Kylo frowns at his phone. Rey’s text is completely indecipherable to him—it’s all emojis, and none of them make any sense in context, except for maybe the confetti. How the hell is he supposed to respond when the message is incomprehensible?
(One of the emojis is an eggplant. He has no idea what the fuck the eggplant has to do with anything.)
Rey: u r gonna do great
Rey: update meeeeeeeeeeeeee
The script he wrote out is sitting on the bathroom counter. Green ink, on a piece of paper neatly torn from the back of his current journal. He’s simplified the script as much as possible, but he still doesn’t know if it’s enough. Hi Hux, I like you. Will you go out with me?
Short, sweet, and to the point. He folds it and puts it in his pocket.
He hopes it’s enough.
He’s halfway to work, standing on the bus because of course there’s nowhere to sit, when another possibility dawns on him.
Kylo: What if he’s seeing somebody already?
Rey: he’s not
Rey: u’d kno
Kylo: But I wouldn’t. We don’t talk.
Rey: nobody talks 2 him.
Rey: nobody is dating him.
Rey: just u after this
Kylo touches his pants pocket, makes sure that the piece of paper is still in there. It is. He’s just gonna—he’s just gonna go to work. He’s gonna pull Hux aside at break, and he’s gonna ask him. And then it’s—it’s gonna be fine. Everything’s gonna be fine.
(He would know, somehow, if Hux was dating someone—wouldn’t he? They work at the same coffeeshop, they go to the same university, they’re majoring in the same fucking subject—Kylo would have to know if Hux was already dating someone. He would have to.)
Kylo: I can’t do this.
Rey: it’s been years
Rey: I was a baby when u got a crush on him
Kylo: You were ten.
Rey: A BABY
Rey: just do it
Rey: ask him out
Kylo: What if he says no?
Rey: then u can call me after school and cry about it
Kylo: I wouldn’t cry about it, Rey.
Except he might, is the thing.
He actually might.
Kylo doesn’t even make it two steps into the coffeeshop before he’s completely floored, so gay for Hux that he feels like there’s a neon sign flashing above his head proclaiming it to everyone. Hux is dressed the exact same as he always is—black button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled back above his elbows, crisp dress pants, blindingly white apron with the Resistance logo on the upper left of his chest and the small rainbow flag pinned just above it—and he’s so stunningly good-looking that Kylo ducks his head as he goes to the back so he doesn’t have to talk, because he’s pretty sure his voice will crack if he does.
Hux sees him come in anyways. “You’re late,” he says as Kylo heads into the back.
Kylo’s ears start burning immediately. He’s already dead. His shift hasn’t even started yet, Hux only looked at him for point two five of a second, and there’s no way Kylo’s going to be able to even start his shift, much less finish it, much less ask Hux out in the middle of it, holy fuck.
His hands are shaking as he does up his apron. He’s only got one pin on it—the same ally pin he’s been wearing since his first day here. He swore he was gonna change it to something more—relevant—once this pin fell off, or broke, or something, but it’s hung on for two years so far, so Kylo’s just gonna ride it out until the pin breaks, and choose a more accurate pin then, because otherwise it’s gonna be a Thing, and he just wants it not to be a Thing, he just wants to date Hux, he just wants—
“Hey,” Poe says.
Kylo looks up, fingers hesitating on the strings of his apron. Poe looks frazzled. He’s leaning against the office desk with papers in one hand, a notebook in the other, his phone balanced on top of both, and he’s clearly stressed out.
“There’s, uh,” Poe says. “No way I can convince you to extend your notice a couple weeks for me, huh?”
Kylo shakes his head. “Can’t, sorry. Summer classes start up on campus right away, and I’ve got no availability once they do, it’s brutal.”
Poe nods. “Yeah, of course, buddy. Figured I’d ask.” He looks back down at the papers again. “Kriff. Well, if you know anybody looking for a job, let me know—I’m gonna be hiring a couple people, I guess.”
“I wasn’t working that many shifts,” Kylo says.
“S’not just you,” Poe replies. “Hux quit too.”
Kylo’s stomach twists. “Oh,” he says.
It explains a lot, is the thing. Like—the absurdly good mood that Hux has been in all week, where he’s actually smiling at customers occasionally. The arch look he’s been giving them when they flirt with him instead of the usual stony glare. The part where Kylo fumbles a cup that Hux gives him, and instead of telling him to watch it, Ren, Hux just raises one perfect eyebrow and says nothing.
(Kylo screws up a perfectly normal frappuccino order, and all Hux says to the customer is “Don’t mind Kylo, he’s new here—aren’t you, Kylo?” and Kylo stammers his way through his response and he does look new even though he’s worked here for a couple years now, it’s a fucking mess.)
Kylo’s gonna ask Hux out during his break anyways, just like he planned—but when he goes to the back room, hand tucked into his pocket so that he can feel the script underneath his fingertips, he loses his nerve almost immediately.
