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Ceasefire

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Kylo knows all about waiting.

He feels like he’s spent the past fifteen years of his life waiting for some sense of having arrived at the threshold of his destiny, never quite knowing what that is or when it will come, and this period of uncertainty is no different. He tells himself this as he watches the sky lighten over the first day that dawns on his resolution to defy Snoke, his quavering attempts to believe what he’s sworn to himself roiling through him while he lies perfectly still in the bed, Hux still clinging to him. Throughout the night, Kylo’s resolve has morphed from a punishing battle axe of intent to a jelly-like organism that trembles at the center of his chest, then back again, swaying from one to the other until his head aches as much as his gut. When he can’t feign restfulness any longer he pulls away from Hux and goes into the bathroom to shave his face, glad that there’s no light in the room. He doesn’t need it, and the flick of light from his eyes in his reflection is bright enough to make him uneasy even in the dim glow from the bedroom window.

Questions, irritating, flattening him every time he catches his own gaze in the mirror: Who the hell are you and what have you done? How can you possibly think you’ll get away with it?

He’s angry with himself by the time he leaves the bathroom, and if Hux were awake Kylo might redirect this anger at a preferable target, but with Hux just lying there shivering under the blankets it’s hard to work up an excuse to attack him. Kylo wants to hate Hux for transforming him into a monument to forthcoming failure and little else, but he’s never been one to give in easily to what he wants. He makes a fire in the den and a pot of caf on the stove. Hux drank tea on the Finalizer, but Kylo prefers this and Hux had better appreciate whatever he can get, considering.

When Hux comes out of the bedroom he’s wearing the same clothes he wore to bed, padding barefoot and blinking into the den. Kylo is sitting on the hearth, sipping caf. He hasn’t had any in years but he’s drinking it black, needing a sense of focus that he’s afraid to search for via meditation, considering what’s probably waiting for him there. He doesn’t look up when Hux stands staring at him like he’s awaiting a dramatic monologue about what they’ll do next.

Feedback from Hux: Fine, asshole. Have it your way.

Hux goes into the kitchen, notes the caf and sort of sneers at it, but finds himself a mug and pours some into it. He leaves almost half of the mug empty and fills the rest with milk from the conservator. When he returns to the den he pointedly doesn’t look at Kylo, but he sits close to him on the hearth, huddling against his side for warmth.

Observation: It’s a relief. Even a twisted kind of honor. Hux using him to get warm.

Conclusion: They’re so fucked.

“Are you going to speak to me today?” Hux asks when he’s holding his mug close to his face, letting the steam heat his cheeks.

“If necessary,” Kylo says.

Hux snorts, drinks. Even with the milk it’s too hot, burns his tongue. A deeper scan of Hux’s thoughts is probably in order, but as soon as Kylo dips below the surface there’s so much barely suppressed terror lurking there that he has to pull free or risk letting it seep into him, too.

“Look,” Hux says. “I take it you’ve received some information that has--”

“Quiet,” Kylo says.

“Why?” Hux asks, barking this right into Kylo’s ear.

“I’m thinking.”

“Fantastic, well, you know what? I’m actually a fairly brilliant strategist, really sort of known for it among officers of my generation, so if you’d like some help with your historically not very strategic thought process, just let me know.”

Hux gets up and goes into the bedroom. He’s stomping, no imagined limp haunting him now. This makes the corner of Kylo’s lips quirk into an almost smile, and he hides it in his mug when Hux returns, dragging a blanket with him. Hux puts his mug on the mantle, wraps the blanket around him like a king’s robe, retrieves the mug and walks toward the back door.

“Where are you going?” Kylo asks, ready to forbid it.

“Out,” Hux says. He’s struggling to get the door open while holding the mug and clasping the blanket around himself. When it pops open against his scrambling fingers before he’s been able to grip the handle, Hux scowls rather than thanking Kylo for opening it for him from across the room. “I’ll leave you to your thinking,” Hux says, giving Kylo a hateful look before walking out onto the porch, the blanket dragging behind him.

Kylo uses his mind to slam the door shut behind Hux, harder than he’d intended to. He could lock Hux out there, but what would be the point? Kylo is sitting by the fire worrying about how best to throw what remains of his life away for Hux. Locking him outside to catch a cold that Kylo would then have to heal would be counterproductive.

Observation: He might enjoy Hux’s annoyance, however, at this reminder that he’s at Kylo’s mercy.

Further observation, the crux of every problem he’s currently facing: He’s at Hux’s mercy, too. If Hux were to leap over the cliff and onto the rocks below, Kylo would have to jump after him.

He scans Hux’s thoughts to make sure that’s not in his plans, though he doubts it.

Feedback from Hux: Fucking Ren. Having a tantrum, of course. Fuck him. We’re screwed.

Below that, a desperate litany: Think, idiot, think. There’s no time to waste on wishing he’d help you.

It’s enraging, the idea that Hux doesn’t know Kylo is already helping him, but it might also be for the best, for now. Kylo drinks more caf and stands up, paces.

Objective: Determine what could possibly be done next, if you’re even able to leave this house with Hux alive at your side.

First idea, horrible: Return to the Finalizer and allow Hux to reinstall himself as General there.

Evaluation: No. Snoke still commands the Finalizer, and the officers on board are more afraid of Snoke than they are of Hux.

Evaluation, secondary: Kylo doesn’t want to go back there anyway.

Observation: What he wants might matter less than ever in light of what he’s trying to do. He’ll have to consider what Hux needs above that.

He hates the thought but can’t deny it. Out on the porch, Hux is huddled inside that blanket, drinking his caf in angry little sips, coming up with no good ideas of his own. Kylo refocuses, trying to ignore Hux and whatever it is he thinks he’s doing out there. Kylo is the one having a tantrum? Hux is having a full-on pout.

Second idea, ruinous: Appeal to his former master for help.

Evaluation: Ha.

Evaluation, further: Luke Skywalker might kill Kylo more gladly than Snoke.

Third idea, related and just as hideous: Leia.

Evaluation: Han’s death is one of many things that won’t be forgiven.

Evaluation, sanity returning: No one who loved Ben will help him now.

Reminder: You are not Ben Solo. You are his murderer. The people who loved him hate you most of all.

Objective: Next, something better, think harder, don’t be such a fool, don’t waste your time considering impossible courses of action.

Kylo goes to the kitchen for more caf. It’s not really helping, but he doesn’t know what else he can try. He’ll meditate if he has to, but Snoke will be there, listening. He’s surely listening even now, watching at his leisure, probably smiling in his faint, barely perceptible way, sensing Kylo’s panic and assuming that it’s the first stage of his eventual capitulation to Snoke’s command. Like before.

Kylo never successfully concealed his fear of confronting Han. Snoke was always aware of it. Still, the bridge. The moment Kylo took off his helmet and showed Han his face. That was when he knew he would do it. That was when he couldn’t turn back.

Snoke knows all about waiting, too. He taught Kylo the art of waiting.

Patience is a fortress that can protect you from almost anything, when you have seen the future through the Dark side.

“No,” Kylo mutters. It’s barely audible, spoken from the heart of a pile of trembling jelly, the battle axe unavailable. He shakes his head and drinks from his mug, gulping. Burns his tongue. It occurs to him afterward that he could heal this burn, maybe. He’s never tried it on himself. The idea seems dangerous, though it may not be. He thinks of Hux’s ear and walks out to the porch, slamming the door shut with his hand this time.

Hux glares at him.

“How did your thinking go?” Hux asks. “I can’t see your thoughts, but based on that scowl I’d say it went poorly, despite me not breaking your concentration.”

“I’m still thinking.” Kylo sits against the back wall of the house and faces the ocean, leaving plenty of space between him and Hux, who is sitting on the far left corner of the porch, huddled inside that blanket. Kylo could scan Hux’s mind to see if he’s come up with any useful ideas about how to get out of this, but he already knows the answer to that question, so he might as well ask out loud and enjoy Hux’s struggle to respond. “You?” Kylo barks. “Ideas from the master strategist?”

“Funny how you expect me to solve your problems when you won’t even outline what we’re up against.”

“What the hell do you think we’re up against? Don’t waste my time with smart ass drivel. Tell me your brilliant scheme, General.”

“Well, Ren, I don’t actually have one cooked up yet, considering you could only be parted from me for five minutes before you stormed out here to intrude.”

Kylo opens his mouth, but he can’t come up with a refutation that isn’t pathetic, such as using the Force to shove Hux off the edge of the porch and onto the wet lawn. Hux radiates smugness in the silence that follows, sipping from his caf and congratulating himself. Sometimes Hux’s ability to surprise Kylo is like a life-affirming discovery that makes him want to pick Hux up and kiss him until he can’t breathe. The rest of the time it makes Kylo want to crumple Hux up into a ball and throw him as far as he can.

“Uta may be loyal to me, according to you,” Hux says, making it clear that he doesn’t trust this information, “But even if that’s true, she won’t go against Snoke at this stage. She’s too smart for that. I have a mother somewhere, but she would sell me down the river if she thought harboring me was a liability, and I wouldn’t even know how to get in touch with her. She never divorced my father, but she left him, effectively, when he cheated on her with one of his favorite cadets. A pilot, actually-- Her name was Boma, for fuck’s sake. Twenty-three years his junior, of course, but then, my mother was fifteen years younger than him, and not his first wife. Brendol Jr.’s mother was the first--”

“Why the fuck are you telling me this?” Kylo asks, slamming his mug down onto the porch. Something about it is infuriating. The talk of families. The images that come to him of Hux as a boy. Hux shrugs, still looking out at the ocean.

“I suppose I start babbling when I’m afraid for my life,” Hux says. “That wasn’t always true. Perhaps being tortured for an interminable amount of time had some kind of adverse affect on me.”

Kylo scans him. He’s not even joking, just stating that dryly, a mere observation.

Correction, upon closer examination: It was only partly a joke.

Observation: Hux’s sense of humor can be hard to parse.

“You need a shower,” Kylo says. “I can smell you from here.”

Observation: This may be only a Force sensitivity-related thing. Hux has been identified as potential prey, after all.

Correction: Not prey. There is still nothing in Kylo that wants to hurt Hux, not really, not in a way that would last.

Observation, secondary, useless: Hux smells overly fuckable, maybe.

“Sorry?” Hux says, cupping his hand around his ear. Kylo is pretty sure Hux actually heard that comment about showering just fine, so he doesn’t repeat himself. “You seem to be forgetting that I’m sort of deaf now,” Hux says, turning toward him. “Also in the sense that you haven’t healed that bit yet.”

“Do you even hear yourself?” Kylo asks, astonished by his entitlement, this ingratitude.

“Do I--” Hux laughs, his eyebrows going up. “Did you just make some kind of pun?”

“What? No-- Just, shut up. Go take a shower and I’ll see about your ear when you’re done. Maybe.”

He expects another remark from Hux about how he isn’t under Kylo’s command, but Hux stands and moves toward the house, sighing. Kylo wonders if this means Hux has accepted that Kylo is in control here.

Feedback from Hux: It’s fucking cold out here anyway. Might as well let him think he’s won. Pick your battles and maybe he won’t kill you.

