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>red_emperor: Lick it off your fingers.
>red_emperor: I’ll pay extra.
>red_emperor: I want to see.
>darthben: i don’t show my face in the first session
>red_emperor: Just your mouth, then.

Hux’s hands are lube-slick and sweaty and leave sticky fingerprints on the screen of his datapad as he types. The feed pixelates briefly; there’s the muffled sound of the man on the other side breathing, typing, his come-spattered torso gently rising and falling, still flushed. 

>darthben: how much extra
>red_emperor: Ten credits.
>darthben: 20
>red_emperor: Fifteen.
>darthben: send it to me
>darthben: before i do it
>red_emperor has transferred 15 credits!

In a while, he’ll think about how to hide that charge from his superiors. Hux doesn’t need a charge from GalacticBoyz showing up on an official statement to the Order. But for now he takes his softening cock in hand, still sensitive and prickling with the feeling of release, and watches the man—Ben, according to his username—move again. Hux thinks of splaying his palms over Ben’s generous pectorals, drawing his thumb over a precious pink nipple. Feeling that fat cock inside him, riding Ben until he begs to come.

It has been approximately seven years since Hux last got laid, not that he’s counting. Back at the academy, and when he was just a cadet stuck on some Outer Rim wasteland with nothing better to do, it was easy to find his way into others’ beds. He has always been attractive in a way that sneaks up on others, and so after mandated social functions or particularly physical sparring matches, he has been led to bedrooms, hallways, showers. But with the title of general came more responsibility, the fear of creating intergalactic incidents with one misjudged coupling. So he has become well-acquainted with his hand, and the images held in the locked-away parts of his mind, and the more illicit corners of the holonet.

Hux had been touching himself for what felt like hours, the usual routine of hand on cock suddenly boring to him, when he’d selected Ben from a series of thumbnails on the front page of GalacticBoyz. While the others had displayed their hard cocks or sultry-smiling retouched faces, Ben’s thumbnail showed only his torso, pale as moonlight and washed with mole-studded muscles. Once, in a starport in the Minos Cluster, he’d heard whispers of boys on screens who would do anything for a few credits. Anything.

Well, anything could get him in trouble. So perhaps that’s why Hux selected Ben—faceless, discreet, mysterious. Even as Ben had jerked himself off, he’d kept his face just out of frame, and Hux had yearned for it, to see the face of the boy he’d imagined fucking him, to watch his mouth form every moan, every whisper of fuck, you feel so good on my cock, you’re so tight.

And now Hux watches Ben trail his fingers up the divot of his stomach, a little trough sticky with come and sweat. His fingers are particularly square, the same iridescent shade as Ben’s torso. He scoops up the come with his middle and index fingers (a fleeting thought of those fingers knuckle-deep in Hux’s ass) and holds his hand just before the camera. A gasp shudders through Hux’s body—he’d asked Ben to say emperor when he came, to pledge fealty and devotion, and when Ben’s cock had spurted hot and white, he’d been breathing, I’m the emperor’s, I’m just yours. That had tipped Hux over an edge he didn’t know he was on, and he’d come hard and fast and silent, shocked.

At the top of the frame, Ben’s jaw comes into view, and his mouth, and the hint of his hair. Inky black. His lips are plush, red, almost feminine, and he passes his tongue over his bottom lip in a motion so natural and unpracticed that its sensuality strikes Hux through. Slick, Ben plunges his fingers into his mouth and sucks, the noise obscene, the visual even more so.

“Shit,” Hux whispers, tempted to stroke himself off again—never mind that he’s still quivering from the first time, still raw around the edges with the pain of want. It’s easy to imagine Ben’s lips (they must be soft, Hux dares to think) closing around Hux’s cock, this muscular body folded up below him, Hux gripping the boy by his shoulders. Moreover, he thinks of fucking Ben’s mouth, and Ben, obedient, allowing it, swallowing down Hux’s come as though hungry for it, thirsty for it as a man exiled in a desert. Parched.

Ben withdraws his fingers. Even in the fuzzy stream, Hux can see that they’re slick with his own saliva. No come left, none. Clean. “Did you like that, Emperor?” Ben says, his voice husky, lips curling with a smile. Crooked teeth, jagged as an animal’s. Hux implores his hands not to shake as he types again.

>red_emperor: Yes.
>red_emperor: Next time you’ll show me your whole face.
>red_emperor: I don’t care what it costs.

He hears Ben laughing, a sort of strained sound. The sliver of his face shifts back out of frame, and Hux is suddenly desperate to see it again. Next time—he’s admitted to himself now that there will be a next time—he’ll get to watch Ben’s face contort, and then he’ll be able to really think of covering that face, that mouth, in come.

>darthben: my first repeat customer
>darthben: guess i should give you a discount
>darthben: jk i need the credits
>darthben: but i wont charge you extra
>darthben: if you want to make this a regular thing
>red_emperor: What is “jk”?
>red_emperor: I don’t know this shorthand.
>darthben: just kidding
>darthben: are you old
>red_emperor: Is 34 old?
>darthben: older than me
>darthben: so yes
>darthben: ;)
>red_emperor: You’ll have to explain that, too.
>darthben: its a wink
>darthben: have you never used the fucking holonet before
>red_emperor: I want to make this a “regular thing,” as you said.
>darthben: cool
>darthben: you must be pretty horny
>red_emperor: If I want your input, I’ll ask for it.
>darthben: whatever you say emperor
>darthben: ;)
>red_emperor has tipped 10 credits!
>darthben has disconnected. 

The feed goes black.

Every night of the next week, Hux brings himself off to a fantasy of Ben’s face. It’s more than he usually jerks off—once or twice a week, at most—but he’s been stuck on the sound of Ben (whose face he has never seen, who may as well be a fucking hologram) calling him emperor. It’s a stupid username, a stupid fantasy, but nothing’s ever quite gotten him off the same way. In his dreams of men with strong hands and soft mouths, Hux wears a crown and a scarlet cape with gold trim and nothing else, and he exists in the hallowed space between god and man that is royalty.

Ben is the first person he’s ever actually divulged this to, though. With his other bedmates, it never quite felt right—not the sort of thing you foist on a one-night stand. But it’s not like he’ll ever know Ben, and anyway Hux figures this is sort of Ben’s job, to hear the depraved things people want in bed, and to fuck himself and look pretty and to show his cock to whomever sends credits. So Hux doesn’t really feel bad about it, and it’s not as though, in the grand scheme of things, this little quirk of his is really that depraved.

Tonight is his next session with Ben, and of course it’s all he’s been able to think about all day. His shifts today have not been particularly notable, except that Kylo Ren has been in an especially poor mood, and would have destroyed yet another set of monitors if not for Hux’s swift intervention. It is always, always a challenge dealing with him. Hux has yet to see him without that idiotic mask on. The effect is, of course, Vaderesque, producing rumors that he’s horribly misshapen beneath, his face little more than a gaping, bloody hole. In truth Hux thinks he’s probably an alien, something humanoid but not quite—Chiss, most likely, or maybe Galacian. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what Ren is. He’s an irritant, and a dangerous, expensive irritant at that. But Snoke favors him, much to Hux’s chagrin, and so Hux puts up with more than he would ultimately prefer to. 

It’s the thought of Ben that gets him through the day, the promise of finally seeing his face. When the shift gets particularly tedious, Hux lets himself imagine what Ben might look like. He arranges a face with delicate features—light eyes, blue maybe, and brows with a thin arch, and a round nose. And that night-black hair falling down over his ears with a soft curl, and his lips so pink they might be painted that way. Murmuring your majesty this time, your worship, Emperor Hux.

When he finally makes it to his quarters, his body has already begun to knot with desire, arousal. He quickly strips down to just his undershirt and briefs, dimly aware of his stiffening erection. Lowers the lights, props himself up against the rigid black headboard of his bed, datapad in hand. There’s lube hidden in the compartment by the bed, tissues too, but those can all wait for now.

He turns on the datapad with the thumbprint sensor, opens up the private browser. He’s set up a series of security checks, ways to reroute around the Order’s invasive monitoring system, which he of course designed. He had been young then, barely out of the Academy, and the flaws in the protocol are ever more obvious now. Not so difficult to hide one’s identity, sign onto a Resistance server, access the sites that way. These flaws have come in handy more than once, for both political and personal machinations. One day he’ll get around to fixing them, once this problem is taken care of.

A few clicks and he’s back at GalacticBoyz. Hux logs into his account (red_emperor, he thinks, how idiotic) and again selects the image of Ben, or rather Ben’s stomach, with its deeply-lined muscles and the thin, dark trail of hair from navel down, like the tail of a comet, leaving the spacedust of moles in its wake. A pulsating green circle next to Ben’s username indicates that he is online. Hux taps it twice, opening up the now-familiar chat window and black screen where Ben’s feed will soon be. 

He transfers 60 credits for the base session. Earlier today he’d preemptively cleared the charge, citing it in his statements as an investigatory necessity. Investigating Ben’s face, Hux supposes. Hux had never expected to become the sort of man who paid for sex, but in desperate times, desperate measures are called for. He’s able to rationalize it as a kind of self-preservation.

He’s slightly more hesitant to admit that maybe it’s loneliness. When trying to decide how to handle his sexual urges, this had seemed the best route. The anonymity is a nice safety precaution, but being able to communicate makes it slightly more personal than watching the same tired holovid for the hundredth time. So it’s worth the cost, really, and it’s real without being real, and hearing a hard-cocked boy beg for the emperor to come all over him is ultimately priceless.

>red_emperor has entered the room.
>darthben has entered the room.
>darthben: hold on im not undressed yet
>red_emperor: You could show me.
>red_emperor: Or does that cost extra?
>darthben: what
>darthben: you want me to strip for you
>darthben: i dont do that
>red_emperor: I’d pay you, of course.
>darthben: no
>darthben: just wait 

Odd. Hux doesn’t have much experience (any experience) with these sorts of things, but he figures most boys would jump at the promise of a few extra credits just to take their clothes off on-camera. Well—he won’t push it. It’s cheaper this way.

>red_emperor: Do I get to see your face tonight?
>red_emperor: Your emperor demands it.
>darthben: ok
>darthben: send me some more though
>darthben: and i keep the credits even if you dont like what you see
>red_emperor: Why wouldn’t I like it?
>red_emperor: I’m sure your face is as alluring as the rest of you.
>darthben: i dont look like the other guys here
>darthben: perfect
>red_emperor: So long as you’re not hideously deformed.
>red_emperor: Your mouth is gorgeous.
>red_emperor: Made for my cock.
>darthben: haha
>darthben: yes emperor
>darthben: just for you
>red_emperor has transferred 20 credits!
>red_emperor: Is that enough?
>darthben: thats a lot
>darthben: yes
>darthben: maybe i can throw in something extra for you ;)
>darthben: im almost ready

Anticipation winds through Hux’s body. What if Ben really is hideously deformed? If the Vader-inspired moniker is true, and his face is barely a face at all? No, no, that seems unlikely. Best to stay calm—Ben’s going to look lovely, every bit as alluring as the image Hux has constructed in his mind.

A progress bar appears on the black field. Ben’s feed loads slowly; he’d attributed it to a spotty connection. Hux withdraws the lube from the compartment by the bed and rests it next to him, not quite ready to get his hands dirty just yet. Soon he’ll be kicking off his briefs, won’t be able to keep his palms off himself.

The feed clicks on. It’s Ben’s torso, too close—he’s standing, Hux thinks. Hux can’t get over just how pale Ben is, and all those moles flecked across his body like drops of paint. Hux’s own skin is a similar shade of white, prone to flushing pink when embarrassed or aroused, with freckles here and there on the insides of his wrists and the points of his shoulders. 

>darthben: ready?
>red_emperor: The anticipation is murdering me, Ben.

He hears a noise like swallowing, a deep breath, and then Ben is stepping back a little, bending just so, and his face takes up most of the screen. “Hello, Emperor,” Ben says, and Hux gasps.

Ben looks—different. Not like the boy Hux had been imagining at all. The nose is large and sharp, and his brows are thick, and his eyes are stunningly dark. His face is a thoroughly inelegant collection of features, the proportions all wrong. Lips too girlish, oversized ears peeking through thick curls, jaw uneven, as if once broken. And yet there is a certain innocence to Ben’s face, a boyishness in the sweep of his hair, the moles on his cheek. 

Not what Hux had expected. But he has a captivating sweetness. It’ll do. 

“So—worth the credits?” Ben says. He rakes his hair back. He’s eager to please—Ben had been this way last week, Hux could tell, even without seeing his face. Desperate for some kind of approval. Hux had complimented his body and Ben’s cock had twitched involuntarily. Now, Ben can hardly keep his eyes on the camera, waiting for Hux’s response.

>red_emperor: Absolutely.
>red_emperor: You’re fucking stunning.

“Okay,” Ben says, face going red. “Is it okay if I just—talk to you this way instead of typing?” 

>red_emperor: Yes.
>red_emperor: Let me see your whole body.
>red_emperor: Please.

“Whole body,” Ben murmurs, before he adjusts the camera and steps back. Seeing him totally naked, head to toe, knocks the breath out of Hux. With Ben standing against a polished black durasteel wall, not unlike the ones in Hux’s own bedroom, Hux finally appreciates how very large Ben is. He is a hulking man with a boy’s face, perhaps uncomfortable in his own body, judging by the way he immediately crosses his arms over his chest and then uncrosses them, flexing his hands before finally clasping them behind his back. Every bit of him appears muscular, expertly carved, from his round biceps to his thick thighs (Hux immediately thinks of them locked around his face, the full weight of Ben balanced deliciously, precariously above him). And his cock—fuck. Even soft, it’s big as the rest of him, which Hux knew already, but seeing the whole of Ben like this makes it more impressive. 

Slowly, carefully, Ben turns, his muscles moving beneath his skin. The image is so enthralling that Hux can no longer keep his hands still, and so he pumps a bit of lube into one of his palms and slips his hand into his briefs. His hand is cold against him, and he shivers as he watches Ben move. He faces away from the camera now, the wings of his shoulder blades like tectonic plates shifting. Ben’s ass is objectively perfect, round and thick and dimpled at the hips. Hux wants suddenly to dig his nails in, to leave scorched red handprints that sting for days. 

>red_emperor: You’re really an incredible specimen.
>red_emperor: I’d like to do everything to you.

Ben walks slowly back toward the camera when he hears the message notification. His skin seems to ripple with each footfall, all those muscles tensing and releasing. Hux thinks of—touching him, all of him, any of him. His lovely pink nipples, oddly dainty on a man of Ben’s size. Hux imagines how Ben would moan at the feeling of a nipple rolled between Hux’s fingers, and of Hux’s tongue and teeth and lips slick over that nipple, and whether or not he’d beg for more. 

Ben laughs a little, slightly nervous, upon reading Hux’s message. “We’ll see,” he says. “Do you wanna get me hard? I just got off work, so I didn’t have time to get ready before this.”

>red_emperor: How do you propose I do that?
>red_emperor: I can’t very well touch you.
>red_emperor: Much as I’d like to.

“I don’t know,” Ben says, shrugging. His mannerisms are all so teenaged. They send Hux right back to nights at the Academy, with boys who had no idea what they were doing, and yet were so charming in their utter cluelessness. Boy after anxious boy, Hux had bedded, careful not to forget how anxious he had been once, too. “Tell me what you want to do to me. I have to fix the camera so hold on. I can still see what you type, though.” 

The screen goes black again for a moment and Hux hears the squeak of a mattress, bedding rustling, Ben grunting a bit. Briefly, Hux closes his eyes, thinking of Ben next to him, or before him in the room, standing at the foot of the bed. Ben would certainly dwarf him, nearly double his size, gargantuan. And Hux wants to feel all that weight, all the sheer power of his hands and thighs and every toned muscle stretching, pounding into him. Fuck

>red_emperor: Where to start?
>red_emperor: I’d let you hold me down. Do whatever you wanted with me.
>red_emperor: I want you to fuck me deep and hard, so I’d let you hold my legs back.
>red_emperor: Or I’d ride you, and you’d hold me up.
>red_emperor: I’d put my hands on your tits and torture your nipples until they turned red.
>red_emperor: And then I’d keep going.
>red_emperor: Because you’d beg me to.
>red_emperor: And you’d put your massive hands on my hard cock and you’d start to stroke me.
>red_emperor: You’d tell me how much you want my cock as you touch me. You’d beg for it.
>red_emperor: You’d beg me to come on your face and your tits and in your ass and maybe I would.
>red_emperor: Or maybe I wouldn’t.
>red_emperor: You’d have to prove your devotion first, of course.

Hux is stroking himself steadily now, wishing for Ben’s hands. There’s a rustling again and the picture snaps back on. Ben is reclined on a bed, lying on his side, head propped up on one hand. His other hand lingers at his side, just over his ribs, long fingers rubbing the place where his pectoral meets his torso. He’s still soft, but the tips of his nipples are delicately erect, as though he’s been running his fingers over them, twisting them just the way he likes, gasping for breath. 

