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Roman Holiday

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When Matt the Radar Technician smiles, he really smiles. His entire face crumples into the expression. It's undignified. It's ugly. It's pathetic. It's.

It's warm.

Kylo Ren closes his eyes and thinks about someone smiling at him like that. About someone really, for real, doing it, not Matt the Radar Technician cracking up (at a joke Kylo Ren made in the hallway, he thinks, that no one else understood, or wanted to understand.)  It makes him feel-- it makes him feel-- there's an unclean pang in his chest and then he recovers and thinks, it makes him feel nothing at all. He's performing a quality control test. Well, so far he can definitively conclude that the Finalizer's visual security system is comprehensive enough to produce embarrassing footage of this assignment. That's all. That's all this is.

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At the cafeteria, they have more blue yogurt, more disgusting processed nutrients, and more energy drinks. Leslie's told Matt they have muffins somewhere but so far he hasn't been able to find them. Matt is sitting with BM0719, like he always does during breaks, and says, casually, "Did you know Kylo Ren has spent over two thirds of his life in training to serve the First Order and its cause? I think that's pretty impressive."

BM0719 looks incredulous. "Matt, dude, where do you even get this stuff? Are you in love with this guy?"

Matt splutters, "I have an appropriate amount of respect for one of my superior officers."

"I'm just saying, dude." BM0719 grins, but for once it's not a mean grin, or a stupid one: a miracle has occurred. "You should totally ask him out."

Matt thinks about this for a moment. Turns the idea around in his mind. Well, he does need to give these people a reason for having access to Kylo Ren's lightsaber. Maybe he should.

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Kylo Ren traces the halo of Matt's blond hair on the tablet and clicks "select". With the wig and glasses and that strange pale face, Matt could be anyone. He could be anyone at all. So could the tall man in the robe and helm in the screenshot of the same bridge earlier in the day. After all, isn't anonymity the point of any disguise? The outline moves across the image document like it's being floated with the Force until Matt is close enough to touch him on the screen. Until they're brushing hands. Kylo takes a breath, strangely on edge, pushing down, stupidly, fear, and presses his lips together. He moves the little pixelated Matt even closer to the pixelated Kylo until pixel Matt's left arm disappears behind pixel Kylo's back. Like Matt is holding him, like they're two people who care about each other. Kylo Ren saves the document. Then he adds it as an attachment to a memo to BM0719, subject line: The Date Went Well. He looks away from the screen while he clicks "send." He doesn't look at the picture again. He doesn't think about the warmth of an unforced smile. He doesn't think about the imagined sensation of someone's arm wrapping around his waist. He's performing a quality control test. He's exercising due diligence.

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"That new radar technician has a much poorer reputation on base than he deserves," says Kylo Ren.

"Yes, sir," says Phasma. She's running reports on the mid-level crop of new stormtroopers. Rows and rows of preteen faces whir by on the screen under her armored fingers, all of the files in their perfect place. Kylo doesn't look at them.

"Everyone says he only got his job because of family connections, because his uncle-- his cousins work on the base, but that's not true."

"Yes, sir," says Phasma.

"He doesn't have the raw engineering talent that they do but he's worked hard."

"Sir, will that be all?"

"Yes," says Kylo Ren, suddenly feeling dazed. "Yes, it will."

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Helen from Accounts Payable meets his eyes with a steady gaze that usually makes Kylo Ren glad he wears a mask and which is currently really stressing Matt out. She is either the most utterly tactless and unflappable person Kylo Ren has ever known, or the wielder of such an impenetrably perfect knife of passive-aggression he would be tempted to take her on as an apprentice if she were even the slightest bit Force-sensitive. As it is, he has a healthy respect for the iron fist with which she rules this cubicle farm.

She peers at the holoscreen and says, in a voice pitched just a hair louder than all of the background activity, "You know, Matt, I noticed your boyfriend is always wearing the same outfit in all of your pictures together." She tilts her head.

