He hated Canto Bight more than anywhere else in the galaxy, and he’d been to some pretty terrible places in the last three decades. This was still the worst though. Glittering lies that made his head thrum with low level pain. Just enough to chill his heart by inches.
Wow. That thought pattern was melodramatic. But then wasn’t everything here?
Lips pursed in distaste, Techie reached out to angle the screen for elevator eleven to one side, but for the fourth time in as many minutes his hand faltered and fell onto the desk. Just because he didn’t want to watch something like that didn’t mean that he had any choice in the matter. The patron was skirting the edges of legality and if he slipped up then Techie would be the one reporting his fall to the guards. If he wanted to keep his own job at least.
Some days he didn’t know why he wanted to keep this job.
His fingers picked idly at the wires scattered across his workspace while his eyes looked for anything at all that would be better than watching that . He winced as the whirring echoed around the empty room, as if his changing focal length would betray his lack of focus.
The screens were all the same.
Money and lives changing hands like confetti. Beautiful, glittering clothes covering the ugliest people imaginable, no matter what their faces looked like. More food wasted in an hour than Techie saw in a year. Alcohol flowing like a waterfall.
He found himself lingering on the cameras around the bar, watching the blending of drinks he’d never heard of from ingredients he could never afford. He’d smelled Corellian brandy once, when Ma-Ma had been celebrating some horrible deal or other, and the experience had stuck with him as the only bright light in a very dark time.
The instinctive shake of his head to ward off thoughts that were bad for both work and sanity also dislodged his hair so it fell across his vision. At least then he didn’t have to look at most of the screens.
Techie pulled fitfully at a one heavy lock of orange yellow hair, wondering how long he could get away with blocking his view, knowing it wouldn’t be for long. Something would happen. Something always did.
To his left something brighter than usually flitted across a stableyard monitor.
Nothing should be out there at this time of night.
Pushing his hair back, and ignoring the sticky greasy feeling of too long spent avoiding the communal showers, he tried to find the source of the light again. The man in the elevator was still doing his thing, and seemed far too drunk to actually achieve his goal so he could be safely ignored for now.
There was nothing in the stableyard but dust and the usual collection of tack abandoned by the weekend riders. The fathiers had been brushed down and put away; the jockeys had returned to their dorms; the trainers had vanished to the seedy staff bar; the child stable hands were asleep. All was quiet.
A flash of light again, six feet off the ground by the far door to the stables.
Techie only realised his eyes were at maximum zoom rather than the security camera when their servos creaked in protest. He was too tired to be here tonight. What good would it do to zoom in on the same crappy pixels?
He bit his lip in an effort to concentrate better and spun the correct dial to change the monitor output.
There was a man in the stableyard.
Muscles glittering with sweat.
A frankly biteable ass.
Oh well… this was unexpected. An intruder? Or a patron? Or… something else?
Techie followed the news, even if it was just a way of distracting his mind when his insomnia was especially bad. He knew all about the Resistance, and wasn’t this man built like a hero?
The plot lines of a dozen holo-romances watched second hand through the security cameras skittered across his brain to paint hearts around this stranger’s beautiful form.
The pressure on his lip increased a little as he tracked the man’s movements. Should he report this? He wasn’t doing anything yet. If he did do something it might be for the good of the galaxy. If Techie helped him… Well. He’d heard about the last rebellion- the battles fought and the medals won.
For just a second his mind filled with the vision of Leia Organa herself draping a ribbon around his neck as thanks for…
On screen the man reached for a feed bucket and Techie’s fantasy dissolved just as quickly as it had started.
No resistance hero was skulking around the stableyard looking for a chance to whisk him off his feet.
It was only one of the trainers, that great hulking mess of a man with dirty yellow hair and no control over his temper. His angry voice often echoed through the staff living quarters whenever someone had pushed him too far. Any distance at all seemed to qualify as ‘too far’.
The flash Techie had seen was probably just a floodlight reflecting from his large glasses. Ugly things, he thought a little enviously, not really meaning the insult but now he knew who it was he just couldn’t praise the way they made the man’s features more even in comparison.
Techie let his lip curl a little as the man closed the stable door. All the trainers were the same. Vicious and cruel beings without an ounce of empathy in their souls. He’d had enough of that to last him a lifetime.
Deciding that there was nothing of interested left to investigate outside, he turned back to the man in the elevator.
There was no man in the elevator.
There was a suit on the floor. It was an empty as the elevator.
The man in the stables was forgotten while his eyes clicked in time with the changing camera angles. He had to find his target amongst the winding white halls of the casino before there was a complaint. He’d lose his morning rations if there was a complaint.
He finally found the drunken patron. In a fountain on the terrace. Naked. And dancing.
Techie pressed the button to call security and covered his eyes with his free hand.
It was going to be a long night.
He’d had four hours sleep. He felt like ‘a shit sandwich’ as his old First Order supervisor always used to say. Everything was terrible, and the night was only going to get worse.
Race days were always hard.
So much prepwork to do before the real work could begin. Dozens animals and beings to organise, and not one of them caring that they were in his way. So many hours spent biting his tongue against the mounting anger until he felt sure he might explode with stress. So much lost to incompetence along the way and so little he could do about it.
They’d lost two mounts today. One a juvenile on its first race two months earlier than anyone had advised, and an old mare who’d been long past retirement age. The owners never listened though. They didn’t care. They wanted to get as much money as they could out of the beasts. They gambled with lives like they gambled with money- recklessly.
Matt crossed the yard in long loping strides that still surprised him in their quietness. He’d grown up in ships and outposts- metal grating always ringing beneath his feet- and even now the sensation of dirt was a disorientating one.
Still, at least the quiet meant that the children could sleep on in peace.
He paused, the whirr of a camera just audible over the waves on the beach below. Just security, wondering why he was down here at this time of night. Well, let them wonder.
Mouth set into a grim line, Matt snatched up the nearest bucket of mealworms and stomped in the stables. There was a newly orphaned fathier foal that needed some care if it was going to survive the night.
The mattress beneath his back was a little softer than the floor, and the sounds of the revellers outside were muted now that dawn was here to stab at their hangovers with rays of beautiful light.
If he squinted it was almost a paradise.
As Techie lay in his very own bed, under a real blanket that he didn’t have share, it was almost strange to him that he hated Canto Bight more than he’d ever hated Peachtrees. But then Peachtrees had never lied to him.
He understood his mother’s reasoning now that he’d lived so many desperate years alone since her death.
She’d had to run from Arkanis when his father refused to help her evacuate. Then running had become the only strategy she knew. It wasn’t her fault that she ran them both into the arms of the Ma-Ma Gang in the end. Life just turned out that way.
But she’d talked about Canto Bight like it was made of gold and the sky rained happiness. It was made of gold in a way- glittering and cold, just as hard and heartless as any heavy metal.
The community on Peachtrees, the former Imperial spaceport that Ma-Ma had comendeered for her gang, had treated them harshly - taken his eyes and later his mother’s life - but it had never lied about its nature. Peachtrees had never pretended to be wonderful. It had never hidden the bloodstains under shimmering white lies.
Evil had worn a heart on its sleeve there, probably tore it from the chest of some poor debtor, but it didn’t pretend to be paradise while it dressed in death.
He was being melodramatic again. Under the covers he pressed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, hoping the pain would shake some sense into him. It didn’t work.
At least his mother hadn’t lived to see the reality of this place. She’d spoken of the city as if it were a promised land- a place free from pain where even a kitchen maid could be rich if only she paid her cards right.
That naivety had been charming when they were scratching out an existence working with any crew that needed a cook and would tolerate a small child with an interest in electronics. But it had started to grate on his nerves once Ma-Ma had them. He’d stopped believing in dreams like that when he lost his natural sight.
Still. Dreaming was the only way she’d survived as long as she had.
So, he’d come to Canto Bight anyway when he was finally freed. He’d fulfilled his mother’s one last wish for him.
He’d come here and sold his soul all over again.
She was a sweet little thing, barely a metre and a half at the shoulder and still at that stage where she’d fondly chew on anything in sight. For the last two hours the object of choice had been his ear. At least someone appreciated that oversized feature he thought with a smile.
The fathier was too valuable- and far too dangerous- as an untrained foal for the kids to deal with alone. Like all little ones she liked to play, but she wouldn’t understand that she weighed twenty times more than the children she was fascinated by. At least Matt was heavy enough to register to her senses.
He was leaning against her side in an effort to emulate the weight of her mother. So far she hadn’t become too distressed at the mare’s absence but she would notice eventually. The more comfort he gave now, the less upset she’d be later.
If the heat from her body was counteracting the cold coming up from the stone floor then that was just an added bonus.
Matt had never really been warm until he came to Canto Bight. Space was cold; starships were difficult to heat; Starkiller had been a literal ice cube that wasn’t helped by the administration's refusal to spend a single non-essential credit. That horrible half-finished superweapon had been the only frame of reference he had for planets until he stepped off the transport to be slapped in the face by a wall of heat.
Of course he’d gotten used to it all now- the humidity coming off the artificial sea, the dust storms that raged in from the desert, the comfortable nights, the searing days- but that initial shock had stayed with him. One of many changes he’d never dreamt of while he was with the First Order.
He’d never seen a live animal in the flesh before, just those few blurry things that stormtroopers liked to hunt on Starkiller. He hadn’t actually realised that there really were things twice his height and three times his weight that could take commands. Of course he’d seen dewbacks and the like in propaganda films about the Empire, but those hadn’t registered as real.
Fathiers on the other hand had been undeniably real and somehow- they loved him. They were huge and weird looking and perfectly capable of killing a man if they ever made up their minds to it… okay, maybe it wasn’t all that strange that they liked him. They probably thought he was one of them.
The foal snorted and set a gust of hot breath into his ear canal as she finally fell asleep, her heavy head slipping from his shoulder to rest on his chest. He was trapped, but he didn’t care. A night’s sleep here was just as good as in the dormitories. At least here there were no people around to bother him.
Even in a ‘private’ alcove there was no privacy in this damned place. Techie tried to pull the blanket up over his head to block out whoever was shouting at him, but shouting turned into shaking, and shaking would turn into kicking…
“I’m awake, I’m awake!!” He muttered in a voice that wanted to be angry but just sounded frightened. “Emperor’s black bones, I’m awake!!”
The sun hadn’t moved much in the sky since he came to bed, the softness of dawn still lingering at the edge of the skylight set high in the wall above him. He couldn’t have been asleep more than an hour.
“Get up, you’re doing the morning shift.” The Zeltron who’d shaken him awake wasn’t looking at him, just staring at the wall with tired, bloodshot eyes. They looked like they’d been crying. Techie was sure this was the one he’d handed over to at the end of his shift, but he was terrible with faces sometimes.
“What’s… What’s wrong?” He didn’t really care, but there was some kind of emergency he should probably know about it…
“Jace turned up late and drunk again,” they said flatly. “Now the boss says you have to cover all his shifts.”
Techie blinked. The gears in his eyes sounded worse than ever- tired and rundown- like they were mocking the rest of his body. Jace had all the shifts scheduled immediately after Techie’s. If that were true he’d be doing double shifts.
“Until he sobers up, right?”
“No. They arrested him for being disorderly. He’s dead.”
Canto Bight was just like Peachtrees.
The kick to his foot sent a spike of pain right up his leg into the numb flesh of his butt.
It was probably only that tingling numbness that kept him from jumping up and punching the head trainer who was rudely kicking him awake.
Which was definitely a good thing because the angry being was holding a shock stick in one of its four hands, and Matt knew it wouldn’t hesitate to use it on him. Again.
“What the pfassk are you doing?! Get out, get out, get out!!” Every word was punctuated with a kick as Matt tried to scramble to his feet. “Not your job! Not your business!! Get out!!”
The foal was making sleepy distressed noises behind him, but there really wasn’t anything he could do for her when Bargwill was in this kind of mood. Better to get out of the stables and back to the staff quarters where he could stay out of the angry Cloddogran’s way.
He didn’t have a shift today- he could get some more sleep, then go out into the grasslands around the artificial sea to train in the evening. It was nicer out there than the rundown staff gym, and this way no one would complain about him hogging the weights…
Matt heard someone shout about the rule against running in the corridors a second or two before there was a reedy scream and a burning sensation spreading across his chest. He’d crashed into another human.
He’d seen this human before- a man almost as tall as him, but perpetually bent inward as if he were avoiding a blow that hadn’t fallen yet but was bound to come sooner or later. It was hard to tell under the curtains of grubby orange hair but the man looked like he was on the verge of tears. His already stained yellow shirt was soaked down the front with something that was still steaming.
Oh. He’d been carrying a hot drink and now the pair of them were wearing it. Whoops.
“Watch… watch where you’re going!” The man snapped at him like a loth-kitten trying to stand up to a rancor. Then he shook his hair back and glared at Matt with eyes the same colour as the sea.
Oh… oh no. He was gorgeous.
As if the morning couldn’t get any worse, Techie was now covered in hot tarine tea because that huge muscular idiot from the stables had run into him at full pelt in the middle of a corridor. That was one of the last bags he’d had left too. It’d be a whole week without caffeine before he could afford to get anymore.
The man might have been bigger than him but so much had gone wrong today that Techie really didn’t even care if he got punched right now. At least then he’d be unconscious and not facing a double shift without the help of his tea.
“Watch where you’re going!!” He snapped, hating himself for the stutter even as he pulled himself up to his full height and brushed his hair back ready to give the brute a piece of his mind… and stopped, suddenly embarrassed.
Oh. He really was built like he was cast from Mandalorian iron, all hard muscles and impossible width. Except for his face. Techie hadn’t bothered to look at his face before. It really wasn’t far that a body that strong should have such soft eyes and expressive lips. Stars, he was gorgeous.
The stablehand licked his lips, Techie’s eyes whirred loudly as they tracked the movement, and there really was only one thing Techie could do.
He turned and ran.
Oh gods he ran away. He had a chance to talk to a gorgeous guy and he ran away .
Techie wanted the floor to open up beneath him. He wanted to rest his head on the desk and ignore the world while his face burned with embarrassment. But he couldn’t.
The screens were still there demanding his attention- the same monotonous glow, the same monotonous people. Eight more hours of staring at screens. At least this was the boring shift.
His eyes flickered from one screen to the next without taking in a single detail.
Why was he embarrassed? Yes the stable hand was hot- his mind faltered and rewrote the word as ‘cute’, too flustered even in his own head to think of the man in sexual terms- yes the stable hand was cute, but he was still a stable hand. They weren’t nice people.
No one here was a nice person, but the beings who controlled the fathiers seemed to be some of the worst. The huge beasts were gentle as far as Techie could tell, but they were fast and it was the stables job to make them faster. He’d seen the Cloddogran groom beating the poor creatures with shock sticks and electro whips just for failing to win a race or two.
If the being who ran the place was that bad then his employees couldn’t be much better. No matter how cute they might be.
Against his better judgement Techie let his gaze wander to the stableyard again. Nothing was moving there just yet, only the children running back and forth with meals for the masters before the day began. For once it was peaceful out there.
Once again Matt’s sleep was ruined by someone shouting, though at least this person had the manners not to kick him as well.
He searched for his glasses with one hand while he tried to look at the source of the noise, but he found no one standing by his bunk. Awkwardly shoving the frames over his outsized ears he leant over the edge to peer down towards the floor.
Well, that’s why he wasn’t getting kicked. Temiri couldn’t reach to kick him even if he wanted to, and the little stable boy seemed far too nice to bother with violence.
“What do you want, kid?” He tried to sound reassuring, but as always his tone just came out as irritated. Matt smiled to counter it, but judging by the way Temiri stepped back it wasn’t as effective as he’d hoped.
Temiri grabbed the edge of the bunk and pulled himself up just enough that Matt heard his conspiratorial whisper. “Bargwill’s gonna break in the baby.”
Embarrassingly Matt’s brain took a second or two to understand what that meant. He often found when he woke up that he was back in First Order mode, his mind following the well worn pathways of radar repair, and switching to animal care took longer than he liked to admit.
The head of the stables wanted to break the orphan fathier to wearing a saddle a good three months before she’d be ready. She wasn’t fully grown yet and Bargwill must have known that. Was he trying to ruin her? Had he decided that overstressing the poor creature would net him more insurance money? Or was he just a vicious bastard who didn’t care about his animals and needed another live body for tonight’s race? The last option seemed the most likely.
Swearing under his breath Matt threw himself out of his bunk and strode off towards to stables, totally oblivious to the fact that he was only wearing his thermal leggings.
Techie was bored, and when he was bored his hands decided to entertain themselves. Today they were twisting the various bits of scrap wire on his desk into the shape of a fathier.
The sculpture was pretty realistic for once- with the distinctive huge ears and sloping back actually in proper proportion. Techie didn’t get to study his subjects very often. He’d made dozens of flowers as a kid based only on the tattoos of his ship mates, and crude animals based on their whispered stories, but here he could actually look at the fathiers as he worked.
There wasn’t much else going on in the casino complex this morning- just the cleaners wiping away the mess while the patrons slept off the night before and the security crews walked their rounds. The fathiers were the only real source of action.
In the stable complex the fathiers were running in circles around the indoor training arena, finally looking like the herd animals they were supposed to be as they moved in graceful unison. It was an amazing spectacle.
Techie hadn’t really encountered any animals other than loth-cats and vermin, and it was wonderful to watch these two metre tall beasts running so easily. There was a power in them that they weren’t using, that was clear from their shape and the bunching of muscles. It was the fact that they could access it at any time they wanted that made them thrilling to watch.
Just like that stable hand with the soft mouth and huge shoulders.
That wasn’t a line of thought he wanted to pursue.
As if summoned by his treacherous imagination the man appeared at the edge of the screen just as the Cloddogran lassoed the smallest fathier and hauled it out of the herd. The beast clearly didn’t want to go, but it couldn’t fight all that well against three arms and years of experience.
However much experience the being had, something about the situation just didn’t look right.
Concerned, Techie put down the wire creation in his hand and zoomed in.
When Matt stormed into the training arena Bargwill already had the foal by the neck, ropes distributed between three of his hands while the fourth- and most dominant- hand held an electro-whip. The weapon crackled at the handle, not yet fully activated, but the threat was there all the same.
Matt knew those horrible things of old. There’d been a time when the First Order had thought he’d be better suited to stormtrooper work that technician duties, and the electro-whip had been one of Phasma’s favourite ways to break insubordinate troopers. She’d given up on him in the end, just like the technician corp had done three years later. Now he was going to do something stupid and get himself fired again. At least he knew what he was facing- the foal didn’t have a clue what resistance would mean.
“She’s not ready for a saddle yet!” He shouted as he approached, hoping for an authoritative tone but knowing he sounded like a petulant child.
“She’s ready when I say she’s ready!” Bargwill snapped. He was winding the tethers around his hands, edging the beast closer to him and the groom standing on the sidelines with the training saddle.
The saddle was a cruel object, barbed underneath to stop a fathier from throwing it off their sloping shoulders. Either the beast would accept it as the groom intended or it’d end up covered in wounds. Some owners allowed the jockeys to stick with the barbed saddles long after the animal was broken because it added to the drama of the race, but most preferred the expensive beasts to remain intact.
Matt had researched the training technique once when he had nothing better to do with his time- Canto Bight stables were the only stables left in the corporate sector that still trained with the barbs from the start. Most other locations accepted that it was best for the animals’ health not to use the horrible things, but when Matt tried to raise it was Bargwill the head groom hadn’t been impressed. His fathiers were the fastest in the galaxy- there was no way he’d spoil a winning formula.
“If you put that on her now you’ll ruin her!” Matt pressed on, trying to put himself between the Cloddogran and the fathier while still avoiding the ropes. “She lost her mother, without proper care…”
It all happened far too quickly for Matt to think. Temiri followed him into the fathier’s space; the fathier panicked at the movement behind her; Bargwill hauled on the ropes to keep her from kicking; the other groom darted forward with the saddle; Matt moved to shove him away.
Four arms are better than two and non-humans could be faster than Matt’s First Order education gave them credit for- the electro whip crackled into life, wrapping around Matt’s forearm and barely missing his face. The pain was tremendous. It seemed to ripple through him in bright waves that set his nerves on fire from the inside out.
Pain like that should have brought him to his knees. It would have felled most humans after a second or two. Matt had never been like most humans.
Everything turned red and Matt really lost his temper.
What the frell?!
When the man had stepped towards the isolated fathier and its capturers Techie had assumed he intended to help them. He’d been ready to dismiss the stable hand as just another one of the brutes. But when the Cloddogran lashed out he’d caught an electro whip across his arm.
Techie jumped out of his seat in shock then as if he was the one getting a few hundred volts.
The stable hand writhed for a moment, but kept his footing. Then he shook the whip off like so much cobweb and swung for the Cloddogran’s head. He wasn’t fast enough. This time the whip caught him around the waist, crackling like a belt made of fire.
The boy behind him was down; the other groom had dropped the saddle and run; the poor fathier was losing its mind; and there was no way the chief groom would let the stable hand out of there alive.
Techie did the only thing he could.
He hit the fire suppressant switch.
Above him the sprinklers activated and around him all hell broke loose.
Cantonica was a desert planet- apart from over the grasslands around the artificial sea rain wasn’t a common occurrence. Matt was certain that half of the fathiers had never seen water falling from the sky in their lives. Some tried to run from it, some tried to fight it, some tried to eat it - whatever the huge animals did it was on an arena floor that was quickly turning into mud. Within seconds they were falling everywhere.
The whip around his waist overloaded from the moisture and shorted out with a shower of sparks that burned the exposed skin of his belly. The shock hit Bargwill too, causing him to drop the weapon. Matt could have snatched it up. He could have turned it on its owner and given him a taste of his own medicine. He could have given in to the rage that was only slightly dampened by the water.
But the foal was wailing, and the stable boy was sobbing, and suddenly there was too much to do to waste time fighting the sadist in front of him.
He didn’t bother to speak as he dragged the ropes out a Bargwill’s hands and led the foal towards the main doors of the training arena. The poor thing was shivering already, letting out the kind of pitiful cries that had every adult fathier turning to watch them on instinct.
