Kylo sat up and nearly fell off the narrow couch he was lying on in the process. He was in a lightly cluttered parlour, planet-side judging by organic light that streamed in through the window, and when he raised a hand to shelter his eyes he realized that his mask had been removed. As had his uniform, and he silently fumed down at the stiff trousers and the over-sized sweater someone had had the audacity to put him in.
His first instinct was to reach for his lightsaber, and he wasn't surprised to find it gone. Enraged, but not surprised.
Shame over losing his weapon warred with outrage over the indignity of being captured so successfully that he couldn't even how it had happened, and he drew the anger over himself like a familiar garment to make up for the one he had lost.
The house was quiet save for the faint sounds filtering in from outside. He tried reaching out with the force and found that had been blocked to him as well.
He couldn't think of many enemies of the First Order who would go through the trouble of subduing him only to confine him to what, at first glance at least, appeared to be a moderately pleasant home, and he had the sinking feeling that he might be forced to face the very last person he wanted to.
Let it be anything but his mother.
The living room opened up to a dining area, and beyond that an open arch led further into a small kitchen. He progressed through the house, inspecting the little oddities and the even stranger appliances he found in the kitchen, and the windowless hall it was attached to, lined with closed doors on one side. He was so distracted that he didn't even realize he wasn't alone before the door opened in his face and he nearly walked right into the man on the other side.
The General let out a startled yelp and nearly fell backwards before he caught his balance on the door frame.
"Ren!" Hux snapped, one hand pressed against his chest in a gesture to still his heart. Kylo looked over his shoulder to see a refresher with an open door leading to an adjacent bedroom on the other side.
He nearly didn't recognize the general, but the accusative sneer couldn't have belonged to anyone else. Kylo had never seen the man out of uniform, but like Kylo, he was dressed casually in plain trousers and a pressed shirt with his hair free of the pomade that usually kept it down.
He looked smaller without the layers and sharp angles of his uniform, and angrier, possibly because of that.
"I don't suppose you have any light to shed on the situation," Hux said wearily, as though the possibility of Kylo having anything insightful to come with was improbable. Kylo's jaw clenched and he grasped for the general's mind only to find himself blocked by the same fog that had obscured him when he awoke.
"No. It appears we've been taken captive."
Hux straightened his shirt - a nervous gesture, or one intended to re-establish control, and strode off through the house the way Ren had come. He stopped by the window in the dining room and drew the curtains aside.
Outside, on the other side of a picket fence and a row of shrubs, a child was playing with some kind of domesticated animal in the yard next door.
"Seems like an unlikely place to keep prisoners," he said.
"Is there anyone else here?"
"No." It wasn't a large house and unless someone was hiding in one of the cupboards, it was unlikely. For a moment he debated over whether to admit his temporary weakness to his rival or not. It rankled, and he knew Hux would be able to see that, and once again he wished that their captors had left him with his mask. "I don't think so," he amended. "My connection to the force has been limited. I can't sense anyone."
"Removed." He gritted out through his teeth.
"That's unfortunate," Hux said, which was less that Kylo had expected him to, but he still managed to sound as if Kylo was inconveniencing him just to be difficult.
They searched through the house anyway. It didn't take them long, small as it was. There was the refresher and a single bedroom, and little else beyond that that Kylo hadn’t already seen.
A back door led out to a fenced in back yard with a little garden shed and a nicely sized porch bound together by a green square of lawn, empty aside from a couple of shrubs and a violently pink plastic bird that stood lopsided, pushed into the ground on two precariously thin legs.
Hux speculated about their whereabouts and the most likely identity captors, but Kylo had had several years of practice on tuning the general out, and he didn't think Hux really wanted his input anyway.
Kylo was more concerned about his missing lightsaber and his inability to access the force. He would have expected a drug strong enough to block his senses so completely to carry some side effects, but his head felt clear. It must have been a remarkably clean compound, one he had never heard of before, or something else entirely. Was the entire house force-shielded?
Their search was interrupted by the sudden chime of the doorbell.
Through the whorled glass window on the door Kylo could just make out the shape of people on the other side, but before he could yank the door open Hux caught his arm and held him back.
"What for?" He stared down at where Hux's slender fingers were wrapped around his forearm and then directed his glare at the general. "Let go of me."
"Ren, let me do the talking. We won't get anywhere with you antagonizing them."
"Usually people respond well to that." Kylo said lightly.
"Usually people have more reason to fear you."
The shapes on the other side of the glass rang the doorbell again; the ludicrously cheerful sound resonating through the house.
"This is not normal. They're playing with us," Kylo growled.
"All the more reason to find out what the rules are before you do something stupid."
This time he let go when Kylo wrenched his arm out of his grip.
“By all means. I’m more than happy to leave the diplomacy to your discretion.” It wasn't as if Kylo had wanted to deal with other people, anyway. The two of them shared a last sour look before Hux opened the door.
Kylo took a step back from the over-enthusiastic greeting and impacted with Hux’s hand that slapped against his back, preventing him from retreating further. A man and a woman were standing on the porch, the former having greeted them and the latter baring her teeth through a smile so wide it looked physically painful.
"Hello." Hux said.
"We're your new neighbours. I'm Doran and this is Ket. We wanted to welcome you to the neighbourhood. We live just down the road. " She pointed across the street past several fenced-in yards at a house that looked more blue than the others.
"What do you want?" Kylo asked bluntly, then nearly swore when Hux pinched him. Fuck, but that man had a grip that would put old women to shame.
"We wanted to invite you over for dinner?" The woman said, her smile wavering slightly, not that it made any marked difference. "We're having a little get-together so you can meet your new neighbours. It's been a while since we've had new people moving in."
"Have you lived here long?" Hux asked.
The couple shared a besotted look. "Seems like forever sometimes," the man said. "But in a good way."
"We'd be delighted to join you."
"Wonderful! Why don't you come over after six?"
Hux waved the couple off and Kylo who couldn’t close the door on them soon enough watched the blobs of their retreating forms through the window, thoroughly unnerved.
"What is this, some kind of psychological experiment?”
Hux scoffed. "I doubt anyone would want you as a test subject. What could they possibly learn from someone who's unhinged already?"
“I’m sure we’ll find out at six.”
Once their visitors had left they made another sweep of the house, specifically looking for bugs or any other kind of surveillance equipment. They didn't find anything, but honestly, it was difficult to tell. The electronics were curiously archaic, and some quite unlike anything Kylo had seen before - in appearance if not in function.
He became distracted by a red metal box with a lever in the kitchen which turned out to be a toaster. Further examination of the kitchen revealed a water kettle and a caf cooker and a press that made heart-shaped waffles.
In the living room there was a screen on the wall that looked a more advanced in terms of technology along with a controller, and he fiddled with the controls until the screen flickered to life.
"We return with footage from downtown where earlier today a large portion of the area was destroyed by the rampage of a giant robot."
Behind the presenter the screen was taken up by what looked like, for all intents and purposes, a huge, bi-pedal droid as tall as the buildings around it trampling its way through a sprawling downtown area and crushing everything under its feet.
Kylo turned off the screen with a blip and set the controller aside. They really had quite enough to deal with at the present without adding giant robots to the mix. Unless it was walking down the street outside their house, they could deal with it later.
"Are you quite done?" Hux asked, appearing in the doorway. He had found something to slick down his hair with and a couple of more layers to wear and he was fiddling with the cuffs of a jacket as he stood there, radiating both impatience self-righteous perseverance at the same time.
Kylo hadn't bothered looking for new clothes, even though he had made a mental note to murder whoever it was that had gotten him into the jeans he was wearing. He wasn't even sure if he could get out of them. It was going to take a lot of pulling.
"We need to get going."
"Of course. We wouldn't want our captors to think we're rude." Kylo said snidely.
"As far as prison cells go, I think I prefer this one to the alternative, don't you?"
"Comfort is immaterial."
Hux rolled his eyes. "You-" he drew a deep breath and collected himself. "Why don't we try working together until we get out of here? Until we know who or what we're dealing with, a little cooperation might not go amiss. And try to remember not to piss anyone off."
"Fine. You deal with them." He didn't need the force to tell how much his dismissal annoyed Hux, and with his back turned Kylo didn't have to hide the pleasure he took in it, either.
Hux had expected Ren to put up a fight about attending the get-together, but the knight trailed after him obediently that evening when they crossed the road on their way to the blue house, holding himself with the air of royalty gracing an occasion with their presence only because they didn't have anything better to do.
Hux hadn't stepped outside further than to take a peek at their back yard, and in the setting sun it struck him how alien the colony looked. Everything was very neat. Aesthetically pleasing yet uniform in a way that spoke neither of the excessiveness of the core worlds nor the poverty of the outer rim territories. It was in the small details - the way the houses were built and the street arranged – a gentle union of sharp angles and flowing curves, single-storey houses with large windows and well-manicured lawns, and everything from the placement of the trees to the shapes of the flower beds looked calculated and neat, as if each point of interest had been deliberately picked out to compliment the one next to it.
While he could appreciate the result, everything looked off, just familiar and unfamiliar enough to set him on edge.
They were greeted warmly by their hosts and shown into a stock-full room of people eager to meet them. There were a lot of people present at the gathering, each one of them so vapidly unconcerned with anything other than socializing and having a good time that it seemed unlikely that they were all playing some sort of elaborate ruse just for the benefit of Ren and him. So, either he and Ren had been plopped down on some random planet for reasons that were still a mystery, or the inhabitants were fellow prisoners. Really remarkably cheerful fellow prisoners.
There was a droid circling the room, even though this one was different from the models Hux was used to. It was more humanoid both in its build and its movement, and polished and streamlined to the point where it looked like it ought to have been circling an upscale club rather than a suburban living room. It also had a lace cap perched on the top of its head.
Surreal didn’t even begin to cover what Hux felt as he made small talk with a drink in his hand whilst surreptitiously keeping an eye on Ren who skulked around the corners of the room, making sure the knight didn’t go off on one of his tantrums and strangle anyone.
Ren hadn't been kidding when he said he would be happy to leave socializing up to Hux, and he made himself scarce as soon as they were shown inside, skulking away into the shadows with a remarkable skill for such a tall man in such a well-lit room. Now and then Hux caught sight of him leaning against a wall with a drink in his hand, but they certainly didn't make any effort to engage each other.
Ren had an uncanny talent for discouraging people form approaching him without even looking at them, basically ignoring anyone who tried to speak to him until they gave up, and they actively avoided him in favour of flocking around Hux instead.
"How long have you lived here?" he asked one of the men he had been introduced to.