The room goes quiet. Matt freezes. She knows. He feels the humiliation wash over him like a fireball. They all know. He's going to have to kill Helen. He's going to have to kill every stormtrooper and tech and holodesk worker in this room. He's going to punch himself in his stupid fucking face until it's unrecognizable, and then who's going to find out that he's not really the person he's pretending to be? So stupid, he thinks, so fucking stupid, what an incredibly, disgustingly, mind-bendingly stupid idea this was--

He stares down at Helen, drawing the strength of the Dark Side around him, and is surprised to find that she's still meeting his eyes in a placid, unreadable stare. He balls his hands into fists at his sides and feels the air pulse around them.

Helen, amazingly, is totally nonplussed. "Just, that cowl is getting kind of raggedy, you know what I mean? Do those Knights of whatever, you know, the Applied Theology Division guys, do they get much of a stipend? Cause you need to take your man clothes shopping."

"Uh," says Matt, and blinks. His hands are empty. The moment is over. A collective breath seems to have been released. He feels dizzy; he hasn't done something like that in a while. In weeks. Going back to it doesn't feel good.

"I remember they tried to pull that on my ex when he went 1099. You know they'll totally try to screw you out of half your salary and benefits when you're your own division head? But that's bullshit, you are still covered by the employee's union, so if you just-- and Helen spirals out into a list of forms, procedures, the correct steps to contact a union representative, all of it so absolutely stultifying it almost makes Matt go freaking cross-eyed.

Kylo Ren tries to reach for her mind with the Force to see once and for all whether or not she's fucking with him, but he gets lost in a cloud of obfuscating numbers, the images of indecipherable forms and paperwork surrounding him like a whiteout blizzard. Ugh.

Matt says, "I'll tell him, definitely," and speed-walks out of Helen's dark realm.

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"Look, Matt, maybe Kylo Ren doesn't have a very good managerial satisfaction rating because he's always breaking everyone's shit all the time. Of course Sanitation hates him." Matt nods slowly. "Maybe you could try explaining that to him. Maybe turn that around."

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"Look," says Matt. "I'm just saying that nobody seems to appreciate how much WORK it takes to be in that kind of shape. People seem to think it's vain or stupid, but it's not. Kylo Ren is a warrior. He's serving the First Order. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to discipline your body like that." It honestly makes Matt a little angry to hear that people apparently just laugh at him for it.

"Uh huh," says BM0719, "Okay. Sure. But tell me this--"

He's interrupted when Leslie wanders over to the table, carrying a tray with coffee and two muffins. She, oh wow, hands one to Matt. Sun-apple and ettel nut. His favorite. Matt looks up at her, feeling a little overwhelmed. "Here, New Kid," she says. "That's for getting that PPI waveguide clutter in the L7 sector fixed yesterday. On time, too, that's a first. Let's make sure it's not a last, huh? You did good." She smiles at him and sits down. Matt smiles back.

"So," BM0719 goes on, "Tell me this. Is that eight pack, like, a plus when you're in bed? What's it like sleeping with someone that shredded?"

Leslie plants her chin in her hands and gives him an encouraging look. Matt blushes and looks down at the table and starts picking at the muffin wrapper. "It's fine," he says, then feels his mouth split open into a grin. "It's good. It's really good."

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He gets the memo the next morning: the newest stormtrooper platoon is going to be sent to one of the nearby First Order planets for training in a week. Kylo Ren is going to be supervising the journey. At breakfast, BM0719 tells Matt he hopes he has a good trip.

"But I'm not going on the trip. I work here. On the Finalizer. As a radar technician."

BM0719 looks pained. "Matt, dude, this, this is getting really weird."

Matt freezes. "What?"

"Matt. Everybody knows."

Matt feels the blood drain out of his face. "What."

"Matt." BM0719 is looking at him with naked pity written all over his face. No, he thinks, chest hitching in panic, no, no, no. "Come on. Everybody knows you're Kylo Ren."

The break room is filled with people. Stormtroopers, captains, techs, officers. Everybody. Everybody.

Matt turns around and runs. Out the doors, down a corridor, down a flight of stairs, jumping as many at a time as he can. Once he's gotten out of the inner tiers Matt punches a senior code a Radar Technician shouldn't know into a set of blast doors, and sprints out into one of the long hangars, the ones they use to deck the Star Destroyers. It's so big he can't see the other end. He staggers over to a place he used to sit and think when he was younger, one of the big metal valleys that goes all the way down to a maintenance bay, and folds himself up to sit at the edge, feet dangling, and stares down into the void. Little lights twinkle on and off at the bottom.