Kylo opens his mouth to respond to that, not sure if Hux knows he heard it. Hux is in the house before Kylo can come up with the right words, if there are any.

Observation: It’s not like Hux is wrong to be worried.

Correction, important: Hux is wrong to think-- that. Kylo won’t. He can’t. Ever, not even the thought of it-- No.

Observation: Now he’s using his protocols to reassure himself that he won’t follow Snoke’s command.

Observation, further: Doing so is dizzying. In a literal sense, even.

He stands, unsteady on his feet, and gropes for the door frame. He needs to eat, was barely able to get anything down the night before after spending most of the day meditating and arriving at the horror that came.

Observation: You’re thinking of your Master as a horror now?

Mental adjustment: It’s the task set before him, that is the horror.

Observation, perhaps overly obvious: That is the design. It’s meant to horrify you, to shake you from your complacency, to dislodge you from your sources of petty comfort, all of them too vulnerable to trust.

Conclusion, hard to accept, his teeth grinding against the truth of it: The architect of such horrors becomes horrible himself.

Observation, very familiar: You are a horror yourself, therefore. Incontrovertibly.

Memories, unbidden: Their little robes, the blood. They had asked for the robes. Luke said they weren’t necessary, that they were old-fashioned. He’d wrinkled his nose, smiling: you want robes? They wanted robes. Jedi wore robes! Luke allowed it, though something had almost stopped him. A fleeting image. Not quite a vision. A bad feeling.

Kylo is at the sink somehow, gripping the counter, his head bent forward when he growls and claws his mind away from those memories.

Observation, very old: They don’t even feel like his own memories.

Correction: Some of them do. The rest. A blur. A blank space.

However: Undeniable. He knows what he did.

Objective: Put that aside. Stop. Enough wallowing. Eat something.

He goes to the pantry in a kind of blind slog, collects ingredients for the simplest recipe he knows and digs the old mixing bowl out from the cabinet where it’s always been kept. He remembers its weight in his hand. It’s strange, how just holding it seems to push him back through time. He’d never practiced cooking much at home, in the city. It’s true that they had a staff there, for meals and a few other basic tasks. They never called them servants.

But here, at the house on the cliff, it had only ever been the three of them. Even Luke and Chewie didn’t join them here, and they made all their meals themselves. Ben would help his mother, would giggle like an idiot when she pretended to be impressed by the way he could float items to her with his mind.

Even then, six years old, he had sensed that it actually scared her. How easily he did it. How boastful he could be. The way he looked to her for praise, craving it too much.

But she smiled as hard as she could. Told him he was special, that she was proud of him.

Liar.

He looks down at what’s ended up in the bowl, his greyed-out vision returning gradually. It’s mostly right. Too much flour, probably, and he needs another egg. He adds one and mixes everything together, holding the wooden spoon so tightly that he feels like the end might snap off.

“You’re cooking again?” Hux says when he emerges from the bedroom, wearing different clothes. Kylo snarls, wants to tell him to take that off, because he remembers that sweater, a dark green one Han Solo had worn often here. Hux stops in his tracks and Kylo tries to soften the look on his face.

“Where did you find that?” Kylo asks. “The sweater.”

“Just-- in the drawer, with the rest of the clothes. Fuck, I know it’s probably-- Got a history. I’m sorry, but the other one stunk, you were right. I sweated in it for two nights in a row.”

“It’s fine,” Kylo says, trying to remember if Hux has ever said I’m sorry to him before. He turns back to the batter and stirs it again, though it’s well-mixed now. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll-- Should I help you?”

Not ‘Can I help you?’ but ‘Should I?’ Something about this makes Kylo smirk down at the batter that he’s now over-stirring. It’s as if Hux is a droid trying to determine what the human in the room might want.

“No,” Kylo says. “This one’s easy.”

Hux comes over to hover near him anyway, his hair damp and his shoulders shaking from the chill in the house. He smells good, clean, but also like himself, a layer of something more complex beneath the soap and shampoo. Kylo wants to lick Hux’s neck, wants to hear him sigh and watch his eyes fall shut, wants to catch him when his knees give out, to carry him to the bed.

Objective: Don’t indulge this thought process.

Objective, primary: Don’t actually do any of that to Hux. Avoid the temptation to waste time wanting things like that from him.

Clarification, stupid, almost timid: This objective is only temporary. If they live to see tomorrow, or the next day, or anything resembling an actual safe harbor: maybe.

Hux lingers and watches Kylo make flatcakes. He sniffs at the air hungrily, wants to eat the flatcakes with his hands as soon as they’re on the plate where Kylo stacks the finished ones to cool. Kylo is tempted to ask if Hux has ever had these before, but he’s wary of hearing a snort in answer, and the effort of searching thirty-four years of memories for a meal of flatcakes isn’t worth it. Anyway, they were never served on the Finalizer, as far as Kylo knows.

“I don’t have any syrup,” Kylo says, using this statement as a test of Hux’s flatcake knowledge.

“Good,” Hux says. “I don’t care for sweets.” He frowns when Kylo scoffs. “What?”

“Nothing. Sometimes you don’t surprise me. Sometimes you say the most predictable thing.”

“That’s-- What?”

“Never mind, here. There’s butter, anyway.”

They eat at the table, and when Hux slides his bare feet against Kylo’s socks, he allows it. After breakfast there will really be nothing to do but stay warm.

Mental adjustment, unwanted: And plot, scheme, wait. They’ll always be waiting, plotting, scheming. Even if they escape this place somehow.

Observation and objective, needed: There is also Hux’s ear to heal.

“You like these?” Kylo asks, still chewing flatcakes. It’s a redundant question: Hux has already eaten six. The sight of him forking more onto his plate floods Kylo with a sense of achievement and pride that he knows he should reject as too cheap, very easy: someone who is hungry wants more and more of what he’s fed them. So what?

“They’re good,” Hux admits, and he wipes the sheen of butter from his mouth with the back of his hand. It stings against the cut on his lip, but not as much as the salt did. Kylo licks his own lips and refuses to look up when he feels Hux staring at him. “Are we really just sitting here eating pastry, though?” Hux asks, speaking sharply. “I mean, this is what we’re doing? Gorging ourselves before the slaughter?”

“Fuck,” Kylo mutters, enjoying this more than he should. “Before the slaughter? I’m the dramatic one, huh?”

“Ren--”

“And this isn’t pastry. That’s not the right word.”

“Ren!” Hux actually bangs the end of his fork against the table, holding in his fist, looking too much like an enraged kid when Kylo glances up at him. Kylo can’t help but laugh, holding his hand over his mouth to hide the half-chewed flatcakes. Hux gets red, his fist shaking around the handle of his fork. “You think it’s funny?” he asks, shouting. “Me being as good as dead? Well, I might have known.” He shoves his plate away and throws the fork onto it, stands.

“Stop,” Kylo says. He swallows, wipes his mouth on his sleeve. Hux has frozen in place, surprisingly, his back to the table and his shoulders rising, falling, his breath coming fast. His face is still red, burning now. He doesn’t want to Kylo to see. “Sit down,” Kylo says. “I wasn’t laughing at you.”

Observation: He was, but not really, not like that.

“Why should I believe anything you say?” Hux asks.

“Because I saved your life? Because I’m-- I’ll heal your ear. Sit down.”

Hux hesitates. Doesn’t want Kylo in his head right now. Kylo senses that and wants to push in deeper, past this feedback from Hux that feels more like an instruction than a humble request, more like Don’t you do it. But he pulls back, allows Hux to guard his thoughts.

“I suppose I just don’t understand,” Hux says. He sounds like he’s swallowed something much heavier than six flatcakes. “I continue to wonder what your plan is. If it gives you some sick satisfaction to hear that out loud, to have it confirmed that I have no idea what you mean to do next, well. I offer it, gladly. I haven’t missed that you did something for me. Something that-- Might have. Crippled your plans. Whatever you once-- Counted on. I’m not a complete idiot. If you think I haven’t noticed that. I have.”

“I don’t know what to do next,” Kylo says, this admission tumbling out of him so freely that it feels like Hux has yanked it from him, pulling on a string that he must have sneaked down Kylo’s throat during the night. He feels like Ben did when he ate too much candy and threw up: disgusting, and relieved. Because it’s out now, that part’s over.

Hux turns back to the table. His eyes look especially green: in this light, while he’s wearing that sweater. Sometimes they can look so colorless, just blank. Right now they’re green.

“I think you do know,” Hux says. “What to do next.”

“No,” Kylo says, sharply, horrified, but the shallowest scan of Hux’s mind tells him that’s not what Hux means. Hux isn’t giving up, isn’t volunteering himself, isn’t admitting that he’s afraid Kylo could take that route after all. “Your ear,” Kylo says, nodding. Hux holds his gaze, begging.

Observation: Hux is not begging to have his ear fixed.

Correction, partial: But he is. It’s just that the ear is only the start of what he’s really asking for.

Feedback from Hux, hazy with too much confused dread and hope: Just fix it, Ren. There’s barely anything left to break. It would be so much harder, so much more impressive, to fix this fucking mess. Too easy and so pointless to kick the last scraps of me over that cliff. You’d barely have to lift a finger. You could blow me away with one breath. But if you fixed it all somehow? I’m not sure that even you could, but. That would really be something, I think. Though what the hell do I know.

Kylo stands, too fast. Hux seems startled. Surprised that Kylo heard that, maybe. Maybe surprised that he even let himself think it. They stare at each other. When Kylo feels as if he’s been shaped around a pounding heartbeat he’s not sure if it’s his own heart or Hux’s that’s pulling him into this furious rhythm, drawing him closer to something that’s already happening.

“Sit,” Kylo says before he can allow himself to reach for Hux. He pulls out a chair and Hux drops into it, keeping his unblinking stare on Kylo, waiting to see what he’ll do.

Observation: Of course Hux is thinking such things and sending those thoughts as directly to Kylo as he can. Begging, desperate, trying to fool his captor into pitying him. Seeking his sympathy.

Observation, related: Hux is a brilliant strategist. He said so himself.

Further observation, however: This doesn’t feel like those mornings in the kitchen when Leia laughed and smiled and tried to keep her worry a secret.

Conclusion, pending: Hux isn’t just worried, he’s terrified. Of Kylo. It’s right there, on display, and yet Hux asks sincerely for his help, appealing to something in Kylo that he thinks only he can see. It’s foolish. Reckless. Unlike Hux, really, to play his cards so freely.

But it works, maybe, because when Kylo stands over Hux and touches his ear, their eyes lock and they both feel something that sinks into them like ten bottles of brandy but so pure, a staggeringly complete ease. It’s some kind of connection that Kylo doesn’t even have a word for, enormous and alien but distantly familiar, too. Hux shuts his eyes, shivers, bites his lip to hold in a moan.

Kylo realizes then that this is how Hux got the scar that remains there. His captors didn’t give it to him. Hux bit his lip open himself, when he was still holding back his screams. That’s why he wants to keep the scar.

Observation, hazy through the effort of healing him: That’s why Kylo wants to suck Hux’s lip into his mouth, soothe his tongue over that little slice in his skin, tease him with the softest attention there, until Hux moans for him.

