Actions

Work Header

Hux Jr's Day off

Chapter Text

Hux walked into a nigh-empty Calc BC at 7:30, sucking on a mint so his breath wouldn’t smell like coffee. The man he assumed was Mr. Maul stood on the other side of the room, behind a podium, with his tattooed arms folded over his chest and a glare that said “it’s the first day but I am done with y’alls’ shit.” Hux liked him immediately.

Make a good impression.

He walked up to the podium. “ ‘Morning. Is there a seating chart?”

“No.”

Hux blinked, waiting for more, but when Maul kept his mouth shut and fixed him with a steely stare, he decided to sit in the front right corner of the room. Front because he wanted to get a good grade, and the corner because nobody called on the people in the corners.

People began to trail in not long after he sat down, filling in the back of the room first and only moving up reluctantly. They were all chattering about their summer adventures or their summer work.

He took out his notebook and sighed. Transferring senior year was a serious crock.

A short, jockish guy who arrived a little too close to the bell settled down right behind Hux, who sighed again through his nose and waited for the inevitable sneakers moving around on his chair legs or demands for gum or, god forbid, conversation. Surprisingly enough, there was none of that, just the telltale shuffle of a notebook sliding from its zippered prison and maybe a bit of humming. Hux didn’t mind humming.

The morning was already more tolerable than he’d expected.

What he assumed was the bell sounded over the PA, and he jumped. It didn’t sound like a school bell at all, more like someone sitting on an accordion. An accordion in a lot of pain. He heard a chuckle behind him and turned.

“They still have the finals bell set up,” the guy said with a sparkling grin, and held his hand out. “Poe. Haven’t seen you around before.”

Hux had no choice but to take it. “Hux. I haven’t been around before.”

“Oh, so you’re a transfer?”

He nodded.

Maul cleared his throat behind them. “I have the green sheet here, if you two are done chatting.”

Hux felt the tips of his ears heat up. There went the good impression he was trying to make. “Thanks,” he mumbled, and took the stack of syllabi from his teacher. He took one and passed the rest back to a still-grinning Poe.

“How was your summer, Mr. Maul?” Poe asked.

“Better than your attempts to get on my good side, Dameron.” There were a few snorts from the back of the room.

“I can try!”

“And you can fail. Stop talking.”

Hux’s lips twitched despite his brain’s insistence that he was not amused.

As he turned back to face the front he heard someone whispering to Poe and rolled his eyes. Of course he’d gotten stuck in this seat.

They read through the green sheet, and signed it, and Hux was finally relaxing when someone tapped his shoulder. He tried not to jump. He turned. "What?"

A girl with a wicked grin and slicked-back blonde hair leaned forward, elbows on her knees. "What brings you to Millenium?" Her voice was musical and deep.

"I moved."

"Oh, you're one of those." She stuck her hand out, fingers straight, thumb parallel to her palm. "I'm Phasma."

"One of what?" he asked, trying not to let sudden annoyance show on his face.

But she just waited for him to shake her hand, face unreadable and yet also like she knew something he didn't. It was unnerving.

"Well," Hux said, attempting to put an air of finality in his tone, "Nice to meet you." And he turned back around. Why were these people so damn friendly? Couldn't they just leave him alone? He was here to learn, not to make friends.

Maul began a review of terms from the year before and Hux took out his notebook, dutifully taking notes regardless of how well he knew the concepts. As it became clear to him that no new material was being introduced today, he pulled out his schedule. The class schedule at this school was different from his last, though most college preps had an odd schedule like this one. Each class period was eighty five minutes and he only had three or four classes a day.

The downside to this was that the classes were out of order and his schedule was a lot less easy to figure out than it should have been.

After a little bit of consideration, Hux figured out he had APLit next. Okay.

He caught sight of Maul glaring at him, still lecturing, and slid his schedule under his notebook, feeling his cheeks go hot.

Great.

At long last, the bell rang, and he shot out of his desk. He was almost through the door when Phasma grabbed his arm. He turned--oh god, she was taller than him--and hoped he was glaring hard enough.

"What?" he snapped.

"I have a study group that meets in the library after school. Come join us sometime."

Why? "Why?"

Phasma quirked a brow. "My squad needs an antisocial jackass to round us out."

Hux had no idea what to say to that. He blinked and was jostled by people trying to get out the door.

"Think about it," she said, and slid past him into the hallway.

What the fuck.

Anyway, he had to get to Lit.

 

Mr. Jinn was nothing like Maul. He had hair, for one thing, and a lot of it, pulled back into a ponytail. Hux wasn't sure that was allowed; he assumed teachers had to follow the same dress code as students. He mentally shrugged. It didn't really matter. He wouldn't be the one reprimanded for it.

He was another teacher without a seating chart. Hux sat in the back, by the window. He didn't want anyone sitting behind him, considering the disaster that was math.

As soon as everyone was seated, Mr. Jinn turned off the lights.

"Morning everybody!" he said. "We're gonna start class off a little differently today: with meditation."

Hux nearly left his seat and drove home.

"Either you get ten extra minutes of sleep or you center yourself; I don't care. Just be quiet and we'll all have a good time. After we're done there, you'll take the test on your summer reading and then we'll go over the syllabus. If we have time. Anyway. Heads on your desks."

Fuck his life. He got stuck with the hippie. Great.

The rest of Lit passed without a hitch; Hux was certain he'd gotten at least 93% of the questions right, which was of course enough for an A. Not a high A, but an A nonetheless.

Mandarin 4 went similarly, though the teacher wasn't a kook. Hux was just grateful that he had a free period after lunch: he could go straight home and do his homework and maybe read for a while.

He left during lunch.

 

Hux had his routine down to a science: change in the car, hide his binder in the glove compartment, get inside, wash hands, wash face, fifteen minutes of free time. Study in blocks. Feed the cat. Break for dinner. Study more, possibly time for free time. Brush teeth, shower, wash face again, hit the bed and try to sleep. It worked well for him. He had no life outside of that, but it worked well, and his parents didn't usually complain. The less they saw of him, he felt, the better.

Today, though, after he'd washed his face and had fifteen minutes for a snack, he realized he didn't have much homework. That didn't often happen. He supposed he'd finish his college applications, then.

Lucky for him, his parents trusted him to send them out himself; he could keep his gender preferences under wraps long enough to get the hell out of the house, and the colleges he applied to would still refer to him as the right fucking gender.

It'd been hard enough to get his parents to let him cut his hair. His..."transness" was something that Hux Sr. would not tolerate.

He sat down gently on his bed, folding his legs under him, and waited for Millicent to creep out from under the frame. At this point, the cat was living solely in his room. He worried about how she'd fare when he left for college.

After a few minutes of waiting, she inched out of her hiding spot and leapt up onto the blankets, butted her dusty orange head against Hux's shoulder. He grinned and stroked his fingers through her fur.

"How was your day, Millicent?" He'd learned to talk to the cat as if she were a person from an old library book. Apparently it increased their intelligence.

She chirped and pressed her nose into the crook of his elbow.

"Is that right? Mum didn't bother you, yeah?"

Millicent put her paws on his legs, so he crossed them and let her curl up.

"I want to fill up your water--mind if I get up and do that?"

She left his lap and he changed her water, then got out his homework. He did it sitting on the floor against his bed frame, Millicent's head on his knee.

Hux finished up his homework and filled out the forms; that took up a few hours. Dinner came too quickly. Time to face everything that entailed.

He made his way into the kitchen like his hallway was a minefield.

"Hi sweetie," his mother called, setting out plates. "Set the table for me?"

Hux nodded once and did so.

"How's your work going?"

"It--" he cleared his throat, spoke a little higher in his register. "It's going fine. I have a lot to do, though." A lie wouldn't hurt terribly.

He watched his mother's face fall. "Oh. It's only the first day--I thought we could have a nice night as a family." Avgusta Hux was a woman who, Hux often observed, felt her family was an extension of herself; she felt incomplete when she wasn't surrounded by people related to her. "You're just always in your room. Do you think you could come out once in a while?"

"Like I said, I have a lot of work."

"Help me serve."

He nodded again and helped spoon out casserole and salad.

The creak of the front gate announced Hux Sr.'s arrival. The younger Hux sighed inwardly. The door unlocked with a click, and his father walked into the kitchen, loosening his tie as he went.

"There're my girls," he boomed.

Hux bit his tongue. Hard. "Hey dad."

"Hello Brendol," his mother said, eyes down. She began to carry dinner to the table.

"What're we having for dinner, then?"

"Leftover casserole," Hux muttered.

His father said nothing to that, just looked at him for a long moment, and Hux wet his lips nervously. Tone. Tone of voice. Fuck.

"Avgusta," he said, walking into the dining room and relieving Hux of his scrutiny. He relaxed exactly half an increment, then walked with his plate to the dining room table. "You told me we were having fish for dinner."

"The fish went bad," his mother said.

"You should have let me know. I would have picked some up." With that, Hux Sr. sat; Hux Jr. and his mother followed.

"Brenda," his mother said, probably to change the subject, "how was your first day?"

Hux again bit his tongue. "It was fine. Nothing much happened."

"Tell us about your teachers so far." There was a hint of begging in her tone.

He spread his napkin in his lap. "I like my calculus teacher. He has a good command of the class."

"Good," his father said, and dug in to the casserole.

He relaxed another half an increment. "Mandarin went fine. English was...interesting."

"How so?"

"I'm not sure how I feel about the teacher."

"Is he too lenient for you?"

"Like I said, I'm not sure how I feel." Hux cut his casserole with the side of his fork. "He's a bit of a hippie."

Even though he wasn't looking directly at his father, he could feel the quirk of his brow, the weight of his stare. "Let's hope he doesn't try to brainwash you, eh?"

Ah yes. Now was the time to bring on the discussion of politics. Lovely. Hux decided to go for the least dishonest answer. "He won't get far."

"Good to hear. Though I wasn't worried, were you, Avgusta?"

"No, I was not."

Hux wasn't certain he could eat.

"Our daughter has strong convictions, eh?" his father said.

"She does."

He shoved a forkful of food into his mouth to avoid having to agree with them.

*

Hux skipped breakfast the next morning, instead opting for an extra fifteen minutes of sleep cuddled up to a warm cat before his zero period for AP Physics. He got into his car, pulled into an empty parking lot, and shimmied into his binder and dark button-down. He pulled the earrings from his ears, used a little bit of foundation on his lips, and hoped his teachers today would use digital roll call instead of calling out names. He'd gotten lucky so far; hopefully his luck would continue. "Brenda" was a shitty name anyway. He thought he'd hate it even if he were a woman.

He drove the rest of the way to school adjusting his breathing to the strong compression of the binder and hoping (praying) he wouldn't be outed.

After parking his car in the senior lot, Hux headed to the physics classroom. The door was locked. He checked his phone surreptitiously. Six forty. The classroom should be open.

Except.

Except he hadn't had physics yet and there was no way they'd start a lab without having passed out the green sheet.

Fuck. He could have slept the extra hour. The only remedy for this was coffee; again, luck was on his side and there was a Starbucks across the street from school. He wondered idly how long that luck would last.

He walked across the street to the Starbucks and bought himself a relatively plain coffee, and planned to enjoy it alone, but apparently it was not to be: Phasma approached him, some kind of iced coffee in hand.

"Hey Hux," she said.

Fuck. "Hi Phasma."

"I didn't see you at study group yesterday."

He gave her a look. "Did you ever think I might not want to go?"

"I did," she said. "Then I ignored the thought, because you're interesting."

Hux raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

"I had a feeling." Phasma took a sip of her coffee. "I think Poe's rubbed off on me."

"I wouldn't know."

"May I sit?" she asked, motioning to the empty chair next to him.

He sighed. "Why not?"

She gave him a thin smile and sat. "Where're you from, Hux?"

"Connecticut."

"Connecticut to California. Big move, huh?"

He shrugged. "I suppose."

"I'm trying to make conversation with you. You're not helping me."

"I wonder why that is," Hux muttered.

"Look, like I said, you're interesting. If you really want me to stop bothering you, I will."