Ben’s eyes move rapidly, reading the messages. “This is filthy, Emperor,” Ben says, a smile playing at his lips. “I do want you to come on my tits.”

>red_emperor: Touch yourself.
>red_emperor: Did you think of me today?
>red_emperor: I could hardly focus on my duties, I was so busy thinking of your mouth.
>red_emperor: And your cock.

“I’m always thinking about my emperor,” Ben says. He repositions himself momentarily, pumping lube into his hand. The label is the same as Hux’s, he notices, and the similarity makes him feel strangely connected to Ben, like he could actually be here. “How do you want me to touch myself?”

>red_emperor: Tell me how my hand feels around your cock.
>red_emperor: Play with your nipples, too. You like that, don’t you?

Ben steadies himself on an elbow, getting his lubed hand on his cock and the other at his nipple. He circles his fingers around his nipple before taking it between thumb and index finger, squeezing. Ben lets out a little sigh, his eyelashes fluttering. “Fuck,” he breathes, tweaking his nipple just so, biting his lip. “Mm, I like that, your hand is so—good on my cock. Been waiting all day for you, Emperor. All week.”

This is all a play, of course. Hux knows that. It’s fantasy. But maybe—Ben did think of him. Perhaps now and then a thought drifted through his mind, maybe just a question of what red_emperor looks like, or what his voice sounds like. The same way Hux had spent all week dreaming, imagining, Ben’s face. The rub of Hux’s cock against the inside of his briefs is growing to be too much; he’s hard now, watching Ben slip into this dream-state. “Fuck, Emperor,” Ben is murmuring, “faster, please.”

>red_emperor: I go slower.
>red_emperor: As slow as possible.

Hux types it and then shoves his briefs off. He kicks them off the bed onto the floor, quickly getting his hand back around himself. “That’s mean,” Ben says, but he obeys, slows the speed of his strokes so much it appears to physically pain him. The pace of Ben’s hand is agonizing. Hux matches it with his own, biting hard onto his bottom lip when the pleasure gets to be almost too much. Ben’s cock is beginning to stiffen, going slightly red beneath his fingers. Fuck, he’s big, but Hux wants him, wants to feel the weight of that cock in his own hand, to stretch his lips around it and breathe in deeply of Ben’s scent, and then to feel every perfect inch of that cock within him, nearly too much, teetering on the edge of painful, giving way to pleasure that almost, almost ends him.

“Please, Emperor, just a little faster. Show your mercy,” Ben pleads. He’s shifted his fingers to his other nipple now, and he strokes himself with a full fist, his knuckles nearly white from the strain.

>red_emperor: I am not known for my mercy.
>red_emperor: Are you devoted to me?
>red_emperor: Have you been loyal?

“Yes, Emperor,” Ben says, the words bleeding into a moan. “I’d do anything for you.”

>red_emperor: That’s right.
>red_emperor: I’ll go a little faster.
>red_emperor: Not too fast, Ben, I want you to savor it.

“Thank you, Emperor,” Ben murmurs, and he groans as he redoubles his pace, fully hard now, the length of his cock slick with lube. Hux thinks, unbidden, of Kylo Ren, or rather the Knights of Ren, so mysterious yet so devoted to their master. He has no interest in understanding them, or the inner workings of the so-called Force which Ren goes on about, but the undying faithfulness of the Knights to Ren is enticing. If Hux is an emperor, then Ben is his knight. A follower, a hound. 

>red_emperor: I’ve been thinking of you on your knees for me.
>red_emperor: A natural position for one as submissive as yourself.
>red_emperor: I have little tolerance for begging, except when it comes to you.
>red_emperor: You’re a very special case.
>red_emperor: My knight. So loyal.

Ben’s upper lip quirks slightly; his strokes stammer. “Knight,” he mouths, curiously, before blinking once and then nodding. “If you were here, I’d—never leave my knees. Do whatever you wanted for you. I’d suck your cock, and you’d—be on your throne. Emperors have thrones, right?” Ben arches an eyebrow, bites his bottom lip, removes his hand from his cock. He pushes himself up a bit, his cock against his stomach, all his muscles just on the edge of tense.

>red_emperor: Yes.
>red_emperor: You belong to me, don’t you?
>red_emperor: If you ever dared to think of another, I’d have you executed.

“I wouldn’t,” Ben says, almost pants. “I only think of you, Emperor.” He pauses for a moment, thinking, fingers rubbing idly at a nipple. “I said I’d give you something extra. Do you want to see?”

Hux feels weak with anticipation. He hopes for—he doesn’t know what. Ben fucking his own mouth with a toy bought from an alleyway shop on Coruscant, or Ben clamping his nipples until they bruise, tender, or Ben actually on his knees. They’ve hardly used any of the time in the session, but Hux is already close. He forces himself to slow down, not to spoil this too quickly. Lets go of his cock and types, shaky.

>red_emperor: Show me.

Ben grins, and then he reaches again for the lube, pumping a huge glob of it into his palm. He slicks his fingers, wipes off the excess on his chest, leaving his sternum glistening, leaving Hux desperate to lick it away, or to settle his cock between Ben’s tits and fuck that supple flesh.

“If you were here,” Ben says, “would you want to fuck me?” He’s shifting a little, readjusting the camera, sitting up now, spreading his legs.

 >red_emperor: I want to fuck you even though I’m not there.

Ben laughs. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I want that too.” He swallows. “I want your cock in me. Want you to fuck me hard, Emperor. No one ever has and I’ve been waiting for you.” 

>red_emperor: Am I really meant to believe you’re a virgin?
>red_emperor: Roleplay is one thing, but don’t be preposterous. 

Blush flares in Ben’s cheeks. “I’m actually serious. Promise.” He scoots one leg up, leaving the other flat, and slips a lube-wet hand under the meat of his thigh. The defined lines of his muscles are even more visible now, straining a bit in this position, and Ben’s hand spans nearly the width of his thigh, despite its larger-than-normal size. He pushes his fingers against his skin and the skin flushes red for a moment, just a brief flash that sets Hux aflame. “I’ve never, uh, done this before, so. Sorry if it’s bad. But it’s special for you. A gift to the emperor, from his—his knight.” 

>red_emperor: And what a fine knight you are.
>red_emperor: Sir Ben. Just precious.

Hux’s mouth is dry. He becomes acutely aware of this, suddenly, for reasons unknown, when Ben raises himself up slightly and dips a finger between the cleft of his ass. Ben’s whole body seems to thrum, all nervous energy and tight muscles. “Tell me what your cock’s like,” Ben says suddenly, blurting the words out. “I want it to feel like you when I—fuck myself.” Hux thinks then that he might actually perish—what a ludicrous request, to describe his cock. Typical of this type of boy, obsessed with looks and size and the perfectly toned body.

>red_emperor: That’s a bit vulgar!

“You’re on a cam site,” Ben says. “Tell me about it. Please, Emperor.”

>red_emperor: Put a finger in and I’ll tell you when you’re at the right size.

“Okay, I—guess that works,” Ben says. And Hux watches, transfixed, as Ben eases a fingertip into himself. Ben moves too quickly, letting out a pained gasp when he pushes in, not ready for the sudden fullness of his own finger. Hux is reminded of the first time he felt this—an older boy at the academy who’d taken some kind of pity on him. How strange it had felt, like he was going to die from the new ache of it, and yet he had begged for more, more please.

Ben draws in a deep breath and settles the finger inside himself, rocking his hips just enough to hit somewhere good. His eyes are squinted shut and when he isn’t trying to steady his breath, he’s biting his lip so hard Hux thinks it may bleed. 

>red_emperor: Gorgeous.
>red_emperor: But not quite enough.
>red_emperor: Another finger.

Ben pries an eye open to read the messages, his face twisting into a mask of pleasure and shame and hurt. “Fuck,” he says, and with his free hand he desperately grabs the lube and pumps it onto the exposed fingers, still tottering just above the bed, still rutting on his finger. He stretches himself a little, widens his legs as much as possible, and presses his middle finger to his rim, tentative.

Hux meets Ben’s eyes in the feed when Ben pushes this finger in, too, and nearly collapses onto the bed. It is a sight like nothing Hux has ever seen: this boy before him, made for him, fucking himself so beautifully on two fingers, for the first time in his life. Hux feels as though he may come just from the image alone. Ben lets out a long string of curses when the second finger is fully sheathed in him. “Shit,” he groans, “oh, fuck, fuck.” 

>red_emperor: You’re doing well, Ben.
>red_emperor: One more finger should do it.

It is, Hux supposes, a bit sadistic. Were he actually in Ben’s room, he would take the time to prepare Ben himself—not in this haphazard, desperate way, but with the care that Academy boy had shown him so long ago. But Ben is so sure of himself, and Ben, moreover, needs to earn those credits. So he doesn’t feel too bad about it, until Ben’s voice wavers as he says, “I don’t know if I can.” 

>red_emperor: I thought you wanted it to feel like me?
>red_emperor: Go slow and spread wide and think of me.
>red_emperor: I’d take care of you, my best knight.
>red_emperor: It’ll feel good once you do it, I promise.

Ben’s face is so, so red, and there’s sweat on his forehead as though he has just come from the desert into cool air. His bottom lip trembles, and he slowly pumps the two fingers within himself, body convulsing as he does. 

>red_emperor: Tell me what it feels like.
>red_emperor: I don’t actually want to hurt you.
>red_emperor: You’re far too pretty to hurt.

“It feels—I wish it were actually you,” Ben says. There are long pauses between each of his words, his fingers moving as he speaks. “I kind of want to—turn inside out. It hurts but it feels good.” 

>red_emperor: I wish I were there to talk you through it.
>red_emperor: I had someone to talk me through my first time.
>red_emperor: I think I’d stroke your hair and tell you how gorgeous you are like this.
>red_emperor: And no one else has ever seen you like this. Falling apart for me.
>red_emperor: Because you waited for me. You wanted to save it just for me.
>red_emperor: And it was worth the wait. What a beautiful sight.

Ben moans so loudly it threatens to blow out the speakers of Hux’s datapad. Without a moment more of hesitation, Ben inserts a third finger. He throws his head back, exposing the pale thin skin of his neck which Hux suddenly wants to break with his teeth, and he releases what can only be described as a howl, a guttural sort of wail that pangs through Hux’s whole body. “Fuck, fuck, Emperor,” Ben is saying, “oh, shit, you feel—oh, fuck. Fuck.”

>red_emperor: Go slow. Tell me how it feels.

“Feels—fuck, I need you here. Need you to—fuck—Emperor, it’s not as good as you. Do you like it? How I look like this?” Ben has drenched his fingers and the generous rounds of his ass in lube, soaking even his dark sheets. Fluid pearls at the tip of his cock and Hux thinks of pressing his lips there, tasting, licking it away. Maybe he’d kiss the soft of Ben’s inner thigh, suck hard on that skin. And when he fucked Ben, Ben would look like this, writhing beneath him, on the brink of tears. “Tell me, Emperor, please, please,” Ben begs, thrusting his fingers hard into himself. He’s fallen down onto the bed, no longer able to support himself, and the position looks like it strains his wrist, hurts him in a way too good to stop. 

>red_emperor: You look incredible.
>red_emperor: I’m so fucking hard for you, Ben.
>red_emperor: You’re so tight and I wish I could just fuck you open.
>red_emperor: Feel your tight ass around my cock and your thighs around my waist.
>red_emperor: I’d take good care of my knight.
>red_emperor: I’d keep you well-fucked and happy and you’d never leave my bed.

“Want you here,” Ben groans, taking his cock in hand. “Want you in me, fuck, Emperor, please fuck me. Come here and—give me your cock, I need it. I need you.” The camera shakes a little as Ben fucks himself, each short thrust sending seismic waves through the bed. He begins to stroke himself again, his movements a little frantic, jerky. “Can I come? Will you come in me?” 

>red_emperor: Don’t come until I do. I’m close
>red_emperor: Wish you were here on top of me
>red_emperor: Riding me
>red_emperor: Crushing me
>red_emperor: i’d fuck you deep, Ben
>red_emperor: So good that you’d cry and youd say my name
>red_emperor: So fucking tight around my cock
>red_emperor: Fuck i want you
>red_emperor: want to come all over you
>red_emperor: Make you drown in m ycome
>red_emperor: fill you up with it
>red_emperor: fuck yourself faster Ben. i’m so close

Ben does as he’s told, and Hux grips himself tight, trying desperately to replicate the way it would feel to actually fuck Ben, this gorgeous unfucked boy with thighs thick as tree trunks, with dark lashes fluttering rapidly against his cheeks. Hux thrusts into his own palm and tries to keep the datapad steady, watching Ben’s body contort, hearing him cry out, “oh, fuck, Emperor,” with each slight movement of his fingers. Hux thinks of being pinned down by Ben, Ben grinding down onto him with that tight ass, that massive body like something carved from stone, and Hux comes onto his undershirt, the release a blessing, Ben at his lips. Frantic, shaking, he types out a message to Ben, who looks as though he may lapse into tears at any moment.

>red_emperor: come for me ben 

“Thank you, Emperor,” Ben gasps, and when he comes, he comes violently, the sound he makes like that of a wounded animal, his whole body suddenly going slack. He spurts thick streams of come onto his stomach, groaning as he does, and his fingers go still inside him.

And then, separated by unknowable distance, they are both left bare, empty, sweating. Hux feels drained, every ounce of energy gone from his body, and Ben is quivering, wrecked. Hux has never been a sentimental sort, but seeing this huge man suddenly gone so small arouses a kind of care within him, an urge to press up behind Ben and hold him, rub his nose against the nape of Ben’s neck and promise he did well, that he was beautiful and lovely and so, so perfect. 

>red_emperor: That was amazing.
>red_emperor: You’re amazing.
>red_emperor: If I were there, I’d clean you up.
>red_emperor: Hold you for as long as you wanted.
>red_emperor: I’d stay with you.
>red_emperor: My most loyal, beautiful knight.

Ben has turned onto his side again, and he makes a soft, sad noise when he slowly removes his fingers, wincing a bit as he does. He’s still trying to catch his breath, his chest heaving. His hair sticks to his forehead, damp with sweat, and he nudges the camera over toward himself before wrapping his arms around his chest.

“Hi,” he says quietly, barely looking into the camera.

>red_emperor: Hello, Ben. 

“Did you like that?”

>red_emperor: Yes.
>red_emperor: Did you?

Ben nuzzles his face against his pillow. “Yeah. I still wish you were here, though.”

Hux knows this is the sort of thing these boys are trained to say. To keep customers coming back, to keep the credits rolling in. But it strikes a part of him he has been trying to suppress—that part of him which craves being needed, human connection. The job has deprived him of any real deep connection for so long, and, stupid as it is, this is the first time in years that he’s felt something more than contempt for another person. He thinks of Ben snuggled against his chest, a monstrous, animal thing trying to make himself small. Hux wants to tame him, hold him, own him. 

>red_emperor: You must say that to everyone.

He shakes his head. “No,” he says, “just you.” 

>red_emperor: I wish I were there, too.
>red_emperor: What’s it like where you are?

Ben pauses for a moment, unsure. 

>red_emperor: You can be vague. I just want to imagine being there with you.

“It’s—lonely. Cold. I miss home sometimes.” Ben blinks. “I don’t get to talk to people much.” 

>red_emperor: That’s what it’s like here for me, too.
>red_emperor: You can talk to me.
>red_emperor: If you want.

A hint of a smile flashes across Ben’s lips. “Okay,” he says. “I don’t want you to feel like you’ve wasted your credits, is all.” 

>red_emperor: I still get to look at you, don’t I?
>red_emperor: That’s enough.

Ben sighs. “Wish I could see you. I’m off-planet right now. Forgot how much I miss trees. And water. The ocean.” There’s still come drying on Ben’s stomach, still lube on his fingers, but he shifts his body around and pulls the thin dark sheets of his bed up over him, like he suddenly feels exposed. “Here it’s very—systematic. Orderly. I stick out a little too much, in a bad way.”

How strange, this quick transformation from man to boy. Ben looks afraid, alone. “There are things I’m good at that no one else is good at, and, uh, it feels sometimes like that’s the only reason people tolerate me. Just so they can use me to do stuff.” 

>red_emperor: Like putting three fingers in your ass?
>red_emperor: JK.
>red_emperor: Is that the right shorthand?

“You’re learning,” Ben laughs. Deep creases, smile lines, carve into his cheeks when he does. “No, it’s different. I chose this. The other stuff—people chose for me.”  He gnaws on his bottom lip. “That’s boring, though, you probably don’t care. Tell me what it’s like where you are.”

>red_emperor: I’m also off-planet.
>red_emperor: I prefer it to being on-planet, actually.
>red_emperor: In my quarters there’s a viewport and you can see eternities. So many stars.
>red_emperor: It’s also very institutional here. But I find that relaxing.
>red_emperor: I’m in a position of authority, and I like the responsibility.
>red_emperor: I’m very good at what I do.
>red_emperor: But it does keep others from attempting to form relationships with me.

