The first firework catches Hux off-guard. He flinches like a shell-shocked war veteran, although the only battles he's seen have been in Academy simulation programs. Feeling foolish, he straightens up and holds his position as another firework blooms colourfully into the night sky.
He shouldn't be here. It's obscene, watching these deluded, pathetic fools celebrate the moment they gave up any hope of a fair, equitable galaxy in exchange for the rule of an orphaned princess, a corrupt senate, and a group of mystics who claim to be peaceful, yet possess weapons that can slice off a limb with the barest of touches. Hux should be where he always is on this night, at home on Arkanis, lying beneath a thin blanket in a quiet dormitory. But, although he's young, Hux has lofty career ambitions. It was those ambitions that led him to accept this optional, extra-credit assignment: infiltrate Coruscant during the Battle of Endor celebrations. Fit in. Ignore all personal feelings to go undercover, and play the role so well no one knows the truth.
The challenge is presented every year. This year, a dozen students accepted it. As a nineteen-year-old second year student, Hux is the youngest. The rest are all final year students, on the cusp of graduation. Hux doesn't know where they are. They're scattered across the planet, and they won't see each other again until they return to the Academy for the debriefing and, hopefully, for the congratulations.
Hux runs a hand through his hair. It feels awkwardly casual, loose when normally every strand is carefully gelled into place. His clothes, too, feel wrong. His blue tunic is unfastened at the throat and hangs over the edge of his tight black pants. He was able to keep his highly polished military boots, at least. He thinks of them, like a child with a comfort object, as he moves through the heaving crowd.
A device attached to his skin peers out from the unfastened collar of his tunic, holorecording all of his interactions with locals. It will ensure that everyone back home has an accurate picture of how, exactly, Hux spent his night. He's spoken to three Coruscanti already. Two of them were so drunk, Hux isn't sure they'd have noticed if he was a Hutt slithering along the pavement, but the third, a meat pie vendor, remarked to Hux what a wonderful day it was. “Yes,” Hux replied, purchasing a hand-held pie with foreign-feeling New Republic credits. “It certainly is fortunate that we defeated the Empire.”
“Too right,” the man nodded, as if Hux's remarks were the height of wisdom. Hux stepped away to where he stands now, leaning against a stone planter containing more empty drink containers than flowers, looking up at the spectacle in the sky like everybody else.
The pie is made from bantha meat, apparently, repulsive but a necessary bit of local colour if he wants to fit in. He's eaten worse, anyway. As he opens his mouth, Hux has the strange sensation of being watched. He looks around, but nobody stands out. I know how you feel. The words appear in Hux's mind. He frowns, then looks around again. Still, nothing seems out of the ordinary.
Hux eats his pie. It's not as bad as he anticipated. He's almost enjoying it when suddenly, he's jostled, the pie forced into his face. Hux looks up. There's a boy, probably even younger than Hux, too close beside him. Hux scowls and wipes meat off his cheek with his sleeve. “Sorry,” the boy says, breathless. He has a big nose, big ears and big eyes, and a long, thin braid hangs from one side of his hair. A Jedi.
“Be careful,” Hux grunts. He takes another bite of the pie, trying to look like he belongs there. The boy is still looking at him, a strange expression on his face. Hux's heart begins to beat faster. He can't know. It's impossible. Hux will be a laughingstock if he fails the challenge, not to mention the danger of being caught as a First Order soldier this deep in New Republic territory.
The fireworks increase in amount and duration, filling the air with incessant pop pop popping. Then, abruptly, the display ceases. There's a roar of applause, and all around him, people embrace and kiss jubilantly.
Hux should join in the cheering, he assumes. He folds the remains of the pie carefully into the paper wrapper, sets it on the edge of the planter, and is attacked by the boy.
No, not attacked. Hux stiffens, his first reaction to fight back, but he restrains the impulse just in time. Rather than beating him, the boy is kissing him, a sloppy, unpracticed mouth pressing wetly against Hux's. Hux reels. Before he can do anything, before he can even think, the boy pulls back. He looks at Hux for a moment, his cheeks red. “Sorry,” he says, again. “I'm sorry. Happy Battle of Endor Day.” Then he's gone, swallowed up by the crowd.
Hux smiles. A few years ago, one of the cadets convinced a drunken Coruscanti to “lend him a thousand credits to start a nerf farm”, but no one has ever been kissed before. Hux has never been kissed before, by anyone, but that's irrelevant. I win, Hux thinks, and he feels happily grateful toward the boy for it.
Ben loves Battle of Endor Day. It's the one day of the year when Luke lets them act like normal teenagers; no, like normal people. This year is better than ever. Ben and the other padawans—well, mostly the other padawans, since Luke likes them more than he likes Ben, blood relationship be damned—convinced him to let them go to Coruscant itself.
Almost as soon as they arrived, Ben lost the other padawans in the crowd. He doesn't care. He sees them all day, every day. He didn't come here to spend even more time with them. He did come here with a goal in mind, though. Ben wants to kiss someone after the fireworks.