“Hi, Hux,” he says. His ears are already burning. He can’t do this. There’s no fucking way. He can’t even say the next line in the script, because I like you seems horrifically trite at this point, and Hux is gonna open his mouth and say something awful and—
“Ren,” Hux says coolly. He’s sitting on the very top step of the ladder, the rung that says this is not a step, ostensibly cleaning the backroom, but he’s got his phone in his hands and he’s probably just screwing around, the same as the rest of them do when they need a break from customers for a few minutes.
“You’re in a good mood,” Kylo says. It’s completely the wrong thing to say, and he wants to retract it immediately.
“Course I am,” Hux says. “I’m finally getting the hell out of this cesspool.”
“T-the coffee shop?” Kylo says, gears in his brain frantically grinding as he tries to figure out how to steer the conversation back to his script. “Poe had mentioned you’d quit, yeah, I bet it’ll be weird not working here—”
“Nah,” Hux says, gracefully descending the ladder without even holding onto the shelves. “I’ll be in a new city, so it won’t matter.” He shoulders past Kylo, unlocks the lock on his locker and puts his phone back inside it, then locks the lock again. Heads back out to the front without so much as a backward glance.
Kylo stands in the back room staring at the shelves, fingertips touching the script folded up in his pocket. Hi Hux. I like you. Will you go out with me? Hi Hux. I like you. Will you go out with me?
He’s still standing there when he hears Poe call his name a few minutes later. Yanks the script out of his pocket, crumples it up, and tosses it in the trash.
Goes back for it immediately, smooths it out, and puts it back in his pocket.
He’ll just put it in the shoebox in his closet with all the other failed attempts to ask Hux out.
“Hey, buddy,” Poe says.
“I swear I’m gonna check the stock in a minute,” Kylo says.
“No, no, not you,” Poe says. “Hux.”
“Dameron,” Hux says warmly.
Kylo just about drops the drink he’s making, because he has never once, in the entire time he’s worked here, seen Hux respond to Poe with anything but not your buddy.
“Your phone is going nuts in your locker,” Poe says.
Hux’s brow furrows ever so slightly—so slightly that Kylo second-guesses having noticed it at all—and then smooths out, and Hux says, “Oh, thanks for letting me know. I’ll, uh. Take my break now, get that sorted out.”
Poe reaches out to touch Hux’s elbow as Hux heads toward the back, but Hux shifts his body slightly, avoids any contact.
Kylo watches him go.
Hux doesn’t come back. Kylo figures he’s only going to be a couple minutes—but it’s five minutes, and then it’s ten minutes, and then it’s fifteen.
“Aren’t you, uh, concerned?” Kylo asks Poe.
Poe shrugs. “He’ll be back when he’s back. And we’re not that busy up here anyways.”
(Seventeen minutes. Twenty-three minutes. Not that Kylo is counting.)
It’s true, though, they aren’t that busy. So Kylo takes the next couple of spare minutes he has to quickly duck into the back to go to the bathroom—and then bypasses the bathroom completely when he realizes that Hux isn’t sitting at the back desk. Kylo checks in by the shelves—there’s a quiet spot right in the very back corner where you can’t be seen from the doorway, and he’s used it a couple times when he’s needed to, when he couldn’t function, when everything was way too overwhelming—but Hux isn’t there either.
(Hux wouldn’t need something like that, anyway.)
Kylo takes one last look in the back room, and notices that the garbage can from the office desk is propping the back door open. Kylo slips out the back, takes one look, and says something stupid.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
Hux doesn’t smile or look up, just takes another drag on the cigarette and exhales an unsteady stream of smoke. His face is pale, splotched with red, and his eyes are red, and—oh, oh fuck, Kylo is a fucking idiot who should have gone right back up front instead of coming back here, because he didn’t even know Hux was capable of—of having feelings, and—
“Are you okay?” Kylo asks.
Hux laughs, completely without humour. “Of course not, you fucking idiot.” He takes another drag on the cigarette, lights the next one off the one he’s holding. “You would ask that.”
“Look, I just—” I like you, Hux. “—had a question, I’ll come back later, I just—”
“Ask,” Hux says.
Kylo swallows. He can’t, though, is the thing. Not now. Not when Hux looks like this. Not when Hux has been—
“When’s your last day?” Kylo blurts out.
He can tell it’s the worst thing to have asked immediately, because Hux inhales—and then exhales in something that’s almost like a sob.
“Never,” he says, voice cracking. “I’ll have to—fuck, I’ll have to rescind my notice—Poe’ll be happy, the fucker, he didn’t want me to go anyway—”
“I—” Kylo starts—and then stops, and then tries to start again—but then all the colour drains out of Hux’s face at once.
Hux drops his cigarette, his hand coming up to cover his face. “Oh fuck,” he says, muffled. “I gave up my fucking apartment, I don’t have anywhere to fucking live—I’m not—I can’t—” He inhales heavily again, voice hitching.