"I grew up here," the man said. "Most of us did. We have a very tight community, keeps us all on the same page, you know.” He paused meaningfully, trying to get his point across. “You two are alright, but we don't encourage outsiders If you know what I mean. You never know what kind of strangers will invite themselves in if you open the door. Not everyone out there is like us."
"Of course," Hux said, having noticed the lack of diversity amongst the houseguests. It seemed to satisfy the man who grinned at him and clapped him on the shoulder companionably before he moved away.
Hux didn't see Ren again until they were sitting down for dinner and he pulled out the chair next to him.
One of the ladies across from him leaned forward and over the table. "Are you a military man, Mr. Hux?"
Hux spared a searing glare at Ren who'd already turned his attention away like a bored loth-cat, or one with a very short attention span.
"Of a sort," he said carefully. He hadn't heard any mention of the First Order or any other political factions all evening, and he preferred not to part with any more information than he had to. The fact that both he and Ren had been divested of their uniforms hadn’t escaped his attention.
The woman smiled disarmingly. "My Tilly works at the military base just outside of town. I'm sure he would be able to offer you a job there when you need one. You boys will need to find jobs sooner or later. This is a good offer because it isn't an entry-level position."
Hux wondered at the odd phrasing of her offer but nodded politely. "That's very kind of you. I'll keep that in mind."
Hux had expected more trouble out of Ren, but surprisingly he didn’t make a nuisance of himself until late that evening when they returned home and were retiring for the night.
They stood on either side of the bed, sizing each other up.
"I'm not sleeping on the couch." Ren said.
"You woke up there, maybe you're supposed to stay there."
"You should take the couch, you're shorter than me. "
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"Aright, enough of that," Hux snapped. They lingered in tense silence again for a while, neither willing to move away.
"I could make you." Ren said.
"Oh, you could, could you?" Hux said, refusing to budge. Ren might have been stronger, but he looked like the type to harbour romantic ideas about fighting that would have him shirking from playing too dirty, whereas Hux had no problems with sticking his fingers in Ren’s eyes.
Their stalemate held on, the tension settling like an impregnable barrier over the bed that Hux really, really wanted to lie down on. Then Ren yawned.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Hux spat and grabbed the edge of the covers, yanking them down. "Just stay on your side of the bed."
Ren looked surprised at the compromise but Hux was too tired to think about it, or him, and Ren turned off the light and spared either of them from having to discuss it any further.
They were in this together, Hux reminded himself, for better or worse. As long as they were stuck here together, Ren was an asset. It made sense for them to try to get along. Probably.
He lay down on his back and closed his eyes. The bed was wide enough that he hardly even felt Ren getting in beyond the rocking of the mattress when he settled down, and he found himself drifting off almost immediately. It was such a relief that he wouldn't have to deal with his regular bouts of insomnia that he didn't try to fight it.
Hux groaned. "What?"
"Do you remember how we got here?" Ren's voice was remarkably soft in the darkness. Or maybe that was just because Hux was almost sleeping.
"No, of course not. I was unconscious." Even the low-level of irritation he saved just for Ren was fading away along with his consciousness.
"What were we doing before we got here?"
"I have no idea."
For the second time Ren woke up to silence. There was always noise on Starkiller base: the people stationed there, the churn of machinery under the base -even the sound of the life support on the Finalizer was noticeable when one was faced with the absence of it.
Worst of all was the stillness in his head. It was like going deaf.
He turned over and didn't even remember that Hux was sleeping next to him until he saw the back of his head on the pillow next to his, orange against the white of the sheets in the morning light.
Kylo got out of bed as carefully as he could so as not to wake him, then wondered why he bothered. Finally he decided to be courteous just because it felt foolish not to.
There were fresh clothes in the drawers, including socks and underwear in two sizes, which was both puzzling and disturbing. He got dressed even though a larger part of him wanted to drag the entire wardrobe out into the garden and set fire to it.
He closed the drawer and pressed his palms flat against the wooden surface until the urge passed and his hands stopped shaking.
The chronometer in the kitchen pointed at twenty past seven in the morning, and there were already people outside; the shrill sounds of singing birds and shrieking children penetrating through the inferior glass windows, and he viciously drew the curtains over the windows as he passed them.
The kitchen was comfortably stocked. There were dairy products in the refrigerator, including milk that wasn't blue, and plenty of dry food in the cupboards – many with directions to add water or other quick instructions on how to prepare them. The stove was unlike anything he'd seen before, but all the unfamiliar buttons and dials were labelled clearly enough, and there was a large cookbook on the countertop next to it filled illustrated instructions for recipes.
All in all the kitchen appeared to have been prepared for particularly accident-prone users.
The white yogurt turned out to be much the same as blue yoghurt, so he had that and made a cup of tea using the kettle. Then he found out why all the precautions were necessary when the sat down to have his meal in the living room and turned on the holo screen.
Around half an hour later Hux emerged from the bedroom, clean-shaven and neatly pressed without a hair out of place. He detoured through the living room rather than going straight into the kitchen, leaving them awkwardly in each other's space while Kylo wondered whether he was supposed to say something, like ‘good morning,’ or risk upsetting their uneasy truce.
"How long have you been up?" Hux asked.
"Not long." Kylo said, then added, "but I think I just saw someone burn to death on the cooking channel."
Kylo still hadn't told Hux about the giant rampaging robot from yesterday, so that might be the reason why he wasn’t expressing the right amount of outrage. Then again Hux had wilfully destroyed an entire star system, and maybe immolation on live television before nine in the morning just didn't faze him.
"Did you find any caf in the kitchen?" he asked after he had caught a whiff of Kylo's tea and wrinkled his nose at it.
It took them nearly half an hour to figure out the caf cooker, during which Hux grew increasingly snappish, but Kylo found he didn't mind it all that much. It was vastly preferable to the smugness he usually got.
They spent the first few days waiting for any kind of communication or confirmation from their captors, and when none was forthcoming they explored their immediate surroundings. Cautiously at first because the giant robot incident was still fresh in Kylo's mind, but the surrounding neighbourhood offered enough of a challenge those first few days without them venturing out into the world any further.
All menial tasks were preformed by humans, aside from a handful of droids that seemed to be restricted to their respective households. The mix of advanced and archaic technology didn't make any sense except as a matter of aesthetics or nostalgic conservatism. They hadn't seen a single data pad since their arrival, either, and every morning news arrived in the form of a folded up flimsiplast paper on their front step, delivered by human hand.
It was a sheltered community; the locals behaved exceedingly strangely by Kylo's account of any other societies he had been familiar with. They were friendly enough but frustratingly unpredictable. The only time they almost got into an altercation was when Hux punched a man who tried to tickle him.
"I'm starting to give your theory about social experiment more credit. Clearly you're not the only lunatic here." Hux said after they had finally gotten rid of the man who had become increasingly aggressive after his first efforts to entertain had been rejected.
Getting any information out of the locals was like trying to draw blood out of stone, which was a fitting analogy for the thick-headed masses. Kylo had never longed to use his skills for interrogation as much as he did right then, and it was probably just as well he didn't have his powers or he would have been hard pressed not to take advantage of them.
No one had heard of the first order or the new republic, and they only commented with banal statements like 'we keep to ourselves' or 'you don't need to worry about the rest of the galaxy as long as you're here,' if they bothered to elaborate at all.
"If they are prisoners they don't appear to be aware of it." Hux remarked.
Kylo scoffed, “I don’t think they’re aware of much of anything.”
On day five they ran out of food. Hux found this out when he walked into the kitchen and found Ren standing by the refrigerator, staring in at the empty shelves as if that would magically cause food to appear on them.
They still steered clear of most of the kitchen appliances – especially the ones that had spinning blades attached to them – so meals had been somewhat limited, but there had been a wealth of pre-packed food in sealed packages that had looked safe enough for Hux who was at familiar with military rations. But Ren, finicky eater that he was, wanted fresh produce and dairy products.
"Should we have rationed the food?" Ren asked, five days too late to be worrying about it.
Hux joined him, and he didn't know what possessed him to try to open and close the door himself. The shelves remained empty.
"I doubt their intention is to starve us," he said, even though they still hadn't figured out who their mysterious captors were. "There must be a reasonable solution to this. Where do the others get their supplies?"
There was a mail-order catalogue on the table in the entrée, thicker than the width of Hux's hand and filled from cover to cover with furniture and the like, but it didn't seem like the right way to go about getting groceries.
"The market?" Ren suggested cautiously.
It seemed simple enough. There were instructions for ordering transportation by the phone in the hall. They still had to ransack the house for currency which they found in the form of bills and coins, tucked away in an animal-shaped porcelain jar in the bedroom and a handful of coins stuck between the cushions in the couch.
The called for transportation and a vehicle showed up at their door not ten minutes later. The speeder rolled off down the street, past rows and rows of houses and yards just like the one they were occupying, until they left the residential area behind them and more commercial buildings started to spring up.
Hux wasn't a nervous passenger, but several times he found himself with a white-knuckled grip on the seat when the driver took the corners a bit too sharply. The vehicle moved as if it was on rails, zipping ahead in the light traffic without ever once accelerating or breaking unless it was to make a sudden and complete stop at a light.
Hux took in as much of his surroundings as he could. The settlement wasn’t large and it was situated in a valley judging by the mountain ranges the rose up in the distance. The people they drove past all looked like their neighbours as far as dress and appearance was concerned: all human aside from the occasional sight of a droid.
Ren was silent at the other end of the seat, and Hux didn't know quite what to make of him.
He had been unusually complaisant during this entire ordeal, and while the lack of opposition was welcome, Hux wasn’t sure what to expect of him, or how long the calm would last.
They hadn’t spent this much time in each other's company without being at each other’s throats since their very first days together when they hadn't yet learned to dislike each other, and Hux definitively wasn't used to seeing him face to face, and he found it was more difficult to direct his deeply ingrained grudge at the face underneath the mask.
"What is it?" Ren asked, catching him staring.
He rarely faced Hux fully if he could help it and was making up for the lack of his usual getup with a sweater that covered him from his fingers to his neck - his face carefully arranged into an expressionless mask - one which Hux enjoyed seeing break ever so often now.
He leaned forward and knocked on the window separating them from the driver until it was lowered. "Excuse me, is there a spaceport you can take us to?" he asked
The driver turned around to face them, completely taking his eyes off the road without it having any effect on his driving, and asked in a cheerful monotone, "Would you like to go home or travel to another location, sir?"
Hux and Ren shared a look. "You can let us off here."
"At least we know the drivers are droids," Hux said when they stood on the curb and watched the vehicle drive off. "It's hard to believe they've managed to make such life-like droids considering the lack of scientific advancement elsewhere." Ren was frowning after the retreating vehicle, looking even more displeased than usual. "What is it?"
"I should have been able to sense it. This whole place feels off."
