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Live Forever in Between

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Hux always gets a cold in the summer. It’s been true since he was a boy, and there is something almost comforting and routine about it, now that he can take care of himself rather than relying on his father to do little more than complain about the sound of his coughing.

Ren is troubled by his coughing and watery eyes in an entirely different way. In the almost-year that they’ve been together, he’s never seen Hux physically ill before, aside from the symptoms that can crop up during a panic attack. He hovers, and Hux appreciates that Ren wants to comfort him but also doesn’t know what to do with it, because Ren can’t cuddle and kiss a physical illness away any more than he can cure Hux of his more complex pathologies, and while Ren has accepted the latter he seems increasingly distressed that Hux’s throat isn’t magically healed due to his proximity.

“You must never get sick,” Hux says on the fourth day, when Ren has become visibly agitated by the turn for the worse that this summer cold always takes when it’s about midway through running its course.  

“I’ve been sick,” Ren says. “I broke my arm once.”

“Really?” Hux perks up, twisting his head on his pillow. Ren is pacing near the the bed, arms crossed over his chest. “I’ve not heard that story.”

“It’s not a good one.”

“Oh.”

“I resisted seeing the doctor, too. When I broke my arm.”

“Ren, this is a cold. My bones are intact.”

Ren’s eyebrows lift slightly at the word bone. Hux snorts and then coughs, groping for his box of tissues.

“I do want to bone,” Hux says when the coughing fit has passed. This declaration sounds funny with his voice half-choked away and his nose plugged up, but Ren doesn’t look amused.

“I can afford to take you to the doctor,” Ren says.

This instantly kills the mood. Hux groans and rolls over, flopping onto his side and facing away from Ren, away from this conversation. Their financial situation is not ideal, of late.

“What,” Ren says. He climbs onto the bed and leans over Hux, confrontational. “I can. It’s not an issue. I won’t let you sit here suffering just because you think you have to.”

“I do have to!” Hux half turns and frowns at Ren, blinking irritating moisture from his left eye, where it keeps gathering post-coughing. “It’s a cold, they last about a week whether you see a doctor or not. I refuse to waste my time and money on being told what I already know. This is an annual occurrence for me, so get used to it.”

Hux hears the presumption in this statement only after it’s too late to retract: that he will be in Ren’s life from now on, annually.

Ren is all for it. Hux is well aware. He’s no longer afraid that Ren conducts his personal life the way he does his artistic career, according to ever-changing whims. Perhaps he did treat his partners that way once, but now he’s gently licking Hux’s throat as if he wants to cure it with his tongue, arms wrapped around Hux and tugging him in close, practically vibrating with joy for having been told that Hux assumes he’ll be around for the next summer cold, and the next one.

“Fine, a week,” Ren says, still nuzzling at him. “This is day four. If it goes past day seven--”

“It’s not that precise! Are you really so unfamiliar with the common cold?”

“Nothing about me is common.”

Ren smirks when Hux glares at him. Hux turns away to hide his own grin and presses back against the heat of Ren’s body. One downside of getting colds in the summertime is that he can be shivering and overwarm all at once. So far he’s let Ren keep him overwarm regardless.

“Right, you’re royalty,” Hux says, sniffling. “Pass me the tissues.”

“Hardly royalty.” Ren reaches for the box and pulls out a tissue, bringing it to Hux’s face as if he’s an invalid who can’t wipe his own nose. Hux snatches it from him, disgusted by the thought of Ren doing it for him. “We’re more like a traveling circus,” Ren says, looking rejected. “My family, I mean. Our history.”

Freaks, Hux thinks but doesn’t say. He doesn’t actually believe this, but Ren does come from a long line of people who perform their lives for an audience in various ways. Hux has only met Ren’s grandmother, ex-wife of the frightening spectre of Anakin Skywalker, once almost dead by his hands. Knowing this story, and even while watching Ren bring her from the car to the restaurant where Hux sat sweating in a silent panic, Hux had imagined her timid and delicate, Ren’s insistence that she was ‘amazing’ only sentimental in nature. She is in fact quite a lot like Ren, in the sense that she stares at people with smoldering expectation and doesn’t flinch. Hux was amazed indeed by her intelligent toughness, which has only left him more terrified to meet the younger version, Ren’s mother.

“You could be,” Ren says, mumbling this against Hux’s shoulder.

“Could be what?” Hux is drifting toward sleep now. Part of this cold is persisting exhaustion.

“Uh. One of us. Sorry, fuck. That doesn’t sound appealing.”

“What doesn’t? What are you talking about?”

“Oh. You know. Marriage.”

Hux stiffens, and Ren’s notice of this and resulting disappointment is like an audible thing in the distance, some thunder of unhappiness rolling closer. Hux feels terrible for summoning it. He does want to spend the rest of his life with Ren, but even imagining that he can still feels dangerous, as if hoping for something so good means inviting more misfortune. He’s aware that these are irrational impulses, but they still cause him to stiffen in response to marriage proposals, apparently.

“It would be less expensive to just go on as we have been, for now,” Hux says. He reaches back to pat at Ren, casually affectionate, pretending that his heart hasn’t begun to slam against his ribs. “Don’t you think? I already consider myself bound to you,” he adds, without considering his word choice.

“Bound,” Ren repeats, darkly. “Right, yeah. Forget it.”

“Stop pretending you don’t know I’m yours forever.” Hux rolls over and yanks Ren close when he tries to move away. “I like the idea that we don’t even need to be married, that we’re above that sort of banality, but of course we could make it official. We will! Eventually it will make financial sense, if nothing else. I just can’t think about it until I’ve found some way to have an income.”

Hux is aware that he’s speaking nightmarish, worst case scenario words from Ren’s point of view, in response to what Ren just asked in his mumbling, roundabout way. He’s sorry for it, but he can’t help it. This is how he looks at the world, even with Ren at his side. He is perhaps beloved enough by Ren to be forgiven for this. Perhaps.

“Darling?” Hux says, cupping Ren’s cheek.

Ren gives him a look like he thinks it’s pretty cheap for Hux to use that endearment just now. Hux has to agree; he’s floundering. It’s not fair that this is happening while he’s ill, his mind still fuzzy from the cough syrup that he had before bed last night.

“You won’t even meet my parents,” Ren says, mumbling again.

“You don’t want me to!”

“Yeah, but you have to. Eventually.”

“So arrange something.” Hux groans at the thought.

Ren rolls onto his back and presses his giant palms over his eyes. He’s not crying. This is more of an angry, defensive kind of hurt.

“Fuck them, anyway,” Ren says when he pulls his hands from his face. “Hux. We don’t need money to get married. I have a plan.”

“Yes, I know.” Hux has seen the designs. Ren is meant to be working on this zen garden thing in their backyard, which he’s vaguely alluded to as a place where they will perform their nuptials and also as an art installation, also their garden. The trouble is that it’s been raining on and off for months, leaving his outdoor canvas sloppy and damp, and then there’s the fact that it’s a substantial investment that they cannot really afford, which brings Hux back to his initial point, which he’s reluctant to repeat.

“No, I mean to make money,” Ren says.

“Oh?” Hux’s eyebrows go up. Something nervously trembles in his chest: as much as he’d like to have their finances in order, he doesn’t want Ren compromising himself in the process. “When were you going to tell me about this money-making plan?”

“After you agreed to marry me, maybe.”

Hux scoffs, charmed, and tries to kiss Ren’s nose. Ren grunts and dodges the first attempt, then relents to the second.

“I’m listening,” Hux says, afraid Ren is going to lay out something akin to a bank robbing scheme, though Hux would be the worst possible partner for a job like that, known criminal that he is.

Ren groans, delaying. Hux’s spirits dip, though he was never expecting any good news about potential money coming their way. After what he went through with Snoke and the trial, he’s come to hate money a bit. Working, too, or at least the idea of reporting to an office daily. The shame he feels about this is so profound that he’s been having nightmares about his father again, featuring lectures on responsibility that are bellowed from the head of the skyscraper-like monster Brendol becomes in his dreams.

“My mother has a friend,” Ren says. “This politician. She’s got a twelve-year-old daughter who wants to learn guitar. So my mom offered me up as a music teacher.”

“Okay,” Hux says, slowly. For the past few months they’ve been subsisting more or less off of the money from Ren’s music lessons, and adding a new student to his roster won’t make much of a dent in their financial woes, if precedent stands. “That’s good news, but--”

“They also want her to have a bodyguard. Her mom, this politician, she’s had some threats against her. And she has real bodyguards for herself, but the mom is paranoid, and she wants someone with a personal connection to watch over her daughter. I guess she’s been friends with my mom for a long time. Like, all their lives, almost. So I would be a personal enough connection. Supposedly it pays well.”

“You would be like-- an au pair?” Hux says, grabbing for the tissues. His left eye has begun to leak again and he can feel a coughing fit coming on.

“I don’t know,” Ren says. “Yes, whatever. I’d drive her around and also give her music lessons. Maybe also drawing lessons. General art stuff. I’d be like a full time babysitter for a twelve year old, and a generous salary would be involved.”

“You don’t sound particularly enthused.”

“Well. I can think of worse jobs. And I bought rings.”

“Rings?” Hux says, softly, disliking the thrill of interest that peeks out from somewhere between his ribs. They cannot afford rings, of course.

Ren catapults off the bed and straight toward the bottom left drawer of their IKEA dresser, where their t-shirts and underthings live side by side. The left side is Ren’s, and this is where he’s hidden the little box he produces: a glossy white one that looks like it once contained business cards.

“If I open this box,” Ren says, his expression going grave even as his eyes light up, “I will have to propose.”

“Didn’t you already?”

Hux is grinning. He can’t help poking fun, even when Ren is vulnerable like this.

“No, not really,” Ren says. “Not as seriously as I will if you see these rings.”

“You imagine I want to see them so badly, I would endure another proposal?”

“Yes. I know your ways. Look at you, grinning like a shark. You look kind of evil right now, Hux.”

“I am kind of evil. That’s why you’re desperate to marry me, isn’t it?”

“This is the worst proposal ever,” Ren says, but he’s grinning, too. He’s also getting down on one knee.

“Oh, hell,” Hux says, his nose tingling in its telltale way. “Wait, fah-- Fuck--”

He sneezes tremendously into the already damp, balled-up tissue in his hand, then goes straight into a coughing fit.

“Baby,” Ren says, walking forward on his knees.

“No, I’m fine,” Hux says, tissue still covering most of his face, voice barely working. “Go on.”

“Now you want me to ask?” Ren is instantly smug. He’s holding the lid of the box in one big hand, just short of lifting it off.

“Yes,” Hux says, bashfully and while still choked up from the coughing, in a way that makes him sound emotional, like he’s crying. He also sounds like he’s accepting Ren’s proposal already, because of course he is. He’s glad for the excuse of the cold when his eyes water up, and for the readily available tissues. It occurs to him that Ren might have chosen this cold-having time to propose so that Hux could save face in case he welled up like this, and the idea makes his eyes burn anew, because Ren does know him that well, and because it’s the kind of thing Ren would do, which is to say: anything, for him.

“Hux,” Ren says. His eyes are red-rimmed, too. He lifts the lid of the box away entirely and tosses it aside, a gesture that makes Hux laugh and then need to blow his nose. Inside the box are two rings that at first glance look like wrought iron. Both have etchings carved into them. “Marry me,” Ren says, lifting the smaller one out.

“Is that an order?”

Hux conceals his smile with a tissue. He reaches out with his other hand and takes the ring Ren is offering, bringing it close to his face so he can puzzle at the etchings.

“Celtic runes,” Ren says. He sounds defensive, like he’s waiting for Hux to laugh. “Lincoln made the rings for me, but I designed them.”

“Ah.” Lincoln is Ren’s friend, an artist who makes jewelry and maintains a regular presence at the local art markets. Hux doesn’t care for him much, but he can’t deny that the ring looks nice. “So this one is mine?”

“If you’ll accept it. Yes.”

“And what does it say? In, uh. Rune-speak.”

“This means gift,” Ren says, pointing to the little X etched into the metal. “This one is bliss and glory,” he says of the pointed P-shape next to it. “And this one, this one is on both rings.” The third symbol reminds Hux of some mathematical notation that he can’t call to mind at the moment. It’s like an E with no middle bar, the top and bottom bars spiking inward into points. “This is perthro,” Ren says. His eyes are very serious, somewhere between challenging and terrified. “It signifies the unknown and represents fate. Also prophecy. It’s, like. Everything we feel that we can’t explain. Things so big that they’ll always stay out of sight. Like how I knew you, even when I didn’t yet. Like how it felt when we found each other.”

Hux’s smile widens, the balled-up tissue no longer raised to conceal it. His eyes are muggy from the illness and from Ren’s little speech.

“Put it on me, then,” he says, ready to consider this their marriage ceremony and be done with it. He likes the idea of staying hidden away when they make this commitment, just the two of them. He also knows he won’t get off that easy, that Ren will want to turn this into a public performance, but for now he can pretend this will seal it for good, right here.

Ren takes the ring. Hux holds out his hand. They lock eyes while Ren slips the ring onto the appropriate finger, and Hux shivers when he feels the cool glide of the metal against his skin.

“What does yours say?” Hux asks, reaching into the box to retrieve it.

“That’s the rune for brute strength,” Ren says, pointing to the first one on his ring.

“Oh, Ren.” Hux hates the thought that Ren would undersell himself even when choosing symbols for his wedding ring, but of course he did.

“It also symbolizes endurance, determination. Healing and survival.”

“Good.”

“And the other one represents an awakening, like the dawn.”

“Hmm.” Hux isn’t sure he’s poetic enough in nature to understand what Ren’s getting at there. “And here’s-- What did you call it? Petro?”

“Perthro.”

“I’m glad we share one. These are really-- Really lovely, Ren. Shall I put yours on?”

“Only if you’re agreeing to marry me.”

“I think I have already, at least twice.” Hux slides the ring onto Ren’s finger. Ren’s hand is steady, and his eyes are no longer pink at the corners. Hux leans forward to kiss him, to seal it. “There,” Hux says, with their lips still pressed together. “That’s settled, then.”

Ren kisses him more deeply, falls onto him and presses him to the bed. Hux laughs and hooks his legs around Ren’s back, holding him there. They haven’t fucked properly in a few days, Hux’s illness having exhausted him too completely to allow for anything beyond intense cuddling. He flushes with a feverish intensity when Ren pulls his shirt off and mouths at his chest.

“Can we?” Ren asks, lifting his head.

“Yes,” Hux says. “But I may sneeze on you, or worse.”

