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“The speech was okay,” Kylo Ren says.

“Okay?” Hux looks up. He's sitting in the command center of the ship reviewing some final schematics. He's surprised Kylo was at the speech at all. The big one isn't for weeks. 

“But you were too emotive."

“I was passionate,” Hux says. “It was inspiring. Troops are inspired by passion in their leaders.”

“Why are you trying to inspire them with speeches?” Ren asks. “I thought they were programmed from birth to obey.”

“And why would I take any advice from you, Mr. I-Inexplicably-Have-A-Black-Bucket-Over-My-Head?”

“Careful.”

“I’m sorry, Darth I-Inexplicably-Have-A-Black-Bucket-Over-My-Head.”

“Technically that’s not my title.”

“Ugh,” Hux says, rubbing his temples. “Kylo, please, if I wanted to have someone sigh and say ‘technically’ to me in a condescending manner I would—“

“What?” He can’t tell if Ren is looking at him or not. But his voice sounds vaguely amused. “What would you do?”

“I wouldn’t anything. That’s not something I want. That’s not something anyone wants. You’re insufferable.”

“Coming from you I’m not sure how to take that.”

“Take it as a correct statement from someone who assesses the world correctly," Hux says. "Look at yourself. Who in blazes rebels by deciding to be MORE like his grandpa. Isn’t that literally the opposite of what rebellion is?”

“It wouldn't be if more people's grandfathers were as cool as my grandfather,” Ren says.

“Your thing about him is weird,” Hux says. “You do know that, right?”

“Shut up, Hux.”

“Make me.”

“I could make you.”

“Could you? That’s interesting. You don’t say that a lot. That’s not a constant refrain from your quarter. ‘I can make you do this.’ ‘I can make you do that.’ ‘This headgear is a good idea.’”

“Is that your impression of me?”

“I don’t do impressions,” Hux says. “Look, I have to go do something important with the final stages of building our new weapon, I can’t have you following me around all afternoon like a sad wampa who’s tripped and gotten a bucket stuck on its head and can’t get out of it so he’s trying to play it off like it’s a choice.”

“Not your best analogy,” Kylo says.

“No,” Hux admits.

 

--

“Ren,” Hux says over the com-link, without preamble, “just a heads-up – buckets-up? – I’m having Phasma train a new trooper team to do clean-up when you get angry and smash things; do you have a preference for a squadron name?”

“Are you?” Ren says, flat.

“Any puns you would like incorporated? ‘Tantrum Squadron’ is currently our lead contender but it’s not really wordplay at all and I feel we can do better.”

There is a long pause. “No.”

“What was that pause there?” Hux asks. “Are you smashing something? Do I need to send Tantrum Squadron in?”

“There is no Tantrum Squadron." 

“Yes there is," Hux says. "We’re giving them green pauldrons. To match your eyes."

"My eyes are brown."

"I know that," Hux says. "But brown pauldrons are for troopers who work on sanitation projects."

"That's a little on-the-nose," Kylo Ren says.

"I suppose." Hux grins. "If it makes you feel better, the Imperial archives suggest that Darth Vader’s underlings assigned a similar team to him for disappointing-officer-corpse-dragging-away-purposes.”

“Did you just call yourself my underling?”

“Obviously not," Hux snaps. "Don’t read into things.” He switches off the comlink.

 

--

The next time he passes Kylo Ren in the corridors, he winks. He can't see what Kylo does under the helmet. Maybe nothing. 

 

--

“Hux,” Kylo Ren says. Hux is on the way to his quarters, just keeping things together, just barely.

“What?” Hux looks up. “What, Kylo Ren? It’s been a day.”

“A day?”

“There’s another production delay, supplier problems, labor difficulties--” Hux says. He rubs his temples. “How often I feel that things would be better and go more smoothly if only the universe were full of competent people like me instead of incompetent fools who are not me.”

“You’re the one who doesn’t want a clone army.”

“We’ve had this discussion,” Hux says. “Don’t start.”

“Are we even sure this weapon is the best id—“

“DON’T YOU DARE SAY A WORD ABOUT MY WEAPON!” Hux shrieks, startling himself a little. “MY WEAPON IS THE SUN! THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN THAT! I DID THE EMPIRE ONE BIGGER!”

“When you yell,” Kylo Ren says, sounding mesmerized, “it looks like there’s a sarlacc pit opening in the middle of your face.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Did I say it like it was a good thing?”