“So you’re lonely, is what you’re saying,” Ben says. His fingers flex delicately over the edge of the sheet. The question settles somewhere in Hux’s heart, in the sentimental part of him that Ben has seems to have dredged up. It takes a moment for him to summon the strength to type an answer.

>red_emperor: Yes.
>red_emperor: Very.

Ben nods. “Yeah, so am I.” 

>red_emperor: You could tell me more about where you’re from.
>red_emperor: The trees and the ocean.
>red_emperor: Or am I keeping you from other clients?

“I blocked the whole evening off for you,” Ben says. “You really want to hear about that?” 

>red_emperor: Yes.
>red_emperor: You can shut your eyes and pretend I’m there next to you.
>red_emperor: And I’ll pretend you’re here next to me.
>red_emperor: Then it’s almost like it’s real.

Chapter Text

If it had happened only once, Hux would be able to write off the talking as an anomaly. It’s not possible that he could actually care for Ben, be invested in the mundane details of his life—the particular feel of the wind on his home planet; the distant, icy moon he watched pass through a viewport that morning—and yet he finds himself thinking of them often, wondering if Ben’s ship had once navigated this same asteroid field, if Ben once marveled at the flares of this same sun.

And so the talking happens the next time they meet, and the next, and every time after. Hux begins to wonder if the “extra” he paid for was not the sight of Ben’s fingers in his ass, but this strange companionship. Each session, after they have both come and Ben’s hair is sweat-stuck to his forehead, hour upon hour passes with this new talking. The first few times, it is nearly all Ben, going on about his mother, whom he misses deeply, or how he used to enjoy swimming and seeing all the creatures beneath the water.

But then Hux feels compelled to reply, I hardly knew my mother, she worked in a kitchen, and I’ve never much liked swimming but I think I’d like to watch you, and sometimes when I look out my viewport, I wonder if you’re doing the same, and he knows he is lost.

Tonight, after an absurdly long shift consisting of a full troop address, a consultation with Phasma, and an audience with Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren, Hux tumbles into bed gratefully, almost too tired to be aroused. He has been thinking of what he will tell Ben about the day, and imagining Ben’s soft face and the way he looks when he closes his eyes to imagine Hux there with him. Each time, Ben does this faithfully, without a moment’s hesitation, and the sheer innocence of it is enough to make Hux want to spoil him.

Hux transfers the usual 60 credits, selects Ben’s profile, waits. 

>red_emperor has entered the room.
>darthben has entered the room.
>darthben: hey
>red_emperor: Hello, Ben.
>darthben: ive been thinking
>darthben: i really want to see you
>darthben: is that weird
>red_emperor: No.
>red_emperor: I want to see you.
>darthben: you pay to see me
>darthben: thats different
>darthben: we talk a lot and i dont want to stop that
>darthben: but i think maybe if were just talking you shouldnt have to pay
>darthben: or mostly talking
>darthben: you always want to talk and i want to talk to you too
>darthben: like actually talk to you
>darthben: not this chat shit
>darthben: i want to be able to hear you
>darthben: and see your face

Hux swallows down the metallic taste of anxiety that suddenly rises in his throat. To agree to do so would be more than stupid, it would compromise his job. In many places, he is the face of the Order: young, clean-cut, ambitious, winning. If it were to come out that he’s been dropping credit after credit on a glorified prostitute—it certainly wouldn’t look good. There would be inquests as to his finances, and his use of Order funds, and possibly it would delegitimize the Order as a whole. His father would turn over in his grave.

But—who else does he have? Before Ben, Hux spent cycles off alone, doing mind-numbing accessions and filing on his datapad. There was a sense of utter solitude when he stared out his viewport into fields of stars; not the calming kind of solitude he has found after his sessions with Ben, but one that threatened to crush him, to drive all sense of hope from him. 

>red_emperor: Are you a First Order sympathizer?
>darthben: you could say that
>red_emperor: Yes or no.
>darthben: yes
>red_emperor: If I agree to this—which I have not, yet—there are some things you must know.
>darthben: ok
>red_emperor: First: I am an endlessly powerful man.
>red_emperor: This thing of ours has endangered not only my own well-being, but that of my entire organization.
>red_emperor: But I have been willing to risk it because you interest me.
>red_emperor: Who knows why.
>red_emperor: Second: It is imperative that our arrangement remain strictly confidential.
>red_emperor: It is possible that you will recognize me.
>red_emperor: My identity must remain confidential.
>red_emperor: The details of our conversations must remain confidential.
>red_emperor: All of this must remain confidential.
>darthben: wow ok
>darthben: it would be bad for me if this got out too
>darthben: so im not planning on telling anyone
>darthben: ive always been loyal to you emperor
>darthben: that isnt going to change
>red_emperor: Good.
>red_emperor: Third: Our sessions will remain at this time.
>red_emperor: If you should want to schedule additional sessions, we will have to discuss it.
>red_emperor: I have to carefully schedule these so as not to arouse suspicion.
>red_emperor: You understand.
>darthben: yes
>red_emperor: Finally, if you should make any attempt to blackmail me, to expose my identity or to extort funds from me for your own gain, I will not hesitate to unleash the full force of the First Order.
>red_emperor: I can and will find you and have you executed.
>red_emperor: My affections for you will not prohibit me from doing so.
>darthben: affections
>darthben: thats cute
>red_emperor: Do you understand? Will you abide by this?
>darthben: yes
>darthben: will you tell me your name too
>darthben: when you let me see you
>red_emperor: I suppose.
>red_emperor: I’ll need a week to secure a camera.
>darthben: ok next week well do it
>darthben: can we still have our session tonight
>red_emperor: Of course.

The progress bar appears on the black field, loading slowly as usual, and Hux realizes that his hands are trembling. Most likely he has just sealed his fate, ensured that he will be erased from the history holos, or worse, remembered as the deviant who sold out the Order just for a taste of cock. But when the feed appears, Ben is smiling, and some of Hux’s fear melts away. 

“I can’t wait to see you,” Ben says.


Over the next week, Hux ensures that a number of security precautions are in place before his meeting with Ben. He sets up a private comm channel for the two of them, with two-way video capabilities, triple encryption. They had used a similar system when Kylo Ren had scouted Felucia for Resistance activity, and both his anonymity and the ability to communicate with him were invaluable. He reformats the thumbprint scanner which grants access to his room, tweaks it so that it now requires several hundred more points of similarity—unlikely that anyone would have been able to bypass the original, but an extra layer of security never hurts. And he checks the soundproofing of the durasteel walls, thinks of having them reinforced just in case, but figures it might draw even more attention to himself. He’ll chance it.

And he procures a camera. It is several models older than what he’d like, and broken too, but easy enough to fix. The night before his session with Ben, he fiddles with the camera, inspecting its insides. The task is simple, but it throws him back to days at the Academy, practicing robotics on substandard droids, rewiring and reprogramming until the right mechanisms clicked into place. Nowadays, this sort of work is usually done for him. It’s sort of nice to get his hands dirty again.

Once he’s managed to get the thing back in working order, Hux sets the camera on the table beside his bed, its glowing eye watching him from the slightest distance. He’s tried very hard not to think of what will happen when Ben finally sees him—Ben, with such a perfect body, will surely see Hux’s scrawny one and turn up his nose. Too bony, too slight, cock certainly not big enough. It feels inevitable.

These thoughts nearly consume him. In the fresher that morning, he pinches at the skin of his too-soft stomach, thinks of how hard and flat Ben’s looks on-screen. Ben will take one look at him and deem him undesirable, and this whole ordeal will have been a mistake. He will have endangered himself, the Order, everyone—for nothing.

Over the past few nights Hux has allowed himself to fantasize about actually being with Ben. Waking, sleeping, he has dreamt that their talks of oceans and trees and long-forgotten pasts might become real one day, that the make-believe of being next to Ben in bed could eventually become tangible. At times he wonders how he’s fallen this far to be able to crave this so deeply. But then there are officers falling into bed with one another, and stormtroopers whose bunks are never empty, and all those distant worlds full of people and creatures and things in-between that can hold one another, touch one another. This precious, singular thing which Hux has been denied by virtue of his position. He wants it, badly.

That night, before he signs into the comm channel, he spends a long time at the mirror in the fresher, inspecting his face, trying to imagine what Ben will see. In the harsh light, the pallid tone of his skin is particularly visible. Has he always looked so ill? He has always imagined himself to be a passably attractive man—not typically so, but handsome enough to get what he desires. Compared to Ben, though, he looks wrong, with his hair too stuck-down and oddly-colored, and his too-light eyes and severe face.

It takes longer than he’d like to gather the courage to connect to the comm channel. When he signs in, he sees that Ben is idling in the chat and has been for some time. Hux scrubs his hands across his face, tries not to think of the increasingly probable chances that Ben is actually a Resistance spy, or some mercenary with a grudge against the Order. Logically, it’s highly unlikely, but isn’t all of this? The idea that Hux could stumble upon some boy on some dark corner of the holonet and fall for him, hard? Hux, who has thought himself incapable of feeling anything more than a vague desire to conquer others, now burns with the need to take Ben in his arms and hold him as if he were a small, trembling thing, and not the mountain of a man he is in reality. 

>red_emperor: I’m here now, sorry.
>red_emperor: I’m a little nervous.
>darthben: its ok
>darthben: i haven’t been waiting long
>red_emperor: The counter says you’ve been idling for half an hour.
>darthben: well
>darthben: ok yes
>darthben: but its just because im excited to see you
>darthben: let me start my feed
>darthben: these security protocols are a pain in the ass
>darthben: like im on a secret mission or something

Hux has to laugh at that. Ben’s feed loads more quickly on this private channel, and in a moment his face is filling the screen of Hux’s datapad. The picture is clearer, too, fewer issues of pixellation and stuttering images. Hux thinks he could count the moles on Ben’s face, his little constellation.

“Do I have to beg you to let me see you?” Ben says. “Like when you make me beg to come?” He’s in a black undershirt, the lines of his neck and collarbones visible. This is the first time Hux has seen Ben clothed, and the effect is strangely endearing—this reminder that he’s a real person, not just some fucktoy on a screen. 

>red_emperor: I wouldn’t turn it down.
>red_emperor: Remember when you showed me your face the first time?
>red_emperor: You said you’d keep the credits if I didn’t like what I saw.
>red_emperor: Having seen you, I can’t believe that ever crossed your mind.
>red_emperor: But I wish I could strike a similar deal about myself. 

Ben wrinkles his nose. “I’m sure you look fine,” Ben says. “Is your face—you know. Attached.”

>red_emperor: It was last I checked.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about.” Ben’s cheeks line again as he smiles. “Please, Emperor.”

>red_emperor: Just a moment.

He adjusts the angle of the camera, fiddling with it so it’ll pick up just him and not reveal too much of his room. He wonders if he ought to remove his undershirt and shorts, let Ben see his cock immediately, as Ben had all those weeks ago. But then—this is different. Not a transaction like that had been, but a kind of covenant. A confirmation. A way of making this real.

Hux presses the red icon on his screen. A green light ignites at the side of the camera. His own feed blinks once, twice, and then his unsure face is replicated there, eyes downcast, bottom lip set firmly between his teeth. 

“Well,” Hux says, “here I am,” but when he glances to Ben’s feed, it’s empty, gone black.


>red_emperor: Ben?
>red_emperor: Did something happen?

Hux feels nothing. He tells himself this as he stares at the blank black field on his datapad that night and each night after. There is nothing in him to hurt, no part of him that cares enough to ache. Ben was a boy he paid for and nothing more.

And yet he cannot bring himself to look into the mirror long enough to shave or to see his red-rimmed eyes. He keeps his datapad with him at all hours, hardly sleeping, constantly checking Ben’s idle status. It reads, without fail, OFFLINE.

Maybe it was a blip in the connection. Maybe it was even his own connection, since the whole comm channel was rigged together so quickly and not necessarily stably. But they had never had issues when trying to communicate with Kylo Ren over the same system. It seems highly unlikely that such an issue would occur at the precise moment at which Hux revealed his face.

In the following days, Hux works himself to the point of exhaustion. It is easier to confront charts and maps and the Finalizer’s endless monotony than it is to sit in his rooms and deal with the crushing loneliness. 

>red_emperor: If you’re trying to extort me, I won’t have it.
>red_emperor: I can and will use the full extent of my resources to find you out.

Two days after, Hux holes himself away in an empty meeting room with his datapad. He tells Mitaka to leave him, that he’s got work to be done for which he needs peace and quiet and no interruptions, and for some time, he is left alone. It is more miserable than he expects. Mostly he finds himself tormented by the wall-spanning viewport and all the stars that stretch out before him. Only weeks ago, those stars had been a reminder that somewhere out in the endless universe, there was someone who wanted him, who bent willingly under his hand, who called him emperor and dreamt of swimming in oceans with him. Now they exist only to enforce his solitude, to remind him that even in all those galaxies, not a single person could ever really care.

He is trying very hard not to think about this, and to focus instead on the necessary repairs to the ship and the decision of whether or not to expand the Order’s fleet of TIE Fighters, when the door to the meeting room opens with a hydraulic hiss. Instinctively, he closes the comm channel—it’s not as if Ben is trying to contact him anyway.

A modulated voice. “May I meditate here?”

Kylo Ren is standing before him. Looming, really, in his particular way. Though the hood of his robes is down, he still wears the mask, and his lightsaber is clipped at his hip. A metallic, slightly singed scent wafts from Ren’s robes; Hux wonders if he has just come from a mission or training with Snoke. Hux has been so preoccupied with Ben recently, he’s lost track of Ren’s schedule. The distraction has been nice.

“I wasn’t aware I had a choice,” Hux says, cool.

Ren seems to ponder that for a moment, then takes a seat at the end of the long table, opposite Hux. What most irritates Hux about Ren—other than the simple fact of his being on the ship—is the inability to tell when, exactly, Ren is looking at him. If there are eyes hidden behind that mask, Hux has never seen them. But time after time, he has felt the weight of Ren’s gaze on him from across rooms, hallways. Occasionally he has felt Ren prodding at the boundaries of his mind, though this has occurred less often, recently, for which Hux is thankful.

He tries to focus on the plans on his datapad. Knowing now that Ren won’t bother him, Hux reopens the comm channel, refreshes it twice. OFFLINE. He sighs. Ren has folded himself into the chair at the end of the table, which isn’t quite big enough for his body. Ren sprawls, a mess of limbs and robes, his only movement the barely-discernible rise and fall of his chest beneath his clothes. Maybe he is watching Hux. Hux can’t tell. Lately he has felt like a specimen under observation no matter where he goes, protecting the secret of his Ben, his knight. He supposes now he has nothing to hide, but his spine still crawls with a sense of guilt that he can’t quite place.

A mild annoyance with Ren’s presence grows. Hux’s mouth twitches. “Do you always meditate with that thing on your head?” he says. There is a quiet anger in his words, a rusted edge.

“Not always,” Ren says. “You seem—unhappy.”

Hux scoffs. “Only because you’re here.”

Ren cocks his head to the side. “Would you prefer I left?”

He sets his datapad on the table, tries to find Ren’s eyes. “No, I specifically chose this meeting room—requested no interruptions—because I wanted you to disturb me. I know you think because you’re powerful, and special, that you have privileges above others. That the rules don’t apply to you. That you can burst into my room, where I am trying to do actual work, and—do whatever it is you do, because you’re Kylo Ren. I honestly couldn’t give a damn about you, you—pompous, self-obsessed ass. Take the fucking room. It doesn’t matter.” Hux exhales sharply, collects his datapad, rises to his feet. He is drunk on adrenaline, and he suddenly doesn’t care about the lightsaber at Ren’s hip, or the supposed energy that courses through his veins.

“General,” Ren starts, but Hux ignores him. Strides out. 

>red_emperor: I should have expected this
>red_emperor: I don’t mind paying you again
>red_emperor: You won’t even have to look at me

When Ren is on mission, Hux expects to be grateful for his absence—no interruptions in the meeting room, no worrying about destroyed modules. But somehow, when he’s gone, Hux feels his own loneliness more acutely. Ren is not his friend, and he’s certainly no substitute for Ben, but Ren is the only person (or whatever other species he may be) that seems to take any sort of interest in Hux. His constant unwanted presence has in itself become a strange comfort; when Ren is on-planet, Hux almost misses his lurking.

It has been over a week since the debacle with Ben, and Hux’s anger has subsided into hurt. He has spent many years trying to swallow down this kind of feeling, but he hasn’t been able to rid himself of it completely. The sudden loss is striking him harder than he’d expected—who knew he was the kind of person who craved being able to talk about the lower points of his childhood, or to hear about another person’s?

In their last session before the blow-up, Hux had laid on his back and Ben had laid on his and Hux had instructed Ben to draw his fingers up his newly-clean stomach, to feel every soft inch of skin and how his hair bristled underneath his fingertips. Hux had typed, Those are my hands, and Ben had sighed and rested a palm against his cheek and shivered. And each night now, Hux finds himself doing the same, imagining Ben’s hands on his face, or Ben slotted against him in the crook of his arm. Ben, near. In his more pathetic moments, he curls around an extra pillow. The weight and size are all wrong, but the closeness is a decent substitute for something he’s never had.