“I want you to,” Ren says, sounding suddenly like he’ll cry. He surges up to kiss Hux’s mouth again, then his cheeks, nose, and forehead, softly but with a kind of frantic need. “I want you to sneeze all over me,” he says when he pulls back, dark-eyed and somehow making this sound erotic.

Hux doesn’t have the energy to do much more than lie there and let Ren have him. Doing so feels newly good, though this arrangement is not rare even when he’s at full strength. He’s become spoiled, he realizes. He even lets his his hips buck up wildly while Ren sucks him off. Ren claims to enjoy this. He seems to enjoy everything Hux does without exception, at least in bed, but Hux doesn’t actually sneeze on Ren while they’re fucking, despite a few close calls. He clings, seated in Ren’s lap and being bounced up and down along the length of Ren’s cock, Ren’s big hands gripping his arse cheeks. He twice finds himself thumbing absently at the ring on his finger while he moans for more. He’s not sure how Ren got his ring size right. Perhaps it was just a lucky guess.

“I was going to save these for the ceremony,” Ren says when they’re lying together afterward, Hux worn out but comfortable in Ren’s arms, even with one nostril completely clogged up. He presses his hand against Ren’s so that their rings click together.

“What’s this material?” Hux asks. It looks ancient, as if Ren unearthed these rings from an archeological site.

“Weathered gold and bronze. Lincoln has a very particular smelting process.”

“Of course he does. I love them. Love you,” Hux adds in more of a mumble, surging up to kiss Ren so he can close his eyes, cheeks flaming. It’s strange that it still shakes him up so much to say so out loud. Stranger still to think of saying so in front of Ren’s friends and relatives.

He rolls over in Ren’s arms and refuses to allow himself to think about how disproportionate any gathering of their important people would be: drastically so, as Ren will have dozens and Hux has precisely zero, excluding Ren.

It doesn’t matter, he tells himself, fidgeting while Ren kisses his neck and cheek and whispers the litany of I love yous that always follow any utterance from Hux of the same. Hux has been through harder trials than a wedding ceremony that will leave him exposed to the scrutiny of Ren’s people. He has been witnessed and judged by them already, in varying degrees: Rey and Finn know him and like him well enough just for keeping Ren content. There was the pleasant lunch with Ren’s grandmother, who was an exacting conversationalist but warm, if not forgiving, after she had grilled Hux about his criminal past, much to Ren’s displeasure. Hux understood the need for the interrogation. It’s easy to imagine he’s taking advantage of Ren by living off of his inheritance, particularly since they’ve already spent most of it on the downpayment for the house and then its on modest furnishings. Hux has yet to find a job or make anything much of the opportunity to be an agent for Ren’s artwork. His pieces are not particularly sellable. Hux loves them very much for that quality, as he can relate. In Ren’s care, he often feels like a bizarrely beautiful thing with no monetary value.

Thunder claps hard overhead and Ren’s arms tighten around him, as if the oncoming summer storm poses a threat. As if they’re not completely safe under this roof, within these walls. Hux squirms back against Ren’s chest, though there’s really no way to get closer. He wants some hot broth and tea, but not more than he wants to stay precisely where he is for as long as he can. A first blast of rain strikes the window and Hux drags the blankets up over them, his post-sex sweat cooling rapidly. He wishes he could just stay here and live like this, hidden away and with Ren wrapped around him, indefinitely. Now that they’re wearing these rings, everything will change. Not for the worse, but even the idea of picking out attire to wear during a wedding ceremony almost makes him audibly groan with dread.

Hux is muggy and out of it for much of the remainder of the day, and the persisting heavy rain outside seems like encouragement to stay in bed. He needs his rest, anyway; when he was younger he always went to work despite the cold, and this usually prolonged his suffering by at least a few days. It’s still hard not to hate himself a little for just lying around and letting Ren tend to him. He suspects the sting of it would be lessened if he hadn’t already gotten into the habit of doing so anyway, cold or not.

“How about this,” he says when he’s in his bath, Ren seated on the floor by the tub and exchanging text messages with Rey about wedding reception catering, which is making Hux panic a bit. “We’ll get married after I find a job, too.”

Ren glances up from his phone, all shining adoration until he processes what Hux suggested and frowns.

“What does that matter?” Ren asks. “I already texted my mom to tell her I’d take the bodyguard music teacher job.”

“Yes, but. Ren. I cannot possibly face everyone in your family all at once until I’m at least employed in some fashion. Try to understand.”

“I don’t. What does it matter--”

“It’s bad enough I don’t have anyone to invite!” Hux didn’t mean to shout, or to sound so pathetic while doing so. His voice is rough from all the coughing. “I have to have something of my own, don’t you see? Before I can face the future, let alone all those people.”

“You’re my manager,” Ren says. “And my accountant, my broker--”

“In five months of us pretending that’s true I’ve helped you sell one piece that you likely would have sold anyway.”

“But for more than I would have asked for.”

“Right, well, I’m good at greed, that’s established. The point is that I need to be able to make my own money in a way that’s got nothing to do with you.”

Ren stares at Hux as if he’s just slipped the ring off and rescinded his acceptance. Hux struggles not to roll his eyes. Ren can be deliberately obtuse when the opportunity for maximum drama arises.

“Look,” Hux says, leaning over the rim of the tub to grope for Ren with a wet hand, dripping oil-scented bathwater onto his jeans in the process. “First and foremost, we’re already together for good, in my book. I know you like rituals and so forth, and I will indulge you that, but let’s not pretend that our being together hinges upon some ritual in particular or that we’re any less committed to each other prior to holding a ceremony. Yes?”

Hux tugs on Ren’s bicep until he looks up, still glum but warming a little.

“Fine,” Ren says. “Yes. That’s fair.”

“Right. Yes, it is. And in light of that, I would personally enjoy this ritual more if I were to recapture some sense of self worth beforehand.”

“Hux, you’re worth everything, you’re the fucking light at the center of the universe, what more do I have to do--”

“It’s nothing you can do! I’ve got to do it myself, and as much as I don’t like to admit it, considering history with money, I don’t think I can get around needing to provide for myself somehow, at least partially, before I can feel like I’ve got something to offer. It’s a flawed view of things, I know, but I can’t get around it. So those are my terms.”  

“Then we’ll find you a job,” Ren says. His thumbs start flying on his phone again, and Hux knows without needing to ask that he’s appealing to Rey for help in this endeavor.

“Good,” Hux says, though the prospect of interviewing and showing up to an office is far more terrifying than the idea of standing before Ren’s relatives and taking vows. It’s this or literally live in their bed, however, and he’s not willing to do that, even if Ren is there, too. Though actually, Hux can’t count on that as regularly he has been, considering Ren is about to have a full time job. “What will your hours be, by the way?” Hux asks. “When you’re looking after this music student?”

“Uh, I think, like. Her school starts at 8:00, so I pick her up at 6:30--”

“In the morning?” Hux wants to smack his hand over his mouth when he hears how spoiled and ridiculous his incredulity sounds. For over ten years he woke up at 6:00 AM every weekday, hangovers be damned, to have time for a proper breakfast and still be one of the first people in the office. Snoke adored him for this, or so he’d thought.

“Yeah, the morning.” Ren groans. “I know. It won’t be easy. But the paycheck will be really good, and potentially I could keep this bodyguard gig until she goes off to college. You won’t need to work, Hux.”

“Yes, I will. For not purely financial reasons, as I just explained. Anyway, and then-- What? You’ll guard her throughout the day? Until when?”

“I guess she gets out of school around 4:00, and then she has various lessons, uh. I still need to get the schedule. And on some days those will be lessons with me, you know, music lessons. Maybe art lessons, too. So, like. I’d be home for dinner.”

Ren makes a queasy, apologetic face. Hux shrugs it off as best he can.

“No, this is perfect,” he says. “It will wean me of my indulgences and give me time and space to take the job search seriously.”

“But I don’t want you to be weaned. I like indulging you.”

“We’ve been lucky.” Hux cups Ren’s cheek and runs his bath oil-slicked thumb over Ren’s stubble, missing him already. Their long, aimless days together still feel dreamlike after all this time, if also dangerously luxurious. “This has been a lovely honeymoon period. We had it reversed, yes? We had our honeymoon first, and, Ren, it’s been almost a year. Let’s just be grateful for that rather than mourning it.”

Ren pouts and leans into Hux’s touch. He loves mourning, and Hux almost feels cruel for denying him the chance to succumb to it, but Ren will screw up this child-guarding job if he’s preoccupied by the end of their strange, wonderful, dreamy reprieve that seemed to exist outside of reality. And as much as Hux sincerely does want to stand on his own soon, they really need the money this gig will bring in.

“I hate money,” Hux says, in a near whisper, as if it’s a sinful confession. He thinks of Ren’s grandfather, how he descended into madness only after great success. “But I do miss working,” he says when Ren looks up at him with conspiratorial understanding that’s too much like pity. “Not in the financial sector, under Snoke, or any of that, but the way I was at university, how viciously competitive I could be, the need to climb on top of everyone and sneer down at them after I had. Honestly, I do miss that.”

“I’d love to see you like that,” Ren says. His breathing has quickened as if he’s aroused by it, in fact. “Smiting your enemies. Yeah. Hmm. What’s a good career for that?”

“The one I had, unfortunately.”

“No, there’s got to be something else. Let me think.” Ren looks down at his phone. “Rey says they need a host for the lunch shift.”

“I’m not exactly a people person.” Hux shudders at the thought of a chaotic bistro during the lunch rush, the cacophony of conversations and silverware clattering onto plates, impatient customers clamoring for tables and groaning at quoted wait times. He can barely stand restaurants as a patron.

“Yeah,” Ren says. He tosses the phone onto the bath mat as if the suggestion offends him, too. “We’ll find something better.”

Hux feels that saying so must be tempting fate: what could be better than all they already have, this temporary but profound shelter they’ve made together? He nods and lets Ren help him out of the tub and wrap him in a towel as if he can’t do it himself. There are some things he doesn’t mind assistance with, and he’ll never protest the way that Ren dries his hair for him, as it’s some sacred crown.   

“Maybe I could be a contract killer,” Hux says when Ren parts the towel around his face. “I feel it’s got to be something shady like that, some awful underground thing where ex-criminals are welcomed back into the fold. And I was a good marksman, in school.”

“Only if I can come, too,” Ren says.

Hux beams harder than he did during the marriage proposal. Ren occasionally says the perfect thing, usually when he’s not trying to.   

*

Hux stays in bed for as long as he can on Ren’s first day of work, not wanting to face the day ahead. He had planned to get up at the same time as Ren, help him with breakfast and be there at the front door to kiss him goodbye, dressed and ready for his own shift of determined job searching. That plan was scrapped when Ren’s phone alarm went off at six in the morning and Hux couldn’t imagine what sort of lunatic would wrench himself from bed without the gun of a shift to show up for pointed at his head.

So he has changed. He’s on his back in bed, two hours after Ren left for his shift, contemplating the brightening light around the edges of the blinds. He’d once thought life had handed him so much shit that he would always be unflappably tough, and even during the trial he managed to hold it together well enough in view of the public. Beneath the surface he’s always harbored a sneaking, sneering suspicion that he would become soft if coddled, as unfamiliar with coddling as he became after losing his mother. He barely remembers what life was like before she was taken from him, except that he had felt safe, and then certain, under Brendol’s watch, that he had been a fool to believe he’d ever really been protected from anything. Because of course he hadn’t been. It had only been a matter of time before the reprieve was ripped away.

All it took was a year with Ren and here he is: afraid to face a day alone in their house, never mind the chilling prospect of a realistic future. Obsessing over his fears, wallowing in self-pity. He holds his hands up over his face and adjusts his ring so that all the runes are all visible. Gift, bliss, and the unknown. Ren meant well when he selected these, but Hux feels a little haunted by them, particularly since Ren’s runes terminate in the symbol for the unknown, too. It’s only fair to say that’s where they’re both headed.

He wrenches himself out of bed before the hour can turn over. When he gropes for his phone he sees that Ren has already texted him three times:

[Ren] 8:09: drop off was a success

[Ren] 8:34: how’s your morning going

[Ren] 8:40: ?

Hux sits contemplating how to respond, then gets in the shower without sending anything. The girl Ren is taking care of is named Greta Holdo. Apparently her mother and Ren’s were childhood friends, and the mother is a congresswoman named Amilyn whom Hux has some vague familiarity with because of her participation in crusades against people like Snoke and the lobbyists who serve them. Ren has made mention of Leia’s determination to finally meet Hux in recent weeks, as if her getting Ren this cushy job demands a answering gesture. Hux supposes it does. He knows he won’t secure respectable employment before this meeting comes to pass, and he’s therefore already dreading it, though it hasn’t actually been scheduled yet.

After he’s dried off and dressed he sits down to a breakfast of toast and fruit and sends Ren a text.

[Hux] 9:51: Going fine so far, how is the kid?

[Ren] 9:52: she’s cute you’ll like her

[Ren] 9:52: oh wait you don’t like kids

[Ren] 9:53: well she barely talks

Hux snorts at this qualifier, as if that would endear him to a child. Maybe it would; he hasn’t actually met anyone new in some time, besides random acquaintances of Ren’s at art shows and craft markets. It’s likely he hasn’t even spoken to a child since he was one himself. He’s out of practice with everyone, so perhaps he should meet Greta Holdo before he moves on to more complicated introductions, like Ren’s mother and father.

Ren has of course already told everyone they’re engaged. Even their regular checkout clerk at the grocery store knows. Rey has shown the most enthusiasm so far, perhaps because planning parties that involve food is a passion of hers. They postponed a dinner with her and Finn to celebrate, first due to Hux’s lingering cold and then to Ren’s responsibilities relating to the start of the job. Amilyn Holdo asked him to take a drug test, among other administrative checks. Leia was apparently miffed by the request, which made Hux like her from afar. He was also miffed. Ren submitted to the test, anyway, and passed.

Hux tries to resist the urge to send more texts to Ren, but he can’t. He misses their idle exchanges throughout the day already, and it’s barely even daytime according to his internal clock. They frequently take their time getting out of bed, often falling back into it after the initial attempt. But that’s all over now. As it should be; they’re not in college and this is real life: again, at last.

After another hour of lolling about and texting with Ren about how Ren is bored while stationed outside of Greta’s math classroom, Hux announces that he must ‘get to work.’

[Ren] 11:13: ok good luck, I love you

It occurs to Hux upon receiving this message that he hasn’t typed out the same just yet. He finds it easier than saying out loud, but something about sending his response via text makes him sad, too, as if they have become some sort of standardized, unexceptional couple already.

[Hux] 11:14: I love you, too. Be safe.

