Kylo Ren screamed as gloved hands picked him up, but little sound came out. He tried to twist free, but his body would not move. He was on fire, like his grandfather before him, but there were no flames. Only snow clung to his robes. But no matter how cold, he burned and burned as General Hux's men carried him onto the transport.
"Take off now," shouted Hux. Kylo could hear him, but he could not see him. All he could see were the white-armored stormtroopers and the back of Captain Phasma in her stained silver armor as she sat across from him. Even with four troopers between them, Kylo could smell the garbage that clung to her cape. He would have laughed, but laughter was something that belonged to a dead boy named Ben, not Kylo of the Knights of Ren.
Kylo struggled upward as a stormtrooper shoved an oxygen mask over his face. "Where…?" he managed to gasp, before falling back. He bit at the stormtrooper's fingers to escape the mask. He wanted no succor. He only wanted his treasure.
"We're leaving Starkiller Base. It's collapsing," Hux said, appearing from behind the stormtrooper. He shoved Kylo down and forced the mask on him. "Supreme Leader Snoke wants you brought to him. You need to complete your training."
"No!" Kylo shouted, panic racing through him. His most precious treasure was in Starkiller Base. The transport also shuddered, whether from the gravity well of the imploding base or his own fear, he could not tell. He tried to push himself off the bunk, but Hux's hands were like steel vices and kept him pinned. Hux's blue eyes blazed with barely contained viciousness. As much as Kylo wanted to flay Hux alive for his constant impertinence, he could only aspire to have a gaze as fierce as Hux's.
The hyperdrive whined around them, and the blue lights of hyperspace glinted off Phasma's armor. Hux stepped aside to allow a stormtrooper to rip open Kylo's blood-soaked robes. As the transport raced away from the planet, the cold air violated Kylo's open wound. A wound given to him by Chewbacca. A part of him was still shocked that his Uncle Chewie could hurt him. It was probably the same part still reeling in horror from what he had done to Han Solo. Kylo shivered, and told himself it was the cold air on his flesh. He pushed those thoughts from his mind. He had more important concerns.
"Calm yourself, Ren," Hux said, his voice always sounding as if it came out of his nose.
"Back in the base… my room… my treasure!" Kylo twisted again. Hux's fingers dug painfully into his shoulder wounds. Kylo screamed again without sound, the fire in his veins growing hotter. "My treasure! I need it!"
"Sedate him, he's raving," Hux snapped at the stormtrooper treating Kylo's wound. He stared into Kylo's eyes until everything cut out, leaving Kylo adrift in the space between moments.
Bacta tanks were meant to be warm and soothing, but during the snatches of consciousness that Kylo had inside of them, he always felt as if he were drowning. He hated the small spaces, the press of the thick bacta solution around him, the vulnerability of his naked flesh laid bare for all to see. All of his wounds still burned, even in the bacta. Outside, he could sense Hux, with that fierce stare of his, watching him. Kylo tried to scream again, but the tube jammed into his throat swallowed the sound. The tank cracked under the force of his rage, and Kylo slipped back into the welcoming darkness.
When Kylo awoke again, he was in a white room and wearing a white shift. He stunk of antiseptic, and the overhead lights flickered above him. He tried to tear the shift off—it reminded him too much of the Jedi robes that Ben had once worn—but his arms only twitched at his sides. He thought again of his treasure, of the only object in the galaxy that gave him any measure of peace, and he howled.
Hux's hand covered his mouth. Kylo bit Hux's fingers, and Hux hissed. He ripped his fingers free, swearing under his breath. Kylo's head knocked back against his bunk, the loss of what mattered most still ricocheting through his being. His energy flagged quickly, and he stilled. Only red toothmarks decorated Hux's fingers. Kylo hadn't even been strong enough to draw blood.
"Do not hurt me again. Recall that Leader Snoke placed you in my care, Ren. And at my mercy." Hux balled his fingers into a fist, but he did not strike Kylo. There would be rules, of course. The Supreme Leader despised base violence amongst his own people. He demanded order and unity above all things.
"It's gone." Kylo coughed, his voice weak and raspy, no doubt from the bacta tank breathing tube. "You left it behind." He felt something wet and hot trickle down his cheek and drip onto his ears. "It's gone."
