Poe reached inside his jacket and clutched his blaster, finger firm atop the trigger, fury flaring in his chest. Hux was standing a few yards away examining melons at a fruit stand. What the hell was that wretch doing at the market buying food as if he were a regular person and not a murderous snake? In the wake of the Resistance’s final victory over the First Order two years ago, the once illustrious Grand Marshall Hux had disappeared into the ether. No one could confirm whether he was dead or not. Rumors abounded that he had either been blown up on the Finalizer, gotten away in an escape pod only to be eaten by purrgil or been taken captive by pirates, had already secretly been a pirate as a backup plan in case the First Order went belly up, had died his hair black and was holed up in some obscure, Outer Rim world that no one could put a name to, or had changed his face surgically and was currently impersonating a Republic senator.
It turned out that the obscure planet theory was the accurate one, except for the color of the dye job. Hux’s hair was a flaxen blonde falling softly around his face, but there was no mistaking that it was the same man. The sour smirk was missing, though. Probably just trying to make nice with the vendors. After Hux purchased his fruit, Poe tracked him through the stalls, ducking around the vendors’ attempts to sell him merchandise by thrusting it in his face and swiftly quoting lower and lower prices, eyes fixed on Hux’s back. His heart thundered in his chest, sweat beading on his nape. He couldn’t try anything in the market. There were too many people. It was much too easy for Hux to slip away, and he couldn’t let that happen again. Hux deserved to spend the rest of his miserable life in prison, not merrily buying fruit from clueless people who had no idea the kind of monster that they were selling to.
Just when Poe was on the edge of desperation, Hux made his way out of the market and down a street. Poe rushed after him. The street was infuriatingly clogged with people, but Poe spied an opportunity. As Hux approached an alley, Poe rushed up behind him, stunned him in the back, and dragged his falling body into the alley. No one was in there, and no one stopped in the street to search for who had dropped the fruit on the ground. Hux sagged against Poe’s chest. Poe’s skin crawled at having to touch him, but it didn’t matter. They’d finally caught Hux. He couldn’t escape justice anymore. This could end. It could finally end.
Hux’s obnoxiously greater height was tricky to navigate, but Poe finally managed to cradle him in his arms. Carrying him over his shoulder like a sack of flour would draw more attention, and he was already getting plenty stumbling down the street with Hux looking he’d fallen gently into his arms instead of being violently attacked. How could someone so thin be this heavy? By the time that Poe finally arrived at his ship his arms felt as if they were about to fall off.
The ship had been a birthday present from Leia, a small transport that had been taken as a war prize and which she had ended up in possession of once all the red tape shuffled out. It was a bit of a fixer upper, but it did the job while Poe got her sorted. After finally mustering out of the army, Poe had taken his dad’s prompting to explore a little of the galaxy he had helped save. This planet was small and out of the way, but its verdant hills were beautiful, with pleasant, mild weather. It was supposed to have been calm and relaxing, something that Poe didn’t know how to do according to everyone.
“Go somewhere quiet,” his dad had said as he pushed him out of the house at Yavin IV. “Somewhere that doesn’t remind you of the war, where you can still your thoughts and not bounce off the walls. You need that every once in a while, especially you. The war’s been over for over two years and yet you still won’t stop running.”
Poe rubbed his forehead, then his entire face, exhaustion suddenly leaching into his body as he contemplated Hux’s body, which he’d dumped and handcuffed to a railing in his bunk. Two years, and yet Poe had only mustered out of the navy a month ago. The Republic still needed help, to get itself set up again properly, to hunt down the First Order stragglers, to help the battered communities that Hux and his ilk had decimated for fun and profit. Why would Poe leave when so many people still needed help? Who cared if he couldn’t sleep more than five hours a night or kept being rocked by memories of his comrades being murdered mid-flight or this pervasive, sick feeling in his chest that the therapist that he’d finally agreed to see diagnosed as survivor’s guilt?
It had taken his dad, Leia, and his closest friends badgering him that he needed a rest for him to finally give in and ask for a discharge, which had been granted immediately without question, honors and all that.
Yet Poe had one last task left to do. Deliver this filth on his floor to the Republic. Then he could come back here and hike up a hill or whatever else would get his head to quit ringing.
An hour into the journey, Hux stirred. Poe had been pacing between the cockpit and the bunk to check on him, and found him wide eyed and panicked, yanking at the handcuff, trying desperately to pry it off. He stilled when Poe showed up, eyes narrowing in recognition and confusion.
“You,” he breathed, but there was no vitriol or arrogant fury, only terror and confusion.
An ugly feeling stirred inside Poe. Hux should be afraid after what he’d put the galaxy through. It was the least that he deserved.
“Where are we?” Hux asked.
“On our way to Chandrila, where they will throw you in prison for the rest of your miserable life.”
“What? No, no. How long have we been gone? You need to turn around and take me back.”
“Why the hell would I do that? Why would I do anything that you want?”
“My daughter is back there!”
Poe gaped soundlessly at him, mind frozen as he struggled to process what he’d just heard.
“You have a daughter?”
“Yes. She’s three. I left her with the neighbor when I went to the market. Please, you can’t leave her there. I’m all she has. You can’t make me abandon her like that. She’s innocent of everything I’ve done. Please!”
Poe was utterly lost for words. There had been another rumor that Hux had had a baby, but Poe had dismissed it immediately. Hux with a kid? Ridiculous. Why would someone like Hux be interested in having children? But there was no trace of his usual entitlement, no arrogance, only pure anguish. The pleading in Hux’s tone was perfectly alike to that of every frantic parent Poe had heard while they begged for their child. His breath was wild and shallow, eyes wide and terrified, fixed on Poe’s, begging him to believe him. Poe wasn’t an expert at telling if someone was lying, but he would bet one thousand credits that Hux was being sincere.
“I’ll turn around,” Poe said, kicking himself for how awkward and small he sounded. If this was a trick, and Hux laughed at his idiocy later, he would pay for it, but Poe couldn’t risk it.
Hux sagged, breathing heavily through his mouth, eyes shutting in relief. Okay, if he was acting, he was brilliant at it, because that was one hundred percent believable.
“Thank you,” Hux said.
Had Hux really just thanked him? Not even sarcastically?
“Before you manhandle me any further,” Hux continued, pressing his hand to his abdomen, “I’m pregnant.”
Oh, shit. Had Poe… Wait, Hux had a uterus? Never mind that, was he cramping up? Poe didn’t see any blood. Hux might be garbage, but if Poe caused him to miscarry, he’d never be able to sleep again.
“Are you okay?” he asked, feeling like an moron as soon as the words came out of his mouth. “Do you feel ill? I stunned you. I didn’t know.”
“I don’t feel anything wrong, but I want to see a doctor straightaway. I don’t know what effect stunning would have. Did I fall on the ground?”
“No. I caught you.”
Hux nodded. He shut his eyes, and breathed deeply through his nose, then frowned at Poe.
“Well, turn the ship around already,” he ordered snippily.
Poe’s jaw hardened, but he felt too sick to his stomach to be properly angry at being ordered around by the likes of him. He really did need to be turning the ship around and getting Hux back to his kid. Probable kid.
A few minutes later, Hux called out.
Poe sucked in a deep breath. He was regretting finding Hux in the first place. It was not supposed to be this complicated. What was he even going to do when they picked up Hux’s kid? Bring her with, obviously, but how do you explain to a three-year-old why her daddy was cuffed to a rail? Poe stepped sluggishly from the cockpit to the bunk, dreading what Hux wanted now. Was he also fostering a litter of puppies? Late for coaching little league? Tutoring orphans?
“I need your help removing my binder,” Hux said.
Oh. No new tender revelations, then. Just asking an old enemy to undress him. Okay. That wasn’t at all weird and uncomfortable.
“Are you just trying to get me to come near you so you can tackle me?” Poe said. “You won’t get any weapons off me, and you’ll never be able to get that cuff off. If you kill me, you’ll just starve to death yourself.”
“Someone could come by.”
“Yeah. Pirates who’d love to sell you into slavery. Opportunists who might recognize you and collect on your bounty.”
Hux’s jaw clenched so hard that it was a wonder that it didn’t snap as he glared at Poe as if he were fantasizing about tearing him apart inch by inch. There’s the Hux Poe knew and loathed.
“I won’t try anything, alright?” Hux ground out. “I just want to take my binder off, which I cannot do with one hand, because I’m having a little trouble breathing because I’m agitated and my baby might be in danger and it’s your fault, and if you make me lose this child, I will kill you. You will lose your life by my hand, I promise you that.”
“Alright, alright. Got it.” Poe backed away, hands up, guilt making him a bit queasy. “I don’t want you to lose the kid. I’d never want that, even if the parent is you. I’ll take the binder off.”
Removing his blaster and pocket knife, Poe made sure that he didn’t have anything on him that Hux could use as a weapon, then approached him. Hux had been breathing heavily since Poe arrived. Was he always this pale? What level of pallor should he be, anyway? Hux began unbuttoning his shirt, but he fumbled them, unused to using only one hand.
“I got it,” Poe said, taking over.
Hux let him, dropping his head against the wall and looking blearily up at the ceiling as he continued to suck in breaths much too fast. The binder covered only Hux’s upper chest. Not even his pregnancy was showing yet.
“How far along are you?” Poe asked.
Poe tugged the shirt out of Hux’s pants.
“Is there another parent involved?”
Poe really should have asked that already.
Hux shook his head.
“Artificial insemination both times. The first sperm donor is dead. A loyal, First Order officer. A pilot, actually. Excellent genes.”
“Huh. Well, we pilots do tend to excel.”
Hux snorted softly. Poe pulled the left sleeve off his arm.
“I’m not going to uncuff you,” Poe said, “so this is going to have to hang off your right arm. What about the second donor?”
“No idea who they are. The agency I worked with doesn’t reveal the donors’ identities, but his profile was promising. An engineer, in this case, like me.”
“You’re an engineer?”
“Did you think I only ordered people about without doing any actual work?”
Poe touched the bottom edge of the binder. Hux raised his left arm.
“Just pull up,” he said.
Poe did. The fabric was incredibly uncooperative. It was tight as hell. Of course, it was. It had to be, but he’d never handled a binder before and it kept getting stuck everywhere.
“Would you just pull it?” Hux said, the petulant annoyance in his voice only making Poe more irritated. Damn it, this was not how capturing Hux was supposed to go down. It was supposed to be simple. Exchange a few jabs, hand him over at Chandrila, and move on with his life. No abandoned children. No wrestling with ridiculously tight clothing. No staring at Hux’s breasts.
Shit, he was staring at Hux’s breasts. His small, pretty breasts.
“Ow,” Hux cried as Poe yanked the binder too hard past his shoulder.
Poe’s cheeks burned. What the hell was he doing? He couldn’t just go around gaping at people’s breasts, especially not when they belonged to evil murderers like Hux. Luckily, the binder had been covering Hux’s face at the time, so he couldn’t see Poe’s loss of composure.
Oh, screw composure. He hadn’t had any since Hux woke up. Once the binder was off, Poe grabbed Hux’s shirt and brought the ends together, buttoning it up. Who cared if the left side was pulled under his arm and he looked like a drunk who had dressed in the dark? The point was to cover them up.
Him up. Cover him up. To give him some dignity. Privacy. One of those. Poe wasn’t keeping a prisoner half naked. He wasn’t a monster.
“Can you breathe better now?” Poe asked, trying, and failing, not to touch Hux’s surprisingly soft skin as he finished with the buttons, looking anywhere except Hux’s face and the curved area inches from his face.
“Yes,” Hux said. “Thank you.”
“Two thank yous from you in one day. Wow. I never thought I’d see you that desperate.”
The instant that the last button was on, Poe scrambled to his feet and rushed to the door.
“Do you like them?” Hux asked, stopping him in his tracks.
Poe’s mouth went dry.
He winced at the squeakiness in his voice, and the fact that he couldn’t seem to make himself turn back to face him.
“You jumped away quickly enough. Do you find me attractive, Dameron?”
“Listen, I will never find you attra—What are you doing?”
Hux had unbuttoned the top of his shirt and was arching his back, displaying his breasts as if they were items at a shop window.
“I seek an answer to my question. Do you like what you see?”
Poe looked away immediately, not even looking at Hux’s face.
“Stop that,” he said sharply.
“You do, don’t you?”
Fury rose, sharp and quick, inside Poe.
“No, I don’t. I don’t like anything about you. You’re a murderer. Do you even care about how much suffering you inflicted on the galaxy? I want nothing to do with touching you or looking at you. We’re just getting your kid and them I’m handing you in.”
Poe stalked off, hands curled into fists.
Fuck! What the hell was that bastard playing at? Did he really think that seducing him was going to make Poe conveniently forget what he’d done just because he had a pretty face and nice boobs? God, this day could not end soon enough.
Poe groaned and smothered a scream into his hands. Force, what the hell did the man want now?
“Unless this is actually important, I’m going back to the cockpit.”
“What will happen to my children?”
Oh, crap. Poe rubbed his eyes, then his forehead, then his hair. He trudged back to the bunk. He considered staying outside, but what kind of coward was he if he couldn’t face Hux while telling him that his children would be taken away? Hux was no longer thrusting his chest at Poe, but he had done nothing to fix his shirt. Yet his gaze was far from seductive. It was as serious as Poe had ever seen it, silently demanding an answer to a heart-wrenching question. Poe crossed his arms and leaned against the opposite wall, forcing himself to meet Hux’s eyes.
“I assume they’ll be placed in foster care. I don’t know how long they’d let you keep the baby in prison.”
“So my children are never to see me again? Or will they be granted visits?”
“They can visit. Of course they can.”
“But will the foster parents bring them? And what guarantee do you have that they will be well treated? Can it guarantee that they will be placed with people who will be good to them?”
Poe shook his head helplessly. He hadn’t even thought of that.
“I don’t know.”
“Is there any assurance that any loathing the foster parents feel towards me won’t be taken out on the children?”
“I… I don’t know. I don’t think—”
“No, there is none. And you’re a fool if you think that people don’t lash out at the children of people they hate. It doesn’t matter that they’re only children. That they’re innocent. That none of the mess they’re in is their fault. I retreated to obscurity, to a waste of a job in an irrelevant planet so that my daughter could have a life free of the consequences that my previous actions might bring upon her. Everything had been going smoothly. No one recognized me. I got a nice house. Pleasant neighborhood. Boring domesticity, but we were happy, so I decided that it was finally safe to give her a sibling, but it wasn’t, was it? Now my second child is doomed to be born in a prison and be taken away from me at the whim of your Republic.”
“Look, I… I can’t believe I sympathize with you, but I do. For your kids, not you, but you deserve to be in prison. You murdered billions. And don’t tell me that you would have shown compassion if one of your prisoners had been in similar straits."
Hux didn’t even bother looking chagrined or remorseful. His gaze was disturbingly steady as he replied.
“No, I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have cared or understood. I was who I was. But I’m not speaking to you as Grand Marshall Hux.”
“You still did those things, title or no title.”
“I’m not denying that. But my life has changed. I haven’t harmed anyone since the day I escaped your soldiers.”
“Great for you. It still doesn’t erase what you did.”
“Dameron, I’m a parent now. That’s all I’ve been able to be while living in secrecy. I’ve endeavored to be the best father one can possibly be, so I’m prepared to do anything to ensure their happiness.”
“Seducing me isn’t going to help you. I’m not going to not take you in, and I have no power over where your children end up.”
Hux dropped his head against the wall and squeezed his eyes shut, pain washing over his face. Poe shifted uncomfortably.
“Look, I’ll try to talk to someone, okay? Maybe they can be adopted by a nice couple. I’ll make sure that they know these are special circumstances.”
“How likely is that to happen?”
Poe gaped uselessly for a second.
“I don’t know.”
Hux sighed through his nose, a groan of abject misery and despair. His head fell forward, his breathing quickening again, despondency radiating off him as his hands fisted, trembling.
“Will you take them in?” he asked.
Poe couldn’t have heard right.
There were tears in Hux’s eyes as he turned his head up to Poe.
“You’re a good man with good morals, and you clearly care about what happens to the children despite your hatred of me, so will you please take them in and give them the home that I can’t give them anymore?”
“Hux, I don’t… I can’t take care of them.”
“Do you know anyone else who can?”
“I… I don’t think so.”
“Dameron, please. I, your hated enemy, am begging you. They don’t deserve to live with people who won’t care about them, to grow up without their father. They don’t deserve that. By punishing me, you are punishing them. Do you understand that?”
God, Poe was not equipped to deal with this.
“Parents go to prison all the time. We can’t make an exception for you.”
“But you can make sure that my children are taken care of.”
“I’ll try, but—”
“Ellie, my daughter, she loves ships. She might grow up to be a pilot, like her other father. You’d love that. You could teach her.”
Poe’s next breath hurt.
“I don’t think I can.”
Hux placed his hand over his abdomen.
“This one, they could be an engineer. Possibly a flight engineer.”
“Just consider it. Please. You can make this work. Look, we both know you’re lying about not finding me attractive. I saw the desire on your face. You can have me. I’ll be eager. I’ll do anything you ask of me.”
Poe dropped his head into his hands, biting back a scream.
“Please stop talking. I implore you, stop talking.”
This wasn’t happening. This could not be happening.
“I’ll take them in,” Poe said, dropping his hands. Damn, he felt like shit. “Okay? I don’t know how I’ll make it work, but I’ll take them in.”
Hux sagged against the wall, gratitude shining on his face.
“You don’t have to… to whore yourself out to me. I would never… Do you really think I’m the type of person who would take advantage of that?”
“I thought it a long shot, but I needed you to say yes.”
And he really had been willing to do it. He would have debased himself to rebel scum for his kids. How the hell had this gotten so fucked up? And how was Poe supposed to take care of a three-year-old and a baby? That is, if the government even let him keep them. Poe wasn’t family. There was no guarantee that Poe would be granted custody. The only way to do that would be by…
Oh, hell no. That’s it. He was getting the hell out of here before Hux asked to marry him.
“I’m going back to the cockpit,” Poe mumbled, not daring to look at Hux. “We should be there soon.”
He fled. Hux granted him the immense mercy of not calling him back.
Poe had no recourse but to uncuff Hux and press the blaster to his side while walking him off the ship, gripping him tightly by the right arm. The thought of having to stun a pregnant man again made Poe sick, and Hux probably figured that Poe wouldn’t really go through with the threat, but he clung onto the fact that Hux couldn’t be one hundred percent certain of this, and, therefore, wouldn’t try to run. Poe parked the ship at the same spot as before, then took Hux in his speeder bike, which came with the unfortunate complication of Hux needing to hold onto Poe’s waist. Which wasn’t great. At all. Poe couldn’t hold the blaster on him while driving, either, so he tucked it in front of him where Hux couldn’t reach. If Hux weren’t pregnant, he’d probably take the chance and crash the speeder to get away, but he wouldn’t risk a miscarriage, so Poe was safe.
Poe certainly would describe Hux’s neighborhood as “pleasant”. It stood at the outskirts of town, a quiet cluster of streets edging the surrounding countryside, leafy trees shading welcoming houses. Children played out in their lawns. A dog barked as they flew by. It was all very ordinary. Domestic. The perfect sort of place to move into to raise a family. And the complete opposite of anything that Poe would have ever visualized the snobbish, entitled Hux in.
“This is where you live?” Poe asked, stopping in front of one of the last houses in the street, white-blue brick with colorful flowers growing on the front porch.
Flowers. And a porch. Hux had flowers and a porch. What the hell?
“There’s no need to sound so shocked,” Hux said, climbing off.
Poe swiftly grabbed his blaster and hopped onto the pavement, turning to face Hux as he switched the bike off. Hux glanced at the blaster, held in an uncomfortably, hesitant grip at Poe’s thigh, and looked over his shoulder down the road where the children were playing. Poe immediately tucked the blaster into his jacket. Shit. He couldn’t fire against Hux here and they both knew it, but there were other ways to subdue Hux if need be.
“Which neighbor is it?” Poe asked.
With an air of resignation that Poe didn’t trust, Hux began to move to the house right next to his. Poe remained outside the gate. He didn’t want to get mired in explanations of who he was if he went along with Hux. Hux knocked on the front door. In a few moments, a tall woman opened the door and a little girl spilled out, running into Hux’s arms, who crouched down to greet her.
“Hello, darling,” Hux said, hugging her close. “I’m so sorry I’m late.”
The girl shared Hux’s vibrant, red hair and so many of his features that there was no way to deny that she was his. The baby that Grand Marshall had in the midst of the First Order’s certainty of victory, now living in a little street in a little town where Star Destroyers had never cared to come. Poe moved back a few paces so the neighbor didn’t see him skulking, so he didn’t hear what excuse Hux came up with to explain why he was late. His mind was racing too hard to pay attention to anything other than Hux’s small daughter, so happy to see her dad, the innocent child that they had both put in the crossfire without meaning to.
How was Poe supposed to raise her? How could he explain why her dad was being taken away and comfort her when he was the one who put him in prison?
Poe sucked desperate air deep into his lungs. This wasn’t his fault. It was Hux’s. No one forced him to blow up planets and murder people. What sort of justice was it to the dead and suffering if Poe left him here to live a merry, free life, as boring as it was to Hux? Like he’d told Hux on the ship, the law didn’t make exceptions for parents. How could it?
The neighbor closed her door and Hux returned to the sidewalk, still holding his daughter. He stopped in front of Poe, the earlier trepidation returning to his face as he studied Poe warily.
“Ellie,” Hux said. “This is Poe. He’s um… He’s a friend of daddy’s. Why don’t you say hi to him?”
The girl turned toward Poe, staring at him with wide, questioning eyes, and waved softly.
“Hi,” she said, in that tiny, adorable voice of small children who had no clue that the only world that they knew was about to be ripped away from them. Poe had felt crushing guilt and shame so overwhelming that he cried himself to sleep, but he’d never felt like a monster before. He sure did now. His voice faltered as he replied, barely able to croak out a “Hi” of his own.
I’m not the monster, Hux is, he screamed internally at himself. He had to keep focused. Remember who exactly was the man standing in front of him, pregnant, doting father or not.
They took Hux’s full sized speeder to the doctor’s office. Poe drove while Hux held Ellie in the passenger seat. The office was crammed with people, but, thankfully, the receptionist rushed Hux through after he told her that he’d taken a fall and was concerned for his baby. Poe did not want to accompany him into the examination room, but Ellie wouldn’t stay with Poe, so in they went. The doctor took an ultrasound and verified, to everyone’s immense relief, that the fetus was unharmed, all vital signs perfectly in order.
“Is baby okay?” Ellie asked.
“Yes, honey,” Hux said, touching her head and smiling at her in a way that was so much sweeter than anything Poe had assumed him capable of. “The baby’s fine.”
Unease plagued Poe the entire ride back to Hux’s house, intensifying when they entered a comfortable living room strewn with toys. Plushies. Toy instruments. Ship models. Legos. Tiny speeders. And books. So many children’s books. The décor did lean a tad towards Hux’s likely, colder aesthetic. The sofas were ice blue and the pictures on the walls were abstract lines of silver and black, but the coffee table was warm mahogany lined with blue foam to protect Ellie from sharp edges, and the carpet, probably once white, was now a sorry state of stained cream.
“I’d say take off your shoes, but there’s hardly a point, is there?”
Hux’s acerbic tone jarred Poe out of his bewildered reverie. Ellie immediately sat down on the floor to play with a tambourine while Hux walked through to the corridor. Poe rushed after him, keeping him in his sights. They had only returned to the house so that Hux could pack some of Ellie’s things. Hux grabbed a suitcase from a closet and entered Ellie’s room. Every aspect of it filled Poe with more shame. The small bed was covered in a cute, powder blue comforter decorated with elephants, and the walls were decorated with cartoon animals. A stack of drawings covered a low table, many of “dady and me”.
“Ellie knows how to write already?” Poe asked.
“I didn’t see the point in waiting.”
Hux barely looked at Poe as he folded Ellie’s clothes into the suitcase, his motions stiff and angry, his jaw hard. Poe thought for a second that he should be taking the things out of the drawers in case Hux had a weapon stashed somewhere, but what kind of parent kept weapons in their kid’s room? Certainly not Hux, from everything Poe had seen and heard. Poe peered out the corridor toward the living room where Ellie was playing, on a keyboard now by the sounds of the discordant keys, but he couldn’t see her from this angle. As he did so, he saw a disturbingly familiar shape in the room across the way. Hux’s room, he presumed from the larger bed and silver bedspread. Beside it, against the opposite wall, sat a crib.
Hux had already gotten a crib. Or had it been Ellie’s? Either way, he had already placed it next to where he slept seven months early, ready for the new baby, a baby that would never even see this house now.
Ellie shot down the corridor, zooming past Poe and into her room. Hux dropped a shirt into the suitcase and leaned down to take something that she placed into his hand.
“Thank you, darling,” he said, smiling lovingly.
She ran away, giggling. Hux put the toy into the suitcase. It was a plastic tomato. She soon returned with a plastic banana. Then again with an apple. And a pear. And a mango. Every time Hux would smile, and thank her as she dropped the fruit into his palm, then he’d place the newest offering carefully into the suitcase. Every time, his smile would crack a little more, his eyes growing shiny with tears, a tremble creeping into his hands as he folded tiny clothes as tenderly as if he were handling fine china.
Poe looked helplessly at the crib, then at the little girl playing happily with her father, who was making sure that she had everything she needed for her new life away from here. Away from him.
I can’t do this.
“St—Stop packing,” Poe said.
He crossed his arms, then placed them on his lips, then crossed them again, all before Hux could frown in trepidation at him and ask,
“What? But Ellie needs—”
“I’m not taking you. I’m not bringing you in. I changed my mind.”
Hux gaped at him, eyes wide with disbelief. Ellie ran back in. Hux snapped out of his confused haze to receive the new toy, stammering out a thank you before turning back to Poe. As soon as Ellie left, Hux fixed Poe with an expression both terrified and too cautious to hope that what he’d heard could be true.
“You better not be fucking with me, Dameron.”
“I’m not. I’m leaving you here. I won’t tell anyone your whereabouts.”
“Why? Why would you off all people, let me go?”
The reason sprinted inside, handing over a tiny pumpkin this time. Hux caught Poe’s miserable expression as he watched Ellie giggle, blessedly clueless about the unbearable tension in the adults around her.
“You realized I’m right,” Hux said. “By punishing me, you punish my children.”
Poe grabbed at his hair, meaning to run his hand through but yanking at it instead.
“Fine. Yes. You’re actually right about something. I guess it had to happen sometime.’ Poe lowered his voice so Ellie wouldn’t hear. “Throwing you in jail isn’t going to bring anyone back from the dead, although some closure for the still living people you’ve brutalized would be nice, but it won’t—”
Poe shut his mouth as Ellie ran in, leaving an orange.
“Won’t what, Dameron?” Hux asked when Ellie left. “Change anything? Be worth the toll it takes on my children’s lives? No, it wouldn’t. There’s no harm in leaving me here, I swear to you.”
“There better not me. Don’t you dare make me regret this.”
“I won’t. Thank you. Truly, thank you.”
“I’m doing it for your kids, not you.”
“I know. You won’t tell a single soul that we’re here or that I’m alive?”
“Swear it to me.”
“I give you my word. Okay? No one will know.”
Poe rushed out of the room and down the corridor, unable to look at Hux or his pleasant house or the sweet, little girl that had somehow come from Hux despite him being a ruthless monster who Poe would have bet didn’t care about anything more than subjugating people, yet here he was, living in the most ordinary, unambitious circumstances surrounded by children’s toys and carpet stains. He heard Hux’s footsteps behind him, but didn’t turn around. Hux wouldn’t try anything with Ellie right there, playing on the living room floor with an X-wing toy.
Poe stopped. Hux let his daughter have an X-wing toy? Oh, God, there was an A-wing, too.
This was too weird. Everything about this was too, damn weird. He all but ran out the front door. As he revved up his speeder, he saw Hux watching him from the window. Poe glanced away quickly before he met his eyes. Every cell inside him squirmed with an itchy, sick feeling. He could no longer tell if it was guilt or anger or betrayal. Was he betraying the Republic, his own comrades in the Resistance, everything he had fought so hard and tirelessly for?
Ben Solo had escaped somewhere unknown after turning sides during the war. Leia refused to confirm anything, but it was an open secret that she knew where her son was and visited him during her mysterious trips off the grid. No one would call her a traitor for doing that.
Hux hadn’t turned, but nothing had been heard of him for over two years. The few stragglers of First Order sentiment that remained were far from this region of space. It was possible that Hux was in contact with them, but that would place his children in danger. Would the man who had offered sex in exchange for protection for them really do that?
Poe turned away from the house and drove off, wishing that he had never come here.
Four months later
What the hell am I doing here?
Hux’s white-blue house stood in front of him, just as pleasant and perplexingly un-Hux-like as before. There were even more flowers now, a double layer of daffodils and rose bushes springing effervescently around the house as far as Poe could see. Did Hux even like flowers or were they just for show, to dupe his neighbors into believing that he was just a regular guy with a regular life and no murderous tendencies whatsoever? Although he probably delighted in the rose’s thorns. They must be there to serve as a makeshift weapon should the need arise.
And he did still live there. Poe had snooped through a crack in the curtains. The living room still looked the same with toys everywhere. If Hux had chosen to run, Poe needed to know. He wasn’t sure what exactly he would do with that information, but someone should know where the most wanted criminal in the galaxy slept at night, even if Poe wasn’t actually going to do anything about it. He wasn’t bringing him in this time, either, so there was really no reason at all for Poe to have flown all the way across the galaxy.
But he did need to be here. He had to make sure that Hux was still being a responsible father and not involving himself in anything nefarious or homicidal. By letting him run free, any crimes that Hux might commit would be blood on Poe’s hands, so he couldn’t just carry on with his life as if nothing had happened. He’d tried that, and had failed miserably. His vacation was a bust. He had stopped off at another planet, one with beautiful beaches and plenty of mountain ranges and war debris to challenge his flight skills, yet he couldn’t manage to relax.
He could never relax. Sitting still was never something he had been able to do, but flying should at least have calmed him down, yet it didn’t. He had been fidgety and battered since the war, the sudden crash and burn of leaving the military rattling his nerves. He had been running and fighting and watching people die for years, and now he was done, just like that, and he was supposed to just… what? Take it easy? Learn how to be a civilian? Integrate himself back into society? How? How was he supposed to do that?
And now he had a war criminal keeping him awake at night.
Shit. Why did Hux have to have kids? Why couldn’t he have just been heartless through and through? That would have made things so much easier. There were still wanted posters of Hux in the Republic planets, reminding people that one of their most vicious oppressors might still be roaming free somewhere if he wasn’t dead. Yet in a planet as far away from the war as this one, no one knew his face. At least Hux wasn’t buying fruit from or living next to people whom he’d made suffer. That would be so much worse.
Poe left to go eat at a fast food place, only because his stomach was growling, but then he could hardly take a bite without feeling like his stomach wanted to collapse in on itself. As soon as he was finished, he returned to Hux’s house. Still no one home. He waited outside for a while, then realized that whoever actually was home wouldn’t appreciate this mysterious stranger loitering on their street and stalking the nice father’s house, so he left and rode around in the field for a while until the sun lowered too far down in the horizon to be comfortable, so he returned to the house. Poe had no idea what Hux’s work hours looked like, but if they were the normal, business type, he should be getting in soon.
The light was on when Poe pulled up. Finally.
Now what? Ring the doorbell like a regular visitor? Well, there was hardly anything else do. He couldn’t just stand outside snooping.
Okay. He was ringing the doorbell. Like people do. The bright, cheery music of a children’s program emanated through the door, just when Poe thought that he had run out of un-Hux like things to be shocked by, but nope. Here was another one. The bell rung, Poe stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and shuffled from foot to foot, eyeing the spyglass on the door. The curtain was still firmly shut, so he couldn’t see inside. A high pitched voice rang out, probably Ellie, but he couldn’t make out what she said. Her voice soon faded away. Sweat pooled on Poe’s nape.
Come on. What was taking so long? Hux was clearly there. Poe had heard the bell, so it did work.
“Dameron, what the hell are you doing here?”
Poe jerked at Hux’s furious voice. He opened his mouth to reply, but Hux cut him off.
“Stand back from the door. Lift your jacket and turn around.”
“I’m unarmed,” Poe said as he followed Hux’s instructions. “That’s not why I’m here.”
