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Ceasefire

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The first thing that bites through the perfect dark where he’s drifted for days is a scream.

Kylo opens his eyes. There’s nothing to see, but the echo of that scream seems to bounce around inside the deprivation chamber like a frantic moth, wounded and desperate. He tries to catch it but it’s gone too fast.

It must have been a test. One which he failed. He closes his eyes again, sending penance Snoke’s way. There’s no response, but that’s not unusual.

Two deep breaths allow him to return to his meditative state, and the only thought that remains is a nagging concern for how thirsty he is, his entire body slick with sweat under the stone that holds him in the chamber. He has a ration of water within reach, but the entire exercise, so far as Snoke would explain it, involves measuring that water out precisely according to what Kylo needs, never what he wants or only suspects he might need. He has to know for sure. It’s difficult to measure, considering he hasn’t been told when he will be released. The difficulty is, of course, the point. Kylo finds strength in this exercise, typically.

He refuses to go brittle with thirst, rejects the need for water, and shifts his mind away from his body’s panic until he’s disconnected from it. He may have drifted off to sleep, before. It happens. He dismisses the scream he heard as either a missed opportunity to ignore outside stimuli or a random outburst from a dream, and sets the whole matter aside with the rest of his thoughts, returning to the blank drift that is required of him here.

Time is relative in the chamber, but Kylo would guess that only a few minutes have passed before he hears the screaming again. This time it’s less like screaming, more like pleading, begging, crying, breaking.

Hux.

Kylo tries to sit up, instinct kicking everything else away, and he bangs his head hard on the stone that looms less than a foot above him. The blow to his skull leaves him dizzy, waves of disorienting light washing across his tightly-shut eyes when his head drops back to the floor of the chamber. He hears himself panting, losing his focus on days’ worth of meditation and on what he just saw, heard, felt.

He’s seen flashes of this torment before. Snoke interpreted it as a false alarm, nonsense that Kylo’s subconscious invented because of his anxiety about completing his training and the poor choices he made while traveling on the Finalizer in those last few days. That vision had been jarring but brief, faint, open to interpretation. This one is sitting in him like a knife in his gut, bleeding him out. He’s lost the thread of the vision but he can still feel it happening, right now, as real as the ceiling of rock above him: Hux is in pain. No, worse. He’s breaking. That was the sound of him breaking after days of enduring this.

Kylo can move the stone and free himself from the chamber. He’s strong enough. He’s done it before. He curls his hands into fists, shakes his head, closes his eyes. The last time he moved the stone himself it was unintentional, in a panic, before he became accustomed to long stretches of time in the chamber. Snoke forgave him after the punishment that followed, but that was months ago, and Kylo can’t do anything for Hux now, even if the vision is as real as it feels, soaking him with a fresh sheen of sweat while his heart hammers in his chest. He’s having trouble swallowing, but now would be the worst moment to weaken and reach for the water.

The deep breath he wants to take doesn’t fill his lungs completely before shuddering out of him in an exhale. It’s coming back. He can feel it, like a hovertrain barreling along the tracks he’s tied to. There’s nowhere to run.

Two of them are sent in together today, it’s a windowless room, Hux hasn’t been allowed a single item of clothing since they brought him here, he doesn’t know how long it’s been, he’s curled up on the floor. One of them laughs under his breath when Hux cowers before him.

“You can’t--!”

Kylo is shaken out of the windowless room by the sound of his own voice, croaking with disuse and painfully dry. The vision has snapped away again, speeding ahead on its tracks after flattening Kylo to them, but he’s still screaming it in his head, over and over, his breath getting more and more ragged as he stares up at the underside of the rock, seeing only darkness.

You can’t do that to him. You can’t. I won’t let you.

But that’s the child he’s here to smother talking. Hux was always calling him a child, an infant, an overgrown boy.

Hux--

He hates--

His nightmares about being exposed, surrounded. The worst ones. How did they know.

Kylo shuts his eyes again. He tries to breathe. He can’t. He feels like he did that day when he blew the rock overhead off the chamber without even meaning to, out of control. But this is worse, bigger, raking over him in tremors of rage. He’d been angry with himself when he blasted out of here last time. This is different. Unstoppable, he finds, when he grits his teeth and screams through them, jaw tight and eyes still pinched shut, the rock shifting and then flying away from the shallow chamber where he lies. He hears it crack apart when it lands hard on the other side of the cavernous dungeon of the citadel.

He sits up, breathing in long, shaking exhales through his nose, trying to reassess, trying to regain control.

They’re hurting Snoke’s appointed General. Snoke will want to know. Kylo waits to hear a disappointed question at the back of his mind, a knowing rebuke, a sigh, anything. There’s a kind of buzzing emptiness at the base of his skull, as if those images of Hux washed over everything like a tidal wave and took it all away.

He sits there in the dark and waits, his hands in fists, the shake that starts there moving all the way up his arms.

“Master,” he says when he can’t wait any longer. “Our ally, he. Please, guide me. I feel a disturbance.”

No answer. Kylo knows this is bad, almost unforgivable. He broke the door of the chamber. There is no light in the underground dungeon, but he stopped needing light to see things clearly years ago, and the rock that held him in the chamber is now in two giant pieces, clear on the other side of the room. Worse still, Kylo is thinking about Hux when he’s supposed to be thinking about nothing. It could be another test.

He wishes he could believe it’s just another test. Not real. Not happening.

But he knows it’s real, though it may also be a test. The feeling he got when he saw Hux on the floor in that room didn’t originate from within. It’s happening, somewhere. That is happening. To Hux, right now. He stands, stumbling over the edge of the chamber and remembering the ration of water only when he thinks for a moment that he will lose consciousness, his tongue a bitter husk in his mouth.

“Master,” he says again, freezing in place. “I seek your counsel, I. Failed, I know. Forgive me, but I think our allies in the First Order need our help.” It’s disingenuous, saying ‘allies,’ making it plural. Snoke will see through it. “Please, tell me how you wish to proceed.”

It’s an outrageously brazen entreaty, and Kylo is hit by a shockwave of shame when he hears it out loud, but he can’t access any of the calm he was floating in before he saw Hux’s tormentors gathered around him, looking down at him. Their boots. The blood on the floor. The shards of Hux’s ribs stabbing at him with every breath.

Hux’s ribs: Kylo slept with his hand pressed over them once. Hux was lean under his hand that night, muscled but lithe. He’s starving now, hollow.

Snoke will want those men dead. Certainly. They have committed treason against the First Order, which Snoke commands. Kylo takes a blind step toward the stairs that lead from the dungeon before turning back and grabbing the water. There are three decent sips left; he could have stretched these out over the course of another day. Or half day. He gulps them in one swallow and runs for the stairs.

He has a harder time making his way past the obstacles in the dark than he normally does, his senses scrambled and his limbs clumsy. He cuts his shoulder on a jagged outcropping of rock before hurtling around it. He needs more water.

Mental adjustment: He doesn’t need anything but guidance, obedience, direction, and the power those will bring him.

Mental adjustment. This old refrain feels empty now, without Snoke to nod in approval behind his self-reproach. Kylo came up with the phrasing when he was thirteen, and he’s never been able to shed it during times of crisis, along the rest of his homemade thought-organizing system. It’s archaic and juvenile, but these designations that yank him back on course were always appreciated by Snoke, in the past.

Snoke is punishing Kylo for this transgression by not responding, perhaps. Kylo gets up the stairs with some difficulty, crashing onto all fours at times and feeling like an animal, imagining the necks of those men who stood over Hux between his teeth, their throats ripped out and their hot blood soaking over his chin.

“I want to kill them, Master!’ he says, crashing onto the first floor of the citadel, already tasting their blood in his mouth. “Please-- I think these visions have come to me as a gift. To give me strength through a righteous slaughter!”

He didn’t intend to use the word righteous, but it’s not a concept Snoke rejects, when he’s the judge of what is right. Kylo stands panting in the main hallway, giant stone pillars towering on either side of him, his mouth still so dry.

“Master,” he says, trying to stand up straighter. A slicing memory of Hux’s scarred, raw, stinging back tips him over again, and he has to put his hands on his knees to stay upright. “Master?”

Nothing comes. So this is the punishment. Kylo nods to himself, his head still bent toward the floor in a kind of crippled bow. He can endure it. He will wait for guidance, always. It’s been his most sacred promise to Snoke since Ben Solo came up with these old labels for his mental protocols, since he tamed his reeling mind into a useful machine.

Objective: Stand up straight. Steady the wild breathing. Stop thinking about drinking water. Stop thinking about Hux crying out like that, the way his arm drew up over his face. Stop thinking about how he winced when they pulled his arm away and exposed him again.

Caution: Teeth might break, relax the jaw.

Kylo falls to his knees on the stones of the grand hallway, between the pillars. He waits, eyes closed, tremors moving in cold waves across his back. He will wait for days if necessary. Weeks, even. He will not think about how things might get worse for Hux in the meantime.

He’s almost certain that things cannot get worse for Hux.

Hux has wished for death a hundred times.

Kylo feels his face pinching up, his back teeth grinding together again. He tries to get a hold of himself, can’t. He wants to kill something, anything, everything.

Master. Calling for Snoke internally rarely works as well, though it was once Ben Solo’s default. Unleash me. Let me kill our enemies. I have been too long away from bloodshed.

No answer.

*

Just outside the citadel, in the woods that surround it, there is a creek that Kylo has been instructed to use only for bathing. Snoke brings him all the water he’s allowed to drink and all the food he’s allowed to eat. The creek is strictly off limits as a source of drinking water.

Kylo goes to the creek at nightfall, stares at the reflection of the planet’s single moon on the surface. His throat aches. His vision blurs, tunnels, blinks away at moments. He ends up on his knees in the moss at the edge of the creek, his arms limp at his sides. The water looks so pure, clean, cool. It feels good on his skin when he washes here. He’s rocking a bit, wishing he could steady himself enough to meditate, wanting to return to Hux. To check on him. Has Hux been given enough water by the traitors who hold him captive? Kylo feels like he must be thirsty, too.

Two full days in the chamber without food. He’s sure of it now, back on the surface of the planet, listening to the bugs in the trees shriek and subside, then rise to a piercing volume again. It was two days this time. He did so well, went so far in that quiet, within his own mind.

Far enough to reach Hux.

The creek bubbles, inviting him to drink. Taunting him. He can usually feel a low frequency presence at the back of his head: Snoke, monitoring. It’s been ripped out of him somehow. He wonders if it’s his own fault, for trying to jerk upright like that, inside the chamber, when he heard Hux scream. For slamming his head so hard on the rock overhead.

Will the water hurt him? Is that why Snoke cautioned him never to drink from this creek? Or is it only a test?

Of course it’s a test. Everything is a test, and the tests are all that matter. They matter more than whether or not Kylo is poisoned by contaminated water. He doesn’t drink. He runs his tongue over his cracked lips and stares at the water as it courses over the rocks: so smooth, calm, relentless, that flow. Only ever moving in one direction. No options, just the Force that carries it along toward its single destination, its momentum always unbroken. Kylo envies the water more than he wants to drink from it.

When he can’t find guidance through their mind link, he searches the citadel for any sign of Snoke’s physical presence. Snoke is normally in his throne room at the center of the stronghold, and Kylo is granted access to him there only occasionally. Today the door hangs open. The room, the chair: empty.

The citadel is unoccupied except for the two of them, as far as Kylo knows, and now it seems Snoke has left him here alone. Kylo isn’t aware of any shuttlecraft that Snoke has available to him, but it’s a big planet, and even as he searches the rooms of the stone castle that has been his home for the past six months, as best as he can calculate, he isn’t sure he’s looked in every room, down every winding passageway. From one of the barred front windows he can see his own shuttle, the one he took from the Finalizer, slime growing across the cockpit.

But that’s out of the question. The thought of leaving: he can’t.

Mental adjustment: Won’t, he won’t leave, because he doesn’t want to go. Nothing matters but the tests. Hux was never a good idea.

Kylo always knew his fumble with Hux would end like this. Even before that first blurred vision shook him on the Finalizer. He was always going to lose every useless attachment: he already has. They’re gone. Hux included.

He goes to his room. Small and dank, there’s nothing in it except for his bedroll and his helmet. He thinks of putting the helmet on now, is beginning to feel his thoughts slide sideways into nonsense. His head aches, fingers shake. He needs water. He’ll die if he waits much longer.

Mental adjustment: That’s a pathetic fear, unsubstantiated by authority. Snoke will intervene before any serious damage is done. He didn’t bring Kylo here to kill him.

Kylo falls onto the bedroll, thinking of Snoke’s previous apprentice, that hollow-cheeked boy Kylo was commanded to kill upon his arrival at Snoke’s doorstep, the first time he came face to face with his Master. He laughs madly at the thought that another, stronger servant to Snoke might already be on her way here, commanded to put her saber through the pathetic wraith who couldn’t withstand Snoke’s tests.

“No,” he says, letting his eyes fall shut. “I haven’t-- failed you, not entirely, I swear it-- Master. Please.”

He drifts into something like sleep, trying to fight it when he fears it might be death. Behind his closed eyes he sees Hux again, sharp and sudden like a hand on his shoulder. Hux is cold; they’ve left him alone for hours now. A scavenger fly buzzes near his blood-crusted left ear, checking to see if he’s dead yet. The fly, more than Hux himself, tells Kylo: not yet.

Not yet.

At sunrise Kylo stumbles, wheezing, to the creek. He falls to his knees, his hands landing in the water, and drinks. It hurts to force himself to swallow, and he knows this is his fate, sealed: now he’s truly failed, now he will be replaced. But he goes on drinking, gulping and coughing, his hair hanging around his face and dragging through the water, catching in his mouth. It’s the cleanest, coldest, most perfect water that he’s ever tasted. Feeling its icy relief streak down through his chest terrifies him, and when he’s swallowed enough of it to half-regain his mind he sticks his head fully in the water, eyes closed, and screams into the creek until he has to jerk backward, choking.

On his back near the creek bed, he stares up at the light that is climbing into the planet’s pale sky, visible through the tree canopy. The trees move in a gentle wind, leaves rustling. Kylo had not expected to complete his training on a beautiful planet, Snoke’s citadel seemingly the only unnatural structure in this entire globe-circling wilderness. At first he thought the beauty surrounding the citadel was a mercy to him. Now he understands it differently. He would rather be slowly digested in a sarlacc pit while he waits for his doom, for the final confirmation that he’s wasted all his work, scrapped his legacy for mere water.

Without wanting to, he sleeps. He wakes up at mid-day to try to vomit, but only a stream of thick drool comes up. His stomach is collapsing in on itself, his vision tilting when he tries to focus on the sunlight that dances over the creek.

“Master,” he says, his head slumping forward, hair covering his face. “I submit to your judgment if you have lost your faith in me. I await your wisdom, always. If you must destroy me-- It’s my fault.”

But he won’t give up until Snoke’s new apprentice puts a saber through his heart. He’ll fight. More than that last one did against Kylo when they had their first and only confrontation. He had looked at Kylo with wide eyes as he was dying; he’d seemed to smile. Kylo rips the memory away like the page of a book he’s read a thousand times, wishing he could tear it to pieces and believe that it won’t reform.

He would know it if Snoke had truly and finally abandoned him. There would be some sign, and a far more gaping emptiness. It’s still a test, but perhaps Kylo is viewing it incorrectly. He often doesn’t understand a test’s true objective until he’s seen it all the way to its end, and this is not the first time he’s weakened enough to believe that the test will surely kill him. Snoke never explains the parameters of Kylo’s trials. He gives orders and then departs. This might only be that, extended. Kylo takes a deep breath and stretches his legs out in front of him. He’s still here, no stronger, younger person’s lightsaber blade protruding from his chest. He can wait.

He tells himself, when he drinks from the creek again, that resisting the temptation to drink from the creek is no longer the point of this test. It can’t be.

He tells himself, when he searches the surrounding woods for any animal to eat, or even some of those bugs he can hear from the trees, that hunting for food isn’t against the rules of this particular test. It becomes moot when he doesn’t lay eyes on a single organism the he could catch and shove hungrily into his mouth, though he hallucinates some at times. He tries eating several varieties of leaves, but they’re all bitter enough to make him gag. He digs his fingers into the mud on the banks of the creek and finds no grubs, nothing but mud and rock.

He tells himself that Snoke’s silence doesn’t feel different than it normally does, more like an abandonment than a silent test. That he’s not such a disappointment that he doesn’t even deserve the honor of being murdered by his replacement.

He tells himself not to go looking for more visions of Hux every time he closes his eyes, and that the horrors that flash there like blades across his face are originating from his own imagination.

He knows that part isn’t true. The rest: he has no idea. He hasn’t felt this lost since Snoke first came to him.

On the fifth day without food and with no word from Snoke, he examines the shuttle. It’s grimy and its controls are covered in dust, but there is sufficient fuel to make it to the nearest space station, which seems to introduce its coordinates to Kylo’s reaching, reeling brain like a carrot dangled on a string. He could go there, get sustenance, come back. He won’t run away from Snoke’s retribution, rejection, replacement of him, or whatever this is. He will eat only so he can live to see his well-earned punishment.

He will take no detours. He will stop imagining his lightsaber severing the men who continue to hurt Hux, will stop hearing Hux’s weakening, hollow, animal protests like echoes that bounce off the stone walls of the citadel and seem to come from the woods surrounding it. He will not allow himself to believe that the answer to this test could in fact be rescuing Hux, without specific instruction from Snoke, and restoring him to the place in the Order that Snoke himself appointed Hux to.

That can’t be right. It’s too in line with what Kylo wants in his selfish, small, desiring way. It’s not Snoke’s guidance showing him that road as a possible solution. It’s Kylo’s own weakness, this suffocating, unrelenting temptation to draw Hux’s crumpled body inside his robe, to hide him there and have him always tucked away, under Kylo’s fierce protection.

Mental adjustment: Nobody has asked him to protect anybody. That is not his calling. He destroys, withdraws, waits for orders. Everything else is the Light.

In the middle of the night, so weak with hunger that his teeth chatter, he finds himself standing in the shuttle’s cockpit. His hand moves toward the controls without his permission. His eyes burn when it powers on, the console lighting up, the navigation pane asking him for coordinates. It looks like the cheerful display on a child’s toy, makes him feel like a boy who could dare to hope. The coordinates he found in his delirious searching, that nearby space station: he’s memorized them, has been repeating them in his head like an angry litany, like a fist brought mercilessly to his bleeding side.

Because he can’t do this. He can’t.

Alternative: He could venture further from the citadel in search of a beast or bird or bug to kill and eat. Or in search of Snoke.

But leaving the citadel is leaving the citadel, whether he’s wandering the wilderness on foot or departing for a space station with endless rows of glowing food stands. He’s seen them, has smelled them in his dreams. Tears pour down his face as he taps in the coordinates. It’s relief, and ruin.

“Master, I am so lost,” he says, his voice trembling. He hits himself in the chest, hard enough to knock out a pained shout, when he hears the ambiguity in his voice.

Master. He’s had more than one of those.

Mental adjustment: No. He was talking to Snoke, only ever to him.

Snoke doesn’t answer.

Observation, pitiful and dangerous: Nor does the former master.

He tries to wipe his face with his sleeve and realizes only then that he put on his helmet before walking to the shuttle. He leaves it on and drops into the pilot seat, rechecks the fuel, ignores the tears that are pooling under his chin, inside the mask. When his hand hovers over the lever that will start the shuttle’s thrusters, he thinks of Hux reaching for the panel that would open his door on the Finalizer. That last morning. How good it had felt to catch Hux in mid-reach, to stop him from opening the door to their reality, to bring Hux’s hand to his face. Hux had given him other missions, new objectives. Distractions: a false sense of achievement. Kylo bites the inside of his cheek, hard, tastes blood, and throws the lever with a growl. He’s only going to the space station. Hux isn’t there. This is about food: survival. He will eat and return to his true purpose. He will wait here for Snoke indefinitely.

He knows well before the shuttle breaks the planet’s atmosphere that this is not waiting. He bites his cheek again, swallows the drawn blood, hopes he’ll reach the space station before his hunger pains stab their way through his gut and break him open from the inside out.

He’s lolling over the console when he sees the space station’s lights, garish advertisements blinking from every tower as his shuttle draws closer. This is a lawless trading post, the kind of place where he won’t be asked for Republic or First Order papers after landing. The kind of place his father would have appreciated.

He debates whether or not to leave the mask on and ultimately removes it, because there are far more creatures in this galaxy who might recognize Kylo of the Knights of Ren than those who know the scarred face that once belonged to Ben Solo. He cloaks the shuttle before leaving it in the rental hangar, not confident that he’s powerful enough in his current state to hide it for long from prying eyes that might see the First Order insignia on its side. It’s fine: he’ll eat and leave. He’ll bring back some provisions. Perhaps Snoke will be proud of him for showing this initiative to satisfy his hunger in the absence of guidance. It demonstrates capability, Kylo thinks, nearly tripping over himself in weak, reeling delirium as he searches the hall on the arrivals deck for a food stand that will sell him some thin soup.

He’s taken measures to satisfy his own hunger before, outside of orders. Snoke never once, even in the deepest reaches of Kylo’s mind, reprimanded him for what went on with Hux. Kylo held on to the hope that it hadn’t been noticed for as long as he could.

But that wasn’t really a hope. It was a delusion. He’s always known that what he did with Hux was noticed, clearly seen, disdained. The fact that this thing which had almost cracked Kylo in half was beneath mention to Snoke was punishment enough.

The noise and lights and crowd of the space station grate against him like a brutal sandstorm after six months of austere quiet, and even the grubby cashier who looks like she must have seen it all seems taken aback by the weary, angry rasp of his voice when he orders clear soup with slices of blackshroom and yulla root. He slips into the nearest alleyway to gulp the soup from its container, burning his tongue and throat and still swallowing, letting it sear his lips. He feels it dripping into the stubble on his face that’s grown into a near beard in the past few days. He hates having even a prick of hair on his face, but both forgot and lost the energy to shave back there, at the citadel.

A ruinous thought: He doesn’t want to return.

Mental adjustment: No one in the galaxy cares about what he wants. He should care least of all. He was not born the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, fatherless warrior, peerless Sith, to stumble through the galaxy wanting things.

He sinks down against the wall in the alleyway, licking the salty remnants of the soup from his lips. He needs something more substantial, but he’ll have to digest this first. He considers the nearby rooms for rent, dingy simple places to collapse for a short time, and the ease with which he could convince some dull-eyed desk clerk that he had already paid in full, upfront. He can’t remember the last time he needed actual currency to acquire goods or services.

He can remember, however, the thrill that came with this power when it was new. It was one of his earliest uses of the Dark side. A parlor trick, but Snoke had praised him for it after whispering the suggestion that he try it. He does remember how Ben Solo smiled up at the ceiling in bed at night, thirteen years old, hiding the treats he hadn’t paid for under his mattress.

When he closes his eyes, even here, amid the noise and stink of this place, he sees Hux: his fingertips dragging across the metal floor of his cell. Someone is pulling him away from the wall, laughing when Hux feebly tries to scramble free, barely aware of where he is.

Kylo throws the empty soup container at the opposite wall in the alleyway, as hard as he can. He feels the shape of his saber on his belt, wants to put it through someone’s chest and watch the light in their eyes go out.

He needs more food. A room to rest in while his gut recovers enough to absorb real nutrition. He stands, bracing himself against the wall, trying not to see what’s happening to Hux now.

Mental adjustment: It’s none of his concern.

Alternative: Hux is still the First Order’s General. Snoke would not stand for this kind of treatment if he saw it as a gesture of disrespect. Snoke cares about the integrity of the First Order.

Confession: Kylo has long suspected he actually doesn’t, not really.

Rebuttal: Then why partner with them? They hold power. Their armies offer allegiance, obedience. Are these transgressions against Hux not a demonstration of violence against Snoke, who commands him?

In the room that he rents for the night, over a noisy nightclub that throbs beneath the floor, Kylo collapses onto the bed. The sheets are not clean; the room smells like death sticks. He doesn’t want to sleep. His stomach lurches. In two hours, if he’s kept the soup down, he’ll find something more to eat. Then he will return to the citadel.

Confession, half-conscious, fading fast: He will not return.

Decision, probably fatal: He will find Hux, kill everyone who has touched him.

After that he will not know what to do. He is untethered, adrift, abandoned.

But tomorrow he will have Hux back at his side.

Whatever’s left of him, anyway.

*

Finding Hux isn’t as easy as Kylo thought it might be when he was half-dead and having his first traitorous thoughts about trying it: first he has to recover his health enough to achieve a state of proper meditation, which is not easy in his current surroundings, even after he’s stopped feeling like he’s dying of hunger. It takes him two days to remove his consciousness fully from the rented room, which he has trashed completely in his frustration, the bed shredded to a heaped pile of cotton and cloth by his lightsaber. Another day is spent searching the visions that return for concrete information, coordinates, intelligence that will tell him how to infiltrate the base where Hux is being held. He has to force himself to take breaks to eat, knowing he will need physical strength alongside the furnace of rage that is blazing at the seat of soul, driving him through the dark and finally to all he needs: the coordinates of the base, the number of men guarding it, and Hux at the heart of this like a weakening beacon, his suffering still powerful enough to show Kylo, even before he has boarded his shuttle, that he will be victorious. He leaves the space station feeling like he’s already covered in the blood of the men he’s on his way to kill, grimacing with a kind of mirthless, triumphant grin behind his mask.

It’s all a very useful distraction from the fact that he’s thrown away his entire life and that Snoke will surely make him wish for death a thousand times once he finds him.

Mental adjustment: That is a consideration for a later time.

Objective: Do the work that is laid out for him, as he has foreseen. Bathe in their blood and drink down the power of the slaughter.

Sub-objective: Take Hux someplace where he can recover.

Follow-up questions re: sub-objective: Where, how, is that even possible?

He refocuses on the things he’s certain of once he’s entered the system where Hux is being held, approaching the moon that the traitors use as their base. They’re officers in the First Order, some kind of radical faction that has formed in secret, and recently. If Kylo had been on board the Finalizer while this plot was even a seed of an idea in their minds he would have sniffed it out and executed them himself. Something happened after he left: Hux will explain, eventually, if he is willing and able to speak.

Kylo can’t think about that until he kills everyone who has made him wonder if he will ever hear Hux’s voice again.

The base is a small concrete bunker, mostly underground, masquerading as a backup power station for the planet the moon orbits. The terrain outside offers few places to hide. Kylo uses the Force to cloak his shuttle’s approach, his rage blazing so brilliantly around him that it’s easy to hide the entire craft, a mere blink of a thought. He expects blaster fire as he approaches the heavy iron doors of the base. He wants it, wants to sweep it aside like a spray of insects. One blast comes from a concealed canon: he waves it away in a single gesture, keeping his eyes focused on the iron doors as the streak of firepower from the cannon blasts off into space.

He’s seen this part while meditating, but it feels better than he could have imagined to actually do it, something sharp and bright exploding at the center of his chest in a glorious detonation of stockpiled fury when he rips both iron doors away with one slash of his hands through the air, sending them into orbit, too.

He’s never felt this powerful, so filled with hate, and so unstoppably angry that he’s calm within it, piloting his rage-fueled body like it’s a machine that he sits inside, merely steering. But it’s beautiful, too, fluid: his lightsaber cuts the legs from two men in one graceful arc, swooping cleanly upward so that they’re still alive when he severs their heads as well. He cuts one man from between his legs and straight up through the top of his skull, walking gladly into the bloodbath that spills from between the two pieces of him as they part.

That man was the one who laughed.

As rivals to Kylo’s wrath they are pathetic, middle-aged officers who haven’t even seen a battlefield in years, but the act of destroying them is like gulping every drop from a black river of power, infusing him with such overwhelming glory that he feels solidly inhuman by the time he crashes into the room at the center of the base where Hux lies against the wall, his back to the door.

Hux doesn’t turn to see who has entered his cell. He flinches, waits. The cuts on his back are infected: Kylo senses this like a rotten smell as he crosses the room, which smells rotten in a literal sense as well. This sudden awareness-- the smell, the oozing cuts-- diminishes the high of murdering everyone else in the base, enough to make Kylo remember to power off his lightsaber before crouching down to Hux.

“Look at me,” he says when Hux doesn’t move.

Hux’s shoulder twitches. He turns with only his head, seeing nothing with his left eye. It’s bruised, swollen shut. His right eye is puffy and damaged, too, but still green, his lashes trembling when he focuses what remains of his vision on Kylo.

“Oh,” Hux says. His voice comes as if from under a pile of rocks, raw from so much screaming: it hurts him to speak. “They sent you to finish me off?” Hux sniffs, some fresh blood trickling from his nose. “That’s a clever touch.”

“Shut up,” Kylo says, fondly, though his tone through the mask doesn’t convey it. He takes off his robe and tosses it around Hux, gathering him into it. Hux can’t walk, wouldn’t even be able to drag himself to the shuttle if he had two days to do it, so Kylo scoops him up and stands, wondering if he should have taken off the mask. “They’re all dead,” he says when Hux peers up at him, his expression-- what’s left of it --mild to the point of indifference.

“Are you joking?” Hux says, almost sounding like himself. “You-- You killed them, just like that? You let them off that easy?”

“I don’t have time to detain and torture eight men.” Kylo is already striding back through the base, bearing Hux’s diminished weight easily in his arms. He thinks of pausing to let Hux take a long look at the severed pieces of the men who held him here, but Hux is staring up at Kylo’s mask as if it’s all he can see, and Kylo has to get off this moon and out of this system as soon as possible.

This is the first place Snoke will seek him, if he’s seeking vengeance already.

Mental adjustment: This is not necessarily a betrayal of Snoke. Kylo was not told to stay away from here. He was not told to abandon Hux and the faithful officers of the First Order who have maintained control of the Finalizer in the absence of their kidnapped General. This could be just what Snoke wanted after all.

Observation: Just holding Hux’s wrecked body against his chest is making him a fool for hopeless dreams already.

“How did you find me?” Hux asks, his right eye closed when Kylo looks down at him again.

“You screamed,” Kylo says.

“Ah. Well, that explains it.”

Between the feeling of having ended eight lives in a magnificent massacre and the fact that Hux is not only speaking but being a smart ass, Kylo is afraid his heart will blow apart in his chest, overinflated with blood-soaked joy.

On board the shuttle, he brings Hux to the small cot that pulls out from the back wall, placing him there as carefully as he can without making a show of it. Hux is hissing in pain, wincing when Kylo stands over him. Kylo doesn’t have time to pull off his helmet, but he does it anyway, showing Hux his face.

“You look terrible,” Hux says. Fondly, Kylo thinks, or maybe it’s a joke, considering what Hux looks like: hollow cheeks covered with matted red stubble that’s approaching an actual patchy, filthy beard, so much of his skin worked over by knives, pummeled and pushed to breaking.

“It’s been a long week,” Kylo says, to his explain his own unshaven appearance. Hux tries to laugh, winces again.

“No shit,” he says, narrowing his functioning eye at Kylo.

Kylo moves to the drawer of supplies he collected before leaving the space station and pulls out a canteen of water. He passes it to Hux, watches him drink. Hux’s left arm seems to be as non-functional as his legs, limp and hanging at the wrong angle.

“Snoke sent you?” Hux asks, breathless just from gulping the water, some of it dripping down over his chin. Kylo nods.

“Of course,” he says.

“Of course? Like hell.” Hux drinks again. His throat is so swollen and bruised; it hurts, watching him struggle to swallow. “I’m surprised Snoke bothered with me,” Hux says, giving Kylo a suspicious look.

“We can talk later,” Kylo says, his heart swelling again at the thought. “I’m getting us out of here. Hold on to something.”

Hux reaches for the grip bar on the wall with his right hand, giving Kylo a dry stare that he’s not sure how to interpret. He’ll get easily back into Hux’s head when the time is right, but it seems unwise to try it while Hux is like this. His pain, the memories of what he went through, and even his relief might sweep over and into Kylo too strongly to allow him to keep his head and pilot them to the only location he’s been able to come up with as a potential waypoint. He returns to the cockpit, though taking his eyes off of Hux seems dangerous. As if Hux might disappear without the protection of Kylo’s gaze.

Observation, from the cockpit: This will never work. There are too many messy facets. Too much that’s impossible to predict about what they will find when they get there. It’s barely even a plan, probably the worst idea he’s ever had.

But it’s the only one that’s come, so he punches in the coordinates, drops his helmet onto the floor and throws the lever that launches them off the surface of this vile little moon. Kylo wants to blow it up on his way out, but that would be overly conspicuous. Regardless, this shuttle isn’t equipped with any weapons powerful enough to destroy a moon.

It will take seven hours to arrive at their destination. Kylo activates the shuttle’s autopilot once they’re on course. When he stands from the pilot seat he finds himself still flooded with so much power absorbed from the people he destroyed that the shuttle feels too small to contain him, claustrophobic and in danger of exploding outward with the force of his presence. He needs a task, something to funnel this power into. He goes to Hux, flexing his hands at his sides.

Hux is the only person Kylo has ever even attempted to heal, and those were only some shallow bruises on Hux’s neck that Kylo had put there himself. But with this power coursing through him he feels confident that he can transfer the raw energy of the lives he took into Hux’s body, enough to heal every bruise and cut and broken bone.

No one taught him how to heal. He taught himself, that night in his room on the Finalizer, with Hux as his test patient. He’d always had a feeling he could do it, and as soon as he tried it, there it was, flowing from his hands, real and strong. When he returns to the cot Hux is slumped there miserably, hiding under Kylo’s robe as if it’s a blanket, the hood covering most of his face. He stiffens when he hears Kylo approaching.

“It’s me,” Kylo says, and he feels like an idiot when Hux snorts under the robe. Hux has a special talent for inspiring this feeling in him, but Kylo knows Hux needs it now: something routine, an old habit from the world he was snatched from.

“Where are we going?” Hux asks, his face still covered. “To him?” There’s dread in the question.

“No,” Kylo says. “Snoke requires you to recover from these injuries before you resume command of the Finalizer. I’m taking you to a place where that will be possible. I’m to personally oversee it and then return you.”

It’s easy to lie to anyone who isn’t Snoke, even Hux. Kylo is tempted to investigate Hux’s thoughts to see if he believes these are actual orders from Snoke and not in fact a suicide run that Kylo has invented for himself, but he’s still wary about approaching whatever is going on in Hux’s mind. He’ll need to tend to at least some of the physical damage first. He kneels beside the cot and hears Hux’s breath catch under the robe.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Kylo says, incredulous.

“I know,” Hux says. Kylo doesn’t need to probe Hux’s mind to hear that this is a lie, or at least an exaggeration.

“You need healing,” Kylo says. “Let me help.”

Hux sighs as if this is a favor he’s doing for Kylo and moves the hood of the robe from his battered face. It shocks Kylo anew, seeing him like this, even after all those long days of being haunted by the visions of him from afar.

“I suppose I could use a bandage or two,” Hux says, his voice faltering for the first time since Kylo so gladly heard him speak. Kylo swallows, nods. He reaches for a gash on Hux’s cheek, placing two fingertips there. Hux flinches away and scowls. “What are you doing?” he asks.

“What did I just say? I’m healing you.” Kylo returns Hux’s scowl, tempted to tell him that he didn’t actually have to do this, and that if he’s going to ruin his life for Hux he could at least show some gratitude.

“If you’re going to heal me,” Hux says when Kylo reaches for him again, “Start with something that matters. Not my fucking face.”

“What’s your worst injury?” Kylo looks down at Hux’s body, which is entirely concealed by Kylo’s robe. They’re both covered in blood: Hux in his own, dried and crusty, and Kylo in the blood of the men he killed, still wet in some places.

“Oh, it’s so hard to choose,” Hux says. “Hmm, well. They dislocated my left shoulder. I don’t know if I have any ribs that aren’t broken. There’s the ear, the eye. And the fact that every word I speak feels like a knife in my throat.”

Kylo nods and takes the canteen over to the shuttle’s water line for a refill. Hux didn’t mention his legs, both of which are broken. He’s hiding something-- Kylo pulls back before he can get sucked in too deep, the lightest pressure against Hux’s state of mind making him eager to retreat. He’s impressed, having glimpsed what’s going on inside him, that Hux is holding it together so well. He supposes Hux has had lots of practice with that, and draws up a previously harvested memory of Hux in his uniform at the junior Academy, wincing as he refastened his buttons. Getting to class on time anyway. Sitting at his desk with perfect posture.

Kylo breathes out through his nose. He wants to kill again, more, but that’s not useful here. He jerks the canteen away from the water line when it begins to overflow, water dripping over his hand and onto the floor of the shuttle. When he turns to the cot he sees that Hux has pushed the robe down to his waist, exposing his beaten chest and bruised arms, swollen neck.

“Start with the arm,” Hux says, muttering this when Kylo approaches. Hux is staring at the ceiling of the pull-out bunk with his right eye, his jaw tight when Kylo touches his shoulder and passes him the canteen.

“Drink,” Kylo says. Hux sighs and obeys, spilling some onto his chin again. It gives Kylo a distant thrill, remembering how good it feels to issue orders and watch Hux do as he’s asked. “When’s the last time you ate?” he asks. Hux shrugs with right shoulder, the other one limp and twisted under Kylo’s investigating fingers.

“I don’t particularly have an appetite,” Hux says.

“Doesn’t matter. Your ribs are poking out. I have food on board. I’ll get you something after this.”

Kylo concentrates on Hux’s arm and shoulder, not really sure how to approach this. He closes his eyes and focuses on the memory of ending those men’s lives, drawing on the energy he forever took from them and trying to redirect it into Hux. He’s apprehensive for only a moment, the confidence he harnessed during the slaughter translating more smoothly than he expected into the effort of putting things right with Hux’s shoulder. Hux shouts in pain when it lurches back into the socket, but it’s a pain that’s heavy with gratitude, and Hux is nodding as Kylo continues, shivering but relieved.

Bolstered by this, Kylo moves his hand down Hux’s arm and watches his cuts knit up, his bruises fade. They both start breathing harder, and when their eyes meet it’s like a cannon blast has landed against Kylo’s chest, the impact fortifying him instead of blowing him apart.

“Fuck,” Hux says in an exhale, trembling harder. “Careful.”

“But it’s working.”

“I know, just. Careful. Your eyes.”

“My eyes?”

“They’re-- black.”

Kylo huffs and takes this as a compliment. Hux almost smiles, his eyebrows knitting together as if the impulse to do so is confusing.

Observation: It makes no sense, according to anyone’s system of reality, for either of them to feel this way right now, with everything ruined.

Further observation: And yet.

Kylo heals Hux’s left eye next, unable to resist erasing the gash over the bridge of Hux’s nose afterward. When he moves his fingers down toward the cut that splits the left side of Hux’s bottom lip, Hux pushes his hand away.

“Leave that,” he says, staring up at the ceiling of the cot again.

“Why?” Kylo asks. “It won’t take much energy to heal it.”

Hypothesis: Hux doesn’t want Kylo touching his mouth.

Analysis: This is good. It will keep Kylo from spiralling even further out of control. If he avoids anything to do with Hux’s lips he’ll be better able to explain the real reason for this mission when Snoke returns to him. That reason being that the General of the First Order was in need of rescue. Solely that.

“I don’t know,” Hux barks when Kylo goes on staring at him, waiting for an answer. “Why did you want to leave that one on your face?”

“To remind myself of my failure.”

“Well, there you have it. Only this isn’t a mark of failure. It’s-- survival. Or something like that. Just, continue, please, elsewhere.”

Kylo does as asked, moving his fingers to Hux’s fractured collarbone. Hux’s shivering is becoming intense, and his jaw is locked tight when Kylo moves his hands down to assess the damage done to his ribs.

It’s a blow, even after all Kylo has accomplished already. The damage to Hux’s ribs is extensive, and his chest is so hollow. He’s been long underfed, reduced. Kylo wants to add volume to him along with the healing energy that finds the splinters of his ribs and carefully rearranges them, some of the shards as thin as hair. It’s impossible to make Hux regain weight via healing; that will take something that Kylo can’t give him through the Force, and time that they might not have.