Outside the sun would be bright and warm- more than enough to dry the herd while the staff cleared up this mess. It’d take hours to brush the mud out of so many coats, but it’d be easier once it dried. Plus the animals would calm down once they were out in the open, and no one would be stupid enough to try to saddle a sopping wet foal.
Matt kicked the doors open and let the foal off her tethers, watching for a moment that the rest of the herd followed her before he turned back to the mess inside.
The sprinklers were still running but beginning to slow to a steady drip. Temiri had managed to sit up and was nursing a welt across his cheek where the electro whip must have caught him.
Matt felt terrible about that. Those things were coded for adults, a full on blow would probably have killed the boy. As if in response the burns around his middle made themselves known. Matt ignored them. There’d be time for pain later, lots of time because he was almost certainly fired.
He glanced around. Bargwill had vanished along with his lackey.
Oh, well. He’d have to be fired later.
Turning to the other grooms Matt did his best to shout some order into the place.
He’d turned on the fire suppressant system and stolen a med kit and walked out on his shift… This was the most daring thing he’d ever done without someone else’s knife at his throat.
Techie’s heart felt like it was going to climb out of his throat and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking and and and… he’d never felt more alive.
The fathiers were all outside, steaming as they dried off in the sun, and all the stable staff were rushing around in a frenzy which meant Techie could sneak into the training arena unnoticed.
Unfortunately he was also overlooked by his target.
Techie hadn’t noticed on the video feed that the stable hand was, well, nearly naked. He was wearing some kind of hightech leggings, the dark fabric bearing a pattern that reminded Techie of stormtrooper gear, but they were skin tight and soaking wet. The rest of him was just soaking wet. He didn’t even have shoes on his impossibly large feet.
He was nearly naked, and dripping wet from the sprinkler system that Techie had at least remembered to turn off before he came down here. Naked. Wet. Glistening .
Techie stared wide eyed as a droplet of water formed on the man’s glasses for a moment before it fell directly only one peaked nipple.
Well… this was how he was going to die.
His heart was going to stop.
Was it possible to blush with your entire body?!
He wanted to look away, he wanted to be polite, but damn it neither his dick or his eyes were willing to agree, so he just kept on staring. Even when the man turned and saw him Techie couldn’t stop staring.
Suddenly the stable hand was walking towards him with a rolling gait that somehow made each muscle in his torso flex in turn. It was hypnotising. Techie’s heart was going to explode from the stress.
Some tiny part of his brain that still valued his survival held the med kit out with rod straight arms, like he was some poorly animated sprite in a hologame.
“I… I saw what happened. With the… with the whip. I thought you might need some, uh…” Techie blanked on the word he wanted. The word was at the tip of his tongue, but with that gorgeous chest standing inches away his tongue could think of much more interesting things to be doing right now. It seemed to have gone of strike in protest of not getting to lick the water still dripping from the man’s hair.
“Oh. Wow. Uh, thanks,” the stable hand replied in voice that was nothing like Techie had been expecting, but gorgeous all the same.
He had to stop using the word ‘gorgeous’. It was beginning to lose all meaning.
“I can rub lotion on you!” Oh no, he’d just said that outloud. Clearly his tongue had turned vindictive. His brain scrambled to fix the situation but tumbled down a well of embarrassment instead. “Only if you want me to, the bits you can’t reach that is, if you want, I wouldn’t rub you if you… oh gods…”
It wasn’t humanly possible to blush more than this, but oddly enough the other man seemed to be almost as flustered.
“I’d like that! I mean, I uh, shit, sorry.”
At least neither of them was eloquent.
Behind him the Cloddogran began shouting again.
“Why don’t we go somewhere else for this?” The stable hand said. He grabbed Techie’s hand and dragged him away down a corridor he didn’t recognise before Techie could formulate an answer. The answer would have been yes anyway, but he would have liked the chance to say it outloud.
Techie knew what grass was.
He wasn’t an idiot.
He’d seen the weirdly shifting stuff on the hills from the promenade many times.
He just hadn’t seen it this close before.
Now he was seeing it so close that it was brushing against his knees through the bottom of his shorts like a thousand tiny hands. He was concentrating too hard on the uneven path beneath his feet and the warm weight of the other man’s hand in his to think too much about the grass, but he suspected that he didn’t like it.
His mind circled back to holding the other man’s hand and rewrote that fact in huge letters across his consciousness.
They hadn’t said a word to each other since they ran. The stable hand had led and Techie had followed with such a complete trust that it raised strange memories of his childhood.
Wet grass. Soaking wet grass that rose high above his head and a red haired boy leading him by the hand while he talked excitedly about something on the beach.
Techie stopped dead, almost pulling the stable hand off his feet with the shock of it.
He had never been on a planet in his life. His mother had fled Arkanis before she even knew she was pregnant- his father was an evil son of a bitch but he’d never have left his child behind if he’d know about him. He’d been born in space. He knew that.
So why was the vision of that boy so clear in his mind?
“Hey, are you okay?” The stable hand was right in front of him now, his back bowed in an effort to look Techie in the eye. “Sorry, I guess I kinda ran off with you there.”
The smile wasn’t much, just an uncertain twitch of muscles that didn’t seem to be used all that often, but it was enough to snap Techie out of his daze.
“That’s… that’s okay,” he managed to say after a second too long spent studying the curve of the man’s lips. “I just haven’t been up here before, and I… oh…”
He’d turned back to see how far they’d climbed and… wow…
“It’s so small.”
Below them, far far below them, Canto Bight was nestled into the cliffs like an abandoned seashell- beautiful, but empty and dead inside. It looked like a toy, or a simulation maybe, something totally non-threatening that he could step on if he liked.
The sea stretched out before them, the grasslands glowed around the edges above the golden beaches, and behind him the desert was an endless wall of rust.
There was absolutely nothing above him, not even the lamps and awnings that lined the streets of Canto Bight.
There was nothing above him but sky and if he looked up he was going to fall into it forever.
Beside him the stable hand laughed gently as Techie grabbed his arm with both hands.
“Grew up in space?” He asked. “Yeah, I guess you don’t know infinity until you’ve seen it without transparisteel in the way. Wait til you see the stars from here.”
Techie heard his eyes whirr in surprise and hated that he couldn’t keep his emotions to himself any more. He’d worked the nightshift ever since he arrived here. He’d only ever seen the night sky through the security monitors and the electric glow of the city had rendered the stars invisible at such crappy resolution. He hadn’t see a star since the day he was freed.
“We’re going to be up here until night?!” Techie asked, his brain suddenly supplying him with an inaccurate list of all the creatures that might eat him out here at night. He turned with one hand over his mouth to peer into the long grass as if an acklay might be hiding there waiting to eat them both.
A dragonfly fluttered its wings at him, but nothing else moved.
“I was just… talking.” The man said, taking Techie’s hand and moving along the path again. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want, but it is pretty. Don’t worry, there’s nothing up here bigger an us. Sometimes Bargwill lets the fathiers exercise up here but he has to be in a really good mood for that, so we probably have a decade or two before it happens again.”
Techie laughed into his sleeve in surprise. He’d never dare speak about his bosses outloud like that. It was refreshing but a bit frightening to hear.
“Just because something is smaller than us that doesn’t make it safe…” Techie was only half teasing, but he forgot his train of thought the instant they stepped out into the, well, what to call it? A clearing.
Once he started running Matt didn’t want to stop. The sun was warm on his shoulders, the sandy path was soft under his bare feet, the mystery man’s hand was cool in his own… that last part should have been enough to make him falter but his feet carried on regardless.
It felt too good to burn off some of the nervous energy still coursing through him after the encounter with Bargwill, so he just kept going. Right up until the other man halted so suddenly that Matt almost fell face first into the grass.
Underneath the shadows of his long hair the other man had turned so pale that he looked grey. He already had that oddly translucent look of a human that lived off-planet, but now he looked half dead.
Matt tried to bend at the waist to look him in the eye, but the burns around his middle protested, forcing him to emulate the other man’s hunched posture. “Hey, are you okay? Sorry, I guess I kinda ran off with you there.”
He tried and failed to smile, but the shockingly blue eyes still blinked in response like the movement of Matt’s face was enough to wake him up.
The man slowly started to respond with a stutter Matt shouldn’t have classified as adorable before he trailed off. He’d looked away from Matt and let the current of the sea beside them lead his eyes back to the city.
“It’s so small.”
The city was small, not just from their vantage point but compared to everywhere Matt had ever lived. How ridiculous that all the wealth in the Outer Rim passed through such an insignificant place.
Matt tightened his grip as the man’s eyes tracked past the city and up, up, up… Just as he’d predicted the man wrapped his other arm around Matt’s wrist in an almost painful hold.
The sky had had a similar effect on him the first time he’d ventured out here. Technically he could have gone outside to look at the sky during his time on Starkiller, but the cold had far outweighed the beauty of the stars. Hell, that place was so cold there’d been a rumour that the General put hot coals in his boots before every inspection. Then again there’d been a lot of weird rumours about that guy.
He laughed at the memory then remembered himself and tried to turn it into a chuckle of solidarity.
“Grew up in space?” He asked. “Yeah, I guess you don’t know infinity until you’ve seen it without transparisteel in the way. Wait til you see the stars from here.”
There was a whirring noise that Matt had heard before the last time he met this man, and he suddenly realised that the sound wasn’t another security camera like he’d thought- it was the man’s eyes. That’s why they were so huge and such a brilliant blue.
Mechanical or not, they were still beautiful.
“We’re going to be up here until night?!”
Matt felt terrible at the fear in the man’s voice. He was almost as tall as Matt but probably about half his weight. The man had no muscle at all- of course he’d be scared of him.
Then the man turned with a hand over his mouth and his hair streaming out behind him like a comet- he wasn’t frightened of Matt at all! He was frightened of everything else.
Well at least Matt could be confident out here. He took back the hand he’d been holding before and lead them on along the path.
“I was just… talking. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want, but it is pretty. Don’t worry, there’s nothing up here bigger an us. Sometimes Bargwill lets the fathiers exercise up here but he has to be in a really good mood for that, so we probably have a decade or two before it happens again.”
He started to blush when he realised he was speaking with the same cadence he used for the fathiers, but then the man giggled and Matt felt as light as a feather. It was the cutest noise he’d ever heard in his life.
He vowed then and there to get the man to make that noise again as often as he possibly could.
“Just because something is smaller than us that doesn’t make it safe…” The man started to reply in a teasing tone before he cut himself off again.
Matt was proud of this place. It was a silly thing to be proud of, but for a man who’d never even seen grass until a year ago he thought he’d done well. He’d actually copied a trick he’d seen the kids using on one of the rare public holidays, but the man didn’t need to know that.
“It’s a perfect circle!” He exclaimed, his mouth still hidden by an over long sleeve.
Matt beamed. All it took was a piece of pipe, a length of rope, and some patience, but the crop circle looked impressive if you didn’t know how it was done.
Lifting a patch of browning grass Matt pulled out the flat case he kept up here to save him carrying too much. It only contained a blanket and water skin right now because he’d eaten all his spare rations the last time he was here, but he only needed the blanket.
He felt an irrational sense of loss when he let go of the man’s hand to smooth the blanket out across the ground. Part of him imagined that if he turned back too quickly he’d find the man missing.
A lovely hallucination and nothing more.
But bending made him hiss in pain and the dead grass rustled like the man had stepped forward in concern.
“We should… we really should look at your ah… wounds,” the man said with even more stutter than before.
When Matt had half-knelt half-fallen onto the blanket he turned enough to see that the man was blushing pink again.
He just couldn’t resist the urge to tease a bit more. “You should probably tell me your name if you’re going to, what was it? Rub lotion on me?”
The man’s mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. Perhaps Matt had gone a bit too far.
Oh gods he had said that, hadn’t he?
And now the stable hand was practically laid out on a blanket in front of him, still glistening in places from the sprinklers, looking like a model from the kind of calendar Techie had definitely never looked at in his life.
Yes, Techie had absolutely never stolen anything like that from the garbage for later study and he definitely did not think that the man looked just like a particularly memorable ‘Mister February’. Absolutely not. No. That was definitely not where his brain was going.
Oh no, how long had he been staring?
He could tell he was blushing and his mouth was moving but thankfully no sound was coming out just yet.
What had the man asked? His name?
“Techie,” the word jumped out of his mouth before he could think about it.
That wasn’t his legal name but it was a nickname he’d had since he was six years old. A Corellian freighter captain and his Wookiee co-pilot had called him that when he climbed into the engine of their ship to fix a coupling neither of them could reach. He’d used it interchangeably with his birth name for years until Ma-Ma had laughed at ‘Haven’ and had MALE tattooed on his forehead like the name his mother gave him was offensive to her.
The uncomfortable memory made him pull his hair forward to cover the tattoo he’d never gotten removed, but the man didn’t seem to notice.
“Techie… Techie...” He repeated the name a few times, and Techie couldn’t stop himself focusing on the exaggerated way his lips formed around the word.
Then he smiled- a proper real smile that reached his eyes and made the glasses shift on his nose- and Techie was lost.
The name suited him- plain and no-nonsense. Not filled with ridiculous hidden meanings like Techie’s own name.
“Hi Matt.” Oh no, he still couldn’t speak properly could he?
Wait, was Matt starting to blush too? At least they were embarrassed together.
“Ummm…” He fumbled with the med kit as he knelt, more for the excuse to look away from that smile and that chest … he’d be touching that soon.
Some pessimistic part of his mind suggested that really he’d only have to touch the man in places he couldn’t reach, and surely Matt could reach the front of his own torso, but the rest of his mind was panicking too hard to listen.
“I uh, I’m not that experienced with burns, not on this scale but I checked and there’s directions on the cream so…”
Matt stopped him with a featherlight touch on the back of his hand, like Techie was some kind of frightened animal, which was as accurate as it was insulting. “It’s okay, I’ve had a lot of these burns.”
As if to prove the statement Matt twisted slightly on the blanket to show where his broad back still bore the faint branching lines of multiple lightning burns. Most of them were intersected by what looked like mundane whip marks, something Techie did have experience with, but all of the scars seemed to be old and fading with the help of the sun.
Techie found himself reaching out and tracing the path of one particularly nasty looking scar that curled around Matt’s shoulder toward his collarbone.
Instead of flinching at the contact Matt pressed back slightly against his fingers.
“I’m not very good at following stupid instructions,” Matt muttered almost to himself before he turned his head to look over his own shoulder.
The change in position made his breath gust over Techie’s knuckles, reminding him of just how close they were. Unsure whether he should be uncomfortable- his brain was just one long continuous scream now- he pulled his hand back and tried to smile reassuringly.
“I know that feeling,” Techie said.
He’d actually been very good at following instructions. The problem was just that Ma-Ma had changed her mind on a pinhead so he was never entirely sure which instructions he should have been following. Inevitably whatever he’d done had been wrong.
“How’s it look back there?” Matt asked, drawing his attention back to the moment.
Techie took his time inspecting Matt’s back, not just because he was caught up in admiring the structure of his muscles - who knew a human had so many? - but because he was concerned about infection from the stable’s unclean working conditions. If that meant his eyes clicked and whirred for longer than might have seemed necessary, well he was just being thorough.
“I think it’s okay. There’s no bleeding or open wounds, and I can’t see any blistering, just the band of red all the way around.”
Matt nodded thoughtfully. “I think the whip overlapped at the front so that would make sense. Can you?” He gestured to the med kit.
They fell into silence as Techie rolled up his sleeves and applied anti-bacterial gel to his hands. He washed or soniced his hands as often as he could, but he hadn’t showered in far too long. Even if Matt didn’t have any open wounds it was best not to risk it.
He reread the directions on the burn lotion, squeezed a little onto his fingertip and reached out with exaggerated care.
He almost levitated when Matt hissed in discomfort.
The burn was warmer than the shoulder he’d touched before, so that made sense. He tried to be gentler.
After a second or two of softly stroking the lotion onto Matt’s skin with just the one finger he reached to the same conclusion a second before Matt said, “This won’t work.”
Techie stopped, waiting for further instruction and trying to fight down the shame at not even being able to do this right.
“Just... put some on your palm and get it all on in one go. It'll hurt more but for a lot less time.” Matt braced his hands on his knees as if preparing for the pain. “At least that way I can deal with the rest faster.”
“Okay… okay…” Techie muttered with his lower lip caught between his teeth in concentration.
He felt like he was having an out of body experience.
There was no way he was still in control of his own body. His hands weren't even shaking as they rubbed together to spread out the lotion and then reached out toward the figure in front of him.
It was almost massage like, the way his hands smoothed out from Matt’s spine and around his sides, muscles rippling just under his skin. Not that Techie had ever had a massage, or even seen one, but he’d read about them and this was a dream come true. Matt really was gorgeous and here was Techie, actually getting to touch him...
“Yeah, I never could follow a stupid order.” Matt sighed, apparently wishing to fill the awkward silence with chat.
That wasn't something that Techie never found all that reassuring himself- on Peachtrees silence had been golden- but if it made Matt more comfortable then who was he to object?
He hummed noncommittally, not all that interested in reciprocating. Matt could talk if he wanted to, just so long as Techie didn't have to join in.
Matt didn't seem to notice to notice the lack of enthusiasm. He continued, “The Stormtrooper Captains despaired of me ever getting things right. Technicians too. Hopeless really.”
Techie froze, his hand still flat against Matt’s ribs. His blood had suddenly turned cold. He didn’t want to believe he’d just heard what his heart swore Matt had just said. It was pointless to ask, but he did anyway.
“Storm...Stormtrooper? You’re with the First Order?”
Matt had been ready for the chill of the ointment, but he was completely unprepared for the way Techie touched him.
He wasn’t fragile.
He had never been fragile in his entire life. He’d always been the biggest in his age group- the tallest; heaviest; strongest; the one who did the grunt work and was never expected to rest because he didn’t need it.
And here he was with such a beautiful, delicate creature as this touching him like he was made of glass.
It would have made his heart sing if it hadn’t made his skin feel like it was on fire.
“Just... put some on your palm and get it all on in one go. It'll hurt more but for a lot less time.” He said reluctantly when he just couldn’t stand the pain any more. “At least that way I can deal with the rest faster.”
Shifting in place he braced his hands on his knees then drew his shoulders forward to bare more of his back and make the process easier.
Behind him Techie muttered “Okay… okay…” as if through clenched teeth.
Although he was expecting it Matt couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss when the fingertip vanished from his skin. He held his breath, listening to the soft sounds that proved Techie had left him entirely- the wet sound of lotion being worked between palms and breathing so even that it seemed mechanical.
Then both of Techie’s hands- smooth and warm and perfect- reappeared and the world went golden. What had been unbearably gentle before had turned into the most wonderful massage. Yes, it still hurt like hell on the surface but the firm pressure against his muscles was a relief he couldn’t put into words.
His cock twitched with interest and Matt, always awkward in any situation, suddenly felt the need to distract them both by filling the silence. Lost for a topic his brain went back to the last coherent thing he could remember saying.
“Yeah, I never could follow a stupid order.” He said with not a lot of regret.
Techie was probably fantastic at following instructions. Look at the way he was looking after Matt even though they didn’t know one another. He was doing such a good job, and he’d even planned ahead in getting Matt the medical kit in the first place.
Matt never thought ahead all that much. He could keep to a schedule- just about- but that was the extent of his abilities, and anything that distracted him could easily derail his whole day. Like being dragged out of his bed to deal with an emergency and ending up covered in burns, soaked to the skin, probably fired and sitting in a field with a beautiful man...
His mouth kept talking without input from his brain, which was how at least 70% of his conversations usually went. “The Stormtrooper Captains despaired of me ever getting things right. Technicians too. Hopeless really.”
Techie froze, his hand still flat against Matt’s ribs.
“Storm...Stormtrooper?” the stutter was back with a vengeance, but this time Techie didn’t sound just nervous or unsure. This time he sounded legitimately terrified. “You’re with the First Order?”
The question didn’t make sense. Of course he wasn’t with the First Order any more.
“No, I got fired.” He couldn’t quite get the laugh out of his voice and somehow that made things worse.
Techie wasn’t touching him any more. Judging by the quiet ‘umph!’ and the sudden rustling of the dry grass Techie had tried to back away and fallen on his ass.
Matt turned in place just in time to see Techie staring at him from the ground with wide eyed horror for just a moment before he turned and scrambled away into the surrounding greenery.
Techie had gotten away from Ma-Ma’s gang without his mother or his own natural eyes but he’d gotten away and he’d be damned before he fell into the trap of something even worse.
He turned and ran, determined to put as much space between him and Matt as he could. He’d go back to the casino, cash out his wages and get out of this awful place. He’d fooled himself for long enough in his mother’s name, but no more. Not if the First Order was infiltrating Cantonica too.
Ma-Ma had controlled Peachtrees spaceport, she’d led raids on nearby planets and captured any ship unwary enough to wander too close, but she’d only been one woman with a few hundred followers. She’d been defeated, her people had been wiped out and Techie was probably the only person left who knew all the atrocities she’d committed.
But the First Order…
His mother had talked of them with a rage in her voice that he’d only even heard from her when he lost his eyes. She didn’t even talk about Ma-Ma like that most of the time, even when she was dying.
The last remnants of the Empire who’d abandoned any hope of a peaceful life in favour of betraying the Galactic Republic and leaving it to fall into the same corruption as had torn apart the previous Republic. Remnants like his father, who’d left his own wife to die on a besieged plant; who could have saved so many lives if he’d just surrendered to the will of righteous people like Leia Organa; who could have done so much good but had chosen to do so much evil.
He ran on through the grass that cut his legs with every step, his eyes focused on the city ahead.
Techie had long suspected that he knew more about the First Order than most people. In his role running the surveillance cameras he had to listen in on all quiet corridor gossip under management orders. No one ever imagined it was being overheard by anyone who cared because the wealthy visitors to Canto Bight didn’t consider beings like him sentient.
Still, he heard all the deals being made.
For armoured cavalry vehicles.
For warships, and dreadnoughts, and, and,
He’d forgotten about the hill they’d climbed to reach the grasslands. He’d forgotten why the city looked so small below him.