Sneering, Hux ran a thumb over Kylo's cheek, pressing so hard it hurt. "Are you still on about that burnt-up helmet of yours, man?"
Kylo choked back a cry of pain as Hux stroked the trail where the tip of Rey's lightsaber—his lightsaber—had dragged across his face. He managed to turn his head and free himself from Hux's fingers, at least briefly.
"Oh, don't worry about the scar. It will make you look fearsome to the others. And it won't detract from your few merits. That gorgeous hair." Hux yanked on it as if trying to rip it out. "The well-shaped mouth." He pinched Kylo's bottom lip until he drew blood. "And of course those eyes." Kylo instinctively shut his eyes, waiting for the pain, but Hux's cold fingertips only gently stroked his eyelids. It was his next words that stung: "The rest of you remains quite pathetic and underwhelming."
Kylo squeezed his eyes shut tighter, trying not to let Hux's words wound him. But he was still a child before such insults; they stung no less because he was an adult now. He understood why the Supreme Leader had given him to Hux's care. It was his punishment for failing. He would have to re-earn his place of command. He was disgraced. Worse, he was bereft of what was most precious. He had lost his treasure.
Hux's hot breath ghosted over Kylo's ear. "Get some rest, Ren. You will need it."
Kylo still had not been given anything to wear but the white shift of a bacta patient. His room lacked all furniture but a slim bunk with no blanket. It was cold, so cold that his bones ached. As soon as he could stand, he limped over to the slitted window, trying to soak up the warmth of the planet's dying sun. But there was no warmth to be had, not on this world. The window gave view only to the abyssal drop off the side of the mountain that the Supreme Leader's fortress had been built upon. The colossal mountain range that surrounded the fortress obscured all light from his angle.
The Supreme Leader was wise, and Kylo knew that he must bear his punishment in silence. When the droids brought him foul sludge filled with nutrients, he ate it without complaint. When Hux came in to oversee unnecessary medical treatments that lit Kylo's every nerve on fire, he only gritted his teeth and turned his gaze to the wall. But he still shivered from the cold; he could not hide that weakness. When he could no longer bear the chill, he would press his fingers to his scars until they burned. The fire was pure—it kept his mind empty and cleansed him of his impure thoughts.
Once he was able to walk without a limp, two stormtroopers ushered him into a room covered with metal panels. A large depression in the back of the room had been filled with steaming water. The heated air surrounding the pool caused Kylo to briefly close his eyes. He had almost forgotten what real warmth felt like.
Hux sat on a bench, one leg crossed over the other. Without glancing at Kylo, he spoke, "Leave us."
Instantly, the two stormtroopers dropped back and left the room. The metal door slid shut with a hiss, leaving Kylo alone with Hux. Through the slitted windows, no sun shone. A storm brewed in the cloud-heavy sky. There was no real light to be found anywhere.
"Disrobe," Hux said, still not looking at Kylo, his gaze fixed on the slitted windows.
Kylo hesitated then slid the shift off. He understood the point of the exercise already. He had always been awkward about his body. He was not a beautiful creature like his parents, but one made of mismatched parts. Humiliation was a familiar pain to him, one he had known since a boy. He preferred to cover himself in black masks and black robes. Then people found him terrifying, not homely. The Supreme Leader, ever wise, knew Kylo's weakness and wished to test him.
It wasn't until he stood naked in the metal room, his image dully reflected on the metal surfaces, that Hux turned to him. His harsh gaze roved over Kylo's body. Hux was a well-formed man with no noticeable physical imperfections, no awkward or gangling parts, handsome enough to criticize with impunity. He said nothing, but his sneer, a sneer so very like the other children that had once ridiculed an awkward little boy named Ben, left a mark. Kylo wanted to lash out and throw Hux's frail human body into the steaming water and hold him there until he went still, but he knew that the Supreme Leader would only punish him worse if he did. Hux was a favorite.
"Well, go on, into the water. Bathe." Hux's fingers drummed over a black bag on the bench beside him. "Perhaps a bath will make you look less like one of those straw things that farmers put out in the fields to scare off avians."