Who this person will be, he doesn't know. He knows what sort of person haunts his fantasies and his dreams: a human man, older than him but not too old, handsome, but maybe not in a holofilm kind of way. Honestly, at this point, Ben isn't picky. He just wants to take advantage of his one night of freedom, before going back to his training and to his sexless Jedi life. He roams around, convincing a stall attendant to give him a free dish of hanava fruit ice cream. When the fireworks start, Ben stops and watches for a bit, but they aren't that impressive. He looks around at the crowd instead, excitement thrumming inside him. It could be like this all the time, a voice within him murmurs. You could be free. You could be powerful. You could have anyone you want. Ben knows this voice. He's been hearing it since he was little, and, while its exact words differ, the message is always the same. Ben forces himself to ignore it.
Ben's eyes land on a man standing at the back of the crowd, leaning against a rubbish-filled planter. He's just Ben's type. Slender, pale, beautiful. He looks out of place, awkwardly eating a pie like he's trying to fit in somewhere he knows he doesn't belong. I know how you feel, Ben thinks at him. Too loudly, obviously. The man starts and looks around. Ben stands still, willing the man not to see him. He doesn't.
Nerves ravage Ben's body, twisting his stomach and making him sweat. He wants to kiss that handsome man. He wants it so much that it hurts. If he's honest, he wants to do a lot more than kiss him, but they are in public, and a lifetime of disappointment has led Ben to temper his expectations. Be brave, he thinks. But reasonable. He repeats the words, then a second time. It's a longstanding trick. Keep thinking it until you believe it. It's never worked before. It doesn't work now, not really, but Ben imagines going back to Luke's for another year of virginal frustration. That's what spurs him to act.
Ben means to sidle up suavely, but he's too enthusiastic. He comes up too quickly, and he bumps into the man, pushing his pie into his face. Up close, Ben notices he's just a boy, really, not much older than Ben. That's both reassuring and even more disconcerting.
“Sorry,” Ben says, as the other boy wipes meat from his face.
“Be careful.” He sounds cross, but there's something else in his voice. He's lost, Ben thinks. Like me. Wishful thinking, maybe, but it makes Ben happy to imagine he's not alone. When the fireworks stop and the boy puts down his pie to applaud, Ben swoops in. The kiss is off-centre and probably too wet, but the boy's lips are soft. Ben is near enough to feel the other boy's heartbeat. A sob rises in Ben's chest, and his cock stirs in his leggings. Ben breaks off the kiss, filled with regret about what can never be.
The boy is flushed. Ben can feel himself blushing, too. Ben wants to pull the boy into his arms, to kiss him again, over and over. To beg the boy to allow him to do everything he's imagined in the dark of night, alone in his corner of the sleeping hut. That's impossible. “Sorry,” Ben says. “I'm sorry. Happy Battle of Endor Day.” He runs off, before he can do anything to ruin this moment. He knows he's going to treasure it for the rest of his life.
“It's Battle of Endor Day.”
Hux doesn't look up from his datapad. “Is it? Well, if you want to throw a party, be my guest. I can't promise a good turnout, though.”
Behind his mask, Kylo Ren frowns. “I didn't mean that.” The Battle of Endor also marked the death of Darth Vader. It's a somber day, one for reflection and regret, nothing to celebrate at all.
Still, a memory stirs. It's Ben's. Ren tries hard to suppress them, but occasionally, one slips through. This one is particularly hard to banish. Ben's first kiss, at a Battle of Endor celebration on Coruscant with a handsome stranger who tasted like bantha meat. The man looked a little like Hux, now that Ren thinks of it. He had red hair, at any rate, and he was slender, although the boy on Coruscant was dressed in rags and anxious, longing to fit in. Hux, Ren is certain, was born in a military uniform and has never felt out of place in his life.
“If you need me,” Ren announces, “I'll be in my quarters, meditating on the death of Darth Vader.”
“Thank you so much for sharing,” Hux replies, caustically. Ren turns to storm out when something catches at the corner of his mind. It's not a thought, exactly, more of a sensation. Hux is experiencing a pleasant memory. If he concentrates, Ren might be able to dip into his mind and see what it is, but Hux will doubtlessly sense his presence, and it will cause a fight. Strangely, Ren isn't in the mood to fight with him.
“See you later,” Ren says, as he heads for the door. He's not sure what possesses him to utter the words. He normally walks away from Hux without saying anything.
“Yes, see you later.” Hux repeats, then is immediately surprised. Ren can sense the pleasant memory evaporating, immediately replaced by confusion, over Ren's comment and over Hux's own civil response to it.
It's not worth thinking about, Ren tells himself, as he heads down the hallway. Hux is not worth thinking about. It's his mantra, kept up since Snoke first sent Ren to work with the First Order, and he is not going to let it slip now.