Perhaps for the first time in his life Hux was reluctant to let Ren leave his company, because however frustrating the local population was, he didn't think they were going to gain anything by murdering them either, and by the look on Ren’s face, that was an increasingly likely outcome.
The drivers weren't the only thing that was off. All the roads ended up in circles, looping back the way they had come which suggested this was the only settlement on the planet, yet they were only met with shrugs and uncomprehending stares when they asked about transportation off world.
They ended a long a frustrating day at the grocery store where they spent the bulk of their credits on food, which brought them to their next issue. They needed an income.
"I refuse." Ren said bluntly. He folded his arms across his chest and stared out the window like a child.
Hux had taken their neighbours up on the offer of a job at the military base – whatever that entailed he would find out later – but Ren was refusing to even entertain any of the open positions listed in the newspaper that Hux had so thoughtfully circled for him.
"Are you also going to refuse to eat?" he asked waspishly, "or are you expecting me to support you? I understand you've been coddled and catered to your entire life, Ren, but I'm not going to do it for you."
Ren looked down the long slope his nose at him. "You know nothing about me. We are being held captive against our will in this nightmare-"
Hux rolled his eyes. “If this is your idea of a difficult incarceration, you needed to have your priorities re-examined. It's not that bad."
Ren pointed out the window at the yard next door where a family of five were frolicking in their pool. "It's the worst. And I refuse to give into this by spending three days a week as a popcorn vendor Just because you find conservative suburban hell to your liking!"
He was so angry that Hux could practically hear the distinctive crackle of the voice modulator that usually prefaced one of his destructive rampages.
"You need a job and you are not leaving this room until we've found one."
"We should be figuring out how to get out of here, not finding steady employment! What's wrong with you?"
"It's called common sense. We can't do anything without credits, so unless you're planning on selling yourself on the street, you're picking a job." He snatched the now crumpled newspaper back from Ren who went back to mulishly staring out the window, cheeks flushed with anger.
Hux straightened out the paper with a snap and tried to ignore the heat in his own face and his elevated heartbeat. He would not rise to provocation. And why on earth was there a listing for 'pickpocket' amongst the ads? Hux deliberately didn't mention it because it seemed like just the sort of thing Ren would go for just to spite him.
Dishwasher? Oh, if only. Playground monitor? Perish the thought. He'd get arrested within the hour. "General store clerk," he suggested.
Ren fixed him with a stare that could have withered flowers. "Alright, something with less social interaction. Dog walker?"
"No, I hate animals."
"I'm not musically inclined."
Hux set the paper down with a strangled growl and resisted the urge to beat Ren over the head with it. "Is there anything you can do or is this a wide-ranging incompetence?" He held up a hand when Ren drew in breath to reply. "And don't say anything to do with the force, because you can't."
He said it to get a rise out of him, but Hux found himself more curious than annoyed. "Have you ever actually killed anyone without using the force or your lightsaber?"
"I could do it," he said, a little defensively, but his stance relaxed slightly. "That's like asking you whether you've killed anyone using your feet rather than your hands."
"Neither of which are applicable work skills right now," Hux said and spread out the paper again with some finality. The flimsiplast was too wrinkled to snap any more and just sort of rustled. "Moving on."
Kylo had never spent so much time in another person's space as an adult. He had been an only child, one left to his own devices more often than not, and even as a padawan the other children had shied away from him. He had learned to accept it, that there was something about him that made people wary of him – made them pull away.
Hux didn't have the option. It wasn't a large house and even if they hadn't been sharing a bed, it still felt like they were constantly tripping over each other's feet. Judging by the general's increasingly short temper he wasn’t taking the lack of privacy any better than Kylo was, or maybe it was just the company he had a problem with.
On day nine Hux came home too early.
Kylo got home from work, tired and exhausted after too many hours in a sweaty diner, the stench of food and cooking grease clinging to his skin and settled over his hair like a second layer. He made a beeline for the bathroom, pulling his shirt off over his head along with the earpieces to his sound recorder as he entered.
If he had been more observant he would have noticed Hux's things in the hallway: the unlocked door, the little tell-tale signs of his passing that Kylo was getting used to seeing, but he didn't. He slipped out of his shirt and didn't see Hux before he was staring straight at him, shirt caught awkwardly over his hands as his entire body stood paralyzed.
Hux was standing under the spray, his hair plastered to his skull and longer than it usually looked, one arm braced against the tiled wall and the other hand on his erect cock; red and swollen in contrast to the pallor of his hand, which was working up and down, twisting over the head on the upstroke, and he was staring right at Kylo as if he'd been watching him for a while.
Kylo stepped back and knocked his shoulder against the edge of the half-open door which swung shut behind him with a click.
Just for a moment he felt caught like a senseless animal in the pale glass of Hux's eyes before he could turn around and fumble for the door handle, a task not made any easier by the fact that his sweater was still caught on his wrists.
His shoulders hunched up, startled into stillness just for the second it took Hux to jump out of the shower and put his wet hand down on Kylo's shoulder. He turned him around, mouth curled into an amused half-smile.
"You do listen," he said, pleased.
He crowded Kylo up against the sink, mostly because Kylo let him, until Hux was pressed up close to him, his cock still hard and flushed and very nearly touching- Kylo looked up, trying to garner some sort of answers from the other man's face.
"What are you doing?"
Hux's hand was kneading his shoulder, and Kylo couldn't think about where the other one was while he freed his hands and immediately regretted it when the shirt fluttered to the floor; another barrier lost.
"Ren. It's rude to walk in on other people like that."
"What? You're home too early," Kylo instantly retorted, indignant, because this was not his fault. "Lock the door next time!"
"You were looking at me."
"You looked first!"
"Fair is fair. You still owe me something in that regard."
Hux's gaze slipped down again and Kylo could almost feel the physical trail it left his skin, trailing down his chest and to his crotch. Mortified, he realized he was hard, and it was impossible to conceal under such close scrutiny.
Transfixed, he didn't do anything when Hux put his hand over the obvious bulge of his half-hard cock and squeezed.
Hux touched him the same way he wielded his insults; proprietary, like he had a foregone right to spew them all over Kylo whether they were solicited or not. Wanted or not, and Kylo's hips rolled forward on their own accord, moving into that touch, the muscles in his abdomen clenching and releasing as heat gathered in his groin until he was aching with it.
He was tired – tired of being stuck where they were without knowing how or why or how to get out of it, and Hux's hand felt good. Wet and still warm from his shower, the humidity in the air stealing Kylo’s breath away with every gasp he took until he felt light headed. He leaned back, pinned between the sink and Hux's body, trusting him to keep him up when his knees shook, hands gripping white-knuckled at the edge of the counter.
"Is there anything else you want from me, Ren?"
Kylo shook his head, mouth pressed closed to stave off the sounds that wanted to escape. He still moaned at the twist of Hux's hand that was groping at him greedily though the stiff fabric of his pants. And it wasn't enough. He could just barely feel the warmth of Hux’s hand, the promise of how much better it could be without the barrier.
"No? I'll give it to you if you ask for it."
His voice was heavy, laden with things Kylo didn't fully understand but with that familiar hard edge to it, and Kylo wished that he could read him.
"Yes," he groaned. He'd thought about it sometime. Not Hux, necessarily, but it still felt like a hundred adolescent fantasies coming true when Hux sank down to his knees before him, proud and beautiful and utterly captivating.
Everything felt like too much, like he was going to shatter at the barest touch of Hux's tongue against his length, laving over the shaft in a smooth, wet stripe before he grabbed the base of his cock with one hand and slid his mouth over the tip, mouth soft and hard at the same time, cradling his shaft on tongue while he slowly swallowed it deeper and Kylo slowly lost his mind.
"Hux," he breathed, hoping Hux knew what he wanted because he didn't have a clue, the tips of his fingers cautiously brushing over the spiked strands of Hux's hair.
"Keep your hands on the counter," Hux said, and Kylo's fingers tightened their grip by reflex. "I didn't say you could touch me, did I? I might let you, if you're good." Puzzled and a little overwhelmed Kylo found himself nodding. He didn't really know what Hux meant, but it didn't feel half as important as getting his mouth back on his cock. Figured that he'd be a controlling little sadist.
"Fine,” he promised. Anything you want. "Just.. please."
Hux's cheeks flushed, his eyes closing for a moment like he was savouring a touch, thumb sliding over the curve of Kylo's hip in a caress. "That's good."
He held Kylo's eyes when he slowly slid his mouth over his flesh, inch after inch disappearing into the heat of his mouth. No trace of teeth, only that tight heat and the softness of his palate and the lazy flicker of his tongue, utterly unlike anything Kylo had experienced.
He would have imagined intimacy with Hux would hurt – had expected teeth and nails and bruises, but he was unerringly gentle. Kylo's hair got in his eyes and he wanted to brush it aside, but that would have meant taking his hands off the counter, and the thought didn't even occur to him.
He wanted to touch Hux, get down on his knees and map out the inside of his mouth with his tongue and his fingers. Trace the drying tracks of water clinging to his skin. Most of all he wanted to ask Hux why, but he was afraid anything he said would make him stop, so he held his tongue.
It didn't take long, and by the hungry way Hux was consuming him he could tell Hux was as far gone as he was, bobbing up and down on his shaft – harder the further along Kylo got, until he took him deeper, swallowing his down to the base, and Kylo came with a strangled cry.
He was still stunned and dazed when Hux withdrew and stood up, palming at Kylo's face and kissing at his slack mouth like he could take nourishment from it.
He grabbed Kylo's hand and Kylo didn't hesitate to wrap his fingers around Hux’s cock at his guidance, liking the weight and the warmth of it in his palm even though Hux didn't exactly give him much time to get acquainted with it; his own hand over Kylo's urging him into a quick pace. He sucked and nipped at Kylo's mouth, heedless of any attempts to breathe from either of them, muttering half-strung words that might have been praise or insults but really felt the same either way. That's it and good mingling with idiot and slut in the same breath and tone, as he brought himself to completion and Kylo more or less tried to keep up with him.
"You were so good," he purred, "Keeping still for me. Is this all it takes to get you to do what I say? Were you just waiting for me to tell you all this time? Or for me to suck your cock?"
It sounded even more vulgar coming from Hux's proper mouth in his clipped and precise tones, softened by the desire weighing heavy in his throat and the wrenching moan when he came, spilling out over Kylo's fingers in hot spurts and panting into his mouth.
They stay there for a while, leaning against each other, until another kind of tension started to build up and they put some space between themselves.
"Well," Hux said, making a fair attempt to sound like someone who didn't just have spontaneous sex with their sworn rival in the middle for the day.
He ignored the glare Kylo was trying to give him.
