick ends up tucked against his left leg, which is convenient because there’s a hole high on the right leg of his jeans. He considers toweling off his hair, but that doesn’t seem like a good idea. His relationship with his head is fragile and unsure. He yanks his undershirt on—black, like everything else—and hangs Poe’s towel up on the towel rack. Then he pads back out to the kitchen.

 

Poe’s food is slightly burnt, vaguely overspiced, and more than a little greasy. Ben takes the first few bites cautiously, washes them down with tepid water, waits—but they sit in his stomach alright, so he keeps eating.

“There’s room on the couch,” Poe says, but there isn’t, not really. It’s already got three people on it, and from this distance, the skunk-smell of weed isn’t that bad, but Ben knows it’ll get stronger if he gets closer, and he just—he just doesn’t want to be closer, doesn’t want to be near people. The tv is off right now, but the last thing Ben fucking needs is to get tangled up with a couch full of stoned people and then have to look at the flat-assed ginger up close.

“I gotta get going anyway,” Ben says, pushing the last few pieces of potato around on his plate. “I left my fucking bike—”

“Your bike is here,” Pava says.

Ben squints at her.

“We brought the bikes over this morning,” she says. “Poe called, said you needed a hand.”

“I didn’t need a hand,” Ben says, looking down at his plate. He can feel his ears burning, which is not helpful. “Stuff was—fine, it was fine, I was fine.”

Snap sighs, but doesn’t say anything.

“I should go,” Ben says, setting his plate down on the counter. “It’s—” Late, early, what the fuck time was it? He thinks it’s Saturday, but he skates his hand over his back pocket before he remembers that he lost his cellphone. He chews on the inside of his cheek, looks around for his jacket and his boots. Sound is doing that thing where it’s getting too loud, it’ll start echoing soon, and the time to leave was five minutes ago, the time to leave was an hour ago, the time to leave was before he even got here, what the fuck was he thinking—

He’s in the midst of jamming his bare feet into his motorcycle boots when Poe clears his throat.

“Hey,” Poe says. “I got your jacket here, buddy.”

Ben snaps his head up to tell Poe that he could have retrieved his own damn jacket, that he doesn’t need to be watched or looked after like he’s still a kid, and his head spins, the sudden movement setting him off-balance and he thuds heavily into the wall, Poe grabbing at his arm to keep him from toppling completely over.

“Fuck,” he groans once Poe has hauled him to his feet. His motorcycle jacket is heavy, but he feels a bit better once it’s on, like the jacket keeps all his feelings in, keeps him from exploding. Keeps him from screaming.

“Are you—can—I mean…you can stay here if you want,” Poe says, and he drags his hand back through his hair like he’s expecting there’s going to be knots in it. There aren’t. There never are.

“I need to go home,” Ben says. He scuffs his boot against the floor to jam his foot the rest of the way into it, tucks the laces inside to keep them from flailing around loose. “Don’t—I need to go home.”

“I can kick them out,” Poe says. “If you need space.”

Ben chews on the inside of his cheek again, tastes blood. “I need to go home,” he repeats. “Poe, just—just let me—”

Poe takes a step back, hands raised up. No grin this time. “Yeah, sure, Ben,” Poe says. “Of course, I didn’t—I wasn’t—I’ll text you later.”

“Don’t,” Ben says, zipping up his jacket. He looks up to see the tail end of a facial expression that Poe is in the process of removing from his face, and Ben feels—awkward. Stupid. Like he’s said the wrong thing. Like usual. “Lost my phone. Just—message me online instead. That’s all.”

“Right,” Poe says. His hand flexes at his side, then releases. “Later.”

Ben flips the collar of his jacket up, sticks his hand in his pocket and finds the ignition key for his bike.

He knows he should say something—goodbye, or see you later, or even thanks for making sure I didn’t choke on my vomit and die like the fuckup I am—but he doesn’t know the right thing to say, so he leaves without saying anything.

Chapter Text

Ben wakes up in his own bed, languid and relaxed. He rolls onto his side, squints at the clock. 9:00 AM flashes back at him, and he realizes he’s slept for … fifteen odd hours, straight. There’s sunlight streaming in the window. It doesn’t hurt his eyes.

He reaches under the pillow with his left hand, thinking he’ll text Poe, but his phone’s not there. His fingertips brush over a length of cord, and his mind goes immediately to ropes and leather, the musk of someone else’s sweat. It’s been way too long. His dick throbs pleasantly, starts to harden. Ben closes his eyes, thinks of blindfolds and bondage, thinks of kneeling and being held down, begging and being stuffed full. He twines the fingers of his left hand into his own hair, tugs it gently while he scratches absently at his stomach before lowering his other hand to drag his fingertips over the length of his cock.

He closes his hand into a fist in his hair, increases the pressure until he’s pulling steadily. The pain lights up a ribbon of lust that crackles down his spine, electricity curling around his stomach and settling into his groin. He keeps the hand on his cock deliberately light, whispering his fingertips up the length of it and down without any pressure, without staying in one place for too long. After his cock is fully hard, he moves his hand down to his balls, squeezing and pulling on them even as he tightens his fist in his own hair, dragging his head backwards and baring his neck.

He thinks of the way Poe bites his lip when he’s turned on, the way his eyes glaze over when Ben sucks his dick. Thinks of Poe’s hands, fluttering at Ben’s shoulders without settling in anywhere. Ghosts of Poe’s fingertips on his neck, on his jawline. Light fingers brushing Ben’s hair back from his face, that specific groan Poe makes when Ben swallows him deep, nose crushed against Poe’s pubic hair. Poe’s breath in his ear, irregular and fast. Ben, Ben! Oh, fuck, Ben …

Ben loosens his grip on his hair, then grabs it again, yanks hard, suddenly. Tears spring to his eyes, and he gasps, arching up against the sheets. His cock aches, and his balls are tight in his hand. He lets go of his hair, scalp on fire, and pulls the cord out from under the pillow. Deftly ties it around his cock, behind his balls—functional, not pretty, but that’s okay, this is good, this is fine. He leaves a long end on the cord, ties a quick slipknot in it, and then brings his leg up far enough to hook the slipknot on his big toe before straightening his leg again, very conscious that there isn’t enough slack for him to straighten his leg fully. He moves carefully, slowly, until he has the right amount of tension in the cord, just the right amount of pull.

Ben knows if he forgets about it, if he kicks his leg straight as fast as he can, it’ll be enough force to tear his cock right off his body.

This thought makes him harder.

His left hand is back in his hair again, pulling his head back, his right hand crushing one of his pillows over his face as he thinks of Poe on stage, covered in glitter and naked except for a leather g-string. There are spotlights on Poe, like he should be dancing, but he’s not moving at all, just standing there looking directly at Ben. C’mon up here, Poe says, and he bites his lip, runs his hand back through his hair. C’mon up here, Ben. Lemme touch you.

Ben groans into the pillow, turns over and thrusts against the mattress, pointing his foot just a little to increase the pull on the cord. His dick is painfully hard, veins standing out prominently from the cord wrapped tight around him. He can’t come like this. He’ll never come like this, and it makes the entire thing so

fucking

good

He chases the orgasm even though he knows it’s impossible, touches himself even though he can’t come and it’s dizzingly good and painful and amazing. Ben imagines Poe underneath him, all glitter and stage makeup and hot panting breaths in Ben’s ear. Imagines Poe’s dick pressed up hard against Ben’s stomach, Poe’s makeup smearing over Ben’s face, Poe’s tongue in his mouth, Poe’s teeth on his neck.

He lets go of his hair, sticks his hand under the pillows. Shoves the safety scissors free in case he needs them, keeps searching until he finds one of the lube bottles. Arches his head up away from the pillows to gasp a quick breath, and then presses his face back against the pillow again. Manages to get the lube uncapped and his left hand drenched, lube dripping onto his sheets. Ben reaches back, exhales as he fingers himself, not bothering to be tentative or careful about it. The pain is sharp when he pushes his finger in, but he adjusts quickly enough. He uses his other hand to start loosening the cord wrapped tight around him as he works himself open.

He imagines his fingers are Poe’s as he thrusts into his ass, searching out his prostate. It’s a fantasy he can’t quite believe because Poe is never this rough with him, Poe is only ever gentle and cautious and kind and—thinking like this isn’t helping him get any closer to coming, not even when he loosens the cord and bites his lip hard as his body adjusts to the lack of bondage, his balls tightening with his impending orgasm, but it’s still not what he needs, it’s not going to be what he needs—

Ben imagines Poe pressed against his chest, whispering into his ear, imagines someone else behind him—a stranger with marble-pale skin and cold fingers. Ben imagines those fingers sliding around his neck and squeezing, imagines the stranger’s other hand pressing into his mouth, all four fingers. Imagines him forcing Ben’s mouth open as Ben gags against the stranger’s palm. When Ben rolls onto his side, his cheek rubs against the lube he’d spilled on the covers earlier. He pretends that the stranger is forcing him down there, pressing Ben’s head into the mattress, imagines the lube as cold cum that will be stuck in his hair and smeared on his cheek, imagines hands on the back of his head pushing him deep into the mattress, not caring whether or not Ben can breathe, it doesn’t matter if he can’t breathe, it doesn’t—

Oh, Ben, fuck, Ben, Ben, keep touching me, don’t stop, Ben, fuck me …

—Ben pulls his fingers out of his ass, contorts his wrist, and gives up on width in a quest for depth, reaches as far in as he can with one finger instead of three, presses hard against his prostate. He wraps his other hand tight around his cock, jacks it twice before he’s coming into the mattress, spots in front of his eyes from how long he’s held his breath, the orgasm sweeping over his body so fast and hard that his legs shake and his hands tremble, his body curling into the fetal position as the orgasm sparks up his spine and down to his toes.

There’s nothing but warmth and slowly fading electricity left behind as the orgasm retreats.

There’s blood in his mouth from where he bit his lip. Lube smeared down his cheek and in his hair. His entire body feels good. Ben grins, lopsided, into the filthy sheets. He’ll tell Poe about it later, his fantasy of imagining himself with Poe’s gentleness in front of him, and a stranger’s cruelness behind.

Poe will get a kick out of it.

 

He wipes his hands on the sheets before yanking them off the mattress. The safety scissors clatter to the floor along with the lube, and he hears something else smack to the floor heavily. Probably one of the dildos, but he’ll retrieve it all later when he’s making the bed. Right now, he needs to shower more than anything.

Ben tosses the sheets in the wash on his way to the bathroom, glances at himself in the hallway mirror. It’s too bad about his missing phone—he’s got ridiculous sex hair, one side matted with lube and the other side standing up in all directions. His eyelids are heavy, his lip is bleeding slightly, and he looks totally blissed out. Wishes he had some means of taking a picture, but he doesn’t.

He hums to himself while he’s in the shower, lathers up and rubs the lube off his thighs, washes the spunk out of his pubic hair. The water re-activates the fragrance from Poe’s shampoo, and for a brief moment, the shower smells pleasantly of eucalyptus before it fades away. There’s lube in his ear, and he tilts his head in the spray, twists his finger in his ear until it’s cleaned out.

When the water starts getting cold, Ben shuts the shower off, skims the water off his body with his hands. Pads back into his room, naked and damp. Reels back a bit, because now he notices the booze stink hanging in the air. Ben holds his breath, goes far enough into his room to open the window, and then retreats again, closing the door behind him.

His fridge has a bunch of miscellaneous stuff in it. He snags a bowl of leftover mac and cheese, jams a fork in it, and starts eating it cold as he heads back to his living room. Digs his laptop out from underneath a stack of books, and then flops onto his couch naked, stomach-down, with his feet extending off the end of the couch, and his laptop on the floor where he can reach it.

He logs in. No unread messages.

Ben groans. He’d expected to have heard from Poe by now, and since he hasn’t …. Fuck. He was a bit of a bastard to Poe yesterday, and Ben still has no recollection of the majority of the previous evening, so who the fuck even knows how that had gone down. It can’t have been good when he and Poe hadn’t fucked around, though. Either they’d fought, and Ben didn’t remember it, or he’d been an angry, wound-up mess, and he didn’t remember that either.

He chews the inside of his cheek as he doubleclicks on Poe’s name, types in a quick message.

hashtagSOLO: i lived ;)

The reply is instantaneous.

DAMNeron: lol good

Ben exhales, relaxes into the couch.

DAMNeron: never did find your phone tho

hashtagSOLO: np its’ prob gone 4 good

hashtagSOLO: also im eating cold mac n cheese right now

DAMNeron: gross

hashtagSOLO: maybe i’ll switch to an iphone

DAMNeron: your phone was pretty new, dude.

DAMNeron: you should at least try to find it.

DAMNeron: iphones are super expensive if you’re just gonna keep it on a prepay system.

hashtagSOLO: ugh i prob puked on it

DAMNeron: you did not puke on it. i would have noticed.

DAMNeron: also you really need to eat before you drink like that. it was literally all stomach acid.

hashtagSOLO: do not describe my puke back to me

DAMNeron: i’m looking out for your liver.

DAMNeron: at least try to find your phone. you had some good pics on it. ;) 

DAMNeron: maybe the venue has it.

Ben finishes his mac and cheese, rolls onto his back and sits up. Poe’s probably right, he should at least try to find his phone. He probably did just drop it at the bar. He’s done that before.

He tosses a pillow over his cock before retrieving the laptop and balancing it on the pillow. He punches in “find my phone”, follows the instructions, and stares at the screen.

hashtagSOLO: FUCK

hashtagSOLO: WHAT THE FUCK

DAMNeron: ???

hashtagSOLO: some prick fucking stole my phone

hashtagSOLO: it’s up in the fucking north end

hashtagSOLO: some fucker stole my goddamn phone and he’s sitting in the fucking Kael’e with my fucking phone i cant BELIEVE this

hashtagSOLO: quick how do i type fuck u in numbers

hashtagSOLO: i can only set this thing to display a phone number

hashtagSOLO: who steals a phone

hashtagSOLO: who is this fcking prick

DAMNeron: wtf

hashtagSOLO: WHO STEALS A PHONE

DAMNeron: shit man

hashtagSOLO: i’m gonna call him IM GONNA CALL HIM

hashtagSOLO: …

hashtagSOLO: i dont have a phone

hashtagSOLO: im cming over

 

Ben barrels down the stairs and out of his apartment, tears out of the parking lot spitting gravel from under the tires of his bike. He’s most of the way to Poe’s before he takes some kind of fucking bug to the face not wearing your helmet you fucking idiot and he smears it off his face with his arm, dodges a pothole one-handed, and passes a car on the right in the parking strip, trying to get ahead of it enough to make the light before it changes. He manages it, but it’s close.

He’s going fast enough that the honking horns behind him fade quickly.

He tears into Poe’s parking lot, parks his bike haphazardly, takes the stairs three at a time. His hair keeps falling in his face and there’s sweat running down his back and he forgot to put socks on so his feet are rubbing raw in his boots and some fucking asshole stole his phone—

Poe looks perfectly composed when he opens the door, tight tshirt and loose sweatpants. Bare feet. “Hey, Ben—”

“What the FUCK,” Ben says as he stalks past Poe into the apartment. “What the FUCK.” He paces between Poe’s kitchen and living room, circles in front of the tv and then back to the island again. His hands are shaking, and he wants to take a swing, burns with the need to just fucking hit something.

“So, the north end,” Poe says after a while.

Ben is still pacing. “Yeah,” he says tightly. “The hotel. The five-star.” He needs to hit something. He needs to get hit. He needs Poe to knock him to his knees and shove his cock into Ben’s mouth, choke him on it. He needs to scream until the inside of his head stops echoing.

“What’re you gonna do when you call and nobody picks up?”

“I’m gonna go over there and knock his fucking head off with my fist,” Ben snaps.

“Ah, buddy, the assault charges. You don’t need those. I need you not to have those.”

“I’ll be fast,” Ben says. Pacing, pacing, pacing. Around the island, around the couch, around the island, around the couch.

“I’m going with you. Whatever you do.”

“Fucking cave his face in with my fist,” Ben mutters. Around the island, around the couch.

“How’s about you take your boots off?” Poe says steadily. “I made tea.”

“Right,” Ben says. He stops pacing near the door, yanks his boots off and drops them onto the mat. There’s a raw spot rubbed into the back of his right heel. When he turns, Poe’s standing in front of him, holding a hot cup of tea out for him. Ben takes it, wraps his hands around the mug. Wills himself not to squeeze even though he can see himself shattering it with his hands, the shards digging into his skin, the hot tea spilling onto the floor, all over his bare feet, shards of ceramic sticking out of his palms, blood everywhere—

Around the island. Around the couch. Around the island. Around the couch.

Slower now, so he doesn’t slop the tea onto Poe’s floor. He doesn’t mind when he slops the tea onto his own hand—it stings and burns and focuses him—but Poe’s floor is clean and Poe’s things are nice. So he paces slower, sips from the tea occasionally.

By the time Ben’s done drinking the tea, Poe is sitting on the couch, tipping his head back and forth like something in his neck is cricked, and it’s nothing at all for Ben to slide in behind him, put his hands on Poe’s shoulders, his thumbs on Poe’s neck, and start working out the kinks.

“That’s great, Ben,” Poe says. His voice is warm, and there’s a sleepy edge to it.

“I don’t feel any knots,” Ben says. He’s wondering if he’s lost his touch, if it’s been so long since he’s done this that he doesn’t remember how to do it. He kneads his fingers into Poe’s shoulders, leans forward enough to brush his nose lightly against Poe’s hair. It smells nice. Eucalyptus.

“Really?” Poe says. “Because I slept on my neck funny last night, but it’s feeling much better now.”

“Mmm,” Ben says, but Poe just leans backwards into him and Ben lets it happen. After a while of them sitting there, Ben realizes that he’s sync’d his breathing up with Poe’s, realizes that Poe is breathing long, steady, exaggerated breaths and Ben has matched them.

It’s probably why the inside of Ben’s head doesn’t feel like screaming anymore.

Ben tries to hate Poe for manipulating him like that, but it’s hard to work up the energy to do it when Poe’s head is on his chest and Poe’s body is pressed up against his. Poe’s hands are trailing up and down Ben’s sides, and Ben really does feel better, so he just closes his eyes and lets Poe’s body weigh him down for a few minutes while he tries to figure out what he’s going to do.

“Want a smoke?” Poe asks.

“Sure,” Ben says.

 

The pot mellows Ben out even further, to the point where he can actually sit there and think about what he’s going to do before he actually does it. It’s nice. He should—he should be like this more often.

He’s going to call, obviously. He’s going to call, because he said he would call. He’s going to go over there, but he’s not going to get assault charges. And then he’s going to get his phone back, and he’s going to remember to re-activate and open up some bookings for work, and he should probably buy Poe some beer, and maybe later tonight he’ll re-enact his fantasy from this morning. He can ask if real-Poe wants to sub in for imaginary-Poe. It’d be better if he did.

“What’s up, buddy?” Poe asked, and his hair is fucking perfect, and his five o’clock shadow is coming in on his cheekbones, and Ben sort of loves him, even when he doesn’t. Even when he can’t, he still does.

“Nothing,” Ben mumbles.

Poe offers the joint to him again, but Ben waves it away. Any more, and he’ll be too stupid to make the phone call properly. He still watches the way Poe’s cheeks move as he takes the last drag off the joint, holding it gracefully between his thumb and finger. Watches the sunlight hit Poe’s face. Poe’s way prettier than any person has a right to be. Ben makes sure he keeps his mouth shut for that last thought, though. Poe doesn’t need to know. He’s cocky enough without Ben telling him.

After the joint is finished, Ben stands up, pushes the deck chair back. “Alright,” he says. His hand twitches a little at his side. He’s okay without pacing, he doesn’t need to pace, but he just—he just wants this over with.

Poe stands, nods. Pats the pockets of his sweatpants, and then looks back through the glass door inside. “Phone’s inside.”

Ben follows him in, sits beside him on the couch. Hopes that Poe will just make the call for him, and that way Ben can’t fuck it up—but Poe just slides his phone across the coffee table, and waits.

“Hey BB,” Ben says.

“Nooooooo,” Poe’s phone warbles. The screen brightens for a moment, and then goes completely black.

Ben pokes at it, but nothing changes. “Uh …”

“Oops,” Poe says. “Hey, BB.”

BB lights up. “Hello, Poe.”

“Call Ben on speakphone, alright?”

“Calling Ben on speakerphone,” BB chirps. It dials the number, and the phone starts ringing.

“Sorry about that,” Poe says. “I guess it’s only listening to me right now.”

Ben shrugs. It doesn’t really matter, the important part is that they’re calling.

The phone keeps ringing.

“This was stupid,” Ben says.

“I guess,” Poe says. “I mean, it was worth a try.”

The phone stops ringing.

The phone stops ringing, but it doesn’t switch to Ben’s voicemail.

Instead, audio starts filtering through. It takes Ben a moment to realize what he’s listening to because everything is layered, sounds over sounds over sounds, as though the room his phone is in is very large. Very large, and full of people—

—full of people fucking.

There is the slap of skin against skin, low-pitched moaning overlaid with high-pitched gasps. There’s a rhythmic whap-whap-whap that takes Ben a moment to ID as a paddle, and the moment he realizes what it is, his face gets hot. He stares at his feet, trying to pretend that he can’t identify the sounds, trying to pretend that he doesn’t know his phone is right in the middle of a kinky orgy happening in a swanky hotel. Someone screams in the background, and there’s a sharp snap and the crackle of electricity in the foreground, running water, or—

“What the hell,” Poe says softly.

The sounds in the background continue unabated, but there’s a sharp intake of breath that crackles over the speaker, very close to the phone.

“Shit,” says someone in a crisp British-Core accent, and the line goes dead.

Ben’s face is burning. He stands up, shoulders hunched up as though it’ll hide his face, as though he can slouch away the embarrassment of putting that on speakerphone. “I’ll, uh …”

“What the hell,” Poe says again. “That was not what I was expecting.”

“Yeah,” Ben says. “I’ll just, uh, go home and remote-wipe my phone.”

“Ha, you probably don’t want it back, huh?”

Ben ducks his head again as he shoves his bare feet into his boots, mumbles something indistinct.

Gets the fuck out of there before he has a chance to think too much about anything.

Tries to drive fast enough that he doesn’t think at all.

It turns out there isn’t a speed for that.

 

Ben can’t sleep. Every time he closes his eyes, he hears the steady whap-whap-whap of a paddle, sees the flesh of anonymous bodies writhing on top of each other, smells sweat and sex and leather. His bed is too cold, too big. If he speaks, his voice will echo off his empty walls, and so he holds his tongue, and wishes he had someone here to hold it for him, to force him, to make him …

Ben gets out of bed. Paces in his apartment until his legs are burning, and it doesn’t help. He pounds back cold water until his stomach twists and the back of his neck breaks out in goosebumps and it doesn’t help. He chews through a couple painkillers just for the bitterness and the sting on his tongue. It doesn’t help.

He knows that he’s being a dick. He uses his laptop to remotely ring his lost phone anyways, at full volume. Once at one am. Once at three am. Once at five am.

He doesn’t know what he expects to happen.

Ben finds expired sedatives under the sink. He swallows back a couple of them, and then sits at his computer waiting for them to kick in. Counts slowly to one hundred.

As soon as he hits one hundred, he clicks the button to remotely wipe his phone.

There’s no progress bar or indicator or anything that lets him know that it’s working, but he lies down on the couch and stares at the monitor anyways. Like it’s going to have answers.

It doesn’t.

Eventually, he falls asleep, and he thinks of nothing.

Chapter Text

Ben’s new phone is too heavy to comfortably browse porn with. He holds it above his head, and his arm hurts. He holds it out to the side, and his hand starts falling asleep. He leaves it on the floor and stares at it from the couch and it’s just too fucking far away. Finally, he drags out a couple of his old textbooks—remnants of the degree he thought he’d get in his off-time, but then he’d ended up just having a breakdown and starting over—and props the phone up against them. Touches the screen cautiously, tentatively, so he doesn’t knock the fucking thing over. The video quality is good, and the screen is way bigger than his old phone, so the porn is way bigger than what he’s used to, all crisp HD and good-quality sound.

It’s just—not working, though. He’s looking at genitals. He’s watching people fucking. He’s been doing this for upwards of half an hour.

He’s not even slightly hard.

This isn’t usual. Not for him. Usually he’s at least cursorily interested in how other people get off, what other people find sexy, usually he can get off just by focusing on how into everything other people are, but today? Today everything is scripted and boring and bland. There’s no chemistry between any of the actors, the BDSM is all faked, and it’s just … it’s just bad. It’s all bad.

He watches his fourth straight cumshot onto some dude’s face before he realizes if he’s not turned on yet, lackluster bukakke isn’t going to do it for him. He closes the porn, and rolls onto his back again, holding his phone up over his face.

Messages Poe, because if he’s not gonna jack off, he might as well do something productive. Something that would be helpful to Poe. Something that would be beneficial to the Resistance.

hashtagSOLO: hey can you send me that video

DAMNeron: hey buddy!

DAMNeron: which video?

hashtagSOLO: the video

hashtagSOLO: from the other day

hashtagSOLO: bb’s video

DAMNeron: oh

DAMNeron: …

DAMNeron: …

DAMNeron: …

hashtagSOLO: i can see you typing

DAMNeron: yeah, I’ll upload it for you, buddy

DAMNeron: one sec, link incoming

DAMNeron: don’t forget about orientation this afternoon!

DAMNeron: Ben?

 

The video quality is better than he remembers, although the music is just as obnoxious, and he fumbles at his phone for a moment before finding the mute button. Even at the odd angle the camera is at—BB must have been in Poe’s jacket pocket—most of the aerialist’s act is visible and it’s—fuck, he hates to admit it, but it’s really something.

He watches the video once just to get his head around the choreography, just so he can start understanding what the fuck is happening—especially now that he’s sober and his vision isn’t in and out. (Especially since he’s not freaking out about Sn—about the Knights being there. He’s not freaking out because there’s been no follow-up since then. He’s not freaking out because coincidences happen, and this is just one of them. It’s fine. It’s all fine. He’s not freaking out.) Tries to focus on the technical aspects of the performance, the physics of how the aerialist works with the silks. He recognizes some of the movement from ballet, some of it from modern dance, some of it from the gym. Some of it he doesn’t recognize at all, but it can’t be that hard—he could learn it, if he wanted to. If this stringbean can learn it, Ben can learn it.

Ben watches the video again, trying his best to side with Pava about the underwear. He pauses the video when the aerialist is upside down, hanging in a straddle-split, because if there’s anywhere where underwear would be visible, it would be right at this point—and there’s no underwear, just a naked cock resting calmly against the aerialist’s stomach. Perfectly pointed feet, muscles in his calves standing out tight. The aerialist has a nice cock, soft and small but proportional with his balls. Circumcised. No pubic hair. No hair anywhere on his body, except for that horrifically bright shock of red hair plastered to his head. Ben wants to fuck it up, wants to stick his hands in it and—

He swallows hard, rewinds the video to catch the transition into the straddle again. He can’t quite figure out how it goes, where the silks are wrapped, how they’re supporting the aerialist so that he doesn’t just fall out when he flips over. There’s something that he’s doing right before the turn, something with his feet and the silks swirling against the floor. The fabric is all blending in against itself, so Ben can’t tell where it’s wrapped and where it’s just resting against that pasty skin, can’t figure out whether it’s actually supporting him around his hips or whether there’s a different support that he doesn’t see. Can’t tell how much of the silks are for decoration and how much are functional, holding the aerialist’s weight—though there can’t be that much weight to the guy …

Ben wonders if the redhead shaves or waxes, thinks of him facedown on a table while someone applies hot wax between—

He watches the transition again, gives up on trying to understand it because the fucking thing just doesn’t make sense. It’s not just the way the silks swirl and fall, it’s that fucking split, the way the aerialist’s legs are taut and defined and fucking gorgeous. How the hell is the aerialist even holding that move fifteen feet in the air, especially without any support from his arms?

How would those muscles feel under Ben’s hands, against his tongue—

The video is paused. The video’s been paused for—he’s not sure how long, and Ben just unpauses it and keeps watching rather than stopping to think about how long he’s been staring at the redhead’s limp cock lying against his abs, at the fucking blindfold across his eyes that renders him completely anonymous. Instead, he focuses on the man’s hands clenching the silks tight, zooms in the footage until it’s grainy in the hopes of being able to see more detail of how his grip functions on the silks, when he changes his hand position, what he does when he moves his wrist, the silks flowing down his forearms like water, the curvature of his fingers around—

DAMNeron: hey man, you coming?

Ben startles, drops his phone on his face. The video unmutes and the drums are echoing into his mouth and Ben twitches and turns his head t othe side. His phone thunks onto the floor. Ben rolls over and looks over the edge of the couch just in time to see the redhead drop again, all the way from the top of the silks down toward the stage, and the silks actually bounce when they catch and grab his weight and a chunk of his hair has fallen out and Ben swears it’s brushing against the stage, that shock of imperfectly gelled hair is hanging down, touching the stage, and Ben feels that same weight in his stomach that he felt last time except instead of the coil of nausea, it’s—

—Ben’s just not going to think about that. He retrieves his phone, closes the video.

hashtagSOLO: depends wat u wearing

It’s a casual text. A casual text because he’s a casual person, and not a human fucking disaster that’s spent the last—fuck, it’s been over an hour. He’s been watching—studying—this fucking video for over an hour.

DAMNeron: you’ll have to come over to see!

DAMNeron: I’m at the studio.

DAMNeron: it’s new people day!

hashtagSOLO: i am definitely not coming now

He needs to shower. He needs to shower, and to change his clothes. Get groceries. Make food. Work out.

DAMNeron: it’s good for morale if all the senior people show

hashtagSOLO: agreed

DAMNeron: and?

hashtagSOLO: that is not me. i am on hiatus from the resistance.

hashtagSOLO: also from performing in general.

DAMNeron: temporary

hashtagSOLO: for the rest of my life

DAMNeron: there’s beer

DAMNeron: it’s the cheap shit you like

DAMNeron: also pizza

hashtagSOLO: …

hashtagSOLO: fine.

hashtagSOLO: still on hiatus tho

 

He has a shower before he leaves the house, cranks the water on cold. Touches himself and thinks of nothing, nothing, nothing.

Just before he comes, Ben switches to his left hand, shoves the fingers of his right hand into his mouth so that all he can taste is himself. Imagines a cold hard body, shorter and smaller than his own, pressing up against him from behind. Imagines the soaked wet cloth of a blindfold rubbing against his spine, imagines teeth sunk deep into his back just under his shoulderblade.

He comes over his own hand, exhaling heavily and leaning his forehead against the tiles. His skin is pulled tight over his body and he’s covered in goosebumps. He breathes deeply—eight counts in, hold for four counts, twelve counts out—and by the time he shuts off the water and steps out into the mat, he is back to thinking of nothing except for the part where he is definitely not going to the studio.

 

There’s no beer in his fridge.

Ben goes to the studio.

 

He parks his bike on the street and slogs through the perpetual mud in the alley around to the back of the warehouse before he remembers that he doesn’t have keys to get into the back entrance anymore.

Ben trudges back out to the front of the building. He hates entering through the front. His phone is heavy in his pocket, and he considers just texting Poe to get him to come up and let him in, but with his luck, Poe’d send one of the new people and it would just be … awkward, and shitty. Who are you and why haven’t you been around lately and hey didn’t you used to work with the Knights and what about that breakdown and heard you were in the hospital and Ben wants no part of this, he wants no part of any of this except the part where maybe, just maybe, if he shows up, spends some time here—maybe Poe won’t be disappointed in him.

Maybe Poe will stop looking at him like he’s going to crack and break.

Maybe Poe will stop looking at Ben’s wrists when he thinks Ben isn’t watching.

Ben dangles his motorcycle helmet from the tips of his fingers, yanks his hood up over his hair like it’s going to help. Puts his sunglasses on. He takes a deep breath of outside air before he pushes open the door to the sandwich place. One step inside, and all he can smell is yeast and sandwich meat and marinara sauce, and he just knows it’s getting into his hair. He’ll have to wash it again. Fuck.

“Hey, hood down,” says the dude behind the counter.

“It’s a fucking sandwich store,” Ben retorts, helmet swinging as he gestures. “You think I’m gonna stick you up for some fucking pepperoni and oily cheese?”

The guy sputters, and acts like he’s gonna keep talking, but Ben ignores him and heads straight for the bathrooms. There’s an unmarked door next to the men’s room with a security keypad on it, a door that looks like it’s just a staff entrance or something. It’s not. Ben taps in the code quickly, holding his breath until the pad goes green, and then shoulders the door and shoves inside, letting it close heavily behind him.

It’s fucking loud—engines running, and something clanging, and the distant sound of welding and some fucking shit death metal crackling through the sound system—and Ben looks at his feet and sticks close to the wall. He doesn’t know what the fuck the Guavians do in here, and he doesn’t want to know, he just wants to slink through the shadows and get to the basement stairs as fast as possible, before—

“Solo!” The voice is on his left, further back in the shop. Some asshole wearing a red welding mask.

Fucking hell.

Ben speeds up, ducks under a low-hanging steel beam, and keeps walking, hoping that the guy on his left isn’t gonna chase after him, and sure enough, he hears sparks starting up again from the welder and that is perfect, that is okay, that is—

A shadow peels out from the wall ahead of him, walks into the light. “What have we here?”

“Bala-Tik,” Ben says, and he definitely should have texted Poe to let him in the back, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. “Nice to see you, gotta go.”

Bala-Tik’s carrying a steel pipe. He looks pissed. “Where’s your old man, Solo?”

“It’s Organa, and I don’t know because we’re not speaking.” Ben keeps walking, but the warehouse is fucking huge, and he’s got so much ground left to cover, so much distance between here and the door at the other end of the building. He wants the fuck out of this conversation, but he doesn’t want it badly enough to break into a run in front of a bunch of Guavians, especially when most of them are wearing welding masks. He won’t be able to see their faces when they laugh at him, and that’ll make the whole thing worse.

“That’s nice,” Bala-Tik says, matching him stride for stride even though he’s shorter than Ben. “I don’t care about your family drama.”

“You and me both,” Ben says. “Listen, I’m not trying to make—”

“No,” and it’s a complete sentence. It’s a complete sentence punctuated by Bala-Tik flipping the steel pipe he’s carrying up into the palm of his hand and slamming Ben across the chest with it, knocking him hard into the wall.

The breath comes out of Ben’s lungs in a whoosh, and it takes him a few seconds to even remember how to breathe. His sunglasses are crooked on his face, and his fingers twitch in a need to fix them.

You listen,” Bala-Tik says sharply.

It would take Ben about two seconds to bring his knee up into Bala-tik’s balls. But Ben’s not fucking stupid. He keeps his feet on the ground, keeps his body still. Tries to ignore the heat coiling in his stomach, because this is not the fucking time for his dick to—

“Your old man,” Bala-Tik says, like they’re having a casual conversation, like Bala-Tik hasn’t got Ben pinned up against the wall with a fucking steel pipe. Like Ben isn’t seeing stars from either oxygen deprivation or whatever the fuck he whacked his head on. “He owes me a lot of money.”

Six different snarky remarks go through Ben’s head, but all the shitty stuff he wants to say is overruled by his dick, which is really into getting shoved around at the best of times, and Ben’s definitely been off work for too long, because this is entirely inappropriate and embarrassing and he can fucking feel the heat rising up into his ears.

“Yeah, probably,” Ben says, and he tries to make it sound casual. His voice doesn’t crack, but it’s a near fucking thing, and he should have just fucking texted Poe to send one of the new kids—hell, send all of the new kids—to the back door in the first place. Send all of the new kids and let them laugh at the fuckup. That would be way better than this.

“Not probably. Actually.” Bala-Tik shoves the pipe harder into Ben’s chest. “He owes me a lot of money.”

Ben fucking hates Bala-Tik’s accent. Hates the way Bala-Tik’s voice curls in Ben’s gut.

“Okay,” Ben says. He’s trying to will his dick to calm the fuck down. It’s not working. Bala-Tik is leaning heavy into the steel pipe across Ben’s chest. Ben’s not moving. Ben’s thinking about blindfolds, about teeth in his shoulder, about coming over his hand in the shower, about having cold fingers shoved up his ass—

Bala-tik waits, like he’s expecting something from Ben.

“I’ll try and get ahold of him,” Ben says. This time his voice does crack, and Ben hates it, hates himself.

“You do that,” Bala-Tik says, and takes a step back, finally pulls the pipe away from Ben’s chest, gives it a spin before smacking it across his hand. Ben’s cock twitches so hard that it’s probably visible, except that Bala-Tik is still staring him directly in the eyes, and it’s the only good thing that’s happened so far today. “Enjoy—whatever it is you do down there.”

“Yup,” Ben says, hunching his shoulders and fixing his sunglasses. He chews on the inside of his cheek, turns away. Forces his feet to start moving. “Definitely.”

“Don’t think I won’t come after you, Solo,” Bala-Tik calls out. “Don’t think I won’t take this out of your hide.”

“Yup,” Ben says again, and he tries not to think about it, stares down the door at the other end of the warehouse as though it’s the only door that has ever existed or ever will exist. He smacks himself in the side of the head with his hand, trying to get his brain to just shut the fuck up could you just focus on getting the fuck out of the warehouse and seriously you just jacked off an hour ago this is not okay you are almost thirty what the fuck.

The keycode to the basement hasn’t changed either, but Ben still fucks it up twice before he gets it right—who the fuck are you kidding nothing about this is right—and he swears he can feel Bala-Tik staring at him the entire time.

Once he’s into the relative silence of the stairwell, he exhales, and leans back against the door. Fuck. Everything about that had gone badly, and now he’s gonna have to try to get in touch with Han on top of everything else in his life. He thumps his head against the door a few times, as though that’s going to make things better. When it doesn’t—and what the fuck did he think it was gonna do anyways—he heads down the hall to the stairs.

He stops to kick the exterior door on the way down the hall, trying to vent out some of his rage before he goes downstairs.

The fucking thing swings open.

Because it’s unlocked.

Ben steps out into the alley and screams into the rain until his throat hurts.

 

The rain has soaked through his hood into his hair, and the bottoms of his pants are wet and dragging across the cement floor, leaving wet smears behind him. There’s a long fucking walk from the bottom of the stairs over to the actual studio space—the fucking thing was one of Han’s “really good” deals, and it means that most of the warehouse basement is full of seacans and the studio is at the exact opposite end from the stairs because that’s the only place there was space left.

One of the strings of multicoloured lights that Poe strung up on the wall is out, and Ben holds his breath while he walks through the dark section, exhales once he’s back into the light again. The studio party is in full swing—he can hear people hooting and hollering as soon as he gets to the entrance, even though everybody’s probably at the back of the studio up on the balcony. He leaves his muddy boots on one of the shelves, rolls his pant legs up to try and get the wet fabric off his skin, which looks stupid, so then he takes his socks off and shoves them into his boots, and he’s got helmet hair from his bike helmet and probably smells kinda like a wet dog but also sandwich meat and marinara sauce and—fuck, he really just wants to go home.

They should have put the stage at the other end of the studio. The way things are set up now, the entrance is right by the stage, and the kitchen is under the balcony at the far end, so the chances of him being able to walk over and get pizza and then make his way back out without anybody noticing are—

“Ben!” Poe yells.

—slim.

Ben winces.

“Can’t leave now!” Poe calls victoriously. He’s standing on the balcony, feet on the bottom railing instead of on the floor. The top railing is mid-thigh, and Poe is leaning slightly out into the open air, and Ben pushes away a thought about Poe falling, landing on his head on the studio floor. Brains spilling out everywhere.

Ben should say something light, something funny. Something like for fuck’s sake, don’t call me out like that, man! or it’s about time you realized I hadn’t shown up yet! or guess we can start the party now! but instead he just waves awkwardly and pads across the floor in his bare feet.

Up on the balcony, somebody flips up into a wobbly handstand, feet waving around in the air. He hopes it’s Pava and not Snap. Pava does a reliable handstand. Snap does not.

A sock flies over the balcony railing and lands on the studio floor. Ben steps over it, and enters into the kitchen. The fridge is out, door hanging open and warm fridge smell emanating from inside it. There’s a cooler on the floor, but it’s empty except for tepid water and a couple of warm beers. There’s a pile of pizza boxes on the counter, so Ben picks one at random, jams a couple warm beer into the pockets of his motorcycle jacket.

There’s an explosion of giggles and a loud thump from directly above him as whoever was doing the handstand falls out of it. If it was Pava, she’s definitely drunk, because the landing was heavy enough to shake bits of who-knows-what out of the ceiling. Ben runs his hand back through his hair, tries to pick out the bits of ceiling junk that have landed in it. Gives up. One of these days, the balcony is just gonna fucking cave in. He’s not an engineer. Poe’s not an engineer. Han isn’t—

—well, Han’s a lot of things, but Ben’s pretty fucking sure that he’s not an engineer.

There’s only one way to get up to the balcony, and that’s via the hoist. It’s at the top, because of course it is. The fucking thing is slow, built for machines and heavy equipment, not transporting people, and it makes a weird grinding noise when they use it. Based on the music that’s drifting down from the balcony—and the stop-start, stop-start of it—Poe’s got BB projecting one of their old shows for discussion. If Ben flips the switch to bring the hoist down, the gears grinding and squealing will just disrupt everything. Ben reaches up, is just tall enough to be able to slide the pizza onto the hoist to free up his hands. From there, it’s easy enough—he takes a couple steps back, and then jogs forward, jumps up and catches the lip of the hoist with his fingertips. From there, he’s able to inch his hands forward enough to get a good grip in one of the gaps and pull himself up.

When he gets to the top, there’s people watching him, and he’s thankful for his sunglasses. Pava’s there, and Snap, and Karé, but Tas isn’t there, and neither is Joph, and there’s a bunch of people he doesn’t recognize. They’re staring at him, they’re all staring at him. He runs his hand back through his hair, picks out another fucking piece of ceiling junk and shoves it into his pocket because he can’t figure out what the fuck to do with his hands. Doesn’t want to speak in case his voice does something stupid.

He vividly regrets showing up in the first place.

Poe’s sitting next to the hoist in his command chair, perched on the back of it with his legs spread wide and his feet on the arms. The chair is worse for the wear since the last time Ben was here—there’s stuffing coming out of the back, and a spring sticking out of the seat. Poe’s got BB in one hand, and a fucking travesty of cords from BB to the projector in the other hand. There’s a loose strip of electrical tape hanging from Poe’s thumb, and some of the wires look to have been recently wrapped.

“Y’all,” Poe says, addressing the group at large, and gesturing with BB. “This is Ben—Kylo. He’s been dancing with us—”

“I’m on—”

“—from the beginning,” Poe finishes.

“—a break,” Ben says. The pizza box is still on the hoist behind him. He should grab it. The beers are weighing down the pockets of his jacket, but there’s no sense offering those anywhere, because there’s a cooler up here and enough ice on the floor around it to indicate that it’s probably where the cold beers are being stored. Everybody is staring at him. He can’t handle it. He doesn’t want to handle it.

“Kylo Ren,” someone whispers, and Ben flinches, the movement rippling over his skin before he realizes he should have suppressed it, he should have been prepared for it. He should have known someone was going to recognize him and here he is flinching like—like a kid, and—

“I heard that—”

“—couldn’t hack Snoke and—”

Ben wants desperately to be home. He wants a mask on his face. He wants to be lying on his couch staring at the ceiling. He wants—

“Hey,” Poe says firmly. “Quit the whispering. Kylo—” and his voice is so fucking heavy on the syllables, Ben knows he’s saying it as a complete name, Ben knows Poe is leaving the fucking Snoke-mandated surname off of it on purpose and making sure everybody else knows it too. “—is an original member, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t had him on board from day one.”

“Plus, he brought pizza!” Pava announces from behind him.

Ben doesn’t know how the fuck she got behind him, she’s like a fucking cat—but she’s brandishing the pizza like a trophy, and a cheer goes up from everybody and people swarm forward to get another slice, and then retreat back to their seats and stop fucking looking at him, and it’s—well, it’s not good. But it’s better than it was.

“It’s not so far down to the kitchen,” Ben mumbles as Pava shoves the grease-stained box—and the last slice—into his hands.

She grins at him, mouth full. “Have you fucking tried tossing a pizza from the kitchen up to the balcony? We had to scrape the cheese off the lid with Snap’s credit card, and it was a bad time.”

“I heard that!” Snap says, pointing at Pava with his pizza slice.

“Eyes on screen!” Poe calls. “We’re gonna get through Pava’s piece if it kills us, people.”

The screen at the other end of the balcony flickers to life again, projects one of Pava’s pieces.

“One sec,” Pava says, and she sets her pizza down, pushes back up into a handstand. “Okay, so—there’s this balance thing coming up, and you kind just, like, shift your weight …”

Lacking anywhere else to go, Ben settles onto the floor, leans up against Poe’s command chair. “I shouldn’t have come,” he mutters to Poe. He doesn’t know what he’s expecting—he wants Poe to tell him it’s okay, buddy, you can head home or I’m really glad you came, I missed you or hey, wanna take off, and we’ll just let them orient themselves? but Poe just rubs Ben’s shoulder absently with his foot while he stares at the screen, fingers holding the cables in a specific enough way that Ben suspects the electrical tape hasn’t actually fixed whatever it needed to fix.

“Nah,” Poe says softly. “I’m glad you’re here. Do you want me to do introductions—”

“Fuck no,” Ben says. Takes a breath, deliberately softens his voice. “Just, uh, tell me?”

“Sure,” Poe says. “That’s Karé, with the blonde hair and the sideshave. Lots of suspenders, tux and tails, genderbending stuff. Really good. And Bastian’s the one sitting next to her. He used to be a dancer, but he doesn’t really want to talk about it. Really nice guy, knows a ton of stuff about costuming and makeup and jumps at the chance to share. That’s Ello’s on the floor—he’s not new to us, but he’s been away for a while backpacking, so he’s just kinda getting caught up on everything.”

“Like the part where I couldn’t hack Snoke?” Ben asks bitterly.

“I’m looking after it,” Poe says firmly. “It won’t get brought up again.”

Don’t, Ben wants to say. I can take it, he wants to say. “Thanks,” he says. “Who’s on the other couch?”

“Oh, that’s Korrie. She’s just on a break from classes and wanted something new to try out, and I think she knows Karé from somewhere, so she’s just here seeing what’s up.”

“No Tas?”

“He didn’t move,” Poe says. “Still back on Yavin. I got BB for tech, but we’re gonna have to train somebody.”

“Ah,” Ben says. “Shit.”

Ben slouches a little heavier against Poe’s chair. He can still see most of the projection screen from here, but doesn’t have to see anybody’s faces. The piece of pizza Pava’s left him is greasy and cheesy and good, and he pops the tab on his warm beer, washes back the pizza, and it’s so close to everything being okay—kylo kylo ren is that kylo ren—that he can’t help but feel like a piece of shit for not being happy when he should be.

He wipes his fingers on his jeans, thumbs open his new phone. Opens up X and re-activates his profile, sets a couple of openings for tomorrow. Maybe if he gets back to work, he’ll feel less shitty. Maybe if he gets back to work, he can avoid anything like—

don’t think i won’t come after you solo

—anything like what happened upstairs, maybe things will just normalize.

Maybe he’ll just feel better.

Ben closes the app, opens his text messages. Hesitates a moment.

Texts his old number.

Ben: hey, whoever you are

Ben: just wanted to let you know I got a new phone

Ben: so you can, uh, do whatever with this one

Ben: I don’t need it

Ben: you can take it to more parties if you want

He sets the phone down beside him so he can still see the screen.

Waits for a response.

Chapter Text

It’s three in the morning when Ben’s new phone goes off. It vibrates right next to his face, startling him out of a dream about drowning. His hands are shaking when he picks it up and he blinks to clear the sleep out of his eyes and it’s—not what he expected. It’s not anything important. It’s just a booking for tomorrow afternoon—no, for today. It’s a booking for later today. Some fucking dude he doesn’t know with a goatee and a douchey profile picture and a list of kinks that’s just a wall of incomprehensible text. As though the kinks needed to be right in the fucking booking. As though Ben won’t read his profile.

(Ben won’t read his profile. The wall of text in the booking indicates that Ben’s not going to like what he finds in the profile, so he’s just—he’s just not going to look.)

Ben throws his phone to the foot of the bed. Retrieves it immediately and checks it again to see if there are any other messages. There aren’t. He flops back on the pillow, stares up at the ceiling. Remembers the look in Poe’s eyes at the end of the night, when they were locking up. The way Poe trailed his fingertips across Ben’s jaw. The way Ben turned his face away.

I’m just tired, man.

No problem, buddy. Have a good sleep, alright?

This is not a good sleep. This is—this is lying in bed, awake, for some fucking bullshit reason that Ben can’t figure out, and sleeping with his face so fucking close to his phone that he’s lucky he didn’t have a heart attack when the fucking thing went off.

Who the fuck is awake at—Ben turns to look—at three thirty in the morning on a Monday? Besides this fucking asshole with his fucking goatee.

Besides the asshole with the goatee and Ben.

He thumbs his phone open again, looks at the text messages. His previous text is glaring at him, black text on a white background.

Ben: you can take it to more parties if you want

There’s no reply, and it’s no fucking wonder, because Ben’s text is awful and despe—and childish, and he wishes he’d never sent it.

He shouldn’t have mentioned the parties.

He shouldn’t have texted the fuck that stole his phone.

He shouldn’t be awake right now.

Ben puts his phone back on the nightstand, and stares up at the ceiling, waiting.

 

It’s a bad day for a booking. He doesn’t need to open his eyes to know that, but he opens his eyes anyway, because that’s what he’s supposed to do, and they are gritty and full of sand and he’s so tired that his teeth ache.

Apparently, he had fallen asleep at some point. It hadn’t helped. He feels like shit. Squeezes his eyes shut against the light and searches with his hand until he finds his phone. Opens his eyes to look at the notifications—but there aren’t any messages. No replies to any of his previous messages. There’s just … nothing.

He eats his cereal in the bathroom, standing at the sink. Watches himself chew while he examines his face in the mirror. He knows he wouldn’t get the bookings he gets if people actually had to watch his face while they beat on him. Not when his face is so fucking naked all the time. Especially not on days like today, when the black cloud he’s under is clearly visible in every single feature. He can tell exactly how tired he is from the heavy lids of his eyes, the shadows hanging underneath them. He can tell how much he doesn’t want to be here by the set of his lips. Every fucking feeling he has just flies across his face.

Poe’s got this way of suppressing a smile where Ben can see it coming in the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, at the twitch at the corner of his lips, but it always glimmers to the surface slowly. Ben’s emotions are a flash flood, already all over his face before he’s even consciously aware of what he’s feeling.

Especially on days like today. Days like today, where the best thing he could do for himself is go back to bed, but if he goes back to bed today, he’ll just stay in bed tomorrow, and if he’s still in bed tomorrow, then the rest of the week is shot, and then one week will be two, and two will be four, and then Poe will have to drag him out of his apartment again because Poe’s the only one that actually cares and Ben can’t just keep—not when he knows—he doesn’t have the right—it’s not fair to—he doesn’t want—

 

It’s a bad day for a booking. He shaves his face even though nobody that matters will be able to see it today. Trims his pubic hair down so it’s not in the way. He can’t remember if the client specified anything in the booking, and he doesn’t care to look. If something stupid like pubic hair is going to torpedo the booking, then the booking was doomed to fail, and isn’t that about what he deserves?

He slips on his suit. The jacket is loose in the shoulders. He should have gone to the gym instead. He should be at the gym every day, except nobody pays him to be at the fucking gym. He might as well lift weights at three a.m. if he’s not going to fucking sleep, even if he’s so tired that he ends up dropping the barbell on his neck, crushing him, and—

It takes him longer than he expected to find his bag. The fucking thing is crammed in the closet, under some old tshirts and a pillow he hates but hasn’t thrown out yet. He takes a cursory look through the bag to confirm that everything’s there that should be. It looks alright, but he tosses in more condoms and lube just in case. There’s other stuff that probably should be in there, but he can’t remember what it is. He brushes his fingers over the leather box that his mask is in. He can tell by the weight of it that the mask is in there, but he cracks it open and slips his fingers inside briefly just to make sure.

He knows he should just leave. There might be delays with the train, or the hotel might be full and he might need to book somewhere else, or it might be pouring out, or any number of things. He should just grab his umbrella and leave.

He doesn’t. He goes into the spare bedroom instead, shuts the door with the tips of his fingers. Stands there in the dark a moment while his eyes adjust, skates his hand out to the side. Glides his fingers over the lightswitch, ignoring it in favour of the toggle on the cord that’s mounted right next to it. He hesitates a moment before activating it, knowing that this won’t help, this won’t make him feel better, this might make him feel worse—

The spotlights on the floor shudder to life, flickering slightly before they illuminate fully. The light emanating from them points upward, falls precisely on the display cases set up in the middle of the room, five distinct beams set up in a pentagram. He’d spent fucking weeks setting this room up, stressing about getting the pentagram even, the correct kind of wood to build the stands for the cases on, the exact thickness of glass that he should use, and it didn’t even end up mattering because the display cases are empty.

Completely fucking empty, because Ben is too much of a fuckup to keep track of his most precious possessions, because family heirlooms apparently don’t mean shit to him no matter how much he—

Completely fucking empty because Snoke kept everything that was precious to Ben, because Snoke has been keeping Ben’s things safe for him, holding onto them for Ben’s return except that Ben never went back, Ben never went back because he’s a fuckup and he can’t get his head straight and—

—his brain is buzzing and the inside of his chest was hollowed and he was supposed to feel centered, coming in here was supposed to make him feel better, he was supposed to come in here and meditate and get focused and get clear and his heart is pounding in his throat and he can hear his own breathing, too fast too fast too fast and—

—his head is flying apart his brain is shattering to pieces he’s falling right the fuck off a cliff with the wind whistling in his ears and Ben has to do something because he can’t leave the house like this, he can’t leave the house when his face is giving everything away, he can’t leave the house until he can look at himself in the mirror and look like a person instead of a flayed open wound and he can’t afford to do this right now he can’t afford to do this right now he can’t afford—

—Ben stumbles out of the spare bedroom, trips over his own fucking feet. Pushes himself up again and heads for the bathroom because he has to see how bad it is, he needs to see what his face is telling people because he doesn’t know what he’s feeling but maybe if he looks at his face he’ll be able to figure it out and the inside of his head is screaming and he needs it to stop stop STOP STOP

 

It’s a bad day for a booking.

 

There are multiple hotels Ben could book at. It’s cheaper if he gets something in the outskirts—easier on his bottom line—but it’s inconvenient for him to head all the way out there, especially when there’s very good hotels that are immediately accessible by train. The north end has good hotels. The north end has the Kael’e, actually, and that thing is a fucking five-star.

Ben figures it’ll be too late to get a same-day booking there, but he tries anyway, and there’s actually something available. He’s actually able to get a room, and it feels like the first thing that’s gone right in his day, feels like maybe he did purge all the bad luck out when he—did purge all the bad luck out earlier. And that’s good.

Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it’s a sign that Ben is supposed to be where his old phone is, maybe there’s some way he can hunt around and find out if the orgy is still happening, maybe his week doesn’t have to be a total wash and he can actually get his phone back, maybe—

Ben’s hand is throbbing, but he messages the client anyway to confirm the location with him. There aren't any other messages on his phone. When he slips his phone back into his pocket, his bandaged knuckles brush against the fabric, and he winces.

He’s dripping wet by the time he gets to the hotel, hair hanging in his eyes, suit jacket heavy on his shoulders. He avoids his reflection in the mirror as he enters, doesn’t glance down to see how bad the rest of his body looks. Forces a smile when he gets to the front desk, and he’s showing too many teeth, he knows he’s showing too many teeth, he can see it in the way that the older woman’s eyes tighten as she looks at him. Can see the tension in her smile even through the veneer of her customer service face, and he’s not supposed to see that, he specifically booked at this hotel because he’s not supposed to see through that veneer, he’s not supposed to—

Ben imitates Poe, then, runs his hand back through his hair and only notices once his hand is back on the counter that there are bright red bloodstains soaked through the gauze wrapped around his knuckles, and he should not have done that—but there’s nothing he can do to cover for it now.

“Checking in,” he says. “Under Masana. M-A-S-A-”

“Yes, I’ve got it here,” she says curtly. “One night.” Her eyes flick down to the bandages on his knuckles.

He smiles tightly. Doesn’t say anything. Puts his hand back down by his side.

He signs for the room with his left hand, the letters wobbly and uneven, but it’s okay because he has ID in his wallet that can back that signature up. It’s okay. It’s okay. The older woman accepts his paperwork, gives him a keycard. Goes to the back so that she doesn’t need to keep looking at his stupid fucking face, and—

Ben makes inadvertent eye contact with the other lady behind the counter. She’s younger, her hair shaved on both sides, the top high and swoopy, a chunk of it threatening to fall into her face. Her eyes flick to the bandage on his knuckles, and then drag up his suit to his face, and he looks away before she sees whatever he’s feeling. He can’t tell what it emotion is on his face right now but it’s probably bad.

And then he remembers his phone. His old phone. The one that was stolen, that he’d location-traced to here before he’d remotely wiped it, and he wonders if it’s still here, if the guy who stole it is still here, if the orgy—

“Hey,” he says, and he tries to pitch his voice normally, he tries to sound like he is a regular person, not a person who is completely fucked up and—he is a regular person. “Is there a chance that you had a phone handed in to the front desk? It’s just, I lost mine, and it might have ended up here.”

The younger lady tilts her head slightly as she looks at him. “Maybe,” she says. “What kind of phone?”

He gives her the make and model, tells her there won’t be anything distinctive on the lock screen. Tries not to think about the photo used to be there before he wiped it, because it was a shot Poe had taken of them years ago, and Ben doesn’t have another copy.

Ben hesitates before he says anything else—he shouldn’t say anything else—he won’t say anything else—but by the time he’s decided to stay quiet, his fucking mouth is already open. “I would really appreciate,” he says, hating his face and his tongue and his voice, “if the phone turns up, if you could let me know who turned it in. I’ve got a reward for whoever finds it—and a cut for you if you can help me out.”

“I’ll look into it,” she says, but there’s a flicker in her eyes that looks like interest, and this is just one of the many, many mistakes that Ben has made today.

He thinks she’s still watching him as he walks away, her head still tipped ever so slightly to one side.

It’s a bad day for a booking.

 

The hotel room is nice. Really nice. Ben’s worked out of the Kael’e before, but it’s been a while, and he’d forgotten how sleek the rooms are. The sheets are perfect, the artwork hanging above the bed is tasteful and elegant, and when he twitches the gauzy drapes back to look out the window, he has a beautiful view of the rest of the city—a view he wasn’t certain existed in D’Qar, but apparently from fifteen floors up, the city looks alright. It’s no Corescant or Hosnian Prime, but it’s still nice. It reminds him of some of the places he lived when he was a child.

Ben runs the shower while he strips off, folding his suit haphazardly. He yanks out the contents of his bag, cautious, as always, of the box containing the mask—but tossing the rest of it around as he needs to. He finds a couple hair ties, slips them around his wrist. Braids his hair back by feel, first one side, and then the other, fastening each braid with one of the ties, and then tucking the ends of the braids up underneath where they won’t be in the way. He palms a couple packets of lube, sticks them between his teeth. The shower is hot by the time he slips in, and he takes another shower just so that he doesn’t smell like sweat or rain.

