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They had met, once, when everything was still at its beginning. Hux, still a lieutenant then, had watched the Jedi apprentice as he'd been taken away- or was it a Sith apprentice now, the brown robes torn and no longer pristine, eyes wild and power radiating from his very skin. Their eyes had met, just that once- he doesn't think it was his imagination, because the eyes he had seen were so striking. Perhaps they were drawn to each other- the only youth in that place of old men and adults.

 

A spark of contact that neither of them really initiated, abrupt and jarring through time.

 

At that time, the gaze had made him flinch- the young prodigy he was then no more knowledgeable on the Force than as he had been educated from fairy tales and murmurs- fearful disproportionally for something he did not understand. The tales of demons and pain curled through his mind, a morbid fascination, and a morbid fear. But later he had remembered those eyes, and he had thought something wholly different. They had, he thought privately, looked so human, as human as him. It's probably his imagination when he casts his mind back- something to humanize the inhuman, as people are wont to do with something they do not understand- but he thinks there had been loneliness somehow, seeping afraid in those wide orbs.

 

The hows or whys are generally beyond him.

 

The Sith lord- he shouldn't be surprised the man is a Sith Lord now- has no memory of him when they meet again, years later, both of them wearing such different uniforms. But Hux- Hux remembers, even if it is no longer a memory to him but rather the memory of a memory, some idea or concept that he knows happened. It is certainly strange, this twist of circumstance.

 

"General."

 

The voice under the mask is low, mechanical. A monster's voice, if there ever was one. Hux smiles without feeling, bows his head.

 

"Lord Ren."

 

These are their first words.

 

In the months ahead, that initial respect will dwindle until merely a sharp 'Kylo Ren' is left.

 

But he does wonder briefly at the time, when he looks at the Sith as he leaves, if it is the same boy behind the mask, if it is somebody else and the human in him is gone, twisted behind some disfigured face and the monotone of a voice filter. He wonders too, in the back of his mind, what the man looks like under the mask- they are not so far apart in age, he knows that much, but the mask and the voice filter seem to negate any of that- whether he is ugly, disfigured, scarred or simply... well, he does not know.

 

Later, he will think he should not have wondered.

 

While their initial meeting may have been civil, it deteriorates quickly. Having two clashing sources of power on board is always a cause of tension. Never mind that one is a Sith and the other merely human. And it is... distasteful. In the most mild of language. Distasteful.

 

Hux bows when he is meant to of course, inclines his head with the respect that should be accorded to a Sith lord. There is that constant, jagged irritation curling in his gut now, irritation that blossoms more as every day passes- for there is something about Kylo Ren that makes Hux wonder why Snoke sent him to them, untrained as he is and more often than not seems to appear, as temperamental as his emotions fly from one end of the spectrum to another.

 

Why he needs to bow to such a man is dubious and questionable- especially when he throws such temper tantrums that give repair teams a nightmare to fix, jagged lines cut into alusteel and ciridium, gouged into panels and monitors. Once it is an entire control room that falls prey to the Sith's childish temper. But he knows better than to complain to Snoke. He'll just have to wait, wait for the day Ren finally falters- he's bound to, the man's a ticking time bomb and he cannot believe Snoke does not see that- and when the day comes that Kylo Ren finally does fail utterly and without recourse, the Supreme Leader will naturally be informed.

 

Some people on board the ship jokingly refer to their disputes as a lover's spat. They make sure to keep it from their commander's ears. But really, it can't be helped, Hux rather sees it for himself too- the more time he spends around Ren, the more aggravated he becomes- with good reason, as he coldly commits.

 

But if it is a lover's quarrel, their first real spat only really comes with a mission that leads them to Voss, an argument on the values of diplomacy as exchanged through snarled words and then a choke that ends in a hand shaped bruise on Hux's neck, unabashed anger thrumming through his veins. A sneer in the Sith's voice, a cold anger in his own, clashing wills that by any and all rights should not even be on the same ship together.

 

He wears the mark of purple and mottling blue on his neck for the next few days, fingers that pick out a print on his skin, but clearly something has backfired from Ren's attempt to show him 'his place', because his subordinates are all ever more afraid of him. Of both of them.