Hux drank a mouthful of coffee to avoid answering her for a moment. Without moving from his seat, he took out his schedule and attempted to figure out what classes he had that day.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Phasma smile.

 

AP Gov was taught by Mr. Ackbar, an elderly man who, as he was sure to mention, lived on a houseboat and survived Vietnam. Despite Hux's initial reservations, he wasn't so bad.

He did take roll the old-fashioned way, though.

From the moment he called the first name, Hux was terrified. What would he say? Would he keep quiet? Oh shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit--

"Brenda Hux?"

He cleared his throat. "I go by Hux."

Mr. Ackbar looked down his glasses at him. "Ah. Alrighty."

And then he called the next name.

Wow.

 

In physics, much like calc, he got a green sheet and reviewed concepts from last year's class. Nothing much happened; he'd have to go to zero period again the day after next, but labs only happened every other day, which was nice.

 

Lunch was more eventful, mostly because Phasma was still intent on recruiting him to her group of friends. She found him (in the hidden corner by the library!) and sat down, and, like she was wearing a beacon, Poe, accompanied by a slice of pizza and a junior, soon followed.

The junior eyed him warily. "Who're you?"

Finally, someone who acted normal. "Hux. Phasma won't leave me alone."

She shoved his shoulder lightly and he attempted not to jump out of his skin.

The junior nodded and considered him for a moment. "Okay. I'm Finn." Then he stole a bite of Poe's pizza.

"Finn, I bought that with my own money! My hard-earned money! You have a lunch!"

"Which is why I'm giving you my chips, you doof."

Poe looked mollified. He grabbed Finn's lunchbag and proceeded to dig through it.

Hux hoped he didn't look ruffled. Somewhere, deep down, he probably envied that level of intimacy between two people. Goody for him: he'd choked that part of him years ago.

He pulled his lunch from its paper sack--a sandwich--and watched the three of them bicker. Nobody made an effort to get him talking, but that was fine with him. He supposed having a little background noise while he ate wasn't the worst thing in the world.

Painting was when things went a bit...south. He didn't know it then, of course.

He arrived at the painting room and thought he was the first person there; as he was often, Hux was wrong. There was a tall boy in the corner of the classroom. Taped to the wall in front of him was a half-done painting, some kind of macabre explosion of color outlined in matte black ink.

Hux found his way to a seat.

The boy turned to look at the slowly filling classroom; he seemed almost affronted by the other students filing in. There was a smear of red paint on one cheekbone, a few drips of it in his long, dark hair. The way it'd dried made it look like blood.

He was chewing on his plush lower lip like he hadn't realized he was doing so, one finger tapping the side of his sharp, aquiline nose.

Hux realized about a second too late that he was staring. The boy made eye contact, narrowed his eyes like he'd seen something reprehensible, and turned back to his work.

Fuck.

Their teacher swept into the room just as the bell rang, a short, dark-skinned elderly woman with the biggest glasses Hux had ever seen. She seemed to be counting.

"Just to make sure you're all in the right classroom, I'm Ms. Kanata; this is room 602. Everyone supposed to be here?" Nobody answered in the negative. "Alright, looks like we have an extra. I'll pass out your green sheets in a moment."

She then walked over to the guy in the corner. Hux was able to catch a little of their conversation, mostly because the boy's deep voice carried far.

"You're working on your portfolio, yes Ben?"

Hux saw him pull a face. "Ren."

"Right. You're working on your portfolio?"

"What do you think this is for?"

Her mouth quirked and she adjusted her glasses. "I try not to assume things."

Ren said something Hux couldn't catch, and then Ms. Kanata took a stack of papers from her desk.

"I'll go over the green sheet with you. I planned for today to be somewhat laid-back."

The rest of what she said faded in his awareness. Hux couldn't stop glancing at the boy and his painting.

This was not good.

*

Friends. Friends were a thing that he had, it occurred to him on his drive home. Not by choice, but he had them nonetheless.

He wondered how long he could keep them.

Chapter Text

"I'm shocked he's still here," whispered Phasma. Hux lost his focus on the lecture Maul was giving; it was still review and this was more interesting. She and Poe had come in talking to each other.

"What did he even do, Phas?"

"Finn said the guy beat up a sophomore last year. The kid's still in the hospital."

"Fuck."

Hux swallowed. Who were they talking about?

"I mean," Poe says, "who in fuck does that? With his bare hands?"

"Ben Organa-Solo, apparently." Phasma leaned up to speak in Hux's ear, like she knew he was listening. "You see that kid, you don't go near him, okay? Shit's fucked."

"I don't know who that is," Hux muttered.

"Tall, gangly, big mop of dark hair. Huge nose. His uncles work at Counseling over in the 200 building."

Could that have been him, in painting? "He wouldn't happen to be taking painting this semester, would he?"

"I have no idea. That's the point. I like my face in one piece so I don't know."

"He's a junior?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Point him out to me at lunch if you see him."

Poe drummed his fingers on his desk. Hux could feel it through his chair. "I mean, that's probably asking to die if he sees, but okay. Better me than you guys." Poe spoke a little too loud.

Maul turned his laser gaze on them. "Do you need help focusing or can I lecture without you chatting through it, Dameron?"

"Ehhh, it's a 50/50 either way."

Dameron, you stupid fuck.

 

They jumped right into essay writing in Jinn's class. Hux tried to pay attention, he really did, but at this point he was a bit worried that the Ben--Ren--in his art class was the one Phasma and Poe were whispering about. Okay, maybe more than a bit. He'd been caught staring, after all. He wanted to finish out the year without any major injuries, thanks.

People with hair-trigger tempers usually didn't take kindly to the "I was only staring because you're beautiful" excuse. Especially from someone who tried to pass as male. Even if it was true.

Oh no. He was so fucked.

Hux tried very hard not to lie facedown on the desk and never move again.

 

Once Mandarin was over, Hux couldn't get out of class quickly enough. Screw lunch; he wanted to get home and curl up with his cat and never come back here again. It was his third day. He should not have to watch out for violent juniors by his third day.

Because his luck well and truly had run out, he tripped over someone sitting on the curb in the parking lot.

"Watch it!" said a deep, familiar voice.

"I'm generally not watching for people who sit on the curb and slouch like a bag of trash." Hux went cold as he realized what he said. Shit. Well, he supposed he couldn't take it back now.

Ren from his painting class stood and rose up to his full height, which was tall--tall as Phasma--and then leaned very close to Hux's face. "You wanna say that again?"

Annoyance flared up in him. Such a cliche intimidation tactic. "You were sitting on the curb like a trash bag on garbage day. Of course I didn't see you."

Ren obviously wasn't expecting a reply, and he deflated a bit. Good.

"If you'll excuse me, I'd like to get home now." Hux pushed past him and distinctly felt eyes on the back of his neck the whole way to his car.

Because he was an idiot and had to pass him on his way out of the lot, Hux gave him a jaunty little salute. The last thing he saw before he merged onto the street was Ren's face contorting in anger.

Then he was free.

 

"Millicent, I met the hugest jerk today." The cat lay splayed out over his legs, purring, probably oblivious to their conversation. "But I doubt he'll bother me now. Or maybe he'll bother me more. I don't know. In hindsight, it was kind of stupid."

She rolled over so he could rub her tummy. He obliged.

 

Every morning when his mother was up before him was a morning Hux woke up to talk shows that proclaimed that Fox News was too liberal and that minorities were destroying the fabric of the country through their efforts for equality.

Hux was not impressed.

He took care to be up and out of the house before his alarm went off and his mother woke up, so he wouldn't have to listen to it. This morning, though, he nearly slept through his alarm. From down the hall, he could hear his mother's favorite program's tagline, A fusion of entertainment and enlightenment, spoken in a cool, British voice, because apparently England made everything more intellectual. If that were true then Hux wouldn't have to study so much.

He lay back against his pillow and let out a deep sigh. "Millicent, don't make me get up."

The cat jumped off the bed in response.

Hux made it to school around six twenty to go over lab safety procedure he'd heard a thousand times, slightly modified for the fact the class was AP and the fact it was physics. He bought himself a coffee at seven and waited outside the Gov classroom.

Idly, he thought he might go to the study group today.

 

Lunch came more quickly than he'd expected.

Surprisingly enough, Poe was the first person to sit down with him. "Hello hello!"

"Uh, hi."

"How's your morning been?"

Hux resisted the urge to shrug. "Not bad."

Finn was the second to sit, and he leaned up against Poe. "I brought you a sandwich."

"Praise the lord."

Finn passed him a plastic-wrapped sub sandwich.

"I swear I don't know why lunch here is so expensive."

Hux raised an eyebrow. "Why not just bring your own?"

Poe laughed. There was an edge behind it. "You say that like I have food in my apartment."

"Ah."

"Been emancipated for a few years. Turned eighteen. Rent over here sucks."

Hux nodded. That was when Phasma chose to sit down, another girl behind her.

"I adopted a sophomore," she said.

The sophomore gave a nervous wave. "Hi, I'm Rey."

Finn looked up. "Hey Rey."

"Oh, hi."

"Sit here," Poe said, shoving his backpack out of the way so she had a place to settle.

She did.

They ate in silence for a minute or so, then Phasma broke it. "So Hux, you wouldn't happen to have figured out if you have painting with the Solo kid yet?"

Rey looked up from her cafeteria pasta. "You have painting with my cousin?"

Phasma looked sharply at her. "Ben Solo's your cousin?"

"He goes by Ren, but yeah. Is this about the thing from last year?"

Ben Solo went by Ren. Well fuck.

"Hux," Finn said, looking at him like he'd grown a second head. "Are you okay? You've got this look on your face."

"I deliberately antagonized your cousin, Rey."

She burst out laughing. "So you're who he was muttering about at dinner. Okay. That makes sense now." She let out another giggle. "Did you really compare him to a bag of trash?"

Phasma shoved him. She was laughing too. "You idiot!"

"If it helps, he's been going to anger management classes since May."

That didn't help. It really, really didn't. His father went to anger management classes and those didn't help.

"I didn't think it was possible for someone to go that white," Poe said, "especially you."

"I have painting with him next period!"

"Calm down," Rey said. "Mitaka was...special. You'll be fine."

"Mitaka? The kid who is currently in the hospital?"

"Yes. Calm down, man. Everything'll be fine."

"You say that now."

"I deliberately antagonize him all the time. You'll be fine."

Hux really didn't think so.

 

He got to the painting classroom quickly and saw Ren in the back again, paintbrush flying madly over his painting. Suddenly he stopped and tucked it behind his ear. More paint got in his hair.

Hux edged into his seat.

Ren turned, watching everyone fill the classroom. He seemed to be considering something. Probably contemplating how best to rip Hux to shreds.

He stopped that line of thought right there, because it was ridiculous. More ridiculous was that he'd allowed himself to worry. He sat up straighter in his seat.

Ms. Kanata adjusted her enormous glasses and announced, after the bell rang, that they'd be doing a mixed media project.

Great. Great. Hux despised mixed media.

Everyone settled into their places. Hux grabbed a piece of thick card stock and thought for a minute, then decided on mediums. No more than two. Pen and...and gouache, as that was fairly easy to control and he had a heavy black pen in his backpack. He found himself sketching something rather morbid. Okay. This could work.

The screech of chair legs on linoleum. He looked up sharply, and there was Ren, paint-stained, arms full of paper and art supplies. He unceremoniously dumped his tools next to Hux, and, oil pastel held between his teeth, began to sketch.

Holy shit.

"Uh, hi?"

No response.

A quick glance at Ms. Kanata showed her as shocked as Hux was. He swallowed and decided to ignore it for a while, to just keep sketching like nothing was wrong.

Once he'd gotten the lines where he wanted them, he pulled his pen from his backpack. He was just uncapping it when a strong hand caught his wrist. Hux did not let out a squeak of terror.

"Is that waterproof?"

What? "Pardon?"

"Is that waterproof? The marker?" Ren met his eyes, unblinking.

"It's not a marker, it's a pen. And I don't know."

"That's a marker." He chewed his lower lip for a moment. "Take my pens."

"What?"

Ren was already rummaging through his pile of supplies. He pulled three sizes of micron pen out of the pile and thrust them at Hux.