The door opened a crack. Hux peered through, only showing a sliver of his face, along with a First Order issue blaster held firmly in his right hand. Anger flared inside Poe at the sight of it. He met Hux’s eyes in silent acknowledgment that he understood the consequences of pissing him off, although he couldn’t keep his contempt from his face. Hux stood back, opening the door wider.
“Well, come on in,” Hux said, tone bursting with snark. “Since you insist on pestering me with your presence.”
Poe stepped inside.
“If you’re so bothered, why are you letting me in?”
“The neighbors would talk if I shot you on my porch.”
Hux shut the door, facing Poe at all times, his blaster pointing down, but still very much at the ready. Unlike last time, now he looked very much pregnant, his belly sticking out in a nice, round belly that could be confused for fat if the rest of him weren’t so skinny. The program still played on the holoplayer, but Ellie was nowhere to be seen. Her fussing earlier must have been over Hux coaxing her away. Poe’s resentment withered a little at the visual reminder of why Hux must remain free instead of rotting in a jail cell.
Poe nodded at the blaster.
“A souvenir from your old gig?” he asked, voice tense despite his attempt to lighten it.
“It’s not the only one I kept, so don’t test me. Now, why must I be forced to suffer your presence? This better not be some sort of trick.”
“It’s not. I didn’t change my mind or anything. I just…”
Shit. He’d forgotten to come up with an excuse for being here.
“You just what?”
Stellar, Dameron. Very confident and self-assured.
Now Hux was rolling his eyes at him as if Poe were an idiot.
“Are you making sure that I’m not torturing innocents in my free time?”
The condescension in Hux’s voice burned in Poe’s gut. His hands fisted at his sides, jaw hardening so tight that it hurt his teeth.
“Maybe. Many manage the murder-parenting lifestyle just fine. I didn’t get a great sense of where your life is at the last time I was here. You know, I liked you a lot better when you were begging me last time. You were nicer. Respectful, even. It was a refreshing change of pace.”
“Only because you had me in handcuffs and holding a blaster to me. But I’m the one with the blaster now.”
Right. Hux could kill him right now and dispose of his body. No one would ever know. Poe should have been afraid of that. Yet he wasn’t. Huh.
“Are you going to shoot me?” Poe asked, standing up straighter, presenting his chest as a target. “Because, if you are, just do it. I don’t see what you’re waiting around for.”
Hux’s eyes narrowed, gaze as hard as granite, and his grip tightened on his blaster. Poe tensed, preparing to tackle Hux if he attacked him. Shit, he shouldn’t have goaded him without carrying a weapon himself. Hux had no reason to keep him breathing.
Hux suddenly grabbed his belly, wincing. What the hell?
Oh, right. Baby. Hux slouched, sighing sharply through his nose, like his kid had kicked all the energy and homicidal urges out of him. The sound of the children’s show suddenly sounded uncomfortably loud behind Poe, some cartoonish voice singing about ducks.
“The baby doesn’t like it when I’m stressed,” Hux said, massaging his belly.
He scowled at Poe as if demanding an apology when Hux was the one threatening him with a blaster.
“Then cut it out and put the blaster down,” Poe said. “It’s going to get real boring real fast if we just stand here all night.”
After one more incisive death glare, Hux stalked off down the hallway, leaving Poe standing there unsupervised. Doors opened and closed, followed by Hux telling Ellie that she could return to the living room. Ellie ran in, holding a holo player in her hands, which showed the same cartoon as the one in the living room. She only put it down when she plopped down on the floor in front of it, not wishing to miss a second. She looked a little taller, and her hair was shorter, too, falling in a wavy bob around her pink-cheeked face.
“Ellie, we have a guest,” Hux said to her.
Wow. So Poe was a guest now. That didn’t feel weird or anything. He forced himself to look friendly when Ellie when turned to him, which wasn’t too hard since she was the innocent party here, although her resemblance to Hux still tied Poe’s stomach into knots.
“Good afternoon,” she said carefully. “It’s nice to see you, Poe.”
Poe’s eyes widened. She remembered him. Well, it had only been four months. But Hux had only told her his name once, hadn’t he?
“It’s nice to see you, too,” Poe replied.
She immediately turned back to her show.
“Come with me, Dameron,” Hux said.
Poe followed him, automatically bracing for a potential attack, but that would be ridiculous right now. Hux wouldn’t have brought Ellie out only to murder Poe the next room over. They passed through a small corridor flanked by a bathroom and the door to the basement and took a left turn into the kitchen. Vegetables and chopped up nunda lied on the counter, next to a tall pot filled with water.
“I was making dinner when you decided to disturb our evening,” Hux said, turning on the burner under the pot and covering it with a lid.
“Sorry I don’t know the minutiae of your daily routine. Or that you cook. I thought entitled types like you depended on droids for even something so simple as a cup of caf.”
Hux narrowed his eyes witheringly at him.
“I’ll have you know that I’m a brilliant cook.”
Poe snorted. Indignation flashed in Hux’s eyes.
“You’ll be eating those words soon enough,” Hux growled, and grabbed a knife.
Poe stepped back and raised his arms in a defensive position, every muscle instantly taut, but then Hux turned away and began slicing a tomato.
“Did you just invite me to dinner?” Poe asked.
Hux’s hand stilled, the knife halfway through a slice. He grimaced.
“Please feel absolutely no obligation to stay.”
“Oh, no. I’m staying. I am so staying.”
Why did he want to stay again? He shouldn’t want to stay. He shouldn’t be here at all. The sight of Hux being happy and carefree in this nice house in a nice neighborhood with a nice kid and all sorts of nice things that he didn’t deserve to enjoy for a single second filled Poe with rage and disgust, and yet, here he was subjecting himself to this monster’s presence and couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.
“Are you going to do anything useful,” Hux said, still chopping away, “or are you just going to stand there plotting my demise?”
Poe’s hands clenched. He stepped forward, lowering his voice so that it wouldn’t carry into the living room.
“I’m not plotting anything. Killing people is your deal.”
“But not yours, is it? How many confirmed kills do you have again, best pilot in the Resistance?”
Hux’s voice dripped with condescension, as if the term were an insult, all while pouring spaghetti into the boiling pot, the bizarre domesticity throwing Poe for a second.
“I never did any of that without cause, which I wouldn’t have had if you and your buddies didn’t get off on subjecting and terrorizing innocent people.”
“Please, you were so keen on playing the dashing hero that you would have found any excuse to fire a turbocannon. We just gave you one.”
Poe almost decked him for that one. His right hand jerked into a fist, outrage roaring through him, and he raised his arm.
Then Hux rubbed his pregnant belly. He wasn’t even looking at Poe as he stood half turned away stirring the spaghetti. The motion was instinctual, absentmindedly seeking out his baby even as it sat in his body. Maybe the baby was kicking again.
Oh, am I stressing out the kid’s dad too much?
This was ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter that Hux had kids now. He didn’t deserve this life, not when he’d robbed so many people of it.
Poe jumped. Shit, he hadn’t even heard Ellie come in. The girl looked up at him with large, curious eyes, then rushed to her dad’s side. Poe backed away, expelling an exhausted breath and rubbing his face as he paced in tight circles by a small, dining table. This was so messed up. Every bit of it.
“Can I have mango, please?” Ellie asked, as cute as ever. How the hell had Hux managed to produce such a sweet kid? He was the opposite of sweet. Everything about him reeked of poison and toxicity. How could the people on this planet not sense his maliciousness the instant that they saw him? The well-mannered politeness and friendly smile was so thin a veneer that toxicity reeked from him the instant that he sensed no need to maintain his opportunistic fiction. Poe couldn’t believe that he had actually felt pity for him four months ago. That undeserved emotion had actually flowered in him toward Hux. Seeing a man offer to prostitute himself for his kids would do that. Where was Hux’s gratitude now? His assurances that he was a changed man, not that Poe had bought them for a second?
Nothing about him had changed. He was still the same venomous garbage he had always been. Being a good parent didn’t exempt him from the consequences to his sickening actions. But seeing Hux and Ellie together, watching him give her pieces of fruit just like Poe’s mom had given him every morning until she couldn’t anymore, with that universal, parental command that Ellie not eat too much and ruin her appetite for dinner, how could Poe consider for a second that he had made the wrong choice in showing compassion for her and for the baby? Yet how could he live with it when it twisted up his insides?
“Hey, Ellie?” Hux said. “Guess what? Poe is a pilot.”
What? Why was Hux telling her that? What could he possibly have to gain in drawing her attention to the man he had tried to murder so many times?
Oh, right. Because of how Ellie was looking at Poe right now, wide eyes amazed and inquisitive as she chewed slowly on her mango, holding a piece up to her lips. It stirred something in Poe’s belly that he most certainly did not want to be feeling towards anyone even tangentially connected to Hux, but who was he kidding? She was adorable and innocent. Nothing her asshole of a father had done was her fault, including seeking to endear his daughter to Poe so that Poe would feel too shitty about locking him up to even consider doing so. Goddamnit, it was the perfect trap.
So just like that, he was smiling at her and telling her about X-wings and A-wings and every type of craft that Poe had ever flown (omitting only the TIE fighter), because Ellie possessed all the curiosity of an almost four-year-old (her birthday was next month, apparently). She clung to her dad’s side at first, but relaxed as Poe continued speaking and stepped towards him, eyes still wide, not even looking at Hux as he wiped her hands clean of mango juice. At one point, she announced that she had many toy ships and ran off to get them. She handed Poe ship after ship, doing multiple runs back to the living room and her room. Four ships in, Poe offered to go with her, but Hux shook his head even as she ran off, ignoring Poe.
“She likes the running around,” Hux said. “It won’t be as much fun for her otherwise.”
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” Poe whispered at him.
Hux raised a condescending eyebrow as he stirred the pasta sauce on the stove.
“Ensuring that my children are happy with their father free from prison? Yes, how selfish of me.”
Poe groaned internally, but he couldn’t be properly angry at Hux for that. Hux would hardly have come quietly if he didn’t have kids, but at least he was concerned about someone other than himself.
Ellie must have run back and forth fifteen times by the end of it, bringing no less than thirty, tiny ships. Most were toy models, but a few were plushies. She liked to cuddle with the A-wing while sleeping, which she demonstrated by squeezing it in her tiny hands and holding it against her chin. The sight was so adorable that Poe couldn’t help but feel a pang of fondness for the little girl, as well as a shocking burst of envy that Hux got to have this, one of the things that Poe had most yearned for since the war ended.
He’d always wanted kids, but, unlike Hux, he did want a partner to raise them with. Having them on his own wouldn’t work. He was too busy, too restless. The baby stage alone with all the waking up in the middle of the night with the crying and feeding and diaper changing would drive him crazy if he was on his own. His dad would help, he was sure, but Poe didn’t want to put that all on him. It was a moot point, anyway. He couldn’t get pregnant, and the whole process of getting a surrogate and artificial insemination was too costly and complicated to think about right now. And adopting wasn’t anywhere near as simple as it looked, especially for a single parent. So what if his past relationships hadn’t worked out? Or that he hadn’t actually been in one that lasted more than a month since before the war? It would happen again. Eventually. It would work out.
All three of them ended up at the table, eating what turned out to be disturbingly delicious nunda parmesan. So Hux was a great dad and a great cook? What the hell was wrong with the universe? Poe wanted seconds. He shouldn’t want seconds of anything made by Hux. That was no okay. To show his disdain for Hux, Poe had planned on not finishing his plate, but damn, this was good.
“This is maman’s nunda,” Ellie announced.
“Yes, it is,” Hux replied, smiling at her.
Yet the smile felt bittersweet, nostalgia and a glimmer of pain clinging to it. Grief. Poe had been subjected by it too many times not to recognize it in others or in his own stricken face in the mirror, half hidden in shadow when he dimmed the nights because he didn’t want to see it. Hux noticed his confusion, and actually did him the courtesy of illuminating him.
“My mother,” he said, his voice lacking the sharpness from before, probably for Ellie’s sake, yet his softer tone was underlined by a loving fondness. “She was a cook at my school.”
“She made pasta,” Ellie said, “and soup and salad and pasto.”
“Pesto,” Hux corrected gently.
So Hux’s mom had been a cook? That didn’t sound like the wife of the stuck up commandant of an Imperial academy. Wasn’t that what Hux’s dad had been? But in that case… Oh. Hadn’t Poe once heard someone say that Hux was a literal bastard? Poe hadn’t paid any attention to it then, but it made sense now. Yet the man had given his son his name, so he either wasn’t married, or his wife didn’t have kids. Those Imperial elitists didn’t seem very keen on illegitimate children. Hux’s dad mustn’t have thought that he had any other shot at a legacy. He would have been better off leaving this kid alone. Not that Poe felt sorry for him in the least. The son got his monstrous genes straight from him. Yet Hux did love his mom.
What had happened to her? She was dead. That much was obvious. But how? Did Hux’s father do something to her? Was that why Hux had killed him? And not just killed him. The details of the covert assassination had put off Poe from food for the rest of the day after hearing them. It would still sicken him, but, if Hux’s dad had hurt his mom, well, Poe could definitely see why Hux had been so vicious.
Poe waited until dinner was finished and Ellie was in her room looking through books to ask.
“So, I didn’t know about your mom.”
Hux’s motions continued undisturbed as he loaded the dishwasher, yet Poe detected the slightest clenching of his jaw.
“That I had one or that she was a lowly, kitchen worker?”
“Um… Both, I guess.”
“Doubtlessly, you also surmised that my parents couldn’t possibly have been married, as my father wouldn’t stoop so low.”
So much acidic resentment dripped in Hux’s voice that it would have killed a tauntaun.
“Well, yes. But I don’t give a shit about your parents not being married. Only elitist idiots do.”
“We actually agree on something. How disturbing.”
“I don’t know. It’s refreshing to hear you express a decent thought for once. Even though it’s because you yourself are… um…”
Hux raised a nonplussed eyebrow at him.
“Well, I wasn’t going to use that word, but if you want to insult yourself, I’m not going to complain.”
That earned Poe a frigid glare, which only made him grin before he remembered the very sensitive topic they were discussing.
“I would appreciate it,” Hux said, “if you continued to avoid the term, although this request will probably only goad you into using it.”
“I’m not going to do that. Now that I know exactly how fitting it is, it would feel like I hate you for the wrong reason.”
“How considerate of you. I don’t wish for there to be any misunderstandings over our mutual enmity, either. I also loathe the term that begins with “son of”. My mother was a wonderful woman, no doubt seduced by the vermin I had to call father. I will not tolerate a single negative word spoken of her, not even from you, I don’t care how much I need to ingratiate myself to you.”
“I won’t. Don’t worry. I don’t go around insulting people’s mothers. I don’t even know anything about her other than what you just told me.”
Hux studied him with a searing gaze, then slammed the dishwasher door closed.
“That’s a refreshing change of pace. Did you realize how unbearably crass your mum jokes are?”
Poe frowned. The hell?
“That is what that final, verbal salvo of yours was about when you mocked me before we blew up your first base, wasn’t it? I should have incinerated you with a cannon blast before you had the chance to besmirch her memory like that.”
Oh, that. Shit, Poe had forgotten about that. How was he supposed to remember those couple of words when his heart had been pumping so hard from terror and adrenaline that it drowned out everything but the Black One’s control yoke and the death and destruction raining around him? He’d spouted out the first thing that had come into his head. Whatever nonsense to keep Hux distracted while the experimental thruster charged to full power. He hadn’t cared about Hux’s feelings or whether his mother deserved it. For all he knew, Hux’s mom was another snooty Imperial who couldn’t care less about hurting innocent people. He didn’t know about the lower class cook who was victimized by the man with most authority over her. Now Poe felt like an asshole.
“I didn’t mean any of that,” Poe said, digging his hands into his pant pockets and doing Hux the courtesy of looking him in the eye. He might not deserve it, but it sounded like his mom did. What would Poe’s own mom have to say if he didn’t do as much?
“I just said whatever came into my head,” Poe continued. “I was severely sleep deprived because you guys were coming to kill us. And, yeah, I wanted to piss you off. I didn’t know your mom wasn’t like you.”
“Not like me?”
“You know. A stuck up asshole. Unless she was. I suppose cooks can be that, too.”
“She wasn’t. She was what you would consider to be a good person. Her only connection to the Empire was working in the Arkanis Academy kitchen. You might think that I’m not like her, but I do try, I assure you. You already know that I inherited my culinary talent from her. The same goes for my parenting. I’m raising Ellie the way she raised me. Or rather, the way she would have liked to, in a happy environment away from anyone who might hurt us. Father would never have allowed her to take me away. She consoled herself that, at least, I was receiving the finest education.”
“I’ve got to disagree on that last part.”
“Of course you do.”
“But apart from that… I figured you hated your father given that you killed him. And how you killed him. But… I’m not sure how to ask this.”
Should Poe even be asking? Would he, if it were anyone else? You couldn’t just demand to know if someone was abused. It wasn’t just crass, it was disrespectful, and although he didn’t respect Hux to begin with, there were still lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Else how could Poe purport to be one of the good guys?
A blush burned up Poe’s nape as he looked away from Hux’s face. Hux stood perfectly upright with his hands behind his back, his chin raised, scowling at Poe down the bridge of his nose. Classic, Imperial pose. It was so easy to imagine him standing at the bridge of his Finalizer like this, sneering as he ordered the obliteration of yet another Resistance ship. Poe’s right hand flexed in his pocket, but he couldn’t lash out at Hux out of spite. Not over this. Poe wouldn’t stoop down to his level.
“Nothing,” Poe bit out. “Never mind.”
“I’m not an asshole, alright.? Unlike you.”
“Fine, then. I won’t tell you what you so desperately want to know.”
“I’m not desperate. I don’t care about your childhood. Look, let’s change the subject. You said months ago that you work at some regular job, but I didn’t ask. So what is it? What do you do that you think is so beneath you?”
Hux looked down at the counter for a second, sighing in frustration as he pursed his lips, as if just thinking about it pained him.
“I code vaporators. It was the best I could get without risking them checking my credentials too thoroughly. I’m a fair hand at forgery, but I can’t afford to take the chance.”
Poe burst out laughing. Oh, this was hilarious
“Grand Marshall Hux is coding vaporators like a regular person. That’s perfect. That’s absolutely perfect.”
Hux’s glare reached the intensity of a thousand suns. Poe laughed harder.
“I’m so pleased that my humiliation satisfies you,” Hux ground out, sidestepping past Poe so carefully that you’d think that the idea of touching him nauseated him. He sat down at the table, back ramrod straight, chin stubbornly raised, but he held on gingerly to his belly, and his gaze was lost somewhere on the opposite wall, his expression ashamed and pitiful. As if Poe would be feeling any pity for him. Hux could use an ounce of humility, even if the concept still seemed alien to him.
You can have me.
Poe flinched. The memory of Hux sprawled half naked on Poe’s floor, offering his body in trade for just a bit of mercy flashed through Poe’s mind. Fuck, how could he have forgotten that? Alright, so maybe Hux had learned some humility, even if he only showed it when it suited him. He didn’t perceive Poe as a threat now, so he was being his usual, acerbic self, trying to gain just a smidge of lost ground in front of his enemy despite his embarrassment (only someone so privileged and entitled could consider coding to be embarrassing), but he was willing to truly humiliate himself where it counted. Much too well. God, remembering that made Poe ill.
Hux hadn’t… He hadn’t had to… with anyone else? Had he? Poe had been the only one that Hux had offered himself to, right? Oh, God, what if that wasn’t the first time? What exactly had Hux done to arrive in this planet and get that job and this house? His final battle had been half a galaxy away. That was a hell of a long journey for someone whose face was infamous in most of it. And with a baby in tow. That made it so much harder to slip away unnoticed. Had it felt like that had been the first time that Hux had tried to prostitute himself? Had he said anything to imply it? Goddamnit, Poe couldn’t remember. He’d tried his best to wipe the incident from his memory. It had been so damn disturbing.
“Is something wrong with you?”
Poe startled at Hux’s voice. He shook himself mentally, fighting the creeping blush in the back of his neck as he made himself meet Hux’s eyes as if absolutely nothing was going on. Hux wasn’t even glaring at him anymore. His brow was knit in confusion, which Poe would not be alleviating. Nope.
“No. I just remembered something. Unrelated. None of your business.”
Poe crossed his arms without thinking. Crap, now he looked defensive. Hux’s eyes narrowed.
“I have the feeling that it’s not unrelated,” Hux said. “What is it? Spit it out.”
Iron hot fury flared through Poe.
“I’m not at your beck and call. I’m the one interrogating you, not the other way around.”
Poe shut his mouth, shocked at the vehemence in his voice. Shit, that hadn’t been loud enough for Ellie to hear, had it? Hux shrank back in his chair, lowering his eyes as he said, “Alright,” tone pliant and soft. He wasn’t sitting primly and proudly now. His shoulders dipped, back hunching to make himself appear smaller as he held his belly as if seeking to protect his baby or keep it from being taken away. Everything in his anxious pose screamed submissiveness and his understanding of the power that Poe held over him and his family. Oh fuck.
“Is there anything else that you wish to know?” Hux asked, still looking down, still sounding so disturbingly accommodating.
Poe couldn’t do this. He wasn’t this guy. Why had he gotten so angry all of a sudden? Sure, he’d been mad earlier, but nowhere near enough to lose it like that. Hux had just been his usual, charming self. It wasn’t anything to get so worked up about.
So why were his hands shaking?
Poe shook his head, rubbing his face, the tips of his fingers digging into his forehead.
“No, uh… I think I’m done.”
Poe rushed out of the kitchen, all but sprinting toward the front door as fast as his legs could move. He heard Hux follow him, but he didn’t turn around, not until Hux spoke.
“Are you leaving for good this time?”
A weary sigh clutched painfully inside Poe’s chest as he gripped the doorknob.
“I don’t know.”
“Should I be concerned?”
Poe almost dropped his head against the door. He turned around just enough to see the earnest fear in Hux’s eyes, and be sickened by it. He had never wanted anyone to be afraid of him, not even in the midst of battle. Intimidated, yes, but scared like this, not really.
“I gave you my word,” Poe said. “I’m not going to throw that away along with everything else.”
He yanked the door open and fled.
Poe had to down an extra strength dose of melatonin to be able to sleep through the night, and even then, he woke up a couple of times with bad dreams. He wiped them from his memory the instant that he decided to give up on sleeping further (after dawn, so at least he made it that far) with a holovid of his favorite movie and an extra potent cup of caf.
God, he needed to leave this planet. Why had he come back? Why was it so important to understand this bizarre, new version of Hux, who was loving and hadn’t even tried to kill or torture Poe, and had shrunken into a subdued shadow of himself after being so snarky just a second before? Sure, he’d realized that he’d gone too far in pretending that he could just get away with being an asshole this time, but the way that he’d reacted still disturbed the hell out of Poe. Was he really that afraid that Poe would turn him in, after all, even after Poe had given his word? But why would Hux trust the word of some rebel scum? But Hux had stayed in the same house. If he really didn’t trust Poe, then he and Ellie would be long gone.
Why hadn’t he just shot Poe in the living room and eliminated the threat altogether? Because Ellie was in the other room? Well, that would certainly be a deterrent. How do you explain to a not quite four-year-old that daddy kills people? Then there was the hassle of getting rid of Poe’s body, and, for all that Hux knew, Poe had informed people where he was, and that they should come looking if he didn’t get in contact after a certain amount of time. It would be true, too. BB-8 always worried if a couple of days passed without Poe messaging.
They’d wanted to come on the trip. Poe hadn’t been able to give a good explanation as to why he wanted some alone time, when being away from people for too long made him anxious, but he couldn’t break his word by telling BB why he was going on a mysterious trip.
He didn’t leave. He should have, but he didn’t. Instead of fueling up and taking off straight into space, he got on his speeder and went to the nearest park for a run. It was a quiet forest preserve with a mix of woods and flowery prairie, exactly the sort of calm, relaxing environment that he needed to quiet the unending buzzing in his brain.
It worked. For a full thirteen minutes, until a disappointingly familiar face appeared over the crest of a hill.
Great. Hux was here. Just when Poe had been trying not to see him, he came by and showed up, anyway. Ellie rode on a tricycle just a bit in front of him, happily pedaling away. She spotted him first, calling out his name. Hux jerked to a stop, eyes narrowing as he followed his daughter’s gaze, then his face hardened with irritation. Well, it looked like submissive Hux was long gone. It was a relief, really. Angry Hux Poe could handle. The other guy… that, he didn’t know what to do with.
“Hey,” Poe said to Ellie, smiling down at her as he swept his hair off his face. He must look like crap drenched in sweat like this, but little kids didn’t care, and fuck Hux and his snooty nose if he did.
“Hi. What are you doing?” Ellie asked him.
“Running. I’m just taking a break right now. I didn’t know you guys were going to be here.”
Hux gave him a look of deep skepticism.
“Ellie,” he said, “can you ride ahead for a bit? I need to speak to Poe in private.”
“Okay,” she said, doing as instructed.
Oh, great. Now Poe had to explain his actions?
“I really didn’t know,” Poe whispered, falling in step beside Hux. “I’m not stalking you.”
“That had better be true,” Hux whispered back.
“It is. I have no interest in spying on you.”
“Just interrupting a family dinner and shouting at me in my own home.”
“A home you don’t deserve to have.”
“And yet I am keeping it. It’s too late to change your mind now.”
So Hux did trust his word.
“Yeah, don’t think I don’t know that. So is this what you always do on your days off?”
“Would you like me to provide you with a detailed account of my comings and goings in case anything remotely criminal is involved?”
“I’m just asking.”
“Why are you asking? You’ve decided to leave me be. Why does it matter how I fill my time? Do you need proof that I’m a better person to assuage your conscience?”
Poe didn’t reply for a second.
It would help.
“Do you have any idea how busy the life of a parent is, much less a single one? How exactly do you figure that I’d have time to do anything besides go to work and raise Ellie? While pregnant, no less.”
Okay, that was a good point.
“Fine. I just want to have that clear. So why do you put up with my questions?”
“You wouldn’t be very happy if I didn’t answer.”
“But I gave you my word, so you could have kicked me out last night. You don’t even have to talk to me right now.”
Hux sighed slowly through his nose, suddenly looking unbearably weary. He stared at Ellie in front of them, then turned away to the pond beside them. The trail they walked on bordered the lake, providing a convenient avenue for the recreational fishermen standing at the water’s edge, and the people who wanted a closer look at the geese floating placidly on its surface. Walking here, one could almost forget that there had ever been a war anywhere else, that Poe had suffered the burden of being a general, or that he’d ever been tortured in this man’s flagship.
He’d figured that out last night. Why he’d gotten so angry. Hux had never appeared during the interrogation, but Poe had known where he was. He’d known the name and the face of the man behind it, even if it had been Ren who ordered his torture and ripped the truth from him. Poe couldn’t rail against Ren, not after he’d betrayed his own army and reconciled with his mother. Poe didn’t even know where he was. For his own safety, Ren had disappeared somewhere that only Leia knew.
Hux had been available, just as responsible, just as guilty, so Poe had let loose.
“There is always the chance,” Hux said, resignation in his voice, “that you’ll change your mind despite the dishonor of breaking your word. It is a common enough occurrence. I pissed you off last night. For a moment, I forgot that I can’t afford to take that risk.”
“You could just kill me, you know?”
“And risk getting caught and arrested for murder? My intent is to stay out of prison, not run headfirst into one. Besides…”
He trailed off, touching his belly.
“Besides what?” Poe asked after a bit.
Hux shook his head.
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter. So will you resume your interrogation now that you happened to run into us?”
“I did just run into you. And I didn’t plan on… Look, I’m not…”
Why the hell am I here?
He should just go. This entire time, he shouldn’t have been here at all.
Hux scoffed at him.
“You’re not what? It’s a simple yes or no answer.”
Poe’s jaw clenched in frustration.
“For someone who’s afraid of pissing me off, you sure do love doing it.”
Hux breathed slowly through his nose, as if offering a silent prayer that the annoying rebel scum would leave him alone.
“I assure you, I’m trying my absolute best not to,” he said. His voice would be diplomatic if it didn’t sound so annoyed.
“Yeah, I know for a fact that you can do better.”
Hux’s face pinched as if Poe had struck him, breath whistling. His steps faltered, his fist clenching, instantly on guard, putting some distance between them while looking down at the ground. Poe frowned at him, bewildered. What the hell was that about?
Wait. Oh, no.
“I didn’t mean,” Poe blurted out, panicked. He glanced at Ellie, still cluelessly pedaling away, and lowered his voice even further. “Not that… thing you offered in my ship. Not that. I don’t want that. I never want that. Please don’t do that again.”
“I have no intention of doing so,” Hux bit out, but he breathed a little easier, the tension in his shoulders slackening a tad.
“Good. Great. Keep that up. I don’t know what you had to do to survive after the war, but you don’t need to do that with me.”
Poe’s face was burning. Maybe Hux would think it was just the heat. God, he hoped so. Hux scowled, looking as nauseated as Poe felt. Neither of them seemed able to look the other in the eye. Hux was flushing, too. Well, at least they were on the same page about something.
“I never did… that with anyone else. I never had to.”
Oh, thank God.
“That’s a relief,” Poe gasped out.
“A relief? Why would that be a relief for you? You can’t possibly be concerned about my welfare.”
Poe looked firmly at the tree line beside them.
“I’m not heartless, okay? It’s the minimum of human decency, not that you understand what that is.”
Hux didn’t reply, and Poe was glad of it. He could use a little silence to clear his head.
Then the silence carried on.
Well, it wasn’t total silence. The territorial calls of birds and chattering of people passing by filled it in, but at least five minutes passed by without Hux complaining or goading him or saying anything at all, and that was weird. As was the look on his face. Was that melancholy? Had Poe made him sad? How? That wasn’t the normal reaction to someone telling you that they’re glad that you didn’t have to forcibly prostitute yourself. It had to be something else. Yet that had been the last thing said before Hux clammed up, so it had to be related, didn’t it?
Who cared? Was there even a point trying to figure out what went on in this man’s head? Yet that was why Poe was here, wasn’t it? That’s why he couldn’t just let go and be on his merry way. Because Hux, this Hux, made no sense. It felt like a trick, some sort of cosmic trap, but that made even less sense. Two years ago, everything indicated that Hux’s greatest ambition in life was to subjugate the galaxy. He had already been a parent to a child that he had hidden from that same galaxy, doubtlessly for her protection, but those two priorities hadn’t seemed to be at odds. Yet now he was content to play regular dad, no world conquering, no dreams of glory, just making enough money to support his family and ensure that his kids were happy. That was it. How could that possibly be it?
At one point, Ellie stopped pedaling to stare at the geese in the pond. Hux went up to her and coaxed her toward a bench close to the water’s edge, where he sat with her tricycle while she stood looking at the birds.
“Don’t get too close,” he cautioned her.
Through all this, Hux pretended that Poe wasn’t there, even as Poe followed along silently, studying his actions, feeling like a creepy interloper intruding on what was supposed to be a relaxing, family outing. If Hux was trying to guilt him again, it wouldn’t work. Poe stood beside the bench, looming over him. Not too much, but just enough that Hux wouldn’t be able to forget that he was there. Hux continued to ignore him, looking only at Ellie and the geese.
Then his gaze began to drift over the lake. His shoulders sagged, back slouching on the bench, right hand held over his belly, not rubbing, just sitting there. He still looked morose as hell. Actually, it was worse now. Poe flinched, recognizing that expression. He’d felt it on his own face far too many times. More often than not these days, to be honest, which he tried not to be when it came to this, and that was its own problem. It’s why his dad had pushed him to take that trip that had brought him here in the first place, why BB-8 fussed over him so much, why his other friends didn’t push when Poe preferred to talk about random crap over the war, because they understood it, too. They also wanted to forget, to move on, to not be anybody’s hero, not anymore. Poe had pushed back so hard against the notion that his daredevil stunts had come from some need to play hero, that it had simply been his job, but he had been feeding that restlessness, that need to be the best, to show everyone what he was made of, to taste some of the glory that had sparked within him while listening to those dashing tales of the Rebellion growing up. He had never understood why his mom wouldn’t speak of her own stunts, why her and dad got that haunted look in their eyes whenever it came up, but he got it now. God, did he get it now. If he ever had a kid, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to talk to them about it, either. Maybe some stuff, but not everything. Certainly not everything.