Kylo looks behind him, as though—there’s going to be somebody else there, as though Poe’s going to come and bail him out of this, except there is no getting out of this because it’s an absolute disaster, he just wanted another chance at asking Hux out, and now he’s right in the middle of—the middle of whatever the fuck this is, with Hux falling to pieces in front of him when he was supposed to be invulnerable—
“That fucking cunt,” Hux says, in a voice that would be vicious if he hadn’t started crying again. “All of my fucking money, and he’s just—” He gasps, coughs, wipes his hand across his face. “My entire fucking inheritance, and I have to be—have to be married to get it—”
Kylo swallows. He can feel his ears burning. He’s dying of second-hand embarrassment for Hux, and he doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know how to make any of this stop—an offer to talk about it seems ridiculous, and he’s not physically approaching Hux because if Hux didn’t want Poe to touch his elbow, there’s no way he wants a hug from Kylo, and Kylo would die if he had to be that physically close to Hux anyway—
(He’s still trying to process the words Hux said, still trying to figure out what the fuck this means, if Hux can’t get his inheritance because he’s not married—if he can’t leave because he’s got no money—if he’s got nowhere to live because he’s given up his apartment—)
Hux is shaking as he slowly sits down on the ground.
All Kylo can think is that he’s never seen Hux sit on the ground before, and here he is, in his work clothes, perfectly pressed and clean and sitting down on the ground in the alley with his head buried in his hands.
The words come out of Kylo’s mouth before he’s even thought them through. “Can I, like, help? Somehow?”
Hux looks up at him with red-rimmed eyes. “Ren?”
“Yeah?” Kylo asks, hope rising in his chest.
Rey: oh no
Kylo: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK
Rey: gimme a sec I’m calling
“Hey, Kylo,” Rey says. Her voice is all quiet, which means she’s probably jammed in somewhere where she’s not supposed to be, which usually means—
“Fuck, you’re still in school,” Kylo says. He runs his hand back through his hair, sniffs. “I’ll call back later.” God, he feels like shit right now. His stomach hurts and his head hurts and he can’t stop thinking about how fucking—broken Hux looked today, and it’s freaking him the hell out.
“No, no, no,” she says. “Finn’s taking notes for me, it’s just social studies, I don’t give a—I don’t care. Are you okay?”
“No,” he says. “It’s fine, I just—” He sighs heavily. “Hux was really upset.”
“After you asked him out?”
“No, fuck,” Kylo says. He takes a deep breath, tries again. “I didn’t—I didn’t ask him, because there was this whole—thing. With this phone call.” He outlines everything best as he can for Rey—skipping over the parts where Hux was having a breakdown in the alley, because he doesn’t even like thinking about those parts, and can’t actually fathom opening his mouth and telling another human being, even if it is his sister, that he’s seen Hux like that. “And he, uh. Told me to fuck off, and then didn’t come back to work, so—so that’s where we’re at now, and I don’t know when his last day is either, so I guess that’s just—I guess that’s just it.”
He wishes, though—he wishes there was a way to ask Hux about it again. He knows how it probably looked to Hux—like Kylo was just blurting something out to try and get out of the situation, like Kylo was just trying to escape—but he meant it, he actually meant it, he would—
“—still see him at school, at least,” Rey says.
“Yeah,” Kylo agrees. “I’ll still see him at school.” He thinks about that for a minute. “Shit,” he says. “I’ll still see him at school.”
“That’s what I said,” Rey says.
“Thanks, Rey,” he says. “Head back to class, have a good day.” He hangs up before he loses his nerve, reaches under his pillow for his journal, and starts writing.
Kylo waits until the next day to enact his plan. It’s really stupid, is the thing. And Kylo knows it’s stupid the entire time he’s doing it.
He knows it’s stupid when he digs his button-up shirt out of the hamper and shakes it out and puts it back on. He knows it’s stupid the entire twenty five minutes it takes him to tie his tie. He knows it’s stupid when he tries on every pair of dress pants he owns (two) and absolutely neither of them fit so he ends up having to wear jeans and he looks ridiculous, he looks completely ridiculous, all arms and legs and he wishes he had, like—a vest, or a jacket, or something to distract from the part where he looks really terrible in dress clothes, which is why he never wears them.
The stupidity of the entire thing has started to sink in by the time Kylo gets off the bus, but it doesn’t matter, because at this point, he’s committed. He’s fucking committed, and he’s just going to—he’s just going to take the flowers he bought Hux on the way over, and he’s going to find Hux’s studio space, and they’re going to—they’re going to talk. Kylo is going to do it right this time.
(He balks at the entrance to the art building, because he really, really doesn’t want to be seen taking flowers to Hux—so he shrugs off his coat, drapes them over the flowers, and carries the entire bundle into the building that way, holding it against his shoulder. It’s not like it’s weird to carry bundles of stuff into the art department. It could be anything. It doesn’t have to be flowers.)
The grad students have their offices tucked away in a separate wing from the one Kylo’s in all the time. He’s never even been in there, has no idea where he’s going, and the map that’s mounted on the entrance to the wing really doesn’t do shit for him, because it’s not properly labelled—
“Undergrad studio is back the other way,” a woman says, bored. She looks him up and down, unimpressed. “Do you need directions?”
“I’m, uh. Looking for Hux’s studio space,” Kylo says. He grins at her, lopsided and crooked, and it changes nothing about the look on her face.
“Are those for him?”
