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A Matter of Taste

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The Officer’s Lounge on the Finalizer was bedecked in pink and red ribbons, festooned with white balloons, and its walls were lined with heart-shaped cutouts. Even the bar was was concocting some kind of clear, rosy-colored drink complete with a very small umbrella.

It was a travesty.

General Armitage Hux thought he might be sick to his stomach if he didn’t swiftly relocate. The annual Sweethearts Ball was that evening, and Hux hated it for about one thousand reasons but chief among them were:

  1. It was a colossal waste of funds and resources.
  2. He was expected to oversee said colossal waste of funds and resources and thus appear to those around him as though he tacitly approved of them. And
  3. Anyone foolish enough to think they were going to find love while in service to the greatest military power in the Galaxy was likely barking up the very wrong tree and ought to be sacked for their stupidity.

There was a fourth reason as well, and it was so vexing that Hux often chose to ignore it, however...there was undeniable logic in fostering relationships between loyal First Order personnel. Indoctrination was expensive, having babies was cheap. If your goal was galactic domination, why not people the galaxy with prepackaged supporters. Hux hated that he could see the sense in it. He doubted the High Council actually supplied the credits for an all-expenses paid honeymoon if you met your future spouse on a Star Destroyer, but one never knew.

And perhaps a quiet, hidden part of him knew that having certain predilections made it highly unlikely that he could answer the call in this particular way, and thus that part of him felt a tiny bit wounded at being unable show his loyalty in the very demonstrative sense of producing a living child in the name of the cause. Hux was as loyal as any of them, if not more so: willing to die for the Order, willing to sign a pledge of fealty in his own blood, and willing to oversee the preparations for this blasted party, and if that wasn't enough then he wasn't sure what else he could do.

He could have a smoke.

He could step away from the cream puff nightmare that the very dignified lounge on his star destroyer was being converted into and have a nice smoke. Hux patted down his uniform’s internal pockets and sighed in frustration when he realized his cigarettes were sitting on his desk, next to the stack of paperwork he could be processing if he weren't here, managing operation Sweetheart Ball like he'd lost some kind of cosmic bet, which perhaps he had, if having to work with Kylo Ren was any indication. At least there was no way his tantrum-prone co-commander was going to disrupt the relatively calm toil going on around him. Hux could take a certain amount of solace in knowing that Lord Ren would rather jump out of an airlock than participate in any kind of sweetheart anything.

Hux was free of him, and his awful mask, and his funny ways at least until this complete nonsense was behind them, and Hux. Hux could find a silver lining in that. He patted down his pockets again as though his cigarettes might have magically appeared, was disappointed, and was just about to head back to his quarters and retrieve them when someone, in a bold breach of protocol, tapped him on the shoulder.

Major Banks stood at attention, grinning, when he turned to face her. She had glitter all over her freckled cheeks, and somehow a ribbon had gotten caught in her bun. Technically she was on duty, but half of his staff were acting like cadets on the eve before shore leave. Hux cleared his throat.

“At ease, Major.”

Banks’ posture visibly relaxed. “Sir,” she said, “will you be attending the party this evening?”

Unfortunately —“I shall,” said Hux, with the pride of one headed to the gallows.

“It's shaping up to be quite the affair.” Banks gestured behind herself at the room. “Have you ever seen the lounge look quite so lovely?”

Hux coughed delicately and clasped his hands behind his back. “Not as such, no.” It was a pity he liked Banks as much as he did, as his opinion of her taste was rapidly plummeting.

“There's going to be dancing,” Banks said, rather conspiratorially. “Apparently Captain Zillow has made a very exciting playlist. All of the newest hits from Coruscant. We had planned for a live band originally, and for there to be a broader selection of libations, but with the budget…”

“Ah,” said Hux, absently. His gaze had shifted beyond Banks to three stormtroopers attempting to hang a mirror ball (of all things) with some difficulty. The shiny monstrosity caught beneath one trooper’s helmet and in a moment of discord it nearly fell to the ground and shattered (Hux should be so lucky), but instead it seemed to steady itself midair, lifting of its own accord to a discomfiting hover at just about face level. The troopers stepped back in obvious alarm and Hux narrowed his eyes.

“Oh my stars,” said Banks, breaking off her inane prattle to cover her mouth with one hand.

