The swanky downtown bar was buzzing with activity. Men in well-tailored suits, women in sparkling cocktail dresses. Hors d'oeuvres were passed around on silver platters. The party-goers imbibed, within reason, laughing politely at unfunny jokes and managing to somehow still talk about work, even at a holiday party.
It was perfect. Hux hated it.
First Order Industries always threw excessive office holiday parties. This one was a little on the subtle side, comparatively, though still very high end. Hux wondered if the firm owner’s death had anything to do with that. Snoke had always done everything to excess, even when the budget hadn’t allowed for it. The party planning duties had clearly fallen into more conservative hands. Or perhaps this was just what a budgeted party looked like.
The space was nice but cramped, the long and skinny room allowing groups of people to take up most of the width of the space. The ceilings were high, at least, but the dark wood and low lighting weren’t doing it any favors. The only lights seemed to be sparse sconces on the walls and lamps every so often at small tables scattered throughout. Hux could tell the building was old. He might have been able to appreciate it more in different circumstances.
Hux made his way through the bar slowly, interrupting conversations every few feet to shake a hand or say hello. Most of it was for appearances. He could hear whispering behind his back the moment he stepped away, the hissed sounds itching their way under his skin. Hux wasn’t the most respected, but he very nearly had the most seniority. That may have had something to do with it.
It seemed the further back he moved, the more the crowd eased. The most important partners had been near the door, ready to rub shoulders with the high end clientele the moment they walked in. Hux was less concerned about that; he had his people, and his people were loyal to him. The regular employees had gathered in the back, away from the intimidation. He didn’t blame them.
He spotted the bar as the crowd thinned, a sturdy backlit thing with a sole occupant behind its high top. Hux saw someone being helped near the middle and chose to swing left. He took one of the last seats along the long, marble top that spanned nearly the entire width of the room, and leaned a forearm against the solid wooden moulding that jutted out from it.
Hux was honestly surprised how empty the bar was, though servers had been making the rounds with trays of champagne and wine, allowing most of the partygoers to mingle well away from the actual bar. Hux recognized a colleague and his wife a few spaces down and nodded congenially. His colleague waved back, and the bartender took notice, turning quickly to make eye contact with Hux.
“I’ll be with you in just a second,” the bartender said, his deep voice carrying well over the din of the party. He put on his best grin, sharp and bright, before turning back to the other patrons.
When his colleague walked away, Hux took a seat at the bar. He didn’t want to make it obvious, but he had no intention of leaving that very spot for the foreseeable future.
The bartender swiped the cash tip up from the bar, wiped down the surface with a practiced hand, and stuffed the dollars into a glass jar just to his left. Throwing the towel over his shoulder, he cracked that grin again. “What can I get you?”
“Macallan, please. With a splash of water.”
The bartender squinted his eyes at Hux, and they grew even darker. “You paying?”
Hux scoffed, failing to tame the sound before it left his lips. “Of course I’m not—Why would I be paying?”
Removing the bar key from his pocket, the bartender pointed with it to his left and right as he spoke. “You’ve got beer or wine. You’re welcome to the booze, but it’s not an open bar.”
Hux rapped his knuckles on the frigid, marble bar top distractedly. Of fucking course. The only reason he had ever been able to tolerate these events was the booze, like an award bestowed upon him for his mandatory attendance. It was the least they could do. And they couldn’t even do it properly. It felt like a personal slight, eliminating the one ounce of gratitude he ever received from his job.
Hux must have had one of his murderous looks on his face, because the bartender placed his hands on the ice bin and leaned against it, bringing himself eye level to Hux. “You alright? You still want something?”
Straightening his posture, Hux focused on the present, making eye contact with the man in front of him. The lighting in the bar was strange, and Hux couldn’t quite decipher the color of the man’s eyes, though they looked luminously gold from this angle. Hux stole a glance down to his name tag— Kylo, what a hell of a name —before meeting his eyes again. They took in more light as he raised his eyebrows inquisitively, glinting even brighter.
“Please tell me you have something other than domestic,” Hux said.
Kylo pushed himself out of his leaning position and hummed, looking down below the bar and into the coolers. He raised a hand to his head to push back hair that wasn’t in his face. Hux had a feeling he typically didn’t wear his hair in the low bun it was currently in, but proceeded with the nervous tic anyway. Hux could sympathize.
“Heineken or Stella.”
Hux rolled his eyes. “Stella, I suppose.”
Kylo grabbed the bottle out of the cooler and popped the top, slipping the bar key back into his pocket before placing the bottle in front of Hux. “Not yet,” he warned with a sly smile, then turned and took a few steps to the back of the bar. He returned with a glass so clean Hux nearly saw his reflection in it. “You get a fancy glass. It’s the least I can do.”
“Is it going to make it taste more like Scotch?”
“Afraid not,” Kylo conceded and poured the beer with sure hands, tilting the glass and allowing the foam to settle dangerously close to the top. He slid the glass over to Hux on a black napkin. “One free Stella Artois,” Kylo announced, doing his best to over pronounce the French.
Kylo hustled away to wait on another couple, and Hux allowed himself a smile as he watched him go. He was pleasantly surprised at the bartender’s demeanor, a bright contrast against the drab personalities of his colleagues that had plagued him throughout the night. Sitting at the bar all evening might not be the downfall of his night after all.
Hux hated the holiday season. It just felt disingenuous. All of it. The forced politeness of an office party, the gift-giving, everyone being so goddamn happy for the last two months of the year. He knew there had to be more people that felt that way, that hated this time of the year, but it was almost taboo to talk about it. His friends—friend, he corrected himself—blamed it on him not having a sweetheart. Phasma had once shared the sentiment with Hux, that is until she got married. She had been remarkably cheery about the holidays ever since. Hux doubted it was that easy. Besides, being in a relationship was not on Hux’s radar, long-term or short.
Kylo, finished with his patrons, meandered a little closer to Hux’s end of the bar. He kept his distance, not talking to Hux, but there was a nervous energy about him that he seemed to be trying to contain.
“So,” Kylo finally said, when he’d appeared to run out of tasks to keep himself busy. He leaned against the back counter and slipped his thumbs into his pockets. “What’s the occasion?”
Hux took a swig of beer. “Company holiday party.”
“Explains the need for Scotch.”
“Precisely,” Hux agreed. “And I’m not paying a dime here, no offense. But I’ve enough unpaid overtime with the company that they should have ample surplus to have a full bar.”