Upper lip curling, Kylo stalked into the water. His rage almost instantly dissipated. Finally having a warm bath after so long in the cold felt orgasmic. Kylo couldn't help but shudder as he lowered himself into the water.
"Disgraceful," Hux said with a chuckle.
Kylo's anger instantly reformed at the insult, and it set the water around him bubbling and churning. He would rather have been strapped to a metal chair and electrocuted for his failure than mocked by Hux for his mortal failings. He turned his back to Hux and poured water over himself, trying to focus on the warmth. But the warmth soon evaporated, and Kylo found himself in a pool of cold water. He shivered again.
Then he sensed something dark and warm, peaceful and sinister all at once. He turned around and found Hux had lifted a twisted, burned helmet from his bag. A small cry escaped his lips. All that was left of his grandfather was held in Hux's cold hands.
Hux examined the helmet with a curious expression, turning it over and over. "Tell me, Ren, how did you come to be in possession of Darth Vader's mask? His body was lost when the second Death Star was destroyed."
"No, it wasn't lost." Kylo swallowed, forcing himself to leave his hands in the now-frigid water. If he snatched the mask from Hux without being granted permission, he dared not imagine what humiliations Supreme Leader Snoke would inflict on him. "Luke Skywalker took Darth Vader's body with him when he escaped from the Death Star. Vader was cremated on Endor."
"Cremated on Endor? A moon populated by tiny ursine creatures with sticks and stones for weapons? What a perfectly plebeian ending for what was once a great Sith lord." Hux's eyes flashed. "Well, perhaps not that great. Records suggest that most of the Jedi he killed during the Purge were under twelve years of age. I doubt those were impressive battles."
Kylo ground his teeth at the insult to his grandfather. It stung worse than any mockery leveled at him. Darth Vader was sacred. The water around him boiled, but he still resisted the urge to rip Hux limb from limb with the power of the Force. He would not fail the Supreme Leader again. Not even for that.
Hux leaned forward, smiling as a snake might, if a snake had lips. He was not intimidated by Kylo's show of power—he never was, not even when he fell silent. Perhaps that was why he was a favorite of the Supreme Leader. "So did you pluck this helmet from the pile of ashes on Endor? How sentimental."
"The sentiment was not mine," Kylo ground out. "It was Skywalker's. He took Darth Vader's remains with him and interred them at his Jedi temple under Vader's slave name."
"And so you took it from there?"
Kylo worked his jaw. He knew these questions were those of the Supreme Leader's. He would not have given Kylo to Hux's care without instructions. But Kylo remained silent. It was one thing to bear an insult. It was quite another to bare his past to a man that hated him.
"After you helped slaughter all of your uncle's Jedi, did you carry the remains out while stepping over their bloody corpses?" Hux asked. "Tell me, Ren, did you also slaughter the little helpless children there, as your grandfather would have? Or is it only unarmed old men that you derive pleasure from murdering?"
A roar escaped Kylo, despite his best attempts to choke it back. The water had nearly all evaporated away in his rage. He stood before Hux, naked, panting heavily, dripping wet, with a fury boiling inside of him that could have powered Starkiller Base. Hux glared in response, his eyes livid again. Kylo reached out a hand to choke the life from him, but a cold prickle of fear stayed that hand. If he killed Hux, he would defy the Supreme Leader. And if he defied the Supreme Leader, then all his sins would mean nothing. And he had so many sins.
"Well?" Hux asked.
Kylo sucked in his breath and then slowly exhaled. "I had stolen the remains from Anakin Skywalker's grave within a week of my arrival to the Jedi temple. I hid them in my room, beneath my bed. Luke Skywalker didn't discover my theft until the end."
"And?" Hux prompted when Kylo paused.
"And after I killed every Jedi I met in the temple halls, I took the remains back and left."
Hux tilted his head. "So you turned to the dark side just to claim the burnt remnants of a dead Sith lord? You are sentimental, after all."
"I didn't turn to the dark side," Kylo snarled. "I turned from the light. The dark side was always there."
After a moment, Hux stood, Vader's helmet still in hand. "Do you want this back, Kylo Ren?"
Kylo nodded, carefully, eyeing Hux the way most would a poisonous insectoid in the room.
"Then kiss me. As if you mean it. And I shall give it back to you."