Even before he found the source of the lunacy, Hux knew. And when the hair on the back of neck stood up, he really knew. So, Hux thought, the phantom of the Finalizer has chosen to make an appearance. How nice.

He resolutely did not turn and follow the path of Banks’ frozen stare, and he certainly didn’t pinch the bridge of his nose in an expression of exasperation. Instead, he watched the free-floating, glittering orb make its way to the lounge ceiling and attach itself to the little hook waiting helpfully to hold it aloft. He was distantly aware that this situation could have gone in several directions, one of which might have resulted in a smashed mirror ball and a little less good cheer, and Hux would be lying if he said that wouldn't have been preferential to actual assistance from Kylo Ren (which was definitely the least likely outcome of events he could imagine), and if he hadn’t been quite so focused, Hux might have noticed that the entire room had halted in place, all eyes pointed directly where he refused to look. Kylo Ren ruined things; he didn’t help. Hux suspected he was actually physically incapable of helping, the kind of person who, when he managed to tap into his sense of charity, made the situation worse.

But— there was the mirror ball, against all odds, now spinning slowly from its appointed place, scattering the long, broad room with little points of light, and reflecting the metal sheen of steel fixtures on its many faceted surface. Hux frowned, and then realized that Major Banks had regained her powers of speech.

That was unexpected,” she said.

“Quite,” Hux replied. He blinked.

“Never a dull moment,” Banks said, shaking her pretty head in ill-concealed dismay.

The bustle around the room slowly returned to full-on party preparation mode, and when Hux finally deemed it safe to glance over his shoulder, Ren’s looming form was nowhere to be found. He almost sighed in relief. He was not afraid Kylo Ren, no, never afraid, but Ren was an unknown quantity, impossible to measure, immune to prediction; he was the perfect outlier, and something about that much power wrapped up in so little restraint got Hux’s hackles up.

He really needed that smoke.

“Seems like you have things under control, Major,” he said, nodding at Banks in what he hoped was a reassuring way. Praise often worked wonders as an escape route.

“Yes, sir. Very much so, sir,” Banks’ cheeks colored and she drew her shoulders back into a more formal stance.

“Well, carry on then.” Hux waved a hand vaguely around the room.

“Yes, sir.” Banks saluted him. “See you later, sir?” she added, with too much hope in her voice for his liking. Hux returned her salute, and turned to go, pulling his PDD from his pocket as he went. Only four short hours until the descent into hell began. He would have time to freshen up, maybe press his dress pants.

The main officer’s lounge was on the same deck as his quarters, just a short, brisk walk down pristine corridors. It was still mid-shift, but the halls were far from empty. Droids and officers walked with purpose from meeting to medbay, from the flight deck to the bridge, and no doubt to the on-board shopping arcade for something to wear that evening if they were fortunate enough to have an invitation. Hux’s Finalizer was massive in size, a veritable floating city, and home to almost 80,000 people; and of that multitude of souls, 19,000 held the rank of officer. Tickets for the Sweetheart Ball had been distributed via lottery, and were much coveted. Hux couldn't fathom why anyone would be so keen on attending, but he had heard that tickets were being pawned off second-hand at exorbitant rates. If he cared more, he might have been miffed at such uncouth behavior, but the trivial nature of the thing kept him from wasting his energy on it.

Let them squabble, he thought placidly and with some affection. It would build character.

Five additional officers asked him if he would be attending the Ball, including Lieutenant Yakko, which made Hux take pause as he’d always gotten the sense that Yakko rather liked him. It was possible his affirmative answer had been a little less officious than he’d intended, which put him in mind of another one of his major issues with the Sweetheart Ball: technically speaking fraternization between First Order personnel wasn’t permitted. Exceptions were made, of course: Captain Garber had married one of the stormtroopers in his brigade—Hux thought her name was Keela, but they’d moved off ship since—and no one had blinked an eye. Aside from Hux. Hux always managed to blink at least one eye, even as he was very carefully minding his own business in the shared single-sex showers connected to the officer’s gymnasium. He knew he wasn’t alone, but it often felt that way. It wasn’t as though he was sharing his amorous intentions with anyone.

