Jakku takes more than just a map.
Kylo Ren returns with a valuable prisoner, the best pilot of the Resistance, yes— but there is something else missing, something else that has been taken out and filled with things that no servant of the First Order should bear. He can sense it in himself. The awful, pale glow of it, like burning sea salt. Over the stench of corpses, he can smell it, hear it call out with a voice that sounds just like...
There was another. Another servant of the First Order on Jakku lured by the Light. What was his designation number? FN-something. His brand new, polished armour smeared with crimson. Legs trembling. Weaponless, even with the blaster in his hand. So weak.
He could have reached into the man's mind and pulled him apart right then and there. He should have. There was that awful pale glow about him, too, see, the awful pale glow of the Light, and Kylo knows now he should have reached into his mind and snuffed away that infectious glow before it spread, but something in his own mind stilled him, stilled him from head to base, silenced the darkness for a minute and all he could think of was 'let him live, let him live, Ben, he's done no harm, let him live'.
He should have torn him apart. Like Skywalker's young Jedi, like Poe Dameron, like Kylo himself. He tells himself that, over and over, while rifling through the secret files of the Resistance pilot's mind. A push here. A tug there. The secrets come spilling out. If he pushes a little more than he should, just to listen to Poe Dameron's pain, that awful pale glow just might dissipate for a minute, and in its place, the black-red plasma of the Dark Side will overflow once more.
Poe Dameron screams, then whimpers. Kylo can feel the heat of him even through the gloves. The heat of his memories. It is a mistake, lingering here, in the brightness. Warm sunsets under a cloudless sky. Smiling faces. Sweet Corellian rum. Kylo finds himself unable to breathe.
"There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?"
He stifles the light and hopes Snoke doesn't see it. Hopes that the mask will hide things well enough until he finds a way to rid himself of all the things that do not make him Kylo Ren. Hopes —and this is feeble in itself, because hope does not belong in the Dark Side, hope is a thing meant only for the weak— that General Hux does not comment on his failure on Jakku. Ambition drives the General, and jealousy, and greed, and he is known to exploit weakness unlike any other being in the System.
The General stands beside him on the bridge, shoulder to shoulder, almost brushing. His face is twisted in an ugly, permanent grimace. It is only natural, Kylo thinks. He knows what Hux has been through. He knows what he is capable of. Rumours make for petty sport among Stormtroopers foolish enough to dare speak of him.
It is only a matter of time before the General capitalizes on his error. Kylo looks, watches the cruel eyes flicker from Snoke to him, and waits for the accusation.
For a moment, Hux's lips part. Poison is the thought that should come to mind, poison, nothing less or more, but Kylo Ren imagines sweet Corellian rum at the sight of him. Jakku has taken more than just a map, much, much more. Poe Dameron's weakness has infected him. He grinds his teeth and stifles it.
Kylo stifles the light, and then stifles the sound of surprise when the General leaves without another word to Snoke.
The taste of rum swells, disgusting in its sweetness. Should he be... thankful? The word doesn't quite fit. No, no, it doesn't fit at all, because Kylo knows that Hux would not have benefited from stating what is so obvious. He has been weakened. Even a lesser man would have sensed it, let alone a General of the First Order. Something on Jakku went missing. No, not the map. Not the Stormtrooper. And Kylo knows that if Hux has sensed the loss of it, then so will Snoke.
He knows what he must do. Even before he captures the girl on Takodana, even before FN-2187 betrays the First Order, even before Poe Dameron flees, Kylo Ren knows what he must do.
"You're afraid you'll never be as strong as Darth Vader," she says, bound to the rack yet somehow able to overpower him, to twist her claw into his own unstable thoughts. And Kylo, for the first time in so many years, feels afraid for every other reason but being weighed against Vader and found lacking.
He feels her in his mind, pulling, pushing. Tugging at the memory he took from Poe Dameron that still refuses to go away. His basest, most innocent desire. Kylo lurches back before she can see it. Sweat runs down his temples. He should have left her on the green planet. He should have left her alone, he thinks, as that awful, pale glow washes over him, over the black-red of the Dark Side, and Ben— no, no, Kylo, Kylo, only Kylo Ren and nothing more, feels himself ripping apart at the seams. Splitting like plasma over a kyber crystal. Flooding, unchecked.