[Ren] 11:15: yeah i’ll try not to let any seventh graders knife me

[Hux] 11:15: Don’t joke! This child’s mother has enemies. All right I’m really going now.

[Ren] 11:16: ok baby

Hux wrinkles his nose at the nickname. This may be the first time it’s been committed to text. The row of kissy emojis that follow it are no better. He puts his phone aside and reaches for Ren’s laptop.

The first thing he does it the most humbling: reaching out to old colleagues and professors. It feels pointless, because while he undeniably impressed these people at some point, he was never particularly warm toward them. Whatever they exchanged conversationally never went beyond their weekend plans, and in Hux’s case he was often lying, or at least not disclosing that he planned to get hammered and laid over the weekend but would likely just get hammered.  

He eats nothing for lunch and dislikes how excited he is when another text from Ren arrives.

[Ren] 1:09: how’s it going

[Hux] 1:11: Grimly determined.

[Ren] 1:12: me too! I hate this

[Hux] 1:12: Ren. Don’t decide that yet.

[Ren] 1:13: I could be creating something but I’m just standing around

[Hux] 1:14: You’re protecting an innocent child from harm. It’s important.

[Ren] 1:15: I guess

Hux rolls his eyes and puts the phone aside. Two minutes later he’s craning his neck, wanting more messages.

The day passes slowly, and Hux bounces between ashen staring at the laptop and pacing around looking for something to do with his hands. He waters the plants they keep in pots on the deck, mostly succulents, and feels accomplished for ten minutes. Then it starts pouring rain and he worries they’re getting too much water as he stands watching from the back window while their little pots collect deep puddles.

He masturbates twice, mostly out of boredom. His dick feels chafed after the second go, which was unpleasantly long in duration. By the time he hears Ren’s car in the driveway he’s feeling itchy with the need to get off again, just not alone this time, and he bounds toward the front door as if he’s been let out of a cage.

Ren seems in a similar state, his eyes a little wild as he scoops Hux into his arms in the narrow foyer. Hux is excited by the tinge of renewed insanity in the way they kiss and tear at each other’s clothes, as if they’ve been reunited after another lifetime apart. There is a lunacy in their need of each other. That’s what makes it special.

“I love you in these clothes,” Hux says as he helps Ren out of them. They’ve only made it as far as the living room. Ren wore a button-down shirt and suit pants to work, a jacket. “I would have-- If I’d met you, in my past life, when I was working for Snoke-- If I’d seen you at one of the after work bars, wearing this--”

“You would have spread your legs for me?” Ren says, smirking. “The way you did when you met me when I was wearing a tank top and jeans?”

“Yes, okay, fine-- I would have fucked you if you were living in a cardboard box when we met.”

This is long established. Hux is smiling almost too hard to kiss Ren; he tries to do both. He’s not sure now what he was afraid of, underlying every move he made, all day long: that Ren wouldn’t come back at all? That something would feel different or diminished when he did?

They fuck right there on the sofa, using the lube that they keep in the living room, brazenly displayed on the table beside their sofa. They never have guests, so lube can live anywhere.

Hux feels full of unspent energy and in need of taking control. He still takes Ren’s dick, as is his regular preference, but rides it vigorously and while pulling Ren’s hair, biting at his lips. Ren comes faster than Hux might have liked, but this feels like a bit of a victory, too.

Ren eases Hux off of his dick and onto the sofa. He holds Hux’s gaze as he plants a wet trail of kisses downward over his chest, moving steadily toward his cock.

“I should be doing this for you,” Hux says, watching Ren take a first teasing lick. Hux toys with his nipples and moans, twitches his hips up. “I mean, ah. As soon as you’re through the door, I should-- I should get on my knees for you.”

“No,” Ren says, and he looks vaguely concerned when Hux meets his eyes. “But this is good. You okay?”

“Yes, clearly.” Hux shifts his hips and grins when his wet cock drags against Ren’s cheek. “You?”

“Mhmm, yeah.”

Ren swallows Hux’s cock up with a sigh, as if he’s savoring something he’s craved all day. Hux buries his fingers in Ren’s hair and wishes he could be happy with just this: waiting to be devoured and getting what he wants at the end of a long day. It’s just too lonely, and he’s too shattered with relief to have Ren back. He needs fixing. He’ll have to do all the work himself.

“Sorry,” he says, peering down over his chest. He’s taking far too long to come. “I, ah. Took care of myself, this afternoon.” No need to mention that it happened twice.

“Mhm.” Ren laps gently at Hux’s reddened, sensitive cockhead, drawing a hiss from him. “Roll over.”

“I’ll get the cushions dirty,” Hux says, already doing what Ren asked despite this.

He’s up on his knees when he finally unloads, back arched with whorish abandon, Ren’s tongue buried between his arse cheeks and Ren’s hand cupped around his cockhead so that the sofa won’t be destroyed when he finishes. Hux sobs against his palm with relief, so grateful the overwhelming sense of release that at last consumes him. He would lick Ren’s hand clean if he asked.

Ren makes no such demand, just kisses Hux’s face and then goes to wash up in the kitchen. When he returns he has a paper towel for Hux, a beer for himself, and a goofy smile on his face. Hux can see it already: Ren is proud of himself for having this job, for being the provider.

“I should at least take care of dinner,” Hux says, sitting up on his elbows. He’s still on the couch, bare-arsed with his pants hanging on by one ankle, a come-crusted paper towel balled up in his fist.

“Nah.” Ren says. “I want takeout.”

Hux relents to this without protest. He’s not much of a cook and they’ve got nothing in the fridge, anyway. He also relents to accepting an invitation for dinner with Rey and Finn at the end of the week.

“To celebrate,” Ren says.

“Yes.” Hux leans across the sofa to kiss Ren on the nose. “It’s very good, you having this job. Well done.”

“I meant our engagement.”

“Oh. Yes, that, too.”

The truth is that Hux sometimes forgets they’re engaged until he looks at or otherwise senses the weight of the ring on his finger. It’s not out of malicious regret or even disinterest. It’s just a combination of the idea of the future in general not seeming real and the feeling that his status in Ren’s life is unchanged, marriage plans or not. Hux was already devoted and had already accepted that Ren feels the same. He catches himself almost resenting the ring on his finger at times, like it’s trying to teach him some lesson that it should know he’s already learned.

The dinner with Rey and Finn will make their engagement feel more cheerful and solid, he assumes. They bring a bottle of wine and a six-pack of beer to the little apartment where they first shared a bed. It’s early evening and still quite light out. Hux is sentimental as he climbs the stairs behind Ren, remembering the first time he did so, and the second time, when he had resigned himself to the fact that he couldn’t leave Ren’s side and was therefore following him home for good, in some lunatic capacity. Now here they are, pressing the bell from the outside, wearing rings.

Finn answers the door. The place smells good, like garlic and broth and something flaky and buttery. Rey catapults out of the kitchen and congratulates them. The scene is loud and kind of humid, owing to all the cooking-related heat. Hux feels himself flushing, and the flush deepens when he lifts his hand to show Rey the ring. He feels like he’s revealing some obscene secret, or exposing a private body part.

“I knew you would get married,” Rey says, still holding onto Hux’s hand as she examines the ring. “Which is strange, because before you turned up I thought Ren never would.”

“Thanks,” Ren says.

“No-- I only mean because I thought you’d never find anyone special enough, in your view! Or interesting enough, or, forgive me, sort of-- Odd enough. This just fits.”

“Yes,” Hux says. She’s right, but he feels like it’s none of her business. “Sorry, I need to visit the restroom.”

He’s not sure when the panic even set in, but suddenly it’s all around him like a pair of jaws closing tighter, narrowing his vision to a tunnel. This is the first time he’s been back here in quite a while. Even this bathroom, site of so many of their earliest good memories, makes him feel like he’s trapped.

He splashes water on his face and mentally talks himself down, recycling mental reminders that the source of his anguish is not actually this dinner with Rey and Finn, who are so familiar that he encountered their underthings on multiple occasions when helping with the household laundry while living here, nor the engagement, which he doesn’t enjoy speaking about to anyone other than Ren but which is nevertheless a good thing that represents happiness and security. He’s merely projecting his concerns about future meetings with Ren’s family and about the future in general onto this harmless, welcoming occasion. He splashes his face again, breathes, and flushes the toilet before leaving, so everyone will think he actually needed to use it.

Only Ren seems to have any suspicion that Hux fled for other reasons. He rubs Hux’s neck while everyone stands around in kitchen drinking from the wine that they brought, mercifully not yet discussing any details relating to the wedding. The neck rubbing helps, as usual. Hux eats a deviled egg, then another. By the time they’re sitting down to the main course he’s had five. He didn’t realize how hungry he was.

“So you’ve still not met Leia?” Finn says at one point during the meal, when Hux is on his third glass of wine and feeling comfortable, his tense expectancy of a question like this having eased.

“She’s always traveling,” Ren says before Hux can respond. “You must have met her, what? Months after you and Rey were serious?”

“She came into the restaurant and met him before we were dating,” Rey says. “But it’s fine. You’ll meet her soon!”

“Yes,” Hux says.

Awkward silence descends. Hux doesn’t look up from his plate, but he can sense Rey signalling to Finn that this is a delicate subject.

“He met Grandma,” Ren blurts. “I’ve always been closer to her, anyway.”

“Oh yes!” Rey says. “I talked to her afterward, she said she’d never seen Ben so happy. I mean-- Well, she still calls him Ben.”

“My mother does, too,” Ren says. He’s directing this toward Hux, as if to warn him. “Mostly by accident. I think.”

“That’s fine,” Hux says, then he feels awkward for speaking for Ren on this account. “I mean, it’s understandable.”

“Leia’s great,” Finn says. “I was nervous at first, too--”

“Hux isn’t nervous,” Ren says.

“No, I am.” Hux drinks more wine. He smiles hazily at Rey when she refills his glass. “You know, it’s just. The not having a job bit. And the reason why.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Ren says. “She’ll love you,” he adds, with a kind ‘or else’ implied in tone.

“Totally!” Rey says. “You’ve nothing to fear from her. Or Han.” Rey glances at Ren. “They haven’t met yet either, right?”

“Han is barely in my life.”

“I’ve been in his truck,” Hux says. He’s staring at his wine glass, turning it slowly by the stem. “I could have met him, but. I don’t know. I have this persistent fear that every new person might arrest me.” This is especially true of Ren’s parents, for whatever reason.

“Did you feel that way when you met us?” Rey asks.

“Absolutely, yes. Sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Ren says again. “I don’t need their-- Whatever. Blessing. I’m not asking them to pay for the wedding.”

“They have indirectly funded our life together for the past seven months or so,” Hux says, muttering. It’s really more like a year, since Leia paid for this apartment, too, and their first three months as a couple played out here.

“That was my grandfather’s money!” Ren says, nearing a shout. “Not hers. Definitely not Han’s.”

“Okay, okay,” Finn says. He stands and begins clearing the plates, as if the remains of dinner are agitating the situation. “Isn’t there a rule about talking about money, uh, at dinner parties?”

“We’re family,” Ren says, still visibly seething. “It’s not a rule for family.”

“I don’t want to talk about money, anyway,” Hux says. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“Let’s talk about something fun, then,” Rey says. Her smile looks a little forced now. “Like what you want to serve at your reception!”

Hux groans before he can think better of it. He feels himself flushing when he glances over to note Ren’s reaction. Ren appears to be fuming, maybe still about his parents.

“It just sounds like more money talk to me,” Hux says, placing his hand on Ren’s knee under the table. Ren stiffens a little but doesn’t push him away. “You know, ah. Serving a large party of guests costs money.”

“It does?” Rey says, in a sarcastic imitation of wonder. “Well then, cancel everything!”

Ren flinches, just slightly.

“I need a job,” Hux says. “I can’t be hosting people without an income.”

“But Ren’s got one now,” Finn says. “Protecting the congresswoman’s daughter. What’s that like?”

“Boring, mostly,” Ren says.

“He likes the kid,” Hux says. “She’s his music student, too. But that’s not the point. Ren can’t cover everything. I have to contribute.”

“Your contribution is being there,” Ren says. “Marrying me.”

“Don’t be deliberately obtuse!”

Hux didn’t mean to say that with so much conviction. He pushes his half-full wine glass away. Rey pours some more for herself while Finn resumes clearing the table. Ren sits motionless and gloomy, eyes unfocused.

“I just want to enter into an equal partnership,” Hux says, though he should probably let it drop. “And that includes financial input. I don’t even need to make as much money as you, just something.”

“I’m tired of talking about this,” Ren says, mumbling.

Rey changes the subject to the trials of a colleague with a struggling new restaurant, but the gloom that has befallen the gathering doesn’t entirely dissipate. As Hux is walking to the car with Ren afterward, he feels the storm clouds of tension overtop them thicken.  

“Sorry I was awful at dinner,” he says as soon as they’re in the car, Ren driving. “I’m out of practice.”

“You were fine.” Ren softens at the opportunity to console him, which Hux somehow didn’t expect. He’s filled with a relief that’s almost overwhelming when Ren reaches over to palm his thigh. “Sorry I’m, uh. Sensitive. About things.”

“Look who you’re talking to.” Hux takes Ren’s hand from his thigh and brings it to his lips, kisses his knuckles. “I’m a wreck about everything.”

“You don’t seem like a wreck. Seems to me like you know exactly what you want.”

“Well, I don’t! Not even remotely. Beyond you, of course.”

“You have me.”

“I know I do, Ren.”

The house is dark when they enter, and neither of them puts on any lights. They make their way to the bedroom holding hands like frightened children taking shelter in a dark wood. Hux doesn’t want to talk about anything, and he whimpers into Ren’s mouth with relief when it’s clear that he doesn’t either. For a moment the force of his kiss has Hux anticipating the kind of rough, wild sex they haven’t had in a while, and he’s relieved again when Ren is gentle with him, guiding him down to the bed like he’s fragile. Hux is all for rough sex, but not with a full stomach and after three or more glasses of wine; he lost count. There are times when he needs to be handled carefully. Ren always seems to know.

“You’re perfect,” Hux says, whispering this into the humid space between them when Ren is inside him, his hair hanging around Hux’s face and blocking out the residual moonlight in the room. “You know?” Hux asks, pushing Ren’s hair back so he can see the dark gleam of his eyes.

“Hmm?” Ren says, low and throaty, almost a moan.

Hux can tell he’s only pretending to misunderstand. As if he’s bashful about being called perfect. Hux tightens his legs around Ren’s back and kisses him, lets him off the hook.

They hold each other for a long time afterward. Hux feels newly awake, overly sober. It’s raining again, but only lightly, a fine mist gathering on the windows that overlook the bed. They never close these blinds. Their backyard is private, fenced.