“Fuck,” Hux says, breathing this out while his ear gets cold under Kylo’s hand, all of Kylo’s energy refocusing and sinking deeper, past the exterior parts that have already been healed. Kylo closes his eyes, too, tries to find the source of the problem. He doesn’t know anything about auditory anatomy. This could be dangerous. It occurs to him that if he messes up something essential, Hux could still hear him through the Force. “Careful,” Hux says, his voice sharp now, as if he’s sensed Kylo’s thoughts and doesn’t like them. Kylo smirks, his eyes still closed.

You don’t like the idea of my voice being the only one you’ll ever hear again?

“Sounds like hell,” Hux mutters, shivering. But he’s calm. Trusting. His eyelashes are fluttering a bit but otherwise he remains perfectly still.

Hux’s fucking eyelashes: they’re not even orange, not quite the same shade as his hair, though they have that tint. They’re almost translucent, the most ridiculously delicate detail on a person like him.

Observation: For some reason, thinking about Hux’s eyelashes and the scar on his lip is helping. Kylo feels his energy drawing in around the source of Hux’s hearing problem, pressing against it until it uncurls and Hux makes a helpless noise of relief, his hands gripping the sides of the chair he’s sitting in.

“Careful,” Hux says again, his voice breaking, but he can feel it, too: it’s working, it’s done.

They open their eyes at the same moment. Kylo feels so powerful that he worries this influx of strength will give him an erection, so suddenly high that he’s lightheaded from his own success. He wants to grab Hux by both ears, more than he’s ever wanted anything, wants to kiss him until he makes that helpless sound again. Hux is breathing hard, his grip on the seat of the chair tightening.

Feedback from Hux: He wants to be yanked up from the chair and kissed. Not even non-specifically. That’s precisely what he’s thinking about, imagining. How it would feel, right now, in the wake of that healing. The taste of butter and flatcakes on Kylo’s tongue.

“Well,” Hux says. He stands and moves away from Kylo, bracing himself on the back of the chair when he finds his legs are shaking. “I guess I can hear your asinine comments more clearly now. What a relief.”

Kylo has to turn away from him, afraid of how much he wants, how strong it is and how certain he feels that it would throw some kind of switch that couldn’t be flipped back off. Hux moves into the bedroom in a kind of daze. Kylo goes into the garage, putting more space between them. He can feel Hux’s alarm from the other side of the house, and something else, too, Hux’s heart still beating fast.

Observation: That was different, somehow, than the healing he did before.

Possible explanation: Before, he was feeding off energy from the men he had destroyed. From the act of destruction itself. And this time he was thinking about Hux’s eyelashes, sensing the flutter in them when they ghosted over Hux’s cheeks, wanting to touch them with the slightest pass of his thumb, reverent and careful.

Now he actually does have an erection, inconveniently. He stumbles against the stacked wood pile and sends his thoughts to Hux, wondering if he’s been similarly affected. Hux is sitting on the bed, not hard but sort of trembling with some other kind of want, smoothing his hands down over his thighs and toward his knees, pinching his eyes shut, shaking his head.

Feedback from Hux, who is unaware that Kylo is listening: I’m done for. There’s no coming back from this.

Kylo wants to go to Hux and shake him by the shoulders, wants to shout in Hux’s face that he’s not going to kill him, that he won’t, wants to convince both Hux and himself, once and for all, that this is true, but Hux isn’t worrying now about Kylo’s hands around his throat. He’s afraid of something else. Hux touches his ear, the one that was just healed, and when he takes a deep breath Kylo can feel it expanding in his own chest. Kylo exhales, for both of them. He wants to go to Hux and-- What? Hold him, fuck him, kiss him, put every piece of him back where it belongs. But none of that will help matters. Not even the healing really makes a dent, with utter destruction promised by someone who doesn’t make idle threats, coming at them full speed, directly ahead.

Kylo leaves the garage through the side door and stands in the rain until he’s not hard anymore, that surging connection to Hux lessened enough to allow him to think about anything beyond where Hux is, what he’s doing, what’s going through his mind. The chill helps, and the feeling of the rain plastering his hair to his face and the back of his neck.

Objective: Stay in your own head. You won’t find answers in him. Only more confusion.

He goes to the shuttle and sits in the center of its main chamber, in view of the cot where Hux curled under his robe on the way here. There are bloodstains, rusty smears on the cot’s mattress. Kylo closes his eyes. He’s never going to get anywhere if he remains afraid of his own meditation. It saved Hux before.

Piercing alarm strikes through him without warning, and his eyes snap open.

It saved Hux before. Unless.

Objective, belated: Don’t let yourself think it.

Observation: Much too late for that.

Kylo’s meditation saved Hux before. Unless Snoke fed Kylo all of that information, slowly enough to convince Kylo he’d found it himself.

Conclusion, undeniable now: Of course Snoke did. He wanted Kylo to find Hux, to bring him here, to heal him and to drag himself through the process of thinking he could have Hux, save him, keep him. Just this one thing, one ally to warm his bed, not so much to ask. It’s all part of the test. Snoke directed Kylo to precisely where he wanted him to go. Allowed Kylo to think he had done it all on his own. Built him up before the drop. Before the real test.

Kylo closes his eyes again, but he doesn’t see, hear, feel anything. When he tries to empty his mind, he can’t. He feels only the cold, clinging damp all over his body, hears the sound of the rain on the roof of the shuttle, and sees, too clearly, the fact that he’s sitting alone and trying to do something that he was never as good at as he’d wanted to believe.

Without Snoke he’s--

Just--

Objective: Get that dead boy’s name out of your head. Enough self-pity.

Reminder, too weak to mean much: You healed Hux’s ear. It felt like reaching into the center of the planet and repositioning its core.

It felt that important. And that cheap feeling fooled him into thinking it was true power. One ear, not even entirely defective, repaired on one small man. Hardly the core of a planet.

Observation: You fucking fool.

Kylo puts his elbows on his knees and leans forward, his head in his hands.

“Help me,” he says. “Please.”

Observation: He has no idea whom he’s speaking to.

 

**

Days pass. Kylo spends most of his time in bed. He has no desire to cook, so Hux raids the pantry for bits and pieces of meals when the soup runs out. Hux prods Kylo to eat, brings him food in bed, sighs in annoyance too frequently, holds Kylo at night and sometimes during the day, too. The rain continues. No new information arrives from Snoke, or from anyplace else.

“There’s quite a lot of meat in the conservator,” Hux says on the third day Kylo spends in bed, or maybe the fourth. Hux is kneeling at the side of the bed so that they’re face to face, pushing Kylo’s hair aside, trying to get Kylo to return his angry stare. “Should I-- Cook it, somehow?”

“Do what you want.”

“Ren, fucking hell, don’t-- Don’t leave me alone here, with this. I’ve let you have your tantrum, or your sulk, or whatever this is. Enough. I need some help, all right? I don’t know the first fucking thing about cooking, to start. Get off your ass and stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’re not the only one in this mess.”

“I can’t help you.” Kylo understands this now. He rolls away from Hux, buries himself in the blankets. Hux does his annoyed sigh, not believing that Kylo is telling the truth. Yet.

“Fine,” Hux says. “Well. In that case, I declare myself fit enough to consume half that bottle of brandy. By the time I’ve done that I’ll be confident that I should finish the whole thing in one go, so you can look forward to that, and to me either puking it up all over the house or dying in peace from overconsumption. Enjoy your nap.”

Objective: Ignore this.

It’s the first objective Kylo has assigned himself in days, and he doesn’t follow through. He immediately allows his concern for Hux to grow, listening to the sound of him getting a glass out from the cabinets in the kitchen. Then comes a kind of plunk noise as Hux pulls the stopper from the bottle of brandy. Failing to dismiss his concern over this results in a vision: Hux back at school, so much smaller then, drinking until he could finally allow himself to sob pathetically into his hands, his knees pulled to his chest. That was often the objective of the whole thing, when Hux knew he wouldn’t be discovered, though he hid this from even himself and never remembered having done it when he came to with a battering headache.

Observation: It’s not so impressive to have a vision from the past. Not useful like those of the future.

Further, tentative: But it’s something to indicate his power hasn’t retreated completely, and Kylo wants to cling to it.

He sits up. It’s early evening, or maybe there’s just another big storm rolling in, darkening an afternoon or morning. The time of day is irrelevant. Kylo takes stock of himself and realizes that he’s naked under the blankets, though he doesn’t remember stripping. It occurs to him that he still hasn’t cleaned his robe or gotten rid of his more hopelessly bloodied clothes. He needs to shave. Doing so often makes him feel better, or at least more in control of himself. Less like a Jedi, too, with their ugly beards.

When his face is clean shaven he realizes his hair has gotten too long. He finds a pair of small scissors in the cabinet over the sink and trims an inch off, careful not to make the snips too blunt. He’s always been vain about his hair. Han used to tease him for wearing it long. Leia would say to leave him alone, that it was fine, that it looked good that way.

He hides the scissors when he’s done, not wanting Hux to happen upon them and attempt to trim his own hair, which is still just beginning to hang over his ears, unkempt and almost fluffy-looking at times. Kylo likes it that way. He also likes that Hux has kept up with shaving every day, and the feeling of Hux’s smooth face between his shoulderblades or against the back of his neck. Hux’s cheeks are getting softer, filling back in. His chest, too. Kylo can’t feel Hux’s ribs quite as sharply when he clings at night now. Hux is not accustomed to being bored and has been using regular mealtimes to mark the hours that pass without tasks assigned or goals reached. He’s also been snacking frequently, and the pantry is quickly emptying.

Kylo has noticed all of this throughout his period of bedridden defeat, but has kept this information at an arm’s length until now. He’s been trying to make himself sort of dead, test driving the sensation. It’s the opposite of meditation, going to a place where he doesn’t even dream. Hux has held him in the real world, with food and warmth under the blankets, even with those sighs. It’s obviously alien to Hux, caring for someone who won’t speak and barely moves-- caring for anyone at all, really --but it’s something for him to do, beyond pacing the house and waiting for Snoke’s unspoken prophecy to come true.

The idea of confronting Han’s clothes is too much at the moment, so Kylo walks from the bedroom wearing nothing under the blanket that he drags along with him, holding it around himself to combat the cold. He expects to find Hux throwing back brandy on the porch or in the den, but he’s in the garage, for some reason. Tinkering with something by candlelight, Kylo finds, when he assesses the situation with his mind before walking to the doorway for a look.

Hux is sitting on a short stool beside the busted old speeder. He’s removed the tarp that covered it and has opened up its engine. Parts are strewn around on the floor, amid Han’s old tools. Hux has the sleeves of a lightweight shirt that he’s helped himself to rolled up, some engine grease smeared on his pale forearm. He hasn’t noticed Kylo’s approach. Not wanting to startle him, Kylo walks backward into the kitchen and then comes to the doorway again, making his footsteps heavy so Hux will hear him coming.

“What are you doing?” Kylo asks when Hux turns to him. There’s a glass of brandy sitting on another, taller stool, just out of reach of Hux. He’s poured himself a modest portion and has put the bottle back in the pantry.