Hux wouldn’t have told Ellie anything about who he used to be. It was too dangerous. At her age, she might blurt out an inconvenient truth to the wrong person. Would he tell her eventually, or would he hide it away for as long as he could? He’d said that his mom had been a good person, that he was trying to be the kind of parent that she had been, and Ellie seemed like a sweet kid now, but people were complicated creatures, and her DNA came from not one, but two First Order officers, one of whom Poe would have once bet good money didn’t have a conscience. What if she had inherited some of Hux’s malicious qualities, too? Would Hux encourage them and be proud that his daughter wanted to be just like him? If Poe asked, Hux would just say no, of course not, but that was exactly what Poe wanted to hear, so he wouldn’t be able to trust any of it.
But he could trust the look on Hux’s face right now. This couldn’t be a show, even though he knew that he was being observed. Hux had been terrible at hiding his emotions so far, and he hadn’t been able to keep quiet through any of it. Poe hadn’t been minding his chrono, but it had definitely been over fifteen minutes since Hux had said anything, and it was making him antsy. Hux glanced at his daughter every so often, but his gaze kept being lost somewhere in the lake. Poe wasn’t sure that he was even seeing the lake, for at one point, he looked up at the sky, and Poe knew that he was seeking the same thing that Poe always did. Past the atmosphere and into the comforting landscape of the stars.
Hux only roused when the geese swam off too far to see, and Ellie came up to him, demanding to sit in his lap. He indulged her, smiling amiably, but the gesture looked forced and tired. Ellie turned to Poe, frowning.
“Why are you standing?” she asked in that cute, little voice.
Hux turned to him, too, regarding Poe with exhausted resignation, yet still said nothing. Poe looked back to Ellie, feeling more than a little sheepish.
“Um, I don’t know. I can sit.”
He sat down. He rubbed his hands on his thighs, then stopped as soon as he realized. That made it look like he was nervous. He wasn’t nervous. He’d spoken to children before. He’d spoken to this specific child before, and had sat next to Hux, so it wasn’t like this was new or anything. So it shouldn’t still feel weird that he was having a civil exchange with the mass murder who had tried to kill him and his friends many times over. When had this become normal? Did Poe want it to be normal? Of course not. That was insane. For how long was he going to carry on this “figure out who Hux really is” experiment, anyw—
“Can I see your ship?” Ellie asked.
Huh? Oh, crap. Ellie wanted to see the same ship that Poe had incarcerated her father in. Well, that wasn’t awkward at all. He looked helplessly at Hux, expecting him to nix the idea in the bud, but Hux only looked back, studying him, waiting to see what Poe would do. Poe swallowed a burst of irritation. Of course. Hux wanted to shift the blame so that Poe would be the bad guy. Fantastic.
“Sure,” Poe told Ellie, grinning. “Why not?”
A bright smile burst on Ellie’s face and she clapped excitedly. Why the hell not? Poe was already drowning in this mess. Might as well annoy Hux. But the man didn’t even have the decency to look put out. He only narrowed his eyes a fraction, still examining Poe as if he were a perplexing artifact in a museum and sat back, saying,
“Shall we go after lunch?”
Ellie twisted around to look at him.
“I wanna go now,” she cried plaintively.
Hux directed a stern look at her and spoke calmly, even as Poe was freaking out.
“We need to eat first. You’ll be hungry soon. After we eat, you’ll have more time to play in the ship.”
Play in the ship? More time? Wait, this wasn’t the plan. Why was Hux so okay with this? Was Poe supposed to eat lunch with them? Surely not. Hux couldn’t want that. He should object now, before things got worse, but he had already agreed, and now Ellie was agreeing, and she looked so happy. If Poe declined now, she would cry. Damnit.
“Should Poe eat with us?” Hux asked Ellie.
“Yes!” she answered wholeheartedly and hopped off Hux’s lap. Grabbing Poe’s hand, she tugged him off the bench, calling “come on”, then let go to climb on her tricycle and ride off. Hux followed her, but only after smirking at Poe, saying, “Well, come on, Dameron. Don’t drag your feet now.”
What just happened? Hux was happy about this? He wanted it to be happening? How could he? That made no sense!
He was fucking with Poe. That’s what was going on. He was pissed that Poe had embarrassed him with the attempted prostitution comment so he was getting revenge.
But how was that revenge when it roped him into spending more time with Poe?
Poe tried to drag an answer out of him for the entire walk back to the parking lot, but Hux kept parallel to Ellie, making it impossible. Poe couldn’t even walk next to them because the path was too narrow and they would be blocking cyclists and joggers slipping past them, so he trailed behind. Fuck it, he didn’t want to share more space with Hux, anyway. He didn’t have to go on this lunch, either. He could just leave. Let Hux deal with his daughter’s disappointment.
Guilt smacked Poe in the gut as he pictured her joyful face crumbling and tears welling up. Ah hell, Poe couldn’t do that to her. It wasn’t her fault that she was descended from garbage. He had to follow through.
Lunch was as forcibly pleasant and silently uncomfortable as dinner last night had been. They ate at a medium-sized pancake house stuffed with people because of the weekend. It was a decently priced establishment. Very family focused. The kitchen was visible over the counter at which one paid for their meal. There wasn’t a single fancy or elite thing about it, just like every other aspect of Hux’s life that Poe had seen so far. The only clue to his privileged background was the way that he was poised in his chair, back perfectly straight, yet appearing relaxed, while he cut up and chewed his food with careful precision, as if he would be judged for the slightest hint of sloppiness. He’d eaten like that at home, too. It had probably been ingrained in him since before he could remember. Ellie wasn’t eating like that. Maybe Hux had decided to delay that lesson a bit.
Did Hux miss the expensive furniture and perfectly tailored uniforms? While his army had made do with the usual rations, he had probably dinned on the most luxurious dishes that he could acquire, just like the other First Order and Imperial officers had tended to do despite outwardly endorsing austerity and strict economy. Now he had to make do with the same bacon and eggs that regular folks did. Although he seemed to like it, but his palate had had a couple of years to adjust.
Then again, maybe his mom had made him bacon and eggs. Poe had looked for information on her in the military database, but found nothing. There was no mention of her at all in Hux’s bio, nor in his father’s. He tried searching for any files on employees of the Arkanis Academy, but he’d have to make a special request from the library in Arkanis, where they were stored, and they might not get back to him for a few days, anyway. So Poe gave up on that. An employee record wasn’t likely to reveal whether or not someone had been a good person, like Hux claimed his mom had been. And Hux’s loving parenting had to come from somewhere, not that you couldn’t be both a good parent and a murderous asshole. Hux proved that. Still, that seemed pretty unlikely in his mom’s case.
“So, Dameron, what are you doing with yourself these days?”
Poe almost choked on his pancake as his hand clenched on his fork and he stared at Hux like a dear in headlights, then looked at Ellie, who was busy with her plate of waffles. Hux couldn’t be serious? He couldn’t be asking Poe about the aftermath of the war that he had lost, not in front of his daughter. Was this a test? Did he want to see if Poe would reveal his involvement to his kid? But why the hell would he risk that? Then again, if Poe was really willing to do that, he would have done so already, so what the hell was this? Was Hux just making small talk to fill in the time? He couldn’t possibly care, and even if he did, why ask when Ellie was around?
It had to be a test. But what was he testing?
“I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of the…” Poe shot a quick glance at Ellie, who was looking idly around the room. “The uh, incident. You know the one.”
Poe’s voice hardened at the last sentence as he tensed in his chair, resentment aching in his gut. He couldn’t help it, kid or no kid. Hux lowered his eyes, cutting away at a piece of scrambled egg as if they were simply discussing the weather. How could he just sit there breathing the fresh air that Poe had granted him and ask Poe how he was dealing with all the murder and destruction that he’d had a front seat in causing?
“Are you still in the army?”
At least Hux had the decency to sound cautious now, even if he wasn’t smart enough not to ask in the first place.
“So what are you doing now apart from paying us visits?”
Poe breathed very carefully through his nose.
Don’t get angry in front of Ellie. Don’t get angry in front of Ellie.
Maybe that’s why Hux had asked in front of his kid. So that Poe couldn’t get too worked up and take back his promise.
“I’m figuring it out.”
Poe mauled more than chewed his piece of bacon.
“Will your next profession be something… incident related, do you think? Or something less dangerous?”
Poe’s eyes narrowed.
“I don’t know. Why do you want to know?”
Hux glanced at Ellie.
“I’ll tell you later.”
What the hell was this man on about? Whatever. Poe would find out soon enough.
Poe was twitchy the entire ride over to the ship. He’d have to move it later. He didn’t like Hux knowing where it was, although Hux might take the opportunity to place a tracker on it while Poe wasn’t looking, in which case Poe would be screwed, anyway. Why had he succumbed to Ellie’s request to see the ship? But how could he say no to that face? He would felt like shit if he had. She was just a kid who liked ships.
Really liked ships. Given her excitement upon finally viewing the now famous ship, you’d think that it was the greatest interplanetary vehicle ever devised. She bounced with excitement, shaking her little hands as she ran around the outside, touching it and asking to be picked up to examine it from higher up. Poe tried to keep an eagle eye on Hux and any wandering hands, but he failed less than two minutes in as his concentration was taken up in providing simple explanations of what type of ship it was and what he could do with it. Which involved a bit of an awkward moment when Ellie noticed the gun ports. Was she old enough to know what guns were? A kid who lived in a war zone would, like the millions whose childhood and lives Hux was responsible for destroying.
Poe felt his back tensing and his jaw hardening.
Not now. You can’t get angry now.
“Those are to defend yourself,” Hux explained to Ellie, as calmly as if he were showing her a turtle. “If someone’s mean to you.”
Yeah, that was one way of putting it. If someone tries to kill you because they think pain and suffering is fun was another.
“How’s it work?” Ellie asked.
Poe tensed for an entirely different reason.
“That’s a story for later,” Hux said, carrying her away from the guns.
Poe breathed slowly through his nose. Ellie was a good kid, despite everything. She shouldn’t have to know these things. Good thing Hux acknowledged that. He had obviously intended to raise her under the First Order’s bloodthirsty principles, but defeat seemed to have shifted his priorities.
Sweat prickling his neck, Poe lowered the boarding ramp so that they could go inside. He let Hux and Ellie go first, who was back on the ground, holding her dad’s hand, while Poe followed half a step behind. He continued the tour, skimming over his quarters, where he had handcuffed Hux and had repudiated the most uncomfortable sex offer he’d ever had the misfortune of experiencing. Hux’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at the room and he avoided looking Poe in the face. Well, at least they were in the same boat awkwardness-wise. Ellie didn’t notice the friction, thank God, and continued to explore the ship. They constantly had to stop her from grabbing controls and levers that children’s hands shouldn’t be touching. The engine was powered down, but still.
Between this and answering her questions, Poe didn’t have a chance to keep as close a watch on Hux as he wanted to, but he found himself not minding as much as he enjoyed Ellie’s company. She was as charming and adorable as the night before, filled with glee every time that she made a new discovery, so curious that she needed to know what every, single button did. Every question was followed by another question in a never-ending loop. It was getting a bit tiring, actually. Poe felt bad for putting his parents through this when he had been a kid. The first time that mom had shown him her A-wing, he couldn’t stop asking questions, either. Hux only pitched in to help a couple of times, the jerk, despite knowing exactly what these all were. He just stood there behind Ellie, who sat in the co-pilot’s chair, and smirked in bemusement as Poe had to answer what must have been at least a hundred questions once they were through.
Yet it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Exhausting, and having Hux back on his ship was deeply unpleasant, but none of his smiles at Ellie were faked. He liked her. It was impossible not to. She was joyful and enthusiastic about the world around her in such a precious, innocent way. Poe hadn’t seen that in a long time. Too long. A nostalgic wistfulness made his throat ache. This is what it had been like with mom when he was learning how to fly, and how it would be when he had kids. If he had kids. And if they liked flying. As insane as the idea that they wouldn’t was, it wasn’t a given.
That fucked up day, Hux had suggested that Poe would enjoy teaching Ellie to fly. It didn’t sound so bad now. But no. That would never work. It was crazy to even want it. If Poe wanted to teach kids, he could become an instructor. Ellie wasn’t even old enough to fly yet. What was Poe supposed to do? Return in two years to teach her? Yeah, Hux would totally be pleased with that. And it would prolong this weird connection for much longer than even those two years, so…
Nah. It was a bad idea. These few moments in the ship with her would have to be it. He should leave tomorrow and never come back.
But he kept saying that, didn’t he? Didn’t actually do it, though.
“Will you come by the house tonight?” Hux asked Poe after securing Ellie inside his speeder. He shut the door and led Poe a few steps away so that she couldn’t hear their conversation. “There’s something I wish to discuss with you.”
Poe narrowed his eyes. Hux looked nervous, yet determined, and also a little desperate. Just a bit. Huh.
“It’s better if I tell you tonight once Ellie is asleep. It’s nothing nefarious, I assure you. But it is of utmost importance.”
“You wouldn’t happen to be setting up a trap, would you? Send Ellie away without my knowledge so that you can kill me in peace?”
Hux had the audacity to roll his eyes at him.
“Honestly, how did your side win with such puny intellect? My house would be a horribly inconvenient place to kill you. And I’m not going to kill you. Can we please move on from your silly suspicions?”
Now it was Poe’s turn to roll his eyes.
“Right. So silly of me to be on my guard about whether the homicidal maniac might decide to kill the guy in his way. Whatever. Look, man, I’m not going to spend the rest of the day wondering what it is you want. What is so important?”
Hux sighed in exasperation, glancing back at the speeder.
“Ellie is going to get restless if I leave her alone much longer.”
Wow, Hux sure sounded whiny when he couldn’t get his way.
“Then just tell me the headline.”
A muscle tensed in Hux’s jaw. He held his arms tightly behind his back, his shoulders hunched, suddenly looking everywhere except at Poe’s face.
“Only the headline, then you’ll let us leave, and you will come by the house tonight?”
“Fine, sure. Whatever.”
Hux pursed his lips for a second, looking as uncomfortable as Poe had ever seen him, and that was saying a lot.
“I want you to become my children’s guardian in the event of my death, if that should happen.”
The ground shifted under Poe. Who with the what now? No no no. We weren’t going back to this. We were not going back to Poe raising little Huxes. No no no.
“You want me to what?!”
Hux turned away without a second glance.
“I’ll await you at 9,” he said as he walked off as if he hadn’t just dropped a bomb of wtfuckery on Poe. Poe rushed after him, his heart in his throat, barely breathing as he ran in front of Hux before he could reach the speeder.
“Wait! No. We are not doing that. I can’t do that.”
Hux’s nostrils flared as he glared at Poe, looking like he wanted to punch Poe and shatter his nose. Not if Poe hit him first, which he was very inclined to do right now, but there was a child right behind him who would be very upset to see him punch her daddy, a child who he was most certainly not taking care of, because that was insane. What the hell was Hux thinking?!
“You said headline only,” Hux hissed at him, just like the nasty snake that he was. “We are not discussing this now. Take the rest of the day to think about it and come by the house tonight. Please. I assure you, if there were anyone else I could ask, I certainly wouldn’t be asking you.”
Quickly sidestepping Poe, he opened the speeder door. Por turned, opening his mouth to argue further, but he saw Ellie sitting so nicely in her seat while playing a mobile game, mercifully oblivious to the situation, and he suddenly couldn’t. Just couldn’t.
Hux shut the door in his face and drove off. Poe frowned blearily at the speeder shrinking in the distance, shoulders sagging, suddenly exhausted and borderline dizzy. Stumbling back to his ship, he grabbed a beer from the fridge and downed half of it in one go.
He couldn’t do this.
He had to do this.
Fuck, why did he have to be the one to take care of his former enemy’s children?
Wait, since when was there any “former” about Hux being his enemy? The war might be over, but the galaxy would take years to recover from its onslaught, and Hux had yet to suffer any consequences for his actions apart from the imagined humiliation of being a humble vaporator coder in a middle of nowhere planet.
Oh, what did it matter? Poe wasn’t going to do a damn thing about it, anyway, not with the happiness of two children on the line, one of which he was already much fonder of than he should be. Letting Poe bring Ellie to his ship had been a test. It hadn’t only been about Ellie charming her way into Poe’s heart. Hux had watched their interactions while keeping himself at a mild distance except when Ellie addressed him directly. He needed to know if Poe as good with kids. And if Poe was still putting his life in danger after the war. No sense in picking a guardian that could get himself shot out of the sky. But Poe was still a soldier, so he could protect the kids, if need be, as well as a respected figure in the New Republic, although he shied away from the term “war hero”. It left an acrid taste in his mouth, like yogurt that had gone sour. If you ignored the fact that Poe despised everything about Hux (except his parenting, that was great), and that Poe had never so much as babysat before, he did sound like a pretty good candidate. On top of being the only candidate. Hux had no family, and it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to have no friends. Who would be friends with an egotistical sourpuss like him? If there truly was someone else who could take charge of the kids, Hux wouldn’t have begged Poe to do so in the first place.
Shit. Hopefully, Hux would live to a ripe, old age and Poe would never have to become father to his kids, but if he got ill, or got in an accident, or even if someone else recognized him and hauled him to the Republic authorities, Poe couldn’t let Ellie and her sibling be raised in foster care. They could end up with good guardians, but what if the people were irresponsible and made their lives miserable?
Poe groaned into his hands and sagged in his chair until he felt more like a miserable ooze than a person.
He had to do this. The kids deserved better. Hux sure as hell didn’t, but it wasn’t about him, or even about Poe.
“I’ll do it,” Poe announced as soon as Hux opened the front door of his house that night, this time sans blaster.
Relief washed over Hux’s face, tension draining from his frame, less palpable than on that horrible day four month ago, yet just as poignant.
“Thank you,” he said, genuine gratitude in his voice.
Hux made Poe a portion of dinner in case he was hungry. Seared tenderloin with broccoli and potatoes, which Poe had mentioned liking the night before. Then there was the vast array of pastries, which he’d also said he liked, on the kitchen counter, along with the offer of whatever beverage Poe was in the mood for, because Hux seemed to have all of them. He hadn’t even asked Poe if he wanted anything to drink last night, since those social niceties were outside of the scope of whatever you could call this interaction between them, but now he was being the perfect host, asking Poe to have a seat, insisting that it was no problem to reheat the food, not saying a single, malicious word, and even smiling. Forced smiles that wouldn’t look genuine for a second, but they were still polite smiles on Hux’s face directed at Poe, and that was just too, damn weird.
“Okay,” Poe said after Hux carefully placed a chilled glass of ice tea in front of Poe. “Could you cut that out and go back to being regular you? All this politeness is very weird coming from you.”
Hux’s courteous expression swiftly left his face and he huffed, sounding as if Poe’s dog had just taken a shit on his lawn.
“I don’t know how to act around you,” he bit out, right hand curling slightly at his side. “If I’m myself, you’re angry. If I’m nice, you’re also angry. Exactly how should I behave to best please you?”
Oh, God, Poe didn’t have the energy to deal with this. He should have just kept his mouth shut.
“Just… act normal.”
“Normal has a highly variable definition depending on the worldview of the person using it. It tells me nothing.”
“Just be you. Be your usual, charming self. This fake niceness is worse. Look, I already agreed to take care of your kids. You don’t need to butter me up.”
Hux pursed his lips and folded his hands behind his back, probably silently raining all sorts of insults on Poe’s head.
“Fine,” he said. “But you’re not allowed to complain if you think I’m being mean to you.”
“If I think you’re being mean? You do it on purpose.”
“You interrogated me last night as if I were your prisoner.”
“And you actually held me prisoner. Don’t try to weasel out of that just because Ren was the one who grabbed me. It was your ship. You were in charge.”
Poe’s entire body stiffened like iron, his muscles so tense that they ached, his breath hot and short, right index finger pointing firmly at Hux, driving the point home. Memories of pain flashed through his skin, from the torture chair and Ren both. Even before Ren had shown up, they’d shot him full of electricity until his throat was raw from screaming, but he hadn’t given up BB-8. He hadn’t said a word. Not until Ren got there. He’d never seen Hux, but that didn’t make it better. Hux had probably found torturing a measly pilot beneath him.
Yet look at the mighty Grand Marshall Hux now, serving that same pilot and begging for favors, even if he had to give up his own body to get it. An ugly feeling of satisfaction shot through Poe at seeing him brought so low, gleeful at his humiliation.
He recoiled at himself, shaking, nearly gasping. He grabbed the glass in front of him, Hux’s scraping gift, and downed half the tea in one go, the condensation on the glass chilling his fingers.
“Would you accept an apology,” Hux said, voice low and cautious, “or would you disdain it as insincere?”
Poe lowered the glass, forcing himself to look up at Hux, who had turned away, facing the wall, hands stiff at his back.
“Would it actually be sincere?”
Hux took a moment to answer.
“I am sincere in my need for your aid, and in my belief that you would be a good guardian for my children. And in my gratitude for you allowing us to remain here unmolested. As such, I do regret my treatment of you in the past. You have been far kinder to me than is merited given that. I know that it’s not for my sake, but I still appreciate it. So I would still like to offer an apology, even if the reason behind it might be a bit lacking in your eyes.”
Huh. Well, that hadn’t been the worse apology in the world, even if it wasn’t exactly heartfelt or begging for forgiveness. Although not asking for forgiveness actually helped. Poe didn’t think he could ever do that.
“Okay,” Poe said, nodding slightly to himself, tapping the tea glass. “I appreciate that. I can’t say that I accept it right now, but… it’s a start.”
Hux nodded, pressing his lips together for a second.
“Alright. Shall we move on to the specifics of the guardianship?”
“Yes,” Poe replied much too quickly and eagerly, but he didn’t care.
Hux picked up a datapad from the counter and sat across from Poe on the table as he tapped at the screen.
“I made a checklist of the most pertinent items,” he said. “We’ll have to sign official documents, but I want to iron out the details first. You will be responsible for the children in the case of my death or if I am incapacitated and unable to care for them. In the case of the latter, you will share custody with me. Unless I’m imprisoned, I suppose. I have outlined the basics of what they require as far as schooling and daily care are concerned. If Ellie is, in fact, interested in becoming a pilot, I would like it if you took charge of at least part of her training.”
“Want her to learn from the best, huh?”
A grin jerked on Poe’s mouth despite himself.
“So you admit that I’m the best? I didn’t think I’d ever hear you say that.”
Hux rolled his eyes.
“Could you possibly keep your ego in check before it fills up the entire room? I am merely acknowledging your skills as a pilot, which are impressive. You are one of the best pilots in the galaxy. And making Ren look bad is always appreciated.”
Poe had had a couple of rough encounters with the former Supreme Leader when he decided that he could manage what his pilots couldn’t and swooped in his Silencer, cutting through the Resistance like he had done that bleak day on the Raddus, blasting the main hangar to pieces. The memories still scalded Poe’s mind, making him grimace at how close he had come to having to kill Leia’s son just to keep his squadron and himself alive.
“I suppose there really isn’t competition now that Ren is dead,” Hux continued. “So, of course, I do want my daughter to learn from the best, although please try to retain some humility about it.”
“Yeah, like you did thinking you were the greatest military mind of the age despite losing the war? Like that?”
Hux’s withering look could curdle cheese.
“Let’s move on,” he said.
“Ren’s not dead, by the way.”
Hux looked up sharply from the datapad, narrowing his eyes at Poe, scrutinizing his face in search of a lie.
“He’s not?” he asked, his voice heavy, holding on to the edge of ire.
Maybe Poe shouldn’t have said anything. Too late now.
“He escaped somewhere. Only a few of us know that he’s alive, so that the government wouldn’t go after him.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“”No, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you, not with that look in your eye. Whatever I feel about him, he’s still Leia’s son. So don’t get any ideas in your head about seeking revenge. Just let it go. I have.”
Poe suddenly wished that there was alcohol in the tea. He’d certainly guzzled down the rest of the glass as if there had been. He could just ask for some. Hux would be all too happy to oblige. In fact, he didn’t even have to ask at all, for Hux popped off his chair, opened a drawer above the counter, and grabbed a bottle of wine. He poured it into a glass and downed it all in one go.
“Damn, Hux, slow down. And get me one while you’re at it.”
“I’m only having this one. I’m not getting drunk around you.”
But Hux grabbed another glass and filled it, handing it to Poe before sitting down, back as stiff as the table he pressed his hands on. Wow, this tasted amazing. And expensive. Hux had preserved his rich boy tastes, after all. Poe took a bit more time drinking it, despite his disheveled psyche’s urge to follow Hux’s example and pour alcohol in his system as quickly as possible.
“When Ren betrayed us,” Hux said, voice sharp and angry, “I was away from Ellie. I couldn’t risk her safety by keeping her on the Finalizer with me in an engagement. With the whole ship disintegrating around my ears, I barely had the chance to jump into the nearest hyperspace capable ship and rush to her nursery to pick her up and take her into exile with me. I was almost separated from her forever. Or killed, which would have amounted to the same thing for her. I already hated him for being such an insufferable idiot, and I could hate him even more for destroying everything I had worked for, but most of all, I can never forgive how he almost took me away from her. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on some revenge quest. I’m too busy for such things. But I had derived some satisfaction from thinking him dead and gone.”
Poe hmphed, fingers tight on the glass as he gulped the rest down. Hux turned a glare on him, as sharp and venomous as a defensive snake baring its teeth, but Poe knew better than to think that it had any bite anymore.
“You realize the massive hypocrisy of what you’re saying, right?” Poe said, dropping the glass back on the table. He itched to make Hux pour him some more, but he shouldn’t be inebriated around Hux, either. “How many kids did you take from their parents to convert them into your brainwashed, toy soldiers? Apart from the many, so many other kids and parents you killed because conquering planets was fun. Obviously, I don’t want Ellie and her sibling to grow up without their dad, or you wouldn’t be breathing this lovely, free air, but if you want me to feel sorry for you, you’re going to have to do a much better job than that.”
The hell with it, he was eating that steak after all. He wasn’t even hungry, but if he couldn’t get drunk, then stress eating was the way to go. Poe got up and went to the stove, where the food was still sitting in a wide pan. Hux’s chair scrapped as he pushed himself up to hurry after Poe.
“I can reheat it for you,” he said. “It will only be a few minutes.”
Poe was tempted to just eat it like this. He’d had much worse than cold steak during the war that Hux and his buddies had so gleefully thrust upon them, but cold food would just make him feel worse right now.
“Sure,” he said, thrusting his hands into his pockets to pace around the room. His shoulder blades hurt from being so damn tense. For the billionth time, he shuddered internally at the overwhelming wrongness that was everything about this situation. Being near Hux was like rubbing acid-laced sandpaper on his skin. It smarted and made his stomach heave, yet there were stretches there on the ship when it had begun to feel familiar, the third encounter creating a routine, and here he was again, entering an arrangement with Hux for the next eighteen years, at least. Even more if Hux decided to have more kids.
“I won’t insult your intelligence by saying I’m sorry,” Hux said.
Poe’s jaw clenched so suddenly that he hurt his teeth.
“Of course not. Lying would just make it worse. But you could at least try.”
“Yeah. Try to see that what you did was wrong, and not just because it benefits you to think it, like when you apologized to me. And since we’re on that subject, you realize that I would raise your kids with a completely different morality than the one you have, right?”
“I am fully aware. I’m not hoping that they will follow in my footsteps. Look where that got me.”
Poe pointedly glanced around.
“A comfortable house in a nice neighborhood?”
“A fugitive who must make bargains with a former enemy just to stay out of prison, barely a shadow of my former self. I know better now than to expect that autocratic rule across the whole galaxy would ever work in the long run. I have the evidence of people’s stubbornness before me, twice over.”
“Really? You actually saw some of the errors in your ways? I didn’t see that coming, even if it is purely pragmatic.”
“My point is, I don’t have a problem with you raising my children with your lovey-dovey view of the world.”
“Although I would prefer a tad less pig-headed idealism.”
“This pig-headed idealism beat your ass in the war.”
“About that…” Hux stayed off, face pinching as he rubbed his belly. “I don’t want them to know about my part in the war.”
No surprise there.
“You don’t want your kids to know how many people you've killed?”
Hux turned to him.
Poe found himself unable to meet Hux’s eyes. He shuffled his feet, stepping back toward the table.
“Do you want children? I should have probably asked that earlier.”
Poe stared blearily at the empty glass on the table, imagining it filling up with wine, drinking it all, then filling it up again.
“Yeah. I just haven’t found the right person yet. Are you having any more, or is it just the two that I have to concern myself with? Potentially?”
Hux gazed down at his belly, rubbing it still.
“I would like three. Although I might change my mind when this one is born. It is rather a lot to take on by myself.”
Force, I hope so. Having to raise not only two Huxes, but three?! Although, it would be great for Ellie to have two siblings instead of just the one, right? Poe had always yearned wistfully that he’d had some whenever his comrades spoke about their own. Being an only child himself, Hux very likely had hoped for the same thing. Hadn’t he phrased having a second kid as giving Ellie a sibling?
Hux turned off the stove and transferred the food onto a plate, which he placed on the table atop a placemat, perfectly arranging the eating utensils, a napkin, and a fresh glass of water. Always so proper, even while surrounded by the chaos of children’s things splattered everywhere. Poe wasn’t even that keen on eating anymore, and seeing Hux serve him was still weird as hell, but it would be rude to reject his food now.
Poe cared about that? Since when?
Did it matter? This whole arrangement would go more smoothly if they weren’t constantly being snippy at each other, even though Poe had been doing just that a minute ago. Damn, he was tired.
He sat at the table and started eating. Hux sat back down across from him, just as before. Was this going to become normal? Poe eating his food in his house as if nothing were wrong with this scenario after playing with his daughter and learning what she liked and how far she had gotten in her education in case he had to take over one day? So much for not teaching Ellie how to fly. That seemed pretty inevitable now, not that that was the worst thing in the world. There had to be a silver lining somewhere. It could be fun. She was such a curious kid. Already, she had half the controls in the cockpit memorized. Under the right guiding hand, she could use her talents for good and not evil like her dad, although even he was on board with that plan, which still felt super odd, but everyone had the capacity to change, he supposed, even though, in Hux’s case, it was his priorities that had changed more than his actual feelings on the matter. Still, it was a hell of an improvement. He still deserved to be locked up away from decent people, but maybe he could be a work in progress. Rehabilitation and all that. Leia would be okay with that, right? And Poe’s dad?
Oh, what was he thinking? Anyone who saw him sitting in Hux’s dining room eating food that Hux had made while discussing taking care of his children would cart him off to a psychiatrist immediately.
“Shall we continue going over the checklist?” Hux said officiously, raising his datapad from the table.
“Sure,” Poe said, squashing a resigned sigh with a bite of ridiculously delicious steak.
Because Hux didn’t want to give his children away to someone that they didn’t know well, Poe was obligated to go to dinner the next night, too. But not just dinner. Oh, no. Why not spend the whole afternoon at the house? That way, Ellie would have plenty of time to play with him. Not that this was terrible, as she continued to be as charming as ever, but Poe suspected that Hux had brought him in for babysitting duty, for he spent the entire time cleaning and locked away in his study doing God knows what. He did emerge at regular intervals to check on them and to give Ellie her mid-afternoon snack, but then he disappeared again, off to scheme or brood or whatever it was that Hux did with his child-free time.
Then Poe returned again the next day, even after they’d gone to the correct government office (after a false start, despite what it’d said on the website) and begun to file the paperwork. They’d need to go to a notary tomorrow, and then return to the government office, and finally be done. So, of course, Hux strong-armed Poe into going to dinner that day, too. Then again the next day just because. Then again the day after that. By the end of the week, Poe knew the words to every song in Ellie’s favorite holo show, that Hux was deathly allergic to bees and mint, and the gruesome details of the turtle fiasco of 40 ABY (the turtle officially moved to a farm to live with his wife).
They had managed, strictly for the sake of the child, not to mention the war again. They had stuck to safe topics like the Saber Races, what clown performance Ellie would most like to go to (because, no ma’am, you can’t go to all of them), why caf was a million times better than that disgusting Tarine goop that Hux drank, how cheese was made, and the history of interstellar navigation. Hux took the obnoxious opportunity to use the latter to school Poe in how little he actually knew about the workings of ship engines versus Hux’s own, glorious expertise. So what if Poe couldn’t take apart an engine and reconstruct it piece by piece? He could still fly with the speed and precision of a bird on the wing. Try matching my stellar flight score, Mr. Smartypants. They got pretty close to bringing up the war that time, but Ellie sitting just a couple of feet away kept them on course.