Hux keeps thinking of things he could say and rejecting them. Everything that comes out of his mouth lately is too cutting and less than what Ren deserves. Instead of speaking, he rubs his cheek against Ren’s shoulder and hopes that Ren can feel all his good intentions emanating from the warmth of his sex-flushed skin. A thread of fresh panic races through him when he thinks of it this way, of pouring something needed into Ren: he doesn’t come inside Ren often enough. This strikes him as very selfish while he lounges in Ren’s arms, enjoying the leaky, used-up state Ren just left his arse in.

“I have an idea,” Ren says.

There’s a graveness in his tone that makes Hux brace himself, but he’s glad that they’re not beating around the bush. Something needs to be done, and after weeks of aimless job searching and wallowing about the house, it’s clear that Hux isn’t up for the role of instigating whatever comes next.

“Tell me,” Hux says. He kisses Ren’s shoulder, asking without words for his continued gentleness, even if it’s not deserved.

“Amilyn could help you find a job. Something good. And she’d like you, I think. You should meet her.”

“Doesn’t she hate my kind on principle?”

“Your kind?”

“Uh, criminals? Of the financial variety?”

“That doesn’t define you. She can be a hard ass, but she’s a hippie at heart.” Ren rolls toward Hux and tugs him closer, kisses the top of his head. “She’s kinda like my mom in that way,” he says, mumbling this into Hux’s hair. “So, whether a job comes of it or not, uh. You could look at it as practice.”

“Practice,” Hux says flatly, offended.

“You’re the one who keeps saying you need it. With people. Just think about it. She’s invited us over for dinner next weekend.”

“When were you going to tell me that?” Hux is wide awake now and also hiding, tucking himself closer to Ren’s chest like it will protect him from this onslaught of news about forthcoming social occasions.

“I didn’t want to overwhelm you.”

Ren strokes Hux’s hair in a way that should be insulting. Hux has become so delicate, and it’s entirely Ren’s fault, but he can’t resent Ren for it any more than he can wriggle away from the comfort of his coddling.  

He’s indignant anyway. “Overwhelm me? With a single dinner invitation?”

“Well. We also had Rey and Finn’s thing, tonight. I was going to wait for that to be over first. And I did. So now I’m telling you.”

“Obviously I’ll have to go,” Hux says, huffy. He’s done quite a bit of Googling on Amilyn Holdo in recent days, as Ren has come home with more and more vaguely admiring stories about her and her daughter. She’s imposingly impressive. Not unlike Leia Organa, indeed.

“You don’t have to do anything,” Ren says. “But the job is going well, and you’re my fiance. Right?”

“Of course I am. Darling, come here.” Hux scoots up and takes Ren’s face in his hands, pets his cheeks. Perhaps he coddles Ren, too, at least when it comes to these never-ending moments of insecurity about Hux’s sincere interest in marrying him. Though really Hux can’t blame him. He’s been monstrously unenthusiastic, whereas Ren picked out special runes for him and had them etched into artisanally smelted metal. “I’m sorry I’m so terrible,” Hux says, his lips bumping the end of Ren’s nose.

“You’re not terrible.”

“I am, though, I’m like this vile little creature that shrieks and flies away from everything good that tries to grab for it. A hideous bat that flaps around your head, complaining.”

“I love bats.”

“And I pity you for it. For loving me, I mean.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Ren pulls back a bit and gives Hux a stern, worried appraisal. “I think you might be depressed.”

“Of course I am, a bit.” He actually feels giddy, talking openly like this at last. They’ve been quiet for the past two weeks, both pretending that he’s been fine. “But it’s circumstantial. I’ll meet your boss, yes. It’s a good idea. I should have thought of it. I swear there was a time when I had good ideas.”

“You have amazing ideas all the time.”

“Ha! Like what? When?”

“Last night,” Ren says. He sounds hurt, as if whatever he’s referring to should have come to mind for Hux instantly, too. “The whole student and teacher thing.”

“Oh, god!” Of course Ren is talking about a filthy roleplay scenario that Hux murmured into Ren’s ear.

“The spanking,” Ren adds, as if Hux doesn’t remember how it culminated.

“It was good,” Hux admits. “But that’s not an idea.”

“Then what the hell is it?”

Hux laughs, mostly because Ren seems to be getting sincerely upset over something so absurd. He wants to apologize for doing so when Ren’s face falls.

“Let’s not go down the road where me being good at ideas like that might lead us,” Hux says. “Those performances are only for you.”

“Jesus!” Now Ren is truly pissed off. He sits up, glowering. “I wasn’t saying you should make a career of it!”

“I know, I was joking!” Hux tugs at Ren’s arm and squirms over to recapture him, rubs his cheek on Ren’s thigh. “I can be a depressed bat creature and still have a sense of humor.”

“Why don’t you like bats?”

“I suppose I just can’t see the value in them at present.”

“Well. They’re really cute and lovable. And an important part of the ecosystem.”

Hux laughs again. Ren tries to resist doing the same, but as soon as he cracks a half-smile Hux yanks him back into his arms, and soon they’re both earthquaking with laughter, delirious.

**

The invitation to dinner at Holdo’s house is officially accepted, and Hux resigns himself to spending the rest of the week in an increasing state of anxious dread. He’s so accustomed to this mode of being that it almost feels normal, especially after the ordeal of the trial and all its attendant occasions. It’s something to gather his more free-floating worries around, anyway.

“Are there any off-limits topics?” Hux asks when they’re on the way to Holdo’s house. It’s almost half an hour from their neighborhood, not far from the school that Greta attends.

“I don’t know,” Ren says, frowning thoughtfully at the windshield. “She’s pretty open about things.”

Hux has been briefed about the family background via gossip passed along from Ren, who has slowly learned the full family story during his first three weeks of employment. Amilyn is amicably divorced from Greta’s father. She lives with her girlfriend of eight years, a lawyer named Wendy who is ten years younger. Ren suspects Wendy doesn’t like him, but he hasn’t interacted with her much. Hux is sure that Amilyn won’t like him and that he’ll be awkward with the girl, because he has no idea how to talk to children. Even as a child himself, he wasn’t good at it.

“I guess don’t mention the whole thing about threats on her life,” Ren says.

“Will she ask me about Snoke?” Hux asks. His tone is flat; he knows the answer. “And the trial, and so on?”

“Well. I didn’t tell her not to.”

“Of course you didn’t. I wouldn’t have expected you to tell your boss anything about what she can or can’t say.”

Ren reaches over to knead Hux’s thigh. Hux is wearing his nicest pants, holdovers from the old days at the firm. He was wearing them when he met Ren at that bar. He’s normally not one for charms and tokens, but he does consider these pants to be lucky. Perhaps he’ll be married in them.

“It’ll be fun,” Ren says. “She’s really disarming. In a good way. And Lars is a great cook.”

“Who on earth is Lars?”

“The cook. Personal chef, I guess.”

“Ugh,” Hux says, with disgust, though he once aspired to employ such people himself.

“It’s not like he lives there full time,” Ren says, muttering. “In the butler’s chambers or whatever.”

Hux withholds a comment about how it’s starting to feel like Ren might as well do that. He’s with these people far more often than he’s with Hux, always attending to some need of Greta’s. But the paychecks have indeed been hefty.

Holdo’s home is more modest in size than Hux pictured, but still undoubtedly a mansion. It’s gated and artfully lit at dusk, a two-story villa with multiple second floor balconies and flowering vines growing on the brick walls that surround the property. Ren enters a code into a discreet box on the front drive and the massive iron entry gates creak open for their car. Hux cranes his neck to note the even more discreet security cameras that monitor the entrance.

Ren parks around back, beside what appears to be a two-story guesthouse. Through another iron gate, Hux can see the pool deck behind the main house, and a glow of greenish water that’s also artfully lighted. Everything about the exterior of the house and yard is carefully manicured, ready to be photographed for a magazine shoot. In that sense, the place is exactly what he expected.

“Did you grow up in a house like this?” he asks. Ren’s hand is on his leg again. There’s something offensive about his obvious concern and hesitation to exit the car, but it’s also sweet. Ren is more nervous for Hux than about him, Hux suspects. Or hopes.

“Our place wasn’t this big,” Ren says. He sounds like he’s lying. Hux can tell, now, when Ren is either in denial or skirting around the whole truth. Ren shrugs sheepishly when Hux gives him a look. “I mean, not when I was little.”

“Your mother has a penthouse now, yes?”

“It’s not a penthouse. It’s just on the top floor.”

“Isn’t that a penthouse by definition?”

“Whatever, I don’t know. We don’t call it that. My mother isn’t here, Hux. By the way.”

“I know that! Jesus, let’s go in. I’m sure we’re being watched on some security monitor.”

Ren doesn’t deny this, just gets out of the car.

It’s a balmy night, the air still thick with heat as the sun goes down, and Hux has sweat beading on his upper lip by the time they reach the front door. Ren turns toward him and seems to be preparing to say something reassuring when the door opens and Amilyn Holdo appears, smiling with genuine, welcoming acceptance that startles Hux. She always looks elegant in her photographs and is prettier in person, also taller. Her dress is a slender eggshell sheath that looks perfectly tailored to her proportions. Hux hopes his tailored pants give the same impression; his proportions have expanded slightly in the past year.

“Benjamin,” Holdo says, holding out one arm. Ren leans into her one-armed hug and she turns her smile on Hux. “And you must be Armitage.”

“Yes,” Hux says, not about to correct her on which name he prefers to be called by. “Thank you-- I mean, it’s wonderful to meet you at last. Not that it’s-- Not that I expected to earlier, just. I’ve heard a lot. Of good things!”

He’s shaking Holdo’s hand as he blathers, and sweating badly now. He was never like this pre-Ren. He could have been falling apart internally but would have held it together. Now he’s been sheltered for too long in the safety of Ren’s bed. He’s become whatever this is as a result: a rambling, liquefying mess.

Holdo laughs warmly. It feels like an acknowledgement of Hux’s awkwardness in a somehow not-malicious way.

“We’ve heard lots about you, too,” she says. “All glowing praise from your fiance.”

Is she the first person who has referred to Ren as his fiance out loud? Other than Ren himself? Hux isn’t sure. He knows he must look queasy, his frozen smile of terror probably off-putting. Perhaps the Holdo family, sensitive and open-minded as Holdo’s political branding would indicate, have been warned that he is not only an ex-criminal but also a fragile nutcase.

“Ren is here?” someone says from behind Holdo -- a child -- and Hux is not sure why an angrily possessive thing flares through him in response, as if no one else is allowed to call him Ren. All of his friends do. Rey and Finn, too. His fucking driver’s license says Ren. But suddenly it feels like a secret name that this child shouldn’t have on her tongue, maybe because Holdo called him Benjamin. Apparently she knew him as a little boy.

Holdo ushers them into the foyer. Greta is at the bottom of a gleaming wooden staircase that leads up to the second floor. She’s as Ren described, a chubby twelve-year-old with long blond hair. She looks glad to see Ren, and smiles more widely when he holds out his hand for her to slap.

“They’re here for dinner,” Holdo says. “I told you they were coming.”

“Oh, this is him?” Greta smiles again when her gaze shifts to Hux. “Hi!” She bounds toward him and holds out her hand for a shake. Her hand is small and clammy; Hux feels strange, shaking hands with a child. “Sorry, I forgot you were coming.” She looks down at what she’s wearing: cloth shorts and a t-shirt, an ensemble that might as well be pajamas.

“It’s good to meet you,” Hux says. He has no idea what to say next. Everyone is staring at him. “What a lovely home,” he forces out, looking around the foyer and not really seeing anything. It’s big, clean, beautifully lit.

“Thanks,” Holdo says. “We like it.” Hux can feel her scrutiny settling on him, niceties having been satisfied. “I’m afraid Wendy has to work tonight, so it’ll just be the four of us for dinner. Greta, tell Lars we’re ready. Cocktails?” she offers, turning back to Hux and Ren.

“Yes,” Hux says, too emphatically.

“I’ll get them!” Greta says, and she tears off. She seems younger than twelve in her mannerisms, though physically she could pass for an older child. She’s tall like her mother, but cherubic where Holdo is sleek.

“This has been the biggest blessing for her,” Holdo says, speaking softly and taking hold of Ren’s bicep, identifying him as the big blessing. She’s speaking to Hux. She seems to always be smiling, in contrast to her stern professional demeanor in official photographs and news stories. “Really, she’s been like a different kid the past few weeks. Cheerful, talkative-- She’s never hit it off like this with a tutor before.”

“She’s great,” Ren says. He seems bashful. Hux has noticed that he’s only comfortable accepting praise for his physique and sexual performance.

They move into a sitting room with very high ceilings and good light through windows that comprise the far wall almost entirely. The cocktail is something light and fizzy with gin. Hux drinks his in deliberately tiny sips, seated beside Ren on a chilly leather couch while Holdo leans toward them from a narrow, stylish armchair. Greta is in the adjoining room, noodling around on a grand piano and possibly wanting Ren’s attention. Lars remains in the kitchen, unintroduced as of yet. Hux can hear pans and plates being shifted about, water running.

“Do you two want kids?” Holdo asks, a kind of ambush that emerges from the otherwise mundane chit chat they’d been exchanging over the drinks.

Hux and Ren look at each other, then back at her.

“No,” they say, simultaneously. They’ve talked about it, briefly and with finality.

Holdo laughs. “Okay, fair enough. Ren is amazing with Greta. It’s funny, I remember as a kid, he didn’t like other children. I think he thought they were silly and loud. Leia agreed, you know, she admired that about you. You were the only kid she ever liked.”

“And Rey,” Ren says.

“Oh, of course, but she was pretty loud when she was little. I’ve known Leia since we were kids ourselves,” she says, shifting her smile to Hux. “I’m sure Ren mentioned that.”

Hux notes that she’s calling him Ren now, too. Perhaps it was just force of habit before, at the front door.

“He did,” Hux says. “That’s wonderful. I’m not in touch with anyone, ah. From childhood.”

“Me either,” Ren says, quickly, as if to defend Hux’s position. “I mean. From my own generation.”

“You still know Poe,” Holdo says. “Though maybe you don’t keep in touch?”

“Not really,” Ren says, again too quickly: defensive. Hux has heard him confess, while drinking, that he had a crush on this Poe person when he was a boy. In fact he seemed to suggest that this particular infatuation was a kind of first sexual awakening.

“Anyway,” Holdo says, waving her hand through the air. She grins at Hux. “I was so excited to hear you two got engaged. Leia is really eager to meet you.”