"Why are you home so early?" Kylo asked, pulling his pants up and tucking himself away, and he knew his voice sounded petulant but he couldn't do anything about it.
"Promotion, my shift changed. The carpool will be by to pick me up later so I'd like to finish my shower now. You can have yours later. Off you go."
Kylo felt the familiar urge to strangle him and reached new heights of frustration when Hux sent him off with a stinging slap on the ass as soon as Kylo turned his back on him.
It was a sunny morning. Every day had been sunny since they arrived, and many of the strange things about their new home could be explained away, but the vibrancy of the vegetation without a single drop of rain to nourish it wasn't one of them.
It was one of Hux's days off but he had woken up early out of habit and was collecting the paper from the front steps at the usual time.
The girl who delivered their paper was already a few doors down, and the houses with their flagstone steps and square grass yards stretched down the street into infinity like they were caught in a tunnel between two mirrors. A flock of birds flew by overhead, curving to the right in a familiar trajectory.
Kylo was sitting at the head of the table in the kitchen with a bowl of milk and that birdfeed he liked to have for breakfast before him. He hadn't looked Hux in the eyes once this morning, even though Hux caught him looking at him out of the corner of his eyes often enough. Sulky and a little resentful, but Hux found himself enjoying his unexpected coyness while it lasted.
The minute hand on the chronometer on the wall was just pointing at five past when Hux opened the window.
From outside there came the sound of a dog barking and a vehicle accelerating somewhere in the distance.
"Do you hear that? It's the same sound, every day."
Kylo looked up from his soggy bird food and nodded. "I know. That's why I can't use the force."
"It's as effective a holding cell as anything, I suppose. Now it remains for us to figure out if there's a way to get out of here. If not, we’ll have to wait to be rescued."
“The Supreme Leader will be able to find me,” Ren said. “Do you think the people here are real?”
“If you and I are, it stands to reason that the others would be, doesn’t it? The environment is to detailed for them to put this much effort into it just for the two of us. It’s very thorough.”
"Nothing here is real. Doesn't that bother you?"
Hux huffed. "Don't ask stupid questions, Ren. Of course it does."
He shrugged. "It's difficult to tell with you. You act more like a droid already. An indignant one."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Hux said sarcastically. "Even after yesterday?"
Ren looked away, uncomfortable to have it brought up as Hux knew he would be, and he enjoyed seeing the involuntary ticks in his face; the nervous clench of his jaw.
"You used to think about punishing me." Ren said grudgingly, embarrassed, like he was sharing a secret, and Hux could only imagine which of his admittedly many fantasies Ren had picked up on.
"Yes," Hux admitted. He certainly didn't feel guilty about that; anyone who had worked with Ren for any length of time would be hard pressed not to want to slap some sense into him. Or bend him over their knee. Or any other flat surface, really.
There was a little voice in the back of his head that used to say, wouldn't it be lovely, if Ren failed to return from one of his missions, even when Hux knew the loss of his unique talents would have been a blow the First Order.
This, whatever it was, didn't feel all that different from those thoughts. There was something territorial about the interest he felt now, like a threat he could neutralize by turning it to his own purpose, and they needed each other now. Far better that they learned to live with each other.
He went around he table and leaned down over Ren's upturned face and kissed him. Ren pulled away far too soon. The flare of anger in his eyes was at odds with the trembling of his chin and the way he had opened his mouth for it.
"Why are you doing this?" Hux pulled his attention away from his mouth to meet his eyes which were dark and agitated in contrast to the softness of his mouth. "You hate me."
"I don't hate you."
"You loathe me."
That rang more true and without further examination Hux couldn't deny it. "But I don't hate you." Hux didn't feel like he could work himself up to more than mild dislike just then. Ren was glaring at him as if he could bore right through him if only he looked hard enough, and there was no mistaking the building frustration on his face.
"You can't read me," Hux recalled with a smile, and the way Ren thought desire and loathing were mutually exclusive was downright adorable. "That ought to teach you not to eavesdrop your betters to begin with. Would you like me to be honest with you?"
"I'd very much like to have sex with you right now."
Ren's face was too expressive to hide his confusion, or the naked want that followed, small and cautious and hopeful. "Why should I believe you?"
Hux took Ren's hand and brought it to the growing bulge where his erection was already noticeable against the tight-fit trousers, tangling the other in his dark hair so he could brush their lips together. "You're just going to have to trust me."
Hux hadn't had time for himself in longer than he could remember. The position he had wasn’t one that he could take leave from, which usually suited him just fine. Inactivity didn't sit well with him. He'd had that beaten out of him as a child, but for the moment there was nothing for them to do but wait – for rescue or for their captors to make themselves known.
He was sure there were any number of reasons why not to sleep with the Supreme Leader’s apprentice, but for now, in the privacy of their shared bedroom, none of them seemed that important.
It was the first time Hux had seen Ren undressed and he sat back and watched him when he disrobed, revealing the body that his robes always concealed; the powerful frame of his bones under skin and tissue and the smattering of freckles and beauty marks that dotted it. Hux ran his thumb over the constellation of dots that marked his hip, wondering how true to the real thing they were.
He might have expected hesitance from Ren, or greediness and impatience, and what he got was something in between. Ren's hands were broad and steady, no hesitance in them when he touched Hux, but he was just as eager to bend under Hux’s guidance – which was just as well because it didn't take a genius to figure out Ren hadn't done this before, at least not with a man.
Ren had already seen him naked but a deep blush blossomed all the way from his chest to his shoulders when Hux stripped out of his trousers. He didn't shy away and pulled Hux down on top of him, his hands stroking and touching over his skin and growing bolder when Hux didn't stop him - finding himself charmed by the way Ren chewed on his lip and the demanding way he tilted his chin up when he wanted to be kissed, which Hux hadn't expected either.
"What are we doing?" Kylo asked him between kisses. He shifted restlessly under Hux, his thigh pressing between Hux's legs for him to grind down against.
"What would you like to do?"
"Stop answering my questions with questions!"
Hux ignored his little flare-up. "I want to fuck you. Would you like that?"
Kylo glanced down between their bodies at Hux's cock where it rested against his leg, hard and leaking, and Hux tried not to laugh at him.
"It'll fit." Ren scowled and Hux relented. “Alright, just my fingers. I'll show you.”
He turned them over, pulling Ren on top of him where he settled down, warm and heavy and just the right amount of pressure on his dick when he shifted them so their hips fit together.
There was lubricant in the bedside drawer and Ren looked sceptical, bordering on hostile, up until the moment Hux had two of his fingers in him, crooking inward and spreading them apart to stretch at the rim and Ren cried out, cock beading viscous fluid at the tip where it was pressed into the crease of Hux's thigh, sliding wetly over his skin.
Hux took full advantage of the position and his range of movement, thrusting up into the smooth panes of Ren's body while he kept up the relentless assault with his fingers, Ren's cries coming louder and longer until they bled together into a desperate, continuous moan that had Hux's ear ringing on the side where Ren's face was pressed against the pillow, hands tearing at the sheets and hips bucking in tight, desperate jerks while his hole spasmed and squeezed down on Hux's fingers.
Huz had slender hands and he wondered how many he could fit in there, given the time.
"Do you want another?"
"Ye-es," Kylo moaned, his voice shaking and unsteady. It was almost too much, the squelching sounds and the tight fit of Kylo's hole around his fingers when he slipped his ring finger inside. Their hands twined around their cocks while Ren shakily held himself up on one arm, shuddering and moaning while Hux fucked him with his fingers in quick, shallow jabs until Ren shouted out into the pillow and came between them, painting Hux's abdomen in hot, generous spurts.
It didn’t take Hux long to come after that. Ren was useless, his hand lax but warm between Hux's grip and his cock, and threatening to collapse on top of him until Hux coaxed him onto his side, whimpering when Hux withdrew his fingers.
He came with Ren’s hand over the head of his cock, adding to the mess between them, and felt like he'd been wrung out when it was over, panting into the pillow while his heart slowly stopped threating to beat out of his chest, sweaty and sticky and too comfortable to get up and do anything about it yet. Ren looked at him silently from where he was lying, inches away.
"Is that what it's supposed to feel like?" Ren asked.
"What did it feel like?" Hux asked, making no effort to hide the satisfaction in his voice, not when Ren scowled at him and rolled out of bed, stretching out the full length of his back in one, slow motion. The tips of his hair brushing the knobs of his spine just between his shoulder blades when he tipped his head back.
On day twelve Hux arrived home after work to find Kylo out on the porch in a lounge chair, wearing his pyjamas. A loose pair of trousers and a singlet that revealed far too much of his chest and his arms, and Hux had the ridiculous urge to cover him up. Kylo looked up in acknowledgment when Hux stomped up the steps and came along easily when Hux grabbed him by the arm and pulled him inside.
"What are you- Aren't you supposed to be at work?"
"I didn't feel like it," Ren said, already slipping into that sullen look he got whenever things weren't going his way, or he was about to get told off for stupid behaviour, which would happen less often if he stopped behaving like an idiot.
"Getting dressed? Are you joking? And why are you in your pyjamas? Are you sick?" he added as an after thought, a bit less harshly.
"No." Ren said, pulling his arm free and straightening up to take advantage of the few inches of height he had on Hux. "I didn't feel like going to work. I felt like wearing pyjamas." He looked a bit bemused by his own admissions, much like Hux was, because he was pretty sure Ren had been dressed when he left that morning.
Hux followed him into the kitchen where he started taking food out of the fridge and filling up the caf machine. "Do you do this often?"
Ren frowned at the caf he was measuring into the filter. "Make caf? You haven't complained before."
"Stay home from work! You're being deliberately obtuse."
"Only a little."
“What does it matter? Don't you think we have more important things to do, like finding a way out of here?”
“What a wonderful idea. Have you made any progress in that regard? Has crying about it helped?”
“At least I’m not buying into it!”
“No, you’re sulking. If you want to make yourself miserable, that’s your business, but you’re depending on me to carry you! Read my lips, Ren: There is nothing we can do, and they’re not going to let us rot in here. I’m the military commander of the first order, and regardless of my own sentiments, I don’t think Snoke is willing to let his pet apprentice off the leash so easily.
Ren turned away from him. Face twisting into an expression Hux couldn’t read but left him cold.
“What if they’re not coming, Hux? What if this is our punishment.”
“Punishment? For what?”
“I don’t know. Something bad happened.” He rubbed restlessly at his forehead while Hux’s heart failed to conjure up any compassion for him.
“If that’s the case there’s even less we can do about it,” he said, and it was so easy to let the edge of cruelty creep into his voice. “Then you’re stuck in here. With me, until someone gets you out of it.”