A peculiar thing happens when Ren returns. In the meeting room, which Hux has claimed as his office (and which Ren has claimed as his personal meditation area), there is a small brown box with a tag reading only HUX. Hux supposes he ought to be more tentative about opening it, given the tension that still simmers between himself and Ren, but instead he tears into it, easing his finger between the adhesive-sticky sides of the box and popping them apart.

There is no card of any sort, no identifying material, in the box, only a heavy gold disk etched with interlocking lines and circles, a foreign script inscribed on its outer rim. Atop the disk, there is a second layer of gold cutouts in strange curves and lines, unfamiliar symbols marking certain intersections and spaces. At its center stands a sort of knob, which, when turned, moves the long, straight arms attached to it.

It is, put simply, baffling. Hux removes it from the box and holds it in his hands, idly twisting the knob, sliding the cutout layer in a circle. He cannot make sense of the importance of the specific lines, or what the moving arm is supposed to signify, or if this is meant to signify anything at all. Typical Ren, using some mysterious puzzle box as an intimidation tactic.

Hux brings the thing with him to his bedroom. If nothing else, it will provide a temporary distraction from his loss of Ben.

>red_emperor: please le tme see you again
>red_emperor: i wanted you
>red_emperor: i thought you wanted to see me

A few days later, Hux finds Ren in the meeting room, his chair turned toward the long viewport that spans the wall. They are passing through the Unknown Regions, near the boundaries of the Queluhan Nebula, and everything that stretches out before them swims in a purplish sea of spacedust and vapor and gas. In truth it is quite striking, and Hux has caught himself staring out his own viewport now and then to take it in. He thinks, of course, of Ben, and how they might have discussed this—how they might imagine looking together, pointing out star after star, like children flat on their backs in cool grass on hot nights.

It takes Hux by surprise, though, to see Ren there. When Hux steps into the room, he gets a feeling like descending into warm water, of being surrounded by some sort of comforting pressure that pushes at the boundaries of his body. It is unfamiliar, but bears some resemblance to the moments when Ren has invaded his mind (as happened often near the beginning of their co-commandership, when Ren hardly trusted him and sought out the darkest corners of his psyche for hints of treachery). Hux ascribes it to the Force, as he does with most of the odd things that surround Ren. Too tired to fight back, he settles slowly into his usual seat at the end of the table, letting the feeling break against him, permeating into his veins.

From here, the nebula looks endless and almost fluid, as if Hux could lower himself into it and it would support him. He thinks of floating out there in the dark, surrounded by all that empty, and how maybe it wouldn’t feel too different from how this feels now. This new without-Ben, a feeling he didn’t know he could feel. The sudden, swallowing loneliness of it all.

Ren abruptly turns in his chair, the almost-comforting feeling disappearing suddenly as he does. Hux feels its loss more greatly than expected, almost gasps at it. “The gases in the Queluhan Nebula wouldn’t hold you up,” Ren says. “They’re not that dense.”

“I’m aware,” Hux says, then, realizing this means Ren has snooped into his thoughts again, furrows his brow. “I don’t appreciate these—invasions of yours.”

“You think very loudly,” Ren says, shrugging. “It disturbed my meditation.”

“Hm,” Hux says. “Well, as usual, you’ve disturbed my work, so I suppose we’re even.” He retrieves his datapad, pulls up documents detailing their expansion plans. Within the nebulae here in the Unknown Regions, there are planets ripe for the taking, places for new bases, Order Academies. So many worlds to conquer. Hux can practically hold them in his hand—he won’t let Ren, stubborn Ren, get in the way of that.

“You found your gift,” Ren says. “I felt you take it.” He turns his seat back toward the viewport. This side of the Finalizer is edging through that cloud of purple, slicing through it. Far off, there are stars and other galaxies, but here there’s this, and Hux wants to drown in it, if only to get away from Ren.

Hux swipes through blueprints of bases, landing trajectories. “I haven’t a clue what it is. Is it going to explode if I turn it a certain number of times?”

He feels Ren’s eyes on him again, or maybe it’s Ren reaching out in that way of his, with the Force or something, pressing at Hux’s consciousness again. “I don’t want to kill you.”

“That means so much coming from someone who stalks about in a mask like some sort of phantom.” Hux scoffs. “You’re not exactly a beacon of trustworthiness, Ren. Hard to know the intentions of someone who refuses to show his face.”

Ren says nothing.

“No more gifts,” Hux says. “At least not without explaining what they are.”

There’s almost a smirk in Ren’s voice. “If you can’t figure it out, I’ll show you sometime.”

Hux doesn’t quite believe that, and anyway he’s not sure he really wants Ren showing him what it is. If Ben were around, maybe Hux would show the thing to him, or describe it to him, and maybe Ben would know. Ben who talked about curving his father’s ship through the mouth of a canyon, who described strange holographic games with pieces like monsters, who talked about his father gambling with cards and dice.  How he’d gotten good at those games, and how he missed them, almost, now.

There were none of those things on Arkanis. Brendol was never one for games. But Hux had typed, Maybe you could teach me, and Ben had smiled and promised to.


>red_emperor: i fucking wanted you

In recent days, Hux has found himself wondering more and more about the face beneath Ren’s mask. It is not unlike how he had imagined Ben’s face before he saw it, constructed it in infinite variations on a theme—sharp, striking, altogether lovely. His imaginations of Ren’s face, however, have softened. He no longer imagines the glowing red eyes and deep blue skin of a Chiss, but occasionally glimmering white Arkanian hair, or Ren as an eyeless Miraluka, which might explain the mask. Now and then, Hux allows himself to believe that Ren is as human as he himself is—unlikely, he admits, but possible nonetheless.

Kylo Ren has started to be downright cordial. This in itself would be alarming as-is, but then Hux begins not to find him quite so irritating. True, his constant presence requires some getting used to, and he has the unfortunate habit of throwing out those odd waves when he meditates, but they have a way of calming Hux’s mind. Once, when Hux is mentally carding through his options, none of them appealing, Ren speaks up, suggests they mine an unoccupied planet for resources before turning it into a spaceport or settlement, and the solution is so clear and simple that Hux is shocked he has not come up with it himself.

Perhaps Ren is human.

Hux makes no progress with Ren’s puzzle. The disk sits at his bedside, taunting him. At night sometimes he fidgets with it, thinking if he can just turn the knob the right number of times, just shift the circle into place, something will catch, pop open, and whatever is hidden inside will be revealed. There must be some sort of missing mechanism, or a key of some kind, that Ren has hidden from him.

It would probably be easier just to ask for help. But that would mean admitting defeat to Ren, which Hux certainly isn’t ready to do. Instead he just lets the thing frustrate him, and at times he thinks of throwing it hard against the durasteel walls until it opens up. Hux supposes this thing is a bit like Ren himself—an ominous sort of mystery, a question which Hux both fears and craves the answer to.

Eventually he stops checking the comm channel. The word OFFLINE is a blade.

After a particularly taxing morning of troop addresses and conferences with his lieutenants, Hux retreats to the meeting room, where Ren is sitting cross-legged in a chair, meditating. Hux feels the strange pressure as soon as he steps into the room, surrounding him and weaving warm through the fabric of his uniform. Normally this comes as a kind of relief, but today he tries to push it away from him. It is an irritant, another thing Ren has that Hux does not, and so he buries his resentment and tries to focus on anything, anything else.

They are easing their way through the Foroon Worlds, star systems, not far from Arkanis. Hux thinks this is probably somewhat to blame for his recent edginess—conflicted memories of time at the Academy, with a father who wasn’t much of a father at all, and sort of missing all that despite himself. Things were simpler there; there were boys in his bed and Brendol was the only person who had any expectations for him. There was a freedom of sorts in being underestimated. Fewer eyes on him, fewer people to disappoint if he fucked up.

No use thinking about that. He slides into his usual seat opposite Ren, finds the document on his datapad, and begins performing calculations—troop surges, settlement costs, fleet expansions. Numbers are familiar, mindless. Hux can lose himself in these, forget about Ben and Arkanis and the gift and Kylo Ren.

The pressure intensifies. It’s not a pain, exactly, but it becomes more insistent, prodding at Hux’s consciousness, a desperate knock on a door, begging to be let in. Hux shuts it out as best he can; there’s no time to deal with Ren’s Force nonsense today.

As he works through calculation after calculation, Hux is careful not to acknowledge Ren’s presence. It’s easiest if he proceeds as if Ren isn’t here, though of course Ren makes that difficult. Hux tries to ignore Ren’s waves, the low, distant humming noise he makes as he meditates, a frequency just out of reach that thrums through Hux’s body. Ren has a way of making himself unignorable, and Hux finds himself often glancing up at Ren’s eyeless mask, hoping for some flash of life beneath the twist of metal, not knowing what he wants to see.

Hux is counting up the physical and financial price of restructuring the recruitment program when Ren says, “You haven’t figured out your gift yet.” The hum does not recede, but the push seems to lighten a bit, as though Ren has been a little shaken.

“Did you put some sort of spy mechanism in it so you can tell when I do figure it out?” Hux says. He hardly looks up from his datapad. “Or are you digging through my mind again?”

“I can just tell,” Ren says. “You’re fairly easy to read.”

There is a sort of pulsating feeling in the air, the thick warmth of Ren’s Force pushing and then releasing and then pushing again, surf breaking against sand. The effect is altogether annoying, makes Hux’s upper lip twitch. “I’m sure,” Hux says. “I’ll bet your puzzle is unsolvable and you constructed it for the sole purpose of tormenting me. Kylo Ren, master of minor inconveniences.”

“It’s not a puzzle,” Ren says. “Not that kind.”

“Everything about you is a fucking puzzle, Ren.” Hux exhales, shuts off his datapad. He rests his elbows on the table, rests his chin on his palm, stares long and hard at Ren. “You frustrate me.”

Ren ignores that comment and only shifts in his seat until his posture mirrors Hux’s. Seeing his large body slumped like this ignites a strange feeling of endearment in Hux. It is surprisingly human, Ren with his posture like a teenager’s, like beneath that mask there could be just a boy. “Will you let me do something for you? With you?” Ren says. Though Ren’s voice is modulated, Hux detects a note of real interest, a genuine hope that Hux will assent.

“What exactly do you want to do? I have work I need to get to.”

“I’m not preventing you from working. You stopped on your own,” Ren says. “I want to meditate with you. If you’ll allow it.”

Hux blinks. “Absolutely not.”

“I know that you’re—hurting right now. I can help.” Ren cocks his head to the side, light shifting over the mask’s polished curves and edges. “I know that sometimes you let the Force in when I’m meditating here. I feel it. It calms you. Today I feel you pushing it away. That normally means you need it most.”

The sinking feeling in Hux’s stomach means that Ren is, regrettably, correct. And he knows Ren must see this because he suddenly feels that strange warmth surrounding him again, and Ren is moving, standing to his full height, the warmth intensifying as he does, and Ren is coming toward him, and Hux is—not afraid. Ren towers over him, dwarfing Hux, and Hux can only peer upward, hoping to catch some slice of skin, some intimation of humanity, under Ren’s mask.

He doesn’t. But Ren eases himself into the seat next to Hux, and Hux feels suddenly caught, a plaything in an animal’s claws, and he cannot bring himself to move away. Ren says, “Don’t be afraid,” and before Hux can speak, Ren says, “Oh—you’re not. That’s good.”

Ren turns his gloved palms upward, fingers curving toward Hux. There is not enough space between them; Hux has the sensation of being looked at, being seen, and it strips him raw. He pushes away a thought of placing his own hands in Ren’s, aware that Ren has probably seen it, embarrassed for it. Ren’s fingers flex. Twitch.

This is the closest Hux has ever been to Kylo Ren, the first time he has ever really looked at him. In truth he does not see much, and there is still no hint of eyes behind the mask, but in this light he can study the cracks and crevices that mar this metallic face, the dents and notches that make it almost like something human.

Just above the silvery stripes that frame the empty eyes of the mask, there is a particularly deep gash. It slashes up from forehead to hairline, by Hux’s estimation, like an open wound. He thinks momentarily of pressing his fingertips to it—would it be cool, he wonders, or warm like skin? Would Ren feel it? Perhaps this is not a mask at all, but Ren’s face, and Ren is not human, but some highly-advanced droid.

“I’m not a droid,” Ren says. “I promise.”

Hux is too transfixed to protest about Ren reading his mind. Ren slowly bows his head, exposing the black round of his helmet. From within, Hux feels implored to touch, to lay his hand atop Ren’s helmet and feel it solid in his palm.

He cannot remember the last time he intentionally touched another person. It must have been years ago. Hux has a distant sense that if he touches Ren, something will ignite, like Ren’s lightsaber flaring to life, or a star exploding. All this talk of the Force and meditation and puzzles—Hux has never felt anything like it. This kind of powerlessness.

The pressure pushes at him like waters rushing against a levee. Sooner or later, something will break.

He lifts his hand, which he has unconsciously clenched into a fist, and unfolds his fingers. Ren is staring downward, reverent, immovable. And so Hux breathes, and he listens to Ren breathe (not a droid, no, something fleshy and organic and real lies behind that mask), and he rests his leather-gloved fingertips against the wound in Ren’s helmet.

There is a sudden sensation of being pulled under. It is like drowning but it is welcome, and it is peaceful, and Hux lets himself be overtaken. The boundaries of his body fall away until there is only feeling, and he does not feel Ren, exactly, but whatever Ren has been radiating. The Force. Yes. Behind his eyes, Hux sees still water, sees himself suspended in an ocean, sees water flooding him and filling him, pouring in and out until he’s a kind of sieve, or maybe he’s water, too. He’s certainly not himself, that’s the important part, there’s no more burden of body or Order or Kylo Ren. He’s one with something bigger than himself, and his whole being fills with a kind of stillness he has never known before.

Ben had talked once of swimming just below the surface of an ocean, his eyes wide, finding creatures in the sand beneath the sea. How moss and sea grass had tickled his toes and how he’d wanted to stay there for as long as he could, until his breath ran out and he had to swim back to the top, gasp, and dive back in. He said he felt something there, something coursing through his body that stilled him, and he felt like he belonged there, under the waves. Hux hadn’t understood—when swimming, he thrashes, there is no elegance to his movement, none of the fishlike gliding that he’d imagined Ben doing, skimming through currents. But now Hux thinks maybe he understands, and that maybe he could stay like this, in this alternate world of Ren’s creation, where nothing is solid and everything is water, Force, light.

It is dizzying. And yet it is a comfort. Hux sighs, half-expecting to swallow salty seawater, relieved when he doesn’t. He no longer feels Ren’s helmet beneath his hand; he no longer feels anything except this strange safety. Like arms around him, like—how listening to Ben had felt, those nights when they’d laid there on opposite ends of the galaxy, together through a screen.

And then there is a kind of draining—not an unpleasant feeling, but like he’s being washed up on a shore. Hux opens his eyes and he is still in the meeting room, his hand still on Ren’s helmet, the glow of B-Foroon stars bright in the viewport. Ren lifts his head just so, Hux removing his trembling hand as he does, and Hux looks straight into the dark of the helmet.

“How do you feel now?” Ren says. “You let it in. The Force. I tried to channel a cleansing through you. It’s something I do before missions.”

How to say how he feels? Poured out and filled up, like the walls of his body were strengthened and torn down and rebuilt, like he is known too deeply. Instead he says, “What’s under there? Are you a person?” It is a stupid thing to say, but he can hardly form words at the moment. He’s grateful anything that comes out of his mouth is coherent.

“Do you want to see?” Ren says. It sounds like a challenge.

Nerves rise in Hux’s throat and he forces himself to swallow them down. “I don’t know. Yes.”

Ren goes still for a moment. Hux is sure he’s made a grave mistake, and that Ren will reach for his lightsaber and gore him through the belly. But Ren looks away, out toward the viewport, toward other worlds, other universes. Ren says, “Maybe another time. You have work to do.”

“I suppose I do,” Hux says, trying to bury his disappointment. Ren is standing again, heading for the door of the meeting room. An impulse strikes Hux. “Thank you,” he says.

Ren turns back to him, nods, and then he is gone. 

>red_emperor: I’m sorry. I miss you.
>red_emperor: I miss you.
>red_emperor: I’m sorry.

He does not expect Ben to respond. It has been so long since they last spoke, he is certain Ben has moved on to other men, other obligations. But Hux feels he owes Ben this, if nothing else.

The meditations with Ren become a twice-weekly ritual, except when Ren is gone on his missions, and then Hux finds himself inexplicably missing the feeling of his body being invaded by a Force he doesn’t understand. Ren does not show his face, and Hux does not ask again, though he feels almost certain now that Ren is human.

Today he finds Ren in the meeting room, meditating as usual. His last mission was successful (a return to Felucia to determine how best to secure the planet) and so he has been allowed to relax for the past few days, recuperating from minor injuries and preparing himself for the next mission. But today Hux has his own plans for Ren.