“Is she?” Hux regrets the incredulity in his tone. “I mean, yes. I’m sure. She seems to travel a lot.”

“Yeah, for work. I can relate.” Holdo does a comical wince to express her dislike for this part of her job. “But she’ll be back in the country at the end of the month, I think?”

She looks to Ren for confirmation. He nods tightly and slurps the melted ice water from the bottom of his glass.  

Hux is less on edge by the time they sit down for dinner. The dining room is sparse in an elegant fashion, all clean lines and massive windows that overlook the long table. They sit gathered at the end closest to the windows, Holdo at the head of the table and Greta to her left. Hux somehow ended up at the seat closest to Holdo, opposite Greta. He doesn’t mind that he can sense Holdo weighing when to bring up Snoke, if at all. He’s fully cornered in the moment now and less afraid to face the inevitable, maybe only because of the suggestion that he’ll meet Leia soon. That far greater trial makes this one seem frothy by comparison.

Wine is served with dinner. Hux is careful to limit himself to two slowly consumed glasses. He feels more clear-headed than he has all week, and even begins to find Greta charming. He can relate to her obvious admiration of Ren. She looks at Ren as if he’s a character from a story who strolled into her world from some fantastic fictional realm. Hux suspects he looks at Ren much the same; it’s how he feels, anyway, even now. The ring on his finger is like a promise from a storybook or a dream.

“Ren tells me you’re looking for work,” Holdo says when they’ve all cleaned their plates. Greta has been excused from the table to begin her homework, so perhaps now is the time for serious conversation about dark pasts and so forth.

“Trying,” Hux says. “Considering my employment history, it’s difficult. Hard to know where to start, even. I don’t want to return to that field, even if I could. And I can’t, legally.”

He’s a little flushed after this outburst, but doesn’t feel out of control or even ashamed of himself. Holdo has fixed him with a thoughtful stare, her elbows on the table and hands clasped together over her empty plate.

“That’s so hard,” she says. “Starting over. How about school?”

“I can’t afford it,” Hux says. He hadn’t even seriously considered it. The thought of returning to lectures and tests would be soothing if he wasn’t so old or infamous.

“It’s so shameful,” Holdo says, startling him. “The price of education in this country.”

“What would you go back to school for?” Ren asks. His elbow is on the back of Hux’s chair; he’s been hovering all night, and Hux hasn’t minded. They’re newly engaged and maybe normal in the sense that they never want to be more than a few inches apart from each other.

“I don’t know,” Hux says. “That’s the real trouble. I don’t even have any ideas about what I want to do next.”

“Is there any element of the old job that you miss?” Holdo asks. It feels like a test. Hux sits up a little straighter. Maybe he’s paranoid: certainly he is, whether his instincts are right or not.

“No, actually,” he says. “But I’ve been thinking of things I miss about school. I don’t have a new discipline in mind, but I miss being put on the spot and performing, competing with my classmates, that sort of thing.”

“Interesting,” Holdo says, eyes narrowing. “Have you considered public relations?”

“Ha, what-- As a career?” Hux feels himself blushing, his shoulders shrinking. “I’m afraid I’m too notorious for that.” Also too nervous, though perhaps it still doesn’t show as much as he fears.

“Are you? I knew of Snoke, but your name didn’t ring any bells when Ren first mentioned the engagement.”

She says so frankly but without any sharpness. Hux isn’t sure if he should feel insulted or not. Ren shifts next to him. Hux suspects he’s struggling not to blurt something defensive.

“That’s a relief,” Hux says.

“I did look you up,” Holdo says. “And, yeah, when you’re looking, there’s plenty to find.”

“Right.”

“Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud.” Holdo waves her hand through the air and sits back. “I know that’s so hard, trying to determine where to start when you’re picking up the pieces. I had an amicable divorce, but it was still, you know. A lot.”

Hux didn’t expect to have his criminal past compared to her divorce. He considers more wine and decides he shouldn’t dare it.

“I told him he can take his time,” Ren says. “There’s no rush.”

“Yeah, but you want to re-establish yourself,” Holdo says. She gives Hux a look that’s so sympathetic he’s inclined to distrust it, but she seems earnest, unburdened by the kind of machinations he might have suspected. “I get that,” she says, nodding. “There’s this restless energy that builds up, especially when your personal life is so settled. You want to rise up to meet that, you know, to feel worthy of it.”

“Exactly!” Hux says, jerking forward in his seat. “That’s exactly it.”

He underestimated how much he’s needed someone else to understand this. He’s so grateful to Holdo for articulating it that he perhaps too enthusiastically returns the hug she gives him at the front door when they’re leaving.

“Take care,” she says, holding him by the shoulders. “And take are of this one.” She flicks her head toward Ren. “I was telling Leia, last time I talked to her, I’ve never seen him so happy.”

Padme said the same thing, apparently. Hux has to wonder how visibly Ren brooded before.

“Let’s go somewhere,” Hux says when they’re in the car, driving toward the gate that opens for them as they approach.

“Somewhere?” Ren says.

“Yes, let’s go out. It’s only nine o’clock. What if we went to Hammerheads?”

Ren smiles. Hux knew he would love the idea. They haven’t been back since they met there, and Hux has been craving a return himself, though he found the place charmless and stressful that night. He wants to return and symbolically conquer it now, to enter with Ren at his side rather than painfully alone and trembling with the need to get drunk and forget things.

“Hope it’s not because you want to get fucked up,” Ren says. “‘Cause I thought that went really well.”

“Yes, me too. And I do want to get fucked up, but not in a gloomy way. I guess I want to get, ah, buzzed, and then go home and get fucked. If you’re amenable.”

“I am,” Ren says, eyes on the road. He reaches over to squeeze Hux’s thigh. “Are we gonna pretend we don’t know each other? Go in separate?”

“No, no,” Hux says. “To do that convincingly we’d have to take off our matching wedding rings. And I don’t want to take mine off. Ever.”

Ren pretends to not be emotional over this. His fingers tighten around Hux’s thigh. Hux lets him pretend. He covers Ren’s hand with his and rubs his thumb over Ren’s ring.

Hammerheads is crowded, and walking in with Ren behind him gives Hux a flush of uncomfortable recollection. He’d been so unsure about what could possibly happen next when he last came in here, beyond something worse, more ruinous, dangerous, expensive and ultimately his fault than everything that had already steamrolled him.

There’s some kind of fifties theme night going on, which is unfortunate. Nobody is dressed up for it, as far as Hux can see, but “In the Still of the Night” is blaring and the chalkboard over the bar lists old-fashioned cocktails as the specials. There’s a string of pink flamingo lights behind the bar that may or may not have to do with the theme.

“Whoa, hey!” the bartender says when he recognizes Ren. His eyes shift to Hux, who is squeezed up close to Ren at the bar, packed in by the crowd. “Long time no see.”

“I’m getting married,” Ren says, shouting this over the music and nearby conversations. He nudges Hux into his arms and presses up behind him at the bar in a way that’s alarmingly arousing. “Remember him? We met here. Hux, this is Snap.”

Hux is sure he heard that wrong; nobody’s name is Snap. It’s too absurd to even be a nickname. He smiles and waves, disinterested in whatever some bartender’s actual name is.

“Since when does Hammerheads have goofy-ass theme nights?” Ren asks.

“Everybody got old while you were off getting engaged.” The bartender winks and puts two shots of tequila in front of them. “That’s on the house,” he says. “Congrats.”

They don’t go out enough. It’s mostly to save money, but Hux can’t deny that his spell of disgraced resignation has kept them home, too. He’s missed the feeling of being among strangers with Ren’s arm around his waist, Ren’s mouth damp and warm against his ear. He knows he must be the envy of plenty of the men in here, especially if some of them had flings with Ren in the past and know just how good he is in bed. Hux thrills for the sensation that he’s the standout in the room, the winner, that he’s bested everyone in here. He’s missed the feeling so much.

“When I saw you here, that night,” Ren says, murmuring this in Hux’s ear. “Man, I don’t know. It was like I’d finally walked into the right dimension. Where things made sense. Because there you were.”

Hux laughs and drinks from the beer that Ren ordered to follow up the shots. They’re sharing it, taking turns drinking from the bottle.

“I was so relieved that someone wanted to fuck me,” Hux says, pressing his mouth to Ren’s ear. “Well, that you did.”

“That other guy did, too.”

“What other guy?”

“There was someone trying to get your attention before I stole his seat. Remember?”

“Honestly, no. It was like I was asleep until you showed up.”

They end up staying at the bar for quite a while, drinking and muttering together, even slow dancing at one point. It becomes necessary to call an Uber and leave the truck at the bar, an expense Hux would normally be fretful about. He doesn’t care at all for financial concerns when he’s slumped against Ren’s side in the backseat of some stranger’s car. Who or what could hurt him now, under Ren’s protection? No one: not even Leia Organa, he drunkenly decides, smiling to himself with his cheek on Ren’s shoulder.

“Let’s do the one with the navy captain and the pirate,” Hux says when they’re making their way across their dark front yard.

“The one?” Ren says, grinning. “Why don’t you call it what it is, baby?”

“The role play, the sex,” Hux says, whispering this while Ren unlocks the door, as if the neighbors might be listening. “What other performance piece have I ever been interested in?”

“Do you want to be the pirate or the naval captain?”

“I always want to be the naval captain.”

“I know.” Ren guides him into the dark foyer, gently holding his elbow. Ren is less drunk than Hux, maybe just because he’s bigger. Hux isn’t quite as sloppy as he can get, just amused with himself in a pleasant way. He laughs when Ren presses him to the wall near the locked front door and mouths at his neck. “How rough do you want your pirate tonight?” Ren asks, muttering this against Hux’s skin.

“So rough,” Hux says, and he humps himself against Ren’s huge thigh, moaning just for the width and firmness of it. “Tie your pissy little captain up and show him who runs this ship now.”

Ren laughs, but swallows it down quickly. He frames Hux’s face with his hands and kisses him on the nose, eyes shining.

“Can’t believe I get to bring you back to our house this time,” Ren says. His voice is soft. Hux humps him again so the moment won’t be spoiled.  

“Yes, bring me back to my quarters and show me your, ah. Raw, uncut pirate cock.”

“You’re drunk, Hux.”

“Would a drunk person be this hard already?” Hux rubs himself against Ren to demonstrate and opens his mouth for a long, hot kiss, moaning when Ren’s tongue slides against his. “I’m just spirited,” he says, nipping at Ren’s lips at he pulls away.

“Okay, Captain.” Ren eases Hux off the wall, turns him toward the bedroom and pulls his arms behind his back, both of Hux’s wrists closed in one big hand. “March.”

Hux does his best to comply. These games can be hard to keep up with if they drink beforehand, though often a small amount helps him put aside his reservations about making a fool of himself in the process of getting off. Not that he ever feels like a fool when he’s actually doing it. Since the start, Ren has had some magical property that makes him feel safe to do anything, be anyone.

“Need I tie you to the bed?” Ren asks, doing the pirate-ish accent that he always attempts during this scenario. “Or are ye ready to submit to my command at last?”

Hux drops to his knees in response. He tries to put on the arrogant, challenging expression of his captain character, though he’s fighting laughter from Ren’s use of ye.

“I knew as soon as you set foot on this ship that you were out to defile me with that filthy thing,” Hux says, nodding to the bulge of Ren’s erection. He looks up into Ren’s face again, swallows heavily and bats his eyelashes. “You beast.”

“So it’s true your mind’s been wanderin’ to me dick ever since I came onboard?”

Hux can’t help but grin at that. He’s able to get back into the spirit of the scene when Ren grabs his hair.

“Do your worst,” Hux says. “I can withstand, uh. More than you might think.”

“And can you do so without screaming my name in pleasure, for your whole crew to hear?”

“Ha! Easily.”

“We shall see.”

Ren opens his pants. Hux is drooling for it, licking his lips. He realizes he’s had his hands behind his back all this time, as if the ghost of Ren’s grip is still locked around his wrists.

The rest of the game plays out with the usual graceless bliss: Hux loses himself to it by the time his back hits the bed, and he ends up, of course, moaning Ren’s name: Kylo, even, which is what they call the pirate. The naval captain is Armitage, but Ren doesn’t utter that name unless they’re really getting wild. It’s a kind of advanced-level bonus move.

“Needed that cock in you, yeah?” Ren says when he’s still being Pirate Kylo, still pounding into Hux after Hux has come all over both their chests.

“Needed it,” Hux confirms, clawing him closer. He’s thinking not of the stiff-backed, secretly slutty naval captain but of himself, that night, at Hammerheads, waiting. “Ren,” he cries, again, arms looped around Ren’s neck. Holding Ren this close makes the thrusting angle awkward, but he doesn’t let go.

“I know, baby,” Ren says. He’s stroking Hux’s hair, murmuring into his ear, forgetting to be a pirate for a moment. “I know.”

**

In the morning Hux wakes slowly, his head heavy with a dull ache. He clings to Ren when he remembers that it’s a Saturday and he’ll have Ren here to himself all day long. It’s a pathetic thrill, but he’ll take it. He’s a little embarrassed about what went on the night before, and also a little proud. A mental review of everything he said to Amilyn Holdo at dinner raises no red flags in hindsight. What was said during naval captain and pirate roleplay is murkier, but those games are a well-contained alternate universe where he can say anything, blessedly.

Ren makes omelettes for breakfast while Hux sits drinking a coffee at the kitchen table. It’s a gray morning, drizzling. Part of him wants to just go on with the naval captain and pirate routine all weekend long, and not just for sex purposes. The night before was dreamy and he wants to continue avoiding reality while he can: what else is new. He’s certain Ren would be all for it, but is too embarrassed to suggest it.

The weather outside remains gray, and they spend most of the day inside, Ren working on his miniature model of his landscaping plan for the backyard. Hux assists, mostly by painting tiny pieces of their replica dream garden. It’s quiet, peaceful, and therefore all the more noticeable when Ren’s phone buzzes with a new text at midday.

Hux watches Ren’s expression when he reads his phone. He can see that it’s something bad, or at least unwelcome, and the nervous glance Ren gives him when he looks up confirms this.

“Everything all right?” Hux asks, as casually as he can manage.

“Yeah. I guess Amilyn told my mom we had dinner last night.”

“Oh?”

“She says-- My mom, uh. She’s, like, wanting to meet you.”

“Well, we knew that.” Hux thought there would be more of a reprieve before the next social hurdle, but these personal crises never play by those sort of rules. “Isn’t she away?”

“Yeah, until next month. And she hates Skyping.”

“That’s something we have in common, at least.” Hux only ever Skyped with clients. It was a misery every time.