He should not have taken off the mask. It was a moment of weakness that he must pay for a much longer time to come. But the girl was in there, in his most private thoughts, his most hidden fears and desires, and she had rendered him so exposed that he had forgotten the mask and the hood, the countless ways of hiding that the Sith had taught him, and he had stumbled, bare, like a skinned foal, before the Supreme Leader.
Now, he can do nothing but hope —and hope again, how feeble, how weak— that General Hux doesn't notice how Kylo startles at the sight of him. How he turns away, the sudden shock of his presence draining the blood from his cheeks. It is the first time Kylo has been caught like this. The first time any servant of the First Order has looked upon his face. And to be caught by him, of all people...
If Hux is surprised, he hides it well, Kylo thinks. The same cannot be said for himself. He shivers in the General's shadow. His eyes brim with weakness. The Light has forced another unwilling revelation from him, reduced him to tears and exposed nerves. First, there was the failure on Jakku, and now, there is the failure on Takodana, and the General has been there every single time to witness his defeat. Kylo's fingers itch for his mask, for its blessed cover.
Hux glances once. A fleeting look, and that is all. Kylo finds no wonder or mockery in the man's eyes afterwards. Nothing in his expression changes. Only the permanent grimace on Hux's face softens a little, or so it seems to Kylo. He admires the General's self-restraint. Hates him for it. Wonders what he sees, now that the mask is gone, now that his voice has been stripped of its mechanical malice and laid bare for the General's abuse.
But Hux glances once, a fleeting look, and that is all —like Kylo Ren was never a challenge for him, never a rival or a brother, a dangerous ally, but simply another servant of the First Order, insignificant— and he, Ben, Kylo, one of the two, feels his stomach turn.
For some reason, Kylo Ren finds Hux's disappointment more excruciating than Snoke's. Perhaps it is the thought of being outdone by someone who is not even a user of the Force. Someone so powerless in the face of the Dark Side. Lesser than Vader, yet somehow always one step ahead of Kylo.
Perhaps it is something else. Something he exchanged for what he lost on Jakku. What does that say about himself? How weak has he become? Kylo Ren cannot afford another error. He knows what he must do.
He knows what he must do. Digging his nails into his own palms, he tells himself he knows what he must do. He repeats it over and over again, listening to nothing but his own words in his head even as Hux speaks, even as he bows to Snoke's hologram, even as he exits the chamber and puts on the mask and paces back to the interrogation room to find nothing but an empty rack, "I know what I must do, I know what I must do, I know what I must do," and his saber rips the chamber apart, hissing, spraying hot air as it slices through cables, and he hopes —hopes, why won't he stop hoping, stop hoping and dreaming and being weak— that no one can tell that he is sobbing beneath the mask.
"Thank you," he says on the bridge. He doesn't know why he says it. Such words are useless. Han Solo touches his cheek before he plummets into the void.
He waits for the black-red of the Dark Side to engulf him, for the pale glow to finally be gone, but he feels nothing but wetness where his father touched him. Ben —no, no, stop it, stop it, it's Kylo, Kylo Ren of the Knights of Ren of the First Order— hears the blaster go off before he feels the scorch of it in his side. The taste of Corellian rum will not leave, even as blood fills his mouth. He has made a bad habit of falling to his knees; and how fitting that is.
Jakku takes more than just a map. This, Kylo knows. He lies, alone, in a frozen wasteland and waits for Starkiller to blow. The snow cold and soothing beneath him. He turns and presses his face into it.
Peaceful. Strange. Kylo always imagined spending his last moments in a violent fury, burned to the core, like his grandfather before him, but no such rage flows through him now. Even in this, he has failed. The black-red plasma and the pale glow are nowhere to be found. He closes his eyes.
"I see you've found yourself a valid reason to wear that mask," General Hux spits.
Kylo opens one eye to see the glistening black floors of a familiar Destroyer. The other eye stays firmly shut. Kylo groans. His robes are still soaked through with snow, sticking like a layer of unwanted skin, ruining the bedsheets. One arm will not move. He is not in the sick bay. He is in an officer's personal chambers. Hux hovers over him like some Jyykle vulture from the desolate corners of Kashyyyk and Kylo tries to force himself to a standing position even through the pain, but a gloved hand pushes him down.
