Hux has his own command for a grand total of three weeks before he’s saddled with Kylo Ren. He is quietly seething, nails digging into his palms, when he receives the curt missive from their Supreme Leader to “play nice.” It’s followed by the more expected, “and report back.”
Ah, Hux thinks. And now I’m to be a babysitter too.
It takes every ounce of strength he has, every blessed droplet of his carefully maintained reservoirs of self-control, not to reply with an equally curt, “go fuck yourself.” And as he stews in his own quarters, one of the two suites on the Finalizer’s upper deck (Ren now occupies the other, of course), it is as though the whole galaxy is tsk’ing at him. His father, half-mad with the Empire’s end, is tsk’ing at him. It’s a galactic tongue clucking and Hux hates it.
He and Ren do not play nice. How could they? They are like two starving garrals locked together in a too-small cage. They are bound to tear each other to pieces, and if Snoke does not intend their mutual imprisonment to be a test then Hux has overestimated his cunning. He has his own Star Destroyer, his own bridge to command, his own men, and with that glorious burden, comes a wanton child.
Kylo Ren is arrogant, foolish, impassioned, and uncontrollable. He is snide when snideness is uncalled for, and even though Hux can’t see behind that useless mask of his, Ren is most likely smirking.
The Force, Hux thinks. What a tired concept. What use is the Force in the machine of war?
It takes nearly six whole months of sniping and snipping and barely concealed animosity between them before Hux can’t shake the feeling that he’s being watched. At his own desk, at his own console, writing his evening report before bed, he can feel eyes on him where there are no eyes. The hair at the back of his neck is standing up, he has goosebumps. His fingers are frozen over the console keys, and the ticking of his chronometer is loud enough to shatter glass. He feels so ill at ease that he begins to sweat.
“Go away,” he says aloud, as though scaring away a spirit from his childhood bedroom. “Leave me in peace.”
The presence abruptly dissipates.
Hux could almost swear he feels apologetic tendrils lingering in its wake, stroking down the back of his neck in a way that makes him shiver. A spectral caress.
He shakes it off. He keeps writing. He has a ship to command.
Kylo Ren rarely joins him on the bridge. Hux assumes he keeps to his quarters, or the sparring arena in the troops’ gymnasium. Hux has very little time for the trivial training exercises he imagines Ren repeating and repeating. Although he can’t imagine what hand-to-hand combat would be like in that terrible mask.
Six whole months and he’s never seen Ren’s face.
It must be hideously malformed. Marred beyond recognition. A horror to gaze upon.
The morning after his ghostly visitor, after he’s taken his coffee and consulted the overnight logs, Hux finds Ren at his command, looking out the window at the stars. They stretch in every direction, steadfast as the soldiers who came before him, and true. The First Order is scouring the Unknown Regions for a relatively barren planet. Kylo Ren is taking in the sunrise over a nameless icy globe come into view overnight. Hux hadn’t taken him for an early riser.
“Build it here,” Ren says. He sounds certain. He is talking about Starkiller Base; the creation that will lead Hux to the infamy he knows to be his birthright.
“And why should we?” he asks, unable to keep his tone from sloping into petulant disagreement.
“Because this is where I have foreseen it.”
Beside him, Ren pulls himself to his full height, and although he is a measly five centimeters taller, Hux feels it. He rolls his eyes.
“There’s much more to empire building than visions, you know. We’ll need to send scouts first, then a ground crew to measure the planet’s core, scientists to assess the population. This isn’t your parents’ generation. We’re not some willy-nilly—”
“Build it here,” Ren repeats.
His voice may tremble, even modulated. Hux feels that he’s won.
They build Starkiller Base there anyway, as it just happens to be the best option they’ve encountered. The Supreme Leader and his vaunted high council grow impatient. Progress comes with little satisfaction. Now when he sees Ren, there is a gloating air about him, even with the mask. And the eyes keep watching. Night after night until he forces himself to speak and make it stop. It always does.
Hux has seen Kylo Ren crush a man’s throat with only his mind.
“They told me of the Force, when I was a boy. At the Academy,” Hux says. He and Supreme Leader Snoke are having one of their (rare) solo meetings. “But I did not fully—I did not fully believe it was real.”
“And now you have seen the truth.”
“I have seen.” Hux stops. Breathes. Starts again, resolved and furious. “I have seen empty space...manipulated into invisible matter by a conniption prone child. That cannot be the full breadth of its purpose and power. That cannot be—”
“You would be wise,” Snoke advises. “To watch your tone, and your thoughts.”