Kylo looks where she’s looking—and fuck, the jacket has slipped off the flowers and they’re partially crushed from where some jackass had bumped into him on the bus and he hadn’t been able to catch his footing in time, and he realizes how he looks—hair all messy and dress shirt wrinkled, tie crooked and jeans worn, and one of his shoes is—hell, one of his shoes is untied. He looks up at her, and she actually stares down her nose at him even though she’s shorter.
“It’s just—stuff,” Kylo says, fumbling a little, and shifting the bundle against his chest, wishing that he’d made an effort to conceal them better.
“It’s flowers,” she says, before a smirk crosses her face. “You honestly brought Hux flowers?”
“Oh, he’ll love that,” she says. “Down the hall. Right, and then right again, and it’s on your left.”
“Thank you,” Kylo says. He shifts the flowers again, pulls the jacket back over them to disguise them. They’re slightly crushed in a few places, but it’s tolerable, it’s still tolerable—and anyway, he’ll have a moment to fix them before entering Hux’s studio.
“Flowers,” she says as he starts down the hall. “Honestly.”
The studio doors are all labelled—the artist’s name, and in some cases, two artist’s names for people who have to share. Kylo just about misses Hux’s the first time around—unlike the other ones, there’s no show announcement on the front door, there’s no large sign with his name on it, there’s no whiteboard for people to leave messages, and there’s nothing pinned or attached to the door in any way.
(Other people’s doors are open, and he can see the other grad students working, or chatting. A couple of them have furniture in their studios—old ratty couches, or comfortable chairs. There’s a woman posing nude in one of the rooms, the door cranked wide open so that anyone can see, and Kylo looks away quickly, ears burning.)
The label that’s been slid into the placard is printed neatly on paper, rather than the same plastic, professionally done one that’s on everyone else’s doors.
Okay then. Kylo takes a deep breath, tries to focus. He pulls out the script that’s in his pocket, unfolds it with the hand that isn’t balancing the flowers, and looks at it again.
The first thing in the script is to knock on the door, so that’s what Kylo does.
(He can hear the murmur of chatter down the hall shift, somehow, and he wonders if people are watching him, if people are quieter now because they’ve heard the knock. He’s not going to turn around and look, because he doesn’t want to know if people are looking. He doesn’t want to know.)
He knocks again. Stands there as the weight of all of his terrible decisions crashes down on him—he should have worn different clothes, different shoes, styled his hair differently. He should have bought different flowers, or not brought any flowers at all, or brought a bottle of wine or something. He should have stayed the hell home and not done any of this at all, except he can’t stop thinking about how fucking devastated Hux had looked in the alley, and Kylo can—Kylo can fix this for him, Kylo can make it better, if he’s gonna do one fucking thing that’s good in his life, he can do this for Hux, he can—
The door opens.
“Hi,” Kylo says suddenly, his brain slowing to a complete halt. “It’s me. Hi.”
Hux looks good. He’s wearing black skinny jeans and a light blue checkered button-up shirt, the sleeves rolled up past his elbows. His hair is looser than how he wears it in the coffee shop—still run through with product, but there’s a chunk of it falling forward onto his face, and Kylo wants to touch it. Just with the tips of his fingers. He would be gentle, he would be so gentle, would just—brush Hux’s hair back where it’s supposed to be, would run his thumb along the side of Hux’s face—
“That’s enough,” Hux says softly.
“You’re staring,” Hux says. His accent is—different, slightly, from how it is at work.
“What the fuck are you doing here, anyway?”
“I’m just—I’m—” Kylo swallows, hard. He can’t—something about the way Hux says fuck is really messing him up, and he’s having a hard time thinking. “I’m.” He’s suddenly conscious of the script he’s holding in his hand, and shoves it into his pocket—but he doesn’t have the fucking thing memorized, so now he’s really fucked. “Yesterday,” he says.
“No,” Hux says. “It’s not up for discussion, and it didn’t happen.”
“I didn’t know you painted.”
“I don’t,” Hux says curtly. He’s holding a paintbrush in one hand, and there’s a smear of blue paint on his thumbnail that is bizarrely out of place on his otherwise immaculate hands. “What do you want, Ren?”
“I want to help,” Kylo says finally. That was in the script—or something like it was in the script—either way, he feels like he’s getting his feet under himself, a little bit. “I came to help with the—with the other thing. Can I—can I come in?” He lifts his chin slightly to look over Hux’s shoulder, and Hux shifts his body, pulls the door shut behind him so that Kylo can’t see into the studio.
“Absolutely not,” Hux says. “No. You can’t. Help, or anything.”
“I can, though,” Kylo insists. “You need to be married to get your—”
Hux tenses, jaw tight and mouth flat.
“Marry me,” Kylo blurts out.
Hux’s face goes pale, and then red, and then back to pale again, the only spot of colour remaining a bright red spot on his lip where he’s bitten through it, and Kylo wants—Kylo wants to reach out and rub it away with his thumb, wants to hug Hux to make it stop hurting, wants to gather Hux into his arms and just fucking hold him, maybe touch his face and his hair, pull Hux against him and—
Hux opens his mouth like he’s going to say something, and if he tells Kylo to fuck off again, Kylo’s gonna have to go—so Kylo shifts his shoulder and pulls his jacket off the flowers, and shoves the arrangement at Hux.
