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In the Eye of the Perceiver

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The man sits there every night Kylo performs on the stage. Always at the table no one wants because it’s too close to the speakers. It must be coming with cheaper reservation fee. The man doesn’t look like the kind of man who can afford regular visits to the kind of establishment this club represents and yet there he is. Every night.

Kylo doesn’t engage with the audience as of a rule. He doesn’t smile and wink or change his routine in reaction to the shouted demands. He could make a fortune in a single lap dance but he never leaves the stage. He knows he’s good but he knows just as well that a good half of the spell he holds over the spectators is the mystery about him.

The too slim redhead in the corner never has more than one drink. Never leaves his seat to throw money at Kylo like the rest of them, tips and offers and flattery raining around the dancer like confetti. Maybe he doesn’t have enough to spare. Maybe he sees the futility of bribing. Many have tried to buy Kylo. Nobody has offered enough.

It’s his stare that intrigues Kylo. So piercing it almost hurts. Unflinching, focused, intense like desperation. He’s read about the superstition of natural peoples that a photographer can steal their soul; under the attention of this man, Kylo feels as if a little piece of him is being stolen and stored away in deep vaults behind those eyes every time. After few nights Kylo isn’t sure anymore if the man actually enjoys watching the show. His face is set in sharp shadows under lean cheekbones, striking in pale glow of his eyes under the coppery simmer of his hair, framed in the clean lines of his jaw. He never smiles.

One night Kylo finishes his performance and slips out of the backstage back into the dimmed club, following the walls to the little table in the corner. The man startles when Kylo sits down, eyes like a deer in the headlights, pink mouth open on a gasp. It’s the most of a reaction Kylo has ever got out of the man and it lasts exactly one second. In the next one, the consuming, biting, analytical gaze is back.

The man’s drink stands untouched on the table between them. Kylo treats himself to it, flirting, teasing, daring. Other customers who noticed him sitting down watch the redhead with envy. Kylo never engages with customers no matter how hard they try but he might be making an exception. Maybe because this one has never tried. Maybe because Kylo has a thing for redheads. Or maybe because he can appreciate the siren call of a mystery.

He asks the usual. “Noticed you around a lot.” The man just waves his fingers around his ear in a universal “can’t hear you” gesture. Right, the music is rather obnoxiously loud in this corner. Kylo gears up the flirting and offers to relocate. The man goes on sitting like a stone statue, his eyes the only thing alive about him. Maybe he’s too stunned by the sudden fulfillment of his fantasies to actually act on them. Kylo laughs at him, disappointed in spite of himself. The man’s eyes fix on his mouth, drinking up the laugh like it’s the most interesting thing in this world. He doesn’t seem to notice he’d being mocked at first but Kylo can see the moment the realization registers, the slight twitch of the man’s fingers, the almost imperceptible darkening of the blue-green of his eyes. Kylo’s entire trade is based on enticing reactions; this man’s lack of them is grating at his pride.

“You’re frustrating, you know?” The man, still obviously mesmerized by Kylo’s mouth, inexplicably laughs. With his head ducked, face hidden by few longer strands of hair hanging loose down the front of it, shoulders shaking. He laughs silently, keeping even his voice to himself. Kylo gives up.

Turns out the man did not. The next evening, he’s waiting outside when Kylo leaves after the club closes for the night, leaning against Kylo’s bike as if he’d been invited for a ride. (In fact, Kylo recalls he did invite him.) He accepts the helmet Kylo hands him, straddles the bike behind Kylo’s back, long legs pressing up to Kylo’s thighs, arms winding easily around his waist. Kylo accepts this silent game: there’s not much conversation to be held over the roar of the bike anyway. The man could be serial killer but at the same time he’s nothing but shifting bones under too paper-thin skin, Kylo could snap him in half if he wanted.

He drives, following the directions of tugs and taps on his elbows. The house they arrive to looks like one of those modern industrial lofts, geometric and cold like its owner’s demeanor.