Poe was dangerously close to becoming a part of the family, which was precisely what Hux wanted, the continued bizarreness of which kept sticking in Poe’s throat and making his stomach clench at random moments. Yet every time that Ellie greeted him by running up excitedly and hugging his legs, his heart melted and he couldn’t regret signing that document that tied him to her life, even if it included her slime of a father. Yet even then he felt his anger falter at times to a cool and weary resignation with every ridiculously delicious meal and cheerful, play session. He didn’t have the energy to keep it up. Poe could never forgive him, but circumstances dictated that he learn how to live with Hux existing in this post-First Order, fatherly role, where he was loving instead of cruel and willing to put aside differences and his once haughty dignity for a greater cause. The longer Poe stayed, the easier this acceptance became.
It freaked him the hell out. One night, while they sat on the couch watching a holovid, Hux’s baby started kicking. Ellie pressed her little hands on his belly to feel her sibling moving about. She giggled, a sweet laugh of such innocence that Poe could barely remember ever feeling before his mom’s death and the horrors that came after strangled it to death in his chest. Hux smiled at her, love shining in his eyes, his own left hand rubbing next to hers, telling her a touching anecdote about sitting in his room rubbing his belly while she kicked around inside him. Poe watched them, an intruder in their happy home, his throat growing tight and sore as he recalled tender moments like this with his mom.
He suddenly excused himself, making up some repair that he needed to do on the ship, and fled before Hux could see the disturbance in his face. He returned to his ship the long way round, taking his speeder out through the fields, cutting through the tall grass and diving along the tree line, turning so sharply that his body protested the sharp motions, yet he kept it up anyway, riding until his muscles screamed at him to stop. Not even showering the sweat and grime off his skin and collapsing in bed brought any relief. He had already accepted that Hux was a loving and tender man under the right circumstances despite the murderous tendencies, yet seeing him enjoy that sweet moment with his children, delighting in what Poe wished so keenly for himself…
Jealousy and resentment had burned inside him again even as he felt tears stinging in his eyes, and suddenly he felt like the asshole. Hux didn’t deserve to be happy. No, he didn’t, but what did that matter anymore? He had a family. Hux, of all people, had a family, and he was happy, and his kids were happy (were babies happy in the womb?), and in those rare moments when Poe let his guard down and allowed himself to forget the circumstances that had brought him to this moment, he could be happy, too.
His comlink trilled. BB-8 calling again. Poe had already ignored two calls from them since he couldn’t risk Ellie running into cam range. God, he had no energy to put on a happy face and talk right now. Normally, he wouldn’t have to pretend with BB-8, but his friend had become increasingly suspicious about Poe’s mysterious trip and was already threatening to trace Poe’s ship, which Poe had given them the ability to do in case Hux did something to him.
Sighing, Poe brushed his hair back, rubbed his eyes, and answered the call.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Poe told Hux the next day while Ellie was in the bathroom. “I already stayed longer than I thought I would, and BB-8 keeps trying to guess where I am.”
“We certainly don’t want that. Will you come visit when the baby’s born?”
Sure. Let’s fall in love with the baby, too. Why not?
“Yeah. Just let me know.”
Hux already had his number from the legal documents they’d filed.
“We’ll be in touch before then. I told Ellie that you would be leaving eventually, and she insists on calling you daily.”
She sure did. Her reaction to the news almost made Poe reconsider, for she clung to him, crying out, “Don’t go, Poe!” and refusing to let him leave the house. She plied Poe with plushies, cake, cookies, and hugs to get him to stay. It broke his heart to have to crouch down and tell her that he had to go. There were so many things that he had to do. He had a life back home far away from here, where his family and friends missed him. He couldn’t stay away forever. Her little face scrunched up and she hugged him hard, burrowing herself in his chest. His throat ached as he hugged her close, promising to come back soon. It wasn’t even a lie, not to this little girl. Even as he let go and stood up, he knew that he would be back sooner than it took for the baby to be born. Ellie pressed herself to her dad’s side for comfort, staring up at Poe with sorrowful eyes that stabbed guilt in Poe’s belly. Hux rubbed her shoulders, then turned to Poe, holding out his right hand.
“Good-bye for now, then, Dameron,” he said.
He kept his gaze steady on Poe as he spoke, voice adopting that friendlier tone it always did when Ellie was around, but his face, which she couldn’t see, was cautious and rigorously polite. Poe frowned at his hand, then shook it before Ellie noticed his hesitation. The feel of Hux’s hand in his should have made his skin crawl. It should have. It was unpleasant and annoying, and they each waited only the minimum amount of seconds before letting go, but skin crawling? Not exactly. Not anymore. Poe didn’t want to think about what that meant. He didn’t want to think about anything at all for the twenty-one hours it took to return to Yavin IV, yet he already knew that he wouldn’t able to direct his thoughts anywhere else.
I apologize for the wonky formatting. I uploaded a properly tagged text, but A03 changed my tags and now things that shouldn't be in italics are and things that should be aren't. Unfortunately, I can't find a fix. This continues in later chapters.
Ellie did call every day, just like Hux had promised. Now, technically, it was Hux doing the calling, since Ellie wasn’t allowed to use the comlink by herself, so Poe had to see his ugly mug every time, yet Hux handed over the comlink to her immediately, so it wasn’t the worst thing ever. They agreed on a set time every evening so that Poe could make sure to be alone and not risk anyone seeing and wondering who the little girl in the hologram was, or why she looked like that Hux guy. The calls weren’t always the most compelling, as Ellie ran him through what she learned in school that day, and insisted that Poe watch her play, but Poe found himself eagerly checking his chrono as the time for the call approached.
It quickly became the highlight of his day, which wasn’t terribly interesting otherwise. Tend the ranch with his dad. Fix the water heater. Watch the birds. Make sure the uneti tree was healthy. Talk to BB-8. Fly a few miles to keep from going crazy. He was faltering, drowning in the mud, and he couldn’t figure out how to get himself out and breathe without his lungs collapsing. He wanted to go back to the navy, but he also didn’t. Farming was fine, but being home somehow didn’t feel as comfortable and soothing as it had been before. His whole life, the only thing he’d wanted to do was fly and protect the galaxy from criminals, and he’d done that, but now that was done. He was only thirty-eight. What else was he going to do with his life? He’d always figured that he’d be married by now. Have a couple of kids. Be too concerned with raising them to long wistfully for the days when he had soared up in space taking down bad guys, even as the agonized grind of it had filled his nights with restless mental wanderings.
He’d been wrong. He had yet to find a partner to have those kids with, and remembering the glory days didn’t inspire any wistfulness in him. Just the opposite. Horror and pain and death wracked his mind when he looked back, robbing him of sleep, draining his energy when he was awake, and making him yearn for the domestic, family life that Hux, of all undeserving wretches, had. Despite the adult company, Poe had felt more at home in that house than he had in a long time, possibly years.
The youngsters in his town asked him for tales of his exploits during the war, but he couldn’t speak of them. The older generations and the veterans knew better than to inquire, all sharing that same haunted look in their eyes, even those that sought to hide it behind a stubborn desire to be happy and forget the horrors of the past. Ellie didn’t know that a war had happened at all, or that she’d ever been touched by one. Her precious innocence had soothed him, granted him a vacation from his sorrows, however brief, despite the First Order officer sharing the same space. It didn’t make any sense for that man’s home to be a refuge. He would forget about the war one moment, then be brutally reminded the next time that he saw Hux’s face or heard his voice. But even that experience was confused by Hux doing laundry and playing with wooden blocks with Ellie on the floor, and being proud of how good Ellie was at sharing with the other kids at school. Poe had expected things to make more sense back home in a Hux-free environment, but they didn’t. He was still trapped in a sarlacc pit, creeping ever closer to its gnashing teeth, unable to pry himself out and escape.
His dad noticed. His friends noticed. But they were all in the same boat in some form or another, so no one made a fuss over it, except for his dad, who worried, like all good dads did, and Poe felt bad about that, but what was he supposed to do? Plaster even more of a fake smile on his face and try to pretend that things were getting better, that he could find a way to be happy now, that he’d have a purpose again? He tried dating, but no one who already knew him was interesting to him in that way, and everyone who didn’t get too caught up in the legend of General Poe Dameron, best pilot in the Resistance. He couldn’t deal with that. He wanted to be with someone who could see him for him, who he truly was inside, not some flashy character from holonews headlines and fireside tales. But how could he even show anyone who he was when he didn’t even dare do so himself half the time?
“Are you ill, Dameron?”
God, even Hux noticed. Why was Hux even talking to him, anyway? He always handed the comlink straight to Ellie.
“I’m fine. I didn’t sleep well, not that it’s any of your business.”
“Try being eight months pregnant. If my bladder doesn’t wake me up, the baby does. I fear I might have a nocturnal one on my hands.”
“So another you, then.”
“A former me. I’ve been going to bed at nine for the past three years.”
Poe grinned. Hux’s misery cheered him up a little.
“I don’t see why you’re so cheerful. You want children yourself, so these will be your travails one day.”
That sobered Poe up. Although, now that he thought it, Hux didn’t look too great himself. His skin looked even pastier than usual, his eyes were droopy and saggy looking, and he was slumped on the couch when he usually endeavored to look his best in front of Poe out of proud stubbornness. Even his hair looked worse for wear, strands sticking up on the right side of his head. Had he even bothered sweeping his hand through it before making the call?
“Are you getting enough sleep?” Poe asked. “You look like shit.”
Poe received the usual, peeved glare.
“And you look like death warmed over.”
They really needed to stop flirting like this.
“I’m not the one who’s pregnant.”
Hux looked away, sighing as if the entire weight of the planet were pressing down on his head.
“I’m getting as much rest as I can. I’ve been informed that I’m a bit on the… older side as far as pregnancy is concerned. The doctor ordered me to take it easy. Not bed rest, but the closest thing to it. I’m working from home and I have someone come in to help me with Ellie for part of the day. I’m managing.”
“Are you? Wouldn’t it be better to have a second pair of hands full time?”
Hux’s scowl deepened.
“It would, but full-time aid is expensive, and so is child rearing. I have to strike a balance. Despite my embarrassing appearance, I’m not about to collapse at any moment, I assure you.”
“I can go help out.”
The hell had Poe just said?
Why had he said that?
Hux frowned at him with the same amount of utter confusion that Poe was feeling right now.
“You’ll help?” he asked, skepticism dripping from his voice. “I had to force you to come over when you were here, yet now you want to aid me willingly?”
The visits hadn’t been as forced as Poe had let on, and Poe was sure that Hux knew that, but this was something else entirely. He would have to stay over for weeks, minding Ellie, helping with whatever Hux needed, possibly cooking and having his meager, utilitarian skills criticized by Hux’s snooty palate. He’d be surrounded by Hux 24/7. How was that any better than wallowing out here?
But Ellie would be there. And soon, a baby would be there, too, although that probably sounded better than the reality with the middle of the night crying, diaper changing, and utter lack of sleep. Hux would need even more help then. So this wasn’t a matter of weeks, but months. Months of living with Hux. And how was he going to explain his absence for that long? It was crazy. It would never work. Maybe he could go and help for a bit, take some of the load off, but he wasn’t about to co-parent with Hux.
The memory of signing the guardianship papers prodded at his mind. Aw, crap. Poe had already agreed, hadn’t he? This might not fall within the strict, legal language of the document, but if Hux couldn’t manage two, small kids on his own… And Poe had blurted out an offer already. Some irrational part of him wanted to do this, so he was screwed already, anyway.
“Yeah,” Poe said, not sounding weak at all. “I want to. I mean, I don’t know for how long, but… And it’s not for you. I don’t care about you. But what affects you, affects the baby, so yeah, I’m going.”
Hux studied him for a minute, eyes narrowed as if that would help him analyze whatever was showing on Poe’s face any better.
“Alright,” he said after a while. “But don’t complain when I make you do the laundry.”
“I’m not going to. Should you even be doing laundry in your condition?”
Five days later, Poe knocked on Hux’s door a little past noon local time. A haggard Hux answered the door, his massive belly sticking out. Poe goggled at it.
“Are you sure you’re not having twins?” he asked as Hux stepped back to let him in.
That earned Poe a condescending glare.
“I’m sure. Although it does feel like it sometimes,” he grumbled to himself.
The house was even more of a mess, although nothing looked dusty, at least.
Hux lingered by the door, holding his belly, not nervously like the first times that Poe had been here, just absently, like he didn’t know how else to stand anymore. He looked off to the side for a while before meeting Poe’s eyes.
“I wasn’t completely sure that you would come,” he said softly. “I half expected an apologetic message, informing me that you’d changed your mind. I am grateful that you’re here. Truly.”
Poe nodded, looking down and scratching his forehead before placing his hands on his hips. He should be used to hearing Hux thank him by now, but the bizarre awkwardness of it still didn’t quite settle in his stomach.
“Yeah, sure. I just want the kids to be alright, you know?”
Hux nodded silently, but a soft smile crept onto his lips, not a smirk or anything like that, just a warm, little smile, and Poe didn’t want to know what that meant or why it was making him feel funny.
“Speaking of, you look terrible,” Poe said quickly to dispel the touchy feelyness in the room. “Should you be sitting down? Have you eaten? Are you still cooking? I warn you, I can only do basic stuff, but it’s good, so you’re not allowed to turn up your nose at it. So what do you want me to do?”
Was he talking too fast? Nah, it was fine. He always spoke like this. The insufferably amused look on Hux’s face didn’t mean anything other than that he enjoyed having Poe at his beck and call.
“I have eaten,” Hux said. “And I am still cooking, although I’m making bigger batches to leave plenty of leftovers for the days when I’m not up to it. So there’s no need for you to be making dinner just yet, although, I wouldn’t be adverse to breakfast in bed.”
There was that jokey smirk.
“I’ll make breakfast, but I’m not bringing it to your bed. Unless that is, you can’t get up or shouldn’t get up or something, but not just because you feel like it.”
“I’ll make a note of that. As for what you can do for now, you can follow me.”
Hux led him down the corridor to, of course, the laundry room, where a hamper filled to the brim with dirty clothes stood waiting for him.
“Ha ha,” Poe said hollowly, even as he began to transfer the clothes to the washing machine.
“You’re the one who was concerned about me overtaxing myself with the laundry. And it does get rather tiring after a bit.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s not like I didn’t know this was coming. It’s why I’m here, after all.”
After the machine was running, Hux showed him around the house and explained the aspects of the daily routine that Poe hadn’t already seen. Poe was staying on his ship tonight, but he’d officially move in tomorrow, so he’d have to stay on the couch since the extra bedroom, now the nursey, didn’t have a bed, and there was no point buying a full sized one for a tiny child to sleep in later. Poe had slept in far worse places than Hux’s incredibly comfy couch. Hux had to sit down on said couch halfway through the tour to rest and put up his feet, so Poe convinced him to finish up the explanations from there, and not tire himself even more by continuing to walk around, which earned Poe an accusation of hovering.
“The doctor told you to rest,” Poe protested. “How is my insisting that you do so hovering?”
Hux rolled his eyes, looking ridiculously put upon for someone who had all but begged for help.
“Fine. I’ll stay here. But I’ll be the judge of whether or not I need a rest in the future.”
“Okay, sure. So there won’t be any need for me to ever bring you breakfast in bed, right? Since you can get around so well for everything on your own?”
Hux’s eyes narrowed further. He leaned back, rubbing his belly.
“Well, there’s no need to go that far.”
“Yeah, I thought so.”
“Can you get me a glass of water, please?” Hux said, suddenly all politeness, but Poe could feel the smirk hiding behind his eyes.
You put yourself in this position, Dameron.
“Of course I’ll get you water.”
Poe went to the kitchen, stared helplessly at the drawers, and immediately realized that he had no idea where the glasses were.
“Third drawer from the right,” Hux said sweetly when Poe went to ask, speaking before Poe even had the chance to open his mouth. There was that damn smirk of his.
Poe brought him the blessed water, getting a glass for himself. Hux was still all smiles when Poe handed him the water, thanking him quietly, obviously enjoying every moment of Poe serving him. Although, again, that was precisely why Poe was here. And Hux had served Poe before, so having the tables reversed wasn’t too weird, even though it should be, but what counted as weird and not weird had changed quite a bit these days. There didn’t seem to be a further point worrying about it. Former Grand Marshall Hux was slouched on a scuffed, blue sofa, his feet up, giant, pregnant belly protruding in front of him, dressed in very unfashionable grey sweatpants and a massive t-shirt to accommodate said belly. His mussed hair was sticking up in places, and the bags under his eyes begged for a nap. Poe tried to summon the image of the well-tailored, aristocratic, First Order officer, and superimpose it over the pile of exhaustion in front of him. That mass murderer was this exhausted, stay at home dad.
And yet, in a way that didn’t begin to make sense to Poe, yet needled at the back of his mind, and which he’d given up into accepting those months ago, he somehow wasn’t. But it couldn’t be because of the dad part. He had already been that. Ellie was born into the First Order. But that Hux would have never sat where Hux was now, in the midst of explaining to Poe the waste collection schedule. Nor would that Poe have been here, eagerly offering help.
Shaking his head at himself, Poe dropped onto the couch beside Hux, took a deep gulp of water, and placed the glass on the coffee table.
“Should I even venture to ask what you are thinking about?” Hux asked, narrowing his eyes at Poe.
Poe grabbed the glass again, needing something to hold.
“Do you miss wearing that uniform?”
Damn it, Poe hadn’t meant to blurt that out. He rubbed his nape, burying himself in the glass and casting a glance at Hux, whose frown had deepened further as he gazed at his own glass.
“I thought that we’d agreed not to discuss the war,” Hux said, resentment smarting in his voice.
Poe rubbed his eyes. God, he needed to stop touching his face. Now he just looked tired or nervous, or maybe just tired. Oh, what did it matter, anyway?
“Never mind. Where were we? Garbage day, right? So Tuesday for recycling and Wednesday for organic waste.”
Hux raised the glass to his lips, but hardly drank anything. He just held it there, still, staring off in the distance, looking just as uncomfortable as Poe did just for opening his mouth. Sighing internally, Poe raised his hand to his face again.
Damn it! Cut it out!
“Why does it matter if I miss the uniform? Would it affect anything? I hardly think that you traveled all this way only to retract your offer now depending on my answer. You’ve somehow dealt with the fact that you find me morally reprehensible, so why keep stirring the pot? Are you hoping that I’ll suffer a crisis of conscience and atone for my grievous mistakes? Is that what you want?”
Hux’s glare was full blast now, but the desperate edge in his tired voice undercut it just enough for Poe to catch the fear in his eyes.
“I’m not going to change my mind, don’t worry.” Had Poe just sounded sullen? Crap, he had, hadn’t he? “I don’t know why I asked that. I was just thinking of how you looked then versus how you look now.”
“Slovenly and pathetic? Are you feeling sorry for me instead of judging me?”
Poe rolled his eyes.
“You don’t look pathetic, just like a pregnant person.”
Hux huffed loudly through his nose.
“Yes, well, I wasn’t quite so unkempt the last time. I did have specially tailored uniforms to accommodate my pregnancy, you know? I do miss that. Now all my clothes are straight off the retail rack. This shirt,” Hux tugged at the hem, “is swimming on my shoulders and arms, yet it’s the smallest size that accommodates my belly. I can’t wear anything that looks remotely good. Even the pregnancy wear fits wrong somewhere, even when it doesn’t automatically assume a feminine inclination. I have exactly two shirts that are acceptable for me to be seen in public in at the moment. Two.
“So, yes. I do miss the uniform. I miss it terribly. But that wasn’t what you were really asking, was it? Not the aesthetics of the thing, but rather what role it put me in.”
“I guess. You know what? Let’s move on. I’m not holding my breath for you to atone or beg the galaxy’s forgiveness or anything. How about food? I know what market you go to. How about the supermarket? Do you have a shopping list?”
Hux just frowned at him skeptically.
“Are you sure you’re willing to let this go? You’re not going to blurt out another loaded question later on?”
“Fuck, yes. I’m letting it go. It’s pointless to bring it up, anyway.”
Hux sighed through his nose, frenetically tapping his glass.
“Fine. And please refrain from cursing around the baby.”
“I don’t think the baby can hear me.”
“Well, we can’t be sure, can we?”
Poe picked up Ellie from school, a task which he had been looking forward to all day. Hux had called the school earlier so that they would be aware of Poe’s role as the designated picker upper, as they couldn’t hand over children to just anyone. Ellie ran to him as soon as she saw him at the school entrance, rushing into his arms as he crouched down, calling out, “Poe!”
“Hi, sweetie,” Poe said, grinning from ear to ear, a burst of warmth alighting in his chest. “Did you miss me?”
“Yes. Are you staying?”
“Yes, I’m staying. For a few weeks, at least.”
That’s it. He had sealed with fate. No taking back a promise to a child now. Ellie happily held his hand all the way to the parked speeder, regaling him with a cheerful recitation of what she had learned that day. She also protested that he wasn’t allowed to leave for that long again and that her dad missed him, even if he didn’t say it. That last bit threw Poe for a loop, making him smack his elbow on the doorframe as he closed the speeder door.
“He missed me?” Poe asked, struggling to keep his shock from his voice. “Are you sure?”
Ellie just jiggled her legs in her car seat, playing with a tauntaun plushie as if what she had just said was completely normal and not at all insane.
“Yeah. He said you’re the only one he can talk to.”
What the hell did that mean?! Was Hux that desperate for friends? Of course he was. Who would be friends with him?
God, Hux having to refer to Poe as his “friend” had gritted both their teeth earlier when Hux had called the school.
"My good friend Poe Dameron will pick up Ellie until I am recovered.”
A blatant lie to slap a harmless disguise on the whole, crazy situation, and one that they must live by in front of Ellie and the clueless public, but it made his stomach churn if he dwelled too much on it. Had Hux really said that Poe was the only one that he could talk to, or had Ellie heard wrong? Yeah, that was it. Ellie misheard something or assumed that Hux was referring to Poe. It was the only thing that made sense, because Poe and Hux were certainly not friends. Friends liked each other and enjoyed each other’s company, which was absolutely not the case here. Poe was only tolerating Hux’s existence. That glass of water that he had gotten Hux earlier had really been for the baby, not Hux.
And yet… There were actual friends who did much less to help out than move in with their pregnant friend and clean their house and pick up their groceries and babysit their kids.
The kids are the only reason why I’m here., Poe repeated to himself for the umpteenth time. I can love Ellie and hate Hux at the same time.
Although people tended to not be able to stand being in the same room with people whom they hated, much less move in with them.
Nope! He was not thinking about this. Not now. Later, when he wasn’t driving with a kid in the back. Or never. Never was better. Good, ol’ never.
Poe did not spend the trip to the grocery store fixated on what Ellie had said. Nor on the ride home. Not even as he shuttled the bags back and forth from the speeder in the garage into the kitchen and was greeted by Hux sitting at the dining table doing something that Poe didn’t care about on his datapad. Nope, not even then.
“Thank you for getting the salad,” Hux said when Poe finished putting away the groceries. “I completely forgot to put it on the list.”
Maybe Poe did wonder a little then. Half of the times that Poe had eaten here, Hux served a salad of mixed greens, yet there had only been a handful of lettuce in the fridge when he’d perused earlier, wondering what to get for himself. It hadn’t been on the list, but he had automatically assumed that Hux would want some. He hadn’t even thought of texting him, just grabbed a box and placed it on the cart. It hadn’t been a friendly gesture. He had just remembered that detail.
“Are you hungry?” Hux asked. “There’s plenty of leftovers for tonight if you wish to eat now.”
Poe was getting hungry. The disengaged, unfriendly thing would be to not wait to eat with Hux and Ellie, but what kind of an example would that set for her? Besides, it wouldn’t be any different than all the other times that he’d eaten with them. Not friendly, just polite.
“I can wait. I’ll just grab some fruit for now.”
“Are you sure? It will be another hour.”
Why was Hux looking at him as if he were concerned whether or not Poe was well nourished? What did he care?
“Yeah, it’s fine. I think we should all eat together. For Ellie, you know.”
And now Hux was studying him like Poe was doing something suspicious. Great. That didn’t make Poe mentally twitch at all.
“Alright,” Hux said. “It would set a better example.”
“I’m glad you agree with me.”
“There’s no need to get excited every time that I do.”
“Hey, there was a time when I didn’t agree with you on anything, not even that water is wet, so yeah, it’s exciting.”
And what was this now? Friendly banter? Crap, he had to get out of here before they started laughing together and buying each other birthday presents.
“I’m going for a walk,” Poe said, grabbing a banana.
“Yeah. People do that.”
People do that?! Oh God. Drowning in a mental groan, Poe rushed to the front door and slipped out, locking it with his key, because he had a key to Hux’s house now, and oh Force, what the hell was his life anymore?
The walk did not help, especially with Finn and BB-8 texting. Finn was asking about Poe’s fictional job at the charity organization at a planet too far away for anyone to think to drop by to visit. Needing some excuse to cover up his weeks’ long disappearance, Poe told everyone that he would be helping rebuild communities damaged by the First Order in the midst of the no longer Unknown Regions. Something that he should actually be doing rather than being friendly with one of the perpetrators. BB-8 was the only one who he hadn’t dared lie to, partly because BB would insist on accompanying him to help out, but mostly because they could always catch him in a lie. Poe would swear that BB-8 had lie detecting software installed. He couldn’t be that rotten of a lair if everyone else believed his cock and bull story. God, lying to everyone like this made him sick to his stomach. And to protect Hux, to top it off.
No, to protect the kids. That little baby couldn’t be born in prison. BB-8 would understand, but it wasn’t Poe’s secret to tell, and what if he didn’t understand and Poe was stuck smuggling Hux off-planet before his best friend snitched on him? God, best not risk that. Yet for how long would BB-8 tolerate, “I can’t tell you where I am or what I’m doing, but it’s important” as an excuse?
Poe’s comlink trilled again. Poe sighed, then groaned when he saw Hux’s name on the screen. He’d texted, informing Poe that he would be serving dinner in fifteen minutes, so, if Poe wasn’t returning that night, after all, he’d like to know. Fifteen minutes? He’d said an hour earlier. Poe hadn’t been walking for that long.
Oh, shit, he had been. It was past five already, well over the hour, so Hux had even waited for him before giving in and messaging him. Shit. Where was he, anyway? How quickly could he get back to the house? He had been walking in circles, but all these residential streets looked alike. He needed to turn left back the way he came. Or was it to the right? He had turned there. That he was sure of.
I’ll be there soon, Poe replied, immediately switching on a 3D map and finding himself on it.
How the hell was he eleven blocks away? Crap, there was no way that he could make it in fifteen minutes.
Twenty-six minutes later, he finally hurried through the front door.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said, groaning internally upon seeing the immaculately served table and his own place setting next to Hux. He should have been here to help out, not having an existential crisis as he wandered in circles.
“That’s alright,” Hux said, weirdly conciliatory as he always was now, although it was very much not alright, but, again, this. Why was Poe so worried about Hux’s feelings or whether he had inconvenienced him? Sure, Poe had agreed to help him, and he’d already failed at that, although he had picked up Ellie at school and gotten groceries, so he hadn’t not held up his end of the bargain, so he wasn’t doing that badly. He just wanted to keep his word. That was all. They weren’t friends. Poe could never be friends with the man who pulled the trigger on the Hosnian System. That would never happen.
Hux stood up, holding his belly even as he grabbed Poe’s empty plate to fill it with food from the counter. Poe’s eyes widened.
“I’ll do that,” he said, rushing to take the plate from Hux. “You sit down. I can serve myself. You don’t need to be doing that anymore.”
Hux assented quietly, sitting back down. Poe served himself pasta and chicken from the containers and placed the plate in the microwave.
“I’ll pick up everything after we’re done,” he said, turning toward Hux, but looking at the table and the floor instead.
“Okay. Did you have a nice walk?”
“Yeah, it was fine.”
Why was Hux staring at him with so much skepticism? Crap, he could probably see Poe’s ambivalence on his face. Poe had never been any damn good at keeping his emotions in check. At least he wasn’t commenting on it, but that was probably only because Ellie was right there and he didn’t want to risk Poe getting cross. Poe finished filling his plate with potatoes and carried it over to the table, where he sat down next to Hux. He stuffed food into his mouth, avoiding Hux’s gaze.
“Would it be possible for you to prepare the food tomorrow?” Hux asked.
“Sure. It’s not going to be as good as this, though.”
He should have bought a cookbook and studied it before coming. Begged someone with legit cooking prowess to teach him, too.
“I can walk you through it, should you require it.”
There was that cheeky smile again.
“I can make do on my own, thanks. My cooking is fine, just not five-star restaurant worthy like yours. How about it, Ellie? Do you want to eat my food?”
“Yeah!” she cried out excitedly.
Poe grinned at her and shot Hux a “see, someone’s excited” look. Hux rolled his eyes at him, which made Poe smile wider.
That smile immediately froze. He looked down back at his plate, jamming a forkful of nunda into his mouth, startled and panicked. He was doing it again. Being friendly. Enjoying Hux’s company without even a whiff of anger or resentment. What the fuck? He could feel Hux’s perplexed stare, but didn’t look back up. Ellie thankfully chirped in about a kid at school before he could mention the look on Poe’s face. Poe spent the rest of dinner mostly in silence, looking at Hux only when he had to, trying his damnest (and failing miserably) not to notice how Hux had to sit a bit away from the table to accommodate his enlarged belly, and how he kept touching said belly when the baby moved, all while a pesky melancholy settled in Poe’s chest at how keenly he desired to sit at a dinner table just like this with his own partner and his own kids. His left hand jerked up to his shirt, clutching his mom’s ring through the fabric.
What if this was the closest he would ever get to that? Ellie the closest to a daughter he ever held? The soon to be born baby the only one he ever nurtured? Dating had been disaster after disaster. This could be it. Hux’s family his one and only recourse to pretend to have one at all. What a fucked up sense of humor life had if that turned out to be true.
Any more fucked up than breaking bread with the slaughterer of the Hosnian system? The situation was plenty messed up already. He’d just walked right into this insanity and let it tie him down, and now he couldn’t escape, even if he wanted to.
Poe startled at the urgent tone in Hux’s voice.
“Hmm?” he murmured, glancing at the unhappy frown on Hux’s face.
“Ellie is asking you something.”
Oh, shit. He hadn’t heard her at all. Ellie was staring at him steadily, twirling her fork in her left hand, waiting for him to respond.
“Oh! I’m sorry, honey. My thoughts were far away. What were you asking?”
“Can we go to your ship Saturday?”
He really wanted to say yes to make up for ignoring her, even accidentally, although she didn’t seem put out by it, but Hux wasn’t supposed to stray far from the house. He turned to Hux, gaging the uncertain look on his face.
“It depends on how your dad is feeling,” Poe said. “The baby tires him out a lot.”
Ellie turned to her dad, sucking in her bottom lip.
“I’m afraid so, darling,” Hux said, looking regretful. “We’re going to have to wait and see.”
“Okay,” she said in a small, unbearably adorable voice as she looked down at her half-empty plate, not looking at all happy by the answer, but knowing better than to protest. She understood that the pregnancy was tough on her dad and that he needed help with it. Even a few months ago, she was offering to bring him things so that he wouldn’t have to get up from his chair. Such a good kid. Hux didn’t deserve her, yet she would neither exist nor be like this without him. Whatever good Hux had he’d poured into her, which showed that there was plenty to be had despite the bloody record of Hux’s past. Maybe Ellie took after her grandmother or the other side of her family, but that would only account for nature, not nurture, nor Hux’s assurance that he had no complaints about Poe raising the kids with his own vastly different morality.
His thoughts continued to spiral in an endless void of looping circles through the rest of dinner, as he washed up after, and even as they watched TV before Hux put Ellie to bed. Every time that Hux threw him a wondering look, Poe’s spine stiffened and he braced himself for a question that he wouldn’t be able to give a coherent or even polite answer to. And Hux wouldn’t hold back forever. As soon as he returned to the living room after reading Ellie her good night story, he sat down on the couch beside Poe and shot him a hard, frustrated look that made Poe squirm internally.
“Are you sure that you’re up for this?” Hux asked. “You’ve been on edge ever since you picked up Ellie from school. If my presence is truly such a burden to you, this isn’t going to work.”
Poe resisted the urge to groan and smother himself in a cushion.
“I’m fine. I’m here. I already promised Ellie that I’m staying, so I am. It’s just weird, okay?”