"I--"

"You can't keep them. But you can borrow them. If you want."

"I." Hux looked down at the pens and the large hand that offered them, only slightly startled. "Thank you." He hesitated for another moment. Was this a truce or something else?

"Are you gonna take them?"

He blinked. "I'll take the .03." Hux felt himself grow a bit bolder, and he looked Ren in the eye again. "Anything else would be excessive, don't you think?" He took the pen with two fingers and uncapped it, noticing and enjoying the openmouthed Ren in his periphery.

Hux began to ink his art.

 

He went to the library a few minutes after the bell and found Phasma in something that looked like a break room. "Are you supposed to be in there?" he asked, opening the door.

"Yeah. And you are too."

He made his way inside and sat down in an office chair.

"It's the book club room. I'm a member of book club, ergo, we can be in here," she said.

He nodded absently, mind still sort of on painting. He'd gotten half of his inking done today.

"So. Painting. How'd it go?"

"Hm? It...went."

Phasma leaned forward on her elbows. "It just 'went?'"

"Yes. He moved all his things next to me, shoved a pen at me, and refused to speak to me for the rest of class."

She laughed, loud and clear. "You're so fucked, man."

Finn poked his head in. "Who's fucked?"

Hux raised his hand.

"When you die, I'm taking your jacket."

Phasma leaned in to Hux conspiratorially. "This one steals jackets. He's had Poe's since May and he borrowed mine last week and never gave it back."

"Poe said I could keep it!"

"Yeah, because you weren't gonna ever give it back. Like my jacket. Sit down, thief."

Finn did, with a sigh.

Phasma studied him for a second. "Long day?"

"Remind me to never take AP Psych again."

"If you don't fail it, you won't have to."

"I'm not so confident about that, Phas."

Hux pulled out his physics work.

"Ask Poe to help you."

"Phas," Finn said, "he's working two jobs. He doesn't have time."

"Well, I took it last year. I'll see if I can help you out."

"That would be incredible. Thank you so much."

"Anything for you, dahling."

Hux found himself amused by the whole exchange, which was surprising somehow.

Rey let herself in a few minutes later, and dropped her bag on the conference table. "Hey," she said, and instead of sitting right away, she crouched down by one of the cabinets and opened it.

"What are you doing?" Finn asked.

"Getting a snack." She pulled a little bag of microwave popcorn from the cabinet and tossed it in the microwave.

"Isn't that, like, not yours?" Finn again asked.

"Stolen food tastes better," Phasma said.

"Both my dads work here, Finn. It's technically mine anyway."

...both?

Rey must have caught Hux's questioning look, because she grinned. "They work in Counseling. Mr. and Mr. Antilles."

"Ah." He felt a little bit defensive, though, and supposed that was why he added a "Just making sure I heard you right."

"You're fine, man." She tossed the popcorn in the microwave.

"Guys," Phasma said, "You know who I have for philosophy?"

"Kenobi?" Finn said.

"No. I've got Coach Snoke."

"Shit."

Hux blinked. "What's wrong with him?"

"He's a creep and he can't teach anything that doesn't align with his point of view."

Oh. "That...oh dear."

"Yeah."

Finn folded his arms across the table. "See, Phazzy here can't keep her mouth shut, so the class is gonna turn into like the argument of the century and she's gonna fail."

"Stop calling me Phazzy. And I'm not going to fail. I am going to piss him off though."

"I had him last year, remember?"

Phasma burst out laughing.

Hux blinked again. "What?"

"Snoke was talking about...what the fuck was he even talking about, Finn?"

"The military. He called me a 'traitor to my country.'"

"Why would he do that?" Hux asked.

"My foster family's a military family and I don't want to join. Like ever."

Well then. They had that much in common, then. Hux decided to say nothing, though.

Phasma's phone chirped. "Oh, gotta go."

"Where the hell do you have to be?" Finn said.

"Getting my septum pierced."

"Isn't that against dress code?"

"Fuck 'em. It's my nose they're shoving a needle through."

Hux again decided not to say anything, just watched as Phasma gathered her things and ran out the door.

 

Dinner was again an awkward affair. Hux fell into bed and was asleep almost immediately.

Chapter Text

"You didn't think there'd be swelling?" Poe whispered, rather incredulously.

"I didn't think there'd be this much of it!" Phasma said. "Everywhere I checked said there wouldn't be any."

Her nose did look a bit inflamed, though the piercing suited her nicely. "Are you certain it's not infected?"

"Yeah Hux, I'm sure."

Poe cracked a brilliant grin. "I wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't told me it was bugging you. It looks damn good."

"Oh thank you, my ego is saved," Phasma deadpanned.

"Seriously. I like it."

"You're sweet."

Maul whirled on them. "Do I have to split you three up?"

"Please don't," Poe said, "these two are way better at this than I am."

"Dameron, do I need to ask Mr. Antilles to transfer you out of this class?"

"It's more paperwork for you, though, isn't it?"

"Fewer headaches in the long run are worth it."

The class snickered. Poe opened his mouth to reply again, but Phasma clapped her hand over it. "He'll be good, I promise."

Maul's gaze softened. "Stop talking, guys."

Hux decided to not look his teacher in the eye and focus on the sample problem he was supposed to be doing. Before he could start, Phasma grabbed his hand and scribbled something on it: a phone number.

*

He was in his room, studying with Millicent curled up next to him, when he decided to text Phasma. It didn't seem like a total waste of time. She'd probably harangue him the next time she saw him if she hadn't gotten a text from him over the weekend, anyway.

Me: Hi. This is Hux, using the phone number you gave me.

Not a moment later, he got a response.

Phasma: !!! You finally texted!

Me: I did, thanks for noticing.

Phasma: we're getting burgers at IOB tomorrow. Wanna come?

Hux blinked. "Millicent, I've been invited to get lunch with a friend tomorrow. What do you think I should do?"

She butted her head against his thigh.

"Hm. You're not much help."

Me: I'll have to check my schedule.

Phasma: cool! i'll save a spot for you in my car or smth. hope to see you there

Hux wasn't sure how to respond to that, so he didn't.

"Brenda!" called his mother from the kitchen. He gritted his teeth.

"Yes, Mom?"

"Come help me with dinner!"

"I'll be right there."

"What?"

"I said, I'll be right there!"

"Great, thank you!"

He sighed through his nose. Please god no.

Hux walked into the kitchen anyway, though, because he was nothing if not a good son.

"Brenda, do you mind helping me make the peas and mushrooms to go with dinner tonight?"

Again, Hux gritted his teeth. "Not at all, Mother."

"Do I sense attitude?"

"No ma'am."

"Good. Don't forget the garlic this time."

He wiped down the mushrooms and chopped them up and scooped them into the pan to brown in butter. When they were almost done, he'd add in some peas from the freezer. It was all very methodical. Simple. "What're you making, Mom?"

"Pork. I wish you would still call me Mommy."

Hux, with his face turned to the mushrooms, was free to wince. "I haven't called you that since I was ten."

"A woman can hope," she said, and he knew she was grinning. "I can't believe you are headed off to college next year."

"Please don't start that now. It's only September."

"I started doing that when you started high school; do you think I would stop now? No."

"Do I think so? No. Do I wish you would? Yes."

She laughed. "Are you scared, darling?"

Hux dumped garlic powder onto the mushrooms. "No."

"Whatever you say. How are the mushrooms going?"

"Fine."

She peered over his shoulder, tucking her whitening hair behind her ears as she did so. "I think they're ready for the peas."

He stiffened; he knew that! Did she think he'd never cooked before? "I know."

"I know you know. I am just reminding you."

Maybe if he smashed his face into the hot pan he'd get out of doing this.

She handed him the bag of peas and he tried not to yank them out of her grasp. "If it bothers you so much," she said, "I will try not to do it. I don't know how successful I will be. My mother taught me this way, and I was grateful she would teach me at all."

She was also probably grateful for the stick she had to play with when she still lived in Yugoslavia, under the Iron Curtain.

"You might want to stir those."

"Mom!"

She backed off, an easy grin on her face.

They waited an hour after the food was done for Hux Sr. to show up. Luckily, it was still warm.

"How was your day, Brendol?"

"Fine. Just fine." The large man moved past her without another acknowledgment, to sit at the dining room table and wait to be served dinner.

Hux often wondered how he could possibly have been conceived.

His father wasn't a bad man, necessarily. He just wasn't a good one. A block of ice encased in a human skin. Avgusta balanced him out well enough, but it still wasn't adequate when he was actually around. His cold seeped into the room every night without fail.

Hux went to sit at the table, across from his father, and waited for the shivers to start.

*

The next morning, he woke up to his phone buzzing on his nightstand. He answered it without checking who it was. "What?"

"Hux. We're having burgers today, remember? Going to In n Out."

He groaned, and wanted to die when it came out upsettingly feminine. "I never told you yes."

"I took your silence for an affirmative. When can I pick you up?"

Hux sighed through his nose. "Give me twenty minutes. Do you need my address?"

"Nah."

"How do you not need my address?"

"I have connections." With that, she hung up.

Millicent jumped up on his chest and smacked his nose.

It was going to be one of those days.

 

Phasma picked him up not long after he'd wiggled into his binder. Poe was sitting in the passenger seat and so Hux was relegated to the backseat; he didn't resent it as much as he thought he would. Her sedan had a roomy backseat.

Some kind of slick, synth-heavy music was blaring from the radio.

"Good morning!" Phasma yelled over the music.

"Morning," Hux said.

"What?"

"Morning!"

She laughed. Hux was confused. "I forgot to ask if you eat meat or not."

"I do."

"Good." They pulled up at a red light and Phasma poked Poe in the shoulder. "Wake up."

How could he sleep with the music so loud?

He jerked awake and Hux's question was answered when he tossed a pair of earplugs in the cup holder.

"We've got a guest."

Poe turned around, and for some reason his expression brightened when he saw Hux. "Yo!"

Hux waved and gave him what he hoped was a smile. He felt a bit warm.

The music switched to something soft.

"Phas, what the hell kind of playlist is this?" Poe asked.

"My music taste."

The light turned green and they accelerated.

"What the hell kind of music taste is this?"

"Mine, you idiot!" Phasma answered, laughing. "And y'know, you're one to talk, Mr. I Like Eye Of The Tiger Unironically."

Hux felt something more than amusement bubbling up in his chest. He tamped it down and pretended to check his phone.

They pulled up to a stop next to a burger place he'd only heard about on the internet. He hoped it lived up to its reviews.

It did.

Hux wasn't sure what he got, as Phasma ordered for him, but whatever it was it was fantastic.

He spent Sunday studying with Millicent curled up on his feet.

*

Ms. Kanata assigned them a project to go with the mixed media pieces they were working on. She said something about collaborative work being a big thing in the art world; Hux wasn't really listening at that point, because he'd heard the words "partner project" and prepared himself to run screaming from the room. Fuck collaborative work, honestly.

He noticed people were eyeing Ren (who was still next to him and working like he hadn't heard) nervously. Kanata was assigning partners. Of course people would be nervous.

"Turn to the person to your right. That person is your partner now."

Hux didn't have to turn to know he'd just gotten stuck with Ren.

Fuck.

A girl in the back of the room raised her hand. "Ms. K, what's the project on?"

"Ah. Yes. I'm assigning you all a book. You'll be illustrating it."

There was a collective groan.

Hux was...intrigued. He was not excited by any stretch of the word or the imagination, but it would be an interesting project at least. He glanced over at Ren, who still hadn't looked up from his work.

"Ren," he whispered.

He looked up. "Yeah?"

Dammit. He was so loud. "Did you hear any of that or am I going to have to repeat it for you?"

"Partner project. Illustration. Yep."

Oh, good.

"Ms. Kanata?" someone asked.

"Uh-huh?"

"You haven't told us the book we're doing."

"Ah. Right. This side of the room," She gestured to the right side, "is doing..." She looked like she was thinking. Had she not decided yet? "Hamlet. You're all doing Hamlet. This side," and here she gestured to the side of the room Hux and Ren found themselves on, "is doing Beowulf."

What?