He drops the gold disk on the table before Ren, where it lands with a sharp thunk. Ren startles, flinches, looks up to Hux. “Show me,” Hux says. “You win.”

Ren takes the thing in his huge hands, spins the arms around the disk once or twice. “You have to come with me. I can’t show you here.”

“Of course you can’t,” Hux mutters, but he follows Ren anyway.

Ren leads him through the Finalizer’s long corridors, down halls and through passages Hux has scarcely entered. It is a new experience, walking with Ren like this—the troops respect Hux, but they fear Ren, and they squirm out of the way as Ren passes. They stop at a door on the far end of the ship; a placard on the wall reads SIMULATION 4 in Aurebesh. Ren hands the disk back to Hux, then keys in a code and the hydraulic doors open.

The room is dark, with few lights embedded in its domed ceiling. Hux is slightly nervous about its contents—when Ren had first come onto the ship, under Snoke’s command, they had fitted the Finalizer with a number of these simulation rooms for Ren’s training. They have been strictly off-limits to anyone else, and Ren is, of course, highly secretive about them.

“Are you going to show me Jedi mysteries?” Hux scoffs. “You would give me something that requires the Force to actually use, because you’re an—”

“It doesn’t require the Force,” Ren says. He’s fiddling with a screen in a corner of the room, adjusting the parameters of the simulation. There’s a beeping noise from the corner, and then the room lights up, filled suddenly with projections of a swampy planet—dark grey-green flora spilling out before them, rain pounding, hundreds of stars above them. “Have you figured it out yet?”

A realization. “Arkanis,” he says, tightening his grip on the disk. “Fuck, you’re not sending me back there, I won’t have it.”

Ren laughs. “No, I’m not, really,” he says. “Let me show you. Pick a star.”

Hux peers into this holographic sky, as he had at the Academy, on evenings when the future was uncertain and he was scared. He selects a particularly bright star just overhead and points it out to Ren. “This one.”

“That’s Ea,” Ren says. “Okay. It’s easier if I just—”

Ren is next to him, and Ren places his hand under Hux’s, raises the disk up toward Hux’s face. “Hold it here,” Ren says, and Hux obeys. “First you—adjust this arm so it lines up with the star.” He nudges the arm into place. “Does that look good to you?”

“Yes,” Hux says, almost breathless. Ren’s hand swallows his, clamped around it this way.

Ren takes the disk and turns it over, flat between them, the arm stuck in place. “These numbers here are old, old, Geonosian. It intersects here—so that’s the inclination. Tells you the altitude of the star. Then if we shift this to the current date—turn these so they intersect—that tells us, uh—the time, I think.”

“And what time is it on Arkanis?”

“I—can’t actually read Geonosian. But the simulator says Galactic Standard Time, offset 234.” Ren’s fingers twitch over Hux’s. “It’s a dumb gift, I guess. But I know you like the stars. So I got you an astrolabe.”

Hux hears Ren swallow behind the mask. In this moment he seems incredibly vulnerable, despite the layers of robes and armor and Force. Ren draws his hands back to his chest, and Hux holds the astrolabe. It’s strange to be back on this planet, in a way, this place he once knew. He was so young when he was on Arkanis, under his father’s thumb. He was a different person, then—not Hux, but Armitage, a terrible little boy with possibilities as wide as a galaxy.

“This is very kind, Ren,” Hux says. He draws his thumb over the outer ring of the astrolabe, his own face reflected in its polished surface. “The gift and—you showing me all this.”

Ren says nothing. Hux hates this, this not knowing what he looks like beneath that mask, what expressions he’s making, what his face looks like. Hux wants to see his face, desperately wants it, and as he had during their first meditation together, he suddenly feels possessed by something telling him touch, take.

He shifts the astrolabe under one arm, bites the inside of his lip. Lifts a hand to Ren’s helmet, fingertips against the inside of his hood. With a fingertip, Hux traces the underside of the helmet, feeling his glove catch on each crack and scratch. There’s a latch at the side of Ren’s neck, just over his jugular. Hux thinks, stop me, but Ren does not stop him. Ren is perfectly still, and Hux positions his finger where the latch hooks in. In one quick movement, he could undo it, see Ren’s real face, know him. It would be so simple. He brushes his fingertip over the latch, doesn’t quite open it, and—

An intense, guilty feeling washes over him. Like this is not his to take, that perhaps Ren will show him of his own volition eventually. He slips his fingers back up the side of the mask, over a dent, before pulling his hands back to himself, holding the astrolabe against his chest.

“No,” Hux says. He grips the astrolabe. “I’m sorry. Some other time, when you’re ready.”

Ren seems to exhale, and the projection shuts off abruptly, the room goes dark. 

>darthben: fuck im so sorry
>darthben: my connection has been shit and i had to go on planet
>darthben: i know its been a long time but i miss you
>darthben: and i want to see you again
>darthben: if youll let me
>darthben: please

Chapter Text

It takes Hux several hours to collect himself and respond to Ben’s messages. At first his mind reels with possibilities—what if he’s lying, what if he’s been hacked by the Resistance, what if Hux agrees to this and it goes the same way—but eventually his yearning wins out. He has lost track of how long it’s been since they spoke, only that the hurt had pierced and swelled and eventually faded into a smooth scar somewhere under the surface of his skin.

The counter by Ben’s username indicates that he’s been online since he sent the messages, not idling but active in the channel, which means he’s been waiting for Hux’s response. Something about that pangs in Hux’s chest, strikes something in him—how many nights had he spent doing the same, waiting for Ben to message him again? He types as quickly as he can, not wanting to overthink this, to let that get the best of him. 

>red_emperor: Of course I want to see you.
>red_emperor: I’m very upset with you, just so you know.
>darthben: yeah i figured
>red_emperor: We’ll have to choose a different time.
>red_emperor: When we stopped talking, I filled that time with appointments, etc.
>darthben: what about tonight
>darthben: are you busy
>darthben: its okay if you are
>darthben: i just really want to see you 

Hux swallows hard. The truth is he doesn’t have anything planned for the evening, aside from retooling his next speech to be broadcast. But, he supposes, that can be pushed to tomorrow, after his consultation with Colonel Datoo, when Ren will be in the meeting room, too, and will be able to help him focus a bit more.

>red_emperor: Okay.
>red_emperor: A few minutes, please?
>red_emperor: I didn’t know anyone would be seeing my face once I got back in my rooms for the evening.
>darthben: lol
>darthben: take your time
>red_emperor: What is “lol”?
>darthben: it means im laughing
>darthben: one day im gonna teach you all the abbreviations
>red_emperor: I’m sure you will.
>red_emperor: LOL.

Hux rests the datapad on his bedside table, next to the astrolabe. He runs his fingers over its etched surface, the metal cool beneath his fingertips. He’d taken to idly spinning the outside edge while trying to determine how to respond to Ben; he’ll have to ask Ren to reset it for him to the coordinates for that star, Ea.

An odd gift. An odd day, really. As he slips out of his uniform, he recalls the strange feeling that had come over him in the simulation room, when he’d almost removed Ren’s helmet. Part of him wishes he would have, just to end the mystery, but Ren, of course, might have flayed him right there.

Well. Another time. He’s begun to feel some kind of affection for Ren. That in itself seemed an impossibility, given how they’d clashed initially. But the meditations have begun to calm Hux, and moreover he’s begun to look forward to seeing Ren folded into the chair across from him in the meeting room, the scorched scent of his robes almost familiar, welcome. The way the Force lingers in him after a cleansing, like water caught in the bottom of a glass. He feels the effects of Ren’s work long after Ren is gone. It’s a change that Hux doesn’t know what to make of, whether to be scared or comforted by it. 

Now in just his undershirt and briefs, Hux finds the camera he’d stowed away. After Ben had disconnected, its gaze had taunted him, and he’d shoved it into a drawer to hide its glowing eye. He activates it, syncs it to his datapad and sets it to his side. He feels a bite of anxiety at replaying this situation, and how poorly it had gone the first time. But Ben seems genuine, and what good would what it do Ben to reappear after all this time if he didn’t actually want Hux? This is how Hux convinces himself, anyway, and he doesn’t let himself analyze the actual truthfulness of this train of thought. He settles back into bed, the datapad rested on his knees, and types.
>red_emperor: I suppose I’m ready.
>darthben: cool
>darthben: one sec and ill be on
>red_emperor: Alright.
>red_emperor: Please don’t disconnect this time.
>darthben: i wont
>darthben: i promise

The black field on the datapad spins to life, and there is Ben’s face, just as Hux had remembered it. He is smiling tentatively, jagged teeth appearing through parted pink lips, deep creases appearing on his cheeks. He wears a dark undershirt, same as last time, and the thick of his neck is damp with sweat. Hux presses a thumb to the screen, just over Ben’s bottom lip. Fuck, he’s missed this. Ben.

“Hi,” Ben says. “I’m so sorry about—everything. Can I see you again?” His eyelashes flutter, his long nose crinkles. 

>red_emperor: I ought to make you beg for it!
>red_emperor: The hells you’ve put me through.

“Please, Emperor,” Ben says sweetly.

Hux can’t resist that, and so he fidgets briefly with the camera again before pressing the red icon on the screen. The light on the camera blinks, and his own face is reproduced in miniature on the datapad. He stares down at the screen for a moment before allowing himself to look directly into the camera. “Hello, Ben,” he says. “I’m Hux.”

Ben’s lower lip seems to tremble. He nods. “Hux. Emperor Hux?”

“Perhaps one day,” Hux says, warming at the sound of his name in Ben’s mouth. Ben’s face is flushed a soft red and there is the glint of stars in his eyes. “Do I look—as you expected?” He is afraid of the answer to this question, but he cannot keep himself from asking it. In the image of himself on-screen, his lips are distinctly curved into a smile, and even if he does not look handsome in the way Ben does, he looks happy, which counts for something.

Ben pauses. That doesn’t bode well. Hux starts to apologize for asking, starts to say, of course I don’t expect you to think I’m—, but then Ben says, “You look better than I expected. You’re—I, um. I think you’re really beautiful.”

Hux’s face goes hot. He’s certain no one has ever used that word for him before. Maybe it ought to seem generic or disingenuous, but coming from Ben, it feels real. He feels himself grinning, and he quickly covers his mouth with his hand. “Ben,” he says, quiet. This unbelievable boy.

He had wanted to come into this angry, to tear Ben apart for being gone for so long and for hurting him with the disappearance. It had hurt so much, so deeply, and Hux had hardened himself to it, made himself believe that this was simply the way things were for him. And he had wanted to hate Ben for this, he had wanted to so badly, but now Ben is saying, “I’ve never seen anyone with hair like yours,” and, “I imagined you a lot but you never looked like this,” and, “I just—you’re so much better than I imagined,” and Hux wants him more than ever.

“I fucking missed you,” Hux finally says. “I didn’t know I’d miss you so much.” He laughs helplessly, watches Ben on the screen. “You’ve never even been here and yet when you were gone, I swear I felt it.”

He’s a little embarrassed to admit that. No need to share all the nights he spent wishing Ben were there next to him, or even just on the screen. “Well,” Ben says, “I’m here now.”

“I wish you were actually here,” Hux says. He doesn’t mean to say it, but he does, and the words keep spilling out, unbidden. “I—I always think of you when I look out my viewport. Any viewport. That’s awfully adolescent, isn’t it? But I think sometimes you must be doing the same. Even when you were gone I thought I could feel you looking. My ship goes from system to system and I think eventually we’ll stumble upon yours, wherever it is, and then I’ll know how near you are.”

Ben is staring at him with eyes wide, glimmering, passing his palm over his crooked jaw. He blinks a few times, dark kissable eyelashes casting over his cheeks. Hux’s heart stammers at this, at Ben’s slow response—of course he’s gone too far, of course he’s messed up this thing he’s barely managed to put together.

“I’m sorry,” Hux says. “That’s probably—too much.”

“No,” Ben says, leaning in toward the camera, as if snapped suddenly from a trance. “No, it’s just—” He makes a low noise of frustration. “Fuck, I wish this wasn’t so complicated.” Ben presses his knuckles to his mouth and seems to bite down, gnawing in an almost animal way. “Like, I like you, and you like me, and it should be easy.”

“Unfortunately, I suspect these things are never easy,” Hux says. He holds onto Ben saying that—I like you—and files it away somewhere in the furthest reaches of his brain, a memory to come back to in dark moments, along with the distant scent of his mother’s cooking, and a projected sky opening up above him, a thousand familiar stars suddenly new in Ren’s hands.

Ben’s brows furrow. “I don’t know. My parents had it pretty easy. Things always fell into place for them.” He bites at his thumbnail now, then shrugs. “Until I came along and screwed things up.”

Hux shifts onto his side, reaches up to adjust the camera so he is still visible. The astrolabe glints gold in the corner of the frame, and Hux runs a finger over it. “I doubt it was your fault,” Hux says. “All parents are awful.”

He thinks of Ben occupying the empty space next to him, of Ben’s face just as close as the datapad is now, only flesh and bone, warm in his arms. Hux touches the screen again, follows the line of Ben’s nose. He’s looking down, not really acknowledging the camera. “My mother was good,” Ben says. “I told you about her before. Even when she was busy, she looked out for me. I was—a sad kid. And my parents didn’t know how to handle that, and they fought about it. Me.”

“What about your father?” Hux says. “You told me once about flying his ship. And his games. I thought of that, while you were gone. I just remembered.”

Ben glances up. “Oh, he—can we talk about something else?” The skin of his thumb is red with the pressure of his teeth. “What’s that on the table by you? That gold thing?” The questions are spit out rapid-fire, a desperate grab at something, anything, to change the subject.

Hux takes the bait, because he senses Ben’s discomfort, but also because he is eager to share this gift with someone. He grabs for it, steadying the datapad with his other hand, and holds it before the camera. The great metal disk eclipses half of his face, only a snatch of green eyes and pale skin emerging from behind it. “An astrolabe. For Arkanis, where I went to school. My—friend gave it to me.” He finds himself suddenly questioning this word choice—is Kylo Ren really his friend?—but he settles with it, because it is the most comfortable name for whatever this thing he shares with Ren may be.

He turns the device back toward himself, lowers it slightly, spins the outer edge around the disk. The etched numbers and letters are smooth under his fingers, and he remembers how Ren’s hands had overlapped his own, holding it just in front of him, steady. “You use it with the stars, to determine a certain star’s altitude, or the date, or some such. It’s in Geonosian, so it’s functionally useless, but, ah, it’s a nice gesture.”

When he looks back up, Ben is grinning. It is a welcome sight, but a puzzling one. He pushes a thick curl of hair back behind his ear, tugs at his earlobe idly, like he’s waiting for Hux to keep going. He keeps smiling his childish lopsided smile, looking just below the camera to where Hux’s feed must be.

“Why are you smiling like that?” Hux says, almost suspicious. He finds that he is smiling too, setting aside the astrolabe and settling back into bed. “You look crazed.”

Ben laughs, then arranges his face into something sterner, his flattened-thin lips cracking with a smile as he speaks. “I guess I didn’t really think you had friends.”

“Well, generally speaking, I don’t. Or, I didn’t until you came along. And then you left and I was—I was lonely.” Hux breathes, pulls the thin blanket over his legs, suddenly cold, suddenly desperate to be pressed next to someone warmer. “I consider you a friend. Is that alright?”

“Yes,” Ben says, nodding emphatically. “Yeah, yes. I mean, I want to be—I wish it could be more than that.”

“As do I, of course,” Hux says. “Alas.”

“Alas,” Ben echoes. “Maybe you could tell me more about your friend.”

Hux arches an eyebrow. “Are you jealous?”

Ben shakes his head just as emphatically as he’d nodded, his mouth gaping, forehead wrinkling. He stammers, “No, I, I want to know about your life! Outside of this. And me.”

“Ben, I’m only playing with you,” Hux says, and he hopes it comes out as softly as he intends it. Ben blinks and nods and sits back, and he watches Hux with a devoted intensity that reminds Hux of his troops. All those thousands of white-helmeted faces staring up at him, waiting for direction, to hear him speak on the horrors of the Republic, to give them purpose. Ben has this same moon-eyed look, as though Hux has set the stars in the sky.

Where to begin about Ren? This strange man who’s carved out a space in Hux’s life. “He’s—awful,” Hux says, laughing around the words. “I used to hate him. He was such a nuisance on my ship, always in my space when I didn’t want him to be, but then he proved himself occasionally useful. He’s very astute; he sees patterns where I only see numbers. Do you know of the Force? Do they believe in that where you come from?”

“Yeah,” Ben says, transfixed.

“He can manipulate it, like he’s some sort of magician, and I didn’t think it was real until I felt it from him. Through him? He started meditating around me, and of course I thought it was all made up, and he was just doing another thing to annoy me, but then I—” Hux pauses briefly, shuts his eyes, collects himself. Finds the words for this unexplainable thing. “When he meditates, it’s as if he gives off a sort of energy, the same way a light gives off heat. I would walk into the room and I could feel it, Ben, I could feel it all around me. I was so distraught when you’d gone, and when I walked in and felt that, it was—such a comfort.”