Mental adjustment: Kylo should be glad he can even do this much to fix what’s been done.

Observation, twofold: He is glad, but wary, afraid he’s not strong enough to really change anything.

Further observation, urgent: Hux is writhing, then shaking his head, pushing Kylo away.

“Stop,” Hux says, gasping his breath, both hands going to his face. His knuckles are blood-crusted, bruised: did he punch his attackers at some point? “Please, just. I need a break. I’ll have a seizure.”

“Okay. Okay, sorry.”

Hux laughs behind his hands and opens his fingers to look at Kylo.

“You’re always apologizing to me,” he says, his voice muffled by his palms.

“Tell me when you’re strong enough for more,” Kylo says, annoyed by him even now, even when he’s this low. That’s almost impressive, on Hux’s part.

Back in the cockpit, Kylo makes pointless system checks to distract himself from the feeling of soul-deep disgrace that regrows between his ribs when he’s not preoccupied with Hux. It still seems like an impossible dream that Kylo could even be here, away from his Master in mind and body, and even more surreal that he’s headed to the place where he’s directed the shuttle to land. He wonders if he’s actually dead, if this is some kind of afterlife. If it is, Hux must be dead, too, because that’s unmistakably him back there, not some phantom version but fully the real thing, despite Hux’s diminished physical state and cracked apart, closely guarded mind. He felt so real under Kylo’s hands, especially during the healing. Too real: it’s all actually happening, somehow.

His efforts to heal Hux have drained him more quickly than he’d hoped, and there’s much more needed. He eats some jerky from the supply he got at the space station, then heats a container of instant soup in his hand. When he returns to the back of the shuttle Hux is under the robe again, the hood draped around his neck.

“Ready for more?” Kylo asks, approaching him.

“Mmph.” Hux appears to be close to sleep, or maybe just delirium. His nose twitches when he notices the soup. “What’s that?”

“Some shitty soup for you to drink, but I think I should heal your throat first.”

Hux agrees to this, lowering the hood so Kylo can access his neck. Kylo puts the soup aside and lays his hand on Hux’s throat. He monitors Hux’s expression as he works, pushing the purest energy he can harness down through his fingers and into Hux’s skin, then deeper, along the stretch of his sore muscles. Hux’s eyelids flutter and the shivering resumes.

“It’s cold,” Hux says, twitching under the robe. “It-- Makes me cold, when you do this.”

“Here.” Kylo disconnects carefully and removes his hand from Hux’s neck, some faint bruising remaining but the swelling mostly gone. He passes Hux the hot soup and watches him take a sip from it, Hux’s choppy breath cutting through the steam that rises from the little plastic cup. Hux drinks from it again, sighing with what sounds like relief when he swallows without pain.

“Your training is finished?” Hux says, cutting his eyes to Kylo’s.

“Nearly.” He’s not even sure if that would have been true if he’d stayed; Snoke never gave him a timetable or a progress report. “It’s on hiatus until this crisis is over.”

“Crisis.” Hux sniffs and peers down at the soup. “I suppose you know all about what happened.”

“I know some.” Kylo has been too distracted by his wrenching departure from the citadel and then the rescue mission to really investigate the details. Part of him just doesn’t care, considering everything else that’s going on. “They were your officers. Traitors.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, actually.” Hux gulps the rest the soup and brings the empty cup to his forehead, his eyes falling shut. “Fuck, I’m freezing,” he says, peeking at Kylo with his left eye. It’s a bit watery; Kylo might have to concentrate more healing energy there, though the bruising and swelling is gone. “Have you got anything for me to wear?” Hux asks, mumbling.

“No, sorry. Just that robe. But we’re going somewhere-- There will be clothes.”

It stabs at him to think that this is somehow true. Their old things, still there. He wouldn’t have expected any of it to remain in place, untouched. Even the little house itself. But when he sends his mind there it’s all the same, covered in dust but intact.

Over the next six hours, Kylo alternates between sulking in the cockpit, miserably awaiting a crushing rebuke from Snoke in his mind, and returning to the cot to work on Hux one injury at a time, until Hux grits his teeth and tells him to stop, that he’s too cold. By the time they enter the system where Kylo hopes to take this mad sanctuary, he’s healed all of the major injuries except those done to Hux’s legs. Healing them will take more delicate work. They were broken days ago, the injuries there complicated by infections more serious than what has now been healed on Hux’s back. Hux sleeps through their final descent, shivering under the robe. Kylo is bleary and exhausted in the cockpit, steering the shuttle through driving rain once they’ve entered the atmosphere and passed below thick clouds. His eyelids are heavy, his chest jittery; it’s possible that he should have spaced out his healing sessions a bit more.

Observation, belated: He certainly should have. He feels like he could sleep for weeks, and his hands shake on the console as he directs the shuttle to land on the airstrip outside the house that overlooks the ocean on this backwoods planet.

The house: just the sight of it in the distance makes Kylo’s heart race. He feels smaller for having seen it, partially obscured by the heavy rainfall but seemingly unchanged. It’s winter here, rainy season. Sometimes they visited the house during this season on purpose. Less people around, more peace. His parents had liked the rain; his mother said it made the house cozier. Ben would get bored and complain, would sometimes remain surly for the entire vacation. His father would tell him that, when he was Ben’s age, all he had for entertainment was a holochess board and ‘the outdoors, you know, there’s also an entire planet out there to entertain you.’

But it’s raining--

Kylo grits his teeth and puts his elbows on the shuttle’s console, his head in his hands. He’s powered the shuttle off. There’s nothing to do but gather Hux into his arms again and carry him into the house. It’s not as if the locked door will keep them out.

This place is special for our family.

That’s his mother’s voice in his head. Not a good sign, but it’s only a memory.

Observation: Ben’s memories can be very dangerous.

Further observation: This entire planet feels like a memory he shouldn’t be dwelling on. It feels like his undoing.

Mental adjustment: It’s only an out-of-the-way place to wait for word from his Master. He’ll keep the First Order’s General safe here until he’s instructed not to do so.

Realization, so bitter he can taste it: That instruction may yet come.

Further realization, slicing through him like a blade, a thought he can no longer ignore: Snoke could appear at any time and collect him. Snoke could also appear at any time and tell him to put his lightsaber through the chest of another glaring weakness, petty sentiment, anchoring attachment.

He stands, bracing himself on the back of the pilot seat when his legs tremble from the effort. He needs to sleep.

Objective: Rest, reassess. Revisit these concerns at another time.

Hux jerks against the back wall of the cot when Kylo wakes him, his eyes shooting open like he’s heard a blaster fired in his direction. His frantic gaze darts around until it lands on Kylo.

“Sorry.” Kylo frowns when he hears himself say it. If Hux is going to make fun of him for it, he should really stop apologizing. “We’ve arrived.”

“Where?” Hux asks, his chest still heaving under Kylo’s robe.

“A safehouse on a remote planet. No one will find us here.”

Mental adjustment, unhelpful: Snoke might.

Further adjustment: Kylo should want to be found by his Master. What else will he do if he’s not serving Snoke? He’s certainly not going to return to the First Order under Hux’s command.

“Well, I still can’t walk,” Hux says, snapping this at Kylo when he stands there staring, lost in thought. “I’d prefer it if you didn’t prolong this.”

“You should be more careful with what you say to me,” Kylo says, anger funnelling in from his concerns about Snoke, from his confusion: it’s easier to direct it at Hux, to match his scowl. But Hux’s face is getting red. He’s humiliated, waiting to be carried again.

“And you should know you don’t need to remind me that I’m at your mercy,” Hux says, his eyes still hard, face very red now. “I’m well aware.”

“Shut up,” Kylo says, hoping Hux will hear the fondness in it now. He reaches down and gathers Hux into his arms, hoisting him from the cot. Hux pulls the hood of the robe over his head when Kylo carries him through the shuttle, hiding his face. Maybe he heard the rain on the roof.

They’re both soaked as soon as Kylo steps from the shuttle’s boarding platform and into the soggy grass on the peninsula that the house sits on. The ocean is wild and loud, the skies overhead stormy. Kylo had forgotten that salt spray smell, the way the waves crash against the rocks at the base of the high cliff. He opens the front door with his mind, the nagging fear that the house would somehow bar him from entering dissipating as he crosses the threshold, carrying Hux.

Other fears hurry in to replace that one as Kylo’s eyes adjust to the dark. He closes the door behind them and locks it, though a physical lock won’t keep anything that could actually hurt them out of here. His mother once suggested that this place was protected by the Force in some specific way that guarded their family in the Light. Probably another one of her condescending lies. If this place was protection for the Skywalkers, the Solos, for Leia Organa, it wouldn’t have allowed Kylo Ren to enter with a genocidal General shivering in his arms.

He uses his mind to slam the door to Ben Solo’s old room as he passes it, not casting a glance in its direction.

“That room is off limits,” he says, though Hux is still hiding inside the hood of the robe, his shivering so intense now that he might not even know they’re out of the rain.

“Huh?” Hux says.

Observation: Kylo was really talking to himself.

Objective: Don’t go in there.

Confirmation: He won’t.

Kylo takes Hux into the master bedroom at the end of the hall, with the big window that looks out at the ocean and an attached bathroom with a tub. He puts Hux on the bed, allowing the sheets to get wet. He’ll have to change them, anyway; it’s obscene to think that he wouldn’t, though his parents haven’t set foot in this place in fifteen years and the bed is made neatly, sheets probably clean, still awaiting the next Solo family vacation.

Kylo still remembers where things are kept here, his hands shaking when he gathers towels from the closet across from the bed. Hux is at least able to sit upright, the wet hood pushed away from his face now.

“You’re still filthy,” Kylo says when he returns from the bathroom, where he was relieved to find that the water still works and still gets hot, the tub filling up with it. “I’m going to-- I’ll help you get clean.”

“Terrific,” Hux says, hating him.

But it’s a shallow hate, laid over something much bigger. Kylo pulls away from Hux’s mind before he can see the rest, nearly crashing into the frame of the bathroom doorway when he feels the force of it, that buried power. It’s gratitude, or something close to it, something too enormous for that word, and there’s gut-wracking fear crackling through every inch of it. Hux is afraid to hope that he’s really been rescued, even now.

Kylo carries Hux into the bathroom. Though the water is working, the house doesn’t seem to have power, and Kylo is glad to have only the grayish light from the window out in the bedroom when he lowers Hux into the bathwater, peeling the sopping wet robe away from him after he’s seated in the tub.

“I can’t leave your legs like this,” Kylo says, realizing it now that he’s touched Hux again, having picked up on the subtle and less subtle cues that Hux’s body throws off. Kylo is exhausted, his healing energy almost tapped out completely, but Hux is in danger of getting irreparably worse if those bone infections aren’t cured. “It will give you that cold feeling,” he warns, touching Hux’s knee under the water. “But the hot water should counteract it.”

“Great.” Hux is listless, his shoulders rounded and his gaze unfocused.

When the tub is full and the tap turned off, the room seems too quiet. Kylo reaches into the water and takes a deep breath, needing this part to be over. He’ll sleep for three days when he’s done; Hux won’t mind. He starts with Hux’s feet and works his way upward.

It’s grueling, working this hard when he’s already mined what felt like the last of his energy, and he’s dripping with sweat by the time his hands slide up to Hux’s thighs. Hux is shivering in the water, his now-functional knees bent and tipped apart, arms folded over them. He has his head down on his arms, and his breath stutters when Kylo’s fingers find the slashes in the soft skin on the insides of his thighs.

The cuts were made by fingernails, not knives, and from several different pairs of hands. This is why Hux didn't want Kylo tending to his legs first. If he had the energy, Kylo would go out into the yard with his lightsaber and thrash all the native flora in sight, but he doesn't, and Hux would probably prefer an alternative reaction to this discovery.

Kylo can't leave these marks on Hux's skin any more than he could have left his bones broken. The cuts are shallow, really just scratches and maybe not even intentionally left. They're easy enough to heal, except for how exhausted Kylo is, so worn down by this that he’s growing feverish, and for the fact that Hux stiffens with terror when he’s touched there. As if Kylo is going to yank his legs apart suddenly. As if that’s what he’s brought Hux here for.

Kylo falls back onto his ass when the nail marks are erased, Hux's skin restored and smooth. Kylo is panting, shaking. Hux still has his face hidden against his arms.

“Thank you,” Hux says. His voice is small, cowed. Kylo reaches for him, then wonders if he should. Touching Hux again might reactivate the healing. Kylo can’t take any more of that today.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Kylo says. He clears his throat when he hears how weak his voice has become, reedy and worn. “It’s my duty.”

“Somehow I doubt Snoke cares about my scars, but okay.”

Kylo doesn’t appreciate being called out for going above and beyond, or whatever Hux thinks he’s doing. He stands with some effort and splashes cold water from the sink onto his face, then searches the cabinet over the sink for soap. He only allows his eyes to wander briefly over the other contents of the cabinet: his mother’s hand cream, his father’s razor. He closes the door hard enough to rattle everything inside after he’s found soap, a washcloth and a bottle of shampoo that looks like it was manufactured during the Old Republic, possibly older than he is.

“Here,” he says, kneeling down to pass these items to Hux, who turns to look at them like he’s not sure what he’s expected to do next. After this dazed hesitation, Hux takes what Kylo is offering and sets each item on the rim of the tub, one at a time. Kylo dips his hand in the water. It’s gotten cold. He turns on the tap again, making it as hot as it will go. He could try to heat the water with his hand the way he warmed up that soup, but he’s afraid he would burn Hux, barely in control of his powers after draining them on healing. He can’t even go on standing, and he falls to a seat near the tub, his back to the wall.

“These aren’t as prissy as the grooming supplies you had on the Finalizer,” Hux says, starting on his face with the soap.

“I don’t know why you thought that stuff was prissy,” Kylo says, so glad to hear an insult from Hux that he wants to lean over and lick him in approval. “It was just some crap I picked up in a kit on a space station, during some mission.”

Feedback from Hux, unintentionally supplied: He liked the smell of that cheap stuff.

It smelled like you.

Observation: Oh.

“It’s weird to think of you buying things,” Hux mutters.

“I don’t,” Kylo says. Hux glances at him, frowns, then seems to understand.

“Oh, you’re a thief. Well, it’s even stranger to think of you slipping a shampoo into your cloak without paying for it, or whatever you do.”

Kylo isn’t sure why it should be strange. Though he would prefer not to have to think about it, he still has a body that needs tending on occasion. Hux should know.

“Do we have a comlink here?” Hux asks when he’s scrubbing at his chest.

“I don’t think so,” Kylo says. “You’d have to go to town.” He won’t allow it, but Hux doesn’t need to know that yet. “What do you need one for?”

“For getting in touch with Uta, I suppose. She’s taken command of the Finalizer, unless things are even worse than I thought. I don’t think she was involved with this, with me being--” Hux glances at Kylo. “Do you know if she was?”

Kylo shuts his eyes. He’s really too tired to meditate. He finds the strength to drop into a shallow trance anyway, because he needs to know the name of every traitor who had any role in Hux’s torture, and his investigation has to start somewhere. He doesn’t have the patience to kill anyone slowly, but he would be willing to let Hux see to that if he wished.

“Uta is loyal to you,” Kylo says when he opens his eyes, the image he received of Uta fading, her concern for Hux scratching at his own chest. “She likes you, even.”

Hux looks aghast at this.

“Are you just telling me what I want to hear?” he asks, sharply. Kylo shakes his head.

“I want them dead, too,” he says. “Anyone who helped them take you.”

“Well, then you ought to kill me,” Hux mutters, moving the soap down to his legs.

“What? Why?”

“My decisions, I-- You tried to warn me.”

Kylo isn’t sure how to respond. He doesn’t feel vindicated, just tired, ready to collapse. Finished with the soap, Hux drops it into Kylo’s hand. Kylo is careful not to let his fingers brush Hux’s back when he washes the grime there away, using the washcloth where scrubbing is required.

“I hate this,” Hux says.

“Calm down, I’m almost done.”

“No, I mean-- This.” Hux turns toward Kylo, stroking his patchy red facial hair. “I wish I had my shaving cream.”

Though it's missing from his inflection, Hux laments the loss of his shaving cream with sincere sadness, as if that little green bottle is a childhood home he will never return to.

Observation, tentative: Kylo might be projecting, a bit.

“I could find some,” he says, eying the cabinet over the sink. It's in there, beside the razor. His father's. “Probably not as prissy as yours, but it would do the job.”

“Fine,” Hux says, washing his hair now. “I’ll take whatever you have.”

Observation, humiliating: Kylo has a particular fondness for Hux’s hair. It’s gotten longer during his captivity, growing over the tops of his ears, almost shaggy. It looks good like that, after it’s washed.

Hux tries to shave himself, still seated in the tub, but his hands are shaking. He probably needs to eat again. He might just be overwhelmed with exhaustion after the healing session, like Kylo. He nicks his cheek and curses, drops the razor into the water. Kylo snatches it before it can slice Hux’s leg, the razor zipping into Kylo’s hand so fast that it nearly cuts him instead.

“I need a mirror,” Hux says, almost shouting it, as if he’s accusing Kylo of breaking another one. “I can’t-- I never do this without a mirror.”

“I’ll be your mirror,” Kylo says. Hux glares at him.

“There’s a frightening thought.”

“Shut up. Turn toward me.”

Hux looks almost comical with that scowl and the shaving cream on his cheeks, hiding their hollowness. As he slides the razor over them, revealing their pallid color again, Kylo feels Hux’s stare like an accusation. Did Kylo let this happen? Did he warn Hux well enough about what he had seen?

Mental adjustment: Pointless, irrelevant, not really his concern.

Observation: And yet here he is, carefully drawing a razor over Hux’s cheek. Steadying his own tired hands, for Hux’s sake. Not wanting to hurt him.

Kylo puts his thumb over the nick on Hux’s face when he’s finished, the shaving cream scraped away. He wonders if healing this tiny cut will be the last straw, the thing that finally knocks him over onto the floor. It isn’t, but standing is difficult. He needs a turn in the tub before he can drop into bed. He reeks of foul blood; his clothes are likely ruined. If there is a way to use the Force to launder things, Kylo has never uncovered it. He rinses the razor in the sink while Hux rubs the washcloth over his clean-shaven cheeks. When Kylo turns back to the tub Hux is just sitting there, bent slightly forward, the ends of his hair dripping into the water.

“Do you want to get out?” Kylo asks.

“Of what?” Hux lifts his face, a strange hope springing into his eyes.

“Out of the tub,” Kylo says, frowning.

“Oh.”

Hux grips the sides and lifts himself, slowly, onto his feet, into a crouch. He’s shaky when he stands. His legs feel too new; Kylo moves toward him before he starts to fall, catches him before he can crash over the side of the tub.

The blood on Kylo’s clothes has dried, but it still feels wrong to hold Hux against it when they crumple to the floor together, Hux’s head falling forward and his shoulders jerking with a kind of angry sob that doesn’t quite come to the surface. Kylo huddles over him, around him, sheltering him from the cold in the room, letting him hide. Hux makes a fist against Kylo’s chest and punches him there once, twice. It’s too weak to hurt and too powerful not to feel like a confession, like some wordless but important thing Hux is trying to forcibly insert between Kylo’s ribs, because that’s the only way to get it in there. Kylo puts his face on the back of Hux’s neck and closes his eyes, giving in to the fact that as long as they are in this house together he will not be able to stop healing Hux, or at least trying to.

“They never even asked me any questions,” Hux says, his voice cut up and painful again, despite the restored health of his throat, his vocal chords, his neck-- everything Kylo could reach. There is something deeper that he couldn’t heal, of course.

“They’re dead,” Kylo says, murmuring this against the back of Hux’s ear. “And you’re alive. That means you won. That’s the only thing that matters in the game they tried to play. They lost. You beat them.”

“I wanted to kill them myself,” Hux says, grabbing a handful of Kylo’s tunic. His hand will come away bloody, or at least stained.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re not. Stop fucking apologizing to me.”

They stay like that for a while. Kylo noses at Hux’s wet hair, remembering the smell of this shampoo from childhood. Mental adjustments are offline. He’s so tired. Hux is softening against him, his shoulders relaxing and his hand dropping to Kylo’s thigh.

“I’m going to put you in the bed,” Kylo says. Fuck changing the sheets. They can just avoid the wet spot where Kylo deposited Hux earlier. It’s a big bed. Hux takes a deep breath and lets it out, his hand twitching on Kylo’s leg. He still thinks this is going to end up being a dream, that he’s going to wake up back there with them.

Dilemma: How to convince Hux this is real.

Follow-up question: How to convince himself this can be real for much longer.

Kylo hunts through the drawers in the bedroom for clothes to give to Hux, trying not to remember his father in these shirts, those socks. He finds a relatively unfamiliar brown sweater and passes that to Hux, then some black pants made from a soft material. They’re much too baggy on Hux’s narrowed waist, but they manage to just hang on. Kylo will have to dress in Han’s clothes, too, after he’s showered.

Mental adjustment: They are nobody’s clothes. Their former owner is dead, this place abandoned. This is simple scavenging for useful materials, nothing more.

Further, important: Kylo Ren never spent time here. He never set foot in this sad little house before today. Ben Solo is as dead as his father, and whatever supplies are available here are as good as anonymous, just junk that somebody forgot to collect after their son went away and they went away, too, differently but just as permanently.

Observation: He’s too fucking tired to be thinking about this.

Once Hux is dressed and under the blankets on the bed, turned toward the window, curled up on his side, Kylo pulls off his own filthy clothes. Naked, he carries them out to the back porch and dumps them in a heap. Tomorrow he’ll burn them. He stands staring at the ocean as the sun begins to sink behind the thick cloud cover, the sheet of relentless rain still hammering the roof of the porch overhead. There is no one around for miles, no ships out on that roiling sea. He hurries inside when he finds he needs the sight of Hux again, confirmation that he is still there.

Observation: Yes, under blankets, trying to sleep. Failing, so far, his mind like a caged animal that can’t stop scratching at the walls, frantically trying to make sense of its imprisonment.

Kylo drains the tub and showers. He tries not to look at the mirror when he steps out and towels off, but when he shaves his face he holds his own gaze, eyes blazing, daring himself to flinch away from the sight of his face, here, in his father’s mirror, using his father’s razor. Daring himself to see Ben Solo in the reflection before him. He doesn’t, really: an enormous relief.

He’ll need to go to the market in town for food once they finish the small supply in the shuttle. It’s a half-hour walk each way. Hux can’t come with him, but the thought of leaving him here alone for that long is impossible, as if every army in the galaxy will descend upon Hux as soon as he’s out of Kylo’s sight for too long. Kylo grimaces at his reflection, hating that they both need things like food, water, the nearness of each other. At the citadel, he had congratulated himself daily for walking away from Hux.

He thought about Hux every day, in that way.

He goes to the drawers again and finds the most anonymous piece of clothing available: loose short pants, navy-colored and worn. He doesn’t remember seeing them before. When he’s wearing them he walks out to the kitchen. The glassware is harder to forget; there’s a cup with smiling animals on it that he wants to pitch off the cliff outside, but he ignores it and selects a plain drinking glass, lets the tap on the kitchen sink run for a few minutes before filling it with water that appears clean enough. He drinks from it, remembering how the water tastes here: distinct, with a faint bite of sulfur. Ben had complained about this, once.

Hux is still awake when Kylo re-enters the bedroom, his eyes closed and the blankets pulled up to his ear. Thunder shakes the frame of the house. Hux’s eyes crack open, searching the room for the next attack. He flinches when he sees Kylo standing over him with the glass of water.

“Drink,” Kylo says, holding it out to him. “You need it.”

Hux sits up on his elbow and gulps from the glass. If he tastes the hint of sulfur he doesn’t complain. When the glass is half-empty he passes it back to Kylo, who sets it on the little table beside the bed.

“I’ll refill that when you finish,” Kylo says, thinking of his ration of water inside the deprivation chamber, how carefully he had sipped from it. He goes to the place in his mind where Snoke usually awaits, even when he’s silent, holding a kind of heaviness that once gave Kylo such strength. There’s nothing, but the spot Snoke occupied remains empty, available for him to reclaim.

Observation, treasonous: It had seemed to give Kylo such strength, that heaviness, Snoke’s persisting weight. But what Kylo did today: so many healed bones, Hux’s skin wan but smooth again, everything restored except the damaged hearing in his left ear, and maybe that, too, soon-- Kylo did that on his own, all of it. And it was unlike anything he’d ever done before, under guidance.

Observation, semi-delirious: He feels different for having done this. Like he’s shed a layer of skin. Weakened, maybe, but stronger, somehow, too.

Hux rolls away, showing Kylo his restored back and bony shoulder blades. He’s taken off the sweater but is still wearing those pants. Thunder rumbles again outside, the heart of some new storm moving closer. Kylo doesn’t have the energy to fully enter Hux’s mind right now, but he skims over the surface of Hux’s battered thoughts, wanting a protocol.

Feedback from Hux, unbidden: Hold me, hold me.

Observation: No one has instructed Kylo not to do that. No one is here now to forbid it. Not even in his mind.

He moves slowly, not wanting to overwhelm Hux by giving him what he’ll barely let himself know that he wants. Under the blankets, he slides up behind Hux, his back to the window and the ocean and the wind that blows the rain against the glass. He puts his hand over Hux’s ribs, feeling the space between them with regret and reckless, childish hope. Tomorrow they will start eating again. Real food.

Hux is stiff at first, waiting for something. He’ll be waiting for some new horror for a long time yet, but when none comes now he moves back very slightly, his eyes closed against the pillow. Kylo has never been known for patience: he closes the space between them with a shaky exhale, his arm sliding under Hux’s neck as he comes to hold him from behind, tugging him closer with his other arm. Hux loses his breath, but only for a moment. He presses back against the heat of Kylo’s chest when his lungs fill and empty again, his shoulders lifting as he tucks himself into the shape of Kylo behind him.

“This room is drafty,” Hux says, muttering this against Kylo’s bicep.

“The whole house is.” Kylo pushes away an unwelcome memory of Ben Solo’s room, the single bed and the ratty old quilt. He puts his face against Hux’s throat and waits for him to speak again.

“What is this place?” Hux asks. He’s not stupid. He’ll figure it out.

“I told you,” Kylo says, not ready to talk about it. “It’s a safehouse, a remote planet.”

“Snoke chose it?”

“Of course.”

“Doesn’t really seem like his style.”

Kylo says nothing. He tightens his grip on Hux when the thunder outside draws closer. He’s falling asleep when Hux speaks again.

“You left your training.”

“I-- No, not really. I was given orders to retrieve you. That’s all.”

Hux doesn’t believe him, but doesn’t press. He’s tired, too. They sleep through the rest of the storm. Even asleep, even in his deepest dreams, Kylo knows they’ll wake to more rain.

 

**

Chapter Text

Kylo wakes to the sound of Hux’s stomach making noises.

“You need to eat,” he says, mumbling this against the back of Hux’s head.

Though he’s been drifting in and out of a thin sleep for hours, Hux awakens fully when he hears Kylo’s voice. He goes tense, reassessing his rescue. He’s worried that Kylo might betray him, too. That this apparent sanctuary could be part of a larger plan to utterly destroy him from the inside out. That trusting in this respite is the one thing that could actually break him, finally, for good. Hux’s heart is beating faster, faster, as he considers this possibility.

“Get out of my head,” Hux says.

He doesn’t mean it. Doesn’t even try to move out of Kylo’s arms. Before Hux, Kylo had never probed the fears, desires, or memories of someone who wanted company in their own mind. Even the act of searching Hux’s thoughts doesn’t feel like the violent shove of energy Kylo typically uses to push past an opponent’s defenses. With Hux it’s more like turning on a grainy old holo projection, the images gradually becoming clearer as Kylo sifts through them. After a certain point, Hux never put up any resistance. Quite the opposite. He took Kylo’s hand and showed him around, like a friendless child who had been waiting his whole life for a playmate.

Frivolous theory: Hux wouldn’t have done that with anyone else. He didn’t want Snoke in his head, for example.

Furthermore, also frivolous: Kylo never wanted Snoke in Hux’s head.

Further still, even worse: Kylo in fact felt and continues to feel ferociously protective of what goes on in Hux’s head. He knows what it’s like to be a friendless child. He has a weakness for them.

Conclusion: Weakness, yes, exactly, enough.

Kylo releases Hux and sits up, stretching. Hux remains on his side, turned away from Kylo, too skinny, his stomach whining again. Kylo wants to put his hand on Hux’s shoulder and stroke his thumb over Hux’s restored skin, wants to smooth Hux’s messy hair away from his forehead and check every inch of him for any injuries he might have missed. He gets out of the bed before any of that can happen, goes to the window to take in the gray patter of more rain. It’s falling more gently now, and the ocean is calmer. He hears Hux shuffling around in the bed and turns to see him putting that brown sweater back on.

“Finish your water,” Kylo says, bringing him the glass again. Hux gives him a hateful look. Kylo smirks. Hux doesn’t like being talked to like that all the time. Only sometimes. Still, he takes the glass and drinks the water.

“What now?” Hux asks when he passes the empty glass back to Kylo.

“Food,” Kylo says, moving over to the dresser. He doesn’t want to open these drawers again, doesn’t want to dress in more of Han Solo’s old clothes, but there’s no sense delaying it.

“I meant in a larger sense,” Hux says. “I’m healed, aren’t I? Do we go back to the Finalizer now?”

You’re not healed.

It seems too cruel to say it out loud. Hux hears him, anyway, and pushes back at Kylo’s intrusion into his mind, too weakly to really keep him out. Kylo pulls free even so, not wanting Hux to feel cornered there, too.

“We have some time,” Kylo says. A blatant lie.

Correction, potentially: They might have some time. The absence of instructions from Snoke could mean anything.

Admission, horrifying: Kylo is beginning to let himself know what it actually, probably means.

Objective: Don’t think about that yet.

Reasoning: Thinking about it won’t change anything.

He dresses, planning to fetch food from the shuttle, or maybe even from the shops in town, considering what he has on board the shuttle is only a scattering of snacks that he was able to take from a store on that space station while in a haze of disinterested pre-destruction, half his mind already doing murder on that moon.

“Did you and Snoke really determine where I was being held just by meditating on my-- Distress?” Hux asks.

“Precisely,” Kylo says, stiffening. “It’s hard to hide from Snoke.”

Saying so allows some buried dread to climb through his chest, and he focuses on the place in his mind where Snoke once resided, seeking any hint of continued surveillance. There’s nothing. Kylo wishes he could interpret this as a good sign.

Speaking this truth also makes him appreciate, for the first time, the full scope of what he was able to do, with only his own mind, in order to find Hux. Plucking coordinates and concrete images from thin air was far more difficult and hard-won than the slaughter of the men who feebly tried to resist him when he arrived on that base.

“Right,” Hux says, slowly. “But. If Snoke has such a talent for determining the locations and activities of his enemies, why is the Resistance ever able to surprise us? Shouldn’t he be telling us their every move, ahead of time? If he can do something like this, find me when I’ve been taken in secret and concealed, why not--”

“It’s not that simple,” Kylo says. He keeps his back to Hux, standing at the dresser and buttoning a shirt over his chest. The softness of the well-worn fabric against his skin feels like an affront, but he can’t dwell on that right now. “You don’t understand the workings of the Force,” he adds when he feels Hux staring at him, awaiting a better answer.

“Well, I’m asking you to explain it to me,” Hux says, his tone sharpening to match Kylo’s.

“I don’t owe you an explanation.” Kylo scoffs. “And Snoke certainly doesn’t.”

“He’s the one who found me?” Hux says. “Snoke, is that right? The information came to him, or did it take all the meditation that the two of you could rustle up, together?”

Kylo doesn’t need to turn to know that Hux is giving him that hard stare that makes the green in his eyes seem to darken into steely gray. Hux is trying to trap him into a confession. That’s the thanks Kylo gets for what he’s done for Hux: this interrogation, from the bed, where Hux is still warm under the blankets, wrapped in heat leeched from Kylo.

“I’m going to get food,” Kylo says, angry enough now to at least get himself out the front door. Whether he’ll make it to the path the leads to the road to town is another question. “Stay here. Don’t touch anything.”

Hux raises his eyebrows, almost smiles.

Prediction: This command will be ignored.

Further prediction, distressing: Hux is going to sift through every bit of information he can find about this place as soon as Kylo’s attention is elsewhere.

“I mean it,” Kylo says anyway, turning to glare at him.

“You might have saved my life,” Hux says, “But, as far as I know, you still don’t have the authority to give me orders.”

“I might have saved your life?”

“Just go if you’re going to,” Hux says, falling back onto the pillows. “I-- Think I’m still too weak to walk, anyway.”

That admission is an honest one. Kylo forces a neutral expression and nods, leaves the room wearing his father’s clothes.

Mental adjustment: He has no father. He was born of Snoke, who named him Kylo. These clothes belonged to the man who fathered Ben Solo, and that’s got nothing to do with him.

Observation, tentative: Reminding himself of this truth every time something with Solo’s imprint on it crosses his path in this house will become wearying quickly. Possibly even counterproductive.

Concern: This house will drive him out of his mind before he can determine what to do next.

Mental adjustment: He is strong enough in the Force now to send his mind to a distant system and find something as small as Hux huddled within it, strong enough to restore his battered ally’s body to full functionality in less than a day.

Conclusion, therefore: He is strong enough to reside within the walls of this house and get nothing from it but basic shelter.

He checks the front closet, remembering a certain windbreaker. A shapeless, unisex design with a big hood: his mother had worn it like a tent on rainy trips into town.

Mental adjustment: This thing will offer sufficient protection from the rain. A piece of clothing has no real history.

Wearing it, he walks to the shuttle and sends his mind back to Hux, not revealing himself but simply checking. Hux is in bed. Still warm, still safe enough for now. He’s sighing, watching the window, rubbing at the ear that still feels like it’s full of water.

Leave that alone. Kylo couldn’t resist, and he regrets sending an instruction from afar when he feels how sharply Hux startles upon hearing it. I’ll fix your ear later, he adds, as reassurance.

Don’t do that to me.

Kylo can feel the shake that would have surfaced in Hux’s voice if he’d said that out loud. He tries to avoid responding with an apology, but it’s too late, too automatic. Hux has heard it and scoffed. His heart is beating fast again.

Hux’s discomfort notwithstanding, that experiment was a success, and it allows Kylo to set off for the village with determination. If he could find Hux locked in a secret bunker in a remote system, of course he can check on him while obtaining supplies in the nearby shops.

Observation, unsettling: Even if he senses Hux in distress again, he can’t surf back to the house on the Force if he discovers something has gone wrong. He would have to run, would have to rely on nothing but his own physical body. He would risk being too late.

Conclusion, imperfect but unavoidable: They need real food. Real food is in town. He has to go and hope that nothing will go wrong. That’s all there is to it.

He hates having to hope for anything.

Despite having gotten a remarkably good night’s sleep for the first time in as long as he can remember, he’s still feeling shaky and worn thin after sapping himself with so much healing the day before. Walking along the muddy roadside in the rain is harder than it should be, and he feels a deep chill in his bones when the wind blows against him. He passes only one person on the road to town-- short, with orange skin and small eyes, like every native of this planet. Ben Solo’s father first heard about this place from a native who had moved away hundreds of years before, some bartender or nightclub owner. All of Han’s friends were one or the other. Han once told Ben that this friend of his and the others like her have natural lives that span thousands of years. Ben was jealous, hearing that. Almost angry.

He exchanges a look with the native who is passing by now, driving a cart pulled by a huffing manta ox. When they nod to each other, Kylo erases this passerby’s memory of having seen him. He’ll do the same when he reaches town, when he takes what he needs from the shop. Though it’s a simple enough command of the Force, he’s exhausted just imagining all the memories he’ll have to alter in town. But he can’t wait another day to feed Hux something hot. He’s fantasizing all the way to town about the gaps between Hux’s ribs filling in, his cheeks softening, ass rounding out. Though Hux never did have much of an ass.

Mental adjustment: So many reasons not to be thinking about Hux’s ass. Ever, but especially now.

The town is just as he remembers it: small, damp and quiet, even the nearest hovertrain station an hour away by speeder. He keeps the hood of the windbreaker on when he enters the market, but he’s still overwhelmed, immediately, by the idea of visiting the butcher counter in the back, the little room with a case full of cheeses wrapped in paper, the aisle with the candy that he had run to as a kid. He has to close his eyes for a moment, standing near the entrance and breathing too hard.

Mental adjustment: Just a backwoods store. Just a trip to acquire necessary provisions.

Objective: Get it the fuck together.

He uses one of the biggest baskets they’ve got to gather things, not sure how long they will be here and in need of food, not wanting to have to come back to this sleepy village ever again, and not concerned with price. He refuses to think about the food he collects in any sentimental, impractical sense. He orders eight pounds of various meats from the butcher, and baskets flour, oil, boxed items with long shelf lives, some produce, a few indulgent products that may or may not impress Hux, and a jug of the overly blue milk that they’ve always had here. At the liquor aisle he pauses, wondering if Hux would like some brandy.

Mental adjustment: He knows Hux would not only like but would love some brandy. Just the sight of the bottle would bring a certain light to his eyes.

Dilemma: Should he be allowed to have it? Kylo has seen what Hux was like at the Academy. It’s true that he always made it to class on time and had top marks upon graduation. But he went to any bottle he could find like a jawa to a pile of scrap metal, madly, and with shame that he kept secret even from himself.

He puts the brandy in his basket. Hux has no real reason to feel ashamed, and Kylo isn’t his fucking mother.

At the register he performs a simple hand wave to make the smiling old clerk forget that she hasn’t actually gotten any credits from him. He turns for the door when she cheerfully thanks him for his business.

“Wait one moment,” she says.

Dilemma, humiliating: Is he really so worn down that he couldn’t even pull off a simple mind trick on a stooped old shopkeeper?

He turns back and the clerk smiles more widely, holding up her finger.

“I knew it,” she says. “Ben-- Ben Solo?”

It’s like falling: suddenly there is nothing to hold on to. He hears his father-- Ben’s father-- shouting it again. The way he’d said that name as Kylo walked away from him, across that bridge--

(afraid)

--knowing Han Solo was there, knowing that he would shout Ben’s name just like that, just that loud and angry and--

“Look at you!” the clerk says, clapping her tiny hands together once. “You were always tall, but now! Oh, I-- I was afraid your family would never come back here, it’s been so long. Or are you here with your own family now? You’re old enough-- Don’t tell me, oh-- Delightful! Have you brought your own children to the house on the cliff?”

“You don’t know me,” Kylo says, throwing this misdirection with such furious energy that the clerk steps backward when her face goes blank. “I’m a stranger to you.”

“You’re--”

She actually fights it. As if this actually means something to her.

“You don’t know me!” Kylo barks, loud enough to get the attention of the two other customers in the market. The clerk shakes her head and steps back again, behind the counter. Frightened.

“I don’t know you,” she says, her voice shaking a bit now. She’s being honest, has been properly amended. She doesn’t know him, and she wants him to go. He does, his vision tunnelling as he slams out of the store.

He’s halfway back to the house before he calms his thoughts enough to return to his protocols.

Objective: Forget it. It means nothing. The situation was corrected.

Objective, more important: Get back to the house. Push the food into Hux’s hands.

Objective, not optional: Go out into the yard, power on the lightsaber, slash something into a thousand pieces. A tree, that old speeder in the garage, the garage itself. Anything will do.

He tries to focus his thoughts on Hux as he approaches the house, needing confirmation that he is where Kylo left him. It’s not working. He’s too gut-punched by what just happened, by being called Ben, by suddenly remembering that clerk from childhood, too vividly. She was one of the first shopkeepers he’d tried that mind trick on, back before it was easy, when he could only uncertainly stammer that he’d already paid.