“I’m fixing this,” Hux says, tapping the speeder’s exhaust compartment with the wrench he’s holding. He squares his shoulders and tries to appear confident about this declaration. “I’m not completely useless,” he says. “I have some skills. Beyond speech-making.”

“What do you need the speeder for?”

“To keep me from going out of my mind with boredom and dread, if that’s all right with you. Pass me that coupling crank, will you?”

Kylo considers this request for a moment before using the Force to levitate the crank into Hux’s waiting hand. Hux rolls his eyes, but there’s a part of him that’s impressed, or maybe just relieved that Kylo is doing anything at all. He turns back to his work and Kylo walks over to take a drink from Hux’s glass of brandy. He doesn’t understand how Hux can like not only the effect but the taste of the stuff.

“How about you cook us something to eat instead of lurking behind me and helping yourself to my drink?” Hux asks after they’ve passed some minutes in silence.

“In a minute,” Kylo says. He goes to the stairs that lead from the kitchen and into the slightly sunken garage and sits there, watching Hux for a while.

“Trying to call my bluff or something?” Hux asks after he’s allowed Kylo to watch him successfully replace the speeder’s rusted-out battery cell with a spare one he’s found in Han’s old mess of supplies.

“No,” Kylo says. “I believe you. That you can fix things. Some things.”

“I’m touched. Are you still depressed or whatever?”

“I’m attempting to absorb the reality of my failure,” Kylo says, imagining Snoke hearing this. Hux snorts, of course.

“Yeah, me too,” he says. “I reckon I’ve got about fifty percent of mine absorbed by now, or thereabouts. Pass me the binding hammer.”

Hux puts his hand out without turning to Kylo, who again uses the Force to give him what he needs.

Observation: It feels good, this simple thing. Stupid, small, pointless. Good, though.

When he’s too hungry to continue putting it off, Kylo returns to the bedroom to dress, trying not to note the items he’s pulling on: trousers with frayed cuffs, another shirt with buttons down the front. He goes to the conservator and surveys the meat that remains. A set of fat chops wrapped in blood-stained paper look most appealing. Kylo doesn’t remember what sort of animal they come from; the butcher told him, but he wasn’t really listening.

He fries them with onions and herbs, then decides he might as well mash up some of the root vegetables before they go bad, mixes in milk and salt when they’re cooking in a saucepan. Hux walks over to survey his progress, the last of the cloud-muffled daylight fading out over the ocean.

“How can you cook in the dark?” Hux asks. “I mean. I suppose I know how, but wouldn’t you prefer not to?”

“Light candles if you want,” Kylo says, feeling ridiculous.

Hux disappears for a while, to shower. Kylo lets his mind wander to the shower’s frosted door, sees the pale, pinkish shape of Hux behind it and makes himself return his mind to the cooking. Lest he burn something. When Hux stands at Kylo’s side again he’s dressed in warmer clothes, freshly shaved, his towel-dried hair pushed back off his forehead.

“You’ve gained some weight back,” Kylo says, wanting to kiss Hux’s cheek in praise of this, to feel that renewed softness against his lips.

Observation: He hasn’t lost the ability to want petty nonsense, even in this hour of his ultimate disgrace.

“I never liked eating all that much,” Hux says, staring hungrily at the chops in the pan. “It was just sort of necessary, annoying, something that required my time. That was before I was nearly starved to death. Now I can’t get enough of it.”

“Good.” Kylo elbows Hux, then feels stupid, because why did he do that? It’s something Han Solo was prone to doing, often to Ben’s displeasure. “Thanks for not puking all over the house,” Kylo says, mumbling. Hux grunts, glances at him.

“It’s not as tempting as it used to be,” he says. “Even here, awaiting my execution.”

“Don’t say that.” Kylo cuts him a furious look. It feels like the first time he’s allowed himself to meet Hux’s eyes in days. He can see the green even in the dark, and the defiance. “I’m burning down everything I’ve got left to keep you from harm,” Kylo says, wanting to get angry. He doesn’t quite have the energy yet. “So maybe don’t throw it back in my face every chance you get.”

Hux starts to say something. Kylo senses that he’s thinking about Han, how Kylo couldn’t stop from going through with that, and won’t killing Hux be so much easier? Hux shakes his head before he can voice any of it, wisely.

They eat by the light of the fireplace in the den, sitting on the hearth with their plates in their laps. Rain blasts the windows, wind pushing it nearly sideways, soaking the porch. Kylo starts to feel the way he did as a kid, wondering if the rain will ever end, if he’ll ever be able to spend a day outdoors without getting drenched, in this case before he faces his doom, as opposed to before the end of his vacation from the city.

“I had an idea,” Hux says when he’s scraping the mash off his place with the edge of his fork.

“About?” Kylo says, afraid he knows.

“About the only way out of this.”

“Ah.”

“I don’t suppose it matters if I say it out loud or just think it?”

“Wouldn’t hurt to just think it,” Kylo says, increasingly anxious. Hux takes a deep breath and puts his plate aside, exhales.

Listening?

Confirmation, to Hux: Yes.

You’ve got to kill the old bastard. I suspect I’m as good as dead no matter what we do, but you might actually have a fighting chance, once I’m gone. If seeing me die makes you-- angry enough, that is. Don’t let him convince you it’s impossible.

“But it is,” Kylo says, keeping his eyes on his plate. He hates this talk from Hux, as if he’s already a ghost.

As privately as possible, to Hux: Snoke is immortal. He’s conquered death.

Feedback from Hux: So he says.

“It’s true,” Kylo says. “You don’t understand. When you have the power that I do you can see the truth about things. Sometimes you see it through a kind of screen, and sometimes it’s crystal fucking clear. This is a fact. I’ve seen it.”

Better pushed into Hux’s mind than spoken aloud: Snoke can’t be killed. I’m sure of it.

“Ren.” Hux puts his hand on Kylo’s arm and leans in close, bringing his face so near that Kylo can smell the herbs on Hux’s breath, and the faintest hint of cooked-off blood from the chops. “He lies to you,” Hux says, whispering. “Look at what he’s done already, with misdirection. I know he didn’t send you for me. Not with any kind of direct order. I know you came for me yourself.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

Kylo isn’t denying it. That would be pointless. The look in Hux’s eyes: it’s true. He knows, he’s certain. Hux runs his tongue over his teeth, shrugs and pulls his gaze from Kylo’s, his grip on Kylo’s arm tightening.

“When you healed me,” Hux says, staring into the darkness beyond the reach of the light from the fire. “I could feel it. Even before that, maybe. Just in the way you looked when you took your helmet off inside the shuttle, after you’d carried me out of that place. You were wild, sort of unhinged. Not under orders. Frightened by what you’d done.”

“I wasn’t afraid.” Kylo shakes Hux’s hand off and stands, going into the kitchen with his plate.

Observation: He’s telling the truth. Frightened isn’t the right word at all, and nor is afraid. He wasn’t truly frightened until he sat in that shuttle and realized that he hadn’t done anything magnificent in locating Hux, or in seeming to save him. Even before, when Snoke returned to reframe the test, Kylo was not as truly, deeply frightened as he was by the thought that he’s never been as powerful as he once believed. That it’s always been Snoke pulling the strings, making Kylo imagine he’s more than he really is.

If that’s true, why does Snoke need you at all? Why do you feel weaker in his presence, stronger in his absence? Not because he’s giving you strength. Becauses he takes it from you. Takes it for himself.

“Shut up,” Kylo bites out, waving his hand behind him to chase away the ghost.

“I didn’t say anything!” Hux shouts from across the room, indignant. “If you’re going to read my mind you’re going to have to resign yourself to hearing whatever it is I’m thinking, sorry to say. I won’t be censoring my thoughts for your sake.”

“I’m not-- You don’t even censor yourself when you speak.”

“Precisely!”

In bed that night, Kylo leaves his shirt and underwear on. He rolls toward Hux in the dark, hoping that Hux’s fingers will go to his buttons, and he smiles when they do, knowing Hux won’t be able to see this through the dark. Hux is bare-chested, wearing another pair of pants that are too big for him. He doesn’t press himself to Kylo’s chest when he’s got his shirt open, instead drawing his hand from the flat of Kylo’s stomach and up to the hollow of his throat. Not sure what Hux wants from him, Kylo consults his thoughts.

Feedback from Hux: Don’t go away again. Just stay with me until I’m dead, dammit, is that really too much to ask after everything I’ve been through for you?

“I didn’t--” Kylo says, his voice too loud in the quiet dark. Hux’s eyes snap up to his. He’s frowning, his hand spread open at the center of Kylo’s chest like he’s thinking of shoving him away. “I didn’t put you through anything,” Kylo says. That’s not strictly true, but he never would have laid a hand on Hux if he’d known this was what would become of them for having done it. “And I won’t stay with you until you’re dead. I won’t allow you to die. At my mercy, you’ll live.”

“That’s a strange thing to say.” Hux’s gaze drops to Kylo’s chest again. He moves his thumb there, very softly, sending a peel of arousal down Kylo’s spine and straight through the seat of him, landing at last in a throb that pulses along the length of his dick. “But I suppose it’s strangely appropriate, for you,” Hux says. “At your mercy, I’ll live? It’s like a threat.”

“So you’d better see that you do as I say.”

“And what will you do if I don’t? Bring me back to life as punishment?” Hux sniffs a laugh and loses his ability to resist moving closer. He scoots forward, tucks his arm around Kylo’s back, hides his face against Kylo’s chest and breathes in the scent of his skin. “That does sound like something you might do, come to think of it,” Hux says, mumbling. “Yank me from the grave just to spite me.”

“Did you know I was born of Vader’s only weakness?” Kylo asks, though of course Hux doesn’t know that. Hux barely contains a snort and peeks up at Kylo, eyebrows lifting.

“Well,” Hux says. “I never do know what you’ll say next.”

“It’s true.” Kylo sits up on his elbow and moves away from Hux’s clinging grip on him, needing to maintain a somewhat proper position while speaking of this. Hux’s hand remains on Kylo’s side, inside the open shirt. Kylo allows it. “Vader loved a human woman, once.”

“I should hope she was human, though if she wasn’t that might explain a thing or two about you. And I suppose I assumed he’d had, you know. Something, since it’s said that Skywalker and Organa are his biological children. I’ve never heard the word ‘love’ applied to him, though.”

“Her name was Padmé Amidala. My mother told me some things about her. Some of it was probably lies, considering the source.”

“Why would your mother lie to you about your grandmother?”

“She’s not an honest person,” Kylo says, hearing his voice tighten. Hux is still moving his thumb over Kylo’s skin at moments, and he does it again now, as if to soothe the rage out of him. “My mother-- Leia Organa. She lies to herself and makes unwise choices. Look at the man she put her most sacred trust in. Han Solo, who abandoned her when their son was destroyed.”

“I’m not sure where you’re going with any of this,” Hux says, stroking Kylo’s side again. “But I’m fascinated, I’ll admit.”

“My family has a long history of crippling themselves with the wrong sorts of attachments.”

“Ah.” Hux goes tense then, his thumb freezing in mid-stroke. “Is this the speech you give before you kill me, then?”

