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Life Sentence, No Cellmate

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With the planet rapidly disintegrating, Hux doesn’t trust anyone else to fetch Ren. He goes himself, ordering two relatively competent men from the bridge to accompany him. He’s expecting to find Ren clutching that girl again or having a poorly-timed tantrum, maybe slashing at tree trunks and kicking snow. Ren is bloody, ashamed, and alone on the edge of a rapidly widening chasm when Hux’s shuttle approaches.

“The girl is strong with the Force,” Ren says when they’re in the cargo hold, the other two officers piloting the shuttle away from what’s left of the planet. Ren’s voice is rasping, defensive. Hux has heard this excuse already.

“You need medical attention,” Hux says, less smugly than he’d planned to, still a bit stunned that the petulant child Snoke has such strange faith in has allowed himself to be this visibly disgraced. The slash across Ren’s face looks like the taunting brand of an enemy, and the sight of it gives Hux a kind of secondhand humiliation. He doesn’t ask if it was the girl or her friend the traitor who left it there.

“Snoke asked for me,” Ren says, lifting his chin to show Hux his bloody face again. He’s hunched over, sitting against the wall, his helmet nowhere to be found. “I felt it.”

“You’re not fit to see Supreme Leader like this.”

“There’s-- I can--”

“Don’t be stupid. You’re bleeding from your side.” Ren is crouched around the injury, trying to hide it even as his blood pools on the floor. “Blaster fire?”

“Crossbow.” Ren lowers his head again, matted hair falling over his face. Hux thinks he should be forced to cut it; it’s flagrantly against First Order regulation. “My-- Solo’s wookie.”

“Excuse me?” The mention of Solo is unexpected, though Hux had heard he was helping the traitor and the scavenger with their plot. Ren shakes his head.

“I’ll go to med bay,” he says, the shuttle jolting as it docks with the Finalizer. “Then to Snoke.”

“It won’t do to have you seen by whomever in med bay like this. No, go straight to your private quarters. I’ll bring a doctor. Someone we can trust.”

“We?” Ren makes a disbelieving noise and glares at him. “Since when-- You don’t want me seen like this by the crew? I thought you might enjoy it.”

“It would be an insult to Supreme Leader’s trust in you.”

Hux had thought he would enjoy it, too.

**

He oversees Ren’s medical treatment personally, pacing around Ren’s rooms while the doctor does what is necessary. Ren’s quarters are unsurprisingly bare and impersonal, save for the twisted old helmet that he keeps on display under a single, worshipful light. It’s tacky, but what about him isn’t.

“He’ll be fine,” the doctor says when he emerges from Ren’s bedroom, a portable diagnostic machine tucked under his arm and a squat surgical droid gliding along the floor at his feet. “He wouldn’t let me put restorative ointment on his face,” he adds, lowering his voice as if they’re talking about a child. Though Ren is Hux’s age, almost thirty: they are. “It’s a shallow cut,” the doctor says. “The ointment he refused would prevent scarring.”

“Never mind,” Hux says, thinking of Snoke’s scars. Ren must think having one of his own will be impressive. Maybe it will, for all Hux can tell about how or why Ren manages to impress the Supreme Leader. “Did you medicate him?”

“Yes, I administered a topical painkiller and something for the shock.”

“The shock?”

“He’s got a mild case of it, according to my readings. The medication should help him sleep. I’ll see him again in the morning. He lost a fair amount of blood, and he’ll be weak when he wakes up. I can assign a nurse to watch over him--”

“No,” Hux says. Snoke wouldn’t want that; there is no one on their nursing staff, certainly, with that level of security clearance. “I’ll do it. You’re dismissed.”

“Yes, sir.” The doctor’s brow pinches slightly, then he and his droid are gone, Ren’s door whisking shut behind them. Hux takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders. This is most unpleasant, but it’s all according to Snoke’s wishes. Hux has already instructed the navigation team on the bridge to take them to the Supreme Leader’s planet. Snoke wanted Ren delivered in person. Apparently this further ‘training’ he requires cannot be completed via the holo channel.

Hux delays entering Ren’s bedchamber for as long as possible, checking and rechecking his communications from the bridge. All appears to be in order for their trip to Snoke’s citadel, which will take three days even at full speed. Snoke is not known for his accessibility. Hux, in fact, has never met him in person before, and he wonders if he will now, or if Snoke will simply instruct them to drop Ren onto the planet’s surface and depart.

When an hour has passed, Hux decides it would be prudent to check on Ren. He walks to the bedroom door, which the doctor left open. Ren is in bed, on his back, his obscenely long legs elevated on a pillow. He’s got another pillow over his face. He appears to be weeping.

“Do you need the doctor?” Hux asks, sharply and at full volume, needing Ren to know how irritated he is by what is happening here. Ren goes perfectly still and seems to stop breathing. He leaves the pillow over his face. Hux considers that he might be trying to suffocate himself in shame.

“What are you still doing here?” Ren asks. His voice is muffled, furious. “Get out!”

“I will not. You are suffering from shock, apparently. You need monitoring, and there is no one else aboard the ship at this time who is qualified to do so. I am to deliver you to Snoke, and therefore--”

Hux feels pressure around his throat first, his voice pinching off and his limbs growing stiff with instinctual terror. Ren’s rage floods him like a lightning-quick virus, poisoning its way along the back of his neck and setting off a cold sweat that trickles from his hairline down over his temples. He’s beginning to truly panic when the pressure at his throat relents, slowly, allowing him to take a gasping breath. The seething rage that remains belongs wholly to Hux: this is Ren’s way of telling someone to shut up. It is disgustingly unfair that someone so unqualified to wield any power at all should have this much at his disposal.

“Fucking--” Hux chokes out, still gasping, his knees weak when he stumbles back against the door frame. “Bastard!”

Still under the pillow, Ren laughs.

“How right you are,” he says. He draws in a breath that could be qualified as a sniffle. “Get out,” he says again, his voice steadier and deeper now. “I don’t answer to you.”

“You answer to Snoke.” Hux has regained his voice, too, mostly. He stands up straight and glowers at Ren, hating that he knows he would lose a physical fight to him, with or without the Force on Ren’s side. Hux is battle-trained, but combat was never his talent. The violence he’s done in his lifetime has been more of the strategic variety, and he eagerly awaits the day he can mastermind the disposal of Ren the way he has carefully eliminated past competitors. “I’m here to make sure you don’t die of your pathetically self-inflicted injuries.” This is an assumption, but one that Hux is comfortable making: however Ren ended up on the wrong side of a crossbow, it was his fault entirely and probably avoidable. “You are compromised,” Hux says. “Until the doctor informs me that your shock has receded, your survival is my responsibility. I was given a direct order to bring you to Snoke. He will expect--”

“All right!” Ren shouts, and he whips the pillow away, showing Hux his scowl. The cut on his face is pink, sealed by the doctor but still raw. “I don’t need to hear another monologue about why you must personally nurse me. Apparently you’re determined.”

Hux’s lips twitch with the need to refute that, but he restrains himself, in part because he’s not sure he wouldn’t black out if he took another chokehold to the throat before fully recovering from the last one. He turns on his heel and leaves Ren to his pouting.

*

Ren is sleeping when Hux slips out for a quick dinner in the officers’ wardroom. It’s there, over a bowl of cream of something soup laced with enough salt and black pepper to make it somewhat palatable, that Hux first hears the rumor: Ren killed Han Solo.

The other officers at the table seem to understand, like Hux does, that Solo was Ren’s father. Hux stirs his soup, turning this information over in his mind. He can feel the others looking to him, expecting input.

“Have you seen him, sir? Ren, I mean? Since the evacuation?”

This is an insolent captain by the name of Yonke speaking, and Hux takes his time before responding, dabbing at his lips with a napkin.

“Ren is aboard this ship,” Hux says, trying to wield this like a threat. It’s ineffectual, perhaps, because he has privately made jokes about Ren with these men before. They all look at him with a mixture of confusion and curiosity now, waiting to hear more. “He has his orders from Snoke,” Hux says, using that name more confidently as a weapon. “As do I.”

There is a lot of nodding then, and disappointed looks down at plates when they realize he won’t be commenting on the Solo rumor. Hux’s father abhorred gossip possibly more than any other kind of insolent talk. He once backhanded Hux for repeating something scandalous that Hux’s mother had said about a neighbor his father disliked. He’d brought his father the news thinking he would be pleased to hear it. He’d been six years old maybe, or seven.

Hux walks briskly back to Ren’s quarters after the meal, his heart rate picking up a bit when he wonders if he should have left the fool alone for even a moment. Ren is unpredictable at the best of times, and he becomes a particular liability when he’s faced with some sort of emotional crisis. And now he’s killed his own father, they say.

Ren’s quarters are quiet when Hux enters, but as he strides through the main room he hears cursing from the bedchamber. The bed is empty, the door to the attached bathroom open, light spilling out. Hux can’t see Ren, but he can hear him breathing. He sounds distressed.

“Do you need the doctor?” Hux asks.

“Stop asking me that.” Ren’s voice is low and calm again, as if he’s speaking through his mask, though his tone is not quite so filtered. Hux wonders if he has a spare, or a whole row of masks along the top shelf of his closet. Would they be identical? Slightly varied?

“It’s a relevant question,” Hux says. “What are you doing? Are you in pain?”

He didn’t mean to ask that, and there’s an uncomfortable lull afterward while they both wait to figure out why he did.

“Pain is not relevant,” Ren says, muttering. Hux rolls his eyes.

“How wise. I’m going to work out here, in your front room. There’s much to do in the wake of this disaster. If you need medical attention, tell me now. I don’t want to be interrupted once I’ve started on my field reports.”

Ren is still breathing heavily, though he’s trying to downplay it. The bedsheets are ransacked as if he woke from a nightmare.

“What will you write about me in your field report?” Ren asks. His voice is low again, a threat and a tease, with that edge of infuriating whimsy that’s almost playful. When they first met, Hux couldn’t shake the feeling that Ren was always laughing at him a little, under his breath. Now he hears it differently. “What will you write about how you found me?” Ren asks, more sharply.

“That is too highly classified to go into a report to the Order,” Hux says, deciding this as he speaks. “Snoke requires our most important communications to be directly to him, via holo link. I see no reason for a written record of your-- Retrieval.”

“You came personally.” Ren laughs. “You had to-- See that for yourself, huh?”

“Most of the officers on the bridge were panicking at the time. I didn’t trust anyone else to properly oversee the extraction mission I’d been ordered to undertake.”

Ren goes silent again. Brooding. Hux wonders if he looked Han Solo in the eyes before killing him. He tells himself he could have done it to his own father, if necessary. He’d admired his father, but they were professionally connected, not personally. Hux was part of the lineage the way a junior officer is part of a military branch: hoping to rise in the ranks, deferring until there is no one left to defer to. If patricide had been required to take his father’s place, his father might have been disappointed in Hux for not rising to the occasion. But Solo held no such rank in Ren’s world. This killing was personal for him. Spiritual, perhaps. Hux wonders if Snoke demanded it outright, or if his desire for this symbolic show of allegiance was only implied.

“Get your questions out of my doorway,” Ren barks. Hux flinches, perturbed; he hadn’t sensed any intrusion into his thoughts. Ren stumbles out of the bathroom, regrettably wearing only a towel around his waist and bandages over his hip, his lip raised. “You’re so fixated on the material,” he says. “You’ll never understand the intricacies of the Dark Side. It’s not a-- Not a linear path. You’re small-minded, two-dimensional. I’m not climbing some military ladder.”

“You should let the doctor see to that scar,” Hux says, enjoying this. He hadn’t even intended to rile Ren; somehow that’s always when he’s most successful at doing so. “It doesn’t suit your features.”

He turns his back on Ren, half expecting another vice grip around his throat, but nothing comes. The bathroom door whirs shut and there’s a crash from within, glass shattering against the metal sink when Ren breaks the mirror.

*

Only when Hux wakes up slumped onto Ren’s desk with his face pressed to his data pad does he realize he hasn’t properly slept in almost forty-eight hours. He lifts his head and winces at the ache in his neck and the smudge on his screen, wiping it away with his sleeve. He needs a shower and a real bed. He’s bleary and half-asleep when he stands, thinking of the narrow strip of Ren’s enormous bed that its owner actually occupies. Hux has always resented his own slight frame, but at the moment it may come in handy. He could occupy an edge or a corner of that bed, just long enough to reclaim a functional thought process.

Ren’s room is dark, the lights at four percent according to the wall module. Ren is curled in on himself in the middle of the bed, just as ridiculously enormous as the mattress, which is the one extravagant piece of furniture in his quarters. He ordered it specially and was indulged as usual. The bed nearly fills the small room, low to the ground and just wide enough to leave enough space on each side to access the closet and bathroom. Despite its custom length, Ren’s feet still come nearly to the end of the mattress, and even his hair seems clownishly over-sized, hanging over his face and fanned across the pillow. He has the bedsheet half-draped over him and seems to be naked beneath it, which makes Hux scowl as he contemplates an entry strategy. Back in his own quarters, smaller than these, he has three pairs of pressed First Order-issue pajamas waiting for him in his bottom drawer, but he can’t leave this idiot alone long enough to seek actual comfort there. Ren has already smashed a mirror. There are other sharp objects he might cut himself on, and Snoke will not abide an apprentice who has slashed himself to pieces under Hux’s watch.

Hux creeps around to the side of the bed that faces the closet and sits there carefully, keeping an eye on Ren from over his shoulder. He isn’t sure how sensitive one’s Force skills are or aren’t when they’re asleep. He’s researched the Force thoroughly, but there is little written about it that is accessible in the Archives. Its secrets seem to pass mostly through word of mouth, and neither Snoke nor Ren has been forthcoming about it to him. He removes his boots slowly and places them on the floor, toes against the wall, per regulation. Sometimes he feels as if his father’s ghost is watching him when he does these things: small adjustments, fastidious respect paid to the Order’s many rules, fussy rituals that make him want to look around for an approving gaze. He rubs at his face, exhausted by his own battle-worn thought process. There’s nothing left to do but sleep until his wits return. Ren is hugged around one pillow while his head rests on the other, but the mattress is soft enough against Hux’s cheek when he sinks onto it, staying on the very edge, as far from Ren as physically possible. He’s asleep in three breaths, even his bones seeming to slacken with relief.

Dreams overwhelm him: his father’s study, the volume of his own voice as he announced the end of the Republic, and Ren dripping blood everywhere, crashing around the bridge of the Finalizer, weeping and breaking equipment. Ren is wearing Vader’s mask, and it’s cutting his face, blood leaking down his neck as he tries in vain to yank it off. Hux reaches for him, wanting to calm him, afraid he’ll ruin everything with his mad flailing about, but Ren stays out of reach, using the Force like a shield to keep Hux at arm’s length.

Hux wakes up to darkness and the awareness that he’s not alone. He’s still in uniform: his belt feels too tight. When he sees the shape of Ren looming over him he shrinks, afraid to see Vader’s mask locked over Ren’s head. His eyes adjust, first to the bared pale of Ren’s skin. Then he sees the gash across Ren's face and remembers why he’s here.

“You’re in my bed,” Ren says. Hux wonders if he’s talking in his sleep. Ren seems dazed, eerily calm, and overly large from his position above Hux, leaning up onto his elbow to peer down at him. Perhaps he has entered a Force-induced trance of some kind. Hux hears himself swallow and knows that Ren will have heard it, too. His heart is racing from the unsettling dream, and from Ren’s menacing proximity.

“I needed rest,” Hux says. He can feel Ren scanning him now: sinister, unseen fingers carding through his thoughts. “Looking after you is-- Thankless, tiring.”

“You’re wounded,” Ren says. The softness of the observation sends dread prickling over Hux’s limbs, inside his uniform. He feels like transfixed prey, unable to move.

“Excuse me?” he says, keeping his voice sharp. “I’m not wounded. What are you talking about?”

“Your pride. Your plan. You’re surprised Snoke hasn’t killed you already.”

“That’s--” Hux looks away. He decides that he’s remaining so still only because it would be more incriminating to move, a signal that he wants to escape. He stays motionless so that Ren will know he’s not afraid of him. “Of course I’m disappointed,” he says, staring at the sleek handle on the door of Ren’s wall closet. “It’s a blow. I don’t count it as a personal failure, however. It was bad luck. You were the one who was there, at the oscillator. You allowed the rebels to attack because you were too busy with personal business to stop them. It’s your failure, not mine.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

This admission is surprising enough to make Hux flinch, but he keeps his eyes on the closet door. He swallows again when he feels Ren’s fingertips on his jaw, turning his head until their eyes meet. Ren’s eyes are shining in the dark like a trap, offering the promise of answers as bait.

“You want to ask me about my father.”

Hux can feel the heat of Ren’s breath when he speaks. He can’t think now about how stupid it was to get into this bed; he must have been insane with exhaustion. It’s too late to change what’s already done. All he can do is strategize, move forward, and pretend not to know that Ren won’t see him doing it, that he won’t throw obstacles in every path Hux tries to flee down.

“So?” Hux says. “Of course I want to ask you about your father. The others say you killed him. Too bad you couldn’t diffuse his bombs before you got around to that.”

“You’re not afraid of me.” Ren frowns and tilts his head slightly, as if he’s trying to see past some shimmering film that rests over the surface of Hux.

“Why should I be afraid of you?” It doesn’t even seem true that he’s not; ‘afraid’ simply isn’t the right word. “Just because you use your sacred, spiritual powers like a schoolyard bully? Because you slash the walls of this ship with your saber when things don’t go your way? That’s what I’m supposed to fear?”

Ren laughs a little, just a puff of air against Hux’s cheekbone. His fingertips are still on Hux’s jaw, tapping softly while he scours Hux’s unblinking eyes with his own.

“When we’re standing before him,” Ren says, “We’re so uniquely alone. Apart from each other, apart from him, apart from everyone everywhere who has no idea what it’s like to stand there and face him when we’ve failed. We both failed today. You faced him alone and he told you to find me. What was that like?”