Hux sighed harshly through his nose, sagging against the couch. He tapped his fingers restlessly on his thighs.
“I’m fully aware of that.”
“Ellie said that you missed me.”
Well, there went that cat out of the bag. Hux frowned at him in utter confusion, making Poe breathe a little easier. Maybe Ellie had heard wrong.
“I never said that,” Hux protested.
“She said that you said that I was the only person who you could talk to. But that was a mistake, right? She must have heard wrong.”
Oh, no. Why was Hux gazing away with that horrifyingly pensive look on his face? He hadn’t actually said that, had he?
“I didn’t realize that she’d heard that.”
What? Poe shifted sideways on the couch, folding his left leg under him so that he could get a good look at Hux’s troubled face.
“So you really did say that? That crazy thought formed in your mind and came out of your mouth?”
Hux huffed harshly through his nose, rubbing his belly restlessly, even a little nervously.
“Don’t read too much into it. It was a slip of the tongue. And I merely meant that you’re the only person who knows my past and calls me by my real name. No one else in my life does, or even can. I don’t have to dissemble with you. Don’t mistake that for friendly sentimentality.”
“So you don’t consider us friends?”
The confused frown Hux shot at him wasn’t anywhere near as reassuring as Poe had hoped.
“Friends?” he said, sounding the word out slowly as if he were testing it out for size. “Is that what you think we are?”
“I uh…” Poe scratched the back of his neck, shifting on the couch. “I don’t think so. I like my friends. I don’t like you.”
“So you despise me still? I wouldn’t think you’d be able to stand being in the same room with me if you did, although I didn’t expect your dislike to be tempered so easily.”
“I don’t…” Fuck. “I hate you for what you did to the galaxy. I can’t forgive you for that. Don’t hold your breath for it. But I don’t get the urge to punch you in the face every time I look at you anymore, and that’s… I don’t know what it is. It’s weird. Maybe I’m just used to seeing you now. I’m immune to you or something.”
Hux snorted. God, making Hux laugh should make Poe’s stomach churn. Why wasn’t it?
“I’m not a strain of the flu, Dameron. Although I underwent a similar process.”
“What? You had to get used to my face?”
“Of course. You were an infuriating irritant to me for years. I would have gladly shot you in the stomach if I’d had the chance.”
“Specifically in the stomach?”
“Yes. It prolongs death and makes it more painful.”
Poe rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, you’re totally friend material.”
“I don’t want to shoot you now. I very much want you alive and in good health.”
“Yeah, so I can do your laundry and babysit.”
“Which you find so onerous that you volunteered to do precisely that. For weeks, no less.”
“Alright, so I don’t find being around you disgusting anymore, despite learning that you used to fantasize about watching me bleed out in agony.”
“I never said that.”
“You implied it plenty. But we’re not friends. I’m only here—”
“Because you are concerned for the children. Yes. So you’ve said, several times. So it is an alliance born of convenience. In some cultures, that is a form of friendship.”
“Not in mine, buddy.”
“Fine, then. I will steer clear of considering you a friend. Despite the fact that you are staying at my house, caring for my daughter and me while I’m pregnant, and have promised to take care of my baby after it’s born.”
What the hell was with that sarcastic tone in Hux’s voice? And why was he bringing up exactly what Poe worried made them quasi-friends, if not actual friends? Hux hadn’t even had the decency to be horrified by the idea that they might be friends. And there had been that bizarre, warm smile when Poe had arrived. Did Hux actually want them to be? In what universe did that make any sense? Was he that desperate for a friend?
Come to think of it, did Hux have any friends? Probably not, since no one else was actually here. He’d never mentioned anyone helping him out that he didn’t pay to other than Korrie, the neighbor, and he had designated Poe, of all people, to be guardian to his children. Damn. Hux must be starved for adult company. If the tables were reversed, well, after a long enough stretch of loneliness, hanging out with a former enemy would be better than continuing to watch holovids into the night by yourself.
“Yeah, well,” Poe said, scratching his head again. Damn it, he was doing that too much. “It’s a grey area. We need another category. Associates. That’s it. We’re associates. Why are you scrunching your face? It’s a great word.”
“I don’t make a habit of letting my associates sleepover and play with my daughter.”
“Fine. We don’t need a name for it. We are two non-friends. That’s it.”
“If you insist. So, non-friend, would you like to continue watching this program, or do you wish to put a movie on?”
So they could watch a movie together, like non-friends did all the time in the natural course of their non-friendship. Great. Fucking great.
God damn it, Dameron, what did you expect was going to happen when Ellie wasn’t around?
“You sound so enthused.”
Hux started getting up, leaning heavily on the armrest as he pushed himself up, but Poe sprang up before he could complete the motion.
“I can get it,” he said. “Just tell me where it is.”
And there he went again, jumping in to help before Hux hurt himself. Not that was likely in just walking a few steps, but he looked so tired.
Poe was officially hovering. He was hovering. And he could tell himself a million times that he only cared about the baby, but the exhaustion on Hux’s face triggered this disturbing worry in his gut, and he wanted to order Hux to bed and bring him food and anything else that he might need, because he was Ellie’s dad, and she and the baby needed him, which was precisely why Poe couldn’t cart him off to jail, and why Poe had no choice but to get along with him. How could he take care of the kids properly while resenting their dad? But he couldn’t not resent him, not even as he brought the movie, stuffed a cushion behind Hux so that he would be comfortable, and made sure that he was okay before sitting back down beside him, and enjoyed the movie along with him, because Hux had good taste on top of everything else. Poe needed to sort this out before his sanity completely cracked, but was that even possible?
Poe spent most of the night shuffling around on the couch, failing to will himself back to sleep half the time, haunted by the same, unceasing, thought spiral. At 3am, he decided to stop thinking about it and just go the hell to sleep. At 3:27, he still hadn’t managed to stop thinking about it. He fell asleep at some point. Then he woke up again at 4:53, having had a nightmare where he and Hux celebrated their 40th birthday together with a great party filled with Resistance and First Order people, all getting along because dreams never made any damn sense. Poe had another nap until 6:12, when he finally gave up on getting any proper rest at all, because that was clearly not happening.
He got up, ignored his bleary-eyed face in the bathroom mirror, and ate a bowl of cereal to shut up the insistent growling in his stomach. He should be waiting to eat breakfast with Ellie and Hux, but he was tired and despairing, and it was a small bowl, anyway. While Poe was still eating, he heard Hux’s bedroom door open, swiftly followed by the bathroom door closing. What time was it now? 6:35. They wouldn’t be waking up Ellie for school until 7 since it started at 8 and was only ten minutes away.
A few minutes later, Hux trudged into the kitchen, rubbing his face, which was just as slack and exhausted as Poe’s. That treacherous nugget of worry poked at Poe again.
“At least I’m not the only one who looks like crap,” Poe said, but didn’t really mean it. It was his job to make sure that Hux was well rested, but how was he supposed to do that in the middle of the night? He was hardly going to sleep in the bed with him.
Hux rolled his eyes at him, but even that felt half-hearted from being so familiar. In further familiar activities, Poe rushed out of his chair as Hux crossed over to the counter.
“What do you need?” he asked. “You can sit while I get it for you.”
“I’m not completely incapacitated. And I can’t be sitting down all day. I do have to move around. Besides, you don’t know how to make tea.”
Hux started getting supplies from the cabinet.
“How do you know I don’t?”
“You drink caf.”
“I can drink tea, too. I do, actually. Sometimes.”
“Do you?” God, how Poe hated it when Hux raised his right eyebrow with that skeptical condescension. “How do you make tea, then?”
Poe got the strong impression that “you put the bag in hot water” wasn’t the response that Hux was looking for.
“Um… Okay, so I haven’t actually made tea before. But I can learn. Just show me how and I can make it tomorrow.”
“You may observe for your own edification, but I’m not going to trust my favorite beverage to you.”
“Come on. I’m a quick study.”
“It’s not really helping my edification, as you call it, if I don’t get to practice.”
Hux held the kettle between his hands for a moment as he considered this.
“Alright,” he said, turning on the stove. “but you have to drink what you make unless it’s completely undrinkable. You’re not going to learn properly unless you get a good sense of the flavor, and you’re not pouring my Tarine down the drain.”
Tarine? Hux drank Tarine? The tea that everyone said tasted like paint thinner? Oh, shit. Hux hadn’t drunk Tarine at the breakfast place. It probably wasn’t on the menu. But it was fine. Poe had consumed much worse in the straits of war. Although the war was over and he could drink or not drink whatever he wanted, and Hux didn’t want him anywhere near his tea, while Poe was the idiot who insisted, so now he was doomed, but it was fine. Hell, maybe he’d even like it.
Poe did not like it. Tarine tea was the most bitter, tongue stripping concoction he’d ever had the misfortune of putting in his mouth. How could Hux drink this crap without every cell in his tongue crying?
“How do you like it?” Hux asked, sipping his own mug with incomprehensible enjoyment in his face. The sharp amusement in his eyes dared Poe to have the gall to insult his favorite drink to his face.
Hux saw through Poe’s fake enthusiasm and chagrined smile in a second.
“You hate it.”
“No, of course not.”
“I can see you struggling not to grimace and spit it out.”
Poe sighed and put down the mug.
“Alright, I don’t like it. It’s not my kind of thing. I prefer tea with a little sweetness to it.”
“I have noticed. You consume far more sugar than is healthy.”
“I only put in two sugar cubes.”
“Because I stopped you from taking a third. Now drink up.”
“What? What do you mean, drink up?”
“You agreed not to waste my tea as long as it was drinkable, so you better not leave that mug sitting there.”
“That was for what I make. I didn’t make this one. And our definitions of drinkability don’t coincide.”
“I also said that you need to get a grasp for the flavor. How are you supposed to do that after one sip? This tea is perfectly suited for refined palates, so I’m really doing you a favor in aiding you to acquire one.”
Poe narrowed his eyes at him. Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“Is refined palate code for I killed all my taste buds with the sourest stuff in the galaxy, so now I can’t taste anything? I’ll stick with the palate I have, thank you.”
“Well, the next few days will be agony for you, because you are still obligated to drink the tea. You did insist on learning so fervently, after all.”
Oh, shit. That was true. But he didn’t… There had to be a way to back out of this. Just thinking about drinking the rest of this crap made his throat heave.
“Come on, Dameron,” Hux said, regaling him with that punch worthy smirk again. “Don’t you want to spare me the labor? You did promise me and the baby, after all.”
“Hey, I didn’t promise the baby anything. It’s not fair to guilt trip me like that.”
Hux just sauntered down the hall, smirking away. Poe groaned, dropping his head on the table to drown his misery on the hard wood. Why couldn’t he have just left Hux to make his own tea like he’d wanted to? It wasn’t that work intensive. He was totally fine making it himself, but no. Poe just had to open his big, fat mouth and insist on doing everything for him, because he was worried. It wasn’t like the baby would come spilling out if Hux stood for a couple of minutes over a stove, so there was no danger of anything happening to it.
He was hovering again. He was hovering, and he was worried, although he didn’t want to be, and it was over Hux, which was not okay, but it was happening, so he might as well admit it. Yet he still didn’t want to, so…
But it was.
The sounds of Hux waking up Ellie carried through the house. Poe looked at his mug. Hux would be back any moment now, but he had just enough time to sprint over to the sink and dump out this disgusting tea with Hux being none the wiser. Unless the scent of the tea, which was just as acrid, lingered in the sink and Hux detected it. And would Hux even believe that he’d just drunk it all in one go after hemming and hawing? Besides, it was hot. He couldn’t possibly drink it that fast without burning his tongue. Aw, crap, he’d have to drink it. Maybe he could just pour out a little.
The instant that he started getting up, Hux’s footfalls began creeping closer. Damn it! Poe sank back in his seat, utterly defeated. Still smirking like the sadistic bastard that he was, Hux sat back down across from Poe and peered into Poe’s mug.
“Still untouched, I see,” he said, picking up his own mug and sipping it like it was a perfectly normal, not disgusting beverage.
Suppressing a grimace, Poe grabbed his mug and brought it to his lips. Yup, it still tasted like tar.
“I’ll grant you a reprieve,” Hux said. “You don’t have to drink it.”
Oh, thank God. Poe put the mug down.
“You know,” Poe said. “I can still make you tea if you need it, just please don’t make me drink it.”
“Alright. To be honest, I didn’t truly think you’d be willing to drink it, but it was amusing to see you make the attempt. The way you scrunch up your face without realizing is hilarious.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Next time, it’s your turn to eat something you don’t like so I can watch you squirm.”
“Well, I was about to ask you to make lunch today.”
Poe narrowed his eyes at him and that cheeky smile that Hux didn’t even bother to hide behind his mug.
“Oh, is that how it is? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but you’re going to love my food.”
Poe would have loved to show up Hux and his smug eyebrows right then and there, but there was no time to make a hot breakfast. To not wake up earlier than they had to, weekday breakfast consisted of cereal and juice, which Ellie preferred, anyway. So Poe set the table with as much assiduous perfection as Hux was used to, cleaned the dishes just as perfectly afterward, then took Ellie to school. When he came back, he cleaned the house from top to bottom.
Well, he tried to clean it from top to bottom. It took way more time to do that than he’d anticipated. He only got as far as the living room before it was time to make lunch, which he had a wonderfully delicious plan for. Except that this wasn’t true, either. He had a plan, but it consisted of a recipe he’d gotten online and which he had never done before, although he had made something similar. Well, sort of similar. Less fancy, and with much fewer ingredients. He had to run to the store to get a couple that he had forgotten yesterday. But it was still pretty basic. Nerf with mushrooms and asparagus, which should satisfy Hux’s oh so refined palate. And it was a meal that Poe actually enjoyed, not some repulsive, rich people nonsense like Tarine tea. And the recipe looked simple enough, so he would have no problem making sure that it was amazing.
He had a problem. It turned out that Mid-High on his dad’s electric range didn’t completely correspond with Mid-High on Hux’s gas range, so the nerf wound up a little charred on one side, and the asparagus looked wilted. The mushrooms felt mushy, and the sauce took longer to cook than the recipe said. And why did it taste bland? He’d put enough salt in, hasn’t he? He poured on some more. And then even more. He couldn’t keep pouring salt in. What if he gave Hux high blood pressure? The sauce tasted fine, he supposed. It wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but, well, it was fine. Not what he’d wanted, but fine. Certainly fine enough to cover up the burnt taste.
Well, maybe not. He’d just have to cut that part off.
Great, now the steaks were shaped funny. There was no way that Hux wouldn’t comment on it. Oh, he could cut them up into smaller pieces and pretend that they were always supposed to have been that way. Except that it would be obvious that he’d cut them up afterward. Maybe he could fry them up a little. But then the meat would be too hard and dry. Goddamnit.
Fuck it. He’d just smother them in sauce and live with the consequences.
“Hmm,” Hux uttered later as he sampled a piece of nerf.
Poe had once again set the table perfectly to try to distract Hux from the disaster that was the food. Not that it actually was a disaster. If Poe was honest with himself, most of his dishes weren’t really that great. This was actually pretty good for him, so Hux better appreciate it.
Was he appreciating it? That “hmm” didn’t sound delighted, although he wasn’t scrunching up his face with the urge to spit out the food onto the plate, either, so that was a good sign, right?
“It’s not terrible,” Hux said.
Oh, thank god.
“Aha! So you don’t hate it.”
Hux regarded him with that same, “bemused at Poe’s expense” expression, but Poe didn’t care.
“No, I don’t hate it. As much as it pains me to admit, I may actually like it.”
“Yes! See, I told you.”
“You said I’d love it. We’re far from that.”
“But you were convinced that you’d be disgusted, and that’s not what’s happening here, so I still win. I told you I make good food.”
“Nowhere near as good as mine.”
“Yeah, well, sure, but I did own up to that at the beginning, remember? And I can’t really compete against you. You’re like a master chef. It’s completely unfair.”
On second thought, Poe really shouldn’t have followed up his win by emphasizing how much better Hux was at cooking than him. It completely undermined his victory and it was prompting Hux to flash him that weird smile again. Poe didn’t like that smile. It was too confusing. Since Hux was a prima donna who was completely full of himself, it should be another nauseatingly smug smirk, but no.
Hux couldn’t possibly be really enjoying the compliment, could he? Without any infuriating feeling of superiority? Nah. Hux was just being nice to keep Poe around.
“Why, thank you,” Hux said, hiding his smile behind his water glass. “I didn’t expect such high praise from you.”
Did his tone sound a little smug? Maybe? God, Poe couldn’t tell.
“Well, I can admit when you’re actually better at something than me.”
“I’m better than you at many things.”
“No more than I’m better than you at.”
“I’m a superb engineer. If your ship broke down, could you even begin to figure out how to fix it?”
Poe narrowed his eyes at him.
“I can fix stuff.”
“Could you recalibrate the transmission system in less than twenty minutes?”
“Okay, not that. But I’m not an engineer, okay?”
There was the smug smile, the cretin.
“How about flying?” Poe asked. “Do you even remember how?”
The smile wilted into a scowl.
“Yes, I do remember how. As a matter of fact, I had to fly to this planet. But there’s no sense in arguing that you’re not one of the best pilots in the galaxy, if not the best.”
Now it was Poe’s turn for a smug smile.
“Ah, Hux.” Poe pressed his right hand to his chest, as if he were touched by the admittance. “I never expected such high praise from you.”
Hux rolled his eyes at the display.
“Don’t read too much into it. Everyone acknowledges it. Although, I would say that Ren might have a chance at the title, if I weren’t so immensely disinclined to give him any praise at all.”
Poe tensed at the mention of Ren and clutched at his fork, mentally flinching at a quick flash of painful memory. Ren stabbing inside his mind and ripping out his thoughts still made him wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, unable to even contemplate sleep any longer. He gulped down his glass of iced tea, as if that could possibly distract him.
“I’m disinclined, too,” he said, voice sour and heavy. “Let’s leave him rotting in whatever planet he is at.”
He stabbed a piece of nerf into his mouth, chewing so quickly that it almost stuck in his throat. Hux was watching him, but Poe didn’t look, not at first. He knew what he’d see in that face if he did, and he did not want to go there. He didn’t. This casual friendliness, staying over, it was already too much. He couldn’t bear it if they actually shared mutual sympathy, not even over Ren. No, especially over Ren. No part of the war should be a bond between them. Yet he did look up, damn his curiosity, and he saw it in Hux’s eyes. The acute knife’s edge of understanding from having also been tortured and mocked by Ren, and Hux had suffered that for much longer, according to the reports of the First Order officers that they’d captured. Ren loved to beat his officers into submission, just like his grandfather, and Hux had been a favorite chew toy. Poe tried to look back down at his plate, but his gaze was trapped in Hux’s own.
“Yes,” Hux said, the word blunt and tender. “Leave him to rot.”
Poe spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning. Then cleaning some more, until there wasn’t a single speck of dust in the living room or the kitchen, not even in the upper surface of the cabinets, which no one ever bothered cleaning because they were so far up. Sneezing from the dust distracted him from whatever the hell lunch had been. Hux had retreated to his study afterward to do some work, then later to his room to take a nap, so there was no need for Poe to interact with him until dinner, which he also made. As that conversation needed to be kept kid-friendly, they were blessedly able to avoid mentioning Ren or the war or any potentially bonding past experiences altogether. After Ellie went to bed, they finished last night’s movie in relative silence.
The next day followed much the same way, sans Ren mention. Cleaning, cooking, Hux working and sleeping for hours, playing with Ellie, evening movie. And so the week crept by. Hux was too tired to indulge Ellie’s wish to visit Poe’s ship that weekend, but they tried to make up for it by getting her a new, Nubian model to decorate her room. Poe tried not to dwell on the fact that he and Hux had purchased it in unison as if they were real friends. Who cared, anyway? All that mattered was the joyous expression on Ellie’s face when she ripped away the wrapping paper and discovered her new ship. She had squealed with delight and hugged both of them. Like always, Poe’s insides melted at the show of affection, and he longed for the day when she would be old enough for him to give her her first flying lesson.
On the second weekend, Hux finally felt well enough to go visit the ship. Ellie bounced in her car seat the entire way to the port and took off running as soon as they released her onto the tarmac, circumnavigating the ship, and bouncing some more before the closed boarding ramp until Poe punched in the access code. Hux lounged in the copilot seat while Ellie made her rounds, naming every part and button that she could remember, and asking when she couldn’t.
They went for dinner afterward to complete the day. It was Hux’s suggestion. Poe hadn’t been sure if he would have the energy to go anywhere else, but he did look much more well rested that day, so Poe didn’t hover and insist that Hux take it easy, like Hux kept accusing him of. Besides, all that Hux was doing was sitting in a chair and raising a fork and glass. Although he did worry that Hux would be too tuckered out the next day, which he was, so Poe put his foot down and insisted that he finish work early so that he could rest. Hux, workaholic that he was, fought him on it, but gave into his exhaustion and Poe’s cheap shot of “think about the baby” and finally shut off his computer to go take a nap.
“As you wish, dear,” Hux said before shutting his bedroom door.
Poe had lost count of how many times he had rolled his eyes during this visit. If Hux thought that he could freak him out by calling him “dear”, he had another thing coming.
Of course, there was something else that Hux could do to freak him out. Actually have the baby.
The first sign of crisis was Hux shouting for him across the house from his study.
Poe dropped the wiping cloth he was holding and rushed down the hall, finding Hux standing at the doorway of his study, clutching his belly as his face twisted in a grimace. The crotch of his sweatpants was soaked through, accompanied by a trail of water leading into the study.
Oh, shit. It was happening. The baby was coming. It was coming right now.
“You said it was two more weeks,” Poe babbled. “That Ellie came late.”
Why couldn’t Poe breathe? He had prepared for this, reading every book and post on giving birth that he could get his hands on, although he may have skimmed over some of the details, as they made him a little green.
“Babies come at their own pace, Dameron.”
Hux spit out Poe’s name as if it were mud stuck in his teeth. He hadn’t done that in a while. He groaned, sagging against the wall, clutching the doorway. Shit, Poe needed to help him get to the speeder. Unfreezing his limbs, he rushed to Hux’s side.
“Lean on me,” he said, grabbing Hux’s left arm.
Hux wrapped it around his shoulders without protest, using him as a crutch on the way to the garage. His breath whistled through his teeth as he gripped Poe tightly. His belly and the baby clamoring to come out and greet the world pressed against Poe’s side, shortening his own breath.
“It’s going to be fine,” Poe said, as much to himself as to Hux.
“Of course it’s going to be fine, It’s a normal occurrence. Why wouldn’t it be fine?”
Hux’s voice sharpened and rose in volume frantically as he spoke, and he narrowed his eyes at Poe as if wanting to punch him for having the gall to imply that things would not be fine.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Poe said quickly. “It’s just something that people say. I’m trying to comfort you.”
“You need to do a hell of a lot better job than that. I was calm. Now I’m not calm.”
“Sorry. I’m sorry.”
Poe opened the passenger door of the speeder and helped Hux inside. Hux rubbed his belly, sucking air deep into his lungs.
“I’ll go get the overnight bag,” Poe said, running back into the house.
He almost fell flat on his face tripping on a step before catching himself on the wall.
“Don’t you dare injure yourself,” Hux called out. “I’m not waiting around for an ambulance.”
Poe hurried to get the bag and return to the speeder. He threw it into the backseat, turned on the engine, and exited onto the street. The sluggish, residential speed limit was killing him, but what if he floored the gas and hit someone? The hospital was close. Only fifteen minutes away. So not super close. But close. Hux wasn’t going to have the baby in the next fifteen minutes.
“Do you want me to put some music on?” Poe asked, trying to be helpful.
“How about a podcast?”
Hux groaned, curling forward.
“Was that a contraption?”
“The fuck do you think?”
Damn, in labor Hux was snappy. Not that he shouldn’t be snappy. He was about to squeeze out a baby from his body. That would make anyone cranky. Hux had warned him that he might shout obscenities at him, but that he probably wouldn’t mean them, only that he’d said “probably” a bit sarcastically, so Poe suspected that it might be an excuse to insult him without repercussions.
“Do you want me to distract you,” Poe asked, “or do you want to me stay quiet?”
Okay. Poe could do that.
Three minutes passed. Why the hell were they catching every red light? That had been five in a row. Hux whined, leaning his head back against the seat, eyes squeezing shut.
“Distract me,” he begged plaintively.
“Oh. Okay. Uh, well, I found a nest of spiders in the backyard.”
“How is that helpful?!”
“Sorry! It’s just the first thing that came into my head. At least they’re not inside. And they eat bugs. So that means less mosquitoes, right?”
Hux shot him a withering glare.
“I guess,” he said, “but that is really not what I meant by distraction.”
“Right. Sorry. No spiders.”
“Stop parroting me!”
“Sorry! I’m sorry! I’ve never done this before.”
“You pulled off completely demented stunts that should have gotten you killed and laughed about it, but you can't handle distracting me for ten minutes?! Are you fucking kidding me?!”
“Bunny! I saw a bunny yesterday. It was small and fluffy with the long ears.”
“I’m aware of what a bunny looks like.”
“Of course you are. I’m not saying… Anyway, maybe you could try picturing a bunny. They’re cute. Thinking of something cute should help, right?”
“I’m picturing crushing your balls in my hand. Will that do?”
“I’m trying to help. I don’t know what to say. My mind is blank.”
And his palms were sweaty, and he kept gunning the accelerator too fast now that they were out of the residential area, but he had to slow down before he got pulled over. Hux would probably murder whatever hapless officer did, and their blood would be on Poe’s hands. Alright, so that probably wouldn’t happen, but Hux seemed to be in a homicidal mood, so who knew what he might do?
“Then why did you offer to distract me?” Hux asked, every word a poisonous dagger.
Yup. Definitely homicidal.
“I’ll just put on a podcast.”
Nope. Not while speeding down the street.
“You could put on a podcast,” Poe said, holding out his comlink.
Hux ignored him. Groaning, Poe put the comlink down.
“Fine. Don’t put on anything. You want me to talk, I’ll talk. I was thinking that you could put some fruit trees in the backyard. Just a couple. That way you get shade and fruit that you don’t have to go all the way to the market for. What do you think?”
“It’s too hard to think. But… it’s not a terrible idea. I know nothing about maintaining trees, though.”
“That’s okay. I’ll teach you. It’s pretty simple once you know what you’re doing.”
Hux moaned into his chest. He breathed hard.
“You okay?” Poe asked.
“Right. Of course not. Sorry. I meant you’re not about to pass out or something, are you?”
Poe felt the infuriated glower scalding his cheek.
“Just keep talking,” Hux said. “Please.”
Huh. A please. That was a step up from the threat of bodily harm.
“Okay. So, mango trees are too big, but koyo ones are slender and shorter, so those could work. You like koyo.”
Poe continued to babble about fruit and trees until they finally pulled up in front of the hospital. Poe jumped out of the car, ran inside, and flagged down a nurse. Between them, they helped Hux out of the car and into a wheelchair. Poe went to park the car as they wheeled in Hux. He rushed back, finding him about to be transferred to a room. They’d already called his obstetrician, who was on her way. They made Hux as comfortable as they could, which couldn’t be much, as he was already having another contraction and crushing the life out of Poe’s arm, which happened to be within grasping range when it hit. Poe squeezed a wince behind his teeth. Damn, Hux had a hell of a death grip. At least it wasn’t his hand. He’d probably mangle Poe’s fingers.
Unless… Would Hux want to grab his hand? Wasn’t that more comforting? But surely not Poe’s hand. That would just be weird. Grabbing his arm was a bit more distant, although it was still touching him, which was not something that they did. But Hux was in pain. He probably didn’t even realize who he’d grabbed. He’d just curled up forward on the bed, eyes scrunched shut, and reached out. But he’d known that someone was there to grab. He was aware of that much. So…
It was the pain. There’s wasn’t any more to it.
Hux fell back against the bed, head lolling on the pillow, sweat beading his skin. His chest rose and fell quickly with aching breaths. Poe was really glad that he couldn’t even give birth to any kids. It looked awful, and the punishing process had just begun.
“Where’s my epidural?” Hux asked, voice thready.
“On its way. I think the doctor needs to get here first, and she’s on her way. And the nurses went somewhere, but I’m sure that they’re on their way, too. I’m going to call Korrie so she knows what’s happening, okay?”
He waited for Hux to nod before taking out his comlink and calling Korrie. She had already agreed to take care of Ellie when Hux went into labor. She had been Hux’s main support system before Poe came along. Hux really didn’t have any other friends to rely on. It was a little sad when you stopped to think about it, so Poe tried not to. He didn’t want to feel sorry for Hux, but he sure did right now. He looked so small lying on that hospital bed, so piteous and vulnerable. His eyes slid shut in pain and he grasped at the blanket, sucking air into his tired lungs. Not at all like the smug, steel backed Grand Marshall Hux, who had probably hated looking weak before anyone.
Once again, Poe tried to superimpose that old image atop the Hux before him and got nothing. The frame didn’t fit. It felt even more unsuitable now, after living for a couple of weeks in his house, and watching movies with him, cooking for him, exchanging banter that became less and less barbed over time. Damn near having a bonding moment over Kylo Ren. No, that was dishonest. They did have a bonding moment. That happened.
Fuck. If Hux wanted to hold his hand later… He probably wouldn’t. But if he wanted to…
Would he, though? Nah, he would probably sneer and turn up his nose if Poe even dared to offer.
Six hours later, Hux was squashing Poe’s fingers in his hand, squeezing so hard that Poe could feel his bones grinding and threatening to snap. Oh dear God, why had he offered his hand? Why? Hux had been perfectly fine clutching the blanket as his labor reached the final stage and not even the epidural could keep the pain at bay. Poe could have just stood to the side and repeated the doctor’s encouragements like he had been doing until now, but no. He had to stick his hand out and get mangled for his trouble. But he felt so bad. Hux was panting, groaning as he pushed, face red and beaded with sweat, looking absolutely desperate for this to be over. Poe’s good guy instincts had kicked in.
He had already been comforting Hux for this whole stay. Rambling on more about plants, as well as about birds, and everything else that he could think of about Yavin IV, because Hux was suddenly fascinated. Poe had played holovids for him. Lost to him at cards six times until Hux accused him of treating him like a child by throwing the games (which Poe had only done twice). Listened to a solid half hour of info dumping about engines filled with esoteric jargon that Hux knew Poe didn’t understand, so he probably did it just to lord over Poe how infinitely superior his intellect was, and Poe couldn’t even get mad about it, because Hux was lying in a hospital bed, about to expel a baby out of himself, the mechanics of which made Poe queasy.
So why not offer his hand? Poe was already his cook/babysitter/cleaner/chauffeur/hospital buddy. He was the only one here other than the doctor and the nurses. No one else was going to. It wasn’t really that different from any other support that Poe had offered so far, once you really thought about it. Hux probably wouldn’t even remember it. Nearly breaking Poe’s fingers would just blend in with the haze of pain.
Hux squeezed out a cry behind his teeth, whining deep in his throat as he followed the doctor’s instruction to push.
“You’re doing great,” she said cheerfully. “I can see the head. Just another push.”
Hux groaned in abject dejection, panting as he dropped his head back on the pillow and grabbed Poe’s arm with his other hand, yanking him down so hard that Poe crashed into the bed frame, smacking his elbow.
“Ow,” he muttered without thinking. His eyes widened immediately in horror under Hux’s baleful glare, which screamed “are you fucking kidding me?!”.
“Sorry! I’m sorry. Grab me all you want.”
Man, he wished that he hadn’t said that. Now Hux was maiming both his hand and his forearm, yanking on Poe’s poor muscles as if they were a skein of yarn. There was no way that Poe wouldn’t be sore later. Hux continued to push while making all sorts of piteous, heart-wrenching noises and sharing his pain with Poe, who had only himself to blame for finding himself in this injurious position.
Finally, just when Poe feared that Hux had no more energy left in him to move at all, the baby’s cries echoed in the room. Hux sagged against him, pressing his forehead into his chest, rapid, hot breaths soaking through Poe’s shirt, his eyes sliding shut for a moment’s respite before opening again to look up at his baby. Poe followed his gaze. A newborn covered in gunk and fluids wasn’t the most appealing sight, yet Poe found himself staring in awe as the doctor cut the umbilical cord and gave them a quick wash. Poe helped Hux straighten up on the bed, studying his dazed and exhausted, yet joyous, smile with equal fascination as he stretched out his arms eagerly for his baby as the doctor handed them over, wrapped in a white blanket. Homicidal imperialist or not, Poe had to admit that the brilliant smile that brightened Hux’s weary, sweat-soaked face was beautiful. Hux gently cradled his baby, who had ceased crying during their bath and was now sleepy-eyed as they gazed up at the parent making soft noises at them. Hux had insisted that the baby be referred to by a gender-neutral pronoun until they were old enough to make a choice about it. At the age of three and two months, Ellie had declared, “I’m girl”, so that had been that.