He takes a few extra minutes to rip the lube packets open. Drizzles lube from one packet over the fingers of his right hand, strokes himself casually with his left while he fingers himself open. Once his ass has loosened up a bit, he squeezes out the lube from the other packets, gets as much of it in there as he can in case he needs it later.

He dries himself with one of the fluffy hotel towels, scowling as he passes the mirror—as though scowling is going to change anything. Peels back the bandage on his knuckles cautiously—the bandage is soaked through from the shower, so it peels off easily, but the wounds had started bleeding again at some point, and that’s not something that’s going to be okay for this. He stalks back out to the bed, digs in the bottom of his bag until he finds his first aid kit, and quickly re-bandages his knuckles, making sure that they’re protected, that everything is contained. Goes the extra step and cuts the fingertips off a latex glove, slips it over his hand so his bandaged knuckles are completely covered. Polishes it with lube, hopes it’ll get passed off as a stylistic choice rather than him just being a fuckup like usual, because—

Ben never should have gone into the other room. Not when he was already—fragile, and weak, and hating his face, and—

—he needs to stop making things worse for himself. It’s not fucking helping anything.

He yanks his underwear up over his thighs, digs his thumb underneath all the straps to make sure that they’re straight. None of them are twisted this time, which is more than he can say for every other time he wears these. He drags his thumbs over the edges of the seams, checking—and sure enough, the edging on one of the straps that runs right under his ass cheek is starting to go. He makes a mental note that he’ll have to handsew it back together before it comes completely off. Hopefully he remembers.

Probably he won’t.

Ben is too tall to get a full-length view of himself in the bathroom mirror, but he does the best that he can to make sure he looks like he's together. He sticks his hand down the front of his underwear and adjusts his half-hard dick until it’s presented as flattering as possible. Then he leaves the bathroom and heads back to the bed, flips through the various bits of pleather and mesh and elastic until he finds the pleather shoulder sleeve that matches the underwear, and yanks it on. Adjusts the partial sleeve on his right arm, checks the straps of the pseudo-harness that crosses over his pecs to make sure that nothing is twisted. His left arm and shoulder are bare. He needs to get back to the gym.

Ben checks the time—still twenty minutes before the client is supposed to get here. He shoves everything back into his bag, and picks up the box that contains his mask. He runs his fingers gently down the seams on the side of the box, opening it with a reverent softness. The mask is nestled into silk, and cradled by the protective foam underneath that that keeps it safe.

The leather of the mask is soft, well worn, almost warm against his fingertips. He unzips it gently, and the zipper glides open like a hot knife through butter. Then he tucks his chin against his chest and slips the mask over his head, smoothing it down over his braids and pulling the zipper easily down, closing the mask around his face. The leather nestles against his skin like it’s been painted on. There’s a small, nearly unnoticeable switch for the vocoder on the front side of his neck, and before he finishes pulling the zipper snug, he reaches up and toggles the switch, his breath becoming immediately audible. He breathes heavily, deliberately, while he adjusts the volume, ensuring that there won’t be static or interference, even if he ends up panting.

He won’t—or if he will, it’ll be faked—but he wants to be ready, just in case.

The vocoder adjusted, he zips the mask closed the last two inches, and then reaches around for the leather straps that wrap around his neck and lock in the back. The mask is constructed so that the zipper can’t be undone without first undoing the lock. It’s not a collar, not truly—but it looks enough like one to pass. The lock is sitting in the bottom of the bag, and he pulls it out without looking, takes a few extra seconds to feel around for the key before he hooks the lock into the loop and clicks it shut. Then he picks up his bag, and tucks it onto the top shelf of the closet, leaving the condoms and lube out on the bed.

Ben waits, flipping through the booking on his cellphone, reading the guy’s profile. He blinks a little more than usual, forces his eyes to adjust to seeing through the mesh that covers them. Pretends he’s thinking of nothing, pretends he’s just committing the booking and the profile details to memory, but he’s imagining cold hands on his neck, fingernails dragging down the skin of his back, a silent huff of breath —but no words—in his ear.

He’s imagining something he can’t have.

 

The client arrives ten minutes late, and somehow manages to look douchier in real life than on his profile picture.

“Isolder?” he asks, in a voice that drips with fake bluster.

“Yes.” The vocoder flattens his voice out into something that barely conveys emotion. It’s better this way. Keeps him from inadvertently fucking up like normal.

“You’re … taller than I expected.”

“My height is on my profile,” Ben says.

(It’s a lie—his profile only contains five words. None of them reference his height.)

“So I was thinking—”

“Money on the bedside table,” Ben interrupts. “Money on the bedside table, and shower first, through the door there. Then we’ll get started.”

“My session—”

Ben bites his tongue inside the mask. You were late and you were disrespectful of my time and your facial hair is awful and your voice is terrible and—

“I need a moment to get ready,” Ben lies smoothly. Drags the fingertips of his left hand down his chest, keeping his bandaged right tucked behind his back. He watches the client’s reaction closely as his fingertips brush against his nipple—and when the client doesn’t visibly respond, Ben lowers his hand to his abs, and then hooks his thumb inside the waistband of his underwear, pulls it down just enough to show a hint of pubic hair. He regrets having trimmed it back earlier.

“You’ll be ready for me when I come out, then,” the client says, and he looks hungry now.

“Yes,” Ben says. The mask eats the inflection of it, eats the intent behind it, eats anything that could have made the statement sensual—and that’s good, because what he intended to be sexy in his head is flat as it escapes his mouth. The vocoder makes everything flat and it’s fine, it’s fine. Ben’s tugged his underwear down far enough to display the v-cut of his abs into his hips, and he knows as soon as the client turns around that he’s got him, that this session will be fine.

He waits until the shower starts running in the other room, and then takes the envelope of cash from the table and flicks through it with his thumb before tucking it into the top shelf of the closet along with his bag. Positions his body on the bed sensually and waits, so thankful that the mask means he doesn’t need to do anything with his face, because it’s just—it’s fine. He has this client. The session will be fine.

 

Ben doesn’t have him. The session is not fine.

The client starts with a lecture on the sensuality of power exchange. “I can read them,” he says. “Submissives.”

Ben flinches. It’s not—he’s not—he is, but it’s not—fuck, this is a bad day for a booking. He can feel his skin prickling across the back of his shoulders. He tries to pay attention. Bites his lip to force himself to concentrate. Tips his head slightly to the side to try and convey that he’s listening, he’s listening, he’s—

“Are you sure you can’t take off your mask?”

“Positive,” Ben says.

“It’s just that it’s—”

“Touch me,” Ben says. “Please.”

It’s not what he needs. The details don’t matter.

It’s not what he needs.

 

The session doesn’t improve. Ben grits his teeth through a flogging that isn’t hard enough, doesn’t have a rhythm. Chews at his tongue during a caning where the client avoids hitting the same spot more than once with a skill that has to be fucking deliberate, and it’s pissing Ben off because he doesn’t understand why. The lecture continues, ceaselessly, all about what submissives are like, and how predictable they are, how good the client is at reading body language while he fails to notice that Ben has completely stopped even trying to pretend that he’s enjoying himself.

The oral at the end isn’t half-bad. Ben nuzzles his face into the client’s hip, keeping his head tipped down so that the client doesn’t see the spot Ben puts his fingers to unclip the vocoder and shove it off to the side to expose his mouth before he exhales slowly, and gets to it. The client has a decent cock, and he’s appreciate of Ben’s ability to slide a condom on with his mouth. He wraps his hands around the back of Ben’s mask, pulls Ben’s face down deeper onto his dick, chants “Isolder, Isolder, Isolder” as he comes, and Ben mimes swallowing even though there’s nothing to swallow except the taste of latex.

The client makes a half-hearted attempt to reach down to Ben’s crotch, but Ben just shakes his head, turns away for a moment to flip the vocoder back into position, and then says, “I already—uh—yeah.” He manages to fake the awkwardness enough that even with the vocoder smoothing it out, it still sounds sincere.

He regrets the lie immediately, regrets it the moment the client’s face twists into a self-satisfied smirk.

“I told you,” the client says. “I know what submissives are like.”

The client is late leaving, just the same as he was late arriving—ten minutes late showing up, twenty five minutes late leaving, and by the time he’s finally gone, Ben is so drained that he just flops back on the bed and stares up at the ceiling. After a few minutes, he starts fumbling with the straps at the back of his mask, before remembering that it’s locked, and the key is in his bag, and his bag is on the top shelf of the closet, and he just—ugh.

He should throw an ad up online. He’s got the room until tomorrow morning, and he got a last-minute booking this time, he could easily get another one, or two, or—whatever. He could lower his price, temporarily. It’d bring up interest again, especially since he’s been dormant for a while. It’d be better to do more than one session. Ben can do a lot of sessions back to back, especially when they don’t involve anything except him taking a mediocre beating—and in some ways, it’s easier to just do a glut of sessions and then take a break. Keeps him in the headspace. Prevents him from having a lot of bad sessions in isolation, because that picks away at his head and makes it harder to keep doing things, and if he books more sessions, he’s statistically more likely to have at least one good one sandwiched in there somewhere, and—

He sighs and reaches back to yank hard on the straps attached to his mask, pulling them tight around his neck until he sees stars, but it does nothing for him, and it doesn’t matter. He knows it’s him doing it, so who the fuck cares.

Ben pushes himself off the bed and heads for the closet to retrieve the key to the mask.

 

He gets off the elevator and doesn’t react to anything as he strides through the lobby until the second time she calls out.

“What?” he snaps, turning so fast that his freshly washed hair swings around his face.

“Your phone,” the younger lady at the desk says, and her voice is flat, sarcastic, a vague drawl just noticeable around the edges of her words. Holds a device up between her thumb and forefinger.

“Oh shit,” he says, and he goes over to the desk, his right hand twitching up to run his hand through his hair—but then he remembers his knuckles—but he’s already started the hand movement—and fuck, there’s no way to save this or make it less awkward so he just puts his hand back down on the counter, and there’s a few seconds where they’re both looking at his bandaged knuckles, her and him, and he hears the client in his head—I know what submissives are like—and his mouth twists, and it’s a bad day for—

“I found it,” she says. “Like you asked.” She sets it down gently on the counter, slides it over toward him.

He goes to take it with his right hand, except—her fingertips are still on it. His fingertips are touching his phone. And so are hers.

“It’s just weird,” she says. “That you’d come to see if your phone was handed in to the lost and found, especially after it’s already been wiped.” She does that slight head tilt again. “And,” she says, “I’m pretty sure that’s your phone in the pocket of your jacket.”

Ben stops himself from touching his jacket pocket. He knows his phone is there. He put it in there after his shower. He knows it’s visible.

“Ah,” he says, because he can’t think of anything else intelligent to say. He’s off the clock. He shouldn’t have to say anything intelligent. He knows there’s a lie that he’s supposed to use, something to smooth this over, but he can’t, he just can’t quite—

I know what submissives are like.

“And I’ve got a good memory,” she says, and she leans forward a little bit. “It’s possible,” she says, “that I remember the guy who dropped this phone—your phone—off at the front desk.”

“Oh,” Ben says, and he still sounds fucking stupid, why does he sound so fucking stupid.

“I’ve never seen anybody check out so fast,” she says. “He basically threw the phone at me. I was lucky I wasn’t injured.” And her fingertips slide forward, and touch against Ben’s, her fingernails inch toward the bandage on his knuckles, her fingertips touch against his bare skin.

Just briefly.

Her fingers are warm, but he’s not thinking of warm fingers right now. Well, he is. He’s thinking of hers. But he also feels—imagines—cold fingers against the back of his neck, and that same exhale of breath against his ear, and a nip of teeth along his jaw and he wants what he can’t have, he wants what he can’t have, he wants—

“And this is the thing,” she says, and she keeps talking like she hasn’t heard him at all, but there’s a mischievous glint in her dark eyes, and her eyebrow arches up and her teeth flash white at him as she smiles. “This is my last shift here, and I’m heading back to school. University,” she clarifies when Ben starts to pull away. “And I’ve never done anything reckless, not the entire time that I’ve been here—but like I said, I’ve got a very good memory. Once I’m persuaded. And it’s my last day.”

Ben bites his lip like he’s pretending to think about it.

He’s not.

 

When he finally leaves the hotel, it’s later, and the sun is setting. He can still smell her on his face, taste her when he licks his lips. While he’s waiting for the train, he pulls the business card out of his pocket, tips it into the light of the streetlight until he can see it clearly.

Ben opens up his brand new phone, types in A. Hux, and starts copying over the number on the card.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“You’re gonna k—” Poe says, and then he stops, teeth clicking together audibly.

“No way,” Ben says. “I got this.” He doesn’t move his hands, just stares up at the ceiling, at the vents and ducts, the weird cables. Breathes carefully. It’s important to visualize success, he thinks—and then he remembers who had told him that, and he quickly un-visualizes it, thinks about pizza instead. Pizza, and beer, and maybe a joint. How accomplished he’s gonna feel tomorrow when the DOMS set in.

“You’re being ridiculous, please don’t.”

“It’s not ridiculous,” Ben insists. “It’s about to be a personal best.”

“Ben,” Poe says. “Ben. Buddy. Look at what you’re doing here.”

Ben flicks his eyes to the side for a moment, mentally adds up the plates to make sure that he’s calculated it correctly. He has. The weight is exactly what he expects it to be. He didn’t miscalculate anything. “Yeah.”

“I can’t spot this for you, buddy.”

“Sure you can,” Ben says. “You’re always my spotter.”

“No,” Poe says. “I can’t spot this for you, buddy.”

Ben turns to look at him.

“There’s no chance that I could actually lift it,” Poe says, and he rubs his hand on the side of his jaw, looking off into the distance.

Ben frowns. “Oh, come on.”

“Not even the smallest of hopes,” Poe says, still not making eye contact. “Like, you drop this, and I call emerg real quick, and I hope that you’ve dropped it on your chest, and not your fucking neck or something. If you drop it on your neck, I might as well skip the call and just get a casket.”

“I’m gonna get cremated,” Ben mumbles.

“I know,” Poe says bitterly. “I know, Ben.”

Ben turns his head, looks at Poe. “Wait, how do you know that?”

“Hospital paperwork,” Poe says. He’s still looking into the distance.

He’s still not looking at Ben.

Ben sighs.

The smart thing to do would be to take a couple minutes and adjust the safety bars, but that’s gonna take time. They’ve already been at the gym long enough that Ben’s body is feeling more like jelly than actual muscle. Ben really doesn’t want to continue the hospital discussion. Not now, and not ever. Not when Poe hasn’t gotten past it.

Fuck it.

Ben looks up, adjusts his grip on the bar. Takes a couple deep breaths, and then shoves it up in a bench press. He’s momentarily surprised when the bar actually moves because he hadn’t been completely convinced it was going to but he doesn’t have time to be happy about it, needs to breathe, breathe, breathe—holds the bar up for a moment—lowers it down to right above his chest—holy fucking hell it burns it burns—pushes it up—lowers it down again—his muscles are starting to shake, nothing that Poe will be able to see yet, but soon—pushes it up—and hazards a glance off to his right, where—

—Poe fucking Dameron didn’t think he could do it, and it’s written all over his face. Ben grins, looks back up at the bar, and does one more rep before he racks the weights again.

The bar lands heavy, metal clanging against metal.

Ben feels vindicated.

 

Ben only tolerates the steam room because Poe likes it. Poe fucking thrives in steam rooms, sitting there with his towel draped over his lap and his head tipped back against the wall like he’s soaking it all in. Like he’s happy or something.

Meanwhile, Ben is fucking dying. There’s sweat beading on his neck, there’s sweat running down his ribs, there’s sweat dripping off his balls. Every time he takes a breath, it feels like he’s suffocating. His hair weighs thirty pounds.

“You doing okay, there, buddy?”

“I’m fine,” Ben lies.

“Here,” Poe says, reaching out. “Gimme your hand.”

Ben wrinkles his nose, but puts his hand into Poe’s grasp.

“Turn and face away,” Poe instructs, but he keeps Ben’s hand cradled in his so that when Ben turns away, Poe is stretching his arm gently behind his back.

It hurts, so Ben presses into it, turning away as far as he can to get the best stretch out of it.

“Other hand,” Poe says softly, after a while, and Ben switches over. He thinks, briefly, about wiping the sweat on his recently freed hand away, but there’s nowhere dry to wipe it.

The stretch feels good across his chest, especially the muscles that he might, maybe, have fucked up slightly with the bench presses earlier. Totally worth it for the look on Poe’s face, but he’ll be lucky if he can move his arms tomorrow.

His hand feels good clasped in Poe’s.

“I started working again,” Ben says.

“Ah.”

“Just easing back into it.”

“Alright,” Poe says. “Hey, you wanna come over to the studio tomorrow? We got that thing coming up, and I’d like your input.”

“On the improv show for Friday?”

“Nah,” Poe says. “I mean, yes, there’s an improv show on Friday, but it’s just an improv show, it’s fine. Week after, though, we’ve got a two-night run at the studio for a bigger show. I’m kinda running point on it, so I gotta go over some stuff, get a vague plan in order.” He lets go of Ben’s hand, and chuckles quietly. “I think if I show up to one more planning session without having my shit together, Snap’s gonna chuck me in the alley and leave me there.”

Sweat drips down into Ben’s eyes, and he wipes both his hands from his forehead back to his ears, like clearing away the sweat that’s there is going to prevent more sweat from happening.

He’s damp again almost instantly. Fuck, he hates steam rooms. Hates them, hates them, hates them.

“Wait a minute,” Ben says. “Has Snap gone and figured that he’s gonna plan everything out from now on? I mean, he never used to.”

Poe grins. “Oh, nothing’s changed on that front. It’s just that Snap gets pissy if we’re both winging it, and I drew the short straw for this show.”

“Right.” He wants to say more. He should say more. But he doesn’t know what to say, so he jitters his clammy fingers on top of his knees, and drags his other hand back through his hair. His fingers catch in knots that weren’t there when he got in. His hair is damp and curling at the base of his neck. Gross. Everything about this is gross and—

“I’m good to leave,” Poe offers. “If you are …”

Ben is already standing, is on his feet before Poe is even done speaking. Even though he’s dying to escape, he waits and lets Poe go first. Doesn’t even crowd him on the way out even though he’s suffocating in the steam. The cool air outside the steam room feels like a fresh start.

 

They shower before they leave. Poe showers hot, steam billowing out from behind the curtain, but Ben’s got his cranked all the way on to cold to try to wash the sweat and the dampness off his body. His skin is pulled in tight, goosebumps breaking out everywhere, and his skull hurts from holding his head under the freezing water, and this is so much better than dying in that fucking steam room.

When the water stops, Ben doesn’t bother restarting it. He stands there for a minute, drip-drying, shifting his weight back and forth on his bare feet, and then he gets out of the shower, drapes his towel over his head, and starts the process of drying his hair while the rest of him continues to air-dry. He’s just starting to dry the rest of his body off when Poe exits the shower in another cloud of steam. Obviously, his hair’s already perfect. He’s wearing his shower sandals.

Ben opens his mouth to tease Poe about it, and then decides against it. It would be a jerk thing to do, and he’s trying really hard not to be a jerk. He still feels bad about the charity event and the puking, for turning down Poe after Sunday’s get-together thing, feels guilty for the part where he knows Poe would hang out with him the rest of the day if Ben wants, but he—he doesn’t want. He has to go home.

Ben rolls his shoulders, but it doesn’t change how he feels. He feels vaguely bad, in a way that isn’t a physical thing, it’s—something else. Something that he can’t pin down.

“Thanks for the workout, buddy,” Poe says, and claps him across the back, squeezes his bare shoulder. “How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Ben lies. He is unsettled, he is not going to be able to move his arms tomorrow, he is very deliberately not thinking about how he’s going to spend the rest of his afternoon. He is pretending that he left his phone at home by accident when he did it so that he wouldn’t get distracted after his workout, he did it so that he would go home right away where everything is set up and ready for—

“Didn’t wreck anything with that bench press?”

“Nah,” Ben says. He tosses his wet towel into the bin by the wall, yanks open the unlocked locker that he’d jammed his stuff in. There’s nothing in his locker except a bunnyhug, street shoes, fresh clothes, a grungy old backpack that he jams it all in to keep it contained. His wallet’s at home, his phone is at home.

Leaving his phone at home was a good idea. The only chance he had at being able to concentrate on his workout like he did. But now that he’s done working out, all he wants to do is check the fucking thing.

Maybe he’s got messages.

He regrets not asking Poe to take a picture of his bench press PR.

By the time Poe spins his lock open and drags his stuff out of his locker, Ben is more or less dressed, and is just slinging his backpack over his shoulders. He drags the hood of his bunnyhug up over his wet hair, but thinks better of it and yanks it back down again. Watches Poe dig through his gym bag looking for whatever he’s looking for—and then he gets it, but then he’s looking at Ben.

Not directly.

Indirectly.

The silence between them is—it’s there, and Ben can’t tell if it’s a good silence or a bad silence or what it is.

“How’re you doing?” Ben asks.

Poe looks up. He was staring at Ben’s wrists. Ben knows it, and from the guilty look on Poe’s face, Poe knows that Ben knows.

“Oh, you know,” Poe says. “It’s good, buddy. It’s always good.”

Poe’s regular smile is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. This smile is—not that smile, and only holds it for a moment before he turns his face away, continues getting dressed. Ben reaches for his phone, but remembers—again—that he didn’t bring it. So he fidgets with the hem of his bunnyhug instead, glances at Poe sideways when he gets a chance.

It takes Poe longer than any one human being should take to get fully dressed, so Ben gets a lot of chances to look at him. Poe is graceful and deliberate with his movements, even when he’s not on stage. Not every performer is like that.

Ben wonders if the aerialist moves with the same knife-like precision when he’s not performing, but it’s too hard to even imagine him doing something that isn’t performing, too hard to imagine him dressed in actual clothing, with his feet on the ground. He seemed—seems—too intense to do normal things like buying groceries, or taking out the garbage.

“You want a ride home?” Poe asks, shouldering his backpack over his leather jacket. “I’ve got a spare helmet.”

“Nah,” Ben says. “I’m gonna go for a run.” He’s not running back just for his cellphone. He’s running because going for a run sounds good. It sounds healthy. It sounds like he is thinking about things other than black, delicate letters inscribed on a faintly cream-coloured, thick business card. Going for a run is self-care. It’s important.

“Alright,” Poe says. “I’ll see you tomorrow, though?”

“Yeah,” Ben says. “I’ll message you.”

“Perfect,” Poe says, and then he slaps his pocket like he’s remembering something, shoves his hand inside. “Oh, wait. I got you something.”

Ben frowns a little, but waits, and sure enough—Poe digs around in his pocket until he pulls out a key, holds it out to Ben.

Drops it into Ben’s waiting palm.

Ben closes his fingers over it before it disappears. It’s freshly cut, solid and weighted in his hand, the edges digging just every so slightly into his palm. He looks back up at Poe.

“It’ll keep you from any more run-ins with Bala-Tik, at least,” Poe says, and he nudges Ben’s shoulder with his own as he heads for the exit.

Ben follows behind him, grimacing as he tries not to think about his previous run-in—and how did Poe know about that anyway?

 

Ben judges the success of his run based on how fast he gets home (pretty fucking fast) and how gross he feels once he gets there (completely disgusting, drenched in sweat and breathing hard).

He strips off the moment he’s inside his apartment, leaves all his damp clothes in a pile at the door. It’s raining, again—and the parts of his run where it wasn’t raining were muggy and gross. His clothes are damp from the rain and the mist on the outside layers, and wet from his body on the inside ones. His balls are stuck to his leg with sweat, and it’d be way more comfortable if he unstuck them, but he also really doesn’t want to touch himself right now. His hair is stuck to the back of his neck again. Three showers in one day is way too many showers, but there’s no other way that he’s actually gonna be able to function for the rest of the afternoon. And he’ll need a fourth shower, after—

Ben only slows down for a moment when he passes the living room, and only then because he left his laptop open on the coffee table, left the video there, paused. On display is a perfect still image of the red-haired aerialist, captured the moment before the drop, all his muscles taut and his eyes hidden by that blindfold. His mouth is a precise knife-slash in his face, and—and Ben’s new cellphone is sitting on the table, right beside it, and the business card—A. Hux—is sitting right beside that and—

—Ben washes his face in the kitchen sink, wets a teatowel and runs it over his torso.

Heads straight for the couch, where he digs his sex blanket out from the box under the coffee table, tosses it over the cushions, and then flops onto it.

Everything’s set out exactly where he wants it set out, exactly where he’d left it when he had left this morning. He starts with his phone, though.

Checks the time.

It’s two p.m. It’s Tuesday.

It’s a perfectly reasonable and rational time to send a text to A. Hux, now that he has the guy’s number.

Ben: thank u for turning my old phone in @ hotel!

Ben: i got it. 

Ben: (i did mean it when i said u could keep it if you wanted tho :)

He makes sure his ringer is on, but puts his phone back on his coffee table, slides his hand over to his laptop and unpauses the video, slips his headphones over his ears.

Ben’s smart, this time—the video is muted, and the music that’s coming out of his headphones is actually something he likes, instead of the arrhythmic dissonant shit that the aerialist used. It’s nice, having watched the video this many times—he can actually focus on the little details now, like the precise point of the aerialist’s feet, the sharp jut of his collarbones, and the way that he’s choreographed literally everything. Even the spins that look like they’re happening at their own pace are perfectly timed with the music once Ben knows how to watch for them, and once he figures that out, it’s easy enough to see the minute muscle movements that the aerialist is using to speed up or slow down his spin so that everything stays in time.

It’s fucking genius is what it is, because the movement looks like it’s unfolding naturally, when it’s actually been orchestrated and controlled down to the millisecond.

Ben reaches onto the coffee table, picks up the business card and props it against the monitor so that he can see the text glaring out at him. Allows his mind to wander, to imagine the orgy that he’s certain was taking place in the same room as his cellphone, imagines a clipped British-Core accent attached to a large man that’s pacing the room, whispering in people’s ears, telling them how well they’re doing, how proud he is of them. A. Hux is running this dungeon with an iron fist, he’s organized, everything is under his control. He only cursed like he did in Ben’s ear because he was startled, because Ben’s phone going off was something that hadn’t gone to plan. That’s not the way that he runs his dungeon, that’s not the way that he runs his life, that’s not the way that he exists in this world, in this fancy orgy at a fancy hotel. He’s holding a riding crop in Ben’s fantasy—no, wait, his hands are empty. His hands are empty and he’s wearing a navy business suit and polished leather shoes. His hair is long and dark, and it falls gently around his face in a perfectly straight curtain. Ben’s old cellphone is in his pocket, forgotten. That’s why it’s a surprise later, that’s why he curses like he does—it is only because he forgot, because the weight of Ben’s cellphone in his pocket was inconsequential. A. Hux only curses because he is jolted out of his routine, because he is focused on making sure that everything goes to plan, because he has been distracted at a critical time, because—

Ben opens his eyes just in time to watch the aerialist fall, watch the silks catch him. Switches the video to slow motion just to watch the aerialist’s naked cock move against his stomach, and it’s fucking beautiful. He’s so fucking beautiful and perfect and cold.

Ben wants him.

Badly.

He pulls the other box out from underneath the coffee table, reaches inside to find the lube, and pumps it twice, squirting cold lube into his palm. Ben considers holding it in his hand for a moment to warm it up—A. Hux would do that, would make sure that Ben was comfortable and taken care of, would rest his hand on Ben’s shoulder to keep him stable and grounded while he slowly, slowly opened Ben up with his fingers. The aerialist, though—and here, Ben rolls onto his side to let the cool air of the apartment dance across his back—the aerialist would penetrate Ben suddenly, with cold fingers like marble, would scissor them inside before Ben was ready and force him to stretch, force him to catch up, force him to keep up because everything is perfectly choreographed, everything needs to happen on time and Ben is lagging behind, Ben is off-key and off-beat and out of rhythm—

—Ben imagines both men in the room with him, imagines the aerialist behind him as Ben presses his own fingers, coated in cold lube, up his ass. Imagines A. Hux in an expensive suit sitting perched on the end of Ben’s couch, leaning over, his long hair just brushing Ben’s ear as he whispers in his clipped British-Core how good Ben is, how well he’s doing, how proud he is of Ben—

—Ben moans into the empty air of his apartment, his ass stretching around his fingers, his dick hardening. He rolls onto his back, reaches into the box again with his dry hand. Pulls out one of the vibrating flared dildos. Drags his fingers out of his ass, hooking them right at the rim to hold himself open, imagines the aerialist’s naked chest pressed up against his side, imagines sharp teeth digging into his neck, sharp fingernails dragging down his stomach. Red lines scored into his flesh. Ben doesn’t bother lubing the dildo up, just spits on it, smears the spit around with his wet hand—the aerialist wouldn’t bother with lube, would just push his cold dick into Ben’s ass and assume that he could take it, and Ben can take it, he can, he can—

You’re doing so well, A. Hux whispers in his ear. So well. I’m so proud of you. Look at you.

Look

at

you.

Warm lips press against Ben’s forehead. Ben’s got a good imagination, he’s always had a good imagination, and he can almost fucking feel the kiss, can almost feel the ghost of A. Hux’s breath against his hairline.

He can definitely feel the silicone cock he’s pushing up into himself, cold and underlubed, dragging against the walls of his ass. He pushes it the last few inches until it’s fully seated inside him, until his asshole clenches around the narrow spot right before the flared base. Ben rotates the dildo slightly so that the curve of it pushes against his prostate. Slides his lubed fingers away from his rim, smears the leftover lube around the place where the toy meets his ass, just so that it doesn’t catch. Then he wipes his hand on his sex blanket, turns over onto his stomach—thinks better of it, turns back to his side, reaches over to the laptop with his clean hand and starts the aerialist’s video over again, reaches down to the base of the toy and flips the switch to turn the vibration on.

Catches his lip between his teeth as the cock pulses suddenly to life, the deep whom-whom-whom-whirrrrrrrrrrrrr of it taking his breath away as his body scrambles to keep up, as arousal spikes up his spine and his hand had been going toward his dick and he stops it, keeps it away. He just needs a minute, he needs to get on top of this, and until he gets on top of this, he’s in danger of coming, and that would be too soon, far too soon when he has so far left to go—

You’re doing so well, Ben.

There, it’s fine, he’s got it now. Ben’s on top of it, on top of the pain-pleasure-pain-pleasure-pain. It’s—it’s a lot, but it would be a lot in real life, if both men he’s imagining were here with him. Ben drags his own fingernails down his side, pretends his hands are cold, regrets momentarily that he didn’t set ice cubes down beside the couch so that he could make his hand cold, numb it out so that he couldn’t feel it and scratch himself that way, and oh—

—oh, fuck, this is so good.

Opens his eyes and watches the aerialist spin, blindfolded and slow and controlled and so fucking hot that Ben can hardly breathe.

Ben closes his eyes and imagines A. Hux standing beside the couch, looking gently at Ben as he shrugs his suit jacket off and sets it aside. Rolls up the sleeves of his white button-up, crouches down with his expensive shoes shone so brightly that Ben imagines seeing a reflection of his own naked body in them. Ben’s old phone is tucked into the pocket on A. Hux’s vest. Ben imagines him resting his hand against Ben’s forehead as he undoes the button on his expensive pants, pulls down the zipper, and takes out his already-hard cock.

Come here, pretty boy. Give me your mouth, come on now. Open wide for me.

Ben reaches down to the box again, fumbles around until he finds the silcone cock gag, yanks it out and hits himself in the face with one of the leather straps. It stings, and he blinks rapidly through the inadvertent tears. The black silicone is cold, unyielding, and Ben exhales around the tip of it briefly, rubs the head of it against his cheek. Closes his eyes so he can pretend it’s real, pretend A. Hux is slowly feeding his cock right into Ben’s face.

Lick it.

Ben does, rests the gag against the end of the couch so it’s secure, drags his tongue down the silicone and back up to the tip again, licks his lips and then does it again, getting it nice and wet.

Good boy.

Ben drags his fingernails down his side again, sharp little lines of pain, clenches his ass against the whom-whom-whom-whirrrrrrrrrrrrr of the vibrator, which forces it harder against his prostate and Ben has to grab at the base of his cock and squeeze to keep himself from coming because he’s not ready, not yet, not yet—

Once he’s gotten on top of it again, he steadies the gag, closes his mouth gently around the tip of it, and then starts to slide down the length of it. When the silicone cock nudges the back of his throat, he waits for a moment, breathes around it slowly, gently.

Now all the way, A. Hux says, and this is the hard edge of his profanity voice, this is the threat that he may be disappointed, this is the threat that he will withdraw his affections from Ben the same way that he withdrew from the phone call. This is the cold muscled body of the aerialist pressing against Ben’s back, and the threat of A. Hux’s disapproval at his front.

Ben takes a deep breath through his nose, swallows the silicone cock down his throat. His eyes are squeezed shut, but he grabs the straps at the base of the gag, pulls them around to the back of his head, knocking his headphones off.

He pretends it’s the aerialist’s hands pulling the straps tight and fastening them around the back of his head.

The cock is in his throat now. Ben gags, but there’s nothing he can do about it. The straps are on. He doesn’t want A. Hux to be disappointed.

Ben puts his hand on his dick, starts stroking himself.

He imagines the aerialist biting at his shoulders again, no longer sharp nips, but full-fledged bites where the aerialist drags his teeth over Ben’s skin, bites down, sucks hard, and then twists. Ben had had a client do that to him once and he’d bruised badly enough it was visible the next day, deep bruises that had come up from beneath his skin in stages of purple and blue and yellow and green, each day bringing new colours in, and he’d taken pictures of it every day in the mirror, and those photos had been on the phone he’d had to wipe, those photos had—

—those photos had been on the phone that A. Hux is carrying in his vest pocket now, and Ben imagines him, then, flipping through those photos. Tilting the phone screen slightly so the aerialist can see, but so that Ben can’t, doesn’t know what they’re looking at, what parts of Ben’s depravity are on display, whether it’s the dick pics or the post-sex pictures or any of the documentation Ben’s kept—Ben had kept—of all the kinky shit he’s done. Ben imagines A. Hux showing the pictures to the aerialist, imagines the aerialist’s mouth drawn into that thin judgmental line that he displays almost the entire silks performance, the slight twist at the edge of his mouth that indicates he is not impressed, he is not enjoying this, Ben is not good enough. It’s A. Hux murmuring under his breath about what a slut Ben is, look at how lovely his pictures are, it’s A. Hux tipping the phone down to where Ben is gagging on his cock just to make sure that Ben can see, it’s the photos Ben had taken of the needles that Ben had deliberately put through the head of his own cock, the crimson perfection of the one drop of blood hovering against his foreskin. It’s the inadvertent profanity that slips from A. Hux’s mouth—shit—when he sees it, his composure finally rattled by something Ben has done, the aerialist looking at Ben with his curiously blank uncoloured eyes and laying his cold hand against Ben’s cheek as though he, too, is impressed—

—Ben is suddenly coming so hard that his vision nearly goes black, and his dick pulses in his hand, shooting cum up his stomach. Ben keeps his hand wrapped around his dick afterwards and it doesn’t start to soften, so he keeps jacking it through the whom-whom-whom-whirrrrrrrrrrrrr of the vibrator against his prostate and he’s so sensitive it hurts but he’s got a good feeling about this, tightens his grip and keeps going through the pain and just when he’s about to give up, finally, he is coming again, oozing onto his hand, pushing the vibrator out of his ass as he spasms, arching his back up off the couch and gagging against the cock shoved down his throat and there are tears in his eyes and snot running out of his nose and holy fuck was that good, holy fuck, holy fuck.

His hands are shaking when he undoes the gag and chokes the cock out of his throat and onto the sex blanket. It’s covered in thick spit he’s gagged up from the depths of his throat, and he runs his shaking finger through it even though it’s so thick it resists every effort to be moved.

Ben fumbles between his legs to locate the switch on the vibrator, which has been flopping around loose on the sex blanket since he shoved it out, reaches up blindly to the spare towels that he had put on the back of the couch, and pulls them overtop of his face and everything is suddenly, blissfully, silent and dark except for his ragged breathing.

 

He takes his new phone into the bathroom with him before he remembers he can’t take pictures here right now, smacks his knuckles against his bare thigh as he paces back out into the hallway, sets up in front of the hallway mirror. Snaps a full-body picture that captures the mess he’s made of himself, gets close-up shots of the tear and snot tracks on his face and a couple of his softening-but-still-impressive dick nestled against his thigh, framed by his too-short pubic hair. He coughs up the remainder of the thick spit at the back of his throat, hoarks it into his palm. Stretches it between his fingers and takes photos. He shouldn’t waste the opportunity—so once he’s slicked up his fingers with his own spit, he jams them into his mouth, hooks them on his teeth and yanks his jaw down, takes more photos to display how wide he can open his mouth.

He should have jacked off to the thought of the aerialist and A. Hux both shoving their dicks into his face. Should have touched himself thinking of them coming simultaneously inside him, so much cum that it overflows out Ben’s nose—and it would burn, oh, fuck, it would burn so badly—and drips off his chin, should have thought about them making out in front of him, A. Hux bent down to compensate for the aerialist being significantly shorter, both of them with tongues in each other’s mouths and dicks in Ben’s face, ignoring him as though he doesn’t exist, ignoring him because they don’t need him, ignoring him because—

Ben’s dick twitches, and he winces. He’s way too sensitive for this right now, and he shelves that fantasy. It’s a good one. He’ll come back to it later.

As a final shot, Ben rests his fingertips next to the semen spattered across his collarbone, shoots a quick zoomed-in video that captures the trembling in his hand. He grabs a spare towel from the hall closet, tosses it down on the bathroom floor, and carefully walks across the towel into the shower. Turns on the hot water, and stands there until his legs stop shaking even though the water has long since gone cold.

When he gets out, he closes his eyes, navigates back out of the bathroom by instinct, footsteps careful and delicate. There’s a vague crunching noise from underneath the towel he’s walking on, but Ben doesn’t think about it, just keeps walking.

In the hall, he braids his hair back, secures it with a hair tie. Tips his head at himself in the hallway mirror. Wishes there was somebody to see him like this, fucked out and exhausted. Wishes he had an anonymous page where he could scream out into the void of the holonet that he is here, he is lonely, won’t someone just—

Ugh.

Ben stops in the kitchen, shoves a cup under the ice dispenser and fills it up. The first mouthful of crushed ice he lets slide right down his aching throat. The second mouthful he holds, moving it around with his tongue as he tidies up. The sex blanket and the towels go into the wash, the sex toys get cleaned in the sink and then loaded into the dishwasher for sterilization. He’s just heading back to the bedroom to get a pair of boxers when he realizes that the light on his phone is blinking.

It’s blinking because he has a message.

Ben worries at his lip as he picks up his phone, even though he’s half-convinced it’s just going to be Poe, texting him about something completely unrelated, but it’s not, it’s—

A. Hux: I did not want it.

A. Hux: Stop texting me.

A. Hux: How did you get this number?

Ben’s stomach is in free-fall.

Ben: u want me to stop texting, or u want me to tell you how i got this number?

Ben: u have a rly nice business card

Ben: very profesh

He’s not going to stare at his phone until he gets a reply. He’s going to set the phone down like a normal person, going to go into the other room and get some food to eat, something to—

Ben’s phone dings. He vaults back over the couch to grab it and unlock it.

A. Hux: It wasn’t for you.

A. Hux: Do I need to get my lawyers involved?

A. Hux: I’m entitled to privacy while I’m on vacation.

A. Hux: What the goddamn fuck is wrong with you

Ben: is this about ur orgy?

Ben doesn’t know what he expects—it was a joke, he’d meant it as a joke—but there’s a long, long delay before Ben’s phone lights up again, and when Ben opens his text messages, it’s to a vivid rant so extensive that he needs to scroll upwards to catch the start of the message. It’s laced with profanity and vitriol, and the bottom falls out of Ben’s stomach as he—

sick piece of shit

how could you possibly think

what kind of fucking asshole

—reads the message and it’s just so fucking long, it goes on for lines and lines of sheer offense and violent rejection and—

how could you have assumed

what kind of person do you think I am

—Ben keeps scrolling and there’s still more message, there’s still more—how is there more—

This is gross.

He doesn’t bother responding. He can’t respond. Can barely hear anything outside of the ringing in his ears as his carefully tended fantasy shatters to pieces, and both of his orgasms feel—tainted now, somehow.

Ben wants to delete the messages.

Ben should delete the messages and the number both.

He can’t bring himself to do it.

Ben edits the contact to read zzzA. Hux so it shows up in the bottom of his contact list, switches his phone to silent, and tosses it on the couch. He’s got that unsettled feeling between his shoulders again, like he’s being watched, like he’s being spied on, and it feels—bad, this is bad, it’s all bad.

Why does all the bad shit keep fucking happening to him?

There’s leftover pizza in Ben’s fridge. He has no idea how old it is, but it smells okay, so he takes a slice back to the couch. He rewinds the video of the aerialist back to the beginning and starts watching it again, reclines back against the cushions as he watches the aerialist fall, watches his cock against his perfect porcelain stomach.

“Guess it’s back to just you and me,” Ben says to the computer.

A. Hux’s fucking perfect business card is still sitting there, propped against the laptop screen. Ben picks it up by one of its laser-precise corners, and flicks it toward the tv.

The card lands on the floor, slides under the tv stand, and disappears.

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben wakes up, and he’s lonely. It’s a day that ends with y.

He lies in bed for a while. Four thirty in the morning is too early to be awake. His apartment is quiet. He’d open a window, but there wouldn’t be any street noise, so there’s no point. He briefly considers calling Leia, but can’t get his brain together enough to figure out what time zone she’s in, whether it’s earlier or later there. Can’t remember the last time he spoke to her either.

Ben’s fingers twitch toward his cellphone, and he opens up his contacts list. It’s still scrolled down to the Z’s. He turns his phone off without doing anything, goes back to staring at the ceiling. He waits for it to be a different time, a different day, a different life.

Nothing changes.

Ben gets out of bed.

 

He digs out his broom and dustpan, kneels on the cold tiles of the bathroom. The towel that he’d used to cover the mirror shards, the towel he’s been walking on carefully since Monday, is a write-off—it’s covered with little fragments of mirror, most of them dug right into the fabric and impossible to pick out. He tries anyway, and cuts the tip of his finger open as he tries to pick out one of the more embedded pieces. Little beads of blood well up irregularly along the surface of his skin, and Ben wipes the tip of his finger onto his bare leg and tries not to think about it. Rubs the smear of blood on his leg aggressively until he can’t see it anymore. Tries not to inhale through his nose.

He gathers as many of the mirror shards in the towel as he can, goes over multiplication tables in his head because multiplication tables have nothing to do with anything, nothing to do with being a teenager or an adult or part of the Knights. Multiplication tables have everything to do with being five or seven or nine, and climbing trees after school and swimming in the creek and running deep into the forest and ducking in and out of stalls at the market and he can pretend he’s just out there by himself, having an adventure, instead of being in his bathroom cleaning up after himself because he can’t fucking hold it together, can’t keep things straight, just goes and goes until he explodes and—

Ben sweeps up the smaller pieces with the broom. Wets a rag and carefully wipes the floor to catch the rest of it, holds it up to the light and tips it back and forth to see the mirror fragments glinting in the overhead lights. Then he gets a clean rag and hand-washes the rest of the floor. He’s down there anyway, he might as well. There’s lint from his towels stuck to the caulking around his tub—never get that fucking thing clean again, tainted forever now, you’ll never get it clean again—and by the time he’s got everything to the point where he’s okay with it, it’s almost six a.m.

Six a.m is a real time. Six a.m is a time that exists.

Ben opens the dishwasher to unload it. His sterilized sex toys are on the top rack. He closes the dishwasher again without doing anything.

what kind of person do you think i am what kind of person do you think i am whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

He makes coffee, takes it to the couch and watches the aerialist spin and drop and climb and spin and drop and—

His coffee is cold.

It’s seven am. Ben brushes his fingers over his keys, abandoned on the kitchen table. A ride would feel good. Better if he left his helmet behind, let the wind whip through his hair. Best if he rode his bike really fast. Out of town, out past the river and towards the mountains. Up the hill. Down the hill, around the corner. Wrap his bike around a tree and get it over with. It would be quick. It would be quick, unless it wasn’t. If it wasn’t quick, it would be slow, and that would be—bad? Would it be bad?

Ben leaves the house without his keys.

 

Being outside helps. He misses the first bus, watches it wait at the stop for a few minutes while he’s still a block away. Watches it pull away and continue on without him. He keeps walking.

D’Qar is always kind of damp, but today’s gearing up to be the type of day that will be sunny by two p.m., once the fog has cleared up. Walking takes up time, and the more time that gets taken up, the more real the day feels. The itching feeling between his shoulderblades is starting to lessen. He’s only thinking about wrapping his motorcycle around a tree a little.

He wonders where it all went wrong, where everything derailed, but he can’t put his finger on anything specific. It just feels like—it just feels like someone has backed a dumptruck of badness up to his life, and just emptied it all over everything. Things had seemed—things had seemed so much better yesterday, and today—

what kind of fucking asshole

do i need to get my lawyers involved

—today everything just seems wrong. Everything is wrong. He can’t figure it out.

The weather has changed from cloudy to muggy by the time he arrives at the hardware store, and there’s sweat trickling down his back. The hair at the back of his neck is gross and heavy again. He doesn’t remember what size his bathroom mirror is—was—so he just picks something that looks kinda nice. It’s got lights embedded into the side of it. It’s the kind of thing that would have been really good to have back when he was performing. He’s not doing that anymore. Maybe it’ll be good for taking selfies. Maybe he can, like, sell photos of his abs or something. Well-lit photos of his abs.

Ben tightens his grip on the box the mirror comes in, feels the scabs on his knuckles pull.

 

He hauls the new bathroom mirror home on the bus, carries it up the stairs to his apartment. Leans it against the bathroom wall. Looks at the box, looks at the space on the wall where the mirror will go. Goes back out to the front, digs around in his motorcycle jacket until he finds half a joint. Smokes it hunched up against the cold brick on his balcony.

It’s raining again.

His brain is humming by the time he goes back inside. The edge is gone, and he feels more … more able to focus on things. The hardest thing about installing the mirror is getting the damn thing level when he’s the only one holding it up, but he gets it, he eventually gets it, and when he looks back at the clock again, a couple more hours have passed.

Ben flicks on the lights that surround his new mirror.

Flicks them off.

Flicks them on again, and stares at himself.

He should go back to bed. It’s still early enough that he could go back to bed, get some sleep, do something so that he can function through tonight. He regrets telling Poe he’d show up at rehearsal, but everybody already knows he’s unreliable and he doesn’t want to make it worse by cancelling. His reputation is already ruined with everybody but Poe, and he doesn’t want to risk Poe thinking he’s useless too.

Instead of going into his bedroom, he goes back out to the living room. He digs around in his bookshelf until he finds the hollow copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince, flips it open. There’s another joint in there—it isn’t any more than a stub, but it’s better than nothing. He looks at his balcony, considers heading back out in the rain, but doesn’t. He gives up, sits on the couch, lights the joint. He’ll worry about the smell later. He’ll only have it lit for a minute.

He’s just gonna unpause the aerialist’s video.

 

Ben must sleep, if only for a few minutes, because he wakes up when the joint burns down to his fingers. He drops it on the coffee table, shakes his fingers to remove the sting. He mustn’t have been out for long, and if he dreamed while he was out, he doesn’t remember—

drowning

—what he dreamed about, and that’s fine. The back of his head itches, and that place between his shoulder blades crawls.

He wants someone to tell him that everything’s going to be okay.

On his computer screen, the aerialist is falling, glorious and naked and perfect.

Ben reaches forward, grabs his lighter. Lights the stub of the joint again, ignores the burn in his fingertips as he takes the last few drags, holds the smoke in his lungs as long as he can before gently exhaling it.

The video is perfect.

 

Time passes.

 

It’s a good thing Ben set an alarm on his phone to remind him about rehearsal, because he’s still watching the video when it goes off, brain pleasantly fuzzy and mind distracted. The joint is completely dead, and Ben vaguely wishes he had another one, but he should probably get his ass in gear instead. That was the point of the alarm. So he remembered to get his ass in gear.

Ben gets his ass in gear.

Ambles to the bathroom, washes his face, brushes his teeth. Drinks cold water directly from the tap until the inside of his mouth stops feeling furry. Yanks his hair up into a ponytail. Thinks better of it. Finger-combs his hair loose again, tosses the ponytail holder by the sink. Runs his hand over the stubble on his face, and then runs the electric razor over it. It’s not as good as a real razor, but he doesn’t trust himself, keeps thinking of the glass shard cutting across the top of his finger and the blood welling up, up, up—

He finds a clean set of black jeans and a tight long-sleeved black shirt with long cuffs that hook over his thumbs. He throws a baggy tshirt on overtop.

He looks okay, when he looks at himself in the mirror. Looks like the kind of person who has their shit together.

whatkindofpersondoyouthink

Ben’s out of pot.

It’s fine, though. Everything’s fine.

He’s probably high enough already.

 

hashtagSOLO: so, uh, hey, about this setlist you’ve got posted here

DAMNeron: hey buddy

DAMNeron: yeah?

hashtagSOLO: how many more acts you adding

DAMNeron: that’s all she wrote, boyo.

DAMNeron: that’s all i got

hashtagSOLO: it’s short

DAMNeron: yeah

hashtagSOLO: like, even for an internal show

hashtagSOLO: its short

DAMNeron: yeah.

hashtagSOLO: you’re gonna need more people. like, at least one more act. probably three tho

DAMNeron: got anyone in mind? ;)

DAMNeron: i’m just kidding, i know you don’t want to

hashtagSOLO: how about that aerialist?

DAMNeron: i shouldn’t joke about that, buddy, i’m sorry.

DAMNeron: there’s no pressure on you to perform, i’m just happy you’re back hanging out with us again

hashtagSOLO: i’m hanging out with YOU, poe

hashtagSOLO: i was serious about the aerialist

DAMNeron: everybody else misses you too

DAMNeron: it’s not just me

DAMNeron: though i also miss you

hashtagSOLO: actually serious

hashtagSOLO: about the aerialist

DAMNeron: …

hashtagSOLO: he’s really good

DAMNeron: i’m not arguing that

DAMNeron: i just don’t think he’s a good fit

DAMNeron: that’s all

DAMNeron: I’m gonna head over soon

DAMNeron: meet you there?

hashtagSOLO: …

hashtagSOLO: ok

 

Ben pulls up to the back of the warehouse in a spray of gravel, flips the kickstand down on his bike and stands there a minute while his balance settles. His hands are shaking. He should have taken the bus. His breath is fogging up his helmet. He should have taken the bus. There were exactly eighty-seven large trees between his apartment and the warehouse. He should have taken the bus.

whatkindofperson

sickpieceofshit 

It was a joke, it was supposed to be a fucking joke.

Poe’s there, standing in the parking lot leaning against his own bike, the remnants of a joint pinched between his thumb and forefinger. He tips his head up when Ben pulls in, smiles. Gestures to the stub of the joint held between his finger and thumb.

“This one’s dead, but I’ve got another in my pocket,” Poe says. “If you like.”

Ben shakes his head. It’s not a good idea. This is not a good idea. He wishes he could put his finger on why he feels so bad. Why he isn’t feeling better. Why he feels so goddamn fucking lonely.

He takes off his helmet, keeps his head down until his sunglasses are back on. “I’m okay, thanks. Had one before I left.” His voice only shakes a little. He’s okay. “Listen, about the aerialist—”

“Let’s talk about it after, yeah?” Poe says. “We’ve got a couple minutes to drag the chairs around downstairs before everybody gets here.”

“Yeah,” Ben says. “Okay.”

He holds the door open for Poe, lets Poe brush past him, keeps his hand at his side where it belongs. Ben’s pretty sure that he smells like sweat and stale pot. Doesn’t want his stink to rub off on Poe, who smells clean—like he’s just gotten out of the shower.

The light dims abruptly when the outside door clicks shut, and Ben blinks a few times to try and convince his eyes to adjust faster, ends up pushing his sunglasses up on top of his head. The warehouse always smells weird, no matter when they go in here. Today, the stairwell smells of sparks and welding, long-dormant dust and motor oil, and the handrail on the stairs is slightly gritty under his hand. He keeps his index finger up off the railing, doing his best not to yank the cut open again. The last thing he needs is blood.

“Bala-Tik get ahold of you?” Poe asks as they descend.

“Uh, no,” Ben says. “Was he asking after me?”

“Stopped by yesterday when Pava and Karé were rehearsing. Was vague about what he was after outside of something you owed him.”

Ben grimaces, waits at the bottom of the stairs while Poe plugs in the strings of Christmas lights that light their way down the pseudo-hallway between the wall and the seacans.

“Is it money?” Poe asks after a few minutes. Their footsteps echo hollow in the warehouse.

“No.”

“Favours?”

“A favour.”

“What kind of a favour?”

Ben doesn’t answer.

Poe waits until Ben’s in the foyer, in the midst of unlacing his boots. “Look, buddy, you know if you need help or anything—”

“It’s just a phone call,” Ben says curtly.

“I know calls aren’t your thing …”

“I just have to call Han,” Ben says, tugging at the knot in his laces.

“I can—”

“I’m the only one who can do it. I just haven’t done it.” The shoelace breaks off in his hand, and Ben exhales heavily. It’s fine.

“Alright,” Poe says.

“It’s just a phone call,” Ben repeats.

“Okay,” Poe says. He reaches out like he’s going to put his hand on Ben’s shoulder, but then doesn’t, puts it back by his side again.

Ben chews the inside of his cheek.

Hates himself.

“Let’s go look after those chairs,” he mumbles.

Above them, he can hear the back door open, hear footsteps thudding down the stairs. More people is good. More people is going to mean that Poe will focus on them, instead of focusing on Ben.

There are days when Ben can’t handle Poe’s intense ability to care about people, to care about him even when he doesn’t deserve it.

This is one of those days.

 

Ben watches Bastian strip, watches him run his hands down the lapels of his white suit jacket before snapping his pants off his body so quickly that the sound cracks in the air like a damp towel. It’s a good piece—Bastian is well-choreographed, and moves like the ballet dancer he used to be, puts his leg up behind his body like it belongs there, drops into full splits like it’s nothing even though Ben’s got to rehearse for a month to be able to pull that off. Ben’s drawn to the point of Bastian’s foot, but only because he can’t help but think of the aerialist, imagines the aerialist’s pale foot pointed in contrast with Bastian’s dark one. Ben thinks of the taut muscle of the aerialist’s calf, the sharp jut of his hipbone, imagines running his fingertips over that tight stomach and down to his cock, only it wouldn’t be soft and lying against his stomach, it would be—

“—anything, Ben?”

Ben starts, meets Poe’s eyes. “Uh, nothing to add,” he mumbles. “All good.”

Bastian arches his eyebrow, but doesn’t say anything. He’s dressed again, loose pants and a baggy tank top, and Ben has no idea when that happened, or how long he’s been distracted. Shit. Unreliable, again.

He looks down at his clipboard, but there’s nothing on it except circular scribbles, over and over and over again across the page. In the bottom right corner, there’s something that might be the start of a gesture drawing of a naked man, hanging suspended from a rope. Ben methodically starts to scribble over it, erasing it from the page.

“Alright,” Poe calls from next to him. “Jess, Karé, let’s see it!”

The music kicks in. Ben keeps his head tipped down, so he doesn’t see the setup for what goes wrong, just hears the heavy thump of someone landing on the stage, and looks up to see Karé helping Pava to her feet.

Poe stops the music. “You okay?”

Pava shakes her head, touches the back of it and winces. “All fine,” she says. “I—fuck. Sorry, Poe.”

Karé mutters something in Pava’s ear, holds her hands out. They converse for a few more minutes, and then they link hands and Karé crouches. Pava starts to push herself up into a hand balance before stopping and coming back down. Karé rests her head gently on Pava’s shoulder, runs her hand down Pava’s back. Pava looks pissed, her mouth pulled into a tight line. Ben wonders if she’s keeping herself angry so that she doesn’t cry. It’s not a bad strategy if she is. It usually works for Ben.

“We won’t continue,” Karé calls out to Poe after a moment.

“It’s fine,” Pava says, and her lips are drawn into a thin line, her hand gently skating over the back of her head.

“I’ll send you the choreo notes,” Karé continues, as though Pava hasn’t spoken. “It’s about seven minutes, total.”

“Thanks,” Poe says. “Are you sure you don’t want me to—”

“No,” Pava says, scowling. “I’m fine, don’t mother bird me.”

“C’mon,” Karé says softly, taking Pava’s arm. She says something else Ben can’t hear, and they walk together off the stage.

Ben slips out during the next act—Ello’s demonstrating the setup for what looks like an elaborate juggling act, complete with hoops, balls, and pins, Poe is simultaneously taking notes, and explaining the setup to Korrie so she can kitten—and makes it all the way outside before he realizes that he doesn’t have a lighter or a cigarette.

Ben slips his phone out of his pocket, opens his text messages.

Closes his phone.

Opens his phone again, flips through his contacts and hovers over Han’s number. Leans back against the wall of the warehouse, and thumbs the connection, listens to the phone ring.

It only rings once before he gets the computer. “This number is not in service at this time. Please—”

He hangs up.

Typical.

He slides down to the ground, tips his head up at the sky, and waits for things to get better.

 

“Hey, he’s out here,” Karé calls.

Ben’s eyes shoot open, and he’s suddenly aware that his ass hurts from sitting on the gravel and his neck is sore. His phone is still in his hand. It takes him a minute—more than a minute—to figure out where the fuck he is.

“Having a nap in the parking lot?” Karé asks.

Pava’s standing beside her, and winces when Karé raises her voice to talk to Ben. Pava’s got one hand on the wall by the door, and Ben can’t tell how much she’s using the wall to hold herself up, and how much she’s just … touching the bricks. Maybe the head injury’s worse than he thought.

“I guess so,” Ben says, because he’s too groggy to think of anything else. He looks at his phone, but doesn’t remember what time he came out here, so looking at the time does nothing for him. “Everybody done?”

“Yeah,” Karé says, her footsteps crunching on the gravel as she walks over to him. “There are still a couple people chatting downstairs, but everything’s as sorted as it’s gonna get for next week. I’m gonna give Little Miss Concussion here a ride home.” She extends her hand out towards him.

It takes Ben a moment to realize that she’s doing it to help him up. Her hand is warm in his, and she leans back to counterbalance his weight as he pulls up to his feet.

“Thanks,” he mumbles. “I guess I must have been more tired than I thought.”

“You also smell like you’ve been hotboxing your helmet,” Karé notes. “That probably didn’t help.”

Ben cringes. “I—”

“Hey,” Karé says. “No judgement, except for the part where you should have shared with the class. Poe’s real enthusiastic, yanno? It can be a lot.” She smiles to soften it. “It’s good to have you back, Ben.” Karé turns back to the building, calls back to Pava, who is chatting to Bastian at the doorway. “Come on, there! Let’s get this train rolling.”

“I’m not back,” Ben says, but she’s already turned away, and he doesn’t think she hears him at all.

 

Ben almost runs into Korrie on the stairs, mumbles something at her in greeting, presses his body to the wall like it’s not taking up space, like it isn’t in her way even though the staircase is narrow. He doesn’t breathe again until she brushes past, does his best to ignore the part where she didn’t make eye contact. The only one still downstairs with Poe is Ello, and he’s gesturing wildly at Poe as he tries to explain—something. Ben’s not really sure what, but it looks like the conversation is wrapping up, and Ben doesn’t want to get involved anyway.