Its owner’s body isn’t cold. It’s electric and thrumming, intense and meeting Kylo’s more than half-way in everything, giving and demanding in turn, a mile for every inch. He still stubbornly refuses to share words but his hands cast spells. The man sighs beautifully when he’s close but Kylo still doesn’t know his name. He asks, in the dark with slender fingers tracing softly the shape of his lips, and gets a non-committal hum in response. They end up wrapped around each other in the dark, on a bed that smells clean, lulled into sleep by the silence. Still, he’s had worse one-night stands, so he’s not complaining.

The morning dawns grey and muted through the heavy city clouds, bleary light coming through the high windows. Kylo slips out of the bed, careful not to disturb the sleeping man. He looks so odd without the air of acute observation about him, kind of fragile. Definitely too thin.

The bathroom is easy to find but on the way back to get his clothes Kylo misses a door and enters what looks like a studio. Frames line the walls, stacked one upon another. Splashes of paint mar the floor. The unmistakable smell of turpentine permeates the air.

And all around Kylo, there’s him. Dozens of him, in charcoal, in oil, in black-and-white, in the club’s technicolor hues. A dancer in motion, muscled limbs modeled by flashes of spotlight, dark hair merging with the shadows. The composition speaks of something removed, drawn within, untouchable. The yearning is visible in every stroke of the brush left on the canvas. Kylo reads the title: “Desire.”

Another one, “Addiction.” The next one, “Frustration.”

There’s an entire study of his hands, gripping the pole, tendons standing out with the effort of holding his body up. The attention to detail is incredible.

A fresh painting, still wet, fixed on the easel in the center of the room. Again, the focus is on Kylo’s hands, this time wrapped around a drink. They look so real, so tangible, that for a moment Kylo feels what the artist must have felt, the wish to actually grasp those hands, not only to paint them. The face above remains in shadows, the laugh a fleeting blur. The scribbled on title: “Mine.”

A big frame in a far corner, painted in angry strokes. Kylo can recognize his own figure from behind, in his bike jacket, walking down the parking lot in front of the club. There’s a female figure next to him – with a jolt, Kylo realizes it’s Rey. She’s got a habit of picking him up sometimes after work. Her hand is wrapped around his waist, head leaning on his upper arm. The echo of their easy familiarity is tinged sour by the jealous colors of the outside observer.

And there I thought his gaze was impersonal, Kylo thinks. There’s a piece of paper clipped to the frame, uneven and crossed out lines, the entire thing smudged with paint and nearly illegible.

 

I see you telling lies

To everyone eager enough to hear

And I have some of my own

I don’t want you

I can hear you saying you do

I don’t love you.

 

Something about this rings wrong in Kylo’s mind. Sure, the entire stalkerish aspect of this aside – this man has been observing him long enough to be able to draw him with his eyes closed and it’s a strange thrill to know he’s been someone’s Muse – this man had waited for him outside the club enough times to spot him leaving with Rey – and yet he hadn’t caught on the fact that Rey is Kylo’s cousin? Hadn’t he heard her usual cheery greeting, loud enough to wake the dead, “Kyyyyloo, cousin of mine, the bane of my good reputation, etc., etc.…”

And then all the pieces start slotting together in his head. The spot next to the speakers, too uncomfortable to be offered to regular customers because of the noise… the way the man startled when Kylo appeared in his peripheral vision. I can hear you saying you do, another lie.

He’s so overwhelmed by his revelation that he doesn’t hear the soft padding of bare feet on the floor before lean arms wrap around him from behind and a face is pressed between his shoulder blades, trembling and afraid to break the spell, like the man in myths who’d lose the love of his life if he turned around. Kylo is not afraid. He turns around in the loose embrace, lifts the freckled face up. The man’s eyes are pale green and receptive and so, so eloquent.

Kylo snatches the slip of paper from the frame and lifts a piece of charcoal from a shelf at hand. Writing with the paper against his own palm is hard but he manages. He starts with crossing out all the lies.

She’s my cousin, he shows the man the new addition.

The redhead smiles, a radiant flare of emotion – if Kylo knew how to paint and wanted to portrait joy, he would choose to capture this. Then the man plucks the charcoal from his fingers and writes a line of his own.

My name is Hux.