“Hello, sweetheart”, Hux cooed to the baby. “I’m your daddy.”
The baby blinked back at him, shifting in the blanket, hands curled up in tiny fists that looked like they would fit perfectly in Poe’s hand. Their eyes were green, like Hux’s, although that might change later, and a thin shock of brown hair covered the top of their head. They were wrinkled and pink from being in the womb so recently, yet Poe couldn’t help but find them one of the cutest creatures he had ever seen. His heart warmed upon seeing them and Hux’s tender affection, the aching in his arm and fingers forgotten as he leaned over and smiled at the baby, although he feared getting too close in case they cried.
“They’re beautiful,” Poe said.
Hux’s smile somehow grew wider.
“Yes, they are.”
As soon as the nurse took the baby away for their first checkup and a proper bath, Hux drifted off into a long nap. Poe joined him in an armchair the staff had brought in for him. They had offered a cot, but the chair was fine. He had slept on worse while being much more tired than this, and it only took a couple of minutes for his military instincts to kick in and knock him out.
Sometime later, he woke up to find Hux chest-feeding in bed, his hospital gown pooled around his waist, chest fully exposed. Poe swiftly shut his eyes, pretending to still be asleep, but it was too late.
“I know you’re awake,” Hux said in soft, sing-songy tones.
Huh? Oh, right. For the baby. Poe shifted upright, but he kept his eyes closed.
“I can leave if you want,” he said.
“I don’t mind. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before.”
Yeah, and it had been so not super uncomfortable the first time around. Poe didn’t really want to look again, but the longer he stayed with Hux, the harder it would be to avoid. So, might as well give it up. Poe opened his eyes, keeping his gaze down at first, then raised it slowly. The baby suckled hungrily, tiny hands grabbing at Hux, who smiled down at them, still flush with the joy of the new child. Poe should leave, anyway. He felt like a creepy intruder watching them like this. This was a private moment. He shouldn’t be here.
He stood up, mouth opening to claim that he needed to go to the bathroom, but Hux beat him to the punch.
“I’m sorry I said I wanted to crush your balls. I didn’t really mean it.”
Oh. Poe slid his hands into his pant pockets, resisting the urge to shuffle his feet.
“It’s fine. You were stressed. I was kinda missing your cheap shots, anyway. You’ve been way too nice lately. It’s eerie.”
And the smirk was back, complete with that bizarre, knowing look in his eyes that Poe was sick of trying to interpret.
“I can threaten further bodily harm, if you wish,” Hux said, making it sound like he was offering Poe an all-expenses-paid vacation to a tropical beach.
“How very thoughtful of you,” Poe said, smirking back in the most insincere way possible. “But I’m good for today, thanks.”
The baby made a low gurgle as they detached from Hux’s chest.
“See?” Poe said, pointing at them. “The baby agrees with me.”
“The baby has no idea what you’re saying. But I’ll refrain from abusing you further today.”
Hux wiped the baby’s mouth, and began pulling up his gown, thank God. Poe had been trying not to look while failing miserably, because they were right there, but Hux didn’t care if he saw them or not, so clearly Poe was just being stupid and making a mountain out of a molehill. Poe started backing out of the room again. He really did have to go to the bathroom now.
“Would you like to hold the baby?” Hux asked.
Poe’s bladder could wait.
“Yes,” Poe said, rushing forward way too eagerly, but who cared? He had been fascinated and curious about this tiny, innocent version of Hux for weeks. Would they be as sweet and well-mannered as Ellie? Or what if this one came out like their poisonous grandfather, the other General Hux? They didn’t know much about the baby’s other father, but chances were against him having a record of blowing up planets into dust. In any case, that didn’t matter. This baby wasn’t ruled by their ancestry any more than Ellie was. All they cared about right now was eating, sleeping, and popping.
Poe held out his arms, sucking in a breath as Hux deposited the fragile, squirming bundle. The baby wriggled, vocalizing surprise at the change of grownup, and they opened their mouth wide, a loud cry coming out. Oh, no.
Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry.
Poe cuddled the baby against his chest, hoping that the touch and warmth would comfort them. They closed their mouth and their eyes, settling down. A tiny hand flayed to the side, smacking Poe’s clavicle, but he didn’t mind one bit. Their fingers were so small, nails even smaller, even more than Kara and Snap’s baby had been when she was born. Their eyes drifted open, looking up at Poe as if asking, “Who is this stranger holding me?” but they didn’t fuss or protest. Warmth filled Poe’s chest fit to burst.
“Hello,” Poe said, smiling. “I’m Poe. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He felt silly the instant after he said that, but it was true, and how else did one introduce themselves? The baby didn’t even understand Basic, so Poe could have just said “T-70 X-Wing” in the same soft tone, and the baby would have been none the wiser. Poe ambled around the room, rocking slightly since that was what he always saw everyone else do, and the baby seemed to like it. They uttered another sharp call, but it didn’t sound like a cry. It was way too early for that, but Poe imagined that it was a sign of approval.
“They like you,” Hux said, sounding relieved.
“Were you worried that they wouldn’t? I am immensely likable.”
Hux rolled his eyes.
“Yes, I’m certain you love to think so highly of yourself.”
“Pot. Kettle. Actually, I was a little worried. I’ve only held one baby before, and she cried immediately.”
Kara had tried to reassure him that the baby was tired from being born, never mind that she had just woken up from a nap and had stopped screaming the instant that Poe handed her over to Jess.
“How so?” Hux asked. “Aren’t you immensely likable, as you claim?”
“Yeah, well, there’s always that one person, right?”
“Oh, I can name much more than one person who doesn’t like you. The number runs in the thousands.”
“The First Order doesn’t count. People who aren’t evil like me.”
“I recall quite a few complaints of insubordination in your naval file.”
“They don’t count, either. And where did you get that?”
“Hacking, of course. So you deny being, and I quote, an egotistical peacock more concerned with his own glory than the good of this navy?”
“Who said that? Was it Mentel? That guy was an idiot.”
The baby uttered another sharp cry, shaking their little fists.
“See?” Poe said. “The baby agrees with me again.”
“They do not. If anything, I think that sounded more like they were protesting your assessment of the situation.”
“No, it didn’t. The baby likes me, therefore, they side with me.”
“They came out of my body. Therefore, they side with me.”
“Children rebel against their parents all the time.”
“That’s it. I’m revoking your baby privileges.”
Poe shrank back as Hux held out his arms.
“What? No. Alright, the baby doesn’t agree with me. Just let me hold them for a little longer.”
Hux lowered his arms, looking far too pleased with himself.
Korrie brought Ellie a few hours later. Poe had called the school as soon as they opened to inform them of why Ellie wouldn’t be coming in that day. He passed the principal’s congratulations on to Hux, which made Poe feel a little better about Korrie being the only other person who there was to contact about the birth. A new baby should be surrounded by friends and family celebrating their arrival, not just one sibling, one friend, and one uncategorized pseudo-carer. When Snap and Karé’s daughter was born, the nurses kept threatening to throw people out because the hospital room was so stuffed with people that you couldn’t fit a needle in there. But, then again, that kid’s parents were beloved by many, not justifiably reviled throughout the galaxy, so it was Hux’s fault that his baby didn’t have more people to greet them.
It felt weird, though, remembering what Hux was like after holding his hand while he gave birth, and while watching him and Ellie cooing over the innocent child that depended on and would love Hux no matter what he had done, if they were ever unfortunate enough to find out.
A frisson of dread swept through Poe at the thought. He shook it off. It wouldn’t happen today, so it wasn’t relevant right now. The expanded family was getting acquainted. That was all that mattered right now.
As soon as Ellie had arrived, she had run to the bassinet beside the bed, calling out, “Baby!”
They all asked her to keep her voice down so that she wouldn’t scare the baby, so she kept her voice really sweet and low for the rest of the visit. Poe sat her up on the bed next to her dad so that she could get a better look. After a bit, they transferred the baby into Hux’s arms while Ellie pressed against his side, saying, “Hi” in her cute voice, while running her right hand over the baby’s chest. The baby uttered equally cute noises, curious about this new person who had appeared. Poe and Korrie stood beside them, Korrie taking about three dozen pictures of the adorable, little family before them, and Poe’s heart ached again at how much he wanted this for himself. And he was even less likely to find someone to have a kid with while he was sticking here with Hux, wasn’t he?
“Poe, get in the picture,” Korrie said.
Poe startled, staring at her wide-eyed.
“Get in,” she repeated, emphasizing her not quite suggestion with a hand gesture.
Poe would be in the family picture. Oh. Okay. Well, she had taken plenty of just the Huxes so far, so… And what excuse could he give to say no? He exchanged a glance with Hux, who didn’t look adverse to the idea. Poe must be imagining things, but Hux almost looked a little worried that Poe might decline.
Poe walked around the bed to sit down on the side opposite Ellie, arm grazing Hux’s, and slapped a wide smile on his face, hoping that his sudden awkwardness at being in the picture didn’t show. The baby gurgled just as Korrie took the picture, which made everyone laugh. Poe looked oddly happy in the picture. Sure, that was what he’d been aiming for, but still, he’d expected some of his prevarication to show. But no. He just looked happy. Not nostalgic or yearning or uncertain. He wasn’t sure how much of it was fiction and how much was real.
Hux remained in the hospital another night, and Poe slept on right alongside him in his armchair, waking up whenever Hux did to feed the baby. As Poe basically got a bunch of mini naps instead of a full night’s sleep, his eyes were still sticking together the next morning, limbs sluggish and head hazy and sore from the need for more sleep, yet this was only the beginning of several, long months of being woken up by a crying baby who wanted food or a diaper change or simply didn’t want to sleep. Poe had heard all the horror stories from Snap and Karé, and was not looking forward to that at all, but, if he left, Hux might collapse under the strain, and then what would happen to the kids?
So he greeted Hux’s morose, wild-haired face that morning with a bright smile and energy he most certainly did not feel and began packing up his overnight bag as Hux dragged himself to the bathroom. Neither of them cheered up for real until a nurse came in with the baby, who was wide awake and clamoring for their morning meal. Taka, as Hux had chosen to call them. He had continued to juggle names into the wee hours of the night until he finally wrote out his list on a piece of paper, cut it into strips, and jumbled them all up in a bowl. He discarded the first three papers he pulled out immediately with increasingly sharp, “no”s until Taka appeared. His gaze lingered on the scrap of white, cocking his head to the side and frowning in deep thought.
“Alright,” he said after a long moment. “Taka it is.”
Little Taka got their first glimpse of the outside world in a teal baby carrier, cocooned in ice-blue blankets (their dad’s favorite color), and the cutest white, knit cap with penguins on it, because the morning was a tad chilly. People smiled at the tiny bundle as they made their way down the corridors and through the lobby out into the parking lot. Poe carried the baby so that Hux wouldn’t strain himself. Some of the pain of the birth still lingered, but he seemed to be walking well enough, despite some slowness, although Poe couldn’t quite remember what his usual pace looked like sans pregnant waddle. Taka fell asleep as they made their way to the speeder and didn’t wake as Poe transferred them into the car seat under Hux’s eagle-eyed supervision. Hux had made him practice with a baby-sized doll-like twenty times before he could be convinced that Poe had memorized the very simple procedure of strapping in a baby. Yet he was still hovering over Poe’s shoulder, thankfully silent, but Poe could feel him telepathically shoving orders in his direction.
Poe drove them back to the house, where he unstrapped Taka, placed them back into the carrier, and brought them inside. Taka slept on, so they decided to leave them in the carrier for now, which Poe placed on a chair per Hux’s instruction. While Poe made some sandwiches, Hux sat down in front of Taka and watched them sleep, that fascinated, sappy smile lighting up his face again. Poe smiled a bit himself, unable to help it. Hux just looked too sweet admiring his baby not to feel some emotion while watching him. His hair was a mess, barely brushed with a couple of quick sweeps of his hands, dark bags sagging under his eyes, and his skin was a bit waxy with the need for sleep and the exhaustion of the labor his body had suffered, yet a glow seemed to shine around him when he looked at his baby. At Ellie, too. Sometimes, when Hux looked like this, fully in loving father mode, Poe could almost forget, for just a second, the atrocities that Hux had committed.
Only for a second.
Then the crimson flash of the Hosnian System exploding shocked his system once more and Poe shuddered with resentment and revulsion at allowing himself to have gotten this close to a murderer, and he was seized by the urge to grab his suitcase and storm off. If not to alert the authorities of Hux’s whereabouts for the sake of the children, then at least to get himself far, far away and save himself further confusion, ambivalence, and self-recrimination, but he couldn’t get his body to move and leave this warm, peaceful home behind. To abandon Ellie and this baby that he had become so excited over behind.
“I want to bake a small, coconut cake,” Hux said softly so he wouldn’t wake up Taka. “To celebrate. My mother used to make it for my birthday.”
Then there was that. Poe’s fascination over a Hux with tender feelings living a decent, non-nefarious life. Who would have thought that Grand Marshall Hux could even bake?
“Do you think we have time today?” Poe asked.
“There’s time before Ellie gets out of school, and Taka should sleep a lot. And it’s not too time-consuming to prepare. I already have all the ingredients. It will go even faster if you help.”
“Sure. Just tell me what to do.”
Taka slept through the entire preparation process, only stirring after the cake had been in the oven for twenty minutes, releasing a shrill cry of discontent that threatened to pierce Poe’s eardrums. How could a baby this tiny cry so loudly? It would be a miracle if the neighbors couldn’t hear them.
You signed up for this, Dameron, he told himself. Don’t complain.
“They need a diaper change,” Hux said, picking up Taka and cradling them in his arms. “Come on. Time to change your first diaper.”
Another thing that Poe had signed up for, he realized as dread and nerves flooded his belly. But perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. Sure, the smell wasn’t great, but the process was easy enough, as Hux had demonstrated in the hospital. It would be a snap.
Taka peed on him. As soon as Poe removed the dirty diaper, Taka shot a stream of pee straight onto Poe’s shirt, soaking him through to the skin, then gurgled, shifting on the table as if laughing at the revolted shock on Poe’s face. Hux joined them, chortling as Poe froze, hands out stiffly at his sides, unsure what the hell to do. Should he bother putting on a new diaper right now? What if Taka wasn’t done? He’d just have to change him again immediately.
Hux divined Poe’s question from the frustrated look on his face, because he said,
“Don’t worry. I think they’re done. Also, you can throw away the dirty diaper now.”
Huh? Oh, yeah. Poe was still holding it in his hand, pinched between his fingers as if it were a live grenade. He wrapped it up as instructed and threw it into the bin, trying not to graze his soiled shirt with his arms, not that it mattered much. He’d still have to take a shower as soon as this was over. Eyes narrowed warily at Taka, Poe picked up a fresh diaper and grabbed their legs to place it under them. Taka looked off to the side, left hand in their mouth, not caring at all about covering their caretaker with stinky fluids.
“You really must develop a stronger stomach,” Hux said, still looking much too amused. “You have many pee filled days ahead of you.”
Oh, god. Why was Poe doing this again? Oh, right. The cute baby who was now perfectly calm and well behaved in their clean diaper, looking curiously at their dad, who cooed about what a perfect, little angel they were.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Poe said, hurrying out of the room before something else came up.
Thankfully, Taka fell asleep again before they resumed baking. Only to wake up screaming while Hux was in the bathroom. Poe rocked and walked and sang the only lullaby he knew for two minutes, but Taka wouldn’t stop shrieking in his ear until Hux finally arrived, but he didn’t take the baby. Instead, he sat down on the armchair, undid the buttons of his shirt and bared his left breast.
Right. This was happening again.
“Stop gawping and give me Taka,” Hux said impatiently, holding out his arms.
Poe snapped out of his awkward dumbfoundedness.
Poe gave him the wailing child and backed away.
“Grab me those cushions,” Hux said before Poe could retreat into the kitchen.
Poe did as ordered, propping them under Hux’s cradling arms as ordered. Taka was already happily sucking away.
Poe shuffled his feet awkwardly, hands in his pockets, looking anywhere but there until he was certain that Hux wouldn’t ask for anything else, then slunk into the corridor, muttering about putting the cake in the oven.
The cake was delicious, just like everything else Hux made, although, this time, Poe could claim part of the credit, even if only for following instructions. Taka slept all through dinner and Ellie’s playtime, so they knew what was coming, although it would have been coming anyway, from everything that Poe had heard.
At 2am, Por jerked awake to the sound of infant screaming. There was nothing for him to do other than lie there since Hux had kept the crib in his bedroom, so Poe eventually drifted off.
Only to wake up again at 4:20. Then again at 6. At that point, he gave up and got up to cook breakfast. Hux emerged a little later, carrying Taka, who was crying again. His hair was sticking up every which way, eyes red and puffy, robe barely hanging off his shoulders over his pajamas. He rocked Taka, rubbing their back, murmuring to them with soft, airy sounds, but Taka refused to be soothed and continued to exclaim their discontent at the world in earsplitting shrieks.
“Are they hungry?” Poe asked, taking the scrambled eggs off the burner.
“No,” Hux said, a hint of despair in his voice. “And their diaper’s clean. They might be gassy. I didn’t hear them burp the last time ate.”
Hux went to sit down in the armchair. Poe rushed to hand him the cushions. Hux held Taka tightly up to his chest, gently tapping their back, but no burp emerged.
“Maybe it’s something else,” Poe said.
“Maybe. But digestive discomfort is the most likely possibility.”
Right. Yeah, that made sense. That was annoying enough as an adult. A baby would certainly be crying over that. Besides, Taka had only been crying for, what, fifteen minutes? It was way too early to worry about anything being wrong.
Ten minutes later, Taka had cried themselves to sleep and Hux deposited them back in their crib.
At 7, Poe woke up Ellie, who hadn’t heard a peep the entire night. At least someone got to sleep properly. Poe had been a little worried about that, even though he would have been able to sleep through a bomb going off at her age. Right as they were heading out to school, Taka woke up screaming again. Poe tossed Hux an apologetic look as he grabbed Ellie’s backpack, not that he knew what he was apologizing for. He wasn’t the one crying.
“I’ll come straight back to the house,” he told him as Hux put down his fork, plate still a quarter full, and hurried to the bedroom.
For the entire drive, Poe ran through the possibilities for what might be making Taka cry, in order of ordinary to scary. Babies didn’t get sick two days after being born, did they? Oh, shit, maybe they did. Why not? Nothing prevented some stray germ from infecting them, maybe as they walked through the hospital to the car. Had Taka been sniffing? But who could tell with all that crying? If they were feverish, Hux would definitely have mentioned it, so they probably weren’t sick. Unless the illness was still too fresh for them to notice the symptoms. Hux would probably call him paranoid, but, if Taka was still crying when Poe returned, he would bring it up. But Hux had already raised one baby. He would definitely be able to tell if the new one was sick, right? Unless it was something different from anything Ellie had ever gotten. That was always possible. But if Poe implied that he might be better at telling what was going on with Hux’s baby than Hux himself, Hux might make him sleep outside in the rain.
Well, probably not. Well, maybe. Nah. Well…
As soon as he parked the speeder in the garage, Poe hurried through the door. He found Hux sitting in the armchair, Taka reclining peacefully in his arms.
“They finally burped,” Hux said, immense relief on his tired face.
Oh, good. Gas. Just like Hux had said. Just gas.
I apologize for the wonky formatting. I uploaded a properly tagged text twice, but Ao3 won't format it properly and I can't find a way to fix it. All of BB-8's speech should be in italics, as well as the flashback.
One month later
That’s it, BB-8 beeped angrily. I demand to know what’s going on. You’ve yawned three times in the last minute and you look like you’re about to collapse.
“I’m not about to collapse,” Poe protested, stifling another yawn before it could burst out.
You’re lying. Your eyes are closing.
Shit, his eyes were closing. He sagged on the reclining chair on the back porch, body begging for a full night’s sleep that wouldn’t come tonight, either, because Taka was still on a wake up twice a night schedule, and Poe was on duty half the time when hunger wasn’t the issue. He’d barely gotten four hours last night because Taka had colic that didn’t settle until after 6 am. Yet he had been a dream the entire day except for the usual hunger and dirty diaper crying, which seemed to presage another rough night.
“I’m fine,” Poe said, the last syllable drifting off weakly. Yeah, that sounded credible. “I’ve been more tired than this.”
Although only by a very slim margin. Sure, it wasn’t the same nerve-splitting stress as fighting for your life, but tending to a wailing baby hour after hour week after week had a hell of a way of wearing you down, even with the moments when they were calm and cute.
When you went away, BB-8 said, you said that it would only be for a few weeks. It’s been over a month. When are you coming back?
Poe stifled a sigh. He couldn’t leave now. Hux was getting even less rest. There was no way that he’d be able to hold down the fort by himself.
“I don’t know. To be honest, it’s going to be a while. I can’t leave right now.”
BB-8’s head dipped a little.
Poe, please tell me what’s going on. I’m worried. You look really terrible, and I’m tired of covering for you. I miss you.”
Guilt gnawed inside Poe at BB-8’s plaintive tone. God, he couldn’t keep doing this. He’d always known that he was avoiding the inevitable by keeping them in the dark, but there was still no solution for it other than telling them the truth, and that would destroy everything. He still didn’t think that BB-8 would turn on him, and they would hate to wreck those kids’ lives, just like Poe had so long ago. And BB-8 was hardly a stickler for rules, so they would feel no strict obligation to follow the law. But…
Should Poe even be doubting at all? Still, it wasn’t his secret to tell. Hux hadn’t mentioned the possibility of telling BB-8, even though he followed Poe with troubled eyes every time that Poe left the room to answer a call, and Poe hadn’t dared to broach the conversation. But it was time to do exactly that. BB-8 and he had been through so much turmoil and joy and heartbreak through the years that he couldn’t envision the dreaded possibility of their friendship failing, but if he continued to push them away into the shadows like this, BB-8 would leave. Anyone would. What kind of friend could Poe call himself if wouldn’t tell BB-8 that the reason why he was so tired was because he had to comfort a baby for half the night, a child that he had grown to love just as dearly as their sister, who Poe couldn’t imagine leaving without something tearing deep inside him and making him bleed.
God, did he want to tell BB-8, and his dad, and Finn, and Jess, and everyone. His soul was bursting with the desire to gush about Ellie riding a bike for the first time, and about Taka clinging to his finger for twenty minutes, and about the lovely, chocolate cake Poe and Hux had backed together to commemorate Taka’s first month. Poe had insisted, excited about the anniversary, and Hux had indulged him, smiling about Poe’s “first baby joy”, while admitting that he had done the same for Elie’s first month. Poe didn’t even fight the friendship between them anymore. It would be too much delusion to deny it. Poe was living in his house, for Gods’ sake. They were taking care of children together, eating together, watching TV together, even playing cards together to keep from drowning in little kid stuff. This was happening and Poe didn’t much care to analyze it anymore, not since the koyo tree.
About a week after Taka was born, Poe was able to acquire a cutting from a koyo tree the next town over and planted it in the backyard. Ellie and a barely awake Hux observed as he did so, the former more enthusiastically than the later, although Hux did manage to rouse himself sufficiently to take notes as Poe explained the type of care the cutting would need to sprout roots and grow. Not that it needed much. With sufficient water and fertilizer, the tree could figure out its own way into adulthood, but it was nice to see Hux be so diligent toward the tree that Poe had suggested he plant. The type had also been Poe’s choice, but Hux hadn’t objected. Sure, Hux and Ellie enjoyed koyo, but it was no mystery to Hux that the fruit originated in Yavin VI, Poe’s home and a former rebel base, which practically made Poe placing this tree in Hux’s backyard a subversive act.
Later that day, as Taka and Ellie took their naps, Poe found Hux outside gazing at the budding tree, a blend of wistfulness and melancholy in his eyes that Poe both wanted and didn’t want to ask about. It felt rude not to ask what was wrong, yet also intrusive to do so, and, if Poe did ask, he would probably fall down a rabbit hole of more tender Hux feelings, and Poe had no desire to go any further down the “Hux isn’t 100% terrible” road. Nope. He was in way too deep already.
“So you like the tree?”
Now why did Poe have to go and open his damn mouth? Every time. Goddamit. And with that question, of all things?
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have let you plant it,” Hux replied, because yeah. Obviously.
Poe shut up for once, letting the attempt at conversation fade while he stood silently next to Hux, because leaving abruptly might look like he was mad or something. Just after enough time had passed by for him to leave without it being weird, Hux spoke, still gazing at the tree.
“I never had a tree when I was a child. Or ever before now.”
“Not big on greenery on Star Destroyers, huh?”
“I had plants. In pots. And we had greenhouses, but they were for practical, agricultural uses.”
“I bet half of them were dedicated to your precious, Tarine tea.”
Hux tossed him a half-hearted glare.
“Not quite. My point is, this is all new to me. The house. The backyard. The tree. I had planned on having all of those one day, although not like this.”
Of course not. A massive mansion overlooking someone’s stolen land would have been much better. But Poe bit his tongue before he could spit that out. If he came out with something petty, Hux would clam up and be sullen, and a sullen Hux was an annoying Hux. Besides, there was that damn curiosity again.
“I would have liked this as a child,” Hux continued. “I used to dream of it, actually, while stuck in our tiny quarters at the academy. The academy itself had trees, of course, and mother and I had our little picnics where we could, but it’s never quite the same as enjoying a spot of your own. While it may seem that I have no need for the outdoors having lived on a Star Destroyer for so long, I did in fact miss it. Quite a bit. Thank you for suggesting the tree. Ellie already loves it, and I’m sure that Taka will, too. It’s just the sort of thing I wanted for them.”
“You’re welcome,” Poe said, digging his hands further into his pockets to keep from rubbing his forehead.
Hux just had to bring up the kids and his mom. The two subjects that made Poe unable to hold a grudge against him for the moment that he was overwhelmed by the possibility of what Hux could have done with himself if his mother had been able to manage working somewhere else and had ripped him away from his father’s toxic influence. Ellie’s personality was a prime indicator that he could have deserved this life, if only it hadn’t been for that.
“What was it like growing up surrounded by trees?” Hux asked, finally turning to Poe, genuine curiosity in his eyes.
“Loud. The birds and woolamanders chatter non-stop. But it’s a peaceful kind of loud if you’re used to it. When I left for the naval academy, it took me forever to be able to sleep without the chittering of insects outside my window. The quiet drove me nuts. And I missed the green. I was so glad that the base on D’Qar was in the jungle.”
Crap, he’d brought up the war again.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “It slipped out.”
Not that he had anything to be sorry for. That was Hux’s job, if he even bothered, although he at least looked suitably chastised about it, casting his eyes down and pinching his lips while he tightened his hands behind his back.
“I am sorry, you know,” Hux interrupted before Poe could change the subject. “I know my earlier apology felt a tad perfunctory, but I am.”
Poe sighed, rubbing his temple as if that could stamp out this entire situation.
“You don’t need to apologize again. I’m past that.”
“I doubt that. And I’m not just apologizing for what I did to you, but all of it, what I didn’t include last time for fear that you wouldn’t think me sincere.”
Welp, this was happening again. Poe straightened up, slumping his shoulders in resignation, even as that angry soreness tightened in his chest.
“Would you have been?” he asked, playing along to get this over with as soon as possible.
“No, but I am now. I’m not going to claim to be some changed person wracked with remorse and bursting with goodness, but I am sorry. Your side was right, and mine was wrong. I never knew this kind of life, and couldn’t quite grasp what you were fighting for, but now I do, and I would be the first one firing if anyone threatened it. And you’re probably itching to point out that my motivations would be purely selfish since now it’s my life and I can no longer have my privileged lifestyle, but I can never be as selfless as you. Most people aren’t, in fact, and as much as I believe that my mother was, I can’t be truly like her, not completely. I am who I am, and I can’t change that, but I would make different choices now, if I could.
“I am sorry about D’Qar, the Hosnian System, all of it. And I’m not just saying that because you take care of my children and make us food when I don’t have the energy to, or because you planted a tree in my backyard, or because you’re allowing me to have a backyard in the first place. The feeling may not be mutual, but I do consider you a friend. Even with my limited personal experience with the term, I really can’t think of any other word for this. You helped me deliver my child, for god’s sake. What else would I call it? Feel free to ignore that, though, since it makes you uncomfortable.”
“Uh, no… It’s uh… It’s fine.”
Was it really fine or was Poe just saying that to make Hux feel better? But why would he care about making Hux feel better if they weren’t friends? And it was hardly the first time now. The furious knot of resentment in his throat had loosened as Hux spoke, leaving only exhaustion and a desperate need to just move on before he collapsed under the weight of every toxic memory infesting his skull.
“Are you sure?” Hux asked, raising cautious eyes at him, not doing as good a job as disguising his hope as he probably thought he was. “You’re not affronted by the idea anymore?”
Poe shook his head, dragging out a sigh.
And that was the truth, even though the concept still felt raw and unbearably tender, and his stomach did a painful backflip whenever he dwelled on it for too long. He could rail and scream, venting every ounce of pain and teeth grinding misery that he and everyone he knew had endured at the hands of the First Order until Hux shriveled in front of him, begging for forgiveness on his knees, but where would that get Poe? He’d once thought that he’d love to have Hux beg him for mercy, and yet he had been so, very wrong. Hux’s shrinking form and subdued, chastened voice back when this all began had turned Poe’s stomach. He could no longer fool himself into believing that this was what he wanted.
“Like you said,” Poe continued, expelling a tired sigh through his nose, “what else are you going to call it? There’s not really any point in fighting it after letting you almost break my hand as you gave birth.”
Hux huffed out a breath between a snort and a sigh of relief, a surprised smile peeking on his lips.
“If it’s any consolation, I wasn’t trying to break your hand.”
“Yeah, right. You were already fantasizing about maiming me. I’m on to you.”
Hux laughed more strongly this time. Poe hadn’t planned on providing comic relief, either, but he was tired and laughing seemed better than dwelling on the past or thinking too much.
He hadn’t forgiven Hux, he didn’t think. Not completely, anyway, but maybe a little. Just enough to move forward.
“Okay,” Poe told BB-8. “I’ll ask if I can tell you. I really do want to tell you, I swear. It’s been killing me not to. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll really try to convince them, okay?”
BB-8 dipped their head again, before looking back up at Poe.
Poe waited until Ellie had gone to bed to ask. Even then, he dragged his feet, stalling through a whole episode of the sitcom they watched to while away the hours until Taka decided to fall asleep around 10 pm. Hux cradled them in his lap, alternating between propping them up in a sitting position and laying them down on his legs. Right now, Taka was lying down, staring up at their dad and Poe, who couldn’t help but smile every time that their alert gaze was aimed his way.
“Can I hold them?” Poe asked.
Those were the first words that they had exchanged in twenty minutes, at least, both too exhausted to do much more than slouch on the sofa and stare blearily at the screen. At least, that’s the excuse that Poe was using not to talk. Now, he stretched out his arms to receive Taka, who wiggled as they were transferred, making a sound of curiosity as Poe lowered them onto his lap, grinning at their adorable, tiny face.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
Poe frowned at Hux, registering what he’d said.
Hux looked straight ahead at the screen, his jaw set in that trademark, unhappy way of his, looking resigned yet strangely forlorn at the same time, while trying to pretend that he wasn’t, as if he even knew how to hide his emotions.
“It’s alright,” Hux said, in a tone so stiffly insincere that he couldn’t possibly expect anyone to believe him. “This was always a temporary arrangement. You’ve already stayed for longer than I had expected.”
“I’m not leaving,” Poe said.
Hux frowned at him, hopeful confusion lightening his eyes.
“No. What gave you that impression?”
“Apart from the awkward discomfort you’ve been projecting since your call? It’s clear that there’s something that you need to tell me, but you don’t wish to say. So what is it, then?”
“Sorry. I didn’t realize I was being so obvious. Um, well, the thing is, BB-8 isn’t buying my excuses anymore, and if I keep not telling him anything, I’m afraid it’s going to mess things up between us. Hell, it already is. I’ve never hidden anything from them before. And for this long. But it’s your call, obviously. I won’t tell them anything without you okaying it. And I don’t have to tell them where you are, just what I’m up to.”