“You’ve been alone with him plenty of times.”

Ren is talking about Snoke, and Hux wants to tell him that it doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot to him either way. Snoke is the one handing down the highest orders, the ones Hux must obey. That’s all; he doesn’t worship Snoke the way Ren does. He doesn’t want anything more from Snoke than permission to continue doing his job. Ren wants something more. Love, probably. Or adoration, approval. Idiot. “You don’t get that from people like him,” Hux says, feeling Ren in his head, hearing all of this as he thinks it.

“Whom do you get it from?” Ren’s mouth quirks, almost a smile. He looks ghastly with that cut splitting his face, especially when smiling. “Hmm? Who gives you love, General Hux? Adoration? Approval, even?”

He’s thinking of Hux’s father, seeing him. Drawing out memories like a vulture pulling guts from a corpse. Chewing on them, ripping at them.

“It’s not important to me,” Hux says. “You think a Sith Lord, or whatever the hell you consider yourself to be, is the only sort of person who can cut himself off from the weakness that kind of attachment brings? You’re amazingly naive. I gave the order that killed billions of people today. It doesn’t weigh on me. People are dust. Temporary, replaceable, unspecial. Attachment to transient, trifling things does only harm, even to children. Especially to them. You’re crying into a pillow because you killed one man. I’d have killed my father if it was demanded of me. You’re not so unique, Ky-lo.”

“Don’t say it like that.” Ren puts his hand on Hux’s throat, his fingers pressing in, just short of squeezing. “I demanded it of myself,” he says, his voice shaking. “No one asked me to do it. You were asked to give that order, to kill those billions. You were commanded to do it. I made my own choice. You don’t know what that’s like. You’re just a dog who follows his master.”

“I’m someone who sees the value of power,” Hux says, holding Ren’s gaze as if he’s not growing nervous about Ren’s grip on his throat. “Real, tangible power. Not some invisible magic that tells me to kill Daddy rather than secure my base against the enemy.”

When Ren’s grip crushes in around his throat, Hux is almost pleased, at least until he can no longer breathe. You call this control? he thinks, hoping Ren will hear it. You’re so easily provoked. A child who is always on the verge of a tantrum.

“And you’ll never let yourself have a tantrum,” Ren says, still choking off Hux’s air supply. There will be bruises this time, if he survives. “You’ll never let yourself think you have anything. So cool, so calm, so collected. There’s no power in indifference. The greatest power is in anger, rage, hatred, vengeance, and you can’t make those from nothing.”

He releases Hux then, lets him writhe and gasp for breath. Hux clutches at his throat, rolls onto his side. His heart is a pulsar: flaring, wild. Ren is behind him, tugging at his too-tight belt.

“You need to let go,” Ren says, that whimsical note in his tone sending a shiver across the back of Hux’s neck while he sucks in desperate breaths, his vision still spotty. “Here. I’ll show you.”

The feeling of his ass suddenly exposed to a cold room: Hux remembers this well from the Academy. He hasn’t been fucked since graduation, and more often than not it had been against his will. As a boy he’d fantasized, maybe, once or twice, about something like the Force: a sudden, invisible power that could propel his enemies powerfully away. He was targeted because of his father, and his attackers were protected for the same reason. They knew he would be too ashamed, too afraid to besmirch the family name, that he would never report them. That was part of the “joke,” which was what they’d called it. In the end it was good. It cemented Hux’s legacy, fortified the last of his weakness with bitter hatred that hardened whatever natural defenses he’d had. Maybe Ren has a point about anger, rage, vengeance. They’re all dead now, and without a drop of blood spilt on Hux’s hands. He’d watched them plead for mercy from a distance, and each time had crept just close enough to see that moment of recognition flash in their animal eyes, the moment when they knew who had destroyed them so completely that they’d begged to die.

“It’s all right,” Ren rasps in his ear. “I see, I know. If you want me to stop, I’ll let you walk away. I will. Know that. Go free, if you wish.”

It’s a dare. Hux flexes in Ren’s grip and bares his teeth against the mattress.

“Please, continue.” He means it, feels like he’s been set on fire and wants to burn for as long as he can. “I’ve wondered if you even have a cock, or if you’re just his neutered pet.”

“Really?” Ren sounds amused. Hux feels hard, hot flesh through the fabric of Ren’s pants, rubbing against his bared ass. Ren is aroused already? That’s sort of funny: everything about this is. “You give yourself to me freely?” Ren asks, gripping an ass cheek. Hux shrugs, keeping his face down on the mattress.

“I’m curious,” he says. “You’re like a science experiment gone wrong. How does that sort of thing even fuck?”

“I’ll show you.”

Something zips through the air and Hux freezes, afraid it’s Ren’s lightsaber. A number of unsavory images flash through his head before he turns and sees that it’s a jar of lubricant that Ren has Force-grabbed from the bathroom. Hux swallows a laugh, his ass still raised for presentation. He’s actually not ashamed that he likes this, so if Ren is counting on humiliating him with his cock he’s going to be disappointed.

“How often do you get fucked, General?” Ren asks, dabbing his fingers into the lubricant.

“I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything.”

“So not often, then.”

That’s the first thing he’s said that manages to make Hux flush, but it’s too dark for Ren to see it, and Hux is turned away from him anyway, offering his ass on a purely transactional basis. It seems appropriate, actually: he’s surprised it hasn’t come to this before now. Sex is a violent little amusement between people who could mutually assure each other’s destruction, ideally, and no one else around here fits that role for Hux. There’s only Ren, with his stupid mask, his tendency to smash everything of value with impunity, and his ridiculously long fingers, two of which are already up Hux’s ass, searching for his prostate.

“Just fuck me,” Hux says, embarrassed when Ren finds what he’s looking for and Hux’s shoulders jerk with confirmation, pleasure shooting up his spine and doing whatever it wants with his body already. “I’m not a lock that needs picking. If your dick works, use it.”

“You’re not a lock,” Ren says, withdrawing his fingers. “That’s true.”

Ren slicks himself, bumps his cockhead gracelessly into position, and is suddenly, overwhelmingly pushing in, bigger than Hux wants to admit that he’d assumed, which was already big, based on the rest of him.

Relax, Ren says-- Thinks, Hux realizes, when he hears it like a touch, thrumming through his blood and making his ribs seem to melt against the mattress.

“Use your words,” Hux says, already losing his breath. “I invited you into my ass, not my head.”

“I was already in your head.”

“Yes, that’s one of the least-- unh. Least charming things about you. And it’s a long list.”

“And yet here you are,” Ren says, this tone almost sing-song. “Bending over for my dick.”

Ren has the unsettling ability to go from sounding like he’s on stage in a pompous Old Republic theatrical production to suddenly adopting the attitude of a teenage boy who thinks he’s clever. Hux opens his mouth against the bedsheets, drooling a little but refusing to make a sound. He never made a sound after that first time at the Academy. Even in pleasure, later. It’s impossibly embarrassing to cry out like an animal while getting fucked.

“No, see, you’re missing the point.” Ren is all in now, or anyway he has to be, unless his dick is two feet long; Hux is fairly confident that he’s never had even a foreign object this deep inside him. “You’re supposed to let go,” Ren says, leaning down to murmur this against Hux’s ear. “It doesn’t even count as getting fucked if you can’t let go.”

“I suppose you know all about being fucked.” Hux huffs out his breath, flexing back against Ren in pathetic little flinches, trying to adjust to this intrusion. It doesn’t hurt, quite, but it’s a lot to-- It’s a lot, not just the size of Ren’s dick but the way he hovers around Hux from behind like a tent, cloaking him.

“I’m rusty, it’s true,” Ren says, still speaking directly into Hux’s ear, his lips warm there. “I haven’t really done this since my training became my life. It’s interesting, fascinating. How completely I can feel you. Everything in you. It’s so easy, like this.”

Hux tenses up at that word: easy.

“Shhhh,” Ren says, petting Hux’s hair; he jerks away from the touch. Ren is laughing a little, low in his belly. Hux can feel it against the small of his back. “I didn’t mean it like that, General.”

“Fuck you.” Hux regrets his choice of words instantly, but it can’t be helped now. He’s sweating, twitching, growing impatient for something less intimate. “If you’re seeing everything in me, surely you can see that I don’t give half a damn what you think of me. Hurry up and move, unless you’re afraid you’re going to spurt like a virgin before you can even get started.”

“That’s something I’ve wondered about,” Ren says. He sighs and sits back, pushing Hux’s shirt up to expose more of his skin. “Now that I’ve learned to control the Force more powerfully, I wonder if that control extends to-- This.”

Hux snorts at the idea that Ren is a master of control. He’s almost gotten himself killed twice today because of his lack of it. At least twice, that is.

“Let’s see if you can go for hours,” Hux says, clenching around him. “I'd wager my arsehole that you can't.”

This finally sets Ren into the punishing pace that Hux wants from him. Ren grunts and pulls back, shoves in hard and then plows Hux relentlessly, breathing through his nose and holding him in place with one big hand that’s closed around his left hip, surely leaving a bruise. There’s nothing Hux can do about the fact that he bruises easily; it’s genetics. He holds his moans in for as long as he can, but something about this is different, too much, too good. His toes curl against the bedsheets, hands fisted overhead around a pillow, and at first he only grunts, angling himself so that Ren keeps hitting the right spot, but when he goes slack and realizes that he didn’t need to angle himself at all, that Ren knows precisely where and how to fuck him and exactly how good Hux feels when he does it like that, like that-- then Hux shouts, curses, moans and sputters. He at least manages not to say Ren’s name-- Not any of the three or four names he’d have to choose from if he dared. He comes in his own hand, not expecting Ren to give him any attention there, and he’s surprised when Ren falls onto him with a groan, finishing right after he has.

Hux collapses under Ren’s weight, newly exhausted. Ren is breathing heavily, his hands sliding up past Hux’s ears and then under the pillow that Hux nearly tore in half during the proceedings. Ren has Hux completely pinned to the bed, which is cause for concern, but Hux is really too tired and too glued in place by his own come to care much yet.

“You needed that,” Ren says after they’ve both regained their breath somewhat.

“The hell do you care what I need?” Hux realizes only when he hears himself speak how close he was to falling asleep underneath Ren’s suffocating weight, and with Ren’s ridiculous horse cock still up his ass. His voice feels heavy, sluggish. His eyelids, too. He has no idea what time it is.

Ren lifts off of him and hisses, drawing out slowly enough to make Hux want to count the impossible inches as they slide free. It’s a relief to have Ren’s weight gone, but when he drops onto the bed beside Hux he’s wincing and clutching at his hip. The bandages have gone red in one spot.

“You idiot,” Hux says, annoyed that he’s got to deal with this rather than sinking into a perfectly fucked-out sleep. “You’ve aggravated your wound.”

“It’s fine,” Ren says, shaking his mess of hair over his eyes.

“Like hell. I’ll have to call for the doctor.”

“No.” Ren shoots Hux a look that he feels between his ribs, an icy warning or a Force hold, or some damnable combination of both. “No doctor.”

“Why not? I’m hardly suggesting that I’ll still be lying here in a puddle of my own come by the time he arrives. Obviously we’d--”

“No. I don’t like that doctor.”

So Ren has reverted to his two-year-old state of mind. Fine, Hux thinks, let him bleed out like a stubborn toddler. That would spare Hux ever having to see him again after what just went on. It’s already hard to look at him, though Ren’s softening cock is more elegant than the rest of his gangly appendages, surprisingly. Hux hoists himself up and starts to get dressed, but putting on his uniform just seems ridiculous. He’s filthy.

“I’m going to use your shower,” he says. Ren is lying on his back, his arm tossed over his face as if he’s a heroine in a holodrama. “Try not to die before I return.”

Ren says nothing. Hux puts the light on the bathroom, checking the floor for shards of broken mirror, but it seems Ren has cleaned it up thoroughly, which is somewhat shocking. He’s not known for cleaning up his own messes. Hux puts on the water, adjusts the temperature and steps inside, immediately inspecting Ren’s toiletries. Predictably, they are not standard First Order issue but some kind of specialty brand, labeled in a language that Hux is not familiar with. He snaps open what he hopes is the soap, sniffs it and still can’t tell. He can’t think of what it smells like except ‘Ren,’ and the other bottles are the same.

He’s barely gotten started washing when Ren saunters into the bathroom and slips into the shower stall behind him, avoiding his eyes and reaching for one of the bottles. He’s taken off his bandages and exposed his half-healed wound to the water. Ren’s face remains impassive when he dumps some soap onto the wound and then lets the water wash it away. Hux is edged into the corner, awkwardly holding a bottle of some Ren-smelling potion.

“You really ought to let the doctor get rid of that,” Hux says when Ren finally looks at him, the gash on his face growing puffy in the steamy air from the shower. “The scar,” he clarifies when Ren just stares at him.

“Why?”

It seems like an earnest question. Hux has to look away.

“Which one goes in your hair?” he asks, scanning the little bottles that are lined up on the shower shelf. Ren picks one up and hands it to him, and only then does the extreme oddity of this situation begin to make Hux uncomfortable. What a day: destroy five planets, lose an important battle to a group of unwashed savages flying thirty-year-old technology, get fucked by Kylo the man-sized child, wash his come out of you with exotic bath products.

“What language is this, even?” Hux asks, increasingly angry about the fact that he’s standing here, looking up at Ren and that goddamn gash. “Where did you get this stuff?”

“Some space station.” Ren frowns down at the wound on his hip, which seems like it was only leaking at the edges, not actually reopened. “Why?”

“Because it’s absurd. You’re absurd! Do you even-- See yourself?”

“Does anyone really see himself?”

“Oh, fucking hell. Get out of here, okay? Can’t I at least rinse your come out of my ass in peace?”

Ren actually smiles: it’s real, he’s pleased. He’s a discomforting combination of handsome and homely, as if he’s been clumsily pieced together from two different people, and the cut that bisects his face enhances both qualities.

“Sometimes you actually surprise me.” Ren reaches for Hux’s neck and stops when Hux flinches away. “That’s rare,” Ren says. “That I can’t predict. Things, people’s reactions.”

“Well, I live to entertain. But I’m serious, will you get out? This is humiliating.”

Hux hadn’t intended to admit that, ever, to anyone, but Ren was looking at him so strangely, it just came out. Maybe Ren yanked it out of him against his will, using the Force. Anyway, Ren goes, tracking water everywhere.

When Hux gets out of the shower he hopes to find that Ren’s towels are special-ordered, extra large and fluffy, but they’re just the standard-issue grayish white, tattered and thin. Hux tries to be relieved about this, disturbed by how altered his expectations have become after the unsteady progress of today’s triumphs and failures. It all happened so fast: it really was just pressing a button. Ordering someone below his rank to press a button, actually. He’d told himself that he’d done well with that speech, made the whole thing more symbolic and important, but the truth is that he could have said anything. They still would have stood there, saluted, watched him watching the red beams separate and streak through the sky. Ren blames him for the traitor’s antics. Hux has never claimed that his program is perfect, but they’ve had better results with what they call recruits than the previous generation had with clones. Hux’s father had been vehemently opposed to the clone army. Why clone an army from a proto-man who couldn’t shoot worth a damn? The clone army was essentially a human shield, no different than the armed droids. Hux’s army is a success by comparison, ruthless soldiers who are able to think for themselves in a battle situation while they suppress their individuality in all other arenas of their lives. Typically, anyway. His commanders usually execute suspected traitors before they’re able to come anywhere near a TIE fighter, let alone a hostage who can pilot it.

“Was that traitor with the girl when she left you?” Hux asks when he returns to the room, wrapped in a towel. He leaves off the rest of that question, though he supposes Ren will hear it anyway: when she left you for dead, bested by a mere scavenger?

“She’s no mere scavenger,” Ren mumbles. He’s in bed, the blankets pulled up to his chest. “Come here.”

“There? Why? Answer my question.”

“The traitor was there, yes. FN-2187. You’ll go after him, that makes sense. The girl is my own unfinished business. Get over here.” Ren turns to look at Hux. The lights are still at four percent, but in the glow through the open bathroom door Ren looks different, more like a person and less like a shadow. “I’ll fix your neck.”

“It’s--” Hux touches it and flinches. In all the excitement he failed to notice how swollen it’s become, and surely the bruises are darkening by now. He’s glad not to have a mirror to see them, or any other part of himself, considering what he’s allowed himself to do here tonight. “You can fix it?” he says, lingering in the doorway. “How?”

“Get over here and I’ll show you.”

Hux fears this is a trick, though everything up to now indicates that Ren doesn’t want to hurt him so much as toy with him, or possibly that Ren doesn’t know what he’s doing at all and is flinging his random moods at whichever solid objects are in range, as usual. Hux approaches the bed, because it’s worth a try. He doesn’t want anyone seeing these bruises and making assumptions. He’s not even sure what assumptions he should make himself, at this point.

“Lie down,” Ren says when Hux kneels on the bed. Hux already can’t believe they had sex here. He can’t believe he had sex at all; it’s actually been a few years since he’s even stuck his dick in somebody, never mind the other way around. He’s had a lot on his mind. He’ll be sore in the morning, unless Ren uses the Force to heal his ass, too. Possibly it’s already morning.

“I should check my comm,” Hux says, stretching out beside Ren in a tense flat-backed position, his pulse picking up when Ren puts a hand on his throat.

“You’d hear it from here if they needed you,” Ren says. “Anyway, they don’t.”

“You can tell when I’m needed now?”

Ren smirks, keeping his eyes on Hux’s bruised skin, where a strange, chilly but not unpleasant feeling has begun to emanate outward, as if it’s something inside Hux that’s being drawn to the surface. It’s a tingling that only seems to simulate temperature, like the cream that Hux’s childhood nursemaid rubbed on back when his propensity toward tension got the better of him and his shoulders ached from a bad night of teeth-gritted sleep. He’d loved that nurse, maybe. She had defended him when his brother called him runt. This was prior to Hux’s growth spurt, of course. He finally grew taller that first year at the Academy, and the nursemaid was gone when he returned home during the summer term, never spoken of again. He feels like he’s telling all of this to Ren while his neck seems to glow with relief, twinges of pain mixed in here and there.