The grasslands ended and his feet found only the open air.
Matt almost let Techie run away.
Anger had bubbled up in his chest, always so close to the surface ready to pour out and burn whoever it touched. Of course Techie ran from him- big, stupid, dangerous, couldn’t even keep a job in an organisation that snatched or bred most of its members. There were no entry requirements and he’d still failed.
This was the moment the rage always turned outward, when the self loathing turned into hatred of whoever had hurt him.
He remembered Techie’s eyes, huge and impossibly blue and filled with tears.
The rage fizzled out like a match in a rainstorm.
Techie hadn’t run from him- he ran from the First Order and Matt was not FO any more.
Suddenly his mind reminded him that Techie had never been here before. He didn’t know where the safe paths down the cliff were… “SHIT!”
Matt wasn’t exactly built for speed but he was definitely conditioned for it from years of panicked failures, so he caught up with Techie easily. The skinny man hadn’t left much of a path through the grass but his bright orange hair and yellow shirt were easy to spot against the blue sky.
Techie was running in a straight line, directly towards the steepest and most impassible point of the cliff over the beach.
Nerves on fire from every movement of his skin Matt found an extra burst of energy from gods knew where and leapt.
He caught a handful of shirt just as Techie’s feet took him over the cliff edge. There was a horrible moment of falling and ripping and strain on his arm that made him want to scream. Instinct took over, making him grit his teeth instead as he rolled backwards, his other hand grabbing at whatever he could reach.
For an instant they became a painful ball of sharp elbows and knees then finally there was stillness.
Techie was laying face down on the trampled grass. He was gasping strangely and shaking like a newborn foal.
Matt stared at him. His own lungs working overtime, every part of his body lining up to register its own complaints but surprisingly it was his hands that ached the most.
Far slower than he was proud of Matt realised he still had a white knuckle grip on Techie’s shirt. And his hair. The shirt was torn at the armpits where it had taken the bulk of his weight. Matt felt terrible about that. From the state of his clothes Techie probably didn’t own much else.
Suddenly Techie heaved back, scrabbling at his own throat.
Looking again Matt finally realised that while the main fabric of the shirt had ripped the collar hadn’t.
He let go of Techie so quickly he swore he heard his knuckles crack in protest, then he shuffled back from the man he’d saved but also inadvertently garrotted with his own shirt.
Bright copper strands clung to his fingers and sparkled slightly when they drifted toward the ground. He’d choked him and torn his hair out. He really couldn’t do anything right.
Matt wanted to get up. He wanted to turn and run the other way until he reached the desert where he couldn’t do anything stupid ever again. He wanted a lot of things. But right now all his body would agree to was laying very still right where he was. So that’s what he did.
One moment Techie had been staring down between his feet at a very distant beach that would soon become far too close to be survivable, the next he was laying on his side amongst sunwarmed grass.
There had been a time in between filled with pain and a sensation of choking, but since that was neither falling nor splattering across the rocks below Techie chose to ignore it. He stayed on his side, breathing deeply, until his heart felt like it wouldn’t explode at the first movement he made, then he rolled over to see what had saved him.
On some level he’d known it’d be Matt behind him. No one else knew where he was, and he hadn’t seen any sign of anyone else up here, but saving him didn’t exactly fit with his expectations of the First Order.
Techie heard his own eyes whirring loudly as he rolled them at his own stupidity.
What a stupid thing to think.
Weren’t they up here precisely because Matt had risked his job to save a baby animal and gotten badly burned in the process? That wasn’t exactly the behaviour of an evil person either now was it?
A few inches away from him Matt was laying with his face pressed into the grass. The position was forcing his glasses to sit askew on his nose. It didn’t look comfortable. At first Techie had thought he was unconscious, but as he watched a single fat tear fell from Matt’s lashes onto the lens of his glasses. There was a sniffle.
“I’m sorry,” Techie said. His voice sounded weird, scratchy and almost unintelligible to his own ears. He swallowed in an attempt to clear it but ended up coughing at the pain.
Matt made a noise of distress at the sound but didn’t look up.
Techie wasn’t great at giving comfort. It wasn’t something he’d ever really learned to do, or seen modelled much around him as an adult. He thought for a moment, then having come up with no better option than ‘his mother had stroked his hair when he was sick and that was nice’ he reached out and patted Matt gently on the head.
His hair was firm and springy and warm. It was a very nice sensation so he did it again.
“That was stupid of me,” he said, then coughed again.
He couldn’t talk properly in his normal register. He moved his tongue around, trying to find the place he’d spoken from as a child before he’d learned the accent of the pilots. It had been a defensive choice- Corellian and Chandrillian accents always seemed to put people at their ease. as he’d grown older Techie come to find the sound of an Imperial accent coming from a child’s mouth just as creepy as he imagined adults had always found him.
He tried again. “I’m sorry, thank you for saving me.” Good, that hurt much less.
This time the noise Matt made was more of a snort. “I’d say you sound like an officer but I’ve never heard the words ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ from any of them.”
“I’m not an officer!” Techie snapped reflexively. He stroked Matt’s hair again in apology. “Sorry. My father might have been- he was an Imperial officer. He left my mother behind when Arkanis was destroyed.”
“I guess that’s why you don’t like the First Order then,” Matt said. He’d finally turned his face out of the grass but he didn’t move to sit up, so Techie stayed where he was too.
“That and the stories of missing kids…” Techie paused, uncertain if he should say more, but if Matt was still with the First Order then he wouldn’t be anything he didn’t already know. “And all the deals I hear about through the casino comms. I know the propaganda is that they’re going to get equal treatment for the systems in the Outer Rim but I don’t think any organisation needs that many weapons.”
“You have no idea.” He stopped, apparently unsure himself about how much to say. His eyes moved around awkwardly behind his lenses for a while then Matt reached up and covered Techie’s hand. “The stuff about the kids is true though.”
“Why did you join them then?!” Techie’s mouth really was talking without checking with common sense first. He shifted enough to put his free hand over his mouth in the hope of keeping any further words from coming out, but the damage was already done.
Matt carefully removed the hand from his hair and sat up. He didn’t go any further across the grass but he when he crossed his legs he somehow seemed to be worlds away.
As nice as the hand on his hair was, hearing Techie speak with that distinctively clipped accent made strange shivers go down Matt’s spine and he made a noise of amusement without really meaning it.
“I’d say you sound like an officer but I’ve never heard the words ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ from any of them,” he said to cover the weird sound and the feeling of unease that was creeping over him.
“I’m not an officer!” Techie snapped, then stroked his hair again like Matt was an animal and easily spooked. “Sorry. My father might have been- he was an Imperial officer. He left my mother behind when Arkanis was destroyed.”
Matt had heard of Arkanis, there had been a training academy there that had churned out any number of older officers. He didn’t pay all that much attention to ancient history but he definitely remembered some story or other about the Republic’s invasion of the planet being an absolute shitshow.
“I guess that’s why you don’t like the First Order then,” Matt said turning to look at him. ‘Might have been’ suggested that Techie didn’t know his father, so he’d probably been left with his mother to face the invasion. That must have been terrifying even if he’d only been little at at the time.
Matt wanted to say something soothing, but he didn’t know where to begin and the conversation was already moving on without him.
“That and the stories of missing kids…” Techie paused with his tongue between his teeth for a moment. It was pink and cute and very distracting. “And all the deals I hear about through the casino comms. I know the propaganda is that they’re going to get equal treatment for the systems in the Outer Rim but I don’t think any organisation needs that many weapons.”
“You have no idea.” Matt said automatically, thinking of the vast icy wastes of Starkiller Base. Many guns or one giant planet sized gun- which was worse. But he stopped himself before he said anything stupid. No one was supposed to know about Starkiller. “The stuff about the kids is true though.”
“Why did you join them then?!” Techie slapped a hand over his mouth with a look of wide-eyed horror but the way he spoke the words in that accent made Matt’s skin want to crawl off his body.
Not wanting to offend Techie any more than he already had he carefully removed the hand from his hair and sat up. He crossed his legs under himself as comfortably as he could before he continued.
“You don’t really think that most people actually join the First Order do you?” Matt made a noise that sounded almost like laughter to his own ears though talking about this was making his gut roil in ways he couldn’t really understand. “I mean, some people do, I guess. I knew of one weird kid who killed his own parents and stole a shuttle just to become a Petty Officer on the General’s own ship. But Thanisson was not normal. Even his own commanding officers didn’t trust him- because most people don’t join . Even General Hux was raised in the Order!” He knew his voice was rising and tried to rein it in, but years of anger made his tone far more combative than he would have liked when he continued, “You can’t trust someone who grew up outside the system, they aren’t conditioned right.”
Feeling guilty Matt glanced up and saw that the look of horrified distaste was back in Techie’s eyes. He seemed to be shaking behind the hand that was still held tight over his mouth.
Matt turned his eyes back to the floor so he wouldn’t have to look at that expression.
“That’s what was wrong with me.” He said, picking at the grass by his ankle. “I wasn’t good enough. So they got rid of me. Just like my parents.”
“You’re telling me that the First Order really let you leave?” Techie asked quietly. His hand had moved to push at his hair but he still didn’t look like he wanted to be speaking. “You were raised in the system and they really let you go? Just like that? With their secrets in your head?”
“I wasn’t raised in the First Order,” Matt scoffed. “My parents ran part of a shipyard- dad was an architect, mum was a master shipbuilder. My dad specialised in two person fighters. Representatives started visiting to discuss a big order when I was ten. They wanted a lot of ships, a lot of money was involved.”
Techie sat up and leaned forward, his eyes full of fear and his voice like the crackle of dry paper when he asked, “What did the First Order do to them? Did they take the ships without paying, destroy the shipyard, and kidnap you?”
Matt huffed. “No, that’s the plot of a holo-romance. People who want to keep doing discreet business don’t steal like that. It might scare some folks into complying but they’d never get another order of ships from Kaut-Entralla ever again. You don’t fuck with the people who make your weapons because they always have more than you. That’s why Canto Bight is the way it is. I’m sure Hux would take all the money here if he thought he could.”
“So, what happened?”
“I was part of the deal.”
“Your parents sold you?” Techie gasped.
“Sort of.” Matt said. He ripped a chunk of grass out of the ground and shredded it. “They gave the First Order a 0.01% discount on the whole order if they’d take me away.”
“Your parents sold you?” Techie asked with a gasp that made his throat ache. His father might have abandoned his mother, but she’d never let anyone or anything separate her from her son. But sell a child? Without even any financial hardship to justify it?
“Sort of.” Matt said. His thick blunt fingers looked strangely innocent as they shredded chunks of grass in the space between his knees. “They gave the First Order a 0.01% discount on the whole order if they’d take me away.”
While his brain tried to parse that odd sentence Techie’s body took the opportunity to remind him that he was still laying in a heap on the grass while Matt was sitting up above him. There was no real threat about him now, but Techie had never much liked making himself vulnerable if he could help it.
His neck protested as he sat up. Could a person get whiplash just from being grabbed? He’d been thrown around plenty while he was on Peachtrees but maybe now that he was approaching thirty his body couldn’t cope so well.
He rolled his head, wincing at the pain.
From the corner of his eye he saw that Matt winced with him and a wave of guilt washed over him for making his rescuer feel bad about his injuries. It was a cycle he honestly feared they might not escape if they didn’t fight the pull of reciprocal guilt.
Instinctively he put a reassuring hand on Matt’s knee. Before he could panic and overthink it, Matt covered it with his own and squeezed.
“I’m so sorry,” Techie began, knowing it wasn’t enough but unsure what exactly to say. “Your parents basically paid the First Order to take you? That’s awful.”
Matt shrugged and kept his eyes on the ground. He’d torn up almost all the grass in the diamond space between his knees. “I grew too big to be useful. Being tall can be handy in a shipyard but being tall and wide,” he gestured to his shoulders and shook his head sadly. “I was just too clumsy. I couldn’t do the detailed work any more because I grew too fast. Droids can do the heavy work and they don’t need feeding.”
That was something Techie could understand- though his growth spurt had come later, at almost sixteen- but he knew that alien feeling of constantly misjudging distances and never being entire certain of your own body. At least he could still get into narrow spaces.
“The First Order thought I’d be ideal as a stormtrooper,” Matt went on, finally looking up when Techie squeezed his knee. “I was trained by a woman even taller than me, but, I don’t know, I never learned to be graceful in combat like her. I tried, I swear I tried, but I always ended up hurting other members of my unit. Kylo Ren is built like me, but… he has the Force and I have nothing. My parents were right to sell me. The First Order were right to send me away.”
“No!” The word came out of his mouth like a punch, so angry that it startled both of them.
Without thinking Techie was leaning forward to grab both of Matt’s hands. It was hard to see his eyes behind the tear streaked lenses of his glasses but Techie did his best to make eye contact with him.
Techie felt strange doing this, suddenly aware of just how warm the brown in Matt’s eyes really was while also terrified that the inhumanity of his implants would ruin the moment. Eye contact was something he hadn’t been comfortable with since Ma-Ma took his eyes, but this was important.
“You don’t have nothing. You have heart. You took the blows meant for that fathier, you stood up against injustice even though the First Order tried to make you a weapon. Not everyone is meant for the role they were born into- just because you grew up in space doesn’t mean that this isn’t the right place for you now.”
“What? Sitting in a field?” Matt asked facetiously. He smiled and leant forward to rest his forehead against Techie’s temple. “Thank you.”
Matt really didn’t like thinking about his own worth. He didn’t really like to think about the concept of ‘Matt’ as an individual.
When he’d lived on Starkiller he’d built his personality around a scaffold of hero worship for Kylo Ren. He’d watched him training in the snow or in one of the gymnasiums when Matt spent most of his off hours, and he’d fallen in love to the point of obsession.
He’d known so little of the man beyond his physical prowess but in a way Matt had hoped that was something he could gain to make himself feel whole. If only he could move like Kylo, fight like him, command respect like him, he could be a real person.
But of course there was no way Matt could ever match the Force.
It was only when he found his way to the stables here on Cantonica that Matt had discovered any kind of peace.
The fathiers didn’t care that he wasn’t the most graceful creature in the galaxy. They never noticed if he moved wrong- he’d accidentally smacked one with a broom handle once and it had just licked him like he was its own foal. Maybe that was how they saw him.
They were built for strength and trained for speed but grace was an afterthought- something developed naturally with age.
As Techie spoke, staring earnestly into his eyes with those bright blue apertures, all of that came rushing back to him.
Yes, his parents had sent him away.
Yes, he’d failed the First Order.
But did that actually matter?
He was here now, sitting a field with possibly the most beautiful man he’d ever seen clinging to his hands like their lives depended on it.
“...Not everyone is meant for the role they were born into, just because you grew up in space doesn’t mean that this isn’t the right place for you now.”
“What? Sitting in a field?” Matt asked facetiously. He smiled and leant forward to rest his forehead against Techie’s temple. “Thank you.”
He wanted to kiss him, but Techie was still shaking from the shock of nearly falling off the cliff so Matt restrained himself and settled for just nuzzling forward against his hair for a second.
Despite the strong green smell of the grass he’d torn up Matt could still smell the grease and sweat trapped by Techie’s hair. As a man used to the daily sonic cleansing of the First Order the scent should have bothered him but surprisingly it just made him think of his fathiers.
It was a good smell, almost like home. He wanted to stay there but Techie’s trembling only increased with contact so he pushed away.
“We should get back to what we were doing,” he said with a shaky laugh. “If you’re not used to the sun out here you’re probably going to burn.”
Techie’s eyes click as his gaze followed him as he stood. “Shouldn’t you be more worried? Without a shirt?”
Matt looked down at himself. He’d forgotten that he was literally wearing nothing but leggings.
If he’d been fired he might have lost all his clothes. Bargwill had done that before to one of the jockeys who’d pissed him off- he’d sold everything in the guy’s locker for three credits. Matt really wouldn’t put it past him to do it again.
He rubbed his chest awkwardly then flushed when he realised Techie had licked his lips at the movement.
“Uh, yeah,” What had they been talking about? He held his hand out to help Techie up. When he wasn’t almost falling to his death he was surprisingly light. Which must have been why he fell when Matt pulled on his hand.
Techie stumbled because he was still a little disoriented from his fall.
That was the absolute truth, he definitely did not stumble deliberately as he stood just to accidentally fall with both hands on Matt’s chest. He was not overcome by curiosity about what it might feel like to lean against.
It was nice. Warm and firm, and he could probably get away with leaning his face against it for a moment but sanity reasserted itself just in time to stop him pressing his cheek between Matt’s pecs.
In fact sanity all but screamed him upright with a face flushed with chagrin that Matt thankfully took as nothing more than embarrassment at tripping.
Matt kept a steadying hand on Techie’s elbow as they made their way back to his artificial clearing. Perhaps Matt thought he would fall again, or maybe like Techie he was taking any opportunity for contact that he could get.
Was that just wishful thinking?
Matt had leaned into the awkwardly earnest handholding. He’d practically nuzzled him…
But he hadn’t kissed him. He could have done but he hadn’t.
A small voice pointed out to Techie that he had also been perfectly capable of leaning up and kissing him too, but it was drowned out by the roaring chasm of his self-doubt.
By the time they were gathering up the things he’d scattered when he ran away, Techie had thoroughly convinced himself that the interest was one sided.
They stood awkwardly in the middle of the flattened circle, Matt holding the med kit between them like a shield.
Walking back through the grass Matt was constantly aware of the warmth of Techie’s arm against his side. His shirt was oddly stiff in places, sharp burnt little spots where sparks had melted the synthetic material. Matt couldn’t help but wonder what his skin felt like under there.
Even with the pleasant sensation against his side Matt was horribly aware that they were walking in a silence that grew more and more uncomfortable with every step. He wanted to break the tension but Matt couldn’t think of anything to say.
Techie seemed to be deep in thought. He was watching the path with his head lowered. They weren’t much different in height but Techie curled in on himself so much that all Matt could see as he looked at him was the way the sunlight glittered in his eyelashes. It was enchantingly pretty.
He wanted to say that but his tongue wasn’t working.
Between them they gathered up the scattered med kit far more quickly than Matt would have liked and before he could get his brain back online they were standing awkwardly opposite one another with the med kit between them like an offer.
“Should you take this back?” He asked, not entirely sure where Techie had got it from in the first place.
Techie shook his head. “It was in the spares pile, no one will notice it’s gone. Besides, you might need it.”
His eyes roamed over Matt’s chest again for an instant so short that Matt might have missed it if he hadn’t been watching him so closely.
“Will I see you again?” The words came out in a rush, desperate for an answer but too shy to be heard.
A frown twitched across Techie’s face in a way that was oddly familiar to some part of Matt’s brain.
He didn’t have the chance to trace the idea before Techie asked, “Aren’t we going back to the same place?”
They were, that was true. Whether Matt had a job at the end of it he didn’t know, but, for now…
“I should probably hold your arm again,” Matt said with careful enunciation as if he had any chance of hiding his eagerness now. “In case you fall. It’s harder on the way down.”
Techie’s heart leapt into his mouth when Matt suddenly asked, “Will I see you again?”
The words came out in such a rush that Techie barely had time to process them.
“Aren’t we going back to the same place?” He asked, instantly hating himself for the ridiculous response.
Wasn’t that exactly the line an interested guy would ask in a holodrama? ‘Will I see you again?’ wasn’t that the height of romance?
“I should probably hold your arm again,” Matt said in response, his hand already held out by Techie’s elbow. “In case you fall. It’s harder on the way down.”
His treacherous eyes glanced down at the bulge in Matt’s only item of clothing at the word ‘harder’. Techie bit his lip as he flushed the deepest shade of red his sallow skin would allow.
“Okay,” it was a squeak more than a word but thankfully Matt didn’t seem to understand.
The path was steep and especially dangerous because Techie kept getting distracted by the touch of Matt’s skin against the back of his hand and the tight grip of his fingers. He’d never seen hands that powerful before and it was tempting to watch the way Matt moved instead of watching the path.
More than once Techie slipped and it was only Matt’s solid form that kept him from falling. On this path he was unlikely to roll all the way to the beach but the rocks would still hurt if he landed on them.
At the base of the path, the last step between the end of the Promenade and the cliffs was ridiculously steep. Techie didn’t know how they’d gotten up there in the first place- it had to be at least a metre and a half of sheer concrete.
Matt climbed down first. He managed it with an ease that Techie knew he couldn’t match.
He was going to make a fool of himself wriggling down there like an infant but he couldn’t see any other option.
Then Matt turned around and raised his hands.
If anything the gesture should have made him feel even more weak and helpless than before, being lifted like a child… but by this mountain of a man, all firm beautiful muscles, and that awkward face with the plush lips trying to smile reassuringly at him.
Throwing caution and embarrassment to the wind Techie stepped down into Matt’s arms.
Oh stars, Matt’s hands almost circled his waist, they were so big and they were lifting him like he weighed nothing…
He smiled down at Matt, his hands running over those perfect shoulders without any prompting, and Matt smiled back as he lowered him slowly toward the ground.
With all his strength Matt really shouldn’t have needed to lower him so that his body ran down Matt’s front but Techie wasn’t complaining.
They were so close that his shirt bunched up against Matt’s chest. He shivered when the soft flesh of his belly met the firm line of Matt’s abs but he couldn’t have imagined a more perfect sensation if he’d tried.
Then Matt dropped him the last few inches with a yelp.
Descending the cliff path was nerve wracking because Techie really wasn’t paying attention to his footing. But as they got lower Matt began to realise that the distraction got worse every time Techie ended up pressed against his chest.
More than once Matt caught him more firmly than necessary, holding him tight to his own body and noting the way Techie melted a little more with each ‘accidental’ embrace.
They reached the end, and Matt realised he’d brought them back by a slightly different route. Here the path collided with the end of a promenade, a quiet area that was usually deserted but for one or two clandestine couples who were too eager from their time on the beach to make it to a hotel room.
Right now this corner of Canto Bight seemed to be deserted. Matt was a little lost about the time but it seemed to be close to the early evening dinner and entertainment hour, so perhaps the couples had gone elsewhere.