His heart had been beating very hard that day, when he stared at the clerk and tried to tell her a lie so powerful that she couldn’t not believe it. It didn’t work on the first try. The clerk said ‘sorry?’ and leaned closer, over the counter. Smiling.

He’d tried it again. Angrier. Hating her, for making him feel embarrassed. That time it worked. He walked out with the candy and sat behind a shed, halfway between town and the house, stuffing sweets in his mouth and trying to taste them, his hands shaking with exhilaration, horror, fear, power.

But that was Ben--

That was Ben when he was only becoming Kylo--

The hellish reality, that they ever overlapped--

He snaps his mind back to the present when the house comes into sight. He’s running. In his mind, searching, frantic-- He can’t find Hux in the house.

Hux is not in the house.

Kylo drops the groceries on the front porch and throws the door open so hard that it seems to shake the whole house when it bangs against the wall in the foyer.

“Hux!”

Kylo’s breath comes out in a near-growl, his vision tilting, so thrown out of control that he can barely register the sight of Hux peering at him through the open back door as something real.

Hux is standing on the back porch, his arms crossed over his chest, over that sweater. He’s frowning as if Kylo has just barged into a meeting on the Finalizer that he wasn’t invited to attend.

It takes every scrap of control Kylo has left to stop him from grabbing Hux, shaking him hard, asking him what the hell he thinks he’s doing. Kylo stumbles toward him and grips the frame of the back door instead, his breath still heaving, jaw clenched too tight.

“What happened?” Hux asks.

“Nothing.”

Mental adjustment: That’s not a lie. Nothing happened. That business with the clerk was nothing, just some nonsense that only Ben Solo would give attention to. It’s beneath Kylo’s notice.

Objective: Straighten shoulders, stop breathing so hard. Don’t let Hux know you feared he was gone.

Reasoning: It would be counterproductive for Hux to know that. Pointless, anyway. He’s here. He’s fine.

“Well,” Hux says, still frowning a little. “Turns out I can walk. Kind of.”

He’s still unsteady on his legs and already sinking to a seat on the porch as he says this, scooting over to rest his back against one of the support beams. He has no socks on, and he’s shivering a bit under that sweater. Kylo can feel it like a stray hair tickling the back of his ear, the slightest tremor of something that needs correcting.

“Get inside,” Kylo says, pointing. “It’s too cold for you to be sitting out here.”

Hux laughs, of course. Kylo should have foreseen that.

“Fuck, listen to yourself,” Hux says. “This is nothing near the Starkiller Base temperatures. I’m fine.”

Kylo goes into the house. Hux has said this to him before: Listen to yourself. Do you even see yourself? Kylo resents the suggestion that he doesn't, but that's the whole point of Hux’s stabbing little smart ass remarks, so he pretends not to care.

He retrieves the groceries from the front porch, glad to find nothing broken, and takes them to the conservator in the kitchen. It’s battery-powered, somehow still humming and cold when he touches the door. The house had frequently lost power because of storms, and this was the one power-requiring item they couldn’t do without. There are fireplaces for heat, closets full of candles for light. Kylo pauses before opening the conservator’s door, afraid of what might be inside, as if some old condiments might spring out and attack him. As if this impossibly functioning appliance is a living thing that has awaited his return, as if opening it will weaken him further.

Observation: Pathetic.

He doesn’t allow himself to note what remains: only a few jars along the door, certainly spoiled. He throws them into the trash before putting the new items in the conservator, then moves to the pantry to stock it with the nonperishables. The shelves there are empty, at least. He should really be making Hux do this.

When he returns to the kitchen he fills a glass halfway with fortified juice, half with water from the tap. Hux comes inside when he’s done being a stubborn shit, moving slowly but not limping. He sits at the table and stares at Kylo as if he’s waiting to be served. Kylo slams the glass down in front of him along with a packet of salted crackers.

“Drink that,” Kylo says, returning to the items he’s left out on the counter. “And eat those.”

“What is this?” Hux asks, examining the watered-down juice.

“Just shut up and do as I say.”

“You really think that’s how this is going to work?” Hux says, sneering.

But he drinks the juice.

Kylo rifles through the cabinets for pans and checks the stove for wood. There’s a short stack of it there, waiting for the next Solo family meal all these years. It should be rotting, but somehow it isn’t. Kylo thinks of Leia telling Ben, during a very bad storm, when he was very young, that this house wouldn’t be touched by the lightning or blown over the cliff by the howling wind. That it was a magic house that could protect him from anything. He scowls and slams the door of the oven shut again, searching the drawers for matches.

“You’re cooking?” Hux says, in disbelief. He’s opened the packet of crackers and is eating them in quick, quiet bites, maybe thinking Kylo hasn’t noticed.

“Somebody’s got to,” Kylo says, squatting down to light the stove. “Something tells me you can’t.”

“I’ve always had people to do my cooking for me.” Hux is smirking when Kylo glares at him. He’s thinking, not caring that Kylo can hear it: still do, seems like.

“Go ahead and congratulate yourself for only being able to make speeches and give orders,” Kylo says. “I’m not ashamed to have actual skills. Or that I didn’t grow up with servants.”

“Oh, bullshit,” Hux says, laughing. It’s almost worth being the thing that he’s laughing at, to hear that. “Your mother was a fucking Princess!”

“That’s-- No, she wasn’t. She’s not my mother. Shut up and finish your crackers.”

“Is this some kind of fantasy of yours?” Hux asks, his voice rising to a near shout. “Treating me like a child? It’s really tedious, you know.”

“This is a direct order from Snoke. Restore the health of the idiot who got himself captured.”

Kylo didn’t mean to say it like that. He keeps his eyes on the pan he’s pouring oil into, keeps his thoughts separate from Hux’s, but can still feel Hux burning with rage, shame, shock, something else.

“I found a picture of Han Solo in the drawer of that table by the bed,” Hux says, his voice hard. Kylo looks up at him, unprepared for this. Hux’s eyes are hard, too, and cold. “It was in a little frame, and he was holding a boy with black hair and spots like yours.”

“Spots?” Kylo says, frowning.

“Whatever you call them,” Hux says, pointing to the place on his own cheek where Kylo has a dark freckle. “Just what the hell is this, Ren? Where are we? What have you gotten me into?”

Hux thinks of him as Ren. Kylo had forgotten that. He’d never figured out why he liked it, why it mattered.

Mental adjustment: It doesn’t.

Observation, belated and somewhat unbelievable: Hux just referred to his rescue from soul-snapping torture and imminent death as something Kylo has ‘gotten him into.’

Further observation: Typical.

“It’s just a safehouse,” Kylo says. He unwraps the plucked yard bird he got from the butcher and cleaves its left leg off, then the right. Hux is staring at him, chewing on a cracker. “Tell me what happened on the Finalizer,” Kylo says. “What went wrong.”

“Don’t you already know?”

“I don’t know everything.”

He didn’t mean to admit that, and almost hits the tip of his thumb when he brings the clever down into the fat breast of the bird.

Objective: Stop panicking.

Assessment, important: It doesn’t matter if Hux knows what this place really is.

Clarification, also important: It doesn’t matter enough to require Kylo to strip the memory of finding that picture of Han and Ben from Hux’s mind.

Observation: He hasn’t done that to Hux yet and doesn’t ever want to.

Inquiry, frivolous: Why not?

Follow-up question: Does it matter if Hux knows Snoke didn’t send them here?

Further, more pressing: What would happen if he found out?

“It wasn’t a full mutiny,” Hux says, defensive. “But after UT-5278 staged her escape, something I didn’t-- Didn’t anticipate, ah. Happened.”

Six stormtroopers banded together and sincerely defected, inspired by Hux’s phony traitor’s flight and FN-2187’s prior, actual treason. These troopers stole an armed shuttle and caused almost complete disorder on board the Finalizer during their escape and in the aftermath. Kylo can see it now. He can feel it, in his own chest, the disgrace that almost ruined Hux even before those traitorous officers tempted him away from the ship by--

Kylo looks up. Hux bites a cracker in half. He’s turning red.

“They told you Snoke needed you to rescue me,” Kylo says, in such sudden disbelief that he can’t not say it out loud. “That’s how they got you alone--”

“Yes, well, is it really so unbelievable? It had been required of me before, when you’d gotten yourself into the deepest shit possible just to test my patience.”

Hux cuts his eyes away from Kylo’s disbelieving stare and looks toward the door to the back porch. Hux left the door open, allowing the cold and the sound of the rain into the kitchen. Kylo turns back to the meat he’s hacking apart, the cleaver motionless in his hand. So that was how the faction of traitors got Hux to play right into their scheme. They made Hux think that Kylo was in danger. About to tumble over the precipice of another deteriorating cliff. No time to spare. Hux made the decision to go to Kylo personally, as before, without really thinking it through. Without thinking at all.

“I should have asked to hear it from Snoke himself before I-- acted,” Hux says, his jaw tight. His face is so hot; Kylo can almost feel it on his own cheeks, that excruciating burn. The feeling of being exposed, again. “But it wasn’t as if Snoke was checking in with me regularly at that point,” Hux says. “He was passing indirect messages through the comm staff, real ones-- It wasn’t unprecedented.”

“What about the trooper who only pretended to defect?” Kylo asks, wanting to spare Hux from having to keep talking about this other mistake. Hux groans and leans onto the table, putting his hands over his face.

“She stopped communicating with us a month ago,” he says. “After weeks of increasingly specious reasons to delay her attack on the Resistance base.”

“You think she sincerely defected?”

“I know she did. She has a bloody fucking twin.”

“What?”

“She-- This wasn’t in her records, all right? Which at this stage, to me, is a capital offense committed by the agency that registered her at that orphanage. She was an identical twin, brought to one First Order orphanage while her twin sister went to another. They were separated to discourage unauthorized collusion, you know, to prevent them from having a bond that was different from the one they had with the others of their rank, or more important to them than their allegiance to the First Order. That sort of thing. Well, this identical twin sister of hers ran away from some kind of unsavory situation as a teenager and ended up in the fucking Resistance. They met, after UT-5278 arrived under the guise of joining the Resistance herself. You can imagine-- How it went, from there. How my trooper’s allegiance to the Order crumbled.”

“I guess,” Kylo says. He’s never had a sibling, wouldn’t know.

Rey was like a sister to you.

Kylo whirls around, brandishing the cleaver and ready to slash it futily at the ghost he thought he just heard, standing right behind him. There’s nothing there. Hux still has his hands over his face at the table. He didn’t hear anything, didn’t notice Kylo’s panic.

“I mean, really, try to imagine it,” Hux continues, wallowing. “You’ve spent your whole life thinking you have no family, no real identity beyond what the Order can offer you as one of many, nothing but the command that you make yourself as indistinguishable from your fellow troopers as possible. You’re told to cherish that anonymity, that it’s honorable to be-- Not unique, not at all. And then you come face to face with yourself, in the form of another person. This identical person who knows you in a way that nobody else possibly could. Imagine that,” Hux says, a bit sharply.

He takes his hands from his face and sits up, looking at Kylo.

“Imagine going your whole life thinking there was nothing really spectacular about you beyond your obedience to some suffocating doctrine, and thinking-- knowing! --there was no one in the galaxy who could possibly find you exceptional, one of a kind, irreplaceable, and suddenly there is someone just like you, a person whose very presence makes you finally, truly know yourself. Suddenly you have this-- identity, outside of the First Order, in opposition to it, even, all that replaced by the loyalty of this person who is irreversibly connected to you. This person who feels like something that could truly belong to you alone. Suddenly you have a real home, with them, in them. It's enough to make even the strongest person abandon their ideology.”

Kylo can’t bring himself to investigate Hux’s thoughts after hearing this. He doesn’t really need to. He stands holding the cleaver in his fist, waiting for Hux to hear what he’s just said. Hux shakes his head and closes the empty cracker packet into his fist like he wants to kill it.

“I imagine that’s what she went through,” Hux says, mumbling. “Something like that.”

“So you forgive her?”

“Did I say that? No, of course not!”

But he does. Kylo turns back to his work at the counter, trying not to appear stunned. Only Hux has this ability to really surprise him, and when he does it usually has to do with Hux showing Kylo something like this, some tremendous vulnerability that Kylo assumed he would have to know only by cheating and unearthing it without Hux’s permission. Maybe it’s a point of pride to Hux, that he can reveal things to Kylo on his own terms, before Kylo has reason to go looking for them.

At a loss for how to respond to that monologue about finding a real home, Kylo refocuses on the meal he’s making. He puts the pieces of chicken into the hot oil and starts on an onion with a smaller knife. Though he hasn’t done any in a long time, he’s always liked cooking. There’s a neatly ordered protocol for everything that must be done, and the opportunity to slice things up is something he can actually enjoy when he’s not doing it in a blind rage. Deep in concentration and trying not to think about anything beyond the ingredients he’s chopping, he startles when he feels someone standing behind him again. This time it’s Hux. He moves to Kylo’s side and stares down at the various root vegetables Kylo is cutting up.

“You’re not making soup, are you?” Hux asks, eying the big pot that Kylo has put on the stove beside the frying pan.

“I am,” Kylo says. “You can make a large quantity of it and eat it over a period of days. It’s ideal for this situation.”

Hux snorts and gives him a look.

“I don’t really care for soup,” he says.

“Yeah? I’m heartbroken.”

This had been one of Han Solo’s favorite ways to dismiss a petty complaint. Kylo feels the echo of it like a bad taste in his mouth.

Mental adjustment: It’s only the automatic regurgitation of old, useless information, like the fragment of an obnoxiously memorable song.

“You need basic nutrition,” Kylo says, and he refocuses on chopping. “Not a gourmet menu. What are you even doing?” If Hux asks to help with the cooking Kylo might fall over from the shock.

“I’m watching you,” Hux says, gesturing toward the vegetables. “Go on, proceed. This is fascinating stuff. Snoke's attack dog commanded to make me some soup."

They share a look. Hux doesn't believe that Snoke sent Kylo to save him, but he also doesn't want to talk about it yet. Kylo goes back to his chopping, trying to ignore Hux when he hovers. Hux bounces on his heels a bit at times, testing the strength of his restored legs. Kylo asks him to fetch things from the pantry or the conservator as he works. He has to repeat himself more often than not. Tomorrow he might be strong enough to try to fix Hux’s hearing, but he’s not going to risk it today.

“Now it has to cook for about two hours,” Kylo says when he has everything simmering in a broth.

“Two hours?” Hux says. “That can’t be right.”

“It is right. You do it on a low heat. If you’re hungry now, there are other things to eat.”

“I saw a bottle of brandy in the pantry.”

“That’s-- You can’t drink that with so little on your stomach. Work up to that. Think of it as a reward you’ll get for gaining back some weight.”

“Stop talking to me like you can tell me what to do,” Hux says, trying to stand up taller, straighter. His legs are beginning to ache from standing for so long. Kylo can feel it. “I have never been under your command.”

“Oh no?” Kylo drills his gaze into Hux’s eyes when Hux dares a glance, both of them now thinking of times past, when Hux was certainly and happily under Kylo’s command.

Observation: Hux wilts as if struck.

Further observation, irrelevant but painful: Even after all that healing, Kylo still wants to hurt Hux sometimes.

Correction: He thinks he wants to until he does.

Kylo moves away from Hux, crossing the kitchen to close the back door. It was making him anxious, having it open to the world outside. He scans the backyard through the door’s window, and the ocean beyond. His ruined clothes are still in a heap on the porch. He’ll get rid of them at some point, but he plans to keep the robe, which is on the floor in the bathroom, still a bloody mess. He wouldn’t be able to burn that, not with the memory of how it gave Hux shelter on the way here. That would seem cruel somehow.

Mental adjustment: It’s a custom-made robe and destroying it would be impractical.

“I’m going to meditate while this cooks,” Kylo says, turning back to Hux, who is still standing where Kylo left him, shoulders slumped.

“Enjoy that.” Hux perks up a bit for the chance to say this dismissively, as if Kylo just told him he’s going to spend the next two hours weeding the overgrown front garden.

“You should get off your feet,” Kylo says. “You’re still recovering.”

“I feel fine,” Hux says, but he follows Kylo into the bedroom after selecting a holorecord from the shelf in the den and a packet of puffed crisps from the pantry.

Hux stretches out on the bed and opens the record over his chest, its projection screen blinking to life while he tears open the bag of crisps. He’ll get crumbs on the sheets. Kylo wonders if Hux has ever eaten in bed before now. It seems unlikely. Kylo should go out to the back porch, won’t be able to concentrate if he stays in here with Hux crunching those things, tapping the buttons on the record’s projector, existing generally. But the back porch of this house was where Ben Solo sometimes meditated as a child, and it’s cold out there, and Hux is in here.

Kylo sits cross-legged on the bed, facing the window, and closes his eyes. He can’t clear his mind, too preoccupied by what Hux said when he talked about UT-5278 finding her twin. He’s distracted by what Hux is doing now, too, and keeps inadvertently sending his mind toward Hux’s thoughts, hearing snatches of the book he’s reading, some obscure history of the Old Republic. Hux is bored by it, and his mind drifts as he scans the pages. He thinks about Kylo, mostly. He’s apparently very amused by the image of Kylo cooking for him, because he keeps returning to the memory with pleased disbelief.

“Done already?” Hux says when Kylo slides off the bed. Taunting him.

“I have to stir the soup,” Kylo says, and then he feels like an idiot, because he doesn’t need to search Hux’s mind to know he finds that statement very funny, though Hux does manage to hold in his laughter. “And I can’t really meditate with you stuffing your face behind me.”

“I thought you wanted me to eat.”

Hux brushes crumbs from his sweater, onto the floor. Kylo is just as amused and surprised by seeing Hux act like a slob as Hux is by his cooking abilities. The trauma Kylo saw glimpses of yesterday is still there, enormous and rock solid inside Hux, like a portable prison cell that encloses everything just below the surface. Also ever-present is Hux’s paranoia that Kylo could reveal at any moment that this is all an elaborate ruse designed to shred this last stronghold of sanity that Hux is holding onto as hard as he can, but both of these monstrous thought processes are buried under Hux’s continuing curiosity about Kylo’s every move, just deep enough to allow Hux to make jokes and wax poetic about wayward stormtroopers.

The salt from the crisps is burning against the raw edges of the cut on Hux’s lip. Kylo can feel it when he sinks more deeply into Hux’s mind, can almost taste it on his own mouth.

“Why are you staring at me like that?” Hux asks. “I mean, I assume you’re treating yourself to some casual mind-reading, but do you have to be giving me that ghastly stare while you do?”

Kylo turns with a scowl, hyper-aware of the scar on his face in the wake of hearing that word: ghastly.

Observation: It bothers him, the idea that Hux thinks he looks ghastly.

Further observation, crushing: He’s fallen so far from what really matters. This house is poisoning him with frivolity, useless concerns, even vanity.

Mental adjustment: He is still on the only actionable course that could involve serving Snoke. Back in the deserted citadel, Kylo was doing nothing without Snoke’s guidance, wasting his gifts. Here, he is guarding Snoke’s ailing General, whose opinions about Kylo’s face are irrelevant.

He delays returning to the bedroom after stirring the soup, mills about and looks for any further incriminating pictures from Ben Solo’s youth. When he finds none, he gives in to the fact that he needs to sleep, at least for ten minutes or so, until the soup needs another stir. He’s overdone it again after yesterday’s energy drain.

In the bedroom, Hux has fallen asleep on his back, the record still open on his chest, its projection hovering over him. The skies are darkening outside, rain coming down more heavily. Kylo kneels onto the bed and reaches over to pluck the record from Hux’s chest, swiftly, without thinking. When Hux jerks upright with a choked-off shout and floods Kylo’s senses with pure, unfiltered terror, Kylo supposes that this is the reaction he would have gotten no matter how carefully he lifted the record away.

“Please--” Hux says, arms going over his face before he remembers where he is and lowers them, slowly, his eyes still wild when they focus on Kylo.

Kylo could say something-- It’s just me, sorry, you’re safe now --but it all seems like too little, too late. He snaps the record shut and tosses it to the end of the bed. When he moves toward Hux he does so slowly, hanging back until Hux’s racing fear dials down enough to show Kylo anything else in his mind. Hux doesn’t want to be held, but he doesn’t want Kylo to move any further from him than he is now, so Kylo stretches out next to him, near enough to offer an invitation. Hux is breathing in long exhales, trying to calm himself while his mind whips around madly, as if Kylo fired a blaster into it and this assault is bouncing off his walls, finding no exit.

“Was it a dream?” Kylo asks when Hux lowers himself down to the bed again, his shaking hands going to his belly. Hux sniffs out an angry laugh.

“If only,” he says. There’s a tremor in his voice, and in everything about him. Kylo wants to sink into Hux’s mind, but if he does he won’t be able to stay as solid and silent as Hux needs him to be right now, so he remains in place and solely within his own head, lying on his side and facing Hux.

Lightning flashes outside, and the thunder that follows is still a ways off, distant like a threat. Hux rolls toward Kylo and reaches over to undo the first button on Kylo’s shirt, hands shaking. His hands are a little steadier by the time he reaches the fifth button, and he’s calmed himself somewhat when he reaches the bottom of the shirt and pulls it open. Hux moves closer and presses himself to Kylo’s chest, his arm snaking around Kylo’s side inside the shirt, across his back. He closes his eyes against Kylo’s skin. When Hux breathes there, half-hidden inside Kylo’s shirt, Kylo can feel it, too, like a shudder that moves through him: immense relief, still unspooling, drawn from Kylo and pushed back into him, cycling between them like a forcefield that grows, solidifies. It’s overwhelming and unfamiliar, something he’s only ever had with Hux, and even with him only once before. That last night on the Finalizer, when Kylo was the one who made Hux break.

Feedback from Hux, offered freely: Now he wants to be held.

Clarification, less voluntary: Needs, he needs it, won’t remain in one piece without Kylo’s arms around him, keeping everything where it should be.

Observation: There is no reason why Kylo should want to give Hux everything he needs. Hux’s comfort offers Kylo no advantages, nothing concrete, nothing that can be exchanged for anything but vulnerability, something Kylo needs less of.

Correction, grudging but true: It does actually give Kylo something he values, though he knows he shouldn’t. It’s a certain invincible feeling. It’s not real. Won’t save him, or Hux. But it’s there when he puts his arms around Hux and tugs him closer, that illusion of invincibility surrounding Kylo and bolstering him, deceiving him into feeling like he is the most powerful person in the galaxy as Hux’s feedback becomes a surging flood of gratitude and his fear retreats back into the shadows, because Kylo is here. Kylo, who came for Hux when he had no one.

Kylo pushes his hand up into Hux’s hair and strokes it into disorder, undoing Hux’s earlier attempts to neaten it with his fingers in the absence of his comb. Doing this, unable to stop, Kylo feels himself slipping sideways into something unchangeable. His thoughts slide to that trooper with the deceptively sweet, trusting face, the one Hux spoke about with such poetic envy, not even hearing himself forgive her. Kylo imagines UT-5278 thinking that her apparent sweetness hid so much darkness, everything sharp and poisonous within, until she saw that face on someone else and knew: there were other things, too, that she had carried with her always, without ever letting herself know, even when she wanted so badly to throw them all away, to shed their weight. Even when she thought she already had, years ago.

Kylo shuts his eyes and closes around Hux completely, hooking his leg over Hux’s narrow waist and letting their thoughts melt together as they both approach sleep. Hux likes the way Kylo’s skin smells, so much that he thinks it’s unfair, so much that he’s almost angry about it. Hux thought every day in captivity that the things his attackers did to him were a series of signs that confirmed what he’d always feared he already knew: that he deserved pain and would never stop earning more of it. Hux is hungry, can smell that soup from here and thinks it could potentially be the only soup he’s ever liked. Hux knows that Kylo ran into the house in a panic because he was afraid that Hux had left him.

Clarification, to Hux: I thought someone had taken you.

“You’re not afraid I’ll go?” Hux asks, mumbling this against Kylo’s skin. It’s almost like a kiss, his lips moving there. “You don’t think I’ll just disappear on my own, when I’m done here? What a luxury that must be. Not to fear that.”

Hux falls asleep. Kylo goes on stroking Hux’s hair, trying to promise, through the garbled horror of Hux’s bad dreams, that he won’t go. He can’t even believe it himself. If he’s called away by the only person who could rip him from this strange dream that is somehow real, he doesn’t know what he would do. He only knows that he wouldn’t be able to stay.

Kylo approaches sleep but doesn’t quite fall into it. He pulls free of Hux when he needs to stir the soup again and check the fire in the stove. Hux tries to cling to him, his eyebrows twitching in complaint when he loses Kylo’s heat.

“I’ll be back,” Kylo says.

Hux doesn’t believe him, even half-asleep, his knees pulling up toward his chest when he tries to get warmer on his own. Kylo throws a blanket over him and leaves the room.

The house is dark, the clouds overhead heavier now, thunder drawing closer already. Kylo does his stirring and checks the fire. When he walks into the attached garage, past the busted old speeder and to the tarp that covers the stacks of firewood, he knows what he’ll find beneath the tarp. Nothing rotting. Enough wood for weeks, maybe months if they’re careful with it, all of it dry and perfectly conditioned, untouched by time.

“What is this?” Kylo asks, not sure whom he’s speaking to or what he’s even asking. He’s surprised Hux hasn’t interrogated him yet about the strange preservation of the house, but maybe Hux thinks Leia Organa still comes here. She doesn’t; Kylo can feel it. She hasn’t touched this place since Ben left home.

Theory, supported by some volume of evidence: It’s possible Hux is just spoiled enough that he doesn’t think about why there is wood for the fire or power for the conservator. He simply expects certain things to exist at the ready for him.

Observation: It’s strange that Kylo likes this about Hux, in some vague and confounding sense.

Further observation, more practical: This sort of thoughtless entitlement is not a valuable trait in an ally. It’s a liability.

Kylo gathers a armload of logs and replaces the tarp, goes back into the house. The fact that this place seems bewitched somehow, outside of time, should probably concern him more than it does, but he puts aside his sense of unease.

Conclusion: They have nowhere else to go, anyway.

He stirs the soup again and tries to imagine Hux returning to the Finalizer. He will, of course. Eventually. Kylo doesn’t have room at his side for an ally who is haunted by nightmares and blinded by entitlement.

Observation, childish but undeniable: Nor does he have room for one who thinks he’s ghastly.

At the stove, Kylo turns and stares at the empty space behind him, flinching when it’s briefly illuminated by a flash of lightning. There’s nothing-- He was hearing things, before. Lost in his own thoughts. It’s not entirely unusual for his thoughts to come to him in the voices of others. He’s been in a lot of people’s heads. Things snag and get stuck in forgotten corners.

Reminder: Ghosts are only a fantasy of the Light. This information comes directly from Snoke, who said so after Ben thought he saw a ghost, once.

Banish it, boy. The Light mocks you with these false visions.

Even hearing Snoke’s voice as a memory sends cold dread dripping down the back of Kylo’s neck. He puts another log on the stove’s fire and returns to the bedroom, resisting the urge to glance behind him again. There is nothing to see but the empty dark.

A quick skim of Hux’s current state of mind seems practical after Kylo’s last thoughtless approach, but feedback from Hux is offline. Hux is having a bad dream, curled in on himself from the crushing force of it. The men who surround him morph from those at the moon base to the boys from school, then back again. Kylo kneels onto the bed and tries to announce his approach as gradually as possible. It occurs to him with a kind of thrill-- for he has never done this before-- that he can influence Hux’s dream. Within it he appears, sweeps the attackers away with his lightsaber.

“I wanted to kill them myself,” Hux says, even in the fucking dream, scowling at Kylo, ungrateful.

In reality, Hux makes a small, unmistakably appreciative noise as Kylo wraps around him under the blanket. Kylo’s shirt is still open, and Hux finds the heat of his chest, burying his face there again, his arm sliding across Kylo’s back to keep him in place, held tight. When Hux flexes into the comfort he finds in Kylo’s arms, adjusting and then reveling in it, the relief that spills from him sinks into Kylo like a drug, until he’s afraid he’ll get hard, so overwhelmed by Hux’s need of him that he feels dizzy from letting himself sense it and has to close his eyes and press his face into Hux’s hair to steady himself.

Observation, irredeemably counterproductive: Hux’s hair is soft in its natural state, not slicked down by whatever he used to keep it neat aboard the Finalizer, under his hat.

Inquiry, useless: What’s become of that hat?

They pass the next two hours like this: Kylo leaving the bed to see to the soup and the fire, walking through the lightning-flicked darkness and checking over his shoulders for the ghosts that aren’t there as he returns to the bed. It’s the kind of thing that should be irritating, his attempts to rest continuously interrupted, but there’s something enjoyable about this process. It’s the feeling of leaving Hux while knowing he’ll soon return to him, and of absorbing the heat of Hux’s gratitude a little more strongly each time he slips back into the bed and lets Hux squirm inside his open shirt to cling. Every time Kylo leaves the bed he’s on the verge of being aroused, so these interruptions are also useful in the sense that they prevent him from getting fully hard in his pants. At one point he thinks about stepping into the shower to beat off before climbing back into the bed, but when he walks into the bedroom and senses Hux waiting on a knife’s edge to feel Kylo kneeling onto the bed again and sliding toward him, he can’t do it. He goes to Hux instead, wraps him up, indulges himself by disordering Hux’s hair even further.

Hux sighs and nudges Kylo’s chest with his nose. It’s a tiny gesture that feels enormous, and like something Hux would never allow himself to do if he was fully awake. It feels like thank you, like yes, this, like stop leaving the bed.

Observation, half-asleep: This is bad trouble, the worst Kylo has ever been in. It’s a fathomless pit he’s looking up from, no way out, its walls growing higher and higher with every hour that passes while Hux is still in his care.

Observation, not helpful but still true: At least Hux is in the pit with him.

Addendum, more horrifying than it should be: For now, anyway.

When the soup is done, Kylo wakes Hux with whispers, not wanting another look from Hux like Kylo has shot him in the head with a blaster. It’s easier now, because Hux has been in and out of sleep for hours, has become accustomed to the interruption of Kylo’s movements. He nods and yawns, rolls out of bed to follow Kylo from the room.

With the new storm, which is passing now, a cold front has arrived. It bites in past the house’s walls and chills the rooms, especially the den. Kylo lights some of the eerily preserved logs in the den’s fireplace before finding bowls for the soup. He blows on a spoonful over the pot, tastes it.

Observation: Perfect, doesn’t even need salt.

Plan of action, small-minded but necessary: If Hux makes some snotty remark about this soup Kylo is going to ignore him for the rest of the evening.

“This is excellent,” Hux says when he tries it, still standing at the counter, taking a second spoonful from his bowl. Kylo frowns, checks Hux’s mind for the veracity of this statement.

Feedback from Hux: True, yes, he likes it.

Observation, continuous: He is nothing if not surprising.

Kylo takes his bowl into the den and sits on the hearth with his back to the fire. Hux follows him, sits beside him. Close, Kylo notes.

Observation: He enjoys this presumptuous behavior, when Hux slips into his personal space as if he belongs there.

Mental adjustment: Hux is dependant upon him. He is essentially Kylo’s subordinate here, if not technically. Kylo is glad for this subtle attention paid to his authority. That’s all.

They eat in silence for a while, Hux in measured tips of his spoon and Kylo slurping, more hungry than he realized. He ignores Hux’s obvious irritation at the slurping.

“Another storm?” Hux says when thunder starts up again, seeming to move toward them along the coast in the usual fashion. “Do they ever stop?”

“Not really,” Kylo says. “Not at this time of year.”

The sky is growing black outside, the only light in the house from the fire. Kylo thinks of enduring this as a child, during short winter trips here, over weekends when his mother’s work was portable enough to bring along during her brief escape from city life. Ben was afraid of thunderstorms. This house had sometimes seemed a cruel joke at his expense, for that reason.

Someday you’ll meet the right girl and you’ll love a good storm.

Han Solo said that to Ben when he was six years old. Kylo’s lip raises when he thinks of it now, his spoon going still in the soup. It wasn’t that Solo had any problem with the concept of his son preferring to shelter from a storm with a boy. He simply assumed, for as long as he could convince himself it was true, that Ben would of course grow up to be just like him, that Ben would share his preferences and want the same things he had. Solo was upset when it was discovered that Ben was strong with the Force. Actually upset that his son was so gifted, uniquely powerful, because that made him different from his father.

Because he had seen what it did to Luke, to Luke’s father, even to Leia, how that power puts you directly in the path of those who hope to corrupt and control it.

Ben hears this as if the ghost has spoken it. He goes perfectly still, afraid to look up from his soup bowl, though he knows he’ll see nothing. It’s not Han’s voice, or his mother’s. It’s something in this house. A spirit, watching them. He stands, his spoon clattering into his bowl.

Reminder: Not real. Snoke said so.

Consideration, half-realized, too treasonous to take seriously, whispered even within his own mind: Snoke might have lied.

“More?” Kylo asks, barking this at Hux with unintentionally redirected anger. Hux peers up at him, confused.

“All right,” he says, passing Kylo his bowl. “Thanks.”

Despite deigning to thank Kylo, Hux has a smug comportment when Kylo returns with more soup and hands it to him. Hux wants to think of Kylo as some kind of servant, even as he acknowledges that he is at Kylo’s mercy.

“We never had servants,” Kylo says, sharply. He sits further from Hux now, stirring his soup while it steams against his face. Hux snorts. Kylo wonders if he could use the Force to erase Hux’s ability to snort. This would be the one thing he would take from Hux, if he wanted to take something that couldn’t be given back.

“It bothers you that I said that, eh?” Hux says. “Look, I’m just surprised. Leia Organa is a regal figure in your world.”

“My world?”

“Well, in--”

Hux barely stops himself from saying Ben’s. He blows on a spoonful of soup, wisely avoiding Kylo’s stare.

“You know what I mean,” Hux mutters.

Kylo shouldn’t be so surprised that Hux knows his real name. He supposes everyone of any influence in the Order knows it, where he came from. Where they think he came from, anyway.

Mental adjustment: He came from Snoke. It was Ben who came from the people who sat by the fire in this house and smiled at him when he trembled at the sound of the thunder, who drew him close and told him he was fine, but still brought him back to this house at least once a year to hear that thunder and feel too small beneath it.

“Ren,” Hux says, putting his bowl aside. “Can we talk about what’s really going on here?”

“What?”

Again, Kylo didn’t anticipate that. He needs to keep closer tabs on Hux’s thoughts, but they’re so heavy right now, weighed down by pain that has barely begun to recede and fear that won’t subside for a long time.

Hux shakes his head and looks away from Kylo, into the darkness. He can’t see through it like Kylo can. To Hux the dark conceals things, offers opportunities for unseen attackers to crouch in hiding. He moves closer to Kylo, daring to hope that Kylo offers some kind of protection.

“I’m not sure how deprogrammed you are or not,” Hux says, whispering. “I can’t read your fucking mind. But for all your idiotic choices, you’re not actually stupid. You must suspect, like I do. Who is probably behind what happened to me.”

“What-- Who?”

Kylo looks down into his bowl, wants to move away from Hux again. He checks his mind for any trace of Snoke but feels like he’s lost the ability to confidently determine he’s not there, watching, though nothing reveals itself.

“Let me put it this way,” Hux says, allowing the volume of his voice to rise a bit. “At his Academy, my father had a secret faction of loyal cadets. The Commandant's Cadets, he called them.” He scoffs. “I wasn’t invited to the party, of course-- Too obvious a candidate, my father said. This had to be absolutely secret, so that he could hold a kind of power that no one would even anticipate, an ancillary task force that only answered to him. This was by no means an unusual practice. There’s always a secret substructure, out of sight of even the classified order of things. Powerful people do that. Whatever Snoke is, he’s probably done it, too.”

“What the hell are you saying?” Kylo asks, the volume of his voice alarming even to him when he turns to glower at Hux, who doesn’t flinch. Hux holds Kylo’s gaze as if he’s trying to read Kylo’s mind, his eyes hard. Kylo shakes his head and stands, afraid that Hux might actually see into him.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kylo barks, walking to the kitchen, wanting to smash his soup bowl against the floor on the way there.

“Don’t I?” Hux says, speaking softly again. “Ren, he. He could have given those men the order to deceive me himself, they could have been--”

“No! I would know, I would have been told.”

“Really? You would have been told that he was plotting against me? You think so?”

Kylo throws his bowl into the sink, hard enough to crack it in two. He regrets this, then hates his regret. As if it matters, a fucking bowl. He braces his hands on the sink, pinches his eyes shut, shakes his head. Thunder arrives overhead, cracking like a whip over the roof. Kylo doesn’t flinch. He’s not afraid of that sort of power anymore. He’s learned from it. He’s become a part of it. It will not stand against him.

When he calms himself enough to look toward the fire again, Hux is eating soup in careful spoonfuls, as if he’s being judged for his manners. As if he didn’t just tear down a wall between them that can’t be rebuilt. As if he didn’t just ruin this eye-blink of an interlude that may be all either of them has left before the unseeable end of everything.

Kylo shakes his head again, in a controlled motion this time. Tomorrow he will meditate. He hasn’t been able to do so properly since he heard Hux’s scream in the deprivation chamber. That feels as if it happened years ago already, but nothing has been truly lost since then, whatever Hux thinks.

“Remember what happened last time you thought you were right and that I was wrong,” Kylo says, shouting this from the kitchen. Hux’s spoon stops scraping his bowl.

“That’s precisely what I’m trying to do,” Hux says. “I’ve underestimated Snoke for the last time. I won’t survive it again. I hope you can join me in accepting reality before it’s too late for both of us.”

Evaluation of this proposal: Join him, right, join Hux. As if he has anything to offer.

Hux leaves his bowl on the hearth like a spoiled child and goes into the dark bedroom alone. Kylo stays in the kitchen, listening to the thunder and wishing he could absorb the power of the storm. He needs a shield. Wants to stop hearing Hux’s theory about Snoke on merciless repeat in his head. Needs to stop trying to translate it into some kind of truth.

Question: Why would Snoke have Hux kidnapped and tortured, only to allow Kylo to bring him here and heal him?

Answer: You fucking know why.

He hears that in the ghost’s voice and turns. There is no vision to accompany the words. Still, he feels it in the room with him. Not Han Solo, nor the ghost of his grandfather that he once thought he’d seen as a boy.

Observation, accompanied by chills that race over his arms and down the backs of his legs: It’s Ben, somehow.

“No,” Kylo says, his teeth grit. “Get out. You’re dead.”

The ghost doesn’t budge.

Mental adjustment: Because it was never there in the first place. Kylo is letting Hux’s paranoia get to him. Imagining things, just as Hux has been imagining things. Hux has been through hell. He doesn’t know whom he can trust. Of course Hux suspects Snoke while everything he sees is still skewed by his trauma. Hux doesn’t even trust that Kylo won’t kill him, eventually.

A vision, too strong to fight away from: Kylo’s hands around Hux’s throat. Snoke smiling, pleased. Rejoining Kylo in triumph.

Conclusion: No. Can’t, won’t.

Kylo goes into the bedroom after some time has passed and the storm is blowing over, leaving behind a sheet of rain that looks almost solid beyond the roof of the porch. The ocean is invisible in the dark. It’s not like other shapes that Kylo can see clearly even in the absence of light, too alive and constantly changing, but he can hear it crashing at the bottom of the cliff, made wild by the storm. Hux is in the bed, under the blankets, awake. Neither of them will sleep much tonight.

“You can’t speak to me like that,” Kylo says, still at the window. “About my-- Against Snoke. Saying you think I’m deprogrammed. I’m not-- I was never programmed. I was shown the truth.”

Hux doesn’t respond. Kylo scans his thoughts, wary.

Feedback from Hux: Despair, disappointment. He’s cold. His stomach aches.

When Kylo becomes too tired to go on standing there in the dark, feeling as if this is Hux’s room and he’s some kind of intruder, he shrugs off his shirt and pushes down his pants, gets into the bed. He doesn’t move toward Hux, and Hux keeps his distance, his heart pounding like an alarm that’s going off, keeping Kylo awake. Hux thinks he’s alone here after all.