“No-- Shut up. You’re not like these people my grandfather and my mother chose, the ones who ruined them. They were soft, foolish, idealistic. You’re like me.”

Hux considers a smart ass response to that, then belays it. Kylo narrows his eyes, half-hearing it anyway.

I’m like you? Faint praise, from someone who hates himself.

Objective: Pretend you didn’t hear that. Now’s not the time.

“Fine, I’m like you,” Hux says. “Assuming there’s any truth to that, where does it leave us? Snoke welcoming me as his apprentice’s bedmate with open arms? That doesn’t seem to be the situation, Ren.”

“That’s not what I said. Forget it. You don’t listen.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you can read my mind! I listen plenty, but you speak in these swooping non sequiturs and then tell me to shut up when I ask you what the hell you’re trying to tell me.”

Kylo has to examine Hux’s thought process a bit to determine the meaning of ‘non sequitur.’ It’s his least favorite use of the Force, but he didn’t finish school and is not terribly well-read. None of which is his fault, he reminds himself, rolling away from Hux when he feels like an idiot for trying to tell him anything, ever.

Hux rolls away, too, but he curves his spine against Kylo’s back. For warmth. Kylo probes Hux’s thoughts again, fairly certain he’ll find Hux lamenting that he ever laid a hand on Kylo.

Feedback from Hux: Ren, you fool.

Kylo almost pulls free, not wanting to hear any more of that, but he plunges deeper before he can stop himself.

Additional feedback from Hux, edged with unexpected fondness rather than any real regret: I’m just like these other idiots who met their doom because some Skywalker wanted to bed them. Soft, hard, warm, cold, foolish, brilliant-- Surely it doesn’t matter who we were, in the end. I’m as good as gone, and you won’t be able to bring me back.

Further, also fondly, and seemingly meant for Kylo to hear: Though I do believe that you would try, even if it flew in the face of all reason. I think you might be the most idealistic person I’ve ever met. It’s really sort of an idiotically beautiful irony, that.

Observation: Hux just referred to him as beautiful.

Observation, simultaneous: Idiotic, also.

Hux is asleep soon afterward, twitching with nightmares. Kylo resists for as long as he can, but when Hux makes a sort of pained gulping noise in his sleep, as if someone has grabbed him by the neck, Kylo rolls over and tucks himself around Hux, strokes his hair, holds him close. Hux wakes to this treatment and pulls Kylo’s arm more snugly around him, tugging Kylo forward like a familiar blanket.

“Don’t dream,” Kylo says, murmuring this against Hux’s ear. It’s not a real command, not shoved into him via the Force. Just a request. Maybe more of a suggestion.

Kylo can’t take his own advice, after days of avoiding his own dreams. Suddenly they are back, encircling him: visions he doesn’t want to have. There’s the image of his hands on Hux’s throat. The look in Hux’s blown-open eyes: the worst thing Kylo has ever seen. Worse than standing in what seemed like a vast field of dead children, not remembering their murders but knowing that he had done it, all of it. Worse than Rey crying and begging not to be left alone, half of her memories already ripped away in a clumsy scramble to save her. Worse than knowing he hadn’t saved her at all.

He snaps away from it, even within his dream: no. Can’t do that again, won’t.

His vision of the future that’s already on its way morphs within his mind, reshaping itself. It still feels concrete, like a new dimension of the reality Kylo has glimpsed, not just some dream, nothing metaphorical or symbolic. It’s in contrast to the previous visions: Hux as an old man, standing before a window the size of a wall, looking out at snow-capped mountains in the distance.

But there’s no relief in seeing Hux live to see old age. This man appears to be Hux but he isn’t, somehow. He’s empty, numb, not actually there. A ghost occupying a living body.

The guards call him General Husk. It hasn’t gotten a rise out of him yet. That old man won’t even flinch if you spit on him. Plenty of people around here do. They say it’s good luck, like throwing a coin in a fountain.

Kylo forces himself awake, sucks in his breath and sits up on his elbow, shielding Hux with his other arm while he searches the dark room for that voice, knowing that he won’t find the person it belongs to. The speaker wasn’t talking to Kylo. It was just some anonymous person of no import, someone who may live to stand in view of Hux someday, someone who hasn’t even been born yet.

Observation, crumbling him from the inside out like a pillar of ash: This new vision is worse than the one of his hands around Hux’s throat. More dangerous, truly damning.

But he can’t accept that it will come to pass, because Hux is still in his arms. Not a ghost. Overly warm and twitching through more bad dreams. Hiding against Kylo’s chest, having rolled over to clutch at him. Hux wakes slightly when Kylo runs his fingers through his hair, but not enough to really know where he is or what’s going on. Hux activates his conscious mind only to check that Kylo is with him. That Kylo is the one disordering his hair, keeping him warm.

Feedback from Hux: Yes, good, okay. It’s Ren: that’s his smell, his touch, his nosy presence everywhere, meaning no real harm thus far. Go back to sleep.

Hux shuts his protocols down again, rubs his face against the heat of Kylo’s skin, falls back into sleep and tries to guard himself against his dreams, fails.

Kylo holds him, watches over him, heart racing, and in the dark he feels that tiny fire reignite.

Correction: It never stopped burning.

Observation: You want to ignore it, because no matter how small and secret you keep it, you’re still on fire.

Observation, secondary: Fire can’t be controlled. Not entirely. Not once it’s fueled by things that will feed it before evaporating into ash within its power.

Objective: Figure out how to live while burning so bright that there’s nothing left of you but the flames. Control is secondary. Stay alive and burn.

Hypothesis: That is real power. It’s all the rage, hatred, anger that have always been your friends, but something else, too.

A cause. Hux. Burning everything down for the smallest thing in the world. Everything in sight, everything, until they’re the only solid structures left standing. Destroy all the mountains in the galaxy, so that the ones Kylo saw in his vision won’t be there for Hux to look at and not see.

Observation: There’s a kind of perfect lunacy in that. Something that feels like it could be uniquely his. Just insane enough to be the only thing that has ever really made sense.

Kylo hides tonight’s mad smile in Hux’s hair. He tries to believe that this renewed determination, the press of his lips, anything he has, will protect Hux from the worst of his dreams.

He falls asleep without convincing himself this could be true, but he holds on hard to the idea that he can protect Hux from more important things. He’s Kylo Ren, descendant of Vader, and he will change the future with his bare hands if he must. He will rip it apart himself, piece by piece, and throw everything that offends him into the flames.

**

Their days in the house somehow become a full week, and then a second one. The rain does not stop.

Hux continues working on the speeder. It’s charming, then annoying, because Kylo has no comparable project to spend his time on. He washes his robe, which does take a considerable amount of time, but still not even half a day. He disposes of the rest of his old clothes by throwing them over the side of the cliff, when the rain won’t let up long enough to allow him to burn them in the yard. When the pantry thins out, he returns to town and collects more food, carrying back twice as much this time. Anticipating that they have enough time left here to need this much food feels like a boldness that he might be asked to pay for, but he’s triumphant, on the way back, for not having been called Ben Solo by anyone this time.

Feeling restless, and fueled by the secret fire that burns low but steady in his chest now, Kylo starts practicing his combat skills in the rain on a daily basis, slashing the downpour with his lightsaber and vaguely longing for the projected opponents Snoke would conjure for him. Sometimes they had seemed so real that their onslaughts made Kylo fear for his life in the headiest moments of simulated battle. These had always been much more convincing than the projections sent to his bedchamber. Now that he’s known both real combat and real sex, he’s certain of this distinction.

Observation, stomach-churning: He supposes Snoke had more incentive to put effort into the simulated battles than he did in helping a sleep-starved teenage boy get necessary rest by--

Objective: No, stop, move away from it.

While practicing combat as best he can without an opponent, he occasionally notices that Hux has opened the big front door to the garage, where he’s now working on the speeder’s hydro-braking system. He’s opened the door for the light it lets in, certainly, but he also watches Kylo at moments, tools hanging motionless in his hands until he can drag his eyes away. Kylo could tease Hux about this, but he decides to pretend he hasn’t noticed. They’ve been relatively quiet with their complaints about each other since that night in bed when Kylo admitted that Hux is his attachment.

Kylo has also noticed that Hux starts sipping from a shallow pour of brandy before nightfall most days, but he seems relatively unaffected by it and the bottle is still only half empty, so it’s probably not worth mention.

“How’s that going?” Kylo asks when he’s grown bored with swinging his saber at nothing. He’s standing just outside the open garage doorway, allowing the drizzle of rain to continue falling onto him. Hux looks at the speeder and shrugs.

“There are certain essential components I don’t have on hand,” Hux says. “I’m trying to compromise. I invented a little gadget that’s supposed to work in place of the broken thermoregulator, but it’s not really going the way I’d hoped.”

“You invent things?” Kylo is still breathing hard from his exercises in the rain, feeling kinetic, wanting someplace to direct all this persisting energy that’s thrumming through him. Hux is annoyed by Kylo’s incredulous phrasing of that question and is attempting to ignore him now, fussing with the hydro-brake again. “I mean,” Kylo says. “I know you invent weapons-- I knew that. Where did you learn how to do this other stuff?”

“Where do you think? School, the Academy. It wasn’t all dry lectures about Imperial history and large-scale schematic engineering.”

“I assume you had combat training there, too.”

Hux snorts and gives Kylo a withering look.

“Yes, we had combat training in military school. Well spotted.”

“How were you?” Kylo asks, unperturbed by this sarcasm. He’s twirling the handle of his lightsaber between his fingers idly, the blade turned off. “At combat?”

“I told you.” Hux’s expression changes, and he sits up straighter. Looks almost pleased by Kylo’s questions, suddenly. “I had top marks at school. In all my coursework. Combat training included.”

“Hmm.” Kylo turns to look at the yard so that Hux won’t see him grinning. He returns his gaze to Hux when he’s able to make his expression impassive again. “You want to practice?”

The snort again.

“You mean something like, you come at me full strength with your half-cocked wizard’s wand that can cut through steel? No, thanks. That’s not the sort of combat training I have.”

“It’s not so different from regular hand to hand combat, in theory. That is, if we had another lightsaber.”

“Well, search me, Ren, I haven’t got one. And anyway--”

“What if we just used staffs?” Kylo asks. “I could find some branches in the woods. Or break the ends off a broom and a mop. Something like that.”

“You sound like a kid looking for a playmate.” Hux shows nothing but indifference on his face, but when Kylo dips into Hux’s mind he finds a certain amount of amused interest, along with a humming, low level arousal that makes Kylo want this even more. He’s sensed that watchful hum before, when feeling the weight of Hux’s attention on him while he trains.

“I would go easy on you,” Kylo says, knowing this will push Hux over the edge he’s lingering on.

Hux presses his lips together, sets down the driver-guide he was holding, and stands.

“Only at first,” Hux says, his hands flexing at his sides. “Let me get warmed up and so forth. It’s been a while. Then you can show me what you can really do.”

“Okay,” Kylo says, the word sort of falling from him in an exhale.

Observation: It will be a miracle if he makes it through this without his dick getting hard.