And that was the other thing about Lord Ren that was wildly unsettling: the telepathy. Ren never said a word, but sometimes when he looked at Hux, even through that abhorrent mask, it felt like Ren was peeking into his consciousness like a vile boy might attempt to peer up some unsuspecting girl’s skirt. He rarely felt it, but when he did, it always gave him the sensation of having been violated in a way he wouldn’t mind repeating, a kind of comfortable discomfort, like too-hot water in a real shower, the kind that scalded your skin until you came to long for it on the eve of hard days or the morn of harder nights.

Back in his quarters, Hux greeted his tabby cat Millicent with a scratch behind her ginger ears, and chose to forgo the cigarette for a very hot shower. One of the perks of being an officer was access to actual showers, as opposed to the sonic ones provided for the rest of the Finalizer’s crew. He was unzipping his boots, to his utter relief, when his PDD buzzed inside his trouser pocket. The message alert on its screen made him groan aloud.

1645: REN >> r u going tonight

The fact that Kylo Ren couldn’t manage to send messages in full sentences was just another strike against him. Hux put his PDD screen-up on his desk and loathed the mandatory read-receipts on all of their Personal Data Devices. Moments later another message buzzed in.

1647: REN >> ??

Hux snatched up his device and glared at it.

1648: REN >> ??????

Yes. I am overseeing the event. Hux finally jabbed out in reply. He put the PDD down and got back to his boots. The second one was only half-off when another message came through.

1651: REN >> ok

Hux wanted to punch him. Is there something you need? he sent back, completely against his better judgement and largely out of some complicated sense of responsibility, like maybe Ren was drowning in a pool of his own tears and needed to be fished out. Hux kept his eyes on his PDD for a solid three minutes before mentally throwing up his hands and getting into the now steamy shower.

Of course Ren wasn't going to reply. What in the seven Hells was he even thinking? Hux scrubbed off his disappointment with very particular ferocity.

He'd thought the hours before the blasted ball would be productive. He’d intended for them to be productive, but instead he found himself in a sour mood. He rifled distractedly through documents that required his actual signature, and then scrolled through all of his unopened electronic mail, deleting as he saw fit. He was so annoyed that he was annoyed about being annoyed. He had a swirling, internal annoyance vortex. He kept checking his PDD as though a new message could have come through without the vibration that accompanied it. There was nothing from Ren, but there was eventually a message from Phasma that contained a thinly veiled threat about him and the dancing she intended to make him do. He had to put his PDD in a desk drawer. It was a thoroughly unpleasant waste of useful time.

Around 1930 Hux sighed loudly, fed Millicent who had been meowing insistently while twining around his ankles, and proceeded to press his dress pants himself because he simply didn’t trust the hospitality droid to do it correctly. He’d never held a rank the required body armour, but putting on his dress uniform was as close as he came to outfitting himself in protective plastic. There was no use for his greatcoat, the layer he felt most comfortable with between himself and the rest of the world, but his dress uniform jacket would do. And so, pants pressed within an inch of their life, jacket zipped to his chin, and belt firmly in place, General Hux gave himself a very firm look in the looking glass beside his bedroom door, smoothed the persistent cowlick to the left of his part, and wrinkled his nose. A cursory glance at his PDD revealed no messages, and he slipped it into his pocket along with his cigarettes, grateful that neither ruined the slimming line of his trousers.

Hux gave himself another hard look. He remembered his father’s abiding affection for Imperial era war poetry, how so many of those old poems compared the trials of civilian life to the screech of alusteel in the heat of battle, how they held personal failings up alongside the failure of shields to hold when it mattered most. He tugged down the back of his jacket. It was only a social engagement. He was no child.

On second thought, he very much envied children, as they were not subjected to things like the First Order’s semi-annual, much anticipated Sweetheart Ball. Hux could hear the music in the corridor as he made his way from his quarters to the party.

The lounge itself was packed, and cast in a reddish hue, but the mirror ball was certainly doing an admirable job of throwing sharp little flecks of light around the room. It appeared that a smoke-making machine had been requisitioned as well, and the room had an eerie, misty quality.