Observation: Of course he is. They both are, always. There are no real allies in the life that they’ve chosen, made, fallen into.

Mental adjustment: Snoke is a real ally. Kylo awaits his return.

Stray horror, spiralling from him as he begins to fall asleep: The hands around Hux’s neck in that tucked-away vision are still his own, and he’s seen them the way he once saw Hux crying out in pain, his ribs kicked to splinters by five pairs of boots: clear and brutal and real, something as solid as his own bones.

Kylo pulls his pillow over his face, needing to block out the things that he can see behind his closed eyes, his teeth grinding together when the pillow doesn’t help.

Objective: Let it go. Nothing to be done about it now. Maybe ever. Sleep. Forget.

Await orders from the only ally who can truly empower you.

Kylo wakes to another of Hux’s nightmares, the word Don’t! slicing through his own uneasy dreams and yanking him back into the dark bedroom.

“Hey,” Kylo says, resenting the fact that he has to lower himself to calming Hux again, until Hux finds him in the dark, makes a wordless sound of pure relief and climbs onto him, trembling with that powerful gratitude that makes Kylo feel invincible.

Observation: It’s just the massive, crippling scale of what Hux is fighting away, all those memories of every defeat he suffered throughout his torture, every shred of self that got ripped away. Kylo can see it all in a sickening spiral of grief when Hux is in his arms, and when Kylo feels it recede, when he knows that he’s the one chasing it away, even if all he’s really offering is body heat and a hand in Hux’s hair-- It’s addictive, the sensation of saving Hux from what’s already happened, from what can’t really be undone.

Mental adjustment: It’s dangerous, like any addiction. The wrong path to power. Not real power at all.

Resignation: But he can’t let Hux go. Not yet. Not while Hux holds on to him like this, openly desperate, barely awake, letting himself have what he needs while his mind flees further from the nightmare, his legs winding around Kylo’s waist.

Hux is fully in Kylo’s lap now, his arms wrapped around Kylo’s neck, breath hot on Kylo’s throat. Kylo can feel Hux’s shame growing as his mind returns to reality. He tries to push it away on Hux’s behalf, not sure if it’s possible to do so without altering Hux’s thoughts. That is still something Kylo never wants to do. No matter how shattered Hux’s thought process gets, it’s still his own. In lieu of changing that, Kylo tries to tell Hux: It’s fine. Just stay here. Nobody expects you not to need anything. Except you.

“Out of my head,” Hux says, mumbling this against Kylo’s neck.

“Never,” Kylo says.

Observation: Out loud, that sounds more like a promise than a threat.

Hux sighs, and the heat of it awakens Kylo’s dick somewhat, the sensation sliding across his skin, warm and welcome.

Resignation: His dick has no place in this.

Objective: Ignore it.

Complication: Hux is still breathing, and every breath he pushes out feels good, adding to the arousal that Kylo is almost too tired to fight away.

Resolution: Kylo can take care of himself later. He can’t move yet, can’t leave Hux alone in the bed for some hours now. The dream Hux had was bad. He was being dragged through the halls of the Finalizer by a rope that was tied around his neck, no clothes, everyone laughing.

They hold on to each other until Kylo starts to fall asleep again. Hux is fading, too, his head heavy on Kylo’s shoulder. Kylo tips over onto his side and Hux unwinds his legs, then his arms. He moves down to hide against Kylo’s chest when they’re lying on the bed, sort of diagonally. Kylo puts his hand over Hux’s functioning ear, thinking of the other one and how he’ll try to heal it soon. Sleep comes like a miracle after that, putting everything aside until morning.

When Kylo wakes up his cock is hard again, more insistent after some vague dreams at dawn that involved Hux’s bare chest and trembling belly. Hux is sleeping, unaware of Kylo’s inappropriate dick pressing against him, his face still tucked to Kylo’s chest. He moans in complaint when Kylo moves away from him.

“I’m taking a shower,” Kylo says, his dick throbbing just for the thought of a jerk off under hot water. Hux gropes for a pillow when Kylo is gone, curling around it in his absence.

As soon as he’s got the water going and the door of the shower closed behind him, Kylo turns toward the back corner and grabs his dick, biting down on his bottom lip to hold in a groan of relief that might have been heard from the bedroom. He hasn’t emptied himself since that last time with Hux. Just the thought of having been inside Hux makes him growl under his breath with the almost painful memory of how good it had felt, how Hux bowed before him but never really surrendered, not entirely, even when he thought that he had.

That drove Kylo out of his fucking mind, in the best way, how Hux kept some secret part of himself just out of Kylo’s reach, even when he was arching his back and lifting his ass, screaming into the bedsheets while Kylo fucked him hard. It made Kylo want Hux even while he took him like that, makes him want Hux so much more, even now, even when he already has everything he can get his hands on. Kylo wants the rest, all of him, deeper, harder, until it’s all irreversibly his.

He comes too soon, shuddering so violently that he has to brace himself against the wall of the shower to keep from crumpling to his knees with the force of it. He’ll do it again. He’ll do it ten times. He hates that he needs this, even as he loves how good it feels to let himself have it. Tries not to think about where his mind went right before he finished.

Despite that effort, he allows himself to have an elaborate fantasy after he’s washed himself and gotten hard again. He imagines Hux as he was before captivity, solid and not so skinny but still small under Kylo’s hands, and the way the cold barricades in Hux’s eyes dropped away when Kylo finally said or did the right thing-- he doesn’t know what it was, even now --and when Kylo leaned in to kiss him. He braces his elbow on the wall of the shower and rests his forehead against it while touches himself, going slow this time, drawing it out. Imagines Hux underneath him in his bed on the Finalizer, Hux letting Kylo pull his legs apart, wanting Kylo to fill the space between them, to cover him up and come inside him.

Feeling Hux want him like that was entirely new. Not at all like what had come before.

Kylo had what were referred to as ‘recreational visitors’ back when Snoke thought he needed them, at the first fortress. A steady stream of hollow-eyed strangers who showed up in his bedchamber and were never seen again.

Observation, from back then, still sharp enough to tighten his gut: They probably weren’t real people.

Reality, which he’s always partly known: They were hallucinations, sent to him by Snoke to placate him when he was still too human, his training compromised by the effort of suppressing the human things he still wanted. He’d been sixteen, seventeen. The visitors stopped around the time he turned eighteen, maybe because Kylo had become overly aware that they were imaginary, only projections of the Force designed to distract him from even the dream of anything real, not enough to get him hard anymore.

Alternative: Maybe because he’d started to wonder if real hands were on him when he saw the changing faces of the phantoms who rode his dick or sucked him off. His own hands, probably. Certainly, if there were any hands there at all.

Mental adjustment: Stop thinking about this. Not now, not ever. Irrelevant.

He grits his teeth and pumps his cock harder when it starts to soften in his hand, refocusing his thoughts on Hux. Being with Hux made him think again about the experience he’d told himself he’d had with others, because it was nothing like being visited in his bedchamber. With Hux it was so intense at times that Kylo felt like he was becoming superhuman, leaving his body and morphing into pure energy that was fed by Hux’s noises, by the way he shivered under Kylo when he came, by the welcoming pull of that perfect heat inside him. Kylo had experienced Hux’s pleasure almost more strongly than his own, felt it echoing back at him like bodily praise. It made him wonder if he might be better at making Hux feel good than anything else he’d ever done.

And he had liked that feeling. Bizarrely, insanely. He’d wanted it to be true.

He imagines Hux pressed between him and the wall of the shower, imagines he’s buried to the hilt inside Hux, his arm tight across Hux’s chest, squeezing him until his breath shortens, until his ass clenches hard around Kylo’s dick, until he cries out and begs to be fucked harder. Kylo ignores this request in his fantasy, drags himself out slow and drives Hux mad with his pace, smiles when Hux punches the wall of the shower and curses Kylo for teasing him, when he tries to slam himself back harder and finds himself held firmly in place by Kylo’s hand on his hip.

When he’s close, Kylo lets himself imagine pulling out, spinning Hux around, slamming him back against the wall of the shower and kissing him hard before he’s managed to catch his lost breath. Pushing his tongue into Hux’s hot mouth and breathing for both of them, into him, claiming Hux this way and feeling him want it, feeling him give it all up at last when he sighs into Kylo’s mouth, Hux’s knees giving out when he feels the weight of all his secrets leave him, every one of them swallowed up by Kylo’s kiss. Kylo would catch Hux before he could sink to the floor, would hoist him up against the wall again and let Hux wrap his legs around his waist. Still kissing him, never stopping.

Kylo’s knees shake when he comes, and he flops against the wall of the shower, panting in the steamy air, telling himself to let it go now. He can’t. He’s still seeing himself kissing Hux, melting into it like the weakest thing in the galaxy, unable to stop remembering what it felt like when Hux’s lips opened under his, when Hux’s tongue pressed out to stroke against his, when Hux gasped and strained for more, not even trying to hide it.

Kylo punches the wall of the shower. Weakly, so that Hux won’t hear. When he opens his eyes he feels like he’s returned from a distant planet, like he was projecting his consciousness the way he had when he searched other systems for Hux.

“Shit,” he says, rubbing at his eyes. If he did that, without meaning to, Hux might have been privy to those fantasies. He might have been disturbed by them, in his current state, might have felt attacked. Kylo casts his mind back to the bedroom, hoping that Hux is still sleeping, unperturbed by Kylo’s self-indulgence.

He isn’t. Kylo turns off the water, concentrates. Hux isn’t in the bedroom at all.

He’s not in the house.

Kylo throws open the shower door and flings himself out into the bedroom, stares at the empty bed. How long was he even--

He closes his eyes, tells himself not to panic and embarrass himself like he did the day before. Hux was just here. He can’t have gone far. In fact, he’s very near, easy to find. In the front yard.

In the shuttle.

“No!” Kylo says, too thrown by this discovery to project it farther than his voice will carry. He finds the navy shorts on the floor and trips into them on his way through the house, unable to fight past his confused shock enough to do anything but run outside at full speed, determined to stop Hux from taking the shuttle.

Observation, shattering: Hux thinks he can leave?

Objective, possibly enraged hyperbole: Kylo will kill him first.

Kylo runs up the open shuttle bay door, ready to grab Hux and throw him to the ground before he can fire the thrusters that will take him away. He stops in his tracks when he finds Hux standing calmly in the middle of the shuttle, which isn’t even running. Hux is still dressed in the clothes Kylo gave him and is also wearing Kylo’s boots, unlaced. He’s holding Kylo’s helmet.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Kylo asks, unable to pretend that he didn’t run out here in a panic. He’s still soaking wet. He pushes his hair from his face to get a better look at Hux, trying to steady his thoughts enough to look into him, too. Hux is giving him that annoyed, perplexed stare again, like Kylo has barged, half-naked, into one of his officers’ meetings.

“Me?” Hux says. “What are you doing? I thought you were having a shower.”

“So you came out here to steal the shuttle?”

Hux laughs. “Have you lost your mind-reading powers?” he asks. “Or just your mind, wholly?”

“Explain yourself. What are you doing with that?” Kylo nods to the helmet, wanting to take it from him.

“Oh, I was just looking at it, calm down. I came out here to see if the communications systems on the console are functional. They are, but I haven’t worked up the nerve to use them yet. I need to think more about how I should present the news that I’m alive to the Finalizer crew. Why are you looking at me like that? You really thought I was going to fly off without you?” Hux laughs again, his eyebrows pinching together. “Where would I even go?”

“Give me that,” Kylo says, and he puts his hand out. Hux looks down at the helmet.

“Could I try it on?” he asks. His eyes are a bit wild when he looks up at Kylo again.

Observation: This request is like a knife in the gut.

Follow-up question: Why?

Kylo crosses the shuttle and rips the helmet out of Hux’s hands, glowering at him. Hux seems amused. It makes Kylo want to shove him to the floor.

Observation, another knife to his gut: He wants to kiss Hux more than he wants to knock him over. Maybe both, ideally.

Further, twisting the knife: He could do it. Hux would let him. Hux would sigh into Kylo’s mouth like he did in that fantasy, would tip himself open for Kylo and would taste like stale breath and last night’s soup but also good. He would taste so fucking good. Kylo lets himself look at Hux’s mouth. He watches Hux’s lips open, just slightly, around an exhale.

Mental adjustment: No.

Observation, solid and unchangeable: Even one kiss would ruin everything.

Kylo leaves the shuttle with his helmet in his hand. It’s raining: he didn’t even notice that on the way out of the house. His feet are muddy when he walks through the den.

Kylo spends the rest of the day meditating on the back porch, mostly for the purpose of avoiding Hux. He tries not to let Hux’s whereabouts in the house creep into his emptied mind, but at times they do, and Kylo notices that Hux is walking with a bit of a limp in random moments. Panic jerks him from his meditation, but he remains seated, facing the ocean.

Concern, wrenching and real: The healing may have been imperfect, or impermanent. Kylo could have made things worst for Hux without knowing it.

He closes his eyes and steadies his breathing, searching for the truth in the darkness. His fear seems less rational when he’s relaxed enough to consider it from a place of stillness. He finds Hux in the house, in his mind: making a fire in the den, having helped himself to more wood after poking around in the garage. He scans Hux’s mind and finds that the limp originates there rather than in his physical body, from an unwillingness to drop his full weight onto his restored legs. He thinks about it too much, fools himself that his legs might suddenly give out. Hux has been afraid since that first day that all his injuries will return, that he’ll suffer each of them again.

Conclusion: He won’t. The confidence Kylo had in the initial healing session is real, based on actual, lasting success.

This momentary lack of belief in his own power makes Kylo reflect on the candy Ben Solo took from that clerk, that day, that first time. After he’d eaten it, on the walk back to the house, his stomach beginning to ache, he worried that that the clerk was actually only being nice to him when she agreed that Ben had already paid, allowing an awkward boy who always came in alone to play his strange game.

Snoke came to Ben, having sensed this fear. This was back when it was still surprising to have Snoke suddenly make himself known, and still a little frightening. Snoke told Ben not to worry, that he had truly been successful.

You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and glad that you now know you can take whatever you want from lesser lifeforms like the weak-minded one you deceived today. Soon we’ll have you controlling the minds of full grown men, if you wish.

At the mention of full grown men, Ben thought of his father.

What about my mother? he asked.

Every time Leia looked at him that night, after he’d been unable to finish his dinner, Ben worried that she knew about the candy wrappers he’d left in the dirt behind that shed, now strewn over the nearby meadow by the wind.

Don’t worry about your mother, boy, was Snoke’s response. His tone had sharpened the way it sometimes did when Ben overstepped with his questions. She doesn’t know about us and our dealings, and she will not find out. I’ve taken precautions, on your behalf. To protect you from her.

Kylo opens his eyes to the gray flat of the ocean and the steady rain, his lungs seeming to tighten. Hux is behind him in the den, dozing by the fire and flipping through another holorecord without much interest. He’s already eaten two more bowls of that soup. He’s bored, wondering when Kylo will finish with ‘whatever the hell he thinks he’s doing.’ Wanting Kylo’s company.

Giving up on the meditation, Kylo stands. He walks toward the back door, reaches for the knob.

Just before he can grasp it, Snoke’s presence snaps itself into his mind like a shock wave moving through him, throwing him forward so hard that he feels like this violent thrust of his body will push him straight through the door, ripping it from its hinges. He braces himself against the door frame and tries to breathe, feeling as if he’s been pitched into the ocean, so far under the water that he can’t see the light on the surface.

“Master--”

Kylo is rasping, terrified. Snoke doesn’t occupy the place where he once hung heavy behind Kylo’s every thought. He’s dissolving into Kylo entirely now, like salt poured into boiling water, like--

Objective: Don’t even think it.

Too late: Like poison.

Collect yourself, boy. I have not returned to punish you.

Snoke doesn’t sound angry. Doesn’t feel angry, though his presence is like sandpaper inside Kylo’s skull, suddenly uncomfortable.

“You--” Kylo can’t make his voice work. Can’t speak loudly enough for Hux to hear this. “Master, you--”

Silence. I had to leave you for a time. Soon I will take my leave again, as required. I cannot guide you in this final test. I come to you now only to confirm what you have sensed in your searching. This is your most sacred trial, Kylo Ren, the task that will make you more powerful than even me. Look inward. You already know what you must do.

As sharply as he arrived, Snoke pulls free, every salt grain-sized particle of him ripping out of Kylo at once. It blinds him: he loses his literal vision and his entire thought process, though both are quickly back. He’s rattled, weakened, having a hard time staying on his feet. He falls onto his ass, wraps his arms around himself and scoots back until he hits the wall near the door.

Objective: Collect yourself, as your Master commanded. Sit on your shaking hands. Blink those fucking tears out of your eyes, you pathetic shit. Think. Calm down. Do as you’ve been instructed.

Obey, child, and learn.

Snoke didn’t spell it out. Kylo shakes his head, not sure if this is a gesture of defiance or just something automatic that happens to his physical body when he’s flooded by this horrified, futile attempt to reject what he knows he’s been asked to do.

System check: Weakened. Everything. Much too weak to do that.

Follow-up question: Ever?

He closes his eyes and sees Han falling away, the lightsaber blade retracting. He sits there for a long time, seeing it over and over again, his hands going numb under his ass, still shaking.

“Ren?”

Evening has darkened the cloud-covered sky when Kylo looks up and sees Hux in the doorway, frowning. Hux’s expression softens when he notices Kylo’s. Kylo is coated in a cold sweat. Must be pretty pale. Needs to shave, too. Looking worse than ghastly.

Hux squats down and puts the back of his hand against Kylo’s clammy forehead. Something Leia used to do to Ben when he was ill. Sometimes, too, when Ben had a frightening visitation from Snoke and was visibly shaken in the aftermath, insisting he was fine.

“What happened?” Hux asks. Whispering. As if they can hide anything from Snoke.

“Nothing.”

Observation: Kylo’s voice is not steady enough to convey that lie convincingly.

Feedback from Hux: He’s is going to snort, roll his eyes, but then he doesn’t, because Kylo looks like he’s just heard a prophecy of his own death.

“Come into the house,” Hux says, helping him up. “You’ve been out here all day. You haven’t eaten. Come on.”

Hux pulls out a chair at the table. Kylo falls into it. He watches Hux start the fire in the stove. It takes him a few tries to get it lit. Hux curses, hates this creepy old house with its lack of power and other modern conveniences, boxed in by constant storms. Kylo presses against Hux’s thoughts more firmly and sees that Hux likes this house, too, in a way. Better than a windowless cell, at least. Kylo is here with him, anyway.

“Here,” Hux says when he’s managed to heat some soup. He puts a bowl down for Kylo and then gets one for himself. Kylo can’t eat. He keeps retreating into his own mind, checking and rechecking for Snoke. Knowing that he doesn’t need to hear Snoke’s voice now to understand this test. The parameters. The point. The ultimate goal. Snoke doesn’t even view it as a decision. Just an inevitability, something that will come to pass once Kylo has strengthened himself enough to do what is required of him. Not unlike the test that involved Ben Solo’s father.

“Are you going to tell me what the hell’s wrong?” Hux asks, keeping his eyes on his soup.

“It’s fine,” Kylo says, because Hux can’t help him. Just as Han Solo couldn’t. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Hux says, following this with that fucking snort. He’s frightened, but not of Kylo, now.

Kylo is quiet for the rest of the night. Hux reads holorecords and watches him from across the den, worried. When he can’t take Hux’s scrutiny anymore, Kylo goes into the dark bedroom and lies on the bed, close to the edge of the mattress, facing the window. He’ll never sleep again. Not the way he once did. Not with this final test always waiting for him when he closes his eyes, and when he opens them, too.

Hux comes into the bedroom when the fire in the den burns out and the house grows quickly colder. He gets into the bed and remains on the other side, lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. Kylo wants to know Hux’s mind but is afraid to touch him.

He never should have brought Hux here. He’s known that all along, even before the thought of sheltering in this specific location came into his head, seeming then like his own idea. Now they’re trapped here, in Snoke’s perfectly baited cage. The functioning conservator, the stacks of firewood. The cruel appearance of comfort. This was never a magic house. It didn’t protect Ben Solo’s parents and it won’t protect Hux.

Hux moves across the bed slowly, as if he’s afraid to startle Kylo. He puts his hand on Kylo’s shoulder, runs his fingertips down over Kylo’s arm.

Feedback from Hux: Where have you gone to now? Come back, idiot.

Additional feedback, less direct: I’m lonely.

Hux rolls against him when he can’t wait any longer, pressing his body to Kylo’s and slipping his arm around Kylo’s chest. He moves Kylo’s hair so that it won’t be in his face, sighs against the back of Kylo’s neck, tucks his knees in behind Kylo’s legs.

Explanation for this behavior: Hux wants warmth, comfort, company in his misery. He’s a greedy, spoiled, needful person who will drag Kylo down to the depths of his own vulnerability if Kylo lets him.

Correction, undeniable: Hux isn’t trying to get comfort, he’s trying to give it.

Observation: That’s laughable.

Analysis of effects: It isn’t working, isn’t taking away Kylo’s fear or making him believe that he could possibly survive eliminating another weakness, watching another attachment fall away. It didn’t strengthen him last time. It drove him straight to Hux, if nothing else.

Observation, small but curious, interesting: Despite the fact that Hux can do nothing for him, Hux’s attempt to try has some other, less powerful but not insignificant effect.

It starts a small fire within Kylo, just a tiny tendril of smoke rising from it, and makes him want to kneel over that little flame to nurture it, feed it, and transform it into a raging inferno that is strong enough to save them both.

He puts his hand over Hux’s and makes a vow that turns his stomach inside out and sets his heart racing so fast that it seems to rattle his ribcage with a kind of terrified fury.

Conclusion, final: He won’t pass this last test.

He can’t.

Not again.

It doesn’t even work the way it’s supposed to.

Therefore, without doubt: They will both die at Snoke’s hands. Begging for it by the time he’s done with them. Snoke will make Kylo watch Hux beg for death for years if he can.

Alternative, barely able to reach Kylo through his certainty that there isn’t one, but still somehow there, sending up that tiny curl of smoke from the fire Kylo wants to feed: Unless there’s another way.

Feedback from Hux is offline. He’s asleep, not yet dreaming. Kylo pushes his fingers in between Hux’s and wonders if he’ll feel this determined in the morning. If Kylo’s decision was truly made, Snoke would be here to burn the whole thing down.

Traitorous thought, freely indulged amid the others that are piling up now: Unless Snoke can’t really hurt them.

It’s an impossible, useless fantasy. Kylo has seen what Snoke can do.

But he has also seen, now, what Kylo Ren can do.

He feels himself smiling madly in the dark, his heart still pounding as his fingers tighten around Hux’s hand.

Conclusion, one of many reached today: Kylo’s attachment to Hux has certainly damned them both to the worst hell imaginable.

Further conclusion, also concrete: Even so, he can’t wrench this grimace of a smile from his face.

Mental adjustment: If killing Han made him weaker, saving Hux could make him stronger.

He lies awake all night, soothing his thumb over Hux’s knuckles when Hux tenses up against a bad dream, even this simple gesture tending the tiny fire inside Kylo, sending up another curl of smoke. He tries to believe this buried, barely ignited little flame could become a raging blaze that will take down everything that has ever held his true power back.

It seems impossible, but the idea persists.

He imagines Snoke sensing this defiance. Certainly he has. And yet nothing comes in the night but more rain, and more curls of smoke from this spreading smoulder inside him.

 

**

Chapter Text

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.

 

**

Chapter Text

Kylo has grown accustomed to waking up to stray sounds and images from Hux’s nightmares. They crystallize in wrenching crescendos that demand his attention as Hux fights away from them. It’s rare that these flashes from Hux’s dreams cross the boundaries of Kylo’s mind so vividly that he feels like he’ll be sick from the pressure, and when the worst he’s sensed yet jerks him out of a late morning doze he sits up in bed ready to fight a physical enemy. Instead he finds Hux pushing him away and hurrying out of the bed, into the bathroom.

Kylo doesn’t actually get sick from the gut punch of the dream, but Hux does, bent over the toilet, the jut of his naked shoulder blades pulling Kylo from the bed. He drags a blanket with him and tries to put it around Hux, but Hux is sweating, shoving Kylo away. Hux attempts to throw up again but mostly just heaves, spits. Kylo considers fetching him a glass of water. He puts his hand on Hux’s back instead, trying not to hold on too tightly to what he saw in Hux’s nightmare. Hux doesn’t want him to dwell on it, or to let on that he saw it at all.

“Are you finished?” Kylo asks when Hux stays hunched over the toilet, breathing in choppy, open-mouthed exhales. Hux jerks his shoulder under Kylo’s hand.

“I don’t know,” he says: wanting every word to snag against Kylo’s skin, hating him for seeing this and not being able to feel it, not really, not like Hux does. “Regardless, you don’t need to hover over me. Leave me in fucking peace, will you?”

Observation: Hux is not currently in peace.

“It helps,” Kylo says, more sharply than he meant to. “I can feel it.”

What helps?”

“My hand on your back. It’s--” Kylo isn’t using any specific power now. He knows he’s not powerful enough to heal the nightmares, that no one is powerful enough to change the past. “It’s a different kind of healing,” he says, because it’s easier to lie. “Focused on the mental processes. To calm you.”

“Well, I don’t feel anything,” Hux says, also lying. He doesn’t feel the cold that typically comes with healing, it’s true. But he improves under Kylo’s hands. Even if it really changes nothing, he’s glad to be trailed by Kylo when he runs from his nightmares. He feels it.

Still, Hux is wounded by this, the worst dream that’s come since they arrived here. The real insult of it is how much it resembled the reality Hux wants to forget. Kylo pulls back when Hux’s feedback changes from confused exasperation to actual embarrassment. In the bedroom, Kylo puts a sweater on, its unraveling hem hanging over the pants he wore to bed. He checks Hux’s current status once more before leaving the room.

Feedback from Hux: Take a fucking hint and leave me alone for two seconds. At least quit staring.

Kylo walks through the house and out onto the porch, wanting to smell the salt air. It’s a mild day, compared to the chill of the last few. The rain is steady but quiet. There’s something about this rainfall that seems almost tired, as if the clouds above spend finite energy in falling toward the earth. Kylo sits on the edge of the porch and watches the ocean, aware that this is the kind of delirious thought that represents his general state of mind: as if even the rain here has grown tired and is approaching the end of its ability to continue blindly on.

He closes his eyes, still wary of true meditation but no longer able to avoid his need of it. When he takes a deep breath he pulls his thoughts away from his concern for Hux, then away from this surroundings, letting the sound of the rainfall fade. Sometimes it’s helpful to begin with a searching question, something that reaches ahead to the future or back to the past.

Kylo knows which direction he must move in now. The future is too gnarled, shifting in dangerous cracks and fissures, like the slope of a volcano breaking apart against a lava flow. There will be another time to consult the future. Now he sends himself back to the past: feels himself becoming smaller, feels the shake in his fingers when he looks down and sees that he’s holding the handle of Ben Solo’s lightsaber. Knows what he must do. Knows that he’s not strong enough to do it.

Steady yourself, boy.

Snoke’s voice nearly throws him out of the memory.

Observation: It’s just that, a memory. Snoke is not here now.

Reminder, bitter and slick like a sharp-toothed smile from the dark: Snoke is always present, never not watching.

Objective: Therefore, push ahead. Don’t give in to your fear. Use it.

Kylo returns to the memory and blinks the tears from Ben’s eyes. His tears felt cold when he gave himself over: he remembers that. That was real. His whole body went cold as he found the strength to lift the saber and power it on. Only he hadn’t found the strength, not within himself. He’d borrowed it.

Realization, a kind of horrified relief of confirmed suspicions: He let Snoke have him that day.

He opens his eyes, no longer occupying Ben’s memories but also not seated on the porch outside the house on the cliff. His physical eyes are not actually open: he’s in the perfect dark, seeing nothing, and many things, too, which come to him at once, smoothing out the crumpled edges of his half-burned memories.

Observation (hold on tight): Snoke needed Ben’s willing compliance in order to possess him during the massacre. He could not have soaked so completely into Ben without his host’s permission to do so, could not have assumed such control without Ben’s cowardly relief that he would not have to do this thing himself, not entirely.

Observation (secondary, quieter): Ben felt as if he had no choice. In his mind, he had already given himself to Snoke, and Snoke would make him do it either way. It was necessary. There was no way to truly destroy Ben without this act, and Ben had to be destroyed. Ben was ruining everything. Why not let Snoke in, when his own resolve had failed him?

Memory, concrete (hold on, don’t forget): Loathsome Ben had allowed himself the mercy of letting Snoke take his body that day. He had known precisely what Snoke would with it, and had curled into a ball inside himself to hide from what came next: eyes closed, hands over his ears. There was no mystery in what Snoke planned. It had all been laid out for Ben, shown to him. Ben had let it happen, knowing what Snoke would use him to do.

Observation (important, don’t let go yet): He had thought he’d known, and that he understood how it would feel, until Snoke brought him to Rey. That was when Ben woke up. That, he couldn’t look away from. And then he was himself again. Horribly, unbearably himself, wrecking everything, tearing Snoke out of his body and mind in a way that wouldn’t last long and would never be acknowledged, as if it hadn’t happened at all, because Snoke didn’t want him to know that it had-- And bludgeoning Rey’s memories with the Force when he couldn’t bring a real weapon down against her.

And then?

Kylo searches, but the memories aren’t there. Flashes of color and sound seem to crash into him like mad sea birds, screeching and unsteadying him, sending him back to the cliff, the house, the porch, the present. He sees the ocean first, then the rain, the gray flat of sky that stretches to the horizon. He’s not alone, but he can’t panic about this realization before he senses that it’s just Hux out here with him, sitting behind him, waiting for him to return from the unseen place where he traveled.

Hux is sitting against the wall, a data pad propped against his bent knees. He’s dressed in a less slouchy sweater today, faded blue, still in Leia’s socks and the only pair of pants that almost fits him. He’s not pretending to pay attention to the data pad, just frowning slightly at Kylo, studying his face.

“Everything all right?” Hux asks.

“Yeah.” Kylo isn’t sure how to explain the relief that retrieving these memories brought. The news is not necessarily good. He’s just glad to have some of that day back, even if much of it is still missing. It’s been a long time since he felt confident that any of his images from back then are his own, not doctored by things misremembered or Snoke’s attempts to conceal things from him. Now he knows: he’s seen something real today. “What are you reading?” he asks, nodding to Hux’s data pad and noting that he has a steaming mug of caf sitting next to him.

“I’m writing something,” Hux says. He groans, tugs at his messy hair with one hand. “It’s a kind of-- belated status update, I suppose. Something I intend to send to Uta, with the names of the traitors you killed and some theories about others who may have assisted them. And the news that I’m not dead yet, incidentally. It’s rather overdue, but I can’t-- get it right.”

Observation: It’s unlike Hux not to feel confident about some official document or pronouncement he’s composed.

Kylo stands and walks to him, wanting something that he’s not sure how to ask for. In lieu of trying to voice it, he uses the Force to scoot Hux forward, until there is just enough room for Kylo to sit between Hux and the wall.

“Ren,” Hux says, keeping very still as Kylo settles behind Hux and clamps his legs around him. Hux is cold and could use the shelter. “Did you just. Move me with the-- Your-- Mind, did you--?”

“Yeah,” Kylo says, wrapping his arms around Hux, too. He puts his chin on Hux’s shoulder and tries to read what he’s typed into the data pad. “Sorry.”

Hux makes no response, which is slightly alarming. Kylo consults his thoughts, therefore.

Feedback from Hux: Fucking hell that felt-- strange.

Further, occurring to Kylo just as it does to Hux: He could do such wicked things to me, that way.

Hux isn’t frightened. He settles back against the heat of Kylo’s chest carefully, concerned that he might become visibly aroused, not wanting that right now. He clears his throat and readjusts the data pad. Kylo hasn’t read a single word from Hux’s projected screen, too preoccupied by Hux’s every adjustment against him and these thoughts he’s having. Hux’s reaction to being physically Force-shifted is not what Kylo intended to inspire. He even didn’t consider that it would mean much to Hux at all, beyond the practical element. He hugs himself more firmly around Hux, wanting to tell him that it’s everything that’s keeping him alive right now, this ability Hux has to surprise him. He knows Hux would laugh if he tried to voice this, so he says nothing, but tries to communicate what he’s thinking in the way he holds Hux against him, his legs squeezing in around Hux’s sides, arms looped across his chest.

“Read it to me,” Kylo says when he senses that Hux is growing embarrassed by how much he likes this: the feeling of being slightly smaller, Kylo’s bent legs rising around him like twin mountains, like a human fortress that Hux fears he fits within too well.

“It’s not sufficient to be read aloud,” Hux says, muttering. “Anyway, it’s mostly just a list of names.” He flicks the data pad’s screen off.

Observation: Hux doesn’t want to think about those names now, or ever again, really. What’s done is done. They’re dead, he’s alive. For now, right here, sinking more deeply into the feeling of security that’s suddenly all around him: he’s alive, anyway.

Further feedback, from Hux: Fuck it, this feels good. There’s no reason to pull free and remain cold. Take what you can get while you can.

Hux puts his head back on Kylo’s shoulder and sets the data pad aside. He accepts the mug of caf when Kylo passes it to him after taking a sip himself. Kylo considers mentioning that it’s strange that someone who doesn’t like sweets puts so much milk in his caf, but the drink is not sweet from this, exactly. It’s softened, is all, but that’s surprising, too.

“You sat out here for hours,” Hux says. He lets his eyes fall shut when he notices the push of Kylo’s breath pressing against his back. Hux didn’t sleep well last night, even before that dream. His eyelids feel heavy when he tries to wrench them open again, and he wonders why he’s bothering, lets his eyes close and stay shut. “I’m not sure if you realize how long you just-- Sit there, when you do this,” Hux says. He turns his cheek against Kylo’s throat. It’s a particularly warm spot, and there’s that steady heartbeat that makes promises it can’t keep. “It’s almost impressive,” Hux says. He’s beginning to mumble, the tension draining from his shoulders. “Kind of disturbing.”

Kylo is too tangled in Hux’s thought process, in his body’s state of slowly increasing surrender, and the lingering horror of the dream that edges around everything, making Hux double and then triple check his own comfort when it starts to coat him too completely. Kylo pulls free from Hux’s mind and lifts his gaze to the ocean, running over the memories he recovered to make sure they’re still where he left them.

“It’s important,” Kylo says, in a kind of belated answer to Hux’s half-questions. “Meditating.”

“Is it? I don’t suppose it’s solved all our problems, however? You seem strangely calm.”

Observation: It is strange that he’s been overtaken by this sudden calm, in the wake of those memories. Ben’s cowardice. How he had been so willing to let Snoke do the worst of it for him, so that he wouldn’t have to.

You will resume control when you’re ready, boy. Let me first guide your hand.

Ben had hoped to awaken to his true power, real courage, in the midst of the slaughter.

“Shall I take this ominous quiet as a sign that we haven’t been saved by your meditative skills?” Hux asks.

“Not saved,” Kylo says. He wants to tell Hux that he thinks this means Snoke can’t control him, not really, not without his permission.

Observation: He’s afraid to voice this, as if his confessed belief in it would make it untrue.

“Not saved.” Hux sniffs and deflates a bit more, twisting in Kylo’s grip until he’s comfortable. “That’s a good two-word phrase for this situation you and I are in. Not saved!”

Observation: Hux is afraid to think that Kylo has saved him from anything. He’s afraid the next round of torment will undo him precisely because of the way he feels now: good, warm, safe. The hope that this could be a lasting peace, or at least the closest thing to it that he’ll ever know, is a knife that keeps cutting Hux open anew, sneaking over his skin when he lets his guard down.

Objective: Fix that, somehow. Heal it.

Observation: Doing so could take many years.

Further observation, too heavy to linger on yet: They probably don’t have many more days to reside in a place where any sort of healing could take place, let alone years.

Too tired to fight it away for long, Hux falls asleep, curled against Kylo’s chest. The ghost approaches as if it has slipped out through the wall behind them, giddy with what Kylo has recovered from his memories. Kylo doesn’t want to hear any advice from a dead person, but it comes anyway, like a whisper across the back of his neck.

He’s warm and real and he needs you. Don’t be a coward again, when the time comes. You’re no mere vessel. Take heed of the things that bring you physical comfort. They’re not meaningless. They make this body your own and not merely Snoke’s property.

It’s strange to hear the ghost utter Snoke’s name. Ben had always been afraid to think of him as anything but Master or My Lord or Supreme Leader.

You will rule at my side one day, boy.

Ben had never quite believed that, though he’d wanted to. Rule what?

Everything. All of them. You are the Chosen One, like your grandfather before you. You will not repeat his mistakes. You will learn from them and rule as he was meant to. Unquestioned. Unequalled in recorded history. Unvanquished and immortal, as I have been.

Kylo is half-dreaming, half-awake, Snoke’s words feeling too fresh when they come back to him now. He presses his face into Hux’s hair so he’ll remember where he is and what’s at stake. He knows it’s coming soon, whatever’s on its way. He can feel it in the air. That feeling he mistook for the rain’s exhaustion: it’s a sense of something growing heavier, pressing closer.

The following morning, Kylo wakes to the sensation that something is cosmically wrong, off balance, missing. He grabs for Hux, his arms already slumped loosely around him in bed. Hux blinks awake, seems calm, and his skin is still smooth and warm when Kylo’s hand slides down over his back under the blanket, checking him for anything treacherous that may have latched on during the night.

“What’s the matter?” Hux asks, returning his face to the pillow. Kylo closes his eyes, focuses, and laughs when he realizes what’s suddenly changed.

“The rain,” he says when Hux peeks at him again. “It stopped.”

Hux lifts his head and peers over Kylo’s shoulder, at the window. The clouds are still blocking out the sun, but they’re lighter today, pale gray and drifting against a steady wind. Hux’s gaze slides back to Kylo’s once he’s confirmed that there is indeed no rain.

“Is this some kind of terrible omen?” Hux asks, and he scowls when Kylo laughs again.

“I’m pretty sure it’s just the weather,” Kylo says. Hux pushes him away and buries his face in the pillow. “No, c’mon,” Kylo says, shaking him. “You can’t go back to sleep. It might be pouring again in five minutes. We have to use this time wisely.”

“What’s so unwise about sleeping through it?” Hux asks, but he allows Kylo to prod him from the bed. They’ve both gotten accustomed to more sleep than necessary, especially in the gray mornings that drag into gray afternoons. Kylo is in such good spirits about this meteorological development that he’s fully dressed before he pauses for his usual grim observation that he’s putting on Han’s clothes, and even this doesn’t dampen his mood much.

“Wear this,” he says when they’re standing in the foyer, and he pulls the windbreaker from the front closet, draping it around Hux. It looks more like a tent than an article of clothing on him, though he’s mostly regained his original dimensions. Kylo fetches his robe and pulls it on, then retrieves the old tin bucket from the pantry, alarmed by the fact that he’d suspected for a moment that it wouldn’t be there. As if this would be the one thing missing. He thinks of Ben’s room, dismisses the thought, and ushers Hux out into the miraculously rainless afternoon.

“What’s the bucket for?” Hux asks, clomping through the mud in Han’s old work boots.

“For dinner,” Kylo says, and he actually winks at Hux before he can catch himself. He pushes it aside and tells himself it was supposed to funny, sarcastic, that it wasn’t anything authentically Han-like. Anyway, if he acts like a jackass for one day, what harm will it do? Hux is staring at him, wary.

“Have you been at the brandy?” Hux asks, and Kylo laughs.

“No,” he says, thinking he may have some later. It sounds like a good idea: every kind of letting go, in celebration of this rare break in the relentless weather. He knows it won’t last very long.