BM0719 sits down next to him with a heavy thump, gasping like he's just run a marathon. Stormtroopers shouldn't be allowed to shirk fitness regulations, Matt thinks, then realizes, what would Matt care about something like that? Stupid, stupid, so fucking stupid. He kicks one of this feet into the instep of the other hard to shut himself up and stares down into the canal. There's an electric droid track all the way at the bottom and Matt thinks that maybe if he let himself drop that would be it, it would all finally be over.

"Dude," BM0719 says, finally catching his breath. "Ky-- I mean, Matt, I mean--" His shoulders slump. "Look, I'm sorry, I seriously don't know what to call you. But, dude. I get it." He looks down into the valley. "What you're-- what you've been-- I get it. It," He takes a deep breath. "It gets lonely up here."

Matt feels something terrible expanding in his chest. He bites down on his lower lip to cut the feeling off at the pass and nods.

"On my planet, there's like, one place to go to earn a living, right? The mine installation? It's this crazy, industrial city, the only city on the whole planet, all pipes and freighters and toxic air, you can go an entire day working there without ever seeing another person. But there's nothing else for anyone to do. So all the kids grow up, and go to work the spice flats, and, man, when you've been out there for a while, shit gets weird. The lifers? The stuff they get up to? Sex stuff, hoarding, shooting themselves. You don't even wanna know. "

Matt nods.

"But it's even worse in space, you know? Because you forget anything else exists. I mean they started doing training exercises out in the snow in negative thirty degrees last winter on Starkiller because all the guys were just losing the freaking plot without a sun, you know? Even if it wasn't even their own sun. Remember when the entire FK unit all went out of their minds and we had to take them down with a PET team? Oh man, that sucked. Sanitation was so screwed, man. Cleaning shit off the walls for days."

Matt nods.

"You just start to lose your grip. Everyone gets shifted around so much you never know anyone for long, and it starts feeling like you've been here forever. The day cycles stop feeling real, your sleep starts getting all fucked up. The sleep aids they give you make you have the gnarliest dreams, and after a while it feels like you never actually wake up, like you could be in a dream right now. 'Course all the trooper kids who grew up here don't have any of these problems, so when you start to freak out cause you suddenly, like, you just know the gravity is about to turn off and you're all about to float off into space like a billion little white LEGO guys, or you can't tell if there's really shadows talking to you in the corners of the ceilings or if it's just the zolpidem talking, you just feel like even more of a freakin' headcase. And you're away from your family, your friends, you can't really contact them because everything's security clearanced up the ass, you're basically a freaking prisoner here until your contract is up. I mean, you're definitely not the only one up here to go a little..."

BM0719 tilts his head to one side and wiggles his fingers by his left temple.

Matt keeps nodding along. He can't seem to stop. He blinks rapidly a few times, then more, then screws his eyes shut. These glasses must be the wrong prescription. He takes them off and scrubs at his face with the heel of his hand.

"I've been on space duty for, fuck, eight months? Feel like I'm turning into some kind of malfunctioning fucked up robot. It sucks. It just sucks." BM0719 sighs. "How bout you? How long you been up here?"

"Fifteen solar cycles," Ben whispers.

"Shit, man."

There's a beat, and BM0719 reaches out and awkwardly pats him on the shoulder, and he startles at the shock of contact. He wants to snarl, "Greater men than you have died for such disrespect." He wants to say, "I will smite you down where you stand for daring to raise a hand to me." But what comes choking out of his mouth is, "I'm sorry I threw you into the vending machine."

BM0719 shrugs. "No harm, no foul." He raises his eyebrows. "I'm sorry for calling you a punk ass bitch."

"Apology accepted."

After a minute, BM0719 says, "Hey, I gotta go back for my next shift. Are you going to be OK?"

Nod affirmative. He watches as BM0719 gets up and walks back across the hangar until he disappears into the jungle of pipes and freighters and toxic air. He folds the glasses up and puts them in one of the pockets of the orange radar tech vest, then winds his way after BM0719, back from the edge of the hangar bay, back to the blast doors, back to the stairs; back to the base and the person he's going to be when he gets there.

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