“What is it you do?” Kylo asked, still perched against the counter on the other side of the bar. Hux wished he would move closer, but he supposed he needed to keep an eye on the rest of the bar.
“I’m an engineer.”
Kylo stood a little straighter at that. Hux couldn’t decide if he was intimidated or intrigued. “What kind of work do you do?”
“Aerospace and mechanical,” said Hux, though ten minutes after meeting someone was usually not the time he liked to talk about his line of work. “I can’t say much more than that. Most of my projects are... undisclosed.”
Kylo bit his lip and nodded, and before Hux could stare at the way Kylo’s teeth dragged across his skin, he looked at his beer and took his time with the next sip. It appeared Kylo was definitely intrigued. Still, Hux wondered for a fleeting moment what it would take to daunt someone like Kylo, and the thought gave him a rush.
“I was never good at math,” Kylo said, rerouting the conversation. Hux was glad for it. “I always liked that stuff, though. Engineering, mechanics. I’m good with my hands, but—” He paused, shrugged, and whipped the towel off his shoulder to wring it between his fingers. “Math wasn’t my best subject.”
Hux hummed. “That’s understandable. What did you—”
Kylo pushed himself off the counter enthusiastically, flashing that welcoming grin of his—which looked much less genuine now that Hux was actually paying attention—and looked immediately to Hux’s right.
The woman that appeared at Hux’s side ignored Kylo completely, so he fell back and found something to busy himself with behind the bar. A nearly full champagne glass was set on the bar top with a ringing clink.
There it was. The falseness of it all. Jessika acted like she hadn’t seen him just yesterday afternoon when she brought a report to Hux’s desk.
Hux raised his glass to his lips, taking a long sip of beer before addressing his coworker. “Hello, Jessika.”
“So, we have a table over there. Me, Rose, Mitaka. A few other people. If you want to join us?”
The entry-level team. Hux recognized those names and had no interest in mingling with them. They were all just a little too chipper for him. It was bad enough he had to deal with them at work.
“I appreciate it, Jessika. But I’m fine. Thank you for asking.”
“Oh, sure. Yeah. No problem, Armitage. I mean, Mr. Hux.” Jessika had begun to ramble, and Hux noticed the way her cheeks darkened and her hands darted around to fix her blouse and smooth her hair.
“See you on Monday, then,” she said, parting in a hurry and forgetting her glass of champagne.
Kylo approached Hux again, but his eyes were following Jessika. After a few seconds, Kylo chuckled and shook his head and snatched the forgotten glass off the bar. “She was cute,” he said, dumping the glass into the sink. “You should have gone with her.”
“I’ve no desire to be involved with anyone I work with. Besides…” Hux paused, unsure of how much more of his life he wanted to disclose to a stranger. “She’s not quite my type.”
Kylo stilled and looked up at Hux, brows pinched tightly together. Hux stared back, lifting his chin just the slightest bit, a challenge, he thought, to dare the other man to question him.
To Hux’s surprise, Kylo’s features changed in an instant. His eyes widened for a moment before he ducked his head to resume dealing with the drink ware. He busied himself, turning his back to Hux and doing everything he could to seemingly keep his face out of sight.
Hux watched him anyway. He cut a lean figure in his all black uniform, but no matter how slimming the color was, Hux knew he was nothing of the sort. Kylo’s shoulders, despite how hard he tried to minimize his frame, were broad and thick, and his dress shirt stretched over them perfectly. His body tapered slightly towards his waist, drawing Hux’s eye downward, until he saw the bar key peeking out of Kylo’s back pocket, glinting silver and bright against his black pants.
Between sips of beer, Hux tried to get a look at Kylo’s face in the mirror behind the liquor bottles that lined the back wall of the bar. He looked bored, no doubt more used to slinging complicated cocktails in a place like this, cabin fever sinking in with his duties confined to opening beer bottles and pouring glasses of wine. Hux half hoped someone would order a drink, oblivious to the otherwise open bar, just so he could see Kylo in his element.
Hux cursed at himself under his breath; he was gone for this guy already. He usually wasn’t like this. Actually, he was usually much worse. Any other night and Hux wouldn’t hesitate to imagine what he could do with a new prospect in bed, then proceed to carry out his ideas an hour or so later, and, if all went well, he’d be alone by morning. But here he was, wanting to see how skilled the man was at his job, or find out what he excelled at in school.
Hux needed to leave before things got worse. He had people to talk to, a few clients to sweet talk. Yes, that’s what he would do. He’d preoccupy himself for another hour or so, drinking only the wine brought out to the floor, then he’d go home, alone, and never think about the bartender again.
The entire scenario ran through Hux’s head in less than ten seconds. It took him even less time than that to realize the plan was destined for failure.
With Kylo preoccupied doing whatever he decided was important at the back of the bar, Hux downed the last quarter of his beer in three breathless swallows. The sound of the glass hitting the unforgiving marble caught Kylo’s attention, however, and he turned around in time to see Hux sliding out of his barstool. Standing that close to the back lighting behind the bar, Kylo’s silhouette was glowing.
Hux absolutely needed to leave.
“I’ll be back,” Hux dismissed before Kylo could get a word in.
“Where are you going?” Kylo called, approaching the bar front.
Back turned, Hux made a face. He hadn’t quite decided where he was going yet. “I need a smoke,” he called over his shoulder and headed towards the front door.
He pushed through the crowded barroom, ignoring calls of his name by colleagues with a wave of his hand and promises of “just a moment.” He snatched his coat off the rack, shrugged it on, and burst through the front door.
The cold, damp air was striking against his face. Hux had become more overheated than he’d realized. He blamed it on the mess of the crowd he had just pushed through, but he’d been feeling a little flush since he sat at the bar if he was being perfectly honest. He cooled off quickly enough though, the wind pushing up the street in heavy gusts funneling between the tall downtown buildings. The street glowed yellow with the streetlights. Above, the sky was pitch black, stars swallowed up by the clouds.
The heavy, black greatcoat padded Hux’s back against the facade of the building when he leaned against it, but the cold brick still seeped through just slightly. He really needed to figure out what to do. He couldn’t leave yet and he certainly couldn’t stand out here all night.
The door opened to his right and Hux turned his head to look down the street. No matter what his next step was, talking to any of his colleagues while he was this flustered was not in the cards.