Out of the corner of his eye, Hux saw Ren grin. Oh no, he was not the type who liked Beowulf, was he? Oh no. This was going to suck.

 

"--and what's more, a feudal system is simply inefficient, Ren."

"But it generates loyalty!"

"Says whom?"

"Mutual care, Hux! The serfs take care of the lord and vice versa."

"In an ideal world, yes. But that's not how it works in real life."

"It's a book, Hux."

"And that doesn't negate the fact that Hrothgar would have had a better system if he'd instituted a benevolent dictatorship. And then Grendel wouldn't have been a problem at all."

"What about democracy?"

"What precisely about the feudal system you're advocating for is democratic, you idiot?"

Ren was silent for a moment. And then. "But--"

"Shut up, Ren."

"Oh my god go fuck yourself."

 

Hux pulled out his sketchbook. Ren was already done with a few concept sketches--Grendel's arm being ripped from his body; the woman at the end who screamed for Beowulf; Grendel's mother. Ren wanted to do a piece for the torc entirely in beadwork. Hux decided that he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

The biggest problem was combining their art styles. Hux was deeply concerned with detailed and intricate ink work; Ren's style was abstract, with broad brushstrokes and vibrant color. He used pastels. It was beautiful and also awful.

"Hux," Ren said, still staring at his paper, "if I do the bases then you can ink over them."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll paint rough colors in and you can go in and do details."

Hux blinked. "I suppose that'll work, yes."

"Good." He stood up and made a move toward the paint cabinet.

"Wait, what are you doing?" It took a lot of effort not to shout.

"Getting started."

"Ren, we have to plan this out."

"I've got concept sketches."

Ren's unfinished painting was still taped to the wall. The face in it bored holes into his forehead. "We're illustrating for the whole book. Let's plan."

"Hux--"

"I refuse to go into this with barely an idea of what I'm doing!" ...That was definitely a shout. "Look. Do you have free time after school where we can go over this?"

Ren blinked. "No, but I have a free seventh."

Lovely. "Me too."

"Great, then we'll meet then."

The bell rang.

*

Me: So now I'm stuck doing a *project* with him

Me: This is really not okay

Phasma: idk what to tell you man just

Phasma: deal? idk idk

Me: Forget HIM murdering me; I'm going to kill him myself!

Phasma: it's not worth going to jail for, Huxy

Phasma: it's just a project

Me: Don't call me Huxy. This is serious!

Phasma: uh huh, your SRS BSNSS okay

Phasma: group work isnt gonna kill you. Youll be fine.

Me: ...

Me: You're no help at all.

Phasma: did you expect me to be?

Not really, no.

*

Poe wasn't in calc the next morning. Phasma said it was because he was picking up an extra shift at the diner he worked at.

Hux worried without intending to.

 

Rey was home sick and Finn had a project to work on at lunch. Phasma wasn't her usual bright self. She said she was tired and Hux left it at that.

 

Ren didn't show up for seventh period. Hux could have incinerated him. He sat down on a bench and waited for him to somehow miraculously appear; maybe things were finally starting to look up, because after ten minutes of glaring at his phone like that would help, he heard heavy footsteps and a deep voice humming. Hux looked up.

Ren was carrying a bag from Chipotle and two drinks, a package of chips clenched between his teeth.

"You could've told me you were going to get food," Hux muttered. "I was about to leave."

Ren let the chips drop and kicked the package to Hux's feet. "I don't have your phone number. And I got you a burrito. I. I don't know what you like so I just got what I get. I hope that's okay. And--"

"Give me my burrito."

Ren smiled absently. Dammit, he looked almost cute when he smiled. Dammit. He reached in the bag and gave Hux the food, then set the drinks down on the ground and sat down next to him.

Hux reached the realization that he didn't know how to feel about this idiot.

"Okay," Ren said, unwrapping his burrito, "so I don't know how much you actually know about this book. Did you read Tolkien's paper?"

"Tolkien wrote a paper?"

"He also did a translation."

Hux blinked. "And you know this how?"

Ren shrugged and took a bite of his food. "I don't have a lot to do over the summer, so. I don't know. I guess I read a lot."

"Hm. Give me a summary?"

"Of the paper? Uh, it's not an epic. It's, like, an elegy. So I was thinking that we do it like some kind of bright colored funeral or something. Like almost Dia de los Muertos style but not, because that would be offensive or. Yeah."

Hux really wasn't sure how to feel about this idiot. He did have good ideas, though. "Sounds fine to me."

"Oh thank fuck." He leaned back against the bench. "It took me a while to come up with. Kanata likes originality." He waved his hands a bit when he said originality, almost like he was trying and failing to be sarcastic.

Hux decided to unwrap his burrito before it got cold. It was full of vegetables. No meat. "Ren, are you vegetarian?"

"Lapsed vegan," he mumbled, already grabbing his pencil and sketchbook to redo a few sketches.

Huh.

 

Millicent wouldn't come out from under the bed when he got home.

Hux worried all night.

*

The next morning before class, Rey flagged him down and they got breakfast together.

"Is there a reason your cousin is so...eccentric?"

"Is there a reason he won't shut up about you?"

"What?"

"Yeah. You guys have the Beowulf project together, right?"

Hux nodded, taking a nervous bite of his bagel.

"Anyway, what I mean is that there's no answer for either of those things and we're both just gonna have to deal."

He chewed slowly, poppy seeds bursting between his teeth. "Your dads work in counseling?"

"Yeah. They're pretty chill over there. Drop by sometime. They like to meet the transfers."

"Which one do I ask for?"

She grinned and took a quick sip of her smoothie. "Whichever one gets to you first. Though honestly Dad's usually busy. I'd ask for Pop. Luke."

Hux nodded.

"They can also do things like get teachers to call you by your preferred name and whatnot. If that's something you're comfortable asking."

He felt his face go cold.

"Oh shit. Sorry. That's not something you want--dammit I'm stupid. Sorry."

Hux forced himself to swallow. "It's fine. Someone has to know eventually."

"It's not something you talk to your folks about, then?"

"No."

"Okay. I won't bring it up again."

That was...easy. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it. I certainly won't," Rey said, and grinned a little at her own joke. Hux didn't think it was all that funny.

 

Poe wasn't at lunch again. He was picking up a few shifts at...the auto shop? Phasma said he worked at an auto shop too.

"And nobody cares he's missing?"

"As long as he graduates," Phasma said, a hint of bitterness in her tone, "nobody gives a shit."

"Is he gonna be okay?" Rey asked from her corner.

"Yeah," Phasma said. "He's just gonna be tired, probably."

Finn sat down with a long sigh. "Kill me, Phasma."

"Psych?"

"I have a test next period. Kill me now."

"You'll be fine. You want me to quiz you?"

"Please please please."

Hux leaned back and maybe anticipated painting a little bit.

Chapter Text

"So," Ren said, highlighting a line in his copy of Beowulf, "Coach Snoke is starting off-season training. I won't be around on Mondays."

He did sports? "All right."

"I was thinking we could do this scene from like, a weird perspective."

Hux leaned towards Ren and read the line from over his shoulder. "What do you mean by 'weird?'"

Ren grabbed his sketchbook.

*

The next week passed quickly and uneventfully. Hux joined the debate team.

Hux, Phasma, and Poe had dinner at the diner where Poe worked. Poe was looking...he was looking hungrier, for lack of a better word, and the shadows under his eyes were deeper. Phasma distracted him and paid for dinner.

While they walked back to Hux's car, Poe, very out of the blue, asked, "Do you think it would backfire horribly if I asked Finn to homecoming?"

Phasma answered before Hux could register what Poe'd said. "Just do it, man."

"But I don't know if--"

"I asked Jessika out when I met her at your flight school. I didn't know she was into girls but I did it anyway."

"Yeah, but--"

"You're not going to ruin your friendship, Poe. You'll be fine. Just. Chill. I'll help you ask him if you want."

Hux felt his lips twitch up into a grin.

"What're you smiling about, Ginger?" Phasma asked.

"Don't call me that."

"Yeah, okay. What're you smiling about, though?"

He thought for a moment, not entirely sure if he wanted to say anything. Then he decided that this group might actually be safe and he might. He might. "Like really does attract like."

"Birds of a feather flock together, like little queer penguins," Phasma said.

Hux unlocked the car. She got in the front seat next to him. Poe knocked on his window. He rolled it down.

"Yes?"

"I live pretty close. I think I'm just gonna walk," he said.

"Poe," Phasma said, fiddling with her new piercing and wincing, "that's not safe."

"I'm literally a block in the opposite direction. I'll be fine."

"Poeeeeeeee," she said. "Don't do it. Get in the back."

He started walking.

"Hux, go follow him."

"What?"

"Make sure he gets home safe."

"What? He just said--"

"I will hijack this car. Go follow him."

"Why are you so worried?" The neighborhood didn't look terribly unsafe, even if it was somewhat late.

Phasma looked to the side, chewed on her cheek. "If he goes home, there's less chance he'll go out again."

Hux turned that over in his head for a moment, and, after a pause, he started his engine and followed Poe down the street.

He turned a corner and disappeared.

Hux glanced at Phasma. Her teeth were sunk deep into her lip.

 

He got home a half hour before curfew. His mother was sitting on the couch; she smiled when Hux came in.

"Hi, darling. You are cutting it a bit close."

"Sorry, Mom."

"It's fine. Come pick out a homecoming dress--it's soon, isn't it?"

Hux felt himself go a little cold. "It is, yes. I'm going to bed, though. Um."

He watched her face fall. "Oh. Okay. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Mom."

He cuddled Millicent close until he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Friday, Maul handed out a math test and Hux realized he'd forgotten his calculator. He borrowed one from Phasma and hoped to god he aced the it.

Jinn collected their summer reading essays and assigned four hours' worth of reading, to be completed by next class. He'd gotten back his gov essay; it was returned with a B and he was worried his English paper would have the same grade.

His father already wasn't happy. Two B's would make everything worse.

 

Ren seemed distracted. He'd thrown himself into his work and had three large illustrations to show for it, but he seemed more closed-off. It wasn't the art; he was animated enough when it came to that. He was just. He was concentrating on his art but his eyes seemed so far away.

His hands were large and strong and they shook slightly when he drew. The painting Hux was inking over, Grendel's arm being severed, was violent and brash and bright. Hux loved it.

Ren glanced up to take a drink of water and finally seemed like he took notice of Hux. A smile briefly flickered over his face, and then his eyes were back down on his paper.

Something about that smile made Hux feel warm inside.

 

Dinner with his family was full of disapproval. He ate limp salad greens to avoid answering their many questions about how he could do better in gov and their words about how he'd better not let any of his other grades go down like this. He resisted the urge to cry.

 

Friday night, Phasma texted him and asked him to go to the library with her--she wanted the newest book from some series she loved and they'd finally gotten it in. He said no and studied until two AM.

He was awoken by Millicent hitting him in the nose with her paw; it was ten in the morning and his face was stuck to a page in his gov textbook. He filled up her food bowl, got himself some toast, and came back to his books. Time to read for English.

Phasma texted him again around noon and he didn't answer, because he was too busy quizzing himself on Romantic Era poetry for the fifth time.

Sometime around three, maybe four, he passed out on his bed. His mother woke him up for dinner.

He slept from eight that night until noon on Sunday and did his calc review. Phasma texted him yet again and again, he didn't answer. Mandarin needed his attention.

*

"What were you doing all weekend, Hux?" Phasma took a tense bite of her quesadilla and looked at him expectantly.

"I was just studying."

"You could've answered me."

He shrugged and attempted to look nonchalant about it. "I've got a B in gov. I need to get that grade up."

"It's an AP class. You're fine."

Hux didn't answer. He finished his sandwich instead.

Finn looked at him quizzically, but wisely said nothing and passed Poe half his orange.

 

Ren was tense during painting, barely speaking. His brushstrokes were harsh and jagged and Hux wondered if it was somehow his fault.

 

Rey caught him after school. "I need you to give this to my cousin."

It was a little packet of papers, marked "Spanish."

"It's a study guide."

Hux felt his eyebrows sink. "Can't you do it yourself?"

"No. I've got Robotics until eight tonight." She pressed the papers into his hands and was gone before he could protest further.