Heading down the stone steps that lead to the beach floods Kylo with a kind of anxious excitement, and he warns Hux three times that the stones can be slippery and must be taken slow. Hux sighs as if this is very tedious, but his feedback is lighter than it’s been in days. He’s curious about what will be found at the end of this long, twisting staircase that’s been cut into the cliff, and curious about whatever has come over Kylo, so far considering it to be some kind of pre-madness glee that’s more intriguing than alarming. Kylo swings the bucket in his hand and hopes that the tidepools haven’t been over-fished. He can’t resist checking before they’ve arrived, has never been patient. He grins when he senses the pools full of shellfish that shimmer like jewels, waiting to be plundered.

“Do you have any allergies?” Kylo asks Hux, remembering Leia lamenting, as they’d cooked these fish one evening, that her adoptive father couldn’t eat anything from a shell, and so it had never been served at court on Alderaan.

“Am I delirious?” Hux asks, seeming to address this question to the clouds overhead more than to Kylo. “Or did you just ask me about my allergies?”

“It’s relevant. Answer the question.”

“When I was seven years old I threw up because of some chemical in a particular brand of mouthwash,” Hux says. He sounds almost proud of this. “That’s the only thing resembling an allergy that I know of. Why?”

“You’ll see.”

“Oh, fuck, is this some kind of fishing expedition? I really don’t care for any sort of scavenging, Ren. It’s just not all that charming to me.”

“But you like the outdoors,” Kylo says, because he’s read this from Hux before, a kind of longing to walk under fragrant pine trees and feel a summer breeze against his cheeks. These are two things Hux has distinctly worried that he will never experience again, when he contemplates what he believes to be the likelihood of his imminent death. Hux sighs. He’s attempting to sound a bit more miserable than he actually feels, which is not very.

“It’s just so damp here,” Hux says. “Do these stairs ever end?”

Soon enough they do, and they come to the narrow beach, the little cove with the shallow pools amid the rocks that are exposed, easy to reach with the tide out for the next hour or so. Kylo puts the bucket down in the sand and pulls off his boots, then his socks. It’s really too cold for such nonsense, but he’s had thoughts similar to Hux’s, and this could be the last time he feels sand under his feet.

“You should try it!” he calls back to Hux when he’s walked toward the waves that are breaking on the shore, keeping far back enough to only feel a hint of the spray. Hux remains on the beach, his shoulders lifted under the windbreaker. He’s sporting a kind of half-scowl that he would quickly wipe from his face if he knew that it made him look sort of sweet and young.

“No, thank you!” Hux shouts back. “I don’t care for sand!”

Something about this makes Kylo laugh hard. He’s not sure why. Maybe he’s losing what’s left of his mind at last. It doesn’t feel like that, however, when he turns back to look at the ocean. His parents loved this stupid, smelly, tiny, hard to access and rarely hospitable beach. They’d spent their honeymoon night in the house up on the cliff, back before they owned it, only renting it then. Leia had thought about Padmé, and about how little time she’d had with the man she loved, how precious the night after their secret wedding must have been to her. Han had snored. In the morning, he’d shown Leia how to make flatcakes. Leia had never cooked anything for herself before. She didn’t even know what a whisk was.

Kylo shakes himself from their memories and he returns to Hux, who is seated in the sand, holding the windbreaker around himself like it’s an oversized blanket. Kylo sits beside him and uses his socks to knock at least some of the sand off his feet before putting them back on, followed by his boots.

“I bet you’ve never actually fished,” Kylo says, reaching for the bucket. “Or scavenged.”

“Why would I have scavenged?” Hux lifts his lip, but there’s something fond in it when Kylo checks his feedback, as if this ridiculous excursion is only more interesting for how annoying he’s finding it to be. Kylo thinks of kissing him, and stands before he can allow himself to try it. He holds his hand out and Hux rolls his eyes when he takes it, lets himself be pulled to his feet.

The rocks are sharper than Kylo remembered, and he practices his balance as he traverses them. Hux slips twice, uncharacteristically clumsy in those ill-fitting boots. Kylo steadies him with the Force both times, preventing a fall. Hux shivers and doesn’t thank him, tries and fails not to dwell on how oddly good it feels to have Kylo holding him in place without needing to use his hands.

“What are those things?” Hux asks, watching Kylo throw shellfish into the bucket.

“The native word for them is hard for humans to pronounce,” Kylo says. “My parents called them pillops, because there are similar things on Alderaan-- I mean, there were. And those were called pillops, I guess.”

“Extinct now, I suppose?” Hux says. He finds a smooth spot of rock and sits. “Along with Alderaan?”

“Uh-huh.” Kylo sifts through the iridescent shells in the tidepool he’s bent over, looking for a particularly fat one. He doesn’t like Hux’s tone.

Feedback from Hux: Everything is replaceable. Even an entire species. There’s always another version of it on some other planet, or something close enough. Nothing is really lost when a world or five go up in flames.

Further, more guarded: Hux wants to continue believing that about literally everything, all of it, including every person. He can’t, entirely, or at all, as he watches Ren gathering shellfish into his stupid bucket. There is no one who could even approach a suitable replacement for Ren. Not even a clone would do. Never in the history of humanity could this particular idiot be matched, when it comes to what Hux needs and what Ren gives him.

Kylo pretends he didn’t hear these thoughts, embarrassed by how glad is he is that Hux has allowed them to take shape. Hux looks a bit sad when Kylo glances up at him, forgetting to guard his features while he tries to hide his thoughts.

“Should I be helping you do this?” Hux asks.

“Do whatever you want,” Kylo says, still sorting through the pillops. “I know you don’t like getting your hands dirty.”

“They don’t smell wonderful, those things.”

“They do after you cook them in butter and herbs. Trust me.”

Hux snorts at this directive and turns to look at the ocean. His feedback shifts to memories of visiting the shore on his home world as a boy, with his mother. Kylo hasn’t gotten much information on her yet. She was beautiful but aloof, long tormented in some private way by the time Hux was old enough to think of her as a person who could be known. It turned out she couldn’t be, really.

“Your mother is alive,” Kylo says, sensing this sharply and without meaning to, his gaze still flicking over the shells beneath his fingers.

“Excuse me?” Hux says.

Feedback from Hux: How very fucking dare you. Leave me alone, get the hell out of my head, have some fucking respect for what you don’t understand.

Observation: That was not the reaction Kylo expected.

Kylo shrugs, too content in this setting to be bothered by Hux’s irrational rage.

“You mentioned she might have been on one of those five planets,” Kylo says, feeling now as if that conversation happened many years ago. “But she wasn’t.”

“Are you seeing her now?” Hux asks. He stands a bit shakily, his hands curling into fists under the over-long sleeves of the windbreaker. “Just-- What, how can you--”

“I can’t see her,” Kylo says. “It’s not like that. It’s just a sensation. Like when you know that you have to take a piss. Like that, sort of.”

“You’re disgusting,” Hux says. He walks toward the beach, slips, and is less pleased now when Kylo uses the Force to keep him from falling. “Perhaps we should have a conversation about your mother!” Hux says, shouting this over the sound of the crashing waves. “I’m sure you’d love that, especially here, where apparently she talked with you about the long lost fish of Alderaan, may they rest in fucking peace!”

Observation: Hux is not wrong that Kylo doesn’t want to talk about Leia.

Observation, further, regretful: Kylo is suddenly very glad that Hux doesn’t have access to his own memories. Particularly those of his family.

“Sorry,” Kylo says, knowing Hux will hate him for using that word. Hux is already storming away, intending to walk back up the stairs without Kylo. There’s the scent of rain on the wind, and they probably won’t make it up to the top of the cliff before the next downpour starts. Kylo sighs, scoops up an indiscriminate handful of pillops and throws them into the bucket before following Hux.

All the way up the stairs, Hux’s feedback is a steady stream of boiling anger, such that Kylo expects that another sparring match might actually result in Hux’s victory over him, if Hux were able to channel that anger into a use of the Force.

Observation, confidently recalled: Hux always talked about his estranged mother in a mild way, as if he didn’t care if she were dead or alive.

Observation, laced with Hux’s furious feedback: Hux didn’t expect this reaction himself. He doesn’t know why he’s so upset. It’s Ren’s intrusion into his memories, but only in part. It’s the idea that Ren knows more about Hux’s mother than he does. It’s the idea of ever seeing her again.

As Kylo predicted, the rain starts before they’re able to reach the top of the stairs. He focuses his attention solely on Hux’s physical presence once the rain starts flowing downward, threatening to turn the stairs into a waterfall. He could pick Hux up and send him ahead to safety using the Force, but he can’t successfully levitate himself at the same time, so he only quickens his pace and prods Hux forward with a hand at the small of his back. Hux is tired from the climb, panting, and he swats at Kylo’s efforts to hurry him along. They make it to the top before the stairs become untraversable, but just barely, and Kylo’s heart is pounding as the rain grows heavier around them. The thunder sounds different from outside the house. He remembers that from boyhood: running back to take shelter on the porch, feeling too exposed by that rumble overhead, even after he’d grown old enough to know it couldn’t hurt him.

“This was clearly another brilliant idea of yours!” Hux says as they tromp through the mud in the yard, toward the house. “I hope your sentimental scallops were worth us almost being washed over the side of a cliff!”

“They’re not scallops, they’re--”

“Yes, well, we call them scallops on my home planet. Close enough!”

Inside the house, Kylo strips off his wet robe and takes the bucket of pillops out to the back porch. Hux flings the windbreaker onto the floor in the foyer and yanks off his boots before heading toward the bathroom, wanting a hot shower.

“You’d best steer clear of me right now,” Hux says when Kylo tries to follow him, wanting the same thing, and Hux pressed against him under the water.

“You can’t give me orders in this house,” Kylo says, lamely, knowing that Hux will hear this as the lie that it is. He lets Hux shower alone.

Kylo strips the rest of his clothes off and puts on a pair of dry, close-fitting shorts. While Hux cleans himself, Kylo cleans the pillops on the back porch, then rinses them in the kitchen sink. Hux’s shower lasts a long time, perhaps spitefully. Kylo struggles not to send his mind there. He can feel Hux’s persisting anger like a film of smoke that’s hanging in the air, but he doesn’t push any closer, letting Hux have it for himself, for now.

Observation: Kylo knows the power of anger. Hux has been needing to get angry for some time now. Truly angry, in a way that might make Kylo suffer collateral damage before Hux has converted this rage into the kind of power that he can keep, use.

Objective: Steer clear of Hux until he’s found his way through this, if possible.

Kylo puts the cleaned pillops in the conservator and busies himself by clearing the ashes from the oven, then from the fireplace in the den. Both tasks are overdue, and he’s a sooty mess by the time he’s finished. He enters the bedroom cautiously and finds Hux stretched out in bed, fully dressed and staring at a holorecord, not really reading it. Hux doesn’t look up, even when Kylo strips his shorts off and walks naked into the bathroom. Kylo had planned to jerk off in the shower, but he can’t get hard while Hux lies out there hating him.

Observation: Giving Hux this power over his body was probably a terrible idea.

Further, glumly: It wasn’t so much an idea as something that happened. The point is that you’re doing it, and that you don’t want to stop. Kylo can’t take it back, and somehow doesn’t even want to.

He lingers for a long time in the shower, going over the memories he recovered earlier and trying to decide if he has the mental energy to try to search for more.

Conclusion: He’ll try again tomorrow. Something about early morning seems to aid meditation, before the events of the day have had a chance to distract him and confuse things. This was true even when he was residing in Snoke’s citadel.

Observation: That feels like someone else’s life already.

Observation, secondary and urgent: He does not feel like Ben Solo. At all. In no part.

Observation, unavoidable: He also doesn’t feel entirely like Kylo Ren.

Shaving while trying to avoid his own eyes in the mirror is becoming too commonplace, but he can’t abide stubble so he does it anyway. Hux has vacated the bed, the holorecord lying in the dent left by his body. A mental inventory of the house reveals that Hux is in the garage, drinking brandy and growing increasingly frustrated with the still non-functioning speeder. It’s only late afternoon, but this seems like an opportune time to have an early dinner, since neither of them has eaten yet today.

Observation: Hux is therefore drinking on an empty stomach.

Correction: His stomach is full, actually, just with ballooning rage fed by alcohol.

“I’m going to make something to eat,” Kylo says when he pokes his head into the garage. Hux is standing, drinking, and the speeder’s fuel distributer is in pieces on the floor. It’s been taken apart by tools, not smashed, but Hux has taken it apart and put it back together four times, to no avail, and now he’s thinking about simply smashing it. “Hello?” Kylo barks when Hux doesn’t turn to him. “Did you hear me?”

“Can’t you just read my fucking mind rather than asking?”

Observation, twofold: Hux’s voice sounds different. This isn’t his first glass of brandy.

Options, going forward: Kylo could yell at Hux to stop drinking that shit and acting like a child, or he could hide the bottle of brandy. Both will make Hux angry, but hiding the bottle will be more effective. Kylo slips back into the kitchen to do so.

There isn’t much left to hide. Kylo stows it in one of the lower cabinets near the stove, behind a stack of old pots and pans. He feels rattled, unable to harness a sense of calm even when he starts chopping vegetables.

Observation: This inability to achieve even a modicum of indifference is deeply annoying. Kylo wants to get mad about it, preferably at Hux, but some other kind of reaction is stabbing at him. Concern? Guilt? A kind of ragged, dripping sympathy mixed with despair that makes Kylo feel like freezing rain is soaking him even now? None of this is helpful.

When Kylo kneels down to start the fire in the oven, he senses Hux trying to get the fuel distributor to power on. It doesn’t work: there’s cursing. Glass breaks. Kylo blows out the match he’d lit and stands.

Objective: Enough. Hux can be controlled by Kylo, if he can’t control himself.

“What the hell are you doing?” Kylo asks, coming to the doorway with what he hopes is an authoritative air of staunch disapproval. Hux ignores him and hoists the distributer off the floor, grunting with the effort. It’s an old model, heavy, box-shaped and still sparking as Hux carries it toward the open garage door and then out into the rain, where the sparks quickly extinguish.

“I’m divesting myself of this piece of shit,” Hux says. He drops the distributer into the yard, and it lands with an almost comical splat in the wet grass. “It will never work,” Hux says, shouting this to Kylo, who keeps back. “And I don’t have an alternative, but I’m not going to keep making the same fucking mistakes.”

Hux has a wrench tucked in the back pocket of his sagging pants, the biggest hand tool in the available arsenal. As Hux draws it from his pocket, Kylo sees what is about to happen. He could prevent this, and steps forward to do so. But then something stops him.

Observation: Hux needs to do this, maybe.

Admission, stinging: Kylo doesn’t really know what Hux needs, not all the time, not even when he allows himself to read Hux’s mind.

Hux looks insane when he brings the wrench down against the distributor, trying to break it apart or at least dent it. The thing may be dysfunctional but it’s sturdy, and every time Hux strikes it Kylo can feel that it hurts him, both the reverb of metal against metal and his inability to really destroy the thing the way he wants to. Hux is sort of grunt-shouting every time he hits it, teeth grit, and Kylo knows he won’t find anything beyond scalding, animal rage in Hux’s thoughts, but he pushes into Hux’s mind anyway, feeling like maybe Hux shouldn’t be alone with this.

Feedback from Hux, wild and violent: Why can nothing just fucking work? Not even this? Not even one fucking thing? Why did any of this even bloody happen to me, fucking hell, why me? Because I tried to have one thing for myself, after all the shit I’ve been handed, after I took it on the chin without flinching and didn’t ask for anything but more work, and now I can’t even write a fucking report, I can’t even tell them I’m still alive. It doesn’t even feel true when he’s not looking at me, fucking motherfuck--

Hux kicks the distributor, which is barely dented by his pounding on it, and shouts when he nearly cracks a toe, despite the cushion of the work boot. Kylo goes to Hux then, uses the Force to still Hux’s slamming, relentless energy and takes the wrench from his hand. Hux crumples to the ground when Kylo releases him, and he huddles over the distributor like suddenly he wants to protect it. He’s not really sobbing but also not really breathing. He’s doing a thing that falls somewhere between the two.

“That--” Hux says, still on all fours over the distributor, the rain seeming to press him into the earth so harshly that Kylo is almost afraid he’ll sink into the mud and disappear. “That felt about as ridiculous and pathetic as you always made it look,” Hux says, turning his cheek toward Kylo.

Kylo grunts, not appreciating this remark but glad that Hux at least has the presence of mind to insult him right now. He puts his hands under Hux’s arms and helps him up, turns him around. Hux is still breathing hard, but it’s mostly actual breathing now, less like that other thing. His hair is hanging in his face, plastered onto his forehead and shading his eyes.

“Come inside and eat something,” Kylo says, wanting to push Hux’s fringe aside but knowing that the rain will just flatten it over his eyebrows again. “You’re finished-- With this, out here, aren’t you?”

“I’m finished, yes.” Hux laughs unhappily and holds his arms out, closes his eyes and tips his face up toward the sky. “I’m finished, Ren, I’m fucking finished, you’ve made sure of that. Now do what you will with me, you fuck. Anything, it doesn’t matter. I’m finished.”

“Shut up,” Kylo mutters. He accepts Hux’s sarcastic offer to do what he wants and picks Hux up, slinging him over his shoulder like the drunken mess that he is. Hux only squirms a little and laughs again-- Tries to, anyway. He hangs limp over Kylo’s shoulder and allows himself to be carried into the garage, then into the house.

“Put me down,” Hux says, grinding this out when they’re halfway through the kitchen. Kylo does as he asked and Hux glares at him, stumbling backward a little when he’s on his own two feet. “I just wanted to fix one thing,” Hux says, his jaw clenched, eyes hard. “Myself, just one thing.”

“You don’t have what you need to fix that speeder,” Kylo says. “I could-- If you really want-- I could get things from town, parts, better tools--”

“I don’t want you to bring me what I need! Fuck! Don’t you understand that, you imbecile? How can you be omniscient and still so slow?”

“Shut your fucking mouth,” Kylo says, unable to suppress real anger, his default systems identifying Hux as a threat again. “You’re drunk. Go clean yourself up.”

“You think you know about pain?” Hux says. He’s almost smiling but mostly snarling, his wet hair still slashed across his forehead. “With your-- Fucking cape, and your mask?” He gestures at Kylo’s face as if the helmet is there, covering him now. “You infant. You could have had everything you wanted, with this power you were given, with those people who already worshiped you, the ones who really made you. You threw it away, fucked it all to hell, and for what? To end up here, with me, in the unluckiest place in the galaxy? Drowned slowly by the bloody rain? Well, congratulations, because here we are. I hope this is exactly what you fucking wanted, Ky-lo.”

Kylo was going to get angry in a perhaps irreversible way, but something about Hux attempting to use that name for him is too ridiculous to allow for it. He scowls at Hux and goes to the sink to wash his hands and resume making dinner. It’s something to do: there are steps, tasks set out for him, and in the meantime he doesn’t know what to do next with Hux, who wanders into the bedroom and collapses onto the bed, face down, soaking the sheets.

Objective: Let him sober up. Don’t go near him. Don’t think about what he said.

Observation: Hux is drunk and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

He didn’t have the same choice you had. He only ever had one Master telling him what sort of power he should want.

“Fuck off,” Kylo says, growling this under his breath, speaking to the ghost. He shakes his head and breathes out through his nose, concentrates on slicing vegetables. Tries to make the pieces as uniform as possible. Calms, somewhat, but can’t stop sending his thoughts to Hux, though Hux has passed out now, everything offline, no chance of any dreams getting through the barrier against them that he’s poured into himself.

Kylo is soaking wet, but he doesn’t change his clothes until he’s able to steady his thoughts, still rattled when he goes into the bedroom to towel off and put on something dry. Hux is shivering on the bed, but removing his clothes while he’s unconscious doesn’t seem like a good idea right now. If Hux gets ill, Kylo will heal him. He’ll also heal Hux’s aching foot when he wakes enough to realize that it’s bruised. Then Kylo will figure out what to do about the rest. Something, surely, can be done. Even here.

This recipe with the pillops is somewhat complicated, and Kylo is glad for the distraction. A bad storm rolls in while he’s finishing up, and it batters the house so thoroughly that he’s sure they would have lost power, had they ever had it. He goes to the window on the back door and wonders why Snoke didn’t include that detail along with the firewood that seems freshly cured and the water that runs clean from the taps. Was power not included so that they would have to sit by the light of a fire or a candle? It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing Snoke would even consider. It’s not a necessary component to this torment.

Snoke is not the only force that has power over you, here or elsewhere.

Kylo doesn’t tell the ghost to shut up. He doesn’t mind the company, at present.

He’s eating seafood stew by the fire when he hears Hux stirring in the bedroom. Having no reservations about spying on Hux now, when he needs some kind of monitoring, Kylo sends his mind to the bedroom and senses more than sees what Hux is doing in there: rolling onto his side, trying to sleep again and failing, wincing when he sits up, needing water, wanting food, fucking freezing. Hux pulls off his damp sweater and then his pants, fumbles his way through the dark and finds clean clothes in the dresser, puts them on without really seeing what he’s chosen. There’s some light from the den. Ren is out there. The house smells like a spice Hux can’t identify, and a type of fried vegetable that also eludes him, and butter.

Feedback from Hux, further: The events of earlier in the day come back to him, muffled. He wishes they were more muffled, wishes they could be completely erased, from his own memory if not from reality. He puts the heels of his hands over his eyes and winces again.

Kylo says nothing when Hux emerges from the bedroom. He’s expecting Hux to go into the kitchen and get himself a bowl, to maybe eat at the dining room table in the dark rather than facing Kylo after what was said, but Hux comes directly to him, hugs himself against Kylo’s arm and puts his chin on Kylo’s shoulder, stares down into the bowl of stew.

“That smells good,” Hux says, mumbling. “I’m starved.”

Kylo passes the bowl into Hux’s lap and watches him eat from it.

Observation: Massive relief.

Follow-up question: Why?

Hux’s hand is shaking. He drinks from Kylo’s glass of water in gulps when Kylo passes it to him. Kylo wants to scan Hux’s thoughts but hangs back, waiting to see what will be freely offered.

“Sorry,” Hux says, keeping his eyes on the bowl. “I’m eating it all.”

“It’s fine, there’s more.”

“You’re good at this,” Hux says, stirring the broth. Kylo shrugs, bothered by how glad he is to hear Hux say so.

“It’s not hard.”

“To me it seems hard,” Hux says. He takes another bite of stew. “I suppose I said some things,” he mutters, still chewing on a pillop.

“I shouldn’t have--” Kylo didn’t intend to apologize, but it’s already halfway out, and now Hux has at least looked up to meet his eyes. “Your mother. I didn’t mean to. Intrude. I know what it’s like to not want to think about it,” he says, pushing this part out quickly and looking away, his voice hardening as he grows increasingly annoyed with Hux for drawing this admission from him.

“I don’t even know why I care,” Hux says. He scoffs. “About her. About that fucking speeder. About any of it, anymore.”

“It can’t be helped,” Kylo says. “Caring about things. I’ve found.”

“You’ve found.” Hux smirks, then eats more stew to keep from smiling.

“I spent a long time trying to believe it could be stopped,” Kylo says. “I still think it would be ideal. I would want it, if I could have it.”

“Really.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Snoke doesn’t care about anything,” Hux says. “Anything beyond saving his own ass, I mean. That’s what you want, eh? To be like him? Still?”

Kylo doesn’t respond. It wasn’t a real question. More like a smart-assed statement. He leans over and puts his face in Hux’s hair, which is still damp, smelling of rain.

“Your foot hurts,” Kylo says.

“I fucking deserve it, let’s admit.”

“You don’t deserve everything that happens to you.”

Hux goes still, staring into bowl and holding the spoon just over it. Kylo wraps his arm around Hux’s shoulders, wants to kiss the back of his neck but isn’t sure if he should.

Feedback from Hux: He’s not even angry with me.

Further, unappreciated: Fuck, we’re a pathetic pair.

But there’s a strange, soaring pride in this observation, and also relief, amusement, a sense of having found something long looked for.

“Nor do you,” Hux says, so softly that the words don’t make sense until Kylo focuses on the meaning via Hux’s thoughts. You don’t deserve all this, not all of it.

Additional feedback from Hux, surprisingly close to the surface: It will kill me when I lose this. Here’s hoping I’m not alive to see you leave me.

“You don’t know that I wouldn’t be back,” Kylo says, unable to hold it in. Hux sniffs and shakes his head.

“Even the not knowing,” he says. He pushes the bowl of stew into Kylo’s hands. “Here-- sorry. I’ll get my own.”

Hux has already eaten most of Kylo’s portion, but Kylo doesn’t mention this. He finishes what remains and gets more for himself when he’s done. He can feel Hux wanting him back at his side from across the room, even this brief separation like a taunting preview of what’s to come.

Observation: They both know that even surviving this interlude wouldn’t bring them what they want.

Observation, might as well acknowledge it: They both want to stay like this forever. Not hunted, not waiting. Just within reach of each other, always.

Kylo fits himself against Hux’s side when he returns to the hearth. They finish the meal in silence, and Kylo glares at the window when the thunder rattles the glass, nothing visible outside but darkness.

The storm that comes that night is particularly fierce, as if to compensate for the earlier break in the rainfall. Though the storms here are often intense, they are usually brief. This one persists, settles in and seems prepared to stay a while, wind howling and waves crashing, thunder coming in onslaught after onslaught of interrupting anger from the skies.

Observation: Strange that this dramatic display makes Kylo feel safer within the house that withstands it.

Hux undresses entirely before sliding into the bed. Kylo tries not to get his hopes up, but his dick is hard as soon as he stretches out on his back beneath the blankets.

“You’re making a tent,” Hux says, sidling up beside him, his head propped on his elbow. “Is it the storm?”

Kylo gives Hux an incredulous look that he won’t be able to see in the dark. But then lightning flashes and Hux does see it, grins.

“Oh, is it for me? Even after I made an ass of myself like that?”

“You acting like an ass has never stopped me.”

“Stopped you from what?”

Wanting you, Kylo thinks, not even sure if he’s sent this as an answer to Hux or kept it for himself. He turns toward Hux, waiting to be kissed.

Observation: He could stop waiting. Hux wouldn’t push him away. Hux’s feedback is different tonight, after what happened earlier. It’s as if some raging storm has passed through Hux and cleared debris that lingered too heavily within him, piled too high. Until more accumulates, Hux is feeling free of it, getting hard under the blankets.

“Ah,” Hux says when his hand slides down over Kylo’s chest, to his side. “Your scar.”

He’s touching the gnarled skin that took the impact of that crossbow, that day.

Observation, old and worn: Chewbacca could have killed him. He’d considered it. Kylo stood in view of him and waited for it to happen, was willing to comply while Han fell away from them.

“I prefer the other scar,” Kylo says, wanting Hux’s hand on his face.

“Mhm.” Hux draws his fingertips upward slowly, over fainter scars on Kylo’s chest and then along the length of his neck. He touches just the bottom edge of the scar, on Kylo’s cheek. “You’ve grown to like it?”

“It means something to me.”

“Right, your failure.”

“No.” Kylo takes Hux’s hand, curls Hux’s fingers inside his own and brings them to his lips. Doesn’t kiss Hux’s fingers, just speaks, the words half-hidden against Hux’s fist. “It wasn’t a failure. I never wanted to kill her. Never.”

“Her?”

Hux is confused. For a moment Kylo doesn’t understand why. He laughs when he realizes that Hux is missing one very important bit of information that would be impossible to guess. Hux pulls his hand away from Kylo’s mouth, not appreciating this laughter.

“My cousin gave me this scar,” Kylo says.

“Your-- The scavenger?”

“Her, yes.”

Hux pushes his shoulders back and studies Kylo’s face when more lightning flashes through the room.

“Cousin?” Hux says. “Does that word have some kind of Force-related connotation that I’m unfamiliar with?”

“No. She was Luke’s sort of-- Daughter, I guess. Unofficially, but we treated her like family. Luke lived with the man who’d adopted her, sometimes. That was part of why I hated Luke, eventually. That he was like me in that way, too. When I was still figuring it out.”

“I think this is going over my head, Ren. Luke Skywalker?”

“My uncle.” Kylo pulls his gaze from Hux’s and stares at the ceiling. “He wasn’t supposed to have attachments either. The Jedi-- They said it ruined my grandfather, that he’d loved someone too much. They believed that just as Snoke does. There was a man Luke fought alongside in the Rebel Alliance, a man who later adopted his brother’s child when her parents died. The girl’s parents were killed in an attack on a Republic city, by the beginnings of the First Order.”

“What-- Whose parents?”

“Never mind,” Kylo says, thinking of Rey when he first met her, Wedge Antilles holding her hand and stammering to Luke that the girl seemed unusually gifted in the Force. Both Luke and Ben had been skeptical. Antilles seemed like he was simply desperate to have an excuse to speak to Luke again, and Rey was so timid, only three years old, almost hiding behind Wedge’s leg when he tried to introduce her. Reluctant to demonstrate her powers. Never boastful like Ben had been at her age.

“Tell me,” Hux says, prodding Kylo’s shoulder. “I don’t understand.”

“I don’t think I can explain it. I did something to my own memories when I altered hers, without meaning to, when I saved her from Snoke. I had to, so that she wouldn’t be found by him after I’d left her.”

“You-- This is the same girl you saved? At the Jedi school?”

“Yes.”

Hux is quiet for a while. He’s still hard under the blankets, though less so now. Kylo is in the same condition, wishing he hadn’t brought any of this up. Without even needing to check Hux’s mind, he’s fairly sure that Hux was trying to seduce him by rubbing his chest like that, mapping his scars.

“Ren?”

“Yes?”

“If you can’t tell me, do you think you could-- Show me?”

Kylo consults Hux’s thoughts, not understanding the question.

Feedback from Hux: You can put words in my head easily enough. Could you do it with images? Memories?

Kylo turns to Hux, frowning. He’s never tried that. He’s curious now, though cautious, too. Hux is calm beside him, his cheek on the pillow. Hux is in a particular state of mind, at the moment, in the cleared-out aftermath of his meltdown, that could be conducive to such an experiment.

“Come here,” Kylo says, scooting toward him. Hux moves closer, resting his forehead against Kylo’s. The top point of Kylo’s scar touches Hux’s skin, this way. “Close your eyes,” Kylo says, and he does the same when Hux obeys. Kylo swallows heavily, isn’t sure where to start. He rests his hand over Hux’s left ear, the one that he healed, and draws his thumb from the lobe to the tip. He grins when Hux shivers, then checks that Hux’s eyes are still closed. They are.

Kylo thinks of Rey. First of seeing her locked into that interrogation chair. He hadn’t recognized her before that and barely did then, but he had felt something even in the woods, when she tried to shoot him with a blaster. It was a sense of strange, overwhelming hope. At the time he’d thought it was related to the map he wanted. Carrying her onto his shuttle, he’d known it had to be something else, because it had frightened him then, when she was limp in his arms. As if she could hurt him, like that, somehow.

He’s not sure if Hux is seeing any of this. Hux is quiet, his heart beating steadily, the back of his hand resting against Kylo’s chest.

Kylo takes himself back further, to the last time he saw Rey as a child. Everything had been in place for Kylo to take a stolen shuttle to Snoke after the massacre. He had boarded it as planned and launched according to the programmed coordinates. He was not alone. Rey was not speaking. Her face was wet. She looked at him as if she didn’t know him.

Snoke was still cast out of him then, though Kylo could already feel him trying to crawl back into his mind. He resisted, thinking that he might be destroyed for this upon arrival at Snoke’s fortress. Wanting that, almost.

Rey asked him no questions, but her very presence was too loud, and Ben-- Kylo --wanted to tell her to shut up as he tried to use the Force find someplace to stow her, far enough away and safe enough, until Leia or Luke could find her and bring her home.

Snoke could have Kylo, and could hand down whatever punishment he had earned, but he couldn’t have Rey.

In the shuttle with her, Kylo already couldn’t remember why this mattered, but he knew that it did and saw that Rey was dumped into the arms of someone who wouldn’t be kind to her but also wouldn’t hurt her. He dragged his battered mind far enough into the future to make sure, saw Rey grown up, some years older than Kylo was then, sitting alone but unharmed outside of a ruined AT-AT. Wearing an old pilot’s helmet, for some reason. Watching the sky. Waiting. The vision cut off there, but it was enough for Kylo: she wouldn’t be happy but she wouldn’t be harmed. Not the way he had been, at least. The things that made her innocent, hopeful, and beloved by Ben’s family would not be destroyed.

Still, she screamed for him to come back as he returned to the shuttle alone. Begged, finally cried in panicked sobs. He remembers that. Has never forgotten that part.

He opens his eyes. He’s confused about where he is for a moment-- The house on the cliff?

Observation, half-formed: Has he been forgiven somehow, and brought here? How could that be true?

His eyes refocus on the details of the present, bringing his mind along slowly, and he sees Hux beside him, staring at him with concern. Kylo remembers why they’re here and what they’re facing. He lets Hux touch the scar on his face.

“Do you think she knew you?” Hux asks. “When she gave you this?”

“No. She’s untrained in the Force. She feels things but can’t interpret them.”

“Where is she now?”

Kylo shakes his head. He’s worn down by calling up these memories, can’t see anything beyond the walls of this room until he rests. The storm is still cracking and flashing outside, rain mixed with hail battering the roof.

“You’re still glad that you saved her,” Hux says. “You would have let her end you, at Starkiller, if it had come to that.”

Kylo doesn’t refute this, though he also doesn’t appreciate being asked to admit it.

“Why?” Hux asks.

“I don’t know.”

Theories, none too encouraging: Rey was something they had all loved so purely. Not the way they loved Ben, with an edge of concern verging on suspicion. Rey was like Wedge, sweet and easy and endlessly hopeful. She was just a child, of course, but they could see in her that this would not change, that she would not darken as she grew older the way that Ben had.

Ben had hated her more than anything, at times. Snoke encouraged this, because she was strong in the Force and would likely become a leader among the new Jedi. She was Snoke’s most vital target, in that sense.

But then. That day. Ben couldn’t hurt her.

Nor could Kylo.

Observation: Hux is touching his chest, then his arm, squeezing him there. Kylo flexes his bicep against this pressure. Hux snorts, but he’s getting hard again, curling in toward the heat of Kylo under the blanket.

“Thank you,” Hux says. “For. Showing me that. I don’t think I’ve understood it all, but--”

“I should heal your foot,” Kylo says, not wanting to talk any more about the past.

Hux slides his leg up against Kylo’s, until Kylo can reach his latest injury. It’s easy to heal, just another bad bruise. Hux has always gotten them easily. He closes his eyes when he feels the pain evaporating, shifting into relief, and he arches up to sigh against Kylo’s neck.

“Fuck, I envy you,” Hux says. “Being able to do that.”

“I can’t do it for my own injuries,” Kylo says, deciding this in the moment, because he seems to have invented this power himself, somewhat. Hux sighs and presses against him, wanting to be touched again, and healed elsewhere.

“Well, that’s sort of perfect,” Hux says. “Cruel irony. That’s another one of your gifts.”

Hux is trying to work up the nerve to do something, so Kylo stays in place, on his back, only running his fingers slowly up and down the line of Hux’s arm, from his shoulder to his wrist. Something about the shape of Hux seems unique, though he’s really just man-shaped, as he said. Still, there’s nobody else in the galaxy shaped exactly like Hux, no one else who has these precise lines that Kylo wants to always be able to trace with his fingers in the dark. He’s sure of this, without needing to send his mind on a sprawling search of every person alive.

“I might die if I don’t get to come before I sleep,” Hux says at last, after having practiced this needless line in his head a few times. He clambers up onto Kylo and straddles him, scooting back so that their cocks line up, both of them sucking in a tight breath at the intensity of the contact, both of them so hard, too ready. “Yeah, um--” Hux flexes and moans at the back of his throat, lets his eyes close and then wrenches them open again. “Do you mind?”

“I told you,” Kylo says. He brings his hands to Hux’s hips, keeping his grip there light. “Anything. That will always be true.”

Feedback from Hux, revisiting a cherished memory: ‘You can do anything to me.’ He did say that. Hmm. Good that he remembers his promise.

Hux needs this too much to do it with any sort of finesse, but he holds himself back as much as possible. Kylo does the same, his hands flexing and relaxing on Hux’s sides while he tries to savor every twitch of Hux’s hips, every half-swallowed sound Hux makes, and the way his skin seems to shine in the flashes of lightning that continue to cut through the room. Kylo is waiting for Hux to grab his own dick or maybe both of them together and jerk his hand the way he wants to, but Hux denies himself that, only moving his hips so that his cock slides imperfectly against Kylo’s, the friction almost but not quite enough. Hux likes that, likes teasing himself. Kylo grins up at Hux and senses his flushed cheeks through the dark, wishing he could truly see them. The flicks of lightning don’t illuminate them properly.

When he’s driven himself sufficiently crazy from rubbing his cock against Kylo’s, Hux crawls forward and braces his hands on the pillow, around Kylo’s ears, allowing his face to hover above Kylo’s while he uses this position to perfect the friction between their bodies, beginning to moan with every thrust of his hips and then just continuously, unstoppably. Kylo is breathing through parted lips, staring up at Hux’s face and seeing him too well through the dark, wanting to surge up and kiss him, not sure why he hasn’t yet.

Observation: Something in him is still telling him he shouldn’t. Careful, Ren. It’s not Snoke. Not the ghost. Certainly not Hux, who wants to be kissed more than he wants to come.

Hux lowers himself fully onto Kylo when he gets close, the shake at the small of his back moving into Kylo’s hands when his fingers tighten there. Kylo allows his hips to jerk up to meet the increasingly frantic drag of Hux’s, and Hux whines with gratitude against Kylo’s throat, his face hidden there as his orgasm tears up the length of his spine and then slams back down again, his cock pulsing against Kylo’s. The shocking pleasure of it rips along the length of Kylo’s body when Hux cries out and comes hard, dropping onto his elbows and then completely deflating, taking the breath from Kylo when he lands against his chest. But it’s not really Hux’s weight that has emptied Kylo of breath: it’s his own release, which pulls a broken groan from him as he spills himself between their chests, his arms circling Hux’s shoulders when he finds he needs something to hold onto, that he’s danger of being swept away by this.

He’s not sure which one of them breathes more raggedly in the aftermath. They seem to be echoing each other, not in sync but both in answer to the other’s attempt to return a steady flow of air to his lungs. Kylo pushes a heavy hand into Hux’s hair, considering only after he has that this keeps Hux in place and prevents him from lifting his head for a kiss. Hux is drifting into exhausted sleep anyway, content now to lap at Kylo’s throat in tired little passes of his tongue, as if he’s hoping to scoop Kylo’s pounding pulse into his mouth.

“Ren,” Hux says, murmuring this like a kind of plea.

“What?” Kylo asks when Hux says nothing more.

Feedback from Hux: He’s asleep.

Kylo stays awake for as long as he can, enjoying this too much to close his eyes against it. The storm, for all its power, is unable to reach them. Hux, flattened onto him by pleasure, is too sated to even care about cleaning himself up, stuck to Kylo by the untidy residue left from their want of each other. Even the fact that the whole day felt ten days long makes Kylo want to relive the worst of it, as long as he would get to arrive here again. He leaves one hand in Hux’s hair and strokes Hux’s back with the other, then tiredly uses the Force to pull the blankets up over both of them when the over-heated flush of sex cools on their skin.

Hux shifts slightly during the night, sighing against Kylo’s neck and finally rolling over in his arms, toward the window. Kylo drapes himself around Hux in the way that he’s become accustomed to. He already can’t imagine being able to sleep without the heat of Hux’s skin against his face, and even with it there he wakes periodically to check that Hux is still in place, safe, sleeping, too worn out and comfortable to dream. Kylo kisses Hux’s neck, softly enough not to wake him, and worries about why he hasn’t done any more serious kissing of Hux yet.

Objective: Worry about that tomorrow. Sleep. Get the rest that is needed before further meditation.