Footsteps approached, heavy footed heels clicking sharply against the concrete sidewalk.
Hux spun around quickly, pieces of his hair falling onto his face. He begrudgingly removed a hand from his pocket to put it back into place.
Kylo was standing there, bundled up in a black leather jacket. Hux gaped at him. He looked so different out here with the harsh lighting getting lost in the sharpness of his features.
“What?” Kylo asked. He took a few steps towards Hux and leaned against the building next to him. “Did I pronounce it wrong?”
“No, that’s right.” Hux tried to get a look at Kylo without being too obvious. He could see his warm breath materializing in the air. “How did you know?”
“Your friend. At the bar. That’s what she called you.”
Hux huffed a weak laugh. “That wasn’t my friend. My friends don’t call me Armitage.”
“What do your friends call you?”
“And what can I call you?”
Hux finally turned to look at Kylo. He had a grin on his face that said he knew he was about to get what he wanted. Hux put his foot down. “We’re not friends.”
Kylo didn’t budge, looking Hux straight in the eyes. “Not yet.”
Hux finally breathed when Kylo looked away to dig something out of his pocket. A moment later, an open pack of cigarettes was held out in front of Hux.
“No, thank you. I don’t smoke.”
The cigarettes disappeared from Hux’s view just as quickly as they appeared. “But you said—”
“I lied.” I do that a lot , Hux thought. Stick around and you’ll find out the hard way.
Kylo hummed from his right, followed by the flick of a lighter. The wind was blowing past Hux and into Kylo’s direction, but he could still smell the faintest hint of smoke. It bothered Hux how much it didn’t bother him at all.
“Why’d you come out here, then?” Kylo asked. He took a pull from his cigarette. Hux could see Kylo tilt his head back and the smoke rising above them out of the corner of his eye. He refused to look, knew he’d be able to see nothing but Kylo’s exposed neck or his pursed lips. “Not enjoying the party?”
Hux wasn’t ready to explain all his problems, but that was a good enough excuse for him, so he took the easy out. “Not particularly.” Hux paused, then rambled against his better judgment. “I’m the youngest senior partner at the firm. And therefore, the least respected. It tends to cause… issues.”
“That’s bullshit,” Kylo said. There was an edge to his voice Hux hadn’t heard yet.
“You’re only, what? Thirty?”
“Wow. You look—I mean…” Kylo paused, cleared his throat. “That’s impressive.”
“Thank you. At least someone thinks so.”
“Come on. Seriously?” Kylo pushed himself off the wall, leaned back again on his shoulder to face Hux. “Your family isn’t proud of you?”
Hux nearly cackled, and in containing it, let out a sad imitation of a laugh. “What family?”
Kylo hummed, and when Hux looked at him, he blew out smoke towards the street. His pursed lips were obscene, as expected. Kylo caught him looking. “You too, huh?”
“I’ve no reason to talk to my father. And my mother—God, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.” Hux pulled his coat tighter around him to shield against the gust that blew past them, and, in part, to keep in the pieces of himself he was clumsily allowing to slip out.
“It’s because you’re interested in me,” Kylo said.
Hux scoffed audibly. “I am not interested in you.”
“You were checking me out at the bar.”
“I could see you in the mirror.”
Kylo laughed. “Busted.” He seemed to whisper it into Hux’s ear. He had leaned into his space a bit as he stood up from the wall, flicking his cigarette into the street.
“If you really don’t like me, I’ll leave you alone,” Kylo continued. His words were sure, no amusement to be found in his tone. He moved to stand in front of Hux, close enough he could reach the wall behind him if he tried. But his hands were in his pockets, pulling his jacket taught across his frame. “I’ll leave you alone, and you’ll never have to see my pretty face again.”
Hux could have cursed the heavens themselves for this ridiculous display, but at that exact moment, it began to snow, light flakes drifting in and out of Hux’s vision, melting on his face, disappearing into Kylo’s dark hair. Hux tried to focus on Kylo and ignore the disgustingly apt scene playing out around them, but it proved harder than it should have been. Hux bit the inside of his cheek to keep his lips from upturning. He’d done a good job so far of appearing disinterested. He couldn’t blow it now.
“What do you want from me, Kylo?”
Kylo seemed to be pulled from a daydream as well, blinking a few times before focusing his eyes.
“Make it quick,” Hux continued in the wake of Kylo’s silence. “I’m going inside.”
“Your number,” Kylo blurted. “I just want your number.”
Kylo laughed, taking a step back and running a hand through his hair unsuccessfully. “That’s a lot for me.”
Hux tried to remember the last time he’d had anything more involved than an ill-advised hookup, like, godforbid, an actual date. He had to dig back further than he would care to admit. “Yes. It’s a lot for me, too.”
“Please?” Kylo asked, and Hux had a hard time not immediately giving in. The look on Kylo’s face was endearing. He had that big toothy grin, nearly the same one he wore behind the bar, but it was genuine this time, Hux could tell. The way his eyes lit up and crinkled at the corners. There was something glowing there that had been dreadfully absent behind the bar, smiling at other patrons.
“I’m going to give you this,” Hux said, distracting himself. He pulled out a business card and a pen from his jacket pocket and began writing on the back. “This is my mobile number. Do not call me on my work line if you ever want to see me again. Understood?”
“Yeah. Sure. Got it,” Kylo mumbled, reaching out a hand to take the card gingerly like a prized possession.
“Let me make you a drink,” Kylo offered a few moments later as he was tucking the card safely into his wallet. “On the house.”
“I’ve got to get back to rubbing elbows, actually,” Hux said after a brief consideration. “You’ve got my number. See to it that you use it, then.”
Hux turned away with a tug of his coat and not one final glance at Kylo. He had bigger things to focus on.
Like Kylo’s hands, apparently, which appeared out of nowhere to open the door for Hux. Once they were inside, Kylo smirked at him as he swept past him towards the bar, like he could read Hux’s mind. It was all Hux could do not to think about that for the rest of the night. He had to apologize profusely not twenty minutes later after he had asked his colleague to repeat himself. For the third time.
”I’ll take another, but I think Mr. Hux, here, has had enough for the night,” the man called Krennic joked to the server as she stopped by with a tray of drinks.
Hux rolled his eyes. If anyone here needed to be cut off, it was Krennic. “I’ll take a glass of the red.”
“Actually, sir,” the server began, lifting a small tumbler from the tray, “this is for you. From the bar.”