Still the thought of what this corner was usually used for made his skin warm. When he turned and saw Techie standing above him with his bottom lip between his teeth Matt’s cock twitched with interest.
It was an unconscious decision to raise his arms to him and silently offer to lift him down.
Part of him worried that, as a man only two inches shorter than him, Techie might be offended. He tried to smile in an alluring way, but his face didn’t really know how to do that so he ended up with a sort of cheerful grimace.
Somehow, it worked.
Suddenly his hands were full of Techie and oh if that wasn’t the most perfect feeling in the world?
Matt had expected him to be light but he hadn’t expected his hands to cover so much of his waist. There was a softness to him that eased any angles that such a thin frame would would normally have, and the sensation was so perfect that Matt couldn’t help but move Techie closer and lower him down against his chest.
Techie’s worn out shirt caught on one of Matt’s nipples and bunched up there, making him shiver at first the unexpected stimulation and then the sensation of Techie’s skin dragging down over his own.
Oh, Techie’s hands were on his shoulders again, hot and slightly calloused as they brushed his skin, and the rest of him was just as soft and warm and perf…
Something hard hit him in the back of the head, ruining the mood as he dropped Techie with a yelp.
Fortunately there wasn’t far to fall.
Techie landed on his feet and looked around them in confusion.
Another missile flew at them, glittering gold and unpleasantly hard as it caught him on the cheek.
Two humans and an Aqualish were standing together not too far away. Well, one human was swaying slightly as he raised his fist again to throw another missile, but the other one seemed to preparing to do something with the Aqualish that Techie really didn’t want to think about in too much detail.
“Fuck off!!!” The words were slurred but the man’s aim wasn’t as impaired.
The third missile whizzed towards them but Matt snatched it out the air with such amazing speed that Techie could only stare at him with his mouth open as he bent to retrieve the other golden objects from the drifting sand.
“Yeah, yeah, we’re going!!” Matt shouted back, grabbing Techie’s arm and practically carrying him until his feet finally realised they should be walking on their own. He didn’t sound angry at all. In fact he sounded oddly pleased, like having rocks thrown at them was a joke.
Still, that catch.
“That was amazing,” Techie said once they were out of range of the horrible grunting noises from the Aqualish. “How did you do that?”
“What? Catch this?” Matt grinned and held up the suddenly familiar object. “I played smashball since I was five.”
“On a spacestation? Is that safe?” Techie had sudden visions of holes being torn into delicate and vital life support structures.
“Oh it’s definitely not safe, that’s why you have to be fast, but,” Matt laughed as he opened his palm to show the three identical discs, “sometimes it pays off.”
The missiles were chips from the casino. Techie had never seen them in real life, though he’d seen plenty of them passing between clientele over the cameras.
“They were throwing chips ?!” That made no sense to him. Until they were cashed out on leaving the resort they were credits. That man had been throwing actual physical credits at them.
Matt shrugged and tucked them into the pocket of Techie’s shorts while they walked towards the staff entrances of the casino. Neither of them noticed that they still had their arms linked together.
“People do it all the time at the track,” he said, nudging Techie to the right towards the stables. “At some race meetings we have to put goggles on the fathiers to protect their eyes. I heard one high roller thought it was lucky and everyone else copied him.”
“So… if you could get onto the track after…”
Matt laughed. “Droids clear the chips after ever race.”
“I guess a lot of the staff had the same idea.” Techie said. He shook his head, grinning at his own foolishness that he could ever be the first to think of that. Then his thoughts sobered. “Do… do you still have a job?”
The smile vanished from Matt’s face as well.
“I don’t know. I doubt it. I can always find something…”
Conveniently the high security door swung open just as they approached it. Bargwill stood in the opening, shouting something incomprehensible back into the training ground. He was coated all over in mud except for a slightly cleaner patch across his eyes that he must have wiped away with a rag.
Seeing the state of his ‘boss’ Matt turned as if to run but before he could go more than a step they were spotted.
“There you are!!” Bargwill shouted in a tone that almost sounded relieved under the rage. “Get your arse in here, you lazy sack of shit!”
“I guess you still have a job then,” Techie said with a smile. He pushed Matt forward a little but still didn’t let go of his arm. He really didn’t want this whole strange experience to end.
Ignoring the shouting Cloddogran for now, Matt stared down at him through smeared lenses like he felt the same. “Am I going to see you again?”
“I… I kinda ran out of my own shift,” Techie said with a nervous laugh, “so I’m not 100% sure I still have a job, but either I’ll be outside this door after the races end tonight or, you can always reach me there.” He pointed up at the surveillance camera above them.
“Or I could send one of the stable kids to find you.” Matt suggested. “That might be easier.”
“I don’t think they can get into the main staff…”
“Those kids can get everywhere.”
“MATT! GET IN HERE NOW!!”
They stared at one another for a moment too long, but neither of them was brave enough to make a move. Not with an angry, filthy Cloddogran behind them.
Matt’s shoulders slumped, it really shouldn’t have been as good a look on him as it was.
“I gotta go.” He sighed. He still didn’t move.
One of them had to take control of the situation before Matt lost the job he miraculously still had, so regretfully Techie made the decision.
He leant up, pressed his lips to the edge of Matt’s jaw, then stepped back.
“Bye.” Without looking back he headed towards his own casino entrance as fast as he could.
If he looked back he might never actually leave.
I promise this isn't the end...
Techie sidled back into the surveillance room half hoping that the other technicians wouldn’t notice him if he just walked sideways and kept his head down. Unsurprisingly that tactic didn’t work- this was the security office after all.
Three pairs of eyes followed him to his seat. He hated the daylight shifts- there were always too many beings here.
“Did you fall asleep in the ‘fresher?” A Godoan named Aalaia asked, antennae twitching like it wanted conversation rather than gossip. “I did that once, last time they served stew in the canteen…”
“I don’t want to hear about the human’s digestion,” the Zeltron cut in sullenly. “Or yours.”
At first Techie thought that it was odd that they still sounded upset, but then he realised that it had only been a few hours earlier that they’d woken him with the bad news about Jace.
He felt like he’d been in the grasslands with Matt for days.
“Uh, yeah, sorry,” Techie mumbled when he realised the others were still waiting for a reply.
Aalaia looked like she wanted to say something further but the Zeltron cut off the conversation with a decisive “Gross.”
Techie was a little embarrassed, but mostly relieved. He’d never been good at telling lies. Ma-Ma had always caught him out until the mere thought of speaking an outright untruth made his skin turn cold.
Silence was better than lying. Even if his coworkers thought he had digestive problems.
Shaking his head to himself he switched his monitors back on and was surprised to see there was only an hour left to his shift. Then he’d have seven hours to sleep, eat, and join the queue for the sonic showers. After that maybe he could take a walk down to the stables to see Matt for a little while before the evening races started and he had to get back to work.
Resting his face against his hand Techie smiled into the privacy of his sleeve.
The whole idea sounded divine.
Someone else had taken over surveillance of the stables, but maybe that was for the best. Wasn’t he distracted enough already?
He drifted in a little world of his own, idly clicking from camera to camera. Occasionally he noticed some slightly odd behaviour, but he only needed to report it to security once. How anyone thought they could switch playing cards in a casino this sophisticated he just didn’t understand. Money made everyone crazy.
As the minutes dragged by the room got warmer, not uncomfortably so but enough that he wished he was wearing a lighter shirt. Perhaps he should take a walk on the promenade before bed to cool off?
“Hey, Techie,” Aalaia called across the room. “Do humans usually change colour like that?”
He frowned as he turned to look at her and hissed at the sudden pain across his forehead.
Moving his hand from his cheek to touch his forehead he realised that his face felt unnaturally warm. Why did his skin feel like it was coated in hot plastic wrap?
“You look like you’re trying to match them!” She sounded delighted as she pointed at the Zeltron. “Is it a mating ritual?!”
With a disgusted look the Zeltron just muttered ‘gross’ again.
Techie shrugged and sank down into shirt. “Allergies.”
His one word answer was enough to launch the Godoan into list of ‘things they knew humans were allergic to’ that fortunately filled the last hour of his shift. It got graphic- and wildly inaccurate at times - but at least Techie was able to escape without any further questioning.
Finally he was free to enjoy his downtime.
He couldn’t sleep.
The problem wasn’t just the sunburn that made his face, hands, and shins itch. It was worse than that.
Everytime he closed his eyes he saw Matt in the dark behind his eyelids. Shirtless. Glistening. Holding his hand. Smiling .
Techie rolled onto his stomach, hoping to banish the vision but all he managed to do was rub his erection against the mattress making him groan. Private alcove or not this wasn’t the place to be having fantasies.
Outside the window Techie could hear the distant beat of the fathiers’ feet that seemed to match his heart rate. Matt would still be at work right now. There was no point going down there because Techie wouldn’t be able to see him.
Besides, what would he say?
‘I know we only met this morning, but please help me with this hard on’?
He moaned louder at the realisation that maybe he could say that and maybe Matt wouldn’t mind, but he buried his face into the pillow before his thoughts could get any more obscene.
Somewhere down the corridor someone muttered a sleepy ‘shut up’ that filled Techie with even more guilt. Now his infatuation was keeping other people awake too.
He bit his lip. He could just lay here feeling frustrated, or he could risk the embarrassment of trying to masturbate with people sleeping only a few feet away, or… he could try for a private sanisteam cubicle in the central refresher.
Sonic showers were free, but the sanisteam cost a few credits to reserve. They used real water, and on a desert planet like Cantonica it was understandable that the casino management would charge their staff for access.
Right now it seemed like a price he was willing to pay to get some private relief…
When he stood up with stiff aching limbs his erection became a slightly less pressing concern. His skin really didn’t feel right.
Actually, a nice cold shower might do him some good. And he’d have ten minutes, so he could multitask, right?
His shorts jingled quietly as he pulled them on over the briefs he’d worn to bed. Without really thinking Techie dug around his pocket for the source of the noise.
Had he brought some tools back with him again? He had a terrible habit of putting things in his pockets when he was concentrating on work. What did he need to sneak back this time?
His fingers found three chilly metal discs.
Oh. Yeah. Matt had put the casino chips in his pocket.
How much were they worth? He didn’t dare look at them now, not in the staff sleeping quarters where the surveillance systems could see.
Well, that certainly made up his mind about the sanisteam.
The cubicle was luxurious beyond Techie’s dreams. A whole eight foot square of space to himself for half an hour.
First he slipped out of his shoes and placed them gently into the laundry unit. Shirt, shorts and briefs followed. He hadn’t worn socks in years- he didn’t have the budget for them.
It felt weird standing on the pristine white floor with his dirty feet. Of course, this was a room specifically designed for getting clean, but still. There were bits of grass caught between his toes.
Despite the dirt he could see the outline of his shoes in the sunburn on his ankles, and he wished he’d kept the medical kit that he’d given to Matt.
The memory of Matt reminded him of the credits still burning a hole in his pocket.
Techie took them carefully out of his shorts, cupping them against his chest to study them- old habits died hard, even if he knew these cubicles weren’t on the main surveillance circuit.
The chips were real. Five hundred credits each. Fifteen hundred credits.
He was holding half a year’s wages.
But it was meaningless until it was cashed.
And technically it wasn’t his.
Well. At least one of the chips had been thrown at Techie, but he should still try to split the rest of it with Matt. He’d ‘earned’ the money just as much as Techie had- especially the one he’d caught out of the air.
Matt would be just as happy as Techie about the unexpected windfall, surely?
The thought of the other man’s smile reminded Techie of exactly why he’d had the idea to come here in the first place. Heh. ‘Come here’. Grinning at his own joke he tucked the chips into an alcove while he moved forward to inspect the controls.
He was going to make the most of the remaining twenty six minutes.
Somehow Matt still had a job, and kriffing hell he knew about it now.
He’d come back from a fantastical interlude amongst the grasslands to absolute chaos in the stables. Even after fourteen gruelling hours running from one crisis to the next Matt was never entirely clear on how things had gotten so bad so quickly.
Maybe Bargwill had done it as a punishment.
That seemed likely- Matt was used to people with even just a little more power making life hard for him just because they could.
There had been a time when Matt would have retaliated, but no matter how bad things got he managed to keep it together.
The fathiers certainly helped with that. Every time he wanted to lash out or scream one of them would press their face against his neck for an instant and his heart rate would settle just enough to concentrate on the next disaster. The smell and warmth of their bulk was always reassuring.
Now that everything was sorted - races run, coats groomed, bellies fed, fires doused (both literally and figuratively), and fathiers put to bed- he finally had a chance to rest, but his body was a solid block of tension.
He’d kept himself together and held his temper, but he wasn’t a naturally balanced man. The stress had to come out somewhere.
Matt was pacing the empty yard, trying to think of an outlet for that might ease some of the pain in his muscles, when he suddenly remembered Techie’s promise.
Dawn was beginning to creep into the sky and the races had ended hours ago- would Techie have waited that long for him?
Matt ran to the yard door anyway, hauling it open with his heart in his mouth.
There was no skinny redhead waiting in the alleyway outside. Something small scurried into a hole as if to highlight the total emptiness of the space, but there was no sign that anyone sentient had been here recently.
Above and behind him a whirring noise broke the nighttime silence.
One of the security cameras was repeatedly refocusing it’s lens.
Feeling a little foolish Matt waved a hand.
In response the camera bobbed up and down.
Relief flooded through Matt’s frame as he waved more enthusiastically. Continuing employment was definitely a good reason for Techie not to wait all night for him.
Still, now that he’d had the idea Matt really did want to see him. But how to communicate that?
Of course Matt had learned a basic form of sign language during stormtrooper training but it probably wasn’t known to civilians. There was no point giving orders in a language anyone with a set of binoculars could understand.
The floor was mostly smooth sand, and there was a dressage whip leaning against the wall a few feet away...
It turned out to be harder to write on the ground with the flexible whip than he’d expected, and Matt regretted not just kneeling down to draw with his fingers, but once he’d started he felt far too self conscious to stop.
By the time he’d realised that he’d written ‘B R eKfA sT?’ his ears were almost on fire with embarrassment. After a moment’s reflection he added ‘9 Am?’ just in case Techie’s schedule was backwards due to the nightshift.
That’d only give him four hours to rest, but Matt didn’t expect to sleep anyway.
The security camera nodded enthusiastically.
Matt almost blew it a kiss only to get distracted by the smell of his palm as he brought it close to his face. Wow he smelled terrible.
Waving one last time to the camera Matt headed out of the side door towards the beach. Sonic showers and sanisteams were all well and good- but nothing cut though the smell of the stables like salt water and crashing waves.
Somewhere deep in the casino building Techie switched to external cameras and almost swallowed his tongue.
Although he’d seen Matt heading towards the beach, he had not been expecting him to go swimming naked.
How had mere leggings managed to hide so much?!
9am could not come soon enough.
Glancing behind himself to make sure he was still alone in the security office Techie took a screenshot, just in case he didn’t get to see this particular view again later.
[In case the time line is unclear, by the time Matt finishes work Techie has finished his shift, showered, slept, and gone back to work again]
The first thing Techie noticed when he slid into the seat across from him was that Matt still smelled of salt.
He’d heard that the artificial sea outside had developed a high salinity from the surrounding landscape, but it had never actually occurred to him that the smell would cling to anyone who swam in it. Up close Techie could even see that Matt’s hair was actually stiff with glittering little crystals.
For a moment Techie lost himself in the thought of what other sensory experiences he’d missed by seeing everything through a camera lens. A life lived in space had robbed him of so much...
“Hi,” Matt said after an embarrassingly long pause.
Techie blinked, remembered what he was supposed to be doing - having breakfast with a very attractive man - and blushed so hard his brain momentarily went offline.
Matt really did look amazing this morning. He’d found a shirt from somewhere but it was so small that it was stretched almost transparent across the chest. Somehow his muscles looked even better covered up than they did uncovered.
Well, maybe they did. Techie really needed more data points before he could be absolutely sure.
“Hello?” Matt waved a hand in front of Techie’s eyes, momentarily breaking his concentration and reminding him of the manners he was totally failing to demonstrate.
“Hello, good morning, it’s a beautiful you! I mean you’re a beautiful day, sorry, chest… fuck.”
Oh no. And to think that Techie had been blushing before. Now he was so pink he might spontaneously combust.
“Wow,” Matt managed to say once the giggling had mostly stopped. “Do you want to try that again, or…”
“I’m going to drink my caf and pretend I said something normal,” Techie said with as much dignity as he could muster- which was none. His caf was still too hot, but burning his tongue was infinitely preferable to letting it do the talking.
“Well, I think it was cute,” Matt muttered. “And… thanks.”
Now that Techie was actually looking at his face he realised that Matt was blushing too. He was also vibrating slightly.
Techie frowned. Was something wrong?
“What happened after Bargwill let you back in?” He asked.
“It was a complete shitshow. I was just finally finishing my shift when you saw me on the camera,” Matt poked at the protein slurry in his plate. “I’m glad you did, it gave me something to focus on… uh, look forward to, I mean.”
“Wow, that’s a long shift, especially for manual labour.”
Matt laughed, a weird unamused noise. “Not the longest I’ve ever done. Back on Starki… at my last job I spent forty three hours rewiring an entire moonwide radar array because some bastard installed the whole thing backwards.”
“Ma-Ma used to keep us awake for days, just for kicks. At least here we get breaks and… whatever the hell this is?” Techie jabbed his fork at the weird purple ball resting on the edge of his plate, but the mysterious thing just pinged away towards Matt.
“I think that’s part of the dishwasher,” Matt laughed again but with genuine amusement. “Either that or it’s one of the guest’s eggs. Either way, don’t eat it. I’m pretty sure the glop here is the same as in the FO. It’s probably from the same military supplier.”
Techie made a horrified face at the suggestion that somehow a guest had laid eggs in the kitchen, but to be honest Matt had seen weirder things while he worked here.
There was something about the warmth of the fathier enclosure- or maybe it was the abundance of straw- that drew the more avian species to stumble in there while they were drunk. More than once he’d had to get one of the concierges to gently shoo a hungover guest out of the stables in the morning.
The strange object was almost definitely part of the dishwasher though.
“Sorry, I guess I get a bit silly when I haven’t slept for a while,” Matt said with a what he hoped was a reassuring smile. It was nice to be able to joke with someone without them glaring at him like he’d grown two heads.
“Oh,” Techie smiled back sheepishly, “you were joking. You know, I’ve seen worse on the security cameras so honestly it was pretty believable.”
“We’ll have to trade horror stories sometime.”
“I’d like that. Maybe after you’ve gotten some sleep?” Techie suggested. “What does your shift pattern look like for the next few days?”
His exhausted brain offered an idea that was probably really, really stupid, but Matt was too tired to resist the temptation.
“I’m free for the next twelve hours.”
When he shook his head Techie’s hair looked like an unruly golden cloud, soft and floating free around his head like every strand needs it’s own personal space. Matt hadn’t actually noticed the change when he sat down- he’d been far too busy studying the strange way Techie had stared at him.
“No, not today,” Techie said, though Matt wasn’t really listening. “I hate to say it but you look like you’re going to fall asleep right here. You’re shaking.”
“Did you wash your hair?”
Oh no, he’d said that out loud hadn’t he?
“You look like a cloud.”
And apparently he’d said that out loud too.
Across the table Techie was nervously pulling at his hair, twisting the loose curls into ropes as he tried to avoid eye-contact. Looking at him now it was clear that at least some of the blush was actually sunburn, though the poor man was already beginning to blister in places. Matt really shouldn’t have taken him up the cliffs in the middle of the day.
“I like it,” said Matt’s mouth without any noticeable instruction from his brain. “It looks nice, like when fathier foals are still little and fluffy- something soft you want to pet.”
Techie’s eyes had widened so far that the clicking of the mechanism at its furthest limit seemed impossibly loud.
There was a busy canteen around them but Matt could swear they were in their own bubble of quiet.
“Oh,” the sound Techie made was barely a breath. “Thats…”
“I’m sorry, I…”
“Can I meet one?”
“What?” Matt felt like he was blinking with his entire mind he was so confused. Had he fallen asleep at the table?
“Can I meet a fathier foal?”
Techie smiled the shyest smile Matt had ever seen and suddenly the world turned soft.
“Absolutely! What time does your nightshift finish?” Matt asked. “You could help me with their morning feed if you like?”
Bargwill would lose his mind if he found out. Well, Matt would just have to burn that bridge when he got to it because right now all that mattered was seeing that smile again.
He stifled a yawn.
But first, some sleep.
Techie had never actually seen an animal up close. Well, he didn’t think he had.
Sometimes he had dreams about skinny orange cats that licked his face with sandpaper tongues or ran around the feet of his mother and some other boy, but he’d seen enough holos that maybe he was just remembering images from fiction. His mother had favoured soap operas for a while, perhaps that was it.
Either way he’d definitely never seen anything as big as a fathier up close. The nearest he’d been was standing outside the training grounds when he gave Matt the med kit and that situation had been so chaotic that he hadn’t really taken in any details.
Of course, he’d seen them through the security cameras, and he’d seen Matt in real life for comparison, so technically he knew how tall they were, but knowing isn’t seeing.
Techie looked up, and up, and up… even the beast’s head was as tall as his chest.
Without thinking he stepped back and collided with Matt then gasped as huge hands wrapped around his hips to steady him. Techie wasn’t a coward, but the hands were warm and very welcome, so he made no move to escape from Matt’s grip. He could face this giant animal that seemed to be eying him up like a meal.
“This is Daisy,” Matt said with what sounded like a smile.
The very un-flower-like creature in front of them snorted and shook its huge ears at them as if it recognised its own name.
Matt turned a quiet laugh into a shushing noise as he reached up past Techie’s head to scratch its stubby snout.
“Daisy? I thought they all had fancy names?” Techie whispered. Although the stables were mostly empty at this time in the early morning, he could just see the foot of one of the sleeping stablehands poking out of an alcove.
“All the racing animals need to have distinct names to be registered, but they’re universally stupid so we just give them stable names.”
Matt was talking right into his ear, and oh wasn’t that distracting? Techie bit his own lip in an effort to concentrate on the content of Matt’s words, but the sensation really didn’t help.