Fuck. He'd be at school until six because Ren had practice or whatever on Mondays.

Hux settled down to get his lab report written. This was gonna be a long three hours.

 

"Ren," Hux called from outside the locker room, "Rey wanted me to give you something. Are you in there?"

No answer. He was a bit nervous about going inside, as it wasn't really his space, but Hux was the only one around to give the guide to him and it seemed important.

"Ren, I don't have all day. Coach Snoke said you'd be in here."

Fuck it. He pushed open the door and walked down the short hallway to the lockers. No Ren, just the odor of sweat and jockstrap. He shuddered. This was why he was never a serious athlete. He started to turn around, but the sound of a shower running caught his attention.

Okay. Ren was showering. Hux decided he'd sit down and wait for a few minutes so he could make sure the idiot got his study guide.

Except he waited for ten minutes, and Ren didn't come out.

He stood. "Ren?"

Hux knocked, then pushed open the door to the shower room to see Ren's large frame curled impossibly small on the grimy tile floor. Water cascaded over his bare shoulders and his head, hair hanging over his arms. His face appeared to be crushed into his knees.

"Ren?"

Ren looked up. His eyes were rimmed with red.

"Ren, what happened?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. Get out."

"Ren--"

"Get out!" he shouted, and Hux took a few steps backward. He didn't have it in him to stay, but he needed to make sure Ren got the damn packet.

When Ren finally emerged from the showers, fully clothed, lacrosse gear in hand, he was still there. "Rey wanted me to give you her study guide."

He tugged at one long sleeve. "Thanks."

Hux held it out. Ren took it. Looked at the ground.

"Ren, are you okay?"

"Why would you need to ask me that? I'm. I'm fine."

His eyes were still red.

"Ren--"

"I'm fine, Hux. Now leave me the fuck alone."

What could he say to that?

Well, there were a few things, mostly prompted by the wounded puppy look on Ren's face. And Hux's concern.

"Have you eaten yet?"

"What?"

"Have you had dinner?"

Ren glanced at the floor again. "No."

"Let's go get something."

"What?"

"Do you understand English? I said we should go get something to eat."

"Oh," he breathed, eyes staying fixed on the ground.

"Are you coming? I was thinking Thai."

"...I've never had Thai food before."

"That settles it. Come on, Ren. Let's go."

Ren looked up at him, and for a moment his eyes were wide and...and haunted. And then he forced a smile, and the look was gone, and Hux wasn't quite sure he'd seen it at all. "Okay," he said, his voice still small and quiet. He followed Hux at a distance, through the dark football field, all the way into the senior parking lot, where Hux unlocked his car. He put his gear in the trunk without prompting and sat in the passenger seat.

"There's a good restaurant a bit of a drive from here. Are you up for that?" He felt like he was babbling.

Ren shrugged. "Whatever you want."

Hux felt his eyebrows go up. Ren was not this...acquiesing. Something was going on.

Nevertheless, he started the car and pulled out of the lot. They were silent the whole way.

 

The two settled down into the booth at the restaurant, Ren nervously picking at the edge of his menu. Hux studied him for a moment, worry bubbling in his throat, then looked at appetizers.

"Shit." That was Ren.

"What?"

"I should call Ma and let her know I won't be home. Gimme a minute and I'll be back."

Hux nodded. "I'm going to get spring rolls for the table. Is that okay?"

"Yeah. Sure." Ren leapt from his seat and speedwalked outside, already dialing the number on his phone.

Their server, a lovely woman who looked exhausted, asked him about drinks.

"I think we'll be fine with just water, thanks. Could I trouble you with an order of spring rolls?"

"Of course." She walked back to the kitchen, presumably to put their order in.

Hux glanced through the large windows outside, to where Ren was looking agitated. Well. More agitated than usual. Especially tonight.

To be fair to his mother, it was late. Still, a large part of him wished Ren would just hang up and get back in here, no matter how reasonable Mrs. Organa-Solo's concerns might be.

Finally, he watched Ren hang up, and he busied himself with the menu so it wouldn't look like he was snooping.

Ren slid into the booth across from him.

"Is your mother okay with this?"

"Sure. I have no idea what to order, Hux."

He looked up from his menu. "I'll order something for us." He kept in mind that Ren was vegan. Or something.

"Sounds good."

"Is there anything you don't like?"

He shrugged. "Not sure. I uh, I used to be really picky, but now I don't know."

Hux filed that information away for later. "Allergies?"

"No."

"Good." Hux set his menu aside, as he had a favorite dish.

Their server came back at that moment with a plate of spring rolls neatly cut crosswise; he was surprised to hear Ren thank her before he could.

Huh.

He ordered the curry he wanted and a large bowl of rice--something told him they'd need the extra.

Ren was looking warily at the spring rolls.

"I'd try them with the peanut sauce if I were you," Hux said, and reached out and took one.

Ren blinked owlishly and carefully picked up a roll like he was afraid it would fall apart in his fingers. Hux concealed his growing smile (because really) by taking a bite of the roll. It was fresh, and the lettuce inside it was crisp, the tofu salty. Oh yes. This was a good decision.

Across from him, Ren decided to follow suit, except he stuck the whole piece in his mouth. Hux wasn't sure how it fit.

They ate in silence, and the low murmur of people around them created a kind of soothing white noise. Hux could see his companion's shoulders relaxing incrementally, could see him uncurling from his hunch. Good.

His hair kept falling into his face; Hux was struck with the urge to reach out and tuck it behind his ear. He took another spring roll instead.

"You joined the debate team, right?" Ren asked, snapping him out of whatever mental fog he'd been in.

How did he know that? "Yes. Why?"

"No reason. I just thought it was interesting. Ma did Speech when she was in high school and she's always talking about it."

"Debate and Speech are two different things, you realize."

One dark eyebrow jumped up. "I know. What debate are you in?"

"Policy."

"So you debate policies?"

"Basically, I suppose. It's not very interesting."

"I heard you made a kid from Imperial cry last week."

Hux let himself crack a grin. "That was a thing of beauty. I went a bit off-script and suddenly he was just bawling like a toddler."

Ren snorted. "Sounds like fun."

"You should come to one of the meetings."

Ren's smile faded. "I don't have the grades to get in. But the stories sound cool."

And there it went, getting awkward again. Hux was still turning over the scene in the locker rooms in his mind. Maybe Ren'd just had a bad day at practice. Maybe Snoke was a bad coach. For the first time in years, Hux really had no inkling of what was going on.

Luckily, the space in conversation was filled by the curry being set down. They again thanked the server, and when she left, Ren took a cautious sniff of the food.

"Smells good. Spicy."

Hux nodded, and turned the bowl so the spoon handle was facing Ren. "Rice first, curry goes on top."

Ren nodded. "I'm not a complete idiot."

"I didn't mean it like that."

A small smile. "I know." He made a point of taking a spoonful of curry and putting it on his plate, and then spooning out rice on top.

Idiot.

"How's the detail work going?" Ren asked. His voice was a little scratchy, Hux noticed.

"Going fine." In truth, he hadn't done much of it in the past couple of days. He was fast, though; he could finish his part of the work before next art class.

They fell into silence, and Ren pushed the curry around before finally taking a bite. His eyes lit up.

"Do you like it?" Hux asked, though he probably already knew the answer.

"No, I hate it," he deadpanned. "What do you think?"

Hux laughed and served himself.

 

"I'll drive you home."

"No, it's fine. I'll just take the bus."

"Ren--"

"It's okay. I'll take the bus."

"Ren, let me drive you home."

Ren swallowed, looked like he was thinking it over. "Sure. But no, like, awkward car conversations, okay?"

"Sounds like a plan."

Hux gave him a smile he hoped didn't look shaky and started the car.

Ren apparently had no sense of direction and so instead of talking on the drive to his house, they listened to the soothing voice of Google Maps telling Hux where to turn.

They finally arrived at a little one-story house with a scrubby patch of grass serving as a lawn and a gnarled tree obscuring the door. Though it was dark, Hux could see a clothesline peeking out from behind the back of the house and a folding chair overtaken by weeds sitting under the tree. It shouldn't have done, but the effect it created was charming.

"This is me," Ren said.

A wash of light over the aggregate walkway indicated the front door had opened. A small yet imposing woman ducked around the tree. She was smiling, but Hux could tell from here that it was tense.

"And that's Ma," Ren continued.

"Have a good night, Ren."

"Thanks for the ride. And. And dinner." His dark eyes flicked down for a moment. "Can I get my stuff out of your trunk?"

"Oh, yes. That's. Yes." He unlocked the trunk. "Go. I have things to do."

Ren grinned weakly and hopped out of the car. Ren's mother walked up to Hux's window, which he rolled down.

"Thanks for getting him home safe," she said. "You're Hux, right?"

He nodded, trying not to look confused.

"Nice to meet you."

"You too, Mrs. Organa-Solo."

"Call me Leia. It's easier." Her smile reached her eyes, now. "Thanks again."

Oh. He nodded. "It was no trouble at all."

"Have a good night, Hux."

"Y-you too."

Leia stepped back into the road, still grinning, and as Hux drove off he could see her put her arm around Ren's broad shoulders.

That was when he realized he never told his parents he wouldn't be at dinner.

Fuck.

 

Hux was grounded for the foreseeable future. He thought that his father probably didn't care one way or another, but Avgusta was likely upset he'd missed family dinner. No more going out, not for the next few weeks at least.

Except homecoming, probably, because his mother would die before she let her kid miss that.

As he curled up with Millicent, he realized he was actually upset about being grounded.

This was why he couldn't have friends: they made him vulnerable to punishment.

And, in the case of Ren, who wasn't exactly a friend, they made him worry. A lot. That episode in the showers--yes, Hux shouldn't have intruded. That was bad form. But something else was going on. Either he'd had a shitty practice or he'd gotten some terrible news, but something was going on.

Millicent snuggled closer into his chest, her tail draping over his mouth.

Hux realized he was shaking.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

He skipped breakfast the next morning, instead opting to go sit in the library, away from everyone he knew.

At calc the morning after that, Hux realized he couldn't avoid everyone forever. It was upsetting.

"Hux, are you okay? I didn't see you yesterday," Phasma said from her seat to his left.

He chewed his lip. "I'm fine."

"Okay. You need to say anything, though, I'm here."

"I just got grounded."

"That sucks."

Being close to people gave punishments an impact. That affected him. That was not good. Hux made a noncommittal sound and scratched a few notes into his paper.

"Like I said. You need anything, I gotcha."

Being close to people also gave him a support system. That, he reasoned, made up for the vulnerability. "Thank you."

Maybe he cared more about having friends than remaining strong.

 

At lunch the next day, Poe was shifting from foot to foot and fidgeting like a bird. Phasma had to hold his bouquet for him so he wouldn't pick the petals off the sunflowers for lack of something to mess around with.

"Guys, I don't think I can do this," he said. "What if he says no?"

Hux resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "He won't say no, Poe."

Rey walked over to their corner, a half-eaten sandwich in hand. "What's going on?"

Phasma spoke. "He's asking Finn to homecoming but he's too afraid to actually do it."

"Finn's in the band room."

"What?" That was Poe. "Why is he in the band room?"

"I don't know, impromptu trombone sectional or something. You better get over there."

Poe dragged his hands down his face, making a sound that was vaguely goose-like.

"Calm down. We'll be right behind you," Phasma said, "Right, Hux?"

"Of course." Something like excitement bubbled up in his chest.

Huh.

They made their way from the quad to the band room; Hux could feel the anxiety coming off Poe in waves. He made one attempt to grab the bouquet from Phasma on the way over, and she held it above her head until they made it through the band room doors.

Rey darted in front of them, phone out and ready to record, and she gestured to the first practice room on the right.

Phasma was holding the bouquet and Poe looked like he was about to faint, so it was up to Hux to knock on the door to get the junior out of the damn room. He could hear the squawks of brass instruments warming up and wasn't sure the players would notice his knocking, but he went for it anyway.

Abruptly, the sounds stopped.

A kid with a birthmark on his cheek poked his head out of the room. "Yeah?"

"Is Finn in there?"