The request confused Kylo. He couldn't quite wrap his head around the act, or why the Supreme Leader might have instructed Hux to ask that. Perhaps Hux was being tested as well. Nonetheless, Kylo stepped over to stand before Hux. Kylo was a few centimeters taller than Hux, but Hux's boots brought them to the same level. Hux's face was smooth, emotionless, and winter had set behind his eyes. He set Vader's helmet down on the bench, out of Kylo's reach. Whether he would loathe or enjoy being kissed, he gave no sign.
Nothing the Supreme Leader—and by proxy Hux—asked of Kylo could be too much. He would shirk nothing. He grabbed the back of Hux's head and leaned forward to kiss him. Hux gave no resistance as their lips met. In fact, he even tilted his chin up to make it easier. It was not as repellent as Kylo imagined it might be. As cold as his fingers were, Hux's mouth was warm and inviting. He tasted of bluetea. The languid way that Hux sucked on Kylo's lip and the press of Hux's soft hands against Kylo's scarred torso could even be considered diverting. Hux deepened the kiss, making a small breathy sound that allowed Kylo to imagine that he enjoyed it. When Kylo broke the kiss, still tasting bluetea, he felt flush.
Hux's gaze seemed oddly coquettish, lowered as it was to study Kylo's scarred torso. His long lashes fanned out across his cheek, and his lips glistened under the weak lighting. "I can actually feel all that power humming under your skin." He removed his fingers from Kylo's scars and pressed them to his lips. "Intriguing. Take your helmet. Leader Snoke is pleased with your resistance to temptation. Tomorrow, you will go before him for the rest of your training. You are no longer under my care."
Kylo watched as Hux marched out, stiff as ever, before turning to his grandfather's helmet. His body still hummed with the Force, as if Hux had sparked something alive in him. He waited for his grandfather to whisper to him again about the glory of the dark side, but Darth Vader failed to speak. Kylo took the helmet into his hands and waited longer. The helmet remained silent.
But then someone else spoke through the Force. It was not Darth Vader's deep, mechanical voice, but the softer voice of a young man. Kylo had never heard it before, though something about the speech pattern struck him as familiar. The voice sought to wound him, reminding him of the events on Starkiller Base—events he had spent every waking moment trying not to dwell on. The new voice told him that the memory of Darth Vader had misled him. That Vader wasn't real, had never been real. That he was merely an echo in the dark side, the manifestation of Anakin Skywalker's worst sins. That not even killing Han Solo could kill the boy named Ben. That Ben could be saved. Darth Vader had abandoned Kylo in his time of need, leaving him at the mercy of that voice. The voice whispered to him of the look in Han Solo's—
—in his father's eyes, the palpable relief tinged by wariness when Ben held out the lightsaber. The boy wasn't dead; Kylo had failed to kill him. Ben could still feel his father's hand on his face before he fell, see the forgiveness in his eyes. The memory left a scar deeper than any Rey had given him. Vader's helmet slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor, where it rolled under the bench. Ben's legs gave out, knees slamming painfully onto the metal floor, unable to scream, unable to howl, unable to make a sound. He had murdered his own father, the man who bought him frozen milk treats in the Corellian summers and carried him on his shoulders through the halls of the Millennium Falcon and built him starship models to hang in his room. The new voice began screaming at him through the Force that this was never what he wanted, that Ben was only repeating his same mistakes. They had both murdered the men who loved them most. What had they done, what had they done, what had they done—
—Kylo Ren had executed a thief who had stolen the Empire's victory from its jaws at Yavin IV. He had resisted the lure of the light; he had not been seduced by his father. He was as strong as his grandfather. Supreme Leader Snoke had forgiven him, and he would teach Kylo to be even stronger. Kylo would never again fall before some raw misguided girl. He would rule the galaxy, with or without her.
Yet, Kylo could not pick himself off the floor. He lay upon the cold metal, staring at Darth Vader's helmet where it had rolled under the bench, trembling with the knowledge that Ben Solo still lived, somewhere deep inside of him. And the voice of Anakin Skywalker continued to whisper in his ear that his greatest treasure was not a burnt Sith lord helmet, but an old man that had fallen into the heart of Starkiller Base with a gaping hole in his chest.