“... this is Daisy,” Matt continued, pointing to each stall in turn. “That’s Angelica, that’s Beauty, and that’s Butthead. Because he’s a Butthead. Aren’t you?” He asked the animal in question.
While Techie covered his mouth to stop a too-loud giggle the fathier known as Butthead threw another clump of straw out of his stall in reply.
The wide space between the rows was decorated with an arc of strewn items- mostly straw but a few minor bits of tack here and there too.
“He’ll do that all day if you clean up after him too quickly.” Matt said, a fond kind of frustration in his voice. “I don’t know why but that jerk loves to make a mess. Leave it and he calms down, but I always wait ‘til last to feed him- one day he’ll work out its a punishment.”
“Are they really that bright?” Techie asked, then backpedalled when he realised it could be taken as an insult. “I mean… can they make connections like that? Isn’t that kinda advanced thinking for animals?”
Matt shrugged. “Some of them are. Some of them get frightened by their own ears in their peripheral vision. To be honest I’ve known officers like that so… Here.”
Techie stared down into the bucket he was being offered. It contained… well ‘a squirming mass’ was probably the best description for what it contained. He wasn’t sure whether the things inside were classed as insects or worms but they had far too many legs.
“They eat these?”
“Yep. The protein keeps their muscles in excellent condition.”
“Ah, so you eat this stuff as well then.”
“No! What?! I… Oh…”
Matt’s face was an adorable journey from horror to realisation to flattered embarrassment, and Techie couldn’t help but grin at his success. It wasn’t often that he was fast enough to get a joke out before the moment passed him by.
After Matt haltingly explained the process of divvying up the grubs they walked down the hall in silence- Matt scrubbing at his hair and trying to hide his embarrassed blush, Techie sneaking peeks at the flexing of his shoulders- until they reached the end.
The last two stalls seemed to be empty, but when Matt hauled the heavy gates open in turn Techie could see that each stall held a smaller fathier curled up awkwardly in the shadows.
One of them he recognised as ‘the baby’- the foal Matt had rescued the first time they met. The other was smaller, but still far larger than Techie himself.
While Matt woke them with soft little clicks of his tongue Techie was torn between watching the cute display and an unhappy kind of mental mathematics.
Matt seemed to notice Techie’s sad expression when he returned from locking the doors. Although he didn’t say anything he still took Techie’s hand to lead him on through the quiet stone building.
The corridor was still wider than most for the inner workings of the casino, but it was narrower than the rest of the stable and ended with an alcove containing one wide stall. The wide thick bars of this gate were filled in with narrower mesh, hiding the animals Techie could hear breathing inside.
Matt was behind him again with one hand on his hip and his breath in Techie’s ear.
“When you go in,” he murmured, “offer the bucket to the mama first, don’t make any sudden moves and just let her sniff you. I’m with you so you’ll be fine, just stay relaxed.”
Techie stared into the bucket of grubs like it contained some kind of monster. “They eat these?!”
“Yep. The protein keeps their muscles in excellent condition.” Matt said around the amused smile he was trying to suppress.
He couldn’t really fault Techie’s reaction- it wasn’t as if Matt had seen live food until he came here. Hell, he hadn’t seen food that looked like its own source until he worked on Starkiller and briefly got caught up in the illicit ice-pear trade.
“Ah, so you eat this stuff as well then.”
“No! What?! I… Oh…”
A blush flooded his face like a warm, pink tide of embarrassment as Matt lost all the cool he’d been trying to cultivate for the last ten minutes.
The delivery of the joking compliment had been so dead pan and fast that Matt had fallen for it without a thought. Flustered was not a big enough word to capture quite how Matt felt, but it was the only one he had.
He decided to focus on the work rather than the turmoil in his head.
“Each of them gets two scoops.” He said, waving one of the metal objects in demonstration. “You put it straight into their mouths. Don’t use your hands. They don’t bite, but they also can’t tell the difference between fingers and food. Some of them will look cute to get more. You have to be strong. Resist the cute.”
Techie was staring at him with a soft grin on his face. That was more than he could cope with right now so Matt gestured towards the animals and set off walking.
Everything was quiet today. After the excitement of the last few days the fathiers seemed to be subdued. They were eating eagerly enough though, so maybe they were rebuilding their strength.
Matt knew how that was- he’d had far fewer incidents since he came here, but whenever his temper flared to the point of destruction it always took him a few days to recover.
It was only when they reached the stalls for the two youngest fathiers that Matt noticed the look on Techie’s face had changed.
To feed the smallest it was necessary to actually go into the stalls- they weren’t tall enough to see over the stalls yet, but their heads were already far too large for the gaps in the bars.
Honestly, Matt preferred to get in with the animals to check their condition more often, so it was always a sad day when they grew to their adult size. But he wasn’t the one making the rules here.
As Techie stared around the tiny stall and the half-grown fathier sitting in the middle of it Techie was working out one of the more horrible things about this pace.
Matt locked the doors and gently lead Techie by the hand into the side wing.
There was only one stall occupied here at the moment, three soft snores echoing in tandem down the corridor.
“When you go in,” he murmured, stepping in to rest his hand on Techie’s hip to steady him, “offer the bucket to the mama first, don’t make any sudden moves and just let her sniff you. I’m with you so you’ll be fine, just stay relaxed.”
Moving carefully he hustled Techie closer to the door, just in case one of the foals bolted past them.
Fortunately they were all deeply asleep, piled up together on the floor like a miniature mountain of fur.
The babies were only a week old, little balls of fluff standing barely a metre and a half at the shoulder and still mostly dependent on their mother.
Speaking of the mother- she was looking in far better condition than she had in awhile, her fur bright and her weight much more robust than usual thanks to the relief of being in this particular stall.
Matt smiled at that as he made the usual clicking noise with his tongue to wake her. A lot of fathiers got spooked if something came into their stalls unannounced. Besides, it was only polite, like knocking on a door.
Not everyone in the stables was as polite as Matt. That’s why the fathiers liked him best.
At the sound the mother sat up, nostrils already flaring eagerly at the smell of the food, but Techie hadn’t moved to offer any of it.
“Don’t be scared,” Matt said but Techie didn’t seem to hear him.
He looked miserable.
“They can’t lay down, can they? The other fathiers- they have to stand up all the time?”
“No.” Matt shook his head. “You’re right, they can’t. Not often at least.”
“Do they need to?” Techie asked, nodding at the three fathiers who were watching him, but who were were all still sitting comfortably on the floor. “Can they sleep standing up?”
“They can , but it isn’t restful sleep. Standing all the time makes them fractious and moody. An angry fathier runs faster than a happy one, so the owners insist on narrow stalls to keep them upright.”
Matt found that he couldn’t stand the expression of horror on Techie’s face, so he let his eyes drift back to the animals. One of the foals, curious or just impatient, had tottered upright on sleepy legs.
“Yeah.” Matt scrubbed at his hair and turned away, the disappointment in Techie’s voice doing horrible things to his brain. “I know. I try to get them rest breaks where I can. Maybe mucking out their stall takes a little longer than it should, or I forget to check the corner of the yard where they like to nap but… there’s not much I can do.”
“How can you OH!”
The gasp of surprise made Matt look up just in time to see the foal grab a chunk of Techie’s hair and start chewing.
Matt had almost darted forward to pull her away when he realised that she wasn’t actually trying to eat Techie’s hair. No, she was trying to comfort him.
She’d hooked one outsized ear over Techie’s head to keep him warm the same way her mother would do with her when she was distressed. The chewing was somewhere between grooming behaviour and an expression of hunger- probably because Techie was still holding the food, but it was still surprisingly gentle for such a large animal.
“Is… is it eating me?!” Techie whispered with his eyes screwed up tight.
Matt laughed. “No, she likes you.”
“She likes me?”
“Yeah, that’s the fathier equivalent of a cuddle.”
Techie flushed with pleasure but still didn’t open his eyes.
“Hi there… uh… what’s her name?”
Matt shrugged. “The owner hasn’t registered either of them with a racing name yet, and they don’t usually get stable names until we need to tell them apart from the rest.”
The other foal, apparently unwilling to be left out of the fun, wandered over and started to lick at Techie’s sleeve.
Techie shivered and giggled, but still didn’t open his eyes.
Maybe he was overwhelmed by the size of them- they were a week old but if they held their heads up they’re still be bigger than him. Whatever the reason this was still the cutest thing Matt had seen all week.
“Why don’t you name them?” He suggested on impulse.
“Me?” Techie’s free hand had come up to stroke the soft mane of the newcomer. “Really?”
“Why not? It won’t be official but since they like you…”
“Alright…” Finally, Techie opened his eyes to study the two fathiers still crowding around him.
The baby fathiers were just as soft as Matt had promised.
Techie still wasn’t sure how he’d failed to notice something so big sneaking up on him, but now he had a fathier chewing noisily on his hair and a soft warm ear draped over his head.
Although he’d closed his eyes automatically from fright at the sheer size of the creature, Techie now found that the sensation were overwhelming enough that he didn’t want to add visuals to the onslaught just yet.
His augmented eyes often made unfamiliar things more disturbing. He didn’t really want to see all the details of the fur against his skin or the old food caught in their teeth.
A second animal apparently joined the first in investigating him, though this one seemed to be more interested in his clothes than his hair.
The sensations tickled, making him shiver.
“Why don’t you name them?” Matt said suddenly.
Without really thinking about it Techie brought his hand up to stroke the neck of the newcomer. It was so soft he couldn’t even think of anything to compare it to… Matt’s question finally registered in his brain.
“Me? Really?” Techie asked, flattered but uncertain. He’d never been given so much responsibility over another living thing before. He watched other beings, he didn’t affect their lives.
“Why not? It won’t be official but since they like you…”
A stable name was essentially a nickname, and nicknames were still important. Even something unofficial could change the way a person thought about themselves. Were fathiers bright enough to know that though...
“Alright…” Finally, Techie opened his eyes to study the two fathiers still crowding around him.
The second fathier shied away at the whirring noise as Techie focused. It snorted at him and stomped its feet for a second before it hurried away to the far corner behind its mother.
Seeing her foal’s distress the mother stood up to her full height, but at least she didn’t make a move towards him. Full grown fathiers were intimidating enough behind the stall doors, up close they were absolutely terrifying.
“It’s ok, Padget, he won’t hurt anyone,” Matt said soothingly. “Techie, you should offer her the food now.”
Padget? The name reminded Techie of the smell of cooking and clean linen with such clarity that at first he couldn’t remember what his hands were supposed to be doing.
He remembered that name from his dreams. Someone had called his mother by that name- not just his mother but other women in the kitchens- in tones of false affection that made his skin crawl.
Techie shook his head and tried to forget it. His dreams were always ridiculous, full of images that could never have happened.
When his trembling hands finally managed to manipulate the scoop with only a small amount of spillage the mother fathier ate the horrible wriggling ‘protein’ with all the dignity of a queen.
The contradiction was just enough to make him giggle.
He jumped when Padget snorted. She licked his temple, apparently just as amused by him as he was by her, then nudged the scoop again.
“What should I call your babies?” He asked her. Talking to an animal made him feel ridiculous, but it also felt rude not to consult her on such an important decision.
She just licked his face in a long strip that went over his cheek and nose, up over his temple with the horrible blue tattoo, and across to her daughter’s forehead.
As the foal finally released his hair to inspect the bucket of food Techie found himself frozen by a realisation.
Matt had never mentioned his tattoo.
He didn’t get the chance to work out what that meant because at that moment the foal tried to take the bucket.
“Hey!” Techie muttered, pulling the bucket up and away so he could scoop out a reasonable amount. “Hey, Haven! Wait a minute…”
He hadn’t meant to give the foal his own name but it felt right as soon as it left his mouth. It wasn’t as if he ever used that name anyway. Someone should have it.
Matt was suddenly in front of him, gently removing both bucket and scoop from Techie’s grasp. Part of him felt embarrassed at needing to be rescued, but mostly he felt grateful to be free from one responsibility.
The newly named Haven followed obediently after the food, happily accepting the much smaller portion that Matt offered her, while the other foal remained in its corner. That one seemed to be pretending that the humans didn’t exist. If the mother had dignity, that foal had pride.
“Armitage.” Techie said, and wondered why.
“What?” Matt asked. He was holding the scoop up to the second foal’s face, but it just ignored him.
“That one’s called Armitage.”
Matt turned his head to look curiously at Techie, who blushed and looked away- which meant no one was actually paying any attention to the second fathier anymore.
Techie shrugged. “I don’t know. Haven and Armitage, it just sounds right in my head.”
“Armitage is a bit of a mouthful for a baby, but I guess would could call him Armie. Or Tidge. I swear I’ve heard ‘Armitage’ before though...” Matt said thoughtfully.
A quiet chewing noise they hadn’t noticed before suddenly stopped. The brief silence was broken by a startled snort, followed by a clang.
While no one was looking the second fathier had put its snout into the bucket to eat more than its fair share of grubs.
Now it was stuck.
Note on the subject of height-
According to the Star Wars Visual dictionary the average fathier height is 3 metres at the shoulder. So that doesn't include head neck and ears. I've put newborns at around 1.5 metres at the shoulder. For comparison both Matt & Techie would be just above 1.8 metres tall.
Finally this fic earns its rating, please see new tags if you have any concerns.
Matt laid in the sand, staring up at the pre-dawn sky and hoping the waves crashing onto the beach would do a good enough job of getting him clean. Again.
Beside him Techie was standing just inside the range of the tide, making squeaky noises every time a wave washed over his feet. He was trying to clean grubs out of his hair with handfuls of water. The method really wasn’t effective.
“You’re either going to have to sit down or walk out to deeper water,” Matt suggested quietly when Techie got his fingers tangled in his own hair for the third time in as many minutes.
It was hard to see Techie’s face properly in the weak pinkish light from the distant horizon, but Matt was starting to recognise the noises his eyes made when he had an emotional reaction.
That particular sharp whirring sounded exactly like fear.
“No, thank you.”
“You don’t have to worry if you can’t swim,” Matt said as he sat up and stretched. “You can’t actually sink. Too much salt.”
Techie shook his head. “The winds could push me out to sea.”
Even this early in the day the air along the coast was already oppressively still. Matt considered pointing out that there wasn’t even wind power enough to blow a napkin across the beach, but he knew that wouldn’t help.
“I wouldn’t let you float away, but if you’re…” He almost said ‘scared’ but reconsidered that word at the last moment. “...worried, I can walk out with you?”
Techie turned away slightly with a quieter, almost shy whirring noise. “Huh. That’s what my mother used to call dating. ‘Walking out’.”
“Well, that’s perfect then, right?” Matt laughed. “We can continue our date by walking out.”
Before Techie could find an answer to that Matt had lumbered to his feet and held out a hand.
“Come on, I promise I’ll keep you safe.”
He’d forgotten this was a date. The idea of anyone going on a date with him seemed so bizarre that the information just wouldn’t stay in his head.
Now Matt was offering to help him… what exactly? Wash his hair? Bathe?
Techie had never actually been submerged in water, not to his memory anyway. A few luxurious real water showers, a lot of sonics, the occasional untrustworthy dream about water falling from the sky as rain to soak his clothes, but he’d never bathed like this.
The water rushing over his toes was cool enough to be startling, and the salt burned where his shoes sometimes pinched his skin, but how would that feel all over?
“Should I take my clothes off?”
Matt made a strange choking noise.
It had seemed like a sensible question since Matt had already told him to remove his shoes but maybe not.
“I only ask because you took your clothes off when you went swimming the other day…”
“You saw that?” The pale early morning sky didn’t give enough light to see Matt properly, but the infrared spectrum of Techie’s eyesight showed that Matt’s face had heated rather quickly.
Oh, that was probably not something Techie should have admitted.
“You looked really nice.”
His mouth had apparently said that all of its own accord…
“Uh, thanks.” Matt coughed again, and then seemed to square his shoulders almost as if he was preparing to face something scary. “The uh, the salt can made your clothes really stiff if… if you leave them in the water too long so… ahem, yeah… if you want to take them off, you can…”
While Techie peeled his shirt off and kicked away his shorts Matt kept his eyes on the horizon.
“Are, are you going to uh…” Techie prompted when he got down to his underpants and realised that Matt was still dressed.
Since Matt had averted his gaze Techie did the same while he shimmed out of the last layer. He had considered leaving them on, but salty underwear didn’t sound comfortable, and he was feeling a little guilty that he’d already seen all of Matt through the cameras.
He wasn’t nearly as good looking as Matt, and the light was still terrible out here, but it was only fair to give Matt the same opportunity, right?
Matt held his hand out into Techie’s field of vision. “Ready?”
His hand was dry and calloused from work but still gentle as he gripped Techie’s fingers and led him down into the water.
The sea felt strange . As someone who’d spent most of his life in space the first analogy that came to mind was a atmospheric malfunction. Stepping into the water felt like walking towards a coolant leak, shocking cold pouring over his feet and rising higher with every step.
“When will we start floating?” He asked quietly, half worried that speaking too loudly would break Matt’s concentration as they navigated the uneven sand underfoot.
Was there anything alive in this water? Should Techie be worried about being attacked by something he couldn’t see? He kept his eyes focused ahead of them, watching the cool blue of the waves for signs of anything warmer.
“You can walk in up to your chest before the buoyancy starts to lift you against your will,” Matt murmured back. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.”
Techie nodded, then remembered the poor light and hummed an agreement.
They were in the water up to their thighs now, and weirdly enough his feet didn’t feel cold any more. It was as if there was a rising band of cold where his skin was meeting the water for the first time, but by now his feet felt pretty normal.
His brain was just coming to some conclusions about that rising cold when he felt a shiver run up his arm from Matt. He turned to look at him, took another step…
“Oh stars, that’s co ooold !!” He gasped. It felt like his testicles were trying to climb up into his body away from the water! Why would anyone willingly do this to themselves?!
Beside him Matt gave a shivery laugh and pulled him forward so he was submerged to his waist. That was not an improvement!
“Ah! No! Too cold!”
“You’ll get used to it,” Matt said in an amused but reassuring tone. He kept his grip on Techie’s hand when he halfheartedly moved towards the shore. “It’ll feel great in a minute, trust me. And it’ll warm up a lot once the sun rises.”
Techie nodded, though he wasn’t all that convinced. What had been an odd sensation when it was restricted to his legs was now completely unsettling. Parts of him were floating independently from the rest of him.
Peachtrees had lost its gravity on a fairly regular basis but that had never resulted in just his cock bobbing around. Plus zero gravity didn’t have currents. Somehow the water was making him cold in places he’d never expected.
He tried to wrap his arms around his own torso for warmth, but since he was still holding Matt’s hand all he really achieved was moving closer to Matt.
Even with a few inches of water between them Techie could already feel that Matt was warm…. And this was a date… right?
Matt had expected Techie to look at him once they joined hands, he’d even been debating with himself about whether to cover his crotch or not if he did, but as they walked into the water Techie kept his eyes straight ahead.
Of course, he would never have been into a large body of water before. The ocean was going to be a shock if he was only used to showers.
In contrast to Techie’s inexperience Matt was practically an expert on outdoor bathing.
There had been semi-natural hot springs on Starkiller, especially around the trench where the groundwater had been used for the internal cooling systems. Matt had gone there often when he wanted to get away from the crowds inside the base.
Hot mineral rich water and refreshing snow had done wonders for sore muscles so when he first came to Cantonica he’d been excited to see the artificial ocean.
He’d thought that his experiences on Starkiller would be enough to prepare him for swimming here. But going from frigid air to hot water was not the same as diving into night-cool waves out of desert heat. If it hadn’t been for the natural salinity giving him buoyancy the shock of that first dive would probably have drowned him.
So he would let Techie adjust at his own speed. That’d give his heart and other parts of his anatomy a chance to calm down too. Matt was not used to being this close to gorgeous naked guys.
The water was at about mid-calf when the grip on his hand tightened a little.
“When will we start floating?” Techie asked quietly.
Looking through the corner of his eye- the image blurry because he wasn’t looking through his glasses- Matt could just make out that Techie was biting his lip in concentration. The ground was mostly just sand here but if Techie thought they might lose their footing at any moment...
“You can walk in up to your chest before the buoyancy starts to lift you against your will,” Matt murmured back. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.”
He turned his head to give him a reassuring smile and nearly choked on his own tongue.
When they’d first come to the beach Techie had been a vague pale figure, ghostly even in the pre-dawn light. As they walked out into the water the sky had begun to brighten until now it was painting him in rose gold colours.
Of course Matt had imagined what Techie looked like under all those baggy layers, but he hadn’t imagined anything quite this soft and radiant. He was so light weight and bird-like that Matt had pictured visible ribs and the blue-tinged skin of a life lived without the sun.
Perhaps it was just the cold that made his chest so pink and his nipples the same flower blossom colour as his lips. Without thinking Matt let his eyes drift lower towards the flash of copper below his gently curving belly.
Matt hadn’t expected that. His own body hair- what little he had- matched his roots rather than the lighter tips of his hair and subconsciously he’d expected Techie to be the same. Instead his body hair was so bright it glittered. The effect was beautiful. Matt wanted to bury his face in it.
Suddenly embarrassed and very aroused Matt was almost grateful when the next step forward conveniently doused his growing erection with cold water. Almost.
He was used to the chill here now, but he usually dove into the water to get the shock over and done with all at once. Walking out into the cold was a special kind of torture. Try as he might he couldn’t control the shiver that ran up his frame.
Techie glanced at him on his next step, then gasped, “Oh stars, that’s co ooold !!”
A sneaky glance down led Matt to the surprising realisation that they were both in a similar physical state, though Techie’s longer legs were only just keeping his half-hard cock out of the water.
Matt gave a shaky laugh to cover another surge of embarrassed lust then gently pulled Techie forward so he was submerged to his waist. Better to get over the shock all at once.
“Ah! No! Too cold!”
“You’ll get used to it,” Matt said as easily as he could around the sensation of his heart trying to crawl into his throat. “It’ll feel great in a minute, trust me. And it’ll warm up a lot once the sun rises.”
Techie made a half-hearted move towards the shore, but nodded and stopped when Matt finished speaking. He looked confused for a second, then tried to wrap his arms around himself. The movement just drew them closer together.