“Maybe they can’t find us because we’re dead already.” Ren said, his voice dropping, low and bitter while the caf gurgled in the pot and Hux reached over and ran his fingers through the hair that fell over his forehead.
“Maybe I’m not really here, either. Maybe it’s just you.”
On the thirteenth day Kylo walked out on his third job. He could still hear his supervisor yelling inside when he walked out of the door on the ground floor of the local news agency and out onto the street. Apparently he didn't make a very good blogger.
He had liked his first job at the mausoleum better, but he'd been laid off after he cut out on work two days in a row - apparently employers didn't like that. Hux wouldn’t be happy, but the general’s casual acceptance of their virtual prison was becoming more disconcerting the longer they stayed there.
The other day Kylo had taken a cab out of town as far as the driver would take him and walked until he had come to the edge of their little simulation. Even now he wasn't sure whether it had been a wall or simply a line that his feet couldn’t cross. The world just stopped.
It was completely by chance that he decided to walk home rather than call for transport, and that his path took him past the bookstore and the bargain bin trolley that stood outside.
Rather than the convenience of chip cards or data-transfers, books were printed on paper and bound in tomes, which seemed to him a waste of both space and resources.
It was the cover that drew his attention first; the starry sky on the background and the blue-skinned woman perched on the cover like a pin-up model, holding a blaster weapon that, while ridiculously oversized, at least looked more like something he knew.
He picked up the topmost book on the pile and read the back of the jacket where the woman was fighting a tentacle monster that could have been a dianoga with some stretch of the imagination.
Sekku'bin has escaped captivity from the evil warlord Jassis. Now, hurtling across the galaxy on a stolen space ship and chased by bounty hunters, she is about to face her biggest challenge yet -- Fifth instalment in the award-winning science-fictions series by author Ana Talin.
He went into the shop and found the rest of the series on a shelf labelled Local Authors, squeezed in between a row of cookbooks and two luridly pink covers featuring a lot of flowing hair and bared cleavage, tilted For the Love of Pete, and Strong Shoulders which Kylo walked away from very quickly.
The clerk, young and pimply, sneered at him as he rang them up in a manner that might have been intended to be friendly.
"Glad somebody is buying those. We hardly have time to get rid of the stock before there's another one."
Kylo took his purchase and found an empty bench in the park. The weather was as pleasant as ever; the sun warm on his skin but not too hot and the breeze that blew through his hair refreshing but not cold. The sound and scent of the wind rustling through the leaves of the tree he was sitting under caught him, and he was amazed a how much detail someone had gone through to create this environment. Or was it more like a dream, with their minds effortlessly filling in whatever blanks the programming couldn't.
He started leafing through the books one by one, growing more and more certain of his suspicion as he read.
The Town Hall was only a short walk across the plaza from the street the bookshop was on. The clerk at the front desk turned her nose up at him when he failed to return her smile. He still couldn't tell whether it was a droid or an actual person, and he didn't much care one way or the other when he asked to see the town records.
He was led into a little room with a desk and a chair and she brought out a large leather-bound tome for him along with a pair of gloves which he neglected to use.
Even the archives were printed on paper which seemed like insanity to him, and he spent more than an hour leafing through the heavy tomes, reading lists upon lists of names and dates.
Every inhabitant was written down by their name, address, and their date of birth or arrival. He skimmed over the births and deaths and population fluctuations, which he immediately noticed that weren’t correlating the way they should have been. Every time there was a decrease in population due to deaths, there were new births to make up for it.
He found his and Hux’s names towards the end, along with the last change to the population number. The rash of death just before, from the robot attack, he assumed, had freed up room for nearly two dozen infants who were listed after their arrival. No one was born without someone else dying.
He traced the latest additions to the population before Hux and himself and found them sparse – mostly single entries spaced apart by several months up to a few years. He had to go back almost several years before he found Ana Talin's name and her address.
The house he arrived at wasn't remarkable in any way. It was on a different street in a different part of the town, but for all intents and purposes it was indistinguishable from the neighbourhood they lived in.
Kylo rang on the doorbell twice, waiting for what he felt was a reasonable stretch of time. When no one came to answer he went around the corner of the house and hoisted himself over the stone wall fencing off the back with every intention of letting himself in whether he found an open window or not. There were some sturdy looking rocks in the flowerbed.
Miss Talin was saved the trouble of having to pay for a new window (or screen door) when he caught sight of movement from within the house. He let himself back over the wall as inconspicuously as he could and rang the doorbell again.
The middle-aged woman who answered was unremarkable. She wore comfortable clothing and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and her grey-streaked brown hair was pulled into an untidy knot. Her eyes were squinting behind her glasses when she poked her head out of the open door, giving the impression of someone who hadn’t been exposed to daylight in a while. The gaunt look of her face and the pallor of her skin didn't look encouraging either.
She him a quick up-and-down and asked, "Yes?"
Even now it felt like Hux was standing at his shoulder, and between one breath and the next Kylo made a decision and pulled out the ID he had neglected to leave at the front desk when he quit his job that morning.
"I'm from the paper. I have some questions about your books."
"The paper?" he handed her the tag when she reached for it, and when she leaned back inside he took the opportunity to follow her. She didn't stop him but clearly looked like she would have liked to. "Usually they call first," she mused, then made a face when she saw him looking at the interior of the house and the mess that was reaching out of the living room like a growing organism. "I wasn't expecting any visitors."
"We called. Days ago," he lied and was pleasantly surprised when she believed him.
"Oh, well. You better come in then."
The interior of the house was dark, the curtains drawn to keep out the sun or the neighbours, both of which Kylo thought were acceptable reasons. In the hallways there were letters strewn on the floor where they had never been picked up, shoes and socks piled in small heaps, but most of the mess was conglomerated around the livingrooom – specifically around her desk where a scuffed, black typewriter stood, surrounded by papers and books and dirty dinnerware.
Still flushed and glaring at him resentfully from behind the rim of her glasses, she directed him to sit down on the couch after she had lifted an armful of clothes and blankets out of the way. "I suppose I'll put the kettle on. Do you prefer tea or caf?"
She disappeared into the kitchen and he took in the state of the room around him. The desk was obviously ground zero; the rest of the house grew neater the further away from it you were.
Talin returned with a serving not long after and sat down across from him.
"Alright, what do you want to know?"
He looked at herm trying to gauge how much she might be concealing from him, and why, and how much patience he had to deal with it.
"How did you come up with your story?"
"That's your question?" she exclaimed. "I've answered that one about a thousand times already. How is anyone supposed to learn anything new with questions like that?" She shook her head at him, unimpressed, but relented. "Fine. It's just something that came to me, so I decided to write it down. I used to write them for myself first, then decided I might as well try to make some money off it.”
"When did you start writing?"
"I'm not sure. I suppose the story has always been there, I can't really pin it down to a specific time."
"But you only started writing it down after you moved here?"
"Yes. That isn't terribly interesting, though. Wouldn't you rather ask about the anti-gravitational device Sekku'bin builds in chapter three? It's really quite ingenious if I say so myself."
"No. Where did you live before you moved here?"
"Oh, another planet." she poured another splash of milk into her mug, failing to realize that she'd done so already and the contents flower over the rim of the cup onto the table. She cursed under her breath and stood up and went to fetch a towel from the kitchen.
"What was it called?"
"I can’t remember; it was a long time ago. What does it matter?"
"It matters because there isn’t a single spaceport on this planet. How did you get here? Did you come from Naos III?"
She laughed and hovered by the open door to the kitchen as if she was afraid to approach him, twisting the towel between her fingers. "Of course not. Sekku'bin is from Naos.”
She stopped by the mirror and touched her face, then ghosted her fingers over her hair. "I wouldn't look like this, would I?” Her eyes met his in the mirror and her expression crumpled into confusion. She looked frightened for a moment and Kylo felt a cold shiver race up his spine as if someone had physically touched him.
Then she shook herself and looked at him with new intent, face shuttered and unwelcoming. "You should go now, I really need to focus on my writing."
"What's the rush? People barely have time to read them. The clerk at the book store said they're published at an alarming rate. Have you been outside in the past few days?"
"No," she shook her head. "Well, I have to write. I have to get it all down before I forget."
He stood up and allowed her to usher him towards the door when he didn't move quickly enough for her liking.
"Were you force-sensitive?"
"I don't know what you mean," she said resolutely, and it wasn't until they reached the door that he saw that her cheeks were streaked with tears.
"Did you forget?"
She shook her head again, but it didn't look like she believed herself either, and she pressed her hand to her head like she was physically attempting to suppress whatever was stirring there. "Leave. I don't know what you're talking about. It isn't me."
"I’m sorry," he said when she shut the door firmly behind him, and it might have been for the fact that she had forgotten, or that he had reminded her.
Inflicting pain was the only thing he was good at. He didn't even have to try.
He called for a taxi at the public phone at the end of the street and spent the ride home riddled with more questions than he had answers to.
He wondered what Talin had been like before she had become the half-crazed shut in he'd met now; and tried not to think about what Hux would be like in a few years' time – if they would deteriorate the same way she had until the only thing left to them were urges and poor impulse control.
Years? Time was meaningless. There was no way to tell how quickly or slowly time moved in the simulation; whether they'd only been sleeping for a couple of hours, or if they were dead already – their consciousness eternally trapped in some memory storage.
The taxi dropped him off at the house at the same time Hux arrived from work, his carpool leaving him on the curb just when Kylo was turning the key in the lock. It was dusk, the sky darkening and the streetlights dim and pink while they slowly warmed up as Hux walked up the path to the porch - so wrapped up in this farce they were playing out and completely unaffected by Kylo's inability to access the force and the tiny flicker of guilt that was twisting in his chest.
"Where have you been?" Hux asked.
"Out.” Kylo let the door swing open and stepped inside. Hux gave him one of those mildly rebuking looks.
He knew exactly what it was that possessed him to grab Hux’s when he passed him. He leaned in before Hux could ask what he was doing and kissed him, using Hux for the distraction that he was, and if this wasn't real, he might as well have it.
They had done this several times – at night and sometimes in the mornings if they woke up early – it seemed like a naturally forgone conclusion when they were sharing a bed and committed to finding release in each other already, but Kylo had never asked for it like this, in the middle of the day, just because he felt like it.
He still expected rejection, but Hux' mouth opened under his, his hand cupping the side of Kylo's face, tugging at his hair a little when they pulled apart.
"You want to do this now?"
"Yes.” The tension that hovered around them almost constantly felt so thick it was like a palpable presence between them, and Kylo was glad they couldn’t see each other too well with the lights turned off. “I want you to fuck me.”