“Almost,” Hux says. “Your affect is difficult to discern through that thing.”

Kylo Ren stares implacably back. At least Hux thinks he does. It’s impossible to tell.

“You know, you going around with that creepy bucket on your head all the time makes it look like the First Order is a bunch of weirdos with Darth Vader fetishes.”

“I don’t have a fetish for him,” Kylo snaps, “he’s my grandfather.”

“Six of one,” Hux says, “half dozen of the other.”

“Shut up.”

“Or what? Are you going to do a mind trick on me?”

“I wouldn’t waste a mind trick on you,” Ren says, “you already tell me exactly what you think about everything all the time.”

“But you could stop me at any time,” Hux says. “I know that because you’re always saying so.”

“Shut up.”

There’s a pause. “You know you’d look plenty intimidating enough without that mask on, Kylo. Are you insecure about your face? Your face is fine.”

“I’m not.”

“And your regular voice is perfectly good, you do know that? If my regular voice is fine, your regular voice is more than fine.”

“I don’t feel insecure about my voice.”

“Then why would you not—”

“I could,” Kylo says. “I could any time.”

“Okay,” Hux says. “How about right now?”

Somehow, with a bucket on his head, Kylo manages to look furtive.

“In here, then,” Hux says. He pushes the button to open the door to his chambers. When the door slides closed again he folds his arms and looks at Kylo.

“You can’t order me around,” Kylo says.

“See now that it’s just the two of us here don’t you feel stupid wearing that thing?” Hux says. “I know I do. I feel silly. It feels as though we’re trying to do bizarre Darth Vader roleplay to revive our marriage.”

“Interesting that you jump to that analogy,” Kylo says. 

“I don’t jump to it,” Hux says, “I’ve just gone through all the other better ones already." He sits down on his bed. "That sarlacc pit quip was passable. How long did you work on it? I had the feeling you practiced it for weeks and you've just been waiting to get me to yell at you so you could slip it into conversation."

There's a pause. "I didn't."

Hux grins.

"I’m not going to stand here and let you insult me."

"I thought that was the basis for all our interactions," Hux says. "Go on, take it off. You look like a depressed thimble." 

"How many of these do you have?"

"Your mask has a unibrow. You look like a mournful radiator. Do I have to keep going? Come on." 

Kylo grunts. He reaches for the fastenings and pushes the thing off. 

“See?” Hux says. “Just as intimidating, and much pleasanter to look at.”

Kylo doesn't make eye contact. Kylo's eyes dart up towards his for a second and then Kylo looks instantly away and his face -- does something. Oh, Hux thinks. Then, Oh. He thinks maybe having the helmet on all this time Kylo Ren has gotten used to showing all his emotions on his face, printed in large type for easy reading. 

"You're blushing," he says. 

“Shut up,” Kylo says, not looking at him.  

“All right,” Hux says. “As long as we’re discussing pieces of your – attire that I object to, how about the rest of it?”

Kylo looks curiously at him. “The cowl?”

Hux shakes his head, grins. One hand is already reaching for his belt. “All of it.” 

He gives Kylo a look that gets the point across. 

 

--

Then things go belly-up with the girl. 

 

--

They leave the conference with Snoke. It’s strange seeing Kylo Ren’s face again instead of the Black Bucket. 

“So you’ve failed again,” Hux says. “So I have to keep doing everything around here.”

Kylo doesn't look at him. “Hux, this is not helping.”

“You know what Darth Vader did to people who failed?”

“HUX,” Kylo says, tightly, “THIS IS NOT HELPING.” He looks as despondent as a gundark with a missing ear.

“I thought you fed on anger. I thought that was kind of your Sith thing, feeding on anger.”

“Not like that.”

“No? Like what? Like, ‘your hair looks dumb, you have Fake Vader Helmet hair?’”

“No.”

“Here,” Hux says, before he can think better of it. He reaches over and smoothes Ren’s hair back.

“Thank you,” Ren says, stiffly. There is an uncomfortable pause. “Your hair looks good.”

“I know,” Hux says. “It always looks good, because I don’t wear a bucket on my head.”

“Okay,” Kylo says, “enough.”

“You could stop me at any time.” Hux almost smiles. “Also the ‘Knights of Ren,’ is that even a real thing, is that like the Pen 15 club of the Sith or what is that?”

“The Sith don’t have a Pen 15 club,” Kylo says, which is either a masterpiece of deadpan or possibly the kid was only wearing a bucket on his head because he is the universe’s greatest idiot. Hux can’t decide.