Waves were swirled around them while a breeze drifted across the water from the distant dunes. The sun had already risen on that side of the desert, dawn was building on the horizon but the air here was still chillier than usual.
Even with a few inches between them Matt could feel the heat radiating from Techie’s skin.
Techie gave him a sidelong glance, his lower lip caught between his teeth.
Matt just couldn’t resist any more.
He tugged on Techie’s arm just as Techie did the same, pulling them both forward in the water until they collided chest-to-chest. There was the briefest startled pause while they both wondered what to do with one another, then Techie’s hands were in Matt’s hair and their lips were crashing together with bruising eagerness.
If Techie had felt wonderful against him while they climbed down the cliff the sensation of holding him in his arms now was mind-shatteringly perfect.
Techie had once worried that he’d left it too long to have a real first kiss. That somehow his age and inexperience would make any attempt at physical affection clumsy and unpleasant.
Perhaps he was a natural. Perhaps Matt had more experience and was leading the way. Perhaps years of watching illicit holos and public displays of affection through the security cameras had given him enough grounding to get it right.
Or maybe his body already knew what to do all by itself. Techie certainly wasn’t in charge here- everything was running on instinct.
What had started as a simple embrace with Techie’s hands in Matt’s hair and Matt’s hands sliding around his waist had soon progressed to something much more intense. Techie already knew that Matt could lift him easily, but with the added buoyancy from the salt it had been very easy for Techie to end up in Matt’s arms.
He hadn’t thought about it.
Matt had slipped his hands down from his waist towards his ass and Techie’s legs had lifted of their own volition to wrap around his hips.
If the position trapped Techie’s cock between their bodies he barely noticed at first because it also put Matt’s own cock against Techie’s ass.
And wasn’t that just the most wonderful sensation imaginable? Hot, thick, and much, much bigger than anything he’d ever imagined being inside him, but given the sting of the salt he’d leave that particular challenge for another day.
The thought that there could be another day, another chance to do this , was enough to make him giddy.
Matt moaned into his mouth and gripped his ass even harder as Techie deepened the kiss, rocking up in an eager rhythm that gave them the perfect double friction of his cock trapped between their bellies and Matt’s cock rubbing against his sensitive hole.
He’d always known in theory that sex was supposed to be better than masturbation- if this even counted as sex- but Techie had never imagined it’d be this good. Hell, if just skin-to-skin felt like this he was probably going to die the first time they did anything more.
Just when Techie’s heels dug into Matt’s ass at the coiling tension deep in his stomach Matt broke the kiss.
“Gonna…” Matt didn’t manage to finish the sentence. Instead his face went slack.
He couldn’t help it. The feeling of Techie rutting against his stomach while his own cock nudged at that warm promising furl of muscle was too much to resist for long.
Matt tried to warn Techie before he came, but he barely got through the first word before the pleasure rolled through him, rendering him mute.
Fuck, Techie felt so good.
It was all Matt could do to hold on as Techie tumbled after, burying his face against Matt’s neck while he twitched and spasmed in his arms.
Stars, if he hadn’t already come the feeling of Techie’s cum spurting into the space between them would have done it. He’d be thinking about that moment for weeks, he just knew it.
For now they just clung to each other, breathing in the scent of sweat and salt and sunrise.
They were still standing waist deep in the cool water as the sun finally crested the distant hills to bathe them in bright warm light.
Matt turned his head enough to see Techie’s face limned in gold, all glittering eyelashes and shining kiss swollen lips.
Moving them deeper into the water he trailed open-mouthed kisses along Techie’s soft jaw until he opened his eyes with a quiet lazy whirr.
“Don’t fall asleep on me,” Matt muttered, adding more kisses to his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose.
In reply Techie only nuzzled closer.
Matt almost considered letting him sleep, but now that the sun was actually in the sky the temperature was rising rapidly. Although the current had instantly washed Matt’s cum away, Techie’s raised position meant that was still a sticky mess already starting to dry between them. As wonderful as the moment had been, they had originally walked into the ocean to get clean.
“I’m going to lay you back,” Matt said, gently easing Techie towards the water. “Don’t worry, you’ll float.”
“Mmmm, nooooo….” Techie sighed. His grip tightened.
“I’m staying here.”
Matt shrugged, a gesture that made Techie rock against him and whimper at the excess stimulation, but did nothing to loosen his hold.
There was nothing else for it.
Matt dunked them both.
They sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the shade of a boulder beneath the cliffs, enjoying the peace of the early day and each others reassuring presence.
Techie was idly brushing his fingers through his hair to loosen the knots from the unexpected drenching and the lighthearted splash fight that followed. He’d enjoyed the splashing. The splashing had turned into kissing. He could get behind anything that meant he got to keep kissing Matt.
If it hadn’t been for the heat of the sun Techie was almost certain they’d taken it even further, but his earlier sunburn still lingered, and Techie had no wish to get make himself that uncomfortable again when there was perfectly good shade to be had. So here they sat in comfortable silence.
“Do you have any dreams?” Matt asked suddenly, apropos of nothing.
Techie frowned, too deep in his own pleasant thoughts to follow the question. Didn’t all sentient beings dream?
“Most nights, yeah,” He said at last.
From Matt’s expression that wasn’t the right answer. “No, mean- dreams for the future.”
His eyes hummed and whirred as his gaze wandered, but Techie couldn’t find understanding amongst the grains of sand. His hands dropped from his hair to fiddle compulsively with the contents of his pockets. The question made his chest ache.
Cool metal clinked quietly against his fingers. The three casino chips. He turned them slowly, watching them glitter in the sunlight, only half aware of their value.
“Future?” He asked.
Matt had been watching him, his peaceful expression turning gradually sadder with every moment of silence. With that one word answer he turned his face towards the sea. Pale blue reflections flashed across his glasses, making his face difficult to read.
Just when Techie thought the silence was going to return Matt began to speak in a quietly dreamy tone, almost as if he was addressing the waves.
“Before the FO I dreamed of running my own starship construction team.” He said. “On my own rig where I’d never have to see my family. Maybe that was just me latching onto the only thing I knew, but that’s what I wanted then.”
His hand slid gently into Techie’s own, lacing their fingers together in Techie’s lap.
“It’s changed a little now though… I think.” Matt went on, his voice oddly uncertain as he asked, “what about you?”
Techie swallowed hard against a lump in this throat. “Matt… I never even really thought I’d leave Peachtrees. Hope is for those who can afford it.”
“You did get out though. You’re free, as free as any of us can be in this galaxy. So, what do you want to do now?” With his free hand Matt took one of casino chips and held it up the light. “If we took these chips in there and won big, what would you do?”
Matt was smiling at him, but it was a strangely delicate looking smile. A strong breeze, or the wrong words could probably blow it away in an instant.
Optimism had never been Techie’s strong suit, but he did his best.
“I ummm... l don’t know. I just… I don’t want to hurt or be hurt…” He coughed and then tried again. “I don’t know if I care about money, right now all I really want is to see you again.”
Matt made a pleased sound.
Techie sighed and let his head rest against Matt’s shoulder. “And I definitely want to do that again…” He tipped his face up just enough to give the other man what he hoped was a seductive smile. “We don’t need money for that .”
Finally Matt’s odd smile turned into a grin. “Good point.”
“I know. I’m full of good ideas.”
Techie would never get over the way Matt’s whole face lit up when he laughed. It wasn’t elegant, but it was pure, and really, that was all that mattered.
“What would you do? If you somehow managed to turn these chips into real money?” Techie asked once the laughter had turned into amused lazy kisses.
“I’d buy the baby,” Matt said instantly.
For a split second Techie misunderstood, his mind filling with images of Matt buying an actual infant, before reality reasserted itself. ‘The Baby’ was the fathier Matt had saved from Bargwill’s wrath and the reason the two of them had ever met at all.
Trying to keep his tone as genuinely curious as he could, Techie asked, “What would you do with a fathier?”
Matt shrugged. “You can buy a farm plot at the edge of the grasslands for pretty cheap. It’s an easy way for the local government to reclaim more land from the desert and protect the city. I’d build a little house with a stable on the side for her. Maybe I’d keep working for the races, maybe I’d try to be self sufficient. I don’t know yet.”
“Farming?” This time Techie failed to keep the surprise out of his voice. “But…”
“I know,” Matt shook his head at himself, “I know, I grew up in space, I shouldn’t even try. But I’d never worked with fathiers before either, and I learned how to do that. I think I could learn to farm.”
Techie let his head fall back onto Matt’s shoulder.
He wasn’t sure what he made of the idea, though the image of Matt working shirtless in a field did have its appeal. But would there even be a place for him in this ideal life?
“What does ‘Padget’ mean?”
Techie had tried to keep his voice down because the stables were still quiet so early in the morning, but the fathier in question turned curiously towards him anyway.
“It’s a word for servant,” Matt said without looking up from his work brushing out her coat. “Not a nice one either. Well… I guess it might have been nice, or maybe just neutral once, but I’ve only ever heard old Imperials use it. Always with the lowest ranked technicians. If some officer called a person that it was sort of a signal that they expected ‘personal’ services from them. It made my skin crawl.”
“Hmm.” That’s what Techie had thought.
He sighed and leaned against the wall. He didn’t want to think about that stuff anymore, but the word kept triggering things he’d rather not remember.
Lost for pleasant conversation Techie stayed like that, watching the movements of Matt’s arm until he was almost half hypnotised by the flex and shift of muscle under skin. It was beautiful in its own understated way. Beautiful and tempting.
“Huh?” Techie blinked, suddenly aware that his eyes were aching.
“You’re staring at me like you want to eat me or something.”
“Maybe I do.”
Matt laughed. He pushed a nervous hand through his hair, smearing coat-conditioner across his cheekbone. The oddly greasy stuff was everywhere, including one massive handprint in the middle of Matt’s chest.
In tones of faux concern Matt cried, “not in front of the children!”
The fathier foal Armitage gave the appropriate look of disgust when Matt tried to cover its ears.
Techie stuck his tongue out at them both. Life was good.
“So, are you going?” Aalaia asked, completely apropos of nothing.
When no one answered her Techie looked up from his bank of monitors.
He had hoped that someone else had entered to the surveillance room, but no such luck. The Godoan was talking to him, which would soon turn into talking at him and then eventually just talking. He didn’t know if the whole species was this annoying but this particular individual was the most aggravating person he’d ever met.
“Going where?” He finally asked when it became clear that she expected an answer. Her antenna were twisting themselves into the odd little corkscrew pattern of extreme excitement.
“To the casino!”
Techie let his gaze wander around the room, as if he could find the explanation to such a nonsense statement anywhere amongst the screens and keyboard. Nothing new presented itself. Maybe she was just suffering from temporary insanity.
“Aalaia,” He said slowly and carefully. “We work at the casino. We’ve both been here for years.”
She stared back at him with an expression that clearly said she thought he was the crazy one.
“I meant ‘are you going to the employee night?’” She clarified. “You know, next week?”
No, Techie didn’t know.
“Pardon my language but, what the fuck is ‘employee night’?” Matt asked Bargwill’s back as the Cloddogran chivvied the fathiers forward into the training area with a stick. “Isn’t every night a night of being an employee.”
“Stars you’re stupid. Once a decade the bosses like to ‘reward’ you lot for your ‘hard work’ by letting you loose in the casino,” Bargwill replied, clearly enunciating ever air quote. He gave a nasty laugh and jabbed at the nearest fathier rump.
Matt frowned. That didn’t make a lot of sense to him. Surely being paid was a reward in itself? The First Order didn’t pay any one. Why would the casino go out of their way to give their employees a treat?
Clearly he’d been silent too long because Bargwill continued on his own.
“Really you’re just paying them for the privilege of testing the new gaming systems, but they sell it as a morale thing. For six hours most of the staff except the dealers can play any game, buy any drink and lose all their money just like all the rich idiots who fritter away their lives here. Except of course, you ain’t rich. Employee night is a way of making sure you don’t ever get rich. You give the casino your wages back and they tell you that’s fun.”
“Are the games for lower stakes than usual or something?” He asked. “I mean, how many people here could afford to take part otherwise?”
Bargwill shrugged, which was a very strange gesture on a creature with four arms.
“I don’t know, I’m not stupid enough to go to those things.” He said. The gate clanged shut behind the last fathier and the stable manager turned his full attention back to Matt. “Besides, I’ll be busy running the races, which only non-stable employees can bet on so don’t you go poisoning any of the fathiers thinking you can make an easy credit or two. I’m gonna tell security to ban that orange friend of yours as well. So don’t try anything!”
“I wouldn’t poison a fathier!” Matt protested in horror.
He jumped as Bargwill jabbed him in the stomach with his stick. “See that you don’t.”
With that the conversation seemed to be over. The stable manager stomped off to shout at some of the other stablehands and Matt was left none the wise. He’d have to find some other member of staff to fill him in on the details.
The grass was still warm from the afternoon sun as Techie stretched out on his back to watch the sunset. It felt wonderful, but a bit too soothing in the post-orgasmic haze. There was a very real risk that he was going to fall asleep naked in this field.
He was working the shittiest split shifts at the moment- midmorning to late afternoon followed by a four hour break before the night shift. It was awful. Everyday he had to choose between eating at the regular mealtimes or getting a few hours sleep, and his heart kept choosing to to spend time with Matt instead of taking either more sensible option.
Speaking of which, Matt rolled over to wrap one thick arm around Techie’s middle and nuzzled his unshaven face against his ribs.
“Hey!” Techie protested weakly, but he did nothing to stop the oncoming stubble burn.
Matt nipped at one of Techie’s nipples, laughing as he squirmed. “You love it.”
“I love you, I’m not sure I love the harrassment!”
Against his side Matt froze as they both realised what Techie had just said.
“Oh… uh…” He started to say, uncertain whether he was going to correct or repeat himself, but Matt was on top of him and kissing him senseless before he managed to form a coherent sentence.
Although Matt didn’t say the words back, he seemed determined to smother Techie with as much affection as he could. That was more than good enough for now.
By the time they’d collapsed together again the stars were out and the grasslands were beginning to cool around them.
“I should go soon,” Techie murmured, running his fingers through the sweat damp curls at Matt’s neck.
Matt tightened his arms around Techie’s waist, pulling him up from their bed of now thoroughly crushed grass.
“Do you have to?”
“Mmhmm. Double shift. Again.” Techie sighed and made absolutely no move towards getting up. “I wish I could spend more time with you.”
“Me too.” Matt pushed himself up a little to look Techie in the eye, but he kept their hips together as if he was afraid Techie would escape if he was given too much freedom. “What about ‘employee night’? Do you have to work then?”
Techie sat up, suddenly full of energy for the first time in days. He’d completely forgotten about that.
“No! I’m not scheduled that night! Do you want to go?”
Matt grinned and sank back onto his knees. Even under the weak starlight he looked impossibly good, all chiselled muscles and pouting lips.
“Or we could just sneak off up here again? Spend the whole night…”
“Why not both?” Techie suggested with an answering smile. “I don’t know about you but I don’t exactly have a lot of money saved, but we do have those chips…”
“Yeah, we can lose them all in the first five minutes, buy the cheapest bottle of alcohol in the building and then come up here to console one another.”
“Oh, ye of little faith. What if we win?”
There was a pause as they both stared off into space, imagining the possibilities, but neither of them could keep from laughing for very long.
“Nice fantasy,” Matt said gently, taking Techie’s hand in his. “Seriously though, I’ll be happy just to have a real date with you.”
“Do we have to dress up?” Techie asked. He glanced down at himself, then blushed when he remembered he was still naked. His clothes were laying in a crumpled pile several feet away. “I don’t really own anything else.”
“Apparently you can hire ‘formal attire’ from the casino. Whatever that means.”
Techie rolled his eyes. “Of course you can. Is this event entirely about getting money out of their own staff?”
“Absolutely.” Matt laughed. “I doubt they’ll have anything for humans in my size, but it’d be nice to wear something fancy for once.”
The image of Matt wrapped in something formal and form-fitting was enough to make Techie drool. He wondered how much the fine was if you accidentally got ‘bodily fluids’ on a rented suit… however much it was, he was sure it’d be worth it.
Matt stared mutely at the clothes he’d been handed by the assistant until she walked away. Then he surreptitiously looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the detail he was seeing. The matching red and black tags sew into every item.
The room was absolutely heaving with fellow staff members eager to get their hands on a rental outfit. No one was paying him the slightest bit of attention except to shove him out of the way.
Determined not to risk being noticed Matt balled up the black fabric under his arm and marched out the room as nonchalantly as he could.
He had wondered where the casino had gotten rental clothes from. It wasn’t the sort of establishment that would make its patrons get changed just to enter the building- anyone who was rich enough to get into the city limits could afford to wear whatever the hell they wanted.
It turned out that the casino was renting was essentially the contents of the lost and found department, or rather the abandoned and found- few people who came to Cantonica would care if they left an outfit or two behind. The articles in his hand had been abandoned by the second most powerful person in the First Order.
Matt was holding Kylo Ren’s formal attire.
He knew it was his because it had his name sew into each and every piece.
Just a few years ago he’d had retreated immediately to a private refresher with a mirror and done something incredibly indecent with those clothes.
Honestly he still might.
The queue for the sonic showers was almost unbelievable. Techie had been standing here for nearly an hour, nervously turning the odd clothes he’d received from the rental place over and over in his hands.
He really wasn’t sure he could wear this outfit, but he was fast running out of time to swap it for anything else. In fact, given the length of the queue it was pretty much certain that he wouldn’t have a chance to wash if he went back for another.
The fabric of the shirt was so… fluid. It flowed through his fingers like cold water running from a tap, and it even glittered like the artificial sea at sunrise. In contrast the very narrow trousers were buttery soft but strangely thick. The assistant had told him they were ‘leather’, but she hadn’t actually explained what that was…
The cubicle door in front of him opened at last. He no longer had a choice in the matter, it was this or his tatty old yellow shirt.
Kylo really liked to wear his waistbands on the high side.
It was a ridiculous thought, but an accurate one. Matt wore his leggings so they barely skimmed his hip bones; these trousers sat several inches above his belly button. What a strange sensation.
A glance in the mirror made his jaw drop. He’d never looked this broad in his life. He’d always been described as a wall of muscle but now he actually looked like one. That was one hell of an optical illusion. If he could get used to the chafing against his ribs he’d have to wear all his clothes like that.
The trousers were followed by cropped mesh undershirt that would probably look better without any trousers at all, and then a richly embroidered jacket.
At first Matt thought that there was something wrong with the jacket. The assistant had told him it matched his measurements but the front only fastened at the waist. He fiddled with it for a good few minutes before he realised it had been deliberately cut to frame his pecs instead of covering them. The mesh only added to the exposed effect.
Matt wasn’t entirely sure he could walk into a casino with his nipples out. A small inner voice tried to point out that he worked entirely shirtless most days but, well, that was different. That was in the stable yard for one thing.
Besides there was a very different vibe between ‘you can see my chest because I happen to have no shirt on while I do hard work’ and ‘I’m deliberately choosing to expose my nipples, please look at them’.
He was definitely starting to see Kylo Ren in a very different light.
Techie had used the sonic for twice as long as usual, as well as paying extra for scented body spray and hair conditioner. He’d never bothered to do that before but Aalaia had talked about hair care at great length over the last few days.
He had to admit the effect was more than worth it.
Who would ever have thought that his hair could look like a waterfall of molten gold? Even he thought it looked good. Beautiful even. He’d never thought of himself that way before.
Hopefully his hair would distract from everything else.
The outfit was just as strange as it had appeared on its hangers.
The trousers were so tight that they felt like they were painted on, except at the waistband where his soft belly was trying to escape over the top. They were also unexpectedly shiny for an entirely black garment, but not nearly as shiny as the shirt.
The shirt was iridescent silver fading the rose gold at the bottom, and entirely free of buttons. Techie had tried tucking it into the waistband of the trousers, but it still hung open to just below the line of red hair running up his stomach. It was completely obscene.
Someone banged on the door to the cubicle. Time to go and no time to get changed.
Sighing heavily Techie pulled on the boots and pondered the last mystery of the strange outfit. Somehow it had been labelled with his own name. Well, his surname. Which was bizarre but he was sure no one outside HR knew his surname. He hadn’t even told Matt.
But there it was, stitched in black and red letters- A HUX. Which was accurate, he was a Hux thanks to his awful father, but how had anyone else known?
He shook his head to dismiss the thought and found himself immediately distracted by the way his hair drifted around his head. It really did look very, very good.
I know Matt previously mentioned the name Hux in relation to the First Order, but I think Techie was 1. more focused on the fact that Matt's own parents sold him and 2. possibly not aware of how common or not the surname is. His dad was a Hux who was bad, Matt was mentioning another Hux in passing who was also bad. Also Matt had his shirt off at the time, we can't expect ANYONE to pay attention under such circumstances.
Matt didn’t do so well in social situations at the best of times.
As it turned out, walking around feeling half naked in a room filled with excitable drunken people was the exact opposite of the ‘best of times’.
Someone had already grabbed his chest. Someone else had slapped his ass. Since neither of these people were Techie he’d told them both to fuck off, but they’d just laughed at him.
The whole situation wasn’t helped by the fact that his boyfriend had yet to show up.
That was at least partially Matt’s fault- he hadn’t thought to arrange somewhere for them to meet in advance.
In his defence he’d rarely even ventured into the casino’s service corridors before, let alone the actual entertainment spaces. He hadn’t realised how big and confusing the place really was on the inside.
He’d tried to loiter around the entrance in the hope of catching Techie on the way in, but the crowds had been too thick. It was a bit like getting caught up in the fathier herd except no one tried to avoid stepping on his feet.
Ten minutes into the night he was already hot, annoyed and ready to leave for the quiet of the hills.
But he couldn’t leave without Techie.
A slightly cooler breeze drifted over the crowd, drawing Matt’s eyes towards the huge windows covering one wall of the room. They stood open, revealing a gorgeous vista of the sea and night sky outside.
Well, if he couldn’t leave he could at least get some fresh air.