His snarl is met with an arrogant scoff. "You are advised to remain in these quarters until Supreme Leader Snoke orders otherwise."
Kylo has the General's throat in his grip before the man can take another breath. The girl may have burned most of his fight away with the slice of his own grandfather's lightsaber, but there is still plenty more in him, he thinks, as he watches Hux's pale eyes go wide. He cannot kill such a valuable asset of the First Order, but he allows himself the pleasure of the man's fear. Kylo knows what the General sees. Knows what he must look like. What he must always look like when the Dark Side rushes through him. There is a reason why he wears that mask; and if he were a Jedi instead of a Ren, he might even call it mercy.
If he were a Jedi instead of a Ren, he might even try for mercy. Might even pull the General closer until he can count the dark lines at the corners of his eyes, until he can make him see Poe Dameron's memories of warm sunsets under a cloudless sky and smiling faces and sweet Corellian rum, make him feel it until both of them are ruined by it, ruined for the First Order and for Snoke.
Kylo fails to realize he has already transferred the vision until Hux makes an awful noise that Kylo has never heard come out of a commanding officer's mouth before.
Kylo fails— and this is now the summary of his existence. Jakku has taken more than just a map. Poe Dameron's weakness has infected him to a destructive extent. And now he has infected General Hux with it.
There is a moment of silence. And then Kylo tastes sweet Corellian rum when Hux presses their lips together. It is involuntary. Angry and cruel. Hux whimpers again, as though distraught by his own plan of action, and then forces his tongue deeper, and then deeper still, until the gash on Kylo's face burns at the stretch of his own mouth, bleeding copper.
A knee is pressed between his legs. A body, heavy on top of his own. A fist in his hair, pulling. Kylo's eyes roll back. What has he done? The General grunts and aligns their bodies, red hair sticking out from its customary form. Kylo runs a gloved hand through it. When he finds Poe Dameron, he will bind him to the rack and take his flesh piece by piece, organ by organ, so that he may know what it feels like to be ripped apart like Kylo is now.
Hux pulls back. For a moment, Kylo Ren breathes a sigh of relief. It is over. No more ruin. Soon, they will forget about it, and all that will matter is the First Order, the Dark Side, the mission and his training. Then, he watches the General reach beneath his robes. Kylo's thighs tremble. His jaw clenches hard enough to almost break his teeth. He could use the Force, Kylo thinks. Use it on the General, use it on himself to end this madness before it's too late, before Hux removes the obstructing clothing and takes him in his mouth and Kylo's back arches like trimantium over a flame.
Kylo Ren never imagined the General would debase himself like so. Never imagined the sweet pleasure those lips could bring, sweet like Corellian rum, and oh, Poe Dameron will die for this, the girl and the traitor will die for this, the Resistance will die for this—
"Kylo..." Hux breathes against his flesh. The mouth moves lower, lower until Kylo is certain they have shamed themselves enough for ten lifetimes. "Kylo, at last, Kylo..." Hux moans once more.
The words rile the Force in him to a tumult. At last? Has the General always wanted this? Was it not simply a moment of weakness under the vision's influence? A pulse of Force breaks loose from within and shatters the overhanging lights.
Even in darkness, light is all he feels. Kylo closes his eyes to see warm sunsets, smiling faces, anything but Hux buried between his thighs. Hands find their way further under his robes, caress his breast. Too soft. Too soft, they are ruined, what has he done, Darth Vader will rise from the ashes to finish their lives, "Kylo, Kylo, yes," Hux groans.
The General unclasps his belt. Though his eyes are still welded shut, Kylo can see it, feel the hot brand of him against his belly. Hux doesn't bother taking off the uniform. Gloved fingers slick him up with the General's own spit and Kylo bites his lip to taste metal. He will not disgrace himself further with useless whimpering.