“I’ll just adjust the show order,” Poe says. “If you can stage manage for the first half, at least, that’d be huge.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ello says. “No problem. See you tomorrow.”

“See you then,” Poe says.

It only takes Ben and Poe a few minutes to drag the rows of chairs off to the sides again. One of the rows drags on the back corner, and Ben makes a mental note that they’ll have to get the pads replaced so they don’t fuck up the dance floor before he remembers that he doesn’t do this anymore, that it doesn’t matter, that the studio is for the Resistance, not for him, and it just doesn’t matter.

He erases the mental note.

It’s too late, though. He already feels invested again. One fucking charity show and two visits to the studio, and he’s right back in where he was before he left in the first place, before the Knights. Before Snoke. And everything could go just as bad this time as it did last time, there’s nothing to prevent it from happening again, Ben broke once and he could break again, it’s all on him and—

No.

He needs to stop.

“Everybody’s pieces look good,” Ben says. That’s a normal thing to say. “That Pava-Karé piece is gonna be something.”

“Yeah,” Poe says. He looks back toward the entrance even though there’s nobody there. “I wish Jessica would have let me look at her, or get herself checked out, or something.”

“Pava’s gonna Pava,” Ben says. “I’m sure she’s fine.”

Poe scrunches his nose. “Yeah.” He runs his hand back through his hair. “I swear she’s taken years off my life, though. Not as many years as you have, mind.”

“I haven’t been around much. She’s had a lot of time to catch up, if she was gonna,” Ben says. He swallows. “So, about the setlist…”

“I don’t know about you, but I would love a beer,” Poe says, and he’s already walking toward the kitchen. “Beer and couches?”

“Yeah,” Ben says. “Alright.”

 

Ben settles onto the couch opposite Poe, ditches his clipboard straight onto the floor. There’s nothing useful on it anyway, and the bottom right corner is so densely scribbled that he’s torn through the paper in more than one spot. The ragged edges of the paper are curled up, made soft by the ink.

He tosses and turns on the couch, ends up on his side, head propped up on his hand, his free hand picking at a loose thread on the edge of the cushion. He’s got his beer balanced on the cushion, tipped back against his stomach. It’s warm—the fridge is acting up again—but it’s still good.

Ben doesn’t feel so fuzzy anymore, just feels—discontent, unhappy. Unsettled. Angry that he’s settling back in with the Resistance after he’d sworn that he was done, finished with performing, never going back. Worried that starting back with the Resistance just means that everything is going to loop back around again, that he would have been better just staying away like he had been.

Poe’s making notes on the setlist, drawing lines to shuffle things around, biting the end of his pen and flicking it around from side to side in his mouth. It’s distracting. Ben is distracted.

“Swap it over to BB,” Ben says finally. “I can’t handle watching you fidget.”

“Oh,” Poe says. “Right.” He digs BB out of his pocket, takes a picture of his clipboard, and then fiddles around with it for a few minutes before the projection screen at the end of the balcony flickers to life, displaying a mostly-correct version of the clipboard—BB’s text recognition is better now than it was a few years ago, but Poe’s handwriting is shit at the best of times, so it’s not perfect. Poe takes his time correcting the list, backspaces out the stuff that’s incorrect, fixes the places where he meant ‘e’ and BB interpreted it as ‘a’, and all the while Ben watches him, watches the way his eyes crinkle at the corners, watches his fingers tapping on BB’s touchscreen, watches Poe.

“What’s up, buddy?” Poe asks after a few minutes. “You’re staring.”

Ben shakes his head in denial. “It’s still too short,” he says, forcing himself to look at the screen instead of at Poe. “And the acts are unbalanced.”

“It’ll be alright,” Poe says. “Snap’ll cover for the gaps with patter or jokes or whatever. It’s that time of year, it’s tough to get performers. It doesn’t hurt us to have a couple smaller shows each year, either—they can’t all be monstrosities.”

“So you’re lowering ticket prices for this?”

Poe winces, and Ben feels instantly guilty for saying anything.

“Look,” Ben says, the words coming out thick on his tongue again, even though the pot wore off ages ago. “I’ll just perform in the second act. Put me between Bastian and the Karé-Pava thing.”

“Really?” Poe says, and his face lights up for a moment. “That sounds—no, wait, buddy. You’re retired. I’ll just—I’ll shift Ello or something, it’ll be fine.”

“It won’t work,” Ben says bluntly. “The audience is gonna be jolted all to fuck trying to transition mentally between Bastian and their wierdo piece, and sticking Ello in there doesn’t help anything.”

“And—”

“It’s bad,” Ben repeats, and he swings his feet to the ground, puts his beer against his crotch. Leans forward with his elbows on his knees to try and bridge the gap between them, gestures at BB instead of at the screen. “Put me in there. I’ll do the neon bit with the LED panels.”

“Alright, I get that the set list is poorly balanced, I know, but I just don’t want—”

“It’s fine,” Ben says. “Put me in the first act too, I’ll do blockhead or something.”

“You’re retired,” Poe repeats.

“It’s okay,” Ben says again. “Aren’t you the one that always tells me I gotta get back on the horse before I forget to ride?”

Poe rubs at his jaw and looks away, sighs. “I guess.”

“Well, I want to perform,” Ben says.

“It’s next week,” Poe says. “And rehearsing—”

“I don’t need to rehearse,” Ben retorts. “I can swallow swords in my sleep. You know that, Poe.”

Poe looks back at him, bites his lip. “Yeah,” he says softly. “I know, Ben.”

The tips of Ben’s ear are burning as he realizes what he’s said, how it sounds, and he—he doesn’t mind, doesn’t mind at all. And based on the look on Poe’s face—Poe doesn’t mind either, and Ben just—Ben just wants to feel better, he just fucking wants to feel better, to feel useful, to feel needed.

“Can I—” Ben asks, and then he swallows, slides out of his chair onto his knees on the floor.

“Fuck, buddy,” Poe breathes. “You don’t have to—don’t—don’t kneel for me. Don’t—don’t do that.”

“I want to,” Ben says. I want you to want me to, he doesn’t say.

He waits for Poe to say stop, for Poe to say no, for Poe to say lemme get you another beer, but Poe doesn’t say anything.

Poe doesn’t say anything at all.

Ben crawls over to Poe, sits back on his heels. Leans in close.

Poe’s legs fall open at the slightest touch of Ben’s fingertips. Poe looks up at the ceiling, exhales slow and heavy. Ben nuzzles at the fly of Poe’s pants, and Poe’s hips hitch up toward Ben’s mouth before Poe stops himself, groans, presses his hips back into the couch. Away from Ben.

Doesn’t matter. Ben can still feel the heat coming from him.

“We don’t have to,” Poe says. “I’m not—we don’t have to.”

“Can I, though?” Ben asks. He looks up at Poe, and Poe’s got his head tipped back against the back of the couch again, but he’s biting his lip, Ben can see that he’s biting his lip.

“It’s okay for you to say no,” Poe says, but his voice is tight and Ben knows if he reaches up and puts his fingers on Poe’s neck that Poe’s pulse will be hammering in his throat, hard and unsteady. Ben likes the softness of Poe’s pants underneath his fingers, likes the way that Poe’s knees have spread open, the way there’s just enough room between Poe’s legs for Ben to fit.

“I don’t want to say no,” Ben says, but it’s not about saying no. He knows he can. He knows it’s okay if he does.

“You don’t want to say no,” Poe repeats. “Do—do you want to say yes?”

“I want you to say yes,” Ben mutters, and his hands tighten on Poe’s knees but it’s okay because Poe’s hands are on top of Ben’s hands now, and Poe is leaning forward, lips pressing against Ben’s forehead.

Poe’s voice is thick, and he says, “Okay, yeah, Ben—whatever you want, do whatever you want.”

And so Ben does.

 

Poe’s dick in his mouth is everything Ben has ever wanted, because what else is there to want? Poe’s skin is hot underneath his hands, but Ben is still thinking about the—Poe, Ben is thinking about Poe, he is thinking about Poe because Ben likes the comfort of this, likes the part where he knows exactly what he’s doing, exactly how Poe likes to be touched, exactly what gets Poe off. He sucks Poe steadily, uses his tongue quick and light around the head, dips down the shaft and drags back up again. His hand is cupping Poe’s balls, massaging them gently. Ben’s other hand is pressing against his own dick, giving Ben enough friction to rock against, but not enough friction to actually make him come or anything. It’s more about avoiding the embarrassment of rutting up against Poe’s leg than it is about getting off. It’s not about Ben, it’s not about what he wants, it’s not about what he needs—

Poe’s voice is a steady litany of oh fuck yes and Ben, Ben, Ben, and don’t stop, don’t stop and his hands are touching Ben’s shoulders lightly, and then running through Ben’s hair, and then touching the sides of Ben’s arms, and Ben wishes he would just—would just latch somewhere, grab him, hold him tight so that Ben knows where he belongs, knows what he’s doing, knows what he needs—

Ben is not thinking about the aerialist.

He’s not thinking about A. Hux.

He’s not lying to himself.

He’s not.

 

Afterwards, Ben crawls up onto the couch, lays his head in Poe’s lap, hooks his fingers into Poe’s belt loop. He shakes his head to refuse Poe’s offer of a swig of beer—Ben’s never minded the taste of cum in his mouth, and especially not when it’s Poe’s. His own beer is—knocked over on the other side of the room, spilled out across the floor. He guesses he must have done that when he slid off the couch.

Poe’s hand is in Ben’s hair, carding his fingers through it. He’s quiet.

He’s too quiet.

“I just don’t understand why we wouldn’t ask the aerialist,” Ben blurts out. “We don’t have anyone who performs like that in the Resistance.” He can feel the sudden tension in Poe’s body, and Ben rolls away a bit, looks up at Poe’s face.

“I just …” Poe says, leaning back against the couch and looking—he looks upset, and Ben doesn’t know why. Ben has no fucking idea why. “I told you, he’s just not a good fit. He didn’t—I dunno if you’ve talked to Snap or Pava or anything, but they … didn’t have great things to say about him after the charity show.”

“Nobody says great things about me, either,” Ben says pointedly. “And you always told me that it didn’t mean I wasn’t good at my work. It didn’t mean that I didn’t have a place here.”

Poe rubs his jaw. “I guess I did say that,” he allows. “But I’ve got a history with you. I don’t have shit with this guy.”

“I do,” Ben says, even though he’s got nothing other than a video he’s watched over and over and over again, a video he’s jacked off to more than once, and a need to see the aerialist perform in person that is literally the only real feeling he has left, especially after—

whatkindofperson

—especially after his stolen phone, and how quickly that all went to shit.

“I … I don’t think that’s healthy, Ben.”

“I get to decide that,” Ben snaps, suddenly furious. He sits up and swings his legs off the couch, stands and goes back to the other couch. Swipes his mostly-empty beer can up and pushes his socked foot across the spill. Sits down, heavy, onto the floor, away from Poe. “You don’t—you don’t get to make those decisions. I make those decisions.”

“I’m just looking out for you,” Poe argues. “I don’t—it’s just—” He sighs heavily, runs both hands back through his hair. “I didn’t know you still kept in touch with them, it’s fair for me to be upset about that after—after what happened.”

Ben frowns. “Kept in touch with who?”

“I know it’s none of my damn business,” Poe continues, staring up at the ceiling. “I fucking know that, Ben, but that doesn’t mean I have to just … invite the Knights into my space or into my show.”

"The Knights?” Ben asks stupidly.

He regrets opening his mouth the minute Poe lifts his head from the couch to stare at him incredulously.

“That’s Snoke’s star performer, his fucking headliner,” Poe says. Like he’s talking to a three-year old, which is about how old Ben feels right now. “That’s your fucking replacement, Ben. Snoke threw you out and—”

“He didn’t do that to me, that was my fault, it was all me.”

“—brought in that fucking asshole and—wait.” Poe tilts his head. “You said you had a history with this guy.”

Ben swallows. “I’ve … watched the video a lot.”

“... you’ve watched the video a lot.”

“I didn’t remember,” Ben says, and his voice is starting to get louder, he can feel his voice starting to get louder, the inside of his head starting to fall apart. “Like—was that in the patter? The script Snap was bitching about? Was all the Knights stuff in that? Cuz I don’t …” He swallows. “You saw me the day after, Poe. I was a mess, I’ve got—gaps, and—it was a pretty bad blackout, and I just didn’t—you gave me the video, and that part wasn’t in the video—”

Poe takes a deep breath. “Can we start this conversation again, buddy?”

Ben chews the inside of his cheek. Nods.

“Okay,” Poe says. He moves over on the couch, like he’s making space for Ben to sit beside him.

Ben doesn’t move.

“Do I talk first or you talk first?” Poe asks. “I talk first?”

“I’m serious about asking him,” Ben says defensively. It’s not a good start to a redo of the conversation, and he’s trying, he’s fucking trying, but he just needs Poe to fucking hear him. “It’s a good fucking performance. It would be a good fit with our show.”

“Even knowing that he’s your replacement?”

“Well, Snoke needed to hire somebody,” Ben says. “And that guy is obviously talented. It’s a really good act. It’s different from everything we’re doing here.”

“Snoke—”

Ben’s gut clenches, and he doubles down on it. “We should ask him. We need another act. The show is short, you know the show is short, and that piece he did had to have been seven minutes, I looked up the original music—”

“I never would have given you that video if I’d known—”

“It’s none of your fucking business what I do with that video either,” Ben retorts, and it’s an effort to keep his voice down, an effort not to just yell, an effort that he’s not going to be able to keep up much longer because it’s taking everything he has to stay sitting on the floor, because he knows if he stands up he’s just going to loom over Poe, if he stands up he’s going to feel like escalating this, and he shouldn’t—he shouldn’t be escalating anything, he shouldn’t be picking a fight with Poe less than five minutes after giving him a blowjob. Ben settles for yanking his sleeves down further over his hands, bringing his right hand up to his mouth to chew on his nail. It has nothing to do with Snoke is what he wants to say, but he can’t make himself say that either.

Poe throws up his hands in exasperation. “Look,” he says, sounding really pissed—and then he reins himself back in, pinches the bridge of his nose, and continues in a calmer voice. “Look, buddy, I can contact him, alright? I guarantee Hux isn’t gonna give me the time of day, but I’ll contact him if you want me to. But I gotta be clear on this. Do you want me to contact him?”

“Hux?”

“That’s what I asked,” Poe snaps. “The aerialist’s name is Hux, do you want me to contact him?”

“Is that … the guy that stole my phone?” Ben thinks of the business card, landing on the floor and spinning underneath the tv stand. His gut twists, and his teeth still where they’re worrying on his nail. He feels like he’s sinking into the floor, somehow, and wonders if the balcony is finally starting to go, if he’s about two seconds from sliding onto the main floor alongside the couch he’s leaning against—

“Well, I’m not surprised,” Poe says. “He stole our cab that night, I’m not surprised he picked up your phone too.” There’s a moment of silence before Poe exhales heavily. “Oh, shit, buddy—your phone. The orgy.”

“We misinterpreted that,” Ben says immediately. “That was a mistake.”

“... how do you—never mind, I don’t want to know.”

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

“I just know.”

“I don’t want to—okay,” Poe says. “Okay.” He runs his hand back through his hair again. “I’m sorry for getting upset. I just—I’m just looking out for you.”

Ben is chewing the inside of his cheek again. It can’t be, it can’t be, the aerialist and A. Hux can’t be the same person. That’s—that’s not a thing, they are separate people, they have to be separate people. They have to be separate people because Ben can’t figure out what the fuck it means for his life if they aren’t, if the aerialist with skin like marble and the expensive-suited A. Hux with the British-Core accent and the—and the thing that wasn’t an orgy—if those two people are the same two people, and Ben has spent so much time with the video and with his fantasies, and with his hand on his fucking dick and—

“What did you say his first name was?”

“Hux?” Poe asks. “Man, I don’t know. It’s something weird.”

“Does it start with A?” Ben asks.

“Yeah, yeah,” Poe says. “Armand or something. Armchair. What the fuck ever." He sighs. “I really am sorry, Ben. I got carried away, I just—I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get hurt. I’ll contact Hux for you if that’s what you really want, I promise. I’m just worried that you’re making a mistake.”

“The mistake’s already been made,” Ben says dully. He can’t. He can’t even fit these two things together. A. Hux and the aerialist are the same person. The perfectly pointed feet, the stark hips jutting out from the silks, the red hair, the accent, the suits, they’re all the fucking same person, they are the same person, they are the same—

“—you okay?”

Ben’s ears are ringing, and his stomach has sunk into the floor.

He’s got that feeling between his shoulderblades like static electricity, or like a set of very sharp teeth, or like come here, pretty boy, give me your mouth, or like all of those things at the same time, because all of those things are—

—all of those things are the same thing, they have been the same thing all along and—

—he didn’t know, he didn’t know because of the blackout—because he was too fucking stupid to know, because he never pays attention to anything, because he was going to break eventually, why wouldn’t it be now, why wouldn’t it be now, and Snoke had always told him that he just—

—doesn’t pay any fucking attention, because he was too busy chasing a fucking orgasm to figure out—what, and why, and—

Ben can’t remember how to breathe. Someone is standing on his chest. Stepping on his heart. His tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth. His mouth is bone-dry.

“Are you okay?” Poe says again.

Ben nods automatically, but doesn’t try to speak. Fumbles in his pocket for his cellphone, unlocks it but can’t see the screen clearly.

“I just—” Poe says. “—I fucked up, before. I didn’t—I didn’t get involved, and I—and I should have, but I didn’t. And I know it’s none of my fucking business but … Benny, I just—”

“The mistake’s already been made,” Ben repeats, and his voice comes out throaty and wrong and like he should have never opened his mouth in the first place. He’s fumbling with his phone now, and his words are coming out all halting and thick because his brain is still trying to put all the pieces together but it’s like trying to run through thigh-high water when the tide is pulling him out to sea. “After we called my phone, my old phone, I—I kept texting the number. And then he turned in my old phone at the hotel, and I just wanted—closure and—so I got his number, and I just—it’s such a good piece, Poe. That fucking piece is so good, and I must have watched the video a hundred fucking times trying to figure out how it works, how he does it, and there’s so much we can learn, but I didn’t—I didn’t know they were the same person, how was I supposed to know…”

Ben’s got the text messages open now, but his vision is still blurred, and all he gets is pieces of entitled to privacy and what the goddamn fuck is wrong with you and what kind of fucking asshole and he’s already fucking committed to it, has his phone extended out to Poe, waits for Poe to just take it, waits for Poe to just—read the messages, waits for Poe to read the messages so this fuckup isn’t a thing that Ben has to carry in his stomach until it burns through his guts like acid.

He hopes that the balcony does cave in. He would welcome falling down into the kitchen in a pile of rubble.

It can’t hurt worse than this.

Poe sucks in a sharp breath. Ben doesn’t know what part of the text messages he’s reading, doesn’t know which part of the text messages is the worst.

“With the video … what were—” Poe says.

“For fuck’s sake,” Ben says miserably. “Don’t ask me, Poe. Please don’t—don’t fucking ask me.” And that’s fine, because Ben’s voice cracks as he’s saying it, and Poe doesn’t need to ask, because it’s written on Ben’s face, his stupid fucking open book of a face.

He wishes he were Isolder right now. Nobody can see what Isolder is feeling by looking at his face. Nobody can hear Isolder’s voice crack through the vocoder, everything is just static, more and more of it the more upset he gets. Static and buzzing and emptiness in his brain and—

Poe kneels down next to him, wraps his arm around Ben. Ben immediately burrows his face into Poe’s shoulder like it’s going to help, like it’s somehow going to fix everything.

(It’s all unfixable now.)

“Oh, sweetheart,” Poe says. “I’m so sorry.”

Ben lets Poe hold him.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

hashtagSOLO: hey poe, I won’t be at the studio 2n

hashtagSOLO: might not make improv show tmrw

hashtagSOLO: no welfare check needed

hashtagSOLO: just tired

hashtagSOLO: :)

 

Ben: i wanted to apologize

Ben: i made assumptions, and they were wrong, and i’m sorry.

Ben: i thought your piece was really good.

 

Ben’s phone is almost out of batteries. He tosses it onto the floor, and burrows underneath the covers.

He doesn’t get out of bed for the rest of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben doesn't get out of bed on Friday either.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben gets out of bed.

It’s Saturday. His body hurts from lying so still for so long. Normally he thrashes around in his sleep. This time, judging by the aches and pains, he’s been lying in bed like a corpse since getting home Wednesday night after the—after whatever the fuck that was. After his entire life blew up because he couldn’t keep his fucking mouth shut, couldn’t keep from making stupid fucking decisions, hasn’t grown up yet, is still … fuck.

Ben’s mouth tastes like he’s died and come back with his mouth full of grave dirt. He pulls his head to the right on his way to the bathroom, moves it around until his neck cracks. Does the same on the other side. The left cracks louder.

It takes a long time for Ben’s shower to run out of hot water. He keeps standing there after it does, head down. Lets the water run through his hair and over his back. His muscles ache. His joints are sore. His skin hurts.

Ben gets out of the shower, towels off his hair. Yanks it up into a bun. Brushes his teeth, rinses. Brushes his teeth again. His mouth is still gross.

There’s clean laundry in the dryer. He yanks on the first set of clean underwear he finds. Starts folding.

Finishes folding. Put his clothes away, cleans out the fridge. Sweeps the floor, gathers up the trash.

Makes his bed. Accidentally kicks his phone.

Why the fuck is his phone on the floor?

He retrieves it. Tries turning it on, but it’s completely dead. Ben plugs it in and abandons it, heads back to the bathroom to start deep cleaning. By the time he cycles from the bathroom through the bedroom and the living room and back to the kitchen—he doesn’t go into the other bedroom, leaves the door shut and doesn’t think about it—he’s starting to get a little loopy from the cleaning fumes, so he steps out onto the balcony in his underwear.

It’s crisp outside. Cloudy again—the rainy season here is no fucking joke. Ben runs his hands up and down his arms, torn between going inside where it’s warm and smells like chemicals, or staying out here in the fresh air where he’s gonna get fucking frostbite. He’s just debating going back inside long enough to grab a blanket when he hears a motorcycle in the distance. He thinks they’ll go past his apartment building, but they don’t—he can see them parking on the sidestreet, see them dismounting. The rider starts heading over at a pace that isn’t a run, but is too fast to be a walk.

Ben waits he’s sure, until he can see the insignia on the side of the helmet, and then calls out. “Hey.”

Poe looks up, stops walking for a second before waving. Goes back to his bike at a normal pace and pulls a paper bag out of the carrier, hoists it up like it’s an offering.

“I’ll unlock the front,” Ben says, gestures with his hand for Poe to come around. Realizes immediately after he speaks that there’s no way that Poe heard him, but it’s too late to correct it now. Ben ducks back inside, still rubbing his arms to ward off the chill from outside. He sets the bag of trash out on the far corner of the balcony, keeps the patio door cracked to let some of the fresh air in, let the chemical smell out. Flicks the deadbolt on his door open, and then heads back to his bedroom to grab some clothes. He yanks on a set of black ripped jeans, and is pulling a long-sleeved shirt over his head when he hears the door open. “Be right out,” he calls.

“No rush,” Poe says. There’s a heavy clunk as Poe sets his helmet down.

Ben yanks his sleeves down, hooks his thumb into the cuffholes. When he walks back out into the kitchen, Poe is pulling takeout containers out of a bag, arranging them on the table. There’s a pile of napkins, chopsticks, and forks set in the middle of the table. It’s all so fucking normal, and Ben’s just spent two goddamn days in bed, and he just—

“I didn’t know what you wanted,” Poe says. “So I brought some of everything.”

—doesn’t deserve this, doesn’t deserve any of this, doesn’t know how to respond to this, doesn’t know why Poe is here, doesn’t …

“Alright,” Ben says.

“Thank you,” Ben says.

His mouth is dry and tastes like ashes.

 

The food feels strange on Ben’s tongue. There’s a moment where he wonders if he’ll even be able to eat, if he’ll get the food in his mouth and his stomach will twist and reject it, shove everything up or down or out—but then he forces himself to chew, chew, swallow, and his stomach accepts it. Knowing that he’s allowed to eat after two days of nothing makes Ben suddenly ravenous, and he eats his way through first helpings of everything, goes back into some of the containers for seconds.

After he’s done eating, he scrapes the leftovers into the cleanest takeout container, tucks it into his nearly-empty fridge. He needs to buy groceries. He needs to buy groceries, and make a bunch of food so he has something to eat, and—

Poe takes a deep breath, licks his lips. “Ben, uh.” It’s the first words he’s spoken since they started eating. “Are you—how are you doing?”

Ben shrugs. “Mistakes were made.” It’s meant to be self-deprecating, but it doesn’t come out that way. His voice is gravelly and raw and catches in the wrong places. His voice makes him sound like he’s miserable. Ben’s not miserable. Not anymore. He’s fine. Two days is long enough. Two days is enough time to—to get over whatever fucking obsession he had with the aerialist. The obsession that he had with A. Hux.

The obsession that he had with the aerialist, A. Hux.

(Even just thinking about it makes his head hurt and his stomach sour.)

“I’m okay,” Ben says. “Just tired,” he says. By the time he realizes that’s a stupid fucking thing to say for somebody who just spent two days in bed, the sentence is already out of his mouth and he can’t take it back.

Poe still looks uneasy, uncomfortable. “What do you need?” He swallows, rubs at the stubble on his jaw. “Should I—I can take off, if that’s what you need.”

Ben laughs without meaning to. It scratches his throat.

Poe’s face does something that looks like it’s trying—and failing—to be a smile, and he reaches for his helmet.

“Don’t,” Ben says. “I just, uh.” He gestures toward his living room.

“You’ve been in bed for two days and you can’t people yet?” Poe asks. He sounds hopeful.

He needs to stop sounding that way. Ben knows he isn’t going to change.

It’s not fair for Poe to expect him to.

“Yeah,” Ben says. “That.”

“Like I said, I can—I can leave, if you want.”

“I have beer in my fridge,” Ben manages. It’s not what he meant to say—it’s not I want you to stay—but it’s close as he can get right now.

“I’ll have a beer,” Poe agrees.

So they do that.

 

“How was it, though, actually?” Ben asks. He’s looking at the ceiling. He has his head in Poe’s lap and Poe’s fingers in his hair. He should be happy right now. “The improv show yesterday.”

“It was good,” Poe says. “You know how those improv shows go—there’s only so much you can prepare for the fucking things, and they’re always a mess, but this one was a successful mess.” He has a drink. “People got drunk, had some laughs, watched some stripping, left happy.”

“Make any money?”

“Wasn’t bad,” Poe says. “We paid everybody and made a bit of money besides.”

Ben waits for him to say something else, waits for him to offer more details—but Poe doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t say anything at all, and Ben scrambles around, trying to decipher what to say, what to do to keep the conversation going. “Who hosted?”

“Almost everybody,” Poe says. “We tried something new—had an audience member pick a name out of a hat, and then just had them keep going until they were heckled off or until they gave up.”

“Who got first round?”

“Ello, and the poor guy stammered his way through the opening spiel until he got his feet under him. Also, he didn’t figure he went on until later, so he only had half his face done.”

Ben snorts. “Standout piece?”

Poe considers for a moment, his hand stilling on Ben’s neck. “Karé,” he says finally, his fingers working into Ben’s muscles, the spots that are all fucked up from lying in bed for so long. “She’s been gluing crystals to her black tux for the last six months, and she brought it out last night even though it’s only half done. Managed to put about five shirts underneath it without bulking the thing up, so the reveals just went on forever, and she ended in booty shorts and suspenders. There was a girl in the first row who I swear almost passed out, it was fantastic.”

“I’m glad it went well,” Ben says. “I’m—”

“I swear, Ben Organa, if the next words that come out of your mouth are any variation on ‘I’m sorry’ …”

Ben grimaces. “It’s not about …” and at this, he gestures in the air, not sure if he’s indicating his brain or his life or the part where he just hibernated under the covers for two days with his phone off without telling anybody. “I did mean to come,” he says, finally.

“Hey,” Poe says. “You told me you were okay in advance. That was the part I was concerned about.” He taps Ben’s shoulder lightly, an indication that Ben should roll over—so he does, buries his face in the couch cushions, top of his head pressed against Poe’s thigh, and lets Poe start pushing into his shoulders with his knuckles, working on the soreness in his muscles. He should actually get a massage, or head to a physiotherapist, or something—but all of that smacks of self-care, and Ben’s been lying around in bed. He’s indulged himself enough. It’s time to get the fuck over it and move on.

He winces as Poe hits a particularly sore spot on his shoulders, tries to relax into it. He’s almost there, almost relaxed, when Poe says, casually—

“I contacted Hux about our show this week.”

Ben tenses under Poe’s fingers, a movement so obvious that there’s no way Poe didn’t feel it. Ben inhales, exhales slowly. Waits until his breathing steadies, until he knows he’s faking it competently.

“And?” Ben’s fucking voice cracks, and gives him away.

“He said no,” Poe says.

“Okay,” Ben says.

“I’m still—” Poe starts—and then he stops.

“What?”

“Never mind.”

 

They usually fuck. Ben expects to fuck. It’s the easiest way to patch over whatever bad shit is going on between them, whatever disappointment Ben has been to Poe that has caused Poe to shut down. Ben hadn’t admitted it to himself at the time—but fucking is one of the reasons he’d made sure that he’d washed his sheets, focused on getting the place cleaned up and aired out. It’s normal, fucking to smooth out the jagged edges in your relationships with people you—with people you’re close to. Fucking to get through the difficult bits. Fucking to make up for the fact that Ben’s brain is broken and won’t ever be not-broken, won’t ever be clear and straight forward and normal, and fucking is easier than fumbling through apologies, fucking is easier than talking things out when there’s no promises he can make about this not happening again, fucking is easier when Ben knows these won’t be the only two days of his life that he’s going to retreat to bed and stay there.

Ben is fuzzy, still in that liminal stage between being asleep and being awake, and can’t tell if he’s done something—wronger than usual, if he’s indicated to Poe in some way that he’s not interested. Ben is expecting a pick-up line, expecting to move this to the bedroom, expecting Poe’s mouth on his neck and Poe’s hands under his shirt. Ben is dragging his fingers slowly back and forth on Poe’s thigh, lying there debating whether he should stretch his arm back behind him and hook his fingers into Poe’s belt-loop, or whether he should turn over, undo Poe’s fly with his teeth. The first one is more casual, and it’ll take longer for them to get where they’re going. The second one is more direct, but Ben’s wondering if it makes him look desperate, Ben’s wondering if he is desperate, Ben’s wondering the best way to just get the sex that he wants, and before he figures it out, Poe is stretching, and then getting up off the couch.

“Thanks for the beer, buddy. I’ve gotta get going here.”

Ben nods because he doesn’t really get it, not yet, because it hasn’t sunk in. He stands because Poe is standing, and watches Poe as he slips his jacket on, tucks his helmet under his arm, opens the door with his other hand. Then it finally clicks that Poe is actually leaving. This isn’t—this isn’t going to the kitchen for another beer prior to fucking. This isn’t standing up from the couch in order to move to the bedroom. This is just—Poe is leaving. He brought food, and they cuddled on the couch, and now he’s leaving.

“Hey,” Poe says, halfway out the door. “I forgot to ask, have you got your stuff here?”

“… stuff?”

Poe gestures vaguely with his free hand. “The LED panels and shit that you mentioned the other day. I thought it was at the studio still, but I went digging around in storage and I don’t see anything that looks like yours.”

Ben’s face twists. He can’t remember how to fix it, so he turns his face away, runs his hand through his hair—except that his hair is pulled up into a bun and snags on his fingers.

The thing is—there isn’t any of his stuff in the studio. Ben remembers the day he tore through it, grabbing up all of his stuff and storming up the stairs, tossing it in the dumpster out back and then lighting the dumpster on fire. That was the day he’d thrown the keys back into the gravel at Poe’s feet, told Poe not to expect him back because he wasn’t going to come back. That was the day that he’d defected and headed straight for the Knights, where Snoke had replaced all of the stuff he’d ever owned or collected—all of the stuff he’d just trashed—with expensive gear that was way better than the stuff he’d burnt. But how doesn’t Poe remember that, when Ben can remember the betrayed look on Poe’s face like it was yesterday?

“Nah,” Ben says. “I’ve got it around here somewhere. I’ll look for it tomorrow.”

“Alright,” Poe says.

He leaves. The door shuts behind him.

The anger twists in his gut, the same anger that had been there the day that he had burnt everything to a crisp. He contemplates setting his apartment on fire, but it’s not going to solve anything. Ben rubs his stomach to try and clear the anger away.

His apartment still smells like cleaner.

He contemplates going back to his bedroom, imagines cool sheets against his cheek.

(Remembers the two days he just spent there. It was a waste of time, he’s a waste of skin, it’s all—it’s all fucked, and—)

Instead, he hauls himself over to the couch. Stares at his laptop. The screen is black.

The thing is—he does still have stuff. Not from the Resistance. Not the exact LED set he’d been talking about earlier, because that set had gone up in flames—but Snoke had bought him a new one, and Ben still has that one. It’s in the storage locker he’s been paying for for the past couple of years, the one that Snoke set up for him, moved all his things to when it became clear that Ben wouldn’t be back anytime soon, when it became clear that he’d be in the hospital for a while, be in therapy for longer. All Ben’s stuff is there, and Ben hasn’t been so stupid as to have gotten rid of it, but he just … he just hasn’t gone back to get it yet.

Ben shuts his eyes, pushes the heel of his hands against his eyelids. Tries to remember what’s in the locker. Tons of costumes, he remembers that much. He hadn’t reworn anything during his stint with the Knights, everything had been one-off. Wear it once, shelve it. Shoes, probably. Heels and platforms and ballet flats. There’s at least one box of masks, all variations on the same theme so that he’d be easily identifiable as the Master of the Knights of Ren.

His stomach flips again, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It was his title, when he was there. When he was headlining. That’s who he was. He doesn’t think he could—

—costumes. Masks. Most of those had been picked and purchased by Snoke, because Ben didn’t give a fuck what he wore on stage, he just wanted the spotlight. He wanted all the spotlights. But the props—the props were special. They were all pieces he had selected on his own, ordered from the holonet, travelled to obscure cities and towns to track down. His swords are there, both metal and neon. His fire-breathing gear, his bed of nails, all of his notebooks and his research notes and everything that he put together while he was honing his craft.

That stuff has rotted in his storage locker for way too long. He should get it. He should bring it home.

Ben reaches over to his coffee table and hits the spacebar on his laptop so he can try and find somebody with a truck, because there’s no way he can fit all his stuff onto his bike.

The fucking aerialist video—the A. Hux video—is there, still paused. He should delete it, because whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam and whatthegoddamnfuckiswrongwithyou and doineedtogetmylawyersinvolved.

Ben doesn’t delete the video.

He unpauses it, watches it again.

Presses the heel of his hand against the crotch of his jeans as a reminder that he is definitely one hundred percent not going to jack off to this.

 

Ben doesn’t jack off to the video.

He waits until the video is done playing, jacks off staring at the ceiling and watching the fan spin around and around and around and around ...

 

Afterwards, he licks off his palm, wipes his spit-slick hand on his pants, and then uses his other hand to shrink the video and bring up messaging. Wonders for a moment if he should just—individually contact people, in case everybody tells him to go fuck himself, but then figures if he’s trying to re-integrate—and he doesn’t know if he is yet, still doesn’t know if he’s in or if he’s out—he should at least try, and so he posts in the group chat.

It doesn’t take long, either. Within the hour, he’s got a time set up tomorrow afternoon for Karé to pick him up with Pava’s truck so they can head out.

He wonders what’s in it for Karé (or for Pava) that they’re willing to help make this happen for him.

He hopes this isn’t a mistake.

It probably is, though.

It usually is.

 

Ben doesn’t message Poe. Shuts his laptop down completely so that he isn’t tempted. Does pushups until his arms are burning, flips over and does crunches until his abs give out, and then flips back over again and starts doing pushups again until he collapses flat-out on his floor, absolutely unable to move.

There are dust bunnies under his couch. He definitely should have vacuumed better.

He can vacuum better now.

So he does.

Then he starts working out again.

 

When he finally drags his ass to bed, it’s two thirty in the morning. He lies in bed staring at the ceiling before he realizes it’s too bright for two thirty in the morning. It’s too bright because his phone is flashing at the ceiling.

He has messages.

(It’s probably Poe.)

Ben reaches over to the nightstand and grabs his phone, thumbs it open. Is already planning what he’s going to say to Poe—and it’s variations of I’m sorry and I fucked up and—

—except Poe hasn’t messaged him.

Poe hasn’t messaged him at all.

But A. Hux has.

 

zzzA. Hux: Thank you.

zzzA. Hux: I’m familiar with your work as well.

zzzA. Hux: Kylo.

 

And it shouldn’t be a thing. It shouldn’t be important. It shouldn’t matter.

A. Hux is a dick.

A. Hux has made a bad impression on literally everybody he’s come into contact with, including Ben.

So the texting doesn’t matter. The texting isn’t important. The texting shouldn’t be a thing.

 

zzzA. Hux: I’m familiar with your work as well.

zzzA. Hux: Kylo.

 

Ben imagines the texts in A. Hux’s voice, in his accent.

 

I’m familiar with your work as well … Kylo.

 

Kylo.

 

Kylo

 

Fuck, Ben thinks. Fuuuuuuuck.

He shouldn’t respond. He definitely should not respond.

As a matter of fact, he’s not going to respond.

Fuck it.

He’s still thinking about the vitriol that A. Hux unleashed on him for no fucking reason.

(He’s still watching the aerialist’s videos.)

He doesn’t need this in his life.

He needs to focus on getting his ass out of the house, on his upcoming performance, on the gym, on repairing things with Poe.

He needs to call his mom, like, once.

He doesn’t need any of this whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam shit because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what kind of person he thinks A. Hux is.

 

A.Hux could be anyone.

 

Ben texts back.

Ben: oh?

 

He falls asleep staring at the screen of his phone.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben is not going to be a loser about this.

He’s already established that A. Hux, he of the nasty text messages and sharp British-Core accent, is an asshole.

That’s fine.

Ben doesn’t have to like him personally to be able to admire his work.

And admiring his work means that’s all Ben’s going to focus on. He’s not going to get pulled into trying to find the guy’s social media, or details about his personal life, or what he does in his spare time, or any of that. He’s just going to focus on the work, because that’s all he cares about.

Just the work.

The thing is, it’s fucking difficult to focus on the work when he can’t find any of A. Hux’s performances online.

Ben eats his cereal dry, sitting on his couch in front of his laptop. He’s been scrolling through videos for ages, and he’s made no headway on finding performance clips. There’s endless copies of footage from interviews—but Ben has already determined he doesn’t care about A. Hux’s personal life, so interviews are off limits. He keeps scrolling. The interview videos keep happening. He literally does not care about them—why the fuck would a dancer get interviewed this many times anyways?—and after six pages of search results, he still hasn’t found anything that even vaguely resembles a performance video. It’s all just fucking interview clips, and based on the thumbnails, all the clips are stemming from the same two interviews. A. Hux is wearing a black suit, white dress shirt, and black tie in both interviews, but there are subtle differences to the lapels of the jackets, visible even on the thumbnails.

Which, for the record, are all Ben is looking at, because A. Hux’s personal life is irrelevant to Ben.

He’s pretty sure A. Hux is wearing two different suits, though, which is fucking stupid. Ben recognizes the brand of the first suit, and is about eighty percent confident on the second, and fifteen hundred is a lot to spend on a suit when you already own a two thousand dollar one that’s nearly identical.

A. Hux looks fucking sharp in them, though. Even if they are stupid nearly-identical way-too-expensive suits. It hurts Ben, a little, to look at him. Like, in his chest. Or in his groin. It’s probably just groin pain that’s, like, migrating to his chest. That’s probably why it hurts to breathe.

A. Hux’s eyes are consistently narrowed in the interview thumbnails, brow furrowed, mouth pulled tight. All angles and harshness and unapproachability, and it’s stunning.

Ben had jacked off to an imagined version of A. Hux wearing a suit, but the suit he’d imagined hadn’t looked nearly as nice as either of the ones that the real A. Hux is wearing in these videos. They’re nice suits. Really nice suits. And there’s something about the starkness of the black and the white against his brilliant red hair that is really doing it for Ben in a way that is—

—completely irrelevant to his admiration of A. Hux as a performer, totally unnecessary, and not at all useful.

Ben keeps scrolling.

He scratches at his stomach absently, but his hand goes no further.

 

It’s damn close to lunch by the time Ben even finds anything. He’s given up on all the video sites, because all they have are those fucking interview videos, and he cannot possibly express how little he cares about those. He’s started delving into obscure forums and corners of the net, trying to find someone who knows something, someone who has assembled some kind of documentation about A. Hux’s career prior to the Knights.

He does manage to track A. Hux back to the Royal Academy Ballet whatever—or, at least, he tracks the Hux name that far, and Ben figures that there’s probably a relation. So he spends some time there, trying to find his—trying to find A. Hux. Ben hadn’t been super familiar with the Academy prior to now, but had assumed from what he’d picked up by osmosis from Leia and Luke and the rest that it’s a dance school based on rules, regulations, and order, and the net has confirmed his suspicions. Ben never wants to read about the mandated colours of leotards and the exact length of laces and placement of knots ever again, and he’d be damned before he would hairspray the ends of the ties on his pointe shoes into place before going on stage. They’re laces. Everybody knows they have ends. Who the fuck does the Academy think they are, anyway?

Shortly after noon, though, Ben finds a picture of A. Hux in his warmup clothes. The picture is actually focused on another dancer who is beaming at the camera—but in the background, there’s a figure bent over stretching out, one hand easily wrapped around the bottom of their foot, and the other hand reaching out to the sky, face tipped toward the ceiling. The hood of their bunnyhug has almost fallen down, and Ben can see that shock of red hair just creeping out at the edges of the hood that identifies the dancer as A. Hux. Ben digs under the couch cushion until he finds a piece of paper, and then digs around at the back of the couch until he finds a pen. Makes note of the year, and continues on with his search.

Having the year narrows things down a bit, especially once he’s able to determine that A. Hux trained under Rae Sloane for a while—though Ben is unclear on whether he trained with her immediately before she retired, or if she retired, and then came back in order to train him. Either way, even Ben recognizes Rae Sloane’s name—so that’s gotta be a big deal of some kind. He kinda wishes he knew where Luke was, because if anybody would know how Rae Sloane fit into this, it’d be Luke—or Leia, but Ben’s not gonna break their current silence to ask her about Rae Sloane. She’d be immediately suspicious, and he doesn’t want to explain anything.

The thing is—now that Ben’s found the Rae Sloane connection, he’s able to find more photos. They’re all of A. Hux when he’s younger—just as short then as he is now, but ganglier. All arms and legs and no muscles. A. Hux never looks at the camera directly—in fact, seems to be deliberately staring away from it in every single photo. But in every photo of Rae Sloane towards the end of her career, as long as the photo is panned out enough, Ben can track down A. Hux’s skinny body somewhere in the background. He’s never lounging, never relaxed—always stretching or tense, practicing or watching other people practice, and always, always staring away from the fucking camera. Ben just wants to look at his eyes, the full view of his face, just once. He’s seen the man’s entire body, cock and bare ass included, but he’s never had a good, unobstructed look at his eyes, and he just wants—

It’s just that once Rae Sloane retires—for good, this time—Ben can’t find any more photos. He determines that A. Hux moves forward and starts working with a group called Black Sun—but they’ve got no net presence at all, for some reason that Ben can’t figure out. He writes that down on his scrap of paper too, because it’s fucking weird. Even groups that are defunct still have something available on the net—bits and pieces, archive footage and videos, stuff people have shot on their phones or posted on their own. Black Sun has nothing.

There are vague forum posts discussing A. Hux’s work (stellar, technically magnificent, intensely beautiful), reviews from people who have seen him perform (so amazing, don’t miss it, you’ll be holding your breath all night), media releases for shows he was in (held over for another two weeks, nearly sold out, one show only). Every once in a while, Ben finds a post that used to be full of photos—but all the links are broken, and he can’t manage to hack his way into any holonet archives to shed light on the subject.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Ben says finally, flopping back onto the couch and staring up at the ceiling. The fan spins around and around and around. “How the fuck does an entire company just get wiped off the net like that?”

Ben has his suspicions as to where he needs to go if he’s going to find current content for A. Hux. Since A. Hux is with the Knights now, there will be content on the site—and probably a lot of it. God knows Ben got used to rehearsing and practicing and training with cameras watching him, the film constantly, constantly rolling, watching him walk down the hallways, watching him train in the training rooms, watching him eat in the dining room, watching him enter the communal locker room—

He wonders if his old login works. It probably still does. He didn’t technically quit, so much as he just never went back. He probably could just …

Ben types in the address for the website, hovers over the keys just before he hits ‘enter’ because this is probably a mistake—

 

—Ben’s phone rings.

 

He jumps, curses. He doesn’t recognize the number, but picks up anyway. “Ben Organa.”

“Hey, it’s Karé. I’m here, buzz me up!”

Fuck, so much time has passed, and Ben has nothing to show for it.

He pulls himself up off the couch, thumbs the buzzer to let her in. “Come on up,” he says. “Door’s open.” Then he hangs up, sticks the phone in his back pocket, and hunts around on the counter until he finds the piece of paper with directions to the storage unit.

“I brought you coffee,” Karé says as she comes in. “Black. It’s in the truck.”

“Great,” Ben says. “Thank you.”

“You know where we’re going?”

“Sort of,” he says. “I have directions, and a phone.” He pats his pocket, grabs his keys off the counter and flicks through them until he finds the unfamiliar one that Snoke had sent him so many years ago. It’s been on his keyring the entire time, but he hasn’t once used it, or contemplated using it, until now.

She grins at him. “Well, that’s all we need then.”

She doesn’t ask him why he’s never been to his own storage locker, and Ben is grateful for that.

 

He’s not sure what to expect out of a two-hour drive with Karé. He doesn’t know her that well—Poe knows her from way back, but she’d taken some time away for travel, or training, or something, and by the time she had returned to the Resistance, Ben was long gone, sucked into the Knights with no intention of ever re-emerging. The inside of his mouth is sour when he thinks about it, so he tries not to think about it.

As it turns out, Karé is remarkably easy to travel with. She doesn’t care what music is playing, and doesn’t constantly fiddle with the volume. She doesn’t push Ben into conversation. She points out animals by the sides of the road as they drive, but says it more like she’s just making an observation rather than having any expectations about the conversation, which is great, because Ben doesn’t know shit about animals and has nothing to contribute. She doesn’t ask him about the contents of the locker, and Ben relaxes incrementally over the drive, because he was concerned that she would want to know what was in there, and there’s so much stuff in there, and Ben has so many feelings tied up in everything, and it’s just—it’s important that he keeps his feelings contained. He needs to not lose it.

He needs to not think about things that he doesn’t have anymore.

There is something, though. And Ben pushes it to the surface, figures it’s better to ask, because otherwise his fingers are twitching to get back on the phone and figure out what happened to Black Sun, and that would be impolite. It would be impolite to spend the entire trip on his phone when Karé is doing him a favour like this, especially when she doesn’t really know him.

He keeps activating his phone to check his alerts.

He hasn’t received any text messages.

He tries not to think about those fucking suits, how the fabric would feel under his fingertips.

(He doesn’t care about the suits, he only cares about the art.)

“You, uh—you’re going pretty out of your way to do me a favour. Can I—can I … ,” he says, but he trails off when he realizes he has no idea how the fuck to finish that sentence. He wants to distract himself. He needs to distract himself.

“Oh,” Karé says. “It’s not a thing, I don’t mind at all.” She hesitates. “But there was something I was wanting to ask you. We’ve got that show coming up next week. I, uh.” She stops speaking here to scrunch her nose, and Ben realizes that she’s—nervous, or something. He can’t read her face. “You saw what happened the other day?”

Ben looks down at his feet. The mat in the footwell of the passenger seat is pretty clean. Pava must vacuum it regularly or something. Ben’s never been in a vehicle simultaneously this old and this clean except for the Falcon. “I missed the actual—whatever,” he says vaguely. Tries not to think of the sketch he’d been obliterating from the page at the time.

Fails.

Pale skin wrapped in silks, that fucking blindfold, the sharpness of those hips jutting out, how the skin would be so thin there, right on the point of A. Hux’s hip, and Ben could brush his thumb over it, feel the skin shifting over bone.

Fucking aerial—A.—augh, fucking everything.

“It was bad,” Karé says bluntly. “Pava could have been really injured.” She shoulder checks before pulling into the other lane to pass another vehicle, ninjas in and out before the line goes solid again. The trees stretch up above them, and the sunlight is speckled across the dash of the vehicle. It’s beautiful—or, if would be, if Ben were paying any fucking attention to it. Which he’s not.

“She’s alright now, though?”

“She’s fine,” Karé says. “But I was wondering if you’d take a look at the choreo. That bit’s always been a pressure point for the piece, but we’d kinda just figured since nothing bad had happened yet that it’d be okay—and to be honest, dropping her like that scared the shit out of me. Like, there’s a lot of stuff that I can fake my way through on stage, and I wouldn’t give a shit if it was me that was hurt, but dropping my partner on her head isn’t something I can fake my way past.” She smiles after she says it—but it’s tight. Strained.

Ben exhales. This isn’t a bad ask. This is something he can do. This is something he’s good at. “Yeah,” he says. “I can take a look for you.” He stares out the passenger side window, sees something that might be a deer flash back into the trees. Thinks of something, and worries at his lip. “She, uh—Pava know that I’m gonna be doing this?” He can’t let himself feel welcome with the Resistance. Not now. Not yet. Has to assume that he’s going to be found a nuisance, that his presence here will grate on people, that they will regret welcoming him back.

“I’ll give her a heads-up,” Karé says. “She hero worships you, though, it’s not a thing.”

Ben’s mouth is dry.

He doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he says nothing at all.

 

The forests that surround D’Qar have petered out, given way to rocks climbing up into mountains on their right, and a vast wide lake out on their left. Ben’s got the directions to the storage locker opened on his phone, watches the blue dot creep and crawl closer to their destination.

He wonders if it’s too late to ask Karé to turn around, but they’ve been driving for an hour and forty five minutes of the expected two, and he probably shouldn’t ask that.

“Hero worship?” he says, and the words are out of his mouth before he remembers that he should have kept them in. It’s just that the closer they get to the locker, the more nervous he gets.

“Don’t tell her I told you,” Karé says easily. “But she does, yeah. Pava and Poe kept up with your career while you weren’t with us, watched videos of all your performances.” She chuckles. “Hell, one of the reasons I even looked twice at her was because the first night I was back here, Poe took us out for beers to celebrate. And I’m just catching up with my buddy Dameron, and I’m debating whether I should invite him back to my place later, because he’s a good time in the sack—don’t even bother trying to blush, I know you know that—and I hear these raised voices from the other table, and it’s Pava, standing up at the table, and she’s gesturing with her beer, and she’s explaining the importance of costuming to match choreo, and every single fucking point she’s making, she’s citing one of your pieces. And it was just—it was bloody fascinating, is what it was. She could have written a damn paper on your work.”

Ben’s definitely blushing now. “I’m not—” he mumbles … but then he stops. It feels like he’s spent the last week telling people he’s not back, he’s not back, he’s not back—but what if he is? He doesn’t even know anymore.

He doesn’t know what he wants, much less what he’s doing.

He’s almost thirty.

He should have this shit figured out by now.

“I had no idea anyone was paying attention like that,” he says.

“Well,” Karé responds, “I don’t think she’s the only one.”

He waits for her to elaborate, but she doesn’t.

He tries to not let it feel ominous. He’s sure she didn’t mean it that way.

 

The storage place isn’t in the town proper. They exit out the north road, turn onto a winding gravel road that goes up into the foothills. They miss the turnoff the first time, and Karé curses, looks over her shoulder and backs the truck up down the road a ways until they get back to the entrance. There’s some sort of ramshackle wooden structure that had blocked their view of the turnoff—something that could have been a shed or an outbuilding once, but is now just a wooden building leaned so far over it’s a miracle it hasn’t succumbed to gravity.

“Maybe if they knocked that fucking thing down,” Ben mutters. “We’d have been able to see the road.”

“I’m sure it’s fine the way it is,” Karé says.

 

Once they’ve turned off, it doesn’t take long until they’re pulling into the compound. It’s gated, with an intercom mounted on a stand right outside the entrance.

“We’re here to grab some stuff out of a locker,” Karé says.

The intercom crackles to life. “Which locker?”

Ben squints, tips the key in the light. “1138,” he says.

Karé repeats the number. “Oh, and we’re gonna need directions … it’s been a while.”

“Turn right when you get in,” says the disembodied voice. “Go all the way down to the end, and take the last left. It’s the unit at the back of the lot.”

“Thanks,” Karé says. She waits for the gates to retract back from the road, gears grinding, and then slowly drives through.

Ben taps his fingers on his knee, taps his toes on the mat, shifts in his seat. He doesn’t know how he’s going to feel when he opens the door. Doesn’t know if locker will have that same dry scent that the Knights basement did, a scent that’s verging on mold, the same kind of scent that comes from the pages of books in long-dead books squirreled away in the corners of libraries.

The rows and rows of storage lockers that they drive through seem endless.

“I think it’ll be on your side,” Karé says. “Looks like I’ve got odds on my side.”

“Must be that one at the end,” Ben says. He bounces his key ring in his hand. So close, so close, so close.

Ben unbuckles his seatbelt as soon as he can see the last locker, opens his door before Karé has pulled the vehicle to a complete stop, gets out while she’s still braking. Keeps his balance, but only just. The new studio key is sharp in his hands as he fumbles past it to get to the storage locker key. Sticks it in the lock one way and it catches. Rotates it around the other way, and it slides in.

Ben holds his breath, and twists.

The lock pops open.

Ben squeezes his eyes shut. He hears the crunch of gravel as Karé walks up beside him—close, but not too close.

Takes a minute to center himself.

He’s going to be okay.

He’s not going to have a bunch of feelings in front of Karé.

He’s just going to open the locker, load everything into the back of Karé’s truck, put the stuff he cares about in the back seat. If Pava likes his costuming so much, he can cut the pieces down so that she can wear them. He doesn’t want them, but she can have them if she’d like them that much, if she actually knows the fucking things as well as Karé claims that she does—but Ben doesn’t like that train of thought, the concept of other people studying his pieces or his work, the knowledge that current members of the Resistance followed his career with the Knights because if he ever wants to be part of anything ever again, he won’t be able to when people know about—about before, and—

Ben opens his eyes.

Slides open the door of the locker.

 

It’s empty.

 

The locker is—

 

Completely.

 

Fucking.

 

Empty.

Chapter Text

“Solo,” Bala-Tik drawls.

Ben looks up from where he’s sitting, leaned up against the side of the building. “I told you that’s not my name,” he says, his voice muffled by the respirator. He maneuvers the syringe into the palm of his hand, uses his index and middle finger to yank the respirator down so it hangs around his neck. His breath has condensed on his face inside the mask and he’s immediately conscious of his face being damp, of the sharp burn of glue fumes. “Still an Organa.”

“Organa or not,” Bala-Tik says—and the fucker stays standing, won’t even bother crouching down so that he’s at a height with Ben—”You still owe me that favour.”

“I can give you his number,” Ben says. He puts the grease pencil between his teeth and digs a piece of paper and a pencil out of his pocket, scrawls Han’s number down on it, and hands it up to Bala-Tik.

“That’s a start.”

“Not really,” Ben says. “Fucking thing is disconnected.” He squints, tilts his head. He either needs a loupe, or he needs better lighting, or he needs to stop working black on black on fucking black. “I called it the other day, and it’s not valid anymore. I dunno how long it’s been like that. But I can’t go any further than that, so your favour is dead in the water.”

Bala-Tik curses, looms closer to Ben. Blocks his light. Ben jabs the grease pencil into the tray of rhinestones beside him, tries to pretend he’s not bothered by Bala-Tik’s posturing.

Ben doesn’t bother looking up, pretends it’s not bothering him. He’d definitely not come out ahead in their last encounter, and he would dearly love to at least break even in this one, which means no awkward hardons, no fantasies about being slammed against a wall with a metal pipe, and definitely no—

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

—no thinking about anything other than getting through this. Getting through this, and figuring out some other way to pay Bala-Tik back, some other method of dealing with this problem, some other—

Bala-Tik must have his phone cranked up to max, because Ben can hear the pre-recorded message blaring through the speakers. This number is not in service at this time …

“Fine,” Bala-Tik says. “But you’ve still got a mother.”

Ben uses the syringe to dot more glue onto the underwear stretched over his knee and navigates the rhinestone into place with the grease pencil. “I do, in fact, have a mother.”

“Your father always told me you were bright,” Bala-Tik says. “I shouldn’t have to explain this to you.”

“Explain what?”

“You have a mother,” Bala-Tik repeats. “So call her. Figure out where the fuck your father has got to.”

Ben takes a breath, prepares himself to snipe back you call her or they’re separated or we’re not speaking, and then he just exhales out his nose, because picking this fight isn’t going to do anybody any good.

Not when Ben is out here alone, and Bala-Tik has an entire shop full of people just paces behind him, probably within yelling distance because Bala-Tik’s not dumb enough to come out here without being able to yell for backup if he decides he needs it.

“Fine,” Ben says. “I’ll get in touch with her.”

“Good,” Bala-Tik says. “Because—”

“I know,” Ben interrupts. Jams the grease pencil down to pick up another rhinestone, dots some glue into the appropriate place with the syringe. “You’ll take it out of my hide. I remember.”

“It’s not just me,” Bala-Tik threatens. “Kanjiklub is after him too.”

“I’ll talk to my mother,” Ben says, voice aggressively neutral. “Tell Kanjiklub I’ve got it under control.” He doesn’t get into the details of it, like the part where his mother isn’t likely to know where Han is either, like the part where it’s entirely likely that even Han doesn’t know where Han is—and whatever’s gone on with Kanjiklub, Han’s not likely to feel he’s responsible for it, so there’s nothing coming out of this conversation that Bala-Tik is going to be particularly satisfied with.

“You do that,” Bala-Tik says, before turning on his heel and striding away.

“Hey,” Ben calls after him.

Bala-Tik stops, turns.

“Stay out of the studio,” Ben says. “I’ll—here, give me that piece of paper.” Ben takes the paper back, scrawls his own number down on it. “That’s my number—you wanna toss around threats, just call me. Don’t freak out the new dancers.”

Bala-Tik gives him a grin that borders on ghoulish. “Get me some results, Solo, and I’ll think about it.”

“That’s not my name,” Ben mutters.

He wonders, not for the last time, how significant a mistake he’s just made.

 

Ben lets the respirator hang around his neck as he heads back downstairs, still vaguely lightheaded from the glue fumes since he hadn’t bothered to put the fucking thing back on after Bala-Tik had left. The underwear is essentially done, so that’s one more item off the list. He just needs to try it on to confirm he didn’t miss anything, and he’s sure as fuck not stripping down in the gravel parking lot, especially not when Bala-Tik and the rest of the Guavians are wandering around.

He doesn’t recognize the danceclub music thumping out of the speakers when he descends into the studio—but as he enters, he realizes that it’s because it’s from Poe’s piece, and Poe hadn’t auditioned anything the other day because he’d been too busy taking notes and getting everybody else’s shit sorted out.

Poe is facing away from Ben, striding across the stage like he owns it, bringing his hands up behind his head and grinding at an imaginary audience member on the far side of the stage. From there, he drops into a low squat, knees open, and then bends backward, pops himself up into a handstand.