He couldn't tell if Hux's pupils dilated in the dark, but he saw the change in his face and pressed his advantage. He led Hux deeper in through the darkened house, into the bedroom where he pulled him down on the bed. Hux settled on top of him, straddling his legs and pressing his wrists down to the mattress.
“You want me inside of you?”
Kylo nodded, straining up into the brush of Hux’s lips against his mouth only to have him pull away.
"You’re upset. And selfish. I've been away for ten hours, and then I have to come home and take care you you? Make sure your fragile psyche doesn’t cave in on itself. Hardly seems fair, does it? You don't deserve it."
It was frustrating, not being able to use his powers where he needed them the most, that he had to rely on his own faulty grasp of human interaction to make sense of what Hux was thinking, and the dichotomy between Hux’s words and his actions didn’t make things any easier. But there was also edge of anticipation, bright and unknown because Kylo couldn’t predict him; had to rely on the promise of his words and his touches.
"You like it," Kylo accused him, and was surprised by the brief flash of teeth on Hux’s face.
"Maybe. Say it again?"
Hux nuzzled down against him, pressed a dry kiss to his cheek. “Yes.”
He waited wait abated breath for the stretch of Hux’s fingers which was familiar by now, followed by that same rush of pleasure he had found himself growing hungry for. Hux curled his fingers teasingly, brushing just short of his prostate in a way that had Kylo groaning and shifting under him to find a better position.
Hux was taking some pleasure in denying him and he wondered where Hux’s infernal wealth of patience was coming from, or if it was just outright smugness, but he wanted the derisive curl of Hux’s mouth as much as the sting of pain when he spread his fingers apart – the humiliating squelch of the lubricant when he pushed them back in.
“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted like this,” he murmured, leaning down over Kylo, fingers twisting and finally nudging up against that sensitive spot that made his toes curl. A shiver raced up his spine and his own cock jumped where it rested against his belly, liquid beading at the tip.
It hurt at first, the grit of Hux’s cock spearing him open and stretching him beyond anything he had gotten used to thus far, but even then the burn, the heat of it – feeling full, was unlike anything he had ever felt before. Having someone else inside of him, and there was a closeness there that felt dangerously addicting.
“Oh,” he gasped.
Hux’s hands were tight around his hips, pulling him into the cradle of his thighs where Hux’s length was buried inside of him, thick and hot and so deep inside Kylo could feel it in is stomach.
“How does that feel?”
“Hurts,” Kylo hissed.
“Everything worth doing hurts, Ren. You should know that.”
Kylo pulled him down by the scruff of his neck and bit down on his lip until he tasted blood between them. Hux bucked his hips in retaliation and Kylo was forced to release him to make room for the moan that escaped his mouth.
Hux sat up, pulling out and pushing in again for the first torturously slow thrust while he slowly built up his pace.
"Did you think I was punishing you? You're going to have to find some other means of self-flagellation, Ren. You like it."
“Shut up.” Kylo hands clutched at the sheets and Hux – anything he could reach to keep himself grounded and he couldn’t prevent the startled moan that tore out of him when Hux started fucking him harder, the force of his thrusts forcing him up the mattress until he had to brace his hand against the headboard.
He leaned down to kiss Kylo who moaned into his mouth, his stomach clenching as Hux thrust into him, wanting to come so badly he didn’t that he didn’t hesitate when Hux told him to “touch yourself.”
He stroked himself off to the irregular, jarring pace of Hux’s thrusts, his other and braced against the headboard and knowing he was putting himself on display while Hux loomed over him – watching and as close to babbling as Kylo had ever heard him.
“I knew it. I knew you’d be slut for it. As if I couldn’t tell, the way you’ve been coming apart just on my fingers.”
It was so good, and he couldn’t deny it even when Hux was leaning over him, gloating and taunting, and he had no idea whether this was just some pleasure trip conjured up by the virtual environment, and he didn’t care.
He came with a cry and spilled out over his chest and his clenched hand, his body clenching down on Hux who shuddered and followed him over the edge, pulsing inside of him.
His entire body was tingling, pleasant and warm in the aftermath despite how hot and sticky they were. The blissful silence in his own head that followed rivalled any release, and they lay next to each other catching their breaths in companionable silence.
To say that Hux was starting to lose his patience with Kylo was a lie. He felt like he had been living in a constant state of exasperation since he had met the knight, and being stuck in a virtual reality wasn't any exception to the usual state of affairs.
The sex almost made up for it, though Hux found it didn’t have any impact on the general level of frustration he had to deal with.
"Ren, if you don't go to work, you get fired. It really isn't that difficult to grasp." He had lost count of how many jobs Kylo had gone through by now. The latest was a freelancing job which involved him taking phone calls at odd times of the day and giving people nonsensical advice on interior decorating and telling them to solve their problems by buying hot tubs. How could anyone be fired from that? It was mind-boggling.
"I don't like it." Kylo said for the umpteenth time, drawing out his words like Hux was the one who was hard of hearing. "It doesn't feel right. The problem is that you don’t notice it."
Ren folded himself further into his corner of the sofa like a shellfish fortifying himself in his shell and Hux dug his fingers into the cushions so he wouldn't throw his hands up in the air.
"You stayed home because you didn't feel like it? Ren, no one likes going to work. It's not supposed to be enjoyable!"
Kylo gave him a long, calculating look. "That's not true. You enjoy it."
"What's that supposed to mean?” Hux snapped. “You think I like staying here? I have an army to run somewhere out there but until we figure out a way to get out of here, I need to do something."
"That's not what I meant. Let me try to put it in words you’ll understand. Hux, what did you do at work today?"
"I already told you, I got a promotion."
"But what did you do?"
"I worked, what kind of question is that?" Growing frustrated with the conversation he got up to leave only to be hindered by Ren's hand gripping his arm.
"You did something to earn it. Tell me what you did today. Please."
Hux rubbed a hand over his eyes in exasperation, but as usual, it was easier just to go with it or Ren would keep pestering him. "I have a good working relationship with the others. We talked. I did some paper work."
Ren's hand had slipped down his arm and threaded their fingers together, both easier and more difficult to escape, and Hux could feel the pressure of a headache building behind his eyes.
"What did you talk about?"
"I don't know, work?"
"You can't be more specific than that? You were gone for eight hours; you must remember something about your day. What did you have for lunch?"
He had eaten, because they had stayed in bed that morning and he wasn't hungry now, but the memory slid away from him and the ground lurched sickeningly under his feet along with it.
"Who did you eat with? What does the cantina look like?"
"I'm going to throw up." He hardly recognized his own voice, and through a daze he shook free of Ren's hand and made a beeline for the bathroom, Ren following in his footsteps.
"No, you're not. It isn't real, Hux."
Hux would have said, what would you know, but he proved Ren wrong anyway. He went down on his knees hard, the tile unyielding under his knees, and retched into the bowl until there wasn't anything left to come up and he was left dry-heaving, eyes and nose running and his entire body shaking with exhaustion.
Ren flittered around him, distressed and bothersome, but he helped him clean up
Kylo lay down behind him, tucking his legs in behind Hux's and wrapping his arm around his waist, heavy but not unpleasantly so. His nose was cold where it pressed into the nape of Hux's neck.
"I'm sorry," he said, but it was difficult to hear him over the pounding in Hux's head. He felt as if someone had hit him with a sledgehammer. "I'm sorry. Don't think about it anymore."
"Think about what?" Hux slurred and he was confused by the wetness against the back of his neck before unconsciousness mercifully rose up and swallowed him.
When he was up again a couple of hours later, the pain in his head abating, it was a very different Kylo who greeted him. He brought Hux his dinner in bed and sat beside him looking like kicked but sulking puppy, eyes red and voice thick as if he'd been the one who had been ill rather than Hux.
"Were you worried that I was upstaging you or something?" Hux asked while Ren glared at him, although it was without its usual heat.
He sipped and then cowled down at the bowl of potato soup he had been served. "I'm not actually an invalid, you know. I'm capable of chewing even with a headache."
Ren didn't rise to the bait and they didn't speak again until Hux had finished and set the empty bowl aside.
"Alright, new plan. Since you're incapable of keeping a job and I need more contacts for mine, reason dictates that it will be more beneficial if you quit yours and work on maintaining contacts."
Kylo stared at him. "You want me to make friends?"
Hux pursed his mouth. "I have very long work hours and someone needs to pay for your cab fares."
"Hux, we could cruise around the neighbourhood non-stop for a month with what you're earning. We could probably just buy a car. You make a lot of money."
Hux tried not to look too smug. "I know."
"What's the money for, Hux?" he finally asked tiredly.
"Me." he said, hooking his fingers into the collar of Kylo's shirt and pulling him forward, and Kylo came easily, leaning into the kisses Hux pressed against his brow, his cheek, and the softness of his mouth. "For taking care of you."
One morning Kylo woke up to an ungodly cacophony outside their window that sounded like banging and large machinery being operated in their back yard. He slipped out of bed and peeked out the windows through the blinds to see a group of poorly shaved men digging up their lawn.
He tripped back to bed and straddled the Hux-shaped lump under the covers and shook awake him by the shoulder. "Hux, there are people outside."
"It ‘s just the builders." Hux mumbled without opening his eyes and dipped
Hux yawned and made an attempt to roll over which was impeded by Kylo's weight on top of him. "They're setting up the fountain."
Hux repeated, “fountain,” which didn’t really make any more sense the second time around. He looked determined to get back to sleep but made a noise of displeasure when Kylo shifted to get off him.
“Don’t leave yet.”
“I can’t sleep through this,” Kylo said, but leaned down with the pull of Hux’s hand on the back of his neck, brushing their noses together and sighing into Hux’s mouth and the half-awake kiss he gave him, his other hand crawling up his side to settle on the small of Kylo’s back.
“You feel good,” he sighed. “I like you there.”
Kylo hummed, taking different kind of pleasure in hearing it when Hux was too tired to put the effort into antagonizing him.
And maybe he had gotten a bit too used to their usual early-morning activities because he could feel his body responding, growing hard against Hux’s body through the layer of the blankets as he deepened the kiss. He stopped when he pulled away and Hux’s yawned, eyes barely blinking open.
“No, come here.”
Hux pulled him in under the blankets, his body and sleep-warm and his touches slow and clumsy as they squirmed out of their clothes and wound closer together. Hux handed him the lubricant from the bedside table and Kylo sat up, letting some cold air in between them.
“Do you want me to ride you?” It wasn’t technically something they had done but it didn’t seem that complicated, but Hux shook his head and closed his fingers over Kylo’s hand.
He slicked up Kylo’s fingers and guided them down between them, under his hips and between his legs, and brushing against the tender skin of his opening, and Kylo’s breath caught, even when Hux laughed at him.
“Just like I did for you, idiot. Easy.”