Kylo sleeps deeply but can’t avoid dreaming. He dreams of the Tower. In this dream, he is standing with Hux before the wall-sized windows. He is being called away by a man at the door who has used force to drag Kylo from here before and will do so again if he must.

“I wish they had killed me,” Hux says, and he means it. “It would have been merciful. I thought I’d known hell already. I didn’t. This is hell.”

Kylo reaches for him, wanting to prove this isn’t true even as he knows that it is, because he feels it, too. The dream falls away before he can grasp any part of Hux.

His father’s ship appears around him, growing outward until it’s taken its full shape.

Kylo pilots it, alone, to his death. Except that it’s not really death waiting for him on the rocky planet where Snoke anticipates his approach. What awaits him there is far worse.

So you have finally come to offer your surrender, as I have foreseen.

Kylo wakes to the feeling of Hux sitting up too fast, as if he’s heard blaster fire from the adjoining rooms.

“What?” Kylo asks, jerking upright alongside him and grabbing Hux’s arm. “What’s wrong?”

Hux looks merely shocked for a moment, his eyes wide and unseeing. Then he smiles. Turns to Kylo, beaming. It’s unsettling until Kylo sees the light in Hux’s eyes. It’s a bright, pure, childlike excitement.

“I just-- Thought of something.” Hux leaps out of the bed, throwing the blankets away and cursing when he looks down at his chest and sees dried come crusted there.

“Something-- What?” Too shaken from his dreams to deal with this right now, Kylo bypasses Hux’s lack of response and checks his mind.

Feedback from Hux: He’s just realized how he can fix the speeder, really fix it, even with only that piece of shit distributor that he couldn’t manage to destroy.

“Oh,” Kylo says, feeling sort of rejected, for reasons he can’t understand at the moment. “Good.”

Hux is elated, almost laughing to himself with delight when he runs into the bathroom to dampen a towel and scrape as much of the mess off his chest as he can before he loses his patience for grooming and hurries back into the bedroom to dress.

“This is going to work,” he says, speaking to Kylo as he steps into his too-big pants, still grinning. “Fuck, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. Thanks for your help.”

“My help?”

“Your-- What we did last night. That was good, that was-- Needed. Okay, I’m going-- I’ll be in the garage. Go back to sleep, sorry.”

Kylo isn’t sure if Hux is referring to the memory-sharing thing that they somehow did or to the frantic dick-to-dick rutting, but he supposes it doesn’t matter and doesn’t check Hux’s feedback to find out. He stays in bed, listening, dazed, as Hux starts moving things around in the garage. Hux drags the distributor in from the rain and kisses it, then laughs at himself and gets to work.

Kylo is much less enthusiastic about the work that awaits him when he leaves the bed. He lingers in the shower and takes his time with shaving, dreading going out to the porch and returning to meditation. Though it was a relief to recover memories the day before, he feels hungover from it now, wary of going back to the same well and finding something darker and deeper there.

He checks on Hux after getting dressed, this time by walking to the doorway that looks into the garage. Hux is oblivious, hard at work, happily reassembling parts of the engine, the distributor already taken apart again. Kylo doesn’t understand enough about mechanical engineering to make sense of Hux’s scheme when he scans his thoughts, but Hux feels confident about it, and Kylo leaves him to it with a sigh that he hopes will at least earn a smart-assed comment. When Hux still doesn’t notice him lurking, Kylo resigns himself to meditation and walks out onto the porch to face the ocean.

He settles into the same spot where he sat yesterday, not sure if this placement of himself is wise, foolish, or irrelevant. When he closes his eyes he sees the Tower. The control panel on the Millennium Falcon. The mouth of the cave where Snoke waits for him: smiling, pleased.

Kylo moves away from the future, reeling backward, hurrying from it.

Observation: You’re afraid.

Observation, stubborn but not untrue: He still has work to do in the past, not to mention the present. There is much to uncover before he worries himself over what has yet to come.

He refocuses on the past. That day on Jakku, when he left Rey. Her screams still echoed in his ears after he was well out of range, leaving the planet’s atmosphere, allowing Snoke’s whispers to resume at the back of his skull. There’s something important here that he’s failed to notice thus far. He concentrates until he feels his hands begin to shake the way they did when he returned the stolen shuttle to its charted course, piloting it toward Snoke, confident that Rey’s survival had been concealed.

Observation, from within: It’s not a fact he’s struggling to remember, it’s a motivation. Last night, Hux asked him why. Why save Rey, why did it matter? What was the objective, back then?

Kylo has to go back further than he wants to, all the way to Ben. Back to his earliest doubts, fears, the moments when his lips trembled with the desire to tell his mother what he’d been hearing, seeing, feeling, and carrying with him until he felt he couldn’t lift himself above it.

She’ll reject you, boy. You know it to be true. Why hesitate, if not? She’ll see your connection to me as proof that you are a danger to her sentimental values, and then they will all turn their backs on you. Do not speak of me yet. In time she’ll know your truth. Conceal it until then, and allow me to prepare you for the work still ahead of you here, among these people who call themselves your family even as they hold you in contempt.

Kylo feels his nails biting into his palms, fists trembling. This pain is not a memory: his physical body is reacting to what he’s seeing in the past, trying to break from the meditation. He rejects the impulse and stays, looks closer.

Ben was always so tired. He became repulsed by the touch of his parents. Even the barest pressure of a hand on his shoulder that was meant to reassure him, reclaim his attention, or calm him from one of his rages would only enrage him further. Anything meant to be gentle made him react with violent rejection. How dare they think he needed them? Where had they been when he actually had? Better to cling to brutal power than the weakness that hadn’t protected him from the--

Visions, the--

Things he’d been shown.

He opens his eyes to the dark, his hands uncurling over his knees. Takes a deep breath and draws power from the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. He’s close to something important.

Observation, shaking through him even as his physical body goes perfectly still: He did not rip Rey’s memories out to save her from the pain of death. He did it so that she wouldn’t remember she could use the Force, after Ben had hidden her away. So that Snoke wouldn’t find Rey as he had once found Ben. So that she would be spared from what had happened to him.

Observation, splitting through him as if he’s been cleaved in half: Kylo didn’t go to Snoke after the massacre to submit to destruction. He’d gone there wanting to kill Snoke. Willing to die in the process, as long as it meant Snoke wouldn’t lead another force sensitive child to ruin, whether it was Rey or someone else.

But by the time he’d arrived at Snoke’s fortress, he knew he couldn’t do it. He became a coward again, relieved when Snoke seemed to forgive him and welcomed him without so much as a scolding. Snoke even said he was proud. Ben had been destroyed. Forever. He was gone, and his hopeless, soft-hearted concerns along with him. Kylo wanted to believe it, once he was in the presence of his Master.

It was easier than the alternative, which he had never been able to convince himself he could do.

Why do you look again to the past, boy, when you have already seen what awaits in the future?

Observation: That’s no memory.

That’s Snoke, here with him, right now, flooding everything.

Kylo tries to break from his meditation. Can’t.

Whatever you decide, Snoke says, mildly, as if it makes no difference to him, You have seen what becomes of your General in the walled city. You know it will come to pass if you choose the path of weakness. You feel it just as you felt it on the Finalizer, when you saw him at what was then to be his lowest moment. Now the Force offers you this vision. Strike down your weakness and spare General Hux from further disgrace while also reclaiming your power. There is no alternative but failure and despair. You know it to be true, Kylo Ren.

Kylo doesn’t manage to struggle free from the dark that surrounds him, but he’s dropped, by Snoke, and the landing is harsh. The sea is red and boiling when Kylo wrenches open his eyes to look upon it, and his breath is reedy, thin, as if there are hands around his throat. As if there is smoke in his lungs.

Everything is on fire. It feels real. He needs to do something, can’t reach his objectives, mental adjustments are offline, but it’s too important--

Someone needs him--

Hux is in the house. The house that is on fire.

Kylo stumbles to his feet and slams blindly into the wall near the window, then staggers backward until he nearly falls over the edge of the porch.

Observation: The porch is not on fire. Nor is the house. It was an illusion. A warning.

He turns to the ocean. It’s no longer red or bubbling like lava. The waves meet the base of the cliff the same way they always have. Kylo’s ears are buzzing as if he was just in a room jammed with deafening sound that assaulted him until he felt like it would blind him, too.

Mental adjustment, weak and wary: It did blind him, but his vision has returned.

He slumps over, puts his hands on his knees and lets his head hang. Sends his thoughts to the garage. Hux is still there, working on that fucking speeder, whistling. It’s not enough of a comfort, with Kylo’s head so recently invaded. He goes into the house, moves quickly through the kitchen and catches himself on the doorway of the garage, forcing his eyes to focus when the visions threaten to blur over reality again: Hux is there, squatting beside the speeder, his sleeves rolled up and his hair still bed-wrecked. He didn’t even bother to comb it with his fingers this morning. Hux notices Kylo this time and turns.

“Could you make me a sandwich or something?” Hux asks.

“No.”

Kylo moves from the doorway and drifts through the house, punch drunk and sick to his stomach. He stops in the hallway as if he’s run into an invisible wall. Turns. Sees the door to Ben’s room.

Objective, remember: Don’t go in there.

Observation: He assigned himself that objective before things changed.

The doorknob feels hot in his hand. He just holds it for a while, letting it burn against his palm. Smelling seared skin, though he knows it’s not real. Nothing is on fire here.

Observation, from an indeterminable source: Not yet, anyway.

When he opens the door it’s like reaching into his chest and ripping his ribs apart, exposing everything between them to the chill in the house. It’s dark inside Ben’s room. The curtains are drawn. Kylo doesn’t need the light. He walks into the middle of the room and sees everything, too much, all at once.

Ben was always lonely. He was always apart from everyone in some way, even when he was among them. But it was never as bad as it was here. When his parents were in for the night, closed up in their room. The rain on the roof, the chill. Most of his stuff far away, on another planet.

His stuff, the things he wanted--

But it wasn’t back at home, not really. What he wanted was in some other city that he’s still never visited. At a school that taught ruthlessness. A star pupil in a perfectly pressed uniform.

Kylo drops to his knees on the dust-coated carpet in the center of the room. It can’t be true, but it is, he knows it, the way he’s always known certain impossible things.

He hated being here because Hux wasn’t here yet.

This place always made him feel queasy as a kid, like something was missing, something he couldn’t explain to Leia when she looked at him with worry, or to Han when he assumed Ben was just bored and overly adolescent.

Ben was sensing something, already, back then. The future. He knows it when he looks at Ben’s bed. It had been the worst sort of ache, lying under that old quilt, alone. Worse than any loneliness he’d ever felt at home. Worse for not even having a word for it. Or a face. But he had imagined, guiltily, buried as deep under that quilt as he could get, that someone someday would come to him in the dark. Not Snoke, who did come, though rarely when Ben was here. Someone warm and real. Someone like him. Someone who would promise that Ben would never be alone again and would mean it, wanting it just as much as he did. Someone who would make it true.

“Ben!”

Kylo flings Hux away from him and snarls, ready to fight, ready to show Hux what he can really do.

What did you just call me?”

The fear on Hux’s face is new. He’s never even looked like that when asking if Kylo is going to kill him.

Feedback from Hux: Your eyes--

“What do I always call you?” Hux feigns composure and moves backward in slow steps, forcing his frightened expression to pinch into a frown.

Ren. Hux said Ren. Kylo is only hearing things.

He feels the mania draining from him, and checks Hux as if he’s a mirror.

Feedback from Hux: Those are Ren’s eyes, but--

“It’s me,” Kylo says. “I’m sorry. I’m fine.”

“You’re clearly not. What happened?”

Kylo shakes his head. How can he explain? What good would it do to try?

“I shouldn’t have come in here,” he says, pulling himself to his feet. “That’s all.”

“Your old room.”

When Hux says this, Kylo realizes he’s seen this room already. Hux poked around in here when Kylo went to town, that second time. Kylo turns and looks at the room again, seeing it as Hux must have: the little bed, the folded quilt, some model starships lined up on the dresser, a framed poster of Ben’s favorite holofilm on the wall over the bed. It was some stupid action movie about smugglers and space pirates. Han had spent the whole thing whispering to Ben about the inaccuracies. Enraged, Ben had insisted that the inaccuracy was the point. That the artistic commentary on smuggling was more important that the accuracy. Han had given him such a look. Leia had laughed, had claimed to agree.

“I was disappointed not to find a diary in here,” Hux says, bringing him back to the present. Hux tries for a smile when Kylo meets his eyes. He’s still watching Kylo warily, keeping back. “I’m sorry,” Hux says. “But you’re always poking around in my head. In my past, even. I thought it was only fair.”

“It’s fine.” Kylo wants to leave this room but can’t seem to move.

“What was it like?” Hux asks, leaning against the doorframe. “When you first heard Snoke in your head? How old were you?”

Kylo closes his eyes. Allows his fists to slowly uncurl.

Memories (please not here): It was a faint, almost sing-song voice when Ben was very young. More like a woman’s, though not like any human person’s, really. Ben thought everyone had some sort of voice in their head: strange whispers, alien thoughts that asked to be kept secret, then demanded it. The voice hardened as Ben grew older and began to fear it, then it sharpened, and seemed to slice his insides open when he tried not to listen. This always-solidifying presence didn’t call itself Snoke until Ben was angry enough to want someone unforgiving to whisper praise for his rages, stoking those flames until they were never not burning.

“Ren,” Hux says, pronouncing it very deliberately this time. He holds out his hand when Kylo opens his eyes. “Come out of there, all right? You don’t have to answer those questions. I shouldn’t have asked. Just come here.”

Kylo needs an objective, and he can’t seem cobble one together on his own right now. He accepts Hux’s proposed objective and goes to him. Takes his hand. Lets Hux draw him from the room and shut the door behind them.

Hux brings him into the den, to the big armchair that faces the fireplace. He watches Kylo fall into the chair, searching his face for traces of-- Snoke? Childhood trauma? An imminent threat?

Feedback from Hux: He’ll resume work on the speeder tomorrow. Ren shouldn’t be left alone right now.

Further, below that: Why can’t he just tell me when something shakes him up like this? What’s the point of hiding it?

Observation, not directed to Hux: Because he’s still afraid that he can’t tell anyone what’s really going on inside him. Because no help would come. Because Hux might look at him the way he did when Kylo snarled at him in the bedroom. As if he’s something dangerous to be crept away from.

Observation, hateful, thrust into him before he can push it away: But you are that thing. You’ve been programmed to kill him. You’ve already seen your hands around his throat. And you’ve seen what will become of him even so. Just do it. You’re the one dragging this out, making him suffer. He lives in terror of you already. You torment him by pretending to offer protection.

“Hey.” Hux snaps his fingers in front of Kylo’s face. He’s holding a mug full of caf in his other hand. Kylo isn’t sure how long he’s been sitting in this chair. He feels stuck to it, afraid to move, afraid to even take the mug when Hux holds it out for him. “Go on,” Hux says, frowning. “It’s black, the way you like it.”

Kylo takes the mug and drinks from it. The burn on his tongue is a comfort. Hux sits on the arm of the chair and slumps against him, his arm sliding across Kylo’s shoulders.

Feedback from Hux: Stay with me, please, don’t go. Don’t you know I’ll do anything, too? Anything you ask, anything you need. Just tell me what the fuck you need from me, Ren.

Kylo puts the mug on the floor, pulls Hux into his lap, and holds onto him as hard as he can without crushing him.

“This,” Kylo says, in answer, his voice muffled in Hux’s hair.

“Oh.”

Feedback from Hux: He’s slightly disappointed that there’s not something more active required of him, such as venturing somewhere and killing something with his bare hands. But this is more manageable, at least.

Hux pats Kylo’s chest and sighs. “All right,” he says. “If it really helps.”

“Yes. I told you. It helps.”

When he senses that Hux is hungry, Kylo releases him and stands. Hux sort of slides off of him, watching his face, wanting instructions about how to proceed. He follows Kylo into the kitchen and watches him retrieve the butcher’s packet of shaved meat from the conservator. What’s left of the bread has gone stale, so he gets brittle flatbread from the pantry and arranges meat onto it, then slices of cheese, then he slops some pickled spread on top of it all. It’s the best he can do, currently. He pushes one of the plates he’s made toward Hux.

“Sandwich,” Kylo says. Hux snorts. His smile is real when Kylo peeks at him, apologetic and unsure but genuine.

“Looks delicious,” Hux says, dubiously, but he eats the whole thing in a hurry, right there at the counter, making a mess. Kylo does the same, watching Hux lick that spread from the corners of his lips.

“I have an idea,” Hux says when he’s rinsing their plates in the sink.

“Okay.” Kylo is ready for anything. He’ll run from this place without looking back if Hux thinks they can.

“I saw a chess projector in there, by the holorecords,” Hux says. “We could play.”

“Fine.”

“And the loser gives the winner a blow job. Okay?”

Hux looks at Kylo, nakedly hoping that this will cheer him up. Kylo doesn’t want to make Hux give him a blow job, however much cheering up he might need.

Feedback from Hux, who is unaware that he’s giving it: He’s going to throw the game.

Further: Hux is doing this to cheer himself up, really. He wants his mouth on Ren, everywhere, wants to feel close to him the way he did in Ren’s room on the Finalizer, beyond what holding each other can do. He needs it. Desperately. Won’t let himself ask for it without this flimsy excuse.

“Okay,” Kylo says. Hux seems confused when Kylo strokes his cheek.

“Good,” Hux says, moving away, frowning. Wondering how much Kylo knows.

Observation: Hux needs the charade, the game.

Objective: Let him have it.

Hux sets up the holochess projector while Kylo sits in the armchair, leaning forward now, his elbows on his knees. He keeps checking Hux’s feedback to make sure he really wants this, wondering if Hux can feel him in his head. If he can, he gives no indication, mentally or otherwise. Hux plays well at first but then starts sabotaging his own game, his cheeks going from pink to red as he gets closer to losing. He’s hard in his pants by the time Kylo wins, and Kylo is, too, mostly from his obsessive checks of Hux’s thoughts. They’re filled with hazy memories of Kylo’s cock: the way he tasted, the width of him straining at the corners of Hux’s lips, how Hux had only held him in his mouth too briefly.

“Damn.” Hux looks up at Kylo, his face brilliantly red, left heel bouncing against the floor. “Well, I guess you win.”

“You don’t have to--”

“Shut up, Ren, just shut up!”

Hux sweeps the holo projector away, and for a moment Kylo is sure that Hux is going to press him back against the chair and kiss him. It fills Kylo with an jolting panic combined with reckless need: he wants it, he can’t have it, he’s worried for Hux at the very idea that their lips might meet.

Observation: Worried for Hux?

He has no time to ponder whether this could possibly make any sense before Hux has got the front of his pants open. Hux sinks down to kneel between Kylo’s legs, exhaling with a kind of dazed relief just at the sight of Kylo’s cock, which is hard for him and wet at the tip.

Feedback from Hux: Please don’t just slouch there and gape at me like you’re half-dead.

Observation, a cherished memory: Hux likes being told what to do, sometimes.

“You want this in your mouth?” Kylo asks, tugging himself out fully.

Hux wets his lips in a tiny dart of his tongue, peels his eyes from Kylo’s cock and meets his gaze. Nods.

“Tell me,” Kylo says, feeling everything else fall away.

Heed what brings you physical comfort. It’s not meaningless.

“I--” Hux says. He shivers when Kylo draws soft fingertips along his jaw. “I want to give you what you’ve earned,” Hux says, steadying his voice. “By rights. You won. Me, you won my mouth. Those were the rules.”

“Hmm.” Kylo sits up straighter, feeling like he’s just been brought back to life by an electric shock that’s still sizzling through him, coasting along his limbs before gathering at the center of his chest and sinking down to throb against his dick. “That’s true,” Kylo says, brushing his fingertips over Hux’s jaw again. Hux’s arousal seems to thicken the air in the room, growing so powerful that it threatens to steal Kylo’s train of thought. But he can fight through the heady awareness of how much Hux wants him and remain calm enough to give Hux what he needs. He’s done it before. He’s good at this. “Tell me what you intend to do, General.”

In hindsight, he’s not sure if he should have mentioned Hux’s rank.

Feedback from Hux: Fuck yes Ren fuck, yes, thank you, yes--

Observation: Okay, that was fine.

“I--” Hux says, struggling to speak. His tongue feels too fat, his mouth too wet.

“Speak up,” Kylo says, sharply.

“I intend to do as I promised in our wager,” Hux says, eyes flashing. “To use my mouth on you until you’re satisfied. Until I can swallow your satisfaction.”

Observation: Until he can, as if it’s a privilege.

Kylo opens his legs a bit more widely, exhales through his nose, nods.

“Begin,” he says.

Hux sighs as if he’s been released from some kind of bondage, his gaze refocusing on Kylo’s cock. It’s tempting to reenter Hux’s head and hear more nonsensical pleasure spilling from him, but Kylo needs to maintain his own control if he is to give Hux what he wants. Because this is, somehow, about what giving Hux what he wants.

Kylo, admittedly, is also enjoying himself. His ribs seem to shudder in pleasure when Hux starts lapping at his cockhead, darting his tongue around the rim before suckling at the slit. Kissing him there, really, in hungry swipes of his tongue.

“Good,” Kylo says, keeping his tone as firm and unaffected as possible, his hand going to Hux’s hair. He strokes Hux there, encouraging him. Hux surges up higher on his knees, taking Kylo in deeper. “Good, General, that’s-- Acceptable. You may continue.”

Feedback from Hux: He likes to be praised with seeming detachment.

Observation: This is a sort of translation of what is actually going through Hux’s mind, which is just a mad litany of more, yes, tell me, I know it feels good, tell me--

Kylo doesn’t want to give him what he wants too precisely. There’s a delicate balance, with Hux, between denial and permission, and the deepest seat of Hux’s pleasure lives there. Sensing that from Hux, during those nights aboard the Finalizer, was like reading a filthy holorecord that had been written just for Kylo, full of sinful, perfect truths that he hadn’t even dreamed he could know.

“You like that, hmm?” Kylo says when Hux takes him as deeply as he can before sliding back again, his face so hot that Kylo could swear he feels it against his cock like sunlight. “I can feel it, you know,” Kylo says, lowering his voice to a kind of taunt. “How hard you are right now, for this. You can’t hide it from me.”

Hux breathes out through his nose, his head still bobbing slowly, eyes fluttering open and then shut again. Kylo puts two fingers under Hux’s chin and slides him back up, then tips his face so that their eyes meet as Hux pulls free from him, panting, his mouth wet and swollen, cheeks burning.

“Look at you,” Kylo says, stroking his thumb across Hux’s hot cheek. “So grateful, suddenly.”

“Fuck,” Hux says, only partly slinging this at Kylo as an actual curse. The other half of this exclamation is pure amazement, real gratitude indeed. Kylo smirks.

“Tell me how badly you want to continue,” Kylo says, stroking Hux’s cheek again.

Hux’s lip lifts slightly. He hates seeing Kylo smug.

Observation, trembling along Kylo’s ribs like they’re the recently plucked strings of some instrument: Hux hates the idea of not having his mouth back on Kylo’s cock within the next two seconds far more than he hates Kylo’s smug grin.

“Please,” Hux says, his jaw tight. “Let me-- Continue.”

“Why should I?”

“Because it’s-- The rules. Your reward. Let me give it to you, please.”

“All right, General.” Kylo releases Hux’s face and sits back, twitching his hips upward. Hux’s eyes sink to Kylo’s cock, and his body seems to twitch in answer, wanting. “Go ahead,” Kylo says, his hand sliding into Hux’s hair again. “You’re so hungry for this. Taste me again.”

Feedback from Hux: Fuck yes, fuck yes---

Hux slides his lips down over Kylo’s cock again gladly, bobbing his head more urgently now, as if he’s worried that he’ll have to stop again. Kylo doesn’t think he has the willpower required for another hiatus, the pressure of his building climax hitting him with the strength of a tidal wave as soon as he lets his guard down. He makes himself focus on Hux’s trembling eyelashes when his hips want to thrust up hard into the perfect heat of his mouth, and Hux moans when Kylo’s thumb slides over his lashes. If Kylo seeks even the shallowest feedback from Hux he’ll come, but he can’t resist, needs to know.

Feedback from Hux: Thank fuck I’ve got his cock down my throat-- I’d be screaming his dumb fucking name so loud if I could, over and over--

Kylo comes hard and seems to go someplace else, his vision snapping away and his throat opening around a half-formed sound. It’s the opposite of meditation in the best way: blanked out by being too present in the real world, a mess of nothing but physical sensation, still barely conscious when he regains his sight and looks down to watch Hux swallowing it all up, Hux’s hands braced on Kylo’s shaking thighs to keep them open, Hux shamelessly greedy for the chance to stay just there, on his knees between Kylo’s legs.

Hux pulls off, licks his lips and pants, open-mouthed, letting Kylo see him like this: wrecked for how much he liked that and by how grateful he is to have finally gotten just what he wanted, needed, already close to coming, still untouched, leaking and desperate, shaking all over.

“Come here,” Kylo says when his voice works again.

Observation: Hux doesn’t want to switch places, which was Kylo’s original idea. He wants Kylo’s hand, really does love having a warm hand around him more than almost anything else. It’s not just a good memory from school, the first good one-- It’s deeply ingrained, a pure sort of joy, and one he’s not experienced with Kylo yet, aside from a rough reach-around.

“This is what you want?” Kylo asks, though he already knows the answer when Hux straddles his lap, both of them watching Kylo’s hand close around Hux’s dick as he reaches into the sagging waistband of Hux’s pants, pushing them down. Hux nods when Kylo looks up at him, his eyes lidded and his lips so puffy, well-used. His mouth would taste faintly of come, or maybe not so faintly. Kylo wants to kiss him.

Careful-- don’t.

This warning that comes from nowhere in particular makes Kylo’s grip on Hux’s cock tighten, maybe too much, because Hux makes a swallowed noise that’s halfway between pain and pleasure. He claws his hands around Kylo’s shoulders and starts nodding madly before Kylo can apologize.

“Yeah,” Hux says, his head tipping back. His mouth is still so wet, lips shining. “Like that.”

“Shhh,” Kylo says. He pulls Hux’s sweater off and throws it onto the floor. When Hux is bared for him, nipples tight and ribs shivering, Kylo runs his hand from Hux’s neck and down to his belly, his other hand pumping slow on Hux’s cock, his grip lightening to a tease. “I know what you like.”

“Ren--”

“Don’t I? Can’t you feel me seeing it? Don’t I know exactly how to touch you?”

Hux barely keeps himself from moaning yesss in confirmation, wincing with the effort of holding it in. His hips are beginning to twitch, trying to find more friction when Kylo loosens his grip even further. Hux whines, digs his nails into Kylo’s shoulders more sharply.

“You like that?” Kylo asks, running his free hand back up over Hux’s shuddering chest, to his neck again. “Tell me, Hux.”

“I thought you knew.” Hux peeks at him with one eye and laughs under his breath with a kind of crazed pleasure, unhinged, a spot of actual drool shining at the corner of his lips.

“I want to hear you say it.” Kylo is hard again. He wants to fuck Hux, wants to pull Hux open and down onto his cock right now.

Objective: Don’t do that, you’re not an animal. Control yourself.

“I like it,” Hux says, his hands sliding from Kylo’s shoulders to his jaw. He holds Kylo’s face, stares into his eyes, dares Kylo to kiss him now. “I fucking love it, Ren, everything, you-- Nobody’s ever. Like you, made me come like you do.”

Kylo didn’t expect to hear anything like that. His hand closes around Hux’s cock in a kind of instinctual gratitude, and he pumps once, twists his palm. Hux’s hands fall away from Kylo’s face when he arches back, shouts, comes onto Kylo’s shirt and goes boneless in Kylo’s encircling arms as it leaves him. The reverberation hits Kylo harder than it ever has in the past, and coming again so soon almost hurts, a thin but sharp pleasure wrung from him as he spills onto Hux’s heaving belly.

Kylo pulls Hux against him, drinking in the empty bliss that blanks Hux out and then becoming slightly alarmed by it, wanting Hux back. It takes Hux a moment to regain a thought process, his breath coming in pants against Kylo’s throat as he relaxes against him, exhausted.

Feedback from Hux: Oh please, fuck, don’t take this from me, don’t go.

“I’m right here,” Kylo says, his hands sliding over Hux’s back, then up into his hair and down over his ass.

Hux just grunts, returning to himself. When he feels a bite of shame Kylo feels it, too, and rejects it on behalf of both of them, kissing Hux’s hair.

“Why do you always come just after I have?” Hux asks, mumbling this against Kylo’s skin when he’s gone completely limp in his arms.

“Because I can feel it.”

“It?”

“When you-- It, uh. Circles back around. Hits me, I don’t know. Sometimes it hits me harder than my own.” Always, actually. Hux sniffs a laugh. “Why’s that funny?” Kylo asks, squeezing one of Hux’s scrawny ass cheeks into his hand. When Kylo notes that it fits perfectly in his palm he’s not sure if this is feedback received from Hux or his own observation. They’ve melted together almost completely.

“I don’t know.” Hux yawns, shifts against Kylo’s chest but doesn’t really move, not wanting to. “It’s just funny to think of my orgasms whacking yours right out of you. Like revenge.”

“You need revenge against me for making you come so hard you lose your fucking mind?”

“Yes, of course.”

Neither of them is tired enough to sleep, but neither wants to leave the chair or the position they’ve slumped into: Hux sprawled against Kylo’s chest, his legs sliding down alongside Kylo’s until his feet touch the floor. Kylo shifts until Hux’s feedback indicates optimal comfort, and uses the Force to grab an old throw blanket from the sofa when the room starts to feel cold against Hux’s back. Hux startles when he feels the blanket settling over him, but quickly deflates again when he realizes what’s happened.

“That’s handy,” Hux says, his eyes falling shut again.

“I do what I can.”

Kylo feels newly pathetic after saying so. He doesn’t feel reduced, exactly, but he doesn’t feel powerful. He scratches his fingers through Hux’s hair and keeps his eyes on the den’s large window. The rain that was little more than a mist all morning solidifies and begins to patter against the house in a steady rhythm. Hux sighs as if this sound is the most tedious thing he’s ever heard, but his feedback is almost entirely clear of anything negative when Kylo checks it, aside from the deeper, underlying things that aren’t necessarily being considered at present. Hux is thinking about the night before, when Kylo fed him images, memories, and the clearest information he could give through the Force.

Observation: This is good, because Kylo has been wondering how that felt to Hux. Kylo was too overcome by what was recalled last night-- and since --to develop a proper curiosity about how the transfer of information worked.

Feedback from Hux: It was easier than he’d expected, and strangely soothing. He had been less himself than ever, carried along like that by Ren’s recollections, but he didn’t feel lost. He felt the things Ren had at times, though distantly, and feeling things from a distance was an enormous relief after how closely his own emotions had clung to him earlier in the day. It was like a new level of sympathy, like sympathy as a physical thing that he could hold against his forehead and pass back to Ren, who hadn’t really taken it from him. Ren had been too preoccupied with what was going on in his own head to even feel Hux seeing it.

Observation: This insight is somewhat remarkable for a non-Force sensitive person like Hux.

Possible explanation: They have been alone together in this house for weeks now. They are unusually attuned to each other. Even Hux has developed a kind of hyper-awareness of Kylo’s thought process, location within the house, moods, and so forth.

Kylo closes his eyes and remembers a conversation with Luke about the types of bonds that can be forged through the Light side. He doesn’t want to be pulled fully into the memory, but he’s too comfortable under the weight and heat of Hux to really fight it. It’s not a bad memory, anyway. Not entirely.

“We’ve talked about how you can influence the minds of those who don’t anticipate that they could have their own thoughts confused or altered by a Force user,” Luke said.

“Weak-minded people,” Ben said. Luke’s face changed in the way Ben hated: disappointment, judgment, concern. Ben pretended not to notice. He knew he wasn’t wrong.

“People untrained or insensitive to the ways of the Force,” Luke said, correcting him.

“Which is almost everyone.”

“Don’t assume this is an easy task, Ben. It can be, of course. But it comes with the burden of making someone bend to your will. That kind of thing should only be used when absolutely necessary, and never by someone as young as you. You’re too untrained to make that kind of decision.”

Ben was twelve. They were not in the Temple. Just at the penthouse in the city, waiting for Leia and Han to return from some political function. Luke had allowed Ben to eat leftover bread pudding for dinner, right from the pan. Rey’s appearance in their lives was still a year away, and Luke didn’t have any interest in parenting, only in teaching.

“There are some people whose resistance to this technique would surprise you,” Luke said, maybe because he could sense Ben imagining all the ways he might use the Force to get what he wanted this way. “They would sense your efforts to alter their thoughts and would be angry. Particularly people you’re close to, because they’re accustomed to what it feels like when you can sense their thoughts.”

Ben thought of his father. Luke raised his eyebrows.

“Exactly. I wouldn’t try it on Han. Certainly not on your mother, but you already have a relationship with her in the Force. I know she likes to pretend she’s not strong with it, but you and I both know she is. That’s the other side of this ability to influence the thoughts of others. The Light side of that Dark power. You can have a special bond with someone, a connection you share with them through the Force. Even if they have no sensitivity in the Force themselves, if you’re close to them--”

“Like Wedge,” Ben said.

He liked to sometimes remind Luke that the barriers Luke had up in his mind often weren’t strong enough to keep him out. Luke raised his eyebrows again, slowly this time, and with less amusement.

“Like you and Wedge,” Ben clarified, unperturbed.

“That’s-- I’ve known Captain Antilles for a long time.”

“I know. And you send him messages. With the Force. I’ve heard you. Like me and my mom.”

“That’s different,” Luke said. “And we’ve talked about you searching people’s minds for personal information that you don’t need to know. It’s impolite, for one thing, and. It’s-- Approaching something Dark, Ben.”

“Sorry,” Ben said, and he meant it, even as something hidden in him cackled in triumph at the annoyance he’d caused by reminding Luke that he couldn’t hide his attachment as well as he thought he did.

Kylo opens his eyes, his hand still moving in Hux’s hair. Hux is awake, but only partly, drifting in a kind of conscious restfulness.

Can you hear me? Kylo asks, his hand going still. Hux blinks against his chest.

Feedback from Hux, directly: Yes. Why are you-- What’s happened?

“Nothing.” Kylo lets his hand slip down to the back of Hux’s neck, warming him there. “Just checking.”

“Why wouldn’t I be able to hear you in my head?” Hux sits up, annoyed that Kylo has disturbed the renewed peace in the house with this. Kylo shrugs.

“It’s not that easy with everyone,” he says. “I usually have to work my way in, even if I’ve done it to that same person before. Sometimes it’s physical, and I have to use my-- hand, almost. To concentrate the energy required. But with you. I’m just there.”

“Yes, and it’s still not as charming as you think it is.” Hux yawns and rubs his eyes, not understanding. “I’m taking a shower,” he says. He flicks his gaze to Kylo’s, offering an invitation to join him, but Kylo needs to think about something else before he can. He nods and lets Hux go without him, watches Hux pull his pants back up and collect his sweater from the floor.

Objective: Determine why it seems dangerous to kiss Hux here, in this house.

Observation: It doesn’t seem that way at the moment. Kylo could stride across the den, into the bathroom, could pin Hux to the wall of the shower and kiss him until he’s hard again, whimpering with gratitude, holding Kylo’s ears to keep him in place.

Recollection, painfully sacred: Kylo has kissed Hux before. Nothing bad came of it, aside from having to stop.

Objective: Think harder. Something changed that day, in that moment.

Observations, confounding: Kylo still boarded the shuttle, still made his way faithfully to Snoke as commanded. The kiss really changed nothing. Kylo had already wanted to stay. Had already been afraid to go. Had already given some part of himself to Hux that had never been offered to anyone before, not even to Snoke. All this before that kiss.

And yet something stops him every time he thinks seriously about kissing Hux here. It should be irrelevant: what they just did was equally if not more intimate. They hold each other at night, tell each other things that shouldn’t be voiced. Kissing would only be an extension of that.

Kylo turns to look at the closed door to Ben’s room. That ghost is not the one warning him that he should be careful about how deeply he falls into the feeling of what Hux can give him. It’s something else, not firmly aligned with the Light or the Dark.

Observation, tentative: It’s Kylo himself. Some private instinct that he can’t shake.

Objective: Check on Hux. He’s been too long out of sight.

As soon as Kylo hears the shower shut off he hurries into the bedroom, crowds the door of the bathroom and watches Hux dry himself off. Hux seems irritated by this scrutiny, but there’s no real protest in his feedback, just confusion.

“Do you need something?” Hux asks when he’s dry, the towel tucked around his waist.

“No,” Kylo says, and he walks back into the den, forcing himself to concentrate on something else. The answer to this question won’t come to him today, after he’s already exhausted his ability to meditate. In the meantime, he just won’t kiss Hux. Easy enough. He’s gone this long without it. One more day won’t kill him. He searches the holovids in the den until he finds what he knew that he would as soon as he remembered that they had a copy of it here.

Hux is shaving his face and cursing the low light in the bathroom when Kylo returns. Kylo turns on the holovid projection, using the glow from its title screen to partially illuminate the room.

“What’s that?” Hux asks.

“I thought you could use it for light. While you shave. And then we can watch it. It’s a holofilm I liked when I was a kid.”

“Right,” Hux says, still giving Kylo a suspicious stare as he resumes shaving, his eyes periodically flicking to Kylo’s in the mirror.

When Hux has dressed and Kylo has changed his shirt, beginning to worry about how few clean things they have left to wear, they stretch out on the bed together and watch the holofilm, the projector resting over Kylo’s hips. He points out the inaccuracies in the scenes about smuggling. Hux grunts in answer and falls asleep twenty minutes into the movie. For dinner there is leftover stew and little conversation. Hux keeps studying Kylo like he thinks he can read Kylo’s mind if he tries hard enough, Force or not.

“I guess it would be stupid to ask what’s bothering you,” Hux says when they settle into bed together. “Considering all the information I already have.”

“It’s nothing,” Kylo says. “Just the thought of meditating again tomorrow.” This is true, at least. “It takes a lot out of me.”

“I’m going to fix that speeder tomorrow,” Hux says. He sounds confident, excited. Kylo finds Hux’s hand under the blanket and brings it to his lips, licks at the creases of Hux’s curled fingers. Hux swallows audibly, watching this.

“Tomorrow,” Kylo says, like a promise of his own. “Yeah.”

No shattering dreams reach either of them that night. Kylo’s are strange but not unnerving: allowing himself a memory of Luke has offered other images of Luke entry to his mind, but what comes are not more memories. He sees Luke on an island, heavily bearded and constantly assailed by distress. Something about the image brings Kylo back to his time with Rey, when she was in the interrogation chair. Within the veil of sleep, a realization: Rey saw something similar. She’d been searching for Luke, in her dreams, on Jakku, without even trying and without remembering why she needed him. She must have dreamed of Wedge, too, maybe even of Ben, but the images of Luke that came to her were different. They were a pathway to things ahead. A kind of map.

Kylo wakes at dawn, when Hux leaves the bed to work on the speeder. Thunder rolls through the clouds overhead, and Kylo feels it like a cold hand that passes from his neck to the base of his spine, the owner of this hand smirking at him from the shadows and promising: soon, soon.

He closes his eyes and tries to sleep again, wanting more and clearer images of Luke. They don’t come, and sleep eludes him, too, but he stays under the blankets, afraid to rise and face this day. The only thing that’s able to rouse him is Hux running through the house and sort of throwing himself into the room, catching his hands on the doorframe before he can do anything so childish as actually leaping onto the bed, onto Kylo.

“It’s running,” Hux says, his hair wild, eyes bright. “Come see.”

Kylo dresses first, not sure why he’s making Hux wait. Hux is unperturbed by Kylo’s dragging feet, too thrilled with this victory to be troubled by anything. He’s sitting on the speeder, wearing the windbreaker, when Kylo comes to the garage doorway.