“I didn’t order anything,” Hux replied, and tucked his hands behind his back to deny the drink being held out to him. He especially wouldn’t take it if it would cost him.
“It’s from the bar, sir,” the server repeated, this time with a little more intent in her words and the slightest tilt of her head towards the back of the room.
Hux narrowed his eyes at the server but otherwise refused to look at the bar she was gesturing towards. “Very well,” he said and reached out to take the glass.
The drink wasn’t neat, but there was definitely Scotch in it. Hux could smell it before it even neared his lips. It was a golden color from the looks of it in the dim light, and there was one large cube of ice that spanned nearly the entire width of the glass. It tasted of heavy sweetness and bitter fruit and burned wonderfully on his tongue. It was perfect.
Of course Kylo had to show off. Hux just wished he could have seen it.
The office was blessedly quiet for a Tuesday, and especially for the last quarter of the year. Hux was able to keep the door to his office open without fear of anyone barging in on him. The phone wasn’t ringing. His inbox wasn’t growing exponentially. He actually had autonomy over the thermostat for once.
His phone chimed into the silence. It had been doing that a lot over the last week since he had made the miraculously sober decision of giving his number to the bartender. Maybe it would stop chiming if he just answered the man, just told him to sod off or something. But Hux found he couldn’t do anything but ignore Kylo, who had turned out to be remarkably persistent. Surprisingly polite. But persistent.
Hux rolled his eyes, silenced his phone, and flipped it over. That was one distraction he didn’t need today. He was making good progress on the new plans he had been drawing up over the last few months. He was scheduled to present them after the first of the year, in hopes a prototype could be shoehorned into production before the next presentation in the spring. It had been his most productive day since he'd begun the project, and he didn’t need any hold ups now.
Hux got lost in his work, sucked back in by the deafening silence around him and the blue and white figures on his screen. He could honestly do this all day, tucked away from the rest of the world. He didn’t need holidays or hobbies or family, for that matter. No, he was perfectly happy. Working. Alone.
A shrill ring echoed through the office, starting at the front desk and quickly reaching all the phones until the one on his desk finally received it. He pushed his glasses up and glanced at the caller ID. There was no description, just the number, which looked vaguely familiar.
It could be important, he reasoned. Who would be calling, otherwise? It was probably an emergency, or a rush order.
He lifted the receiver before he could convince himself otherwise. He paused, trying to remember how to answer the phone, used to picking up transferred calls when he knew who he was getting on the other end.
“First Order Industries.”
Hux watched the seconds tick away on the screen. “First Order Industries,” he repeated.
“Yes, this is Armitage Hux.”
A breath of relief came from the other end. “Oh, thank fuck. It’s Kylo.”
Hux gripped the phone and the plastic creaked under the pressure. “I explicitly told you not to call this number.”
“Well, maybe not urgent. More time sensitive,” Kylo said. Hux didn’t humor him with a response, so he continued. “And you didn’t reply to my texts.”
“I haven’t replied to any of your texts.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“What do you want, Kylo?”
“Come have lunch with me,” Kylo blurted. “Unless you’ve got some big family event to get to?”
Hux stared daggers into the wall for a moment before closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “You know I don’t.”
Kylo sighed. “I’ll be at Golden Dragon for the next, let’s say… thirty minutes. If you’re interested.”
“Alright,” Hux replied.
“Alright? Does that mean you’re coming?”
“It means I’ll think about it.”
“Okay. Okay, that’s fine. I’ll, uh. I’ll be here,” Kylo said. “I hope you’ll come.”
Hux bit his lip, trying to choose his next words, and simply hung up the phone when he couldn’t decide on anything.
There was something oddly endearing about the whole situation. He couldn't remember anyone trying to pick him up on Christmas, of all days. But something about Kylo’s offer pulled at Hux’s barely-there heartstrings.
Slumped back in his chair, Hux looked at his computer screens. At the numbers and the blueprints. He was starting to get a headache. It had been creeping up for the last few hours, but growing harder to ignore. And he hadn’t eaten since six.
His desire to stay in the office all day had suddenly and conspicuously vanished.
He grabbed his cell phone and his coat before he could change his mind and headed out the door.
Kylo was standing outside the restaurant a few blocks away when Hux arrived. The day was clear, but still windy and brisk. It had been about twenty minutes since Kylo had called, and he must have been waiting outside the whole time. His hair was windblown—not confined to the bun it had been in while he was at work—and his cheeks and nose were dusted pink. He was sulking against the building with his hands in his pockets and the most resigned look on his face. Hux would have thought it was an act it he wasn’t so sure Kylo was oblivious to his arrival.
Hux couldn’t help himself from letting the smallest smile cross his lips when Kylo looked up at him. Kylo appeared two feet taller as he pushed away from the wall, all the worry lifting from his shoulders the second he laid eyes on Hux. A large grin cracked his face, the most genuine thing Hux had ever seen, and though it looked out of place on the otherwise intimidating man—what with his leather jacket and biker boots—Hux found it suited him perfectly.
“Holy shit. You wear glasses?” Kylo asked by way of greeting.
Hux cursed under his breath, reaching up to grab the spectacles off of his face and pocket them in his coat. “Just for reading.”
“No,” Kylo whined. “Don’t take them off. I wasn’t making fun of you.”
Hux ignored him and moved towards the entrance of the restaurant and held open the door. “Are you coming or not?”
Kylo hurried in the open door, and Hux couldn’t help but notice his face was a little redder than it had been a minute ago.
They were seated along the side of the restaurant in a cozy booth with overstuffed seats and high backs. Kylo tried to slip into the same side of the booth as Hux, but Hux fended him off with a glare that not even Kylo seemed brave enough to oppose. Hux couldn’t decide if he was joking or if he actually had wanted to sit next to him. They looked over their menus silently, both men flustered for their own reasons. Hux, for his part, had become fairly distracted by Kylo’s hair, how it framed his face and darkened his eyes, and had to hold up the menu in front of his face to reroute his thinking.
“So,” Hux began when it was clear to him that Kylo wasn’t going to say anything. “How did you know I would be at work?”
Hux chanced a glance up at Kylo from his menu under dramatically raised eyebrows.
“I’m not following you, if that’s what you’re asking. You just… I don’t know. I just assumed you were the type. To be working on Christmas.”
Hux sipped his water. “Safe assumption.”