Poe watched Hux nervously as he considered whether or not to allow his secret to get out. Hux didn’t look remotely happy, as Poe himself certainly wouldn’t be in his situation. He caught a hint of fear in Hux’s eyes, which just made Poe feel even more guilty all the way around, but there was no avoiding the inevitable anymore. Taka shifted in his lap, looking between the two adults. Could they sense the tension in the air? God, Poe hoped not. Could a baby this small feel worry? They certainly could feel fear and distress, both emotions which were apparent in Hux’s face.
“I trust BB-8 with my life,” Poe said.
“But can I trust them with mine? What if they believe they’re protecting you by turning me in?”
“That’s not going to happen, okay? I’ll explain everything. BB loves kids. They’ll understand how that would be hurting Taka and Ellie, just like I did. It will be alright, I promise.”
“You can’t guarantee that.”
A sigh dragged out of Poe’s throat.
“No, you’re right, I can’t, but I trust BB-8. And they’d never let kids come to harm.”
Hux breathed slowly through his nose, the weight of it groaning in his chest.
“If I don’t agree,” he said, looking down at the floor, “you will leave, won’t you? You can’t risk your friendship to stay here, and I wouldn’t ask it of you.”
Poe held Taka a little closer, gazing down at them, yet not daring to meet those questioning, wide eyes. He hadn’t wanted to issue this sort of ultimatum, but…
“Yes. I could come back for visits. I would, definitely. But I can’t stay disappeared like this.”
Even if it killed him to leave the kids behind. He wasn’t even going to mention how he’d still be lying to his dad and his other friends even if he did tell BB-8. Taka spoke up, calling out with a sharp “ah” sound, as if asking why everyone was so serious. Poe smiled at them, murmuring, “It’s okay, sweetie” while rubbing their chest with the tips of his fingers, a gesture that Taka enjoyed. They called out again, left arm jerking, but didn’t seem about to cry, which was a good sign.
“Let’s do it,” Hux said.
Poe gaped up at him.
Hux had that stiff, “I must hide my emotions” expression again, and he looked terrified as hell, but he nodded.
“If you leave, Ellie and Taka won’t stop crying, and then what am I going to do? You may have terrible judgment half the time, but I’ll trust it when it comes to your friend.”
Poe snorted at the half-hearted dig, although, in his relief, it came out as a weird huffing sound. An “I knew you’d miss me” comment almost slipped out of his mouth before he noticed the nervous tension stiffening Hux’s back and how he folded his hands in his lap, left hand grasping his right wrist, a sure sign of guarded apprehension. Poe swallowed his snark and opted for a comforting smile instead.
“Thank you,” he said. “You’re safe, I promise.”
They came up with a game plan for revealing the truth to maximize the chance that BB-8 would be sympathetic to their circumstances. Immediately, they hit a bit of a snafu with the clothing situation. Hux insisted on dressing up, his oh so sophisticated ego preventing him from being seen in anything less than his best, despite the fact that appearing in his usual wrinkled knit top and sweatpants with scraggly stubble and his hair tousled from dozing off on the couch whenever he got the chance to drove home the point that they were trying to make much better than a fancy button-down shirt with pristine slacks. Why he even bothered to have those in the size he was currently was anyone’s guess.
Thankfully, Taka proved far more reasonable and cooperated by spitting up on Hux’s shirt front exactly at the time when Poe had agreed to call BB-8. Hux tried to run to his closet before Poe called, but Poe blocked his bedroom door with his body (and, technically, Taka’s body, since Poe was holding them). He pressed the call button before Hux could continue complaining, sending him diving out of camera range as Poe placed the comlink on the floor. Hux wouldn’t be showing up alongside Poe immediately, as that could send BB-8 into a panic and prompt them to contact the authorities before they could protest. When the call went live, BB-8 was greeted by the sight of Poe cradling Taka in his arms, who was clinging to the collar of Poe’s t-shirt, staring curiously at the blue hologram, who stared right back. BB-8 jerked with a startled beep and rolled closer to the camera, photoreceptor oscillating frantically between Poe and Taka.
“Hey, pal,” Poe said, smiling nervously while eyeing Hux, who stood as still as a statue at the edge of the living room, ramrod straight, his hands tucked behind his back.
Who’s the baby? Is this your baby? If you had a baby without telling me, I’m going to kill you.
“Relax, buddy. The baby isn’t mine. I would never become a dad without telling you. I’m just helping to take care of them. See, their dad’s a single parent, so it’s hard for him to take care of them on his own. There are two kids, actually.”
Poe raised a picture of Ellie smiling at the camera with Taka sitting up in her lap.
“This is Ellie,” Poe said. “She’s four. And this is Taka. They’re only a month old. I was here for the birth.”
Why didn’t you tell me? BB-8 asked, now sounding plaintive and confused. How can helping take care of children be your big secret? Everyone would love it. Wait. That can’t be it.
This was it. Poe exchanged a tense glance with Hux as he braced himself for the inevitable outrage that would follow once Hux appeared on the screen.
You can’t possibly be lying to everyone just to take care of kids, BB-8 continued, suspicion rising in their quickening beeps. What’s going on? Who’s the father? Where are you? Why don’t you want anyone to know?
Hux’s fear radiated across the room.
“Okay, here’s the thing. Their dad’s a criminal. Kind of a big, most wanted type of guy.”
Then why are you helping him?!
“Because the kids are innocent of all that, and I don’t want them to grow up without their dad. Look, it’s better if I backtrack. Can you just please let me explain? It will all make sense, I promise.”
Still without revealing Hux’s name, Poe explained how he’d come across him at the market, snatched him without realizing that he was pregnant, and dragged him to his ship. A highly edited version of their discussions on the ship followed, scrubbing any mention of Hux offering his carnal services to persuade Poe to do the right thing, because no one ever needed to know that information. Then he went into how he’d decided that he couldn’t bring Hux in without destroying the little family, as well as how he’d returned against his better judgment months later, but, by that point, BB-8 was done putting up with mentions of this mysterious “he” and demanded that he show himself. Taka had been making it pretty obvious during the last minute that he was in the room by looking to the left while stretching out their arms and calling out as Hux made silly faces at them.
Sucking in a deep breath, Poe met Hux’s frightened eyes and nudged his head to the side.
“Come on,” he said. “Now, BB, please don’t freak out. Although you are going to freak out. But please don’t call anyone or anything. I swear, everything is okay.”
Hux was taking the slowest, smallest steps possible to get into camera range, even with Taka reaching out for him, his face vacillating between trying for composure and cracking into piteous pleading. His hands remained at his back, only shifting to the much less militaristic style at his front at the last second before sidling up beside Poe, even though he reached for Taka a second later. BB-8 rolled back a full foot in shock, beeping shrilly.
Hux?! You’re living with Hux?!
“I assure you,” Hux said, not even bothering to disguise the massive nervousness in his voice, “Poe is perfectly safe with me. I am most grateful for his aid. I know I have no right to ask you for anything, but I beg you to please consider the fate of my children before you do anything.”
BB-8 looked wildly between the two of them.
But you… And Poe… You have kids? The rumor of you having a baby is true?
“A truth I tried very hard to squash. An endeavor doomed to failure, I admit. I waited three years to have my second in exile before Poe found me.”
“He’s not doing anything nefarious,” Poe said. “He’s just living in a regular house with his kids while working as a coder. It’s the most run of the mill existence you can imagine. I know it sounds completely insane considering his past megalomania—”
“I was not a megalomaniac,” Hux protested.
“Hush, you. I was skeptical as hell when I found him, too, and it took me a long time to get used to this, and I’m not saying that I’ve forgiven him, but we’ve reached a truce for the kids’ sake.” Poe glanced at Taka, who was cradled comfortably on their dad’s chest. “I don’t want to ruin their childhoods by putting their dad in jail.”
I… I don’t know what to say. This is so strange. I never imagined you could be referring to him. My servers are on overdrive trying to process this. I can’t believe I’m seeing the two of you standing next to each other without trying to kill each other.
“I know, buddy. I couldn’t believe it at first myself, either.”
“That makes three of us,” Hux said. “I must say, though, that I would never place Poe in danger now. I am truly sorry for trying to harm him in the past.”
You mean kill him?BB-8 asked sharply. Kill us?
Hux lowered his eyes submissively. Taka wiggled in his arms, calling out as they sensed his distress.
“Yes,” Hux said, rubbing Taka’s chest to soothe them. “I am sorry I tried to kill you.”
Good. You should be. BB-8 looked at Poe. Do you really trust him? Are you sure?
Hux looked up shyly, apprehensive, as Poe turned to him, searching eagerly for an answer that Poe had desperately sought to evade until the trickle of days spent living, playing, and toiling together wore down the stubborn edges of his compunction. Firm conviction had been thrust into befuddled doubt, which had now had become conviction again, oddly oriented in the opposite direction. Like he’d said, Poe still hadn’t forgiven Hux, yet only one unequivocal answer resounded in his head.
“Yes,” he said, a heavy knot in his chest unraveling as he spoke. Hux’s eyes widened the slightest bit. “I do trust him. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I do.”
Hux dipped his head slightly toward him, gratitude in his eyes.
“I trust you, too,” he said, tone humbled, which was always nice to hear, although whether it was for Poe’s or BB-8’s sake, he couldn’t tell.
With really insulting timing, Taka began to cry.
“They need a change,” Hux said, sniffing their diaper, and turning to BB-8. “Please excuse me. And please consider what we’ve said, I beg you.”
He retreated into the corridor, urged by Taka’s cries, and shut the nursery door behind them a few moments later. Poe sucked in a deep sigh before turning back to BB-8, who immediately bombarded him with a barrage of frantic beeping.
Poe, this is crazy. How can you be sure that he has changed? I trust your judgment, but… And how long are you going to stay there? Is there no one else who can help him out?
“I wish there were, pal, but I’m the only one who can be here full time, and he needs full time. And I really love the kids, you know? The thought of leaving and never seeing them again… It hurts.”
Like a sledgehammer to the throat.
I can see that. BB-8’s tone turned more understanding. They knew how much Poe wanted kids of his own. And the kids are really cute. And I suppose you already considered all the ramifications of their being Hux’s kids when you started this.
“I did. Sorta. At the end of the day, it’s not their fault who their dad is. They’re just kids. Also, um… I may have signed legal documents designating me as their official guardian should anything happen to Hux.”
“Well, he needed someone to do it. I don’t know about this planet, but foster care systems tend to be terrible no matter where you go, so…” Poe rubbed his forehead, grabbing at his hair. “I’m not doing it for him, okay? I just want the kids to be okay, and they like me, so that works. And I probably won’t have to.”
Unless someone catches Hux and puts him in prison.
Poe sighed heavily.
“Yeah, there’s that. You’re not going to tell, right?”
BB-8 rocked lightly back and forth for a second, a clear sign of discomfort, causing Poe a stab of guilt at placing them in this position.
No. I couldn’t do that to you. But I don’t like this. I don’t like lying to everyone.
“Me, neither, but I can’t think of a good solution to this.”
You didn’t answer my question about how long you’re going to stay.
Yeah, Poe had been avoiding that one.
“I have no idea. I had only planned to stay for a few weeks.”
Were you really, or did you just tell yourself that without thinking too much about it like you always do?
Poe sank into the couch, shrinking under BB-8’s all too knowing gaze.
“You got me there. I guess I didn’t really think about it. I just…”
I know. I know how much you want a family. Are you sure that isn’t what you’re trying to do here?
Poe chuckled, the sound stiff and hollow. Taka had stopped crying, but the nursery door had yet to reopen, so Hux wouldn’t be able to hear them, but he lowered his voice, anyway.
“I certainly don’t want to live with Hux forever. But I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess. I have considered that. Yeah, that’s probably what I’m doing. It’s by no means the ideal scenario, to say the fucking least, but it fell in my lap, you know? I just ran across him, and then I came back, and I can’t even tell you if it was more than morbid curiosity that brought me back the first time. I’ve even thought, maybe… I feel like Leia would tell me that the Force brought us together or something.”
To raise Hux’s kids? Why would the Force want that?
“I don’t know. I’m just spitballing here. Look, all I know is that, somehow, I got the whim to come to a planet that I’d never heard of before because a random acquaintance said that it’s nice, so I came, and in my first day I come across a pregnant Hux. And that I like it here, insane as that sounds. And I don’t… I don’t want to leave. I love the kids, and Hux isn’t terrible, believe it or not. We’re actually, kind of, friends.”
BB-8 emitted a startled beep.
“I know, I know.”
Are you sure that you’re using the word “friend” correctly? Like a real friend, and not just someone who you tolerate and don’t have the constant urge to punch in the face?
Poe’s laugh felt far too hysterical to be healthy.
“I wish I could say that it’s the latter, but no. I finally had to give in and admit it to myself. He’s not… God, it sounds like treason to say this out loud, but he’s not terrible company. We get along, strangely enough, but we never mention the war. Ever. We have a very strict rule about that. If it weren’t for it, then it wouldn’t work. I try not to think about it. We had a couple of fights over it at the beginning, although it was more just me yelling at him and he taking it to keep me from dragging him off to prison. It’s hard to describe the weird situation we’re in. I’ve given up trying to figure it out. Him apologizing… I do think that it started because he needed to make me happy and that his remorse was fake, but… I’m not saying that he’s a good guy now and that he’s wracked with guilt. Not at all. But… He did make a much better apology later, and it really sounded sincere. Kind of. Look, I know I’m going in circles here, and that I’ve said I don’t know too many times already, but it’s complicated. Like having to untangle a mountain of wire complicated. I’d honestly rather fight it out with a fleet of TIEs single-handedly than have to figure out this mess.”
Well, you’re going to have to. I’m sorry, but I’m horribly confused by this. I understand why you choose to keep his secret. It wouldn’t help anyone to stick him in jail and make the kids miserable, and you taking them in after that would make things worse. They’d hate you.
“They’d have every right to. I really, really hope that they never find out what their dad did. He’s not raising them to be evil, by the way. At least, not that I can tell. Ellie always says please and thank you and likes to share with the other kids. It has to do with his mom. She was the good parent, from what I hear. Hux is trying to be like her.”
Poe shut up on that subject before he started blabbing private details of Hux’s childhood, which he hadn’t been cleared to reveal, even though they would help his cause.
Okay, so he’s a good dad, and he’s sorry for trying to kill you. And I suppose that we’re on the side of letting people redeem themselves, even when they’re mass murderers.
“Ren did come to mind. Not that I would ever have anything to do with him.”
Poe braced himself for BB-8 to call him out on his hypocrisy, but it hadn’t been Hux who had tortured him, had it?
“Do you think I should tell Leia?” Poe asked.
I don’t know. She certainly wouldn’t be able to criticize you, although she might still get mad.
And you can’t just live a secret life forever.
Poe sighed. The breath did nothing to alleviate the massive weight on his back.
“I know. And I can’t bear to lie to everyone forever. I don’t like my life being a secret, but I don’t want to lose the kids, either, and Hux needs more help than me stopping by for a visit, even if I made it a regular thing. I don’t think he thought through how much work two small kids was going to be on his own. And Ellie will be devastated if I move away. But I miss everyone. I’m so sorry I haven’t been around. I don’t know what to do here. I’m definitely going home for dad’s birthday. I’m not canceling that. But what do I say when people ask me how my work is going? And what about after? I feel stuck, pal, and I don’t know how to move.”
It’s okay. I’m understanding better now. But I still want to see you, and your dad’s birthday is two months away. I will keep your secret, I promise, but can I come over?
“I’d like you to. I’m dying for you to meet the kids, but I have to ask Hux again. I don’t know if he’s willing to trust us to that extent.”
BB-8’s head dropped with a sad beep and Poe’s heart scrunched with guilt.
“Look,” he said, “I’ll ask, okay? And if he says no, I can go off world to meet you somewhere for a bit. Please don’t think that I don’t want to see you. I do. I really do. I’ll figure something out, okay?”
BB-8 hopped with an excited chirp, a sweet, electronic “yay” that made Poe smile even as he dreaded having to ask more of Hux right now.
Hux didn’t emerge from his bedroom at all, not even after Poe hung up and went to the kitchen to guzzle down a glass of water along with an untimely yet desperately needed cookie to settle his nerves. Was Hux afraid to interact with BB-8 again and didn’t want to risk Poe still being on the phone? Probably. Poe didn’t want to imagine the affronted and furious expression BB-8 would have had if they could show them. Their shocked body language had been bad enough.
“Hux?” Poe called out as he knocked softly on the bedroom door. “The call is over. You can come out now.”
The door opened a few seconds later, held by a frowning Hux, who narrowed his eyes at Poe with deep afront.
“Are you implying that I’ve been hiding?” he said.
“Of course you’ve been hiding. Changing a diaper doesn’t take half an hour.”
Hux raised his chin imperiously.
“Taka needed some cradle time,” he said.
“Don’t use the baby as an excuse. That’s just crass.”
Although, indeed, Taka was lying on their back in their cradle, little limbs jerking to and fro as they gazed at the rotating, planetary mobile above them. But it was still an excuse.
“It is not an excuse,” Hux protested. “Besides, you’re the one who insisted that Taka agreed with you every time that they emitted a random vocalization.”
“I was kidding, and only because you were being irritating.”
“Of course. Blame the man who had just given birth. And you’re the one being irritating. Did BB-8 agree to keep our secret?”
“They did. They’re not going to make any trouble. Actually, uh, they want to, if you’re okay with it... Of course, you have to be okay with it. I’m not going to insist this time if you’re not comfortable with it.”
“Spit it out, Dameron.
“They want to come over to see me.”
Hux blanched. It was a little scary when that happened since he was so pale to begin with, and it made him look like he was about to pass out.
“I’m not going to insist if you say no,” Po reiterated. “This is your house, after all. But I promise this isn’t a ploy to find out where you live. It’s just… Let’s face it, I’m here for longer than a few weeks, and we miss each other. The calls don’t cut it. I can go meet them in another planet if you’re not comfortable. But I’d be leaving you alone with the kids for a bit.”
Hux stared off at the wall, standing in that upright, military pose he always adopted whenever he was silently freaking out. Poe had taken to thinking that it was less from habit and more of a coping mechanism. His expression was just as hesitant and terrified as when Poe had asked to tell BB-8, which didn’t exactly bode well for him allowing BB-8 to come over. He was just about to tell Hux to forget it and that he would figure something out when Hux spoke, voice as hesitantly apprehensive as his face.
“You are absolutely sure that it’s alright? BB-8 wouldn’t trick you like this, would they?”
“Of course not. I trust BB-8, and you trust me, right, so that’s all you have to do. Trust me.”
Hux sucked in a harried breath, shoulders so tense they were practically hunched, then looked at Taka, then at Poe, then at the wall, then back at Poe before casting his gaze down to the floor and nodding quickly, as if he might chicken out if he did it at a regular speed.
“Alright. They uh… They can come over.”
Poe slumped in relief.
“Thank you. That means a lot. It will be okay, I promise.”
Hux nodded stiffly, squeezing his lips together, somehow looking even more nervous than before.
“It better be,” he said, but it came out as a plea rather than as a threat.
Hux was a cringing bundle of nerves since that moment until BB-8 arrived. Despite the extreme sleep deprivation and near total lack of time, he went on a cleaning rampage, stubbornly insisting that he mustn’t look like a slob in front of Poe’s friend, as if that would have anything to do with convincing BB-8 not to turn him in. Never mind that everyone understood that having a pristine house with two, small children, including a newborn, no less, was impossible, and that BB-8 didn’t care one way or another about organics’ organizational skills as long as they didn’t interfere with their job. Every spare second was devoted to groaning over the “disgusting accumulation of dust” and “unsightly stains” on the carpet, which Poe found Hux hunched over one morning, scrubbing furiously while muttering under his breath. A small row ensued, only ending when Poe all but dragged Hux off the floor and shoved him into the bathroom for a shower. Poe spent the next hour on that damn carpet, and it didn’t even have the courtesy of looking better than mildly acceptable.
But he couldn’t really be mad at Hux, after all. He’d be chewing up his own fingernails if their circumstances were reversed, which Hux was this close from doing already. He was so tense that Poe had to begin regulating his Tarine tea intake and replace it with soothing herbal tea instead, because Hux was guzzling the beverage so desperately that he might start vibrating any second.
Ellie, on the other hand, was ecstatic at meeting Poe’s friend, and couldn’t stop asking Poe questions about them. Like all children, she had squealed excitedly at BB-8’s cuteness when Poe showed her a picture of them and was already requesting a BB unit plushie. Hux agreed to get her a blue BB-5, which didn’t look much like BB-8 with its flat head and smaller photoreceptor, but Ellie was delighted with it and wouldn’t let it go for a second for the two days that it took BB-8 to get there from Yavin IV. Poe warned BB-8 to expect a giant, bear hug the instant that she saw them, although BB-8 enjoyed those, so it wouldn’t be a problem.
Unfortunately for her, though, BB-8’s transport was due to arrive while she was at school, and no amount of begging would convince Hux to let her take the day off. Honestly, Poe was glad of it, because those first, few hours would be difficult enough without having to navigate the discomfort of hiding Hux’s terror of BB-8 from her, because how the hell could they explain that?
A couple of hours after dropping Ellie off at school, Poe drove to the spaceport to pick up BB-8. His palms were sweaty and his back tense during the entire ride, not that he had any reason to be nervous, not really, certainly not this damn, nervous. BB-8 had agreed not to snitch, not that they would have to begin with. And they had already had plenty of opportunities to do so, yet the cops hadn’t broken down Hux’s door to take him away, so that proved that BB-8 was the loyal friend that Poe knew him to be. But still, what if BB-8 tried to stage an intervention? Could you even do that with only one person? They still weren’t fully convinced, not that Poe could blame them, although he dearly hoped that this trip would help with that. At least the children would win them over, and that was all they needed. It had been all Poe had needed despite all reason. Although Ellie wouldn’t be around for a few hours. But Taka was. But hopefully not indulging in another marathon, crying session. That wasn’t cute at all.
Poe folded his arms over his chest as he stood at the arrival area waiting for BB-8 to emerge through the security doors. Then he placed his hands on his hips. Then crossed his arms again. Then paced a little, almost crashing into an old lady, who sniffed at him for his unseemly rudeness.
Come on, Dameron, pull yourself together.
It was only BB-8, not dad. He’d certainly never approve of his son having any sort of dealings with First Order scum, cute children or not.
Fourteen minutes into Poe’s low key panic, BB-8 finally rolled out along with more arrivals. Despite his nerves, Poe grinned with joy and waved to them. BB-8 rushed towards him, not caring that they smacked into someone’s leg, beeping excitedly.
Poe! I’m so happy to see you in corporeal form!
Poe chuckled and leaned down to hug them.
“I know, buddy. Me, too. I’m so sorry it’s been so long. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
You better not. I’ve been going crazy. BB-8 peered around Poe. He’s waiting at home, I see.
Poe winced inwardly at the awkwardness to come.
“Yeah. It’s Taka’s naptime. They’ll probably still be asleep when we get back.” Poe stood up, rubbing his forehead, and began leading BB-8 toward the parking lot. “You know, he’s quite terrified of you.”
Good. He should be.
Poe shot him a wary look.
I’m kidding,BB-8 said. But I might still enjoy it.
God, if that hadn’t been Poe’s own resentful sentiments while he had interrogated Hux in his own kitchen. But that was a long time ago. So much had changed in ways that Poe still couldn’t explain.
He texted Hux as they were getting into the speeder. Hux had asked for a warning so that he could brace himself for BB-8’s judgmental presence. He didn’t phrase it in those words, but the intent had come through pretty clearly as he wrung his hands under the table before downing half a cup of herbal tea in one gulp as if it were a shot of Bourbon. Poe felt a little bad for him, but then again, stewing in a pool of anxiety for a bit was hardly a sliver of what Hux deserved after the appalling shit that he’d pulled, so never mind that. Besides, Poe didn’t have time to preoccupy himself with that when BB-8 was asking him question after question as they drove into town and through the residential neighborhood, appalled that Hux was living in such pleasant and peaceful surroundings.
Hux lives here? BB-8 asked, goggling at the pretty house as they pulled up. But it’s so nice and normal. Not even remotely black and crimson. And he has flowers! Does he actually like the flowers, or are they just for show?
“He likes the flowers. He even gardens. I know,” Poe added at BB-8’s surprised head jerk. “It was so weird seeing him crouched in the dirt with yellow gardening gloves and a straw hat on, but I got used to it after a while. Seeing him engage in all this normalcy becomes, well, normal, after living with it for long enough. Did I tell you that he cooks?”
“Yup. It’s delicious, too. God, I felt like a traitor at first just for enjoying it.”
Poe drove into the garage, powered down the speeder, and looked at BB-8, trepidation shooting up his back like a coiling snake. Not that he had a single thing to be nervous about. BB-8 was hardly going to stab him in the back now.
“Well,” he said, sagging in his seat, possessing no desire at all to open the door. “This is it.”
BB-8 rolled slightly back and forth, looking between Poe and the door into the house. At least Poe wasn’t the only one on edge. Although Hux was doubtlessly sweating himself into a puddle with nerves inside, bracing himself from the instant that he had heard the garage door open, striving for the meekest, most pleasant facial expression that he could muster.
This is weird, BB-8 said.
“God, I know.” Poe rubbed his forehead, yanking his hair back. “I know. It’s a hell of a mind fuck, but we should just get it over with. We can’t just sit here all day. Come on.”
Poe opened his door and stepped out, going around the speeder to help BB-8 out. They slunk silently toward the door, their steps shortening as they got closer, neither wishing to hurry the encounter along, even though it only maximized their own apprehension and Hux’s inside. Poe touched the doorknob, sucking in a long, low breath. BB-8 leaned against his leg for a moment before standing back.
Poe opened the door. Hux halted misstep, no doubt from pacing all over the room, and turned towards them, moving his arms behind his back before rapidly shoving them in front of him and pressing his palms together. He looked like a terrified priest about to bless them, right down to his ridiculously formal charcoal grey suit and pointy, black slippers. When Poe had left, he’s been wearing his usual yoga pants and wrinkled t-shirt, and now he looked like the chancellor of the New Republic themselves was showing up at his house. For fuck’s sake, BB-8 didn’t even understand organics’ fixation with different formality levels in attire.
“Hi,” Poe said. “BB-8’s here.”
Really? That’s what it occurred to him to say? As if BB wasn’t right next to him staring up at Hux like they weren’t sure what to do with him?
“Hello,” Hux said, his smile begging to be liked. “Welcome. Please, make yourself at home. Taka is sleeping right now, so I do please ask that you don’t make too much noise, but other than that…”
Hux trailed off so awkwardly that Poe almost winced. This whole situation was giving him a headache, including BB-8’s equally awkward response of “Ok. Thank you” in a painfully stilted tone as they rocked hesitantly back and forth.
“Um,” Poe said, resisting the urge to touch his forehead for the billionth time that day. “How about a tour of the house?”
“Of course,” Hux said, looking around. “Well, obviously this is the kitchen and dining area.” He began leading them through the small corridor. “And this is the living room.”
Which looked impressively spotless considering the mess of baby things that had been lying on the couch when Poe left, as did the kitchen. God, Hux had spent every spare second cleaning, hadn’t he? Poe had told him over and over again that BB-8 didn’t care, but Hux refused to look any less than his best around them. He hadn’t even tried this hard with Poe when they started out, although back then, what Hux had most wanted was to incite pity, while now he had switched back to “what will people think of me” mode. He continued to act the perfect host as they made their way through the house, pointing out his mother’s picture over the mantel and showing off Ellie’s ship collection, especially the A-wings and X-wings. His incessant, pleasant smiling got a little pitiful after a while, smacking of desperation, and Poe almost leaned in a couple of times to reassure him that he could relax and breathe before he got a heart attack. BB-8 was equally polite, if a little quieter than usual, and examined their surroundings with avid interest, beeping with surprised alertness at the Resistance ship models.
I wouldn’t think you’d want anything to do with these ships, they said, staring at an X-wing that bore the same colors as one that they and Poe had flown together during the war.
“Yeah, that’s what I said when I first saw them,” Poe added. “Crazy, huh?”
“Well,” Hux said, looking even more uncomfortable as he struggled to come up with a diplomatic answer. “I admit I wasn’t thrilled by Ellie’s interest in these particular ships, but I couldn’t dissuade her from it. Especially since I can’t explain to her why I’m not very keen on them, so I have to pretend that I am. I don’t mind them now.”
So, how would you feel if she grows up to fly an X-wing?
Poe grinned at Hux’s resigned, put-upon face.
“Honestly, I’m expecting Poe to get her into one at the first opportunity.”
“Damn right I am,” Poe said. “She’s already begging to. That’s going to be her sixth birthday present.”
Hux’s jaw twitched in that telltale way that it always did whenever he was peeved at Poe and was about to let him have it, but he cast BB-8 an uncertain glance and kept his glare down to an annoyed smolder and his voice much less firm than normal.
“You are not putting my daughter in a cockpit at six. That’s much too young.”
“No, it isn’t. Mom started teaching me at six.”
“Well, she and I are going to have to disagree. Twelve, minimum.”
“Twelve? That’s ridiculously late.”
“No, it isn’t. That’s when I first started.”
“And your piloting skills are legendary.”
Hux sputtered, glancing sheepishly at BB-8, who was avidly following the entire exchange, and that’s when Poe realized that they were bickering in that friendly way that they did despite Poe’s initial, better judgment. Shit. Poe had specifically made several mental notes not to do that, yet here he was, running his mouth as if they were alone, because of course he was. Since he was comfortable around BB-8, his mind had lulled itself into a false sense of security, and now he was doomed to dread the moment when BB-8 would pull him aside and ask, “What the hell was that?”
Oh, what the hell. Poe had already confessed to being friends with Hux, despite the insanity of that statement. This wasn’t so weird in light of that. It only confirmed it, and yet… He felt oddly naked somehow. And he actually had been naked in front of BB-8. Given the embarrassed look on Hux’s face, he felt the same way. He’d completely given up on keeping his hands from folding behind his back, and was standing so stiffly that he looked like a terrified scarecrow internally screaming at the birds pecking at its face.
“We can discuss that later,” Poe said. “The point is, you’d be fine with her flying an X-wing, right?”
“Yes. I’m not holding on to any old grudges. I have no problem with that.”
Hux looked much too pleading as he met BB-8’s photoreceptor before retreating to the doorway.
“Let’s go out to the backyard,” he said.
Crap, now Poe was the one sounding too eager to move on from this awkwardness and BB-8’s silent, wondering gaze.
Outside, Hux endeavored to run away from the last conversation by info dumping about the construction of the backyard. He rambled on about several mishaps in setting up the swing set (which Poe had done 75% of the work on), how the cerulean blooms lining the house were some rare species that he’d had to special order from the next planet over, but Ellie wanted them, so he couldn’t say no, and spoke wistfully about wanting to build a nicer porch with grey brick tiles to watch from as the kids played. It was all very informative and touching and Poe wanted to hiss at him to quit laying it on so thick.
Thankfully, Taka interrupted by waking up before Hux could start on about his dreams of watching his grandchildren grow up, or whatever heartstring-tugging story he was about to go into. As Hux left to tend to Taka, Poe loitered anxiously in front of BB-8, hands stuck in his pockets, fingers curling into the fabric.
“So,” he asked. “What do you think? Do you still feel weird? It took me a long time to get over the weirdness.”
You two seem very comfortable with each other.
Poe rubbed the back of his neck.
“Yeah. It happened slowly, you know?”
I didn’t know what to expect when you said that you’re friends. Were you joking earlier or were you really arguing about how to raise the kids?
“Uh… Both? Well, I was serious about twelve being really late, but it’s his call, obviously. It’s not up to me.”
It kind of sounded like you wanted a say.
“Not really. That was the joking part. It’s not like I’m a co-parent. I’m just babysitting, really.”
Hm… Well, Hux seems very interested in keeping you around. He’s being super nice to me. I never imagined that Hux would ever be nice to me.
“Yeah, you’ll get used to it. He’s been really paranoid about this visit, though. I keep telling him that you’re not going to snitch, but he cleaned the house top to bottom. Or would have if I hadn’t taken the wipes away from him to do it myself. The house never looks like this. I’m sure by tonight it’ll be a mess again with Ellie running around and all the baby stuff. And I kept telling him not to put on anything fancy, yet he wore that suit anyway. Taka is probably going to spit all over it, and I’ll be the one taking it to the dry cleaners.”