Hux exhales hard through his nose, he inclines his head. He is the picture of contrite civility.
“Your excellency, my apologies.”
“Return to your post; stop prodding Kylo Ren and refocus your mental efforts on your sworn oath to bring glory to the First Order. Do this, and nothing else.” Snoke eyes him appraisingly from his faraway throne. “And cease whatever idle machinations you may harbor. That is not your path, General Hux.”
“Thank you,” Hux says. “I shall.”
The hologram disperses.
Mine is the righteous path, Hux thinks. I want to break his skull into pieces along with that mask, follows quickly on its heels.
Over a year has gone by and he still hasn’t seen Kylo Ren without his blasted headgear. When does he eat? Hux takes most of his meals alone, or in the officer’s mess, and even then, mostly solitary. He hasn’t allowed himself to become friendly with many of the men and women who serve with him, regardless of rank. His father wouldn’t appreciate that kind of behavior. His father trained Imperial officers. Brendol Hux understood the nature of personal sacrifice.
The base construction progresses steadily. They have moved their command headquarters on world. Their new planet is cold and quiet, and Hux spends long hours overseeing the excavation of hard, frozen earth, so that he may brew fire in its depths. He feels something dangerously close to pride as he watches his engineers bend over the Starkiller plans and discuss in quiet tones. He is sowing his legacy. The Supreme Leader seems pleased with their progress, his and Kylo Ren’s, although he’s unsure of how, exactly, Ren is progressing. He has grown more sullen on base. His temper flares like distant comets, burning out into a long tail of restless aggression.
“Cease that infernal pacing,” Hux snaps at him one evening. He is trying to think.
Ren freezes. He tilts his head like a befuddled droid. Then he cuts through Hux’s computer console with his crackling red lightsaber and storms away like he’s been scolded.
“In time, he will learn to control his temper,” Snoke says.
“Let’s hope our regime survives it,” Hux mutters, and then he remembers his place.
He is preparing for bed. Smoothing the creases into his trousers before hanging them up. Making sure the lines of his jacket are crisp and unmarred. He is laying out his socks for the morning, placing his gloves atop one another at the ready on his dresser. As he shines his boots, he hums, something from his childhood, something barely remembered. It isn’t like him. But today has been so good. They are ready to begin construction on the thermal oscillator. For once in his military career, everything is on pace. His future is a clear, clean path through freshly fallen snow. There are no boughed trees to obstruct his way.
Hux strips down to his shorts. The temperature in his rooms is carefully modulated but a chill goes through him regardless. His ghost is watching. There’s so much intent behind that phantom stare that goosebumps rise along his bared arms. He knows, now, what it is. And despite that knowledge, resists the urge to cover himself.
“You can stop pretending,” he says.
You presume says Kylo Ren’s voice, directly into his mind, and it is his real voice, not the mechanized one that comes from his helmet. Hux is surprised by its softness, by Ren’s rounded, regal syllables, echoes of Coruscant: a subtle reminder of their all but erased class difference. And having someone else in his head is a discomfiting shock to the system, like shining light onto nocturnal creatures. He did not expect how jarring it would be, and yet instead of pain it feels like a tension headache, pressure on his forehead. The weak-limbed morning after a night of too much ale.
“What an odd sensation,” Hux says, composing himself.
You get used to it. He cannot feel what Ren feels, but the tone in his mind is in agreement.
“How are you doing this?”
Hux has seen their limited number of Resistance prisoners over the last year give up secrets to Ren without him so much as touching them. Somehow he’d never considered that Ren might be breaking them down from the inside.
It is a useful interrogation technique. Ren sounds amused.
“And here, I thought you were rather useless.”
Hux laughs, and sits down on the edge of his bed. For once, Ren seems amiable. It's almost disconcerting.
“What do you say to them? Your prisoners.” Hux very much doubts Ren keeps to the methods outlined in the First Order Standard Operations Manual.
Whatever makes them bend. Whatever pulls the hardest their hidden pain.
“And if they have no pain?” Hux raises an eyebrow at no one and leans back on his hands. His posture is too welcoming, he knows this, but he is alone. He cannot really be seen.
Everyone…. has pain. Even you.
There is a long moment of considering silence between them. But Hux knows Ren is still there, looking at him from the inside out.
“I think this is the most civil conversation we’ve ever had,” he says airily.
You may be right.
Ren snorts a short laugh, undignified, and Hux is oddly charmed. Then he is bold.