 

Their rivalry and mutual disgust only heightens from there on out.

 

It is months on from that incident that it happens first though, something that makes his thoughts twist and something in the power dynamic their relationship decidedly... shift.

 

A glimpse, however short, of the boy hidden in the man.

 

It is on one of their routine visits for diplomacy- and somehow that has meant they are sharing far too close of a living space, luxurious as it may be. Night-time, and it's been awhile since he's been on ground, he keeps on forgetting that they do everything in days here instead of cycles. He enters the room with barely a knock and an irritated remark already on his tongue, papers held in hand that are of vital importance- and he hadn't quite expected the man to be asleep, hadn't actually thought of that possibility at all somehow. But there is a man lying on the bed clothed in black, a helmet on the table next to him, and for all intents and purposes that counts as sleeping, and for all intents and purposes, unless he's wrong, that would be Kylo Ren.

 

He thinks that somewhere along the line of the cloaked Sith pacing the bridge every night and attending every meeting without fail, he'd forgotten the man ever slept.

 

It's impossible to see it well from there at the door, but he does see the black hair, a flash of too-pale skin, years behind a mask that have taken their toll- and it's the first human thing from him he has ever seen.

 

With hindsight, he should have left then, indeed he would have left then- from the last force choke, he now deemed it extremely unwise to wake a sleeping Sith lest he awake some wrath and anger. It's the stifled cry that steals his attention before he can leave. Something he is not sure quite exists, something he might have imagined but it makes him hesitate nonetheless, pause in brief confusion. But then it happens again, and he glances back towards the sleeping man on the bed, the sheets clinging to his frame, the glass on the table just faintly rattling from what he realizes is some subconscious use of the Force. Something is wrong. It's only when he sees it for himself, a strangled moan escape from the man that belatedly, he realizes that Ren is having some sort of nightmare. Crying out in his sleep. A choked, muffled sort of thing that he thinks should be a scream if the Sith was awake- save that sleep captured the body and made it impossible to scream, and the cry comes out as a strangled whimper instead, unable to break free from the constraints of its subconscious.

 

Nothing makes him approach. He does not know he has until he is right beside the bed, staring at a man- a boy- who is panting in sweat soaked sheets, something locked in his throat that is suffocating him. Pale skin and dark hair and a face that is too much of a boy's face to be a man.

 

He's reached forwards out of some subconscious thought before he can process it, some sort of pity- clinical curiousity he will later dismiss it as- a want in him to wake the man from his nightmare, for surely that is the kinder thing to do. And an unwise desire because abruptly his wrist is being held in a vice-like grip, eyes that had strained closed snapping suddenly open anyway- staring right at him. Ah, automatic reflexes. He should have expected that.

 

He looks back, pretends to be unafraid- looks back into brown eyes that are the exact same shade (no, a little darker, a little less bright- his imagination had as he thought twisted the image)- as those he had seen on that day years past.

 

"If you wanted to assassinate me, General, you should be faster about it."

 

A human voice. Almost a surprise. But not quite, something in him had expected this. A young voice. And yet, he thinks, if he thinks just a little bit more, the tones are still the same even without the metal filter. He can recognize the sound even if it takes a moment to reconcile this voice with its normal mechanized flatness. Something in him aches then- something sudden he does not see coming until it is already there, for a reason he cannot comprehend- something empty and painful and dark, something that is suddenly so human in him, reacting to the human in this boy staring back. But then overlaying that too- bitterly triumphant- is the disgust, the distaste and the revulsion, the smirk that wants to twist his lips and when it surfaces that emotion is more powerful than any numbed feeling deep inside of him.

 

"I just thought something had happened, my lord." He looks at the man, ignores the crushing pressure on his wrist and smiles. It is almost a sneer. The momentary feeling from before is gone, like it never existed. There is no place for softness here. "Clearly, nothing has."

 

He does not voice the word in his mind of course, does not need to voice it, but he knows that the Sith sees it in the crooked twist of his lips when he steps away. It coils lightly in the mockery of his words, the cold narrow of his eyes.

 

Pathetic.

 

He knows that Ren hears him without ever speaking.

 

From there onwards, it is always Hux who has the advantage in their disputes.