“You have a brother?” Ren says.

“He’s dead.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t kill him.”

“I-- Didn’t assume you had.”

Brendol Jr. died in battle, heroically. Hux didn’t make much of a pretense of mourning him. Brendol was meaner than their father but never very smart, and with him gone Hux became the sole heir.

“I never had a brother,” Ren says.

“How fascinating,” Hux mutters, his ability to think straight deteriorating as waves of soothing energy wash over him, spreading down past his bruised neck, along his shoulders, and upward toward his temples.

“It’s the Dark Side that makes this possible,” Ren says. “You can’t heal with the Light, not really. Not physical injuries. There’s no real power there, only cowardice masquerading as such. It’s temporary, easily defeated by the Dark when it persists. The Light thrives on beginner’s luck. It’s all downhill from there. Ask Luke Skywalker.”

“Enough.” Hux shrugs Ren’s hand away, beginning to feel overwhelmed by the power that’s surging from him. It grew colder as he railed against the Light side, and when Hux rolls away he’s shivering. He touches his neck, expecting to find icicles forming under his jaw, but the heat of his own hand warms his skin quickly, and the swelling seems to be gone. “Thank you,” he says, cutting his eyes to Ren’s. He raises his lip when he realizes he just thanked the person who inflicted the wound in the first place. “You should redo your bandage.”

“No need.” Ren rolls toward the bathroom. “Lights, zero percent.” The bathroom goes dark, and the bedchamber, too. There’s only a faint glow from the door that’s open to the main room, where the lights are low and bluish.

Hux thinks about getting up and dressing. He should check his comm. Ren should re-wrap his wound. There should be a protocol of some sort. But Hux stays slumped there in the darkness, naked and aware that Ren is not asleep. So comes the end of the day Hux gave the order to kill billions of people, to annihilate five atmospheres, extinguish thousands of species. It didn’t really go the way he thought it would, but nobody seems to be blaming him yet. Anyway, it wasn’t his idea. Not entirely. He doesn’t even know who Snoke is, really. Soon Ren will be in Snoke’s possession, having the last of his humanity stripped away. Lucky, to have someone who is willing to do that for him. Though Hux supposes he had that, once. Not enjoyable but perhaps necessary. In two days Ren will leave this ship and begin that journey. And Hux will be elsewhere, possibly for years, awaiting orders, inventing plan B, alone among his inferiors. Good.

He dreams that he’s in the path of a beam of red light, being made and unmade by it, watching himself disappear and reform, eternally created and destroyed by an indifferent, enveloping inertia that doesn’t even know he’s there. This kind of power would only laugh at him if he could even get its attention, so he stays silent within it, resigned, never quite existing or evaporating, always on his way toward one or the other.

 

**

Chapter Text

Hux wakes up freezing, though he cocooned himself in the bedsheets at some point during the night. He's not accustomed to sleeping nude, with wet hair, or beside someone else, and he slips out of the bed as stealthily as possible, unable to tell if Ren is still asleep or just wallowing. The sheets are pulled away from Ren-- by Hux, admittedly-- enough to reveal his entire impossibly long back, down to the crossbow crater on his left hip. Hux can hear his comm buzzing in the other room. He left it plugged into his data pad, on Ren's desk, and can’t remember the last time he went this long without checking every administrative message of minor importance sent to the ship's officers, let alone the ones directed explicitly to him. Before he can clear the room he hears Ren shifting around on the mattress in the dark behind him, the sheets being rearranged. Hux finds his underwear on the floor and steps into them as he hurries toward his unread comm messages, the floor ice cold against his bare feet. Lieutenant Commander Barker is live from the bridge when Hux answers the call, after double-checking that his comm is set to transmit only audio.

“There's a holo transmission for you, sir,” Barker says. “Urgent.”

“Understood.” That means Snoke. Anyone else on the holo channel would be referred to by name, but the other officers seem afraid to utter Snoke's name, as if they don't have permission, or as if it might bring bad luck. “Is he expecting Ren, too?”

“Yes, sir. Shall I send someone to his quarters to fetch him?”

Hux almost says yes before he remembers that he's in Ren's quarters right now, and that Ren is lurking somewhere behind him, overhearing this.

“I'll get him myself,” Hux says, and he ends the call.

He steadies himself before turning back for the bedchamber, wishing that he'd snatched more articles of clothing from the floor before stepping out here. He's hoping the room will still be dark when he returns to search for the rest of his uniform, but Ren has dialed the lights up to twenty percent. He's sitting up in bed, kicking the sheet away and swinging his legs over the edge of the mattress. Hux feels like he's awakened from a bender: his ass stings and his head feels both hollow and heavy. He needs a real meal, something more than creamed soup, and maybe an actual stiff drink, but that will have to wait.

“Snoke is calling for us,” Hux says. “Get dressed, fast.”

“I don't have my--” Ren says, shoulders hunching. His hair is hanging over his face; he's feeling sorry for himself, suddenly shy about walking the halls of this ship without his armor. He's done it before, though not often.

“What's more important?” Hux asks, stepping into his pants. “Posturing for the crew or being prompt for Snoke?”

Ren doesn't answer. He stands from bed and Hux notices that the wound on his hip looks better than it did the night before, when it was glistening and raw under the blast of the shower. Hux has a hard time accepting that showering with Kylo Ren wasn't just a bad dream; it's more upsetting and unreal than the fact that they fucked. They dress in silence, their backs to each other. Hux doesn't have his hat, but he's not as attached to it as Ren is to that mask. He smoothes his hair down and tries to make his collar appear as crisp as it should be, wanting a mirror now. The gash on Ren's face still looks too fresh when Hux turns to find him shrugging on his hooded robe. Hux has laughed about that robe with his junior officers, though he's aware that his own over-sized greatcoat serves as the same kind of shield when he walks the halls of the ship. It's less flamboyant, at least.

“Go,” Ren says, pulling his hood up over his bed-wrecked hair. “I'm not walking out of here at your side.”

“Nobody's watching your door,” Hux says, amused by his vanity. “My crew doesn't care who you're fucking.”

“Even if it's you?”

“If it's me, then—”

“It is you. We fucked.”

“If they think you're fucking me,” Hux says more sharply, his lip raising. “That's all the more reason for them to stay the hell out of it.”

He knows he's being obtuse, pretending that learning of this tragic decision he's made wouldn't mean anything to the crew's respect for his authority, but he's barely awake enough to contemplate the many repercussions of what went on last night, and in the meantime doesn't want Ren thinking he has something to hold over him. He turns before Ren can start flicking through his thought process and walks out into the hallway without waiting for him, leaving the door open when he goes.

All the way to the holo chamber, winding through the ship's halls, he can hear Ren's footsteps behind his, trailing him by a few feet and drawing closer when Hux picks up his pace. For a moment he's sure Ren is going to do something characteristically childish like race him there, but it's more disconcerting to know that Ren is following, watching him, and to feel as if it would be equally childish to turn and glare at him, so Ren actually seems to have the upper hand in this situation, which Hux is perhaps over-analyzing. He keeps waiting to feel Ren invading his thoughts again, but he must be too preoccupied with his own concerns to want to rifle through Hux's at the moment.

The towering spectre of Snoke is waiting for them when they arrive. Hux has to assume that Snoke has at least as much of that obnoxious mind-reading ability that Ren does, and that he will be instantly privy to what went on after Hux followed his orders and yanked Ren from the literal precipice of the doom he'd nearly sealed for himself. Hux tells himself that he's got nothing to apologize for, but as soon as the Supreme Leader's holo-projected eyes flick to his he feels scorned, and smaller than usual in Snoke's looming presence. Hux has imagined, maybe too many times, how it would have felt to stand before his father and confess. The chair behind his father's desk at the Academy had been throne-like, massive in Hux's view.

“Master,” Ren says when Snoke is silent, his gaze sliding coolly from Hux to Ren. “I've found--”

Snoke silences him by holding up one frail hand. He looks back to Hux.

“The oscillator was destroyed by the Resistance,” Snoke says.

“Yes.” They went over this yesterday. Hux can feel Ren shrinking beside him, spiraling into self-doubt and slavering for approval, forgiveness, whatever he wants from this ghoul.

“You will need to strike the Resistance again, soon. Something less grandiose. Something personal, a more intimate loss.”

Hux thinks of Han Solo, killed by the Resistance's very own prodigal son, Solo's body lost in the crumbled dust of the planet that the oscillator took with it. He can feel Ren thinking of this, too, wanting to offer it as proof that he's already served this objective, or maybe Hux is only imagining that he can read Ren's mind, wishing he could return the favor.

“Yes, sir,” Hux says. “I will begin preparations for a strike of that nature immediately.”

“Indeed.” Snoke's gaze returns to Ren. “And you convey my apprentice to me as asked.”

“Of course, Supreme Leader.”

“Leave us.”

Hux wasn't expecting a thank you, but some more pointed direction about the next military strike might have been helpful. As he leaves the chamber he tells himself this is good: he'll be free to interpret Snoke's request according to his own strategic proclivities, not limited by some seemingly impossible demand like 'bring Kylo Ren to me.' Hux lingers outside the chamber for only half a second, listening to Snoke lower his voice and say something to Ren that sounds like 'reckless.' He leaves before he can hear more, not really wanting to. It's too pathetic to bear, Ren showing Snoke that scar as if he's put it on like a costume, in cloying imitation of his 'Master.' Embarrassing.

Hux wonders what his father would have made of Snoke, who was only a peripheral figure while Brendol Sr. was still alive. Back then they thought Snoke was simply a friend to the First Order, some usurped dignitary who sympathized with their aims. Snoke had not yet revealed his primary interest, this Force business, or his belief that his talented young pupil would make all the difference in the First Order's ultimate success. Hux has yet to see any real proof of that, though he can't deny that Ren has been styled by both sides as the symbolic star of this conflict, as if all their destinies orbit his trajectory. He tries to put Ren's drama out of his mind as he walks onto the bridge, the crew on duty stepping aside for him and standing at attention, awaiting orders. Hux continues to believe, as secretly as possible with figures like Ren and Snoke around, that this preoccupation with the Force is peripheral to the real goals of the Order. Still, he can't deny its power. He touches his neck when he walks past a reflective panel on the wall near the navigation display, hoping all traces of Ren's grip on him were erased during that unnerving healing session.

“We have new orders from the Supreme Leader,” he says, announcing this to the bridge after he's made his standard checks with the shift leaders. “I shall require my second, third and fourth in command to meet with me this afternoon in order to discuss the specifics. Barker, send word to them and arrange for the use of the boardroom on Alpha deck. And--” Hux lowers his voice and steps closer to Barker's station. “Have someone bring in lunch. For the meeting. Sandwiches or something. Not soup.”

Hux spends the next few hours strolling the ship and coming up with a new plan to cripple the Resistance. By the time he meets with his top officers he's got it, and he thinks it's fairly brilliant. The sandwiches that arrive in the boardroom at the start of the meeting are above average, and despite the slight sting in his ass Hux is beginning to feel like this will be a good day.

“Snoke wants us to strike the Resistance in a more intimate fashion,” Hux explains when his officers are all seated and supplied with sandwiches. “Obviously, we'll rebuild our weaponry and make similar, large-scale strikes in the future, but in the meantime we need to crush their spirits on a personal level. They'll be celebrating their recent victory, cocky, and we need to take advantage of that arrogance. I've also come up with a way to take advantage of the unfortunate treasonous departure of one of the stormtroopers. We shall make them believe this is a trend on board the Finalizer. Another trooper will make a seemingly daring escape from our ship and will show up at their door, claiming to sympathize with the Resistance, offering bogus secrets. We can have him throw in some fairly innocuous truths to help win their trust, and perhaps we'll give him a story about having had family or a lover on one of the planets we destroyed. He will meanwhile be reporting whatever Resistance intelligence he can uncover to us, and, more importantly, he will massacre the people he has seemed to befriend after an appropriate amount of time has passed. At the heart of their base, he will kill as many as possible before they're able to take him down.”

Hux lets this sink in and takes a bite from his sandwich. He can see by the gleam in each officer's eye that this idea has been well-received. Uta is even smiling a bit, nodding to herself. Hux swallows and drinks from his glass of water before continuing.

“Obviously,” he says, “This operation will require an exceptional individual. What I would like you all to help me consider is whether we should send an actual stormtrooper or a higher-ranking, more sophisticated soldier to accomplish this deception. The problem I'm encountering, when I think this through, is that anyone who could do this job well would have to be intelligent, and this intelligence would lead them to understand that it is essentially a suicide mission. So we would require a person who is smart enough to deceive the Resistance but also willing to die. Do any of you have this sort of individual among the ranks you supervise?”

“I just may,” Uta says. “If you're willing to entertain the idea of a woman serving as your sacrificial spy.”

“Why do you think I wouldn't be?” Hux asks.

“You referred to this hypothetical soldier as 'he' throughout your presentation, sir. I thought that perhaps this mission might require a penis in some way that was thus far unclear to me.”

Uta raises her eyebrows, proud of herself for this. Hux stares at her, unamused. She's one of his most talented officers when it comes to controlling her battalion, but her relentless concern for petty nonsense and moot semantics tests Hux's patience and reminds him, unhappily, of his father.

“There is a woman in your battalion who has these qualities?” Hux says, ignoring her ancillary bullshit.

“I believe she is a candidate, yes. UT-5278. Very intelligent, peerlessly committed to the Order for a soldier of her rank, and passionate about making a real difference. A bit romantic about having a historical impact, being remembered, that sort of thing. I'd once noted this as her one liability, but I think that flair for the dramatic could serve her well when pretending to befriend these people and accepting her fate when the game is up.”

“Interesting.” Hux makes a note on his data pad, his pulse quickening. He loves it when the people he commands snap into place like holochess pieces, according to his design. But it won't do to get ahead of himself. “I'll have to interview her, of course.”

“Of course, sir. Perhaps you would allow me some time to introduce the idea to her, discreetly, without yet explaining exactly what she would be doing?”

“That seems prudent. Snoke is impatient to see a plan put into action, however, so I will need to meet with her myself sooner rather than later.”

“I can bring her to you tomorrow. Give me twenty-four hours.”

“Granted.” Hux taps another note onto his pad. “I don't suppose anyone else wants to suggest an alternate candidate?”

Not surprisingly, they don't. There's a reason why Uta is Hux's second in command, despite her unfortunate personality.

He's in an optimistic mood after the meeting, hoping this stormtrooper Uta thinks so highly of is as 'peerlessly' loyal as Uta believes her to be. Hux will be able to tell, anyway, when he interviews her. It occurs to him that he could bring Ren along, for mind-reading purposes, but something about the idea of having to ask him for that favor is annoying, though Ren certainly owes him one. Hux saved Ren's life, after all.

Considering this makes him pause in mid-stride, only because he hadn't thought of it that way until this moment. He's not often in the business of saving lives.

He goes to his room to change into a fresh uniform, wishing that he had a spare greatcoat to swap out with this one. His coat smells like Ren, though Hux had left it in Ren's front room before crawling into Ren's bed, draped over the back of his desk chair. He supposes Ren might have crept out there to fondle it during the night, though that seems rather insane even for him. Hux tells himself to ignore this lingering scent and secures his command cap over his hair, which also smells like Ren, thanks to that fussy shampoo. He hopes to hell that no one on the bridge or in the boardroom noticed. It's unlikely: most of them haven't been close enough to Ren to smell his hair, unless Ren has been fucking Hux's crew left and right without him knowing. Ren said it had been a long time, that he was rusty, so probably not-- Hux slaps his own cheek, standing in front of his bathroom mirror and glowering at his reflection.

“Get your head out of your ass,” he tells himself, and he snaps the bathroom light off manually before heading for the door of his room.

He's on the way to meet with two junior officers about some dry administrative issue when he turns a corner and sees Ren walking toward him, still unmasked and hiding as best as he can under that hood. Hux intends to walk past him with a disinterested nod, but of course Ren won't allow that. He grabs Hux's arm and stops him, pulling him toward the wall.

“Get your hands off me,” Hux snaps, jerking free and checking both ends of the hall to make sure no one is seeing this. “What are you doing?” he asks, heat flaring across the back of his neck. “I'm busy.”

“Your plan is terrible.” Ren returns Hux's furious stare with one of his own. “It will fail.”

“What?” Hux wants to hit him, hard; typically he finds bare displays of violence beneath him, but something about Ren brings out this rare desire to just start throwing punches. “Who told you?” Hux asks, lowering his voice and leaning in toward Ren. “That plan is highly classified.”

“No one needed to tell me. I've been meditating all morning, at Supreme Leader's insistence. Through the Force, I foresaw this catastrophe. You can't do this, General. It will massively backfire.”

“Now you think you can see the future?” Hux laughs. “Get out of my face. If my plan is so terrible, Supreme Leader will tell me himself. Surely his meditation skills surpass yours.”

“Hux.” Ren catches his arm again when he tries to walk away, and something about hearing Ren say his name is surprising enough to keep Hux from pushing him away. “I'm serious,” Ren says, almost whispering. Hux can hear someone coming; he grabs Ren's gloved hand to pull it off of him. Ren won't let go, and won't stop staring at Hux like Hux should be seeing some vision that Ren is passing along to him via magical Force waves, or whatever he'd call them. Hux doesn't see anything but a hulking fool with his enemy's victorious signature slashed across his face. He uncurls Ren's fingers from his arm and moves away from him before the approaching stormtrooper can jump against the wall to let him pass.

“That'll be all, Ren,” Hux calls back, flustered. “You're dismissed.”

“Dismissed-- From what?”

Ren sounds like that teenager who thinks he's clever again. Hux ignores him, walking away as quickly as he can without giving the impression that he's fleeing.

He can't pay attention during the administrative meeting, his mind returning again and again to Ren's supposed warning. He resolves to ask Snoke about it, though he resents the idea that he must. His plan is a good one, even if it does depend entirely on finding the right person to carry it out. If Uta's candidate is a recipe for disaster, so be it: Hux will find another. He'll determine her adequacy for himself, if Snoke has no objections. Ren's melodramatic flailing is hardly cause for a change in strategy.