The crowds around him moved strangely. It seemed that he’d gotten off lightly with his chest-exposing outfit. He saw awkward people trying to steer hoop skirts and massive epaulettes through the busy room, and others whose hoods almost acted like blinkers.
Why rich people wanted to live like that he’d never understand.
After five minutes of struggling against stiff fabric and flailing elbows Matt burst onto the balcony like a cork popped from a bottle.
There were a few groups of lovers out here already, canoodling with varying degrees of discretion, but he barely noticed them.
A lone figure stood at the rail with his arms wrapped tight around himself and a curtain of shiny copper hair fluttering softly in the breeze.
Matt almost pretended to be meeting him for the first time, but red hair had never been that common, and there couldn’t possibly be anyone else as beautiful as this in the whole building.
“You look amazing.”
Techie smiled and tried to hide his blush behind his hair, but Matt was already pushing it back to kiss him.
Forgetting the need to hold his own shirt closed Techie unfolded his arms to rest his hands on Matt’s chest.
He blinked, his eyes whirring in an effort to focus on the unexpected sight in front of him, but what his sensors were reporting was true- Matt really was wearing a jacket with a mesh cut out at the front.
Techie’s shirt might be open, but Matt’s was deliberately on display. Suddenly Techie didn’t feel quite so self conscious about his own outfit any more.
Especially since Matt’s blush was racing across his pecs in lovely pink blotches like some kind of embarrassment sunset.
There was nothing else for it- Techie had to kiss him.
“You look great too.”
“Did you get taller?” Matt asked, letting his hands run down over the soft fabric of Techie’s flowing shirt to rest at his waist. “Are these leather trousers?!”
Techie looked down and felt himself blush too. “The boots have wedges in them. It’s weird. Whoever owned this outfit before me was my height, but I guess that wasn’t enough. I don’t know what leather is but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get back out of these. Unless the buttons burst under the strain.”
Matt laughed. Around them some of the less involved couples turned to glare at the noise as if the party inside wasn’t already deafening.
“Well this outfit belonged to Kylo Ren, so… I guess he had some issues.”
“It suits you, but I’m not sure you could wear it anywhere else but here,” Techie said. He self consciously pulled the front of his own shirt closed again. “Okay, maybe somewhere with higher pay but more physical labour than here…”
“I do plenty of physical labour!”
“No, Matt, I meant… nevermind.” Techie took Matt’s hand and peered over his shoulder. “What do you want to do?”
“Leave.” Matt said instantly. “Go up to the grassland and help you out of those trousers.”
“That’s a great idea,” Techie chuckled but he still shook his head. “But I don’t think we should miss the opportunity to use these chips. Or at least cash them in.”
They were worth fifteen hundred credits after all. Half a year’s wages. Could Techie really bring himself to gamble away that much money on a whim? Seven hundred and fifty credits each. That much money would buy him some decent clothes. The luxury of real showers and decent meals.
It was even enough for the two of them to afford a seat on a transport off planet- they wouldn’t get far but it would be a start. Techie wasn’t sure he actually wanted that, but it was a thought.
There was so much more they could do with fifteen hundred credits than lose it all in a casino.
Matt watched as Techie’s expression turned from amused to worried. From the way he was chewing his bottom lip the direction of his thoughts couldn’t have been a good one.
“It’s a lot of money.” Techie said quietly to himself.
That was certainly true. Matt had no idea what he’d do with that kind of amount- it wasn’t enough to fulfil any of his dreams, and his wages provided most of his day-to-day desires but still…
“Why don’t we just have a look around?” He suggested. “There’s no need to decide right away.”
“I thought you wanted to leave?”
Matt pulled Techie close again. It felt strange to be touching his familiar shape wrapped in this foreign fabric. Not in a bad way though. Matt wasn’t sure he’d ever want to lavish anyone with riches, that wasn’t the kind of man he was, but he could imagine keeping something so luxurious for special occasions, or the occasional lazy day in bed… perhaps that’s what he’d spend his money on, if they chose to cash the chips in.
He sighed against Techie’s hair. It smelled of fruit he was sure he’d never see or taste in his lifetime.
“Yes, I want to leave, but also want to have a real date with you,” Matt said at last. “So let’s go to the bar, order something incredibly alcoholic and see where the night takes us.”
There were tiny flakes of metal swirling around in his dark blue drink like he was holding a nebula in his hand. It seemed incredibly wasteful. The human body couldn’t possibly digest something like that.
The overall effect was very pretty though, unlike Matt’s drink which was pale green and had the consistency of pudding.
“It sounded appetising on the menu,” Matt said sadly. The drink wobbled slightly when he poked it with his straw.
“What does it taste like?”
Techie made a sympathetic face and offered a sip of his own drink.
“Wow. That’s pure sugar.”
“I know, I won’t sleep for a week.” Techie agreed.
“While mine will just give me a lustrous mane.”
They both giggled and the mirth seemed to run away with them both until they were doubled over laughing at their secluded table. Okay, maybe the strange taste was covering the strength of the cocktails.
“Rich people are weird,” Matt said once they’d both calmed down enough to talk. “What’s wrong with a cheap Corellian brandy? I mean it tastes like cleaning fluid and it evaporates if you don’t drink it quickly enough, but it’ll get you drunk.”
“Whereas your drink will probably crawl out of the glass and make a break for freedom if you’re not careful.”
There was no risk of that happening with Techie’s drink- he’d already drunk half the glass.
It wasn’t that he was sulking, he was just sad, and a little offended, and so he’d decided to see if alcohol would help.
He hadn’t expected to be banned from half the gaming tables the instant he walked into the room.
He didn’t really think about his eyes all that much these days. Not beyond the inconvenience when they broke down and the pain when they got aggravated. They were part of the reason he’d gotten the job- he could analyse things other humans couldn’t.
Unfortunately the dealers seemed to think that extended to card counting and outright cheating. It didn’t matter to them whether Techie knew the first thing about cards or if his eyes weren’t fitted with ‘x-ray vision’- he couldn’t prove either of those things so they’d slapped a coloured wristband on him at the first table he approached.
Someone else from the racing circuit had sought them out a little later and done the same to both of them, though neither of them had any intention of betting on the fathiers after Bargwill’s warning.
Techie swirled his drink as he looked around the room.
The sabacc and poker tables were definitely out. Mysteriously so was the roulette wheel, which should have been a pure game of chance but the croupier had shaken his head when Techie tried to approach. The same thing had happened at the slot machines, but apparently the pachinko and coin push machines were allowed.
Matt hadn’t been all that keen on breaking up a chip into 500 tokens though, and the noise of the equipment seemed to put him on edge, so they’d retreated over here.
What else was left then?
The crowds ebbed and flowed, giving Techie a clear view to the back of the room.
Oh. Of course.
Matt watched Techie as discreetly as he could, worrying all the time that he’d made the wrong choice in letting them stay. Although they’d been trying to have a good time there had been a subtle edge of discomfort over their table after they’d been cornered by the pit boss.
He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t wanted to punch the being.
It hadn’t even occurred to Matt that Techie’s eyes would be an issue. In fact he’d pretty much forgotten they were artificial.
Now they were limited to playing the noisy low stakes games or nothing. The whole thing seemed pointless now - there was no way they’d increasing their money on the one credit coin push machines.
Techie made a joke about Matt’s drink being sentient- a possibility that seemed all too real- and then turned in his seat to peer around the room.
He still looked impossibly gorgeous, his cheeks flushed and his lips starting to stain a dark blue from his drink.
Matt was glad he was so fixated with his beauty because he didn’t miss the moment Techie’s face broke into a bright wide grin.
“What is it?”
“Dice.” Techie replied.
“They have dice tables! They can’t use my eyes to ban me from playing dice.”
“Do you know how to play dice?” Matt asked.
Techie had already stood up from his chair and was offering Matt his hand.
“When I was a kid my mother got us passage on an old Corellian freighter. The owners were ‘reformed’ smugglers,” Techie awkwardly made the air quotes around his glass as they began to wind their way across the room. “But they were good people. During the work day they taught me how to repair the ship and in the down time we played games. The co-pilot liked Dejarik- I learned a lot of Shyriiwook swear words from him, but the captain preferred Sabacc.”
“But we can’t play Sabacc.” Matt cut in.
“No, but he played a version with dice and there’s hundreds of games you can play with dice. I was like six years old, we started with the basics.” He smiled a little oddly, like he was staring down twenty five years of misty memories. “I even played against his son a few times. If you thought Wookies were good at throwing tantrums….”
“There’s a blast from the past!” The croupier broke off Techie’s reminisces with a harsh laugh.
“What?” Matt felt like he’d lost control of the situation several hours ago. Maybe he’d passed out in his bunk and this was all a dream.
She pointed at his chest. “The infamous Might Of The First Order! I haven’t seen that boob window in four years but once it’s witnessed it never really leaves you!”
Matt knew his face was flushed a deep uncomfortable red, but there was nothing he could do to defend his dignity.
“Hey! Ghrikk! Look!” She called to a Blarina colleague standing on a platform at the next table.
The little creature turned, laughed, made a very easily interpreted squeezing gesture towards Matt’s chest, then went back to running its game with no further comment.
“That outfit… well…” She laughed again. “First time we’ve ever had to throw out a Jedi out of the casino for cheating too obviously and engaging in public lewdness at the same time.”
The tiny part of Matt that had always been fascinated by Kylo Ren trivia struggled valiantly through the fog of his embarrassment to ask, “You threw out Kylo Ren?”
“Do I look like I could fight Kylo Ren?” She rolled her eyes. “We had a Grysk security guard at the time, he did the throwing. I threw out his boyfriend.” She nodded to Techie and winked. “Nice to see they’re renting out couples costumes, but please refrain from licking his nipples at the gaming tables.”
This time it was Techie who turned crimson.
“Kylo Ren had a boyfriend?!” Matt’s obsession asked entirely without his permission.
“Yeah, that skinny General who can’t hold his liquor…” She said, eying Techie over again. “Looked a bit like you actually…” She shook her head and laughed. “You know, you two are adorable, lit up like the suns of the Tatoo system. I’ll tell you what, since you’re the only people at my table I’ll give you double the bet on your first roll.”
“What does that mean?” Matt asked.
The croupier smiled like an acklay that had just spotted a tasty morsel.
Perhaps it was embarrassment, or maybe it was the alcohol, but somehow seeing the croupier’s grin made Techie feel brave. It shouldn’t have done, it should have made him turn and walk away, but through the noise of the crowd he could almost here that old pilot telling him to take the risk.
Techie couldn’t remember the man’s name but that pilot had never been one to turn down a challenge for long. However timid Ma-Ma had made him, Techie had kept a little of streak of bravery. That was how he’d gotten Matt after all.
Maybe luck was on his side.
He put one chip down on the ‘Hi-Lo’ square and held his hand out from the dice.
“That’s five hundred credits,” the croupier said with a patronising tone. “Wouldn’t you rather make a wider bet? Or a lower one? I wouldn’t want you to lose all your money on the first roll.”
That was a lie, she just didn’t want to be seen matching that much money.
“No, thank you.” Techie replied. If only his hand would stop trembling.
Shaking her head she placed a matching chip on top of Techie’s, then offered up a tray with a dozen identical dice.
“Matt?” Techie glanced at the frowning man beside him. “Would you pick them? It’s good luck.”
Judging by his expression Matt didn’t really seem to believe that, but he did as he was asked.
Techie half expected the dice to slide off his palm thanks to the sudden wash of sweat. What the hell was he doing?
“Last chance to change your mind.”
No, he wouldn’t.
“Ok,” She said when he shook his head. “Two or a twelve to win, paying at 15:1.”
What had that old pilot said? ‘Never tell me the odds’? Well, it didn’t really matter, either they’d win or they’d lose. There were still two more chips.
He threw the dice.
They bounced off the velvet of the backboard and rolled slowly to a stop.
Six and… six.
“What does that mean?” Matt said quietly.
Techie swallowed hard. The words were sticking in his throat.
Across the table the croupier sighed and slammed a stack of chips on top of the first two.
“We uh… we just won fifteen thousand credits.”
“Keep your voice down!” Techie grabbed for Matt’s wrist but Matt was already turning towards the croupier with a naive grin.
“We really won fifteen thousand with one roll of the dice? Seriously? What would happen if I rolled a two now?” He asked, eagerly taking the offered dice from the woman’s hands.
She seemed to brighten up at the question. “Depends on if you keep the bet on Hi-Lo or just bet on a two.”
“Yeah, I want to bet on a two!”
“Matt, no, we should stop, you’ll…” Techie started to say but the croupier was already shoving the stack of chips worth sixteen thousand credits onto the ‘2’ square and the dice were leaving Matt’s hand.
Well. It had been nice to have all that money for a whole ten seconds.
The croupier smiled maliciously. “Two paying at 30:1.”
“So, we’d win thirty thousand credits?” Matt asked as the dice hit the backboard.
Techie closed his eyes. He couldn’t bear to look. “No, you bet sixteen thousand. That’d win four hundred and eighty thousand.”
“ WHAT? ”
The noise of the crowd seemed to have melted away. All he could hear was the sound of the dice rolling to a stop.
The early morning breeze whipped across the grasslands, sculpting the foliage until it almost resembled the waves below the cliffs. It was a peaceful relaxing effect that would have really helped Matt’s mood if Techie had just been able to get him to look at it. Unfortunately he remained curled in on himself with his head resolutely between his knees.
“Sixteen thousand credits,” Matt groaned to no one in particular.
Techie rubbed his back comfortingly.
“Six… teen… thou... sand… credits.” He said again. He sounded as if he was on the verge of tears. “I’ve never… fuuuuck…”
“Yup.” Techie agreed. There wasn’t much else he could do at this point.
“I can’t believe… just… fuck.” Apparently Matt was stuck in a loop.
Keeping his hand resting companionably between his boyfriend’s shoulder blades Techie leaned across the bed to retrieve the bottle of champagne. It tasted like bubbly vinegar, but it was free and right now they probably both needed the alcohol.
“Here,” Techie nudged Matt in the knee with the bottle. “Drink some of this, Big Spender.”
Matt finally raised his head enough to glare at Techie. Without his glasses the expression didn’t really have the intended effect.
“It’s not funny.”
“It’s a bit funny.”
“I bet more than I’ve earned in my entire life on a dice throw I didn’t even understand!!” Matt cried. He shoved the champagne away. “I’ve lost us both our jobs.”
Techie shrugged and took a gulp straight from the bottle.
“Yep, you made a really stupid bet,” He said, “and you won. Four hundred and ninety six thousand credits.”
Beside him Matt groaned and tipped over onto his side to hide his face against the impossibly soft duvet they were both sitting on.
“Don’t keep saying that outloud .”
“Fine,” Techie sighed and got unsteadily to his feet. The air on the balcony would almost certainly be warmer than in their suite, but at least out there he’d get the benefit of the salty sea breeze and the scent of the grasslands.
The stone of the railing was blessedly chilly beneath his fingertips. Eager for more Techie slumped until his chest and belly were pressed against it too, shivering a little as he poured more wine down his throat.
In all his years working the casino security cameras he’d seen a lot of reactions to winning bets- everything from the fainting and screaming of newcomers to the casual disinterest of the hardened gamblers. He’d never seen anyone breakdown crying before.
The croupier had been horrified by the scale of their win which had thankfully short circuited her training to encourage the ‘lucky winner’ to keep on gambling. Techie hadn’t even wanted to place the second bet let alone anything more, and he had been worried that Matt would get over confident so he was glad of the break, still he definitely hadn’t been expecting Matt’s reaction.
He’d still be frozen to the spot when the pit boss had forced his way through the crowd and carefully-yet-firmly lead them away from the table with their winnings. That had at least been a familiar process.
Winnings over fifty thousand credits had to go into a bank account. It simply wasn’t possible to leave the building with that many chips. They could choose an in house account to keep gambling or cash out to one based in the city.
Matt had barely been able to respond so Techie had cashed them out to a new joint account. All sixteen thousand credits worth of chips that had been on the table plus the four hundred and eighty thousand they’d won went to an account that could only be accessed with both of their thumbprints and iris scans.
Then the pit boss had kindly informed them that they were both fired but, to prove there were no hard feelings, they could have the use of a suite for the rest of the week. It wasn’t the most luxurious in the whole casino, but there was a hot tub, a conservator full of champagne, and a terminal to access room service.
All in all it should have been a wonderful end to an exciting night and the start of a bright future.
At least it would have been if his boyfriend wasn’t still curled up on the bed refusing to talk about the situation.
“They’re going to kill us, you know.” Or maybe he was going to talk about it after all.
Techie sighed again and turned to face the room. Matt was still an indistinct black clad lump amongst the sheets.
“Who’s going to kill us?” Techie asked, then answered his own question. “I mean, Bargwill might when he finds out you don’t work here anymore but he’s pretty easy to avoid.”
“The casino!” Matt said, finally sitting up but failing to look in the right direction to see Techie. Where his glasses had gone was a mystery.
“We won half a…” Matt cut himself off with a choking noise and had to cover his mouth before he could continue. “Half a million credits! Do you really think they’ll let us walk out of here with that much money?!”
Techie blinked. He could hear his own eyes creaking as they tried to focus on the logical leap Matt was making.
“Were… were you not paying attention? When we talked to the pit boss?”
Matt shook his head. “I don’t feel like I’ve been awake since I threw those dice.”
Abandoning the last of the champagne on the balcony Techie crossed the space between them to grab Matt’s hands.
“We already have the money.” Techie said slowly and carefully. “It’s in an independent bank account. No one is going to take it. I know it seems like a lot to us but believe me- more money than that goes through the system in five minutes on a normal day. Okay? I’m certain management weren’t expecting that kind of win on employee night, but I’d bet you my half of the money that they’ll have made a killing on bets since your win. Everyone else will be falling over themselves to have that kind of win. This’ll be the stuff of staff legend- the night two employees made it big. If the casino took revenge on us now they’d tank morale.”
Matt stared at him with bloodshot disbelieving eyes.
“You really think so?”
Techie pulled him into a hug. “We’re not worth it- in a town like this one we’re still nothing. Even if you do believe they’re gonna kill us, we’re in the fanciest room we’ll probably ever get to be in, don’t you think we should take advantage of that?”
He smiled as Matt’s laughter ruffled his hair.
“That’s not all that reassuring, babe.”
“I know…” Techie shrugged and let his hands drift to the open front of Matt’s jacket. “So… what do you want to do?”
It should be possible to feel someone blush but Matt’s temperature definitely rose.
“Uh… could we get some food first?” He asked after a few minutes indecision.
That seemed reasonable, they did have the suite for three more days after all.
I'm so sorry for the delay on this update! One more chapter to go.
The bank manager was glaring at them.
Techie wasn’t surprised by that- he’d been able to retrieve their clothes from the employee quarters but until they sorted out proper access to their accounts they couldn’t buy anything new. Which meant their options for this meeting had been ‘old and ragged’ or ‘borrowed and slutty’. Matt had accepted that a mesh chest-window wasn’t a good look for formal business, and Techie couldn’t bear the thought of going in public in that shirt again.
Based on the expressions of the bank staff ‘old and ragged’ wasn’t much better. They looked like nerf herders.
“So you won this money?” the manager asked for the third time since they’d arrived.
“Yes. All of this should have been confirmed on transfer,” Techie said again. He was trying not to get agitated. He knew all the processes for this sort of thing, but revealing that would just make the man more suspicious.
“I just find it hard to believe that you got in…”
“It was an employee event,” Matt cut in, his voice oddly flat. Techie could feel him tensing up where their knees met. Now that he’d accepted that the money was really theirs he must be having just as much trouble keeping calm as Techie was having.
“Hmph,” was the only reply while the man tapped at his screen for a while. Finally he said, “Well, the casino transferred the money so I suppose it’s their business. Let’s finish the security set up so you can leave.”
“Thank you. I’m looking forward to buying some new clothes,” Techie said bitingly.
The manager raised an eyebrow but kept his mouth shut until he turned to Matt. Then he seemed to pale as he looked from the screen to Matt’s face and back.
He swallowed audibly before he went on with far more deference than before.
“Well, Mr Lenoan, all of your details are in order, would you like your account linking to your family’s? They have a designated accounts manager-”
“Absolutely not,” Matt snapped. He’d turned even paler than the manager but seemed more like fury that fear. “My account is to have nothing to do with theirs. Ever.”
A sharp nod in response. “Of course.” The manager tapped at his screen again before he addressed Techie.
“And, you… Mr Hux, I’m afraid we’ll need a different long term security method for you. Your eyes do have the necessary unique markings for an iris scan but as our security droid has noted that the pattern of deterioration will make readings inaccurate over the long term.”
Beside Techie Matt had turned fully in his seat to stare at him with his mouth open.
“I umm… Okay,” Techie said, hiding behind his hair so he couldn’t see Matt’s unnerving expression or the odd way the bank manager was looking at him. “What do you suggest?”
“Forgive me for asking,” the man said carefully, “there’s no record of you on his family’s file, but are you related to General Hux?”
It shouldn’t really have been possible for Matt to be any more focused on Techie than he already was, but where their knees met he now seemed to be almost shaking.
Techie shrugged. “My father was someone high ranking at Arkanis Academy, I don’t know if he ever made General, he left before I was born.”
The silence as the man tapped at his screen seemed to go on forever. Beside him Matt was breathing strangely.
“Based on the date of birth you’ve given it was two years before Brendol Hux closed his Arkanis accounts and…”
Techie sat up. He was irritated by by the whole line of questioning and the bank manager’s apparent lack of qualms when it came to gossiping about his customers. Once they’d gotten all of this set up he was going to transfer their money to a more secure bank.
“I don’t know my father’s first name! You have no idea whether I’m related to him or not,” He snapped. “Surely giving out someone’s account details to a stranger without their permission is a breach of trust? Regardless, I have no memory of my life at the age of two! I know only what my mother told me.”
“Maratelle Hux? His wife?”
“No! What? I’ve never heard that name in my life.”
He felt like he couldn’t breathe. He’d known his entire life that his father was some kind of monster but if this ‘Brendol’ person was his father then he’d been deliberately abandoned with his mother. It shouldn’t matter but somehow it did and he felt sick that he even cared.