Ben reaches back up to his neck, unhooks the top strap of his mask. Lets it slip down his chest. Leans back against the doorframe, and just—watches Poe.

He’s fucking beautiful.

He is so fucking beautiful.

Poe has shifted into a one-arm handstand, all his weight settled on his left hand so that his right hand can drag up his stomach, ghost over his dick, and then back down again to start the work of removing his shirt, snaking his free arm out of the sleeve. He has to very slightly pivot, just to keep his balance—it looks like a deliberate turn, but gravity has yanked Poe’s shirt down, and Ben recognizes the flex-release, flex-release of his abs that means he’s trying to stabilize—and it’s then that Poe notices Ben.

Poe’s grin is instant, like a fucking spotlight. He bends his supporting arm, rolls back up to his feet again in a move that’s twice as graceful as it has any right to be. His shirt is half-off and half-on, and his teeth are white and gleaming, eyes crinkled at the corners with the force of his grin.

Ben in no way deserves to have anything this bright and hopeful directed at him.

“Benny, you’re still here!”

“I told you I was heading out to rhinestone,” Ben says.

“I figured you’d gone home,” Poe replies. He runs his fingers back through his hair.

“Nah, just to the parking lot.”

Poe hops down off the stage, swaggers over. “How’s it look?” he asks, and he’s still grinning.

“Like you don’t know how to take off a goddamn shirt,” Ben says. “Come on, one arm in and one arm out?”

Poe shrugs. One shoulder is bare, the other covered, his shirt halfway rucked up around his neck.

Ben wants to yank the shirt off with his teeth.

“I do my best,” Poe says. He nods toward the underwear that Ben’s holding. “How did it go?”

“Oh,” Ben said, “You know. Sparkly.”

“Couldn’t ask for anything more,” Poe says easily, slowing down now that he’s getting closer to Ben. He taps Ben lightly on the shoulder with the back of his hand, and then softens it by running his knuckles down Ben’s arm. “So, uh.”

Ben squeezes his eyes shut, because it’s either do that, or kiss Poe, and Ben’s still not sure where they stand, not since—

“I owe you an apology,” Poe says. “I really do.”

Ben opens his eyes.

Poe isn’t standing as close to him as he’d feared, but Poe’s hand is heavy on Ben’s elbow, his fingers warm. Ben looks at the floor. It’s going to be easier if he looks at the floor. Whatever happens, it’s going to be easier if he looks at the floor.

“It’s none of my damn business who you are and aren’t in contact with.”

“You said that already,” Ben says carefully. “Before.” And then he closes his mouth again and keeps it shut. Talking more won’t help anything. He has got to remember that talking more will not help anything.

“I did,” Poe says. “But when I said it before, I was mad at you for what you were doing—or for what I thought you were doing. No, don’t say anything. Please.” Poe’s fingers squeeze on Ben’s elbow. “The point that I’m trying to get to is—I was telling you one thing, and I was doing something else, and I don’t—I don’t want to be that person.”

Ben looks at Poe, and Poe’s looking up at him, and his eyes are serious and there’s stubble across his jaw, and Ben knows exactly how it would feel if he bent his head to rub his cheek against Poe’s, and he’s—he’s not going to do that, he is going to keep his mouth shut, he is going to keep his cock in his pants, this is not going to escalate any further because it doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help anything if they just fuck when they actually need to talk things out. It’s not going to help if they fuck when Poe resents what Ben’s doing—or what he thinks Ben’s doing—and Ben still doesn’t know what the fuck Ben is doing, he just knows that he wants to stay friends with Poe, wants to keep talking and cuddling and fucking just like they normally do, but he also wants—

Things are just—things are complicated right now.

“Okay,” Ben says.

“I want to actually mean it when I say that it doesn’t matter,” Poe says.

“Okay,” Ben says. “But you don’t mean it,” he adds, a moment later. Once he catches onto the words that Poe’s not saying.

“Not yet,” Poe says, and his mouth twists for a moment before he straightens it out, looks away, rubs his jaw with his hand. “But I’m working on it, Ben. It honestly, truly, is none of my goddamn business, and I want—I want you to be in contact with whoever you want, whenever you want. In whatever way you want.” He swallows. “And I don’t want you to feel you have to keep secrets from me. That’s—that’s part of what went wrong last time, wasn’t it?”

“There are so many fucking things that went wrong last time,” Ben says bitterly. He doesn’t mean for it to come out that way, but that’s how the words sound when they leave his mouth, and he wishes for his vocoder, wishes for his mask, wishes that he’s Isolder.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Poe says, and he moves to stand beside Ben, leans back against the wall next to him. They aren’t touching anymore—but this way, Ben is saved from the intensity that is Poe Dameron’s face, and it’s better this way, it’s better this way, it’s—

“It’s my fault,” Ben says. “The part where—well, the whole thing, really.”

“It’s not—”

“It is,” Ben says firmly. “It actually is. It’s on me, the entire thing is on me, and I won’t—I won’t have you taking blame for something that has nothing to do with you.”

“It’s just—”

“It’s on me,” Ben repeats. “I need you to understand that.”

Poe sighs.

Ben picks at his cuticles for a moment, waiting to see if Poe will say anything, but he just—he just doesn’t.

“Can we just pretend that I didn’t fuck up a perfectly good blowjob?” Ben asks finally.

Poe chuckles. “Perfectly good, huh?”

“It was fine for me,” Ben says defensively. “And you’ve never—”

“I’m teasing,” Poe says, and he brings his hand up to Ben’s jaw, tips Ben’s face toward him. Kisses him deeply. Poe tastes like cinnamon, and there’s glitter in his hair. “It was a great blowjob,” he says when he breaks the kiss, his voice low and his lips still right next to Ben’s. “And I would,”—and at this, he rises up onto his tiptoes, exhales next to Ben’s ear, and his breath is warm and his hand on Ben’s jaw almost tightens, but it’s not enough to be painful, it’s not enough to be what Ben needs, it’s not enough to be what Ben wants— “Definitely return the favour, whenever you like.”

“Whenever, huh?” Ben says, and there’s a chance that they might just do it now, because Poe’s hand is running down Ben’s side, and Ben is bringing his hands up to Poe’s belt loops, and—

Right on cue, there’s the slam of the back door from upstairs, and the thud of numerous footsteps descending the stairs.

Ben steps away first, and Poe has the decency, at least, to look a little flushed.

 

“Hey, uh. I heard about the storage locker.”

Ben looks up just as Pava settles down cross-legged onto the floor in front of him.

He grimaces. “Karé told you, huh?” He looks down at his hands after he says it, at the scratches and the scraped knuckles, and he wonders how much Karé had told her. Not just the storage locker, but the—after. The way his mind had blanked out, everything retreating back into a void until there was nothing inside his head but a barren sandscape and exposed bone, and then—

—and then, the way everything had rushed back in again, all at once.

“That fucker,” Pava says.

Ben opens his mouth to defend Snoke.

Closes it again, because he doesn’t have to do that, if he doesn’t feel like it.

He doesn’t know what he feels.

“It’s just stuff,” he says.

“It was your stuff,” Pava says.

“Some of it,” Ben says. He doesn’t want to get into the details. He’d brought so little with him, and Snoke had purchased so many things for him, and everything is just—

—complicated. Complicated, and empty.

Like that fucking storage locker.

“You have another needle?”

“What?”

“Do you have another needle,” Pava repeats. “You’ve got an entire glove just sitting here in pieces.”

“Uh, yeah,” Ben replies. “I think there’s a spare, uh, in my sewing kit.”

“Hand it over, then.”

“I—”

“Hand it over, Ben.” Pava sticks her hand out. “I sew all my stuff just the same as you do, I can do at least as good a job as you can.” She leans forward, looks at the glove he’s sewing together now. “And my hands are half the size of yours, I bet my stitches are smaller too.”

She doesn’t mention the part where his hands are fucked up—knuckles scraped open again, scratches on the backs of his hands, wounds from wood slivers—and he wonders what Karé told her, how Karé had framed it, how she had—

He owes Karé a beer, probably. For not sinking Ben like she rightfully could have.

Ben hands the other glove over to Pava, pushes his sewing kit from behind him to between them so that she can sort through it for whatever she wants. It only takes her a moment to find a spare needle and thread, and then with a quick look at how he’s assembling the pieces for the glove he’s working on, she bends her head down to the fabric and starts working.

“Thank you,” he says after a few minutes.

“Don’t mention it.”

 

“Fuck,” Ben says. “You’re not kidding about this being a tight transition.”

Karé rolls her eyes. “Well, I wouldn’t have asked you to help if I knew a quick and easy solution to the fucking thing.”

Ben looks down at his notes. “There’s really nowhere for you to speed anything up earlier to give you more time here.”

“Not if we’re gonna hit the musical cue, no,” Pava says. “And we really tried hard—Karé put a lot of work into the choreo, and I just …”

“Okay,” Ben says. “So what if we work it the other way—what if we give you more time to get into the hand balance by rushing the dismount after?”

“Maybe,” Karé says slowly. “How would that look, exactly?”

Ben shuts his eyes for a moment, imagines the routine. Maps it onto the music they’re doing. Opens his eyes to look at his notes, and then closes them again a moment while he tries to reorganize everything, buy them a few more seconds so that they can get up into the hand balance slower, give both of them enough time to stabilize. He hadn’t seen the original fall during rehearsal—but he thinks after reviewing the choreo that it’s just due to the speed they’re going through the piece at, thinks that it’s just too easy for one or the other of them to overbalance and set the other person off. “Do you mind, uh, Pava—can I sub in for Karé for a moment?”

Pava grins. “Sure thing,” she says. “Of course you can.”

Hero worship. Ben squeezes his eyes shut. Stop looking at me like that, he thinks.

“Here,” Karé says. “Give me your clipboard, show me how you’d run it with the new timing.”

He hesitates.

“Come the fuck on, Ben,” Karé says. “You’re twice as big as I am, I’m pretty sure you can lift Pava.”

Ben extends his hands.

Waits for Pava to put hers on top of his.

Tries to be normal.

 

“Do I order pizza, or just yank out the warm beer?” Poe calls from the kitchen.

“Is the fucking fridge out again?” Pava asks.

“No,” Poe retorts, “I left the beer out for shits and giggles, of course the fucking fridge is out.”

“Did you try the patented Ello slap?” Ello asks.

“A name that bad is literally never going to catch on,” Karé says. “But yes to pizza.”

“And beer?”

“Obviously yes to beer, Poe, come on now.”

Ben flexes and releases his hands, lies on his back trying to normalize his posture. His hands are cramped from handsewing, his forearms hurt from handbalancing Pava, his shoulders feel collapsed in on themselves. He hasn’t worked collaboratively in years, doesn’t remember how things work when he’s actually trying to help people instead of just working independently or dictating what other people do. No matter what suggestions he offers, it feels like there’s nothing he can provide of value, and that means his favour to Karé for taking him out to the storage locker is moot, and the storage locker trip hadn’t even been necessary in the first place, he just hadn’t known that and—

—and and and.

His hands hurt.

“Beers for everyone,” Pava calls out. “We’ve got three more days to shape this shit up.”

“Please don’t remind me,” Ello says. “Things are very, very bad right now.” His juggling pins are cradled in his lap, and he pats them absently as though they’re a herd of small dogs.

“Things have been bad before,” Poe says as he comes back, beers stacked carefully in his arms. “You’ve still got three days, plus the day-of, and you can get access to the studio whenever you like.”

“Some of us have jobs, Poe,” Bastian says mildly. He’s lying on his back staring at the ceiling, rotating his feet in a series of exercises that look like something that A. Hux would have done at the Academy.

Ben wonders if that’s where Bastian got his dance training.

Wonders if there’s a subtle way to ask him.

“Fair,” Poe responds. “But you know we’ll help you with whatever you need.”

Ello sighs. “I know better than to do a prop manipulation routine. I’m not usually this fucking stupid.”

“Actually …” Karé says, grinning, and from there—they’re off.

Poe sits down next to Ben’s head. “So,” he says, quietly, his voice only cutting through the surrounding conversations because he’s sitting so close to Ben. “We can do the show without you.”

“So encouraging,” Ben says. “Thanks, buddy.”

“Karé told me—”

“—about the storage locker, it’s empty, whatever, who cares,” Ben says.

I care, he thinks.

He can’t tell if he cares about Karé telling people about it, though. That’s the worst part. Especially since she’s only been sharing the first part of the story, the part where the locker was empty, and not—and not anything afterwards. Not one person has asked Ben about afterwards, nobody has looked at his knuckles, nobody has mentioned—

“It’s important,” Poe says. “That’s—”

“Please don’t,” Ben interrupts. “Let’s just move forward, because there’s no point in assigning blame to anyone.”

“As you wish,” Poe says. “I’m just reminding you that the original show order didn’t have you in it, and it’s not gonna hurt anything if we go back to that.”

“I told you the show order was shit the first time,” Ben says mildly. “I’m offering you an opportunity to make it not shit. I’ll do something quick in the first half—blockhead, or something. I can do the fancy version for you, if you want.”

In this case, the fancy version of blockhead is the version without the blood, even though Ben prefers the version with, the version where he makes eye contact with someone and slowly pulls the nail out of his nose, lets the blood run down and stain his shirt—or, even better, onto his bare chest—but for this venue, for this audience, there shouldn’t be blood.

He wonders if A. Hux would prefer the bloody version of blockhead, shakes his head to try and clear the image away. He doesn’t need that right now. “And then for the second piece—I’ll figure something out.”

Poe pauses in the act of sipping his beer, looks at Ben. “What’ve you got so far?”

“A thong, a glove and a half, and the body you see before you,” Ben says. “So not much.”

“Eh,” Poe says. “That’s more than what a lot of people have got.”

“Have our standards fallen so low?”

Our standards?” Poe asks—and he sounds so fucking smug about the whole thing that Ben can’t bring himself to correct the guy.

“Ha,” Ben says dryly.

“Seriously, though,” Poe says. “Focus on a piece for the second act. Snap will just patter his way through the gap in the first act. It’s hard enough to pull together an entire piece from scratch the week of—don’t stress yourself out by trying to do two.”

“Alright,” Ben agrees. “Thanks.”

He cracks open the warm beer, takes a sip.

Closes his eyes, and starts mentally going through his closet, trying to figure out what the fuck else he’s gonna wear.

 

It’s fucking late, and they’re still going. Poe’s off in the corner running his choreo, earbuds stuck into his ears and cords dangling down his back, BB stuck in the band of his underwear. Karé and Pava are on one side of the stage, drilling the hand balance over and over and over with the new timing. Ello is up on the other side of the stage, cursing dramatically every time he drops a pin—but it’s been a couple hours now, and he’s cursing less and less, so hopefully that means it’s going better.

Ben’s hands have cramped up again. He’s got his palms pressed flat on the floor, fingers pointed towards his knees, and is pressing forward against them, stretching them out. They’re fucking sore, so fucking sore. But the gloves are done now, the underwear is done, and he’s nearly finished a set of rhinestoned wristwraps. There’s still—fuck, there’s so much more left. There’s so much more left, and he’s running out of time because fuck the costume, he still doesn’t have a goddamn piece.

He lies back on the floor again, stares at the ceiling, pretends he knows what the fuck he’s doing with his life. Pretends he knows how the fuck this piece is going to go.

The truth is, he’s got nothing.

He yanks his phone out of his pocket, unlocks it.

No messages, but he opens up texting to look at the last couple anyways.

Thank you.

I’m familiar with your work as well.

Kylo.

oh?

There’s no response to his text. He hadn’t expected a response.

He’d hoped, because he’s a fucking idiot, but he hadn’t expected.

The thing is, though.

Now that he’s looking at the messages again, Ben notices something he hadn’t seen before.

Ben had assumed that all three texts had been sent in one chunk, and he is—

—he is ignoring the way that his heart speeds up—

—he is mistaken.

 

The first message is from Friday afternoon, one p.m. A perfectly normal time for texting.

The second and third messages, though.

Four thirty one a.m., Saturday morning.

Four thirty eight a.m., Saturday morning.

There’s a seven minute gap between I’m familiar with your work as well and Kylo.

Something warm curls in Ben’s gut.

 

Ben goes for a walk to clear his head.

He can’t stop grinning like a fucking idiot and he doesn’t want anybody asking questions. Especially not when everyone is still tiptoeing around him, as though he’s supposed to be grieving the loss of thousands of dollars of stuff from his apparently empty storage locker.

(He hopes everyone isn’t tiptoeing because of his hands. He hopes Karé hasn’t—)

There’s parts of this area of D’Qar that are as sketchy as shit. The warehouse itself is in a decent area, even if it does always smell like sandwich meat due to the fucking sub shop, but the neighborhood deteriorates quickly

Ben’s walking on the side of a random service road. He’s still within visible distance of the warehouse, but he’s away from other buildings and people, with clear lines of sight everywhere. There was a half-crushed pack of smokes in his coat—ones he vaguely remembers planning to smoke in the bathroom at the charity gala, but couldn’t, for some reason—and he’s got one of them lit, is inhaling from it occasionally, but mostly just letting it burn down between his fingers.

It’s not unusual to see furniture in the ditch by the service road, that’s the thing. Couches, the occasional chair, stained mattresses that it’s better not to think too much about. This time, there’s a mostly-intact wooden crate just by the edge of the road. Whatever used to be inside it is gone, but the structure is intact enough that Ben can lean up against it, and just listen to the crickets, look into the distance at the foothills.

He’s debating texting A. Hux back.

He wants to text A. Hux back, wants to know why he’d texted Ben at four thirty in the morning.

Wants to know if he’s imagining the weight in A. Hux’s voice when he texts Kylo’s name, or if that’s just a thing that he’s making up in his head, a thing that isn’t actually real, even though he wants it to be real.

Ben thinks he wants it to be real.

He has questions, is the thing. Questions about what it’s like being in the Knights now, whether things are different or the same since Ben had left. Wants to know if all of his shit is still in the fucking basement where it had been the entire time, wants to know if Snoke had ever intended to hand it over or if he’d just planned to keep it indefinitely. Wants to know what it’s like being there, now. If A. Hux has Ben’s old room, if A. Hux is sleeping in the same bed that Ben used to sleep in, if A. Hux gels his hair back using the same cracked mirror that Kylo used to adjust his mask in, if—

Ben smokes his cigarette down to the filter and watches the stars. He identifies constellations without actually meaning to, knows it’s because he’s been thinking too much of Han lately—which is to say, thinking of him at all. He scowls, looks back down at the ground, and then into the ditch, trying to find something else to focus on so that his brain shuts off.

There’s a lot of furniture in the ditch today. More than usual. A couch, a recliner, some kind of a table, a bookshelf.

Ben takes another drag off his cigarette, exhales the smoke through his nose. Drops the butt and crushes it under the heel of his motorcycle boot.

He wonders if the bookshelf is any good. All his textbooks and stuff are on the floor at his place, have been on the floor for years, but if he’s starting to get better—and he hopes, since he’s dancing again, that it means that he’s getting better—maybe he can start focusing on things again.

Maybe his place would look better with a bookshelf.

Ben wades through the tall grass into the ditch, going slowly so that he’ll be able to hear any animals moving around before he steps on them. The last thing he needs to do is step on a fucking wart-hornet nest. Ben holds his cellphone out in front of him for light, alternates between shining it down at his feet, and then up at the bookshelf, down at his feet, and up at—

The bookshelf is a write-off. He doesn’t even need to get that close to see that it’s already starting to fall apart, and there’s no damn way that it’ll make it out of the ditch in one piece, much less back to Ben’s apartment.

Ben sighs, tips his phone back down to his feet, and freezes.

His right foot is in mud.

And his left foot is perilously close to a writhing nest of vine snakes.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Ben carefully steps backward with his left foot. Gently pulls his right foot out of the mud. The snakes don’t stop moving. He thinks they haven’t noticed him yet.

He hopes they haven’t noticed him yet.

Ben steps back with his right foot.

Okay.

He continues retreating until he backs up against something solid. Looks back. It’s the table that was halfway into the ditch. Now that he’s up close to the fucking thing, he can see it’s a pool table. He pushes himself up onto it just so he can get his feet the fuck off the ground.

It’s a pretty sturdy pool table. Creaks a little under his weight, but not much. It’s definitely not slate—the felt is peeled back in one of the corners, and it looks like there’s wood or something underneath—but still, it’s in good shape for ditch furniture.

Ben pushes himself up to standing on it, moving carefully because of the weird angle that the table is at. Tentatively bounces on it. The table creaks again, but nothing concerning. The bones of it seem solid, and maybe if he gets some help dragging it out of the ditch, gets it cleaned up …

… he could strip on top of a pool table. That feels like a thing that would be visually interesting.

It’d be better than him just standing in the middle of an empty stage.

It also feels like it might be kinda fun.

Ben dials Karé’s number. “Hey, s’Ben,” he says. “Real quick, you still at the studio?”

“Pava and I are just finishing up, yeah. Poe’s already cleared out, but you could probably—”

“No, no,” Ben says. “Don’t laugh, but, uh. When you’re done, can you and Pava come out to the service road, give me a hand hauling a pool table out of the ditch?”

There’s silence on the other end for a moment before Karé laughs. “A pool table. In the ditch.”

“In my defense,” Ben says, “I was trying to not step on a vine snake nest. Things got complicated.”

Karé laughs again. “Sure thing. We’ll be out there in a minute.”

 

By the time Ben can see the headlights of Pava’s truck coming down the road, he’s got half the routine choreographed in his head. If even a quarter of what he’s thinking about pans out …

… things are gonna be just fine.




 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben keeps his eyes shut when he wakes up, because he can see it, can see the choreo inside his head, can feel the places where the transitions go, has a sense of the spacing and the timing and how everything will fit together.

(Plus, if he opens his eyes, he has to think about what he was dreaming about, think about drowning and sharp teeth digging into his shoulder, think about why his cock is so fucking hard. It’s too early for that shit. It’s getting obsessive, and he’s just—not ready to examine what that entails. Not yet.)

He fumbles around on his nightstand, finds his phone. Opens his eyes just enough to get the voice recorder going, and then closes them again as he quickly dictates the routine he’s visualizing into the recorder, going as fast as he can so that he doesn’t lose the thread of it. Once he hits the end, he stops the recording, starts another one, and dictates the routine again, aiming to capture the details this time. He finishes that recording, starts another, talks his way through potential costuming, a list of props.

His dick is soft by the time he’s finished, so he doesn’t need to think about teeth or blindfolds or any of that. He can just—put his phone down, get on with his day. Keep going like everything’s normal.

So that’s what he does.

 

It’s mid-morning by the time Ben rolls into the studio. His costume fits easily in his backpack, but the bag of pool balls and the rack and the brand new pool cue are awkward to maneuver when he’s also carrying his helmet, and he resolves that all this shit is just gonna stay at the studio. There’s no point hauling it back and forth.

He’s got the studio to himself. It’s a little eerie, with all the mirrors on the walls uncovered and nobody here but him. He deliberately slaps his bare feet on the floor just so it echoes, so it feels less creepy. Less like he’s alone.

The pool table is just sitting there in the middle of the floor where they’d left it last night, because even though the damn thing was cheap, it was still too heavy for the three of them to haul up onto the stage.

Ben can’t figure out how to get his phone to stream music through the actual speakers, though for all he knows the system is set up so that it’ll only recognize BB. But he digs around in the desk up on the balcony, and unearths a stack of CDs. Most of them have Poe’s writing on them, which means the music will be distracting more than anything, but be damned if there isn’t a stack of unlabelled CDs at the bottom. Ben spreads the CDs out, picks one at random—and realizes that there’s no CD player up here anymore.

“Ridiculous,” he mutters, and he leaves the CDs scattered across the surface of the desk, because what use are they to anybody?

(He makes it almost to the hoist before he turns back around, stacks the CDs back up the way they’d been, and tucks them back into the desk.)

Ben hops off the balcony back onto the main floor, and looks at the pool table again. The fucking thing is still filthy, and it smells faintly like swamp, and he’s not going to get a damn thing done for rehearsal until he cleans it up. So he’d better clean it up.

He’s able to track down a wash bucket in the bathroom and some kind of random cleaner under the sink. Fills the bucket with hot water, and almost gets it half full before the hot water runs out. Ben contemplates heading upstairs and bitching at Bala-Tik—but nothing good will come of that, so he stays where he is, searches the rest of the bathroom until he finds some rags he can use for cleaning.

The toolbox is apparently stored under the stage now, but also all the tools look like they’re in it, so the change in location is fine. He remembers when the Resistance had first moved in here, and he’d ended up storming out to buy another hammer because they’d lost three, only to come back and find five of the fucking things in a pile of pallets that someone had started disassembling and then walked away from.

Ben had pulled the pallets apart with his bare hands.

It wasn’t unlike the aftermath of the storage locker debacle, now that he thinks about it.

Which is why he prefers not thinking about it.

 

There’s a surprising amount of dirt on the pool table, which shouldn’t have been a surprise considering that he dragged the fucking thing out of a ditch, but he’s still a little shocked at how quickly the water goes from clean and soapy to flat and black.

The felt on the table is completely unsalvageable. It’s ripped in a couple places, and there’s a stain in one corner that Ben suspects is puke, but doesn’t really want to examine too closely. It’s a cheap table, so the felt is stapled on instead of glued. Ben hunts around in the toolbox until he finds a utility knife, snaps off the blade to get a clean edge, and starts carefully cutting the felt away from the rails.

He regrets removing the felt as soon as he gets it off, baring the plywood to the world—but since the pool table will be up on the raised stage, the surface won’t be visible to anyone. He runs his hands over it carefully, checking for splinters. There’s a couple rough spots, and he sands them down with a sanding block that should have been pitched years ago. There’s enough grit left on it to sand the worst of the splinters down, but not enough to actually smooth the table out the way Ben would prefer.

After everything’s been cleaned up, it’s just Ben, the pool table, and an otherwise empty studio.

He keeps his jeans on—he’s had them for long enough that they’re worn soft, and he’s never been entirely comfortable in yoga pants like lots of other people—but takes his phone out of his pocket and sets it on the floor, strips off his shirt and lets it drop to the floor as well. He perches on one of the rails, and then slowly lowers himself onto his back. Pikes his legs up into the air, balances on his shoulders, and starts going through a series of leg movements, testing how quickly he can move, how much momentum he can harness without losing his balance.

His splits, both front and side, are completely gone, even when he’s got gravity on his side. He knows better than to let his fucking splits rot, but what’s done is done. His hamstrings are tight enough that there’s no variety of split that’ll be even remotely presentable by Friday, not even if he drills the shit out of them for the next few days.

Ben points his toes, does an awkward transition onto his front that he vows never to repeat, especially since the transition means he can see flashes of himself in the mirrors, and that’s a fucking mistake if he’s ever made one. He stretches his arms out in front of him, rests his chin on the plywood, and tries to see if he can get his feet up over into a chest stand—

—definitely not.

He wonders if Pava knows how to do chest stands, if that’s something she can teach him after this show. If Pava can’t, Bastian probably can.

(… does A. Hux know how to do chest stands?)

Fuck, and that’s all he can think about now, A. Hux in a chest stand like a contortionist, feet dangling in front of his head. Ben tries to figure out where A. Hux’s dick would be in this position, whether gravity would keep it against A. Hux’s stomach or whether the curvature of his back would—Ben needs to stop thinking about that.

He needs to stop thinking about that right now.

 

Ben decides he’s plenty warmed up, gives up on testing things out and switches over to working on the actual piece. He doesn’t reference his phone, because he wants to see what he remembers, wants to see if anything’s actually stuck in his head or if the stuff he’d come up with this morning was so unmemorable that it’s already been lost. The fucking thing is—he’s been away from performing for so long that he doesn’t remember what he usually does for choreo. The only fucking thing he’s been doing lately is running and going to the gym, so most of the choreo he’d developed this morning is exclusively focused on his body and what he can do with it, relying on showing off his strength instead of doing anything that risks him falling into memories over performances he’d done with the Kni—over old performances.

(He should review his old Resistance footage, he knows he should review his old Resistance footage, but he just—he can’t quite bring himself to ask Poe for it. Not when he still hasn’t committed to being in or being out. Not when he might just go the show this weekend and then immediately pack up his bags and go—somewhere else.)

Ben balances carefully on his right hand, tucks his elbow tight against his stomach, and stretches his legs out behind him. Checks to see how much mobility he has with his left hand—and it’s a fair amount, more than what he’d expected. Enough that he’ll be able to pick up or manipulate pool balls while still staying balanced, and that’s definitely a move he’s going to keep.

He tries pulling his legs in, seeing if he can push up into a one-handed handstand from here—and that’s a definite no, but as soon as he plants his left hand, he’s able to get it, easily walks around the pool table on his hands with his feet alternately pointed and flexed, even though he knows flexing looks horrendous.

Ben walks on his hands over to the edge of the pool table, grabs onto the rail, pulls his abs tight, and starts lowering himself down in a parody of a flag. He’s three-quarters of the way down when the rail creaks and he feels it twist under his grip. Ben lets go, lands unceremoniously in a pile, banging his shoulder on the floor.

He rolls onto his back, stares up at the ceiling. Digs his fingers into his shoulder, makes sure it’s just a regular amount of fucked up, and not anything serious. He can still see his reflection in his peripheral vision, and he stands up, swings his arm a couple of times to loosen it up, and then takes a few minutes to draw all the curtains over the mirrors mounted on the studio walls like he should have done in the first place.

Once he does that, he realizes he’s thirsty, so he sticks his head under the tap and drinks like he’s drinking out of the garden hose, like he used to when he was a kid. His hair’s long enough (again) that it touches the bottom of the sink when he drinks, and when he pulls back, the ends of his hair are wet.

By the time he ambles back to his pool table, he’s slowly starting to realize that he’s exhausted, and it probably wouldn’t kill him to take a break.

Plus, his phone—lying face up on the floor next to his shirt—is blinking. It’s probably just an X notification. He’d set up some openings for appointments tomorrow, and hopefully this is just notifications that those appointments are getting booked, hopefully he’ll be busy, hopefully even though his profile is full of old pictures it’s still interesting enough that somebody will want to book him …

Anyway, it won’t hurt to just lie down on the floor for a minute.

The cool floor feels nice against his bare chest. He’s still got the generic lock screen on his new phone, and he frowns slightly as he unlocks it, can’t help but mourn the photo that Poe had taken of them that used to be on there.

Also, the notification isn’t from X.

zzzA. Hux: You realize what you do isn’t dance.

zzzA. Hux: I’ve seen your archive footage.

Ben reads the text messages one more time, and then reads them again.

You realize what you do isn’t dance.

Ben’s not going to laugh, he’s certain that A. Hux meant the texts entirely seriously, it’s just that they make no goddamn fucking sense, and he’s fine, Ben’s got his face under control and he’s not going to laugh—

—until he looks at the time stamp and realizes that it’s more fucking texts sent to him from A. Hux at four fucking thirty in the morning, and Ben starts laughing in earnest, laughs so hard that he can’t breathe, actually has to set his phone down and flop onto his back on the fucking floor because he’s just dying at the fact that those words got texted to him in that order, as serious text messages, at four fucking thirty in the morning.

Ben: omg i’ve nvr laughed so hard in my life

Ben: thx

Ben’s just about to set his phone down and wipe his eyes off when the fucking screen lights up, and be damned if A. Hux hasn’t responded.

zzzA. Hux: …

Ben sits up, taps his feet absently on the floor while he responds.

Ben: i’m a dancer. evrything i do is dance

zzzA. Hux: You’re a sideshow performer at best.

Ben: a dancer doing sideshow, yes.

Ben: or sideshow performer doing dance.

Ben: however u lik to spin it

Ben types in how wuld u like to spin it, erases it.

Types out since i was wrong re: orgy and erases that with extreme prejudice.

It’s just—Ben’s enjoying himself, and he’s pretty sure if he fucks up this A. Hux conversation again, he’s not going to get an additional chance. He’s not even sure why he’s getting this do-over, considering how drastically A. Hux had gone off on him the first time.

There’s no immediate reply, but Ben can wait. He’s not in a hurry to get back to rehearsal. He hasn’t thought about his archive footage in years, and he cautiously pokes at the memories, trying to figure out whether or not they hurt.

(They ache, like a cavity buried in the depths of a tooth. Cameras everywhere, and his head spinning, and the other knights pulsing around him, faces blurred and in and out and up and down and—)

If A. Hux has been looking at the Knights archives … shit, there’s probably a lot of stuff there. All the rehearsals, all the training, everything he ever pulled together with the Knights, everything he worked on solo. The various assorted things that Ben—Kylo—stuck down his throat on stage.

That stuff is all in the earlier footage—but it’s definitely there, and if A. Hux has been diligent in watching Ben’s archive footage …

Ben: u didn’t like my sword swallowing? :( :( :(

Ben’s heart is pounding. He’s pretty sure it’s adrenaline from rehearsing, or the part where he probably didn’t drink enough water during rehearsal, except he just drank a bunch of water, like, two seconds ago, so it’s probably not that. Maybe he just needs a beer or something. A few minutes to relax.

Ben leaves his phone on the pool table, wanders back into the kitchen. Remembers that the fridge is out. He digs out a warm beer anyway, opens it up and takes a swig, sets it down on the counter. Then he grabs the sides of the fridge, and walks it back out from the wall to see if he can figure out what the fuck.

At least if he’s busy, he can stop thinking about his fucking phone, and whether he’ll have to wait until four thirty in the morning again to get a response.

 

Turns out that the problem with the fridge is loose wires in the outlet. Ben unscrews the outlet from the wall, pokes around in there for a few minutes before he realizes he probably should switch the breaker off.

Pokes around there for a few more minutes, and then solves the problem himself when there’s a bright flash, and then the power goes out all by itself.

Fuuuuuuuuck.

 

Ben’s sitting there in the dark, drinking his warm beer and trying to remember where the fuck the breakers even are down here—are they backstage? Or are they in with the seacans in the storage area?—when he hears what sounds like the faint echo of footsteps on the stairs. He doesn’t wear a watch, and his phone is still all the way across the room at the pool table, so he has no idea what time it is, but his beer’s still mostly full, so it can’t be too late.

“Sorry,” Poe is saying, “just give me a second with the breakers here, sometimes this happens—there.”

The lights come back on. Ben blinks, gets to his feet.

“We, uh, we have a pool table now?” Poe continues.

“That’s mine,” Ben says, striding out from the kitchen into the studio space—

—and then he stumbles to a halt, nearly tripping over his own feet, because Poe is standing there in his slightly shabby suit, fingertips resting lightly on the rails of Ben’s new acquisition, looking as confused as all hell—and Leia is standing right next to him.

She’s been traveling, he can tell that she’s been traveling just because she looks bloody exhausted in a way that she never looks when she’s been stationed somewhere for any significant point in time. She’s wearing a suit, but she’s got some huge woven scarf draped over it, pulled tight around her shoulders like it’s cold or something here, and Ben realizes that it must have started raining outside, or maybe she’s just cold, but it’s been years since he’s seen her and his mouth is dry and—

—where is he supposed to start, what is he supposed to say when he wishes he could close the gap between them, when he wishes he could still call her on the weekends sometimes the way regular people call their parents except she probably appreciates the distance from him, appreciates the space away from his problems and—

“B—Kylo,” she says. “I didn’t—”

“It’s Ben,” he says, tongue awkward in his mouth. “Ben is fine, it’s okay, you can—you can call me Ben.”

“Ben’s been helping out around the studio,” Poe says into the silence between them. “He’s—”

“I’m back in,” Ben says. He’s still staring at Leia, at his mom, still holding his half-empty beer in his hand, still not sure whether he’s supposed to approach her or supposed to stay where he is, not sure if he’s fucked things up irredeemably but he probably has, he usually does—

“You’re what?” Poe says.

“I’m back in,” Ben says. “With the Resistance.” He gulps back the rest of his beer so that he doesn’t have to think about how he actually just wants her to hug him like she used to before—before everything, so he doesn’t have to think about how he doesn’t know what to do with his hands or his feet or his body, how he wishes he’d just stayed sitting in the dark in the kitchen, and maybe Poe and Leia wouldn’t have noticed him, maybe …

“I’m really glad to hear that, buddy,” Poe says. “Isn’t that great, Leia?”

“It’s—” she says.

And then she stops, and something inside Ben’s chest cracks.

“I’m so sorry I was here,” Ben says. “I didn’t think—”

“Hey,” Poe says. “That’s why I gave you the key, it’s alright, it’s alright. Leia and I were just …”

“Passing through,” she says. “We’re leaving.”

“Right,” Ben says. “Yeah. Okay.”

Silence.

“So,” Leia says, reaching out and touching the edge of the pool table. “You acquired a pool table.”

“Dragged it out of a ditch,” Ben says, and he doesn’t realize how much it makes him sound like Han until Leia’s mouth twitches. “Poe didn’t know about it,” Ben adds lamely.

"How’d you get it down here, anyway?” Poe asks.

“Freight elevator,” Ben says. “I had to—”

The power goes out again.

“I’ll get it,” Poe says, and he flips on BB’s flashlight and heads out back out into the hall.

It’s probably just as well—Poe probably doesn’t need to know that Ben picked the lock to get into the fucking thing using a couple of Pava’s bobby pins. With any luck, nobody finds out about that, because he doesn’t need Bala-Tik up his ass about that too, in addition to everything else.

“You, uh, back for long?” Ben asks Leia. His voice comes out quieter than he meant it to, and he sounds fucking awkward as shit, and he wants to regret speaking except he’s scared if he doesn’t speak now that he won’t speak again ever, and they’ll just lapse back into silence that’ll last for years. It’s easier in the dark, though. Something about not being able to see Leia’s face but still being able to look right at her. Not having to worry about what his own face is doing.

“A few weeks, maybe longer,” Leia says. “We’re still waiting to hear back on whether they’re appealing.” There’s silence for a moment before she adds, “I thought I’d come back, see how things were going.”

“Ah.”

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she says.

“Sorry.”

“No, no,” Leia says. “Don’t. I mean—it’s good to see you.” She takes a deep breath. “I miss you,” she says bluntly.

“How could you?” Ben asks. “I mean, I’d assumed you were happier without a kid.” He regrets saying it the instant the words leave his mouth—but they were there, he couldn’t not say them, the last thing he wants is for Leia to feel obligated to get tangled up in all Ben’s shit again when she’s probably appreciated the break, when she probably just wants their relationship to stay broken, when she wants exactly what Han wants, and that’s to get—

“Where the fuck did you get that idea?”

The power comes on just in time for Ben to catch the twist in Leia’s mouth, the hurt in her eyes. She should turn away when her face looks like that—that’s what Ben would do—but she doesn’t, just lifts her chin and keeps steady eye contact with him, and Ben can’t, he can’t, he just can’t—

“I …”

“I never wanted the distance,” Leia says finally. “I just …”

“I needed some space,” Ben says, almost at the same time. “But I didn’t know—”

“How to stop?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Ben says.

“I never know how to stop either,” she confesses.

“Ha,” Ben says, but there’s no humour in it.

“Hey,” Poe says as he comes back into the studio, rubbing his hands together. “I think I got our power back working again.” He hesitates. “I was just gonna take Leia out for lunch, did you want to come, Ben?”

“I can’t,” Ben says immediately. “I have …” He gestures at the pool table. “This.”

“You sure?” Poe asks.

“Yeah,” Ben says. “I’m sure.”

“It was good to see you, Ben,” Leia says.

Ben wonders if she’s saying it for his sake or for Poe’s. “Yeah.”

Leia smiles. Her eyes still look sad.

Leia and Poe are halfway out of the studio before Ben remembers, calls after them.

“Oh, hey. You, uh, got Han’s number?”

Leia rolls her eyes, adjusts her scarf. “What’s he done now?”

“Fuck if I know,” Ben says, shrugging one shoulder. “Guy that owns the building is after him, and the number I’ve got is dead.”

She sighs. “I’ll check with Lando.”

“Thanks,” Ben says. “I’ll, uh, I’ll call.”

“That would be nice,” Leia says.

 

Ben doesn’t need to wait until four thirty in the morning for the next text—but he does need to wait until ten pm, and he’s nearly asleep on his couch when the response finally arrives.

zzzA. Hux: There’s no indication you’ve taken dance training anywhere, Kylo.

Ben expects—more to the text message than that. Some kind of explanation, or further beratement, or a diatribe similar to whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam but there’s—well, there’s nothing. Just that one text, and silence.

It’s possible that this text is even less logical than the last one, is the thing. Ben has dance training, Ben clearly has dance training—it’s maybe not as obvious in the Knights videos as it was in any of the stuff Ben did prior, but lucky for A. Hux and his judgemental bullshit, Ben has video evidence of all the dance training. It’s old—but so’s Ben, and evidence is evidence.

Ben shifts back further into the cushions of his couch, the arm of the thing creaking as he burrows in. He’s pretty sure if he just digs into his holonet storage—yeah, there. He doesn’t bother going through any of the videos in detail, just picks a random one and sends it over, opens it up to watch it as soon as the message goes through, just to feel like he’s watching it at the same time as A. Hux.

Wonders if A. Hux is lounging around in his underwear just like Ben is, or whether A. Hux is naked all the time like he was in his performance, wonders if—

zzzA. Hux: What the fuck is this?

Ben: it me

zzzA. Hux: That kid is, like, fifteen and skinny.

Ben: twelve

Ben: I was tall

zzzA. Hux: Looks nothing like you.

Ben: the ears, tho

zzzA. Hux: Might I remind you

zzzA. Hux: Kylo

zzzA. Hux: That you wear a mask

zzzA. Hux: Every fucking time you perform?

zzzA. Hux: I’ve never seen your face, let alone your ears.

zzzA. Hux: Which are apparently massive.

Ben: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ben: well, that videos frm my personal collection so

Ben: considr urself lucky ;)

Ben hesitates, tries to tell himself that this is a stupid idea.

Edits A. Hux’s contact information anyway, saving the new info just as the next text message comes in.

A. Hux: Why is Luke Skywalker in the background of this video?

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben’s phone pings right next to his ear and he startles awake, flails it off the bed before grabbing it and fumbling it on. He expects a text from A. Hux, heart pounding because he doesn’t know what it will be, whether he’s received four a.m. text messages again berating him for completely ignoring the Luke Skywalker question or if this is something else entirely—

—but there aren’t any new text messages.

It takes him a minute to realize that his ping was actually from X, and it takes him a few more minutes to realize that there’s a messaging system attached to the app now.

H: It’s so lovely to see you active again.

Ben’s face breaks into a grin. He’d assumed that he’d lost most of his client base while he was on hiatus, but if anybody was going to stick around and still book with him after being inactive for so long, he’s glad it’s H. She’s one of his favourite clients.

Isolder: hi :) it’s been a while. how r u?

H: I’ve been well, thank you.

H: I hope you’ve been well also.

Isolder: things have been good thank u

Ben is—not lying. He is not lying when he says that, and he’s surprised at himself. He glances up at his new mirror as he brushes his teeth, leaves his cellphone balanced on the edge of the sink.

Does he look happy? Is this what happy looks like?

Shouldn’t it look different on his face?

H: Imagine my surprise when I found that you were taking clients again!

Isolder: aww :) thx

H: Tell me, are you still working Wednesdays?

Isolder: irregularly, but yes.

Isolder: am working today tho

Isolder: did u want to book?

H: I would love to.

Isolder: great lemme just check

Oh.

His schedule is full.

He flips back to his conversation.

H: I believe you’ll find you don’t have any openings for today.

Isolder: uh, yes.

Isolder: apparently

Isolder: what did you want to do?

Isolder: i might be able to make this work

He should have fucking reconfigured his appointment setup. He fucking knew he should have reconfigured his appointment setup, but how was he supposed to know that he was actually going to get bookings based on the “I know what submissives like” jackass. He’d expected two of his three openings to remain unbooked. But “I know what submissives like” must have been talking on the site or something, that has to have been what happened here, there is no other explanation for why everything is booked up. Ben’s lunch appointment has been booked by somebody who’s very into floggers, his afternoon appointment by someone who wants to face-fuck him, and his early evening by someone whose profile is full of bloodplay, but who has claimed that all they want to do during the appointment is “scratching, mild to moderate”...probably because anything actually listed on their profile as a fetish would require that they talk to Ben first rather than just booking him with no further consultation.

Ben frowns at that one. It doesn’t look promising.

Isolder: i’m booked in for flogging, face-fucking, and scratching

Isolder: as long as u don’t object to me being mildly marked up

Isolder: i will open up another space for you later this evening?

H: That would be lovely, dear.

H: I’ll work around whatever I need to work around.

Ben fumbles around the app for a bit before he remembers how to open a private appointment, sends it to H. Is delighted when she accepts almost immediately.

Isolder: thank you

H: I’ll see you tonight.

Isolder: i look forward to it :)

Ben flips over to his previous appointments, tracks down the jackass from before, and sure enough—ugh, gross. He wrote a review praising Ben as a “true submissive”, completely exaggerated Ben’s enjoyment in the session, and wanks on for a couple paragraphs about the same shit he was talking about during the session—submissives are like this, and biological determination is like that, and blah blah blah who cares. It’s fucking offensive.

It’s bringing Ben a lot of cash.

But it’s fucking offensive.

 

Ben gets all his prep work out of the way, tosses his bag by the front door, tosses a second bag with multiple changes of clothing in it next to the first. Double-checks his hotel booking, confirms that it was ready for him last night, and he won’t have to check out until tomorrow morning. He’s got a couple hours before the train, and he spends it working on his burlesque piece in his living room, going through his transitions and figuring out where the important bits are.

He probably should have kept the pool cue here instead of leaving it at the studio. He’s pretty sure sword-swallowing is just like riding a bike, but he probably should have taken the pool cue home with him just in case.

Tomorrow.

That can be his tomorrow project.

For today, it’s time to catch the bus.

When he picks up his bags, he notices an envelope lying on the floor, right next to his door. It looks like it’d been shoved under the crack from the hall. There’s no address on it.

Ben gives it a quick kick, and it slides across the floor, stops when against the kitchen island.

It’s either nothing, or it’s a noise complaint, and he’ll just deal with it when he gets back tomorrow.

He’s got shit to do.

 

The client is bland in a way that makes them essentially anonymous. Ben is certain that once they leave, he won’t recall a single thing about them—not their eyes or their hair, their face or their outfit.

What he will remember are the floggers, a matched set with silver handles that have been polished to such a high gloss that he can see his mask reflected in them from across the room. The handles are slightly curved to fit the wielder’s hands, but end in a curved ball end that looks like it could be used as an insertable as well, and Ben regrets immediately that this is not one of those appointments, because this could totally be one of those appointments. (He doesn’t think he could fit both handles up his ass at the same time, but he’s certain he can fit one down his throat and one up his ass, or one up his ass and the other used to flog him, or he could bury his face in the leather falls of one of them and get flogged with the other, or—)

The falls themselves are thick leather, heavy and pure white.

“You can touch them if you like,” the client says. “If you want to inspect them.”

Ben doesn’t want to inspect them, doesn’t need to inspect them. Wants to tear off his mask and bury his face in them, wants the smell to be the only thing that he can smell, the leather to be the only thing he can taste. He settles for pulling off his glove and running his bare fingers across the leather. It’s soft under his fingertips. Buttery. He puts his gloves back on with tangible regret.

“They’ll do?” the client asks, and there’s no sense of pretension in it, no falseness or rhetorical questions like Ben got with his previous client. It’s just--a question, an honest question.

“Yes,” Ben breathes through the vocoder, and he kneels on the carpet of the hotel room floor in the place the client indicates, and he braces his hands on his thighs, tips his head down, and waits.

The first hit is so heavy it knocks the breath out of him, a huff that comes so suddenly out of him that his vocoder crackles and spits static. The second is much the same, and Ben can feel the warmth bloom on his back even as he forces himself to catch up, tries to figure out where the rhythm is, how he’s going to breathe, how he’s going to get on top of it.

And it’s—it’s good.

The leather is fucking amazing, heavy and intense. Each hit is a solid thud that rocks him to his core every single time, and it is so, so easy to slip into subspace, to let the impact surround him and haul him down into that place where he is swimming in a sea of endorphins, and they are holding him up, keeping him safe, keeping him warm.

Ben pulls off his gloves, digs his nails into his palm to force himself back. He’s working. He’s working. He’s working. He can’t slip into this. He can’t stay in this, because this kind of shit is fucking dangerous, this is the kind of shit where he can be so zoned out that the client can leave and take their money with him and he won’t fucking notice—so he digs his fingers into his palms and forces himself not to surrender to it, forces himself to stay focused, focuses himself to stay here.

(He wants a dom, he just wants a fucking dom, he wants something permanent, something where he doesn’t have to pull himself back all the time for his own safety, something where he can just—exist, and enjoy, and be.)

It’s easier when the client places their hand on the back of his neck, gently nudges him down so that his ass is in the air and his mask is pressing against the hotel room carpet. Then Ben can focus on the smell of the carpet and the rug burn on his knees, focus on breathing appropriately, breathing in a way that doesn’t put him any further into subspace, focus on reacting for the client in a way that the client wants him to react—or, in a way that Ben guesses the client wants to make him react.

The client isn’t talking. The client not talking is helping a lot, because there’s only so far that Ben can go into subspace if the person he’s submitting to isn’t talking, and this client is completely silent, it’s just Ben and the floggers.

Ben and the perfect, perfect floggers.

Fuck.

 

Second client. Face-fucking first, then he wants Ben to fuck him. Ben offers a caveat about the size of his dick (it’s not on his profile. It should really go on his profile), but it doesn’t dissuade the guy, so Ben shrugs and gets on with it.

The face-fucking is brutal, vicious, relentless. Just the way Ben likes it. Fat cock shoved down his throat, spit drooling uncontrollably out of his mouth, salt-water tears at the corners of his eyes.

He pretends it’s A. Hux jamming his cock down Ben’s throat.

what kind of person do you think i am

A. Hux’s hand tight in his hair, twisting his grip until Ben’s eyes water and his skin pulls away from his skull. What if he keeps twisting, what if Ben’s skin pulls away from his skull, what if Ben’s hair tears away from his head?

what kind of person are you

A. Hux’s voice hissing in his ear. Tongue flicking against his earlobe. Teeth not touching his ear but so close, so close.

kylo

A. Hux’s other hand on Ben’s throat. Squeezing steady. Thumb tucked up under Ben’s jaw, nail digging in.

what kind of person are you kylo

A. Hux’s temple pressed up against Ben’s. Face nearly inverted entirely—

sick fucking freak

—as he’s bent double to keep his cock shoved in Ben’s mouth.

sick fucking freak

A. Hux’s burning red hair bright against Ben’s dark hair.

sick fucking freak

A. Hux and his thick cock, shoved deep into Ben’s throat—

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Ben blinks, looks up at the client.

Swallows around the hard cock in his mouth. His chin is cold from the drool that’s been running unfettered out of his mouth. Nose feels snotty and uncomfortable. Throat thick. He breathes carefully to avoid gagging.

The client pulls out anyway, and Ben is empty, empty, empty, head spinning on endorphins from subspace and the floggers earlier and—

A thick string of spit briefly links the client’s condom-covered cock to Ben’s mouth before it breaks, and then they’re separated.

The client gestures to Ben, hands sharp and tense. “What the fuck, man?”

Ben looks down.

His underwear is—fuck, his underwear is soaked through. He touches it tentatively, rubs his fingers together.

Cum.

Fuck.

He hadn’t realized—

Fuck.

“This never happens,” Ben says.

“Never mind,” the client says. “Don’t think I’m paying you for this, though.”

“My refractory period’s not bad, I can—”

“Don’t.”

“I can—”

“Seriously,” the client bites off, voice sharp. “Don’t.”

 

Third client. “Scratching” was the entry on the booking, and it was fucking bullshit when he saw it, and Ben anticipated this. He definitely anticipated this.

“I don’t know how often I have to repeat it,” Ben says, and he digs his nails into his palms so that he can keep his voice down, because yelling isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. Put spaces between his words so that they don’t run together. “Scratching is okay. But you need to put—” and here, he gestures at the pile of stuff that’s been unrolled onto the bed “—this stuff away. I don’t know you, I haven’t screened you, and this isn’t happening.”

“I’ll pay you double,” the guy says.

“Absolutely not,” Ben says. He doesn’t look back at the bed. He’s already looked once. Once is enough. He doesn’t need to look again because he remembers the knives fucking perfectly, how the first one is sharp and pointy and the second is serrated and the third is just a fucking big knife with a wide blade and Ben wants them, he wants them dug into his skin, he wants them pressing into his shoulders, he wants—

“Triple.”

“No,” Ben says, the vocoder exploding in static. “No,” he repeats, softer this time. Quiet enough that the vocoder catches it, spits it out as flat mechanical sound. “This is not happening.”

“Come on,” the guy says. “What do you need? You want more money? I can pay you more money. You have a great fucking body.” He steps closer, brings his hands up to the leather of Ben’s mask, touches his fingertips against Ben’s cheeks, drags them down to his shoulders, down his chest. “You’re fucking hot, Isolder. Let me hurt you.”

Ben steps back, exhales heavily through the mask. “This. Is. Not. Happening.”

The client inhales like he’s going to argue about it, and then his eyes sweep over Ben’s body again, and he hesitates.

Ben leans back against the wall, thrusts his hips out just a little. Pretends that he doesn’t feel like he’s being watched, pretends that his shoulders aren’t tight, pretends that he doesn’t need this booking even though he needs to do something to make up for the fuckup from last time. The previous underwear are hung over the shower curtain rod, drying out after being rinsed in the sink. These ones are booty shorts that fit tight against his thighs and his ass, push his dick and balls forward. He’s not wearing a shirt for this, didn’t fucking bother. He’s got the same pseudo-collar wrapped around his neck, cuffs around his wrists. The mask makes him anonymous, makes it so that clients can imagine anything they want underneath it.

“What is happening?” the client asks. He’s still staring at Ben’s chest, eyes periodically flicking lower. Down to his crotch. Back up to his chest.

The prickling feeling between Ben’s shoulderblades starts to subside a bit. He holds out his hand, counts it off on his fingers. “Scratching and slapping are okay. Punching is okay. Teeth are okay, but don’t break the skin. Don’t hit my face. Don’t hit my sack.” He closes his hand, gestures to the bed. “My safeword is saber, and I’m not doing a goddamn thing until you pack up your shit, and you put it away. It doesn’t come out during the session.”

The client exhales heavily, goes over to the bed. Rolls up the fabric with the knives tucked inside carefully, ties it shut, takes it back to the entrance of the hotel room and leaves it on the floor.

“We good?” he says.

“We’re good,” Ben responds. He takes a deep breath, exhales carefully through the vocoder. Kneels down. “Go ahead. Hurt me.”

 

Afterwards, Ben lies on the bed, facedown on the bills scattered across the bed. He feels like shit. Not physically. His back hurts, but not much. There’s only so much damage that can be done with a set of hands, and since the guy didn’t have any implements besides the knives, there wasn’t much he could do except welt Ben up a bit, and that’ll fade. Probably even before Ben’s next appointment, which is—

—Ben turns his head to the side, adjusts the mask. He’s got two hours.

His brain hurts.

Ben gets up, peels one of the fifties off his mask. Tosses it back on the bed, and pads into the bathroom. Fumbles with the collar at the back of his neck for a bit before he decides it’s not worth the hassle, decides he’ll just keep it on. It’s only two more hours and one more session. What the fuck does it matter. He’s sweaty and gross underneath, and if he takes the mask off, he’s not gonna want to put it back on. He can imagine what his hair looks like, and it’s not good.

He stands in the shower anyway. For once, it’s not awful that he’s too tall. His mask stays out of the spray this way.

The water stings on his back. He shuts the water off, pats himself dry with a towel. Looks at himself in the mirror. There’s long scratches going all down his back. Bite marks on his neck. A spot on his shoulder that’s weeping. Lymph, or watery blood, or a mixture of the two. Ben can’t tell under the fluorescents if the fluid is pink or if it’s just the irritation on his skin coming through. He should have called a stop on that one. He hadn’t.

Ben pulls a set of pants on, digs around in the bottom of his bag until he finds a smoke and a lighter. It’s raining, so he drags the endtable over to the balcony and opens the door. Lights up, sits on the endtable. Fumbles with his other hand until he gets the cover flipped off the vocoder and tucked away, and then takes a long drag off the cigarette and exhales the smoke outside.

 

He’s exhaling out the window again when there’s a knock on the door, and he jolts. Looks up at the clock. Looks down at the ashtray, starts counting the cigarette butts, and gives up.

“Yeah?” he calls out.

“It’s me.”

Ben sighs. Considers butting out his current cigarette, but just drags the rest of it down, coughs into his elbow. Stubs the butt out along with the others, flips his vocoder back into place, and heads for the door. He keeps the chain locked when he opens it.

“So, uh, you should cancel,” he says.

H just looks at him. “Are you unwell?”

“If I was, would you cancel?”

“You smell like an ashtray.”

“I’ve been—”

“Use the first part of my booking to shower.”

“I just—”

“Wash your mouth out, then.”

Ben sighs, unhooks the chain on the door, and opens it up to let her in. Shuts the door behind her, and stands there for a moment, back to her, before he finally turns around.

She reaches up and touches his mask. “You do look like shit, don’t you,” she says.

“I did tell you.”

She reaches up with her other hand as well, until she’s cradling his mask in both hands. “Go rinse your mouth out, Isolder. Then come back out, and we’ll figure out when to reschedule, alright?”

Ben sighs, does as she asks.

 

He hates mouthwash typically, but has to admit that it does taste better than the cigarettes. Afterwards, he braces his hands on either side of the sink, hangs his head for a moment. Tries to get his fucking shit together.

When he comes out, H is sitting on the bed, legs crossed at the ankles, paging through her phone.

“So, I have a fair amount of flexibility in my schedule,” she says.

“Let’s do it now,” Ben says.

She looks up at him, finger still hovering over the display on her phone. “I’m free the same time next week.”

“No,” he says. “I’m serious.”

“You look like shit,” she repeats. As though he doesn’t know. As though it’s not blatantly obvious by the set of his shoulders, and he just counts himself lucky that she can’t actually see his face, because he’s sure his face looks even worse. Fucking expressive piece of shit.

“I can do this,” he insists. “You came all this way.”

“Maybe it’s not far for me,” she counters.

He puts his hands up over the earholes on his mask. “La la la la.”

“How does next week look for you, Isolder?”

“Maybe I just need a good dicking,” he counters. “Ever considered that?”

She looks up at him, raises her eyebrow. Considers him.

He does his best to lounge against the bathroom doorway seductively. It helps that he didn’t bother putting a belt on, and his pants are nearly falling off his hips. At least, he hopes it helps.

“You figure a good dicking will set you straight?”

“You know,” he says. “For varying definitions of straight, yeah, I’m sure it would.” The vocoder eats his attempt at humour in his voice, but he can hear it in his head anyway, can hear that it was actually mid-to-moderate successful.

“And you’re trying to tell me that you didn’t get a good dicking in any of your previous sessions?”

“Virgin asshole,” Ben says. “You’d be the first one in it.”

She scoffs.

“Today,” he clarifies. “My fingers don’t count.” He hesitates. “Don’t look at me like that?”

“Isolder, sweetheart,” she says. “You would never let me book with you if I didn’t look at you like that at least a couple times.” She stands up, crosses the room toward him.