He's in the middle of dinner when he gets an urgent call on his comm. It's from Ren, which seems impossible. As far as Hux can remember, Ren has never used the comm system to contact him before. He usually just appears.

When Hux silences the comm instead of answering, Ren sends a three word message:

My quarters. Now.

Hux sniffs at this presumptuousness and puts the comm away, but he can't taste his food anymore and can't pay attention to what the others at the table are discussing. He makes himself wait another ten minutes before standing, and tells himself on the way to Ren's quarters that he's only answering this ludicrous command because Ren might have found some new way to nearly bleed to death, and Snoke would be displeased if Hux allowed that to happen.

He pauses outside of Ren's door, wondering if Ren has already sensed his approach. It's possible that Ren exaggerates the reach of his powers: even as someone who has heard Ren's voice in his head, Hux has to believe that some of what Ren claims to be able to do must be his own fantasy. If the Force users of the galaxy could actually see the future, wouldn't they already be in control of everything?

It's insulting to have to use the door's data pad and wait to be granted entry, but Hux doesn't have security clearance to Ren's quarters. Yesterday-- was it really just yesterday?-- Ren thumbed the door open for Hux and the doctor. There's a partial fingerprint of dried blood on the pad.

The door slides open. Hux walks in and finds the front room empty. The lights are on in the bedchamber, eighty percent or so. He stands in the foyer, awaiting his formal introduction to Ren's latest fiasco.

“Hello?” Hux barks when Ren says nothing. Without needing any Force-sensitivity, Hux can feel him lurking in the bedchamber, just out of sight from where Hux stands.

“Come here,” Ren calls.

Hux considers pretending that he doesn't want to obey, but there is something oddly refreshing about the idea that he can't hide what he wants from Ren, even if it isn't actually, entirely true. He walks to the bedroom doorway and observes Ren, who is sitting on the end of his bed, elbows on his knees, tossing his hair away from his face to look up at Hux. The robe is beside him on the bed, lying there like the silken pelt of a demon.

“I suppose you're going to rail at me about my plans again,” Hux says. “I'll be asking--”

“No.” Ren stands. He's wearing his gloves, and something about this sends an anxious thrill down the length of Hux's spine. “Take off your clothes,” Ren says.

“Excuse me?”

“You didn't come here to argue with me about military strategy. You don't want to hear what I have to say about that. Take off your clothes.”

Hux hesitates, wishing that he had anticipated this. It seems insane now that he didn't. He could refuse and go, but that would leave him to a night spent alone in his room, doing administrative work and second-guessing his plan to send a spy into the Resistance's base. He could do that; it's available to him. So is this, and that's all there is to it. Ren will be gone in less than two days, at any rate. The timing is rather perfect: Hux can get what he wants from Ren and then get rid of him. And without having to orchestrate an actual murder. He reaches up to remove his command cap.

“No,” Ren says. “Not your little hat. Leave that on.”

“You--” Hux's hands hover in mid-air. If he's being made fun of, he'll go. He doesn't need to get fucked badly enough to be made into a-- joke. But Ren's expression is stoic, serious. He moves away from the end of the bed, toward the closet, keeping his eyes on Hux the whole time.

“Everything else,” Ren prompts. “Take it off, now, or go.”

Hux lowers his arms to his sides. He considers why he actually came here: fine, yes. He did think they would argue first, but he supposes Ren doesn't have time on his side. Hux takes off his coat, folds it and tosses it onto the bed with Ren's robe.

They watch each other while Hux undresses. He slides his belt off first, drops it onto the floor. His fingers move steadily down the buttons of his uniform tunic, not shaking. He's not afraid of Ren, it's true. He's curious, mostly, always, to see what this self-indulgent person will do next, even when it comes to seeing what he will next do to Hux. He shrugs his shirt off and lets it fall to the floor, only slightly annoyed at himself for already getting hard as he unfastens his uniform pants. Ren keeps his eyes on Hux and moves toward the bed, collects his robe and Hux's coat, drops them onto the floor near the closet. Hux is annoyed about that: must his coat be on the floor? He pushes his underwear down and steps out of them, shoulders back, arms at his sides, awaiting orders.

"Red hair," Ren says, nodding as if he approves. He's standing near the closet again, his hands clasped behind his back, shoulders relaxed. "I didn't notice that before."

"You didn't notice that I have red hair?" Hux knows what Ren actually means and hates the heat on his cheeks that comes with this knowledge.

"Not between your legs, no."

"Well." Having this pointed out by someone who is about to fuck him brings back some not fantastic memories, mental images Hux doesn't want Ren flicking through right now. Hux never thought he would be fucking someone who can read his mind. He has no game plan for this kind of partner, which is maybe what makes it interesting enough to abide.

"Sorry," Ren says, absurdly.

"For what?" Is he apologizing for the unpleasant memories, for having seen them, for doing this at all? Hux is fully red across his cheeks now, considering barking 'lights, five percent' at the wall module. Though perhaps that would be even more conspicuous.

“Nothing-- Get on the bed. On all fours.”

Hux sighs as if this is some kind of stale scenario that he's been through before. In a sense, it is-- Metaphorically? But it's also so completely different. He turns his back to Ren when he kneels onto the bed, and faces the dark bathroom doorway as he arranges himself onto all fours, ass pointed toward Ren. He hears Ren draw in a breath; it's possible he's impressed. Hux is more than willing to believe that no one else has ever done what Ren asked them to in the bedroom without first laughing at his theatrics. There's a part of Hux, suddenly, also, that wants to believe Ren was a virgin until last night, but evidence points to the contrary and it doesn't matter anyway, not remotely.

“You don't believe me,” Ren says, approaching the bed. He touches Hux's tailbone first, just above the crack of his ass, and draws his gloved fingertip upward, slowly, along every bump of Hux's spine. “You're going forward with your plans to infiltrate the Resistance with a spy, despite my concerns?”

“I--”

“Yes, or no?”

Hux wets his lips. He's so hard, fuck. It almost hurts.

“Yes,” he says.

Hux can't actually hear Ren's arm drawing back, but he can feel it: he grits his teeth, braces himself, but still isn't ready for how sharply Ren's hand slaps his ass, or for how much he likes it, a throb of pleasure rising to meet the receding pain. He breathes out in a choppy exhale, keeping his neck straight, back flat.

“Today, on the bridge,” Ren says, his fingertips sliding over the blooming blush he left on Hux's ass cheek. “Did you think about last night? When you were among your men?” He opens Hux's ass with this thumb and middle finger, drawing his forefinger down through the crack. Hux could swear he can feel Ren smile when he hears Hux's breath catch as that gloved fingertip settles over him, just so, soothing and teasing the soreness Ren's cock left behind. “Did you think about how well I fucked you last night, General, while you were walking about the ship, in uniform?”

“Yes.” He didn't have to think about that question. Ren brings his hand down again, harder. Hux lets his eyes fall shut, swallows a moan.

“And when we stood before Supreme Leader. When he looked down at you, did you feel shame? Were you afraid he had seen what I'd done to you, how you'd submitted so gladly to it?”

“--Yes.”

Ren slaps his ass three times in quick succession, and against the third blow, not knowing how many more will come, Hux lets loose a groan, his spine curving under the weight of pain and pleasure that has been thrust onto him. He's pulled taut all over: nipples hard, dick leaking, jaw tight while he waits for Ren to ask another question. He wants another question; he wants a hundred questions, wants to spend the whole night answering Yes.

“Tell me,” Ren says, his hand sliding over Hux's burning ass and down to his balls. They pull up tight in that leather grip, and for a moment Hux think he's going to come, screaming, just from this. “Why do you deserve to come to me, seeking pleasure? After you've ended so many lives? So many who will never know pleasure or pain or anything ever again?”

Hux was not expecting that. He almost laughs, his mouth hanging open as he tries to figure out how he's supposed to answer this idiotic question with a yes or a no, if those are still the rules. Ren keeps hold of his balls, his grip just shy of painful. He's never been subtle.

“Answer me,” Ren says, squeezing. Hux flinches, his shoulders drawing up. He closes his eyes, tries to make his voice work. “Why do you deserve this?”

“I--”

“Speak up.”

“I deserve it because I won,” Hux says, eyes snapping open. He pushes his shoulders back, breathes out through his nose. “I won, and they lost. I beat them. That's why I deserve to-- Live.”

Ren releases him, and Hux braces himself to feel Ren's hand coming down hard on his ass. He flexes, wanting it, his head beginning to feel very heavy as he waits. His hat is slightly askew but still in place. Behind him, Ren is doing-- something. Staring at him? Hux is afraid to turn and look.

Hux supposes he knew how strong Ren was before being grabbed by him and flipped onto his back as if he's weightless, but this makes a particular impression, and his breath stutters with excitement when Ren yanks his legs apart, Hux's ass perched right on the edge of the mattress. Hux tips his legs open more widely as Ren's gloved hands slide from his knees and down to the insides of his thighs, Ren's gaze burning against his. Now Hux is afraid to look away, his hands closing into fists around the sheets.

The last thing Hux expects is for Ren to drop to his knees and take his cock into his mouth, but that's what Ren does, and he pushes Hux's legs open again when they try to close around his ears. Hux gets hot from the hollow his throat and all the way down his chest, a choked-off sound of disbelief caught in his throat. He squirms under Ren's hands and twitches against his tongue, his shoulders creeping up toward his ears. He's never really liked this, actually. Especially on his back like this: he's so exposed, and Ren's face is right there, his eyes, while he-- Hux can't look, actually. He tilts his head so that the brim of his hat covers his eyes, and exhales gladly when it does. Some of the tension leaves his legs, and he begins to relax enough to enjoy this-- that hot, insolent mouth around his dick, and the way Ren presses his thighs to the bed, spread so widely that they ache. Hux holds in his moans for as long as he can, and just when he's released one, so close to coming that he's shaking, Ren pulls away.

Hux is left panting, spread open on the bed, the need to come knifing through him. He peeks out from under his hat and finds Ren holding that jar of lubricant, one glove removed. Hux watches as Ren takes his cock out and slicks it, his mouth getting wet at the sight of it. His left eye is still mostly covered by the brim of his hat, but he doesn't make any adjustments, just stays in place and on display for Ren, who surveys him for a moment before dropping down onto him.

“Fuck,” Ren says, muttering this just over Hux's lips when Hux peers up at him, showing him nothing but surrender.

“What?” Hux says, confused. Ren shakes his head and shoves in, his head dropping to Hux's shoulder when Hux shouts wordlessly, grabbing Ren's biceps for traction while his ass spasms around the intrusion, still raw from last night. Ren slides in more slowly after the initial thrust, his breath hot and humid on Hux's collarbone. Hux moans and lets his vision blur, his rational mind melting away. Yes, this, indeed: this is why he came here tonight.

Want to fuck you hard, Ren says, in Hux's fucking head, somehow sounding like he's got his teeth grit, like he's barely restraining himself.

Yes, Hux thinks. Okay, good.

“Do it,” he says, not sure if Ren heard that.

Hux ends up with his hand in Ren's hair, his back bowed and head thrown back while Ren fucks him. Ren growls a little when Hux gives his hair a tug, and Hux sort of hiccup-laughs, deep in his chest, reeling for how good this feels, his legs tight around Ren's sides. He tugs Ren's hair again, and cries out in approval when Ren bites at his neck, just under his jaw. Like a warning, Hux thinks, and he pulls Ren's hair harder, prompting him to sink his teeth in deeper. Hux comes hard against Ren's stomach when the bite starts to hurt, and he's actually almost whimpering, clenching tight around Ren's hammering dick as he unloads. Again, Ren finishes almost as soon as Hux has, his own orgasm accompanied only by a stiff grunt.

“Fucking-- fuck,” Hux says, in appreciation, when Ren slackens onto him. Hux heaves out a deep breath and blinks up at the ceiling with his right eye, the left one still obscured by his hat, which is almost diagonal across his face now. Ren is trembling; Hux wonders if the Force improves the intensity and duration of his orgasms, and he laughs at the idea, feeling drunk. Ren lifts his head and gives him a somber look, then pushes the hat away from his face, cupping it against the top of Hux's head. “What?” Hux says when Ren goes on staring at him, his chest pushing oppressively against Hux's with every inhale.

“You have green eyes,” Ren says. Hux laughs again, hard this time.

“Are you fucking serious?” he says.

Ren pulls out, too fast, and Hux groans, wincing. He still feels the inclination toward nervous, half-insane laughter as he watches Ren storm into the bathroom with his-- What, wounded pride? Hux scoffs and sits up, rubbing his hand over his face and letting his crumpled hat remain on the mattress. He takes a deep breath and blows it out through his mouth, feeling pleasantly dizzy. It occurs to him, as his mind starts to reassemble itself, that after tomorrow he won't be able to come calling for this anymore. Possibly he's already blown his chance to have it again tomorrow. Ren has shut the door to the bathroom; Hux hears water running. He wonders if he should leave. Maybe in a minute, when his legs stop shaking. He drops onto his back and stretches his arms over his head, feeling like a sated emperor. I won, I beat them. A stupid thing to say, certainly, but the right thing, it would seem, to Ren's ears.

Ren emerges from the bathroom and throws a towel onto Hux's chest without looking at him. He crosses the room, naked, and goes to the table in the corner to pour some water from a silver pitcher into a silver cup of the same make. Hux mops at himself and watches Ren's throat bob when he gulps water.

“Have you got anything real to drink?” Hux asks. Ren glances at him from over his shoulder, maybe trying to pretend that he'd forgotten Hux was still there.

“Real? Like, booze?”

Hux snorts at that terminology and nods.

“As a matter of fact,” Ren says, “I do.”

“That surprises me.”

“Why?”

“Because you're--” Hux flips his hand in Ren's direction. “You know, whatever-- A monk?”

“I'm not a fucking Jedi,” Ren says, darkening.

“Well, you're somebody's disciple, anyway,” Hux says, thinking of Snoke. Can he see them now? It doesn't feel that way to Hux, though he's not the one who claims he can sense such things. They seem to be alone here, together, in a kind of alarming but intriguing alternate universe where Ren almost literally fucks Hux's brains out and also apparently feels the need to comment on his eye color.

“There was a tradition in training, among the Sith,” Ren says, puffing his chest a bit and adopting that pompous on-stage tone. “Those who were about to begin the final stage of their training would spend the days before indulging themselves. Like a symbolic purge of baser instincts. So I got a bottle of, uh--” Ren goes to the closet, opens it and pulls out a narrow bottle with amber liquid inside, labeled in Corellian letters. “Brandy,” Ren says, holding it up. Hux raises his eyebrows.

“Have you not had alcohol before?” Hux asks. It's something about the way Ren is holding the bottle by its neck, like a kid.

“What? No-- Yes, of course I have.” Ren goes back to the table and puts the bottle down hard. Hux draws his hand through his wrecked hair and watches Ren pour two drinks. He should check his comm. It's in the pocket of his coat, which is crumpled up with Ren's robe, on the floor. He accepts a silver cup full of brandy when Ren offers it, toasting him before taking a sip. It's not bad. Hux has plenty of experience with drinking. He was a big fan of it during his Academy days, whenever he could get his hands on a contraband bottle.

“You used it as a crutch,” Ren says, staring down into his cup. Apparently reading Hux's mind.

“It was an extraordinary crutch,” Hux says. “My only true friend at that place.” He throws back the rest of what's in the cup and holds it out for more. “And I was never too hungover to show up to class on time. I had top marks, I'll have you know.”

Ren has no comment on this. He passes Hux his refill, and when he drinks from his own cup he doesn't wince or cough, which is a bit of a letdown.

There's no place to sit but the bed, so that's where they do their drinking, Hux in his underwear and Ren naked under the sheet. Despite his ability to swallow brandy with a straight face, it's quickly evident that Ren doesn't have much experience with alcohol.

“Would you kill your mother?” he asks Hux at one point, after his tongue has loosened. Hux laughs, though it's not really a funny question. He gulps from his cup.

“I might have,” he says. “I haven't spoken to her in years. She could have been on one of those five planets, you know. Visiting a spa or something.”

“No, I don't mean like that,” Ren says. “I mean, would you push her off a cliff? Would you wring her neck, if it was required of you?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

Hux actually knows, of course, but he's perturbed by this line of conversation, and Ren is really talking to himself, anyway. Ren stares into his cup.

“I guess you don't know what it's like,” he says. “You don't like to get your hands dirty.”

“I don't understand why anyone would want their hands to be dirty, no.” Hux drops his empty cup onto the floor and stretches out on his side, rolling away from Ren. He'll just close his eyes for a moment, then go back to his own room for a shower, real sleep. He stiffens when he feels Ren's hand on his shoulder.

“You look so cold,” Ren says, his hand traveling down along Hux's arm, upsetting the hairs there and setting off goosebumps. “But you're not.”

“As a person who is currently alive, yes, I am in possession of a certain amount of body heat. I guess this surprises you.” He wonders if Snoke's skin is cold to the touch. Has Ren felt it? Hux hopes not, then feels disgusted with himself for caring.

“I like your lines,” Ren says, slurring a bit.

“My lines?”

“Yes, just. This shape.” He's stroking Hux from his shoulder and down along his side, slowly, his fingers trailing back up to Hux's shoulder after he's reached the point of his hip. The lightness of the touch makes Hux shiver. “This is a good shape.”

“Well.” Hux has no idea what to do with this, but for some reason he wants to encourage it, maybe just so that Ren will be embarrassed when he sobers up, if he'll even remember it. “I'm man-shaped, so. I guess you like men.”

“Figured that out, did you?”

Hux grins against the mattress, flexing into Ren's touch when he continues his slow stroking, now from Hux's neck to the curve of his ass. Possibly Hux has gotten drunk, too. A little.