“So, she says--” Ren looks at his phone, as if it’s even possible that he’s already forgotten. “Next month, we can pick her up at the airport. And then go for lunch.”

Hux shrugs and stares down at the boulder he’s working on painting. It’s already more detailed than it strictly needs to be. He’s given some thought to painting artificial rocks as a career; it relaxes him. Like everything that does, there’s surely no money in it.

“So should I say yes?” Ren asks.

“Of course, Ren. That’s fine.”

So he has a month to get his life together before he meets his future mother-in-law. It’s almost a relief to have a final destination for his anxiety about this encounter to pour directly into, and he’s still a bit impressed with himself for not bungling things last night. This doesn’t translate to confidence that he’ll have further success with first impressions, however. His paranoia about statistical probability tells him that one pleasant social outing makes the next all that much more likely to be a disaster.

Regardless, the weeks that follow are mostly peaceful. Hux feels buoyed by a vague but persisting hope that something good is coming, and Ren’s attempts to make plans for their ceremony are simply charming, not stress-inducing. Even when he suggests writing their own vows, Hux takes it in stride, albeit without planning to agree to this.

Then Han Solo shows up on their doorstep with a six-pack of beer and a shit-eating grin on his face.

“Surprise,” he says, lifting the beer. “Heard there was some celebrating in order. Is this him?”

For a moment, neither of them answers. Hux got to the door first, and Ren raced up behind him as he was opening it, like he had suddenly sensed some danger on the other side.

“Dad,” Ren says, finally. The monotone delivery almost makes Hux laugh. “What are you doing here.”

“Did I not just say?” Han gives the six pack a shake and raises his eyebrows. “I was in town, heard you were engaged. Nobody tells me anything, but, hey. No hard feelings. Han Solo.”

He puts his free hand out for Hux to shake. Only then does Hux realize he’s been gawking like a mute idiot.

“Armitage Hux,” he says, recovering too slowly to halt the awkwardness. They shake. “Wonderful to finally meet you.” Perhaps wonderful is laying it on too thick. It just came out.

“Yeah, I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of horror stories. Am I coming in or not?”

Han Solo is taller than he looks in pictures, and older. He’s wearing clothes that look road-tested and a single diamond earring that Ren has complained about at length. The way he glances around their living room is somehow both judgmental and disinterested, but he seems nervous when he turns back toward Ren, almost scared.

“Let me take those,” Hux says, dashing for the six pack in part because he suddenly needs a drink. “I’ll get us some glasses.”

“No need, they’re already cold.” Han digs into his pocket and comes up with an opener. He sets the beers on the coffee table and pulls one from the pack, opens it. This one gets passed to Hux, and he holds the next bottle out for Ren, who hasn’t really moved or said anything since Han walked past him into the house.

“You know how I feel about surprises,” Ren says, jaw tight.
“No, it’s perfectly fine!” Hux grabs the beer and shoves it into Ren’s hand. He can feel his face getting pink. “I’ve been wanting to meet, ah. Ren’s parents. It’s so good to-- Let’s all sit.”

“Before that, hey, a toast.” Han opens a beer for himself and steps toward Hux and Ren, lifting it. “Congratulations, kids. May marriage suit you better than it did me and-- You know what, never mind. Cheers.”

Hux clinks his bottle against Han’s so eagerly that he’s afraid it will crack. Of course it doesn’t, and he tells himself to reign it in. Ren joins in their toast after an awkward hesitation.

“Chewie says hello,” Han adds before drinking.

“I’m surprised you didn’t bring him,” Ren says. He glances at the door as if Chewie might come through it on cue.

“I would have, but he’s working. Wasn’t easy for me to get away myself.”

“Get away from what.”

Ren’s question has such accusation in it: Hux almost cringes. Han takes a long drag from the beer before responding.

“Work,” he says after swallowing, flatly. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Yeah, naturally.”

“I hear your mother found you a real job, any truth to that?”

Hux’s determination to be nice curdles a bit. Then he sees Han’s face fall as if he’s disappointed in himself. It’s an expression Hux recognizes with painful familiarity. He knows plenty about regretting an offhand response without considering the full breadth of Ren’s many and complex feelings.   

“I’m working for Amilyn,” Ren says, pronouncing the name quite deliberately. He’s mentioned that she’d never liked Han much. “Not for Mom.”

“A bodyguard gig, right? That’s honest work.”

“I’ve never done dishonest work. Personally.”

“Oh, I have,” Hux says, pushing this out with a laugh to diffuse the building tension. “Hence my current stint of unemployment. I don’t suppose you have any semi-legal leads?” He’s joking, smiling, but Han looks like he’s seriously considering the question, at least until his gaze flicks to Ren’s.

“I heard about all that,” Han says. “Uh, the Snoke business.”

“Yes, that was the business I was in, ultimately. The Snoke business, that’s accurate. Makes it tricky now, hoping to earn an honest living. But I’m working on it.”

“We’re doing fine,” Ren says.

“Clearly.” Han drinks from his beer and takes a turn around the room, peering out the windows and at the artifacts on the mantle, most of them made or collected by Ren. There aren’t many hints of Hux’s past in the house, just as there won’t be any representatives from it at their wedding. “Nice place,” Han says when he turns back to them. There’s both sincerity and a bite of disbelief in the assessment.

“We like it,” Hux says, before Ren can respond.

“How’d you two meet?”

“At a bar,” Ren says: defiant, daring him to judge. Hux has heard the story of Ren’s parents’ courtship. Apparently Han was doing work for gangsters as a getaway driver in those days, on the side. Hearing Ren tell it, Hux had always assumed it was a tale his father had spun when Ren was a gullible boy, rife with embellishment, but something about the way Han carries himself, even as a man who is now undeniably old, makes him believe it was true.

“Hey, there’s an idea,” Han says, lifting his bottle. “A bar, someplace swank. I’ll buy the first round.”

“I don’t like swank bars,” Ren says.

“A dive, then.” There’s irritation edging into Han’s tone, but he seems desperate for Ren’s cooperation, too. “Just let me do a nice thing for the two of you, huh? We should get to know each other.” He claps his hand onto Hux’s shoulder, holds up his beer bottle and points its neck at Ren. “We’re gonna be family, after all.”

It’s the first time Hux has thought of Ren’s family replacing his own. It seems unnecessary: Ren himself already fills that empty place. But on the way to the bar, Hux up front beside Ren in their car and Han feeling much too large in the cramped backseat behind them, he likes Han better for having said it, as if it’s actually something he wants: another family, more people.

He’s somewhat afraid Ren will drive them to Hammerheads, as a kind of childish act of rebellion, but perhaps he’s projecting, imagining that it would be a rebellion against the sort of father he had himself. Han would probably just shrug at a gay bar, or perhaps not even notice the clientele. Regardless, Hux is relieved when they pull up to Mr. C’s instead. It’s a neighborhood dive bar that they’ve been to only once, because one of Ren’s ironic friends wanted to watch a baseball game on the bar’s dingy wall-mounted television. Hux had found the experience miserable, but the place itself has a certain charm. It suits Han, in a way that is either flattering or intended to mock. It’s hard to tell, with Ren in full closed-off mode. Hux wants to take him aside to ask him if he’s all right, though really Han doesn’t seem all that bad, in present company or in the stories Hux has heard, perhaps only because he’s got Brendol to compare him to.

“So the bodyguard gig,” Han says when the three of them are seated at a booth under the bar’s single television, which is now showing an archery competition. “You like it?”

“How’d you know about it?” Ren asks, surly.

“How do you think? Leia told me.”

“I didn’t know you two spoke to each other so often.”

“We’re still friends. Well, friendly. Once in a while we exchange intel on your whereabouts.” Han grins, then shifts his gaze to Hux when this joke doesn’t land the way he might have liked. “How about you?” he asks. “You close with your folks?”

“Ah--”

“You can’t just blurt questions at people like that!” Ren says, loud enough that several people at the bar turn to stare. “You don’t have the context, it could be a sensitive subject!”

“I’m starting to get that impression,” Hux says, muttering. “Sorry,” he adds, looking back to Hux. “Forget I asked.”

“No-- It’s fine.” Hux forces a laugh and squeezes Ren’s thigh under the table. It’s both a gesture of empathy and of warning. “I lost my mother when I was very young, and my father and I were estranged before he died. He was a bigot, and a bully, so we didn’t get on.”

It’s surprisingly easy to say all of this out loud, after just one and a half beers and nothing resembling a buzz. A relief, even. He gives Ren’s thigh a gentler squeeze and smiles over at him.

“Sorry to hear that,” Han says. “I never had much of a family unit myself. I guess you know about the one I married into.”

“Can we not talk about my grandfather?” Ren says. “You never understood him.”

“Who’s talking about him? And what’s there to understand? The man strangled his wife.”

“I met Padme,” Hux says, desperate, but it’s clear from Ren and Han’s intensely locked eyes that neither of them heard him.

“He was an addict,” Ren says, muttering. “You know it destroyed him. To always know he’d done that.”

“Anyway.” Han waves his hand over his beer glass. “Let’s not talk about him, good call. Tell me about the big day. When is it? And where? Assuming I’m invited.”

“Of course you’re invited,” Hux says. He feels bad instantly: if Ren had presumed to invite Brendol to their wedding out of some misguided attempt to calm the familial waters, it would have devastated him. “Well, but. We’re still making plans. I’d like to find a job before we commit to any deposits and so forth.”

“There will be no deposits necessary,” Ren says, very grave, as if he’s reading from a prophecy. Han snorts and then drinks from his beer to conceal his amusement.

“Oh?” Hux says.

“We’ll hold the ceremony in our backyard after I’m finished with my garden installation. Rey and Finn will do the food. My mother has agreed to pay for that. And the bar, too.”

“When did that happen?” Hux asks, alarmed by the idea.

“Last time we talked. She’s basically just giving Rey and Finn and their friends a paycheck, so. It’s fine. She loves them.”

“She also loves you, I’d point out,” Han says. “Which would be the actual reason for this generosity.”

“I haven’t met her yet,” Hux says when Ren just drinks from his beer in response to this reminder. “She sounds very-- Busy.”

“Yeah, a lifetime workaholic. Leia’s great,” Han says, seeming to direct this toward Ren. “She’s a very serious person. I could never learn that trick.”

“My mother was the same way,” Hux says: out of nowhere, and he flushes when the words hang awkwardly over the table. Ren is staring at him. Hux never talks about her. He’s not even sure what he said is true, except that he is, somehow. She ran that whole pub herself, she did everything-- Maybe these were things Brendol said later, when drunkenly remembering her in his rare fond moods. “Or, anyway,” he says, turning his beer bottle in his hand, staring at it. “I think she was.”

Ren puts his hand on the small of Hux’s back. Han drinks from his beer and seems to consider whether he should say anything and risk being snapped at by Ren for lacking context.

“I should warn your side of the family in advance,” Hux says, when both Han and Ren remain silent, Ren’s thumb moving in surreptitious strokes over Hux’s t-shirt. “I won’t have anyone at the wedding. My life was work, after school. Even during school, really. When that all blew up, well. And there’s no family back in the UK that I’ve kept in touch with. My father alienated them for the both of us. So, ah. Yes, my ‘side,’ as it were, will be empty.”

“There are no sides,” Ren says. “In my vision of our wedding day.”

“Oh-- Good.”

“It’s all about joining together as we move into our future. Fuck the past.”

“Hey, there’s your vows!” Han says, smirking and pointing at Ren, who doesn’t seem amused.

Hux laughs, anyway.

Ren loosens up eventually, somewhat, and by the time their table is laden with monstrous plates of loaded potato skins and cheese fries he’s cracked at least one smile that Hux was quick enough to notice. Hux can sympathize with the fact that being around his father obviously puts Ren on edge, regardless of how harmlessly Han is commenting on the price of gas or the quality of the french fries, but at the same time he can’t understand why, particularly when imagining how this first meeting would have gone if it were Brendol sitting across from them, sneering and making comments about their ‘lifestyle’ and insinuations that Hux’s mother’s traumatic death was the reason for his attraction to men. As far as Hux has heard, Han Solo inflicted no lasting trauma upon Ren as a boy, beyond being occasionally confounded by the moods of his teenage son in the usual ways.

“We’ll keep you informed of the wedding plans as they develop,” Hux says when they’re back at the house, standing in the driveway near Han’s car, which looks like a rental. He again feels bad for volunteering this, though Ren never mentioned not wanting his father at the wedding.

“You sound like a newscaster,” Han says. It’s a friendly observation, and he slaps Hux on the shoulder after saying so. “Thanks, kid. Good to know you.”

“Are you okay to drive?” Ren asks, as if to suggest that Han’s warmth toward Hux must be related to incapacitating drunkenness.

“What did I have, three beers over three hours? I’m fine. C’mere.”

Han pulls Ren into a hug, clapping him on the back. Ren’s response is delayed but more enthusiastic than Hux might have thought. He wraps both arms around Han and even ducks his head toward Han’s shoulder before pulling away.

“Thanks for the beers,” Ren says. His voice sounds a little rough, or maybe Hux is imagining things. His expression remains stoic.

“We should do it more often,” Han says. There’s something sad in his eyes, like he knows it won’t happen. Ren’s most concrete complaint about him as a father is that he never seemed happy unless he was on the move, and that as soon as Ren was out of the house he was off on his solitary adventures again.

When Han has gone, Ren is quiet. It’s still light out, just around eight o’clock in the evening on a late summer day that’s uncomfortably steamy. Hux gulps water from a glass in the kitchen and watches from the back window as Ren putters around the soggy yard, checking on the four quarters of his zen garden. Hux prefers to call it a rock garden, as it’s composed of everything from boulders to pebbles. It’s finally beginning to come together, though the gazebo-type structure that will presumably be their wedding altar is still only tentatively under construction inside Ren’s workshop.

Hux leaves Ren to it and takes a shower. When he emerges from the steam-clogged master bath in a towel he’s not surprised to find Ren curled up on the bed as if he’s ready to turn in at nine o’clock. Clearly something about Han’s appearance took a lot out of him. Hux isn’t sure if he should interrogate him on this point or not.

“I had fun tonight,” Hux says, toweling off his hair. “He’s disarming, friendly enough. Pretty much what I expected. That earring! I hope your mother gives him hell for it, at least.”

“I didn’t realize my parents still talk so much. About me.”

Ren’s face is half buried in the pillow he’s hugged around. Hux hangs his towel up, runs his hand through his hair to fluff it up a bit and returns to the bathroom doorway, attempting to look alluring. Ren peeks up at him, curious. His gaze shifts to Hux’s chest, downward, then back up to his face.