“You’re right,” he says. “Always,” he says. His knees hit the carpet, and it’s almost everything that he wants. It’s almost right, except for the part where this can only be so real, this can only be so real because she pays him to be there, so there’s only so far this can go, there’s only so much that can happen, there’s only so much he can get, and whatever he gets is exactly what she wants and nothing more—

She smells the same way she always does—crisp, clean. Like linen. She pets his head like Ben is one of the dogs he assumes she has, then drags her hand down the back of his mask, hooks her fingers under his pseudo-collar, and twists.

He gasps, the noise crackling through the vocoder.

“Good boy,” she says softly. “Now, go bring me my bag, and crawl out of those ugly pants on your way over.”

Ben does as she asks.

 

“Do I need to be worried about your shoulder on your behalf?” H asks calmly, as though she isn’t currently reaming him out with nine inches of silicone.

“No,” Ben says between thrusts. “‘s fine. Just—minor damage.”

“I see you put antibiotics on it, at least.”

“My health—is—important.”

“So you did learn a thing or two since the last time I’ve seen you,” she says, her voice delighted.

She bottoms out inside him and holds it there as he gasps, his sudden intake of breath crackling through the vocoder. Her fingers run up both sides of his ribs, pinching and rolling the skin on the way, curving around to the front of his body, and brushing gently over his nipples.

It’s been a couple years, H, he wants to say.

Give me some credit, he thinks.

I wasn’t just stagnating, even though that’s a lie, and he definitely was.

Instead, he says “I spent a bunch of time in the gym too,” like an idiot, like that’s the best use of the one full sentence he can get out before she pulls nearly all the way out of him and then starts fucking him steadily again and he doesn’t have the breath anymore for anything other than fragmented words and pieces of thoughts.

 

Ben would like to think that he could handle not thinking about A. Hux for thirty fucking minutes, just long enough for him to focus on H and have a successful session, especially after the last couple had been so fucking shitty.

He thinks about A. Hux anyways, imagines him sitting over at the window where Ben had sat. Imagines him in one of the expensive suits. Shiny shoes. Perfectly coiffed hair.

He’s not even doing anything in Ben’s imagination. He’s just—sitting there. Examining his fingernails.

Then he looks up, and his eyes are cold like ice and his cheekbones are sharp and—

 

“Fuck, fuck, fuckfuckfuck,” Ben says, vocoder spitting static.

H’s hand is around his cock, clamped tight at the base, and the sudden disappearance of his orgasm is so abrupt that it’s fucking painful. Her other hand is pressing down on the back of his mask, and he exhale-whines into the mattress.

“Now, now,” she says. “It hasn’t been so long that you’ve forgotten, have you?”

“No, no, no,” Ben says. “No, ma’am.”

“What’s the rule?”

“No orgasms,” he gasps. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“No orgasms,” she repeats. “I’m not having them, and neither are you, puppy.”

“No, ma’am.”

He pants into the mattress for a few more minutes until his balls start to relax a bit.

“Are you ready to go again?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yes, ma’am. Only—”

“Hmm?”

“I could give you orgasms.”

“I’m aware,” she says.

“I wouldn’t even have to come. I could just, like, give them to you and still not come.”

“Yes,” she says. “You could.”

“Can I? Can I please?”

“Not a chance, puppy,” she says affectionately. “It’s very sweet that you’re trying so hard for me, but not a chance.”

Then she pulls back, and starts fucking him again.

 

She lets him shower again at the end of the session, lets him curl up on the bed and put his head in her lap, gently strokes her hand on his mask.

He’s so hard it hurts, keeps whining involuntarily even though he doesn’t mean to. He’s trying to be good. He’s trying so hard to be good.

“Shh,” she says. “Shh, shh. You were good. You were so good for me, Isolder. You were so good.”

“Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

“I just need you to be good for a little while longer.”

 

He escorts her to the door, like he always does. Nuzzles his leather-clad face against her neck.

“Thank you,” she says. “That was just what I needed. Now, don’t forget.” She pats his cock gently as she shoulders her bag. He bites his lip, winces. He’s still hard, and so, so sensitive.

“I won’t forget,” he says.

“Two more hours,” she reminds him.

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

He tidies the hotel room up, tucks his money deep into his bag. Walks carefully into the bathroom, reaches back, and fumbles the lock apart on his mask, undoes the zipper, peels the leather forward and off his face.

His face is drenched in sweat. His hair is more curled than usual, pulled up just shy of his shoulders. He washes his face, splashes it with cold water with one hand while he touches his dick with the other, keeps himself hard and close to coming without actually getting there. He still has—

—an hour and a half. Fuck.

Ben gets completely dressed in his street clothes. Decides it’s too difficult to keep himself hard through boxers, pants, and an awkwardly untucked shirt. Undresses completely again, lies on the dry spot on the far side of the bed. He still feels awkward and hot, sweltering even though the mask is off now. His voice is raw from yelling into the sheets. His back aches where he was welted up earlier, and then underneath that, there’s the pleasant soreness from what was, honestly, a really good flogging session.

His dick is still rock-hard, and he drags his fingers up it gently, drags them back down. Touches his balls gently, pulls at them. Mourns the loss of his pubic hair because of course he’d shaved like an idiot, and now there’s nothing to pull on, won’t be anything to pull on for a couple more days at least…

The air coming in from the open balcony is cooling off now that it’s late. Ben digs out his phone, flips it open. Glances at the messages coming in about this week’s show, sends a quick confirmation to Poe that he’ll be at tech rehearsal tomorrow, but his erection starts to flag while he does it, so he quickly taps out of the Resistance stuff and starts looking for something else to look at.

Ben opens his text messaging. Nothing since the last message from A. Hux, and that was the one asking about Luke Skywalker. Ugh. Ben considers a moment, then taps out a reply.

Ben: it’s complicated

Ben: also hi :)

Ben: how are you?

Ben: i’m bored

He’s halfway through typing and hard before he realizes that’s a really fucking dumb idea, and backspaces it the hell out.

He switches over to the internet. His previous search for A. Hux is still open, so he just switches over to an image search, and just—just looks at him.

Fuck, his hair is bright. So fucking bright.

Ben’s gonna have to watch those interviews.

Not tonight, not when he’s so hard and so close. Not tonight, when whatever the content of the interview is is going to distract him, because for all he knows, it’s A. Hux talking about how fucking amazing it is working for Snoke, it’s A. Hux talking about how the aerial arts are pure and burlesque is fucking shit, it’s A. Hux displaying intense homophobia, it’s A. Hux talking shit about Ben, personally, and Ben does kind of deserve that, maybe in the right circumstances it would even be kind of hot, but—

sick fucking freak

sick fucking freak

whatkindofperson

Ben squeezes his dick, flops over onto his stomach and thrusts gently against the bed, tucks his hand underneath his hip and behind his balls so he can touch the outside of his asshole. It’s puffy from having been fucked hard, still slick with lube remnants. Still tender from H pegging him so thoroughly, and he can tell he’s close, just needs to bite his lip and wait, he’s been edging for so long, and he’s going to come so hard when—

His phone dings. X.

H: it’s midnight. go ahead, puppy.

Ben shoves back onto his own fingers, wishes he’d pulled a dildo out of his bag so that he can pretend it’s A. Hux’s cock, wishes he had something, anything else other than his three fingers shoved up his ass, but his prostate is right there if he just reaches and he curls his fingers, curves against it as hard as he can—

—rolls onto his side, tugs on his cock with the other hand, once, twice, and then he is—

—ah, fuck, fuck, coming over his own hand, the inside—

—of his head, the inside of his head is all sparks, and he’s yelling into the pillow, and he’s—

 

Ben licks his own cum off his hand afterwards absently, before it dries. Gets his hand clean enough to use his phone without getting cum smeared on it, taps out a quick thank-you message to H so that she knows it was good for him too. It’s weird, because the thing is—

Isolder: thx

H: you’re welcome.

The thing is, he’s pretty sure he was screaming fuck into the depths of the pillow.

He’s reasonably sure that’s what he said. Fuck is a perfectly logical thing to say after getting assfucked for most of a session, and then edging for another two hours afterwards. Fuck makes sense. It’s a good expletive for orgasms. It’s a great expletive for orgasms the intensity of the one that he just had, intensity where he can feel it in his teeth, and feel it echo through every muscle in his body.

It’s just that—

Fuck doesn’t have an in it, and he’s pretty x was the sound that died on his lips as he came.

It’s weird. That’s all.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It’s not a noise complaint.

Ben should have known by the quality of the paper, by the weight of it. By the red wax seal that holds the envelope closed. But it’s early. It’s early in the morning, and he’s just gotten back to his apartment from the hotel, and he’s not fully awake yet, and it’s not a noise complaint. His ass is still wonderfully tender from last night and he’s more concerned about walking carefully than he is about thinking what he’s doing. He’s just—there’s an envelope. So he opens it. And by the time he realizes what he’s holding in his hands, it’s already opened, and he’s already staring at it. He recognizes the writing. Of course he recognizes the writing.

He can’t un-open it. Not once it’s been opened.

There’s probably a … a thing in it. A tracking thing. Something that pings his location, the fact that he’s opened it. Something that pings every thought that he’s having straight to—

Nothing he does is secret.

Nothing Ben does is secret.

He should have known, but he’d let himself forget, let himself get complacent, and now—and now this.

He is so fucking stupid.

He is so fucking unforgivably stupid.

He is so fucking unforgivably stupid, and it’s no wonder that—

 

Ben opens the fridge. There’s beer there. He uncaps one. Cold glass against his lips, and he could down it pretty fast if he tried, has three more in the back of his fridge that he could swallow back too, and maybe then the writing would be blurred when he goes to read the letter, because he’s definitely going to read the letter, he’s going to read the letter and then he’s going to—

He pours the beer down the sink, shuts the fridge door.

The letter is on the island.

He doesn’t want to touch it, but he doesn’t need to, not now that it’s been opened. Not now that it lays flat across the counter

Kylo, it reads.

Every fucking reprimand he’d ever received during his time with the Knights had been in the same steady calligraphy, elaborate and sure-stroked. Heavy on the downswing, light and delicate on the up. The fucked up part is … that’s all he remembers. The reprimands. The letters telling him that he’s not worth shit. That it was a mistake to recruit him in the first place. That he wasn’t performing up to par. That he could be so much, so much more than what he was right now—but he wasn’t applying himself, he wasn’t trying hard enough, he wasn’t doing enough, he wasn’t good enough.

The letters that reminded him he was headlining the company now, but he may not be in the future. Snoke could always get someone else. Snoke could—

—well, Snoke had gotten someone else.

A. Hux.

A. Hux is where Ben used to be, now.

A. Hux is where Ben is—was—supposed to be, and A. Hux’s life is full, and Ben is—Ben is empty.

 

A. Hux is where Ben is supposed to be, except—

Ben isn’t there, he’s here. He’s here, in his kitchen, in the same apartment that he’s always had, the same apartment he was in when he had his breakdown, the same apartment that he came back to after they released him from the hospital, because he’s a fucking idiot and it didn’t occur to him to move, he’s a fucking idiot and it didn’t cross his mind that Snoke would get in touch with him again, he’s a fucking idiot, he’s such a fucking idiot.

He’s a fucking idiot with a handwritten letter addressed to him, and letters are for fuckups,

letters are for fuckups,

lettersareforfuckups

He hasn’t—

—received a letter in years                 so this has to be a really—

—bad fuckup, and the longer he delays (on reading), the worse—

the worse        it’s

gonna

                                  be.

 

There’s no point in waiting or delaying.

 

He might as well just read the fucking thing.

 

Kylo,

It’s been years. I’m sure you don’t need me to be precise about the time. Suffice to say that I remember.

Consider my surprise to find that someone had accessed your locker. I should hope it was you—after all, you’re the only one authorized to access it. The locker contains everything you’re entitled to, considering the value of the work that you gave to me.

I had considered you dead—

Ben doesn’t mean to laugh, but it explodes out of him anyway in an uncontrollable rush, and holy fuck, he should have had that drink before, because maybe it would make this seem more real now, but as it is, he’s just fucking standing here staring at this letter, and half of him is laughing, and half of him is spiraling into some kind of a depression that’s gonna put him in the hospital again, and he doesn’t actually like the food there because it’s shit, tastes like plastic and cardboard and he’ll rot away to nothing again and all his time at the gym will be a waste, and Ben just wants—

I had considered you dead, particularly concerning the lack of care and respect that was shown to me

—Ben just wants not to be a loser for fucking once in his life.

the lack of care and respect that was shown to me

He just wants—he wants to stop backsliding all the time.

the lack of care and respect that was shown to me

He wants to move forward.

the lack of care and respect that was shown to me

To be successful.

the lack of care and respect that was shown to me

But he guesses he doesn’t get that.

Explain yourself.

Explain yourself.

Explain—

 

Ben sits on his bike in the parking lot. Half of his brain is buzzing. The other half, the half that’s supposed to stop him from doing stupid shit, the half that usually gets swallowed up by the buzzing, the other half is dead silent.

The thing is—he knows this is a fucking bad idea. He knows it’s a bad idea because he didn’t even bring his helmet down, left the fucking thing on the kitchen table like he didn’t need it.

And he doesn’t need it.

Apparently he felt the same way about his jacket, because he doesn’t have that either. It’s just—shirt sleeves and ragged jeans, and he should probably go back for his actual protective gear, but he doesn’t—he doesn’t really need it.

Not if he’s just gonna wrap it around the closest tree.

 

It’s probably faster if he doesn’t bother with the helmet. It’ll be way faster if he doesn’t bother with the helmet. He just needs a good clean impact.

It’ll clear the buzzing out of his head.

It’s just that he can’t remember if he put his keys in his front pocket or his back pocket, and while he’s scrabbling around for them, his phone buzzes.

He wants it to be A. Hux.

Wants to ask him ... to ask him ...

… what’s it like, being me? What’s it like, being where I was supposed to be?

Do you have everything you ever wanted?

It’s not A. Hux, though.

It’s not anybody.

It’s an imagined phone call on a phone with no missed notifications, no calls, no text messages, no nothing.

 

Ben’s keys are in his back pocket.

He takes them out.

Puts them in the ignition.

 

Sometimes he does things that can’t be undone. But sometimes things that go bad can be fixed.

 

Ben can never tell the fucking difference between the two.

 

hashtagSOLO: hey buddy, wat u doing?

DAMNeron: fucking handsewing I stg

DAMNeron: how is it already thursday

DAMNeron: what’s up

hashtagSOLO: I need a favour

hashtagSOLO: no questions asked

DAMNeron: …

DAMNeron: ok

hashtagSOLO: i need a ride to rehearsal

hashtagSOLO: and also I need to use ur shower

DAMNeron: ok

hashtagSOLO: I’m outside

hashtagSOLO: plz buzz me up

 

“You’re soaking wet,” Poe says. “Hey, uh—”

“I’m safe,” Ben says, and his voice comes out okay, which is good, because he thought he’d screamed it raw. But it sounds okay. He sounds normal. “Also, no questions.”

Poe raises his hands up. “Right, right.” He extends his hands toward Ben, hesitates before he actually makes contact. “Let me get you a towel.”

“Don’t bother,” Ben says. He’s rubbing his arms, like it’s gonna make him less cold. He’s so fucking cold that his bones are brittle. He could rub his arms for the next two hours and he’d still be fucking freezing. He’s soaked through and that’s fucking dumb because he doesn’t have alternative clothes with him, and he’s sure as fuck not going back to his apartment because the letter is there, that fucking letter in perfect calligraphy and he’s not going back, he’s not going back, he’s not—

 

Tell me I’m good, tell me I’m gonna be okay, Ben thinks, and he wants to hear it so badly that he almost fucking opens his mouth and says it out loud, except that that would be really fucking stupid and he’s pretty sure that he’s all tapped out on really fucking stupid decisions for the day.

Instead, he just lets Poe hold him for a minute, lets Poe tuck his head into Ben’s chest and trace gentle lines on Ben’s back with his fingers.

“I’m not on anything,” Ben says.

“Okay,” Poe says, and his voice is gentle, gentle, gentle.

“I just need a shower. Get warmed up.”

“Alright,” Poe says. “Let me put your stuff in the wash for you.”

Ben lets Poe peel off his wet shirt, cringes a little as Poe’s fingertips skate over the welts on his back from yesterday.

“They’ll be gone by tomorrow,” Ben says by way of explanation. “I heal fast.”

“I’m not concerned,” Poe says softly. “It’s just—did you want this?”

“It’s just work, Poe,” Ben says, and he lets himself bury his cold, cold face into Poe’s hair for just a moment. “It’s fine.”

There’s probably more that he should say, but he just—doesn’t.

 

Ben stands in the shower way past the time that he’s clean, way past the point where he’s warmed up, stands there until the steam is rising up in clouds and he’s sweating out the last of whatever the fuck was happening in his brain out his pores.

He’s gonna have to tell Poe, is the thing.

It’s going to be better for everyone involved if he just tells Poe.

That way, Poe will know that there is a concrete reason for Ben to be—how he is. There is a concrete reason for him to feel how he feels. Poe won’t need to worry that Ben is falling apart for no reason, because there’s a reason to fall apart this time.

There’s a reason Ben is crumbling into pieces.

 

Ben’s clothes are spinning around in the dryer when he finally comes out of the bathroom. He wraps himself in the towels Poe left for him and pads out to the living room, sits down next to Poe. Watches Poe work for a few minutes, and almost reaches out to start helping him—but there’s no sense in delaying this any further.

“Snoke contacted me,” Ben says.

Poe looks up, and there’s something—there’s something soft and wounded on his face for a moment before he clenches his jaw and his face hardens over.

“Letter,” Ben clarifies. “Shoved it under my door sometime yesterday, but I didn’t open it till today. Thought it was a noise complaint or something.”

Poe sets down his costume very deliberately, very carefully. Places his hands on his knees like nothing is wrong, but Ben can see the way that his knuckles are going white, can watch the blood retreating from Poe’s hands.

“I guess I shouldn’t have gone out to that locker,” Ben says. “I’m a fucking idiot, I wasn’t thinking.”

“You are not a fucking idiot,” Poe says through his teeth, jaw still clenched tight.

“I wasn’t thinking,” Ben repeats. “I know better now. I shouldn’t have gone there.”

“I will fucking—” Poe says, before he stops. Exhales noisily. Shuts his eyes. “You’re not an idiot,” he says.

“I do stupid shit all the time,” Ben says. “You tell me that I do stupid shit all the time.”

“That’s different, I don’t mean—”

“My bike’s in the fucking river,” Ben says.

Poe’s eyes snap open and his jaw drops, just a little.

“I was in the fucking river too, but I got out because it was too fucking cold, and it was a dumb idea. Like, I could have just—I don’t know, stuck my head in the freezer or something. I just couldn’t fucking think, you know? I read that letter and everything just came rushing back into my head, and I just couldn’t fucking think and—”

Poe collides with him, hard. Poe’s hand is on the back of his neck, squeezing. Poe’s other hand is wrapped around Ben’s waist. Poe’s hair is in Ben’s mouth and Ben’s falling over to the side from the force of the collision and Poe’s free hand keeps moving, keeps touching Ben on his shoulder and his side and his ribs, and Poe’s ear is against his heart even though it’s hammering so hard that Poe should be able to just fucking see his pulse in his neck, and Ben’s head is buzzing again only it’s his whole head this time, not just half of it, and that’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.

Poe’s here, and Ben’s alive, and it’s alright.

It’s gonna be alright.

 

“You’re fucking gorgeous,” Ben says. His voice only hitches a little. The buzzing in his head is quieter, now. “You know that, right? You’re fucking gorgeous.”

Poe preens a little, turns to the side and sticks his hip out, sweeps his hands over his body. “You know, just, like, imagine the—imagine the glitter here, and here, and like—and, uh, on the backpiece too. It’ll look better on stage.”

“It looks good here too,” Ben assures him. He adjusts the towels he’s still wrapped in. “Come on, spin for me.”

Poe rolls his eyes, turns slowly around. “Anything for you, Ben.”

“I will put myself in the river every day,” Ben says. “If this is what I get.”

Poe cuts his spin short, jabs his finger at Ben. “Don’t you dare, you fuckhead.”

Ben smiles, mouth crooked, head slightly tilted.

“I’m serious,” Poe says, and his jaw is all tight again.

“I thought we’d agreed we were gonna move past it,” Ben says, and it comes out in a whine that he regrets, regrets, regrets, because it sounds way too much like Lu—he regrets it. Whining is for kids. “I felt bad, I went for a swim, I feel—” empty empty empty “—better now, and we’d agreed we were just gonna move past it so that I feel like less of an asshole about me”—and here, he sticks out his hand, counts it off on his fingers— “reacting like a loser, going for a swim like a loser, needing to beg a ride, a shower, and also telling you the entire sob story. Also, like—”

“I’m serious,” Poe says flatly. “You quit calling yourself a loser, Ben Organa. The shit with Snoke, that’s not—”

Ben gestures with his hand, talks over Poe because this is not a discussion he’s wanted to have in the past, and he won’t be having it now, and it’s not gonna come up in the future either because there’s just no fucking point to picking apart something that’s already done. “Come on, spin again. Let’s stop talking about my fucked up overreactions to pieces of paper.”

“It’s not—”

Ben tosses his wet towel at Poe, yelps when Poe tosses it right back and it lands on his head, and maybe this is gonna escalate further, maybe this is gonna be something, maybe—

—the dryer is gonna buzz before Ben even gets his soggy towel-covered ass up off the floor.

“Come on, buddy,” Poe says. “Your clothes are dry, and we need to get our asses down to the studio. Now’s not the time.” Except that Poe has a look on his face like he wants to be close to Ben again, like he wants to be touching Ben again, like maybe now isn’t the time but there might be a time in the future, and—

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Ben says. “Alright, I’m coming.”

 

Ben keeps his eyes shut and the visor of Poe’s spare helmet closed, keeps his head tipped down and pressed between Poe’s shoulderblades. He imagines trees to count on the trip down to the studio anyways, but it’s better to imagine trees than to look at the ones that actually—presumably—definitely—exist, so he keeps his head tucked, inhales deeply inside the helmet, which smells so much like Poe that it kinda makes Ben’s head spin, and just waits for the ride to be over.

 

Nobody’s expecting Ben to be early to tech, and the extra set of hands make setting up the chairs, reconfiguring the lights, and testing the sound go much faster than anticipated. After they’ve got that stuff sorted, Ben sorts through the stuff he’d left at the studio, makes sure it’s all organized. Lays everything out to do a last minute check, and then packs everything back into his backpack in the correct order. Sorts through his makeup box and pulls out the stuff he thinks he’ll use, tosses it into baggies to keep it separate.

Leans back against the wall, closes his eyes.

Eventually, he gets bored. He wants nothing to do with the discussion Snap and Poe are having as they finalize the show order, and go over the staging, and if he sits here and thinks, he’s just gonna do something stupid, like—

—like text A. Hux and ask him how it feels to have Ben’s old job.

Ben doesn’t need to do that.

He does not need to do that.

He digs around in his bag again, finds his black nail polish. Stretches out on the floor, starts painting his toenails. He doesn’t pick up his phone again until his toenails are done, and he’s lying on his back with his right leg resting vertically against the wall, left leg straight and opened out flat to the floor. He lets his right leg slide down the wall in the other direction, his muscles burning pleasantly as he lets gravity stretch his body out.

Picks up his phone again.

“How does it feel to be where I was?” he whispers softly. Hopes that’ll get it out of his head. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t, and he can feel it buzzing in there, can feel it vibrating at the edges of his skull.

If he purges it out of his head, like he purged the buzzing when he dunked himself in the river, maybe he can just stop fucking thinking about it.

If he texts A. Hux something, it’ll stop his head from aching like this, stop him from asking stupid fucking questions.

This was supposed to stop.

This was supposed to stop when he ditched his bike in the river, this was supposed to stop when he went in after the bike, this was supposed to stop when he dragged his soggy ass out.

 

Ben: hey u should come to the show im in

Ben: it’s a new piece, not in archives

Ben: u haven’t seen it

Ben: but u should

 

“Yo, Ben!” Snap bellows from the stage.

Ben arches back into a partial bridge, balances on the top of his head, looks at Snap upside down. “What?”

“You didn’t give me an intro!”

“Make some fucking shit up, man, that’s your thing!”

“Get over here, or it’s gonna be ‘Kylo is a bantha-fucker who can’t follow directions’.”

“I mean,” Poe drawls, “I’m sure boy’d fuck a bantha if the bantha asked real nice.”

Ben can’t help but grin at that. He fucking knew he’d called it earlier, that Poe was giving him that look.

He gets up off the floor, flips his phone over next to his bag so it’s facedown. “I’ll fuck anything if it asks real nice,” he says, but he’s thinking of A. Hux when he says it, he’s thinking of how A. Hux wouldn’t even need to ask nice to get it from Ben, he’s thinking of cold hands and sharp teeth and perfectly pointed feet and goddamn this is a really inconvenient time for a boner because he’s sure he’s due on stage and his dick only just fits into his stage underwear when it’s soft, much less anything else. “Am I up?”

Snap rolls his eyes. “We’re halfway through the runthrough. Pay attention, Organa. And give me a damn intro.”

“I’m serious,” Ben says. “Make some goddamn shit up, I don’t care—just remember that it’s just Kylo, I don’t want that fucking surname attached to anything I’m doing anymore.”

“You don’t want a new stage name?”

“Fuck no, I was Kylo before I was with—before everything. That’s mine,” Ben says. “I’m keeping it.”

“You still wearing a mask?” Snap asks.

“Yes,” Ben says, at the same time that Poe says, “No.”

“I’ll think about it,” Ben adds. “I haven’t … decided anything yet.”

“Show’s tomorrow,” Snap says, marking something on his clipboard. “Alright,” he yells out to the room. “Five more minutes, and then I need second act backstage so we can finish running this ridiculous shit Poe thinks we’re doing.”

“Hey,” Poe says. “We’re doing it, we’re doing it. What about this isn’t working?”

Snap grimaces. “Well …”

Ben ducks backstage to change, lets them work it out on their own.

 

Tech goes about as well as tech ever goes. No fancy lighting cues or music cues with this piece, at least, which is great because they’re fucking hurting without having Tas on tech. Ben’s piece goes well and Pava, at least, has the decency to gasp at the appropriate parts. Ben’s sweaty and gross when he finishes, towels himself off with his discarded shirt. He’ll have to wash everything tonight, which is a shitty thing to have to do pre-show, but he can smell his shirt from here and it’s not gonna survive a show run, even if it is only two nights.

Everybody’s exhausted, he can tell just by looking at them—but everybody looks happy too, so he figures he must have done alright. Poe shakes his head minutely, and Ben guesses he’s probably in to hear about it later since he’d promised Poe an easy, uncomplicated piece, and what he’s done is—not that, but if that’s the only damage that’s come out of today, it’s not bad at all.

Hell, even Snap looks happy.

Bastian slaps Ben on the shoulder as Ben comes down off the stage.

“Glad I’m ahead of you,” he says.

“I heard that,” Pava calls from up on stage. “And I’m not scared, Organa! Kare and I have got this.”

“Yeah, you do,” Ben says, but he’s not looking at them. He’s looking at his phone, which is still facedown over by his nailpolish.

The fucking thing is blinking.

 

A. Hux: No.

Ben: tomorrow and sat

Ben: wat u mean no

Ben: also hi

A. Hux: No.

A. Hux: I’m busy.

Ben: both nites?

A. Hux: I have rehearsal.

Ben: no knights rehearsals on fri sat eve tho????

A. Hux: Are you telling me you never rehearsed outside of scheduled rehearsal times?

Ben: u r correct

A. Hux: Typical.

A. Hux: Fucking typical.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben wakes up sweaty and over-hot—explain yourself explain yourself explain yourself. He tries to move before he realizes he can’t, realizes there’s somebody lying on top of him.

“Whaaaaa,” he mumbles. There’s hair in his mouth. It’s not his, because he left his tied up last night, and he can feel the bun digging into the back of his head.

From on top of him, Poe makes a satisfied noise, nuzzles closer into Ben’s chest. Stays sleeping.

What the fuck. Ben is sure that he’d—

Okay, yeah. He did fall asleep on Poe’s couch. It’s just that instead of sleeping in his own bed, Poe is sprawled out across Ben’s chest.

Ben considers briefly getting off the couch, depositing Poe into his own bed, maybe crawling in beside him—and then figures, what the hell. He might as well just go back to sleep.

Anyways, this is … nice. It’s warm, and nice, and a hell of a lot better than whatever Ben had been dreaming about.

 

Ben wakes up. Blinks a couple times, tries to move his hand as little as possible so he can rub the sleep from his eyes. Poe stirs anyways, hums quietly. He’s lying on his back, mostly on Ben’s chest, the lower half of his body slanted to the side, squished between Ben and the back of the couch.

Ben contemplates faking sleep, decides it’s better if he doesn’t. “Hey,” he says quietly.

Poe turns his head, nuzzles into Ben’s neck. “Hey yourself.”

Before Ben can say anything else, Poe stretches, all the way from his fingertips down to his toes, pressing his body tight against Ben’s.

“Shit, sorry,” Ben mutters. He knows he’s hard. He can feel the blush starting on his chest, going up through his neck to his face and into his fucking ears.

“Heh,” Poe says. “Don’t worry about it.” Then he rolls over so that he’s chest-to-chest with Ben, grinds his own hardon against Ben’s.

“Oh,” Ben says stupidly.

“Oh,” Poe agrees. His breath is hot against Ben’s neck. “Did you want?”

“Yeah,” Ben says. He tries not to move. He tries his best not to move, but all he wants to do is grind up into Poe, all he wants to do rub up against him until they both get off. “Please.”

“Alright,” Poe says, and he nuzzles into Ben’s neck again, licks at the side of his face.

“I’m all stubbly.”

“Stop apologizing, Ben.”

“Okay.”

“Do you want to touch me?”

“…y-yeah.”

Poe’s skin is hot and he smells good, he fucking always smells good. The scent of him goes straight to Ben’s dick, lust coiling in his guts. Ben thrusts up against him but between Ben’s boxers and Poe’s pajama pants, there’s too much fabric between them. Ben wants their dicks touching, wants bare skin against sweat-slick bare skin, and he wants it now, he wants it fucking now. The closer he gets to Poe, the further away from that fucking letter he feels, and he wants to wish that he’d never opened the fucking thing except that opening it was what got him here, got him here with Poe grinding on top of him, and this is just—

—almost everything that he wants.

Almost.

Ben hooks his thumbs into the elastic of Poe’s pants, pulls them down to expose Poe’s ass. Runs his hands up Poe’s thighs, up to his spine, and then slides his hands back down again, settling them right on the meat of Poe’s asscheeks.

Poe’s lips are on his and his tongue is in Ben’s mouth and it feels fucking good, it feels so fucking good.

“Come on,” Ben mumbles against Poe’s mouth. “I can’t get your pants off. Move, or something.”

“You’ve still got your boxers on, you can’t—you’re one—to criticize.” Poe rolls his hips against Ben again, and he’s chuckling against Ben’s mouth, hot breath against Ben’s lips. “Oh, fuck—you’re so fucking big, Ben.” The corners of his mouth quirk into something that’s almost a smile, and he pulls his face away from Ben’s, just fractionally. “Every fucking time,” he says under his breath.

Ben’s breath catches in his throat and he wants to open his mouth to apologize, wants to offer—something, anything.

Ben takes his hands off Poe’s waist, shoves his hips up, Poe’s body sliding down against his. Poe’s laughing, planting his hands next to Ben’s head to brace himself so he doesn’t slide completely off the couch. Ben slides his own boxers off as quick as he can, lifts one of his feet and hooks it in the crotch of Poe’s pants, pushes the pants off the rest of the way, and finally settles back on the couch, both of them fully naked.

Poe is fucking gorgeous naked, and he knows it, he has to know it—how could someone look like Poe and not fucking know it? Poe pushes himself upright so that he’s sitting on Ben’s hips, grinding down against Ben’s dick. He brings his hands up behind his head, rolls his hips. Poe’s hair is mussed and he’s biting his lip, he’s biting his lip and staring at Ben, and his eyes are hooded, and Ben just—

—Ben wants, he wants so badly. He wants this, he wants Poe naked, grinding on top of him, he wants Poe’s dick in his ass, he wants Poe’s body stretched out underneath him, he wants—

—he wants A. Hux’s teeth digging deep into his shoulder, he wants A. Hux’s narrow fingers pressing into his hips. Wants A. Hux whispering filth into his ear, wants A. Hux’s dick to choke him until he can’t breathe, wants those hands twisting in his hair, pulling his scalp tight, threatening to rip his flesh from his bones. Ben wants to be helpless in front of him, he wants—

“Tell me what to do,” Poe breathes into his ear. “Tell me what you want, Ben.”

Anything, Ben thinks. Take everything. “Fuck me,” Ben says. “Fuck you. I don’t care. Pick something, Poe, please.”

“Alright,” Poe says. “Fuck me.” His teeth ghost over Ben’s ear without biting down, without making anything more than fleeting contact. “C’mon. Bedroom.”

 

Ben hauls Poe into the bedroom on his back. Poe’s got one arm thrown over Ben’s shoulder, hand caressing his pec, the other arm wrapped around Ben’s chest. Poe’s face is buried in Ben’s neck, Poe’s cock is hard and hot against Ben’s back. Ben uses one hand to yank the comforter back, exposing the purple sheets underneath, uses the other hand to maneuver Poe around from his back onto the bed.

“Lube and condoms in the bedside table,” Poe says breathlessly, hooks his ankles around Ben’s waist.

“They’ve been there for years, you don’t need to tell me.” Ben yanks the drawer open with the exact velocity needed to roll the lube from the back of the drawer to the front. The condoms are right there at the front, they always are.

“Do you wanna—or do you want me to—?”

“Hand me the lube,” Poe says. “I’ll do it, but I want you, uh—”

“I gotcha,” Ben says. Tosses the lube to Poe and a strip of condoms onto the bed, and crawls forward, still straddling Poe, keeping his legs spread far enough apart that Poe can still move his arms. Bends down to kiss Poe on his forehead, licks across his eyebrow in a quick swipe before straightening up and taking his cock in his hand.

He strokes it right over Poe’s face, keeping his grip loose so that he can last. Poe is writhing underneath him, his right arm working as he fingers himself open. Ben squeezes his own eyes shut for a moment, trying to keep on top of things, but the moment that he closes them, he thinks of spurting across Poe’s face, coating Poe’s face with his cum while A. Hux sits slouched in the chair by the end of the bed, legs spread and watches, just watches, his mouth tight and his jaw set and his cheekbones—

“Ah, fuck,” Ben groans, and he lets go of his cock completely, puts both hands on the headboard and ruts against Poe’s cheek.

“Goddamn, that fucking cock,” Poe moans, turning his head to the side and dragging his tongue alongside Ben’s dick. “Ben, come on, come on.”

“I gotcha,” Ben mutters, moves back down the bed, kissing Poe the entire way as he goes. Forehead, cheekbone, neck. Sternum. Just under his right nipple. Rib, rib, rib, and then stomach, in the place that would normally house the line of hair that tracks from Poe’s belly button down to his pubes except that everything is bare, bare, bare—

“Ah, fuck, you’ll give me a hickey before the show,” Poe says.

“Fuck, sorry,” Ben says, and the words come out all slurred, like he’s drunk. He feels fucking drunk, feels all hopped up on something, feels like Poe’s skin under his mouth is the best thing that’s ever happened to him but he can’t stop imagining A. Hux in that chair, eyes fucking sharp, leaning forward now with his elbows on his knees and his fingers steepled and—

Ben squeezes the base of his cock, bites his lip, inhales deep and steady. Tips his head to the ceiling while he puts the condom on, because he needs to make this good for Poe, Poe deserves for this to be good, and Ben is a professional, Ben is an adult, Ben is not going to blow his load just from jacking it over his buddy’s face and imagining someone watching them, Ben is not going to come just thinking about that fifteen hundred dollar suit and the way the fabric would feel against his bare skin—

—when he finally pushes into Poe, slowly, gently, steadily, it’s so fucking good that it takes his breath away. Poe’s ass is tight around his cock and Poe is grabbing onto Ben’s wrists and biting his lip, and Ben is just—just holding himself still, because Poe needs time to adjust, Poe needs time to get used to Ben’s cock inside him, Poe needs—

—Ben needs to stop thinking about A. Hux or this isn’t gonna be good for anybody except him, A. Hux is going to be disappointed in him, A. Hux is going to be—

Ben grabs Poe’s cock in his hand, thrusts shallowly into his ass. He’s not at the right angle to hit Poe’s prostate and Ben’s not going to be able to fuck him deep, but hell, Poe just—“Fuck, you feel so good. You feel so fucking good, your ass is so tight, and—”

Poe moans underneath him, brings his arm up to cover his eyes. “Ben, Ben, Ben …”

“So fucking good,” Ben repeats. “It’s—you’re—I’m—”

Poe’s hair is all fucked up.

There’s sweat on his chest and Ben doesn’t know if it’s his or Poe’s.

Poe’s cock is hard and throbbing in Ben’s hand.

Ben imagines A. Hux standing next to the bed, and the fucker is staring at his phone screen, completely ignoring both of them—

“Fucking come for me,” Ben growls, and he ducks his head to bury it between Poe’s neck and his shoulder, jacks Poe firmly with his right hand, thrusts forward into Poe but doesn’t bottom out because Poe doesn’t need that, because A. Hux doesn’t want that, because Ben—

—because Ben can feel his orgasm building at the base of his spine even as Poe arches his back, spatters cum across Ben’s hand.

Poe moans something that might be Ben’s name, but Ben can’t tell because the entire ocean is rushing in his ears, because all he can hear is A. Hux cursing bluntly in that clipped Core accent, and—

—Ben eases his cock out of Poe, snaps the condom off. Rolls onto his back neck to Poe and takes his own cock in his hand.

Poe turns to him, kisses him passionately, tongue in Ben’s mouth, hand cradling Ben’s face. He ruts his softening cock up against Ben’s side.

“So good,” Poe murmurs against Ben’s lips. “So good, that was so fucking good, Ben, Ben, come on.”

Ben comes across his own stomach, spurting across his chest while lights explode behind his eyes. It’s good, it’s good, but it’s not enough, it’s not quite what he needs—

“Ah,” Ben gasps, and the words slip out before he can bite them back. “Good boy?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Poe says. “Ben, Ben.”

Ben’s vision is blurry from sex and orgasm and sweat. He squints at the chair at the end of the bed.

It’s empty, but he imagines A. Hux sitting there anyway, red hair bright, lips thin. There are sharp teeth glinting at the edges of the thing that A. Hux passes off as a smile.

Ben likes it.

 

Ben’s lying on his back, staring up at Poe’s ceiling, and his mind is wandering. It usually does, after he comes. He’s thinking about the first time that he and Poe fucked, the way that his hands were shaking so badly he could barely get the button on his jeans undone—but then he had looked over, and Poe’s hands had been shaking too, barely noticeable tremors, and everything had been awkward and sweat-sticky and beautiful and—

—he wonders what a first time with A. Hux would be like, if it would be brutal and quick and sharp, or if he’s got A. Hux all wrong, if it would be gentle and slow, languid and careful and—

“Do you remember our first time?” Ben asks, because he’s gotta stop thinking about A. Hux. He just has to stop. It’s getting weird.

Poe groans, leans back from the sink so that Ben can see him through the open door of the ensuite. “Oh, dude, why you gotta remind me.”

“No, really,” Ben says. He props himself up on his elbows, watches Poe running a wet cloth over his chest. The ensuite makes him too far away for Ben to be able to touch—but Ben wants to anyway. “We’d been out at that club--”

I'd been out at the club,” Poe corrects gently. “I didn’t know you were going to be there.”

“There were only so many gay clubs in Tatooine.”

“There was only that one,” Poe agrees. “But my point stands.” He looks in the mirror, scrubs at his jaw with the washcloth. “Christ, is this yours or mine?”

Ben grins, stretches. “Mine’s crusting on my abs. That’s all you.”

Poe makes a face. “Euch. Do we have black lights in this show?”

“I’m just performing, you’re the one that’s been doing all the tech.”

Poe considers for a moment. “No black lights.” He resumes scrubbing at his jaw anyway. “You want a cloth?”

“I guess.” Ben reaches over to the endtable, touches the bare surface. Looks over and remembers that his phone isn’t there because it’s still out by the couch. He wonders if A. Hux has texted him. Probably not.

But maybe?

“... why you thinking about that, anyway? It was a long time ago.”

Ben shrugs. “I dunno, I was just—” sharp teeth in a tight grin and fingernails digging into ribs and “—thinking about it.”

“Well, it’s not my proudest moment.”

“You got regrets?” Ben can’t stop himself from bristling a little, even though he doesn’t want to, he just wants to reminisce about how good it felt to finally get something that he’d wanted for so long, how it felt to be naked with someone he’d wanted for years. It’s rare, to get those kinds of firsts, and he’s had it with Poe before, and he’s maybe got a chance—and maybe in the future, he’ll have something like that again. A significant first. Something good. Something that isn’t for work.

Poe grabs a clean washcloth, runs it under the water, and tosses it over to Ben. Ben catches it in his left hand, shuts his eyes against the droplets of water that spatter outwards. The cloth is warm. It would have been fine if it hadn’t been—but it is, and that’s because that’s just the kind of person that Poe is. Kind. Gentle.

Way better to Ben than what he deserves.

Ben starts washing the cum off his stomach. There’s more of it than there usually is, and the fucking stuff has dried and crusted hard on his skin. He’s working on a particularly stubborn bit stuck in the stubble of his pubic hair when Poe sits down on the other side of the bed, reaches his hand out and ruffles Ben’s hair.

“Hey,” Poe says. “It’s nothing against you, buddy. Never has been.” He tips his head forward, presses a dry kiss against Ben’s temple. “I thought we’d already hashed this out and everything. I was just—you were so young, is all.”

“I was legal,” Ben says tightly. “We didn’t do anything until I was legal.” He scrubs at his stomach again, hard enough that his skin starts to pinken underneath it.

“I’m still—” Poe sighs, collapses on the pillow next to Ben. “Look, it’s fine. That’s on me, not on you.”

Ben mutters something non-committal, tries not to think about that first heady weekend that they’d started fucking. Ben had still been scrawny, hadn’t filled out yet—and wouldn’t, until he was in his twenties—and he hadn’t been quite as tall as he is now. The first evening—or maybe it was the second—Ben and Poe hadn’t made it to the bed at all, had ended up fucking on the floor. Poe had fucked Ben so hard that Ben thought he was going to permanently fuse into the carpet. It had left rugburns on the points of his hips that were raw to the touch.

Poe had apologized profusely, even to this day sometimes still pulls his hands away from Ben’s hips like they’re hot and he’s going to burn himself if he touches Ben there.

Ben, on the other hand, had masturbated for at least a week by thumbing the scabs with one hand, and touching his dick with the other. Still thinks about it sometimes, years later.

“You alright?” Poe asks. He walks his fingertips up Ben’s arm, rubs his knuckles gently under Ben’s ear.

“Feels good,” Ben murmurs. Takes a deep breath, exhales through his nose, lets the irritation drain out of him. Their first time can be meaningful for Ben without being meaningful for Poe in the same way. It’s okay.

“Everything feels good for you, Ben,” Poe says gently. “Always loved that about you. You’ve always been as responsive as hell.”

Ben snorts. “I can think of more than one time that didn’t work in your favour.”

“It’s flattering,” Poe says.

what the fuck man

this never happens, i’m sorry, i— 

“Not everybody thinks so.”

“Well, not everybody’s as smart as I am.” Poe pats Ben’s abs affectionately, and then lies his head down.

“I’m still damp,” Ben warns.

“Warm, though.”

Ben should remind him that they have a show tonight.

Ben should remind him they should get going.

They have enough time to go to the gym, they have enough time for Ben to text A. Hux again, they have enough time to go out for food or stop by the studio and make sure everything’s set up, and instead—

—instead, Ben just pulls the comforter over both of them, and strokes Poe’s hair. Looks at the window and at the space beside the window at the chair, the chair that he had imagined A. Hux watching them from, and if he squints just right, he can almost conjure up how the aerialist’s hair would look in the bright morning sun, and—

Ben thinks about how everything was so much less complicated when he was younger. How everything was easier when he knew exactly what he wanted, because right now …

Right now, he doesn’t feel like he knows anything, except that he’s craving sunlight spattered across red-gold hair, and that feels like something he can’t have, or something he shouldn’t pursue, or something that’s gonna be a mistake, or—

Whatever.

It’s still something he wants.

 

Ben: looks like we’re sold out 4 2nite

Ben: i’ll let u know how it goes

Ben: hope rehearsal goes good

 

Ben doesn’t quite fit in his own skin. Not tonight. Not when he’s back in the same decrepit set of seacans that the Resistance has always used for change rooms, except this time he’s carrying his entire history with the Knights and the breakdown along with him, and he just—he doesn’t know how there’s space for all those things. Not when everybody is being so fucking nice to him, when people keep looking at him, when people keep asking him how he’s doing. After about the fourth person had asked—and by this point, it’s not even people he knows well, because people he knows, or people who know of him, have been steering clear—he’d mumbled something incoherent and retreated to the seacan that’s the furthest away from everything.

It happens to be the one Pava is set up in. She’d had an extra chair at her station, and it’s this one that Ben is draped over now, arms folded on the backrest, feet tucked under the chair so as to avoid bumping her while she puts on her eyelashes.

It doesn’t matter much, because she fucks up the placement anyways.

Fuck,” she curses, and it echoes off the roof of the seacan.

From the table on the other side, Bastian looks up. He’s holding pasties on his chest, bracing them with heavily rhinestoned nails while they set into position. Both the pasties and the nails are blazingly white against his dark skin, and every time he moves, the light reflects back and sparkles. “Do you want me to adjust those for you?”

“I’ve watched you do this a million times,” Pava gripes, glaring at her reflection and scrubbing at the white remnants of glue from the incorrect placement. “It’s just fake eyelashes, I’ve been putting them on for years.”

“It’s a bit different like this, though. Here, give me a second.” Bastian takes his hands away from his nipples, looks at himself critically in the mirror, then nods and crosses over, holds his hand out in front of Pava. “Alright, give me your lash, and look up.”

Ben watches as Bastian deftly maneuvers the eyelash into place, leaving a space between the bottom of her eye and the actual lash so that the eyelash is mounted closer to her cheekbone than anything. He pulls back, examines it critically, and then picks up the other one from the table, blows on the glue a little before placing it carefully on the other side.

“It looks good,” Ben offers. “Very dramatic.”

“You getting ready at some point?” Pava asks. “Or you just hanging around here to distract the rest of us?”

“I’ll get ready at intermission,” Ben says. “So, uh, distracting, I guess. I can go.”

“Just teasing,” Pava says. “Stay.”

“There, all done,” Bastian says. “Should be dry in a minute or so, just don’t do anything ridiculous with your face, alright?”

“Gotcha,” Pava says, staring at herself in the mirror. “This is as dramatic as shit.”

“Yeah,” Bastian says, smiling. “Yeah, it is.” He’s got his own false eyelashes mounted on his lashline--a short, spiky set on the bottom, and a long heavy set on top, lashes stretching out so far that they curl around, nearly touching his eyebrows.

There’s noise from the front of the seacan, and then Karé comes in, the heels of her boots clacking on the floor. She’s fully dressed, even though she isn’t until the second half—white booty shorts, black suspenders, and a silver rhinestoned bullet bra just visible under a long pink robe. There are streaks of unblended concealer cooking on her face.

“So,” Karé says. “I was just up at the front ... we’re sold out!”

Bastian audibly exhales.

Pava grimaces, but doesn’t say anything. Karé rubs her shoulder on the way by, and then wedges herself into the empty chair next to Ben.

“Sorry,” Ben says. “I’ll clear out so you can talk to Pava.”

“I’m not here for Pava,” Karé snorts. “I came to sit by you.”

Ben side-eyes her. “You here to ask how I’m doing?”

“That’s a stupid fucking question,” Karé says.

“Hasn’t prevented people from asking it.”

Karé rolls her eyes, gestures with her chin to the door of the seacan. “Lots of other people haven’t had experience with anybody except the Resistance, or the Republic before that. They don’t get that shit gets fucking weird when you’ve … when you’ve been in one place for a really long time.”

“Yeah,” Ben says, because he doesn’t really have the words to articulate how he can’t figure out where he’s supposed to be now that he’s back, can’t figure out how he’s supposed to interact with people or where he’s supposed to go. They’re creeping up on the first act, and all of his stuff is still in his backpack, and he hasn’t even made a motion to open the fucking thing.

“I got yelled at a lot in my last troupe,” Karé says. “I still fucking flinch every time Snap comes near me, just cuz he looks like my old troupe leader.”

Ben could leave it. He could just leave it, could nod and smile. Or he could commiserate about the experience of being yelled at, of being dressed down in front of groups of people even though it had never happened to him, even though everything that had happened to him had been private, and he’d been absolutely trapped, trapped between being the headliner in public, and Snoke’s biggest fuckup in private.

He can share parts of his old life if he feels like it. He can make connections with people, if he wants to.

Ben’s hand reflexively goes to his phone, fingers twitching over his pocket.

“Written reprimands for me,” Ben offers up. He pulls his hand away from his pocket, rests his arm on the back of the chair again. “I had a, uh, shoebox I kept them in. Multiple shoeboxes. Same stationary, same wax seal, same handwriting.” There is something crawling between his shoulderblades. A spider, or something with claws and venom. He rolls his shoulders, and then leans back against the wall of the seacan and rubs his spine back and forth over the wall.

“That’s fucked,” Pava says.

“Count your blessings, luv,” Karé says. “And fix your lipliner.”

Pava looks in the mirror, sighs, and holds up her lipliner brush. “I give up. It’s not my night.”

Karé takes the brush, pulls her chair closer to Pava.

“Hey,” Poe calls from the front of the seacan. “House is open.” He holds out his hand, ticks off his points on his fingers. “Wear your coverup, go around back to get to the stage, stay out of the public toilets, no wandering around with drinks, uh, keep fit and have fun.” His eyes scan the room, brighten when they land on Ben’s. “Hey, buddy, you free for a couple minutes, or are you getting ready right away?”

Ben stands up, grabs his bag. “Not till intermission. What do you need?”

“You opposed to glitter?”

Fucked you this morning, didn’t I? Ben almost says—and then thinks better of it. “Gimme a brush, I’m your man.”

“It’s my back,” Poe warns. “It’ll take a bit.”

Ben snorts derisively. “Please. I designed and perfected the Poe Dameron Glitter Tattoo. Don’t try to tell me that I don’t know what it entails.”

 

In Ben’s defense, it’s been a while.

He’d forgotten how much glitter, exactly, the Poe Dameron Glitter Tattoo involved.

But by the time his hand cramps around the brush, he remembers.

“It doesn’t need to be complicated or anything,” Poe says.

“Shhh,” Ben replies. “I’m concentrating, alright?”

“I’m just saying, you don’t need to be artistic about it or anything.”

“And I don’t need to be, I’m just colouring.”

“House is full,” Ello says, sticking his head into the seacan. “I’m gathering up everybody in first act, and Snap’s already in place.”

“Thanks,” Poe says.

Ello takes a couple steps in, looks at Poe’s back. Whistles. “Fuck, that’s shiny.”

“It’s that new high density pigment glitter,” Poe says. "Damn well better be shiny, for the amount it costs.”

Ben looks down at the palette he’s working with, looks up at Poe’s back. Considers.

Poe’s backpiece is massive, an abstract outline of a tree that goes up his spine and curls across his shoulderblades. He’s had it—or a lesser variant of it—for as long as Ben can remember, although they’ve known each other for long enough that there has to have been a time when Poe’s back was bare and his flesh was naked. Ben just—doesn’t remember it. It’s been too long—and he had way too much to handle when he was a kid, especially when puberty hit, and Ben’s adolescent dick became hair-trigger whenever anybody looked at him—or ignored him—in the right way.

Ben moves the brush to his mouth, holds it between his teeth while he bends the fingers of his right hand back with his left, stretches his hand out. He looks at the tattoo one more time, at the rainbow of coloured leaves where there used to be only blackwork, at the careful dots and swirls that he’s painted up onto Poe’s shoulders and over onto his chest that match the glitter on Poe’s face.

“Almost done,” he murmurs into Poe’s ear. “Just finishing up with the blue here.”

“Thank you,” Poe says. “Seriously. It looks fucking great on stage, but it’s the one goddamn thing I can’t do myself.”

Ben colours in the last leaf on the bottom right of Poe’s back, sets the palette down on the table. “Alright, I’m finished. Take a look.”

Poe is stunning, fae and gorgeous. His hair falls in perfect curls around his face, and every time the light catches him, he glitters as though he’s made of something wild and feral. He holds up a mirror, angles it against the bigger mirror until he’s able to see what Ben’s done with his back.

“Hell, Ben,” he breathes. “That looks fucking good.”

“You’re the one with the tattoo,” Ben says, carefully cleaning the brush off and putting it away so that he doesn’t spend any time thinking about the warmth in Poe’s voice, the way that he can feel a blush starting in his chest, threatening to rise up to his ears. “I just coloured in the lines.”

Poe preens in the mirror, turning back and forth to watch the light reflect off his back for a moment longer, before making eye contact with Ben. “Hey, buddy,” he says. His fingertips are warm on Ben’s arm. “You need anything?”

“Nah,” Ben says. “I’m gonna go meditate in the broom closet. Pop a pasty, alright?”

“You too,” Poe says.

 

The broom closet is quiet. Ben yanks his floor-length bathrobe out of his bag, wraps it around himself. The fabric of the robe is soft and worn, and it’s old enough that Ben suspects it had belonged to his uncle at one point—but if he asks where it came from, he’ll have to jettison it when he doesn’t like the answer, so he just keeps it, figures he’ll wear it until it’s too full of holes to continue. He sets an alarm on his phone for an hour and wedges himself into a comfortable spot on the floor, in among the mops. Once he’s there, breathes slowly, until the noises from the studio start to fade away.

Ben closes his eyes.

 

The alarm on his phone vibrates softly under his knee.

 

Kylo opens his eyes.

 

His makeup goes on easy and elegantly even though he’s still shoved into a broom closet, balancing his makeup mirror between his knees. His eyeshadow blends just as he wants it to, glitter sticking in the crease where he puts it. He shapes and darkens his brows, draws careful lines around his eyes that come to sharp needlepoints on his temples. Fills in his lips with a purple so dark it’s nearly black until the light hits it, and then it blossoms into a rich plum.

He looks too much like Ben when he looks at himself in the mirror. Looks naked without his mask. His face is—it’s Ben’s face, not Kylo’s. All of his feelings are right there on the surface, Ben’s grimace twisting Kylo’s mouth into something that shouldn’t be reflected on stage, shouldn’t be there. His fingers twitch, and he lets them, lets the twitch work its way out of his system.

Once he’s opened and closed his hand reflexively a few times, he drags his fingers through his hair. Digs in his bag until he finds his hair products, and spends the next few minutes working them through until his hair falls around his face in waves, hides most of his face when he tilts his head. It’ll have to do.

 

hashtagSOLO: where we at???

DAMNeron: just about done act one

DAMNeron: watching ello fuck shit up on stage rn

DAMNeron: he’s on point tonight, it’s amazing. 

DAMNeron: jumped off the stage to catch a rogue pin. 

DAMNeron: didn’t miss a beat

hashtagSOLO: nice.

hashtagSOLO: i’m just getting dressed.

hashtagSOLO: be up by intermission.

DAMNeron: ok

 

Kylo settles his cock into his gstring, reaches underneath to adjust his balls, make sure that everything is in where it’s supposed to be. He’d tightened the elastic on the sides earlier that afternoon—the choreography of the piece means that he can’t tape like he usually does to keep everything secure, so he’s relying completely on the elastic cutting into his legs to keep his balls in.

Once he’s satisfied that everything’s where it needs to be, he tucks the white cue ball in next to his balls, adjusts again. The elastic cuts into his legs less with the extra weight of the pool ball, and though his crotch looks a bit ridiculous, it looks like that anyway whenever he wears something this skimpy, and he’s just going to have to not worry about it.

He yanks his tattered stage jeans up over his hips, checks the snaps to make sure they’re all snapped like they’re supposed to be, checks the basting stitch to make sure there’s no gaps up his legs. Slips his bare feet into his subtly glittered Converse. Pulls his rhinestoned tank top over his head, but keeps it rucked up under his armpits. Twists the cap of his spirit gum hard until it cracks loose, brushes the crusted yellow bits to the floor like so many pieces of amber, and then brushes it around the edges of his pasties. Lets it get tacky while he digs his rhinestoned wristwraps out of his bag, fastens them around his wrists, adjusting them until they’re in the correct position. Presses his pasties onto his chest and gently puts his tank down around them to hold them in place until the gum sets. Fastens a short chain necklace around his neck, hooks a set of silver hoops into his ears.

(His jewelry is—not what he wants, not what he needs, not what he should be wearing—and there’s nothing he can do about that right now, there’s nothing he can do about that tomorrow, there’s nothing he can do about that this week, so he needs to let it go, let it go, let it go …)

Kylo takes a deep breath, lets it go. Shoves his bag underneath one of the shelves with his foot, and heads upstairs.

 

He cleans his pool cue carefully backstage, wipes down the surface of the pool table. Checks that the foam ball is secreted into the correct pocket.

Waits.

 

Kylo enters the stage in dim light, stands with his back to the audience and the pool cue over his shoulders. He’s exactly in the path of the spotlight when the spotlight hits, moves with a casual intensity once the music starts up. The music is languid and he is languid with it. He drags his fingers along the edge of the pool table the same way that he drags them across Poe’s skin. He wants A. Hux to see the way that his body looks, the way that his body moves, the way that every fucking thing Kylo does is grace, musicality, dance.

He lets the audience get a good look at him as he circles the pool table. He keeps his head tilted to the game of pool he is playing with himself, lets his hair brush his shoulders and fall down toward the table. Lifts his head to the spotlight, letting his hair fall back just once, and then he is bending forward and rolling onto the table, pushing up into a shoulder stand and toeing off his shoes, stretching out and separating his toes while he rotates on his shoulders until he is facing the audience. He touches his crotch, rubs himself, drags his hand down his abs toward his neck, catching the edge of his tank top in his fingers and pulling it down.

The audience is a dull roar in his ears, and he is thinking of A. Hux, A. Hux, A. Hux.

He comes up onto his knees, stands up on the pool table to pull his tank over his head. Drops the tank, flicking it off the table, and then turns his back to the audience, touches his ass and skims his fingertips over his hips, ducks them just under the waistband of his pants before yanking.

The sound of the snaps coming undone is completely lost in the cresting wave of the audience’s roar.

All the balls are sunk except for the white one, and he lowers himself back to the surface of the table, pushes himself up into a handstand, and back down into one-armed pushups while he picks up the remaining ball, rolls it over his body. Rolls over the ball to the edge of the table, sits on the edge with his dick and balls pushed forward by the extra pool ball he has stashed in there, lets everyone look while he rolls the pool ball down his arm and catches it.

Rolls the white cueball from his shoulder down to his elbow and snaps his arm straight to pop the ball up and into one of the pockets.

Kylo winks at the place where the front row is. All he can see are the stage lights, but he knows the audience is watching him. He imagines that A. Hux is out there now, gaze trained on him, fingers tapping rhythmically on the arm of his chair. Kylo reaches into the pocket where he’d snapped the white pool ball, removes the fake foam ball he’d stashed in there earlier. Holds it out before opening his mouth, tipping his head back, and carefully placing the ball into it.