“Get your cape,” Hux says, patting the space on the seat behind him, just enough room for a second passenger. “It’s raining.”

“It’s not a cape-- Of course it’s raining-- What?”

“What do you think? Read my mind if you need to. I’m going to try it out. Don’t you want to come?”

Hux is dripping wet, the windbreaker soggy against him. He’s already driven the thing around in the yard. He means to take it even further from the house. Kylo thinks of forbidding it.

Analysis: Why? Is it really dangerous for Hux to leave this place? Kylo has had visions of hell for Hux within this house’s walls, and every time he even thinks of kissing Hux in there it’s forbidden by something sharp that snags in his chest.

Objective: Forget it all for a while. For as long as you can. It’s this or meditation, where Snoke awaits you.

Objective, related: Get the robe, Hux is waiting.

Kylo pulls the hood of the robe over his head once he’s wearing it, and pauses before climbing onto the speeder behind Hux.

“Hurry up,” Hux says, practically squirming with the need to blast out of the garage at full speed. “I only have so much fuel.”

“We could get more in town,” Kylo says, and then he feels like an idiot, because maybe Hux has sensed, too, that this is all coming to an end soon. He pushes the thought away and climbs on, feeling ridiculous when he puts his hands on Hux’s shoulders.

“That won’t be enough,” Hux says, scooting back against Kylo like he’s a pilot seat that has just materialized. “Arms around my chest, go on. No one’s going to see you, Lord Ren.”

“Shut up,” Kylo says, but he does as Hux suggested, curling around Hux and tightening his grip when Hux throws the throttle and the speeder zips out of the garage, into the rain. Hux has the hood of the windbreaker pushed down, and he leaves it that way as they race out of the yard and toward the road, Hux laughing as if the cold rain on his face feels like the planet’s congratulations.

Kylo pushes his hood down, too, not liking the way it blocks his peripheral vision. He remembers rides on this speeder well from childhood trips here, holding on to his father or his mother like this. More often it had been his father, and they had rarely used the speeder in the rain or at high speeds. Han had probably used the thing on top speed once he was out of sight of the house, riding alone, but Leia wouldn’t have it when Ben was his passenger.

“Pretty good, huh?” Hux shouts over the rain as they fly alongside the empty, muddy road. “I bet it’s never gone this fast before!”

“You modified it?” Kylo asks, speaking in Hux’s ear.

“That’s right!” Hux launches into some techno speak that Kylo can’t follow, detailing the genius epiphany that allowed him to make this thing run again using only a crap heap of old supplies and the garage’s basic tools. Hux hasn’t spoken like this since they left the Finalizer, as if he believes he’s destined to rule the galaxy and this speeder repair is a clear sign that it’s true. Kylo holds on tight and listens, not really needing to understand the terminology to appreciate what it all means to Hux.

“Why are you keeping to the road?” Kylo asks, teasing him. Hux grunts and jerks the controls sideways, shooting the speeder across a wide field, over some leafy green crops that shine under the rainfall, even in the light of this cloud-covered afternoon. It’s tea time for the locals, and if anyone spots them racing around like lunatics on the speeder, there’s no indication. Hux steers the speeder over other fields, then along the high coastline, laughing again when Kylo holds him tighter. Kylo doesn’t need to pry at Hux’s thoughts to feel like everything that’s coursing through Hux has bled into him, too, and he presses his grin against the side of Hux’s neck when he tries and fails to swallow his own laughter.

When they’ve run through half of the fuel Hux steers the speeder toward the woods that shadow an old farm outside of town. Hux is trembling in Kylo’s arms, from the cold and from the adrenaline rush of moving so fast, leaving the house, doing anything but slinking from room to room in a fog of dread laced with hope. He parks the speeder under the tree canopy at the edge of the woods, where only a few raindrops leak down to reach them as he turns around on the seat, swinging his leg over so he can face Kylo.

“Ren,” Hux says, breathing hard. His eyes are wet and his lips are shaking. He’s still smiling, faintly, but there’s something desperate and sad about it, as if he’s begging. Hux’s feedback is humming with an impossibly complete pantheon of everything he’s ever tried not to feel, crashing hard against him when he grabs Kylo’s face and pulls him closer. “Let’s just leave this place,” Hux says, terrified and triumphant for even having said it. “Please, let’s take that shuttle and go. We could do it, we could just disappear. I don’t want to go back to the Order, and you can’t go back to Snoke, I won’t let you. I can’t stay here any longer, I can’t keep waiting, I can’t--”

Observation: Kylo can’t wait any longer either. He’s nodding, his hands going to Hux’s cheeks, and the last thing he tastes before the kiss that feels like it could end him is the shake of Hux’s breath against his lips: relief, Hux’s overwhelming relief. It tastes like forgiveness and freedom and everything that could doom them, too.

Feedback from Hux, when his eyes fall shut and he parts his lips for the first pass of Kylo’s tongue: Fucking finally, don’t stop, Ren, please-- If you ever stop this I’ll die.

Observation: That could be true. But how?

Kylo pulls back just a bit, frightened by how hard Hux’s heart is pounding, though that might actually be his own heartbeat. Hux wraps his legs around Kylo’s waist and breathes against his mouth, searches his eyes. Hux feels cold from the rain, but a cursory check of him indicates that otherwise he’s okay, that he hasn’t actually been harmed by Kylo’s indulgence.

“What are you afraid of?” Hux asks, his voice breaking.

“I’m not,” Kylo says, lying. Hux gives him a disbelieving look.

“Please,” Hux says. He’s still holding Kylo’s face, licking at Kylo’s bottom lip and blinking against the rainwater that drips from his hair. “Ren, did you even hear me? I think we could leave. We’ve come this far, haven’t we?”

Observations, crushing and more real than this single, impossible moment: Hux doesn’t know that Kylo heard Snoke in his head yesterday morning, as clearly as if he was standing over Kylo on the porch. He doesn’t know about the Tower. Doesn’t know that Kylo has seen his own hands around Hux’s neck.

“Ren,” Hux says, pressing soft kisses to his lips. “Please. There’s nothing left for you but me. Does that still horrify you?”

Kylo shakes his head, his hands going to Hux’s waist. Hux is shuddering: he needs to get out of the cold. Kylo kisses him again anyway, trying to infuse Hux with heat by stroking his tongue against Hux’s, which comes eagerly to meet his. Hux sighs and presses even closer, arching when Kylo’s grip tightens at the small of his back, his fingers curling into bruising points.

“I’m going to tell you want I want,” Hux says, pulling back when Kylo is still in mid-kiss, trying to follow Hux’s lips away before he refocuses on Hux’s words. “My terms,” Hux says, putting one finger against Kylo’s bottom lip. “Okay?”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to drive us back to that bloody house. We’re going to take off these wet clothes and you’re going to fuck me in that bed. Fuck me so hard that I won’t be able to walk when you’re done with me, why not, you could heal that easily enough. Then we’ll dress, pack some things, and take that shuttle away from here. And no one will stop us.”

Observation, hollowing something out of a place in Kylo that won’t ever be refilled: He can’t promise that last part.

“Okay,” he says anyway. “Yes.”

He kisses Hux again, trying to forget everything but the heat of Hux’s mouth, particularly how bad it will always feel to pull away from this closeness, which is somehow like no other: Hux’s hands on his face, Hux almost laughing against his mouth when he tastes how much Kylo needs this, because Hux understands that need exactly-- Because Hux is warm and real and also a perfect reflection of Kylo’s own desperate need to believe that they could ever keep this.

The ride back to the house is less joyous, as if Hux knows, too, that he’s asked for at least one impossible thing. Kylo watches the scenery pass and then hides his face against Hux’s neck, closes his eyes and focuses entirely on Hux’s heartbeat. It’s still fast, anxious, and stubbornly hopeful in a way that dares more pain to reach out for him now that he’s found his first real foothold for climbing out of the pit it’s thrust him down and kicked him back into for too long.

Feedback from Hux: Come and fucking get me. I’m ready. Ren might be afraid of you. You’ve done everything you can to keep that true. I’m not afraid. I’m done with it. Spent, finished, done with waiting, ready for a fight.

He’s addressing Snoke, imagining Snoke can hear his thoughts. Possibly he can. Kylo pinches his eyes shut against Hux’s skin and hopes Hux can’t feel the wet heat on his neck through the rain.

The rainfall grows oppressive as they approach the house, Hux’s fingers slipping on the steering bar. Still, he manages to pilot them neatly back into the garage. They both step off of the speeder shakily, the tension in their legs having pulled every muscle uncomfortably tight. Kylo shucks his soaked robe, and Hux takes the windbreaker off as he walks into the house, Kylo following.

The house darkens as they move toward the bedroom, clouds thickening overhead. There’s no thunder or lightning today. The rainfall is heavy but eerily quiet, uniform. In the bedroom, Hux pulls his wet shirt off and works on his pants when he turns toward Kylo, who didn’t understand until their eyes met that Hux wants to have sex before boarding the shuttle just in case it’s the last time, their only remaining chance.

Feedback from Hux: I won’t die without having you inside me again.

Kylo wants to bark that Hux won’t die at all, that Kylo won’t allow it, but he doesn’t have the energy. He’s frightened by his own inability to understand where the danger is coming from just now, why it feels like there’s an enemy outside their door at last. Hux moves forward to push Kylo’s shaking fingers away from the front of his pants when he struggles to get them open. Hux undoes them himself, caressing Kylo’s hips as he pushes them down for him.

“Get something for lube,” Hux says, rather gravely, when they’re both standing naked near the bed, hair dripping onto their shoulders. Kylo wants to kiss Hux: he’s still cold, needs to be warmed up. Hux moves away from Kylo when he hesitates. He gets into bed, huddles under the blankets for warmth, and watches Kylo fetch an old jar of salve from the bathroom cabinet. It was used for nothing in particular and he’s noticed it there before, half-thinking that it might serve this purpose.

Kylo tosses the jar onto the bed and climbs under the blankets, sliding over to shelter Hux’s body with his own. They’re both breathing heavily, as if the rain is still blasting against them while they speed now into this. Fearlessly, on Hux’s part. Terrified, on Kylo’s. Hux stares up at him like he’s offering himself as a dare, trying to make his eyes hard. It took Kylo some time and deliberation before he could determine their color. Hux’s eyes have a kind of translucency at times, as if Hux has sucked out the color himself by force of will, which is something he would probably do if he could. He laughed when Kylo finally saw the green in them.

Objective: Kiss Hux everywhere before sliding inside him. Memorize every inch. Draw this out for as long as possible.

Feedback from Hux: What are you waiting for? What are you always waiting for, when I’m already yours?

“Ren,” Hux says, letting his eyes soften until there’s nothing but green. “Please.”

Kylo starts with Hux’s neck, kissing him just under his jaw and then down along the length of his throat before moving up the other side and sucking at the softest skin he can find there. Hux sighs and pushes his hand into Kylo’s hair, squeezing some rainwater from it. Hux is painfully hard before Kylo has even moved down to kiss his collarbone and dip his tongue into the hollow of his throat, but he strokes Kylo’s hair and allows him to take his time.

Feedback from Hux: Yes, good, devour me. Use your fucking teeth-- I want to feel you everywhere when this is done.

Kylo grins against Hux’s shoulder, lust-dazed enough now to begin to feel a bit invincible. This feeling is bolstered by Hux’s feedback, and the sense that Hux is the craft Kylo was born to pilot, all the controls designed for his hands, every response to Kylo’s touch a perfect arc of fluid pleasure. Kylo drags his teeth down to catch on Hux’s left nipple, tightening the pressure when Hux gasps and pulls at his hair. Kylo alternates between tugging with this teeth and soothing with his tongue until he’s drawn the first cracked moan from Hux, who is writhing up against him with unchecked need now, rubbing his cock on Kylo’s hip.

Feedback from Hux: And I actually thought getting fucked by a magic user would be some kind of disadvantage. How many people in history have ever had someone like him in bed? Weren’t the Jedi celibate?

Kylo snorts and lifts his head. Hux is panting, peeking at him from beneath half-lowered eyelids.

“Oh,” Hux says. “You’re reading my mind? Are you ever in your own head during sex?”

“I’d rather be in yours,” Kylo says, moving over to give Hux’s other nipple a teasing flick of his tongue. “It’s overflowing with praise for me.”

“Smug fuck,” Hux says, his fingertips sliding over Kylo’s scar.

Hux is trembling and huffing his breath by the time Kylo makes his way down to the insides of Hux’s thighs. He hesitates and checks Hux’s thoughts to make sure this isn’t too close to a bad memory.

Feedback from Hux, his head thrown back and eyes shut tight: Sink your fucking teeth in, please, take a bite out of me, anything, just--

Observation: Hux is so in need of him right now that he suffers for every second that Kylo’s mouth isn’t on him.

“Shhh,” Kylo says, as if Hux said all of that out loud. He spreads Hux’s thighs open a bit wider and licks over the skin that he healed, drinking in Hux’s grateful moan. Hux is so soft here; Kylo can’t bring himself to bite. He uses his teeth only to drag carefully over the tenderest skin, licking along the shallow marks left behind and watching them disappear. Healing them, maybe-- He can’t even be sure. He’s as lost to this as Hux is already, and when Hux starts to whimper, clawing needfully at Kylo’s shoulders as he tries to draw him upward, closer, Kylo knows he won’t be able to deny him what he’s asking for any longer. This isn’t like before. It’s not a game. Hux will break apart if Kylo doesn’t hold him together.

“I’m here,” Kylo says, crawling up over Hux and groping for the jar of salve. He won’t bother with fingers-- Hux doesn’t want that and neither of them can wait. Hux opens his eyes and reaches up to tuck Kylo’s hair behind his ears, making him momentarily self-conscious that they can be seen.

“Of course you’re here,” Hux says, trying to laugh. “I wasn’t worried you’d left.”

Feedback from Hux: But you were too far away, down between my legs. Stay close, right here, like this.

Kylo nods and slicks his cock, licks his lips. He could kiss Hux now, as he sinks into him. Couldn’t he? Maybe he’ll wait. Just in case.

“Okay?” Kylo says when he lines himself up, not wanting to invade Hux’s thoughts to find the answer. Hux nods slowly, his lips parted, fat pupils thinning out the green in his eyes.

“Please,” Hux says, his hands flexing on Kylo’s shoulders. “Ren, you-- You don’t know. How much I wanted this back, every day.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Oh, of course, you can read my mind--”

Shut up. You know what I mean. I wanted you back every day, too.

Hux grins, his expression slackening as Kylo pushes into him. Carefully, though everything in Hux wants him as deep as he can go-- please, please. As if Kylo might pull back now. As if anything could separate them. There’s a kind of bubble around the bed, a film of Force energy that warms the air within it. Kylo put it there without even realizing it. It’s real, solid protection from everything outside. The sound of the rain is muffled by it.

“Fuck, yes,” Hux says, breathing this out when Kylo is all in. Hux’s knees are bent and lifted, his legs tucked to Kylo’s sides. His cheeks are pink, eyes soft, and his expression is sort of brainless and sweet, edged with smugness, like he’s won some game after all, by getting Kylo to give him this perfect thing. Too many people have used this to try to make Hux feel worthless, and still he wants it from Kylo, who can transform this sometimes brutal act into the feeling that Hux is worth everything, that Kylo could have the whole galaxy in his palm and toss it into the wind for this, for Hux. Kylo has already done that, and he’s not sorry, not now.

“I dreamed of you in this house,” Kylo says, his lips on Hux’s cheek. “As a kid. Something in me knew I’d have you here someday, but I didn’t understand it. It was like being hollowed out, listening to the rain without you. That ache.”

“Well,” Hux says. He turns his face against Kylo’s, strokes Kylo’s damp hair away from this neck. “No part of me knew that any of this would ever happen. But it still hurt like hell.”

Feedback from Hux, the part he won’t say loud: Living without this. I don’t know how I did it, but I know I won’t be able to do it again, not now.

Hux is reeling as soon as Kylo moves inside him, remembering how he doesn’t have to angle himself or strain to get the friction just right-- Kylo knows, feels it, fucks into him with the slowest, sweetest drag, biting at Hux’s neck with gentle pressure and offering more of everything if Hux wants it.

Feedback from Hux: Not yet. Go slow, like that. Make it last, yeah--

Kylo has never felt more in control of himself, despite his own pleasure at sliding deeply into Hux again and again, savoring every inch of push and pull in their connection. He feels powerful, too, the energy that surrounds the bed firm and steady. Hux gasps and claws at his back, nods madly when Kylo sinks into him and whines under his breath as he slides back out. Kylo keeps his mouth on Hux’s neck, afraid to lift his head and kiss him, even now. That’s the one thing that might make him lose control.

Observation: You want it so much that it feels like the only thing that could kill you. But you kissed him on the speeder and both of you survived it. He tasted even better than you remembered. He wanted it so much. He tasted like that-- like the one person in the galaxy who wants every fucking bit of you, good and bad, all of it, and who licks his lips to taste it again when you pull away from him.

“Ren,” Hux breathes out, his nails biting into the skin on Kylo’s back.

Feedback from Hux: I’m close, fuck, already, please, don’t hold back anymore, I want everything.

Kylo sits back so he can take Hux’s cock in his hand while he pumps into him him more sharply, faster, watching Hux fall completely open for the feeling, clawing at his own chest with one hand now, pulling at his hair with the other when Kylo’s is out of reach.

“Yuh-- yeah,” Hux manages to say, his mouth red and slick, ready to be kissed. Kylo is going to fuck him to orgasm first. He’ll kiss Hux when he’s coming down from it, will bring Hux back to himself that way.

Feedback from Hux when Kylo fucks him harder, harder: It was worth it, worth it, it’s-- I’ll-- No matter what happens-- I had him, had this, it was mine.

Kylo tightens his grip on Hux’s cock when he feels him reach the point of no return, where he needs nothing but more pressure and faster, harder thrusts, everything coming to a point inside him. It breaks and Hux shouts, throwing his head back and spilling over Kylo’s fingers, his hips jerking down to meet Kylo’s as they continue snapping against him. Kylo loses his ability to stay quiet when the still-pulsing energy of Hux’s climax rips through him, the force of it bending Kylo backward and tipping his chin up until he’s staring blind at the ceiling, emptying himself into Hux as his mouth opens around a wordless moan that feels like a weight that was coiled inside him, exorcised now.

Observation: Sitting back like this, even while Kylo is still inside him-- He’s too far from Hux.

Kylo hunches down over Hux and pulls out of him, watching Hux’s face as their bodies disconnect. Hux is still trembling, but differently now, his arms looping around Kylo’s neck. Kylo bumps his nose against Hux’s as he settles down onto him. He strokes his thumb across Hux’s eyelashes, then across Hux’s lips when he smiles. Hux looks sleepy, dazed, breathless, and his eyes are so bright when he blinks them open to peer up at Kylo.

Feedback from Hux: Fuck death. I’ve waited long enough for this. Nothing’s taking it from me now.

Kylo is going to kiss him now. Until nightfall if he can. He just needs one thing first, a kind of talisman that only Hux can give him. He rubs his thumb over Hux’s lips one more time, lingering on the little scar at the corner.

“Tell me your name,” Kylo says, moving his thumb aside. “Your first name.”

Hux's eyebrows twitch. “Don’t you know it?”

“Yes, but. Say it, I want you to tell me.”

Hux hesitates. He's always hated this name, maybe even more than Kylo came to hate the one his parents gave him.

“Tell me,” Kylo says. “Please.”

“Elan, it's-- Elan.” Hux pronounces his first name with a soft bite of indignance, as if he's still not sure he wants to give up the secret syllables that he's already passed from his palms and into Kylo's. General Elan Bartram Hux's name is on all his First Order documentation, easy enough for anyone to find. But out loud, offered up for Kylo to hear, it's a tiny, sacred thing, quivering and alive. Hux presses his lips together when they shake. Kylo can't wait any longer to put his mouth on that little scar.

Nothing tells him not to kiss Hux now, maybe because of the bubble of protective energy that lingers over the bed. Hux exhales against Kylo’s mouth when Kylo licks at the scar on his lip, and he tilts his head up to offer better access as Kylo sucks that little scar into his mouth, soothing the tip of his tongue over its rough edges. Hux uses this as an opportunity to sweep his tongue into Kylo’s mouth, and Kylo pushes both his hands into Hux’s hair, dropping down onto him and letting the relief of finally having this sink into every part of him, every wall he’s ever built coming down when Hux makes that half-swallowed, almost whimpering noise that means Don’t stop, don’t stop, please don’t stop.

Observation: There’s no helmet between their heaving chests this time. Kylo put the helmet in the closet days ago. He doesn’t anticipate needing it again.

Seeing the future was never your strong suit, boy.

Kylo jerks backward, his eyes going wide.

“What’s wrong?” Hux asks.

Observations, too late (no, no): Hux’s voice is already muffled by the victorious poison that floods every place in Kylo that Snoke has drilled into, where he’s left behind deep wells that bottom out in Snoke’s own power, malice pouring like oily black water from them now, surging past all those toppled walls. The corners of Kylo’s vision are already going gray.

Let me help you with what must be done, boy. You can resume control when you’re strong enough.

Last time Ben curled in on himself and let it wash over him, just wanting it to be over.

This time he’s ripped out and thrown into the corner of the room, so hard that he loses consciousness.

It’s dark, where Snoke sends him. There is no sound. Ben was here once before, clinging to the emptiness. By fifteen he’d done plenty of thinking about what it would be like to be dead. He didn’t want it, exactly, but he thought about it: just nothing, no goals or dreams or disappointments, no voices, no gut-searing guilt, nobody to see him fail. No body to even occupy.

Body, he--

Needs his back now, fast.

Think, idiot, think!

He looks down and sees nothing where his hands should be. But he has vision: there is no real downward direction in which to look, no hands here, but he can see things, maybe, if he tries hard enough. Things that exist elsewhere. Things past, things ahead.

The past: Rey.

She was a light that drew him out of this darkness once.

That light was in danger of being extinguished, that day. Ben almost put it out himself.

But no--

He was--

Here. The whole time. Where he is now-- Where he had allowed Snoke to send him. Away from--

Hux.

Ben feels himself grow ten sizes. Feels himself expanding against the walls of the cage he’s been thrust into. Grits his teeth and screams into the dark, regrows his hands and tears at the pressure that pushes in around him, clawing it to tatters.

Objective (rage, rage, there’s nothing but rage now): This mental prison wasn’t strong enough to hold him when he was fifteen years old. He’ll shred it to pieces for good this time.

He opens his eyes. Snoke is still in him. Snoke’s rage is real, too, keeping Kylo’s hands crushed around Hux’s throat as Kylo tries desperately to pull them free, screaming in frustration when he can’t. Hux’s eyes are wide, unseeing, blood vessels bursting. His face is purple. Soon it will be blue.

“I am stronger than you!” Kylo says, screaming this down at Hux but directing it to Snoke, who is using Kylo’s face to snarl at Hux like he wants him dead. “You can’t have me-- Never had me-- I should have killed you when I first had the chance! I could have, I could have-- You liar, liar-- Next time I see you I’ll end you with my bare hands!”

He can’t do it now because Snoke is not here, rapidly fleeing as Kylo regains his power, and because it takes everything Kylo has in him to pry his hands from Hux’s throat as he rips the last remnants of Snoke from his mind and shuts every door that was ever open to him, pouring concrete into the wells that lead to Snoke and trying to get used to the feeling of breath in his lungs again.

Hux will have a harder time with that. The first breath he manages to take is choked, painful, his eyes still blown open with blinded shock, red and leaking.

“Okay,” Kylo says, moving off of Hux to kneel beside him on the bed. They’re both soaked with sweat; Hux’s is ice cold. “Okay, okay.”

Kylo tries to heal Hux while he lies there on his back, limp and staring ahead at nothing, his blown-open eyelids trembling as if he’s determined to never blink again. Hux forces the breath back into his lungs on his own, rasping and desperate. The healing isn’t working. Not even on the bruises. Kylo’s hands are steady-- He threw the shake out of himself by force. But something is wrong.

Feedback from Hux: Offline.

Observation, Kylo’s thought process coming back to him like raw friction: That can’t be right. Hux is awake. He’s breathing, with difficulty, but the air is reaching his lungs and being expelled in shallow gasps before he sucks it in again. His face has gone from dark purple to angry red, splotchy and streaked with thin trails of the tears that were wrung from him, burst capillaries spidering out from the corners of his eyes.

“Hux,” Kylo says, his voice cracking. “No-- Look at me. You know that wasn’t me. It was Snoke, he-- You know. Hux, please, I got rid of him, I won’t let him near you again, please. Hux?”

He reaches for Hux, wanting to try healing him again. Hux takes the deepest breath he’s managed since the attack and scrambles feebly over the side of the bed, falling onto the floor and scooting away in a mad scramble until his back hits the wall, both arms going up over his face with Kylo tries to move toward him.

Feedback from Hux, barely present but there: No no no, no, please, stay back, don’t, please, no--

“Okay.” Kylo holds up his hands and tries to ignore the first hot tears that soak down his cheeks. It’s okay, it’s over. Hux will just need. Some time. “Okay, I won’t come any closer. I’ll stay here.”

Hux isn’t looking at Kylo, or at anything. He leaves his arms over his face. He’s shaking all over. In shock. The red drains from his face and he gets so white. Kylo can see it, sense it, even with Hux’s arms hiding it from view.

Observation, a crippled little thing that is crying on the floor, somewhere deep inside: Kylo will not be able to heal Hux. Not now. Maybe not ever again.

Secondary, important: Hux needs to be healed. He can’t stay here.

Conclusion, unavoidable: Snoke will gather his strength and return. He’ll find them here easily. He’ll be back as soon as he recovers from this new blow. Maybe in his physical form this time.

“Hux,” Kylo says. “Can you. Hear me?”

Feedback from Hux: Offline.

Feedback from Hux, buried deep but there: Hux’s arms hurt. He wants to lower them, but can’t make himself do it.

“Put your arms down,” Kylo says, without meaning to, when he senses how tense they are, aching terribly with it.

Hux obeys instantly. His arms go to his sides, limp against the floor. His eyes still see nothing. He has his knees pulled to his chest.

Weak-minded people.

Observations (let them come, don’t run away from what you’ve done): Hux’s mind is barely hanging on to anything. He’s weakened almost beyond repair. It’s not his throat that took the worst of it.

“No,” Kylo says, speaking to no one. Snoke is far away, licking his wounds. The ghost is hiding somewhere, sobbing, defeated. Hux doesn’t hear anything but a blaring alarm that won’t stop sounding, telling him to run, run, but keeping him from moving with the terror it sends constantly through him.

Kylo climbs out of the bed, falls onto his knees. He keeps ten feet between himself and Hux, because the alarm that won’t stop sounding in Hux is a warning about Kylo and it gets louder when Kylo moves even infinitesimally closer.

On the floor, Kylo bows. Naked, he sobs. Wants to beat his fists against the hardwood and start tearing through the house, knocking over furniture, breaking everything, setting fires, but Hux needs help and that won’t bring it.

“Master,” he says, his voice barely working. It doesn’t matter: he’s making this plea in his head more than in this room, trying to send it somewhere, desperate. “Luke. Uncle. Help me, please.”

Kylo waits, his head still on the floor, Hux still offline across the room, needing treatment for the shock that might kill him if it’s not assauged soon.

As Kylo expected, no answer comes.

“Please,” Kylo says. He can feel something, even through the silence. A kind of contact made and rejected. Luke put up walls that cannot be scaled by Ben Solo or Kylo Ren or anyone in the galaxy after what happened. He fled them all, physically and mentally. He’s gone.

Kylo cries against the floor, hearing the high-pitched whine of it and hating himself. Hating Ben for doing this to him almost as much as he hates Snoke. Ben is not the sort of person that’s supposed to exist: too much of one thing and too much of the other, neither useful to anyone except as a battering ram repurposed by an ancient evil that needed a human body. Someone called Ben’s powers a perfect balance, once. Ha.

He hears something and looks up, thinking it’s Hux.

Observation: No. Hux goes stiff when he feels Kylo’s eyes on him. The only thing that breaks through the frozen hell of Hux’s shock is renewed terror that Kylo will hurt him again.

Kylo puts his head against the floor again. Closes his eyes.

Objectives: Listen. Put your useless grief aside. Find help for Hux.

Observation: It’s not Luke who is responding to him.

Observation, wary of anything that seems like it could be help: Other voices have only done damage, in the past.

Look closer, don’t give up. Pretend to believe you can do this.

That’s the ghost. Ben wants to grab it and hug it--

Ben, no-- The ghost is Ben.

He’s--

Ben!

It’s a girl’s voice. A woman’s, nearly.

He sits up, slowly, afraid to hope.

Observation, unbreakable: It’s Rey.

She’s not talking to Kylo Ren, or to Ben Solo. She’s arguing with someone. On Kylo’s behalf. She can’t do this alone, she says. She needs help. From Luke.

Kylo laughs to himself, eyes closed, defeated. Luke won’t help her with this.

Rey was always stronger than you wanted to believe.

He feels it when she smiles. She’s glad to help him. Wants to desperately, even after what he did to her. Even after what his innate, unearned hatred cost her.

But you saved me, too.

Her voice in his head is like the first cold water he’s had to drink since he gulped from that stream. He puts his hands over his face, sobs. Can’t make himself grateful enough for what comes, with Luke’s grudging assistance.

Coordinates.

When their voices have faded and only the coordinates remain, Kylo braces himself against the bed and stands. Hux is still pressed to the wall, legs pulled tightly to his chest, his eyes not so wide open now but still bloodshot. The bruises are rising on his neck, dark red deepening into what will become a purplish black.

“Hux,” Kylo says, hating himself for this. But there’s no other way. “Stand up.”

It takes some effort, and Hux has to brace his palms to the wall, pressing himself upward while his knees shake, but he stands. Kylo goes to the drawers. His face is soaked with tears, chest shuddering.

“Here,” he says, blindly selecting pants, a shirt. “Put these on.”

He slides them across the floor so that they’re in reach of Hux.

Kylo dresses with his back turned to Hux, half-hoping that his command wasn’t followed, but when he turns he sees Hux stepping into the pants, the shirt already pulled on. Hux is not making the decision to do this. Kylo is forcing him.

“I’m sorry,” Kylo says, harder sobs welling up when he hears it out loud. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you ever met me.”

He turns away and wipes his face, tries to get hold of himself. Comforts himself with the knowledge that he’ll never come back to this house, this planet. Luke will probably execute him on sight. Good, fine. Kylo just has to convince them not to hurt Hux first. They have to help Hux, despite everything. Kylo has to believe that they will before he can take another step.

“Come on,” Kylo says, wiping his wet face on his sleeve. “Follow me.”

He walks through the house and Hux follows blindly, drawn forward by the Force, by Kylo’s mechanical presence in his brain. In the kitchen, Kylo instructs Hux to put on Han’s boots. Kylo steps into his own and thinks of the helmet that’s still tucked into the closet. Whatever happens, he’ll never wear it again. He collects his wet robe from the kitchen floor, unwilling to leave it behind. Maybe he’ll give it to Hux when this is all over, as a reminder of him. It will never bring good memories, but he can’t yet accept the idea that Snoke has set fire to all of the good things Hux ever felt for him, even if it he knows it’s true.

The cold blast of the rain feels good. Kylo walks ahead of Hux, keeping enough space between them so as not to frighten him. Hux follows him onto the shuttle and stands in the main chamber, mindless and drifting, his body still twitching with painful aftershocks. Kylo plugs in the coordinates he was given, fingers shaking.

“Sit,” he says, to Hux. “We’re going now.”

Hux glances at the cot.

Feedback from Hux, the first real thought he’s had since Kylo’s eyes went black and his hands closed around Hux’s throat: He doesn’t want to be on that cot again. Ever.

Kylo thinks of calling Hux up to sit in the co-pilot seat, but without needing new feedback he knows that Hux would shudder into irreversible shock if he had to be so close to Kylo.

“Sit on the floor, then,” Kylo says, hearing his father’s voice. Someone is fragile, frightened? Bark at them, snap them out of it.

He wasn’t like that, really.

It’s the ghost. Saying goodbye.

Kylo powers the engines on and tries to ignore this.

Snoke made you hate Han because Han loved you so much. Wake up, kid. What’s the harm in waking up now? The only thing you have to lose is the last person who could ever love you the way you want him to.

Observation, directed to the ghost: Hux is lost already.

Oh, shut up. You don’t know everything.

Kylo turns to make sure it wasn’t Hux sending him that feedback. Hux is still offline, sitting on the floor. He’ll slide around when the shuttle takes off, but Kylo can keep him safe with the Force.

“We’re leaving,” Kylo says, to Hux. “Like you wanted.”

Feedback from Hux: Offline.

Kylo’s eyes burn when he throws the throttle. Good riddance, shithole. Farewell, Kylo’s terrible idea. Hello, facing the consequences. Succumbing to them. It’s all over but the crying, as his father used to say.

The shuttle breaks the cloud line at sunset. Kylo hasn’t seen any planet’s sun in what feels like a long time. He’s lost track of how to measure such things: time, what he’s actually seen as opposed to blandly observed, sunlight. He blinks against the alien orange glow that spreads across the shuttle’s viewport, disliking it at first. Then the shuttle climbs higher, and he sees the rolling hills in the distance, where the clouds don’t reach. The jungle, the thin stream of a waterfall tumbling down the side of a green mountain. Kylo opens his mouth, but he catches himself before he can speak, remembering that there’s no point in calling out to Hux and telling him to come have a look at the world they’re leaving behind. Hux is just another thing he loved, destroyed. He wouldn’t see this, even if he stood beside Kylo and stared in its direction. He won’t see anything but Kylo’s hate-filled eyes bearing down on him from now on.

Don’t ascribe your weakness to others. Humble yourself and observe their strength.

Kylo turns, but Hux is still offline. That voice was new. He turns back to the viewport and frowns, the shuttle beginning to shake as they leave the atmosphere.

Observation: You were wrong about everything.

Correction: The one thing you were right about is here in this shuttle. Damaged by you, yes. But here.

Objective: Do anything, anything. Anything to heal him.

Observation, somehow true: You are piloting a shuttle toward Luke Skywalker and Rey Antilles. This is anything, truly. You told him you would do anything, whatever he needs: this is it.

Objective: Go, continue. Don’t look back.

 

**

Chapter Text

Setting the shuttle on an autopilot course that will bring him to Luke feels impossible, but Kylo has somehow done it, and he sits staring at the coordinates they’re approaching as the shuttle moves through space. In just a little over seven hours they will arrive, according to the shuttle’s systems. Kylo wants to pound his fists against the console and call it a liar, because how could this be true?

He returns his attention to Hux, using the Force instead of turning in the pilot’s seat, because even sensing that Kylo has turned his cheek too fast would send a peel of unthinking terror through Hux.

Hux is seated on the floor. He’s cold. This is more of a temperature reading than a thought Hux is having. His rational feedback is still offline, but his mind is garbled with physical sensations now, things Hux can’t help but note. His throat hurts terribly. Especially when he swallows, which he for some reason can’t stop doing. Something about this makes Kylo remember once worrying that Hux’s captors might not have given him enough water. Kylo’s throat is dry, his eyes store and stinging.

“Get up,” he says, without turning. “There’s a canteen in the cabinet across from the cot. A first aid kit, too. You will retrieve these items.”

Hux hesitates to allow the Force to dictate his actions this time, but only for a moment. He’s not really fighting the intrusion so much as actually noting these instructions before he obeys them, whereas before it was as if he was only a puppet on strings, not even aware that he was acting. He moves toward the cabinet, opens it and finds the canteen, then the first aid kit. When he has them he just stands there like a malfunctioning droid, holding one item in each hand and awaiting the next instruction from his programming.

Kylo’s eyes burn even as he keeps his back to the sight of this, only sensing it.

“Put the first aid kit on the cot,” Kylo says. His voice comes out sounding angry.

Observation: Anger might be all you have left. Cling to it. Don’t linger on anything else too long.

“Fill the canteen,” Kylo says when the first aid kit has been placed on the cot. Hux just stands there. Kylo presses more deeply into Hux’s mind, feeding him mental images of how to perform this task. It’s the smallest, most bitter victory he’s ever known when Hux moves to the shuttle’s water line and does as Kylo asked. “Drink,” Kylo says, his teeth grit. Every word of this is torture. He winces when he senses the pain in Hux’s throat as he swallows a sip of water. For a moment it’s so sharp and raw that it’s as if this ache has relocated to Kylo’s body. If only it could.

“Back to the cot,” Kylo says when Hux has managed to get four swallows of water down. “In the first aid kit, there is a painkiller syringe and a sedative syringe. You will administer the painkiller to yourself, and then the sedative.”

“I will--” Hux begins to say, his voice a horrible rasp.

“Don’t repeat my instructions!” Kylo shouts.

Observation: He shouldn’t have raised his voice like that.

Observation, related: Hux has dropped the canteen, water is spilling all over the floor of the shuttle, and Hux’s feedback has returned to raw terror, every alarm going off within him as he freezes in place.

“Hux.” Kylo winces when he hears himself say Hux’s name. It feels like he shouldn’t be allowed to. “Pick up-- You will pick up that canteen.”

He has to concentrate harder. Has to push away Hux’s resistance and tell the alarms that are going off inside Hux again to stop sounding. It takes some effort and feels like there are blades pressing in against Kylo’s temples, slicing past his skin and piercing his skull.

Theory, possibly irrelevant: He might have failed to heal Hux because throwing Snoke took so much energy from him. He’s weak. Even making Hux suppress his terror enough to allow him to retrieve the canteen from the floor feels like a marathon of effort, but eventually it works. Hux’s hand shakes on the canteen. The battered thing inside Hux that has abandoned his body to Kylo’s control is twitching with awareness, waking up a little at a time, horrified by what has already happened and so confused about what’s happening now.

“You will not attempt to speak again,” Kylo says, making his voice as steady as possible. “You’re injured, and your voice doesn’t work. Go to the first aid kit. Administer the painkiller and the sedative. You are--”

He can’t make himself say You are safe here. I’m taking care of you. We’re headed toward real help. None of it feels true.

Hux performs these tasks without resistance, all of Kylo’s remaining energy now fully focused on getting that medicine into Hux’s system.

Observation: It would be nice to have the helmet right now. To hide behind that mask, though no one is looking at his face.

As soon as the sedative is in Hux’s bloodstream he has no further objections to being on the cot, and he slumps down onto it, passed out within seconds. Kylo flinches with worry and uses the Force to perform a thorough check of Hux’s physical systems, making sure he didn’t take too much of either medication.

Question, cruel but relevant: What would Kylo even be able to do for him if he had?

Observation: Both syringes contained only one dose. Hux is fine. The painkiller is effective. The sedative won’t harm him. He’s fine.

Observation: You’re still lying to yourself.

Correction: It’s not a lie. Hux will physically survive the trip to the planet where Luke and Rey await. Determining this was the only purpose of assessing him as ‘fine.’

Kylo puts his elbows on the console, his head in his hands. He’s shaking with exhaustion and with a bone-crushing fear of what will happen when they reach their destination. He feels ripped apart inside, as if Snoke took handfuls of him away when he left. For a moment he allows himself to imagine what Hux saw when he looked up into Kylo’s eyes and found Snoke looking back at him. What he’d felt when Kylo’s hands closed around his throat--

Objective: No. Not now. Not helpful.

Kylo wishes he could spend the next seven hours sedated, but that’s not what Hux needs from him right now. He doesn’t want to meditate and isn’t sure if he has the energy for even the shallowest retreat from the present circumstances, but it would be irresponsible not to try, considering what lies ahead. He keeps his eyes closed, shoulders hunched, and attempts to take a deep breath. Before trying to send his thoughts elsewhere, he checks on Hux again.

Feedback from Hux: None.

Observation, shaky but also true: Hux is just sleeping. He needs rest, to not have to deal with this yet.