Once their orders were taken, they began the small talk. Kylo asked about the rest of the party while Hux inquired about Kylo’s typical holiday schedule. A few minutes later, once an uncomfortable silence was shared with glances across the table at each other, Hux had to inquire.
“Why did you pick this restaurant?”
Kylo pursed his lips and eyed Hux carefully as if he was trying to get a read on him. “It’s a Chinese place. It’s basically the only thing that’s open today.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Hux replied. “Were you aware my office building is three blocks away, or was that another lucky guess?”
Kylo choked on his drink and adjusted himself in the chair before he caught his breath. “Alright, I might have looked up your company. I wouldn’t have had to do that if you would have just put your damn address on the business card.”
“We don’t like to make it easy to figure out where our corporate branch is located. For reasons which I am sure you’ve figured out by now if you’ve done that much digging.”
Kylo ran his hand through his hair—completely this time—and wouldn’t meet Hux’s eyes. “I may have stumbled across some information, yeah.”
“Jesus, fuck. This is not when I thought we’d be having this conversation,” Hux said. “Hell, I’m surprised you even came in the restaurant with me. Why didn’t you just tell me off—”
“Woah. Hey. Stop,” Kylo interrupted, holding his hands up to Hux. “Can you let me talk?” Hux seethed quietly across the table but nodded. “I wasn’t even going to bring it up. Figured it wasn’t my business, and you’d tell me when you were ready. If you ever wanted to. If we ever got that far.”
The respect flowing off of Kylo struck Hux, hard. It wasn’t easy to keep his life private. If you Googled his name his deeds were easily discovered in multitudes of articles, the most positive of which detailed his quick ascent to senior partner before going on to obliterate the company that employed him. When someone did find out about his exact profession, they were out the door before he could even explain himself. Not that an explanation would make them feel any better; while the information was plentiful, it was rarely erroneous.
Hux swallowed thickly, suddenly feeling incredibly meek under Kylo’s stern gaze. “You don’t care that I—”
“Engineer and build super weapons?” Kylo finished for him. He shook his head slowly, amusement slowly blossoming over his face with a sly upturn of his lips. “Not at all. It’s kind of hot, actually.”
Something bumped against Hux’s foot under the table, once, twice. Kylo was anything but discreet with his clunky boots, and Hux knew where it was headed. He crossed his ankles and tucked his feet under his seat as much as it would allow.
“I hope you don’t think you can reform me,” Hux began, deliberately ignoring Kylo’s antics under the table. “You might want to quit while you’re ahead.”
“Hell no,” Kylo laughed. “No, I can tell you’re set in your ways. And I’ve, uh… I’ve got some skeletons in my closet too.”
The waitress arrived at the table with their lunch, and Kylo appeared to be relieved by the distraction. He took his time situating his plates on the table, sipping his drink, checking his phone. Hux just watched, quietly, as Kylo fiddled with his nervous energy.
“So,” Hux began, then took a bite of his food to give Kylo a chance to prepare for another conversation. “About those skeletons…”
“That’s not first date material,” Kylo replied, pointing at Hux with his chopsticks before cracking them apart.
“You think this is a date?”
“I know this is a date,” Kylo said, his voice going a few octaves deeper. He tapped his boot against Hux’s shin and wrapped his foot around Hux’s ankle once he moved his legs.
Hux allowed it this time.
“What about your family?” Hux asked. He did not need this to go any further today, so he spoke mainly to distract himself from the sensation crawling up his leg. “Is that first date material?”
“It’s usually not any date material,” Kylo said, finally digging into his lunch.
A silence fell between them, both suddenly overly interested in their meals. Hux’s mind raced. If Kylo wasn’t going to share, Hux would. Hell, he’d over share, he’d say enough for both of them. Besides, if his job hadn’t scared Kylo away…
“I never knew my mother,” Hux began. From the look on Kylo’s face, Hux couldn’t tell if he was more surprised about the admission or the fact that Hux had divulged any information at all. Hux continued. “My real mother, anyway. My father married my step-mother a few years after I was born. He sold her some sob story about my mother dying in childbirth.”
“Is that not what happened?”
Hux laughed weakly. “No, not quite. I had a family friend—my godmother essentially—that kept an eye on me. I’d go to her house when my parents had work trips or vacations. She told me the truth once I was old enough. My father had gotten a hospitality worker pregnant at a conference. The only contact he had with her after that was the checks he sent her during her pregnancy. He didn’t even have the decency to fetch me himself after I was born and sent one of the company’s enforcers to rip me from her arms and pay her off.”
Kylo’s silence spoke volumes. The restaurant was quiet too, and Hux suddenly felt like everyone was listening. Kylo had been eating during most of the lopsided conversation, but he’d lost interest in his meal as the story progressed, jaw slack. “Uh, how old were you when you found out?”
“Six or seven maybe. Old enough to know my father was a terrible person, as if I didn’t have enough evidence already. I kept that secret for eighteen years, then I’d finally had enough. All that animosity does not a kind soul make.” Hux paused, and the seconds felt like lifetimes with Kylo’s attention on him. “So I blackmailed my father with the information of my illegitimacy, threatening to go public with it. I gave him some time to prepare, but he saw to it that he retired early two years later. By then I had worked my way up at the firm—on my own—and the company needed to fill his empty seat. So I did.”
“Holy shit, Hux.”
Hux shrugged, brushing the memories off. He was quite indifferent to the situation now, he thought, but his crushing grip on his chopsticks said otherwise. It wasn’t that he cared about his father. He decidedly did not. He didn’t care about his step-mother either, not really, though she had never been unkind to him. It was the feeling of betrayal, of abandonment and deceit that had never left him, that flowed through his veins even to this day that prevented him from truly getting on with his life.
“And your godmother?” Kylo asked, interrupting his thoughts.
Hux sighed. “Rae passed when I was a teenager. I think my dad realized we may have been in cahoots. He didn’t let me go to the funeral.”
“Hux,” Kylo said. It was nearly a whisper, just a breath. Then he leaned across the table until his hand was on Hux’s, and Hux dropped the chopsticks he’d nearly cracked in half.
To say Hux was surprised at the sudden hand-holding would have been a vast understatement. That certainly wasn’t the reaction he’d foreseen. Of course he had never expected quite that many words to come tumbling out either.
“It’s alright,” Hux said. He hated how his voice wavered. It made him sound weak. His father would have hated it, too. But Brendol wasn’t here. Kylo was here, and he was holding Hux’s hand.