The foam condenses easily, and it’s a moment of work with his tongue before he’s got the ball compressed and tucked away. He mimes swallowing exaggeratedly, snaps his head back to the audience in cue with the loud dissonant horns. Opens his mouth, holding the compressed foam ball under his tongue. Shows the audience that his mouth is empty, empty, empty …

Mimes something which isn’t panic, because Kylo never panics, Kylo is nothing if not smooth and cat-like, casual and unconcerned, mimes something that is—vague distress at the journey of the imagined pool ball down his throat into his gut, and he touches his stomach where the imagined ball sits. Fakes coughing it up, unsuccessfully, tongue pressed tight to the bottom of his mouth to keep the foam ball where it is, keep it secured so that he doesn’t lose it.

From atop the pool table, Kylo nudges his bare feet underneath his pool cue. Jumps to flick the pool cue up into his waiting hands, lands solidly back on the table. He runs his hands suggestively over the cue, back and forth, back and forth, jacks the end of it to hear the audience scream and clap while he breathes steadily, readies himself.

He raises the pool cue vertically, checks his hand position. Closes his eyes, tips his head back, and rests the end of the pool cue against his chin for a moment, just a moment—

—the audience goes silent—

—and then Kylo opens his mouth wide, tongue pressed tight against his teeth, and carefully, so carefully, lowers the pool cue into his mouth.

The key is to breathe carefully, the key is not to think about what he’s doing, the key is to imagine—

—A. Hux’s cock in his mouth, A. Hux’s cock down his throat, A. Hux’s fingers pinching his nose shut so that he cannot breathe—

—that the pool cue does not exist at all, that he is feeding nothing but air down his throat, and he breathes carefully and steadily around the cue, lets his throat constrict when it needs to, but does not let it convulse, forces himself to relax, relax, relax.

His feet feel out the edges of the pool table. He holds the pool cue in place with his thumbs, carefully turns his hands to feel out the distance to the end of the cue with his pinky fingers. There, this is it, this is as far as he can go, and with a pool cue swallowed into his guts, he turns, carefully, keeps his head tipped back to the ceiling so that his throat stays in alignment, so that everyone can see that there is no illusion here, that there is nowhere for the cue to have gone but down his throat.

The audience is dead silent, and the rhythmic tish-ti-ti-tish of the snare seems louder now than it did at the beginning of the piece, even though the volume hasn’t changed.

Kylo holds the position until he has completed a full rotation around, and then he starts to pull the pool cue back out, hand over hand over hand.

The removal is harder, has always been harder, because the part of his brain that still does not fully believe that he has done this, does not fully believe that he is capable of doing this—that part of his brain desperately wants to yank the cue from his throat, pull it out in one swipe, and he cannot stop himself at this point, he always imagines his guts coming with it, a perfect long tube of viscera expelled from his mouth like so much vomit.

But he breathes shallowly, and he removes the cue hand over hand at a glacial pace, his spit shining in the spotlight as he does. When the cue is out completely, he holds it in his left hand, brings his right back to his mouth and reaches under his tongue to pull out the foam ball, cradles it in his mouth for a moment until it has snapped back to shape.

And now, the tricky bit.

He switches the cue and the foam ball, holds the foam ball in his left hand while he spins the cue in his right, looks at his right hand to guide the audience so that they look there too, and it is nothing at all to let his left hand roll the foam ball over his body, careful not to compress it so the illusion of it being real isn’t ruined. It is nothing at all for Kylo to let his left hand drift down to his gstring while the cue spins in his right.

The swap takes only a moment—the spit-slick foam ball is pushed into his gstring behind his balls, the real white pool ball that has been tucked into his underwear the whole time comes out.

He grabs at the pool cue to stop the spin, fumbles it, and lets go.

The pool cue clatters to the table, and then rolls off onto the floor just as the music cuts out.

Kylo stares out at the audience, then gestures with his free hand to the ball.

Waits until the cheering dies down to nothing, and then drops the ball, lets it clatter loudly against the pool table.

The audience erupts.

The crowd is cheering so loudly that when he lands too heavily from his handspring onto the stage, nobody even notices.

 

The smiles that breaks out on his face during curtain call is foreign, uncomfortable because of its foreignness—Snoke never wanted them to smile or demonstrate any emotion during performances, even while masked, for fear it would detract from the art, and they weren’t allowed curtain calls for the same reason—but he lets the smile happen, revels in it, and by the time he walks off stage, his face aches from it.

It feels amazing.

 

“Here’s to a great fuckin’ show!” Ello yells, and they all raise their drinks, their cheers echoing off the walls of the seacan. The audience is cleared out, all but the last few stragglers that Poe is ushering out and away, and somebody had brought a cooler of beer to one of the seacans, and it’s just—everything is so good right now, everything is so, so good.

“I’m fucking serious,” Snap says. “That was magnificent, Ben.”

Ben takes a swig of his beer, wills the heat in his face to go away. “Thanks,” he says. “It was a good crowd.”

“It was a great crowd, yeah. But seriously, that fucking piece. I thought it was good in tech, but fucking hell.”

Ben is definitely blushing now, and he bites his tongue, tries to think of something to change the topic of conversation—and then Pava bangs on the doorframe, her hair wild around her face.

“Ben, get out here.”

Ben frowns. “What’s—”

“Something with Poe, he’s on stage, I don’t know who he’s talking to, but I need you to get the fuck up there and sort it out.”

Ben sets down his beer and takes off because it’s Snoke, it has to be Snoke, there’s no way for it to be anyone but Snoke—

lettersareforfuckups

—but when he gets there, it isn’t Snoke at all, just some kid who looks barely old enough to have attended the show in the first place.

“I’m telling you,” Poe says, and Ben doesn’t even need to hear his voice because the tension in his jaw is visible from where Ben’s standing. “You need to get the fuck out of here, and you need to take that with you.”

“Absolutely not,” she snaps, and her hair, tied back in three buns, bounces as she shakes her head. “I am bringing this over as a—”

“I don’t want it,” Poe says, and it’s the closest thing to a yell that Ben’s ever heard from him.

“—good will, and I don’t understand what the—what the hell your problem is—”

“Hey,” Ben says. “Hey, hey,” and he crosses the stage to get to where Poe’s standing, puts his hand on Poe’s chest and gently nudges him back, away from the girl. She’s even shorter up close, smaller than Poe by a few inches. “Hey,” he says, “I’m Ben.”

She flicks her gaze up at him for a moment, and her eyes are fire and sparks. “I don’t care,” she says tightly. “I’m here because I have to—”

Ben puts his hand on the envelope that she’s holding tightly in her hand, the envelope that’s been shoved in Poe’s direction this whole time, the envelope that Poe has been completely ignoring, and realizes—

oh

—realizes that it was Snoke, the whole time, it’s just that now he comes in the form of an underfed kid with weirdly styled hair and colour rising in her cheeks. It was stupid of Ben to think that it wasn’t Snoke, even for a minute. Of course it was Snoke.

It’s always Snoke.

consider my surprise

“I’ll just take this,” Ben says. “I’ll get it looked after. It’s probably for me anyways.”

Behind him, Poe takes a deep breath, and Ben puts a little more pressure on Poe’s chest, wills him to just—to just shut his mouth, and let Ben deal with this. It’s Ben’s problem anyway, Snoke is always going to be Ben’s problem.

the lack of care and respect that was shown to me

“It’s for—”

“Seriously, you need to get the fuck out,” Poe spits from behind Ben. “And don’t even think about coming back here.”

“I won’t,” she snaps, suddenly heated, face flushed red. “Fuck you.”

“Fuck you too,” Poe yells after her as she stomps off the stage, actually starts after her before Ben grabs his hand.

“Pava,” Ben calls out. “I know you’re lurking backstage. Would you just make sure that she makes it out of the building, please?”

“I’m on it,” Pava says, heading out after the girl.

“Give me your lighter,” Poe says. “I know you still smoke, fucking give it to me, I’m going to burn it—”

Ben tucks the envelope into the back pocket of his pants. “No,” he says. “This is mine, I’ll handle it.”

“She had no fucking right coming in here—”

“Poe,” Ben says. “Poe, it’s okay. It’s a public show, it’s okay.”

“It’s not okay,” Poe says, and his voice cracks. “It’s—it’s fucking everything, Ben. It’s the—the—it’s—”

“Hey,” Ben says. “Sit with me a minute, huh?”

It’s longer than a minute, but Ben doesn’t mind.

 

When Poe finally gets up to go splash cold water on his face, Ben drags the envelope out of his back pocket, carefully breaks the wax seal.

It’s not a letter. It’s not a letter at all.

Or, at least, it’s not a letter that’s specifically addressed to Ben.

It’s a package of comp tickets to the Knights show taking place next week. Friday night, one night only. It’s enough tickets for the entire troupe, if they wanted to go.

Enclosed with it, a piece of paper in Snoke’s familiar calligraphy.

Hope you are able to attend.

All of you.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Oh, Ben. Fuck, buddy.”

Ben cringes, hesitantly lifts his head from Poe’s lap. “It’s that bad, huh?”

Poe tilts the screen of the laptop down towards Ben’s face. “No, no. Look at you.”

Ben looks.

He can see why Poe likes the photo. It’s a full body shot of Ben—of Kylo—standing on the pool table. He’s just yanked his tank top off over his head, and the thin black fabric is dangling from two of his fingers. There’s light glinting off the pasties on his nipples. His other hand is almost at the waistband of his jeans, just moments away from the part where he turns around, yanks them off. His face is intense and sexual, perfectly lit by the spotlight, and he does not have nearly enough makeup on to have any kind of anonymity whatsoever. Should have worn a fucking mask, asshole.

“Not that one,” Ben says. “Pick a different one.”

“This one is so fucking good.” Poe puts his hand into Ben’s hair, ruffles it a bit. “People would fucking love it. I fucking love it.”

Ben thinks of A. Hux wrapping his fingers through Ben’s hair. Twisting, hard. The aerialist’s teeth sinking into his shoulder after he’s scaled Ben like a tree to get up to Ben’s height.

“Keep a copy, then,” Ben says, laying his head back down on Poe’s lap and staring up at the ceiling. “Keep two, for all I care. But I don’t want that one posted, my face is just—everywhere. Pick one where my hair’s in the way.”

Poe sighs, clicks a couple more buttons. “What about this one?”

Ben lifts his head up. It’s another full body shot, but this time he’s balanced on one hand, his almost-naked body stretched out behind him while he reaches for the cue ball with his other hand. His hair is falling forward over his face, and half his ass is showing. “Perfect, yeah. Do that one. Actually, lemme get a copy of that one.”

“I’ll email you.”

Ben digs his phone out of his pocket, snaps a quick picture. “Too late, got it.”

“Ugh,” Poe says. “I’m still emailing you. What you just did is a travesty.”

Ben shrugs, burrows more comfortably into Poe’s lap. Opens up his text messages.

Predictably, there’s been no response from A. Hux.

Ben sends him the picture of the picture anyways, captions it “dancing!!!”.

Waits to make sure that it goes through before he continues texting.

Ben: seriously tho u should come

Ben: opening nite was v good

Poe stretches, gently moves Ben’s head off his lap. “I’m making coffee, want one?”

Ben shrugs. “Maybe?”

“I’ll make you one.”

“Alright.” Ben looks back at his phone, taps out a couple more messages.

Ben: we’ll prob be sold out again tonight but i can set aside a ticket for u

Ben: or tickets

A. Hux: Prove that’s you.

Ben: if u wanted to bring someone

Ben: wat about that girl with the buns

Ben: she seems nice

“You, uh, still texting him?” Poe says from the kitchen.

Ben props himself up on his elbows, looks across the room at Poe. “The ‘fucking asshole’? Yeah, I am, Poe.”

Poe sighs. “Look, I know your—whatever is none of my business.”

“It’s not, really,” Ben agrees.

“It’s just—it’s hard.”

Ben flops his head back on the couch so he can’t see Poe’s face. “You suddenly monogamous or something?”

Poe laughs, but there’s a bitter edge to it. “You know I’m not, Ben. It’s not that.”

“Well, I’m not sure what it is, then.” And it feels petty because it is petty, it feels sharp because Ben’s tongue is a razor, and he doesn’t want to do this right now, he just wants—he just wants everything at once, wants to be cradled in Poe’s lap while he texts A. Hux, still can’t stop thinking about the aerialist’s hand on his throat, even after—whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam—even after everything and there’s no reason, there’s no fucking reason he can’t have all those things. Poe and Ben don’t work together, they’re never going to work together, it’s never going to be more than what it is because it can’t be, because Ben is broken and that’s just a fact of his life and why can’t Ben just have everything all at once and—

His phone buzzes against his stomach, and he flips it over.

A. Hux: Fuck you, Kylo.

Ben: i don’t get it?

A. Hux: Fuck. You.

Ben frowns.

Poe comes over, sets a mug of coffee in front of him.

Ben doesn’t make space for Poe on the couch, just stares up at him and waits for the apology he knows is coming.

“It’s hard watching you self-destruct like this,” Poe says finally.

And that’s not an apology. That’s not a fucking apology at all.

Ben exhales heavily, pushes himself up off the couch. Doesn’t say anything for a moment, just breathes, because if he opens his mouth he’s going to say something he regrets, if he opens his mouth he’s going to pick a fight over this, it's just that he doesn’t need to be parented, he doesn’t need— “I’m going to the gym,” Ben says, and his tongue is clumsy against his teeth, and there’s a scream creeping up the back of his throat that needs to stay there, stay buried.

“That’s it?” Poe says. “That’s your response? ‘I’m going to the gym’?”

“I’m going to the gym,” Ben repeats. “I’ll pick up the usual for supper.”

“I—fine,” Poe says. “Alright.”

 

Ben’s still fuming four blocks away from Poe’s apartment, actually stops at a convenience store to buy a pack of smokes to calm him down. Has to go back in to buy another lighter when he realizes that he left his back in his jacket—and anyway, it’s probably fucked up from his impromptu river swim—and that had fucked up everything with Poe—and the river had only happened because Ben’s brain is … because Ben’s brain is the way it is and it’s not going to change—and then he has to walk a few more blocks before he finds an alley grungy enough to smoke in.

He leans heavy against the dirty brick wall of the building, inhales the smoke deep into his lungs and holds it there while it burns. Exhales it in a cloud, and takes another drag.

It’s distinctly not making him feel better, reminds him of the chainsmoking he’d done on Wednesday that had almost cost him the session with H—so he drags out his phone, flips back through his text messages with A. Hux.

Ben: wait prove that’s me

Ben: wait

Ben: how

Ben: what

 

Ben doesn’t go to the gym. He smokes two cigarettes in the alley, waiting for a response from A. Hux that he fucking knows isn’t coming. Lights another one before he sends Poe a message—I’m sorry, that was cruel and I should have kept my fucking mouth shut—and doesn’t get a response to that either. By the time he crushes the third cigarette butt under the heel of his boot, he can feel his hands starting to vibrate and his brain is peeling apart at the edges and he—

—he can’t afford this, not when it’s a two-night run and he’s gotta perform tonight too.

So Ben runs.

 

It feels like he covers half of D’Qar, feet pounding on the pavement, sunglasses bouncing on his face, breath rasping through smoke-rough lungs. His head is a mess of whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam and explain yourself and—and overlaid on top of everything else, prove that’s you prove that’s you prove that’s you and the bitter tang of missed opportunities in his mouth.

Ben runs until there’s sweat pouring down his back, he runs until his feet fucking ache, he runs until his lungs are the rawness of fresh-flayed skin and his mouth is dry. His stomach twists and he has enough time to find another alley before he pukes up everything and stands there, shaking and sweating and feeling—purged, somehow.

The edges of his brain are back together now, jostled back into a coherent piece by the slamming of his footsteps on pavement. He walks unsteadily toward the mouth of the alley, realizing that he’s going to have to pound back a lot of water to not be too physically destroyed to perform tonight, realizing that he has no idea where the fuck he is—

—and then he looks up at the office building in front of him, and he realizes he knows exactly where he is.

Fucking typical.

 

There’s a coffee shop just next to the office. Ben chews his lip while he looks at the options, and finally just orders three drinks, two of them black coffees and one of them whatever the special is. Some elaborate thing with sprinkles. It’s a gamble, but it’s worth a try, and he can drink it too if it’s not needed or wanted. He balances the drinks carefully as he goes next door. He’s still shaky, but he’s committed to this now. He's not gonna turn back.

The office door is locked, because it’s Saturday, but Ben presses the buzzer with his elbow anyway. After a short delay, a short figure pads out of the darkness. Blonde, dressed in business clothes, but without her shoes. Hair pulled back into a bun on each side of her head.

She gives the drinks in his hand an inquisitive look as she opens the door. “Hey, we’re closed today, but we’ll be open again on Monday—”

He can’t remember what name she goes by, so he skips greeting her entirely. “I was, uh, hoping Leia was in,” he says awkwardly, holding the drinks up. “I brought coffee?”

Her eyebrows furrow for a second as she looks up at his face, and then Ben remembers.

“Shit, sorry,” he says, and he uses his upper arm to move the sunglasses off his eyes long enough to let her see his face. “It’s Ben,” he adds uselessly.

Her face brightens, though. “Come in!” She holds the door open to let him in, locks it shut behind him. “So sorry, it’s been a couple years and I didn’t recognize you at first. There’s only the two of us here, so, uh, I’ll take one of those off your hands, if you like.”

“Hopefully the one with the sprinkles?”

She immediately closes her hands on it, sighs as she takes it from him. “We’ve been here since six this morning, and everything is all—paperwork, and research, and—here, sorry, I’m sure you don’t care. Leia’s back here.”

Ben expects that they’ll go into the executive office, prominently placed near reception, but instead they go into the back of the building, past rooms that appear to be—file rooms, and print rooms, and one room that looks like a lunch room or a lounge. Right at the very back of the floor, next to the emergency exit, there’s another office, and it’s here that Leia stands, staring at a digital art display made up to look like a window.

It takes Ben a moment to realize that it’s displaying Alderaan before the earthquakes, back when the buildings still clung onto the sides of the mountains.

“I brought the files for you,” the woman says.

“Thank you, Kaydel,” Leia says. She turns around, sees Ben.

Hesitates.

“Hi, Leia,” Ben says. “I, uh, I brought coffee. Hope it’s okay to just drop in like this?”

There’s a moment where he thinks he’s fucked up, it would have been better to have just gone home, but then she walks over, accepts the drink from him.

“Of course it’s okay,” Leia says. “I just wasn’t expecting you, that’s all.” Her face softens for a moment and her mouth opens—and then the moment is lost, and she looks like her usual brusque self again. “Fair warning, though, you’ll be most useful to me if you can visit and sort files at the same time.”

Ben nods. “Yeah, I think I can still handle that.”

Her face lights up into a smile then. “Well, have a seat, Ben.”

The chair across from Leia’s desk creaks as he settles into it. She busies herself moving things aside so that there’s a space for Ben to set his coffee. Beside him, Kaydel is flipping through a stack of paper, separating documents out and stapling them.

“I can do that,” Ben offers.

Kaydel doesn’t even hesitate before handing the papers over. “Here you go, the stapler jams on the regular.” She turns to Leia. “I’ll keep pulling and printing. Back in a few.”

Leia nods.

Ben looks down at the stack of papers in front of him, starts flipping through to find the end of the article. They’re all case studies, and it’s not hard to figure out why they’re being pulled.

“They appealed, huh?” Ben asks.

His mother breathes profanity under her breath in a dialect that Ben probably isn't supposed to know, so he doesn't remark on it.

“They’re appealing. If I had my way, I’d show them what an obscenity charge looks like, but—”

“They’ve still got all the Resistance’s stuff, huh?”

"It's the principle of the thing." Leia sighs. “They also have charges pending against some of the individual performers, and they keep threatening travel restrictions. It’s bad enough everyone had to move and leave everything behind, the least I could do is make the rest of it go away.”

Ben thinks of the things he left behind when he left the Knights, the things Snoke still has that belong to him. Not the things purchased for him, the things meant to buy his loyalty—but the things that are actually his. Ben hadn’t had much—still doesn’t have much—but there’s family heirlooms he had to leave with Snoke that can’t be replaced, items that were supposed to be in his storage locker. Items he doubts Leia even knows he has. Items that he—that he’s not going to think about right now, because none of his options have changed.

There is no clear path forward.

There’s no method of extraction.

Ben thinks of the letter Snoke sent him, thinks of the tickets that came after. Knows it’s only the tip of the iceberg, but can’t tell how fucking deep the thing is going to go.

Ben shoves his sunglasses up onto the top of his head so he can see, starts paging through the papers, staples them when he reaches the end of the document and then starts on the next. Kaydel’s not kidding about the stapler—it requires a specific grip so it doesn’t jam, and the size of his hands makes it awkward.

Ben and Leia work in silence for quite a while before Leia speaks. “How are you doing, Ben?”

He looks up, startled, but she’s not looking at him. She’s flicking through the document in front of her, cross-referencing it with two others that are spread out to her left. She’s not looking at him.

“I’m okay,” he says. He wonders if it’s true.

(If he just focuses on how he feels, it is. If he looks back at the concrete things he’s been doing—well …)

“Poe mentioned you were performing,” Leia says. She’s still not looking at him, eyes flicking back and forth between documents.

“Yeah.” Ben stops what he’s doing, watches her work. “It’s going alright.”

Her hands are older now than he remembers, the nails cut short and unpainted.

Ben looks back down at the papers in his lap. Gets another four articles separated out, stapled and in the appropriate piles before she speaks again.

“Would you mind terribly if I attended a show?”

Ben frowns. “I minded a lot less before you asked permission. Now it’ll be awkward.” He tries to keep his voice light, but there’s no fucking point to that, and he wishes for his vocoder, wishes he hadn’t had to shove his sunglasses up just to be able to read clearly. Keeps his face tipped down so that she can read him less than she does, but he knows he isn’t disguising shit. He’s never been able to.

“Well,” Leia says. “It’s a good thing I already attended last night.”

Ben’s hands still on the papers, and he looks up at her.

She is meeting his eyes now, a slight twist at the corner of her mouth betraying the smile she’s trying to repress. “You were good,” she says. “Really good. It’s the happiest I’ve seen you on stage since you were about this high.” She gestures to the height of her desk.

“It’s not about being happy,” he says, tilting his head back down so that she can’t see his frown disintegrating into something that’s almost a smile.

“It’s about the Art?” she asks, weighting the word.

Ben shakes his head. “Nah, I don’t think that anymore either.”

They sort paper in silence for a bit longer before Leia finally asks. “What’s it about then?”

“Dancing,” Ben says, and then he thinks of A. Hux, thinks of hands on his throat and teeth in his neck. Quickly changes the topic. “Anyone know you were there?”

“You’re the first,” she says. “Turns out if I take a page out of my brother’s book and act as though I’m dressing for a monastery, nobody knows it’s me.”

Ben snorts.

“Don’t laugh!” Leia says, grinning. “I might keep it up, the anonymity is nice.”

He laughs anyway, and when Kaydel comes back in with another stack of papers, they’re both snickering.

 

Ben’s phone goes off mid-afternoon.

DAMNeron: it’s okay, we cool. :)

DAMNeron: you dry?

Ben exhales with relief, sets his phone on his thigh and taps out a one-handed response so that he can keep the fingers of his left hand marking a couple specific places he thinks Leia should reference.

hashtagSOLO: k good

hashtagSOLO: yes

hashtagSOLO: don’t forget I’m bringing supper

hashtagSOLO: shit I guess I should head home, I’m kind of on the other side of town

DAMNeron: i can give you a ride

DAMNeron: i’m over there too

Ben is just about to ask Poe where the heck he is when he hears Kaydel’s voice from the front. She's laughing.

He instantly realizes where the fuck Poe is.

Damnit. Ben’s relationship—his re-relationship—with Leia feels fragile and new and unsure, and he hadn’t really planned to be caught out surrounded by papers and discarded staples, and he’s tracking too many things with his fingers and stickynotes and he won’t be able to extract himself before—

“Ben’s what?” Poe asks as he comes in, walking backwards so that he can talk to Kaydel. Kaydel’s flushing slightly, carrying nothing more than a pen, because Poe’s got all her papers tucked under his arm.

Ben sighs. “Right behind you,” he says.

Poe turns, blinks. Closes his mouth.

“So we should go get supper,” Ben says. “Since we’ve gotta be back at the theatre for calltime.”

“Uh, yeah,” Poe says.

“Hello to you too, Poe,” Leia says. She’s still grinning.

“Ma’am,” Poe says, but he’s still looking at Ben. Even as he sets the papers he’s carrying down on the desk, he’s still looking at Ben.

Ben sticks another stickynote flag on the section he has marked with his finger, sets the papers down on the desk. Weasels the bottom article out from underneath, places it on top. “That one looks pretty relevant,” he says. “The appeal went in their favour, too.”

“Thank you, Ben,” Leia says. “You’ve been a huge help.”

Ben mumbles something noncommittal, puts his sunglasses back on.

“Oh,” Leia says. “Before you go—I got ahold of Lando.”

It takes a second for Ben’s brain to catch up, and by the time it does, he’s realized by the look on her face that she doesn’t have what he wants. “Please tell me he had a number.”

She shakes her head. “But he let me know there’s a local sabacc tournament on Tuesday, and …”

“Fucking shitpiss fuck,” Ben grumbles. He only just barely remembers not to kick Leia’s desk.

Leia shrugs. “Han’s nothing if not predictable. I’d offer to help, but …”

“He’s not gonna want to see me either,” Ben points out.

“You never know,” Leia says. “Could be he’s decided he wants a kid.”

Ben snorts. “We both know he hasn’t wanted me since I got complicated.” He stands, rolls his shoulders to get rid of the kinks. Gestures back to the chair. “You may, uh, wanna be cautious with that chair till I come back and fix it. It’s pretty creaky.”

“Noted,” Leia says.

“I emailed you that stuff,” Poe says to Leia. He shoves BB back in his pocket. “The Resistance financials are gonna be on their way probably tomorrow, as long as Ello’s math comes out okay. Oh, and uh, Kaydel showed me what happened to your cactus. I really don’t wanna know how that came about, but I’m taking it home with me and I’ll have it back to you once I resurrect it.”

“Thank you, Poe,” Leia says.

Poe slaps Ben on the shoulder. “Come on, buddy. Let’s go get some food.”

Ben lets himself smile, knows that Poe’s text was accurate and they are okay, everything is okay.

Ben looks back just as they’re leaving. Poe is a few steps ahead of him, talking to Kaydel, and he just wants a minute to just—look at his mom. He’d expected things to be harder, had expected he couldn’t just waltz back in and pick up on a camaraderie they hadn’t had in nearly—in a really long time, but it almost feels like he can, it almost feels like this is something that he can just—have back, like he hadn’t scorned it and thrown it away like it didn’t matter to him.

Leia ruins it by putting her finger over her lips, and gesturing to Ben’s pocket.

Ben holds his hands out, mouths what?

Leia mimes smoking.

Ben rolls his eyes, but digs the remainder of the pack out of his pocket and tosses it over to her, tosses the lighter over after.

She squirrels the pack away so quickly Ben doesn’t even clearly see where it goes, smiles at him.

“See you around, Ben.”

“Sure thing, Mom,” he replies. He doesn’t realize what he’s said until after he’s said it—but he doesn’t make any motions to take it back.

 

Poe puts his key in the lock of his apartment door, rubs his other hand on his jaw for a minute. “So, uh. I had a visitor while you were gone.”

“A—”

Not,” Poe clarifies. “That kind of visitor. Look, just, uh—don’t rib me about this.”

“Yeah,” Ben means to say. “Sure thing, buddy,” he means to say.

What he actually does, as soon as Poe pushes the door open and they step inside, is laugh so hard that he needs to set down the food for fear of dropping it.

He hasn’t laughed this hard since—you realize that what you do isn’t dance—hell, it’s been ages.

Poe’s island is not small, especially for an apartment. It’s long enough to fit four people along one side of it normally, but there’s no way in fucking hell that there’s room for even one person right now.

The island is currently dominated by one of the largest bouquets Ben has ever seen. Ben doesn’t know goddamn shit about flowers—he gets that from Leia—but there are more than ten different kinds of flowers in this bouquet, representing every single colour of the rainbow, and the thing is, plainly, massive. Massive, overflowing, and tacky.

“Oh my god,” Ben says, taking off his sunglasses and wiping his eyes. “Who the fuck brought you that, it’s amazingly terrible and—Poe, are you blushing?”

“One fucking request,” Poe mutters into the takeout bag as he rummages around for utensils. “I ask one thing of you.”

“We gotta eat in the living room,” Ben points out. His face fucking hurts from grinning. “Ain’t nobody sitting at the island with that thing there.”

“So we’ll eat in the living room, then,” Poe says. “Come on, buddy. Time’s a-wasting. Put your salad in your face.”

Ben pulls himself together. Turns his head and muffles his laughter with his shoulder when he looks at the bouquet again, and resolves that he’s just … he’s just not gonna look anymore. He’s just going to sit on the floor so he can’t see over the couch, he’s going to face the tv, he’s going to just—try and pretend that this isn’t happening.

He is definitely gonna get Poe drunk and pry the story out of him later, though.

 

“I actually don’t like salad,” Ben says, swallowing another mouthful that mostly consists of lettuce.

“Nobody likes salad,” Poe says. “But it’s more tolerable if you don’t eat all the good stuff off the top first.”

Ben sighs, pokes through the remaining leaves hoping to find a cucumber. Maybe another piece of chicken. No such luck. “Maybe I’ll just order it without the lettuce next time.”

“Then it wouldn’t be salad, and the tradition of second night pre-show salad would be broken.”

Ben sighs again, shoves more leaves in his mouth. Figures he might as well just say it now, because if he doesn’t say it now, he’s not gonna say it later, and then they’ll just cycle through it again like they always do, except Ben will be pissier the next time, more likely to get angry. He’s too worn out from the run to be angry right now. It’s a good time to bring it up. “You know I’m not gonna get better, Poe.”

“I’m not gonna get any better at salad either, buddy, but we’re all getting older, and—”

“No,” Ben says. “My head. It’s not gonna get better.”

Poe doesn’t say anything.

Ben stabs around in the takeout container until he’s got the last couple leaves speared onto his plastic fork. “And you can interpret my life however you want.” Shoves the leaves in his mouth, chews, swallows.

“But?”

“But I’m just saying that it might be easier if you don’t think of everything I’m doing as self-destruction.”

“Look, I—” Poe exhales hard, and then there’s movement behind Ben’s head as Poe sprawls out on the couch cushions behind him. After a moment, Poe’s hand creeps into Ben’s hair, rests at the back of his neck, fingers brushing lightly over his hair. “Okay,” Poe says, and his voice is quiet, soft. Maybe a little defeated. “I’ll try.”

Ben leans his head back against Poe’s hand.

“I’m not a very good person right now,” Poe says.

Ben considers making a snarky remark about the flowers, but bites his tongue. “That’s okay,” he says instead.

“Is it?”

 

The second show isn’t a sellout like the first was, but the crowd is twice as loud, and that makes it even better. Ben’s piece goes smoother the second time around—he hits the musical cues faster and smoother than he had the previous night, and although he fights back an uncharacteristic moment of nerves right before he swallows the pool cue, it goes straight down his throat like it was meant to. He gags around it as he turns, but he’s facing backstage as he does it, so the audience can’t see. It’s all fine. Everything is fine.

The applause lasts for even longer on the second night. Half of the audience are up in a standing ovation that Ben knows they don’t deserve, not for a too-short show in a small venue with shitty seating and a static spotlight, but Ben doesn’t say anything about it to anyone else in the cast, because everybody is just so fucking happy and he doesn’t want to wreck things.

The bar stays open once the show is done, and the chairs get summarily moved out of the way to make room for people to mingle and visit in the middle of the room. It looks like most of the audience members have stayed afterwards, but Ben’s scanned the room three times now—once right before the show opened, once at intermission, and then again during curtain call—and there hasn’t been so much as a hint of red hair and pale skin, so that’s a lost cause.

He hadn’t expected anything anyway.

Ben gets distracted on the way to the bar—Pava is running around with shots, for some fucking reason, and he’s had three of those in an equal number of minutes before he finally makes it to the bar for the beer he actually wants.

They won’t accept his money from him, claiming performers drink free—something Ben knows to be a lie, unless the Resistance has magically come up with a whack of money—so Ben takes the two beers from a young-looking kid who is flushing bright red just looking at him, and sticks his cash into the tip jar. Winks at the kid. They stammer, and Ben grins.

Snap is deep in conversation with an older man when Ben nudges him gently on the arm. “Hey, you seen Poe?”

Both men turn to look at him. The older man’s eyes would be piercing if he wasn’t so drunk that he’s weaving as he stands there. “That fucking piece,” he says, leering. “Work of art.”

Ben’s about to ask if the man is talking about his piece or about his body, but the deliberate up-down gaze and wink the older man gives him answers the question.

“Thanks,” Ben says. “I appreciate it.”

“You obviously spend a lot of time working out.”

“Let him be, Sinjir,” Snap says. “Poe’s over on the stage, there.”

“Thanks,” Ben says. He winks at Sinjir as he’s leaving, is treated to a wink back. The man’s good-looking, and he knows it—the kind of older guy Ben likes having as a client, when he can get them, especially because there’s a hint of something sharp about Sinjir, something vicious. It’s the kind of thing Ben likes in people.

It’s the kind of sharpness A. Hux has.

 

Poe is sitting on the stage alone, swinging his feet and looking out at the crowd.

Ben hands over one of the beers he’s holding. “Flower girl not show?”

“Boy,” Poe corrects absently, takes a drink of the beer without letting his eyes move from the crowd.

“Flower boy not show?”

“Nah,” Poe says.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“’S complicated,” Poe says.

“As complicated as me and the ‘fucking asshole’?”

“Worse,” Poe says ruefully. “You remember three-bun girl from yesterday?”

she seems nice

“Yeah,” Ben says. “She was so fucking mad.”

“Well, she’s not mad now. Or, she is, but it's not at us.”

“The flowers were from her?”

“Not exactly,” Poe says, taking another long swig of beer. He puts the bottle between his legs, lies back on the stage. Stares at the ceiling. “Turns out she’s the new headliner of the Knights. Co-headliner.”

Ben chokes, beer and spit spraying out of his mouth. He wipes his arm across his face and coughs, Tries to recover. “Co-headliner,” he says when he’s able to breathe again.

“Her and Hux, yeah.”

“Lemme guess,” Ben says. His brain is trying to make connections, is trying to sort out what he’s hearing—but all he’s thinking is prove that’s you and fuck you, kylo and that transition makes sense now, it makes a hell of a lot of sense now. “She had no idea what was in the envelope, and she had no idea there was any history between us and them.”

Poe grabs his beer from between his legs, hoists it up in the air. “Got it in one, buddy.”

“But she didn’t deliver the flowers.”

“Uh, no,” Poe says. “One of her friends did. We, uh, ended up chatting for a while, actually.”

“And then you invited him tonight, and he didn’t show.”

“I invited him tonight and he didn’t show,” Poe agrees. He sighs heavily, then sits up and drains the rest of his beer. “It’s fucking noisy in here. You wanna head upstairs for a minute? Split a joint in the parking lot?”

“I really do,” Ben says. He sets his half-empty beer down on the edge of the stage. “I really, really do.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben’s mouth is dry. Every muscle in his body hurts.

He definitely should have passed on the tequila when Pava had passed it around.

The shower in the ensuite is running. Ben rolls onto his back, wonders if it’s at all possible that he’s still stoned or drunk.

Since the clock on Poe’s bedside table indicates it’s nine am, either option is a very real possibility.

Why the fuck is he awake this early?

Ben’s phone is on the bedside table. It’s been thoughtfully plugged in, which means Poe must have done it after Ben had fallen asleep. Ben unlocks the phone, scrolls to his text messages.

wat about that girl with the buns

He winces.

It was a pretty fucking dumb text, especially now that he knows about the whole co-headlining thing. Ben remembers how he felt when he found out Snoke was bringing in a co-headliner—was bringing in Hux, though he didn’t know that at the time—and it wasn’t fucking good. He’s pretty sure finding out about his new co-headliner immediately precipitated a multiple day blackout. One of the time gaps he used to get a lot back then, especially leading up to the hospitalization.

Ben debates not saying anything at all, debates never texting A. Hux again—but prove it’s you keeps spinning around in his head, and he can’t help but think that he fucked up, and he doesn’t want to fuck up. He doesn’t want this … this thing with A. Hux to stop.

He doesn’t know what the fuck it is, but he’s not ready for it to be over. Not yet.

Ben: so, she’s co-headlining, huh?

Ben: he did the same thing to me

Ben: with you, actually

Ben: but i quit bf u showed up

Ben: and i didn’t kno it was u till

Ben: liek

Ben: last week

He almost leaves it at that, almost locks the phone and moves on with his life, knowing damn well that since he hasn’t gotten a four am text—hasn’t had one of those in a while, actually—that he’s not likely to get a response—but then he thinks of yesterday, and my head, it’s not gonna get better. The thing is—it fucking hurt enough going through that the first time with Poe, and it keeps hurting every subsequent time they’ve had to refresh it—and there’s no fucking way Ben’s risking having that happen with anybody else, ever again. There’s no fucking way Ben is going to let himself get excited about something, get optimistic about something, only to have his head be the thing that brings it all crashing down again.

Even though this thing with A. Hux isn’t actually a thing.

Even though Ben’s made the entire thing up.

Ben: actually i had a breakdown

Ben: and was in the hospital for a while

Ben: it’s not a one-time thing

Ben: well, hopefully the hospital was a one-time thing

Ben: but the breakdowns aren’t.

“Hey,” Poe says from the door of the ensuite. He’s stark naked, rubbing a towel against his hair to dry it. His entire body shimmers with multi-coloured glitter, and Ben sighs internally, realizing that since they’ve been sharing a bed, Ben’s going to be in the same boat. He can’t remember if he still has a dedicated glitter towel at his place, but he hopes to hell that he does. “Hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Nah,” Ben says. “I was just—” He vaguely gestures to his phone, and then sets it down, flips it over so he can’t see the screen. “You’re kinda shimmery still.”

“Pretty, huh?”

“Sure,” Ben says.

Poe hangs his towel up inside the ensuite, pads over to the side of the bed and sits down. “So,” he says.

“So,” Ben replies.

“You gonna do anything about that?”

Ben looks down, blushes instantly when he realizes that he’s rock-hard, easily visible through the blankets. “Uh …”

“I can wash my face again after,” Poe says. “If you want.”

Ben hesitates for a second. “Sure,” he says. “Lie back.”

It takes him a bit longer than usual to get properly positioned over Poe. His muscles are screaming still—a combination of the yesterday’s run, and two days of performances with minimal warmup. But eventually he gets there, knees bracketing Poe’s upper arms, hard dick hovering over Poe’s face, left hand bracing himself on the headboard while he uses his right hand to slowly stroke himself.

“Fuck, you have a nice cock,” Poe says softly. He tips his head up a little, and Ben obligingly switches his angle, rubs his dick against Poe’s face. “So fucking nice.”

“Mmm,” Ben says. He tightens his grip a bit, rocks into his fist. Tries to focus on the moment, on Poe’s body underneath him, on the quick twitches of Poe’s arms against Ben’s legs that indicate Poe’s probably touching himself right now, but Ben refuses to look back, tries to get himself off on denying himself the pleasure of watching Poe, tries to get himself off on things that he can’t have—

—A. Hux’s hands on his throat, A. Hux’s teeth on the tender meat of his sides, A. Hux’s—

—Ben strokes himself a bit faster, twisting his hand on the downstroke. Rests his forehead on the wall and brings his left hand back to squeeze his balls, to pull at the stubbly pubic hair that is finally—finally—starting to come back from the ill-advised trim last week. He’s breathing heavier now, breathing harder, but he’s still not as close as he should be, body slow to respond after the hell he’d put it through this weekend.

“Come on, come on,” Poe whispers, and Ben doesn’t know whether it’s to him or whether Poe’s talking to himself, but Poe’s arm movements are speeding up now and Ben’s getting closer too, getting close to coming all over Poe’s face, and maybe once he does, Poe will hold still long enough for Ben to lick it up off him, to let Ben clean him up with his tongue, lapping at his own—

“Sorry,” Ben mutters. “It’s not you, it’s me.” He’s hoping he doesn’t have to give it up as a lost cause—the morning after is way too late for whiskey-dick to even be a thing—but he can tell he’ll start getting sore in the next few minutes and that’s not going to be a good situation for anybody—

“Hey, Ben,” Poe says, and his voice is casual as hell, but there’s a twist to the corner of his mouth. “You ever think about Hux watching you?”

“Ah, fuck,” Ben curses, and that’s it, it’s over, he’s coming in thick white streaks all over Poe’s face and onto the sheets beside, on his own hand, and he only just barely registers something warm hitting his ass as Poe bites his lip, tipping his face up to Ben’s dick.

When he’s done, Ben rolls off Poe onto his side, rubs a glob of cum out of Poe’s hairline. “That was cruel,” he accuses.

“Worked, didn’t it?” Poe asks, grinning through a mask of Ben’s semen. “Fuck, that’s a lot of cum.”

“Here,” Ben says. “Lemme—”

“Nah,” Poe says. “It’s fine. I got it.” He pushes himself, up, wipes his chin, and heads for the bathroom. “Also, I think I came on your ass. Sorry.”

Ben reaches back. “Yup, you definitely did.”

Poe throws him a wet washcloth. “Here.”

“Thanks.”

“For the record,” Poe says from the ensuite, talking a bit louder than normal so that Ben can hear him over the sound of the water running. “I still think he’s a fucking asshole. And I think what you’re doing is a really bad idea.”

“Noted,” Ben says. He wipes Poe’s cum off his ass, and then wipes off his dick, heads into the bathroom.

Poe’s got his face washed off, and is staring at himself in the mirror.

“You alright?” Ben asks.

Poe shrugs. “I’m trying to be.”

“Okay,” Ben says.

He considers pressing a kiss into Poe’s hair, but thinks better of it.

“I was thinking I’d maybe head home tonight,” he says instead. “Give you some space. Take some space for myself.” He almost wants a bath badly enough to book a hotel room for it, but that seems like a waste of time. “Lie on my own couch instead of yours.”

He expects Poe to protest, expects him to argue about it. Expects nothing’s wrong with my couch and but then how do I cuddle with you but instead, Poe shrugs.

“Alright, Ben.” Poe runs his hand through his hair. “We’ve got the post-mortem this afternoon—wanna stick around till then, I can give you a ride home after?”

“Sure,” Ben says. He tosses the washcloth in the hamper, squeezes Poe’s shoulder on his way out of the ensuite. “I’ll go make us breakfast. You got anything in there you’re saving for a special occasion?”

“’S all yours,” Poe says. “Good luck making anything other than omelets, though.”

 

Ben has good intentions, but Poe was right. He’d need better cooking skills than what he has to make something that isn’t an omelet.

The omelets turn out pretty good, though.

 

The rest of the morning is … well, it’s better. Poe drags out an old video game console that they’d used to play in university, and they spend a couple hours alternating between beating the shit out of each other and playing as a team. Ben waits until Poe’s mood has lifted, until Poe is back to nudging his shoulder against Ben’s when they manage to pull off a particularly tricky move, before he brings it up.

“So I’ve still got that envelope from the three-bun kid,” he says. “With the tickets to Friday’s show.”

Poe doesn’t quite miss the jump he’s trying to make but it’s close. “Yeah?”

“And I think you guys should go.”

“You think we should go,” Poe says flatly.

“Yeah, you know. I mean, Snoke is gonna Snoke, but that’s a pretty massive bunch of flowers that you’ve got taking up space in your kitchen, and I know you don’t like yelling at people and then not talking it out after.”

“I wasn’t—” Poe stops, scrunches his face. “Yeah, I totally was yelling at her.”

“You definitely were,” Ben agrees. “You scared the shit out of Pava, huh? Like, by the look on her face when she came to get me, I figured it was actually Snoke that had shown.”

“I wouldn’t have let him in,” Poe says ferociously. This time, he does fuck up the jump, uses up his last life. He curses, sets the controller down.

Ben continues on alone, relying on muscle memory from years ago to complete the course. “I know,” Ben says. “You’re always looking out for me.”

“Snoke fucked you up bad.”

Ben chews on his lip, doesn’t respond. I fucked myself up, Poe. It was me, it was always me, it’s always gonna be me.

“You still want to go after that?” Poe says, voice hesitant.

“No,” Ben says. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to get anywhere near Snoke, and he’s definitely going to be there. It’s just—I don’t want this to be a thing between the two troupes is all, especially if there’s a nice boy, if there’s a cute boy, who’s willing to get you flowers like that to try and make up for something there’s no way either of them had context for.”

“Well, he’s got context for it now,” Poe mutters.

“Plus,” Ben continues, and he knows he’s being a dick, he knows he’s just trying to rile Poe up for that fucking stunt that Poe had pulled in bed earlier. do you ever think about him watching you “I bet three-bun girl is cute once you’re not yelling at her. Maybe you should have flirted with her instead, saved flower boy from having to spend half his life savings on a goddamn ugly bouquet.”

“Maybe you should be the one flirting with her,” Poe retorts. “Seeing as she’s cute at all.”

Ben fakes a full-body shudder. “Believe me,” he says. “That is very much not what I’m looking for.”

“No,” Poe agrees. “Apparently not.”

 

Ben waits until Poe takes a bathroom break, unlocks his phone.

Even though it’s not four in the morning, he’s got a reply.

A. Hux: I was never told you were in the hospital.

Ben: shocked tbh

Ben: figured that’d be a good cautionary tale

Ben: here there be dragons etc

A. Hux: It never came up.

Ben waits a couple minutes, expecting something else, another response, but his phone is—fucking typical—silent.

Ben: does it bother u

A. Hux: No.

A. Hux: I don’ t care.

“Guess we should probably head out,” Poe says. “You okay on the bike?”

Ben jams his phone into his pocket. “Yeah, as long as I’m passenger.”

“Cool.”

 

“So,” Ello says. “Long story short, financials are good, we didn’t suck this time, yay us.”

“Except Ben,” says Pava where she’s sitting at Karé’s feet. Her eyes are gleaming. “He sucked an entire pool cue down his throat.”

Ben flushes, hunches his shoulders and flips his sunglasses back down over his face. It’s not possible to slouch any further against Poe’s chair than he’s already slouching, but if he could, he would.

He should have just gone home.

“Quit derailing, Pava,” Poe calls back.

“Ben—”

“Nope,” Ben says. “Don’t continue, Pava. Just—let’s finish the meeting.”

Pava sighs dramatically. Karé reaches down, rubs Pava’s shoulder.

“I made a spreadsheet,” Ello continues. “It’s, uh—Poe, it’s the file labelled ‘spreadsheet’, how is it taking you this long.”

“I’m getting there,” Poe says. “BB’s doing a thing. There. There it is.”

Ben can’t decipher the numbers clearly through the sunglasses, especially since it’s not very well lit in the loft—but he’d also stopped listening at “good”, and doesn’t really care to hear the rest of the results. He takes out his phone again, but still doesn’t know what—if anything—he wants to text back to A. Hux.

Poe nudges Ben’s shoulder with his foot. “Hey,” he says softly. “Did you wanna talk about this thing?”

Ben shakes his head. “You go ahead.”

“Alright.” Poe hesitates a moment. “You sure you don’t wanna change your mind?”

“I want you guys to go,” Ben says. “Go, and have fun.”

“I think—”

“I’m making a mistake, I’m making many mistakes, I know, I know.” Ben shrugs his shoulder against Poe’s foot. “Go ahead.”

“Alright.” Poe clears his throat. “One last thing,” he says, loud enough that everyone can hear.

Everybody quiets down.

“Some of you …” Poe runs his hand along his jaw, looks away. “So some of you might have seen me yelling at someone on Friday night. It was, uh, not my best moment. It’s not been my best weekend.”

Ben reaches back and puts his hand on Poe’s foot.

“I’m not gonna get into the details, but there’s been some—some history between our troupe, and the Knights of Ren, and it hasn’t been good.” Poe stops talking, and Ben can feel the muscles of Poe’s foot tighten under his hand.

Ben knows Poe is just gonna fucking spin his way out of it, so he stands up, digs in his jacket, and pulls out the envelope. “They’re mending the fences. They sent comp tickets to the Knights show next week. Enough for all of us. I can’t go, I got a thing, but anybody who’s available should go. It’s important that there isn’t bad blood between the troupes.”

“Snoke is mending fences,” Karé says flatly.

Ben shrugs. “He’s old. Maybe he’s softening up as he ages. That’s not the important part, though. The important part is that I have an envelope of free tickets for everybody who wants to go, and since Poe’s feeling so terrible about losing his cool on Friday night, he’s gonna arrange a—bus, or some fucking shit. I don’t know. But transport will be free.”

There’s a pause.

“Well, I’m in,” Bastian says, finally. “Doesn’t hurt to scope out other talent. I, uh, wasn’t around for whatever happened so I don’t have any context for this anyway.”

“I wonder if they get more people than we do,” Ello muses. “Their stuff always looks so fucking weird.”

“Better funded than us, though,” Pava says. “They can afford to advertise and shit.”

Thankfully after that, the meeting starts breaking down into its own little conversations, and Ben flops back down on the floor, leans up against Poe’s command chair.

“I’m gonna arrange a bus, huh?” Poe says quietly behind him.

Ben shrugs. “I know goddamn well you weren’t gonna mention the tickets, you were just gonna apologize and move on. Well, apologize by renting a bus, and then apologize to the three-bun girl in person, and thank your boyfriend for the flowers.”

Poe sighs. “It doesn’t sit right with me.”

“Well, it sits fine with me,” Ben says.

“What’re you doing on Friday night anyways?”

“Supper with Han,” Ben says, and the lie comes off his tongue so easily that he doesn’t question it, not even a little bit.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben always forgets that muscle soreness is delayed. He always figures if he manages to limp his way through the day after doing something stupid—like running halfway around D’Qar and not drinking enough water to compensate for the sweating and the drinking—that he’s just gonna be fine.

When he wakes up on Monday morning, he realizes he is not gonna be fine. Every muscle in his body is screaming. When he gets out of bed, his habitual slouch is a physical requirement because his fucking muscles won’t fully extend.

By the time Ben limps out of bed, it’s mid-morning. He crosses the kitchen to turn the kettle on and kicks another envelope, sends it spinning across the kitchen floor. The envelope is blank, plain white paper with Snoke’s wax seal holding the flap down.

Probably nothing about today is going to be fine.

Probably he should just head back to bed.

Probably today is a lost cause.

 

He reads Snoke’s latest over tepid instant coffee.

Kylo,

Should you be so heartless as to neither care about the fate of your troupe nor my own (failing) health since your unscheduled departure, please be reminded I have a number of your effects still here at the studio, including items that had belonged to your (deceased) grandfather. I believe you’ve referred to them, in the past, as irreplaceable heirlooms.

I will have these objects set aside for you on Friday, but make no promises as to their fate if you are not present on Friday to retrieve them.

Snoke

 

At least this letter is short.

It’s short, and—it’s short and it’s wrong.

Ben pauses with the coffee cup halfway to his mouth.

It’s wrong. The letter is wrong.

He doesn’t doubt that Snoke has heirlooms that belonged to his grandfather. And he doesn’t doubt they’ll be destroyed if he doesn’t show up on Friday.

But the thing is—

—Ben doesn’t want shit that belonged to Anakin Skywalker. Not one single goddamn thing.

He wants—he wants the other stuff. The things he’s too scared to even name, in case they’re not there, in case they aren’t in with the rest of his abandoned belongings, in case they’ve been—found, or stolen, or removed, or—but based on the way Snoke has worded this letter—

Ben takes a deep breath. Exhales. Takes another one, forces himself to count in for eight and out for twelve until his pulse settles.

—based on the wording of the letter, Snoke doesn’t know Ben wants them.

And if Snoke doesn’t know Ben wants them, if Snoke doesn’t know they’re important to Ben—Ben’s got an opening.

Ben smiles.

The muscles on his face ache.

He keeps smiling.

 

Ben deepcleans his apartment. He needs to think. It’s easier to think when he cleans. It’s easier to think when he’s scrubbing dust out of things, doing his laundry, washing his sex toys. It’s easier to plan things out when his body is busy, because his brain can just work on stuff while he focuses on the minute details of scrubbing baseboards, washing his floor by hand, doing his dishes in the sink.

He finishes up by vacuuming the living room, trying his best to get the dust sucked out of the corners. It’s always filthiest by the balcony door because he’s in and out of there with his bare feet all the time, no matter how frequently he resolves to wear shoes, wear shoes, just wear some fucking shoes.

There’s something underneath the tv stand. Something that resists being vacuumed up.

Ben frowns. Kneels down and reaches underneath.

It feels like a piece of paper, and there’s a moment where Ben wonders if it’s another letter, something he kicked under the tv stand without realizing it, except this is—smaller than an envelope, much smaller, and he pulls it out into the light, and—

Oh.

A. Hux’s business card is a little worse for the wear. It’s bent on one corner, and there’s dust sitting on the surface.

Ben brings it up to his mouth, blows on it gently to get the dust off. Runs his fingers over the embossed letters of A. Hux’s name.

it wasn’t for you

Well, maybe it wasn’t for Ben in the first place.

But Ben figures he’ll keep it now.

It’s his.

He slides it into the back of his phone case so he’ll see it every time he looks at his phone.

It’s his.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben hates sabacc tournaments. Has ever since he got abandoned at one when he was seven, and was stuck there until three in the morning when they finally tracked down Leia to come retrieve him.

It doesn’t mean that he’s not fucking good at them, though.

It’s just that he hates them.

The atmosphere is always bad, and this one is no different than usual. Cheap beer, stale smoke, an air of desperation clinging to the venue. Everybody’s either riding their highest highs, or their lowest lows, and it’s too crowded, everybody shoving up against Ben and brushing against his shoulders and he hates it he hates it he hates—

People are pushing drinks at him, people are handing him business cards, people are trying to recruit him to side games, and he can’t get a look at the fucking signup list, so he isn’t even one hundred percent certain that Han is here.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Ben shows up at a thing to find out Han has already ditched it.

“Are you in or out?” the woman in front of him repeats. “You need to decide if you’re in or out.”

Ben lifts his sunglasses off his eyes, gives her a crooked grin. “And you’re certain that I can’t just, like, look at the list of players?”

“You definitely can’t do that.”

“I’ll just be a minute,” he says. “I mean, I could just go inside and see if he’s there—”

“You can’t do that either,” she says curtly. “You either register, or you leave.”

Ben registers.

He wishes he’d left.

Fucking Bala-Tik and his fucking favours.

 

It’s even worse once he’s inside. The air is thicker in here, everybody’s bodies are pressed closer. The game schedule is a fucking piece of paper taped onto the wall, and this is definitely not a legal tournament. When Ben buys in, the chips he gets back use two different colour schemes, and are branded with at least four different establishments. Fucking typical. So fucking typical.

He’s regretting, slightly, having used his real name to register. It seemed like a good idea at the time, when he thought everything was more or less on the up-and-up, especially when he couldn’t be guaranteed he’d actually end up playing against Han. Like maybe Han seeing Ben’s name on the schedule would get his attention, pique Han’s curiosity as to whether his kid was any good at sabacc.

Now that Ben’s here and he sees how awful this is … he definitely should have registered under a fake name.

He probably shouldn’t have come in the first place. Could have made just as much progress standing in the alley smoking and waiting for Han to get thrown out on his ass.

“Hey,” he says, pulling aside the first person he sees that looks like they know that they’re doing. “Where’m I supposed to go for my first game?”

“Name?”

“Organa,” he says.

“Ah, related to Leia?”

“Uh, definitely,” Ben says. “Definitely, yeah.” Does his best to make it sound like a lie, and when the guy doesn’t seem fully convinced, Ben weaves on his feet slightly. “’S just … I don’t wanna miss my first game, yanno?”

“You new here?” the guys asks.

“Yeah, yeah, definitely.”

“Word of advice,” the guy says, and he leans in close to Ben’s ear. “Pick a better fake name next time,” he advises. “Han Solo’s here.”

“Oh,” Ben says. “Fuck. Is it too late to change my registration?”

The guy slaps him on the shoulder. “Good luck.”

Fucker, Ben thinks.

 

Ben’s sabacc skills are just okay, so he figures he’ll sit down, play a game, lose dramatically, and then be stuck wandering around pretending to get progressively drunker while he looks for Han.

Turns out, though, that it’s not Ben’s sabacc skills that keep him in the tournament.

It’s his ability to act like a fucking idiot.

By the time he hits his third game, he’s got two drinks spilled down his shirt, he’s pretended to have nearly forgotten the rules once, and he makes a point of lifting his sunglasses off his face every time he gets a new hand of cards. He’s also started, for shits and giggles, thinking about A. Hux every time he gets a particularly bad hand.

He’s not fully convinced it makes his pupils dilate, but it seems to be helping him bluff better, so he keeps doing it.

He manages to just eke out a win on the third game, although it’s a close one—close enough that Ben makes a note to watch his back when he leaves the building.

One of the other sabacc games is running long, so Ben’s got a break. What he really wants is to go outside in the cool air, have a smoke, and then just start walking home, but he also needs Bala-Tik to stop breathing down his ass. He needs to get this done. He needs to fucking find Han, get Han to sort out his shit.

He needs to make sure that his personal problems don’t end up fucking over the Resistance.

 

He’s at the bar ordering a drink when he hears someone coming up behind him.

“Who the hell’s the fuckhead registered under my kid’s name?”

Ben takes his drink, swills some of it into his mouth. Wipes his arm across his mouth, and subtly spits most of the drink back out onto his the sleeve of his jacket. Turns around. “Hi, Dad,” he says.

Han’s taken aback for a moment, and it gives Ben time to look at him.

Ben may be fake drunk, but he’s pretty sure Han is actually drunk. He smells the way Ben remembers him smelling as a teenager, Corellian rum bleeding out of his pores. It fucking sucks, because Ben wanted to wipe those memories out forever, replace them with memories from when he was younger, when Han smelled like expensive cologne and home cooking.

(Ben wonders, frequently, if he’s made those memories up completely.)

Han’s gotten fucking old since the last time Ben saw him, weathered in a way that Leia isn’t. It looks like he’s still wearing the same clothes as the last time Ben saw him, but since that was more than a decade ago, there’s no way it’s accurate. It’s gotta be … exact replicas of the same clothes.

“Ben!” Han slurs, and before Ben can do anything about it, Han has lurched over, swung his arm around Ben’s neck, and yanked him down into some kind of combination hug and wrestling hold.

“The fuck you doing here,” Han says, voice low and clear.

Okay. Fake drunk, then.

Ben lurches away from him, grins stupidly. “Dad!” he repeats.

The resulting slap that Han lands on Ben’s shoulder is probably harder than what it strictly needs to be. “You a sabacc player now?” Han’s leaning into him way too heavy, shoving Ben back against the bar, his hand against Ben’s chest, inside his jacket.

Ben shrugs, shoves Han back a bit. He feels like he’s gonna end up drunk just smelling the guy. “Yeah, yeah, I’m doing alright, yeah.”

“Listen,” Han slurs. “Listen, kid.”

Ben lurches in closer, spilling most of his drink over his own hand.

“I don’t know what the fuck you think you’re doing,” Han says in that same sharp undertone. “But you need to—”

“Fucking cheat!” comes a yell from the back.

Han shoves Ben against the bar, bolts to the side, and disappears into the crowd. He’s moving pretty fast for an old man.

Ben sighs. Some things never change.

“Hey,” yells another voice. “That’s his fucking son!”