“Theseareforyou,” he says, slurring it all into one word.
Hux’s eyebrows shoot up, and he takes a step backward, his back contacting with the door of his own studio.
The flowers look like shit—they’re crushed from Kylo having his jacket over them, and a couple of the blooms have actually broken at the stems. Kylo’s immediately second-guessing them—was including roses in the arrangement a bad idea? Is it too intense? He’d stayed away from the red ones, gone for pink instead and had some carnations and stuff added in as well, but the roses are painfully, excruciatingly obvious and when Kylo had imagined handing them over, he’d imagined doing it—nicely, and having Hux say thank you and being appreciative and not—not this.
Not Hux standing here, with his back against the closed door of his studio, staring down at the flowers that Kylo had just—shoved at him.
“I can help,” Kylo says softly, conscious now that there’s hardly any noise in the hallway at all, that if he speaks too loudly his voice will carry and the other graduate students will be able to hear, that they’ll get together afterwards and make fun of him for being the idiot undergrad who thought he could bring Hux flowers first thing on a Saturday morning, and it would have all been worth it if Hux had appreciated the flowers and said yes, but Hux—
—Hux isn’t saying anything.
“Let me help?” Kylo asks, pleading. He shifts, starts to go down on one knee because that was actually part of the plan, he’d just forgotten it until now—
“Get up,” Hux says in a strangled whisper.
Kylo looks up at him.
“Get up, and just—we’re not doing this here,” Hux says. “We’re not—wait.”
He opens his studio door, disappears inside with the flowers. Shuts the door behind him.
It’s thirty seven minutes. Not that Kylo’s counting, but it’s hard not to keep track when there’s a fucking clock mounted just down the hall, and everything is so silent that all he can hear are the ticks. Thirty seven minutes of Kylo standing there and waiting and knowing that he’s not going to leave, thirty seven minutes of not being able to hear anything other than the fucking clock and the chatter that did, finally, start up again at the end of the hall. Thirty seven minutes, and when Hux’s studio door finally opens, it’s so sudden that Kylo actually jolts a little, jacket falling to the ground, and by the time he’s bent to pick it up, Hux has locked his studio and is already striding down the hall, his greatcoat trailing out behind him.
“Try to keep up,” he says sharply as Kylo catches up to him.
Kylo bites off any number of snarky responses, because Hux hasn’t said no yet. Hux hasn’t said no yet, and Hux hasn’t told Kylo to fuck off, and Hux—Hux kept the flowers, because they’re not with him now. Somewhere in Hux’s studio—whatever the interior of the fucking thing looks like—are the flowers that Kylo brought him.
(In the trash, Kylo’s brain helpfully supplies, and Kylo shoves that thought back down in the pit where it belongs.)
He follows Hux out of the art department, across the campus. Kylo’s sweating to death in his dress shirt, even with his jacket off, but his legs are just a fraction longer than Hux’s are, so he’s able to keep pace with Hux, hold his jacket in his teeth while he undoes his cuffs so that he can roll his sleeves up.
(It’s a good look on Hux. Maybe it’ll be a good look on Kylo, too? Maybe—maybe Hux likes men that have their sleeves rolled up? Maybe Hux likes—)
“Can I go where you’re going?” Kylo asks.
Hux looks him up and down without slowing his stride. “Those shoes are gonna hold up for a walk?”
Kylo looks down at his own feet, stumbling a minute. Like, okay, yeah—maybe his battered old Converse weren’t the best option here, but it would have looked even stupider to have worn dress shoes with jeans, because Hux—
—Hux is wearing dress shoes with his jeans. Of course.
“Yeah,” Kylo says. “Yeah, they’re—they’re fine.”
“This way,” Hux says, and he turns the corner, jaywalks across the street, coat billowing out behind him as he dodges an oncoming car, and then keeps walking down the sidewalk on the other side like nothing happened.
Kylo hesitates a moment, waiting for traffic to clear, and then follows.
Hux stops on the street after they’ve been walking for about forty-five minutes, looks around for a moment like he’s confused.
There’s nothing here, Kylo wants to say, but after a moment, Hux walks over to one of the dumpsters in the alley, and pulls out a sandwich board from behind it. Kicks the thing with his foot to unfold it, sets it up on the sidewalk. Mutters something too quiet for Kylo to hear.
The chalk on the board is smeared. There’s a green smudge in the corner that possibly used to be a shamrock, and writing claiming Good food! Good drinks! Solitude! on the main part of it.
“That where we’re going?” Kylo asks.
“Yes,” Hux says shortly. He walks a little further past the alley, and then opens a door that’s so dark it’s nearly completely blended into the building it opens into.
Kylo shrugs, and follows him in.