“Are you alright, though?” Kylo asked.
“I guess I have to be, don’t I?”
Kylo rubbed his thumb along the back of Hux’s hand. “No. You don’t have to be. That’s a lot to go through. I know I’m not okay.”
Hux remained silent and stared and Kylo’s hand over his. Kylo squeezed his hand once before letting go.
“My mom,” Kylo began, “is a handful. We talk occasionally, usually when one of us needs something. But that’s about the extent of our relationship.”
When Hux looked up at Kylo, he was staring at his food again, twirling the noodles around but otherwise not making any progress. “And your father?” Hux asked.
“We’re not on speaking terms. Haven’t been. For a while now.”
“Did you have a falling out?”
“You could call it that, yeah. He was busy with work when I was a kid. But as I got older, I realized he was gone longer than he needed to be. Mom knew it too, I think. She just chose to ignore it. I called him out on it when I was sixteen. He started coming home more, we started getting into more fights. Eventually, mom sent me off to live with my uncle. Like I was the problem.”
“I imagine that didn’t go well,” Hux said.
“It was fine at first. I was happy to get away from my parents. What teenager wouldn’t be? It didn’t take long for that to change. I hated my uncle, my mom visited once in a blue moon, and I never talked to my dad again.”
“He’s tried to reach out to me over the last few years, even after I changed my name. And before you ask, that story is definitely not first date material.”
“That’s alright. We’ve both said quite enough for today, I think.”
Kylo chuckled a little darkly. “Fuck.”
“Precisely. Still want this to be a date?”
Under the table, Kylo tugged Hux’s leg towards him. “Absolutely.”
Hux refused to allow Kylo to pay for lunch, swiping the bill out of his hands the moment the waitress handed it to him some time later. Kylo made sure to take Hux’s fortune cookie for himself as punishment.
Kylo stopped just before exiting the restaurant, hand on the door, and turned to look at Hux, who had nearly run into him from stopping so quickly. “Can I walk you back to work?” Kylo asked.
With an overdramatic groan, Kylo proceeded into the blustery afternoon with Hux trailing close behind him. “Fine. Are you going to return my texts now?”
The pair stopped a few feet away on the sidewalk. Kylo’s hair was getting tossed around by the wind—and Hux could even feel a little of his own hair coming loose from its gelled confines—and Hux found it hard to look away from Kylo like this.
“Perhaps.” Hux adjusted his posture. If he was going to do this, it needed to be done right. “So, you thought this was a date, did you?” Hux asked.
Kylo stammered and rolled his shoulders, avoiding Hux’s eye as if the wind had whisked away all of his bravado. “Yeah. I thought it was,” he mumbled.
Hux hummed. “How about a second one, then?”
Kylo looked up with wide eyes. It was a cloudy afternoon, the dim sunlight barely glinting in Kylo’s eyes, but Hux could see them better now than he ever had before, in the dark barroom or the shoddily lit restaurant. And, Hux realized with terrifying clarity, he never wanted to look away.
“There’s another holiday I’m not very fond of,” Hux began, “and you might make it a bit more bearable.”
“Anything,” Kylo said, almost breathlessly.
Hux huffed a laugh. “Really now?”
Kylo ducked his head again, hair falling into his face, and Hux decided he’d messed with the man enough for one day.
“I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll text you.”
“You will?” Kylo asked.
Hux nodded and began to head off. “I will,” he said over his shoulder, above the click of his heels on the concrete and the hum of cars passing on the street.
He had nearly disappeared around the corner when his gait faltered at Kylo’s booming voice. “Merry Christmas, Hux!”
Out of Kylo’s line of sight, Hux allowed himself a smile.
Phasma’s flat was always nice, but it took on a different atmosphere at night. Large glass windows faced the city center, and, from ten floors up, it provided quite the view. Hux stood near the floor-to-ceiling panes, his body chilled by cold seeping through the glass and warmed from the inside out by the burn of the Scotch down his throat.
Kylo would be here in ten minutes. Hux had already been at Phasma and Iden’s for nearly an hour, driving them crazy pacing the living room and offering help when there was very clearly none needed. The couple had hosted the New Year’s Eve party for the last few years and the details had been finalized since the early afternoon. It was the first time Hux had ever attended—he’d avoided the spectacle like the plague his entire adult life—and, while Phasma was grateful he’d finally shown up, she could have done without his nervous energy.
“Your boy’s here,” Phasma said from right behind Hux.
He startled, but just barely, the ice clinking in his drink inaudible under the music blaring through the space. “How do you know?” he asked.
“The brooding stare might have given it away. Definitely your type.”
Hux huffed a laugh, fogging the glass in front of him.
“And he is devilishly handsome, just like you said. So I’m pretty sure it’s him.”
Hux turned around. The flat had filled in behind him since he had taken to standing by the window instead of pacing. People milled about, talking and laughing and drinking, and Hux had a sudden, jarring flashback to the bar just a little over two weeks ago, when he’d first met Kylo. The situation was much different now, Hux reassured himself.
“Oh,” Phasma called from a few feet away. “Don’t forget your—” she said, tapping her temple.
Hux raised his hand to adjust his glasses. “I know.”
Phasma raised her eyebrows and gave him a knowing smirk. “Alright, then.”
By the time Hux fought his way through the crowd, Kylo was still hovering near the front door, using his height advantage to survey the situation and looking decidedly uncomfortable.
Hux was hard pressed to ignore how Kylo’s demeanor changed the moment he laid eyes on him. His shoulders loosened. A smile eased its way across his face. He removed his hands from his pockets, and for a fleeting moment, Hux thought Kylo was about to hug him. But just as quickly, Kylo stuffed his hands back into his pockets and approached Hux. Kylo didn’t touch him, but he stood so close to Hux and stared at him so intently their bodies might as well have been pressed against each other.
“You look nice,” Kylo said.
“Hello to you, too,” Hux replied.
“Sorry. I got distracted.” Kylo let his eyes travel at an agonizing pace down Hux’s body, as if to pinpoint the cause of his absent-mindedness.
Hux turned away before he could do the same to Kylo and called over his shoulder. “Let’s get you introduced, shall we?”