“What’d it feel like?”

“Like—being held,” Hux says, quiet, remembering. “Like he knew exactly what I wanted, or, or needed, really, with you gone. I didn’t even realize I needed it until then.” Hux swallows; the corners of his eyes sting. He thinks of how, gradually, he’d learn to let the Force in, to feel that embrace on the edges of his body, how he’d never quite let himself imagine that it was how it might feel in Ben’s arms, in anyone’s arms. And he thinks of when Ren, sensing Hux’s need, had bowed his head as if in prayer, and Hux had felt that metal helmet under his palm, and how he had drowned in the Force. “Do you remember when you told me about swimming?”

Ben nods. “You said you didn’t like it.”

“I didn’t like it. But the way you talked about it made me want to, with all the different things you saw under the water, and how it felt with the ocean surrounding you. I wanted to feel that, and—he meditated with me, and I did.” Hux sighs. “But it wasn’t even just that, it was like I was the ocean, do you understand? I must sound like I’ve gone mad. It was like I was the ocean and I was swimming through it, and the ocean was inside me. Or there was no ‘me’ at all. It was transcendent. Afterward I felt so empty, but not in a bad way. Like I’d been rebuilt from the inside out, and I was whole again.”

Ben’s face is bright red, a big hand covering his mouth and jaw. He looks stunned, and Hux’s heart immediately sinks. “I do sound crazy, don’t I?” Hux says.

“No, Hux, that sounds—great,” Ben says, and his eyes are slightly wet. He blinks it away, glances up, dark irises catching light. “He must really care about you.”

And Hux lets that settle, the idea that someone—someone as tangible and real as Kylo Ren—could care about him, with all his Force powers and rage and hidden kindness. It is unfathomable. He thinks again of Ren’s bowed head, the helmet smooth under Hux’s hand, and the low sound of his breathing, and Ren’s open palms. What if he had placed his own hands in Ren’s, glove in glove, almost like touching? If he had unlatched Ren’s helmet today, revealed the face beneath? Hux’s eyes are stinging again, prickling, at the thought of finally seeing Ren, and how Ren does, maybe, actually care for him, and when he shuts his eyes, there are hot tears on his cheeks, tightening in his throat. He wipes them away with the backs of his hands, takes a stabbing breath, this realization of Ren’s care suddenly crushing him.

Ben’s voice is frantic; he’s leaning in toward the camera again, his eyes blown wide. “Oh—I’m sorry, Hux, I didn’t mean to—”

“Fuck,” Hux mutters. He sniffs, still rubbing his eyes. He must have been a child the last time he cried—that impulse had been all but beaten out of him at the Academy. Tears are useless, wasteful, and yet he can’t stop himself now, despite knowing that Ben is watching him, and how ridiculous this is, to be crying over Kylo Ren. “This is idiotic—I promise I’m not always like this.”

“I know,” Ben says. “Are you okay?”

Hux shakes his head, sniffs again. “Do you know I haven’t even seen his face? Haven’t even seen him, and I’m fucking crying about it. To you! Fuck!”

“Hey, it’s alright,” Ben is saying, and Hux has closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands. Like this, it’s easier to pretend Ben is here, close, and this is all simple. “I’m here. It’s alright.”

“I have you,” Hux says. “I don’t understand why that isn’t enough for me.” He curls his fingers into fists, hands still against his cheeks, and Ben is so close. None of this makes any sense—Ben, Kylo Ren, his own feelings.

“I’m not—there,” Ben says. “Your friend is. That’s okay.”

“But I already have you. I shouldn’t want more. I—you mean very much to me.” Hux stretches a hand toward the screen of the datapad, rests his fingertips lightly over Ben’s face. He’d be warm, and his skin would be soft, and maybe he’d lean into the touch. Maybe he’d nuzzle his face against it.

He’d felt Ren’s helmet under his hand, its fluid curves and the dips of its dents. And he’d heard Ren breathing through his vocoder, almost brushed knee against knee. They had been close, much closer than Hux has been to anyone in such a long time, and Ren had known him from the inside, then, cleansed him with the Force and made him pure.

When Ben speaks again, he speaks slowly, deliberately, and Hux hangs on each word. “I think,” he says, “you mean a lot to your friend. And maybe you should, um, let him know, if you feel that way about him.”

“I don’t know what I feel,” Hux says. “I feel like I want to be a droid and not have to deal with—emotions.”

Ben’s smile is soft, kind. “I know. But I think it’ll be worth it.”

“Ben,” Hux says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. He catches a glimpse of himself in the feed and his face is bright red, streaked with tears. “Oh, I look dreadful.”

“You look great,” Ben says.

Hux has to laugh at that. “Thank you,” he says, and for a moment, it is just them, and this, screens and distance and unbearable closeness. “What about this? You and me?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Ben says.

And Hux feels as though the uncertainty of that statement should scare him, but it doesn’t. Ben has a way of making things feel simpler than they are, of clarifying the most complicated thoughts into something easy to digest: I like you. You like me. We’ll figure it out. So he says, “Okay,” and he turns his face into the pillow, and he wishes again and again that Ben were here.

“I should let you sleep,” Ben says. “It’s late.”

“Oh,” Hux says. “Is it late there too?”

Ben blinks a few times. “Um, yes, sort of.”

“Perhaps you’re nearer than I thought,” Hux says. “Goodbye, Ben.”

“Sleep well,” Ben says, and he smiles, and the feed flickers to black.

When Hux finally settles into sleep, he dreams of an ocean, endless as space, warm and womblike. He is on his back, the water a thin film over his body, blurring everything above him. There is sunlight, there is a sun, and then there is a silhouette before it. The figure’s face is obscured, and when it says Hux, Hux its words are hazy, somewhere between Ben’s soft tones and Kylo Ren’s vocoder-modulated voice. Hux tries desperately to raise his face above water, but the surface seems to shift, and he never gets any closer to seeing the figure’s face. 

He shocks awake with the feeling that he is drowning, the uncomfortable realization that his bed is still empty slowly setting in.

Hux is relieved when, the next day, he finds Ren in the meeting room. Hux’s consultation with Colonel Datoo had gone well, though he’d found himself distracted throughout, often thinking of that strange dream. It had felt like Ren’s meditation gone wrong—he’d been desperate for arms around him, desperate to be lifted from the water, and yet he found no salvation. Datoo had been speaking about the necessary equipment for the control room on the new base, but Hux had been somewhere else, looking out onto that ocean again, and Datoo had had to prompt him multiple times before he’d been able to snap back into reality.

Now, the responsibility of rewriting his speech and planning the next one is looming over him, and his mind is clouded. Ben’s imploration that Hux tell Ren his feelings has been nagging at him. To do so would require Hux to understand his own feelings, and then to be able to verbalize them for Ren. Hux doesn’t think he knows what his feelings are, only that they’re entirely too much for him, and that Ren would probably laugh in his face if he knew them.

“General,” Ren says. He is not meditating yet; Hux does not feel the Force surrounding him when he passes into the room. Nevertheless, Ren’s presence is a comfort, and Hux nods at him as he makes his way to the opposite end of the table. He retrieves his datapad, and the comm channel is still open on the front tab. Ben’s status is OFFLINE.

Hux pulls up the draft of his speech, rereads it. The words are almost impossible to focus on. He remembers writing them in a furious burst, hammering at the keys until the tips of his fingers were numb, but now they seem as foreign to him as the Geonosian symbols on Ren’s astrolabe. This passage about the failing Republic settlement on Bpfassh doesn’t follow the previous one about the Order’s plans for a new superweapon, and the indictment of the Resistance splinter group, while impassioned, is inappropriate for general troop consumption.

“Fuck,” he says, and he closes out of the document, sets the datapad on the table and his head in his hands. There’s so much work to be done, and yet he can only think of Ben and Ren and oceans and arms. Useless thoughts, useless to waste all this time dreaming of being held.

“Is something troubling you, General?” Ren says. He does not turn his chair from the viewport he faces, only cocks his head slightly, the fluorescent lights above them shimmering over the void-black surface of his helmet.

Hux sighs. “Everything is troubling me, I’m afraid,” he says. Part of him is desperate for Ren to come over again, to offer to meditate with him. Hux is afraid to simply ask for it; that would certainly betray his feelings, and he isn’t yet sure if he’s ready to show them to another when he doesn’t fully understand them himself. Still, when Ren had meditated with him that first time, he’d felt an incredible calm, a clarity like nothing he’s ever known. After that, his focus had been clear, and he’d been productive, and he’d felt better than ever. Not like this low, conflicted tangle he feels now.

He summons his courage. “Would you mind meditating with me again? Your cleansing proved—quite useful the first time.”

And suddenly Ren is on his feet, lumbering to Hux’s end of the table. “Of course,” Ren says. “You just have to ask, Hux.”

“I’m asking,” Hux says. Ren lowers himself into the seat next to Hux, and Hux nudges his own chair closer. His knees push against the thick barrier of Ren’s robes—possibly an invasion of Ren’s space, but Ren seems unfazed. Again, Hux attunes himself to the sound of Ren’s breathing, the sound through the vocoder almost like a purr.

He expects Ren to lower his head as he had before, to turn his palms up and stretch his fingers out wide. Hux has already decided that, if Ren does, he will place his hand atop Ren’s and rest his fingertips on Ren’s wrist, glove on glove. Risky, but being safe has never gotten him anywhere.

But Ren remains still for a moment, watching Hux from behind his mask. “Turn your hands over,” Ren says, gently commanding. Hux does, his hands clenched tight into fists.

Then, from nowhere, there is the feeling of fingertips prying his left fist open, carefully folding back each finger. Hux cannot hold back his gasp. “Is that you?” he says, dumb, knowing the answer even as he asks.

Ren nods. “The Force. Nothing scary.” Hux’s right hand is opening now, unfolding like a blossom, invisible tendrils curling around his fingers and easing his fist apart.

“Right,” Hux murmurs. He stares down at his open palms. Ren had engineered that, had moved his fingers through some kind of magic. And he had let it happen! In the centers of his palms, there is a lingering pulsation of energy, the feeling light a glowing light flickering in and out. Hux wants to close his fingers around it, but his hands are held open with the Force.

Ren inches closer. Hux’s knee pushes through the slit of Ren’s robes, and they are knee against thigh, the mass of Ren’s leg near Hux’s almost too much to bear. “Close your eyes,” Ren says.

Despite his fear, Hux does so. At the Academy, he had learned that when one sense is deprived, the others are heightened, and so in this temporary blindness, every feeling is magnified: his leg against Ren’s, Ren’s low breathing, the dust-and-ash scent of Ren’s robes, even the coppery taste of anxiety in his throat. The squeak of Ren’s chair as he moves slightly, the distant hum of motors and machinery, and—warm leather against his forehead, an easy weight spreading out over the crown of Hux’s head.

“Ren,” Hux says, surprised by the break in his voice. The touch moves across his forehead, slow and comforting. Ren’s thumb. His fingers pressing slightly at Hux’s crown, between locks of hair. The leather is smooth and warm against Hux’s skin, worn soft, not like his own gloves, which he compulsively replaces as soon as the leather begins to crack.

His head swims. No one has touched him this way, this closely, in years, and feeling Ren now, Hux realizes how much he’s missed it. He lets out a shivering breath, and Ren continues to stroke his forehead, thumb moving in fluid arcs from Hux’s hairline to the space between his eyebrows. Hux bows his head as Ren had that first time, and Ren says, “Good,” and the Force drips into him like rain from Ren’s fingertips.

It is like standing in a shower, feeling dirt and sweat and blood roll off of his skin, except it is also like not having skin at all, and like not feeling anything, and like feeling everything at once. The Force pushes into him slowly at first, moisture permeating soil, and then it consumes him, courses through him. Again it as if the boundaries of his body cease to exist, and the hand atop his head is not Ren’s hand, but his own hand, or no one’s hand, or maybe just some physical manifestation of the Force that keeps him from falling apart fully. There’s suddenly light behind his eyes, so bright it might be blinding if his eyes were not already closed, and then he is falling backward into water.

Before, it had been swimming, and the Force had surrounded him and flooded him that way, but now Hux feels as though he is floating, carried on waves of water or Force or something, with only light above him. In this dimension of not-being, he stretches out his arms and the Force flows from the crown of his head to his fingertips, holds there in his hands. His breath comes slowly, like he doesn’t need it anymore, like the only thing sustaining him is the Force—it is the blood in his veins, the air in his lungs, put there by Ren, who is in this dimension too now, his thick black silhouette standing above Hux, blocking out the light.

It is easier to move his body here than it had been in his dream, when the ocean had enveloped him no matter how he turned or twisted himself. Now the Force seems to push him up onto his feet, if there is a him at all, and when he reaches for Ren he feels the Force spiral through him, his muscles. In this world he is voiceless, and he cannot say what he so desperately wants to: Let me see you. Let me see you.

But Ren moves, his robes dipping into the water that surrounds them, and he kneels in front of Hux, a knight pledging fealty, and he puts his gloved hands to the sides of his helmet, thumbs the hidden latches. There is a sound like a chamber depressurizing, and Ren’s hands are shaking when he lifts the helmet away.

The face beneath it is Ben’s face, and in this world of Force and water and things he does not understand, Hux gasps, and energy surges through him, and he cannot look away from the apparition. If he looks away, this will disappear, this ghost of Ben in Kylo Ren’s clothing. Ben stands again, Ren’s robes billowing around him, and he is so near. With a still-shaking hand, he touches Hux’s face, places a palm atop Hux’s head, pushes Hux’s hair back and draws his thumb across Hux’s forehead.

Hux is afraid to blink, afraid to move. Ben is wearing Ren’s gloves and the sensation of leather smoothing across Hux’s skin returns. Ben is silent and Hux cannot bring himself to speak for fear of spoiling this—even if it is only a dream, a construction of his mind, he does not want to give it up.

And then Ben is leaning his forehead against Hux’s, skin against skin, and Hux trembles. Ben is here, finally, he’s wanted this for so long and now it’s real, except it isn’t, and Hux becomes suddenly, deeply aware of the empty feeling that will replace the Force when Ren ceases this. He closes his eyes and hears Ben’s breathing, feels it, Ben’s mouth close enough to touch, close enough to kiss. Stay, Hux begs, I can’t bear you leaving me again. If he thinks it loudly enough, maybe it will become real, and when he opens his eyes and is on the Finalizer again it will be Ben in Ren’s place, underneath the helmet, and then in his bed, forever.

He thinks he feels Ben’s eyelashes against his cheek. They are as soft as he’s imagined. And Hux sighs, and he wishes he could move his hands just to place them on Ben’s shoulders, just to run his fingers over Ben’s jaw, but he can’t. Can’t.

“Ben,” he whispers. As soon as the name has crossed his lips, this Force dimension begins to crumple, quick as the projected Arkanis disappearing into black. Ben’s warm, soft skin against Hux’s is cold now, hard, and the weight of his hand on Hux’s crown is gone. Hux closes his fingers into fists again, holding them in place with a strength that strains his knuckles. He feels the Force draining from him. It does not linger as it had the first time, when it had seemed to fill every broken space in Hux’s psyche. Now its loss only highlights his hurt, widens the pre-existing cracks.

With eyes closed, the other senses are heightened: no water touching his body, no sound of Ben’s breathing, no Force, no Ben. For a moment, Hux relishes the pain—its lingering reminds him that something was once there, that for a short time, Ben was near enough to be his. And then the cold sets in, and the lonely, and the devastating sadness that threatens to split him open.

He has no choice but to open his eyes, and so he does, slowly, blinking. There is only black before him, fluorescents at the corners of his vision, and he realizes the cold is not the loneliness but rather the hard surface of Ren’s helmet pressed against his skin. Ren is not moving, and Hux is impossibly close to him. What he sees is unfocused and blurry, but he swears—swears—he sees a flash of familiar dark eyes behind Ren’s mask.

Wishful thinking. Hux shuts his eyes again and pulls away, shakes his head. How idiotic, all of this, the belief that he could ever have Ben, that Ben could ever be here. He forces himself to look again and Ren is in the same position, his hands in fists too, a perfect mirror of Hux’s posture.

And with a meteoric impact, the realization that Ren has seen all of this, everything, crushes Hux.

Hux retreats to his room as quickly as he can, the feeling that he has been found out almost chasing him. Ren hardly knows him, but now Ren knows everything, and it is information that can be used against him. If Ren has seen Ben’s face then it is not a stretch to imagine Ren digging just a little deeper and discovering the circumstances of their meeting, and then the misuse of funds, and then only a step further and—removal from his post, exile, something worse.

He engages every lock on his doors, sends frantic comms to Mitaka and Phasma and Datoo: I am very ill. Take charge in my absence. I will return by beta shift tomorrow. And then he sinks onto his bed, feeling like a prisoner in his skin, in this room, on this ship, desperate for any kind of escape. How stupid, to let himself slip—to let Ren into that hidden corridor of his heart, to let Ren see those dreams, those wants that make him vulnerable.