Kylo searches the garage for makeshift weapons and comes up with an old push broom and a rake. He snaps the useful bits at the end off of both, so that they’ll be more aerodynamic. It’s not as if he or Hux will be sweeping or raking up leaves here, anyway. Hux goes into the house and returns wearing some boots that he’s laced over his socks. The socks Hux uses are from Leia’s drawer, not Han’s, but they’re relatively unisex and there’s no reason to tell Hux this, Kylo feels. The boots he’s wearing belonged to Han: old brown work boots, not ideal for sparring in but useful enough, laced up tight because they’re a bit too big for Hux.

“You could just go barefoot,” Kylo says. He trains that way sometimes. Has trained over hot coals that way, under Snoke’s command. “The grass is soft.”

“That’s disgusting,” Hux says. “Do I get to pick my weapon?”

Kylo holds the two choices out. Hux goes for the broom handle. A smart choice: it’s a bit longer and heavier, better suited to the shorter opponent. Not that Hux is so much shorter.

Observation, frivolous and not necessarily relevant to this exercise: Kylo does enjoy the few inches of height he’s got over Hux very much.

“Are there ground rules?” Hux asks when he follows Kylo out onto the lawn, his hair quickly dampened by the weather. It’s light today, more of a wet fog than a rainfall. “Or is this some kind of street fight?” Hux asks, holding his weapon across his chest as if Kylo might come at him without warning.

“Just try to disarm me,” Kylo says. He has to swallow a laugh at the idea that Hux could.

“I’m asking if you’re going to fight dirty or clean, Ren.”

“Didn’t I tell you I’ll go easy on you? At first?”

He keeps his word on this, and it’s true that Hux is rusty, too jerky in his movements and holding his shoulders wrong, overly tense. He seems to note Kylo’s fluidity as Kylo deflects every blow, and adjusts his stance somewhat, his posture loosening as they continue. Hux is not really trying to disarm Kylo yet, just testing his reactions to various strategies. It would be boring to easily answer blows like this if it were anyone but Hux knocking into him-- Hux with his eyebrows pinched together in concentration and his wet hair dripping onto his face --but it’s so good, really quite fascinating, to feel the energy Hux pushes into his efforts to unsteady Kylo’s calm. Kylo’s heart inflates with something like wicked pride when Hux starts to remember his training and his strikes come more quickly, with a calculating rhythm, the crease between his brows smoothing out as he begins to truly concentrate on what he’s doing. His eyes look very green when Kylo catches flashes of them through the blows they exchange.

“Good,” Kylo says when the end of Hux’s makeshift staff zips past his ear. It’s more of a taunt than actual praise: Kylo taps Hux’s side with his stick before Hux can draw his weapon back from this overly bold offensive. Hux grimaces but doesn’t turn red or slow the pace of his attacks. Kylo smirks.

It’s hard to hold back when Hux gets even bolder and a bit closer to successful strikes, and when he nearly lands a blow against Kylo’s left shoulder Kylo lets himself push back against Hux’s attacks with something resembling his full strength, excluding the Force, which has no place in this. It feels alien but also refreshing to fight without it, though at times, when his emotions sharpen, Kylo taps into it instinctively and catches a stray thought or feeling from Hux. They’re mostly nonverbal reactions, sensations that don’t quite take shape as words. It reminds Kylo of how felt to be inside Hux, how something in Kylo had shuddered in answer to Hux’s every grasping attempt to stay quiet as he struggled not to moan for how good it felt, and that half-realized moment when Hux had almost whimpered Kylo’s name in pleasure, after he’d finally allowed himself cry out and fall apart. Now that tightly-pulled restraint is streaming through Hux in an angry drumbeat of aggression: now he just wants to hit Kylo with the end of the stick, just once.

Kylo can’t allow it: Hux wouldn’t want him to go that easy on him, especially now. He gives Hux’s staff three merciless whacks, expecting Hux to stagger backward and relent, but Hux seems fed by this unchecked energy, and he surprises Kylo by executing a complex maneuver involving a twirl of the staff that really seems too flamboyant for him, nearly reaching Kylo’s left thigh with the tip of his weapon.

“You were hiding that,” Kylo says, unable to suppress his grin now. He backs out of range while Hux evaluates his next best move. “Saving it for the right moment.”

“Oh?” Hux says. He’s breathless, out of shape, trying not to seem it. “Was I? I had assumed you were reading my mind this whole time.”

“You did not. Told you I’d go easy.”

“There’s going easy and then there’s cheating.”

They rush at each other again, Kylo moving first and Hux racing to him with surprising, fearless confidence. Kylo responds to it too automatically, his default systems suddenly assessing Hux as a real threat. He sees his stick come down too hard against Hux’s right shoulder before it happens, but he sees it too late: it’s done, Hux shouting in pain and spinning away.

“Fuck.” Kylo drops the rake handle and is nearly knocked sideways by an unwelcome flash of memory. That day. Seeing it happen before it had but already too late to stop it. It’s like a wall of phaser fire against him, like a physical spray of pain that he has to move through on his way to Hux: their little robes, the quiet, too late for everyone but Rey, the way his whole body shook with the effort not to bring the saber down against her, too, fighting it.

Objective: No. Not now.

Hux is not badly hurt, but any new injury against him now is like kicking him over the cliff, and he pushes Kylo away when he tries to help. Hux is on his knees in the soggy lawn, getting muddy.

Feedback from Hux: He hates mud. Hates Ren. His shoulder is not dislocated but it hurts, is deeply bruised, throbbing with pain.

“It’s fine!” Hux barks when Kylo tries to reach for him a second time, needing to heal him. “Just stay away. It happens, it’s all right. I lost the fight. We both knew I would.”

“I didn’t-- I’m sorry-- I just--”

“Fuck your apologies! You asked for a fight and I agreed to one, I’m not--”

“But I wasn’t-- I didn’t mean to--”

“Yes, well, you couldn’t control it, could you? Of course you didn’t mean to-- You don’t mean to do anything! You’re just this-- Aimless source of power with no one in the fucking pilot seat, obliterating everything you touch--”

Observation: Getting angry always helps.

Kylo falls to his knees behind Hux and takes hold of Hux’s uninjured shoulder. Firmly. Sending a message. Hux goes still.

Mental adjustment: Hux is wrong. Kylo is not aimless. He will fix this. Hux will stop his defensive snarling.

“Just--” Hux says, and then his eyes fall shut, mouth open. The rain seems to grow warm when Kylo heals Hux’s shoulder, evaporating against an invisible bubble of warmth that surrounds them. It’s easy enough, the wound fresh and the bones all intact under his grip. Just a bruise, but the way the pain lifts away and the relief sinks in to replace it makes Hux tip over onto the grass, overcome by feeling himself knit back together under Kylo’s hands again. He braces his left hand in the mud and lets his head drop forward.

Kylo stays crouched behind him, the healing mostly done but his hand still in place on Hux’s shoulder while he attempts to soothe some measure of relief over the other things that were hurt. Pride, mostly, but something else, too. A growing seed of confidence, trust, excitement after days of boredom. Kylo knows these are things he can’t restore with his hand, with the Force, with anything he has. But he stays like that, shielding Hux at least in part from the rain, and leans down to breathe against the back of Hux’s neck.

“Let me up,” Hux says, mumbling.

Feedback from Hux: He doesn’t like that his hand is in the muddy grass but otherwise doesn’t actually want to move away from Kylo quite yet.

“Sorry,” Kylo says, in part because Hux hates it when he apologizes. Hux shakes his head very slightly, eyes still closed. Kylo licks the side of Hux’s throat, barely aware of what he’s doing. Hux gasps, his eyes flicking open.

Feedback from Hux: Yeah. Again.

Kylo growls under his breath and does as asked, licking the sweat cut with rainwater from Hux’s neck and up along his jaw. He wants to spin Hux around and pin him on his back in the mud, kiss him and grind him into the earth. Hux presses back against the heat of Kylo’s mouth, turning his cheek, offering more of himself, then not.

“Oh-- okay, stop.” Hux bucks Kylo off and crawls free from him. “Fuck, just-- I’m not doing this here, in the muck.”

Hux ignores Kylo’s attempts to help him up and moves toward the house, rolling his healed shoulder and stumbling a little when those old boots stick in the mud. Kylo is confused, heady with lust and guilt as he rises slowly to his full height.

Feedback from Hux: Don’t just stand there like a scolded mutt, come on, keep close.

Kylo follows Hux in through the garage, then the side door. It occurs to him, in a blurry, overstimulated haze, that Han would have complained about them leaving the garage door open, because someone might come by and steal his tools. But no one comes to the house on the cliff. It’s understood by the locals that Leia Organa and her family are not to be disturbed. Even now, all these years later. Nobody will steal anything from this house.

Hux takes his boots off in the kitchen and Kylo does the same, staring at Hux, waiting for a cue. Hux’s fingers are shaking when he pulls off his socks and then his sweater, dropping them onto the floor near the boots. When he meets Kylo’s eyes he seems uncertain about what to do next, as if he knows what he wants but isn’t sure he needs it enough to let himself have it.

Feedback from Hux, more directly: Follow me, and keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.

Kylo does as asked, again. He’d forgotten how good it can feel to have orders and to want more than anything to obey them, to be praised and useful. In the bedroom, with his back to Kylo, Hux peels off his rain-soaked pants and steps away from them. He’s not wearing underwear, and while his ass is still really not much of one at all, seeing the back of him when he pauses in the bathroom doorway makes Kylo freeze in place, remembering what it was like to first slide his hand down over Hux’s naked backside, how Hux shivered and showed him things he didn’t expect to find.

“I’m taking a shower,” Hux says. His voice is steady, but Kylo can feel the buried shake under it.

Observation, continuous: Hux is good at burying things. Too good.

“Okay,” Kylo says when Hux goes on standing there, watching Kylo from the corner of his eye. “I’ll, uh. Cook something.”

“Please, no, don’t be disgusting. You’re too filthy to be handling food.”

“I’d wash my hands,” Kylo says, and it comes out sounding like a question, because he has no idea what’s happening right now and is somewhat afraid to find out. He’s still got his soaking wet pants on, because he’s hard inside them, and has been in varying degrees since he said ‘Good’ to Hux in response to the first blow he nearly landed.

“You’re the one who made a mess out of me out there,” Hux says, still only half-turned toward Kylo, his hands braced on either side of the bathroom’s door frame. “I think you ought to be the one who cleans me up.”

Hux goes into the bathroom and turns on the water. Kylo stays in place, feeling like Hux finally landed a blow. He wants to palm his dick through his damp pants, but he resists the urge, because at the moment he’s under Hux’s command, and Hux didn’t ask him to do that.

In the bathroom doorway, Kylo hovers, peeking at the shape of Hux through the frosted glass door. Hux is just standing still under the water, which is beginning to steam. Kylo needs to know this is what Hux really wants, so he checks Hux’s thoughts, without permission.

Feedback from Hux: Come on, idiot, please, give me this, I need it, fuck, what are you even waiting for?

Kylo isn’t sure if Hux meant for him to hear that or not.

Observation: Doesn’t matter.

Objective: Remove pants as quickly as possible.

Observation/question: Why is this suddenly difficult?