Solitude is right, Kylo thinks as he gets inside. The place is all dark wood panelling, threadbare upholstered seats and booths, art on the walls. It’s very close to empty even though it’s early Saturday afternoon. It’s a good thing Hux goes first, because Hux ducking as he enters is the warning Kylo needs to do the same to avoid smashing his head on a low support beam that’s just inside.
Hux looks back over his shoulder when Kylo enters, but doesn’t say anything.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” calls out a young man from behind the bar.
“Your sign’s down out front, you lazy fuck,” Hux says sharply.
The man shrugs. He’s seated atop the bar, remote control in his hand, and eyes mostly fixed on the tv mounted up on the ceiling. Football, it looks like, though Kylo has no context other than that, and hopes to fuck that he doesn’t have to get any, because if Hux is into sports, Kylo’s gonna have to do a bunch of learning real quick.
“Wind blew it over,” the man responds.
“Behind the dumpster.”
The man shrugs again, grinning. “You here for a beer with your—friend, or what?”
Kylo’s ears burn.
“Obviously,” Hux snaps. He gestures to the taps.
“You haven’t ordered,” the man says.
“For fuck’s sake, Bala-Tik,” Hux says. “Would you do some damn work?”
Bala-Tik slides off the bar. It’s tough for Kylo to tell his age, for some reason—in some lights, he looks ridiculously young, and in others, he looks older than Kylo. He pulls two pint glasses out from under the counter, pours some kind of light gold beer for Hux, and then stares at Kylo a moment before picking another tap, and pouring something else.
Kylo yanks out his wallet.
“Don’t,” Hux says. “Just take your fucking beer to the back, would you?”
Kylo nods, steps up to the bar. Takes both beers, and walks to what he would consider the back of the bar—directly to the right of where they’d entered, as far back as he can go. He slides into the booth, mindful of the tear in the seat cushion, and sets his jacket down.
Fucking hell, it’s warm in here too. Kylo shoves his sleeves further up his arms, but it’s not really helping. He can feel the spot on his lower back where his shirt is starting to stick, and he tries to calm himself down by thinking about the cold shower he’s going to have when he gets home. The cold shower and the tshirt that he’ll put on afterwards. Once he’s done with—this Hux thing.
He turns, looks back at the bar. Hux is standing there, back to Kylo, grimly tossing back what looks like the second of three shots. He’s hung his coat up somewhere, and he’s just so fucking—slim and gorgeous and untouchable and unattainable, and Kylo is a fucking idiot to think that this is going to work.
Kylo—contemplates leaving, for a moment. Contemplates whether he should just walk out, because if Hux is pounding back shots just so that he can tolerate Kylo’s company, then he’s probably just going to—refuse the fake engagement and the living together, refuse the entire thing which is probably a smarter idea than going along with it, except if Hux is just going to say no, then why bother coming all the way over here just to tell Kylo something that he could have just as easily told Kylo in the art department—if Hux is just going to say no, then why take his flowers? If Hux is—
“Explain,” Hux says, sliding into the booth opposite Kylo. His breath smells of whiskey.
Kylo looks at him.
Hux takes a drink of his beer, sets it back down on the table exactly inside the ring of condensation it had previously left. “I’m waiting,” he says. His accent is—different, somehow. Softer, or rounder.
It’s fucking Kylo up just as much as the profanity had fucked him up earlier.
“Your inheritance is dependent on you being married,” Kylo says. “And you don’t have anywhere to live.”
Hux extends his hand, ticks his points off on his fingers. “There’s nothing to be done about the inheritance, the requirements are unachievable. I have somewhere to live until the end of the month, after which I will find another place to live. You’re telling me things that I already know, and you’re not telling me what I actually want to know, which is—” Hux’s voice cracks a little, and he picks up his beer, takes a deep drink of it before setting it back down inside the condensation ring again. “What the fuck, Ren? ‘Marry me’?”
“It would fix things,” Kylo says stubbornly. “I could—I could fix things. I’m the only person that can fix it, you can—you can live with me.” Kylo hesitates for a moment, because if Hux is gonna tell him to fuck off, it’s gonna be now—and then forges on ahead even though he can’t quite shake the feeling that he’s botching the entire thing. “You can live with me, and we’ll fake an engagement and we’ll get fake married, and I’ll—I’ll get you the inheritance. I’ll rescue you.”
It’s a horrible choice of words, and Kylo’s just fucking blurted it out like an idiot—and Hux’s fingers pause where he’s wiping condensation away from the bottom of his glass, Hux’s fingers still completely, and Kylo—just—waits.
After entirely too long a period of time, Hux opens his mouth. “I don’t need that from you,” he says softly. He’s looking down at the table, won’t make eye contact.
“Okay,” Kylo says, nodding, already preparing to get up and leave. “Obviously, yeah.” Of course Hux doesn’t need that from him, of course he doesn’t, and it was stupid of Kylo to have even offered, it was stupid of Kylo to have even—
“The fake engagement, though. For the inheritance.” Hux swallows. “I don’t—I don’t need that either, I can get by without it. But.”