“I know that sort of thing is emotionally exhausting after you’ve been out of touch, however well it goes.” Hux prepared this little speech in the shower. He wants to say, it did go well, didn’t it? Han seemed to like him, at least. “Do you need taking care of now?” he asks instead, sensing that Ren doesn’t want to talk about anything real.

“Yes,” Ren says, shoulders twitching.

There’s little doubt in Hux’s mind that Ren will want him to be ‘on top’ tonight, probably literally but certainly figuratively. Hux usually finds taking charge tedious, a little embarrassing, and not as good as being catered to himself, but when he clambors onto Ren and presses his massive shoulders to the bed, it feels right. In some ways he is still singularly capable. Only he can give Ren what he needs.

Ren is deliciously malleable when he’s feeling needy, and Hux is happy to find he’s in the mood to appreciate it. He settles between Ren’s legs and leans over his chest to push his arms open wide over the bedsheets, so that he’s spread-eagled and waiting, getting hard.

“Just looking at you makes me feel greedy,” Hux says. He sits back on his knees to admire the entire landscape of Ren’s body, which he feels sometimes startlingly but also comfortably possessive of, down to every tattoo and dent of scar tissue.

“Sorry,” Ren says, determined to be pouty.

Hux snorts. “Sorry for what? I mean because I can’t believe how all this is mine. It is mine,” he says, giving Ren’s cock a single, too-soft stroke with his fingertips. “Isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Ren’s weepy expression transforms into an expectant, hungry look, just as Hux hoped it would. “It is. I am.”

“I’ll devour you, then,” Hux says, bending down to breathe this onto the head of Ren’s dick, now fully hard and leaking. Hux still preens internally for every erection he inspires with the barest touch or flash of his arse; he can’t believe a man like Ren wants him so consistently, or how enslaved Ren seems to it after all this time. He almost says so, but Ren would take it wrong, as if it were some kind of insecurity about their relationship. It’s not that: it’s a purely physical disbelief that hasn’t waned.

Hux worships Ren’s cock with his tongue rather than trying to put the feeling into words. Ren groans and whimpers, pulling at Hux’s shoulders to get him to ease off before Ren can come in his mouth. Hux knows he wants to go off while he’s filled up, to have his orgasm properly fucked out of him.

“Needy thing,” Hux says, crawling up to kiss Ren’s nose. “Greedy and needy, that’s us.”

“At least we rhyme,” Ren says, and when Hux laughs Ren looks so pleased with himself.

“I could never marry someone who didn’t rhyme with me,” Hux says, lips moving against Ren’s. They kiss, and Hux pulls back before he can fail to say: “Well. I could never marry anyone but you.”

Ren visibly preens under the praise, shoulders rolling back and chest pressing out, nipples tight. Hux kisses him again, indulging in the taste of his contentment.

Hux calls Ren beautiful and darling throughout, also perfect. Ren doesn’t shrink from compliments when he’s on his back with Hux inside him, just peers up at him with breathless wonder like he’s hearing a revelation.

Afterward, curled around Ren’s back under the bedsheets despite the humidity in the room, Hux hopes they can sink easily into a peaceful sleep, but he can sense that Ren is still fully awake and that he has something he needs to say. Hux kisses the back of his neck and sighs, waiting.

“What’d you think of my dad,” Ren asks.

“Didn’t I say already? More or less what I expected. Retired driver, single diamond earring. Says it all, really.”

“I’m more like my mom. Serious. He used to say I was serious, like her. I was afraid I’d end up in love with someone like him, like my mom did, someone who could laugh at things more easily, and, like. Who was only going to think being serious was charming for so long.”

“I love that you’re serious,” Hux says, squeezing him. “It suits me.”

“I know it annoys you sometimes. When I can’t take a joke.”

“Maybe. What would we be if we didn’t annoy each other sometimes? Freaks, I think.”

“Yeah. Thanks for, uh. Tonight. That was really good.”

“What, the sex?” Hux kisses Ren’s ear. “It was good for me, too, so. No thanks necessary.”   

“I know you like it better the other way around. I know sometimes you-- Do things for me. Take care of me, manage me--”

“I don’t think manage is the right word--”

“It scares me,” Ren says, sharply. “But. Maybe in a good way.”

Hux hesitates, then licks Ren’s throat. “Well, what good am I if can’t scare you productively?” It’s hard not to make jokes when he wants to squirm away from some sensitive subject. Maybe that’s Ren’s point: that Hux is a bit like Han Solo the ex-driver, in a sense. “It scares me, too,” Hux says, more softly. “Yes-- I know. Depending on someone to love me unconditionally until the day I die, ha. It’s not exactly in my nature. Or experience.”

Saying so feels unfair to his mother, or her memory. Somehow he believes she still loves him, even having been otherwise erased from existence.

Ren rolls over and crowds around him. He seems grateful for the chance to return to the role of the comforter. Hux moves gladly into the cradle of Ren’s massive chest and hides his face there.

“I will,” Ren says. “You’ll see.”

Hux has to swallow a laugh. Ren’s promise to love him forever, no matter what, sounds like a grave warning in his usual dramatic delivery. It’s perfect.

“Are you really going to make me write my own vows?” Hux asks, tilting his head back so that the point of his chin rests between Ren’s pecs. “I know it would mean a lot to you, darling, but I’d also die of terror on the way down the aisle.”

“I was actually considering a wordless ceremony.”

“Oh, perfect!” Hux means it, as weird as they would no doubt seem for doing that. “How does it work?”

“Well. I was planning to express my devotion through music. No lyrics. I’m not sure how you would return the gesture, though.”

“Mhmm, that is tricky.”

“You know. You call me darling more than I call you baby.” Ren grins when Hux pulls back to look at him, incredulous. “Now, you do. Have you noticed?”

“No, I don’t-- Think that’s accurate.”

“Mhm. Okay.”

Hux rolls over in Ren’s arms and leaves it at that. Maybe he has become more sentimental, in addition to his softening in other areas. He does know exactly what Ren means about being scared of that, of this. When he sleeps, he dips into a dream during which their wedding vows are a repetitious mutual outburst of expressing their fears. They’re holding hands in the dream, faces close together, the crowd an anonymous blur. It doesn’t feel like a nightmare when Hux wakes up and remembers that Ren told him he won’t have to actually write any vows to read in front of the assembled wedding guests.  

But he will to make some kind of gesture suitable for public consumption, and contemplating what could possibly be less gutting than publicly professing his love in a prepared speech, but still meaningful, still big enough, keeps him up for the rest of the night.

*

His sleep quality continues to decline as he gets closer to the date of Leia’s proposed introduction. He tosses and turns and tries to tell himself that it’s irrational, that it’s not as if this woman will wrench Ren away from him even if she finds him loathsome or at least disappointing as a lifetime mate for her son, but these logical self-assurances don’t even feel true. He feels like a character in dark, old world fairy tale who has happiness just within reach but first must to pass one final test wherein the rug will inevitably be pulled out from under him as a moral lesson for its readers. It’s Ren’s fault for being so prince-like that he’s transformed Hux from a motel-dwelling toad into whatever he is now: a house-dwelling creature. A bat?

On a Tuesday that’s much too muggy and warm for autumn, when Ren is still at work guarding Greta, Hux receives an email that shifts the focus of his preoccupations entirely.

It’s from Amilyn Holdo, and the subject line is “Proposal.”

Hux thinks of the last proposal he heard, when he was sneezing and red-eyed, Ren kneeling on the floor near their bed. It’s startling to see someone else wielding the word, and blackmail comes to mind, as if she could be contacting him to try to undo Ren’s marriage proposal.

This seems no less insane than the actual content of the email after he’s read it three times, frowning at the laptop screen in disbelief.

Armitage,

I wonder if you would consider working for me. I’ve struggled to find junior staffers I can fully trust, and to be frank most of those with the depth of experience I’d prefer are out of my price range salary-wise (we’re ‘fully’ staffed but still short on help and here too late most evenings). I suspect your inside perspective on the culture of corruption in the corporate world would be an asset, considering that’s something I’m very passionate about addressing, and I’ve been thinking about what you said at dinner about competitive instinct… We can discuss details, but the bottom line is that I think I could use someone like you on my team. Your connection to our trusted bodyguard is part of the appeal, of course. Security is of utmost importance.

If this makes sense to you, let’s talk further.

Yours truly,
Amilyn

Hux paces the house a few times, returns to the laptop and reads the email again, then repeats the process. Every time he returns to the laptop the email is still there, a real job offer, if also a bizarre one. He picks up his phone and begins to text Ren several times, but can’t manage to compose a coherent message. Maybe Ren already knows? Perhaps he put her up to this? And what would be so bad about that, if she’s serious about going through with it?

The salary would be paltry; he can read between the lines well enough to understand that. But Ren’s already keeps them afloat, and anything more would allow them to loosen their belts enough to at least finish the backyard garden.

It would be a PR disaster for Holdo, employing the henchmen of an infamous ex-criminal. But she must have considered this, and perhaps there is something shrewd in publicly hiring a former corporate fiend to dissect the enemy based on having once been its complicit slave. It’s not as if he’s Snoke; his lawyer managed to spin his involvement enough to keep him out of prison, and Amilyn is a career politician. She knows spin.

What else, he’s thinking, needing to consider every potential pratfall before he responds to her, but also not wanting to wait too long, wanting reach out to Ren but hesitating for the thought that he should be able to figure this out for himself. He knows what Ren would say anyway, that he should of course take the job, that he would be crazy not to. What better offer does he have?

He’s worked himself into a nervous sweat over the first good career news he’s had in well over a year when he gets a second email, just a little over an hour after receiving Amilyn’s.

An undignified gulp-like noise of pure shock escapes his throat when he sees the sender of this one.

Leia Organa.

He’s afraid to open it. Surely she’s coordinated with Amilyn on the sending date, but why? The subject of Leia’s email is “Belated greeting and apologies.”

Now, he does text Ren.

[Hux] 1:16pm: Your mother just emailed me. Help.

Ren doesn’t respond; he’s probably in the middle of lunchtime with Greta. Hux paces again, but only makes it halfway across the living room before he curses his cowardice and opens the email on his phone.

Hi.

I wanted to apologize for taking so long to reach out and also for needing to cancel our plan to finally meet up this month. There’s been a crisis with the program I chair and I can’t avoid dealing with it personally, which means another several weeks (at least) of international travel. I got your email address from Amilyn (she got it from your betrothed, as you maybe know) so that I could apologize directly.

(Something tells me a call out of the blue would be a bit much? Maybe I just don’t like the phone.)

So. I will be in touch about rescheduling. Very much looking forward to meeting you and many congratulations on your engagement. I’ll be delighted to celebrate with you and Ren soon.  

Again, sorry to cancel.

Take care,
Leia

Hux is still staring at this message, wondering how he’ll ever come up with an appropriately warm and deferential reply and also experiencing the sort of profound relief that only canceled social plans can bring, when a text pops over the screen. It’s from Ren.

[Ren] 1:24: yeah she called me
[Ren] 1:25: this is classic
[Ren] 1:25: CLASSIC

Hux is as unsure of how to respond to these texts as he is to Leia’s email. He can feel Ren’s angry hurt from a distance and knows it will be profound by the time he gets home, that it will fill every room of the house. Unlike Hux, Ren was looking forward to seeing Leia. He’d been muttering daily about where they might take her for dinner, wondering aloud if she’d like this or that thing better, and making comments about the aspects of their home that she would have an opinion about. He’s complained before about feeling abandoned by her due to work commitments. Hux always got the feeling Ren was downplaying the enormity of this disappointment.

[Hux] 1:30: I also have good news. Did Amilyn tell you?

[Ren] 1:31: no what

[Hux] 1:32: I’ll tell you when I get home. I’ll make dinner. Any requests?

[Ren] 1:33: whatever you want

Hux spends the rest of the afternoon equivocating over the perfect response to Holdo’s email, finally sending her a simple thank you and proposed meeting time to discuss details at 3:00 PM, which was his self-imposed deadline to stop dithering over every word choice and just hit send. As soon as he’s done it he walks to the grocery store to distract himself.

It’s warm out but not unpleasantly so, and even when storm clouds roll overhead as he’s on his way back to the house with his purchases, he’s cheered just by being outdoors on his own. It’s pathetic that such a small thing should make him feel so capable, but he can’t deny that it does, and that feeling capable has put him in a good mood.

Of course it’s really the prospect of meeting to discuss a job offer that’s lifted his spirits, and he must admit that the delay of his introduction to Leia is contributing to the lightness in his step, too. He has a glass of wine while his pasta sauce is simmering and drafts a response to Leia, having decided that consulting Ren about what to say would be fruitless and maybe even cruel.

Dear Leia,

Thank you for the thoughtful email. I’m sorry to hear that we won’t meet soon, but I completely understand these things happen and require urgent attention. I’ll look forward to hearing about your work when we do meet, and to celebrating with you at our wedding. Ren mentioned that you offered to help with the cost. We appreciate your generosity so much.

With best regards,
Armitage Hux

He’s stared at this draft for almost an hour by the time he hears Ren coming through the front door. He hits send and closes the laptop lid, as if he’s about to be caught doing something unfaithful. As Ren approaches he returns to the stove, then thinks better of it and goes to the fridge for the wine.

“Would you like some?” Hux asks, lifting the bottle when Ren slopes gloomily into the kitchen doorway. “There’s beer as well.”

Ren glances at the pot on the stove, then at the bottle in Hux’s hand.

“You shopped.”

“That’s right. Sometimes I leave the house on my own to do things, even productive things. Well, almost never, but it happened today! Wait till I tell you about the other email I got.”

He shouldn’t have used the word email just yet. Ren glowers at the laptop on the kitchen table.

“Typical,” he says, spitting this word in the laptop’s direction. “She acts like you’re important until she decides she can save the world singlehandedly instead. Then it’s like, bye. Good luck with your insignificant little life.”

“Oh-- I know. Come here. Have a drink. We’ll toast to parents who let us down.”

He feels bad saying so, on behalf of his own mother. He’s been thinking of her often lately, wishing he had more or clearer memories to pore over. She’s the one person he wishes he could invite to the wedding. If it were up to him she might be the only one there beyond Ren, though he has come to truly like Rey and Finn. They don’t make him feel like he’s got to be on guard.

“What if I invited Rey and Finn over for dinner next week?” he asks, thinking aloud when Ren swoons in for his welcome-home hug. “We could celebrate, um-- Amilyn thinks I might be a good fit to work for her. As a staffer.”

Ren pulls back abruptly, eyebrows lifting. Hux grins and shrugs. He’s glad this is news to Ren and not some charitable scheme he was part of.

“Seriously?” Ren says. He starts to smile, just a little. “You could carpool with me.”