To Hux’s surprise, Kylo and Phasma hit it off immediately. He wasn’t sure why; he couldn’t pay enough attention to their conversation with the bombardment of questions he was getting from Iden about exactly who Kylo was and where he’d found him. The hotestesses’ attention was diverted soon enough, though, and Hux rerouted Kylo to the stocked bar with less than discreet intent.
Kylo chuckled when he saw the setup. “You want me to make you something?”
“Of course. How thoughtful,” Hux commented, but Kylo was already making himself at home behind the bar. “Could you make the drink you slipped to me at the party?”
Kylo hummed and took a step back to assess what was available to him. “I can make something similar, yeah. It’ll be a little different, though. I doubt Phasma has ginger in the house.”
“Yeah,” Kylo dismissed, reaching for a bottle. “There was ginger in that drink. Ginger, lemon, honey—”
“Ginger,” Hux intoned.
“Of course it had ginger in it,” Kylo said. He grabbed a lemon before turning to Hux with a sly grin on his face. “Why do you think I made it?”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Hux mumbled.
Thoroughly amused, Kylo returned his attention to the bar. He picked through a few small, dark-colored bottles Hux didn’t recognize before deciding on one, and then put on the show Hux had expected. Kylo’s long arms lifted the upended whiskey bottle well above his head as the amber liquor slipped seamlessly into the tin. Under Hux’s undivided attention, the shaker transitioned whip-fast from Kylo’s left hand and into his right, flipping upside down in flight. If Hux had blinked, he probably would have missed it.
He looked at Hux and shrugged. “What?”
Kylo added a few more things as Hux tried to keep up with the ingredients. Finally, he capped off the tin and shook it, pausing to give Hux a stagy wink before pouring the contents into a tall glass of ice.
Hux sipped the concoction, only revealing his satisfaction with a quiet hum. He couldn’t let Kylo know, but he was much too overwhelmed to say anything.
Kylo made himself a simple rum and Coke, then Hux led him away to the dining room where the racket of the party was less evident.
“You’re wearing your glasses,” Kylo stated.
Hux hummed, amused. “How very observant of you.”
Kylo flipped him off immediately, but his face was bright and open and Hux wanted to—
“Plan on doing a lot of reading tonight?” Kylo asked.
“Actually,” Hux began. He took a sip of his drink before continuing. “I need them all the time. I just usually don’t let anyone see me with them, so I may have overreacted when I saw you last week.”
Kylo leaned against the wall and crossed his arms across his chest, careful of his drink. “ May have overreacted?”
“I wear contacts to work. And everywhere. But I wasn’t supposed to see you Tuesday. I wasn’t supposed to see anyone.”
“I fucked that up didn’t I?”
“No, it’s not your fault,” Hux said, sighing. “I shouldn’t concern myself with that.”
“So, could you even see? Shit, how’d you read the menu?”
“I didn’t read the menu. I go there about once a month for lunch, and I order the same thing every time.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Kylo said with a chuckle. Hux shrugged it off, then Kylo got serious. “You wore them tonight because of me.”
“You seemed to have liked them, if I remember correctly.”
“I really did. I mean, I do. Something about how they look on you—” Kylo stopped short and bit his lip, sighing before he spoke again. “They suit you.”
Hux was humbled. Typically he would accept a compliment by agreeing with the suitor. Something about the brashness tended to work in his favor; he couldn’t recall a time when it hadn’t. But Kylo didn’t seem to have any other motive besides telling Hux exactly how he felt.
“They make you look smart.”
“I beg your— Look smart? I’m fucking brilliant,” Hux countered.
Kylo’s laugh felt like it shook the whole room, and Hux tried his best to avoid cracking.
“You’re cute when you’re angry,” Kylo said.
“And you’re dangerously close to losing a third date,” Hux warned.
Kylo laughed again. Hux smiled along with him.
Their conversation continued, banter-filled and friendly. Hux either made too much eye contact or couldn’t bear the thought of meeting Kylo’s gaze depending on the topic. He took to poking around Phasma’s dining room distractedly and happened upon extra trays of food, so they helped themselves, content with the illusion of being alone.
A champagne bottle popped open in the next room, followed by a few quiet cheers. Hux glanced at the clock on the wall and stood.
“I’m going to go see if Phasma needs any help. You’ll be alright here for a minute, yes?”
“Yeah. I’ll manage,” Kylo said, and he made a show of grabbing a stack of cookies from under one of the covered plates.
“Don’t let Iden catch you with those,” Hux teased.
Hux found Phasma in the kitchen, filling rows of champagne glasses on a serving tray. Hux opened the fridge to grab another bottle.
“What are you doing?” Phasma asked, not even looking up from the glasses that were nearly bubbling over.
“I’m helping you.”
“No, you’re avoiding your date. I don’t need help and you know it.”
Hux groaned. Phasma was right. She always was. He returned the bottle and leaned against the counter. “I just don’t know what to do,” he explained. “I haven’t been on a date in years, and now I’m on my second one in less than a week.”
“Sounds like a good problem to have.”
“For someone that’s not me, perhaps.”
Phasma shook her head and continued filling the glasses, waiting for the bubbles to subside before looking at Hux. “If you don’t do something about that lonely boy out there, I will. Poe has been eyeing him all night.”
“Poe? Who’s Poe?”
Phasma chuckled. “He’s Iden’s friend from work. And your competition if you don’t get your head out of your ass.”
“Shit. Give me one of those,” Hux said, reaching out to take a full glass from the tray.
“Listen. I’m not saying you need to rush things. But how long has it been since he started trying to pick you up?”
Hux buried his face in the glass, taking a few large sips before lowering it. He didn’t respond to Phasma, only scowled at her.
“Too long. That’s what I thought,” she said. She approached Hux and took the nearly empty glass from his hands. “You like him. He very obviously likes you. I suggest you do something about it before it’s too late.”
Hux huffed and rolled his eyes once Phasma turned her back. “Oh, don’t get all exasperated.” She faced him again with two fresh glasses of champagne. “Here. Take these. Go find your boy. You have fifteen minutes until midnight.”
Hux took the glasses and ignored Phasma’s wink.
Kylo wasn’t where Hux had left him near the dining room table. He wasn’t near the bar or the dessert table. The broadcasters on the television were beginning to get excited, their voices rising in anticipation of the approach of midnight.
A gust of frigid air hit the back of Hux’s neck and he turned around to see the door closing slowly and two figures standing on the balcony. One was definitely Kylo. The other was… short.