Hux guided him through it, half awake, tangling their fingers together inside of him; hot and tight and the soft walls around him so fragile that Kylo was afraid to breathe out of damaging him.
He sighed when Kylo finally eased into him, fingers flexing in Kylo’s hair and his spine arching while Kylo was afraid to move until Hux told him “you can do better than that,” and, “there you go, that’s good” when Kylo started fucking him, gently so as not to jostle him too much while he sucked bruises into Hux’s neck and nipped at the edge of his jaw.
Once they were up Kylo went out to watch the builders from the porch with his morning cup of tea, barefoot and huddling in his perfectly fitted terrycloth robe, while a three-tiered fountain started to take shape before him.
Between its carved stone basins and the gaudy plastic bird, one of them was starting to look vastly out of place.
Kylo had started working on being friendly with the neighbours. And it was work. Possibly the worst job he'd had yet, and that was counting Popcorn Seller and Psychic Phone Pal. The only thing that made it bearable rather than the Sisyphean trial he had expected, was that everyone else seemed to be as desperate to expand their social circles as Hux was.
At first he assumed it was because they, too, were workaholics in dire need of their next fix in the form of a raise, but soon enough he discovered that other people had other reasons. It didn't take him more than a phone call to be invited over to Doran and Ket’s the next day for some kind of card game gathering, and after that they started calling him up on nearly a daily basis for small partied and get-togethers.
He was introduced to Posey, who had a pathological need to make friends with everyone he met (he stayed out on the porch with the delivery man for nearly an hour once when they ordered pizza) and Tamin, whom he was warned off from because he was on the prowl for the next lover to add to his list on his way to making fifty.
"He's going for a neighbourhood record." She said, rolling her eyes. "Keep your fella away from him, too."
"He's not really my-“ Kylo started, but he let her interrupt him since he didn’t really have another word for it, either.
"You seem like such a sweet couple. Have you thought about adoption? The Darrens just lost their twins to the social worker, so I happen to know there are a couple of toddlers up for grabs. Or are you going with the telescope method?"
Kylo was spared from having to figure out an answer to that question by a commotion from the direction of the grill. The man who had been manning it was fanning around in a panic, his sleeve having caught fire which was nor rapidly spreading up his shoulder to the rest of him.
Within seconds the entire party was in a state of hysterics.
"Why don't you call the fire brigade?" Kylo suggested to Doran who looked at him like this was some kind of noteworthy revelation.
"I'll do that right away!"
He watched her push her way through the panicked flock towards the back door of the house which stood wide open, leading into the hallway where the phone was. Halfway there she stopped, appeared to forget where she was going or what she was doing, and dashed towards the now-spreading fire instead to join the crowd of people who were screaming and waving their arms around it.
The chef was beyond saving – the smell of burning flesh and singed hair mingling with the scent of the food which had been mouth-watering just a moment ago. His fading screams were taken up by the voices of the two people who had been standing closest to him and whom the fire had spread onto next.
Slowly Kylo backed away from the crowd and let himself out of the garden gate and made his way back home, leaving their dying screams behind him.
The next morning Hux has his breakfast interrupted by the newspaper Ren slammed down on the table before him and nearly spilled his caf over his eggs in the progress.
"Look at this!"
Hux dutifully looked at the headline, printed in blocky letters over a grainy picture of what looked like a pile of burnt-down junk. 'Long Pig Cookout: Three burned in garden BBQ, chef amongst the victims. The unfortunate chef was turning the chicken when he realized his goose was cooked...'
Hux took another look at the picture and made out what could very well be the charred remains of a grill and possibly some human limbs.
"I was there! It wasn't normal. None of these people are. The other day someone asked me if we were getting a telescope-"
Hux went very pale. "You are never to go near a telescope. Do you understand?"
"How is that important right now?" Kylo demanded wildly.
Hux hated himself for jumping at the sound when his mug shattered against the wall, leaving behind a dark stain of liquid that started to drip down the tiles.
He stood up and slapped Ren across the face. Mostly to calm him down before he destroyed anything else, but he couldn’t deny how satisfying the sting in his hand was. It felt like it had been coming for days if not years.
Ren’s head was wrenched to the side by the blow and he didn’t turn back until Hux grabbed him by the jaw to inspect him for damage, his hold a bit tighter than it needed to be.
“Have you calmed down?”
“I don’t need calming down.” Ren told him levelly. “I’m going crazy.”
“You acting like you’re stuck in here alone. Don’t I count for anything?”
Ren didn’t answer him but the tormented look that flitted across his face said enough, and Hux took him by the hand. “Come here.”
He filled up another cup of caf with his free hand and set it down on the table before he sat down again. Ren hesitated but gave in when Hux tugged and sat down on his lap with a put-upon sigh. Hux stroked his hand up and down the tense line of his back and Ren relaxed incrementally, putting a bit more of his weight on Hux who figured his virtual legs could take the abuse. Ren's chin settled down on his shoulder and Hux brushed his hair out of his face.
“How are you feeling?”
“Mollified,” Ren said viciously and Hux spread out the newspaper behind him so he could read over his shoulder.
Kylo had taking to watching the gardening network after the incident at the neighbour’s had turned him off the cooking channel and he found it to be a lot more relaxing and with a much smaller death count, although he had his eye on a large bud with teeth that was waving ominously over the presenter’s shoulder.
Hux sat down behind him and slipped and arm around Kylo’s chest when he leaned back against him, his fingers out the bumps of his ribs and his abdomen through the fabric of his shirt.
On the screen the muted sound of a man’s screams and trashing vines could be heard but Kylo had other things that needed his attention.
And maybe he was being a little paranoid, but sometimes he caught Hux looking him with the same eyes he looked at the fountain – something less affection and more pride of purchase. Hux felt like half a person already, but Kylo wasn't going to lose all of him and be forced to go out and kidnap the newborn that took his place.
"What's this?" Hux asked when Kylo presented him with the pamphlet.
Kylo pulled up his feet, curling in closer to his side to prevent Hux from strutting off. "It's a list of dangerous activities. I picked it up at the town hall. We need to steer clear of all of those things and we should be safe." Providing there wasn't another giant robot rampage, of course. "It can't have escaped your notice that people are dying like flies here."
"Because they're idiots."
Kylo didn't know how to break it to him that he was one of the idiots now, so he didn't try.
"Drowning, electrocution, sex in an elevator… fold-down bed? Is this a joke?"
Kylo who had been subjected to more stories – second and first hand – of sexual exploits than he ever wished to dwell on shook his head. "Statistics say that electronics have a greater chance of malfunctioning when you engage in sexual acts in them." He pointed at the disclaimer further down the page. "It makes sense."
"It makes no sense!"
He startled Hux by smiling. "You're better today."
"Better than what?"
On day twenty-eight Hux got out of his shower and found Kylo was standing by the open door to the back yard, a steaming mug in one hand and a box of soap in the other. He looked like he'd been there for a while.
"Are you going out?" Hux asked, his attention caught when Kylo didn't answer him, and he went over to look out over his shoulder, at the little fountain that was gurgling soothingly to itself. Then he put two and two together. "Were you going to put soap in my fountain?" he asked incredulously, and the tips of Kylo's ears turned red. He looked at Hux over his shoulder, shame-faced, but a sad in a way that wedged under Hux’s skin like a bad splinter.
"For fuck's sake, just do it if it's that important."
"But I don't know why." Ren’s voice cracked, and he sank down on the steps and put his head in his hands. Hux sighed and sat down with him, leaning against his side in silent comfort while he wondered how the hell they had gone from commanding the greatest weapon of mass destruction in the galaxy to this; crying over a fountain at eight o' clock in the morning.
Hux had already left for work when the doorbell rang. Kylo who was expecting it to be one of their sociable neighbours calling was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a delivery man instead.
"Sign here please." The delivery man handed him the package along with a couple of bills and the latest issues of WhooNoo and Rat Race which Hux was subscribed to for some reason, and tipped his hat at him. Kylo shut the door in his face.
The cardboard box wasn't larger than a breadbox and there was no writing or lables on the outside apart from his name and address. He put aside the rest of the mail and cut through the tape with his nails, opening the box to reveal half a dozen journals inside: bound paper with sturdy covers, one more worn than the next. He picked up the topmost one
and flipped it open.
The paper pages were filled with tight, cramped handwriting; sloppy but readable, like someone had been in a rush to fill the pages. He flipped over to the first page, and written there in blocky letters and underlined twice, the first sentence read, 'do not forget!'
Your name is Sekku'Bin, you are thirty-four years of age...
He went into the kitchen and found the newspaper on the table where Hux had left it and leafed past three pages of local celebrity gossip and small-town politics before he found what he was looking for.
‘Local Writer Writes Self Off!’ read the headline. ‘Local author Ana Talin of the popular pulp science-fiction series was found dead at her home yesterday morning. The deceased was found in her garden where she appears to have cut her life short with a pair of garden shears. The Police report lacerations to her face that appear to be self-inflicted, and are ruling the death a suicide. "I'm surprised she didn't leave a note," one neighbour comments. "She wrote down everything.”
The article went on for a couple more paragraphs but Kylo put the paper down, hands shaking.
Had she been trying put an end to it, or had she known that she would simply be regurgitated by the system, recycled into some other identity? That was one way to forget, he supposed.
He didn't need to imagine the feeling of the walls closing in around her - the futility of it. Being stuck in a waking nightmare you knew you couldn't shake yourself out of, and beginning to accept that short of some outside interference, there was nothing you could do to free yourself.
He found a sledgehammer in the shed. The impact of it against stone shuddered painfully all the way up his arms to his shoulder shoulders, and the shattering of the fountain’s frescoed basins was the most satisfying sight he'd seen since they had woken up in this force-forsaken nightmare.
He kept hitting it until the three-tiered monument was reduced to a pile of stone and water and dented piping; rock chips and rubble scattered over the expanse of the small garden.
The flying debris had left him with a few cuts and scratches and one gash on the inside of his arm which was oozing blood in a steady trickle which he didn't notice before he looked at it. He already had the tips of his nails in it in a half-formed attempt to figure out why it wasn't hurting before the pain set in, and then it was bleeding a little more than it should have been, probably.
He had been so concerned about Hux accidentally killing himself that he hadn't really considered his own track record of keeping himself in one piece.
He went inside, feeling a little light-headed and not sure whether it was because of the blood loss or something else, and what did it matter, really, in this place?
He rinsed his arm off under running water in the bathroom sink and tried to remember whether blood loss was one of the deaths listed on the pamphlet when Hux found him.
Hux didn't say anything. He got the first aid kit out of the cabinet and sat Kylo down on the toilet and then went to work, his slender, white hands looking oddly suited to the task as he dabbed and pinched and sewed and finally concealed the mess from sight under a bandage.