“Maybe. I wouldn’t likely be working out of the family home, so maybe not. Anyway, we’re meeting on Monday to talk about what the job would entail. But in my mind I’ve already accepted. It sounds-- I don’t know, exciting. Terrifying. But in a good way?”

He considers saying that might be the theme of this past year for the both of them. They’re both afraid to expect good things, but maybe they’re learning. Ren pulls him close and kisses his face, wild with pride.

“We shouldn’t celebrate yet!” Hux says, that same fear lurching through him. “I mean, although-- I do think I would be good at what I assume she has in mind. She more or less said she wants someone with a slimy past. That it gives me insight. Imagine that. I think she’s right.”

“Of course she is.” Ren releases Hux and grabs a hunk of bread from the baggette Hux had been nibbling on, dunks it in the sauce and eats it in two bites: a good sign. “You’ll be fucking amazing at that.”

“At being ex-slime?”

“You were never slime. You’ll be great at managing her campaigns and projects and stuff.”

“I’m sure she has real pros doing that already. I suspect I might be--” He winces when Ren looks at him. “Fetching coffee and so forth. At least at first.”

“I braid Greta’s hair sometimes. The little things aren’t demeaning when you work for decent people.”

Hux tries to picture this: Ren standing behind the girl while she chatters, his enormous hands making musical work of her hair. He watches Ren go to the fridge for a beer and wonders if he should bring up Leia again or just let the good news overcome the evening.

“Did you respond to my mom?” Ren asks, absolving him of the decision.

“Yes. I probably sounded like an arse, I don’t know. There was a semicolon in my original draft. I spent about an hour debating its use, deleted it, and then just sent the rest of what I had.”

“It doesn’t matter. She’s a terrible emailer. Texter, too. She always sounds like she doesn’t give a shit.”

“No, no. She didn’t sound that way. I think she was really sad to cancel.”

“Yeah. Well. The world needs her, or so she thinks. Whatever.” Ren takes a big swallow from the beer and shrugs. “I don’t need her anymore,” he says, unconvincingly. “Got everything I need right here.”

“Let’s not be too hasty saying we don’t need her, I did thank her for offering to pay for our wedding food.”

Hux should have known that this was what would fully lift Ren’s spirits: talk of wedding food. Ren beams and launches into talking about his plans for the completion of the garden. Hux moves around him as he finishes the dinner, feeling not just light on his feet but almost weightless with potential. It’s a little bit frightening. Weightless things can be blown about by the slightest unforeseen force of nature.

He’s less concerned about being weightless when Ren lifts him into bed as easily as if he can manipulate the elements, dismissing gravity itself. Hux is almost inclined to think that Ren could, at least enough to keep them from crashing too hard against Hux. Ren is formidable, a person who renamed himself, someone with the power to bend reality to his will. Hux thinks he should write some of this down, as he’s increasingly sure he’s going to have to speak his vows plainly, unable to come up with any other way to express his love that would be appropriate in public and during a marriage ceremony.

He doesn’t leave the bed to make notes, just sinks under the weight of Ren’s elemental warmth and decides he won’t soon forget this feeling, anyway.

*

Their wedding day falls on a Saturday in late autumn, three months later. The zen garden is complete, their kitchen is busy under Rey and Finn’s command, and Hux is pretending as best he can that he’s not on the verge of vomiting up the palty breakfast he managed to choke down, feeling like he’s about to go before a firing squad.

Guests are already milling about in the backyard, admiring Ren’s work. With the injection of funds from Hux’s position on Amilyn’s staff, the finishing touches on the garden came together quickly. The end of the rainy season helped, too. Hux watched from their hammock as Ren completed his vision, after having accepted that his offers to help were encroaching on artistic integrity.

Now he can’t make himself go back there, to what’s supposed to be their sanctuary, though their plan was to mingle with their guests prior to the ceremony, which Ren’s actress friend Phasma will officiate. She’s stately and striking and a jack of all trades, has apparently been ordained as a minister since she was nineteen. Hux half-listened to the story behind that. He’s got no problem with most of Ren’s friends, except that they’re all so fucking loud and have such massive personalities, all of which involve something like delivering monologues about why they became ministers or whatever else as teenagers.

He’s in a near-panic when he walks out the front door, not sure where he’s headed. Most guests are entering the backyard directly through the fence gate that leads in from the driveway, where they’ve stationed one of Ren’s friends as a host to direct people toward the circulating appetizers and open bar. One woman seems to have gotten lost, though actually maybe she’s just having a smoke. She’s wearing sunglasses and a black dark purple dress with long sleeves, her greying hair pulled back into a sensible ponytail. It takes Hux a moment to realize who she is.

“Oh, shit,” Leia says. She ashes the cigarette into a paper Starbucks cup that’s sitting on the cement frame of their tiny front balcony. “Hi, hello. I don’t normally smoke. I mean, I quit. Years ago. But then,” she gestures expansively with both hands. “Here we are.”

“You, you’re--”

“Yes, I’m her, very belated.”

She puts the cigarette out against the bottom of the cup and pushes her sunglasses up onto her forehead. Hux stares with unapologetic shock. He knew she was coming, has exchanged multiple emails with her in the past months and has even come to sort of feel like he knows her through her dry wit and frank disclosures, but he’s not met her in person before now. Her schedule did not allow for it, and when he imagined it happening during the wedding he pictured her striding regally into the backyard to the applause of everyone else, in a designer frock and with her chin lifted.

“So,” she says, when Hux remains speechless. “You look very pale. Did I just catch you trying to run?”

“No! No, I’m only-- I’m sorry, I’m just-- I was having a moment, I was never afraid of public speaking but public affection is another thing and to be honest I should have insisted on eloping, he would have, he would have let me, I’m sort of doing this for him, ah, the ceremony, I mean, the party--”

Hux makes himself stop talking. Leia is smiling, anyway: wryly, with her her arms crossed over her chest.

“Ah, you’re perfect for him,” she says, waving her hand through the air as if she’s casting some effortless spell, or declaring the marriage valid here, Ren’s presence on this particular altar not required. “I always hoped he’d find someone like you.”

“Like me?” Hux sputters a little and rubs his hands over his face. “An ex-criminal?”

“I have a thing for ex-criminals. Though a man like your former boss did ruin my father’s life. Well, but who’s to say my father didn’t ruin his own life. Jesus, there she is.”

Hux turns to see who Leia is looking at: Padme, coming across the front lawn by herself. She cuts the kind of regal figure Hux remembers from their brunch, shrouded in expensive-looking fabrics, her hair full-grey but done up in an elaborate way that somehow looks youthful.

“Mom,” Leia says, stepping down from the front porch to kiss one cheek, then the other. “You look perfect, as usual.”

“Sweetheart.” Padme touches Leia’s cheek. Her fond expression goes stern in a blink. “You’re smoking again?”

“No, not again. Just-- Briefly, within in the hour. It’s a special occasion, Mother. My ex-husband is here.”

“Mhm.” Padme shifts her gaze to Hux. “Hello again. You look handsome.”

“Yes, it’s-- So good to see you, thank you for coming--” Hux sort of stumbles toward her as he says so, not sure if he should kiss her cheek, hug her or offer a respectful handshake.

Padme does the work for him, taking his hand and patting it in a way that’s somehow both condescending and kind.

“Good,” she says, glancing back to Leia. “I think we’re supposed to be in the backyard.”

“Yes, I was on my way.”

Leia reaches up to adjust a stray piece of Padme’s hair. Witnessing this makes Hux dreadfully, dreadfully miss his mother. Something instinctual shifts within him, an ache opening around it. He wants to hold onto it before it flees, to believe that it’s actually some bit of his mother’s spirit that showed up for his big day.

“Okay,” Padme says, and she reaches up to gently bracket Leia’s shoulders with both of her tiny hands. “I’m heading back there, I want a glass of wine. You two take your time.”

She winks at Hux before turning to head toward the backyard. He has no idea what it means but feels blessed, forgiven, and drawn inextricably into the whole circle of everyone who waits back there by her acceptance alone.

“So,” Leia says when Padme is gone. “That’s my mother. Perfect angel. She told me you were a godsend, hence my willingness to like you from afar.”

“Oh-- Yes, she’s wonderful. My mother is dead.”

He didn’t mean to say that. He’s breaking down, maybe. He’s written sixteen different versions of his vows and still isn’t sure which one he wants to use when the ceremony begins in roughly half an hour.

Leia nods. “I know. Ren told me. I can’t imagine.”

She reaches out to take his hands. Hers are rougher than he would have imagined, but there’s a softness layered over this texture, too. Her eyes are like Ren’s when she peers up at him, almost teary but not quite, overcome but not unhappy about it.

“You’re family now,” she says. “If you like.”

Hux ducks his head and blinks rapidly, until the threat of vague eye-wetness is gone. He makes himself laugh, and Leia grins as if she approves of this: laugh it off, good.

“Yes, all right,” Hux says, voice tight. “Thanks.”

“I feel like I know you,” Leia says. She narrows her eyes, tilts her head. “You ever get that?”

“I do, yes. Sometimes.”

“Mhmm. We’d better go in, or they’ll think I canceled and that you ran away at the last minute.”

They walk through the front door just as Ren is hurrying into the foyer, looking worried. He’s in his suit, polished shoes, hair artfully tousled by his art school friend who does styling for movies. He looks like a movie star, like royalty.

“Mommy?” he says, as if the word has been punched out of him.

“As promised,” Leia says. She throws out her arms and walks forward, pulls him close. Ren crumples against her while simultaneously engulfing her in his arms. He glances at Hux from over her shoulder.

“We’ve met,” Hux says, grinning. He thinks his paleness might have drained away, and most of the flush, too. Perhaps now he’s just faintly pink.

“Yes,” Leia says. “At last, we met.” She leans back and holds Ren by the shoulders. “Look at you. All grown up.”

“I-- yeah.” Ren glances at Hux, swallows heavily. “I was looking for you.”

“He needed some air,” Leia says. She turns and winks at Hux. “I polluted it with a cigarette. The last one I’ll ever smoke, mark my words. It was meant to be. All right, I’m going to find your father. Is he wearing the earring?”

“I specifically requested that he didn’t. As a wedding gift to me.”

“Can’t wait to hear how that went over.” Leia tugs on Ren’s tie, pats his chest. “Okay, wish me luck.”

“Good luck, Mom.”

Hux walks to Ren’s side and they both watch Leia head into the kitchen, where Rey greets her with a shriek of glee.

“We could run,” Ren says, from the side of his mouth, eyes still on the kitchen doorway. He cuts his gaze over to meet Hux’s look of disbelief. “What? We could. I know you’re nervous.”

“Nervous is understating it, but no. I like it here. I like these people.”

“These people?” Ren smirks. “They’re all right.”

“Strange they feel like my people now. I didn’t think they would.”

“It’s ‘cause they’re mine. And everything I have is yours.”

Hux is tempted to leave these as their vows and run after all, but he doesn’t. He takes Ren’s hand, walks through the kitchen, accepts champagne and drinks one and a half glasses before they’re ushered out into the glowing, leaf-bright backyard to walk through the scene Ren has created for them.

“I’ll go first,” Hux says when Phasma informs the gathered crowd that they’ve written their own vows.

There are a few laughs from the audience, perhaps because of the firmness of Hux’s tone.

Ren is smiling, lips twitching like he’s holding in something that’s not laughter, not tears. He nods and squeezes Hux’s hands.

“I was not someone else before you found me,” Hux says, staring directly into Ren’s eyes and forgetting the others, unblinking. “I’m unchanged, standing here. Still have all the bad parts and mistakes and the whole of it. But you altered history for me just the same. You split time. Like some kind of-- Wizard.”

This draws a nervous laugh from a few people. Ren’s eyes go pink at the corners. He’s still smiling, upper lip trembling just a bit. Hux isn’t sure what his own face is doing. It doesn’t matter.

“How can I thank you for that?” Hux asks. It’s a real question. Spending the rest of his life with Ren doesn’t feel like enough to offer in return for what he’ll get for doing so. “Maybe we’ll figure it out. I love you. I love everything about you. I love every day you lived before I knew you. The good ones and the awful ones, too, because they made you. I wasn’t there and I don’t know every detail but I can tell you that, standing here, I love them all. Darling, loving you didn’t change me, but it saved me.”

Ren pinches his eyes shut. Despite this, for once, nothing in Hux doubts that he might have said something wrong. He can feel it flowing from Ren to him like wordless language: yes, finally, and just in time, he said the right thing. He brings Ren’s hands to his mouth and kisses them until Ren exhales and opens his eyes, licks his lips, clears his throat.

“I was going to play you a song,” Ren says. He swallows again, looks down and then back up at Hux, nodding. “But now I just want to say something.”

“All right,” Hux says, without really meaning to.

More nervous laughter from the crowd.

Ren smiles, lopsided.

“Baby,” he says, wobbly and gleeful, grin widening. “You saved me, too.”

Ren lurches forward and kisses Hux like he could not have waited any longer if his life depended upon it, like they’ve never kissed before and might have died without ever doing so if he didn’t do it now. Cheers erupt, scattered at first and then widespread. Hux isn’t sure if it’s Ren’s arty friends or his wild family who started the hollering celebratory noise. They seem interchangeable, suddenly, while Hux laughs with Ren’s tongue against his lips. At some point during this ruckus Phasma exclaims that they’re married, it’s done.

Afterward there is music for hours, long past sundown. Hux drinks too much and eats too little, talks to everyone. He sings a duet with Leia while Ren and friends play accompaniment. In the morning this will all be gone like a spirit carnival, and he ends up enjoying it without reservations, as a temporary miracle, particularly with the lasting miracle of Ren at his side.

At one point he thinks he sees a woman with a long, red braid slipping quietly through the crowd. He follows her but loses the vision, deciding it was only that when he ends up standing alone beneath his favorite feature in their garden, a tree with fan-like leaves that are just beginning to turn red as the season changes.

He turns back toward the living and locks eyes with Ren. His heels seem to lift off the ground when they smile at each other through the crowd. Maybe he’s just remembering something: a past life, some other world, the place where they learned to be afraid of anything good. He’s wandered into a liminal space, only he doesn’t believe in those, so he hurries back to his husband and half-leaps into his arms. He lets himself be spun around in the center of the dwindling crowd that remains, eyes pinched shut and face pressed against Ren’s fragrant, sweat-warm throat. He thinks nothing can stop them this time, that he’ll probably learn otherwise someday, that he’s fought battles to find Ren before and will again, that he won’t remember this feeling precisely enough when the sun rises, and that it’s all right. It’s all right, all fine here now, and will be again, again.

 

**