“You deserve it,” Kylo says, his heart pounding rapidly, because it sounds like Hux is going to say yes—Kylo would give literally anything for Hux to say yes, he’s never so desperately in his life needed anything except for Hux to say yes, and so he keeps talking, trying to convince him. “You deserve the money. And I swear, I’m a good person.” I’ve literally never thought about touching you inappropriately—like, on your hand, or on your shoulder, or the side of your face. Not once. “It’ll be—platonic, the whole thing. But we’ll, like. Meet all the requirements, and it’s just—you had plans for the money, for moving, and you deserve that, you’ve been a really good frie—person, you know, to work with, and you deserve—anyway, we can just annul it after, you know?”
“We can annul it after,” Hux repeats blankly. He’s looking at Kylo now, but he’s blinking entirely too rapidly to be focused on anything, finger repetitively moving across a deep groove in the table.
“Yeah,” Kylo says. “After the wedding, after you get your money. We’ll just, like, say it wasn’t consummated, or whatever, or—we can live separately after you move, obviously we’ll live separately after you move, and that should be enough to—I’m sure you can just annul after that.” He stops talking to breathe for a moment, takes a drink from his beer. The beer is dark, malty, and tastes almost like smoke, or a wooden barrel. He’s so fucking nervous that he feels like he’s going to die and can’t stop second-guessing everything he’s said and he doesn’t—he doesn’t know why the fuck he said platonic when he didn’t fuck mean it, he just wants Hux to say yes so badly, he wants Hux to say yes so badly that it fucking hurts—
“Right,” Hux says. He takes another drink, sets his beer down outside the condensation circle. Slides his finger up the bridge of his nose even though there’s nothing there, and then—laughs. There’s an edge of hysteria on it. “Right, because it’s a—it’s a platonic marriage. It’s a platonic gay marriage, this is—yeah, this is—everything that he—the executor—yeah, this. This is.” He has another drink, sets his glass back in a new location. Puts his head in his hands.
It’s too much.
“This was stupid,” Kylo says.
“Yes, obviously,” Hux says, voice muffled by his hands.
“You don’t need to be a prick about it,” Kylo snaps. “I know, I just told you—”
Hux looks up, skin slightly pink where his head had been in his hands. “Yes, obviously,” he repeats. “I said yes, Ren. Yes to this—fake engagement proposal thing that you seem to think is such a fucking good idea.”
“Did you think I was calling you an idiot?” Hux asks, looking amused now. “Because I would just use my words for that.”
Kylo’s ears are burning again. He looks away. “I just wanted to be sure,” he says.
Hux chuckles again. “Are you hungry?” he asks.
“Uh,” Kylo says. “Yeah?”
“Fish and chips?”
“This is an Irish pub,” Kylo points out. “What about Irish nachos?”
Hux’s face darkens. “This is a bullshit Irish pub, is what this is. And you’re not eating those.” His accent has gone slightly off again. He slides out of the booth, stands up. “I’m going to order—yes, or no?”
“Yes,” Kylo says.
“Alright, then,” Hux responds.
Kylo watches him leave for a moment, before feeling guilty about it and looking away.
When Hux comes back, it’s with two plates of food.
“That was quick,” Kylo says.
“Deep fryer,” Hux says dismissively. “It’s not actual food.” He sets a plate down in front of Kylo, and then slides back into the booth.
They eat in silence. Kylo makes a specific point of putting down his utensils before picking up his beer, paranoid about Hux’s perception of his manners—but soon after realizes that it doesn’t fucking matter, because Hux seems to be making a similarly specific point of drinking with one hand and eating with the other, not looking up from his plate at all.
Kylo is halfway through his next beer and just finishing off his food when Hux finally puts down his utensils, pushes his mostly-full plate away.
“So,” Hux says conversationally.
Kylo looks up.
“What’s your percentage?”
“What?” Kylo asks stupidly. “My—my what?”
“Your percentage,” Hux says, smiling. “I want to know what your percentage is.” He traces his finger across that groove in the table again. “What amount of my inheritance do you want?”
“I don’t—” Kylo says—and then he stops, swallows. Realizes if he tells the truth, that he doesn’t want anything, he’s going to absolutely fuck this entire situation over. If he admits to Hux that he doesn’t want a percentage, then Hux is going to start digging around for what exactly he does want, and after Kylo had already blurted out that stupid shit about rescuing him when he clearly doesn’t need or want it—Kylo’s got nothing else. Nothing else but the horrible awful truth, which is that he’s too chicken to ask Hux out, that he’s been trying and failing to do it for years, and this is an opportunity for Kylo to at least be close to him. If Kylo can’t date Hux, he can at least be close to him. All the variants of the truth are awful, and Kylo didn’t bother thinking up a lie—so he’s just going to stick with the one that Hux has conveniently provided for him, even though thinking about taking Hux’s money makes Kylo feel sick to his stomach.
(Of course Hux isn’t just magically going to admit that he wants to date for real. Of course Hux hasn’t been secretly pining for Kylo the same way that Kylo has been pining for Hux. Get a fucking grip, Ren.)
Kylo takes the out Hux gives him, the out that Hux has served up to him on a platter. “Seventeen percent,” he says. It’s an uneven number, which hopefully makes it sound like Kylo’s put some fucking thought into this.