Hux falls asleep, tumbling down further into it than he'd planned. When he wakes up his mouth is dry, his eyelids much too heavy when he tries to hold them open. He tries to roll onto his back and feels Ren lying behind him, too close. Ren has put the lights out. Hux's elbow bumps against Ren's chest when he presses it back to check Ren's position. He's got to get out of here; if Ren wasn't leaving the ship tomorrow, Hux would already be gone. There's just something appealing about the idea that this is so unavoidably finite, the end of it already hurtling toward them. He knows Ren is awake, hears him swallow and sigh, probably still drunk.

“Can you really see the future?” Hux asks. He doesn't like the way this question sounds out loud: childlike, trusting.

“I don't know.” Ren shifts behind him, a long exhale warming the back of Hux's neck. “My mother once claimed that the Force can give you false visions of the future as well as accurate ones. But. She lied to me about a lot of things.”

“What did you see?” Hux doesn't really want to know, but he can't not ask. He presses back until he can feel Ren's hip against his ass, and goes very still when Ren's hand comes to rest on his chest, over his ribs. “You saw-- Me, failing?”

Ren takes a deep breath, moves closer.

“He--” Ren's mouth rests against Hux's ear. He starts to speak again, but it dies off in a wordless exhale.

“What?” Hux asks, growing concerned. “Tell me.”

Ren shakes his head: it's a tiny motion, almost imperceptible. He takes Hux's earlobe between his teeth, gently, and holds it there while he pushes the words he won't let himself say from his mind and into Hux's.

He doesn't want me to tell you.

There's something frightened about this admission, or maybe just frightening. Hux opens his mouth, but he can't bring himself to ask more questions. He presses back more firmly and pulls the sheet up over himself, allowing some of it to drape over Ren as well. What Ren is suggesting is irrational: that Snoke would want Hux's efforts to fail. Snoke is the one who commanded Hux to come up with this plan in the first place; all Hux aims to do is advance the power of the First Order, which Snoke comfortably commands. It makes no sense-- Ren is drunk, incomprehensible even when sober, and Hux won't let this bother him.

He falls asleep hoping he'll forget, Ren's hand still resting over his ribs. Periodically, throughout the night, Ren's grip on Hux tightens enough to wake him up a bit, then relaxes again. Ren is asleep, breathing through his nose, his face resting just behind Hux's neck. It's irritating, the tickle of his breath and the tension in his hand that comes and goes, but Hux is too tired to pull free. He sleeps for several hours, and drags himself away from Ren when he wakes with a headache. If Ren notices him leaving he doesn't let on.

It's good to be back in his own shower, with his regulation toiletries and his one personal extravagance: shaving cream from his home planet, silky and scented with something that reminds him of the towering pines on the grounds of his family's estate, and now, also, annoyingly, of the trees that nearly toppled onto him while he dragged Ren onto the shuttle.

He gets into bed wearing his robe, glad that he left the sex-scented confines of Ren's quarters early enough to have time for himself before he returns to duty. His headache has mostly dissipated, eased away by the steam from the shower. Checking over the day's schedule, he sees that Uta has scheduled a meeting with her stormtrooper after lunch. He confirms it with the click of a button and wonders if he'll have a chance to introduce his plan to Snoke before or after the meeting with this trooper. Snoke operates according to his own schedule and rarely gives much notice before summoning Hux; like Ren, he's better at dramatically appearing than communicating like a normal person. Of course, Snoke is not a normal person. Hux isn't even sure if he's human, though he can't identify the characteristics of any other known species on Snoke's grim visage. He asked Ren once, with some graceless phrasing that amounted to 'what is he,' and was met with only a sneer.

He tries to imagine what Ren's training will be like. Hux has never seen any evidence that Snoke keeps company with others of his-- Kind? Rank? Will Ren be alone with him in that fortress, on that planet? That would probably suit Ren fine. He'd finally have his idol's undivided attention.

Hux is sneering at his data pad, annoyed with himself for giving it any thought. Ren's mind-meld mumbling about Snoke last night was and is vexing. Hux can neither trust the fool nor entirely dismiss what might have been a valid warning. He won't be made a scapegoat for anyone, and certainly not for a reclusive old wizard like Snoke. It's unsettling to think that Snoke might already know that Hux is wary of him, and that he's interested in doing First Order business without him if possible. Hux drops his data pad when he realizes why Snoke is probably so interested in gathering Ren to his side: if Snoke has all of the Force users of his Dark persuasion at his command, none of them can side with a competing interest. People like Ren seem to be rare, so the old beast tolerates Ren's-- Well, everything about him, in the interest of having Ren's power at his disposal. Ren would understand this and amend his loyalties accordingly if he wasn't so arrogant and obsessed with his dead, disgraced grandfather.

Hux wants to pitch his data pad across the room when he catches himself obsessing over this again, but it's relevant, maybe even important. He allows himself to consider, just for a moment, how much safer he would feel going up against Snoke, potentially, in the future, if Ren was his loyal ally, able to push that Dark power back in Snoke's direction.

But it won't happen; Ren is too volatile, a kind of half-formed person whose loyalties are constantly shifting. Hux could never trust him that much. He shouldn't even be sleeping in Ren's bed, no matter how well-fucked Ren leaves him. Soon that won't be a concern, at least.

What a relief that will be.

Hux puts the data pad aside and stands to dress. Never mind these time-wasting thoughts about an alternate universe in which he could rely on Ren to-- Well, to do anything. He'll find some other way to safeguard himself against any potential side-dealing from Snoke. Hux has always been good at faking complacency until the right moment and coming out on top in the end.

“Fuck,” he says, standing at his closet and gathering clean uniform pieces. He's only got the one hat, and he left it in Ren's bed. It's not important, not really, but it seems like a bad omen, and Hux shuts his closet door harder than necessary, annoyed with himself. Nothing happens in a vacuum when you wield this much power, and he's got to be more careful. He vows not to go to Ren's bed one last time, later tonight.

He hasn't even finished zipping up his boots before he's negotiating with himself, trying to justify the idea of breaking that vow. It's unlike him to lack resolve. A bad omen indeed.

Chapter Text

Hux is able to avoid Ren all morning, and by lunch he's begun to wonder if this is actually a good thing. If Ren isn't loudly making his every mood known throughout the ship, he's working on some even bigger catastrophe, surely. On the way to his meeting with Uta and her stormtrooper, Hux tries to convince himself that Ren is just meditating somewhere, but that's hardly a comfort, considering what allegedly came of Ren's last meditation session. Hux can't decide if he's relieved or concerned that Snoke hasn't yet gotten in touch with him to ask for an update on his next plan to attack the Resistance. He pauses outside of the conference room where Uta and UT-5278 are waiting for him, flicks his data pad's screen to life and reviews his notes one last time. He'll deal with the larger implications later; for now, he's still got to determine if this stormtrooper is worthy of the task.

The official file on UT-5278 is useful and up to date, like all of the records on Uta's troops. UT-5278 was abandoned to an orphanage as an infant and was selected in a regular sweep of junior candidates for the eight-year-old program due to stellar rankings in obedience and dexterity, and for being well-adapted to and accepting of groupthink, as evaluated by the orphanage staff. She excelled in her training from youth onward and has done well as a stormtrooper, particularly in the field, where she has been noted to fight “tirelessly and without concern for personal injury or over-concern for her fellow troops.” Uta has further noted that UT-5278 “would likely have been a made an officer if she had been born to a proper First Order family.” This may or may not be some kind of political commentary on Uta's part.

Hux flips to the note that most interested him when he reviewed UT-5278's file this morning: her nickname among the troopers is Airlock, because Uta once allowed her to personally jettison a fellow trooper into space after he attempted to assault her. This trooper had cornered UT-5278 in the communal showers or something gruesome like that. Hux remembers giving the okay when Uta asked him to allow one of her troops to execute another this way, following the incident, to set an example for the others; he remembers liking the idea, though he didn't have time to personally witness it. He didn't realize until this morning that UT-5278 is the same trooper who opened an airlock on her attacker with Hux's permission.

The picture that accompanies UT-5278's record is not what Hux expected, and the trooper who sits beside Uta inside the conference room, helmet removed and matching Uta's perfect posture when she stands at attention for Hux, is even less like the woman he had envisioned based on Uta's initial description of her. UT-5278 is in standard-issue armor from the neck down, but Hux can tell by her round face that she's on the soft side, or at least a bit stocky. She looks young for her age, which is twenty-six; she could probably pass for a teenager, maybe because of the freckles over the bridge of her wide nose or the way her eyes taper into smooth folds at the corners. Regardless, seeing her now, in person, Hux is overcome by how ideal this trooper would be for what he wants done to the Resistance. It's no wonder Uta thought of her right away: despite the respectful stoicism of her expression, UT-5278's face has a particular harmless, open, ingratiating quality. She looks disarmingly innocent. It's perfect, Hux thinks, hoping now that the actual interview will go well.

After the initial introductions are made by Uta, they all sit. Hux is at the head of the table, UT-5278 on his left and Uta to his right. He’s not sure if it’s better or worse that UT-5278 is the one who might catch a glimpse of the bite mark on Hux’s neck from where she’s seated. Ren of course left it just above the reach of Hux’s collar, impossible to conceal while in uniform.

Uta mentioned to Hux in a message this morning that her initial conversations about this project with UT-5278 went well, and that UT-5278 was a bit flustered with gratitude at the opportunity to have a personal audience with Hux. Since Uta is not known for flattery, Hux read this with a measure of sincere appreciation, though he's also apprehensive about the idea of turning this mission over to someone who gets flustered in anybody's presence. He's relieved to see that UT-5278 at least appears impassive and serious, respectful but not openly intimidated by him. He's also glad to hear that her accent is that of a well-educated person raised in a First Order city, despite her having grown up in some country orphanage until the age of eight.

“What is your understanding of the mission as Uta has described it to you?” Hux asks. “I'd like to hear it in your own words.”

“I would first stage an escape,” UT-5278 says. “Citing troop FN-2187's treason as my inspiration, I would attempt to make contact with the Resistance, requesting amnesty as a defector and offering First Order secrets in exchange for safe harbor. If successful, I would offer accurate information prepared by my superior officers to win the trust of the Resistance leadership, and would continue to present them with false information as appropriate, being careful not to give them anything that would give me away too soon. I would befriend as many Resistance fighters as possible, concentrating on the highest ranking individuals I'm given access to, and would communicate any Resistance strategy or counterintelligence back to the First Order via a private, untraceable comm device that would--” She breaks off there to look at Uta, shifting her shoulders back a bit. “Well. Commander Uta has told me that I would have to swallow the device prior to infiltrating the Resistance base, since I'll certainly be searched for such equipment.”

“I take it you don't have a problem with that.”

“Absolutely not, sir. Forgive me-- Once I heard myself mention this part of the mission I realized it might be crass to discuss that detail in your presence.”

“It's perfectly fine.” Hux glances at Uta, suppressing a smirk. “You have technology that she could swallow and-- retrieve later, without detection? What if they scan her?”

“This is a brilliant little piece of modified surveillance equipment,” Uta says. “Undetectable on scanners. It has a long range broadcast that's also undetectable, except by the party who holds the other end of the line, so to speak. I have every confidence that she could smuggle it into a Resistance base in this fashion, and that she would be able to report to us regularly using this device, without detection, as long as she uses care. And I'm confident in her ability to conceal it throughout her mission. UT-5278 is remarkably discreet under orders. It's one reason I'm nominating her for this job.”

“Excellent.” Hux grows more and more fond of this plan as it continues to unfold. He pushes away an unwelcome thought about Ren's warning and returns his gaze to UT-5278. “Continue,” he says.

“After an appropriate amount of time has passed,” UT-5278 says, “And when an attack would be the most prolific, based on factors that include the quality and quantity of life lost, I would use whichever weapons had been issued to me, along with any I could secure without their knowledge, to issue a massive attack at the heart of the most important Resistance base I'm allowed access to.”

“Correct,” Hux says. “And then?”

“It's likely I will die in the line of duty, sir, and I would embark on this mission fully aware of that and no less enthusiastic for it. Commander Uta has explained how important this mission is, and that it comes directly from the highest authority in the First Order. I consider this nomination to the task an honor worth the value of my life, and I have always been gladly prepared to give my life for the First Order, sir.”

She didn't say Snoke's name, so she must be among the ranks who believe it's too sacred or scary to speak aloud. Hux deducts a few points for that, but otherwise he's impressed.

“Your unofficial nickname among your battalion is Airlock,” Hux says, watching her face to see if she'll flinch. There's nothing; she's perfectly stoic, waiting for the related question. “Is there anything you would like to tell me about that?”

“Only that I remain grateful to you for allowing me to execute UT-8597 myself, sir. If I may say so, there is nothing more repulsive and weak, in my view, than a stormtrooper who puts his or her desires ahead of those of the Order's command that we do not have personal desires, for any reason, at any time. I never dreamed that I would be able to personally thank you for that opportunity, but, as my Commander has no objections, I would like to tell you that every time I hear my nickname I not only feel pride at having been able to help the Order uphold its standards for stormtroopers, but also proud to serve under a General who recognized the opportunity to set an example and allowed me to play my own small but hopefully impactful role in enforcing our code.”

Hux is sort of floored, which doesn't often happen. He looks at Uta. She's smiling.

“If you feel that way about troopers who break the code we've given them,” Hux says, “I can only imagine the way you must feel about FN-2187.”

At this, Hux sees the first hint of unbidden emotion cross UT-5278's features. It's slight: a tightening of her shoulders, tiny twitch of her bottom lip. Most notable is the rage that suddenly floods her eyes, her innocent face transforming into that of a hardened killer before she calms herself and hides it again.

“Part of my enthusiasm for taking on this mission is the idea that I could kill FN-2187 myself, sir.”

“Really.”

“I'm aware that I'm not to assign myself ambitions in the line of duty any more than I am to do so on a personal level, but I did speak to Commander Uta about this, and she acknowledged that the just execution of FN-2187 is a satisfactory objective as part of this mission.”

“Certainly it is,” Hux says. He thinks of the exchange he had with Ren when the traitor and that hostage stole a TIE fighter. Ren's smart-ass remark still makes Hux see red: The droid stole a ship? Hux’s upper lip twitches when he can't suppress the memory. If UT-5278 notices, she doesn't react.

“I'm feeling very optimistic about your candidacy for this mission,” Hux says, holding her unblinking stare. “Almost to the point of assigning you the code name you would use among the Resistance.” He already has one in mind: Pella, a common name for girls on his home planet, meaning something akin to 'innocent flower.' Maybe it's too much, but he likes the idea of twisting that particular knife into the gut of the Resistance himself, with this detail. “You certainly wouldn't introduce yourself as Airlock,” he says, giving her a tight smile. She nods.

“I await your final decision, sir,” she says. “And whatever you decide, know that I will go to my grave without breathing a word of this classified mission to anyone.”

“Lieutenant,” Uta says, sharply, as if she's overstepped. “Of course the General knows that. I would not have briefed you if I didn't trust completely that you will keep everything discussed here confidential under any circumstances.”

“Forgive me, Commander.” UT-5278 looks at Hux; he sees her swallow against the neck of her black undershirt. “General, my apologies.”

“It's nothing,” Hux says, mostly to annoy Uta. “You've impressed me, Lieutenant.” Hux stands, and Uta and UT-5278 snap out of their chairs in an identically precise, controlled show of respect, backs perfectly straight. “I will be in touch with your Commander soon about my final decision.”

“Thank you, General. It's an honor to be considered.”

Hux glances at Uta on the way out. She seems only a little miffed about him undermining her reproach, and she nods at him as he makes his way toward the conference room door. He leaves the room with the closest thing he's ever had to a skip in his step, suppressing a delighted smile. This is going to work; to hell with Ren's adventures in meditation. That girl-- woman, he supposes, but she seems so like a girl, despite her composure, which is part of the perfection of this --is going to go off like a beautifully handcrafted, uniquely devastating bomb at the center of the Resistance's bloody heart, ripping their pathetic idealism to shreds from the inside out. The Resistance leadership will take one look at her hopeful, trusting face and arrogantly assume that only they can appreciate and nurture that trust. But Hux is sure: UT-5278 is a true believer in the First Order and what it represents. Some supervisor prior to Uta noted on UT-5278's record that she is particularly effusive about her devotion to the First Order because she believes that her conscription as a stormtrooper saved her from a life of aimless toil and misery as an orphan who was affiliated with nobody and nothing. Hux might not be Force-sensitive, but he can read people, especially when it comes to his own crew. Lieutenant Airlock the real thing.

He's almost giddy with a sense of forthcoming achievement, so naturally Ren rounds a corner up ahead, taking hulking, hurried steps in Hux's direction. He's carrying a heavy-looking black bag in his right hand, and when he gets close enough Hux can hear something that sounds like pieces of metal clanging around inside it.

“Ren,” Hux says curtly as they approach each other, not wanting his mood dampened right now. Ren looks angry, maybe at Hux in particular, his eyes narrowing as Hux draws closer.

“Wait,” Ren says when Hux attempts to keep walking. Hux withholds a groan and turns on his heel, eyebrows raising. Ren is rooting around in that bag. To Hux's utter fucking horror, because this is not some out-of-the-way shortcut but a busy hallway near the bridge, Ren pulls out Hux's command cap and thrusts it at him. “You dropped that,” Ren says when Hux tries to light him on fire with his eyes.

“Thank you,” Hux says, so tightly that he feels like he'll crack a tooth. As subtly as possible, he looks left and then right, checking to see if anyone is giving this exchange their attention. No one is looking in Hux's direction, but several officers have their backs to the wall nearby, waiting for him to pass. “What else have you got in that bag?” Hux asks, getting his hat quickly into his coat. It's rumpled, and it smells like Ren's bed, or maybe it's just Ren himself giving off that scent.

“The remaining contents of this bag don't concern you,” Ren says, still looking at Hux like he's the one who just did something infantile and humiliating in the middle of the goddamn ship. Ren walks off, leaving Hux steaming with rage, his mood entirely ruined.