“Come,” he says, “have it in person. I have brandy.”
Kylo Ren’s intrusion into his mind is gone so quickly that Hux physically reels back from the force of its sudden absence. He feels frustratingly bereft when for a moment he'd felt strangely full. His consciousness had welcomed Ren, settled comfortably around him; it couldn't be a more unsettling truth that however briefly, he had liked having Ren there.
Wait, he thinks, in the general direction of Ren’s suite.
The supposed vast, empty, loneliness of space had always felt like the trivial language of the poets. He is less sure of that, now.
Two standard weeks pass and each day bears no sign of Kylo Ren, or the shadow that spent evenings in Hux’s bedroom. He is being avoided. He is loath to admit it, but he misses their vitriolic arguments, and he misses Ren’s looming, faceless silence almost as much as he misses the funny comfort of being benignly observed. Maybe Ren is dead. Maybe no one would see fit to tell him, or care to. Maybe no one would tell Ren if he died. Hux distracts himself relentlessly. He files disciplinary action report after disciplinary action report. He sleeps more than he should and tastes something sour like abandonment in the back of his throat when he wakes. He doesn't give in for another three days, and when he does, it is only to ask Lieutenant Yakko if Ren is on base.
Yakko looks at him, far too speculatively before saying, “Lord Ren is off world, sir. He had pressing business for the Order.”
“And did Lord Ren relay the nature of this ‘pressing business?’”
“Classi—” Hux stops himself. He exhales loudly and smoothes the front of his dress uniform. “That will be all, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir.” Yakko gives him a sharp salute and turns back to his station.
Hux’s lips pinch together. He attempts to focus on the blueprints left for his review that morning, but he cannot concentrate. His gaze catches on the section of rectangles that represent Kylo Ren’s suite again and again. A meager half-hour passes before he spits out a silent curse and goes to check the position of the tracking device Ren wears, as though he is likely to go astray like a wayward pet.
His foolish lapse in control is all but meaningless. Kylo Ren’s presence makes itself known far before Hux actually sees him. His obedient troops are all walking on eggshells, peering around corners. He clears his throat loudly at a pair of tittering white masks down the corridor from the hanger bay, and just barely catches a wisp of “Lord Ren” and “insane.”
The troopers scurry away like freed rats.
Hux clasps his hands behind his back and his feet take him to Ren’s quarters.
When the door slides open, he cannot fathom why he's been let in.
Hux expects the mask, the heavy cloak. He expects violence, fury. Not gentle, bitter resignation and heavy-lidded brown eyes. He certainly doesn't expect the plush mouth, or the soft, swept back hair, curled and dark. And he could never have predicted the worst surprise of Kylo Ren’s appearance: the wholly unexpected freckles. One, set into his pale cheek, three cresting over his nose, and yet two more at home on his brow. Kylo Ren has a constellation of freckles across his angular face, a celestial map that leads to the most horrid revelation of all: desire, hot in Hux’s belly, and growing.
“You're—” he stops. The barely more than a boy goes unspoken. Hux knows he and Ren must be of an age, and yet. The mask, the dark robes, they are as much artifice as Hux’s own shiny leather jackboots. As much facade as his carefully brushed greatcoat, as the insignia on his breast. Kylo Ren’s only deformity is his youth. His youth and his loveliness.
Ren is partially disrobed and his arms are lacerated, bruised. His skin is so white he would barely appear corporeal if not illuminated by the dimmed overheads, and marked in shocking red and purple.
“General,” he says in that soft voice. “You're staring.”
“You've been injured.”
“I have yet to complete my training.”
“Surely your training doesn't involve dying of infection. You should see someone in medbay,” Hux snaps.
“I'll heal. Here, sit.”
The room is sparsely furnished but Ren gestures for him to take one of two chairs, between which sits a low table. It is strewn with various tools, bits of metal. And Ren’s mask.
“I'll let you rest,” Hux says, unmoving. He yearns to flee. He doesn't have the power to go.
“You'll sit,” Ren says, and so Hux does, tugged into action. He lowers himself unsteadily.
“That's quite the parlour trick, Lord Ren” He pulls his sleeves primly into place and folds his hands in his lap.
“I didn't want you to go.”
“There are other methods of convincing.”
“None so effective.” Ren’s real voice has a plying quality, every word is laced with purpose. He never stops pressing at the edges of those around him, Hux can feel him now, hovering, waiting for a crack to slip in.