Hux laughs in his face. “Not a fucking chance.” He drains the rest of his pint, shoves the glass over to the edge of the table. “You’d be lucky to get half that.”
“Eight percent, then,” Kylo says. “Five percent when you get the money, and—and the other three percent paid out at one percent a year over the length of the marriage up until the annulment. It won’t—it won’t look good if we annul right away.”
“Ah, yes, delaying the annulment of a celibate fake marriage,” Hux says.
Kylo flushes and looks away. “Whatever,” he mutters, hoping his hair covers the way that his ears are turning red. “I’m the one doing you the fucking favour.”
“I don’t think there’s any fucking going along with this favour,” Hux says tartly. “You were the one that brought that up, so don’t even think that you get to flagellate me with it now.”
“I know what that word means,” Kylo mutters.
“Surprise, surprise,” Hux says.
Kylo drains the rest of his pint, gives the glass a shove toward the end of the table where Hux’s is, and over-shoves it—careless and clumsy just like he always is, and he’ll end up breaking this just the same as he ends up breaking everything else—
Hux darts out his hand, catches the glass just before it hits the floor, sets it back up on the table like it’s nothing, like he doesn’t have the reflexes of a fucking cat.
Kylo stares at him.
“I’ll draw up a contract,” Hux says finally. “Nine percent lump sum when I get the inheritance money.”
“I was only asking for eight,” Kylo says. “Eight percent and three years so it looks good.”
“Oh, look at that,” Hux says. “The arts major, doing some math.”
Kylo flushes again, looks down at the table.
“Nine percent lump sum is fine,” Hux says. “You won’t make three years. I’m not easy to live with, and you’ll want it annulled as soon as possible.”
“I won’t,” Kylo says.
“You will,” Hux says. He looks off to the side. “I’ve given up my place,” he says, more quietly.
“I know.” Kylo eyes the remainder of the food on Hux’s plate, tries to figure out if it’s considered polite to eat it. He’s so gone on Hux that he would definitely eat the remnants of the fish that Hux has picked apart and shredded onto his plate, but settles for reaching out and grabbing a couple of the fries closest to his side of the table.
“I’ll have to move in with you.”
“Fine,” Kylo says. “That’s fine.” His stomach explodes in butterflies, and Kylo swallows to keep them down, steals a couple more fries. Moving in together is fine. He knew this was what was going to happen. He can’t freak out about it now.
“It’ll have to look legit.”
“My stuff will be in your kitchen.”
“How big is your bed?”
“Big enough,” Kylo says, and then immediately feels his face warming because he doesn’t actually know how big big enough entails. They’re both tall, and what if—what if Hux sprawls in his sleep or something, what if Hux—what if Hux’s hand brushes against Kylo’s shoulder? “We won’t have to cuddle or anything,” Kylo adds, trying to reassure himself just as much as Hux—and completely failing, because now cuddling Hux is all he can think about.
(Is his hair soft, when all the product is washed out? What does his skin smell like?)
Hux shrugs, face tightening again, and extends his hand out to Kylo.
Kylo just stares at it.
“Shake,” Hux says. His voice has gone crisp again even after the alcohol, the same British accent Kylo is used to hearing from him.
(The same sharp accent that digs right into Kylo’s spine and stays there.)
“As an agreement to our verbal contract. I’ll have a written one to you later this week, but honestly, I would feel significantly more comfortable with this if you would shake on this now, seeing as I’m in a tight spot and need to rely on your apartment for housing. I don’t want to end up thrown out on the street if you decide you’re going to go back on your word.”
“I won’t,” Kylo says. “I won’t—I don’t do that, I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t throw you out.”
“All the same,” Hux says, his hand still extended. “I’d really rather we were formal about this.”
Kylo scrubs his hand off on his jeans under the table, tries to get most of the sweat and grease off his palm. He has every intention of just making this quick—reach across the table, quick clinical press of hands. Hux’s palm against his, Hux’s fingers against his, Hux’s hand completely dwarfed in Kylo’s grip and so vulnerable, so small, so—fuck, fuck, fuck, just a quick handshake, Kylo’s overthinking this just like he overthinks everything else in his life, that’s why this entire thing had happened anyways—because he’d been too much of a coward to ask Hux out in the first place, that’s why this entire thing has to be fake now and he’ll never be able to get the real thing after this, not after they’ve gone through the entire fucking charade but the charade is going to be enough, the charade has to be enough—
Except when he clasps Hux’s hand in his and then loosens his grip, Hux doesn’t let go.
Kylo blinks, and Hux is—Hux is still not letting go, Hux is actually running his thumb along the side of Kylo’s hand, and Hux’s fingers are gripping gently onto Kylo’s, and Kylo actually might die if this keeps happening except it’s still happening because Hux is just refusing to let go and Kylo’s not going to be the rude one here, he’s not going to be the one that pulls his hand away—
Hux lets go, and Kylo is bereft.
“Another round?” Hux asks, sliding out of the booth.
“Yeah,” Kylo says, looking down at his hand where Hux had been holding it. “More, please.”