“General!” someone cried, and Hux turned in place to find Phasma coming toward him with two umbrella-garnished drinks in hand. She looked exceptional, as always. Her blindingly bright hair was slicked back chicly from her face, and she was wearing a slim, black suit in place of her dress uniform. A deep, very non-regulation v cut into its front. Beside her was the tiny, blue-tinted young secretary Hux suspecting of being something like her girlfriend.

“Ah, Captain.” He smiled closed mouthed at her and took the proffered drink.

“You remember Eliana?” Phasma said, wrapping her free arm around the smaller girl’s shoulders. Eliana smiled shyly at him. Phasma was nearly a foot taller than her, and she had several inches on Hux.

“Of course,” Hux said. He took a sip of what was very sweet, and very strong, and likely to knock him on ass if he wasn’t careful.

“Thank you for throwing such a lovely party,” murmured Eliana, her eyes downcast.

Phasma smirked pointedly at him,. “Yes, thank you so very much, sir.”

Hux resisted the urge to roll his eyes and downed the rest of his drink instead. “Rewarding a more than adequate performance is always advisable, and you have all worked very hard.”

“More importantly, have you seen what Major Haraav is wearing?” Phasma stage-whispered, leaning in close. Eliana giggled.

“It’s absurd,” she said.

Hux found himself somewhat pleasantly engulfed in petty gossip for a little while, and during that time a new drink found its way into his hand, and then another when that one was consumed. He longed hopelessly for a glass of wine, perhaps a big, tannic red from Naboo, but was out of luck. The party planning committee had opted for the hard and fast route to drunkenness: liquor only. And he was certainly feeling its effects. He looked down at his boots for a moment, and when he lifted his head back up, Phasma and Eliana were dancing indecently directly in front of him. In fact, the three of them had migrated to the center of the dance floor that had been set up for the evening. Someone brushed up against Hux from behind, the prelude to dancing, and he felt the beginnings of panic edging in at odds with the alcohol in his system. Quite suddenly the room felt very small, very tight, and crooked. Everywhere around him First Order officers were cutting loose.

A too familiar prickle went up his spine. Ren.

That's quite enough of that, thought Hux, and retreated to the officer’s ‘fresher with his third atrocious pink cocktail in hand.

He was already pulling out a cigarette from his monogrammed silver case as the door panel slid shut behind him. The hydraulic hiss brought with it a sensation of relief so encompassing he felt his knees sag with the weight of it. He was not prone to social anxiety so much as he couldn't stomach second hand embarrassment and found himself helplessly in its thrall as he watched his impeccably trained team of officers descend to a level of intoxicated revelry more befitting a group of rowdy cantina goers on some Force-forsaken rock of sin.

Hux tapped the filter end of his cigarette on the basin’s edge and considered dousing cold water over his face. The large, very well-lit mirror reflected a more flushed version of himself than he would have liked, and his eyes had that glassy, rather watery look he got when alcohol consumption got the better of him. He gave the pinkish cocktail on the counter an accusatory look. He’d discarded its umbrella somewhere in the room and felt glad of it, as though the offending, drunk-making drink deserved to be stripped of its pomp in recompense for making the room a little bit shaky and the light a little too bright. He'd taken its stripes, so to speak, and felt appeased.

Hux took a long drag on his cigarette and leaned on the counter. He contemplated putting up his feet on the toilet and taking a little break. The solace in the ‘fresher and the nicotine in his bood were already shaving down his splintered nerves. He let his eyes close for just a moment.

Then the door slid open of its own accord. Hux shrieked. Recovered. Glared.

“You’re missing the party,” said Lord Ren, maskless and arresting. All of his thick black hair swept away from his face. He looked very pale, and much too calm.

“Yes, I'm well aware,” Hux said, adjusting his posture.

Ren’s eyes landed on his cocktail. “And you're drinking rotgut.”

“I'm aware of that as well.” Hux snatched up his drink and swallowed the rest of it out of pure spite

“It was pink.”

Ren was completely intolerable, and he was looking at Hux funny. “Are you quite finished or did you stalk me to the ‘fresher for a reason?”

“I helped decorate,” Ren said.

“Oh, for the love of the Empire, are you kidding me right now?”

And Ren, Lord Kylo Ren, Master of the Knights of Ren, had the nerve to look abashed.

“I did,” he insisted.