The kid studied Hux for a moment, then looked at the entourage behind him, then nodded. He turned around. "Yo Finn, come out here!"

A moment later, Finn stepped out, gently setting his trombone on the stand by the door. He looked up, Hux stepped aside, and his jaw dropped.

Phasma shoved the sunflowers at Poe.

"Hi Finn," he said. "Uh. These are for you?"

There was silence for a second. "Are you asking me to homecoming?"

"Maybe."

"Why are you so nervous? I'm like a guaranteed yes."

"Wait, seriously?"

Finn was speaking to the whole room when he said, "Oh my god, he's an idiot. I'm dating an idiot."

"Are we dating?"

"You asked me to homecoming. That's kind of like an automatic in, isn't it?"

Hux could see Phasma silently cracking up behind them.

"So," Poe said, "this is a yes?"

"Of course it's a yes. Can I see the flowers?"

Hux couldn't tell if Finn's face glowed from his smile or the bright of the sunflowers.

 

 

"You're good at science, right?"

Hux glanced up from his inking, a bit startled, the murmur of the crowd at Starbucks having become a pleasant white noise that helped him tune in to his work.

Ren gave him a nervous look.

"I'd say I am, yes."

"Are you good with chem? I uh, I'm having trouble with figuring out what my teacher wants me to do for the packet so I uh. Um."

"You want me to help you?"

Ren glanced down at his worn-out sneakers. "If you wouldn't mind."

Something warm surged up in Hux, and he let a small smile cross his face. "Not at all. Just quiz me on Gov after this and we'll be even."

"Thanks." He pulled his homework from his bag and set it on the table; Hux moved his chair closer so he could see. "We're doing dimensional analysis and I have no idea what she wants us to do. I asked my uncle Wedge because he's like, a chemistry genius, and he used a different method than the one the teacher wants us to use which is bullshit because I should be able to do this the way that makes sense--"

"Are you going to babble or do you want help?"

Ren was quiet for a second. "Sorry."

Hux leaned a little closer over his shoulder and swore he could hear Ren take a small breath in. "You know your givens in the problem, yes?"

"Yep."

"Write those down." A bit of Ren's hair hung down past his eyes, and Hux was again confronted with the desire to tuck it back behind his ear. Instead, he continued. "And you know what you're converting to?"

"Uh."

"It says it right here in the problem. Read it more carefully."

The other boy did, worrying his teeth across his lower lip as he read. "Grams to moles?"

"Mhm. You set up the skeleton, so just put your given...here...and the mole...here. Do you have a periodic table?"

Ren ducked down to get it. He set it on the table.

"What's the atomic weight of your element?"

"Oh my god, do you put that there and then solve?"

He couldn't help but grin. "Yes."

"I'm such an idiot! That makes way more sense than how she explained it!"

"You're not an idiot, Ren. Well. Not usually."

Ren gave him a little shove.

"You've got that now," Hux said, laughing despite himself, "so test me on Gov." He pulled the review sheet out.

They stayed at Starbucks until their free periods ended; Hux had to get home to continue his punishment and Ren had practice with Snoke. He didn't look particularly excited. Hux thought about asking him why, then decided it wasn't his business just yet.

He walked him back--he needed to get to his car anyway. When he looked at the field, where he expected a lacrosse team to be, there was no one. "Looks like you're early," he said.

"Nah, I'm actually a little late."

"Where's everyone else?"

"There is no everyone else. Just me."

"Just you?"

"Just me. I gotta get going. Uh. Get the blackwork to me soon?"

Hux bit the inside of his cheek. Something felt off here. "As soon as I can."

"Thanks," Ren said, and approached the field.

 

Me: I'm a little worried about Ren.

Phasma: first you were worried BECAUSE of him and now you're worried FOR him?

Me: You're the one who told me to relax. But.

Me: Is it at all strange for a student to have individual sports practice with their coach?

Phasma: ...a little

Phasma: have you noticed anything else

Hux wasn't sure he should mention how he found Ren in the locker room. It wasn't really his story to tell. He buried his fingers in Millicent's thick fur and sighed through his nose.

Me: Nothing I can tell you in good conscience.

There was a long pause.

Phasma: i'll keep an eye out. report anything weird.

Phasma: thanks for letting me know. snoke's a creep.

*

Halloween and homecoming arrived sooner than Hux thought they would. His grounding had ended and his mother took him dress shopping and he nearly had a breakdown in the store because she kept making him walk out to show her how he looked. It was awful.

He ended up picking something long with a high neckline. Very much a mother-of-the-bride dress. But at least he was covered.

Poe called him the day before homecoming and told him to meet him at the library.

When he got out of his car, Poe was sitting on the curb, a garment bag in his arms.

"What's that for?" Hux asked.

"My suit."

"Okay...? Is there a reason I'm here?"

"Finn and Rey are in the car and we're gonna go get you a suit."

What? He felt his jaw drop. "A suit?"

"Not a fancy one. One from like, Goodwill or something. But Finn can sew so he can take in a jacket or whatever."

"But--"

"Get in my car."

"Why are you doing this?"

"I have it from a reliable source that you don't want to show up in a dress and I think you're my friend. So."

If Hux had been a less-controlled person, he probably would have begun to cry. He slipped into the backseat of Poe's ancient, rusting sedan and found himself next to Rey. Finn was asleep in the passenger seat like Poe had been in Phasma's car.

"Hi," she said.

"I take it you're Poe's reliable source?"

"I thought he already knew." She twisted her hands in her lap. "Sorry. Again."

Hux found that he was more...relieved than upset. Huh. "It's fine."

She seemed surprised.

Poe got into the car and poked Finn awake. "Wake up loser, we're going shopping."

Rey snorted.

"I see you moving."

"No I'm not."

"Hux is here."

"Screw him, I'm going back to sleep." The best response, if Hux was being honest.

Poe was laughing now. "Wake the fuck up. You look like a dead body."

Rey pulled out her phone and leaned over to Hux. "These two are horrible."

He let his lips twitch into a smile.

Finn finally blinked awake and turned to Poe, face slowly brightening. "So we're actually going shopping? I didn't dream that?"

"Hux is getting suit stuff."

"AWESOME"

 

They arrived at the thrift store with no major incidents and set to searching the racks. Rey and Finn disappeared somewhere in the back; Hux could only tell where they were from their laughter.

Poe sidled up to him, a charcoal suit jacket in hand. It was a size large.

"Do you really think I'll fit in that?"

"No, but like I said, Finn'll take it in if you get him food."

"You said nothing about food," he said, but he was already taking the jacket and shaking it out. There was a hole in the elbow and the jacket had been patched a few times in several different places. The fabric was good quality, though, even though when Hux brought it up to his nose to smell it it smelled like old men's cologne. "I can sew too, you know."

Poe nodded and ran a hand through his hair. "We're still getting lunch, though?" He looked painfully hungry.

"Of course." How could he not get Poe food?

Hux had a pair of slacks that would match the jacket; he just needed a tie and he'd be fine.

"So Phasma has this thing every year where we ditch homecoming," Poe continued, "and like, we dress up and dance and everything, but she doesn't like loud places, so."

Hux blinked. "That's what this is for?"

"Yep."

"Why did you ask Finn--"

"We were gonna go, actually, but Finn told me a little later that crowds make him nervous and he'd rather go to Phasma's thing. Besides, our homecoming is still homecoming. Just smaller. And cooler." He flashed Hux a bright grin. "What I'm getting at is that you should come ditch with us."

Hux was both confused and touched. "I...suppose?"

"You don't have to, but I don't think we'd have the same time without you."

He looked down and fiddled with a stray thread on the jacket. "Where will it be?"

"That's a surprise. Are we getting that?"

Before he could answer, Finn and Rey came tearing down the aisle with their arms heaped with ties. They tossed a good eighty percent of them at Hux to see.

"This one has bees--"

"But I like the happy whale--"

"Yeah but it has holes in it--"

"Hux try the red one--"

"No try the teal one--"

Hux glanced at Poe while the two babbled, obviously extraordinarily excited. He was laughing.

"Finn, if you like the bees so much, go pay for them," he said. "I'd suggest the grey tie, actually." Poe picked one off Hux's shoulder. It had little silver threads running through it and a small stain of something that might have been blood but could also have been pudding on the skinny part of it.

He nodded. "You have good taste."

All in all, Hux ended up spending twenty three dollars and eleven cents.

 

 

Me: Poe told me about your alternate homecoming.

Phasma: are you coming???

Me: I think so.

Phasma: !!!!!!!!

Phasma: I'll pick you up!!

Hux probably needed to warn her he'd be in a dress when he left his house, though. He did, a shaky feeling in his chest as he typed it out.

Me: I'm not wearing it by choice, btw.

Phasma: no prob I'll bring my blackout curtains so you can change in the car

Phasma: do you have makeup remover or should i get mine?

Fucking hell, what was this acceptance?

Me: I'll bring mine. Anything else I need to remember?"

Phasma: blankets.

Blankets?

*

His mother insisted on doing his makeup and fluffing her fingers through his hair and taking about twenty photos.

"You look beautiful," she said, gripping his shoulders. A soft smile played across her face.

Hux couldn't bring himself to be upset with her. "Thank you, Mom."

"Go, go. Out the door, you'll be late!"

The sound of a car horn honking confirmed that, and Hux ran out the door with a shouted goodbye.

When he got to the car, he climbed into the back. Phasma gave him a once-over. "You look nice, but it doesn't suit you."

That was about the most sensitive compliment he'd ever received.

"We're picking up Rey, too, okay?"

"No problem."

"Curtains are on the floor. Suit is in the trunk. Do your thing."

Hux took his binder from his purse and unfolded it, then put up the curtains and changed in the moving car. He wiped gloss off his lips with the back of his hand and wiped at his eyes until the makeup was gone.

The car smelled like food.

"Did you make something?" he asked, taking down the curtains from the car window and shrugging into the suit jacket. It didn't fit perfectly, but it was still an improvement to how it had been at the store.

"Oh yeah. Rey's got the rest of dinner with her."

"Wow."

Phasma laughed. "Throw your dress in the trunk and you can call shotgun when we get to Rey's place."

He started tying his tie; it probably ended up a bit crooked, but since he didn't have a proper mirror he didn't feel too bad.

They pulled up to the Antilles house not long after he'd finished changing. Phasma honked the horn five or six times, and Rey poked her head out the door, the angle of the front light making her look older than she was.

"Just a minute!" she shouted, then ducked back inside.

Hux moved up into the passenger seat.

Rey came back outside carrying a foil tray. Her dress was light and gauzy, and she wore practical brown boots with it instead of heels. She'd pulled back her hair into three vertical buns, and already a few wisps of her fine hair had escaped the hair ties and fallen to frame her face.

Phasma opened up the trunk with the push of a button and Rey slid the tray inside without a comment about the dress draped over the rubber mat.

A bearded man in a warm-looking sweater slipped out the door, his feet bare. "Rey," he called. He must have been one of the two Mr. Antilles.

She turned, and ran up to him. "'Night Papa. See you at eleven?"

"At eleven," he said, and enveloped her in a bear hug. "Have fun, kid."

She hopped into the back seat and Phasma started the car.

"Wait!" someone shouted, "I'm almost ready!"

Rey started, then tucked some stray hair behind her ear. "That's um. That's Ren."

Hux saw Phasma frown slightly, just a twitch of her brows. Hux himself didn't know how to feel about it.

"There a reason he's here?" Phasma asked.

"He made dinner and he's not going to homecoming and he gave me puppy eyes so I kind of said he could come with."

They heard footsteps and Ren was suddenly yanking open the door, his hair pulled into a low bun, a T-shirt and grey-green flannel on under a bleached jacket. "Sorry. If you don't want me here--"

"It's fine," Hux interrupted, surprising himself.

The set of Phasma's shoulders relaxed. "Hop in, Jacare."

"What--"

"Get in so we can go!" Rey said, and pulled him inside by his collar.

"Bye Uncle Luke!" he yelled, before the car sped off.

The man who was apparently Uncle Luke gave them all a wave, and then they were turning the corner.

Hux turned to the girl currently driving the car. "Are we picking up anyone else?"