Hux actually thinks about going back to his quarters to break some furniture or scream at the top of his lungs inside the sound-proofed walls, which is not something he does, ever, not even when confronted with Ren's asinine behavior. But this takes the goddamn cake. He can feel the bump of his hat inside his coat as he passes the officers who are still standing against the wall, saluting him. The hat feels like a live grenade that Hux cannot dispose of, and it's the worst kind of reminder that he's made himself vulnerable to the whims of a madman who is apparently upset with him for-- What? Acquiescing to his tastes in the bedroom, drinking brandy with him, or could Ren actually be upset that Hux crept away without waking him? Bloody fucking hell, if that's it-- Hux steps into the nearest public washroom and grabs both sides of the first sink, breathing through his nose and staring down at at the tap. When he's suppressed the urge to kick the wall he splashes some water on his face and double-checks that the washroom is empty. He takes a deep breath, pats his face dry with a disposable towel and pulls out his hat. He'll have to get it cleaned by laundry services, but he's able to revive it enough that it's fit to wear. He secures it over his hair and glowers at his reflection, hearing his father's voice in his head.

This is what happens when you break protocol. You're only doing yourself in by not observing the rules that have been put in place to protect you from disgrace.

But there is no formal First Order rule prohibiting Hux from getting fucked by Ren, who doesn't even have an official rank on Hux's chain of command.

Hux slaps his cheek hard when he hears himself arguing with his father's ghost over his right to have sex with Kylo Ren. He needs Ren off this ship before he completely loses his mind. The next fifteen hours of the journey to Snoke's planet can't pass quickly enough.

“Oh-- excuse me, sir.”

Hux turns, and the junior officer at the door of the washroom visibly startles before going stiff with his salute.

“It's all yours,” Hux says, his jaw still tight as he heads toward the door. The junior officer shuffles out of the way, still in full salute. His name is Balton or something like that; it doesn't matter.

“Sir,” might-as-well-be Balton says, meekly, as Hux passes. Hux turns and fixes him with a stare that could melt ice, daring him to say something annoying right now. Hux will personally eject him from an airlock if the next words out of his mouth are the least bit disrespectful. “I-- Barker was looking for you, sir,” Balton says. “Something about an urgent call on the holo channel.”

Of course Snoke wants him now; of course. Hux takes a deep breath and nods, exhaling slowly.

“Right,” he says. “Thank you, Balton.”

The officer opens his mouth, maybe to correct Hux on his name, but he wisely shuts it without speaking and salutes again before Hux turns to go.

Hux goes to the holo chamber expecting Ren to be there already, but only Snoke is waiting for him when he arrives. Snoke is in his usual state, somewhere between falling asleep like a geriatric uncle at a holiday luncheon and looking as if he's calmly considering killing everyone on board with a snap of his fingers.

“Supreme Leader,” Hux says in greeting, clasping his hands behind his back. “I hope you weren't waiting long.” That's true, at least. Snoke studies Hux without responding, the slight rise and fall of his shoulders the only indication that the holo transmission hasn't frozen. Whatever he is, at least he draws breath.

“Tell me about your plan to strike at the heart of the resistance,” Snoke says.

Hux tells him. He tries to remain dispassionate, as if he's merely submitting this plan for Snoke's approval and not already personally attached to it. He keeps the information he learned this morning about UT-5278 especially close to his chest, if that's even possible with Snoke's attention drilling down into him. Hux describes UT-5278 simply as an ideal candidate whom he has personally vetted.

Snoke is quiet when Hux finishes his description of the plan. He's holding Hux's steady gaze as if he wants to test, again, that Hux has the nerve to return this stony stare that falls down onto him from the height of an Imperial Walker. Hux returns it, as usual, keeping just as still as the old wizard.

“You've done well,” Snoke says.

This has never happened; Snoke has never even approached a compliment with Ren, let alone Hux, whom Snoke normally regards as a kind of maintenance droid whose presence is unfortunately required.

“Put this plan into action at once,” Snoke says. “It's precisely what I had in mind.”

That statement gives Hux pause, a chill moving from the center of his chest and down toward his gut, twisting there. If Ren hadn't riled him with that hat stunt in the hallway he might have thanked Snoke for his approval and gone, but, as it is:

“I'm glad to hear it,” Hux says. “Ren had some concerns.”

As soon as the words are out he regrets them. Betraying Ren's confidence to Snoke is a poor strategic move; it earns Hux nothing and compromises whatever truth there might have been in Ren's private statements to him. He flushes under his uniform, sweat beading along his hairline. Snoke blinks. Hux is pretty sure that he's never seen that happen before, though he might be wrong. He's never been this excruciatingly attuned to every slight movement Snoke makes.

“Don't trouble yourself with that, General,” Snoke says. His tone is easy, reminding Hux of his own dismissal of Uta's reprimand to UT-5278 in the conference room. “Kylo Ren is undisciplined, only beginning to unlock the full potential of his power. His concerns about the future stem from his attachments in the present. They can cloud and confuse visions that seem to come from the Force. That is precisely why I require him here, to complete his training. Those attachments will be stripped from him, and without them he will see things clearly, as they truly are.”

Those attachments-- to Hux? He's nodding up at Snoke as if he understands any of this, one fine bead of sweat trembling over his temple and threatening to streak down along his jaw.

“Good, then-- I will begin preparations to set my plan in motion,” Hux says.

“Indeed. Leave me now and see to that, General. Report any pressing developments to my channel.”

“Yes, Supreme Leader.”

Hux has never been happier to leave Snoke's presence, but turning his back on Snoke's holo projection seems wrong, dangerous, and he's hyper-aware that Snoke is still there, watching him as he leaves. He hurries from the chamber and nearly crashes into Ren.

“What are you doing here?”

They say it very literally at the same time, frowning at each other. Hux sniffs out a laugh, nervous energy still jittering through him. Ren seems less amused.

“He called for me,” Hux says. “He didn't-- I wasn't asked to wait for you.”

“I was asked to wait.” Ren gives Hux a once-over, as if he’s looking for some unfairly claimed reward that Snoke gave Hux in Ren’s absence. “I didn't realize he was. Speaking to you, already.”

“Well, I suppose--”

Ren walks into the chamber without letting Hux finish, his shoulders tight. Hux makes an obscene gesture at Ren's back and walks away, wondering what became of that bag Ren was carrying and what was inside it. He goes back to his quarters and splashes water on his face again, needing this feeling of burning up from the inside out to pass. Leaning over his sink, he lets out a choppy breath, reminding himself that tomorrow Ren will be gone and Snoke will be preoccupied with Ren's training-- With stripping him-- Stripping Ren of his supposed attachments. Good, fine, excellent. Suits Hux perfectly, that.

Hux spends the rest of the afternoon in his office near the bridge, doing a Loss of Personnel cost analysis to determine how many of her fellow troopers UT-5278 should kill in order to make her staged escape seem believable to the rest of the crew. If UT-5278 displays any squeamishness at the idea of killing her comrades Hux will simply remind her that they will have died honorably, as part of this noble plan to strike at the very heart of the Resistance. Though he tries to ignore it, his earlier enthusiasm for this plan has been dampened by some combination of his encounters with Snoke and Ren, but there's nothing for it now. Snoke has given his order: Hux is to go through with the plan. Even if Hux did believe Ren's raving, he's in no position to start defying Snoke, not yet. Hux’s eyes glaze over when he thinks about that comment of Snoke's that sent ice spiking through his bloodstream: It's precisely what I had in mind. He shakes off the chill and refocuses on the numbers he's been reviewing. He'd prefer it if UT-5278 only killed one stormtrooper in her dramatic exit, as that would be most cost effective, but in all likelihood she will probably have to kill two, maybe three. Her seeming escape must be executed perfectly, and the logistics alone will take several days to prepare. Hux is grateful for the work. To focus on something concrete and strategically complex is precisely what he needs right now.

He’s distracted in the wardroom during the evening meal, annoyed by the chatter of the other officers, none of them aware that he's plotting something so grand. Uta doesn't eat here, preferring to work in her quarters during mealtimes for maximum efficiency. Hux has considered having his meals delivered to his room, but his father used to sneer at Academy men who did that. Snobs, he called them, and self-important. And this despite the fact that Brendol Hux Sr. was the most elitist, entitled, self-important figure at that school. He knew that about himself but didn't want to give off that appearance. Only appear gracious when it's a lie designed to serve your objectives, he'd say. Though Hux supposes he's paraphrasing. His father never handed down many actual speeches, at least not to Hux; most of this shit was implied with a cold look or by his father’s back turning when Hux was in mid-sentence. Your brother never had these problems when he was your age.

“Hux!”

That's Ren, suddenly standing in the doorway of the wardroom, shouting Hux's name through the room so loudly that everybody-- everybody --turns to stare at Ren, then at Hux.

Hux locks eyes with Ren hatefully, boiling inside his uniform, wanting to take his fork in his fist and brandish it like a weapon. He resists the urge, stands. Ren looks angry, too, and halfway to him Hux realizes that this may become a physical fight, and in front of all of the officers gathered here. Snoke might have told Ren that Hux betrayed his confidence. Ren might know anyway, in his all-seeing way. Hux braces himself to feel an invisible hand at his throat or to be shoved to the floor by Ren's actual hands, but when he reaches Ren he only gets a hard, cold stare.

“What the hell do you want?” Hux asks, very quietly, his jaw set. “You can't just--”

Ren grips Hux's shoulder and leans down to speak directly into his ear, making this whole display a thousand times worse, because: of course. With Ren it can always and does always get worse.

“If you come to my room tonight,” Ren says, murmuring this low against Hux's ear, “Come ready to be fucked. And I don't just mean wanting it-- You already do, right here, right now. I mean wet for me, because I'm not doing you that favor again. If you show your face in my quarters you'd better be ready to take my dick as soon as you've walked through my door, for your own sake.”

Ren releases him then, goes.

Hux dies inside, his guts withering, going aflame, burning to ash. Though the click of cutlery has resumed behind him, there's no conversation. Hux can't return to his table: he's going brilliantly red across his face, getting hard against the front of his uniform pants. He waits a few seconds, straightens his shoulders, and walks out of the wardroom, annihilated. And Ren didn't even have to hit him.

He fetches his greatcoat from its hook on the way out and manages to get to his quarters with the coat closed over his persisting erection, hiding it. Once he's safely in his rooms he falls back against the front door, his hands twitching at his sides. No, well, just-- No. Ren can't talk to him like that and expect-- But.

Pulling himself together, Hux sheds his greatcoat and hat, still overheated. He has two options: murder Ren, which would displease Snoke and put Hux's life in jeopardy therefore, or do as Ren suggested, go to his quarters, and find out what happens next.

Hux waits an hour, but he's not really deliberating. He tries to work, to read messages on his comm, but the words on the screen slide away, replaced by what Ren said, over and over: wet for me, for your own sake, ready to take my dick. Hux puts the comm aside and tells himself that this whole feverish fascination is a symptom of the neglect he's shown to his unfortunate human need for stimulation from time to time. He can't wait years again, even if the sex available to him is the kind that he has to grit his teeth and endure. He'll be better about it in the future, better about jerking off even, which may be easier now that he has a supply of memorably mind-blowing fucks to counter the old nightmares. He'll work out some kind of system for satiating his need before it reaches this point, because this cannot happen again. He suppresses the thought that it won't, it can't, no matter what he does or doesn't do, because there's really no one else around, as far as he's seen, like Ren. And Ren will be gone soon, in a little over ten hours.

Good, great, wonderful. Hux goes into the bathroom and unfastens his belt, then his pants.

He doesn't normally put his fingers up his own ass: it's undignified, beneath him. The thrill of having it done to him by someone else is that they are servicing him, even if they think they're just getting what they want from him. Well, sometimes they are-- Were. But he's come to love the feeling of appearing to surrender to the person who is plowing into him, only to know a secret that they somehow don't: that Hux is holding some part of the other man inside of him, owning it, milking it. He groans and rubs an overly generous supply of lubricant on his fingers, trying to convince himself that he’s ever felt that way with someone other than Ren. He's approached feeling that way with others, maybe, but-- Never mind. He shoves his fingers in, bracing himself on the sink with his other hand. His face is still hot, cock still hard.

It's undignified indeed, shoving excess lubricant up his ass in preparation for an awkward, stiff-legged walk to Ren's quarters, but it also feels surprisingly good, and Hux brings himself off into the sink, crumpling over it when he comes. When he's through he washes his hands, pats a dampened towel over his flushed cheeks, straightens his hair. There's no sense delaying now, and he's only going to Ren for the purpose of getting what he wants-- an enjoyable diversion, a big cock up his ass, some entertaining idiocy from Ren's mouth to Hux’s ears, perhaps-- but he still can't look at himself in the mirror. He redoes his pants and belt, shrugs on his greatcoat, and stares at his hat for a moment before deciding to wear it.

Walking to Ren's room is humiliating, even if no one Hux passes knows why his gait is a little stiffer than usual. Some of the lubricant is already pooling in his briefs, and he has to work to try to keep enough of it in. It's not unlikely that some of his junior officers joke that he walks around like this anyway, with a stick up his ass. That’s just the sort of thing junior officers do, in cowardly whispers, out of envy. Luckily, Ren's quarters aren't far from Hux's. He uses the door's data pad to alert Ren to his arrival, praying that Ren isn’t elsewhere at the moment. Hux won't be able to endure this humbling promenade twice. Or, anyway, he would prefer not to. He exhales gladly when the door slides open, and braces himself to be overtaken as soon as he's stepped through the door.

But no such approach comes. The door whisks shut behind Hux, and Ren’s rooms remain quiet. The lights in both the front room and the bedchamber are hovering around fifty percent: enough light to see by, but throwing dusky shadows, too, like early evening settling in behind fog. It occurs to Hux, standing by the door with his stupid fucking ass lubed up and his heart pumping too fast in his chest, that this may have been a trap. Ren must know, through information or intuition, that Hux sold him out to Snoke without a second thought. Except that Hux did have a second thought, instantly, but already too late.

“Come here.”

That’s not Ren’s voice-- But it is, too, familiar from before this whole ordeal. Hux walks forward slowly, feeling as if his pulse is climbing up his throat and approaching the back of his tongue, narrowing his airway. When he reaches the bedchamber doorway his suspicions are confirmed: Ren has found another mask somehow. He’s wearing it and sitting on his bed with his back to the wall, fully dressed, his hood pulled up over the back of the helmet that the mask attaches to. This mask is very similar to the old one, though there are a few more or less metal stripes across the front; Hux can’t tell, never counted the stripes on Ren’s mask before and is too unnerved to count them now. Despite its similarities to the last one, there is something more sinister about this mask, maybe because it’s slightly wider across the breathing apparatus that it conceals, more like Vader’s had been.

“Where did you get that?” Hux asks when Ren says nothing, his gaze presumably fixed on Hux.

"I made it," Ren says. It's jarring to hear his voice filtered through metal again. To not see his eyes when he speaks.

"Made it?" Hux says, disbelieving. "Here on the ship?"

"Yes. There's a machine shop on board, as you know. I have welding skills."

"Welding skills, really."

"That’s what I said." Ren folds his gloved hands over his lap. "The wookie who shot me with that crossbow is the one who taught me how to weld, in fact."

"That--" Hux looks around the room, more perturbed by this than any threats Ren might have leveled from behind his new armor. "That's an odd thing to say."

"But it's true."

"Fair enough. Your life story is nothing if not eclectic. Look, I was under the impression that you asked me here for a farewell fuck, but if you would rather reminisce about welding with wookies, I'll leave you to it."

"No. Come here."

Hux walks closer without hesitation, not wanting Ren to think he’s afraid. He’s mostly curious to see where this will go, though his curiosity is more cautious than it was the past two times he approached Ren’s bed, and he’s neither certain nor very optimistic that this will end in something he’ll enjoy.

“What are you waiting for?” Ren asks when Hux stands near the bed, watching him warily. Ren is motionless, one leg stretched out in front of him on the bed and the other hanging over the side of the mattress, his boot resting on the floor. “Get your clothes off.”

Hux takes off his coat, keeping his expression neutral. Ren probably wants him to ask again about the mask, not where it came from but why he’s wearing it now. Hux doesn’t particularly feel like indulging him in that. He moves slowly as he strips away his clothes, because Ren has the energy of a calculating animal that might lash out at any moment, and also because he likes the way it feels to undress as Ren watches, though he would prefer to see Ren’s face while he does so.

“You want me to take off the mask,” Ren says. The taunting lilt in his tone is so much more irritating when he’s speaking through that thing.

“Do what you like,” Hux says. He slides his gloves off, then his belt, and starts working on the buttons down the front of his tunic. He’s normally resigned to allowing Ren to look straight into him, but when he feels Ren’s interest extending inward he resists the intrusion, counting buttons to clear his mind of any other thoughts. Ren laughs under his breath. The sound of it through that mask makes the hair at the back of Hux’s neck prickle. Still, he’s not intimidated by this display so much as disappointed. Whatever this is, it’s not what Hux had in mind when he walked here with his pre-lubed ass. When his boots and socks are off he shoves his underwear down with his pants and kicks everything aside, moving toward the bed.

“Hat, too,” Ren says. “Take it off.”

This seems cruelly pointed after yesterday’s festivities, and if Ren’s intention was to make Hux feel foolish for attempting to leave the hat on, he’s succeeded. Hux removes it as instructed and drops it onto the table beside Ren’s bed. Ren is opening his pants, taking out his cock, watching Hux get hard for the sight of it. Ren is hard, too-- Very, actually. Hux supposes he’s been waiting for an hour, too, or even all day, in a sense. Hux can admit now, standing here with his untouched dick already pointing up toward Ren, that he’s been looking forward to this inevitable betrayal of his better instincts all day: another round of this thing he’ll regret as soon as it’s done. Last chance, in fact.

“Go ahead,” Ren asks, spreading his legs to make room for Hux to kneel between them. “We both know you want it in your mouth.”

Hux isn’t sure if he’s supposed to go to his knees on the floor or the bed. He’d prefer the bed, but-- To hell with it, that’s not true. He’d prefer the floor, and his legs are a bit unsteady as he sinks into position, keeping his eyes on Ren’s face-- Or where his face should be, anyway.