“You should have let that horrid thing break,” Hux said sullenly. “Maybe I could’ve skipped this whole affair.” Ren had the unfortunate effect of making him rather honest, as though simply knowing that Ren could tell if he lied made it harder to obfuscate. There were many unfortunate things about Ren. If Ren was an unstoppable force, then Hux was an immovable object, and together they were a paradox. But Hux found their conflict of opposite extremes to be oddly fortifying at times. To know himself in opposition to Kylo Ren was to know himself at the peak of his talents, and the depth of his weaknesses.

Ren plucked the cigarette from between his fingers and Hux’s heart skipped a little beat.

“That’s mine,” he said.

“Mmmm.” Ren exhaled, his full lips parted just so to let the smoke pass through.

There were about 1000 reasons why Hux hated the Sweethearts Ball. And the big one, the most hateful one, was that he simply didn’t have a sweetheart.

“I, uh…," Hux said eloquently. Ren offered back his cigarette and regarded him with a thoughtful tilt of head.

“You think you’re alone,” he said, in that slow, quiet way of his. “But you’re not. And you….you don’t have to be.”

“I don’t?”

“There are others, like you. Who want what you want. I could show them to you.”

“I don’t need your help to find a date, Lord Ren,” Hux snapped, well-aware of how strange the night had become.

“But do you want. To date?”

Hux scoffed. “Frankly I’d settle for a good lay at this point,” he said.

Both of Kylo Ren’s thick eyebrows went up in surprise. He took Hux’s cigarette from him, and dropped it into the basin. The ‘fresher seemed to close in around them, and Hux could feel the bass from the music pounding in the wall, or that could have been his heart.

“That could be arranged,” said Ren. He reached out and wrapped one huge gloved hand around Hux’s waist. He touch was oddly tentative.

“Oh hells,” Hux said, before Ren kissed him.

Two things were apparent very quickly. One, Kylo Ren had an extremely soft, extremely kissable mouth, and although Hux hadn’t really considered them in this configuration before he’d certainly considered that mouth, and two, things were going to progress rather rapidly if the way Ren straight up lifted him up onto the counter was any indication of his intentions. Hux wrapped his legs around Ren’s waist, and could almost forget how wrinkled his pants would be in the morning when Ren briefly released his mouth to nuzzle against his ear and inhale deeply.

“You taste sweet,’ he said.

It was undoubtedly the strangest night of Hux’s short life, and he laughed. “I’m not.”

“I know,” Ren said, lips brushing over sensitive skin, his breath very warm. His hair smelled very good.

“You’re a terrible texter,” Hux said. He twirled a lock of Ren’s offensively nice hair around one finger.

“That must be so hard for you.” Ren kissed him again.

Things shifted back to frantic when Ren bit at his lower lip, and Hux wondered if anyone could hear the groan he couldn’t contain over the music. He had both of his hands in Ren’s hair but he released one handful and gripped Ren’s ass instead. Ren’s whole body stuttered forward.

“Do you have to stay at the party much longer?” Ren asked him, panting against his lips. His erection was tucked into the crease of Hux’s hip.

“I don’t want to be here at all.”

“Good, very good,” Ren said. “Come with me. I’ll give the night back to you.”

"Well alright," Hux said, like he could have said no if he wanted to. 

He let Kylo Ren settle him gently back onto the ground, his hands sliding covetously over whichever parts of Hux they could get at it. For a long moment progress stopped altogether so that Ren could kiss him against the door, helpfully providing one very well-toned thigh for Hux to rut shameless against while their tongues moved together. Hux felt like a teenager again: kissing Kylo Ren in a refresher, during a party. Finally Hux pushed him away, and composed himself while Ren’s dark eyes followed his movements with an unspoken promise to undo every bit of effort Hux put into looking presentable now.

When the door slid open for them, Hux lifted his chin imperiously and cast his gaze about the room. The situation had deteriorated further; someone was going to have to put an end to the madness before the party got entirely out of hand. He thought he could see a completely nude person on one of the lounge chairs by the internal windows. Whomever was working the command bridge was getting quite the show, Hux realized.

Ren’s massive hand landed on the small of his back. A delightful shiver went through him. They were almost out the door together when Phasma caught his eye from over by the bar. She winked.

Perhaps the Ball wasn't the worst idea their Supreme Leader had ever had.