Or so he thinks. Hux pushes in. The General's mouth hangs agape, lips shining and red, and Kylo wonders whether Hux would have the same expression if Kylo ran his lightsaber through him. Perhaps, after this, he will have to. Hux's vicious hands have already left imprints on his hips. Like in all things, he is efficient. He drives the sound out of him with the methodical ease of a commanding officer and Kylo lets him. Lets him lash out pleasure like punishment, lets himself be punished for his weakness, for the black-red and the pale glow that he has lost until he cries out.
Hux's kiss, in that moment, comes as a surprise. It is... different than before. The permanent grimace on the General's face is gone again, softened, like the first time he witnessed Kylo Ren's true face.
Kylo turns away. Hopes —ah, and this is fickle, he must stop it, stop hoping while he still can— that Hux doesn't notice how he flinches at the feel of lips pressing against the corner of his mouth, against his still-fresh wounds, against the jut of his jaw. Lower and lower until Hux buries his face in Kylo's chest and comes with barely a sound. Kylo hates him for it. Hates him for this ill-placed notion of affection. Hates him for it all, and he says so out loud as he pushes Hux away to wrap a hand around his throat again, looking down expecting to see Hux's filth leaking out of him, but finding himself soft and wet and ruined without even having realized it.
Kylo gasps at the sight of himself. When did...? Only his own breath stutters in the oppressive silence. His eyes burn. Hux makes no sound. He will spare them both the indignity and say nothing for once, it seems, Kylo thinks. But Hux proves him otherwise.
"Foolish child," he grits out. The slap seems to come out of nowhere. Kylo is too stunned to feel it, yet he imagines his face splitting apart even further, splitting on the surface just like he is splitting right below, tearing in half and...
Kylo falls into a restless sleep. In his dreams, Jakku and Starkiller merge into one, the snow and the sand locked together in some unknown universal reaction bound to last until the end of time itself, and he —Ben, Kylo, he doesn't know which— is trapped in the center of it, trapped under ugly, malformed boulders covered in frost, unable to move forward or back, unable to think, unable to breathe.
In his dreams, the girl appears, and offers her hand. "Don't be afraid," she says. Before he can take it, she disappears, and General Hux takes her place. "Take it, you fool," he snarls. In his dreams, Kylo is tempted. Tempted by both the Light and the Dark. But before he can take Hux's hand, the vision is yet again replaced with Rey, and then again with Hux, and then again with Rey, over and over and he never has enough time to choose before the vision changes again and Rey and Hux call to him in muffled voices until Kylo wakes up screaming and tearing his face apart one more time.
There are other visions. Warm sunsets under a cloudless sky. Smiling faces. Sweet Corellian rum. Kylo finds himself unable to breathe again, Poe Dameron's memories a cruel joke. He should not have lingered in his head for so long for a lost map. But Jakku took more than just a map, and now Kylo can never recover from the loss of it.
"You must kill your old master as well as any remaining Jedi in order to complete your training. We are searching the galaxies for Luke Skywalker, and until then, you..." A pause. "Kylo Ren? Are you listening?"
Kylo bows, and says nothing. He cannot bear to hear the sound of his own voice, the tremor in it, so mild, so infected by weakness. Once, he would have sworn he was immune to it. Immune to the light, to its deafening call. He thought killing his father would snuff out what little light remained, but that had failed.
If only he could reach out, reach out into the void of space and crush its beating heart, crush it so all that thrums through the Force is the black-red plasma of the Dark Side.
Will killing Luke Skywalker fix it? It is worth a try. Away from prying eyes, Kylo will pummel the wound at his side with his own fist, breaking loose the dead skin to make himself stronger, hoping —and this is feeble, hope is a feeble thing but he cannot seem to stop it— that the man's death will free him from this stasis. That visions of warm sunsets and smiling faces will fade. That the taste of sweet Corellian rum and the taste of Hux's tongue and the taste of his own failure will be gone with the last of the Jedi, gone with the Light, gone with Skywalker's last breath.
He knows what he must do.
Snoke issues the final order. The General stands beside him on the bridge, shoulder to shoulder, almost brushing. When Kylo Ren finally speaks, he does so with conviction. Assuring enough to almost fool himself. Hux's face remains twisted in its usual grimace. Not even Snoke seems to sense the sudden shift in the Force.
He knows what he must do. Jakku took more than just a map, after all.