Hux nudged the door open again with his shoulder and stepped out into the freezing night. He held his breath as he approached Kylo and the other man, steeling himself for the misfortune about to befall him. Still, Hux continued on as if nothing were amiss, holding a champagne glass out to Kylo once he reached his side.
“Oh, hey. Thanks, Hux,” Kylo said, and Hux was pleased to see the familiar excitement in his eyes. “Do you know Poe?”
Hux cleared his throat and tried to turn his scowl into a half-smile. “No, I don’t. Armitage Hux,” he said, offering his hand.
“Poe Dameron. I work with Phasma’s wife, Iden.”
The etchings on the champagne glass pressed into Hux’s palm. He had to keep himself from snapping that he absolutely knows who Iden is, thank you very much . Luckily Poe’s smile was enough to ward off the hostile thoughts. He wasn’t Hux’s type, but Hux couldn’t ignore how handsome Poe was, and he was sure Kylo hadn’t missed that either.
“I was just telling Kylo,” Poe continued, “that I’ve been keeping an eye on him all night.”
Hux rolled his eyes and found he didn’t care if Poe saw him. He stood a little closer to Kylo, hoping his body language might tip off Poe before he had to explain the hard way.
“I even asked Phasma who he was, because I just had to know.”
Hux looked at Kylo because he found if he looked at Poe for another second he might regret his next actions.
“And remember how I told you I changed my name?” Kylo asked Hux. “Poe thought he recognized me—and he did—but he didn’t recognize my name.”
“Wait. You two know each other?”
“Do we know each other?” Poe repeated loudly. His voice was impressively loud, Hux thought, for such a small frame, and he'd perhaps had a few too many drinks. “Ben—I mean, Kylo. Kylo and I go way back.”
While Poe did his best to catch Hux up in so many words, Kylo’s hand slipped slyly behind Hux’s back, and he looped a thumb through one of Hux’s belt loops. It was the simplest gesture, but Hux felt that hint of possessiveness, a silent message from Kylo that he was his. Hux reveled in that thought as he listened to Poe for a moment and learned about the pair’s mischievous childhoods. Hux thought he heard the word “senator” thrown around once or twice, but he didn’t interrupt, deciding that would be a conversation better had in private.
Poe glanced at his watch. “Listen, I’ll leave you guys to it. I’ve got three minutes to find a glass of bubbly. Kylo, good to see you, buddy,” Poe said, patting Kylo on the arm. “Really. Don’t be a stranger, alright? And it was nice to meet you, Hux.” Poe shot them both a glimmering smile one last time before he retreated inside.
They moved towards the railing of the balcony overlooking the city below. The wind was blowing fiercely in occasional gusts, and the smell of gunpowder and smoke was faintly discernible.
“Why did you come out here?” Hux asked, trying to move on from his jealousy.
“I wanted to see the fireworks.”
“I don’t think you’ll see much in the city.”
“Bullshit. The river is that way,” Kylo said, pointing. “There are barges loaded with fireworks. The view should be great from up here.” Hux hummed and there was a beat before Kylo asked, “You’ve really never been out here to see them?”
Hux silently shook his head and took a moment to choose his words. “I’m not really a fan of holidays. Any of them.”
“They haven’t been so bad this year, though, have they?” Kylo asked. He swayed a bit, nudging Hux’s shoulder.
Sarcasm threatened to bubble out of Hux, but he found he didn’t have it in him to be cruel, not with the way Kylo was smiling at him, just barely, a hopeful yet forlorn thing. “You’re right,” Hux said. He leaned a little, chasing after Kylo’s shoulder once he pulled away, and settled comfortably against him. “This hasn’t been so bad.”
They didn’t pull out their phones to check the time. They just existed, just stood there, silently, shoulders touching and breath fogging. The countdown from inside was barely audible then completely covered by the thundering sound of the fireworks from all sides, and the new year arrived somewhere among it all.
“Happy New Year, Kylo,” Hux said, raising his champagne glass.
Kylo raised his glass in kind, clinking them lightly. “Happy New Year.”
They drank deeply, or as deeply as the bittersweetness would allow, and watched the colors bloom over the city. The door opened, then, and drew their attention. Phasma sauntered out onto the patio and approached them. She had a few pieces of confetti in her platinum hair, and Hux briefly tried to imagine what the inside of the flat must have looked like.
“Happy New Year, loves,” she greeted. She went to Hux first, grabbing his shoulders and kissing each of his cheeks.
“You too. Come on. Bring it in,” she joked, looking at Kylo, and did the same to him.
Phasma didn’t linger long once she caught sight of Hux’s glare. She cursed under her breath, complained about it being cold, and slipped back inside as quickly as she had appeared.
Kylo abandoned his glass on the table and leaned against the railing, and Hux followed suit, settling near him again in comfortable familiarity.
“She’s really nice,” Kylo said.
“She’s too good to me,” Hux mumbled. A few fireworks still popped in the distance. “She’s pretty much all I’ve got left.”
“You’ve got me,” Kylo said softly. He brushed his hand against Hux’s arm to attract his attention and catch his gaze. His hand remained, heavy and warm. “If you want me.”
That’s when it hit Hux. He was well and truly taken by Kylo, just as he predicted he would be back at the bar the first time he laid eyes on him. He was taken by him and he suddenly didn’t care. He didn’t care how it would affect him. If it would rip his heart out or give him things he never deserved. But it would give him something he wanted, and Hux didn’t know if he ever really wanted anything as much as he wanted Kylo.
Kylo’s face was furnace-hot under Hux’s palm, his lips cool and silken under the pad of Hux’s thumb. Greens and reds shimmered in Kylo’s eyes and flashed against his face, and Hux became entranced by the spectacle briefly before he closed his own eyes and connected their lips.
Hux’s body was alight with fire. His heart thundered in his chest which, along with the reverberations of the fireworks, made his entire body seemingly tremble. It didn’t take long for Kylo to part his lips and run his tongue slickly along Hux’s bottom lip before following with a sharp drag of his teeth. Then, Kylo wrapped his arms around Hux’s waist like it was the most natural thing in the world, like they had done this a million times over in a thousand different lifetimes. For a fleeting moment, Hux thought maybe they had.
And, for the first time in Hux’s life, he felt like things were finally moving in the right direction. The movement would be slow, static even, but he was perfectly content where he was, warm in Kylo’s arms with a whole new year ahead of him to do exactly what he wanted.