Ben puts the remnants of his drink down on the bar, and waits for security.

 

“Oh shit,” Ben says. “I didn’t think you were gonna pick up.”

“Ben,” Leia says patiently. “It’s one in the morning. I’m not letting that go to voicemail.” She sighs. “Also, you were on the news.”

“Oh,” Ben says. “Really?”

“They didn’t have your name or anything, and your arm was up over your face, but I recognized the jacket.”

“I wasn’t arrested,” he says, because it feels important to clarify. “Tournament security handed me over to the cops, and they took me in for questioning, and then stuck me in a cell for a bit.”

“They can’t do that. I’ll—”

“It’s fine, I don’t care. I think they were figuring they’d catch Han and they could question me after they questioned him, but they haven’t brought him in yet.”

Leia sighs again. “Usual bullshit?”

“Usual bullshit.” Ben confirms. “Anyways, I just wanted to let you know I’m safe, and I’m heading home now.”

“I appreciate that. Thanks for calling.”

“Go back to bed, Mom.”

He thinks she’s hung up, almost hangs up himself, but then she inhales like she’s going to say something, so he waits.

“You any good at sabacc?” she asks.

“Terrible,” Ben says. “Absolutely terrible. I won, uh.” He sticks his hand in his pocket, pages through the bills. “Maybe two hundred bucks, and I think I’ve got another—” He pats his jacket pocket, pretty sure he stuffed another hundred in there, and his fingers brush against something that shouldn’t be there.

Ben looks at the officer sitting at the desk in front of him. He’s not watching Ben anymore, is staring down at his datapad again.

“Another what, Ben?” Leia’s voice doesn’t sound concerned at all, which is good.

It’s easier for Ben to keep calm when Leia’s not concerned.

“Uh, am I free to go?” Ben asks the office, tipping his phone away from his mouth even though he knows damn well Leia’s going to overhear everything.

“We’ll probably call you in for questioning again,” the officer says without looking up from his computer. “But yeah, kid. Go home.”

“Alright, thanks,” Ben says. He heads for the door before his face gives him away, doesn’t relax until he’s three blocks away from the police station. “Fucking shitpiss fuck,” he hisses under his breath.

“I’ll assume I don’t want to know.” Leia’s voice is dry in his ear, and completely, completely unsurprised.

Ben slides the envelope out of his pocket. Han must have fucking shoved it in there when he was pushing Ben back against the bar, and Ben didn’t feel a goddamn thing. He thumbs the envelope open, tips it into the streetlight so he can see inside.

It’s stuffed full of money.

Fucking asshole, Ben thinks.

“You don’t,” he says. “You really, really don’t.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Bala-Tik flips through the money, sets it down. Picks it up and flips through it again. “And he just gave this to you. To cover his debt.”

“Yup,” Ben says.

“Kid,” Bala-Tik says. “You have any idea how much his debt actually is?”

“Not a fucking clue,” says Ben. Hopefully this isn’t the precursor to one of the welding mask goons next to Bala-Tik smashing Ben’s kneecaps in. Ben can feel his heart hammering in his chest, and it’s a good fucking thing he’s still got his sunglasses on because that’s the only reason he’s able to fake casual as successfully as he’s doing.

But then Bala-Tik grins, and it’s monstrous. “Well, good job. It doesn’t cover what he owes Kanjiklub, but I’ll do you a favour, get them off his back for you.”

“I don’t give a shit what you do,” Ben says. “I’m just protecting what we got here. Are we good?”

“Yeah,” Bala-Tik says, and his hand on the stack of money is predatory, possessive. “We’re good.”

“And the studio is good?” Ben continues.

“Yeah, it’s good.”

“We’re doing renos right away,” Ben says. Might as well see if he can push it. “If I need stuff fabricated—”

Bala-Tik’s gaze flickers down to the money, and then back up to Ben again. “Yeah,” he allows. “Yeah, I can get that worked out for you. We’ll work something out.”

“Pleasure doing business with you,” Ben says.

He doesn’t shake Bala-Tik’s hand—but then, Bala-Tik doesn’t take his hand off the money either, and the smile splitting his face doesn’t waver.

On the way out, Ben wonders vaguely how much he’s just overpaid Han’s debt by, but decides he doesn’t much care.

It’s not his problem.

 

hashtagSOLO: so bala-tik is dealt with and we’re all good

DAMNeron: holy shit, you got the money out of han?

hashtagSOLO: i got some money out of han

hashtagSOLO: which i then gave to bala-tik

hashtagSOLO: I also told bala-tik 

hashtagSOLO: ok this is dumb

hashtagSOLO: one sec

 

“So, like I was saying,” Ben says. “I paid off the debt, so we’re all squared away with Bala-Tik now, and I also lied and said we’re doing renos at the studio—well, it’s not a lie, cuz we’re gonna do them—but I got us shop access or whatever if we need it, so we should meet up this weekend after you go to the Knights show.”

Poe whistles under his breath. “How the fuck you manage that?”

Ben shrugs, then realizes Poe can’t see it over the phone. “I, uh. I think I overpaid Han’s debt.”

“By …?”

“No fucking clue,” Ben says. “He didn’t tell me how much it was, he didn’t tell me he was sticking money in my coat, and he didn’t tell me what I was supposed to do with it.”

“Shit, buddy.” Poe hesitates for a second. “You know there’s a warrant out for his arrest, right?”

“Not surprised. They hauled me in too, but I didn’t know anything. Found the cash on my way out of the station. I was so close to just being in jail, Poe. He almost just … let me get arrested.”

“Shiiiiiit. Does Leia—”

“Yeah, I told her,” Ben says. “It’s kinda par for the course, I guess.” Ben reaches over to his laptop, taps on the spacebar. The screen flips on. A. Hux’s performance is paused. “Anyways, I’m serious about the renos … you should let me know how you feel about the Citadel after you go on Friday, I think we can get something pulled together, maybe improve the space a bit.”

“Uh, okay,” Poe says. “I’ll do that. Shit, man. Good job.”

“Thanks,” Ben says.

After he hangs up, he checks his text messages. There’s nothing new, so he stares at the old ones instead.

does it bother u

no

i don’ t care

He should text back.

He knows he should text back.

Ben gets as far as typing do u care about before he stops. Erases the message. Locks his phone.

He shouldn’t ask questions he doesn’t want the answers to.

He should be happy with what he has.

Maybe he’ll text A. Hux tomorrow, tell him to break a leg on Friday. Tell A. Hux he’s sorry that he’s not gonna be—that he’s not gonna see the performance.

That’s a better plan.

 

He’s disappointed when he checks his bookings for the day, realizes that H hasn’t booked. It’s not unusual—though she always books on Wednesday, she doesn’t book every Wednesday.

It’s just that he could stand to have his ass fucked hard. He’d like to be called puppy for a couple hours. That’s all.

(It’s fucking dangerous, because he needs to not be relying on clients to provide him stuff he should be getting in his personal life. It’s a slippery slope. It’s a bad idea.)

Instead, he’s got two other clients booked. The first one’s profile looks a little familiar, like maybe Ben had fucked her a couple years ago or something. It’s just so sparse that he can’t remember, and there’s nothing in her profile or in her booking that really indicates what she wants to do.

He messages her, asks for clarification.

The other client doesn’t look familiar at all until Ben clicks over to their profile, flicks through their photos. The fifth photo is a matched set of metal-handled floggers, and Ben remembers.

His mouth goes dry, and he reaches down and adjusts himself.

Alright, he thinks. Today’ll be an alright day.

 

He takes the edge off before he leaves the house, unpauses the A. Hux’s video, and watches the aerialist climb and fall, climb and fall, climb and fall. Touches himself thinking about A. Hux’s teeth on his shoulders, A. Hux’s hands pinching the skin on his ribs. A. Hux’s hot breath in his ear, A. Hux standing behind him, head resting against Ben’s back.

It’s not difficult to come, it’s not at all difficult to come, even without anything up his ass. It’s too fucking easy to get off just thinking about teeth buried in his flesh and hands pulling at his hair and a hard cock pressed up against his ass.

It’s just as well he’s not going to the Knights show on Friday.

He’s spent way too long masturbating to this video.

He doesn’t actually need to see A. Hux in person.

 

Ben takes the bus over to the Kael’e. Shuts his eyes as the bus crosses over the river.

He misses his bike. Misses the way it rumbled underneath him, the way he felt the wind against him, the speed, the way it felt almost like he was flying—

No point in trying to get it dragged out, though. It’ll be full of mud, and right fucked, and he really shouldn’t be driving it right now anyway.

Not when he still counts every fucking tree on the side of the road. Not when he wonders if he could control the path of the bus with his mind, divert it into the ditch.

He can miss it, though. He can miss his bike and still understand that it’s bad for him to have it right now.

It’s okay.

 

Ben’s phone is in his hand before the door has clicked shut behind his first client. She was good, she was fucking good, and Ben can still hear her screaming as he tongues her to climax for the fourth time—but he needs to act fast on this, before the marks fade.

Ben stands in the bathroom because the light is better there, tries to get as many pictures as he can from as many angles as he can. Not for the first or the last time, he wishes he had someone else he could call in to take photos for him. Wishes it wasn’t just him and the bathroom mirror, wishing for longer arms than he’s got to actually capture the stuff he wants to capture.

The best time to take photos of zippers is immediately after they’ve been pulled off, but he doesn’t have the luxury of doing that when he’s working. So he has to do this—wait until they’re gone, and then get somewhere with better lighting as fast as he can, capture whatever’s left.

The clothespin markings are already starting to fade. He’ll have to edit the fucking photos before he posts them on X, fuck with the contrast a bit so that the marks stand out better on his skin.

The zipper she’d put over his chest had left slightly deeper marks—more skin there for the clothespins to dig into. The one on his back hadn’t been nearly as effective, but had contained twice as many clothespins, a left-right-left-right pattern zig-zagging over his spine that had hurt exquisitely as she’d pulled it off.

He gets some pretty decent pictures of the marks. Takes some of him in his underwear as well, just so he has them for later—but has to be careful with the angle, because the edging he’d noticed last week that was coming loose is definitely loose now. He should take his underwear off, resew the binding, and put his underwear back on again.

He should, but he doesn’t.

 

The second client is more than alright. They show up with the floggers from last time, that same offer to let Ben inspect them. Ben’s a little more thorough about it this time, actually gives himself some time to just let the leather sit on his hands, to think about what it would be like if he actually submitted to someone like this, someone with these kinds of expensive things. Someone with a closet full of props and toys, and—

But then he starts thinking about A. Hux again, and he really needs to stop doing that. It’s getting to be a problem. It’s distracting. It’s going nowhere.

It’s irritatingly persistent.

“I, uh,” the client says.

“Yeah?” Ben says, and its flat and harsh through the vocoder. Before he’s even thinking too much about what he’s doing, he reaches up and flips the vocoder out of the way. “Yeah?” he says again, and his voice is softer this time.

The client startles, visibly startles, and Ben curses, flips the vocoder back into place.

“Sorry,” he says, flat and mechanical.

The client swallows, looks away for a second. “I have, uh, this other flogger. If you want. It’s not thuddy like this set. I have a hard time finding people that like it, but you seemed to really like these ones last time, and I figured it was—it was worth a try—”

“Lemme see,” Ben says.

It’s not made out of garment leather like the matched set. This one has falls of rounded leather instead, smooth and black. Each fall ends in a tightly braided knot about the size of a ping-pong ball. Ben touches one of the knots, and it’s rock-hard. It’ll be more intense, more localized, and odds are good he’ll bruise, which he normally doesn’t like to do during work—but fuck it.

The client had been really good last time. Maybe they’d be really good this time too.

Maybe it’s worth it to take a risk.

 

Ben shoves his face into the bed while the client methodically warms up his back with the matched set of floggers, wishes for a permanent location that he could work out of. Somewhere with actual bondage furniture so he’s not spending his life with his face shoved into sterile hotel comforters. A place that he could set up to be comfortable for him, with art on the walls that he likes, a comfortable bed, somewhere where Ben can come down from sessions wrapped in his own blankets instead of on the bus back to his shitty apartment.

He isn’t expecting the first hit from the knotted flogger, actually shies away enough that the client pulls back.

“Shit, sorry.”

“No, it’s fine,” Ben says. “Just startled me. That was unprofessional, I’m sorry. Keep going.”

It’s like being punched by a series of really small fists.

Once Ben gets used to relaxing into it, it’s actually pretty good.

It’s not his preferred kind of pain, is way too sharp and concentrated, not heavy enough to get down into his bones.

But it’s pretty good.

 

This time, Ben doesn’t need to worry about the marks fading before he gets his phone out. The circular bruises are still there after the client leaves, after Ben takes photos, after he gets his underwear washed out, after he has a piss, after he’s gotten dressed in his street clothes again and packed everything else out.

He’d like to think they’ll still be there tomorrow morning.

He knows they won’t be, knows he heals too fucking fast for any marks to stay.

But it’s a nice thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The marks are gone by the time Ben wakes up in the morning.

If he squints, flexes just right in the light, he can see the vague yellow-ish shadows where they used to be.

But there’s nothing there for anyone to raise an eyebrow at. Ben has always healed quickly. It’s one of the reasons that this is so financially lucrative for him—bruises never stick around long, and as long as he remembers to drink water and stretch, he bounces back easily and effectively from sessions.

He wonders if he’ll always see this as a benefit.

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

 

Ben half-expects another letter on the floor when he goes into the kitchen, but there’s nothing there except yesterday’s toast crumbs. He sweeps them up, makes himself a protein shake and a bowl of cereal, stands at the kitchen counter to eat.

His phone rings, and he lazily swipes it to answer.

“Ben here,” he says through a mouth of cereal.

“Damn,” Leia says. “I was hoping you wouldn’t pick up.”

Ben laughs. “Do you want me to hang up? For, uh, the message thing. You can just talk at the message thing.”

“No, no. Poe had just—” Leia curses softly. “On Friday?”

“Oh,” Ben says. Chews, swallows. “The Knights show, yeah. The Resistance is taking a bus up.”

“Poe says you insisted.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.” There’s a pause.

Ben hears something click, and then Leia inhales, and he wonders if she’s smoking right now—and if she is, whether she’s doing it because she’s worried about him, or whether it’s something else entirely.

He considers saying something, but decides to wait it out. Crunches through another spoonful of cereal, tipping the phone away from his face so that she doesn’t have to hear him chew, and about halfway through the spoonful, it dawns on him.

“Oh,” he says, mouth still full. “I’m not going, didn’t Poe tell you that?”

Leia exhales. “He did not tell me that,” she says dryly.

“Shit,” Ben says. “You thought I was going, holy fuck. Of course I’m not going.”

“Okay,” she says.

“… did you wanna go? I gave the extra tickets to Poe, but I think there was still a couple that were unclaimed, and—”

“Hell no,” Leia says. “I’m—I’m fine without doing that.”

“Alright.” Ben finishes his cereal, drinks the extra milk out of the bowl.

“Did you want to have supper that night?” she asks. “Instead.”

And he wants to. He really, really wants to. But—he can’t. Not since Monday’s letter, not when he’s got half a chance at retrieving his stuff, not when—

“Actually, I’m going for supper with Han,” he says. “Sorry.”

“Oh, you got ahold—” and then she stops talking, mutters something that sounds very much like I don’t care. “Okay,” she says.

“Anything you want me to pass along?” Ben asks. “I was figuring mostly on telling him off for almost getting me jailed, but I can definitely yell at him for some stuff on your behalf too.”

There’s silence on the phone for a minute, and Ben figures maybe he fucked up and shouldn’t have talked, but then Leia chuckles.

“Nah, you just focus on the stuff that you’re pissed at him over. I’ll yell at him another time.”

“Alright.”

“Make sure you’re not followed when you go to see him, yeah?”

“Yeah, I’ll make sure.”

“Have a good day, Ben.”

“Sure thing, Mom.”

 

Ben dusts off the display cases in his spare room. Empty, empty, empty, empty—and the layers of dust are so thick that he has to cover his mouth with his arm, coughs until he’s nearly got tears in his eyes. But the room looks better now that it’s clean, especially since he’s been avoiding it since—avoiding it since that thing earlier in the month, when he’d come in here when he shouldn’t have. But it’s different, now. It’s different because there are possibilities. It’s different because Ben has a plan now.

He digs through his filing cabinet of important papers, trying to find his old keychain. It’s probably not going to be there, he probably—threw it out, or tossed it into the river, or tried to burn it, or—there are so many things he could have done with it.

There’s no keys in the filing cabinet, but there’s papers from the hospital, jammed right down at the bottom of the cabinet, and he remembers there was a box, with stuff in it, and the keys are probably there …

The box is jammed into the back corner of Ben’s closet, up on the very top shelf. He recognizes the outside of it by touch, shudders instinctually. He can feel exhaustion creeping in on the edges, even though he knows it’s gotta be something his brain is doing, it can’t be real, there’s no reason he should feel so bone-fucking tired—

—remembers standing outside the hospital with his bag clenched in his fists and the grass is just so fucking green that he can’t—

—Ben pulls the box down. It’s okay. He’s out, he’s here now. It’s been a couple of years. Things are okay.

He tips the box to the side. For a moment, he just hears the crinkle of plastic—but then he tilts the box a little further, and something heavy thunks into the corner.

Opening the box is going to be a bad idea. Going through the contents methodically is going to be a bad idea.

It’s Thursday. The Knights show is tomorrow.

Ben cannot risk anything bad happening, cannot risk his brain sliding off the road and into the ditch, cannot risk losing any time to—wherever it is that the time goes when it slips away from him.

He has to be careful with himself so that he doesn’t trigger a relapse, doesn’t stick himself into the same garbage headspace that he was in before.

Ben cracks the box open carefully, sticks his hand in while he looks the other direction. Feels the plastic bag crinkling against his fingers and makes a conscious effort not to identify anything that’s in the box, not to think about anything in the box, just moves his fingers cautiously until they hit metal, and—

—yes. His keys.

He fishes them out, drops them on the floor. Closes the box, puts it back on the top shelf, piles old blankets overtop of it, shuts the closet door. Takes a deep breath.

Exhales.

Looks down.

The keys are at his feet, on a keychain with a—

—fuck, he’d forgotten—

—a keychain with a stylized rendering of his grandfather’s mask.

Ben steps on the emblem with his heel, reaches down and grabs the keys. Yanks as hard as he can, until the jumpring that attaches the emblem to the keys snaps and the keys come loose.

He kicks the emblem under the bed, but then thinks better of it and lies down on the floor, pulls it back out.

There’s a butt plug lying under the bed, right next to the wall. He has no idea how long it’s been there, but it’s covered in dust.

Ben leaves the bedroom, steps out onto the balcony. Throws the emblem as far into the empty parking lot as he can, and turns around before he can see where it lands.

 

There are three keys on the ring. All three of them are for the Knights building.

One to the exterior doors.

One to his dorm room on the second floor.

And one to the storage rooms in the basement.

He tucks the keychain into his pocket, goes back to cleaning.

It’s probably fine to vacuum two days in a row.

He needs to think.

He needs to plan.

He needs to make sure he has his fucking shit together for once in his life.

 

Ben has another appointment booked that evening. New client again, totally innocuous X profile. Based on the message the client had left, he just wants to fuck Ben in the ass, call him some trashy names, fuck Ben’s face, and then split, which is perfectly fine with Ben.

Ben cleans himself out again in the hotel room shower once he gets there, preliminarily lubes up just in case the client sucks, or doesn’t understand how butts work. Sticks a couple fingers up inside himself, bites into his own arm as he tries to pretend he’s not thinking of A. Hux.

It’s just for work.

It’s just that work is easier if he’s stretched out a bit.

It has nothing to do with anything else.

Nothing to do with anything else at all.

It’s just for work.

 

The client wants to tie Ben up. Usually Ben doesn’t allow that, but he’s been mostly hard for the last three hours, been thinking of A. Hux the entire time, really wants to get off more than he should considering that he’s working right now.

“Just your hands,” the client says, and usually Ben doesn’t allow that, but the client is short, pale, thin. Brown hair that’s trending toward red, and maybe if Ben squints, he looks a little like A. Hux, just a little like A. Hux.

Maybe this is close enough, maybe this is good enough.

Maybe this is all Ben is gonna get.

He lets the client hold his hands behind his back, wrists together. Usually, Ben doesn’t allow that.

“Good boy,” the client says. “Good boy,” and Ben feels it through his guts and into his dick. That thick throb of want, of desire. This is a fucking bad idea, this is a terrible idea, but Ben holds his hands together, remembers enough to keep them tense and slightly separated, but he still holds them together, holds them behind his back, lets himself be tied.

And it’s fine.

(It’s fine at first.)

It’s fine, because the client’s hand is on his head, brushing where Ben’s hair would be if he wasn’t wearing his Isolder mask, and it gives Ben space to think about A. Hux, and his hands wrapping hard in Ben’s hair, wrapping hard and twisting.

It’s fine, because Ben is on his knees and the client is rutting up hard against Ben’s back, and Ben thinks about A. Hux, and his short compact aerialist body pressing tight against Ben’s own.

It’s fine, because the client has moved around to the front, pulled his dick out, put a condom in Ben’s mouth for Ben to roll on. And he’s got a nice dick, thick and long, heavy against Ben’s tongue. It’s fine, because the client has his hands around the back of Ben’s head, wrapped around Ben’s mask. It’s fine, because the client is pulling him in close and thrusting his cock against Ben’s mask.

It’s great, because Ben loves deepthroating like this, loves being on his knees with a cock down his throat, would probably be able to get off just on this if he were able to free one of his hands and shove it down his own pants, touch his own dick a little, just a little, that’s all he needs is just a little—

sick fucking freak

The first time the client’s hands brush against the fastening on the back of Ben’s mask, he figures it’s an accident. Twitches his head a bit to move their hands, but otherwise keeps sucking cock like nothing is going wrong, because nothing is going wrong. Accidents happen. The lock is there, it’s statistically likely that people will hit it with their hands by accident. That’s why the lock is there in the first place.

The second time, he can feel their fingers actually tighten on the lock, and Ben shoves up aggressively with his shoulder, lets their dick pop out of his mouth while he ducks his head down, moving the closure for the mask away from their hands.

“Hey, stay away from that,” he says with his own voice, because of course the vocoder’s popped off for this, it has to be popped off so he can suck dick, that’s just how the fucking mask works.

It makes him vulnerable, to have to use his own voice.

He prefers the vocoder, how it flattens him out.

“Sorry,” the client says. “Sorry, sorry, babe. Come on, come on back.”

And Ben does. He opens his mouth for the client’s latex clad dick, and he swallows it back so that it’s touching the back of his throat, and he’s just getting into things again, just starting to moan into the client’s dick, when it happens again.

Pressure at the back of his mask, the client’s fingers scrabbling and pulling at the lock as he groans, thrusting into Ben’s mouth as he comes—

Ben spits the client’s dick out. “What the fuck—”

The client pulls back, startled, hands up by his face, and Ben rears up, takes a step, stumbles—

—and starts falling, which is fine, because he reaches out his hand to catch himself—

—and he can’t, because his fucking hands are tied behind his back.

He yanks, hard, and the rope doesn’t budge and he can’t pull his hands out and he’s falling, he’s fucking falling with his hands tied behind his back.

Ben’s face smashes into the endtable on the way down. There are bright lights flashing in his eyes, and the pain is so sudden it makes him feel sick, woozy.

The client is right there, rolling Ben onto his back. “Oh my god, are you okay? I’m so sorry, my hands twitched when I came—I can’t see into your mask, are you okay—”

Ben shuts his mouth, collects the scream that’s gathered behind his teeth and swallows it back. Rolls onto his side and holds his hands up behind his back, waits until the client has untied his hands—and fuck, do his wrists ever hurt from trying and failing to break the rope—and then reaches up and flips the vocoder back over his mouth.

“Fine,” he says. Flat and mechanical. Terse.

He still feels like screaming. Feels like punching something.

His face is fucking throbbing.

“I’ll be right back,” the client says. “Don’t go anywhere, holy fuck.”

His eye feels wet. Ben brings his hand up carefully, touches his cheekbone through the leather of the mask, the outside of his eye through the mesh. Nearly bites through his lip as he does it, pain flaring in his face, but when he looks at his fingers in the fluorescent lights of the hotel room, the wetness is from involuntary tears, not blood.

No stitches, then. Good.

 

Somehow, Ben finishes the appointment. Accepts the plastic bag of ice the client brings back from the dispenser in the hall. Assures the client he knows it was an accident, he knows they didn’t mean to touch the lock, he knows it was unintentional.

Ben promises that he’ll be okay. Says he won’t blacklist them as long as they don’t mention either the hand-tying or the injury. Ben watches the client’s shoulders sag with relief, and wishes he felt better about the whole thing.

He’s thankful for the years of experience he’s got doing this, because he’s somehow able to automatically say everything he needs to say and still sound sincere even though he’s upset. He’s upset at his own stupidity, he’s upset at himself for consenting to being tied. He’s upset at the client for having twitchy hands, he’s upset at himself for not having anticipated it.

He’s furious that a client who only looked vaguely like A. Hux distracted him to the point where he made fucked up decisions and got hurt because of it.

 

The client pays him double.

Ben wishes he’d stayed at home instead of working.

He doesn’t need the money this badly.

He needs to quit fucking things up.

 

Before he leaves the hotel room, Ben fills the sink up with cold water. Sticks his head in, hair floating around his face, and screams at the drain.

 

It doesn't help.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben’s face is a mess the next morning. His eye isn’t swollen completely shut, but that side of his face is heavily bruised—black-purple all around his eye, another bruise just as livid on his cheekbone. The white of his eye is shot through with blood, his eyelid is swollen, and the entire side of his face fucking aches.

Surprisingly, his vision is okay.

He stops in the bathroom. Flicks on the lights, takes a good long look at himself in the mirror. He looks like fucking hell.

He shaves and showers anyway. Washes his hair. Pulls on a clean tshirt and jeans. Doesn’t bother with underwear.

Lies on the couch.

Stares at the ceiling.

 

DAMNeron: you’re doing ok over there?

hashtagSOLO: all good, all good

DAMNeron: cuz I can ditch out of this thing if you need company

hashtagSOLO: ugh, no, i have that thing w han

hashtagSOLO: go 2 show 

hashtagSOLO: take notes for renos

hashtagSOLO: im fine.

hashtagSOLO: say hi to Snoke for me

hashtagSOLO: let me know if his health act. Looks declined

hashtagSOLO: suspect lies

DAMNeron: htf am I supposed to know

DAMNeron: he’s always looked like a corpse to me

hashtagSOLO: lol

DAMNeron: you sure you’re ok?

hashtagSOLO: i’m fine, poe

hashtagSOLO: i’m fine

 

He’s not fine.

 

He’s jittery, anxious. A fucking mess if he stops to think about it, so he doesn’t stop—just works out in his living room until his muscles are screaming, lies flat on his carpet and breathes, and then starts again. He’s self-conscious about his eye, his face, about how badly he fucked up yesterday. How fucking stupid it was to let the client tie him up, how much worse the damage could have been if he’d—fallen heavier, or in the wrong direction. He wants—

—fuck, he just wants to sit on his couch with Poe, let Poe pet his hair. Have a nap, because he didn’t sleep worth shit last night, stayed up worrying about how much worse it could have been, how much worse it almost was. But he can’t do that. He can’t ask for anything from Poe right now. He needs Poe to think that everything’s fine.

Ben needs Poe to get his ass over to the Knights show.

He needs everybody to be at the Citadel.

Preferably he needs people to make a spectacle, but there’s no way he can subtly get that to happen without giving his plan away.

Maybe Poe will just … make a spectacle on his own, though.

It’ll make things a lot easier if everyone is distracted.

 

Poe stops in unexpectedly, shoves a cigarette case into Ben’s hands before looking up at him. “Hey, buddy, I just wanted to—what the fucking hell happened to you?”

Ben flinches, looks away. “Bar fight,” he lies. “Last night.” He doesn’t need to fake his embarrassment, because he’s still fucking dying over it, can feel his ears burning. Clumsy fucking idiot.

“Shit, man.” Poe brings his fingers up to Ben’s face, hovers over the bruises without touching them. “That looks really bad. Your vision okay?”

“Yeah, it’s alright.” Ben gives Poe a lopsided grin. “To be honest, I kinda thought it’d be swollen shut today, so, uh, this is better than anticipated.”

“Listen, are you sure—”

“You’d best be telling me the bus is already outside, Poe.”

Poe sighs. “The bus is already outside. I was just kinda hoping—”

“The bus is outside and you’re gonna go get back on it?”

“The bus is—yeah. Yeah, Ben. I just needed to …”

“Say hi to flower boy for me,” Ben says. “Tell him he’s got terrible taste in flowers, and the next time he wants to apologize—”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“—he should get somebody else to pick the flowers out for him.”

“I’m just saying this is your last chance,” Poe says. “You can call it all off.”

“Apologize to three-bun girl while you’re at it.”

“You can—”

Go,” Ben says. “It’s cool. I’m gonna sleep off the rest of my hangover before I go to supper with Han.” He holds up the cigarette case. “Maybe smoke one of these, see if it makes things easier.”

“You don’t smell hungover,” Poe says, and his nose crinkles.

“I’m not a monster, Poe. I showered. I changed my clothes.” Ben grins again, tries to look convincing. “Come on, Poe. Get the fuck out, go have a good time with everybody else.” He physically turns Poe around, sends him back down the hall. “Go have fun.”

 

Seeing Poe makes it worse. Ben should be—Ben should be there with them. It’s been years since Ben’s gone out, and it … it would be a lot of fun to go with them, is all. Like the charity show, but—with less of Ben being a mess, more of—more of everybody hanging out together, drinking and laughing and cheering. He’s never had that that with the Resistance, not even before the thing with the Knights happened, and he’s never wanted to be out there with them before, but he—he wants that now. He wants it, and he can’t have it.

Ben strips off his clothes, runs the shower. Waits for it to warm up.

But then, the usual show they would go to isn’t a Knights show. And that makes everything—different, and bad.

It’s just that—he can imagine going. He can imagine showing up, and sitting in the audience in the fucking fancy theatre at the Citadel. Poe’s never been there, but Ben was there for years, and he knows exactly how comfortable the seats are, knows that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. He can imagine watching A. Hux perform, watching him climb the silks naked except instead of looking at it through BB’s camera—or his own shit-faced triple vision—Ben imagines it happening right in front of him, imagines craning his head so that he can watch A. Hux climb all the way to the ceiling, silks swirling around him.

His cock is hard.

He’s thinking about his old dorm room, wondering if it belongs to A. Hux now. Wondering if A. Hux is sleeping in Ben’s old bed.

He can think about that later, though.

After he gets home. He can—he can clean himself out now, he can queue up A. Hux’s video so it’s ready when he comes home, he can—he can jack off to it afterwards, after he’s done everything else, can lie on his couch and shove something up his ass and touch his dick and watch A. Hux perform and it’ll … it’ll be perfect.

He just has to get through this.

(if the mission isn’t a failure if you aren’t a failure if the things are still there where you left them if Snoke hasn’t destroyed them already if if if if)

He just has to get through this.

 

Ben brings his backpack with him, tosses his wallet and his keychain on top. Only realizes when he goes to pay for the rental car that he brought his sex backpack instead of his other backpack, but there’s no time to head back home, so he picks his wallet out of the pile of condoms it’s sitting in, and pays for the rental.

He sits in the driver’s seat for a few minutes in the parking lot, pretends he’s rummaging through his bag when he’s really just trying to breathe. The last time he was behind the wheel of the car it was the Falcon, and he wasn’t legal, and he … and he fucking ditched the thing in a rainstorm, whacked his head hard on the steering wheel.

Ben’s scared it’ll be like his bike, and it’ll just trigger something bad and self-destructive in his head the minute he revs it up—but when he turns the key and the engine quietly and gently turns over, he feels … okay.

He tries not to think of anything while he drives. Doesn’t count trees, doesn’t think about A. Hux, doesn’t think about Han or Leia or anything else about his life. Doesn’t worry about Poe. Just—he just drives. He’s a little headlight shy, a little nervous coming over some of the hills—but it’s fine. It’ll be okay. He can do this. He can do this.

He can do this.

 

Ben times it perfectly, parks a few blocks away from the Citadel at ten after eight. He’d been tempted to drive slowly by the front, make sure that everybody was inside like they were supposed to be—but he remembers the cameras, and doesn’t want to risk the rental vehicle showing up on any of them. He just has to hope that Snoke remains insistent that shows start on time and adhere to a schedule.

Even from this distance, Ben can see the building, looming up out of the fucking industrial area that surrounds it like a macabre gargoyle. The air seems heavier here, dense with something that Ben can’t explain or quantify, but he can feel the back of his neck prickling, can feel that itch up his spine.

Ben slings his backpack onto his back, locks the rental after making sure that it’s parked legally. He pulls his balaclava onto his head, keeps the edge of it rolled up so that it just looks like a toque. He wants a smoke, he desperately wants a smoke, but he can’t risk smelling like smoke or pot and giving himself away that way. He can’t risk anything dulling him out. Not until after he’s done. He needs to be as invisible as possible while he’s there. He needs to be subtle. He needs to be safe. He needs to be careful.

There’s a convenience store between his parking spot and the Citadel. Ben’s face aches, but there’s no time to go in for ice.

He can work through the pain until this is over.

He’s made it this far. It would be a shame to fuck it all up now.

 

The security cameras look like they haven’t been reconfigured since Ben lived here, which means if he’s careful about his entrance, he can show up on them as minimally as possible. He enters Citadel property on the south edge, because there’s a dead spot in the cameras out there, a spot where nothing is captured, a place where they used to hold initiations for new members, bring them into the troupe so that they would feel like they belonged, and if you lie in the grass at the exact right spot, there’s a perfect view of the stars up overhead without any buildings blocking the way and—

Ben keeps walking. Casually, like he belongs here. He’s got his balaclava pulled down over his face, his sunglasses on overtop of that. He’s on Citadel property. It’s not like big dudes wandering around in full face masks are uncommon. Even if he does get caught by the cameras, he looks exactly like he belongs.

The balaclava is fucking itchy. He should have used one of his Isolder masks, but if he does that, all plausible deniability is gone—and if he’s learned one thing from Han, it’s that he should always have some kind of escape plan. Just in case he needs it. The balaclava is terrible, though—hot and itchy and uncomfortable. His eye twitches and burns underneath it, the bruise on his cheekbone aches, and he stands still for too long or moves his head too fast, he can feel his heartbeat in his face.

He hates this.

Ben’s motorcycle boots swish through the wet grass as he approaches the back of the Citadel building. He’s close enough now to see some of the details of the building and—something looks weird. Something about the back door is different.

He keeps his sunglasses on until he gets right next to the building, but his gut is already twisting and sinking because the door looks different, the outside of the door is different, and if one thing is different it means everything could be different, it means he might not even be able to get in, it means he could have come all the way down here for nothing—

Ben carefully lifts his sunglasses up with one leather-clad finger, keeps his head tipped down.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

The lock on the side door has been replaced by a fingerprint scanner.

There’s no keyhole at all. There’s just a fucking fingerprint scanner.

Ben considers, briefly, just resting his finger on the sensor. Chances are at least fifty-fifty that he’s still got access, especially when Snoke figures he’ll be coming by tonight to pick up the heirlooms that Snoke mistakenly thinks he wants.

But if he scans his fingerprint—regardless of whether or not he has access—it’ll send out some kind of alert. It’ll let Snoke know that he’s here. And, show or no show, Ben figures that isn’t going to fly. If he knew where he was going, if he had a fucking hope in hell of knowing where his stuff was, it might be okay—but he doesn’t know. And he can’t risk it.

He curses softly, and starts circling the building, sticking close to the walls.

 

There’s a new concrete barrier by the basement exit on the east side. Good, because it doesn’t look like the security cameras have been adjusted to account for it. Bad, because it means the drop from ground level down to the basement door is a good four feet longer than it normally is.

Ben does the drop anyway, jars his ankle as he lands, but not enough to cause any permanent damage. Gets his cellphone out once he’s safely in the stairwell, flips on the flashlight—and it looks like there’s a fucking keyhole on the door.

Holy fucking shit, there’s a keyhole on the door.

Ben digs out his keyring, gets the external key halfway into the lock before it jams. Ben tries the key again just in case—and then shoves the keyring into his pocket. Takes his glove off with his teeth and digs around until he finds the extra bobbypins he usually has stashed in his jacket.

The lock is stiff, and he breaks off the tip of one of the pins inside it, can’t fish it out—but he’s able to get the door open.

It doesn’t matter how sloppy his technique is. The important part is the part where he gets it open.

Ben unzips his jacket, cleans his fingerprints off the door with his tshirt. Steps inside, and lets the door shut behind him.

He’s in.

 

The basement of the Citadel is much as Ben remembers it—long hallways, poorly lit. He remembers being down here with the other Knights, blasted out of their minds on whatever narcotic or hallucinogen they were experimenting with that week. Remembers how the hallways would stretch infinitely, and there had always been too many doors to count, too many rooms to get into. They had designed entire dance pieces based on falling down rabbit holes, traveling through inescapable hallways, walking through doors that didn’t lead anywhere. Every single piece they’d done had been built on a drug-induced trip that they’d been on, and they’d developed so many pieces.

Now that Ben’s here again, and he’s stone-cold sober, it’s just a bunch of hallways.

The sound is still fucked up, though. His own footsteps echo further than what he wants them to, so Ben walks slower and slower, trying to make himself as quiet as possible. He’d take off his boots if he was confident in his ability to get what he needed and get out without being caught, but it’s too early in the game for him to feel good about that yet, and he doesn’t want to have to bolt out of here in his sock feet.

He can hear the show from upstairs. Not much—not the way that sound travels at their studio—but just the faint hints of bass, music played from an entire floor away. There’s enough sound filtering down that he’s comforted knowing nobody else will be down here. Everybody will be upstairs, either in the theatre itself, or in one of the rehearsal halls warming up. Snoke always knows where everybody is—and everyone is always in their places.

There’s no reason for anybody to be downstairs, especially during a show.

Ben has time. Not much, but … but hopefully enough.

He pulls out his keys as he approaches the first storage room. Flips to the correct key, slides it into the lock, and—

—it turns.

The storage room keys haven’t been changed.

Ben opens the door.

 

The first storage room is paperwork. Boxes and boxes of it, all the financials and documentation for the Citadel going back for years. Security footage on multiple different types of media—tapes and discs, all labeled by year and month and date and location and—

It’s too overwhelming for Ben to think about. He’s in this footage so much, he’ll be fucking everywhere in this footage, and he just—he can’t, he can’t, so he tries not to, just walks through the room to make sure that all that’s in here is paperwork, and leaves as soon as he’s sure.

Goes to the next storage room, opens the door. Starts the entire process over again.

 

Ben’s been through four storage rooms by the time it’s nine thirty, and he hasn’t found a goddamn thing. He’s getting tight on time—even with a long intermission, even with the long show lengths that Snoke favours, he hasn’t got more than an hour, and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s only got thirty minutes. He thinks there are seven storage rooms in total, but he can’t fucking remember because he’s never been down here sober before.

He’s got his key in the door of the fifth storage room when he hears something. It’s faint, and he wonders if he’s imagined it. If he’s getting paranoid because he’s been down here so long. If Snoke suspects that Ben is down here, because Ben is stupid to think that he can have this, that he can pull this one over on Snoke, an idiot to think that he can actually win at something when he’s up against Snoke—

The sound happens again.

It might be footsteps, might not be footsteps.

Ben turns the key in the lock. Opens the door carefully with his gloved hand, and slips inside the fifth storage room. He keeps his hand on the door so that it will shut quietly behind him, rather than risking letting it slam.

There’s a muffled bang that sounds as though it’s coming from upstairs.

But Ben’s inside the storage room.

It doesn’t matter.

It especially doesn’t matter when Ben looks around. At first glance, it looks like all the others—one long aisle of space in the middle, and shelving units on either side, stacked high with wardrobe boxes, shoe boxes, plastic totes. There’s a couple of collapsible tables at the back of the room, surrounded by mannequins wearing—

—mannequins wearing Kylo Ren’s masks. Mannequins wearing Kylo Ren’s costume pieces. Mannequins holding Kylo Ren’s swords.

This is it.

This is fucking it.

Ben has found the room with his shit in it.

He takes his hand off the door, leaves the fucking thing to close itself, and heads for the back of the room.

Tries to breathe.

 

It’s all here.

It’s all fucking here—all the stuff that Ben had expected to see in the storage locker is all here.

It’s not gone forever. Snoke didn’t burn it, he didn’t throw it away. He kept it—every single thing that Kylo Ren had ever owned is here.

Ben trails his hands over the boxes that contain Kylo Ren’s shoe collection—heels, sneakers, flats. A couple sets of pointe shoes when he’d gone through a ballet phase, and then just as quickly remembered why he’d hated ballet as a kid. Combat boots. Multiple long flat containers that store all his sword-swallowing gear, including the neon tubes that he’d hoped to perform with the previous week. Boxes and boxes and boxes of underwear. An entire wardrobe full of capes and cowls. At least three bins stuffed full with masks in addition to the ones displayed on the mannequins.

(He can’t remember whether the mannequins are wearing the same costumes as they’d been wearing when he had had them on display upstairs, but he supposes it doesn’t really matter. Everything about the last time he was here is such a blur, his memories fuzzy on the edges and missing in patches and—)

There are obvious gaps in the storage, places where boxes have been removed or pulled from the shelves, dug through and replaced haphazardly. Ben figures that’s where the family heirlooms Snoke is holding hostage were stored.

But those aren’t what Ben’s after.

Ben walks all the way to the back of the room. Takes a picture of the way everything is laid out, and then moves one of the tables to the back wall, pulls the other one forward into the aisle so that he can get at the wardrobe in the back. It’s the largest wardrobe in the room, and he just wants to … just wants to see. Just to look, just for a moment. He knows he doesn’t have time to waste, but part of him wonders …

—oh, and these clothes are so much nicer than anything that he has now. He touches one of the pieces cautiously—a long set of pants covered in rhinestones, a complicated pattern of deep red and black and midnight blue that seems to move and shift when the light catches it. The matching vest that went with it is hanging there too, the tails on the back so long they fell almost to the backs of his knees. There was a mask that went with this one too, he remembers, but the mask must be somewhere else. The fabric is expensive, and it flows over his fingers like water, the rhinestones so small they don’t make the fabric stiff at all.

This isn’t the only outfit in the wardrobe. There’s got to be—ten, fifteen outfits, just in this wardrobe. Each of them would have cost somewhere in the low four figures.

Ben pushes the rhinestoned outfit aside.

There’s something weird at the back of the wardrobe. Something behind the wardrobe, pushing the back of the wardrobe inwards. Something with a corner.

Ben zips the wardrobe closed again, snaps a picture of the positioning, and drags it aside. The feet of the wardrobe drag on the concrete, and Ben winces—but he doesn’t need to drag it far before he’s able to get in behind it to see what’s causing the problem.

It’s a completely unlabelled plastic tote, scuffed on the sides, and buried underneath multiple boxes of paperwork. The tote had been turned—or pulled—at a forty-five degree angle, which explains why it was pressing at the back of the wardrobe. Ben snaps a picture of how everything is arranged, and then carefully pulls the other boxes away from it. Drags it out onto the floor.

Holds his breath when he opens it.

Almost immediately lets his breath out in a huff of silent laughter, because he knows exactly what’s in the shoebox on top, and he’s more than a little amused by the fact that Snoke—or one of Snoke’s designates—had to pack up Ben’s sex toys from his dorm room.

Ben carefully opens the box with his gloved hand, flips through the items in there. Everything that he really enjoyed he’s already replaced—and he’s got no desire to retrieve sex toys that have been sitting dormant in a box for years, touched by who the fuck knows who.

The second box is sex toys as well. Ben sets it aside, on top of the first.

The third box is expired condoms, expired dental dams, gloves still in their packages. Ben can’t remember if Snoke had actively discouraged barriers, or if Kylo Ren had just decided not to use them. Probably best not to think too much about it, though. He doesn’t remember the details, and there’s no use trying.

There is a velvet bag shoved in the third box, buried by loose condoms. Ben digs it out, loosens the ties. Four half-full bottles of lube, one of which has been slowly leaking into the bag. Ben grimaces, wipes his lube-covered hand on his pants.

The bottom third of the tote is all papers covered with Ben’s handwriting. Notes he had taken on pieces he’d worked on, notes he’d taken on technique he was researching, notes he’d taken—

—ugh, notes he’d taken on particular drug cocktails they’d been experimenting with.

Can’T thinK TOO weLl on this

 brain hurts

Ben shoves the papers aside, forces himself to think about something else. Something else. Something else. Like—

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

—underneath the papers, there’s a stash of fabric. Some of it’s been irregularly handstitched together, some of it is just cut out pattern pieces, notched and ready to sew together, but not yet assembled. He thinks that what he’s looking for is under this—he hopes that what he’s looking for is under this—

There are books underneath the fabric. History books. Books on language. Come on, come on. Books in Latin, books in Bocce, books in Ancient Greek and a couple in Huttese that he’d forgotten he owned.

He almost fucking misses it, because he’d forgotten how slim it is, but he sees the bright blue of the spine, and snaps it up from the bottom of the tote.

Historical Romances of the Ancient Peoples in the Context of Modern Times: A Collection of Essays, Part I. It’s fucking boring—the couple of times Ben’s tried to read it, he’s fallen asleep during—but it’s supposed to be boring. It’s supposed to be boring because—

—Ben strips his gloves off and shoves them in his pocket, carefully opens the book—

—right at the back index, where the back cover is just slightly thicker than it should be, if he carefully peels the endpapers back …

Sitting between the endpapers and the hardcover, wrapped in tissue paper so old it’s brittle, are a set of his grandmother’s earrings. Long silver drop chains with a polished hematite bead at the end of the chain. They are unharmed, untouched, just as beautiful as they’d been the day that he had bought them at auction—and Snoke didn’t know.

Snoke didn’t know that Ben wanted them, Snoke didn’t know that Ben valued them, and so—

—and so Ben’s grandfather’s items—and fuck Anakin, fuck his memory, fuck what he did—are upstairs, and Ben’s grandmother’s earrings are right here, exactly where Ben had left them, and he—

—he has them back again.

He can take them home.

 

Ben swallows hard.

He doesn’t have time for feelings right now.

 

He carefully wraps the earrings back up in tissue paper, slides them back inside the book. Tucks the book into his backpack, close to the bottom so it’s protected.

Ben turns back to the tote, puts his feelings away at the same time that he puts everything else away. He doesn’t have time to sit here in the basement of the Knights and cry about having found the one fucking thing that actually mattered to him.

He checks his phone. It’s—fuck, it’s getting close to ten. Snoke’s shows run long, but Ben’s cutting it really close here. He needs to get the fuck out of the building before the show is actually finished.

Ben puts the tote back where it was, drags the wardrobe back in front of it. Picks up his backpack and sets it by the table he’d dragged over to the side. He’s just looking at the stack of boxes, comparing it to the photo he’d taken earlier, making sure everything matches, when there’s a slight creak from behind him.

From the front of the storage room.

Ben freezes, but nothing happens. No other sounds, no nothing, and—

—and that’s fine. It’s a weird building, buildings make weird noises, there’s nothing unusual about that—

—except that Ben thinks he can hear someone else breathing.

There’s no point in Ben trying to pretend he’s invisible. He’s a big guy in a motorcycle jacket and a balaclava standing in direct line of sight of the door. “I’m on the way out,” he says. He carefully holds his hands out to the side, palms open. “I’m not armed.”

“I am,” comes the clipped reply. The voice is strange and new to Ben—and yet, somehow—shit—bone-chillingly familiar.

Ben’s face is hot, his balaclava suddenly suffocating him. His sunglasses are perched on top of his head and he wishes they were down over his face, because he’s got no protection, no protection at all. There’s only one way into the storage room, there’s only one way out of the storage room. Ben is standing at one end of the room, and he’s pretty fucking sure that he knows exactly who is standing at the other.

“A. Hux?”

There’s a muffled—thing that isn’t a laugh from the other end of the room. “That’s not my name.”

Of course. It wasn’t going to be easy, Ben fucking knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but … he’d prepared for getting caught by Snoke.

He hadn’t thought, not even for a moment, that he’d get caught by the guy he’s been constructing elaborate masturbation fantasies about for the last three weeks.

“It’s the name on your business card,” Ben says evenly.

Silence.

“Turn around.”

It doesn’t sound optional. Ben moves slowly, keeps his hands at his sides, and open. He plans to keep his eyes down on the ground, plans to keep staring at his feet because that feels safest, that feels least confrontational, that feels like the best option, but his fucking traitor body doesn’t listen to his brain, and he raises his eyes anyway, looks down the row of storage shelves to the door at the entrance to the room.

It’s definitely A. Hux. Red hair slicked tight to his head, pale skin, narrowed eyes. He’s wearing a white silk robe, loosely belted, that reaches just past his knees. His mouth is twisted and his face is tight and—

Something in Ben’s brain clicks, and his imagination is flooded with images, all the stuff he’s been imagining since he saw that fucking performance at the charity show, and he wishes he’d never gone, he fucking wishes to hell that he had never gone to the fucking thing, had just stayed home and gotten plastered there and passed out on his own couch like a normal person because then he wouldn’t be—he wouldn’t be standing here staring at A. Hux like a fucking idiot and—

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

come here, pretty boy, give me your mouth

sick fucking freak

Ben’s mouth is a desert, and his chest is in a vice, breathing getting shallower and shallower. Fuck fuck fuck.

His heart is pounding.

The floor feels suddenly unsteady under his feet.

“Take off that fucking thing,” A. Hux snaps. His voice is sharp and vicious and pointed. “I want to see your face.”

The door to the storage room is still open.

“You’ve seen my face,” Ben mumbles. His tongue is too thick to enunciate properly.

“Never the whole thing.” A. Hux shifts, and his white silk robe slips down his shoulder, exposing his collarbone. There’s a white strip of fabric hanging loose around his neck and Ben realizes it must be his blindfold, that A. Hux must be the finale of the show, that it’s—

—that it’s the same fucking piece as it was at the charity show three weeks ago. The same fucking piece and—

—Ben can’t see A. Hux’s hands due to the length of his sleeves.

Ben’s own hand is clammy when he touches his neck, and the knit of the balaclava is scratchy against his fingertips. He hooks the edge, pulls it up over his head.

Distantly, he hears his sunglasses clattering to the floor. His ears are burning, and his face is hot. He is completely exposed under A. Hux’s stony glare. Ben wants to say something—he should say something—but all he can think about is how bad his face looked in the mirror this morning, all bruised and fucked up.

If he says something, he’s got a chance in hell at getting the situation under control, getting the upper hand, getting out without getting caught. He opens his mouth to say I knew it was you or stand aside, I’m leaving or even I think you’re bluffing about the weapon.

A. Hux’s tongue darts out, wets his lips.

Ben’s brain shortcircuits.

“Well, well, well.” A. Hux’s voice is brittle, a teacup shattered into shards.

Ben is okay, Ben is okay, Ben is okay—and then A. Hux swallows.

Ben watches A. Hux’s throat move. Imagines that throat twitching around his cock and he realizes he’s starting to get hard, has to force himself not to move his hand, not to palm himself even though he wants to, he fucking wants to, he—

“Kyyyyyy-lo.” Emphasis on the first syllable, dragged out so long it’s obscene.

There’s a sing-song tone to A. Hux’s voice now, and it’s something that Ben never would have imagined, not in a million years.

Ben is drowning.

A. Hux brings his hand up. Every single movement he makes is deliberate, choreographed just for Ben. A. Hux lifts his arm in slow motion, the white silk sleeve of his robe sliding down to his elbow. The muscles on A. Hux’s forearm shift as he rotates and Ben wishes he wasn’t standing so far away, wishes he could see the minute details better, wishes he could—

A. Hux shuts the door to the storage room so quietly that the door closing is inaudible. Rests his fingers on the deadbolt.

He hasn’t taken his eyes away from Ben, not once, and his gaze makes Ben feel as though he has been splayed out and pinned to a spreading board, dried and magnified under A. Hux’s oddly colourless eyes.

The snick of the deadbolt being turned echoes through the room.

 

A. Hux is staring at him, and it makes Ben’s skin crawl, like someone is dragging a pinwheel across his back. He tries not to shiver, but it sneaks out anyway. He hopes that A. Hux is far enough away that he doesn’t notice, but quickly realizes that it’s irrelevant, because A. Hux is moving, A. Hux is walking toward him, bare feet whispering on the concrete floor, and Ben’s got no fucking poker face, no ability to be subtle when he doesn’t have sunglasses or a mask or anything to hide behind. His face is just—his face is just out there, exposed.

A. Hux is honing in on him like a shark, and Ben is flayed right open, bleeding.

“You’re bigger than I expected,” A. Hux says casually. His body is languid and relaxed, but he’s covering the distance between them much faster than he should be, much faster than Ben thought he would, and Ben realizes that he’s miscalculated.

“So are you,” Ben says, and his voice is hoarse. Ben has been masturbating for weeks to visions of a shorter man, a man closer to Poe’s size but muscled in that lithe, compact way that dancers with builds like the aerialist are muscled—and now that they are in the same room, are only a matter of steps apart from each other, Ben is realizing that A. Hux is easily Ben’s height, A. Hux is much taller than Ben had envisioned.

(A. Hux is far more dangerous-looking then Ben had hoped.)

well well well

and

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

“Somebody fucked up your face,” A. Hux says in that near-sing-song, and he sounds almost—

—he sounds almost pleased, but that can’t be right.

That can’t be a thing.

Ben refuses to believe it’s a thing, refuses to believe that there are any similarities whatsoever between the fantasy A. Hux he has been masturbating to, the fictitious character that Ben has completely fucking made up, and the very real, very sharp-looking man that stands before him now in a white silk robe, smelling of mint and disinfectant and—something that reminds Ben of sex, but that can’t be right, that can’t be right, he fucking made that up, he made it up, why is this happening to him when he made the entire thing up

“What happened to you, Kylo?”

Bar fight, Ben wants to say. He plans to open his mouth and he plans to lie, and A. Hux is going to laugh at him for being the kind of guy that gets into bar fights and loses, but it seems important to explain, it seems important to give context to this—this thing that has happened to fuck up Ben’s face. It seems important to explain, but his tongue is so dry and A. Hux is getting so close to him, has closed the entire distance between them, and Ben knows he must look fucking stupid right now, slack-jawed and vacant, it’s just that—A. Hux is standing right next to him, A. Hux is breathing Ben’s air, A. Hux has cheekbones that could carve glass, A. Hux—

—would probably appreciate it if Ben told the truth, admitted that he’d been tied up and masked and wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t keeping track of what was happening around him, and—

—and Ben should not have spent this much time masturbating to that fucking video because his dick is so fucking hard right now, and if A. Hux brushes against him, if A. Hux gets that close to Ben, there will be no hiding, there will be no explaining this as anything other than what it is. Ben needs A. Hux to keep staring at Ben’s face, at Ben’s black eye, at whatever A. Hux is finding so fascinating about Ben’s mouth, because that prevents him from looking down, prevents him from seeing the hard thrust of Ben’s cock against his black jeans.

A. Hux doesn’t look down, but his face is—his eyes are—what the fuck is he doing? The quick little flick-flick of A. Hux’s eyes is starting to drive Ben mad, because he doesn’t know what the fuck A. Hux could possibly be looking at, but he keeps doing it, his eyes keep moving across Ben’s face, flick-flick, flick-flick, flick-flick, and Ben can’t tell if he’s cataloging Ben’s face or if he’s fixated on Ben’s eyes or Ben’s mouth or Ben’s ears or Ben’s nose—

“Does it hurt?”

“I—”

A. Hux steps forward.

Closes the gap between them.

A. Hux’s fingers are resting on Ben’s cheekbone. Right underneath the bruise.

Ben has spent weeks imagining A. Hux’s skin as cold, a cool, corpse-like contrast to the way that Poe burns like fire underneath him. A. Hux’s actual fingertips are warm, and they are resting on Ben’s skin, and Ben is—

A. Hux bends his fingers, keeps his fingertips against Ben’s cheek and rolls his knuckles up into the bruise of Ben’s black eye. Pain flares in Ben’s face and he sucks in his breath involuntarily, lets the pain coil down his spine into his stomach, lets the pain wrap around his dick like an imaginary hand and squeeze. By the time he blinks the pain away, eyes watering, A. Hux has moved, and is standing next to the shelves.

A. Hux has turned completely away from Ben.

If it weren’t for the sparks still flashing in Ben’s vision, Ben would think that nothing had happened at all, that he had imagined the entire thing.

But the pain was real. The involuntary tears that he’s still blinking away are real.

His hardon, shoved up against his jeans, foreskin grating on his zipper, is real.

“You haven’t texted since Sunday,” A. Hux says.

Facing away from Ben like this means A. Hux has given Ben free reign to look at him all he wants, and so Ben starts by looking at the back of A. Hux’s neck, and the loose slump of the robe over A. Hux’s shoulders, follows the flow of the silk down to where the belt sags around A. Hux’s narrow hips, the silk pouring past his hips down over his ass and then suddenly terminating right below his knees, and—

—oh, bloody hell, A. Hux’s feet are bare and beat up, feet in fourth position so that Ben can see the bruises across the tops of A. Hux’s feet. There’s a scabbed-over cut on his left ankle, the remnants of an ugly blister on his right heel.

“I assumed you’d lost interest in—whatever this is you think we have,” A. Hux continues.

“A—”

“Hux,” the aerialist says tightly. “Address me that way, or don’t address me at all.”

Ben swallows. “You have my number,” he says, and his voice is steady, thank fuck. “You could text.” It’s the first halfway intelligent thing he’s said, and it’s going to let him get on top of this conversation, it’s going to let him get ahead of things, it’s going to let him wrest control of this encounter back, and—

Hux completely ignores that Ben has even said anything, reaches up with his perfect fine-boned hands and grabs onto one of the supports for the shelving. Rises up onto his tiptoes, fucking stretches into it like a fucking cat and Ben is—

—fuck, Ben doesn’t even know anymore. He doesn’t even know what the fuck he is supposed to do or how the fuck he should react. He’s still looking at Hux’s feet and he can see the soles of them now, discolored from dust, and Ben wants to lave his tongue over them, dust and dirt and bruises and scabs be damned and—and Ben tries to force himself to look somewhere else, so he looks up but now he can’t stop staring at Hux’s hands where they grasp the vertical supports of the shelves and—

—and Ben wonders if Hux touches his cock with that same steady grip, is just as perfunctory with his own self-pleasure as he has been with this entire conversation—

Hux lets go of the shelving, brushes his hands against each other, dry skin whispering secrets that Ben can’t hear. His heels are touching the floor again.

He picks up his previous thread of conversation as though Ben hadn’t spoken at all. “What do you think we have, Kylo? I’m curious.”

Ben calculates the risks.

The odds aren’t good.

The odds are very, very bad, actually.

Cataclysmically bad.

His best option is going to be bodychecking A. Hux into the shelving, grabbing his backpack, and getting the fuck out of the Citadel before Snoke gets down here.

He doesn’t know how much longer the show is going to run, but it can’t be much longer.

It can’t be much longer at all.

Ben is running out of time, and he needs to not get caught here. He needs to get back to his rental car and back to his house, needs to be back long enough for his cover story (supper with Han, but then he never showed, what the fuck) to be legit, and—

—yeah, that’s definitely going to be his best option. Bodycheck A. Hux into the shelving. Escape. Bodycheck A. Hux into the shelving. Escape.