“I don’t understand why this matters!”
The manager made an ingratiating little gesture of appeasement. “I apologise. Brendol Hux died years ago, but you look enough like his son Armitage Hux, the General, that I was concerned you might be twins. In that case using DNA profiling for security wouldn’t be permissible. You’d have access to the First Order accounts at the highest level in that case.”
Part of his mind kept on screaming about this Brendol nonsense and the terrible security at the bank, but it was drowned out by rising horror. Armitage . He’d named that fathier foal Armitage because his subconscious had said the name went with Haven. He could almost hear his mother’s voice calling out both names one after the other.
He put his hand over his mouth and tried to breathe through his nose in an effort not to vomit. He’d had dreams about playing with a reassuring little red haired boy for as long as he could remember and this man was telling him… what? His brother was a monster too?
“When was General Hux’ birth date?” Matt asked when the silence had gone on too long.
The manager named a date two years before Techie’s own.
“Then they’re not twins. They won’t have the same DNA. Apparently they don’t have the same mother? If Techie’s never heard of this ‘Maratelle’ person?”
“Techie? Sir, you’ve given your name as Haven.”
“It’s a nickname,” Techie said behind his hand. “I was good with technical jobs as a child.”
“You still are,” Matt said.
Matt put his hand on Techie’s knee and a little of the tension faded from him. Everything that really mattered to Techie was sitting next to him, focusing on that was the most important thing. The past meant nothing compared to their future.
He took a deep breath and came to a decision. “I don’t want to use DNA- I don’t know if I’m related to these people, and frankly, I don’t want to know. What alternative do you suggest? I quite like to get out of here soon rather than later.”
“Facial recognition might be appropriate if you were keeping the… whatever that is on your forehead,” the manager said with a dismissive wave of his hand, “but voice recognition would probably be better- you might look like General Hux but you certainly don’t sound like him.”
Techie shuddered again. “Fine.”
He’d accept anything if it got them out of there sooner.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” He said, deliberately striding across the street to get away from the bank.
He was staring at something in the window of a store, but he couldn’t get his eyes to focus on it. Every time he tried he just felt more tears forming and really didn’t want to cry.
“Okay,” Matt said, and gently took his hand. “Well, now we know each other’s surnames, they’re both awful and we can both agree never to speak of them again.”
“We should get married and pick a new family name.” Techie suggested. He didn’t know the significance of Matt’s surname, but he knew how cruel his family had been to him, and if they had accounts on Cantonica they were even worse.
Matt’s grip tightened almost painfully on his fingers.
“Was that… are you serious?” He asked, sounding very small.
Techie turned to look at him, frowning in concern, and realised what he’d said.
“Yes. Absolutely. If you can look past all that garbage,” he said, waving toward the bank, “then, yes. I’m serious. We should get married.”
“I don’t care about who you might be related to, you’re my Techie, that’s all that matters to me.” Matt grinned as he leaned in to kiss him. “Should we get married right now?”
His eager tone made Techie laugh. It felt like a weight slipping off his shoulders. If Matt didn’t mind then it really wasn’t important.
“Babe, in three days we won’t have anywhere to live,” He said once he’d kissed Matt back. “Let’s get that sorted out first.”
“Oh. Okay. Good idea. Is that why you were looking in here?”
Techie finally got his eyes to focus on the objects in the window and found it was full of real estate listings. How convenient.
If he’d already been near tears it would have been true to say that the prices on most of the properties were eye watering. No wonder all the staff at the casino lived on site. Even with their win they’d struggle to buy even the smallest apartment.
Matt pointed at a screen at the bottom of the window, half hidden by a company decal on the transparisteel.
DESERT RECLAMATION HOMESTEADS- own your own home for less! For only a small set up fee, and a ten year commitment to improve the land, you too can own fifty to two hundred hectares at the edge of the desert! Help Canto Bight grow! Be self sufficient! Live the dream!!
“That’s a lot of exclamation marks,” Techie observed. “Wait, is that the farming thing you were talking about?”
“Yeah,” Matt said with a smile so broad it pushed his glasses up his face. “And with this much money, we could get a proper prefabricated house, and a decent stable. Fathiers are perfect for the grasslands- they’d improve the soil and there’s basically free food everywhere. We’d just need to collar them so they can’t leave our acreage.”
“Okay, okay,” Techie smiled back but held his hands up in an effort to keep Matt from getting too enthusiastic without thinking things through. “But how many fathiers could we get with that much? Aren’t those creatures insanely valuable?”
“The good runners are, yeah, but the ones with behavioural issues and health problems- you can get them for a pittance.”
“So… we become the stable of misfit animals, and then what? Is this a hobby or a business?”
Matt’s happy expression started to fade, which hadn’t been Techie’s intention at all, so he grabbed his other hand and squeezed reassuringly.
“Hey, I’m not saying no. If you want to run it as a hobby then so long as we can afford it that’s fine. If it’s going to be a business then you should have a plan. Either way - if it’s what you want, I don’t think we’ll find a house anywhere cheaper than this. I’d love to live out on the grasslands with you.” He pushed up on his tiptoes to kiss the corners of Matt’s mouth. “Me and my husband, and our fathiers, and absolutely no one else. Sounds like heaven.”
Matt felt like he was floating rather than walking back to the casino.
The paperwork on a homestead had been surprisingly easy; they’d gotten the perfect location and size of plot for a few thousand credits. Apparently there was a shortage of wannabe farmers around Canto Bight- people saw the bright lights and wanted a piece of the glamour.
All Matt wanted was to be able to see the stars again and spend the rest of his life with Techie.
And Techie wanted to spend his life with him. He’d practically proposed to him in the street.
Matt would have to propose again later, properly. Just to be sure that Techie hadn’t just said it out of shock over his maybe-brother.
He shook his head to dismiss that thought and earned a concerned look from Techie in the process. Matt kissed him as a distraction.
He wasn’t ever going to think about the Hux conversation again. It didn’t matter, just like it didn’t matter that he’d been born into a distant branch of a powerful shipbuilding family - Techie had nothing to do with the First Order and Matt would never go back to Kuat.
They were themselves. That was all that mattered.
“Oi! Matt!!” The shout broke his revery.
They were just passing the fathiers’ yard and Bargwill was staring at them from the doorway.
“What?” Matt grinned at finally being able to address the man with the respect he actually deserved.
“Did I say you could get yourself fired?” The Cloddogran grumbled, though his expression wasn’t actually all that angry.
“No, I think that was fate smiling on me.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not smiling on me , I’ve still got all this work needs doing. Do you want your job back?”
“No thanks,” Matt said cheerfully. Beside him Techie was looking up at him like he wanted to interrupt. “I’m buying a farm. Might take some fathiers off your hands though.”
Techie grabbed his shoulder and pulled himself up to whisper, “it’s gonna be at least a month to get the house ordered and in place. Ask him for more money! Actually, ask him for more money and use of a room, while you train a replacement.”
“I’ll give you some fathiers if you’ll come back,” Bargwill said while Techie was making his suggestions. It was hard to read a Cloddogran face but Bargwill looked like he would have begged if his ego would have allowed it.
Well, Matt didn’t really want to do it, but if it got him the start of a herd and somewhere warm to sleep for free... He named a price five times his usual salary, as well as use of a room and two days off a week.
It was an absolute delight to see his former boss acquiesce to his demands. Anyone would have thought he was agreeing to swallow a dozen live brain worms.
“Okay, see you at work tomorrow! And make sure the access code for my room is ready, my fiancé’s going to want to move in while I’m working,” Matt said, grinning at both his victory and Techie’s perfect blush at the word fiancé.
Matt was never going to get tired of seeing Techie so happy.
Techie woke every morning to warm sunlight streaming across the bed, and Matt’s slow breathing under his cheek. Together forever. They weren’t the abandoned forgotten boys they’d been as children. They were Mr and Mr Ostler, named for Matt’s chosen profession, and they’d never alone again.
He was married to the most perfect man in the galaxy. He was in heaven. Well, he was in their little house in the grasslands. Close enough.
Their house- like their family- was small, but perfect.
They’d opted for a prefabricated one bedroom structure that had been formed from plasteel somewhere else and dropped into place by a transport shuttle. The house and similarly formed stables were designed to be buried under a layer of soil so that from a distance the compound looked like a series of natural hills. As well as being more secure the buildings were also wonderfully insulated from the desert nights, and the shapes formed an excellent playground for the young fathiers in their care.
Matt had bought Baby as soon as the base structures were in place- she’d even ‘helped’ them build up the walls by stamping down the layers of soil- and she’d soon been joined in the small stables by Padget and her twins. Much to Techie’s amusement neither Haven nor Armitage were suitable for racing, and since Padget had reached the end of her breeding career their owner had been happy to be rid of them.
Most mornings the men were woken at dawn by Armitage banging on the gate of his stall with a cup he’d stolen from the feed trough for just that purpose. Breakfast was usually accompanied by the sound of the three youngsters running over the roof while Padget begged for treats at the backdoor.
It was a quiet life, and a good one.
They both still worked at the casino, fewer shifts but enough that they hardly ever had to touch their savings. Techie did a little independent side work here and there, developing security systems for the other homesteaders living out on the edges of the grasslands. Enough to keep his hand in and his wits sharp.
Now he’d found heaven he was determined to keep it, which meant always being prepared to defend what he had however he could. Though they never talked about it Matt’s exercise regime didn’t waver, and he’d taught Techie a thing or two about hand-to-hand combat, so maybe he felt the same way.
At night they watched the stars under a blanket from the comfort of their porch, hot drinks in hand while the whispering of the grasses kept them company.
It was a peaceful routine.
There were occasional glitches of course. They lived out in the wilds where no one could expect every service to function at full capacity all the time.
Which was why Techie wasn’t concerned when he woke to find the holonet disconnected. Their antenna array was pretty fragile and frequently exposed to the wind. A cable had probably shaken loose.
Matt had already gone out, and although they hadn’t talked about an early shift or an errand run in town Techie wasn’t worried about that. His husband was a free man to do as he pleased. They’d even included that in their vows. It was all fine.
He was smart enough not to climb the antenna array on his own. Working at height wasn’t his speciality and the array had no harness points - if he fell the fathiers wouldn’t be able to send for help or get him to a healer. He had chores to do around the house, anything on the ‘net could wait.
When Matt wasn’t back by nightfall, then Techie began to worry. They hadn’t been apart for so long since before their big win. Freedom was one thing but this was something else.
Techie didn’t know what to do. They didn’t leave the fathiers alone for long if they could help it- his security was good but they didn’t have a droid to keep an eye on the place for longer spells. Perhaps they should have bought one.
He added ‘obtain droid’ to the to-do list pinned up on the kitchen wall, feeling ridiculous at such a small gesture when Matt was missing.
If he’d had access to the holonet he could contact their friends at the casino, or the city guards, or the local medical centres.
Climbing the antenna array in the dark seemed even less appealing than it had during daylight, but maybe it was necessary.
Techie was already halfway across the compound when he spotted a humanoid silhouette fiddling with the array.
Two thoughts flashed across his mind simultaneously- he hadn’t brought any weapons out with him, and no one should have been able to pass the perimeter fence without an access code.
Before his brain could give him anything else Baby made her welcoming call from the stables, and Matt replied with a whistle.
The tension spooled out of Techie’s body like atmosphere from a ruptured hull. He felt almost like he was going to collapse the loss was so sudden.
Of course Matt was fine.
Of course there was no need to worry.
The holonet must have gone down last night and Matt had gone out to get a replacement part- that was all.
Techie trotted across the remaining space between them, buoyed up by relief that faded as he got close enough to see Matt’s face. Because of the darkness his eyes were shifting between night vision and infrared but in either view it was clear that something was wrong.
He was pulled into a hug so tight he could feel his ribs creaking.
“Babe, what’s wrong?”
Matt just made a noise as pressed his face further into the space between Techie’s neck and shoulder. His face was damp and his glasses were cold where they pushed against Techie’s skin.
“You’re scaring me now,” Techie managed. He was stroking Matt’s back but he wasn’t sure if it was a gesture of comfort or an attempt to persuade him to let go.
“The Hosnian System is gone.”
The statement made no sense. He knew the name but he couldn’t place where from.
For several minutes they stood together while Techie tried to remember what it was- they didn’t own anything by that name; the casino didn’t name its internal systems that way; racing fathiers had strange names but that strange; had Techie misheard the words and Matt had actually said something else…
His stomach dropped a little when he realised Hosnian Prime was the galactic seat of government. Out here on the Rim the Republic meant almost nothing, but still, a whole system, all those people. What a tragedy.
Had Matt known people there? His family were powerful- he might be estranged from them but hearing a relative had died like that would still be a shock.
“The entire system?” He asked. “What, what happened? Did its star go nova?”
“Techie, I’m so sorry,” Matt whispered, somehow managing to hug him tighter. “I disconnected the antenna because I hoped it wasn’t true, but when I went into town it was as bad as I thought. Worse even.”
Too much was going on. Techie head was spinning with the weirdness of this nonsensical conversation.
“You deliberately cut me off from outside communication?” He asked. He had to take this one thing at a time and this was clearly the thing that affected him the most. Matt had cut him off from the rest of the planet without even talking to him about it.
“I didn’t expect to be gone so long, I’m sorry.”
“Why though?” He grabbed Matt gently by the ears and pulled him upright until they could look one another in the eye. “What could you possibly need to protect me from? I don’t know anyone in the Hosnian System, a natural disaster like that is tragic but-”
“It wasn’t a natural disaster,” Matt said as he started to lead Techie back to his house. “It wasn’t even their star. Look. You know I worked for the First Order? I uh… before I was dismissed I was working on a weapon that could… well, tear up a sun and use it as a weapon. Have you heard of the Death Star?”
If Techie’s stomach had dropped a little before it was now past his feet and heading towards Cantonica’s core.
“Yes of course, everyone’s heard of the Death Star,” he muttered, “as a kid I travelled with some folks who claimed to have helped destroy it. Both of them.”
Matt steered him over the kitchen table and pushed down on his shoulders until he sank half oblivious into a seat. In a way he knew where this was going.
“Well, Starkiller was worse.” Matt said as he opened and closed cupboard doors seemingly at random. “I… I never thought they’d use it. I thought it’d even work but I guess General Hux and his engineers were cleverer than they looked. He fired it- Hux. He broadcast it to the entire galaxy.”
He finally found the whiskey laid on its side at the back of the cutlery drawer, where Techie had left it once claiming that an old smuggler had once told him it tasted better that way.
Techie was staring pale faced at the table in front of him, his eyes drifting in and out of focus with a slow agonising whirr.
“That’s why I disconnected the holonet,” Matt said as he held out a glass to Techie.
Techie took the bottle and poured a good measure down his throat before Matt got it back again.
“When I first saw the news it was all so garbled, I expected it would turn out to be a rumour, or a smaller attack that got exaggerated.” Matt paused as he knocked back the glass of whiskey. “I just worked radar, I had no idea it could destroy five whole planets in one shot.”
There was a noise like Techie was going to be sick, but he slapped a hand over his mouth and went very still instead.
“So the First Order can just… destroy any planet now?” He asked from behind his hand.
Matt shook his head and put a reassuring hand over the one still resting on the table. He wasn’t sure how Techie was going to take the rest of his news- they never talked about their families but there was a good chance that General Hux was his brother.
“No. Starkiller is gone.”
Techie looked up for the first time since they’d entered the house. “Really?”
“Yeah, that’s why I came back so late, I wanted to know what was happening. I don’t know how they did it, but the Resistance blew it up.”
They sat in silence for a while, the bottle passing back and forth between them until it was empty. Matt wondered if it was really alcohol because it was having no effect on him, but then the amount of adrenaline burning through his system would probably cancel everything out.
“I should have told them it was there,” he said at last, the guilt in his stomach finally too much to hold down any more. “Well, I didn’t know the coordinates obviously, but I knew the region.”
“Do you know how to contact the Resistance?” Techie asked quietly.
“No. But I should have found out.”
Techie was looking at him oddly. “How many people were on Starkiller?”
“Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands maybe.”
“How many in the First Order?”
“Your parents sold you,” Techie said as he sat forward and took his hands. “The First Order was all you knew before you came here. You said yourself- you didn’t expect it to work, and you don’t know how they destroyed it. How much useful information could you have given them? ‘There’s an implausibly large weapon somewhere in this sector of space’. Would they even have believed you?”
“I should have tried.”
“By that logic so should everyone else who has ever come into contact with the First Order,” Techie nodded in the direction of the city. “So should half the ‘guests’ in Canto Bight right now. They’re the ones funding them, and arming them. There are people in that casino who could probably bring the First Order down with just one or two strategically released blueprints. Everyone knows they’re evil, they’ve known for years. What are they doing now?”
“That’s the worst part of it all,” Matt said, “they’re doing nothing. When I left some of them were laughing. No one respects the Republic out here, they’ve never done anything to help the Outer Rim and the big industries don’t care about sides.”
“They only care about profit.”
Techie stood and pulled Matt up out of his seat so he could wrap his arms around his waist.
“Look,” he said, his breath warm against Matt’s neck. “Terrible things happened when I was on Peachtrees, and I always wondered if there was anything I could have done, but humans aren’t built like that. Ma-Ma took my eyes and my mother and most of my dignity. I escaped with what I had left. I don’t know what they did to you in stormtrooper conditioning but from some of what you say in your sleep I think it wasn’t all that different. You’re one man with limited knowledge- you were a radar technician, not a weapons expert, and by your own account you weren’t all that good at it. Based on your cooking- you might have even hindered them for a while.”
Despite himself Matt laughed at that. “Hey, you’re no better.”
“You burned water, babe.”
“Shhhh we agreed to never mention that again.” He said, holding a finger up to Techie’s lips. He sighed when Techie kissed him. “I still feel bad though.”
“I get that, I do.” Techie said against his lips then turned away to pace around the room. “Hindsight is a terrible thing, but if Starkiller is gone I don’t know what you could possibly do now. We can’t go and find the Resistance- who’d take care of the fathiers? But if they come here, and we can help them, then yes , I say we help them. Okay?”
It didn’t feel like enough, not when there were pilots out there risking their lives, but Techie was right- Matt didn’t hold any secrets that could bring down the First Order. And neither of them had the kind of specialist skills that could make much of a difference.
The Resistance would never come to Cantonica, but if they did Matt would do everything in his power to help them.
Techie was already awake when Matt woke with a gasp.
There was a strange sound in the distance, and all four fathiers in the stables were going nuts but so far he couldn’t see anything, even with his augmented vision.
“That was the weirdest dream I have ever had,” Matt muttered while he groped for his glasses on the bedside table.
“Here.” Techie handed them over. “What did you dream?”
He tried to his focus on the grasslands outside but it was hard not to glance appreciatively at his husband while he dressed. He hadn’t told Matt anything was wrong but he seemed to know anyway, or maybe his dream had been enough to spook him.
“It was so strange,” Matt said, rubbing at his hair and trying to put both feet in the same trouser leg. “I thought I’d been shrunk because everything was big, but then I saw my reflection and I was Temiri- one of the stablehands- and the Resistance were in the stables at the casino.”
“I know! It was so weird.” He laughed. “The Resistance let all the fathiers out. All of them, and rode off into the sunset with them.”
“I have no idea.”
Techie shook his head in amusement as he headed out of the front door. Clearly Matt had been thinking about the Resistance a little too much lately. As if they’d release a bunch of racing animals. News on the holonet was pretty vague but he was sure they were still far from here.
The strange noise was louder outside, much louder.
Although their fathiers had done a good job of cropping the grass around the compound he still couldn’t see all that far from ground level, so Techie climbed the sloping earth walls of the house. Matt was already doing the same.
If there was a storm coming they needed to know about it. Whatever it was the fathiers in the stable were showing no sign of calming down.
“What the frell…”
There was something huge moving through the tall grass.
No, Techie thought when his eyes adjusted to heat signatures instead of visible light, there were a lot of large but widely spaced things moving through the grass towards them.
“That sounds like runni-” The rest of Matt’s comment was drowned out by the thundering step of at least a dozen galloping fathiers.
The animals charged past them, running headlong without a care up and over the house and the stable block. They were almost out of sight when Padget gave a call. When Baby joined in the loose fathiers began to turn, stumbling over one another as they tried to change direction without giving enough thought to the manoeuvre.
“Are you sure that was a dream?” Techie shouted over the herd.
“The only humans with psychic powers are Force users!” Matt laughed. He was turning in place to watch the fathiers as they looped around and around the compound. “But they are the fathiers from the casino!”
“I guess that Temiri kid is a Jedi!” Techie grinned. He had an idea. “What the frell do we do with all these then?!”
Matt sighed. “If they keep running for the desert they’ll starve… I have to assume Bargwill is going to send out a search party once the sun comes up. They’re valuable animals.”
“What happened to helping the Resistance if we can?”
“You said that in your dream it was the Resistance who let them out, so logically the Resistance doesn’t want them to be at the casino. A lot of the owners are involved in other unsavoury industries, right?” Techie was sure Matt had told him that once. “Maybe it’s a plan to slowly bankrupt them…”
“That would be a bad plan.”
Matt had turned to face him now, starlight glinting off his glasses making his expression hard to read.
“Why? What were you thinking of?”
“Remember after we bought them, when we reprogrammed the ID chips on our fathiers?” Techie said, unable to resist the urge to rub his hands together in glee. “Remember how I said the security coding on the casino IDs was terrible and any idiot with ten minutes on their hands could change the ownership on a fathier provided they got the animal off site first?”
He span in a circle with his arms held out to highlight the huge expanse of empty grasslands all around them. They couldn’t get much further off site than this.
“And how my coding was infinitely better than theirs because I actually care, so they can’t undo it?” He went on, absolutely confident in his skills. Security was his speciality after all.
“Techie, are you seriously suggesting we steal these fathiers?” Matt asked. A smile was finally starting to spread across his face too. “Because I am absolutely down with that.”
They couldn’t exactly change the galaxy, but they could change the lives of all these animals. It was only a small gesture in the grand scheme of things but to the fathiers it’d be everything.