When he’s fumbled out of his pants, Kylo kicks them away and approaches the shower. Opens the door, peers inside. Hux is rubbing at his newly healed shoulder, his back to Kylo, water coursing over him.

“Hurry up,” Hux says, muttering. “You’re letting the heat out.”

Hux is nervous about this. Kylo can feel it around him like the steam that’s beginning to fog the room. But he doesn’t want Kylo any further from him than he is right now. In fact he wants him closer: please, Ren.

“Is it bothering you?” Kylo asks, stepping into the shower and shutting the door behind him.

“Huh?” Hux half-turns his cheek, eyebrows pinched.

“Your-- This.” Kylo puts his hand over Hux’s on his shoulder, letting his thumb slip down to stroke Hux’s damp skin. “I healed it too quickly, maybe--”

“No, it’s fine.” Hux slides his own hand away, allowing Kylo’s to remain. “Good as new, well done. I guess this is my personal hell, being pulled apart one piece at a time, then put back together by the same hand.”

Kylo steps closer, puts his mouth on Hux’s shoulder and kisses him there, softly. He wants to take a bite out of Hux without actually hurting him, but that isn’t possible, so he presses another kiss to Hux’s shoulder, opens his mouth on Hux’s wet skin. Hux holds his breath, then releases it in a shallow exhale.

“Wash me first,” Hux says when Kylo’s mouth moves up along the curve of Hux’s throat, his tongue sliding over the taste of salt on Hux’s skin. “Please,” Hux says when Kylo hesitates, wanting to taste him again. Kylo nods and pulls back, reaching for the soap.

Feedback from Hux: He’s hard, but not entirely. He wants this closeness so much but doesn’t trust the feeling that he needs it, or that doing without it for the rest of his life might not just be easier after all.

“Turn around?” Kylo says. It’s a question, or a request: Hux can do what he wants. He knows that. Kylo tells him, through the Force and in the way he hangs back, waiting.

Hux avoids Kylo’s eyes when he turns, staring instead at his chest. He steps back and holds out his hands, palms up, one more mud-stained than the other.

“Proceed,” he says, flicking his eyes to Kylo’s before looking down again.

Kylo washes Hux’s hands with soap, then his arms, his shoulders, his neck. He checks Hux’s thought process before moving to each new body part, and Hux sends back only positive feedback, but it’s tentative, too. Hux keeps telling himself he can stop this at any time, asking himself if he wants to. Keeps answering no, that he wants to continue, maybe just until Kylo wants him so much that he feels like he’ll die from it.

Observation: Kylo could inform Hux that he already feels that way.

Analysis: No real advantage or incentive to do so.

Conclusion: Keep that to yourself for now.

He washes Hux’s chest and back, allowing the water to push the soap suds down over the rest of him. That will be enough, he thinks, and feedback from Hux confirms this. When Hux turns to face him again Kylo rubs the soap between his hands, puts it aside and uses his thumbs and his palms to wash Hux’s cheeks, chin, jaw, forehead, pale red eyebrows. Hux steps forward and tilts his face into the spray of the shower to wash off the suds. When he’s done he rubs his wrist over his eyes and looks so young for a moment that Kylo feels like the tub has disappeared beneath his feet, dropping him straight through time, his stomach clenching against the sudden fall.

“What?” Hux says when he notices how Kylo is looking at him. Hux is frowning but his feedback is soaring: he’s proud of himself for wholly enjoying this, for getting hard, for holding Kylo’s gaze easily now.

“Can I touch your eyelashes?” Kylo asks. It’s already halfway out of his mouth before he knows what Hux’s reaction will be: hysterical laughter, of course.

“Are you feverish or something?” Hux asks, reaching up to put the back of his hand against Kylo’s forehead. “Did you even intend to put those words together?”

Hux is still grinning, his eyes light and very green. It was worth it to be laughed at for the chance to see Hux like this in the aftermath, the relief of that unexpected outburst having shucked off the last of his nervous energy. Kylo lifts his hands and holds Hux’s face between them as he brushes his thumbs carefully over Hux’s wet eyelashes. Hux blinks furiously beneath this attention. His cheeks are getting pink, maybe just from the steam.

“You look good,” Kylo says, forcing his voice to stay flat. He’s keeping exactly enough distance between himself and Hux to avoid bumping any part of Hux with his erection, which has begun to feels like it weighs around fifty pounds, aching and heavy.

“I look good?” Hux can’t quite manage a laugh. The pink on his cheeks deepens to red. “Well. What a relief.”

“When you-- Before. Seeing you like that. It ripped me up.”

Hux frowns and removes Kylo’s hands from his face. He holds Kylo’s wrists, keeping his hands clasped in the space between their chests.

“Yeah,” Hux says, sharply. “It rather ripped me up, too. Can we not talk about it right now?”

“Right-- Sorry. Sorry.”

“I’d love to know if you ever apologize to anyone but me.”

Kylo thinks of Snoke.

Observation: That’s different. Those apologies are like ribs that Kylo rips from his chest and offers in his bloody hands, bowing.

Observation, further: Apologizing to Hux is like hearing the voice of some other, much weaker person passing through his lips and not minding the sound of it. Liking it, almost.

Conclusion: Only Hux can make him glad to feel weak.

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” Hux says, muttering. “Can I-- Um.”

Kylo resists the urge to search Hux’s thoughts for his meaning.

“You can do anything,” Kylo says, trying to keep his voice flat: failing. “Anything, to me. Don’t you know I’m at your mercy? Do you even care?”

Hux’s eyebrows rise, slowly.

“Do I care?” he says. “Are you joking?”

“I--”

Hux shakes his head, telling Kylo to shut up without saying it out loud. He crosses the space between them, plastering himself to Kylo’s body. Kylo absorbs Hux’s need and the physical force behind it like shock wave, his hands going to Hux’s waist with automatic urgency, eyes falling shut when he feels Hux’s breath on his throat, Hux’s cock pressing hard against his thigh.

“Fuck,” Hux says, barely able to push this out instead of Kylo’s name-- Ren, Ren --catching himself at the last possible second. Kylo bites his bottom lip hard to keep from laughing in a kind of delirious triumph, his dick jammed against Hux’s belly and his face in Hux’s wet hair. He feels insane: wants to eat Hux’s hair, or something like that, wants to swallow Hux and keep him whole at the same time.

It’s the most graceless thing either of them has ever done: grunting, fucking themselves against the other’s wet skin, Hux’s fingers digging into Kylo’s biceps for traction, Kylo holding Hux at his waist, his other hand cupped around the back of Hux’s head, Hux’s hair skittering out between the spread of Kylo’s fingers as he forces himself not to grab a handful and tug. Hux grits his teeth, pinches his eyes shut and jerks backward in a perfect arch when he comes, letting Kylo catch him and tug him close before he can fall against the wall behind him from the force of it. The departing weight of Hux’s orgasm hits Kylo so hard that there’s no hope of him lasting through it, as usual, and he holds Hux against him while he rides his own climax out, his face pressed to Hux’s cheek, Hux’s heartbeat seeming to egg Kylo on and on, until he feels like he’s spilled his entire lifeforce from the tip of his dick.

They steady themselves, knees trembling but not giving out, and recover while they still have their faces hidden, both of them sheltering against the wet heat of the other’s skin. Kylo lifts his face first, moving his lips over the edge of Hux’s ear and licking him there before kissing his hair. Now that he’s come he can consider, more sanely, that he never wanted to eat Hux’s hair, actually: he wanted to kiss it, and he does, again and again, his hand cupped around Hux’s head to keep him in place.

Hux is a bit more blown backward by this than Kylo, so he’s allowed extra time to recover, aftershocks moving across the small of his back when Kylo’s arm settles there. Hux is afraid to lift his face, afraid of what might happen next. When he finally does, Kylo touches Hux’s cheek, strokes his thumb under Hux’s shining right eye, prepares himself to kiss Hux until doing so saves them both somehow.

“It’s so strange,” Hux says. “That this is part of the torture.”

It’s like being dropped again, the bottom of the tub disappearing, though not as if through time now: just dropped.

“What?” Kylo says.

Objective: Don’t kiss him while he looks at you like that. Or ever, just don’t.

“I mean that we’re being allowed to do this,” Hux says. He’s still got his hands around Kylo’s biceps, his grip loosening now. “That you’re being allowed to do this, I suppose. For now. Until you can’t anymore.”

“I’m being shown what I can’t have,” Kylo says, studying Hux’s eyes, then his thoughts. There’s nothing malicious there. Hux is still afraid. Protecting himself, with this talk.

“And why can’t you have it?” Hux asks, anger flaring up to swallow his fear. Kylo wants to fan its flames, to reignite his own fire with Hux’s rage-- Against Snoke. Hux is never more angry than when he thinks of Snoke. “You can't have this because you’re still someone’s servant?” Hux says, almost barking this at Kylo. “Because you made a promise to some ghoul who expects you to thank him when he’s wrung you dry?”

“Because of what I’ve already chosen. What I’ve already done.”

“Such as?”

“Murder.”

“Oh, well, look who you’re talking to, I’ve murdered billions of people, it’s--”

“I killed children. By my own hand.”

This shuts Hux up for a moment. Kylo is afraid to check his thoughts. He knows Hux’s only question, anyway, and waits to hear it out loud.

“Why?”

“Because it was asked of me.”

Hux is still holding on to him, his fingers tensing around Kylo’s muscles again. His eyebrows twitch.

“What was that like?” he asks.

Observation: Hux doesn’t really want to know. It’s just the only thing he can think to say.

“Like sleepwalking,” Kylo says, speaking honestly before he can reconsider. “I remember the call to action. I remember my hand shaking so hard that I couldn’t lift my saber. It was too heavy. Snoke helped me. Gave me the strength to hoist it up. Then I was standing over my-- A girl. The last one alive. She was in shock. Not crying yet, not making a sound. Her face was so white. The others were scattered around her. Dead.”

“What happened next?”

Kylo shakes his head. The memory alteration he performed on Rey was so unpracticed and new to him, so desperate and messy, that it scrambled his own mind somewhat. It’s hard to think about it, even now. Hurts.

“I suppose I knew this about you,” Hux says. “The massacre at that Jedi Temple. I guess I didn’t think about those Jedi being-- Children, but. You were, too, weren’t you? When this happened?”

“I was fifteen.”

Snoke told him he had become a man, after the attack. That such a status was about one’s actions, not their age.

“And you don’t remember actually killing them?” Hux asks, frowning. “Is that what you mean by sleepwalking?”

“It came back to me later. The images. The memory. It was my hand. I held the lightsaber that killed them all. I did it.”

Hux is quiet. Kylo checks his thoughts, cautiously.

Feedback from Hux: I think you know that you actually didn’t, Ren.

Kylo shakes his head. No, he--

He doesn’t know that.

Snoke can enter his mind, can give him strength when he needs it. But Snoke can’t act for him. Through him. He can’t take over so completely. Kylo would know if he had.

It would feel--

Like--

It’s not--

“That’s not the way it works,” Kylo says, surprised by the sharpness of his own voice. Hux sighs and releases him, steps back.

“If you say so.”