In his desperation, he fumbles with his datapad, opens the private comm channel. Ben is offline—unsurprising—but Hux types out a message anyway, begging. 

>red_emperor: I did something very stupid
>red_emperor: i think I’ve compromised you
>red_emperor: i’m so sorry ben
>red_emperor: Please forgive me

It is cruel, probably, to send Ben these messages without further explanation, to leave him in the dark halfway across the universe, afraid for his well-being. All those threats Hux had made about unleashing the full force of the Order if his identity was compromised suddenly seem too real, and he fears that he’s put Ben in danger by inadvertently revealing this to Ren. He will have to beg Ren for mercy, and possibly Ren will want an explanation—what if Ren is the jealous sort, vengeful, and he goes after Ben? Or if Ren parades Hux before Snoke and, having prodded through Hux’s memories, explicates every garish detail of the affair with Ben, and Snoke wastes him then and there? Or if Ren holds it over Hux’s head with the threat of blackmail, or if—

Hux feels dizzy, lost, as though all those futures he’d imagined with Ben and Ren have disintegrated into dust in his hands. So many years spent at the Academy, learning how to rid himself of emotions, needs, and for what? Only to hurt the few people he’s been able to truly care for, only to get himself hurt in the process.

In the viewport, there is a waste of rocks, few stars, just asteroids as far as he can see. Desolate. Ben is not looking back.

For a long time, Hux can only stare up at the ceiling, into the harsh light, hoping for some passage out of this prison he’s locked himself into. But he can see no way out of this; there is no route that does not end with an ache. This, he realizes now, was the case all along; when he started playing with real people—on screens or behind masks—he invited hurt into his bed, the possibility of pain.

He covers his face with his hands, pushes the heels of his palms into his eyes until it goes dark and white specks burst behind his eyelids. Hux contemplates never leaving this room, just wasting away here, being forgotten on his own ship. That seems preferable to all other options.

From the door there is a loud, long beep which indicates that someone is requesting entrance into the room. Hux elects to ignore it. There’s no one who could possibly need to see him right now, and letting himself be seen like this—red-eyed, face puffy, sniffling—would only further damage his reputation. The door beeps twice more, and Hux ignores each of them, burying his face under a pillow, hoping to drown out the sound.

Then—an automated voice notifying him that the locks have been disengaged, the mechanisms in the doors whirring. Hux sits straight up, throws the pillow off of him, heart pounding. He is terribly certain that this is the end of him, that Ren or Snoke or someone—his own officers—will burst through that door and take him away, or perhaps kill him here.

Dread becomes terror, pervasive, swallowing, when it is Ren who walks in. He appears unarmed, though of course his command of the Force is itself a weapon, and the hood of his robes is down. His walk is unbalanced and swaggering, and when he steps into the room he waves the doors closed behind him. The Force.

Hux can’t move. He is on his bed, still fully dressed, boots still on, and he can’t bring himself to stand. He can only look at Ren and assume Ren is looking back at him. And he can fear.

“Hux,” Ren says. “Lock the doors again, please.” Hux watches Ren’s hands clench into fists, fingers flexing in and out. It is not the stance he has seen Ren take when angry, when ready to destroy, but even that strikes some panic into Hux. He has dealt with Ren angry before; he knows how to avoid the crashing blows of his saber. This is something new entirely.

“Have you come to kill me?” Hux says. He is frozen with fright, voice half an octave higher than usual. He has long known his path in the Order is one that ends with his death, but he had imagined something more glorious: going down with his ship, or a public execution, something that would ensure his name was etched into history. Not this, a private excoriation at Ren’s hands, dying because he’d dared to combat his loneliness.

“No,” Ren says. “Please lock the doors.”

Slowly, his rigid muscles barely bending, Hux pushes himself up off the bed and crosses the room to the panel near the door. Though he knows logically that Ren can reach out with the Force without much effort, he gives Ren a wide berth. At the panel, he punches in a series of codes, and the automated voice indicates that the locks have been engaged.

He turns to Ren, quivering. Clasping his hands behind his back to hide the tremble, he says to Ren, dumbly, “It’s done.”

Ren steps closer. He is not much taller than Hux, but Hux feels impossibly small, feels as if Ren will crush him. He feels like an insect under the heel of Ren’s boot, awaiting his end.

“I need to show you something,” Ren says. Light glints off the polished metal that surrounds the eyes of the helmet. “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long.”

When Ren lifts his hands, Hux realizes that they, too, are trembling. Something softer than relief sets in. If Ren were going to kill him, he wouldn’t toy with Hux this way. Or perhaps that is wishful thinking, a prisoner letting himself believe the firing squad’s guns will malfunction.

Ren places his hands on the sides of his helmet, as he had during the meditation, in that world where nothing and everything made sense. Hux hears him take a deep breath, and he seems to sway a bit, almost drunkenly.

Hux wants to stop him. You don’t have to, he wants to say, let’s forget all about this, everything. But there is a part of him, too, that wants more than anything to see the man beneath Ren’s mask. He has imagined so many possibilities, and now that the moment is upon him, Hux can hardly say what he wants. It is enough to know that he is not dying, or at least that he’ll know the face of his executioner if he is.

Ren’s thumbs move, unhooking the latches at the bottom of the helmet, and the front chamber protrudes forward with a hydraulic wheeze. Ren’s hands still for a moment. Then, slowly, he lifts the helmet away.

“Impossible,” Hux murmurs.

“Hi,” Ben says.


Hux thinks first that it is a trick of the Force, that Ren has mined that stupid shared meditation and somehow arranged his face into a perfect replica of Ben’s. But he has been able to feel when Ren uses the Force, and at any rate, he had only revealed Ben’s face for a few moments. His second thought, just as stupid, is that Ben has somehow infiltrated the Finalizer, stolen Kylo Ren’s clothes, and broken into Hux’s room. But Ren had used the Force to close these doors, and Ben had never made any mention of the Force, and why would Ben have bothered with the helmet, or Ren’s clothes, or any of this, if he were actually on the ship?

Third and most overwhelming is the desire to hold him. Or to be held by him. Or maybe just to touch him, and not to ask questions, not to over-analyze something for once in his life.

“I don’t understand,” Hux says. He releases his hands from behind his back and spreads his fingers. The urge to touch Ben’s face is consuming; he wants this to be simple.

Ben just says, “It’s me,” and drops the helmet—Ren’s helmet—to the floor with a reverberating thump. “It always has been.”

“How?” Hux says. They are at once too close and too far apart; he wants to crush himself against Ben’s body, or Ren’s body—perhaps the distinction doesn’t matter. He had wanted them both.

And then Ben tugs off Ren’s gloves and fuck, Hux knows these hands, Ben’s hands, how he’d watched Ben plunge these fingers into that soft mouth (it looks even softer here, in person) and suck come from them, and how he’d imagined these hands on his own body so many times. Ben grabs Hux’s hand and yanks off Hux’s glove and finally, finally, skin against skin, fingers intertwining, Ben’s grip tight and steady. Hux lets out a shaking breath and stares at their clasped hands, unable to move his own fingers. He wants to touch each of Ben’s knuckles, rub his thumb over this skin, put it to his own lips, but he is paralyzed.

He is grateful beyond words when Ben raises their hands and presses Hux’s palm to his cheek. He leans into Hux’s palm and Hux’s eyes sting. He feels bone beneath the skin, the gentle scrape of new-blooming stubble, the warmth of Ben’s face flushing.

“Real,” Ben says. “It’s me.”

Ben drops his hand, but Hux keeps his against Ben’s cheek. Ben’s hair falls against Hux’s fingers as Ben removes Hux’s other glove and lifts that hand to his face as well. Then he smiles his lopsided smile, the sideways grin that Hux has treasured and held in the deepest parts of him, has come back to in moments of darkness. Only this time, it’s not through a screen, no flickering feed or slow-loading video. It’s real, solid, under his hands.

“Ben,” Hux says, and before he can stop himself, he is surging forward, and Ben is stumbling backward, and then Hux is pushing him against the durasteel wall. He is slipping a hand into Ben’s hair and pulling him forward and Hux is kissing him hard and hungry. Ben gasps into it, his lips clumsy against Hux’s, sucking when they should be still, closing when they should open. Hux doesn’t care. He’s never cared about anything less. Ben’s palms grasp at Hux’s shoulder blades, fingertips pressing in and threatening to bruise him, and Hux twists his fingers in the soft curls of Ben’s hair. Ben’s nose brushes Hux’s cheek, Ben is sighing, Ben is holding Hux closer than he’s ever been to anyone.

When he balls his fists in Ren’s robes, he remembers that the hands on his back have held a lightsaber, have pulled energy from the air and pushed it through him. Ben is not just Ben, but Kylo Ren, too, who is bigger than life, or outside of it. Timid Ben is Kylo Ren, who has never been unsure of anything in his life, who has always been in command of his own destiny. The dissonance ought to stagger Hux, but instead it fuels him, makes him kiss Ben with a ferocity he didn’t know he possessed. He wants to bruise Ben’s lips, sink his teeth in.

Hux pulls away just enough to speak. “Fuck you,” he hisses, and he kisses Ben again, making him go limp against the durasteel wall. Ben’s hands search for a hold, skimming down from Hux’s shoulders to the small of his back, pulling him in closer, their hips crushing together even through the endless layers of Ren’s robes. It doesn’t make sense, that Kylo Ren—ruthless, vicious, powerful—could have Ben’s sweet face. That when Ben called him emperor and pledged to be Hux’s knight, he could have meant it. That the boy who made him yearn for oceans is the same man who brought them to him. Ben, Ren—one and the same.

Ben places a hand on Hux’s cheek—it spans most of his head, fingers weaving into Hux’s hair—and eases Hux’s face back slightly. “I’m sorry,” Ben says. But Hux isn’t ready to stop kissing him, and so he mouths at Ben’s jaw, presses his lips to each mole on Ben’s face. “I didn’t know it was you at first,” Ben continues, “and then when I did, I thought—if you knew I was—you wouldn’t want Ben or Kylo.” He is rubbing circles on Hux’s back, panting almost, not letting Hux move.

“Fuck,” Hux says, his fingers drifting to the shell of Ben’s ear, “I wanted both of you.”

Then his tongue is in Ben’s mouth and Hux can taste him, can feel his uncertainty. Hux usually finds this sort of incompetence irritating, but now it’s endearing, proof that this is the real Ben, who had hardly known how to touch himself, or how to make himself appealing on camera. “I don’t even know what I should call you,” Hux says, freeing his lips from Ben’s and smiling against his skin.

“At this point, I don’t really care,” Ben says, and tries to kiss Hux again, and Hux lets him. The feeling now is like the meditation, a power he doesn’t understand coursing through him. Not the Force this time, but desire, the need to take Ben and hold him and make Ben his.

“Take your clothes off,” Hux says, gasping. Ben licks his lips and nods, and Hux steps back, watches him fumble with the swathes of fabric that envelop him. Hux’s fingers slip as he tries to unbutton his own uniform; he hardly knows whether to undress himself or help Ben.

“Too many layers,” Ben says with a nervous laugh. He’s got something tangled around his wrist, the hood of the robes yanked halfway over his head. Hux undoes his belt and drops it to the floor, and Ben mutters a word of thanks, muffled in the fabric, which Hux helps him get over his head. From there, it’s easier—pull off the surcoat, peel away the tunic, shove off the boots. Then Ben is before him in only leggings and undershirt and dark socks, his pale arms spotted with moles.

Hux swallows, breathless. He had hoped for this, but never expected it to actually happen. He’s wanted Ben for such a long time, and now he’s here, better than the images on the screen, better than anything Hux had ever dreamed of It is enough to make Hux’s eyes go glassy again, only for a moment, before he blinks it away. “Look at you,” Hux says. “Aren’t you something?”

Ben motions Hux closer, and Hux is helpless to resist. Ben starts working on the fasteners of Hux’s uniform tunic, deftly slipping the hook from each eye with a singular focus. “I’ve never gotten to see you,” Ben says. “You’ve seen me, but I’ve—been wanting to see you for a while.”

So Hux spreads his arms and lets himself be undressed. He watches Ben’s face, every smooth line that appears as he furrows his brows or smiles or scrunches his nose when trying to undo a difficult hook. It all seems obvious now—the ocean, the astrolabe, even the sound of Kylo Ren’s breathing. All the answers had been there in front of him the entire time.

He lets the tunic fall off his shoulders, and Ben immediately runs his hands up Hux’s bare arms. Hux has always felt self-conscious about their boniness—his body has not really progressed much since he turned 18—but in Ben’s hands they feel right, and Ben’s smile lingers for a long time when he traces the thin blue veins that trail down Hux’s forearm, beneath the thin skin of his wrists.

“I guess I didn’t know you were this small,” Ben says. His eyes are glittering again—there are stars in the viewport now, billions, nebulae and galaxies, all shining in the cool dark of Ben’s eyes. “But you are, you’re so small.”

Hux huffs. Being called that has always irritated him, but it’s sort of comforting coming from Ben. He wonders if Ben could lift him, carry him to the bed. He wants to be subsumed into Ben’s arms, to feel all that muscle clenching around him, holding him. But now Ben is sinking to his knees, tugging off Hux’s boots. Even on his knees, Ben’s head is at Hux’s waist, and he rubs his nose against Hux’s thigh. Hux feels himself begin to stiffen in his briefs; he curls his sock-toes against the floor.

“I’ve a perfectly good bed, you know,” Hux says, though he’s not certain of his ability to move. The image of Ben on his knees in front of him is one he hadn’t realized he’d so desperately wanted. He reaches down to stroke Ben’s hair and Ben hums with approval, turning his head into the touch like a housepet in need of affection. Hux is happy to give it to him. Hux is happy to touch Ben as long as he’d like.

Ben unzips the front of Hux’s trousers and Hux shuts up. “Emperor,” Ben says. “That made sense once I knew it was you.” He nudges Hux’s trousers down and Hux steps out of them, his legs suddenly cold, thighs exposed to the room’s chill. Ben kisses his knee, and then further up his thigh, just beneath his briefs. “I’ve never done this before.”

“You can drop the virgin act, Ben,” Hux says. “I want you either way.” Ben is drawing his fingers over the front of Hux’s briefs now, the touch so light that it sends a shock all the way through him, standing the hairs of his arms on end.

“It’s not an act,” Ben says. That in itself seems impossible—Hux has seen Ben, through a screen and in person now. How could no one have ever had him before? His hands, his eyes, his soft mouth—Hux had dreamed of a boy like him when he was younger, back at the Academy, he would have done anything to a boy who looked like Ben.

Ben slips his fingers under the waistband of Hux’s briefs and pulls them down around his knees. His cock is hard now, and Ben’s eyes hold on it before glancing up. He makes a show of licking his lips—pink lips unbearably wet and plush—and Hux struggles not to push Ben’s head down onto his cock, just to end this horrible waiting.

“Please,” Hux says.

But Ben doesn’t move. With the tip of his finger, he lightly traces the length of Hux’s cock, tip to root, the pad of his thumb carefully circling on Hux’s balls. It’s been so long since another person touched him, he’s forgotten how other skin feels. Though Ben’s fingers are calloused (from training, Hux realizes now), his touch is gentle, soothing, tentative.

“Could you tell me what to do, Emperor?” Ben says. Emperor shoots through him, all his nerves a circuit, a fire ready to ignite at the touch of Ben’s lips. He tucks a curl behind Ben’s ear, thumbs at the end of Ben’s eyebrow.

“Your mouth,” Hux says. “Fuck, I want your mouth. Go slow.”

Ben parts his lips, presses a kiss to the head of Hux’s cock, and then takes Hux into his mouth. Hux’s whole body seizes up and Ben’s teeth scrape across the underside of his cock, clumsy. Ben soothes the scrape of his teeth with a quick swipe of his tongue. It feels good, deliriously so, and Hux holds back the words in his throat as long as he can. It had been easy to spout endearments and instructions to Ben through a keyboard; it’s harder to say them aloud.

But Ben looks up with dark, hungry eyes and Hux is lost. “Like that,” Hux murmurs, thumbing the soft skin behind Ben’s ear. “Ben, shit, that’s good.” Ben is bobbing his head slowly, fingers stroking the base of Hux’s cock, tickling through the golden hair there. “My knight,” Hux says. “Fuck, you’re gorgeous like this.”

Hux has imagined this a hundred times, thought of how it might feel to actually have Ben’s mouth around him. He’d imagined something more practiced than this—Ben’s tongue slipping around his cock, the exaggerated smacks as Ben sets and resets his lips. It is an altogether amateur performance, one that might have once annoyed Hux with its lack of polish, but the reality of having Ben here is so much better than any imaginary skill. He rocks his hips gently into Ben’s mouth, making Ben gag a little, and then he slides his hand beneath Ben’s chin and eases him back. Ben’s mouth hangs open, wet, tongue still lapping at the head of Hux’s cock.

“I’d really like to fuck you,” Hux says. “Do something that feels nice for both of us.”