“What happened to you?” he asks, and attempts to sound derisive. Instead he lands somewhere near concerned.
Ren sits across from him and stares at his hands before he speaks, when he does, it is arresting.
“Then you'll try again.”
Ren laughs, a loud mirthless thing. “I will. But not for some time now. And you…you missed me. While I was gone. You were worried.”
Hux swallows. “You're being very rude.”
“But you were.”
“Why?” Ren could just take the knowledge from him, but he doesn't. Pulling it out himself would be a kindness.
“Because you hate me.”
Hux feels his face flush, like an cadet embarrassed during drills.
“And that's more emotion than I get from anyone under my command. And you're not. Under my command. Not at all.”
“Go get your brandy,” Ren says.
Several tumblers later, Hux learns that Jedi take a vow of chastity. He also learns the taste of Ren’s lips.
Half the brandy gone finds Kylo Ren astride his lap. He bites his lip. The flush staining his pale skin colors even his neck and chest a dusty pink. He looks both furiously determined and unsure, and each time he moves even slightly, he makes a tiny, aching sound. It's nearly impossible for Hux to remain still.
Ren’s long legs are folded at the knee, and his body curves as he leans back, putting his weight on one hand and bearing down onto Hux’s cock. It is a sight to keep, perhaps more special than the few who have come before him for the simple fact of who Ren is. There is a filthy thrill in fucking the heir to Vader’s Empire like a common Corellian whore. Hux feels drunk on hitherto unknown power, can almost smell the crackle of energy surrounding Ren, surrounding them. The scent of burnt hair mingling with the unmistakable smell of sex and sweat may only be imaginary, but when he fucks up hard into Ren’s body, the overheads in his quarters shudder and Ren moans.
“Careful, Ren. Try not to bring the house down,” Hux warns, struggling to get the words out through his pleasure.
Ren’s head snaps forward and his body follows. His sweat damp hair falls around his face, and into wretchedly lovely curls above his shoulders. There's something sharp in his eyes when he looks at Hux full on and slaps a hand over his mouth.
“Shut up or I'll go,” he says, lifting himself up on battle trained thighs. Hux feels himself catch at the edge of Ren’s body and nearly slip free.
“Don't be a tease,” he says and nips at the calloused palm covering his mouth.
“You're still talking." Ren shifts just a little bit more, likely to show that he can. “I could make you stop.”
But Hux isn't blind, not yet at least, and he can see the way Ren’s cheek twitches at the stretch from not being fully seated. Ren chews on his lower lip, and Hux nods. Anything, he thinks and hates himself, anything to be back in all of that hot, tight flesh.
Ren rewards his silence by dropping back down with all his weight; he is so rough on himself, he has no delicate hand where his own body is concerned. Watching the way his eyes close and then move beneath his pale, thin eyelids, makes Hux grip tighter at his hips and wish he were a larger man. That he could take Ren properly, bend him back over his command console with the whole of the universe stretching out before them on the observation deck. He pulls Ren’s face to his and kisses him, sucks ruthlessly at his bitten lips and imagines what it would feel like to fuck Ren in view of all that they've conquered.
Together, he thinks. And comes with a sudden, jerky upward thrust that sends Ren falling gracelessly forward, their mouths crashing together. There is a long moment of hurried breath between them, Ren’s dark eyes gone wide before Hux has him flat on his back, his legs parted and his body writhing as Hux fucks him with three fingers, pushing into slick heat, sliding through what he’s left behind, his other hand on Ren’s cock. Ren throws his arm behind his head, grasping for purchase that isn't there. He bites at his skin to keep quiet, his other hand gripped tightly in Hux’s hair.
“I saw,” he gasps, against his worried flesh, teeth marks deep and visible. “I saw your desires.”
Hux crooks his fingers out of surprise more than aim.
“I'm not averse,” Ren says, and comes over Hux’s fist with an muffled shout and a spasm so intense the mirror on the far wall shatters.
Ren falls asleep with his head on Hux's chest and his hair falling in his eyes. His breath is brandy sweet and his back is covered in scars. Hux doesn't think to ask if he meant the fucking or the galactic domination.
"Snoke cannot know,” Ren tells him fervently. “I'll show you, how to hide this when we are called to him next.”
The truth of that is as obvious as blaster fire, but it hadn't struck him until now. They are Snoke’s own cruel dogs, he cannot have them gentling one another with copulation.
“Show me,” Hux says. “I'll learn.”
They still hate each other, but the stars seem within his grasp now.