"What? Nah." She glanced in her rearview mirror. "So Jacare, I heard you made dinner."

"The hell does Jacare mean?"

"Caiman. Like a tiny alligator. Also a BJJ fighter. You were going to answer my question, yeah?"

Ren was silent for a moment. "I'm not gonna hurt you guys, you know."

Hux was again surprised with himself for feeling rather terrible for him. "Phasma."

She slumped in her seat. "Sorry man. Do you go by Ben or Ren?"

She knew, but Hux thought she was asking as a kind of peace offering.

"Ren, thanks." He chewed his lower lip, as he was wont to do. "And yeah, I made dinner."

"Thanks."

Well, this was getting off to a great start.

Phasma dug her phone out of her back pocket and tossed it at Hux. "Tell Poe we have liftoff, yeah?"

Her phone didn't have a passcode. He sent the text and set the phone in the cupholder. Ren stared out the window. "So where are we going, anyway?"

Hux saw Rey shrug.

"I don't know either," he offered, and Ren seemed to realize finally that he was in the passenger seat.

"Oh, hi Hux."

A second of silence passed in the car.

Phasma spoke next. "It's supposed to be a surprise." She merged onto the highway. "But I'm glad y'all are wearing practical shoes."

That only made him wonder more.

She turned onto a mountain road and drove thirty minutes along a curving road in the dark. It would have taken twenty, but Phasma was actually careful at night.

She parked on the street next to an open space preserve. "So it's technically illegal for us to be up here right now and if we get caught I'm denying everything.."

"Wait, what?" Hux sputtered.

"It's fine. My aunt's a park ranger and I arranged it so nobody's patrolling here but like, just in case. If you don't wanna do this I can drive you home."

He glanced into the rearview mirror, past the backseat, and at his dress lying forlornly in the trunk. Fuck it. "Who said I wasn't coming with you?"

Phasma grinned and they got out of the car. "Okay, so if we're quick, the walk'll only be about fifteen minutes. Don't wake up any rattlesnakes."

"Wait, what?"

 

The preserve was all grassy hills and gentle cliffs and views of the sparkling city around the bay several miles out. The grass was shoulder height and interspersed with thistles and wildflowers, and trees that looked like dead spiders.

Hux was sure it would be beautiful during the day, but right now he was cold and slightly damp because the fog had decided to roll in, and Phasma refused to use a flashlight because "they ruin your night vision, Hux" and he kept tripping.

His foot got caught in a root and he nearly fell onto his face, except that there were strong arms grabbing him by his shoulders and setting him right. Ren. Who was also laughing. "Look at the ground when you walk, bro."

Hux just grumbled and hoped that this was worth it.

As it turned out, it was. They made their way to the top of the hill and found the moon had risen and that Finn, Poe, and a girl who Hux didn't know had tamped down the grass and spread out a few large blankets.

Poe turned. "Yo!"

Rey and Phasma set down their trays.

The girl Hux didn't know grinned and kissed Phasma on the cheek. "Hey," she said, looking at the new faces, "I'm Jessika." Then she turned. "What's up first?"

Poe shrugged. "I was thinking dinner."

"You're always thinking dinner."

"I dunno," Phasma said, "I'm kinda hungry too. How 'bout you guys?" Something in her seemed to have relaxed in the presence of her girlfriend.

Finn sat up from where he was currently sprawled on the blankets. "Food is good."

Ren nodded. Hux wasn't horrifically hungry, but he supposed he could eat. Rey was in agreement.

Phasma had made macaroni and cheese.

Ren had also made macaroni and cheese. It had broccoli in it, though, which Hux supposed counted for something.

Jessika burst out laughing when she saw.

"We done goofed," Phasma said.

"Mine's got breadcrumbs on the top, though," Ren said. "And broccoli."

"Nobody cares about your fancy macaroni, Ren," Rey said.

"Did anybody bring forks?" Finn asked.

"Fuck. I knew I was forgetting something. I got plates though." That was Poe.

Jessika, still laughing, said, "how are we gonna serve this?"

Hux sighed through his nose. "How many plates do we have?"

"Like. A lot," Poe said.

"Does anyone have a knife?"

 

Cutting plates into vaguely spoonlike shapes was Hux's specialty, apparently. He was lauded for it, of course. It was about time someone recognized his genius.

They (relatively) happily ate their dinner.

"What else happens here?" he asked.

"An orgy," Poe said, mouth full. Phasma smacked him upside the head.

"Not an orgy. Dancing."

"'S basically the same thing."

"Why do I put up with you?"

Poe shrugged and ate more macaroni.

Jessika set her plate aside and laid her head on Phasma's shoulder. "I'd like to dance. I brought one of those little portable stereo things and we can hook it up to your phone if that's chill with you."

Phasma grinned and ran a hand through her white-blonde hair. "Sounds good."

Finn was closest to the speaker, so he grabbed it and lobbed it over at them. Phasma caught it.

Hux was very quietly impressed. He had no hand-eye coordination to speak of.

She pulled her phone from her pocket and plugged it into the speaker. "Any requests?"

"Something slow," Rey said.

"I can do that."

She pushed play and the song played for a few minutes before Jessika had second thoughts about dancing.

Rey lead Finn into the grass where they couldn't be seen, and Phasma and Jessika leaned on each other for a minute.

Poe stood and disappeared into the grass with the other two.

It was just Ren and Hux left, and Hux decided to steadfastly ignore the fact that Ren was attractive in flannel and was glancing over at him nervously like he wanted to say something.

He did. "I uh, thanks. For helping with the chem work."

"I hope it helped," he said, and gave Ren what he guessed was a tighter smile than he intended.

"It did. Um." He looked away, then back. "Do you maybe wanna go for a walk or something?"

Hux blinked, not sure if he did.

"We don't have to. We can stay here." The song changed to something more upbeat, and Phasma was cuddling with her girlfriend like nobody else was there. It was disgustingly sweet. And Hux supposed that they were half-hidden in the dark, so it wasn't as awkward as he'd thought. It was cold, though. And the wind was picking up.

He heard laughter from the grass. "I'm not sure I feel like getting up."

"Fair." Ren fiddled with a strand of hair that had gotten loose from his bun. "Thank you, though. Again. I really--I really appreciate it."

Hux got the feeling he was talking about more than just the chemistry worksheet. "It's not much of a problem."

Ren laughed. "At least you're honest."

"I pride myself on that, yes." A strong gust of wind ruffled his hair and raised goosebumps on his skin. The suit jacket should have been warm enough.

"Are you cold?"

Hux must've shivered. "I'm fine."

Ren shucked his coat and plopped it on Hux's shoulders.

"I told you I'm fine."

"Yeah, but you have goosebumps."

"And you won't?"

"I'm like, impervious to the cold." He flopped back onto the blanket. "I'll be okay."

Hux closed his eyes. The jacket was still warm, smelled like soap and a hint of perfume. Perhaps Mrs. Organa Solo's. Had she hugged her son goodbye tonight?

He took a deep breath.

"I'm really glad we're working on the project together," Ren said. "Your inking is really thorough."

"...Thanks."

 

"Okay, so I brought cards," Finn said. "Anybody know how to play blackjack?"

 

Rey was the reigning champion that night. Hux had to fork over five dollars and a gnarled stick he'd found in the grass.

The music played on.

 

"And so we're in this little fucking canoe," Jessika said, "and the guy's saying 'keep paddling guys, keep paddling' so that we don't lose each other in the fog but we're idiots and we can't keep up and we're lost and being dragged out to sea, so the head of the camp calls the Coast Guard."

 

Ren was curled up in one of the blankets, hair falling out of his bun and into his face. Hux didn't resist the urge to brush it out of his eyes, this time.

Finn was yelling about Poe being "a damn cheater" and Rey was laughing.

Jessika and Phasma were nibbling on some broccoli, had basically melted into the same being.

The music still played on.

 

It was easier to see the stars out here.

"I think that's Andromeda over there," Ren said, pointing to a spot in the sky where the stars clustered into a V.

"Really?" Rey asked. "Where'd you learn that?"

"Ma."

"Aunt Leia needs to teach me."

"Ask her when she has time." Ren laid back and closed his eyes. "She might be free on Wednesday. I don't know."

Hux felt a large, warm hand tentatively cover his own. He glanced down at Ren, whose teeth were sunk into his lip but still looked at the stars.

 

By the end of the night, Hux was freezing and still a bit damp, but very glad he'd ditched homecoming for this.

Chapter Text

14081112222: hi, this is ren. phasma gave me your number

Me: Hi.

Me: Do you need something?

Ren: um

Ren: well

Ren: i was wondering if you wanted to go to in n out sometime

Hux blinked. Was...was Ren asking him out? To a burger place? Wasn't he vegetarian or something?

Me: Is this a date?

Ren: only if that's something you want to do

Ren: i wont be offended if you say no

Ren: totally free to say no btw

Okay, the trepidation was somewhat cute. Hux thought for a second, then burrowed under his blankets to find Millicent. "I just got asked out."

She jumped off the bed.

"You're really no help." He deliberated for a few more moments. They'd gotten closer over the past couple of months, but he wasn't sure about this kind of commitment. Attachments made him weaker.

Attachments made him stronger.

Did he even feel anything more for Ren than friendship?

Yes. He'd been entranced the day they met.

No. Ren was standoffish and odd--how would they even work?

But.

Fuck.

Hux sucked in his cheeks and realized he might need some advice. He rolled out of bed and padded down the hall to the living room, where his mother sat knitting in front of FOX News.

"Hi honey," she said, muting the TV. Thank god. He didn't want Brett Baier mumbling in the background of this.

"Hi. I need to ask your advice about something."

She set down her needles. "Yes?"

"You know the boy I've been working on that project with?"

A sly grin spread across her face. "Do you like him, Brenda?"

He suppressed a wince at the name and shrugged. "That's actually what I needed to ask your advice for. I can't figure out if I'm interested or not."

"Why does it matter so all of a sudden?"

He sat awkwardly on the couch. "He asked me out."

Immediately, Avgusta's face lit up and she clapped her hands together. "That's lovely, dear! You should go."

"You think?"

"You're not sure how you feel, yes? So find out." She grabbed his hands in hers; they had the same hands, long and slender, though her nails were long and scars from hard labor stood stark on her fingers. "Oh, I'm so excited! My daughter, finally getting a date!"

Hux bit his tongue and smiled at her. "Thank you, Mom."

"When are you going?"

He laughed. "I haven't even said yes yet."

"Go do that now, sweetheart. Go!"

For all her flaws, his mother was one of his biggest supporters.

Hux went.

Me: I'm not promising anything will come of it, but sure. I'll go.

Me: When?

Ren: idk maybe on saturday?

Me: Sounds good.

Ren: awesome. see you there

Ren: you still have my jacket btw

He did? He glanced around the room and--yes, there it was, draped over his dresser.

Me: I'll be sure to bring it.

Me: Does noon work for you?

Ren: yeah sounds good

Ren: see you then

*

Hux pulled up to the In & Out at 11:55; he was running late because his mother had fussed over him and he had to change into something less feminine in the car. Technically, he was five minutes early, but it still felt late to him.

He adjusted his backpack on his shoulder and ducked inside. No Ren just yet. He decided to save a table before the worst of the lunch rush happened and picked one by the window, set his backpack on the other chair to save it. Hux watched the door carefully.

At 12:01, Ren sidled in, gaze sweeping the room before settling on Hux. He broke into a broad grin and ran over. "Hi," he said. "Did you order yet?" That expression looked...nice on him.

"No, I was waiting for you. How--how are you?"

Ren blinked. "I'm okay. Are we doing the small talk thing?"

"I suppose? I'm." Hux resisted the urge to bite his thumbnail. "To be honest with you, I'm not sure how this works."

Ren quirked his beautiful mouth to the side. "Neither do I, really. I...I guess let's go order?"

"That sounds like a start."

He caught Ren glancing at him nervously while they waited in line. Fingertips brushed the palm of his hand. "May I?" he asked, when Hux looked at him.