Ben swallows, blinks. “Was that bad? I’m sorry, I haven’t—”

“No! No.” Hux pushes Ben’s hair back, smooths it. “It’s been a very long time, Ben, you could do an awful job and I’d still be thrilled.” Ben’s lips twitch with a smile; he draws a finger down Hux’s saliva-wet cock. “Please,” says Hux, “let me do something for you. It’s only ever been the other way around.”

Ben nods, and Hux slides his hands under Ben’s arms to haul him up. Ben is entirely too dressed, Hux realizes. Hux steps out of his briefs, leaving his socks mussed around his ankles. His entire lower half is exposed, and maybe he ought to be self-conscious about his bony body, his knobby knees and freckled calves, but Ben is placing a wide palm at his hip, pressing his thumb against Hux’s bones, and Hux doesn’t care. He’d always worried that Ben would find him unattractive, but he’s seeing now that Ben is—has always been—just a boy, inexperienced and afraid, hiding beneath a mask or behind a camera.

“I’m going to undress you,” Hux says. “And then we’re going to get in bed and I’m going to fuck you, and you won’t leave me again.”

“Okay,” Ben says.

“And tomorrow we’re going to do it again, because you’re mine now, aren’t you?” He touches Ben’s cheek, fingertip grazing Ben’s earlobe.

“Yes,” Ben says. “I always was, Hux.”

Hux tries to let that roll off his back. There have always been boys in his bed, but when has he ever had anyone? His previous engagements have been made out of a mutual need, and maybe this had started that way, but Ben kisses him again and he knows, knows, it isn’t just fucking any longer. He gets his fingers around the hem of Ben’s undershirt, untucking it from his tight leggings, and lets Ben pull him closer. His cock rubs against the heavy fabric of Ben’s leggings, and Hux is ripe with need. He grinds his hips against Ben—feels Ben’s erection too, now, hard and eager as Hux had been once, begging. Hux rolls his hips and Ben groans into Hux’s mouth, murmurs something like want you.

Hux is helpless to resist that, and so he pulls Ben’s undershirt over his head and throws it onto the floor with Hux’s uniform and all the many layers of Ren’s robes. And then—Ben’s chest, thick and white and spotted with moles, exactly how it had appeared on-screen the very first time. Hux sighs, follows the tracks of Ben’s muscles, the widening trail of hair from his navel down. And Ben’s pectorals, Hux had dreamed of these, imagined himself pushing them together and fucking between them, spattering his pale chest with come.

Now, he passes a fingertip over Ben’s nipple, the precious pink nub of it stiffening beneath Hux’s touch. He’d commanded Ben to play with his nipples, once, pretending Ben’s square fingers were his own thin ones. His nipples are incongruously delicate compared to the rest of him, which is so solid and tough. Ben makes a low, pleased noises as Hux circles his fingertips around it, his pale skin flushing red. “I just want to devour you,” Hux says, lightly squeezing Ben’s nipple between his fingers.

“I want you to,” Ben says. He is palming up Hux’s back, under the thin fabric of Hux’s undershirt, counting the knobs of Hux’s spine. “You’re so small,” he says again, dreamy, and he raises Hux’s arms just enough to get the undershirt off. “Feels like I could crush you.”

Hux leans his body against Ben’s and lets Ben’s heat surround him like a blanket. He fits his head in the crook of Ben’s neck, turns his face down, breathes in deep. The ash scent of Kylo Ren’s robes lingers on Ben’s skin, and there is sweat here. Hux kisses this skin, still stroking Ben’s nipple, pressing it tight until it blooms a darker shade of pink. Ben’s hand settles at Hux’s lower back, fingers over the slight curve of his ass. Hux feels shielded, knowing Ben has him, and Ben holds unknowable power in his fists. He thinks of Ben, this scared boy, suddenly gone mad in battle, wielding a lightsaber and the Force, all for Hux’s protection. He’d called Ben his knight before, and now it feels true, like Ben would fight for him, kill for him.

He bites at Ben’s neck, not too hard, just enough to leave a red mark in the skin. And then, desirous, he works Ben’s leggings down his hips, freeing his generous erection. The camera had not misrepresented Ben’s size. He glances his fingertips over the head of Ben’s cock, already crimson and wanting, and Ben moans. It is an indelicate noise, more of a cry than a sigh, but Hux files it away, pleased with how little it takes to get a sound out of Ben. Ben shakes his leggings off, then yanks off his socks, and even his feet are big—this oversized boy, with his untouched body. Hux has seen so much of it, but now he wants to know all of it. “Will you turn around for me?” he asks, possessed. “Like the first time you showed me your face?”

Ben squeezes him tight before letting go, and steps over the mounds of clothes so he is framed by the viewport. His pale skin is opalescent against the darkness of space behind him; he looks like a strange, uncharted moon, with moles like craters and muscles carved like mountain ranges on the stone surface of his body. The conqueror’s instinct flares within Hux, watching Ben slowly rotate. Hux needs to map him, own him. Ben’s muscles flex as he turns, and now Hux notices things he hadn’t on the screen: the smooth scars that slice up Ben’s side, and across his shoulder blades, and on the thick of his thigh; the greenish veins in his forearms and hands; the please like me look that crosses his face when he turns back toward Hux.

“Why do you hide all this?” Hux says. “Under all those robes and that awful fucking helmet.”

Ben shrugs. “Saving it for you, I guess.”

That raises a pain in Hux’s chest. So earnest.

“Can I see you?” Ben says.

“Are you not seeing me?” Hux crosses his arms over his chest.

“No, like—like this. Take your socks off, Hux, I want to look at you.”

Oh. Hux swallows. “Of course,” he says, and he tugs off his socks and stands still before Ben, self-conscious, afraid Ben will decide he isn’t enough. Old worries about his still-boyish body, his freckles, even the size of his cock, roil up inside him. But there is yearning in Ben’s eyes, and Hux is helpless to deny him anything he wants. He closes his eyes, turns on his heel, and tries not to imagine Ben picking him apart.

When he is facing Ben again, he forces himself to look, and Ben is moving closer now, grinning. “You look like a galaxy,” Ben says, and then Ben’s arms are beneath him, lifting him up as if he weighed nothing, holding him against Ben’s chest. He didn’t know he’d wanted this, just to be held, but he did, he does, and he lets himself be carried to the bed in Ben’s strong arms.

This is what meditation had felt like. The very first time, when Ren had cleansed him. Like coming home, like finding something hidden for so long it was nearly forgotten, like Ben. For the briefest moment, there are tears in his eyes, and he blinks them away, hoping Ben doesn’t see.

Ben lays him on the bed with a gentleness that makes Hux hurt. He’s careful to set Hux’s head on the pillow, and then he kisses Hux’s forehead before easing his body down, their cocks brushing together as Ben gets himself in place. They kiss languidly, lazily, while Hux drags his hands down Ben’s back, feeling all that tight muscle. Ben is heavy over him like this, but it’s a pleasant weight. Hux wonders how he’s lived without it.

For a long while, it is enough just to kiss. Ben sighs now and then, his fingers drifting up Hux’s side, tickling, as they rub cock against cock without aim. It has been so, so long since Hux had this—since the Academy, whispering are you my boyfriend into soft smooth necks and receiving kiss after kiss as answers, yes, yes, yes.

This feels so adolescent, but Hux is grateful for this opportunity to learn again, to teach, to guide Ben’s hand onto their cocks and say touch here, hold us together. And Ben does, his wide hand spanning both of them, and Hux rolls his hips—engineering friction, heat, Ben almost losing his balance before he settles into the rhythm of cock sliding over cock. Ben moans Hux and Hux wants to weep, his name in Ben’s mouth like this, Ben nuzzling his face against Hux’s and trying to kiss.

Hux thrusts into Ben’s fist, and Ben drops his head against Hux’s shoulder. “Hux,” he pants, tightening his grip around them. He lets out a moan that vibrates across Hux’s skin, slips an arm under Hux’s back, easily moving him, snaking between Hux and the mattress like it’s nothing. “Want you on top of me. Please.”

“Gladly,” Hux breathes, and Ben turns them over, rolling onto his back and pulling Hux on top of him. Their foreheads knock together slightly; their limbs tangle. It is inelegant but Hux has no use for elegance anymore, only Ben in all his forms, all of them clumsy, all of them perfect. “Lube is—in the compartment next to you.” Hux nods toward it, as he resettles himself between Ben’s thighs. Not quite on top of him, but Hux has other plans.

Ben passes the bottle of lube to Hux and sets his hands at Hux’s waist. His fingers nearly touch over the small of Hux’s back, and his thumbs press into the tenderness of Hux’s stomach. Ben is smiling beatifically, his cock flat against his torso, muscles shimmering with sweat. “I sort of thought you’d punch me,” he says. “But I’m glad you didn’t.”

Hux drips lube onto his fingers, lets some fall onto Ben’s skin and savors the way he twitches when it does. “You’ve made me soft, unfortunately,” he says. Leaves a long, thin streak of lube down Ben’s cock, works it in with his fist, making Ben writhe. “I can’t believe I’m about to take Kylo Ren’s virginity.”

Ben snorts, and Hux wonders why he’s laid his affections here. Then Ben smiles, and he remembers why.

“Knees up,” Hux says, tapping Ben’s leg. Ben spreads his thighs wide, raises his ass just enough for Hux to get a hand beneath him. “I’ve a feeling you’re going to ruin my sheets.”

“Probably,” Ben says, and then he yelps because Hux is pushing one slick finger into him, his muscles clenching tight around Hux. Hux carefully twists his finger, watching Ben struggle to keep still. It’s been a while since he did this to anyone other than himself, and so he’s afraid that it’s a little rough around the edges, but he goes slow, easy for Ben.

“When you fingered yourself on camera for me, I absolutely thought I was going to incinerate,” Hux says. He draws his thumb down the soft skin behind Ben’s balls. Ben squirms deliciously, gripping Hux’s hips with such force that Hux thinks he may bruise.

“Was it good?” Ben sighs, eyes closed now, thigh trembling.

“Very,” Hux says. “But not as good as this.” And that’s true—if Ben is this tight around just one of Hux’s thin fingers, he imagines the way Ben will feel around his cock. It will be a delicious sort of agony, the crush of their bodies together. “Fuck, I could look at you forever.”

Ben’s eyes flutter open. “Yeah?”

“Yes,” Hux says, and he inserts another finger. Ben’s mouth is suddenly hanging in a gasp, a perfect O of want and surprise. “Handsome boy,” Hux says, thrusting his fingers within Ben, reaching with his free hand to stroke Ben’s nipple again. He crooks his fingers, opening Ben from the inside, and Ben flexes his hips, groaning loud and long when Hux’s fingers hit there and there and there, his hands falling from Hux’s hips and desperately grasping for his own cock. The head is slick with precome, cock bright red.

“When are you going to—to fuck me?” Ben murmurs. His chest heaves; he takes big, gulping gasps of breath, making a noise between a sigh and an animal whine as Hux rubs inside him. How easy it has been to tame Kylo Ren, Hux thinks. If only he’d known.

Hux withdraws his fingers, and Ben whines then, too. “Are you ready to come, then?” Hux says, stroking lube onto his cock. “Close already, hm?” In truth, he is too, desperate to come and to slump next to Ben and to ready himself for a lifetime of this—evenings where they last longer, try more, where he rides Ben or feels Ben’s tongue inside him, or he gets his mouth around Ben’s cock. He wants to learn how to do all this again, but better, just for Ben, and he wants to teach Ben, too—this is where your hand goes, use less teeth, that’s good. 

Ben nods gravely. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m usually not so—it usually takes me longer, but it’s—different with you.”

Hux positions himself against Ben, the tip of his cock right at the cleft of Ben’s ass. “We’ll have to work on that,” Hux says. For a moment, he takes this in: Ben before him, on the edge of breaking, his body drawn up tight and trembling, muscles humming. He smooths a hand over a scar that cuts down Ben’s side, and Ben places his own hand over Hux’s, twining their fingers together.

It is entirely too sentimental. Still, Hux squeezes Ben’s hand, glances out at the endless stars, the promise of a universe to be conquered together, and guides himself into Ben.

Hux feels like bursting. Ben is tight, and Ben is moaning, and Ben is clumsily hooking a leg around Hux’s waist, pulling him closer. “Fuck,” Hux says, so close to coming. He had thought he might be able to hold off, but now he’s frantic, all of Ben’s muscles rigid around him. “Ben, you’re so—fuck, come on, you’ve got to move a bit, too.”

Ben rolls his hips, graceless, pushing himself up on his elbows to see. His eyes are wide and transfixed, and when Hux makes shallow thrusts, Ben’s gaze does not shift from them, this point where they intersect. “You,” Ben says, and that’s all he says, just you, and he pulls Hux’s hand to his mouth, kisses his knuckles. Hux is leaning over Ben now, Ben’s cock flush against Hux’s stomach, lube slick on Hux’s skin. With his free hand, Hux closes his fingers around Ben’s cock, loose at first, teasing. Ben is trying to thrust through his fingers, and Hux is pushing into Ben with longer strokes now, Ben’s body tense, tense, tense.

“Look at me,” Hux says, gasping. Ben looks up and their eyes meet, electric. Hux grips Ben’s cock, feels its weight in his palm, pulls at him expertly, watching Ben’s face contort with pleasure. “Oh, I love your eyes,” Hux says. “I love them.”

With a sharp intake of breath, Ben comes, his whole body going limp with the sudden force of release. He falls back onto the pillow, cock streaming white onto the ridges of his torso, muscles still contracting. He does not tear his eyes away from Hux, only squeezes Hux’s hand so tight Hux thinks he may break those bones. “Hux, Hux,” Ben breathes, and the way he says it—with such satisfaction and want—shatters Hux, sends him toppling over the edge. He lets himself go, feels empty and full at once, feels Ben’s new moan echo through every part of him. He trembles, shuts his eyes, slumps forward onto Ben, the wet warmth of Ben’s come between them. Ben holds him, and holds him, and says, “Hux,” over and over.

Then—strange, dreamlike—Hux feels energy running gently through him, over him, and through Ben, too. The Force, he realizes, and so he doesn’t resist it. It feels like the rain on Arkanis, the heat almost cloying. He imagines trees, water, and Ben constructs them, within and without him, this world like a projection, too, springing to life inside the darkroom of his mind. Above them—Ben is here now, next to him, or in him, or with him somehow—there is a cloak of stars, and the rain pours, but they stay dry. Ben is in Kylo Ren’s robes—his own robes—and somehow they’re around Hux too, like they’re shielding him, like they’re one and the same.

Hux tries to shift, to pull out of Ben just enough to slot in next to him, but Ben squeezes him tight, says, “Stay.” So he does.

Then there are waves, the crash of them against some distant shore in time with the rise and fall of Ben’s chest, and maybe they’re floating together, maybe the ocean is a cradle, maybe together they’re something safe and strong and wonderful that neither of them knew existed. And for a long time, there’s just this: Hux, Ben, the places where their bodies overlap, the dream of an ocean, the Force.

When Hux speaks, it is quiet and careful, as if he is afraid that raising his voice too loud will shatter all of this—the Force or the viewport or Ben beneath him. He muffles his words into Ben’s skin, tasting his sweat as he does. “I still don’t know what to call you,” he says, and he rubs his nose across Ben’s chest, Ben’s fingers stroking softly at the nape of his neck.

“Well, it’ll still have to be Kylo Ren in front of everyone,” Ben says. Hux can hear his heartbeat, steady, drumlike. “But here—I think I like being just Ben. With you, I can be just Ben.”

That, Hux thinks, is enough. To know what lies beneath Kylo Ren’s helmet, to feel the Force now and then, to abandon the camera and the datapad and have this, some nights. Ben, near. 

>red_emperor: Oh, good.
>red_emperor: I was beginning to think you’d never show up.
>darthben: fuck off
>darthben: i couldnt find a secure connection
>red_emperor: Avoiding me as usual, no doubt.
>red_emperor: ;)
>darthben: wow
>darthben: you almost sound like a normal person on the holonet now
>red_emperor: LOL.
>red_emperor: Have you found any success with your mission yet?
>red_emperor: The Resistance supposedly has quite a stronghold there.
>darthben: i just got here!
>darthben: and didnt we agree no work talk on this channel
>red_emperor: Forgive me for being invested in your well-being, you ass.
>red_emperor: Tell me what the planet is like, at least.
>darthben: okayyyyy
>darthben: well
>darthben: its pretty nice actually
>darthben: everythings really green
>darthben: there are these huge trees that go up so high you cant even see the tops of them
>darthben: and vines and more plants on the ground
>darthben: and some of the plants have big purple flowers
>darthben: they smell like honey
>darthben: ill bring you one
>red_emperor: You’re too sweet.
>red_emperor: I’m honestly repulsed.
>darthben: as if you dont keep that astrolabe on your desk when im away
>darthben: and that scrap of my old robes underneath it
>red_emperor: Snooping through my things again?
>darthben: you make it easy
>darthben: oh and hux
>darthben: theres an ocean here
>darthben: i cant wait to show it to you
>red_emperor: Come home soon, Ben.
>darthben: i will
>darthben: promise