“You want me to take off the mask,” Ren says again. Hux shrugs and licks Ren’s cock in a teasing, too brief swipe. He flushes for wanting so much to do it again, this thing he could normally do without. Ren tastes good; it occurs to Hux that this is the first time he’s had his tongue on any part of Ren’s skin. “Again,” Ren says, trying to make this sound like a cold command. There’s something breathless behind it, even through the mask.

Hux draws his tongue from the base of Ren’s cock to the tip, keeping his eyes on Ren’s mask all the way up. With the old mask, Hux had caught occasional flashes of Ren’s eyes below those curving metal lines, when the light hit him just so, but Ren has somehow engineered this one to show Hux nothing, even when he’s this close. Still, Hux feels confident he’s got Ren’s full attention when he licks him again, holding in an appreciative moan for the heat of Ren against his tongue, and for how much he suddenly feels like he could do just this all night, like he would come untouched if he was allowed to lap at Ren long enough. Hux was known for this, once-- Not according to his own design. For the first time in his life he wants to show someone-- Ren, arrogant asshole hiding behind a mask --how well he can use his mouth when he wants to. When he really wants to.

When he takes Ren fully into his mouth it’s like tasting a delicacy from a distant planet Hux thought he would never return to-- Maybe from a place he’s never actually been to before. Ren’s cock is thick, much too long to get into Hux’s mouth in any complete fashion, and the strain of his width at the edges of Hux’s lips makes his own dick wet at the tip, the bite mark Ren left under Hux’s jaw throbbing in answer to this new sting. Hux draws his mouth up to suck at the fat tip before sliding down again, and he’s ready to really get going when Ren takes a handful of his hair and pulls him free. Ren is almost panting into that mask; Hux can’t imagine how hot it must be, how he must feel like he can barely draw breath.

“Get up,” Ren says. “In my lap.”

Hux does as asked, straddling Ren’s lap when Ren has swung his other leg up onto the bed as well. When Hux reaches back to line Ren’s cock up, as ready for him as demanded, Ren grabs his wrists and yanks him forward, drawing Hux’s stomach flush against his own. Hux rears back, away from the mask, sort of crashing into Ren’s dick in the process. It lands against the crack of Hux’s ass, coming almost the to small of his back and holding him there like a support beam.

“Not yet,” Ren says. He’s still holding Hux’s wrists in his gloved hands, squeezing harder than necessary. Hux’s erection is wilting a little: it’s the mask, and the thought of Ren’s face dripping with sweat behind it. It’s the thought of Ren’s face-- Ren himself --being elsewhere, watching this as if from another room. “You want me to take off the mask,” Ren says, again. Hux groans and flinches his grip, not really wanting to be free from it.

“Do you need me to say it out loud?” Hux asks. “Is that what you require, you infant?”

“No,” Ren says. “You don’t have to tell me what you want. I see what you want. I feel it.”

“Congratulations, I’m so--”

“Tell me why. Why do you want me to take it off?”

Hux sits back, still sort of propped up against Ren’s dick, and stares at him. Not at him: at the mask. Hux isn’t going to say why he wants to see Ren’s face, the real one. He hasn’t got the words, not even in his head. Ren moves one hand to Hux’s left thigh and presses there firmly, holding Hux down against his lap. His other hand has tightened around Hux’s wrist, almost to the point of shaking.

You can let go, Hux thinks, not sure that Ren will hear it. I won’t get away.

“What difference does it make?” Ren asks. “Mask on or off-- If you don’t like the sight of it, you can turn away from me while I take you. You’ll still get what you came for. Same cock to ride, nothing of value lost.”

“Listen to yourself,” Hux says with a sniff. “That’s what this is, another tantrum? You’re such a child.”

“So turn your back on me, General. Sink down onto the cock you came for. I know you got yourself ready for me. I felt it, from across the ship. How you bent over for me like that. I didn’t even need to be in the room.”

Hux shakes his head, tired of this. It feels like ground they’ve already covered.

“In nine hours you’ll be off this ship,” he says.

“So?”

So let me fucking look at you.

Hux isn’t going to say it out loud. He swallows the urge to, waits.

Ren must have heard him clearly enough, or maybe he was going to take the mask off anyway. Most of what Ren does is some kind of pageant, largely for show. He lets go of Hux’s wrist, lets go of his thigh, and reaches up to press the release points on the mask. It unlatches from the helmet and Ren pulls them both away, his hood falling back as he removes them. His hair is a bit damp with sweat, but it smells good, like that stuff in his shower infused with something earthier, something that makes Hux long for any natural terrain beyond the cool walls of a ship or a base. Ren’s body will do, in fact. Ren’s eyes are so dark but also too bright, and the scar dividing his annoyingly appealing features is suddenly narrower and more faint, not so raw.

“You--” Hux says, reaching up to touch the transformed scar. He drops his hand when he catches himself doing this, letting it fall onto Ren’s chest instead. Ren draws in a shallow breath, his lips twitching.

“I put some of that stuff on,” Ren says. “The ointment that the doctor left. I guess it was too late.”

“No, it’s--” Hux shrugs. “It looks better.”

“But it’s still there.”

“Well. Don’t you want it there?”

“You didn’t.”

“I-- What?”

Hux isn’t sure which of them has been caught out worse by whatever is happening. It’s hard to look Ren in the eye now that Hux has gotten what he wanted, the mask and helmet lying beside them on the bed, but one of Hux’s most natural talents is the ability to impassively hold a challenging stare, if that’s even what Ren is giving him. Ren seems serious, thoughtful, and he’s still hard as a post against the crack of Hux’s ass. He’s searching Hux’s eyes, maybe already in his head. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

“You’re insatiable,” Ren says, and he draws one gloved fingertip up the length of Hux’s erection. Hux tries not to lean into the touch too greedily, which is ridiculous, because he’s already naked in Ren’s lap, waiting for his pre-prepared ass to be filled as promised.

“How do you mean?” Hux asks. If Ren intended to insult him, he failed; Hux won’t apologize for always wanting more and more of the things that he craves. It’s not as if he always lets himself have them.

“Now you want me to take off my gloves,” Ren says.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it.”

Ren smirks and continues stroking Hux with one gloved fingertip, watching his expression go from hopeful to vexed. Hux isn’t sure he wants Ren knowing it, but a handjob-- featuring an actual, warm, ungloved hand-- is one of his favorite sex acts, owing to one like that being the first non-horrific sex Hux ever experienced, a lazy thing with another boy who did it in exchange for Hux doing the same to him. Ren’s eyes change when Hux thinks about this. Hux’s thighs twitch against the spread of Ren’s, wanting to close around something that’s not quite his cock, to hide something that suddenly can’t be concealed.

Ren doesn’t remove his gloves. He takes Hux’s right hand and brings it to his face, pressing Hux’s fingertips to his cheek and drawing them upward, along the line of his scar. Something powerfully akin to a flight instinct snags in Hux’s chest, but he keeps his fingertips on the scar when Ren releases his wrist, and traces the texture of the scar over the bridge of Ren’s nose and onto his forehead. I like your lines. Was that what Ren had said, about Hux? Something like that. Hux wants to touch Ren’s mouth, and when he pulls his hand away without doing so Ren catches it, bringing Hux’s fingertips to his lips.

Ren’s mouth is essentially the opposite of Hux’s: wide and a bit crooked, thick lips that are soft under Hux’s fingers. He’s not sure why it occurs to him to compare their mouths. How their relation to each other could possibly matter. He lets his hand fall away, now not sure where to put it. Ren reaches up to touch Hux’s mouth, apparently unwilling to allow him to skirt away from this-- This, this thing Hux doesn’t have a word for, whatever it is that’s making him feel like he’s a halo bulb with a wattage too high for the lamp he’s been screwed into, blindingly overbright and about to shatter against the building pressure. Ren is still wearing his gloves, touching Hux’s lips in soft swipes of his thumb. He’s watching Hux, probably waiting for him to break, Ren’s sides expanding and contracting between Hux’s thighs as Ren breathes with what seems like a deliberate control that he’s barely maintaining. Hux can’t read minds, can’t tell if Ren is also close to bursting apart in an explosion of something white hot that will start the fire that consumes them both, but he thinks: probably, yes. Ren feels it, too.

“This mouth,” Ren says when Hux’s lips part under his touch. “This is the mouth that damned the Republic. Their doom passed through these lips.”

He’s sort of whispering, obviously intending this to sound poetic, profound. Hux can’t hold back an eyeroll, relieved to feel the tension draining away like bad blood, and the nervous energy that remains makes his shoulders jerk when he laughs.

“Sorry,” Hux says when Ren’s face falls. “But-- Their doom passed through these lips? Really?”

The rage that snaps into Ren’s eyes almost makes Hux regret himself, though mostly he’s just glad that the mood has changed. He’s only a bit surprised by how inhumanly fast Ren is able to lift him up and turn him around, leaving Hux scrambling and perched over Ren’s dick. Hux doesn’t mind facing this way anyhow, as long as Ren doesn’t put the mask back on.

“Sit,” Ren says, through gritted teeth.

Hux is glad to have some real direction, glad to settle himself down onto Ren’s cock maybe faster than he should, still a bit raw around the edges from two days of suddenly being fucked the way he’s always wanted. It occurs to him approximately halfway down Ren’s dick that he’s relying on only the lube he managed to retain since applying it in his room, and he arches his back, slows his pace. Ren places a hand on his shoulder, still gloved. Though he applies no pressure, Hux interprets this as a request to hurry up, and he moans when he shoves himself the rest of the way down, pants up at the ceiling when he’s fully seated. It’s the kind of intensity Hux actually likes, finally, and at first he thinks it’s a bonus that he doesn’t have to look Ren in the face when he does this, but then something about it feels strange, or dangerous, like Ren is going to disappear, even as deep as he is now, while Hux is distracted.

“Ride it,” Ren says, poking Hux in the back like suddenly he’s a dead insect. “Go on, get what you need.”

Hux laughs again, under his breath, less sincerely now. So this is what it’s like to fuck a maniac who thinks his every fleeting emotion is the end or the beginning of the world. He puts his hands over Ren’s knees and braces himself, leaning forward. Ren is perfectly still; Hux gets hot across his face when he realizes he’s putting on a show. It’s-- Not something he loves, that. Still, Ren’s cock feels good when Hux slides up and back down again, his breath catching in his throat when he overdoes it, pressing down too fast. Ren is silent, motionless. Hux tries to stay quiet, too, breathing hard through his nose and then his mouth. It’s a lot of work, actually, almost like doing crunches when he’s been at it long enough. He knows Ren is waiting for Hux to ask him to move, waiting for him to beg for it, so he sets his jaw and rides Ren’s cock harder, refusing to comply.

It really is fucking tiring, though, and after what might be a few minutes or half an hour-- Hux honestly can’t tell, because of course Ren has no visible timekeeping devices in his room, why would he? --Hux has to lean forward with his trembling arms braced on Ren’s legs, his back beginning to ache. Ren hasn’t made a sound, doesn’t even seem to be breathing particularly hard.

“You’re done with this, are you?” Hux says, turning his cheek toward Ren without actually looking at him. “Is that right? You’re showing me this is beneath you already, even while I’m still on your dick?”

“Done with what?” Ren asks.

To Hux’s great surprise, it sounds like a real question.

“Done with fucking,” Hux says, sharply. “And all related activities. He told me-- He said he’ll strip this from you. Attachments, and so forth. Is this simply your last loose end to tie up? Hmm? How will you justify this to him? Will he ask you about it, will he make sure you don’t want it anymore?”

There’s a pause that feels like cold wind across Hux’s back, the last calm moment before a tidal wave appears on the horizon, headed straight for him.

He’s ready for it: he wants the wave, not the rock. He smiles when Ren grabs his waist, shouts when Ren tips him onto all fours with a grunt, still inside him, his grip on Hux tightening until it’s painful. Ren sort of crawls up over Hux’s back, his breath choppy when his mouth comes to Hux’s ear.

“What will I tell him about you?” Ren says, rasping, furious. Hux shudders and takes two handfuls of the bedsheets, his toes curling in anticipation. He cries out in surprise when Ren reaches around to grab his dick, holding it so possessively that it takes Hux a moment to work through his mindless excitement and the stab of fear that comes with it before he realizes that Ren is holding him in his bare hand, the glove removed. “What will I tell him,” Ren says, calmer now, but not very. He pulls back and shoves in again, pushing a grateful shout from Hux. “What will I tell him.”

“That’s what I fuh--fucking asked,” Hux says, and he groans when Ren starts fucking him, finally, grunting behind every thrust, his hand moving on Hux’s cock at the same unhinged pace. Hux drops forward onto his elbows, his forehead touching the mattress, back arching. He doesn’t expect a real answer, doesn’t expect to have this turned around on him.

“I’ll tell him,” Ren says, gritting the words into Hux’s ear while he pummels him from behind, the mattress jerking below them, “That I made his highest General my plaything without lifting a finger. That I had him on his knees, on the floor, begging me to use him, a slave at my beck and call in less than three days-- I’ll tell him that I made the most powerful man on his most important ship ache, even while I was still inside him, at the thought that I would soon be gone from him.”

Hux cries out with what was meant to be a laugh. It breaks at the back of his throat and becomes something else, his eyes screwing shut as he grinds his forehead into the mattress. He’s too open on Ren’s dick, too hard in his hand, too gone, losing the last of the control he’d fooled himself into thinking he had, shouting into the sheets, his voice cracking again, around noises that aren’t even words.

Shhhh, Ren says, in Hux’s head, rolling over and into every inch of him like a soothing balm, even while he drags the rest of Hux over jagged rocks, destroying him and remaking him at the same time, reducing him to nothing and holding him together before the pieces of him can scatter too far.

“I know,” Ren says, in Hux’s ear or from the deepest, most secret, now thoroughly raided sanctuary of Hux’s mind-- Hux can’t even tell. His whole body quakes with a dry sob when he comes, and he dissolves onto the mattress as Ren leans backward, his hands soft over Hux’s hips now.

Ren comes with his usual efficient grunt. Hux drags the bedsheet over his face, hiding his eyes and the way his face pinches up as rolling sobs of relief and despair keep trying to break from him. He hiccups into the sheet when he feels Ren bottoming out against the deepest place he can touch, feels it in his tailbone and everywhere, keeps the sheet over his eyes even when he’s unable to hide from this thing he’s allowed to happen. This ache. It’s true. Ren looked into him, barely had to glance, and Hux threw open every gate he’s ever barricaded to let Ren see all the way inside. What did Hux think would happen when he did that? Did he really think he would walk away clean, satiated, relieved? It hurts to feel Ren sliding out, to know he’ll never be back.

Hux slumps onto his side, his face still covered but not hidden by the damp bedsheet he’s clinging to and very nearly sniffling against. He’s shaking all over; his ribs hurt.

“Lights,” Ren says, angrily, as if he’s dismissing a low-ranking soldier who has wandered into the room. “Zero percent.”

Hux bites his lip hard and makes himself as quiet as possible, wanting to disappear into the dark that he can sense even from behind his tightly shut eyes. He takes a deep breath and lets it out, still trembling from that orgasm that seemed to take his soul with it when it faded. Ren grunts like an irritable bantha as he gathers himself up against Hux and then around him, warm and solid, his arm sliding across Hux’s chest when he tugs him close to hold him from behind. He doesn’t pull the sheet from Hux’s face. He lets Hux pretend that he’s concealing something, anything. Ren’s sigh against his neck reminds Hux of that night when Ren healed every bruise he’d left there with the cool touch of his hand, only this sinks into Hux like a supernatural heat, spreading from his jaw down past his collarbone, along the length of every rib, enveloping his heartbeat and sinking to the pit of his stomach, warm enough to drain the tension from Hux's shoulders. He exhales into the sheet that covers his face and flexes backward a bit. Ren presses against him, holds him tighter.

“Sorry,” Ren says. Absurdly.

“You’re not.” Hux should be disturbed by how his voice sounds: cut up, small, clogged with things he doesn’t want anyone hearing. But it feels good to let Ren hear it. It feels good to let him see this, too, and Hux pushes the sheet away from his face. Ren’s done something to him; Hux will get mad about it later. All he can do now is tremble and roll over to bury his face against Ren’s chest. Hiding inside the merciless force that’s exposed him: it works like a charm and feels like the only real shelter Hux has ever had. He breathes out against the answering pound of Ren’s heartbeat, clings. Feels rescued and ruined at the same time. It didn’t have to come to this. But it has, and what if it hadn’t? The thought is terrifying: that Hux might have never known how it feels to sink this low and still be held so high. He could look upon every person in the galaxy, living or dead, every single being who has ever existed, could spend his lifetime shouting the unbreakable truth that they were under his control, and he would still never feel as revered and irreplaceable as he does when Ren strokes his hair and bumps his clumsy nose against Hux’s cheek.

It doesn’t last, of course: placing value in things like this is looked down upon by anyone who has ever mattered precisely because it’s gone in a blink, barely remembered for the power that it so briefly had. Hux goes into the bathroom for a piss and steps on a tiny shard from the broken mirror, cursing when it bites into the flesh on the bottom of his foot. He turns up the light and picks the mirror shard out, grimacing. So Ren missed a piece when he swept up the thing he’d thoughtlessly shattered. Figures. Typical.

When Hux reenters the bedchamber it’s still pitch dark. The lights in Ren’s front room have been put out, too. If Hux turns off the bathroom light they’ll be cloaked in perfect black, invisible to each other. Ren is watching him from the bed, both pillows propped behind his back, the sheet pulled up to his chest, his hands folded over his stomach. He seems to be naked now, gloves off, and the mask and helmet are no longer in sight.

“I’ll go,” Hux says. His voice could almost pass for normal to anyone but Ren.

“Don’t,” Ren says when Hux takes a step toward his crumpled clothes.

“Why.”

“Because,” Ren says. The light from the bathroom door falls across half his face, splitting it almost precisely along the line of his scar. “Because in eight hours we’ll be there.”