BB-8 stared up at him, completely silent and still. Uh uh. What did that mean?
“What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
It just… sounds so… domestic. I know you guys have been living together for over a month, but it didn’t feel real, yet here I am at the house, and you’re bickering with Hux about child rearing…
“We weren’t bickering. It was just.... You know, messing around.”
So you’re messing around with Hux while living together.
“Okay, living together makes it sound like something else.”
You’re living in the same house.
Poe rubbed his forehead.
“Well, yeah, but…”
So you’re living together.
“Fine, whatever. Technically speaking.”
And now you’re complaining about him not listening to you and having to do his chores. And how long are you going to live here for? Are you going to get your own place in town? Are you going to teach Ellie when she’s twelve?
Oh God, this was too much reality in one go. Poe shuffled around, rubbing his eyes while watching the doorway so that Hux wouldn’t suddenly appear in their midst at the most inconvenient moment. He really didn’t want to answer any of this right now.
“I don’t know, buddy. Can we talk about this later? Hux could come back any second.”
Fine. But are you at least thinking about it, or are you just rushing into things again?
“I’ve thought a lot about it.” Well, some. “We can discuss it later, okay? I promise.”
Damnit, now he had to discuss it later. But he had just heard the nursery door open, so Hux was on his way back right now, and having him hear this was so much worse. Thankfully, BB-8 heard too, and rolled toward the door, eagerly going back inside to see Taka, who was cradled in Hux’s arms. Hux would have had to remove both jacket and shirt to feed Taka, yet he’d put both back on, the diva, although his need for style was a bit cramped by the hand towel he’d draped over his left shoulder to keep Taka from drooling on his fancy gaberwool. Taka clung to the cloth but looked down at BB-8 as they rolled into view, making an inquisitive sound.
“This is BB-8,” Hux softly told Taka. “You saw them before, remember?”
Hello, BB-8 said, opting for their cutest, beeping tone.
“Why don’t you sit down in the living room,” Poe told Hux, “so that they can get a better look at each other?”
Hux followed his suggestion, leading them toward the couch, and sitting Taka in his lap against his chest. Poe’s chest tightened with a warm, fuzzy feeling as Taka and BB-8 gazed at each other, Taka reaching out a small hand. BB-8 extended one of their arms, which Taka immediately grabbed. Poe sat down next to Hux, grinning at the tender sight. He had so hoped that this would go well. Taka was easily scared of strangers, but they had been fine with BB-8’s hologram, so Poe hadn’t really had a reason to worry, but still. And BB-8 being a droid rather than an organic being probably made it easier, too.
Hi, Taka, BB-8 beeped. You’re very cute.
That made Hux, smile too, a real smile, not that nervous semi-grimace he’d had this whole time.
I’m Poe’s friend, BB-8 continued. You like Poe, don’t you?
“They love him,” Hux said, glancing at Poe. “The kids are very attached to him.”
Poe pet Taka’s soft hair, almost giving in to the urge to drop a kiss on their tiny head, but didn’t want to distract them too much from BB-8, who was equally charmed by the encounter.
When does Ellie get home?
The nervous knot that Poe had been carrying in his stomach loosened even further at the enthusiasm in BB-8’s voice.
“At 2, so about four hours still. She’s just as eager to meet you, too. You can come with me to pick her up, if you want.”
Hux looked pleased by the answer, too.
“What do you think of the house?” he asked, trying not to sound as desperate for approval as he actually was, and almost succeeding.
It’s nice. It looks comfy.
“It is,” Poe said.
“I’ve tried my best to make it so. I’m not seeking any sort of luxuries now, just somewhere where my children will be happy. The schools are good in this district, too.”
So no more plans of galaxial domination?
Panic shuddered through Hux’s face.
“No. None, I swear.”
I’m kidding, BB-8 interjected before Hux could work himself into a nervous frenzy. Poe wouldn’t be here if he thought you were lying, so I’ll trust you on it.
Hux sagged, his relieved breath so loud that Taka looked up at him with a silent question. Hux rubbed their belly to reassure them.
This doesn’t mean I trust you. But I trust Poe, so I’ll trust him to trust you.
“Thanks, buddy,” Poe said.
“Thank you,” Hux said. “I don’t take that trust lightly.”
BB-8 quietly assessed Hux for a second, before saying, Good and turning their attention back to Taka, who had yet to let go of their limb. Discreetly, Poe inhaled a long, slow breath as relief washed over his body. The most important hurdle had been climbed over. BB-8 didn’t like Hux, but he trusted that he wasn’t going to start murdering people, which was the most important thing, so Poe could breathe now. Now he only had to figure out everything else.
Yeah, he’d get to that part later.
Ellie and BB-8 were both equally charmed with each other. BB-8 went up to the school entrance to pick her up, which took a bit longer than normal with all the other kids cooing and gaping at BB-8, who rewarded their attention by chirping greetings in their sweet tone, making Poe smile as well. BB-8 was fully aware of how cute they were and took full advantage of it whenever the opportunity presented itself. They turned up the charm even more with Ellie, who came running out before stopping abruptly in front of BB-8, grinning ear to ear while bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet. Her urge to hug them was clear, but Hux and Poe had taught her not to simply launch herself at someone before getting permission, especially someone that she was meeting for the first time. BB-8 chirped at her cheerfully.
“That means hello,” Poe said. “Ellie, this is BB-8. BB-8, this is Ellie.”
“Hi,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
BB-8 chirped again.
“They said it’s nice to meet you, too. You can hug them if you want.”
BB-8 assented with a nod, yet Ellie still hesitated for a second, stepping forward slowly, before throwing herself at BB-8, wrapping her arms tightly around their body, only able to get halfway. BB-8 extended an arm to hug her back, and that’s when Poe really wished that he had brought a camera to preserve this adorable moment for posterity. He should have done that when BB met Taka, too. Well, he’d have to take pictures later. There would be plenty of opportunities for it.
BB-8 rode in the back with Ellie on the way to the house as they both chatted away with Poe as interpreter. This continued in the house as Ellie gave them her own tour of her room and toys, including the BB plushie and especially the X-wings, which of course prompted more questions about flying them with more highly edited answers. There was no way that Ellie was going to wait until she was twelve to jump behind the controls of a ship, as Poe told Hux with a pointed gaze while mouthing the word “six”. Hux rolled his eyes and mouthed back “no”. Poe insisted again. Hux mouthed back “eleven”. Aha! Poe was wearing him down.
“Seven and a half.”
Another eye roll.
When Poe opened his mouth to counter, Hux covered his own lips with his right index finger and mouthed “We’re done” before turning decidedly back to Ellie and BB-8, his back ramrod straight and peeved. Okay. Poe would back off for now. But there was no way in hell that Ellie was waiting until she was ten. She’d be sneaking into a ship years before that. Hopefully, Poe would be around to see that.
He would be, right? Yeah, there was no way that he’d disappear on these kids, even after this particular visit ended, no matter what he decided about things.
But what the hell was he going to decide? He certainly couldn’t leave while Taka was still a baby. How would Hux cope? But weren’t the toddler years also especially difficult? The terrible twos and terrible threes? So what? Poe had to be around for four years? That was much too long. He’d be forty by then, and still with no romantic partner, because who the hell would be with him in this scenario, with him living with someone else and helping to take care of their kids as a top priority? Even if he made it crystal clear that there was nothing romantic going on between him and Hux, it was pretty damn unconvincing looking at it from the outside. Apart from the fact that Hux was a fugitive constantly on guard against being recognized, and how much could Poe expect this hypothetical partner to not run to the authorities if they figured out who Hux was? Yeah, not at all. But Poe wouldn’t be able to keep those two halves of his life separate, not for long. Just look at what disaster it was already wreaking amongst his friends. And his dad. God, did he not want to think about telling his dad.
These thoughts circled restlessly in Poe’s head as he lied on the couch that night, unable to sleep despite his exhaustion, turning over his mom’s ring in his hands. With the faint light of a passing car outside, he was able to see BB-8’s outline against the opposite wall as they rested in low power mode while charging. They had granted Poe a reprieve from the ominous discussion that Poe was foolish enough to promise, but it would be coming. BB-8 was probably waiting to learn more about how Poe fit in within the household before delivering an ultimatum. Or he was giving Poe more time to think. Either way, Poe was sure glad to put it off, because he had no idea what he’d say if the question was put to him right now.
Ellie and Taka weren’t his kids, but he did take care of them fulltime, and he had sighed paperwork that opened up the possibility that they might one day be completely under his care should the worst happen, Force forbid. But still, right now, they weren’t his kids. Nor could they be, unless…
God, what was he even thinking? How the hell was Poe supposed to get his life together if he officially co-parented with Hux? Because a romantic relationship was straight out. Living together, even being friends, well, somehow that wasn’t horrible, but that, nuh uh. The guy was good-looking, but Poe was glad to conclude that those kinds of feelings did not arise in him one bit when he looked at Hux’s face or any other part of his anatomy.
Strictly as a mental exercise to be absolutely sure, Poe briefly considered cuddling him.
Hell no. Holding hands while giving birth was the closest they were ever getting to that, and even that had been more like an attempted mangling than anything, which was still much more comfortable than having it be anything mushy and romantic. Being friends was weird enough. Poe did not need to muddy the waters like this.
So then what? Resign himself to never having anyone to hold again? To whisper sweet nothings to? To love with the delighted fervor that he’d always seen in his parents’ eyes when they had looked at each other and everything fell quiet? Poe, even that young, had known that something was sparking between them that he couldn’t see. To cook for—
Wait, he already cooked for Hux. Never mind. The intention behind that cooking was completely different. It didn’t count. The taking care of didn’t count either. Nor the fact that they did it for each other. Sure, it was part of what Poe wanted, but not with him, not under these circumstances with him. This was completely different, and Poe would regret it if he gave up on having a romantic partner in his life. Although not all hope would be lost. He could always try looking again after the kids were grown. People found love in their sixties. Yeah.
Ah, hell, what was he thinking? Putting off the search until he was sixty? Maybe someone would be okay with Poe co-parenting with someone else. It was no different than dating someone who had kids from a previous marriage. Although Poe would have to move out. Not that he had officially moved in. Not technically. Whatever. And he didn’t even know if Hux wanted to co-parent, anyway, so this whole torturous exercise might be pointless, anyway. Although he doubted that Hux would say no. He was so desperate on Poe staying that he’d let BB-8 into his home just because Poe asked. And he had looked so saddened and concerned when he thought that Poe was leaving earlier, so he’d probably say yes, but, of course, that wasn’t a guarantee.
And could he really co-parent with Hux, of all people? Shouldn’t the idea make him sick? Yet it wasn’t, somehow. The three weeks since Hux’s renewed apology by the koyo tree had dulled Poe’s resentment into a dull discomfort in his belly. It still smarted, like a rash that wouldn’t leave, but it had grown cold and pale, no longer furiously red and itchy.
A sharp, infant cry arose from the nursery. Poe sighed, resigning himself to a night of no sleep. Here came the night shift. Exactly what he was hoping to sign up for. He dragged his weary feet down the corridor, calling through Hux’s door just as his light came on.
“I’ve got them.”
A sleepy grunt acknowledged him before the light turned off and Hux flopped back into bed. Taka wouldn’t be eating at this hour. They probably just needed a new diaper or were gassy.
Diaper it was. Poe smelled it immediately, and took the squirming Taka over to the changing table just like he’d done countless times, and garbed them in a clean one. The crying died down, only to erupt again when Poe attempted to return them to their crib.
“Okay,” he murmured, raising Taka. “It’s okay. I can’t sleep, anyway.”
He sat down in the chair that Hux used to nurse, and cradled Taka against his chest, rocking gently back and forth, humming some nonsense tune. Taka quieted down, little limbs flexing and pressing against Poe, scrunching up his shirt in a fist. Poe’s eyes slipped shut, desperate to sleep, yet his roiling thoughts and the baby in his arms wouldn’t let him. But this is what he wanted. He was sure of it. This little being clinging to him for comfort, Ellie’s intelligent curiosity, and all the chaos and madness that came with it. The promised peace that had eluded him since the war ended had found him here, in this house, with this family, as inappropriate as it was. For the first time since he could remember, he could breathe without shuddering, smile with genuine, undaunted joy, and look forward to a day of purpose, even if that was only changing diapers, cleaning the house, and helping Ellie with her homework.
How could he possibly leave now? He’d bound himself to this family as soon as he had volunteered to come to take care of a pregnant Hux, already so keen, so desperate for this domesticity, this comfort and terror of responsibility. He didn’t want it to end in a month or a year or whenever it became too uncomfortable to keep sleeping on Hux’s couch and call himself a guest. He wanted, needed, to be part of the rest of these kids’ lives, and there was no getting around that fact now.
He had to talk to BB-8, let them talk some sense into him, remind him of the myriad reasons why it wouldn’t work, why his dad and his friends would never accept it, why he should move on now before he hurt himself and the kids even more.
Taka grabbed his thumb, tugging at his heartstrings. Yeah, way, too damn late for that one.
“BB, I need to tell you something,” Poe said the next morning while they sat in the kitchen.
Ellie was at school and both Hux and Taka were napping, so now was the perfect time to declare his insane, bound to be an unpopular idea.
What is it?, BB-8 asked. You’re not marrying Hux, are you?
“What? No! I wouldn’t go that far. Wait, you’re kidding, aren’t you?”
Of course I’m kidding. I can only take so much, Poe. Yet I have the feeling that I’m not going to like what you have to say, anyway.
“Really?” Poe dipped his head, rubbing his forehead, leaning heavily on the table. “What gave it away?”
That. With the way that you look, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said that you are marrying Hux.
“I’m not marrying Hux. I have no desire whatsoever to tie myself to him like that, but… Well, uh… I was thinking about what I said earlier. About me just babysitting here, but I’m not…” Crap, this was hard to admit out loud. “You’re right. I am living here. And I do want to teach Ellie to fly, although not when she’s twelve. There’s no way she’s waiting that long. But that’s not the point. What I mean is, well… I uh… I want to…”
Poe sighed, breath spilling out of him.
“Yes. I don’t know if there’s a point in holding on to some fantasy about the right partner and having kids with them, building a family that way.”
But you’ve always wanted that. You’re not the type to give up. You could still do it.
“Yeah, I know, but how likely is it, really? I keep trying and striking out. Everyone just wants to be with General Dameron, war hero, and I’m not… I’m not that. And this happened. This insane thing that I still can’t believe I stumbled into, but it’s happening. I’m part of Ellie and Taka’s lives no matter what, and Hux is going to need help for a long while yet. Truthfully, for a couple of years, from what I hear. He can’t handle the terrible twos by himself.”
So you want to co-parent? Officially?
“If Hux agrees with it, which he might not. Having me help is one thing, but allowing me an equal say in childcare decisions, parental authority… He might not be too keen on that.”
BB-8 looked down, rocking slightly from side to side. Poe frowned. That was their “I have something to say, but I’m not sure if I should say it” motion.
“What is it?” Poe asked.
I wasn’t sure whether to tell you or not. Hux did want it to be private. He pulled me aside the day I came here and said that he wasn’t just trying to ingratiate himself to me so that I would keep his secret. He cared whether I liked him or not because you’re his friend and he’s very grateful for your help. And because you’re good with his kids, like a loving uncle.
Poe smiled in surprise.
“An uncle, huh? He really sees me as an uncle to his kids?”
I suspected that he might be buttering me up, but he seemed sincere, and it makes sense given what you’ve told me. He relies on you a lot, and he doesn’t seem to be taking it for granted.
“No, he doesn’t. Whenever he thinks that I’m about to announce that I’m leaving, he freaks out. He doesn’t beg me to stay, but he gets this sad, desperate look on his face until I disabuse him of the notion. I didn’t think he was taking this so seriously, though. I mean, I really did think he was just worried that you would hand him in.”
So Hux wanted to be liked by Poe’s friend simply because they were friends and not to stay out of jail. Huh. Poe wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He was feeling something. A surprised, relieved, even touched sensation in his chest that he’d never thought to associate with Hux. It wasn’t like they were that kind of friends who cared for each other without having to take other factors into consideration. They were just accidental, living together for convenience, taking care of the same kids, doing chores together friends, if that was a thing. But Hux was invested, hoping for a more long-term arrangement, and even though Poe had strongly implied that he would stay while Taka was a baby, so not only for a couple of months, Hux wasn’t taking that lightly.
“So…” Poe said. “You think he would already be inclined to say yes?”
Maybe. But before you jump into any more life-altering decisions, are you sure? You’re hiding Hux away now, but you can’t live the rest of your life like this, having a secret family. You need to tell your dad.
Poe dropped his head, sighing. That was the one thing that kept his peaceful existence from being completely happy. Well, other than Hux’s past, but he was managing that well enough, he supposed. But this rift between him and everyone else that he cared about, the constant lying to their faces, it poisoned his heart every time and it made him sick.
And your friends. You can’t just keep lying to them.
“I know, pal. I know. I hate every second of it. But how do I confess to this? I felt like I was going to throw up when I was telling you. How do you feel about it? Would you be okay with me doing it?”
Would what I say change anything?
“You know I value your opinion, pal. If you think it’s insane, hit me with it.”
It is insane. This entire thing is insane. If you had told me when you first decided to come out here, I would have tazed you and tied you up until I could knock some sense into you.
Poe grinned wryly at that, but he wasn’t sure if BB was joking or not.
But it’s too late now, BB-8 continued. You’re already integrated into this family from what I can see, so there’s no point in having an intervention. As long as Hux doesn’t go on a killing spree, I guess it’s not too horrible.
Poe groaned, dropping his face into his hands.
“God, don’t even get me thinking about that. I’m focusing on here and now as much as I can. Really, there’s nothing else I can do by this point. I should have stayed away from the beginning, but here I am.”
You couldn’t resist the kids, BB-8 said understandingly. You want to be a parent, so you jumped at the chance.
Poe reached for the baby monitor on the table, turning it towards him to regard Taka’s sleeping form, peaceful in their crib. Poe’s doubts melted at the possibility of always been able to keep them safe.
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
So go for it. Which you’re going to do, anyway.
Poe snorted, smiling at the screen.
“You know me too well, buddy.”
Decision made, all that Poe needed now was to ask Hux. Which required a right time to ask. While Hux was nursing didn’t feel like a good time. Or when he was reading through his baby blogs, because he didn’t appreciate non-kid induced interruptions. Or when he was relaxing on the porch on one of the rare moments that he had a chance to. Or when he was instructing Poe on a new recipe, because they only had twenty-two minutes to make this meal, and they were already fifteen minutes behind. Much less when Ellie got home from school and was playing in the living room because Taka started crying and Poe was on carrying and rocking duty. And after Ellie went to bed didn’t work, either, because now Taka was hungry again.
Damnit, there was no good time. Maybe after Taka fell asleep, but then they’d be going to bed to catch whatever little sleep they could.
“Dameron, just tell me whatever the hell it is that you’ve been stewing over all day. You’re driving me mad.”
Poe winced, almost dropping the onesie he held. He toyed with the pile of laundry he was organizing, turning the onesie over and over in his hands, poking at the soft cotton instead of looking Hux properly in the eye. It didn’t help that Hux was nursing Taka, although Poe had gotten used to seeing his boobs a while ago, since Hux really didn’t care.
“Well, uh… It’s not a bad thing. I mean, what I have to ask is not a bad thing. Unless you don’t like it. I’m not sure if you will like it or not.”
Hux dropped his head back against the backrest, breath lengthening in an exasperated groan.
“Poe, would you please just say it already. I’m too tired for your anxious stalling.”
“Okay. I want to co-parent.”
Wow, that had burst out of him faster than he’d expected. Hux’s head shot forward, shock widening his eyes.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’m already the kids’ legal guardian if anything happens to you, and I’ve been here since before Taka was born, and I don’t want to leave. And you don’t seem to want me to leave, so… I don’t know what you think about that. I should give you a chance to respond. Sorry.”
Hux stared at him for a few seconds, mouth gaping open. That didn’t look like a good sign, did it? Maybe Hux was too sleep-deprived to process it. Poe was certainly too tired to express it properly.
“You want to co-parent my children?” Hux asked slowly, as if unsure that he had heard Poe correctly.
“Yes. If you’re okay with that. You’re going to need help for more than the next few months and I don’t want to go anywhere. I love Taka and Ellie. I had been planning on getting married and having kids of my own, but that hasn’t happened, but this has, and we get along well enough, so…”
Hux was frowning now, and Poe couldn’t tell if it was a good frown or a bad one. Taka gurgled, announcing that they were done eating, so the next few moments were caught up in Hux closing up his shirt and resting Taka against his chest while tapping their back, trying to get them to burp. Yeah, not a great time to bring this up.
“You know,” Poe said, already taking half a step backward toward the door, “we can talk about this later.”
“Absolutely not. We are most certainly discussing it now. For how long have you been considering this?”
“Um, well, officially co-parenting since last night, but I’ve been wanting to stay for a while, to be honest.”
“And you are absolutely certain of this? It’s not just some half-baked scheme of yours, is it? Last night is not very long.”
“It’s not, but I am sure about it. I have been sure for a while now that I don’t want to leave Ellie and Taka. I want to do this. If you’re okay with it. I know it’s a lot.”
“Yes, it is. You want to be a parent to my children. With me. Me. Armitage Hux, former Grand Marshall of the First Order. You really are one hundred percent sure that this is what you want to do?”
Oh. That’s where all that shock came from. Yeah, Poe could see how that didn’t look believable.
“To be honest,” Poe said, “I’m not crazy about that part.” It still stuck in his craw every time he thought about it. “But if I couldn’t get past that, I wouldn’t still be here. As crazy and impossible as it seemed to me at the beginning, we make a pretty good team as far as childcare is concerned. And I don’t… I don’t hate you. I wouldn’t have called you a friend if I hated you. So let’s just leave all that in the past, alright? I want to do this. Let’s be honest, I’m already doing this with you. BB-8 picked up on how comfortable we sounded with each other when we were negotiating over when Ellie should begin flying lessons. Just the fact that we were negotiating at all instead of you just imposing your authority means something.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Hux said slowly, gaze lost somewhere on the floor while he ruminated over this. “I should have simply told you that it was my decision to be done with it. I would have done so in your first days here. Yet I… I have grown comfortable with your presence. Your aid. I took care of Ellie by myself for four years, yet I can’t imagine what I would have done if you weren’t here to help me with Taka. I have been relying on you more than just as an extra set of hands. Still, I must think it over.”
“Sure. Yes. Of course. Take all the time you need. I’m not going anywhere. Unless you want me to. What I mean is, if you decide that you don’t want to do this, I’m not going to leave you hanging. Whatever you decide is fine.”
Hux nodded, resting Taka on his lap, who gripped his shirt, clueless to the serious discussion that would shape their family.
“Thank you,” Hux said. “It means a lot to me that you wish to be a parent to my children. I really do appreciate that, even if I decide otherwise.”
“There is one thing, though. If I decide in the positive, you can’t keep lying to your family and friends your whole life. None of us would be able to endure it, and especially not you. As terrifying as the prospect of telling more people makes me, we both need to keep that in mind.”
Oh, yeah. That old chestnut.
“Yes.” Poe rubbed the back of his neck. “That terrifies me, too. But it worked with BB-8. Maybe it wouldn’t be terrible.”
“Maybe. Well, I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve decided.”
Poe and BB-8 were on tenterhooks for the next two and a half days while Hux took his time thinking it over. Although it was a huge, life-altering decision, so two days wasn’t really that long considering, but it was still pretty long for Poe to be jumping internally every time that Hux opened his mouth to say something, only to sag when it turned out to be about the time or the laundry. Every once in a while, Poe could feel Hux giving him a considering look, only to glance away the instant that Poe turned around. By the third day, Poe had to limit his caffeine intake because he was too jumpy and nervous by the continued silence. BB-8 tried to distract him, but that only worked for so long before anxiety gnawed at him again and he sought a fresh chore to bury himself into to keep from freaking out.
He was really setting his whole heart and soul into this. It hadn’t occurred to him until he told BB-8 how much he really wanted to be not just a dad in general, but Ellie and Taka’s dad. Well, maybe not dad. Hux had already claimed that title, so they’d have to come up with something else. Papá would work. If Hux said yes. which he might not, so there was no point even considering it now, but what were the chances that he would say no, anyway? He wanted Poe to continue helping, and they were already making childcare decisions together, and Poe would be an extra income with his generous retirement package, courtesy of being a hero of the Resistance. While he wasn’t terribly fond of the appellation, he’d be more than happy to use the funds to provide for Ellie and Taka. So really, Hux had no reason to say no.
The announcement came while Poe was gathering the ingredients for that night’s dinner. Hux ambled slowly into the kitchen, having just put down Taka for a nap, his face filled with somber purpose.
“I’ve made a decision,” he said, his voice so serious that Poe’s heart sank as he exchanged a fearful glance with BB-8.
Oh, no. Hux was going to say no. Poe had asked too much. Loving uncle was well and good, but parent? How could Poe have thought that he could be so presumptuous?
“Why do you look like I’m about to drag you to a funeral?” Hux asked, frowning. “I want you to co-parent.”
“Oh my god. That’s amazing. Thank you.”
BB-8 squealed with joy as the urge to hug Hux seized Poe, but he restrained himself. Hugging him would be too much. He didn’t actually want that level of contact with him, although they were about to raise children together, so who cared? He did hug BB-8, though, who leaned against him, wiggling happily. He was going to be a dad. He was actually, finally, for real, going to be a dad, just like he’d wanted since he had first placed his mom’s ring on its chain and tied it around his neck. It was happening. Oh god, it was happening.
“I still need you to make sure that there are no difficulties with the other people in your life,” Hux said.
“Yes, of course.” Poe could barely speak around the massive grin on his face. “Right away.”
I’ll help you figure out what to say, BB-8 said.
“I will, as well,” Hux said, still looking ridiculously dour-faced for the occasion.
Oh, wait. Right. He was scared. That’s why he looked like that. Crap, yeah. A not insignificant amount of Resistance members were about to learn that he was alive and well, quite a dangerous proposition under any circumstances. This really would be a hell of a lot easier if Poe had decided to co-parent with someone who hadn’t gone on a galaxial rampage, like any sane person would do, but it was too late now. The only way that he could be a father to the children he already loved was to make this work, so, damn it all, he would.
Yet before Poe could reassure Hux of this, a tentative smile appeared on Hux’s face, becoming brighter as it grew in confidence.
“I am very glad that we’re doing this,” he said. There was the joy Poe had been hoping for. “I have often wondered if the kids would benefit from having a second parent, and you have been so good to them these last weeks. I had been dreading your leaving for their sake much more than for mine.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere.” Now Poe did reach out and touch Hux’s shoulder. “I don’t want to go anywhere. Thank you for letting me be a parent to your kids. I cannot tell you how happy you’ve made me.”
“I should be the one thanking you. I never expected this to happen. I couldn’t even conceive of it happening, yet now it feels like the best thing that could be happening.”
Poe snorted. “You and me both.”
Me, three, BB-8 said.
“It will be difficult, though,” Hux said, trepidation creeping back into his face.
“Yeah, no kidding.”
“You are sure that it will be alright? I confess that I’m a bit nervous.”
“Just a bit. I couldn’t tell.”
They’ll come around, BB-8 said. I did.
“Exactly,” Poe said, smiling as if he weren’t just as terrified. “See, it’ll be fine.”
Hux looked between the two of them for a second, then tried a wary smile.
“Yes. You’re right. Everything will be alright.”
Twenty-three months later
“Where are the candles?” Rey asked, searching through the kitchen cupboards.
“Third one down,” Poe said before grabbing the birthday cake and carrying it to the dining table, which should have been an easy task given the short distance, but not with small kids running underfoot. Ellie, now a bright and precocious seven-year-old, had taken to Karé’s and Snap’s daughters immediately, and had spent the entire afternoon running around with them, doing who knew what. Maybe Armitage knew. Poe had taken to calling him by his first name after his dad complained that it was uneven for Armitage to call him by his first name, while Poe didn’t.
“If you insist on co-parenting with the man, then call him by his chosen name. How are you going to raise kids together if you can’t even refer to him properly?”
Neither Poe nor Hux protested the admonition, because they were too happy by the fact that, for the first time, Poe’s dad had acknowledged that the co-parenting was happening no matter how many times he begged Poe to think it over and pointed out Hux’s numerous crimes, as if Poe hadn’t already known them.
Acceptance of their arrangement had been quite the exhausting, uphill battle all the way around. Rey and Leia had come around first, as Poe had hoped, since they both had experience with giving murderers a second chance. Snap and Jess had come next, although Karé had needed a little more time to process. Dad had finally caved after a barrage of adorable footage of Ellie and Taka, including clips of all four of them interacting, courtesy of BB-8, who had come up with the idea. You really couldn’t argue with video evidence.
Finn and Rose, however… Well, they still weren’t fully on board, and might never be, which Poe understood completely. He had never pushed any of them, just let them know what he was doing and why. Finn, at least, had expressed that he was happy for him “even if it’s with that skinny asshole”, and had even come by for a visit a few months ago, strategically timed so that Armitage would be at work. The kids won him over, just like they won over everyone. Poe’s dad, as reluctant as he had been to be a grandfather to children who shared half of Armitage’s genetic material and upbringing, now visited so often that his employees practically ran the ranch for him. Right now, he was chasing Taka around the living room, the toddler giggling with delight.
Poe had teared up when his dad met the kids, Ellie’s eyes wide with wonder that she had a grandpa now, while Taka just stared, cradled in Poe’s arms, too young to understand the momentous occasion. Hux loitered in the back of the room as if he weren’t involved at all, too terrified of doing something to upset Poe’s dad.
Poe’s dad crouched down and smiled at Ellie, saying, “Hi, sweetie. I’m your grandpa. You want to give me a hug?”
Ellie didn’t bother hesitating for another second. Grinning from ear to ear, she ran into his arms. That was when Poe’s throat tightened into a teary knot, the joy on both their faces at having each other in their lives punching him in the chest and getting him this close to crying. He had turned back to Armitage and saw the same emotion in his eyes at his daughter’s happiness. Poe nudged his head to the side to prompt him to come closer, and Armitage finally did, stepping forward slowly, yet smiling in that shy way of his, although he would never agree to it being referred to as such. Ellie clung to her grandpa’s leg after he stood up to greet Taka, who kept on staring as he spoke to them, only finally giving their seal of approval with a bright smile after a good, long minute.
“Taka, dad,” Poe called out to them now. “The cake is almost ready.”
Taka’s second birthday already. How had the time flown so fast? They had only been a tiny baby a moment ago.
“I’ll get the rest of the kids,” Armitage said, disappearing down the corridor to the yard, where they had run off to.
Poe and Rey set up the candle, a large, white and green “2” in the middle of the chocolate cake, which was covered in vanilla frosting and pictures of Taka’s favorite cartoon porg. The kids soon spilled into the room, just as Poe’s dad wrangled Taka into the dining room with the announcement of cake and presents. Armitage followed close behind, and Poe snuck a peek of his belly, which was just beginning to show his three and a half months of pregnancy. They had debated long and hard whether or not they possessed the energy and sanity to have a third, but with the extra pair of enthusiastic hands that Poe’s dad provided, they had decided to go for it. Poe had supplied the sperm this time, of course, but he wouldn’t love this one any differently than he did Taka and Ellie.
“Is everyone accounted for?” Armitage asked, surveying the assembled guests.
Everyone looked around at each other, nodding. Not all of their closest friends were here, but it was more than enough. BB-8, Rey, Jess, Karé, Snap, C’ai. Leia and Finn couldn’t be there, but they had sent presents. Rose hadn’t warmed up to the idea of actually visiting, but she had sent Poe a message congratulating him on his child’s birthday. It might seem like a small gesture, but it spoke volumes.
The crazy, nonsensical gamble that Poe and Armitage had set out on had actually worked. Poe’s dad sat his grandchild down in their high chair in front of the cake. Poe and Armitage stood side by side with the others in front of the table, Armitage with camera in hand. Ellie grinned happily beside her new friends. They still had kinks to work out, and probably always would, but while the specter of restless melancholy still haunted Poe on occasion, the joyful reality of his family soon forced it to fade away. He caught Armitage’s eyes right as they began to sing “Happy Birthday”, and smiled.