 

--

Then things go really belly-up with the girl. 

 

--

They sit on the shuttle to Snoke. The mood is somber. Kylo is still bleeding and his breathing is labored and heavy. Kylo probably likes that, Hux thinks. Makes him more like his idol. He debates saying this but decides not to. 

Finally the silence gets the better of him. 

“Next time you want to confront an estranged parent," Hux says, "maybe don't do it totally exposed on a high bridge without adequate railings.”

"Darth Vader always confronted people on high bridges without adequate railings," Kylo says.

"And look how that worked out for him." 

"Yes." 

Hux shifts in his seat. 

"Don’t leave,” Kylo says, unexpectedly. 

“I wasn’t leaving,” Hux says. “Please. Someone has to keep you from destroying the furniture in a fit of rage. Tantrum Squadron is not here.”

There is a silence.

“I’m so much stronger now," Kylo says. 

“Sure," Hux says. "You seem strong.”

“Stop that."

“Here,” Hux says.

“What?”

“Come here.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you, have you never been hugged before? You looked like you needed a hug.”

“I used to need hugs when I was foolish and weak, but now I’m strong.”

“Yes, shhhh.”

“I have only darkness inside me.”

“Sure, Kylo. Lots of darkness.”

“Don’t patronize me, Hux.”

“Or what, you’ll destroy another instrument panel with your lasersword?”

“Lightsaber.”

“I know but it has a crossguard isn’t that more like a sword, TECHNICALLY?”

“Shut up.”

“Make me.” 

Kylo waves his hand. Hux finds that his mouth won't move. There’s a brief and unsatisfying silence, then Kylo releases his grip.

Hux exhales. “Oh,” he says. “The boring way. Okay.”

 --

They keep flying. 

He stares out the window back at the debris where the universe’s greatest weapon once was located. Such beauty. Such order. So many years of effort. Gone. Someone sniffles. He hopes it’s Kylo. He looks over at Kylo and there's a single tear trailing down Kylo's cheek, of blasted course. “Hey,” he says. His own voice is a little unsteady. “Don’t do that. Don't cry.”

“I'm not crying,” Kylo snaps back. "You're crying." Then he notices. He sits up. Sitting up makes him grunt a little. 

“I'm not."

"You are," Kylo says. "I read minds, remember."

"I'm not crying with my mind," Hux says, "I'm crying with my face." And he is now, snottily and embarrassingly. "If you can't tell the difference I'm embarrassed for you."

Kylo just looks at him. For once he's almost unreadable. His eyes are very far away. "Tell me," Kylo's voice says, finally. His eyes are still way off. 

"Or what, you'll--" Hux waves his hand around. 

There's a hint of a smile. "Your impression's gotten worse." 

"How was that possible?" Hux asks. 

"You want me to?" Kylo asks. He waves his hand, questioningly. "Find out that way? I can."

"So you keep saying."  Hux sighs. "The weapon was so perfect," he says. "And I poured everything into it and I -- I cannot imagine doing it again. There will never be a weapon bigger than this."

“Technically there probably will be,” Kylo says. “Just looking historically at Imperial weapon-building trends.”

Hux rolls his eyes. “Only one of us can be the smart-ass in this relationship,” he says. “And you're underqualified.”

There is a silence. 

“Relationship?” Kylo says.

“What did you think this was?” Hux says. “We’re constantly flirting, we’ve slept together, I'm here now holding your hand -–"

"You're not," Kylo says.

"Metaphorically I am," Hux says. "Are you really as obtuse as --“

“You think I'm insufferable."

“I’ve figured you out,” Hux says, mostly to himself. “You’re an actual idiot. Did the part where I slept with you not clue you in?" 

"I thought you did that with everyone," Kylo says. "You were so good at it. I thought--"

Hux groans audibly. 

"But you're not nice to me," Kylo says. 

“That’s why you joined the dark side, to be around nice people? It's explicitly called 'the dark side,' I don't know what you thought you were getting into." Hux begins to sputter. "You are a walking cry for help, do you know that? You can't even have daddy issues, you have to have grand-daddy issues. You wear a bucket on your head and -- you keep damaging First Order property and -- you fail to pick up on obvious clues and --"

"Obvious?"

"I  was hardly being subtle about wanting you. If I were any less subtle I would be your outfit. I-- I would be everything you say and do -- I would --"

All right,” Kylo says. "Shut up." And this time Kylo kisses him.