Because I’m still afraid of him. Because I don’t want to be alone.

Hux isn’t sure if he heard that in his head because Ren put it there or because it’s what he wants to believe. He shuts off the bathroom light, erasing everything in view. He feels like they’re drunk on something much stronger than that brandy, and already wants to forget everything they’ve both said tonight. Ren’s confessions aren’t a relief, if they're even real and not just imagined by Hux. If it’s true that Ren is frightened, wanting company in the last hours of the life he’s leaving behind, that makes all of this worse, which is Ren’s most natural talent. But Hux crawls back into Ren’s bed, reaching out blindly until he feels the edge of the mattress. He finds Ren’s hand and keeps hold of it as he slides beneath the bedsheet, curling against Ren’s side.

“Your room is cold,” Hux says, buried under so much rubble that he’s surprised he can hear his own voice. His hand is in a fist on Ren’s chest, over his heartbeat, the sheet pulled up to his ear, Ren’s arm tucked around his back.

“This whole ship is cold,” Ren says. He pushes his hand into Hux’s hair, rests his cheek against Hux’s forehead. “Space is cold.”

Hux snorts and twitches under Ren’s arm, warming with the urge to call him a jackass. ‘Space is cold,’ really, what an insight. He can feel it when Ren smiles.

“This is all going away,” Hux says. It’s a threat and a warning. “Tomorrow-- today.”

“I know.”

“What’s the point?”

Ren shrugs, tilts his chin and breathes into Hux’s hair.

“I’ll tell you later,” he says.

“You’re only saying that because you don’t know.”

“But I think that I will,” Ren says, his tone lifting into that almost-joke that isn’t one, really. “Eventually, someday. That’s the difference between me and you.”

Hux falls asleep, but it’s thin, and soon he’s awake again, readjusting himself. Ren follows him when he rolls away, and Hux doesn’t fight the comfort of having him back there, draped around Hux like the blanket this sorry bed needs to fight the cold in the room. Ren can’t sleep, and Hux can feel him wanting something from him in his restlessness, Ren’s attention pressing at Hux’s fucked-over mind like rain on the surface of a lake: disappearing quickly but disturbing the calm enough to keep Hux awake.

“Who’s Henry?” Ren asks.

Hux startles, his eyes snapping open to the dark.

“Nobody,” he says, shifting under Ren’s weight. He’s heavy, huge; Hux wishes he didn’t enjoy this about Ren, so much that he wants to answer his question. “A boy I went to school with. I hated him.”

“Yeah?”

“He-- My first year, I guess he caught on somehow, to-- He took me aside one day and said we should tell someone what had happened to me. My father, I guess. Whomever we told, it would have gotten around to my father eventually, from the junior Academy to Arkanis. Henry thought it was just the one time, whatever he’d nearly walked in on-- Ha. He wanted to help me, said it would be okay. I broke down, I-- Was a kid--” Two months from fifteen. Hux doesn’t want to say the rest; Ren is seeing it anyway, though maybe misunderstanding it. “I let him sort of-- Hug me, and I cried on his shoulder like a-- As soon as I stepped away, I hated him for it. What were we going to do, really? The two of us against everything else, that unstoppable shitstorm of hierarchy, of-- keeping up appearances, not actually giving a fuck about what happened to which cog in the great machine. And why would they? The ones who’d done it would have been reprimanded, maybe, but it’s not as if my father would have removed them from school. If he did, the word would be out, about his son-- No, they knew they were safe, bastards.” Hux tries to smile, remembering their deaths one by one. He can’t get Henry’s face out of his head, however. How he’d looked at Hux with that naive sort of-- Sorrow. How he couldn’t believe this had happened to Hux, to anybody. “What were we going to do?” Hux says. “We were just two kids against a well-oiled machine, this whole system that had created these-- predators. They would have gone after him, too, if they found out he wanted to help me, so. I hated him, after. Wouldn’t even look at him. Barked at him if he got near me.”

“Did you-- Kill him?” Ren asks. He sounds confused, because he’s seen something in Hux’s mind that he can’t interpret without a translator. That’s refreshing.

“No,” Hux says. A lie. “But he was a governor in Quroa, on Raklan.”

“On-- Oh.”

One of the five planets Hux gave the order to destroy. Anyway, what does it matter; there were a lot of Henrys on those planets, there are a lot of Henrys everywhere. He was the blandest-looking boy in Hux’s graduating class, with brown eyes and brown hair, always a bad haircut, overweight by the time he was an upperclassman. Henry wasn’t supposed to care. Hux taught him not to, though maybe Henry did care about someone else, eventually. If he did, they are almost certainly dead, too, if Henry persuaded them to care for him as well and brought them to Raklan, to the pathetic little town he oversaw. Funny how that worked: you went somewhere with someone who seemed like the answer to all your questions and both of you ended up gone in a blink, the same indistinguishable dust, after all, as everything else on five planets.

“I killed my father,” Ren says when Hux has been quiet a while.

“Yes,” Hux says, because that sounded more like a dazed question than a statement of fact. “You did.”

“I think it might have weakened me, but. Snoke will show me the way back.”

“I told him--”

“I know,” Ren says, before Hux can confess that he mentioned Ren’s ‘concerns’ about his plan to Snoke. Of course Ren already has that confession in his pocket, along with all the others; Ren stands in full view of everything Hux has ever done. It’s exhausting, exhilarating. “It doesn’t matter,” Ren says.

“Good,” Hux says, not believing him. Ren shakes his head, his face tucked to the back of Hux’s neck.

“Get some sleep,” Ren says, mumbling. He sounds like he’s talking to himself. Hux can’t keep his eyes open, but he fights to stay awake, feeling Ren’s chest expand and deflate against his back with every breath. This is the end of me, Hux thinks, though he knows it’s really not. It’s just one night that he will remember with alternating regret and gratitude for the rest of his life, until he’s dust, too.

When he wakes up the lights are at one hundred percent. Ren is gone. The bedsheets are gone, too, the mattress bare against Hux’s naked ass. Even the pillows have been removed. The whole room looks empty, and when Hux peers over the side of the bed, his clothes and boots are not there. His hat is missing from the side table.

“Ren?” he calls, confused dread slowly building in his gut. There’s no answer. The pitcher and cups that were on the table across from the bed are missing. Hux leaps up and pulls open Ren’s closest: nothing, empty.

He looks into the bathroom, his hands trembling against the door frame: no towels, no shower curtain. --Though he might as well walk back to his quarters naked for all the good wrapping himself in those would have done to shield his dignity. He stumbles into the front room, feeling as if he’s fleeing enemy fire, and can’t contain a horrified noise of shock when he sees that the door is open to the hallway. People are passing, some of them glancing at Ren’s door to see Hux inside, naked, covering his dick with both hands while he stands shaking in the empty room, frozen, finished.

They begin to gather at the open doorway, just grinning at first, then laughing, pointing. They’re junior officers, they should be terrified of Hux, but of course they’re not, now, he’s nothing-- He begins to recognize the faces. The boys from the Academy-- Men now, the same faces he saw tortured to death, but they’re untouched somehow, laughing at him, crowding the doorway, pointing, joyous, still triumphant.

“Hey!”

Hux wakes up on his back and sucks in a sharp breath. Ren is leaning over him, half-dressed. He’s scowling, his hand still on Hux’s shoulder.

“What an ugly dream,” Ren says. He turns away as if the dream was a projectile Hux threw at him and not something that just nearly stripped Hux’s skin off for how bitterly solid it felt, how damning. Hux sits up and pulls the sheet around himself, trying to steady his breath. Ren has the lights on fifty percent again; he’s at his closet, dressing.

“Must you spy on my dreams, too?” Hux asks. The fact that Ren saw any of that makes it seem too real. Hux’s heart is slamming in his chest, and he has the urge to scoot to the end of the bed and check to make sure the front door to Ren’s quarters is closed.

“It was the loudest dream I’ve ever heard,” Ren says, muttering this with his back to Hux. He’s wearing his pants and boots, yanking a black tunic from a hanger. “It couldn’t be ignored.”

Hux draws his knees up toward his chest and rests his elbows on them, his hands over his face. He still doesn’t feel quite awake yet. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to be, though he wouldn’t return to that dream for anything.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Ren says, tightly, pulling his hair from the neck of his tunic after he’s put it on.

“You wouldn’t do what?” Hux asks, only pretending not to know. That dream-- Worse than those laughing faces at the door was the thought that Ren had arranged all of it. That he had stripped the room and left Hux with nothing, not even a towel to hold over himself. Ren ignores Hux’s question and puts on his robe. His new mask is staring at Hux from the table with the pitcher and cups, attached to the helmet.“What time is it?” Hux asks.

“Time for me to go,” Ren says, airily. Now his sing-song lilt sounds intentional, and false. “We’re in range of Snoke’s planet. I’ve been instructed to take a shuttle there, alone. I believe Snoke wants the Finalizer to return to the system we departed from once I’ve gone. But you’ll confirm that with your men, I’m sure.”

Hux drags himself out of the bed, mostly for the comfort of finding and putting on his clothes, which chases some of the lingering horror of the dream away. His fingers shake as he does up the buttons on his uniform tunic, and when he slides his greatcoat on he realizes why it’s ended up smelling like Ren, despite it mostly staying clear of Ren’s bed and Ren himself. Hux smells like Ren now, after a night spent hiding in his arms, and when he seals the coat around himself Ren's scent surrounds him within it, preserved for the duration of the day, maybe longer.

He puts his hat on last, moving toward Ren’s bathroom mirror to make sure his hair is adequately tucked in. He remembers as soon as he’s taken a step toward it that there is no mirror there, and feels a twinge of stinging pain from the bottom of his foot, now safely secured within his boot: he stepped on that little shard of mirror last night. It seems like something that happened to him years ago, back at school, in an alternate universe where some over-sized boy whispered to him in his bunk at night and kept him safe from bad dreams. Time feels tangled up, messy, like a normally organized cabinet with its contents dumped all over the floor. This is why Hux doesn’t like talking about the past, why he never really has. Only one time-related detail feels concrete: Ren is leaving, right now, leaving the ship, going to Snoke. That will untangle things somewhat, Hux tells himself. He turns to find Ren watching him, fully dressed except for his gloves, which he holds in his left hand, the masked helmet tucked under his right arm.

“Should I walk out first?” Hux asks, listless. Ren shakes his head.

“Together,” he says. “You were right. I don’t care what your crew thinks.”

That’s not precisely what Hux said, but he doesn’t correct him. They move toward the door, Ren trailing Hux. Vader’s mask has disappeared from its pedestal; Hux isn’t sure when that happened, but Ren doesn’t seem alarmed. Standing at Ren’s door, Hux feels like maybe he only imagined that morbid old artifact was ever here. He reaches for the door panel and Ren catches his hand, still not wearing his gloves. Hux drags his eyes up to Ren’s, afraid of him at last.

Ren brings Hux’s hand to his jaw, drawing the backs of Hux’s fingers along it, toward his lips. Hux isn’t wearing his gloves either. He stuffed them into the pocket of his greatcoat, hoping for something like this. Now that he’s got it he feels like squirming away. He can hold Ren’s gaze just fine, but he hasn’t got a vocabulary for whatever comes next.

“You’re so small,” Ren says, running his thumb over Hux’s knuckles, Hux’s hand still pressed to his face.

“I’m the same height as you,” Hux snaps, though Ren does have a few inches on him, and then there’s the hair. “Basically.”

Ren smiles a little, just a quirk of his lips against the edge of Hux’s hand.

“So small,” Ren says again, more softly. “No matter how many people are ordered to stand and listen to you scream that you’re not.”

Hux should be offended, but Ren is saying this as if it’s an endearment, as if Hux is the last small thing he’ll ever lay eyes on, as if Ren loves-- appreciates-- Hux, for that.

“Hold this,” Ren says, dropping Hux’s hand. He passes him the helmet. Hux doesn’t want to touch it, but wants even less to admit that he’s wary of it, so he takes it with both hands and watches Ren slide his left glove on, telling himself that he should be glad for the disappointment that burns around the ache Ren has rightly identified as something Hux should be ashamed of. “No,” Ren says, still looking down at his glove, straightening it against his sleeve.

“No?” Hux says. If he could think of some smart-assed, defensive rejoinder he would say it, but the tank has run dry.

Ren puts his hands over Hux’s, on the helmet, before looking up at him. He steps closer, until the helmet is occupying all the space between them, pressed against their stomachs, and lifts his ungloved hand to cup Hux’s cheek. Hux has trouble meeting Ren’s gaze after allowing this, let alone holding his stare, and he’s glad to close his eyes when Ren’s face lowers to his. When their lips touch it’s clear that Ren hasn’t done this in a long while himself, or maybe ever. In most ways that matter, Hux never has.

Ren’s lips are softer against Hux’s mouth than they felt under his fingertips, and his tongue is so warm, stroking Hux’s in passes that are almost timid, tentative, then hungrier when they both lean into it, the helmet digging in against them as they strain over it. Hux has always found every idiom that amounts to ‘forgetting how to breathe’ trite and moronic, but it seems a pertinent phrasing now, because he’s afraid the first incorrect breath he takes will end this. He’s glad he has the helmet to occupy his hands, has no idea what he would be doing with them if not, probably something desperate and embarrassing like grabbing the big ears Ren tries to hide under his hair. As it is, feeling his mouth grow wet as he opens wider for Ren’s kiss is embarrassing enough.

What’s the point of this? Hux thinks, even as he cranes his neck and goes up onto his toes, wanting more when they break to breathe against each other’s mouths, Hux peeking up into Ren’s lidded eyes.

“The point,” Ren says, his words against Hux’s lips like another kiss, warm and wanted, “Is that you’re doing it. And that you don’t want to stop.”

Hux sort of whimpers in confirmation, then kisses Ren hard to hide from the brutal echo of that weak little sound, which seems to move down the length of his body like a tremor, ripping through him so hard it almost feels good. No, fuck it: this feels good, entirely good, when Ren’s mouth opens against Hux’s again, when Ren presses his tongue in past Hux’s lips, and it’s true: he doesn’t want to stop.

But they must, and they do. Hux lowers down to his heels again when Ren draws back. For a moment Hux is certain they’re going to kiss once more, because it seems impossible that this could already be over, but Ren takes his hand from Hux’s face, then from over the hand that holds his helmet. He puts on his other glove, keeping his eyes lowered, and takes the helmet from Hux, who knows what happens next. It still feels shockingly wrong to watch it unfold: Ren looks into Hux’s eyes one last time, already lifting the helmet and lowering it over his head, the mask coming down to catch against the clasps that lock it in place. Hux wants to turn away when he’s faced with the mask, but his highborn ability to hold the coldest stare returns, and he resists the urge to lick the taste of Ren from his lips as Ren pulls up his hood.

“Let’s go,” Ren says, speaking into the mask’s apparatus. Hux reaches for the door panel, wanting Ren to catch his wrist again. He doesn’t.

They leave the room together, and Hux walks to the shuttle bay at Ren’s side. He doesn’t need to, should be heading to the bridge instead, but nobody here is going to tell him he can’t watch Ren climb into the shuttle that will take him away. Hux is not sure why he wants to. He’s moving as if in another dream, this one just as gutting and surreal. The shuttle bay is manned by three lieutenants, all of whom snap to attention at the sight of Hux. He ignores them and watches Ren type the coordinates Snoke has provided into the nearest shuttle’s navigation panel. Ren doesn’t have a bag. Those bottles of shampoo and soap will still be lined up along the shelf in Ren’s shower, waiting for his return. When Ren comes back-- if he comes back --maybe he will have moved past showering; maybe he will have learned how to clean himself using only the Force. Hux tries to find the idea funny. Ren turns to him when the shuttle is prepared to launch.

“General,” he says.

“Ren.”

“I’ll be in touch with the Order as necessary.”

Hux doubts that’s true, but maybe Ren thinks it is. “Very well,” he says. May the Force be with you? No, that’s some kind of Jedi thing, and anyway, they have an audience. “Give Supreme Leader my regards.”

Ren doesn’t respond to that, and Hux doesn’t blame him. What a horrible choice for parting words. He wants to retract it, to try again, but Ren is climbing into the shuttle. He closes its door behind him without looking back at Hux.

Hux goes to the nearest observation window to watch the shuttle launch. The planet below is a pale green one called X-789 or something impersonal like that, numbers and letters, largely unknown to the rest of the galaxy. Hux tried to research what the conditions on the surface are like, but there were no records available in the Archive, which basically only confirmed to him that this planet exists.

When the shuttle lands successfully at its programmed destination, Hux gets a notification on his data pad. He opens the report to view the details. It's a standard form: dry, auto-delivered by the shuttle's tracking system. On the line for Contents of Shuttle someone has typed in: 1 HUMAN PASSENGER, MALE (REN, KYLO)

Kylo. That stupid name. Snoke picked it for him. Hux stares down at the data pad and thinks of editing the form using his officer's override, replacing the entry for Contents of Shuttle.

One over-sized boy whom someone has failed to save from this fate.

He's not blaming himself; that would be ridiculous. He's not in the habit of saving people. Ren was an exception, under orders. Hux might never see him again and certainly won't ever save him again, for all the good it did to race through the snow on that imploding planet and drag Ren away from the widening mouth of hell.

The Finalizer leaves the atmosphere of Snoke's planet as soon as Hux arrives on the bridge, headed full speed back toward the fight with the Resistance. Hux goes about his day. There are many delicate preparations to make for UT-5278’s classified mission, and the first order of business is informing her of her official designation for the assignment. Hux takes his time writing the message that Uta will convey to her. He’s always liked composing speeches, formal announcements, official decrees.

He typically removes his greatcoat during meetings and drapes it over the back of his chair. In his office, too, he rarely has it on. It restricts his range of motion slightly, and it's easier to get things done without it.

Today the Finalizer feels too quiet, and colder than usual. Hux leaves his coat on through every meeting, through dinner. At night, he wears it to bed, turns the collar up against his face, and takes the deepest breath he can.