Hux led him back into the bedroom, stopping only briefly to look out the window at the destruction in the yard, and deposited him on the bed. He returned a minute later with a glass of water and a pill that Kylo downed before he lay down on the bed, Hux spooning up behind him.
He felt Hux's fingers tracing the knobs of his spine up to his neck, the other hand squeezing down on his arm over the bandage, and the pain was like a drink of water – grounding.
Kylo didn't have anything to compare to Hux's touches in the real world, but he knew pain.
"This is better." Hux murmured, his mouth rustling against Kylo's hair and his voice sounded so pleased, almost revenant, and Kylo couldn't understand why.
Hux's hand clenched again, the wave of pain cresting like a natural thing, and blood stained the bandage a clean, healthy crimson.
"You waiting for me when I come home.” His mouth traced over his skin so lightly it felt ticklish, his breath like skittering little legs, and Kylo held his breath when Hux's leg nudged up against his, coaxing them open. It was impossible to put together the correlation between Hux's touches and his words without access to his thoughts or his feelings, and the uncertainly left him cold.
"When I'm bleeding and destroying your things?"
"You're always destroy my things," he said mildly. "I'm not expecting a miracle. I can have them replaced; I can stitch you up.” His thumb ran over the raised line through the bandage where it hurt the most and Kylo turned around to face him.
He lifted his legs over Hux's to anchor them together and Hux's hand came down to gently grip at the back of his knee, holding him in place. They lay there, nose to nose, Hux's eyes slowly fluttering close, and Kylo hadn't been this close to anyone since he was a child.
The unbidden memory of lying like this with his mother in another life came to him. Hux couldn’t have known, but now Kylo could almost pick out the scent of her, the feeling of having her presence and her love wrapped around him.
He traced his fingers over the bridge of Hux's nose and the relaxed curve of his brow. Kylo would have forgone sleep if he could - hated the thought of it when he let himself think about it too much. He had no idea where Hux, or any of them, went when they weren't conscious – whether they ceased to exist – inert programming or strings of data that could be erased and re-written without any discernible difference.
Hux caught his hand and pressed his lips to the centre of his palm.
"Stay here with me."
"With you? I don't even know what you are anymore."
Hux's mouth curved into a smile. "I'm the only thing you have."
The next morning Hux was out of whatever mood he had gotten stuck in the night before and had a delayed, if expected, reaction to the destruction of his property.
He scowled at the pile of rubble and the exposed plumbing and then turned his displeasure at Kylo.
"Stop breaking my things."
The cut on Kylo's arm burned, a good healing pain, and when Hux spoke he felt something warm deeper inside of him.
"The least you could have done was try out the soap before you destroyed it and got that out of your system. I was almost curious."
Kylo sat down on the steps of the porch and watched Hux sigh and mutter at the remnants of his water feature with the distinct feeling that he had found something he had misplaced, or at least caught up with it.
After breakfast and they spent the rest of the day in bed, and it was possible they needed to find some other hobbies. Sex was a distraction but it was no solution, and the overreaching frustration over their situation didn’t go anywhere. With a sudden clarity of thought Kylo didn't think he could spent the rest of his existence without killing anyone.
"Do you think it's possible to kill anyone here?"
He had never heard Hux laugh, actually laugh, so it took him a moment to realize he wasn't just choking or having some sort of seizure. Bemused and a little annoyed, Kylo just waited until he stopped.
"If we aren't out here a month from now, why don't you find out?"
"Are you serious?"
Hux shrugged, he had the look of a person who'd reached the end of their tether. "Why not? And I think I’m switching careers after I make general. I could take control of the black market. I'm sure there is one." He squirmed around, making himself comfortable, and Kylo shifted his head off Hux's shoulder to the pillow and watched his profile while Hux stared up at the ceiling.
"I wish I had a cigarette," he sighed. "Did you know their military revolves completely around a space program?" He sounded oddly pleased about it despite his sneer, and Kylo realized he was amused. "They live in terror or being attacked by ‘aliens’ yet anything that's out there is completely of their own making.
"It's pathetic.” Hux continued. “Judging by their fear for other life forms they found life in the known galaxy disagreeable, and rather than doing anything about it they shut themselves into this fantasy instead."
Or, they had chosen to withdraw into a world of their own choosing rather than force others to change for them. Kylo might have had more sympathy if they hadn't started trapping other people in their personal utopia.
"Do you think they knew they were turning themselves into idiots in the process?"
"That's a good question. Did they deliberately choose not to remember that their world isn't real - sickness and death and natural disasters and all.” He made a gesture like he was flicking ashes off the end of a cigarette. “Ignorance is bliss."
On day thirty-eight it rained.
The skies opened up and water poured out, catching Hux and Kylo outside in the downpour. Hux bought an umbrella at a stand on their way home, carrying the groceries in the other hand to keep them from soaking through while Kylo walked a few steps ahead of him and got wetter and wetter until his boots were squelching with every step. Like a child who had just discovered rain puddles.
"Is it a software update or do we just think it's raining?" He wondered when they made it home, lingering on the front steps reluctant to come inside as if the shower would cease to exist the moment he wasn't standing in it.
"Who the fuck cares?" Hux said.
"Maybe they'll add your cigarettes next."
Hux pulled him inside and Kylo was less resistant to the tug of his hands when he stripped him out of his soaked clothes – wet and cold with the scent of rain still clinging to his skin and hair when Hux fucked him against the door.
And Kylo he didn't make any conscious effort to forget, he didn't try very hard to remember, either.
Kylo heard and felt before he saw, the sound of people and machinery sharp in his ears and even the air felt abrasive on his skin, and he knew it was real even before his eyes would focus. His awareness of the world and every living thing and creature around him came rushing in like air filling his lungs after a long submersion, his own awareness spreading out to envelop everything around him. That little buzz of power in the tips of his fingers, like a held charge.
He recognized Phasma's chrome helmet leaning over him just a moment before it was gone and replaced by people in medical masks.
Hux popped into wakefulness like a bubble breaking the surface and Kylo turned his head to the left as much as he could, every muscle he tried to move feeling weak and heavy after being left inert for too long.
Phasma was standing over the general who was submerged in something that looked more like a pod than a chair, and Kylo recognized it as the same thing he was in by the tangle of tubing and wires that was still holding him down.
"Lord Ren, please hold still-"
The tenants who were standing over him scattered with a flick of his wrist and no one else tried to touch him as he struggled his way out of his prison and to his own feet.
There were more pods in the room they were in, most of them closed but a few stood open like buds in bloom, waiting for new inhabitants. Gaping maws waiting to be fed.
There was nothing left but a scattering of dust and bones at the bottom of the pod next to his; its inhabitant gone for decades if not more; their consciousness preserved and recycled in the simulation, and Kylo wondered if it was anyone they had met – the pimply bookshop clerk or the man who kept kicking over their trash bin every time he walked by.
The technology was unlike any he'd ever seen, rendered almost organic by the wires and tubes that spread over the area, stretching over the floor and the walls and the ceiling like roots or a central nervous system. Some parts dangled limply, severed and scorched where they had been damaged by blaster weapons, but all of them lead back to a large humming machine in the centre of the room.
His lightsaber lept into his hand from where it had been discarded, unimportant and unthreatening to the mechanism that had seized them, and the conflicted pull of energy when it activated was as sweetly satisfying as the low sound it made.
He didn't care what the construction was and neither did the blade, cutting through it with as little resistance as it did everything else - rendering it equal to any petty circuitry or control board. That fucking fountain had put up more resistance.
It died in a shower of sparks and one last, deep sigh - anti-climactic, which suited Kylo just fine.
Hux was sitting up, surrounded by Phasma and all the medical attendants who had been bothering Kylo before, all of them looking at him with expressions varying between shock and indifference.
Kylo extinguished the lightsaber and Hux's eyes slid sideways and away from him in a blatant dismissal.
"Are there any living people here tending to this... machine?"
"None." Phasma said. "A few repair droids, but the station appears to run by itself. The only resistance we met was the automated defence system, and these appendages. There may still be living people in the pods-"
"Good," Hux cut her off and stood up. "Collect any useful data you can from the drives, then recall everyone. I'm obliterating this blight from the galaxy."
From the outside it was just a space station floating through he darkness of space, one which had seized their shuttle when they had come across it. Deceptively harmless at first glace and nothing at all once Hux was done with it; just a scattering of dust drifting in the void.
Kylo didn't stop him.
It had been a week when he sought Hux out. The memories of their time spent in the simulation grew hazy and soft-edged like dreams, and like dreams the edge of emotions faded, but not the practical knowledge that Kylo had had something that he didn't have anymore. (That they had been playing house together for the last couple of months)
He went to Hux's quarters and didn't give him the chance to shut the door in his face when he answered it. Kylo didn't do anything so pedestrian as stick his foot in the closing door, but the machinery squealed when it came to a complete stop against its will with a wave of his hand.
"You've been avoiding me."
Hux leaned against the doorjamb, and the fact that he wasn’t standing at parade rest said a lot about how exhausted he was. The circles under his eyes were a shade darker than usual and a vein jumped at his temple when he clenched his jaw. "Very astute. Yet here you are."
Hux didn't want to see him – at least that was what he was telling himself, and it took an effort to push past the shell of his rejection to whatever was lurking underneath, but he could feel Hux's pain almost as well as his own, and it felt twice as needless coming from someone else.
"Of course you liked it," he said. "Whoever designed that place did so with the purpose of creating order."
"Was there anything else?"
"Do you still want to fuck me? I want you to."
Hux looked appalled, a little exasperated, but if that was what he had to give, Kylo was willing to take it.
"When you put it like that, how can I resist?"
They went to bed. Kylo didn't know what he was expecting. What Hux really needed was sleep and forgiveness - not that he would accept the latter from Kylo - but he discovered they still couldn't keep their hands off each other.
Hux was over him, inside him, and it was a lot sweatier and more painful that Kylo had known, but there was no comparison. All the times he had wished he could have been able tell what Hux was thinking or feeling, and he had really known all along anyway.
People weren't that complicated, and if they were, Hux wasn't one of them.
He let Hux bury whatever memories he wanted to in him and felt Hux rediscover the enjoyment of having a possession returned to him.
"That wasn't order, it was organizeda chaos. It was pathetic." Hux spat, teeth gritted and eyes a little wild as he ground himself inside, terrifying and captivating, and this was the vicious animal Kylo had been missing while they were in there. "I can do better."
It was real, every breath and stab of sensation, Hux filling his ears with promises and visions of the world they were going to create in their image.
It sounded awful. Perfect. He wanted Hux to have it anyway.