In answer, Hux gently laced their fingers together. Ren's hands were a little clammy, and he couldn't help the fluttering self-consciousness that stirred in the back of his head. Were his hands too warm? Was his skin dry? Were his fingers too bony? Was he not holding tight enough? Too tight?

But Ren was smiling at him.

He took a deep breath and smiled back.

Before they got up to order, Ren insisted on paying for the whole thing.

"We can split," Hux said.

"Yeah, but I asked you so I'm paying. If you wanna do this again, you can pay."

Hm. Sounded reasonable. "That works."

The line moved up.

Hux kept it simple and just ordered the first thing on the menu (not that there were many things on the menu), but Ren apparently had no such qualms.

"Wish burger, grilled onions, chopped chilis. Side of fries. Uhhh. Root beer float, two straws?"

None of that was on the menu.

"That's not on the menu, Ren," Hux said through the side of his mouth.

"That's right, you don't know about the secret menu." He grinned at the cashier. "Make those fries animal style, thanks."

"That's all?"

"Think so." He looked at Hux, who was still blinking at him because what?

"That's...good. Yes."

"Alright," the cashier said, handing them a receipt. "Order number 53." She looked Hux straight in the eye. "Tell me how you like it, okay?"

"Uh."

"Next!"

As they waited for their food, Hux could only think of one thing to say. "Two straws? Really?"

"Eh, I'm a hopeless romantic."

Hux brought two fingers up to massage the bridge of his nose, his other hand still clasped tightly to Ren's. "You are hopeless, yes."

Their food arrived a little less than quickly, considering Ren had made them do what Hux assumed were a lot of extra things to it. It looked good, though, and they made their way back to where Hux had left his backpack.

Once they'd settled into their seats, Ren proceeded to pass out the food: fries smothered in cheese and grilled onions, Hux's "boring" burger, the drink, Ren's complicated meal.

Hux stuck a straw in the float and decided to try that first. "Y'know, I've never actually had one of these before."

"Well yeah, you don't know the menu--wait, like a root beer float? You've never had one before?"

Hux gave him a flat look. "No."

Ren's face lit up and he took out his phone. "I'm getting a photo of your face when you try it."

In response, Hux flicked his straw wrapper at him. Then he took a sip. That was...interesting.

The click of Ren taking a picture. Apparently his ringer was on.

Hux rolled his eyes. "My face couldn't have been that amusing."

"Nah, but it was uh, it was kinda cute."

Hux felt himself blush all the way to his collarbone. "Oh." He picked up his burger and took a bite to avoid saying anything else. A quick glance at his companion showed him as red as Hux felt, though, so at least that was fair.

Ren pulled a few fries from their paper container and shoved them into his burger.

"What the hell is that?"

Ren looked up. "What the hell is what?"

"Fries. On your burger."

"That's not weird. You goddamn philistine."

"Well it's not normal."

He laughed. "You haven't had much fast food, have you?"

"Shut up," Hux said, but he was grinning despite himself.

Ren took a sip of the float from Hux's straw. "This is getting off to a great start."

"Why did you get two straws if you were going to use mine?"

He merely grinned crookedly and took another sip.

They ate in surprisingly companionable silence, and Hux didn't fight Ren when he stole most of the float.

After they'd cleaned up their wrappers, they sat on a bench outside for a few minutes.

"So," Ren said, "do you feel like doing this again?"

"I do."

"Fuck yeah."

Hux laughed.

It took him til he got home that he realized he still had Ren's jacket.

Chapter Text

Ren: i know this is really weird but ma liked you and wants you to come over for dinner

Well then.

Me: Does she know we went out?

Ren: yeah

Ren: that’s not why she wants to meet you tho

Ren: she thinks youre nice and shes happy i have a friend, i guess.

Hux didn’t quite know how to respond to that. Luckily, Ren sent him a fourth text.

Ren: whenever you can make it? and if you can’t then it’s fine.

Me: I’ll see when I’m free.

He remembered, suddenly, to be polite.

Me: Tell her thanks for the invitation.

 

Hux ended up being free a lot sooner than he’d expected, and his parents all but shoved him off to the Organa-Solo house to have dinner. He was a little confused by their enthusiasm, but he supposed it was because their “daughter” was finally being normal.

It made him want to roll his eyes, but he went along with their pushing anyway. He needed to escape his own awkward family dinners, and if he did it by going to another one, oh well.

He wore slacks and a loose button-down shirt that he changed into in his car, and arrived at the Organa-Solo house at six o’clock exactly with flowers. Hux was a lot of things, and punctual was one of them. And he never forgot to bring a hostess gift.

He rang the doorbell and was greeted by a man with greying hair and a nose that looked like it’d been broken and never set quite properly. Presumably, he was Mr. Organa-Solo. “You’re Hux?” He sounded like he was expecting more.

“I am. May I come in?”

“Sure, kid.” Before he let Hux in, though, he turned and called over his shoulder, “Leia, this one’s got manners!”

“I told you!” Came a shout from down the hallway.

Mr. Organa-Solo stepped aside to let Hux in. “Ben’s in the kitchen with Leia.”

It took Hux a second to remember that “Ben” was Ren. He decided he’d ask him himself why he went by a different name.

“Kid,” Mr. Organa-Solo said, pointing down the hall, “kitchen’s thataway.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Now get going so those lilies don’t wilt.”

Hux blinked and made his way down the hall. It was always a weird feeling, being in someone’s house for the first time. This house was cozy, brimming with warm, buttery light and soft white carpets, and the aroma of roasting vegetables got stronger as Hux reached the end of the hall.

He knocked on the doorway before heading in. The kitchen tile, where it could be seen under brightly-colored woven mats, was some kind of linoleum.

Ren was the first to look up; he was holding a tray of burst tomatoes with a pair of pink oven mitts. A huge grin lit up his face. “Hey!”

Leia turned, a slightly suspect grin on her face. “Hi, Hux. Nice to have you over.” She caught sight of the flowers, then. “Those are gorgeous! There’s an empty cider jug under the sink, if you want to give them a home.”

The kitchen was cluttered and the counter was covered in mixing bowls and splashes of vinegar. A spatula rested on a plate in the shape of a cat. This was...not similar to his house in the slightest.

Hux loved it.

“Can I give either of you some help?”

Leia smiled. “Put the flowers in some water. You can mix the pasta when the veggies are done.”

Hux nodded, and went to get the jug from under the sink.

Ren sidled up next to him while he slipped the flowers into the jug. “Hi,” he said.

“You already said that.”

“It’s, uh. It’s nice to see you, is all.”

“Nice to see you, too.” He turned to face a very nervous-looking Ren. “Your house is nice.”

That coaxed a laugh out of him. “Glad you think so.” He looked down for a second. “So, you definitely want to do the date thing again? I didn’t wanna ask you over text, because that seems kinda weird, and. Um.”

If Hux was being honest with himself, he really didn’t do romance. He wasn’t entirely sure why Ren liked him so much, but he did know that when they talked they fit together, and that hey, Ren was also attractive, which didn’t hurt. He was sweet, too, which wasn’t something Hux could say about people he’d considered dating before this. He felt good, here. “Doesn’t this count?”

A laugh. “If you want it to.” There was that glance downward again.

“You boys wanna help me out, please?” Leia asked, suddenly right behind them.

“Ma!”

“Oh I’m sorry, were you having a moment? Too bad; you both said you’d help.”

Hux could feel himself turning red.

Then he noticed Ren was laughing.

He supposed he could continue living.

 

A few minutes (and wisecracks) later, Hux was setting the table and Mr. Organa-Solo (“call him Han,) came sauntering in from wherever he’d been.

The table was round, made of knotty pine wood. That struck him as important, somehow, and very different from his family’s black rectangular dining room table.

They also placed the bowl of pasta on the table itself, in the center, something Hux’s parents never did.

The pasta turned out to be a recipe Ren wanted to try special for Hux’s visit--something vegan, spicy, and Ratatouille-inspired. It was delicious.

“So, Hux,” Han started once they’d all settled down to eat and Hux’s anxiety ramped up again, “you do any sports?”

Hux got the vague impression the man was scrabbling for something to say. “No.” He’d used to swim, but. That stopped a while back. “Did you do any when you were in high school?”

Han shrugged, but a grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Not really. My specialty was shop. They don’t have shop classes now, do they?”

“No, they don’t.” That was Leia. “You two met in art class, right?”

“Uh, yes.”

She twirled her pasta around her fork. “I think Ren said you two had a project together?”

Ren finally spoke up. “Yeah. We’re illustrating Beowulf.”

Leia exchanged a thoughtful look with her husband.

No matter how well-meant, he was uncomfortable with the questions. “How did you two meet, if you don’t mind my asking?” Hux took the opportunity to shove a slice of zucchini into his mouth. It was rude, but he really didn’t want to speak more. Was this supposed to be nervewracking?

Leia quirked her mouth. “Long story.”

Han grinned. “I flew her out of a war zone.”

“After I pulled your butt out of the fire, yes, you did.”

He blinked. Ren nudged him. “Ma’s an activist. Met Dad during the Gulf War.”

Hux swallowed his mouthful of squash. “Ah.”

They ate in what should have been uncomfortable silence, but wasn’t. Hux became aware that Ren kept sneaking little glances at him as they ate, and instead of making him self-conscious, it soothed his nerves.

Someone was looking out for him.

When they eventually finished their meals, Hux offered to clear the table.

“Nah, go have fun,” Han said, already gathering up the dishes in his large hands. “Ben, I got you the extension cord you needed.”

A shaky smile crept over Ren’s face. “It’s Ren, Dad.”

“Oh, right. Ron. I got it.”

The two burst out laughing. Must’ve been an inside joke.

Ren turned to him. He caught Leia making shooing motions with her hands.

“Ren, what did you need an extension cord for?”

“Come out to the porch and see.”

Hux was confused, but also...strangely excited? Oh no. Romance was not his thing; neither were little excited bugs hopping about in his chest.

Ren grabbed his hand and tugged him through the kitchen to the back door. He stopped abruptly and peered through the curtains, then opened the door. The porch was completely black, even with the illumination coming from the kitchen.

“What am I doing here, Ren?”

“Close your eyes.”

“You’re going to do something disgustingly romantic, aren’t you?”

“Totally. Now close your damn eyes.”

Hux did. A bit of shuffling, a thump, a curse. He couldn’t resist laughing a little bit.

“Open them,” Ren said, a moment later.

The first thing he noticed were the fairy lights woven through the porch siding, hung through the wisteria that grew thick and woody along the beams and roof, forming a curtain on either side of the porch. The little space positively glowed.

The next thing he noticed was a beat-up old couch, settled close to the ground, covered in cushions and thick blankets. There was a little table in front of it with a laptop set up and a DVD case out next to it.

Ren stood next to him, hair a little mussed.

His first instinct was to...god, he didn’t know what the hell to do. He settled on something snarky. “This is so cliche, Ren.”

A laugh confirmed that Ren knew what he meant. “Yep. Now, you gonna watch the Princess Bride with me or not?”

Hux grinned, something warm spreading through his chest. “As you wish.”

“Oh my god, I am not Buttercup. Sit the fuck down.”

Neither of them sat.

“You know, Ren,” Hux said, quieter than he’d wanted to, “you didn’t have to go to this much trouble.”

“I got the idea off Pinterest. It didn’t look hard.” Ren looked nervous all of a sudden, taking a couple of deep breaths and glancing behind him to make sure the curtains were closed.

Hux thought he knew what was coming. He let himself hope, for a second.

“U-um. Can I kiss you?”

There it was. “Of course.”

Ren leaned down and touched his lips to Hux’s. It was a gentle thing, a sweet little peck. Hux closed his eyes instinctively.

Hux stood on his tip-toes and chased Ren as he pulled away, lacing their hands together. Their lips met again, and a rush of euphoria threatened to drown him. This bubbly thing wasn’t what he’d gotten from any other kiss. What was this?

Oh hells. He might have actual feelings.

Hux accepted his fate and kissed Ren again.

“Now,” he said, “Let’s watch the movie.”

Ren stood for another second, looking somewhat awestruck, then followed him to sit, curl up under a blanket, and press play.

His heat and his silky hair were the only things Hux could focus on for the rest of the evening.