Hux climbs out of the shower and takes a towel into the bedroom. Kylo stays under the water for a while, the steam seeming to blur his vision and clog his lungs. He looks down at his hand, half-expecting to find the blood-stained handle of his saber there. Not wanting to be alone with these thoughts, he turns off the water and follows Hux into the bedroom, not bothering with a towel, letting the cold sting his wet skin.

Hux is sitting on the bed, naked, a towel wrapped around his shoulders. He’s attempted to dry his hair and it’s a mess, sticking up wildly in spots. He turns and sees Kylo watching him. Doesn’t hide the sympathy on his face.

Observation: It verges on pity. As if Hux is looking at a fifteen-year-old boy who doesn’t remember how this happened and never really knew why.

“What are you doing?” Hux asks. “You’re dripping all over the floor-- Come here.”

Hux is still sitting on the bed, so Kylo kneels onto the floor to allow Hux to dry him off. He closes his eyes when Hux wraps the towel around his head and rubs it through his hair, wants to lean forward and hide his face against Hux’s pale thighs when he’s done. Hux drapes the towel around Kylo’s shoulders and pulls a blanket around himself.

“I guess where this leaves me is hoping that you do have the blood of children on your hands,” Hux says.

Kylo stands and moves away from him, toward the window, bringing the towel down to wrap around his waist. It’s cold in the room, but he can ignore it. He turns his back to Hux and watches the rain. It’s falling harder now, in a kind of quiet, steady curtain around the house.

“Ren,” Hux says. “Listen to me, don’t-- Don’t get lost in yourself again, listen. If Snoke was able to override you somehow, to take over-- If he could do it again, and if it’s true that he can’t be killed, well. You’d never be free of him.”

“He won’t do it again,” Kylo says, speaking more to himself than to Hux. “He hasn’t ever done that, that’s not. How it works, I told you. But it’s true that I’ll never be free of him. He charged a price for the power he showed me. It can’t be paid back.”

“It’s funny that I still hope it wasn’t you who killed those Jedi children,” Hux says. “That I want it to have been him, really, forcing your hand. Though I guess funny isn’t the right word.”

“Why?” Kylo turns to Hux, glowering at him. “Why would you want that? It would mean Snoke could-- And what do you care about children dying? Those five planets were home to plenty of children.”

“Of course, and I don’t claim to care, not about that. Me mourning some long-dead children’s lost innocence isn’t going to make a bit of difference to anyone, and anyway I don’t believe in innocence, or mourning. Even the animals with the softest fur and the biggest eyes have jaws that rip apart their prey, and we’re all prey eventually, when something big enough finds us. Trying to make some sort of imaginary moral sense of the details is boring. It’s just that you don’t want it to be true. Even now, after everything else you’ve done. You don’t want to believe that you’ve done this one thing that I don’t think you did do, Ren, whatever you say. I can see it when you talk about the girl who went pale with shock. You spared her, didn’t you?”

Kylo turns back to the window.

Observation: Hux is not force sensitive at all. Kylo sensed that early on. He’s just been shown too much now. Hux is too good at piecing together information gained during reconnaissance and shaping it into the story that he wasn’t quite told.

Tell him. Tell him how you protected Rey, how you found a way to save her when the time came, even fifteen years ago, when you were so untrained, when you should have been outmatched. When he counted on you being unmatched by him.

Objective: No.

Reasoning: Rey wasn’t saved that day. Her life was spared, but she saved herself, later. Kylo saw it in her eyes on the edge of that cliff when Starkiller Base crumbled behind them, and when she gashed his face.

Conclusion, long forthcoming: He left the scar on his face in part because Rey put it there. His little cousin. Not even related to him by blood but always connected to him somehow. Sometimes the only person who’d had a fond look for Ben, when he was already beginning to unravel. And Ben had hated her so much for it, for everything she was that he wasn’t. Rey was the one who saved him that day, at the Temple. With one look, she stopped Snoke’s hand from moving through him. Together they had crippled Snoke, in resisting him. Left him frail and long waiting for the time when--

“Ren?”

Kylo turns to Hux, not sure if he was just hearing his own thoughts or those of the ghost.

Observation: He doesn’t trust this information, either way. It’s not information. It’s-- Feelings, just. Dreams.

Objective: Dismiss that line of thinking. Forget it.

Reasoning: What could even be done if it were true?

“Move over,” Kylo says, because he’s cold, tired, running out of time.

Hux does as asked, his arms opening for Kylo when he climbs into the bed and under the blankets. Kylo hides his face against Hux’s chest this time, feeling small. It’s not a great feeling.

Observation: It’s also not terrible, entirely.

“Just leave it to me,” Hux says, moving Kylo’s damp hair away from his face. “I’ll knife that bastard in his decrepit old heart if it’s the last thing I do.” He snorts when he hears himself, not even partly able to believe that, and kisses the top of Kylo’s head when he thinks Kylo is asleep.

Eventually Kylo does drift into something like sleep, halfway between that and unsteady meditation. He sees the Tower that overlooks the snow-capped mountains. It’s not a vision of the future or the past: this is a place that exists now, under Republic control, massive and stretching into the sky like a monument to their brand of order, not a brutal or secret place but a crushingly quiet one, representing the end of many journeys.

He sees Hux at the junior Academy, using combat training as an excuse to disfigure and blind an older boy who had once attacked him. Hux did this using a practice weapon that he’d sharpened in secret, during his trips to the gym to train alone at night, in preparation for this moment. Because of Hux’s father’s status at the senior Academy, he was protected from punishment. Congratulated for his violent instincts but kept to more strategic-based coursework in the future, lest he damage further Academy personnel. Kylo sees Hux wedging himself behind the empty gym’s observation seats the following night and drinking half a bottle of some clear liquor in an attempt at celebration, telling himself he’s been avenged.

He sees Hux standing at the edge of a cliff, in the pouring rain, on some other planet with an ocean that rages below. Hux looks just as he does now, dressed in baggy old clothes and with his hair just a bit too long to meet First Order regulation. Something has happened to him. He’s motionless, and his mind is empty except for the thought that he could step over the edge of this cliff and not have to feel like this anymore.

The visions come too quickly after that, like blows to the inside of Kylo’s skull: Rey asking him through tears when he would be back for her, how long it would take-- The Fortress, the fresh scars on Snoke’s face, Snoke’s calm as he looked upon his apprentice and reset his calculations-- Hux lying beneath Kylo in this bed-- Hux with his hands bound-- the walled city-- the Tower-- his father’s ship--

“Ren!”

Only one person calls him that, as if it’s his name and not his title.

Kylo jerks in Hux’s grip, forcing himself to swallow the last of whatever noise he was making. He’s sitting up in bed, his vision compromised by the images that were blinking behind his closed eyelids, crashing into him like relentless waves that took the breath from him. Hux is wrapped around him, holding on to him, pushing his hair away from his eyes.

“Hey,” Hux says. “Are you awake? Ren? You were only dreaming, it’s-- You’re fine. Look at me.”

Kylo shakes Hux off of him and slides out of the bed.

Observation, humiliating: He’s not the one who wakes from nightmares to Hux’s coddling. It should only be the other way around.

“Ren?” Hux says. “It’s. You, right?”

He asks this so meekly that Kylo has to answer, though he’s ripped in half by the question. He turns to glare at Hux.

“Of course it’s me,” Kylo says. “Quit assuming you know everything. You don’t know about the Dark side. You don’t know what I’m capable of. Nobody uses this body but me.”

Observation: You’re referring to yourself as a body.

Observation, secondary, half-formed: That’s how Snoke thinks of you. You’ve long sensed it. Hux sees it now, too.

Needing to be away from Hux’s pitying, uncertain stare, Kylo dresses in Han’s old clothes without looking down at what he’s put on. It doesn’t matter. He passes Ben Solo’s room on the way to the kitchen and punches the closed door, daring the ghost to try speaking to him now.

His hand aches as he bangs around in the kitchen, his stomach empty and whining, the hour late. The skies outside have gone black. Thunder threatens in the distance, seems to be laughing at him.

“Come and fucking get me,” Kylo mutters, slamming a pan onto the stove, ready to do battle with the sky, with anything that comes.

Observation: Not anything. Not really.

Snoke is still in him. He’s laid pieces of himself here and there, calmly. These pieces can reveal themselves or hide as needed. There is no part of Kylo Ren that isn’t laced with Snoke’s influence, all of it always ready to reawaken, awaiting the final call to action. Snoke was much more careful this time. This slow-paced, long term preparation was necessary after all.

The mistake with Ben Solo, conditioned for only two short years, will not be repeated.

Snoke knows all about waiting.

Kylo cooks eggs and bacon. He doesn’t know what else to do.

Correction: There is one other thing to do, for as long as possible.

He sends his thoughts to the bedroom, to Hux, checking on him. Hux has huddled under the blankets again, but he isn’t sleeping. He feels Kylo’s presence, a kind of warm concern encircling him.

Feedback from Hux, alarmingly direct from this distance: I’m here, I’m okay. Do you need me?

Kylo pulls free, bothered by the question. He snarls down at the eggs in the pan, adds more strips of bacon when his stomach whines for the scent of what’s already cooking. He senses Hux coming to him, even though he hasn’t been asked for. Hux feels his way through the dark by running his hand along the wall, from the bedroom to the kitchen. Kylo shudders when he feels Hux’s fingers sliding over Ben’s bedroom door. He allows himself to imagine thirteen-year-old Ben meeting seventeen-year-old Hux. Ben would have been impressed by Hux, maybe, in his junior officer’s uniform, with his cold eyes that looked gray at first glance. Annoyed by him, too, because the sons of dignitaries were always the worst, so self-important. Hux would have laughed at Ben in his Jedi robe, in just a sneering smile or a little sniff. They would have revealed absolutely nothing to each other, back then.

When he’s made his way to the kitchen, Hux comes to the stove and hugs himself around Kylo from behind. He watches Kylo cook, his chin on Kylo’s shoulder, arms wrapped around his chest.

Feedback from Hux: What am I even doing? What is the point?

“You know,” Kylo says, not wanting him to leave.

“I suppose.” Hux closes his eyes against Kylo’s neck, wants to sleep again, to be warmer than this, but he won’t go back to the bed alone. “It’s just so pathetic. This instinct to put your arms around something and hold onto it, as if you’re making some kind of statement to anyone who could possibly care. Like-- ‘This is mine. See, look: I’m holding on to it as hard as I can! I mean to keep it, therefore!’” Hux scoffs and tightens his grip around Kylo’s chest. “As if that’s any sort of real claim. As if that could matter.”

Still, he keeps hold of Kylo while he cooks, until they have to separate to get plates down and eat. Sitting on the hearth in the den with the plates in their laps, Hux puts his shoulder against Kylo’s and stares out into the dark, chewing in a kind of menacing fashion as he watches the shadows thrown by the fire. Kylo can feel Hux trying to believe in what he’s attempted to dismiss, trying to tell anything that might be waiting beyond the reach of the firelight: This is mine and I mean to keep it. See how he lets me stay close? Whatever happens, no one else will ever sit beside him like this, once I’m gone. I’m holding on as hard as I can.

 

**