Bodycheck A. Hux into the shelving.

Escape.

 

Ben kneels.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben doesn’t go down gracefully.

He means to, but that’s not what happens.

Ben goes down heavy, knees crashing to the floor of the storage room, pain flaring up through them when he lands. His instinct is to tip his head down, look at the floor like he should, like he’s supposed to, look at the floor like come here, pretty boy, give me your mouth but he doesn’t want to miss anything. If—when—this doesn’t work out, Ben’s kneeling has put him at a massive disadvantage. Kneeling means he’s thrown away his ability to get the fuck out of this room before the show is over. He’ll have to weave through audience members on his way back to the car, he’ll have to hope he doesn’t run into anyone from the Resistance, he’ll have to—

Hux turns his head without shifting his body, looks at Ben over his shoulder.

The smile that flashes quickly across his mouth is sharp, tight, and everything that Ben Organa has ever wanted. It lights up Hux’s face briefly, and then transforms into something that is all teeth, sharp-white and brilliant.

Dangerous.

Ben feels like he’s staring, like Hux’s mouth is his entire world, like it’s not physically possible to look anywhere else—and then, Hux turns away from him again.

“Oh, Kylo,” Hux says. “Kylo, Kylo.”

His hands are in front of his body where Ben can’t see them.

Ben is waiting, his cock hard and hot, his heart hammering in his throat. This is a bad idea. This is such a bad idea. This is—

Hux’s silk robe slides off his shoulders—

—puddles on the floor at his feet.

Ben can’t breathe.

Hux is naked.

Hux is completely fucking naked.

And he’s … he’s fucking built. Heavily muscled calves, strong thighs, shoulders and back well-defined, and his ass—

Ben remembers a flat ass from BB’s video, and he has never been happier to be wrong in his entire life because Hux’s ass is perfect, round and tight and muscled and Ben wants to bite him wants to grab him wants to lick him wants—

—wants to know if Hux’s pale, pale skin is going to mark if Ben touches him, if the faint dusting of freckles trailing up his back and over his shoulders continues onto his chest, if his balls are just as hairless and smooth as the rest of him and Ben wants—

—oh, Ben wants so many things right now. He wants A. Hux towering over him like this, naked and glorious, he wants A. Hux’s cock in his mouth, he wants to stay here kneeling on this cold concrete floor for the rest of the night. His heart is pounding so hard in his chest he can hardly hear anything else, is scared he’ll miss the next thing Hux says. Something is trembling against Ben’s thighs, and he realizes that it’s his hands, his hands are shaking. Ben presses them against his legs to try and still them, sits back on his heels.

Hux reaches up to the blindfold hanging loosely around his neck, plucks it from his body. Extends his arm back toward Ben without turning around. “Put this on.”

There’s no shape to the blindfold or anything, it’s just a long strip of fabric. The blindfold Hux had worn at the charity event had been the same blue-purple colour as the silks, but this blindfold—this blindfold is a white so pure it’s almost glowing.

“I don’t want to,” Ben says.

“I don’t care,” Hux says, “about so many of the things that you tell me, Kylo.” He takes a deep breath, and the muscles in his back shift under his skin. Exhales. “I won’t repeat myself.”

Ben is in control. Ben is in control. Ben is in control.

“Ten seconds,” Ben says, and his voice only shakes a little. “I’ll close my eyes for ten seconds.” He doesn’t wait for confirmation, just shuts his eyes and starts counting. Shifts his hands until they’re over his crotch so he can adjust himself a little, so he can cover himself. (He doesn’t know if he wants A. Hux to look or if he wants him not to look, if he is—excited or nervous or—fuck, he’s so hard, he’s so hard and it’s so early—) Ben shouldn’t have worn jeans, because they are far too tight, because his dick is pressed against the zipper, because the sharp teeth of it are digging into his foreskin. “If you don’t care about the things I tell you, all you had to do is tell me to stop texting.”

“I did tell you to stop texting.” Hux is moving to Ben’s right, bare feet whispering across the concrete floor. “Right at the very beginning. You didn’t listen.”

“You could have told me again.” Ben opens his eyes. He is staring at shelving, at boxes, at the stark white blindfold and the pool of A. Hux’s silk robe on the dusty floor. The robe is almost close enough for him to reach out and touch.

He wonders how it would feel against his fingertips.

Wonders if it would smell like Hux.

“Would you have listened the second time?” Hux is directly behind Ben now, and his warm breath is ghosting across Ben’s ear even though Ben can’t otherwise feel him.

“Yes,” Ben breathes.

“Well,” Hux says. “It’s a good thing I didn’t, isn’t it. Because then I wouldn’t have this.” A. Hux presses his fingertips against the waistband of Ben’s pants. Pauses.

(His touch is—hard and firm and rough and Ben wants to press back into it until he can feel Hux’s entire palm against his back, wants to ruck up his shirt so that Hux’s skin is touching Ben’s and—)

Hux walks his fingers up Ben’s back, the pressure of his fingertips firm and steady. Step-step-step over Ben’s leather jacket, draaaaaaag across Ben’s neck, step-step-step through his hair. “And I deserve this,” Hux says, so soft it’s only audible because his mouth is touching Ben’s ear, because his tongue is right next to Ben’s earlobe. “Just. This. One. Time.” Hux presses his tongue against Ben’s ear for a moment before withdrawing it completely. “Don’t you agree, Kylo?”

“Yes,” Ben says. He is empty, he is waiting, he is ready, he is so ready. The top of his ear—the place Hux’s tongue had just been—is over-sensitive and hot.

Hux sighs behind him, drags his fingers back to Ben’s neck, presses them in against Ben’s skin. Hooks them underneath the collar of Ben’s tshirt. His voice has gone flat again, perfunctory. Bored. “Where’s your twinky boyfriend, Kylo?”

It takes Ben the space of four breaths—and those breaths are tight because Hux is yanking the collar of his shirt back now, twisting it in his hand—to realize that Hux must be referring to Poe. “He’s not my—”

Hux lets go of Ben’s shirt, slides his hand between Ben’s tshirt and his motorcycle jacket, hand moving across Ben’s shoulder. “I’ve seen your lock screen. Before you wiped your old phone. Sprawled out half-naked on a bed, sheet hardly covering you, tiny boyfriend lounging on your chest. Anyone could have seen that smut, Kylo. Lock screens are public.” Hux’s chest is suddenly pressed against Ben’s back and Ben regrets his jacket, he regrets his shirt, he regrets wearing clothing at all when Hux is so fucking naked and Ben can’t even feel any of it.

“So,” Hux says, and there is something vicious in his voice. “Where is he? Is he upstairs?”

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

you can bring it to more parties if you want

“Yes,” Ben says. “But he’s not my boyfriend.” Ben swallows. He wants to turn his head, suck Hux’s fingers into his mouth. Let Hux cram his hand in there until Ben gags on it. “We fuck, we’re not exclusive.”

Hux’s other hand is on Ben’s left shoulder, under his jacket, under his tshirt, and right against Ben’s skin. “Mmmm,” he says, and he shifts forward, leaning his weight up against Ben’s back. Presses his chin into Ben’s collarbone. Moves his hands from Ben’s shoulders down his chest.

His cheekbone is pressed against Ben’s face, and Ben keeps his head forward and he waits.

“Does he know you’re here?”

“No,” Ben says. “I’m—I’m fucking trespassing, people not knowing is the point.”

I know,” Hux says, and he skates his hands from Ben’s chest down to Ben’s abs, grabs the hem of Ben’s shirt in his left hand and twists, pulls it up so that he can caress Ben’s stomach with his right. His fingers are longer than they have any right to be, his palms rough and ridged with calluses. “Are you going to get off knowing that he’ll watch me perform later? He won’t know that I had my hands all over you, should I pass him a note before I perform? Just to make sure he’s caught up with … current events.”

Ben swallows.

“I found you,” Hux says, and his voice has dropped to a near-whisper. “You were trespassing, and I caught you.” He turns his head, flicks his tongue out against Ben’s ear again, murmurs something that Ben doesn’t catch. Drags his fingertips across Ben’s abs, then curls his fingers and scrapes his short nails across Ben’s skin.

Ben shudders. He can’t get enough air, but he can’t coordinate himself enough to—pant, or move, or do anything that would make this easier.

Hux’s hands keep moving. His left hand skims up Ben’s chest to his nipple, pinches it between his thumb and forefinger. His grip is brutal, tight and unrelenting. Hux’s right hand stays on Ben’s abs, running his fingertips over them. He’s whispering something, but it’s not to Ben, because it’s too quiet to hear, and all Ben gets is fragments of deserve this and so good and just once and enough time and Ben’s head is spinning because he’s been thinking about this for so long but he didn’t think it would be tonight, he didn’t think it would be tonight, it’s almost too much and they haven’t even done anything yet but what if this is all they have what if this is—

whatkindofpersondoyouthinkiam

Ben gasps as Hux twists his nipple with one hand, digs the nails of his other into Ben’s stomach.

“Prove it,” Ben says, and the words are coming out all jumbled but he has to keep talking, he has to get it out. “Prove it’s me, you said, what did you—ah, fuck, fuck—what did you mean?” Ben is going to die under the weight of his motorcycle jacket, is going to sweat to death and suffocate. He needs this to result in sex and he’s starting to worry that it’s not going to, he needs this to end with Hux’s cock up his ass but he can’t even feel Hux’s dick pressed against him and for all he knows, this isn’t a sexual thing for Hux, this is just—cruelty or sadism or—“Hux, please.”

“I asked, and you ignored me.” There’s a brief moment when Hux’s right hand ducks down to the waistband of Ben’s pants, almost grabs hold of Ben’s belt loop—but then he stops, breathes heavily in Ben’s ear. “You ignored me. You ignored me and you texted me—tell me what you texted me, Kylo.”

“I don’t—”

“Tell me what you texted me.”

“Fuck,” Ben says. “Fuck, fuck, it was something about the girl—”

“’What about the girl with the buns’,” Hux says, his mockery of Ben’s voice a slow uneven drawl. “’She seems nice’.”

“I’m sorry,” Ben says. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know about the—”

Hux hooks his fingers around one of Ben’s belt loops, his breath hot and warm in Ben’s ear. “I don’t know why I tolerate that kind of stupidity from you.”

Hux’s left hand isn’t on Ben’s nipple anymore, and Ben doesn’t know what he’s doing with it, if he’s touching himself behind Ben’s back where Ben can’t see, if he’s going to get himself off without even letting Ben see what he looks like—Ben wants to see, he hasn’t seen anything except Hux’s back and it was his entire world when he was looking at it but he wants more now he wants more he wants more he wants—

“I’m sorry, I’m fucking sorry,” Ben gasps when Hux lets go of his belt loop, drags his hand back up to Ben’s chest and pinches the skin over his collarbone. “H-hux, for fuck’s sake, would you just touch me, please.”

“I am touching you.”

“No,” Ben snaps, and he whips his left hand up, captures Hux’s right wrist, and shoves Hux’s hand down, thrusts his erection up into Hux’s palm. Arches back against Hux’s chest. “Fucking touch me, Hux, I’m fucking serious. We don’t have time—”

Hux doesn’t react to Ben’s cock, doesn’t react to the feel of it against his hand, just twists his wrist and breaks Ben’s grip, hisses something unintelligible into Ben’s ear.

“What?”

“You only get this once,” Hux says, chest pressed up against Ben’s back. “You only get me once, don’t you want it to be good?”

“I don’t care,” Ben says. “I don’t care, I don’t care, stick your cock up my ass and be done with it, for fuck’s sake, just spit on your cock and—”

“Raw?”

“Yes, raw, I don’t care.” Ben is babbling now, words falling out of his mouth before he’s had a chance to think them over. “I’m cleaned out, I’m good for it, I promise, I promise.” Fuck, his cock fucking hurts. He shoves his right hand between his legs, presses on his dick, tries to shift it somewhere that’s more comfortable and nothing is comfortable, nothing is okay, it’s just—he’s too hard, he’s too hot, he’s fucking dying.

Hux shoves Ben hard between the shoulder blades, and Ben only just barely gets his hands out in time to catch himself.

“Ew,” Hux says, and adds “Watch your face,” as an afterthought. His voice is moving further away, like he’s standing up, like he’s going away—

Ben whines against the dirty concrete.

“Come off it,” Hux says. “Nobody cares about your big dick, Kylo.”

“Hux, Hux please.” Ben takes a deep breath. “Your routine at that show—the aerial piece. Please, Hux, it was fucking amazing, I’ve masturbated, like …”

Ben’s brain catches up with his mouth. He shuts the fuck up.

“Go on, then” Hux says, and he’s definitely moved further away from Ben, might even be as far as the back wall.

Ben shifts on the concrete, starts to stand up—

“Don’t move,” Hux snaps.

“There’s—” Ben swallows, gets his voice under control, starts again. “I’ve got condoms and lube in my backpack, Hux, please, can you just—”

“No,” Hux says, and he sounds amused now, like there’s something funny about Ben dying to get fucked. “Not until you finish your sentence.”

“Hux, I can’t, I—”

“Tell me how you masturbated to my performance,” Hux says.

Ben can feel sweat running down his back. The longer he’s here, the more likely he is to get caught, and if he gets caught he’ll have to deal with Snoke in person, and that’s a shitshow that he wants no part of, doesn’t want the rest of the Resistance to know that he’s here, doesn’t want Poe to know that he’s here, doesn’t want—

Ben risks it, turns his head slightly to the side.

He can just barely see one of Hux’s legs, extended out over the back table.

The fucker is stretching.

“I … fuck,” Ben says, tries to get his brain back together, tries to figure out how to tell Hux what he wants to hear. Ducks his head down so he’s staring at the floor again. “It’s been—so many times, I can’t—pull them apart, I have this, uh, this setup where half of my sex toys are in my living room and the other half are in my bedroom, but I usually keep most of the good ones in the living room because my laptop is out there too, and I have a sex blanket—you know, one of those waterproof ones, it’s, uh, bigger than my couch, and—”

“Stop talking,” Hux snaps. His voice sounds closer, like he’s moved again, but Ben didn’t hear a goddamn thing. “You said you had condoms and lube, fucking find them.”

Ben bites his lip. Crawls the few steps over to his backpack, which is still tucked up against the second table. The condoms and lube are right there as soon as he opens the backpack, and he yanks a couple condoms out, slides them back toward his feet. Scatters packets of lube on the floor.

Waits.

“Well?” Hux asks, and his voice is close again, right behind Ben. “Come on, Kylo. Slick yourself up, show me your asshole.”

Ben’s stomach lurches, and the air around him flattens out.

For a moment, all he hears is the ringing in his ears, for a moment all he hears is nothing—

—and then sound comes rushing back in, and his heart is pounding and—

“Don’t you bottom?” Hux sounds amused now.

“I bottom,” Ben says defensively. “I top. It’s whatever. You slick yourself up, I’ll stick my cock up your ass.”

“I’m performing,” Hux replies, tone of voice clearly indicating he thinks Ben is a fucking idiot. “I’m not going up there with lube dripping out of my ass. It’ll wreck the silks.”

(The aerialist, climbing and falling and climbing and falling, hanging upside down with his small soft cock against his stomach and—)

“I told you I wouldn’t ask twice,” Hux says, and he’s further away again. Fucker. “I’m not interested in shredding a condom in your dry ass, so either get your pants off …”

Ben doesn’t wait for the or. His hands are shaking and he can’t get the button undone on his jeans, pulls as hard as he can and hears a rip, the ting of the button falling to the concrete. Yanks his jeans down around his knees. His dick hits his stomach as it bobs free, foreskin raw from grinding up against his zipper.

Hux makes a sound from behind him, cut off before it becomes anything Ben can recognize.

Ben tears two of the lube packets open with his teeth, squishes them out onto his fingers. He widens his legs as much as he can with his jeans down around his knees, rests his forehead on his left arm, and reaches behind himself with his right hand. Shoves two lubed fingers up his ass, spreads them apart so Hux can see. Avoids his prostate, refusing to give Hux the satisfaction of seeing him enjoy this, sticks to just loosening himself up, getting himself ready.

“God,” Hux says, and Hux is so close that Ben can feel the hot exhale of his breath. “You are so fucking naked for me right now.”

Ben scissors his fingers, can’t tell if it’s his own breath speeding up or Hux’s.

“Are you lonely, Kylo? Is that why you keep texting me?”

“Fuck you,” Ben says, but it comes out—broken and uneven, and he’s panting into the floor now because having his fingers up his ass when Hux is right there watching is—so fucking intense and he wants it to go on forever, and holy fuck, holy fuck, holy fuck—

Ben pulls his two fingers out, rubs them against his dry ring finger to lube it up, and slowly pushes all three in. He’s not sure whether the heavy exhale is his or Hux’s, but he can hear a tearing sound behind him that’s either another packet of lube or a condom, and he hopes to fuck it’s a condom because he can feel his heartbeat in his dick and he really, desperately, just wants Hux to fuck him.

“Should I call your boyfriend—oh, sorry,” Hux says, not sounding sorry at all. “He’s not your boyfriend. You’re not exclusive.” He moves in closer to Ben, so close that Ben can feel the heat of Hux’s body on his thighs. “Up you get,” says Hux cheerfully, and he grabs the back of Ben’s motorcycle jacket and twists his hand, yanks hard.

Ben’s tshirt cuts into his neck and he can hear it tearing as Hux pulls, and Ben stands up quickly, reeling a little and suddenly remembering falling with his hands tied behind his back. He remembers how badly it hurt to catch his face on the endtable and starts to panic—except that can’t happen here, that can’t happen now because Hux is holding him up, Hux is keeping him steady, Hux is—

Ben pulls his fingers out of his ass just in time for Hux to shove him forward, and Ben lands heavily on the table, catches himself on his hands so he doesn’t hit his face. His cock is trapped between the cool plastic of the collapsible table and his stomach, and he wants to thrust forward just to see if Hux will let him, just to see if Hux will allow it—

“I’m not fucking up my knees for this,” Hux says from behind him. “Hands on the table where I can see them, Kylo. No touching yourself. If you’re going to come, you’re going to come on my dick.”

“Then fuck me,” Ben snaps, moving his hands wider so that Hux can see them, slaps his palms down hard on the table beside his head. He’s resting his bruised cheek on the surface of the table so Hux doesn’t have to look at the mess he’s made of his face, and the plastic is cool against the bruise as long as he doesn’t rest his head there too heavily, and Ben is stuck staring at the ceiling and at the shelving to his right instead of being able to see anything good. “I can’t come on your cock if it isn’t—”

Hux slaps his condom-covered cock against Ben’s lower back.

It’s bigger than Ben had expected.

Ben shudders. “Fuck, Hux, why…”

“What,” Hux says from behind him, lubed latex sliding on Ben’s back as Hux ruts forward. “You thought because it’s small when it’s soft that it’d be small when it’s hard? Please.”

Ben pants against the table. “I didn’t—think.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Hux says. “We’re not all so … disproportional, Kylo.” He presses up against Ben again, lubed dick rubbing against the small of Ben’s back, hands bracketing Ben’s chest as Hux leans over him. “Last chance, Kyyyy-lo,” Hux breathes into Ben’s ear. “Your boy, upstairs. What’s his name, anyway?”

Ben doesn’t respond, because he’s not bringing Poe into this. Whatever this is, he knows that Poe wants no part of it.

“Should I call him? Should I get him down here so he can watch me rail you?”

“He won’t—he won’t get off on that,” Ben says. Hux’s weight against Ben’s thighs is crushing him, and Ben can feel his sweat against the plastic of the table. “Come on, Hux, you’re wrecking this.”

“All these things I don’t care about,” Hux says. “You keep telling me all these things I don’t care about, Kylo.”

“Hux, please.”

There’s the sound of something tearing behind Ben, the slick sound of Hux touching himself—that fucker he’d better not—and then Hux’s cock nudges against Ben’s hole.

Ben braces himself against the table and waits.

He doesn’t know what he expects—he doesn’t expect Hux to be tentative about it, almost expects to have the entire thing shoved up his ass in one stroke, braces himself to try and get on top of the inevitable pain—but what he gets is Hux sliding his cock into Ben slowly, a long even press that ends with Hux’s muscled legs pushed tight against Ben’s thighs and Hux exhaling, unsteady, against Ben’s back.

Ben groans, wishes he could muffle it into his arm or a pillow or something instead of having to feel his own hot breath reflected back into his face.

Hux rocks into him and back out again, small movements that Ben feels deep in his ass at the same time as he feels the muscle movements of Hux’s legs against his thighs, and Ben wishes he could see—something, anything, other than the stupid fucking shelving and the occasional flash of red hair in his peripheral vision.

Hux breathes heavily against Ben’s back again, and then actually puts his hands on top of Ben, shoves Ben’s motorcycle jacket up and his shirt out of the way.

Hux digs his thumbs into the small of Ben’s back, starts applying pressure. Pulls nearly the entire length of his dick out of Ben’s ass and Ben wants to cry, wants Hux to shove it back in, wants Hux to just—fuck him already—and then Hux slides it back in and Ben resorts to breathing heavily, fingertips scrabbling at the table for a moment before he remembers he can just move his hands forward, hang onto the edge of the table.

“That’s good,” Hux murmurs. “Brace yourself.”

Hux pulls out and presses back in again, pulls out and presses, digs his thumbs deeper into Ben’s flesh.

Starts to pick up the pace, and Ben breathes in rhythm with Hux’s thrusts, can feel himself falling deeper into his own mind, anchored only by the places where Hux presses into him, the places where Hux keeps him grounded, and Ben doesn’t—he doesn’t need to hang onto anything. Not here. He can just sink deep into it, he can let go, he can—

“Keep your hands—where I can see them,” Hux says, and he’s speaking in an odd cadence, dictated by the speed at which he fucks into Ben, the quick gasping breaths that he’s taking between words. “I don’t want you—touching your cock. I don’t want you—squeezing your cock to—to stop yourself—from coming. I want—you—to come—on my dick. Without touching yourself—I want—to rub your face in it—send you out there—my—my cum—drying—on your skin—I—want—”

Ben whines. He’s not proud of it, not proud of the way his voice is high-pitched and broken, and his dick just fucking hurts he’s so close so close soclose

Hux pulls the entire way out, slides his cock between Ben’s ass cheeks for a moment, does something with his hands so that suddenly all his weight is on Ben, all his weight is pushing down through his fingers into Ben’s skin and Ben is stuck, Ben is pinned to the table, Ben is trapped—and then Hux settles back, slides his cock back into Ben’s ass and Ben—

—Ben doesn’t come, he doesn’t let himself come, he grinds his cock into the hard plastic table, and he lies there, and he takes it, and it’s good (he’s good), it’s fine (he’s fine), he can last, he can make this good for Hux, he can—

—Hux shifts underneath him, changes the angle of his thrusts. Drags his cock right against Ben’s prostate.

Ben whimpers, tries to roll onto his side, move his hands, touch his dick—something, anything—

Hux’s hand lashes out like a snake striking. He grabs a handful of Ben’s hair, yanks Ben’s head up until Ben is staring straight ahead at the locked door to the storage room.

“Let. Me. Take. My. Time,” Hux snaps in Ben’s ear, each word bitten off and separate, sharp like glass.

“You don’t have time,” Ben gasps out. “I want—you need—the show—I just—when?”

“When?”

“Performing,” Ben says unsteadily. “You were—with the—the thing. Upstairs.”

Hux stills mid-thrust. “What time is it?” Hux asks. There’s a forced casualness to his tone that doesn’t suit him, doesn’t suit him at all.

“I don’t fucking know,” Ben says. “Phone’s in my jacket pocket.”

He means—fuck me. He means—shove your hips back against me. He means—Hux, please.

Hux dips his hand into the pocket of Ben’s jacket. Pulls out his phone.

“Unlock code?”

“Just fucking draw a triangle,” Ben says. Hux’s dick is maddeningly, frustratingly still inside Ben’s ass. “Hux. Please.”

“It’s ten thirty,” Hux says.

“I fucking told you,” Ben says. He swallows, tries to steady out his voice. “How much time until—until you perform?”

Hux laughs, but his voice is uneven. “I, uh, I don’t. I don’t. I …”

“But you said—”

“Not anymore,” Hux says. “Not anymore.”

 

Ben waits.

Ben breathes.

Ben grits his teeth.

Hux isn’t moving.

“Hux,” Ben says. “Hux, come on. Hux, please.”

Hux is mumbling something, but it’s not loud enough for Ben to hear. Ben cranes his head back over his shoulder, and all he can see is Hux staring at the ceiling, his mouth moving silently. Ben shoves his hips back, tries to grind against Hux.

“Hux. Hux, please, can you just move, I’m so—I’m so fucking close. Hux. Hux.”

Hux doesn’t respond.

Ben rocks his hips back against Hux again. He’s almost there, he’s almost there, he’s almost there and getting further away every second—

“Come on,” Ben says. “Please. Hux. Can you—” Ben presses back against Hux and gets no response for the third time, grinds back into Hux and—nothing. He looks back over his shoulder again, this time showing Hux the bruised side, the side that’s throbbing, the side that hurts. “Hux. Can you—can you touch my face?”

“What?” Hux says.

“My face,” Ben says. “Please. Touch my face.” He reaches back, fumbles around until he catches Hux’s wrist in his hand, brings it up to his black eye.

Hux’s hand is limp. His cock is getting soft in Ben’s ass.

“Come on,” Ben says. “Hux, please.” He swallows hard, presses Hux’s hand up against his black eye. “Show’s over, there’s nothing—there’s nothing he’s gonna do to you now, can’t you just—can’t you just hurt me? Hux? Please?”

Hux swallows audibly, looks away from the ceiling and meets Ben’s eyes for a moment before his gaze slides off to the side. “You want me to hurt you?”

“I want you to hurt me,” Ben says.

“People don’t like it when I—”

“My safeword is sabre,” Ben says, and he presses Hux’s fingers against his cheekbone, gasps against the pressure. “Come the fuck on, Hu—”

Ben’s vision flares white as Hux reacts, finally, presses his fingertips against the bruise on Ben’s cheekbone and it hurts, it hurts, it hurts so fucking good—

Ben’s brain twitches, and everything goes fuzzy for a moment, and when he gets on top of the pain, it’s to realize that Hux is hard again and back to fucking him, left hand pressed against Ben’s face, holding him down, fingertips digging into his black eye. There are sparks exploding behind Ben’s eyes and at least one of his eyes is watering and he’s so fucking hard, and he’s so fucking close, and Hux is at the wrong angle to hit Ben’s prostate but Ben is pretty fucking convinced that he’s doing it on purpose and—

—the deadbolt unlocks in a quick snap and the door opens—

“I claimed sudden illness so—Armitage Hux, you utter fucking bastard.”

Hux’s hand splays over Ben’s face, blocking his vision.

“Oh captain, my captain,” Hux says flatly, stilling only for a moment before grinding his cock deeper into Ben’s ass.

“Food poisoning,” the stranger at the door snaps. “I’m fucking done covering for you and your fucking shit. Fucking pull yourself together, and fake a goddamn convincing case of food poisoning before Snoke gets down here.”

“I—am—busy,” Hux snaps, and he shoves his dick back into Ben as he speaks, punctuates each word with another thrust, and he’s switched his angle now so that he is hitting Ben’s prostate, and Ben is so close to coming that the threat of Snoke can’t even penetrate the fog. Ben can’t find any room to be scared or upset or anything when Hux is fucking him and it is so goddamn good.

“Tell Snoke to fuck off,” Hux says as an afterthought.

“You fuck off,” the stranger snaps. “Fucking finish up, and get him the fuck out of here.”

“How about it, Kylo?” Hux breathes, suddenly right next to Ben’s ear, face pressed up next to Ben’s. “Are you going to get the fuck out of here? Are you fucking close? Are you going to finish on my cock? What if I—”

Hux pulls away from Ben, takes his hand off Ben’s face. Ben keens, pushes himself up closer to Hux again and suddenly there is an explosion of pain in the side of his face, pain and light and sound, and Hux’s cock bottoms out deep in Ben’s ass, and Ben is coming before his vision has even cleared, coming while everything is all whiteness and sparks, coming so hard that he feels like he’s going to pass out—

 

—and maybe he does pass out, because by the time he blinks, he’s staring up at the ceiling, and A. Hux—Armitage Hux—is lounging beside him, dragging his wet fingers across Ben’s mouth.

“Good boy,” Hux purrs. “So good for me, you did so good for me, Kylo—lick my fingers, that’s right—”

Hux’s fingers are covered in someone’s cum. It’s cold.

As it slides down his throat, Ben recognizes the taste, realizes it’s his cum, that Hux is feeding his own cum back to him. He wants to chase after Hux’s fingers with his tongue, see if Hux’s skin tastes like mint, but Hux has already taken them away. “Is—?”

“She’s gone,” Hux says softly. “We’ve got time.”

“Are you—”

“Mmm,” Hux says.

Ben blinks, squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. The bruised side of his face aches, and his eye feels as though it’s swelling shut, the eyelid thick and his face wet. He feels completely fucked out, like a tsunami has torn through his body and all he has left are places where he used to be, places where he isn’t anymore. Opens his eyes, looks at the ceiling.

Looks down.

His dick is lying limp on his thigh, soft and smeared with the remnants of his cum.

He turns his head to look at Hux.

Hux is fucking beautiful, lounging on the table propped up on one elbow. There isn’t an ounce of fat on him, and Ben can—fuck, Ben can count his abs. There’s a bead of sweat running down one of Hux’s pecs, another one suspended on the point of Hux’s hip where it juts out of his body. The v-cut of his abs is prominent, leading Ben’s eyes right to—right to Hux’s dick, which is still rock-hard, pressed up against Hux’s stomach. Hux is touching himself lightly, thumb and fingers smearing across the lubed condom.

As Ben watches, Hux holds his fingers up. Rubs his thumb and fingers together and then separates them, tilts his hand back and forth in the light.

Ben wishes they had more time. Wishes—wishes he knew how to make this better for Hux, wishes he knew how Hux worked, what would make this better for him, how Ben can—

“You weren’t kidding about being cleaned out,” Hux says. “There’s nothing on my fingers but lube.”

“T-thanks?”

“Roll back over.”

“Don’t wanna,” Ben slurs. “Wanna—look, please.”

“I want to fuck you again,” Hux says, and he snaps the condom off his cock, drops it on the floor. Jacks himself once, twice, staring at Ben’s—neck, or his black eye, or—

“I’ll get another condom.” Ben reaches out beside him, hoping that there are other condoms on the table, but there aren’t, which means they must be … on the floor? Or …

Hux rolls on top of Ben, lightning fast.

“Are you taking the offer off the table?” Hux’s teeth are at Ben’s neck, whispering across the skin.

“Wha—?”

“The offer to fuck you raw,” Hux says.

“I don’t—”

Hux repeats the words, slowly and distinctly. “Are you taking the offer to fuck you raw off the table?”

And Hux’s teeth are sinking into Ben’s neck, and his cock is hard against Ben’s hip, and Ben shuts his eyes because he has to, because he can’t look at this, he can’t watch A. Hux take him apart like this.

“No,” Ben says softly, eyes still shut. His face throbs. “Do it.”

“You’re going to tell him,” Hux whispers into the space between Ben’s neck and his shoulder. “You’re going to tell him you have to get tested. You have to get tested, because you let me fuck you raw in the basement while he sat upstairs and watched a show. You don’t even know me, Kylo. You have to get tested.”

“Y-yes.”

“Tell him that he watched me perform after, and the lube from your ass was still shiny on my dick.”

“Yes, Hux, yes.” Ben can’t breathe, there’s not enough air in the room. He wants to be naked and he’s not, he’s still got his jeans around his legs and his tshirt on, his motorcycle jacket unzipped but still hanging around his torso, and his dick is trying to get hard again even though it’s too soon, it’s way too fucking soon.

Hux lowers his feet to the floor, presses Ben’s jeans down to his ankles. Steps into the space between Ben’s legs.

“Tell him I was the best you’ve ever had, tell him I hit your prostate every time, tell him …” Hux groans as he sinks his bare cock into Ben’s ass, tips his head to the ceiling. Exhales heavily.

Ben thought that Hux sliding slow into him was the best thing that he’d ever felt, but he was wrong, he was wrong—

—in this position, Ben on his back and Hux between his legs, Ben can see Hux clearly, can see the sweat on his torso, can see how pale his skin is, ghost-white. Hux is completely hairless, everywhere, flushed from his chest up to his face, and Ben’s never seen anyone more beautiful in his entire life and—

—Hux is thrusting his naked cock into Ben now, fast and sharp, and it’s so hot it feels like it’s burning, it’s drying up rapidly and just this side of painful, and Ben writhes underneath him because it hurts, it fucking hurts, it feels so goddamn fucking good

“Fuck,” Hux curses, and he pulls his hips back, pulls his cock out of Ben so fast that Ben’s breath is taken away and his ass stings. Hux snaps his hand out, grabs Ben by the jacket. Steps over Ben’s jeans and hauls Ben up off the table until they’re standing. They’re standing even though Ben’s legs are shaking and he feels like he’s going to fall over, and Hux is so much taller than he had thought, Hux is so much bigger than he had imagined, Hux is—

Hux’s cock is shiny with lube.

Ben crashes to his knees for the second time that night, doesn’t even register the pain. He feels completely drunk with everything, with his orgasm, with Hux. Hux’s cock is right there in front of his face, and Ben presses his mouth against Hux’s hip, drags his tongue down Hux’s pelvis.

Licks the lube-sweat-latex taste off the base of Hux’s dick. Brings his hands up and braces himself on Hux’s thighs, feeling the muscles twitch underneath his fingers.

“Fucking swallow it back,” Hux says, and his voice is raw, throaty, breaking. His hair is completely fucked up, broken out of its wax prison and falling forward onto his forehead.

Ben opens his mouth, lets Hux guide his cock inside. Hux tastes of lube and latex, he tastes of Ben’s ass, all sweat and tang and plastic. Ben swallows him back and Hux puts his hands in Ben’s hair and just pulls. Ben’s scalp is on fire, and his nose is rubbing against Hux’s skin and Hux’s skin is so smooth and soft and all Ben can taste is himself and the condom but he keeps going, sucking on Hux’s cock, swirling his tongue around, trying to devour the taste of his own ass off Hux’s dick so that he can get to the taste underneath, and maybe Ben can taste a bit of mint, just there, the slightest suggestion of mint and—

Hux has his hands twisted in Ben’s hair, pulls Ben tight against his crotch. Ben is moving his tongue, Ben is swallowing, Ben is breathing when he can but he doesn’t have much for opportunities to, and there are black spots dancing in front of his eyes.

“Keep it in your mouth,” Hux says, fucking forward into Ben’s face. “I want you to show me—after—show me—how good—you are—show me—how—fuck.”

Hux yanks hard, pulls Ben right up against him and then lets go, and Ben swallows the first mouthful of cum by instinct to keep from gagging but it doesn’t matter because there’s so much of it, there’s so fucking much of it and Ben lets the rest pool in his mouth, looks up just in time to see Hux grasping at his own hair with one hand, red chunks of it spiked out between his fingers. His other hand is pressed up tight against his mouth and he’s staring down at Ben and—

—the taste of Hux’s cum is sweet, and it cuts through the last remnants of lube and ass in Ben’s mouth, overpowers the mint-sweat taste—

Hux gasps, bites down on his own hand. Ben sits back on his heels, opens his mouth so that Hux can see his own cum, cradled on Ben’s tongue and pooling against his teeth and—

Hux crouches down in front of Ben, stark naked, pale and flushed and beautiful. He takes his hand out of his mouth, sweeps two of his fingers into Ben’s. Takes them out covered in his own cum, smears them into Ben’s hair. The bite mark on his hand is vivid and red.

Hux brings his other hand up and runs it along Ben’s jaw. Pushes Ben’s jaw shut.

Ben’s teeth click together.

Hux has one hand firm on Ben’s cheek, the other stroking Ben’s throat. “Swallow for me, pretty boy.”

Ben swallows, and Hux’s cum slides down his throat, leaving his mouth empty.

Hux leans forward, brushes his closed lips against Ben’s. Pulls back, grimacing.

Ben doesn’t mean to whine. He doesn’t mean it.

But he does.

“Oh,” Hux says softly, and the hand on Ben’s throat slides down to his chest, to his stomach, to his cock. “You’re hard again, how are you—how are you hard again.”

Ben leans forward, puts his head on Hux’s shoulder, keens against his skin.

“You came so hard the first time,” Hux murmurs. “Can you do that again for me, pretty boy? Can you come like that again?”

Ben is nothing. Ben is nothing but a hard, aching cock and a mouth that tastes of cum and ass and there is sweat rolling down his back and black spots dancing in front of his eyes. Ben is here because Hux wants him to be here, Ben is here because he is able to make Hux come, Ben is here because Hux is not finished yet, Hux hasn’t finished the fuck up yet …

“Touch me, Hux,” Ben pleads, and everything is hazy and vague except for Hux’s face and the way his body feels against Ben’s. “Please, can you—”

“No,” Hux says softly, and his hands are everywhere—on Ben’s face, running down Ben’s torso, dipping into the pocket of Ben’s jacket. Hux is reclining back, naked and flushed, onto the filthy concrete of the storage room, Hux’s head is resting on Ben’s backpack, Hux has Ben’s phone in one hand, and one of Ben’s cigarettes in the other.

“Light it for me,” Hux breathes, and Ben wonders if he’ll die.

His hands are shaking, but he finds his lighter, gets it lit. Holds it against the cigarette Hux is holding delicately between his fingers, waits for Hux to inhale, and the flame to catch.

“This isn’t tobacco,” Hux says, exhaling the smoke toward the ceiling. “Guess you can take the boy out of the Knights …” and Ben cringes, buries his head in Hux’s shoulder so that he doesn’t have to hear the rest of it, doesn’t have to watch Hux smoking his cigarettes.

Ben has his head buried in Hux’s shoulder, is lying over Hux like a blanket, can feel Hux’s soft dick pressed against Ben’s hip, skin against skin where his tshirt has rucked up—

“Hux, please,” Ben says, “you gotta touch me, you have to, you have to—”

“No,” Hux says, and he blows smoke into Ben’s ear.

“Hux, please.”

“This is how this is going to go,” Hux says, and he takes a long draw on Ben’s cigarette, blows the smoke toward the ceiling this time. Ben can feel it going past his cheek. “I said this was a one-time thing. I meant it. You’ve come once, I’ve come once. We’re good.”

Ben ruts up against him. “I want—more, Hux, please, I want—can you give me—I—”

“If you want to get yourself off,” Hux says, “you can. I don’t give a shit what you do.” He takes another drag off the cigarette. “But let me tell you what I’m going to do.”

Ben takes a couple deep breaths. Hux’s skin smells like mint and sex and disinfectant and Ben wants to memorize it, wants somehow to take it home so that he never forgets what this is like, so that he never forgets how this feels.

“I’m deleting my contact information out of your phone. I’m taking my business card back. You are not going to contact me again. Ever. This is finished, this is over. You’ve irrevocably fucked up my career, and there is no coming back from this, Kylo.”

“I know,” Ben whispers into Hux’s shoulder. He rolls his hips against Hux again. He’s fully hard now, raw-feeling and hollow.

“This is the first, last, and only time.”

“I know,” Ben says.

“But wasn’t it worth it?” Hux asks.

Ben closes his eyes. “Yes,” he breathes. “Yes, it was.”

 

Hux is on his second cigarette, and he is exhaling the smoke directly into Ben’s open mouth now, but keeping his head far enough away that their lips don’t touch. Hux’s pupils are dilated and he is so beautiful that Ben can’t breathe, Ben can’t do anything but rut up against him and try to get off. Hux is scrolling through Ben’s phone, screen tipped away from Ben, and Ben is thankful because it means he can’t see Hux going through his phone. His entire life—Poe and sex work and all the pictures, all the fucking pictures—his entire life is exposed to Hux right now.

Ben’s hands are where Hux can see them, on either side of Hux’s shoulders because that’s what Hux wants. Hux wants to see, Hux wants to see Ben grinding himself against Hux’s flaccid cock, wants to see Ben getting himself off on Hux’s body, wants to hear Ben whimpering against him—

“I deserve this,” Hux whispers, and Ben whispers back “Yes, yes, you do.”

Ben has been hard forever, grinding against the sweat-slick of Hux’s skin, hands where Hux can see them, hands where Hux can see them, hands—

“Please,” Ben murmurs. “I’m so close, I’m so close, Hux, let me touch myself, let me masturbate for you, let me show you how I touched myself to your videos, let me—”

“Mmm,” Hux says, and he’s not even looking at Ben, is looking at something on Ben’s phone.

Someone—someone else—clears their throat.

“Sorry, uh,” the intruder says. “I am so sorry, Phasma said—yeah. Snoke’s, uh, he’s heading down here, and he’s got the Knights with him, and uh, you have less than ten minutes to, uh, ‘sort your shit out’.”

Hux arches his head back to look toward the door. “That’s fine,” he says. “He’s done, aren’t you, Kylo?”

“If you say so,” Ben huffs, but then Hux slides his fingers down Ben’s back, hooks two of his impossibly long fingers inside Ben’s ass, rubs against his prostate, and Ben is suddenly coming, head buried in Hux’s shoulder, and long keening noise coming out of him that Ben swears can’t be him, they cannot be from him, they cannot—

“You’re done,” Hux says decisively, pulls his fingers out of Ben’s ass and wipes them off on Ben’s face. Hux gently shoves Ben off, lets Ben flop onto his back beside him. “Good boy,” he says, softer, in a voice that only Ben can hear.

“Holy shit,” says the voice from the door. “Kylo Ren?”

Ben groans, puts his arm over his face. The lights are too bright, everything is too sensitive. His dick is raw and his heart is pounding and Ben wants nothing more than a cigarette and maybe a beer, but all he’s got is the stale-secondhand smoke of his own cigarette from Hux’s mouth. Ben doesn’t think he’s been this fucked out in his entire life, ever.

“Is Phasma still speaking to me, do you think?” Hux asks conversationally.

Ben turns his head to the side, cautiously moves his arm away from his face.

Hux is standing up, belting his now-dusty silk robe back over his body, hiding it away again.

“I, uh, I doubt it,” the intruder says. “To be honest, I’m, uh, probably not gonna speak to you again either. It’s, uh—fuck it. I might as well tell you. Everybody’s pretty pissed.”

Silence.

There’s a wet spot on Hux’s silk robe, and it’s not until it slowly starts spreading that Ben realizes it’s from his own cum, spattered across Hux’s torso and soaking into the silk robe, sticking it to Hux’s body.

Hux crouches down next to Ben. “I deserved this,” he says quietly. “Have a nice life, Kylo.”

“Fuck,” Ben says softly, stomach clenching. “Snoke.”

Hux rolls his eyes. “We have time. Just leave the same way you came. He won’t even know you were here.” He straightens up, takes another drag off his—Ben’s—cigarette. “You said ten minutes, Finn?”

“About that, yeah,” the voice agrees. “I’ll, uh, give you guys a minute.”

“I’m fine,” Hux says. “I’ll come out with you.”

Ben keeps staring at the ceiling after Hux has left the room.

Counts to sixty.

Forces himself to get off the floor.

 

It takes Ben longer than he expected to get dressed even though none of his clothing had actually come off. His knees are already bruising, and his ass aches. He pulls up his pants. Zips them, but the button is gone.

He checks his backpack. The earrings are still there, tucked safely into the book.

Looks for his phone, but can’t find it.

His face is throbbing, and his eye is nearly swollen shut.

By the time he staggers into the hallway, there’s not much time left—so he’s surprised to see Hux leaning up against the wall just opposite the door.

“Don’t forget this,” Hux says, lips pulled back tightly into a thing that isn’t a smile.

He steps forward, holds Ben’s phone out to him.

Ben takes it, hopes that maybe—

“I cleared my info out of it,” Hux says. He takes another drag off the cigarette, looks down toward the end of the hallway. “You should—”

Ben only means to lean forward, nuzzle into Hux’s neck, only means to press his face there for a moment, but Hux turns just as Ben leans in, and their lips touch.

Hux tastes like cigarettes, like mint, like something clinical and dry. His lips are softer than Ben had expected and Ben can’t help it, flicks out with his tongue just as Hux opens his mouth and pulls back—

Ben leans in closer.

Hux lets him.

It’s a first kiss that tastes of sex and sweat, a first kiss that is tinged with smoke and pot, lube and body fluids, a first kiss that is everything Ben could have hoped for and—

There’s a noise on the stairs at the end of the hall.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Hux says against Ben’s mouth, but it’s entirely without malice.

Ben pulls away, wincing as much from the removal of Hux’s lips from his own as from the pain in his body and in his face.

Hux takes another drag on the cigarette, holds it out to Ben. “Take this with you—I don’t need it anymore.”

“I will,” says Ben, but what he means is thank you.

 

Ben limps out to his rental. It’s pitch black out, and the streets are quiet, the only sound the slight drag of his footsteps.

He smokes the rest of the cigarette leaning against the rental car, staring back at the Citadel. He waits for lights to go on in the second floor dorms, but even though he stands there for an hour, none of them do.

Ben realizes … he is satisfied.

He realizes that this was enough.

He drops the butt of the cigarette on the ground, grinds it out under his boot, and gets back in the rental for the drive back to D’Qar.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Hey,” Ben says, and he flips his sunglasses up onto his head, squinting a little at the office lights. “Uh, I should have test results to pick up?”

“Sure thing,” the receptionist says. She’s a bubbly blonde woman in a vintage dress, curvy and cute. “Last name?”

“Organa.”

She flips through papers for a moment, before pulling out an envelope and handing it over. “Everything’s detailed in here. If you have any questions about any of your results, let me know, and I can get you in to see a doctor for follow-up or explanation.”

“Thanks,” he says, flipping the envelope open right there. He unfolds the paper inside it, scans it quickly.

Ok ok ok ok ok all the way down, including the most recent results—the ones he’d had to wait three months to get back.

well well well

show me how good you are

Ben grins, jams the paper back into the envelope, flips his sunglasses back down. “Have a nice day,” he tells the receptionist.

“You too,” she responds.

“Damn right I will,” Ben says. “It’s my birthday.”

 

Ben falls asleep on the bus they’ve chartered for the afternoon, lulled to sleep by the rumble of the pavement under the wheels, the engine purring under his seat, and the four a.m. insomnia that he couldn’t shake with his normal routine of crunches and planks. He’d ended up having to go for a run, finally falling into bed just as dawn was starting to blossom on the skyline, and the lack of sleep has left him completely fucking exhausted.

He wakes up gradually, which is good because there’s a pile of books, underwear, and a velvet bag that he hopes to hell isn’t someone’s sex toys balanced on top of his face. He’s able to carefully lift the entire mess, reach over the seat, and dump it back in Pava’s lap where it belongs.

His suspicions about the velvet bag are confirmed when Pava jolts and the bag falls to the floor, where it immediately starts vibrating. She laughs, scrabbles around the floor for the escaping bag, and Ben slides out of his seat and walks up to the front of the bus.

“Shit, man,” Ben says as he sits down next to Poe, closer to the front of the bus. “You weren’t gonna wake me or nothing?”

“Nah,” Poe says, grinning. “You needed the sleep, you looked like something a rathtar dragged in. You still not sleeping?”

Ben shrugs. “I sleep. Just, you know, not between four and six in the morning. It’ll pass.”

“Hope so,” Poe says. He looks down at BB again.

“You still fretting over those lists?”

Poe scrunches his nose. “No. Yes. Kind of.”

Ben looks over, but it’s not prop lists Poe’s looking at, it’s his text messages.

✿: how am i supposed to navigate when there aren’t any street signs?

Poe tips his phone away, shuts BB’s screen off. “I guess there’s no point in looking at the lists.”

Ben shrugs. “We’re too far out now, Poe. If it’s on the bus, we’ve got it, if it’s not on the bus, we’re just gonna have to improvise it once we get there. It’s a bar show, not a stage show—it’ll be fine.”

Poe sighs, leans back against the seat.

“Hey, are you sleeping?” Ben asks.

“’I sleep’,” Poe drawls, as close an imitation to Ben as he’s ever gonna get.

Ben chuckles. “Fine, fine.” He pulls his phone out of his pocket slightly, checks the display. No messages. “We’ve still got two hours of travel left. You gonna stress out about stuff we can’t change, or you gonna budge over and let me put my head on your lap so’s I can nap?”

Poe moves over next to the window, gestures to Ben. “C’mere, birthday boy.” Cards his fingers through Ben’s hair when Ben lies down and gets comfortable on Poe’s lap, starts gently braiding it back from Ben’s forehead. “How’re you doing?” he says softly, soft enough that nobody else on the bus will hear.

“’m good,” Ben says. “Things are good.”

“Are you still—”

“Still what,” Ben asks.

Poe pets his head. “Nah, never mind. Grab some more sleep, buddy.”

Ben closes his eyes, drifts off just as Poe takes out BB again.

 

He’s still groggy when they disembark, but Ben’s at least got the foresight to rub the sleep out of his eyes while he’s still on the bus so that his sunglasses are down when they meet Maz at the entrance. Ben lingers at the back of the line near Poe—the place still holds a certain amount of awe for most of the members of the Resistance, but Ben had spent a lot of time here as a child, and it’s neither new nor exciting to him.

“You’ve grown,” Maz says to him once he makes it up the steps.

“A bit,” Ben allows, staying a few steps below her on the staircase so that he can bend over her hand in an old-fashioned bow he knows she likes. He waits for a moment, but she releases his hand, and Ben carefully exhales as he ascends the rest of the stairs, thankful that this was all there is. He’s just about in the entrance when she calls out his name. Ben turns.

“Your father had nothing but good things to say about you when I saw him last week,” she says.

Ben raises his eyebrow. “Including the part where I swindled him out of all his money?”

Her wrinkled face splits into a grin. “Like I said, nothing but good things to say about you. I think he was pretty proud of that stunt.”

Ben turns to go inside, and hesitates. “Wait, he’s not still here, is he?”

“Heavens no,” Maz says. “Go enjoy your birthday. I won’t even shake you down for the debt he owes me.”

Ben rolls his eyes. “How much—”

“Well, if it isn’t Poe Dameron,” Maz says, turning away from him.

Ben knows a dismissal when he sees it, so he adjusts his bag on his shoulders, and walks inside.

 

There isn’t really a backstage at Maz’s, so much as there’s a weird little corner that’s darker than most of the bar back behind the stage. It probably used to be an orchestra pit at some point—but if Ben had to hazard a guess, he’d guess it’s been at least fifty years since there’s been a full-scale orchestra at Maz’s.

He’s lounged on one of the leather couches back there, flipping through his phone when the video call comes in.

“Hey mom,” he says. He activates his video, but it’s dark, and he’s not able to transmit much other than the outline of his head.

“Ben,” Leia says warmly. “Happy thirtieth.”

“Thanks.”

“It’s still pretty dark backstage at Maz’s, huh?”

“Pretty much pitch-black,” he says.

“I won’t keep you long. Just wanted to make sure … you know …”

Ben doesn’t ask her to elaborate.

“Nice earrings,” he tells her.

Her face lights up, and she turns from side to side so he can see Padmé’s earrings clearly, light bouncing off the polished hematite beads. “I have this son,” she says, and she’s positively beaming.

He cuts her off before she has a chance to continue, can’t risk going up on stage with his ears bright red from blushing. “Get back to the important stuff you were doing. Let me perform in peace.” He winks, then realizes she probably can’t see it. “That was a joke.”

“Very funny,” Leia says. “Don’t make me regret covering the Resistance’s bar tab tonight.”

“You what?”

“Happy birthday, Ben,” she says again.

Hangs up.

Ben smiles.

Opens up his text messages.

DAMNeron: good crowd out here! i got us some tables.

DAMNeron: remind pava to watch her tracking with those poi tho

hashtagSOLO: will do

“Hey, Pava,” Ben says.

“Watch the poi, watch my feet, watch my lights—did I forget anything?”

“I think that’s about it,” Ben confirms.

“You fall off the stage one fucking time,” Pava grouses.

“It was your second concussion this year,” Bastian points out. “He’s right to be worried.”

“Well, thanks anyways,” Pava says. “Tell Poe to stop fretting.” She hesitates a moment, walks a little closer to Ben, speaks in an undertone. “And hey—the new couch came in, and it’s great—did you wanna come over sometime next week and catch up on the footage we missed? Karé was logged in the other day looking through some of the latest stuff, and it looks he’s doing aerial hoop now.”

Ben hesitates.

He shouldn’t.

“Yeah,” he says instead. “That’d be nice. I’ll, uh, try not to—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Pava says. “Shit happens.”

Ben frowns, but she’s already wandering away, spinning one of her poi absently at her side.

Ben looks down at his phone, scrolls through his messages again.

Nothing new.

Backs out of his messages, flips over to his contacts. Clicks on Hux.

It’s almost a completely blank entry—there’s no email address, no phone number, nothing except a name and a display picture.

Ben slouches a little further into the couch, glances up to make sure that nobody’s anywhere near him, and then expands the display picture.

He doesn’t remember it being taken, but, then, he wouldn’t. Not when he’s facing away from the camera, his body taking up most of the frame. His motorcycle jacket is askew, his tshirt mostly rucked up and damp with sweat. His forehead is resting on the floor, and even now, Ben tastes the dust in his mouth, remembers the way Hux’s body felt underneath his as he rutted against him, trying to get off. Hux is there, underneath Ben, face just visible in the upper corner of the photo. His red hair is completely fucked up. He’s holding Ben’s cellphone up above them with one hand, and the other is holding a half-smoked cigarette. The corner of Hux’s mouth is turned up, and his eyes are glinting as he grins at the camera—or, at least, as much as he can grin considering the bite that he’s taking out of Ben’s shoulder.

you only get this once and it wasn’t a lie because there’s been nothing since then, nothing for the last three months but silence and—

Ben shoves his phone back in his pocket, reaches for his foot and stretches it up over his head.

He should have enough time to get loosened up before he goes on.

 

The lighting at Maz’s is irregular, and the attention of the audience wavers from moment to moment. Stage left has a pretty solid section of people who definitely came for the show—and stage right is full of people who are drinking heavily and gambling, mostly ignoring whatever’s happening on the stage.

Ben makes a specific point of heading in that direction, twirling his dull staves above his head and behind his body as he moves across the length of the stage. He moves the way Hux moved when Hux stalked him across the length of the storage room, all quiet intensity and sharp teeth in a tight smile. It’s an imperfect imitation because the details are fuzzy, but it’s all he’s got.

When he reaches the other side of the stage, he stops. Rotates his grip, and thuds each staff down on the stage, first the right, and then the left, both of them echoing hollowly.

It takes a moment—and the delay makes Ben think for a moment that he’s fucking broken them, that this is the time that the wires will finally come loose—

—and then each staff lights up brilliantly, and even through the din of the bar, there’s a gasp from the audience.

There’s no time to hesitate then, because Ben is moving, stalking his way back to the center of the stage, spinning both staffs and letting them blur into nothing more than colour in motion, the lights making them appear as whirling three-dimensional spheres of colour rather than the two dimensional over-sized sticks they are.

Ben keeps moving, keeps spinning the staves. He’s not aiming for the exact center of the stage—there’s a speaker hanging directly above the stage, and the ceiling is lower there as a result—but is heading for a spot just in front of the stage. To be specific, he’s heading about six feet in front of the stage, which will be the first—second—the third table. The third table.

Ben spins one staff in each hand, hands extended out beside his body, and he backs up until he’s nearly at the back of the stage, and then he lopes forward, covering enough distance with his strides that it only takes him three steps to get to the front of the stage, an additional three steps to go from table to table—he hears glass breaking behind him, skids briefly on a coaster before he regains his balance—stops on the third table, its occupants staring up at him in shock. Ben can hardly hear for the screaming, but he looks up quickly, confirms he has all the height he needs—and pitches one of the staves upwards, letting it spin up into the air, a whirling disc of light that has no beginning and no ending.

He keeps his head tipped up, watching the airborne staff spin, and tightens his grip on the other staff to halt its spin. He tosses the stationary staff up to the height of his head, grabs it, and quickly feeds it down his throat, then reaches up with his left hand just in time to grab the airborne staff as it descends.

Stands there, his left hand holding one staff up in triumph, and his right hand holding the other staff down his throat. The staves are blinking ferociously, cycling through all the colours of the rainbow, and Ben’s not going to be able to see for shit as soon as he de-activates them, will have fucked-up vision from the lights for a good twenty minutes after he’s done performing.

Ben wouldn’t go so far as to say that silence falls across Maz’s—it’s a big bar, and there’s a lot of different nooks and crannies for people to hang out in—but everything in Ben’s vicinity falls completely still.

From the other side of the bar, Pava screams, “Fuck yeah, Kylo!”

Ben pulls the staff out of his throat, gagging from the speed of the removal. He clamps his mouth shut while he takes his bow, teeth clicking (swallow for me, pretty boy). Bows deeper than usual, to buy himself a few extra seconds to compose himself.

When he straightens, he scans the crowd for red hair, and comes up with nothing. He swallows back the sharp bile in his mouth

The applause is echoing in his head, and ringing in his ears. It’s been three months. He’s stupid to think that his birthday would change anything.

He shudders, covers it with a grin.

 

Ben is drunk by the time he stumbles into his rented room upstairs, vision all fuzzy from the—probably from the shots, but there was beer in there too. He keeps remembering the number ten, but he doesn’t know if it’s because he drank ten of something, or less than ten or something, or more than ten of something, or … whatever. He pisses carefully into the toilet, holding himself up against the bathroom wall, tucks himself back into his underwear after but lets his pants fall to the floor. Yanks his shirt over his head as he staggers out of the bathroom, collapses onto a blissfully empty bed.

He stares up at the ceiling, watches the room rotate around him.

Doesn’t remember the exact moment when he passes out.

 

Ben is still drunk when he wakes up at four a.m. The blurry edges of his birthday celebration and the post-show endorphins are still there, but he can feel the sharp tightness of his hangover creeping in.

The early morning insomnia that’s become routine for him the past few months sucks. It gives him an opportunity to drink water, ward off any hangovers—but he’d rather have the sleep.

The water coming out of the sink is cold, and Ben hangs his head underneath the running water after he’s drank his fill, wets his hair and leaves it dripping down his back when he stands up. He should be smart, he should try doing crunches and planks first, see if he can exhaust himself that way—but he has a feeling that it’s not going to help, has a feeling that he needs to do more than that to burn off whatever is happening in his brain to prevent him from sleeping.

Ben picks his pants up off the bathroom floor, pulls them on. Wanders back to the hotel bed as he buttons up his pants and zips up his fly, reaches to the endtable for his phone, and—

—his phone is flashing.

Ben picks it up, swipes a triangle into the lock screen to open it.

Unknown Number: Prove it’s you.

 

He stands there, for—two minutes. Five minutes. Ten minutes.

 

Prove it’s you.

 

As though he’s in a trance, he reaches down. Unbuttons his pants. Unzips his fly.

The text message is still there.

He blinks, and he puts his phone down, and he scrubs his palms against his eyes, and he picks his phone up, and the text message is still there.

 

Unknown Number: Prove it’s you.

 

He’s too drunk to overthink this right now.

 

Ben snaps a picture of his cock. Captions it “same size both ways ;)” and sends it.

Waits for confirmation that it’s sent before he starts typing again.

Ben: and u? ;) ;) ;)

Ben lets the screen of his phone go black, stands there, unsteady. Waits.

 

(you only get this once, don’t you want it to be good, you only get this once, you only get this once, you only get—)

 

Ben’s phone dings.

Fucking liar, Ben thinks, grinning.