Observation, dreadful: When Hux wakes up, there’s no telling what state of mind he’ll be in.

Kylo pushes this away and tries to consult his inner mind. He can feel a number of muffled disturbances in the Force. There’s a softly pulsing beacon that he interprets as Rey’s uncertainty about what will happen next as she anticipates their arrival. Luke’s unwillingness to accept that their approach could be real rivals Kylo’s and feels like a stone wall that Kylo keeps running into, hard and cold. There’s something else, too. He doesn’t want to think about it.

Observation, tightening along the length of his jaw: But you know what it is.

His mother. She senses something. Feels him drawing closer to her allies, even now. Only she doesn’t think of them as allies.

To Leia they are family. The only family she has left.

Kylo scoffs and jerks away from his attempts at meditation, sitting back in the pilot seat and scowling out at space. He doesn’t count himself among the surviving members of Leia Organa’s family. Never will again, no matter what happens. He’ll gladly confront Snoke when the time comes, will go to that avalanche of destruction without caring for his own survival, as long as he can take Snoke forever down with him, but he can’t face his mother’s pity, if any would even be offered alongside the grief and judgment and confirmation that he’s been rejected by her just as he always knew he would be.

He waits for a ghost to attempt to refute this, but no one speaks to him now.

The hours in the shuttle pass very slowly. Kylo wants to at least sleep thinly in the pilot’s seat, but his consciousness is stubbornly alert and stupidly optimistic as he continues to check Hux’s feedback again and again, waiting to find even the fragment of an image from a drugged-out nightmare. There’s nothing.

Hux is so blank that Kylo goes to him on three separate occasions to physically check his vital signs, despite the Force reassuring him that Hux is breathing, resting, and that his heart is still beating. Kylo can’t even trust the Force right now, not with Hux’s life. He’s wary of Hux noticing his proximity, even from within his deep slumber, but Hux is limp under his hands, completely unaware of where or even who he is while the sedative holds him in a merciful darkness.

When Kylo grows tired of going back and forth from Hux to the shuttle’s cockpit, and when he’s confident that Hux won’t wake anytime soon, he kneels beside the cot. He thinks of trying to heal Hux again, but knows that he won’t be able to do it, though he can’t be sure what the reason is. He holds his fingertips just above the now-dark bruises on Hux’s neck, wanting to erase them.

Observation, emerging from pure darkness: He could possibly erase the memory of what happened to Hux in that bed.

Observation, secondary but important, pushing the first one back into the dark: This idea is too vile to seriously consider, even if would mean sparing Hux from the torture that finally tipped him over some kind of edge.

Major concern: What else might be lost with that memory?

Objectives: Kylo will talk with Rey about what she retained of her memories and what she’s been able to recover, but even after investigating the practice of altering memories with the Force, he can’t imagine being willing to take anything more from Hux, not even this ruinous experience.

Conclusion, final: It still belongs to Hux. All of it, no matter how much Kylo might wish that it didn’t. It’s still part of what makes the shape of him unique.

“Elan,” Kylo says, under his breath, trying the name out on his tongue. It doesn’t sound right in this context, like when Hux tries to call him Kylo, but it’s something precious that he’s glad to have and hold. He reaches for Hux, wanting to brush his thumb over the web of burst capillaries at the corner of his right eye and watch them heal, but he draws his hand back before his fingers reach Hux’s skin, knowing that he won’t be able to heal even the smallest injury until he rests.

Observation, unwanted: And even then--

Kylo stretches out on the shuttle’s floor, alongside the cot. He feels changed. Lighter, and not necessarily in a good way. Nervous energy continues to keep him from drifting into even the thinnest sleep, and he wants to talk to someone, to Hux. He won’t be able to defeat Snoke if he never hears Hux’s voice again. He needs Hux to tell him that he can do it. Needs to hear Hux say so and to feel it surround him like a thing that could be true, real, an actual plan approved by his General.

It occurs to him, having thought of Hux as a General, that in going to Luke and Rey they are not only spiritually but formally defecting from the First Order. Kylo never cared about the Order, but for Hux this is life-shattering. Hux was born into the Order, he let its cruel machinations shape him through every stage of his life, and he cared deeply about its success until only very recently. And now he’s not even conscious for his flight from it. It’s too dispiriting to think about for long, and Kylo puts it aside along with his concerns about what Rey and Luke will want to do with Hux. They don’t even know Hux is coming along, as far as Kylo can tell from their scant communications to him.

Hux is beginning to wake by the time they’re in range of the planet where Luke and Rey await. Kylo returns to the cockpit at the first signs of Hux’s consciousness, after refilling the canteen, taking a few gulps for himself and leaving the rest within reach of Hux. Standing in the cockpit and facing the planet ahead as it comes into view is like being asked to contemplate his own death: he can do so, but the reality of the thing won’t really reach him until it’s upon him, irreversible and all-consuming. He tries to reach out to Rey and finds her anxiety waiting for him, pulls back when it makes his own increase.

At first glance, this planet where Luke has quarantined himself appears to be not unlike the one they just left, but as they draw closer Kylo realizes that the uniform blue is an ocean that covers almost the entire surface of this somewhat massive planet. Only a few small islands dot the water, spaced apart widely. Kylo cuts the autopilot as they enter the planet’s atmosphere, sensing that he will have to pilot the shuttle through brutal winds before he lands it on the island where Rey waits, watching the sky.

She’s alone. Luke is on the island but elsewhere. Cloaking himself entirely from Kylo’s attempts to find him there.

Kylo is so preoccupied with his own dread, and with the effort of keeping the shuttle on course as they fly through the winds that assail it, that he’s taken off guard when he consults Hux’s feedback and finds that there’s actually something there to read.

Feedback from Hux: He’s sitting on the cot. He hates this cot.

Further: Offline again, drifting. Attempting to make sense of things and then not wanting to, resisting the beginnings of coherent thought. Hazy from the drugs, the pain in his throat returning as the medicine’s effects fade.

Kylo has to leave Hux’s mind and return to his own in order to correct the shuttle’s trajectory against the powerful wind that constantly threatens to blow it off course. He grits his teeth, almost glad for the difficulty, as it’s a distraction from what he’ll find once he lands, from what will be said, and from what he could possibly say in response, in defense of himself or as an explanation for any of it.

Objective: Don’t forget that Rey wants you here. Even if Luke doesn’t.

Objective, related: Don’t be such a coward. She’s not going to slice you open again. Not with a lightsaber, anyway.

Observation: He would prefer another lightsaber duel to the conversation that awaits.

He lands the shuttle on the western shore of the island, keeping his eyes on the viewport and scanning the rocky landscape for any sign of a welcoming committee. Rey is nearby: it’s strange to feel her there and know that she’s feeling him, too. For a while they both keep completely still, physically and mentally. Kylo hears a footstep behind him and turns, too fast.

Hux scrambles backward when their eyes meet, putting as much distance as he can between himself and Kylo, his hands half-raised when his back hits the shuttle’s far wall.

Feedback from Hux: No, please, stay away, please--

“Sorry.” Kylo flinches at the sound of that word, wanting to apologize again for saying it, as if he was using it to taunt Hux. He turns back to the viewport and curses under his breath when he sees Rey walking toward the shuttle, the sleeveless robe she wears over her clothes whipping behind her as she makes her way toward them. She doesn’t have a lightsaber. Kylo’s hangs on his belt. Though there was no chance of the helmet making this journey with them, there was nothing in him that was willing to come here unarmed.

Objective: Don’t actually attack either of them, for fuck’s sake.

“Do you know where we are?” Kylo asks, addressing this to Hux without turning toward him.

No answer.

Feedback from Hux: Please go, go away, please--

“I--” Kylo grunts in frustration and closes his eyes. Rey is standing outside now, arms at her sides, eyes as hard as she can make them, waiting. “I have to go speak to my cousin,” Kylo says, sharpening his voice. As if Hux has done something wrong by still being afraid of him. As if he’s being scolded for it. Kylo swallows, shakes his head. “You stay here. No one will hurt you.”

That’s a promise he can’t really make, but he’s already said it. He takes his robe from the back of the pilot seat and puts it on, though it’s still damp. Hides the lightsaber beneath it, though Rey will sense its presence without needing to see it, and though he’ll never wield it against her again.

Observation: He feels threatened. He’s on their turf. The weight of the saber at his hip makes him feel better, in a childish way. That’s all.

At the shuttle’s bay door, his palm hovering over the button that will open it, Kylo pauses and thinks of saying something more to Hux. He doesn’t know where he would start. Certainly not with ‘Sorry’ or any desperate pleading for Hux to acknowledge that it was Snoke who hurt him, not Kylo. Everything else seems equally ridiculous. He says nothing, but checks Hux’s thoughts once more before opening the shuttle to meet his fate.

Feedback from Hux: Please go, please, leave me alone, get away--

Kylo punches the bay door button and feels Hux curl in on himself, still pressed against the wall, his shoulders lifted and his eyes pinched shut.

Rey stands her ground when Kylo approaches. Doesn’t flinch or alter her stony expression, though Kylo can easily see through it, despite his own rattled mental energy. Rey is nervous but not afraid. She’s concerned for Kylo, curious about him, but not necessarily willing to help or to forgive, and certainly not willing to do anything he asks of her. She’s thinking about the gash he left across that traitor’s back last time they met. She’s still angry about that. Very angry, in fact.

“You’ve got someone else on board?” Rey says, frowning as if she’s not sure she trusts her instincts on this.

Kylo’s mouth falls open.

Observation, inexplicably gutting and comforting all at once: Rey’s accent sounds like Hux’s. Not precisely, but. The people she lived among on Jakku must have sounded like Hux, because Rey does, too, now.

“You do have someone on that shuttle,” Rey says, her eyes lighting up when she realizes she was right. She’s proud of herself. Still doubts her own abilities, even when evidence suggests she shouldn’t. “Are you just going to stare at me?” she asks, pushing stray tendrils of hair from her face when the wind whips them across her eyes. It reminds Kylo of something, that gesture. Reminds him of Rey doing that as a girl.

“Thank you,” Kylo says. These are the only two words he remembers from the many speeches he rehearsed in his head on the way here. “For. Bringing-- Allowing us to come here.”

“Who’s us?” Rey cranes her neck, peers at the shuttle’s open bay door.

Feedback from Hux: He’s still plastered to the shuttle’s back wall, his mind beginning to reel dangerously from fright to fright as he takes in more of his surroundings and starts to come back to himself, partly.

“You didn’t see him with me?” Kylo asks. He’s been worried about how much Rey might know about what’s gone on between them, and about how much Luke might know, by extension. “When you found me in that house?” Kylo says when Rey just frowns at him. “You couldn’t tell I wasn’t alone there?”

“What house?”

“The-- Didn’t you see the house? When I called out to you through the Force?”

“You called out to Luke, as I recall,” Rey says. “And no, I just-- Felt you. Asking for help, I-- Don’t even know why I wanted to give it. Luke doesn’t want you here.”

“I know that.”

“But you’ve come.” Her eyes soften. She glances at the shuttle again. “Who’s with you?”

“Can’t you search my thoughts and see?”

“Are you joking? Your mind is a mess. And I’ve not had much practice at that since coming here. Luke isn’t exactly open to having his thoughts observed.”

Kylo shakes his head. He shouldn’t have come. She might be lying about everything. Trying to trap him somehow. Her feedback doesn’t indicate that she is, but.

It’s impossible for her to be looking at him so mildly after what he did to her.

“When did you recognize me?” Kylo asks. “In the woods? When we fought?”

“No. I felt something then, but none of it could overcome my deep desire to kill you. I thought you’d killed Finn,” she says, her voice sharpening. “You nearly did.”

“What?” Kylo scoffs, more memories from childhood coming back to him: Rey saying something, asking an innocent question, and Ben scoffing as if she was hopelessly dim. “It was a flesh wound,” Kylo says. “I could have killed him easily, but--”

“It was hardly a flesh wound! They had to induce a coma during his recovery, I didn’t even--”

Feedback from Rey, unsuccessfully suppressed: I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

“That traitor still lives,” Kylo says, unable to wipe the incredulous look off his face. “I’ve sensed it. He’s fully recovered.”

“Did you just call him a traitor?” Rey asks. This fire in her eyes is new. If she’d had it as a girl she never shown it to Ben. “He’s my friend, his name is Finn, and you’d better start applying that term to yourself if you intend to take another step closer to Luke.”

“Traitor?” Kylo scoffs again, can’t stop posturing even though he knows he must, soon. “I’m sure Luke has long applied that term to me, and worse.”

“I meant in light of your former allegiance to the First Order. Assuming that it is truly a former allegiance.”

“I never cared about the Order,” Kylo says. It’s frustrating him, already, that he’s having to tell her things that she should be able to sense easily. He can feel the flow of her power against him like a surplus that taunts his own current weakness, but she must not be revealing this intentionally, because she’s not tapping into her power much at all, at present. “My only loyalty was to Snoke,” Kylo says, spitting the name out hatefully now. “And that’s done.”

“Is it? Luke is skeptical.”

“He can look into my mind freely then, and see that I will lay my life down to end Snoke as soon as I’m able to, that I never-- That I regret-- That I know now. The truth. What my father tried to tell me.”

“Your father?” Rey’s lips twitch. The corners of her eyes actually get a bit pink. “And what was this truth Han tried to tell you? Just before you murdered him, presumably.”

“That Snoke was using me,” Kylo says, stomping on the impulse to let the depth of the wound she just inflicted show on his face. “He-- Snoke once told that me he’s immortal. That’s only true in the sense that needs a new Force wielder’s body to occupy after he’s wrung the last of the life out of the previous body he stole. He’s tried-- Multiple times-- You didn’t see what he did to me? You don’t sense it, even?”

“Like I said, what’s going on in your mind isn’t so easy to sift through right now. Ah, there he is.”

Kylo assumes she means that Luke has come up behind them, and he turns expecting to be knocked onto his ass by a blast of Force energy. But it’s not Luke she’s referring to. It’s Hux. He’s standing at the top of the ramp that leads down from the shuttle’s open bay door. Staring at them. Expressionless, the sleeves of Han’s old shirt hanging halfway over his hands.

Feedback from Hux: What-- Where-- Who is that girl, how did we get here? How will I escape?

“Hux!” Kylo says, unable to hold it in when he hears actual words forming in Hux’s thought process. Hux’s eyes flick to Kylo’s, widening.

Feedback from Hux: Please, no, stay away--

“He’s with me,” Kylo says, turning back to Rey before he can feel the full impact of that feedback.

“This man was important to the Order,” Rey says, still fixated on Hux, her eyes narrowing. “But.” She steps closer to Kylo. He’d forgotten how small she is. She looms much larger than this in his imagination. “What’s wrong with him?” Rey asks, whispering. “I mean, beyond whatever happened to his neck.”

“He’s injured,” Kylo says. “Mentally.”

“Oh.” Rey steps away, looking from Kylo to Hux and back again. “Well, I suppose he can join the club. Follow me, both of you.”

“Just like that?” Kylo says, scoffing when she heads toward the trail that leads to wherever Luke is lurking. Rey turns back and frowns. Kylo is afraid Hux won’t follow him without being manipulated again. Afraid to see Luke. Stalling. “You’re not going to ask me why I’ve come here? What I want from you, who this man that I’ve brought along is?”

“I can ask you all that with we’re out of the wind,” Rey says, drawing stray hairs away from her eyes again. “I may still be doing my training, but I could tell even before you’d landed that neither of you are a threat to us.”

“How can you tell that?” Kylo asks, hoping that the shake in his voice isn’t audible. “Because we’re both weakened? Because you know we were just attacked? I had to fight Snoke off myself. He was-- In me, all those years, and-- Yes, I’m weak, now.”

Kylo has no idea where he was going with that. He can’t hold Rey’s gaze, which has grown increasingly pitying. He turns back toward Hux, not looking at him directly.

“Come on,” Kylo says. “I’m going with her, and so are you. You can’t stay here.”

Hux says nothing. Kylo is afraid to look at him. He knows what he’ll find in Hux’s mind, but he lets himself check anyway.

Feedback from Hux: I could steal the shuttle. No. They would stop me with the Force. And there’s nowhere to go.

“We could help you,” Rey says, shouting this over the wind, to Hux. “If you help us.”

Hux’s lips part. He looks dreadful, like he’s been to hell and has barely clawed his way back. Kylo supposes that’s true, three or four times over at least.

“What do you mean, if we help you?” Kylo asks, though this offer wasn’t really addressed to him. He doesn’t want Hux to try to speak yet, with the painful, ragged remains of his voice.

“If you two are truly defecting from the Order,” Rey says. “The Resistance could use the information you have on what they’ll do next.”

“The Resistance? But-- They’re not here.” Kylo thinks of Leia, his heartbeat seeming to climb up to slam at the base of his throat, nearly choking him.

“I’m in contact with them,” Rey says. “Through your mother.”

Kylo looks away from her, at a patch of pale green brush growing between two enormous boulders, protected from the wind. Hux still hasn’t moved from the shuttle.

“How much memory have you recovered?” Kylo asks. “Of what. I did.”

“I know you saved my life when that monster tried to kill me,” Rey says. “And that you couldn’t save yourself from him in the meantime. Until now, maybe. Hurry up, will you? The wind on this side of the island drives me mad.”

She walks ahead without looking back. Kylo takes one step, then another. He turns back toward Hux.

“Don’t make me do it against your will,” Kylo says, hating that he has to shout this to be heard over the wind. “Please, just. I won’t look at you, won’t come near you. Just come and see what they have to offer you. They want to help.”

Kylo isn’t certain about this, but Hux doesn’t need to know that right now. When Kylo starts walking he sends his thoughts back to Hux, afraid that there’s nothing he can say that will convince Hux to come anywhere near him ever again. He hears one footstep on the ramp of the shuttle when he reaches the top of the hill that Rey disappeared over, then another.

Hux keeps back and moves slow, but his steps are steady, following behind Kylo’s. His feedback is still confused and fragmented, going offline at moments and slipping back into blazing alarm at others. He follows Kylo anyway, and Kylo follows Rey without being able to see her. She’s ahead of them on the island’s only trail, which leads up a steep hill at the center of the island that climbs and climbs.

Feedback from Hux, most prominently: I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore. I’m too tired.

Observation: He’s referring to the long walk, the climb.

Actual observation, get your head out of your ass: He’s referring to being alive at all.

In a shallow valley at the top of the hill there’s a small house with stone walls and a thatched roof, built around the mouth of a cave that’s concealed by the back of the house. The circular clearing that the house sits in is all smooth dirt, a kind of makeshift training arena with boot marks here and there. Just looking at it, Kylo can sense the progress of Rey’s training that has taken place here. It’s been mostly in combat so far. He wouldn’t have expected that.

“Come around this way,” Rey calls, poking her head out from behind a tall fence that runs along the right side of the house. Kylo sends his mind back there first, making sure that Luke isn’t waiting behind the fence. There’s nothing but a rickety little table, two equally flimsy homemade chairs, and a tall planter containing a vegetable garden that spans the length of the fence, sheltered from the wind.

Observation: Luke is elsewhere on this island. Still cloaking his location. Not wanting Kylo here.

“I’ll make some tea,” Rey says when Kylo and Hux have joined her on the other side of the fence, Hux staring at the ground while he tries to regain his breath after the long climb. Kylo keeps clear of him and tries to follow Rey into the house, but she stops and holds up her hand. “Um,” she says. “Luke would prefer it if you weren’t inside just yet.”

“Fine,” Kylo says, spinning away from her. His robe was mostly dried by the wind on the way up, but he still feels wrung out and cold, and he knows Hux is feeling it ten times worse, with the last of the painkiller from the shuttle’s kit wearing off. “Does Luke have medicine?” Kylo asks, speaking through the open window that looks in on a small, shadowy kitchen where Rey is lighting a fire for the kettle. “For pain?” he says when Rey looks at him, confused.

“You’re in pain?” she says, bending down to get a better look at him through the window.

Kylo huffs and checks on Hux, looking at him only with the corner of his eye.

You asked me that once.

“No!” Hux smacks his hands over his ears and shakes his head hard, backing up until he’s slammed into the wall of rock behind the house. “Please, don’t, stop--”

“I’m sorry!” Kylo wants to pick up the little table and chairs and smash everything to kindling when he hears himself apologize. He grits his teeth and growls instead, as quietly as possible. Hux is still shaking his head, his hands still pressed over his ears, as if he can keep Kylo’s voice out that way. “I didn’t mean to,” Kylo says, mumbling this, knowing Hux won’t hear it. Rey is giving him a wide-eyed look when he turns back to her. He scowls and dares her to ask.

“What happened to him?” Rey asks again, whispering. Apparently oblivious to Kylo’s dare, or not intimidated by it.

“You want to know?” Kylo says. “Read my mind.”

As soon as he’s said it he puts up every barrier he can around the images of Snoke’s attack, mostly to protect the memory of what happened just before. Rey concentrates, comes up against these barriers and rolls her eyes, returning to the tea.

Soon Rey and Kylo are seated at the table, holding steaming teacups made from some kind of stone-like clay, both feeling ridiculous and unsure about how to proceed. Hux refused tea and is still slumped against the rock wall, his arms crossed over his chest while he shivers in the wind that cuts across the clearing, away from the protection of the fence and the little roof that extends out over the patio and the vegetables. There’s a gap between the fence and the roof, presumably to allow sunlight to reach Luke’s modest crops, though so far this planet seems as perninnelly gray as the last one they were on, if also drier.

“Why doesn’t Luke want us in the house?” Kylo asks when he’s finished half his tea. It’s some kind of weak brew with no sugar added and not much flavor in general. Typical Jedi crap: bland, simple, pretend you don’t want anything more than the barest necessities.

“Was that a serious question?” Rey asks when Kylo looks up at her. She snorts into her teacup. It makes Kylo long to hear Hux’s stupid snort, which is somehow very different. “I’m sure you’ve sensed that Luke is still angry,” Rey says. “With you. About everything.”

“Of course. What’s that got to do with us entering this house? He needs to get out of the cold,” Kylo says, lowering his voice and tilting his head toward Hux as subtly as he can.

“Oh.” Rey frowns and sits back, bringing a hand up to her mouth. “You-- Care for that man? You--”

Love him?

It’s unnerving to look her in the eyes while also hearing her in his head, and unnerving to be asked this question, though it’s not really a question. Kylo shrugs violently and boots her out of his mind, redoubling the barriers to entry.

“That’s unexpected,” Rey says, mumbling this into her teacup before sipping from it again, her eyebrows going up.

“I need your help,” Kylo says, not interested in her opinion on his feelings for Hux. “I’m going to find Snoke and kill him. It’s-- My destiny. My true destiny. Snoke hid it from me, but I suspect he feared it all along.”

“And you think I can help you kill him?” Rey is incredulous, then flattered.

“No,” Kylo says. “I need your help with him.” He flicks his head toward Hux again. “He’ll probably be willing to give you information on the Order once he’s-- He needs to recover.”

“He was their General.” Rey is focused on Hux again, reading him much more easily than she read Kylo. “That’s very high up, that’s-- He gave the order to destroy those five planets!”

“Shh!” Kylo says, as if Hux doesn’t know this about himself or even cares if he’s reminded of it. Hux’s feedback is mostly offline, willfully now, threaded with despair and reminders that he could always just throw himself off the side of the nearest cliff. These thoughts aren’t serious enough to make Kylo worry it might happen imminently, but he keeps as close a watch on Hux’s mind as he can while Rey gives him an angry stare.

“You brought a destroyer of worlds to Luke Skywalker’s doorstep?” she says, at least having the courtesy to lower her voice now.

“I’m sure Luke saw him coming.”

“You’d be surprised, Ben. He rarely says a word about you, but one thing he has told me, in warning, is that you’ve always been good at hiding your true intent, even from him.”

“Please don’t call me that.”

“What?” Rey actually has to search his thoughts to understand this request. “Oh. What am I supposed to call you? Kylo Ren?” She scoffs as if this would be ridiculous and drinks more tea. “Won’t you abandon that name, if you’re really free from Snoke?”

“What has Luke told you of Snoke?” Kylo asks, unable to answer her question.

“That he took you away from us when you were still a child.”

“Us.” Kylo scoffs now. He looks away from Rey, staring at the sad-looking tops of the vegetables that are poking up from the dirt in the planter. There are wind chimes made from from fishing wire and sea glass hanging on the end of the patio’s roof. Kylo assumes that Rey made them. It’s absurd to think that Luke might have put them up. It’s really absurd that either of them did, in a place with wind like this, but the chimes are only tinkling softly so far. “So you remember,” Kylo says. “Everything? Wedge?”

“My father?” Rey says, sharply, and the anger in her eyes actually burns in Kylo’s chest when he lets himself feel it. “Yes, I remember him. I’d have gone home to him already if I could convince Luke to join me.”

Feedback from Rey: This is not entirely true. She’s scared, too, to try to be that girl again.

They’re both quiet for a while, fuming. Kylo could get into her head again, but something makes him hang back. Guilt, maybe.

“Luke is training you in combat?” Kylo says. He turns the corner of his eye toward Hux again, somewhat alarmed when he sees that Hux is seated now, his knees pulled to his chest and his arms folded over them, his head down.

“Combat, yes,” Rey says when Kylo returns his attention to her. She was looking at Hux, too. “Are you really not going to tell me what happened to your-- Friend?”

“What does it matter?”

“Well, if you want me to help him it would be good to know what I’m supposed to be helping with. Though I can’t imagine helping someone who’s done what he has, or why you think I can be convinced to do so.”

“Please. Do it as a personal favor to me.”

“Haven’t I already done you a rather large one of those just by guiding you here?”

“You’ve changed,” Kylo says, without meaning to. Rey’s eyebrows go up.

“Yes, well, I suppose being ripped from everything you know and dumped into the arms of a scoundrel who owed your uncle a favor will do that. Not to mention aging fourteen years and nearly being murdered by your cousin. You were expecting a five-year-old girl who worshiped the ground you walked on, still?”

“You didn’t--” Kylo shakes his head, pinches his eyes shut, needs some time to unpack all of that and is having trouble doing so with Rey’s anger and heartbreak focused on him. “I was never going to murder you, I-- That scoundrel, the one on Jakku, the junkyard owner-- He didn’t hurt you? Right? I checked, I had a vision that you were okay--”

“I suppose I was about as okay as a person can be when they’re sold into indentured servitude at five years old, sure.”

“It wasn’t-- He didn’t-- Beat you, or, he never--”

“I wasn’t physically harmed by him in any way, no. Congratulate yourself for that. I dare you.”

Rey shoves her teacup away and goes into the house, muttering under her breath.

Feedback from Rey: He’s just like Luke said he would be. Self-centered child!

Further, this realization stopping her in her tracks: Except that I don’t think he’ll hurt us. I don’t think he could bring himself to do it. Not again.

When Rey returns she’s dragging a quilted blanket that may have once been a different color but is now a kind of muddy gray. She walks past Kylo without looking at him and brings the blanket over to Hux, tossing it onto him as if he’s a pile of firewood and the blanket is a tarp.

Feedback from Hux: What the fuck.

Hux is covered completely by the blanket. He doesn’t budge beneath it as Rey walks back to Kylo.

“Your friend is in shock,” she says. “I suppose he might deserve to die, but that’s not for me to decide.”

“Bring him into the house,” Kylo says. “What difference would it make?”

“Luke asked me not to bring you even this far!”

“Where is he?” Kylo asks, standing, pretending he’s ready for that confrontation. Rey gives him a look that tells him she can see that he’s really not.

“Away from you,” she says. “And you should be glad for that mercy.”

“You think he’ll attack me?”

“Attack you? What, physically? Of course not! But have you forgotten what it’s like when he’s disappointed in you? I wouldn’t want to be you when he lays that broken gaze on you. It’s brutal, just the way he can look sometimes, and you--”

She stops short of saying it out loud, but Kylo hears it anyway.

You’re the one who broke him.

“I’m good at that,” Kylo says, staring down at the teacups. Why are there teacups in this hell he’s made for himself, and wind chimes? What the fuck did he think he would find here? Forgiveness? Idiot.

“You probably know more about how all this is going to go than I do,” Rey says when Kylo looks up at her again. “All I have is this feeling like I’m meant to help you. I don’t always like it, but it’s always there. I think I had it even when I was very young. You always seemed like this-- Important person, almost this sort of hero, even when you were being a complete shit to me for no reason. I don’t know what my destiny is, but if I can help you defeat the bastard who did this to us, to you and to me, to our family-- Well, that’s what I want my destiny to be. If what I want means anything.”

“Rey--”

“Ben! Just shut up and come into the house, you might as well. He’ll be furious at me anyway. And bring that wretched man with you before he shivers himself to death.”

It’s disturbing to be called Ben so confidently, as if she knows better than he does what his name is. Disturbing, too, to turn toward the blanket-covered puddle that is what’s left of Hux and contemplate convincing him to take shelter in this house. Rey walks inside, groaning in exasperation.

“Wait,” Kylo says.

“For what?” she asks, turning back. “I thought you wanted to come inside?”

“I do, I--” Kylo walks in, noting the smell that’s not dissimilar to the smell of the house on the cliff, as if some essential Skywalker thing hangs in the air, even when only a Solo and an Antilles occupy this place. “What happened to him,” Kylo says, keeping his voice low, “Is that Snoke possessed me and tried to kill him. I fought Snoke off, but. He’s traumatized, so. He doesn't want me near him. Maybe you could tell him to come inside?”

“Possessed you?” Rey steps back a bit, the color draining from her face.

“He won’t do it again.”

Observation: It’s true. The reality of Snoke is coming to him now in glaring bursts of insight that he never knew he already had. The body Snoke occupies is so worn thin that he needs a particular sort of vessel in order to successfully transfer his consciousness to another living person, wiping that body’s original owner out in the process. Kylo fits the bill so perfectly that Snoke has made two desperate gambits to fully possess him already, against the usual rules. He’s failed both times.

“Please,” Kylo says, breaking from his thoughts to study Rey’s.

Feedback from Rey: He’s out of his mind and overdramatic and unreal, just like he was as a kid. Asking me to help that homicidal maniac! But he gets what he wants, still. Spoiled little prince.

“Well,” she says. “I suppose I’d rather have a live psychopath in the house than a dead body to carry down those stairs, so. Fine, but you owe me for this.”

“I owe you my life,” Kylo says, very seriously.

Rey laughs. If this didn’t remind him so much of Hux, Kylo might be truly angry, but as it is he’s just sad, his shoulders dropping as she moves around him.

Kylo looks around the room they’re standing in, a kind of den attached to the kitchen. There’s a fireplace, no furniture except for a large trunk and a woven rug. He sends his thoughts out to the yard when he senses Rey approaching Hux.

“Hey,” she says. “Get up.”

Hux remains under the blanket, motionless.

Feedback from Hux: This is exactly where I should have expected him to deliver me, always. Into the hands of the enemy, gift wrapped for those who want me dead. Ren will waltz off into the sunset with these fucks. I’ll hang.

Kylo is so relieved to hear actual, fully formed, characteristically cynical thoughts from Hux that he’s not even upset that Hux apparently thinks Kylo has again betrayed him by trying to find help through his--

Family, no--

Observation: Fuck it, Rey already feels like family. Is family. It’s easy and unstoppable, the truest thing he knows right now.

“Hello?” Rey says, squatting down, speaking to Hux. “Don’t you want to come inside?”

No response from Hux.

Feedback from Hux, directed at himself: You’re acting like a child. Go with this woman and listen to her conversation with Ren. Gather information. Formulate some kind of plan to get the hell away from here before their friends arrive with a noose. Go down with a fight, the way you always told yourself you would.

Hux pushes the blanket away from his face. Stares up at Rey as she rises to her feet. Still can’t speak without pain and wouldn’t be understood even he tried. He stands, holds the blanket out and offers it to her.

“Oh, keep it,” she says, already walking away from him. “Come on, hurry up.”

Kylo doesn’t know where to look when Hux walks into the house, dragging the blanket behind him. Rey points to a chair at the small table in the kitchen and Hux sits in it, his eyes unfocused and the end of the blanket still clutched in his fist. Rey puts a cup of lukewarm tea down in front of him and walks into the den.

“When will Luke come?” Kylo asks, part of him just wanting to get it over with. Another, larger part of him is grateful for every second without Luke’s broken gaze bearing down onto him. He knows exactly what Rey means about that. She shrugs.

“Luke is good at holding out,” she says. “I was here a month before he spoke a single world to me.”

“What-- He-- Are you serious?” Kylo is bothered by this, newly angry with Luke. “He was like another father to you, did he-- Not remember that? Did he not care that he was taking his grief out on you? You didn’t do anything to him.”

“It wasn’t something he did out of cruelty.” Rey walks over to the fireplace and uses a wooden scoop to pile some kind of rock-like fuel from a nearby basket into it. “It wasn’t that he didn’t want to speak to me. He was just out of practice, and still afraid that his words could only hurt the people he cared about, that they had hurt-- well, you. That he ruined things when you asked to be trained, and now I was asking him for the same thing. But he was kind to me, from the start. He brought me meals and saw that I was comfortable, didn’t turn me away. He resisted bonding with me when I was a child, did you know? Because he was afraid--”

She won’t say the rest, but Kylo hears it anyway. Luke was afraid of growing too attached to Wedge, always, though they were irreversibly attached since the night Wedge found Luke alone at the edge of Anakin Skywalker’s smouldering funeral pyre. There was no going back then, but Luke was always trying to deny himself that comfort, always afraid the darker things in him would ruin Wedge’s true goodness somehow. He was haunted by visions that he feared would come true. Kylo had sensed all this, too, even as a boy. As Ben.

“So what made you fall in love with the Starkiller?” Rey asks.

“The what?”

“That’s what they call him, in the Resistance,” Rey says, pointing her thumb toward the kitchen, where Hux has taken two tentative sips from his teacup, struggling to swallow both. “Or anyway,” Rey says, “That’s what they were starting to call him before I left. Since the whole bit with the sun getting sucked up into his megagun. Starkiller, and it’s not said fondly. Was it his unmatched ability to do mass murder that won you over, or something else?”

Kylo wants to tell her to shut up, but he supposes that comment wasn’t really so unfair. She seems amused by herself, still squatting by the fire and seeing that it gets going properly, tossing more of those rocks onto it.

“You’re in love with that stormtrooper,” Kylo says, swatting this back at her like a ball, as if this is one of the games they played as kids. He never let her win, even though she was ten years younger than him. She glares at him.

“He’s not a stormtrooper,” she says. “And I barely know him.”

“You know plenty.”

“He’s probably forgotten me by now,” Rey says, unperturbed by Kylo’s attempt to make her feel ashamed of her private feelings. “People tend to.”

“No one forgot you, I-- It was my fault no one found you, the memory alteration was too-- Too passionate, too desperate, I messed it up--”

“Regardless,” Rey says, sharply, and then she doesn’t seem to know how to continue. She throws a final rock into the fire, so hard that it sparks. “I suppose I gave you that,” she says, pointing to her face, indicating his scar.

“You did.”

“Hmm.” Rey turns back to the fire. Kylo consults her thoughts when her face falls.

Feedback from Rey: She’s wondering about the scar on Finn’s back. What it looks like. Imagining her hand pressed over it.

“Are you in my head?” she asks, whirling on Kylo.

“No-- I’m sorry. It’s-- I was alone with him for weeks before I came here-- I got accustomed to, uh. And I feel, you know. You and I are connected, also.”

“Connected.” Rey sighs and stands. “That’s one word for it. Doomed to require each other’s help, maybe.”

“What could you need my help with?”

“What do you think? Training.”

Kylo laughs. Rey frowns.

Observation: She’s serious, somehow.

“Luke would hack off both my hands to keep me from training you,” Kylo says.

“Well, then it’s a good thing it’s not his decision to make. You’re right that he’s like a father to me. I could never call him ‘Master.’ Not that I would ever think of you that way, but I need someone who truly tests me. Luke has helped me a great deal, but there’s something you have that he can’t give me.”

“What’s that?” Kylo asks, afraid he knows.

“Reckless transparency,” Rey says. “Luke is too guarded. He makes such small moves now, especially with me, especially regarding my-- Power.”

Observation: It’s strange to her, even calling it that. She’s afraid of her own power. Luke is, too. She reminds Luke so much of himself at her age: orphaned, struggling to understand the scope of her own potential, and in a constant state of disbelief that she could be important, that she could change the world.

“You’re welcome to all that I have,” Kylo says, not sure how serious he is about this. He turns toward Hux without thinking. Hux isn’t looking at them except out of the corner of his eye, but he sits up straighter when he senses Kylo’s attention on him, and grabs for his empty teacup like he may have to use it as a weapon.

Feedback from Hux: I have to get out of here, have to go, away from him, head-first into the fucking ocean if it comes to that.

“Can you-- Do you have healing powers?” Kylo asks Rey, sensing the the answer before he’s even finished asking this question. She shakes her head.

“Not that I know of.”

Kylo knows that Luke doesn’t have them either. He would have attempted to teach them to Ben if he did, or warned Ben not to develop them himself, if the powers come from something Dark. Kylo still can’t be sure. He’s felt connected to both the Light and the Dark through his healing.

“What have you told the Resistance about me?” Kylo asks, wondering how much time they’ll even have here.

“I told your mother, through the Force, that you were coming here. That’s all. I don’t think she’s told anyone else.”

Rey is lying about that second part, but she’s able to keep Kylo out of her head with surprising strength after she’s felt him realize this.

“If they want good information from the Starkiller,” Kylo says, aware that Hux is hearing this, “They’ll have to be patient. He’s-- The Starkiller is in no condition to be aggressively questioned right now.”

“Do I look like I plan to do that? Even his mental feedback is like torture. I can barely look at him without feeling this horrid despair welling in my chest, rising off of him.”

“You call it feedback, too?” Kylo asks, unable to deal with the rest of that information at present. Rey shrugs.

“I heard you thinking of it as that,” she says. “I guess it’s catching.”

She was always copying him when they were kids. Kylo smirks. He imagines what it would be like to train her. How easily the Force might flow between them. Maybe too easily. Luke would kill him before allowing it, whatever she thinks.

When Luke fails to show up, Rey busies herself with small tasks around the house. She’s still nervous, and still keeping close tabs on both Kylo and Hux, though neither of them is doing much of anything. Hux folds his arms onto the table and puts his head down, fighting off the urge to vomit when the pain in his neck sears him like a rope around his throat that he can’t loosen. Kylo sits near the fire, hating that he can’t do anything for Hux, hating Luke for making them wait, hating himself most of all.

Darkness falls outside, and the wind seems to strengthen, those chimes on the roof remaining almost eerily quiet despite this. Rey makes some kind of instant meal for herself in a bowl and eats it over the kitchen sink, doesn’t offer any to Hux and Kylo. Hux has fallen into an uncomfortable kind of half-sleep, still slumped onto the kitchen table.

“Don’t you have a bed he can lie in?” Kylo asks when Rey returns to the den to rekindle the dying fire.

“There’s my bed roll,” Rey says. “Which normally gets spread out where you’re sitting, and there’s Luke’s bed in back. I’m not eager to have General Starkiller in either of them, no.”

“Please, Rey. He’s making his neck worse, hunched over like that.”

Rey opens her mouth to respond, but before she can they both feel it: Luke, approaching. He’s not coming up the path that they climbed to get here. He’s--

Already in the house, somehow--

He’s climbing up another staircase, inside the cave behind the house. The cave is connected to the house, in a hidden room beyond this one.

“Don’t panic,” Rey says when she feels Kylo’s energy shifting into exactly that. “Let me do the talking.”

Kylo turns away from her. Stares at the wall. His heartbeat is like an assault from within. He can’t be here-- How the fuck did he end up here? What had he been thinking? He needs to leave, feels the urge to escape as desperately as Hux has, on and off all day, as his despair waxes and wanes like a moon where a battle is being fought. Kylo’s thoughts are already insane, scrambling away from the awareness of Luke sensing him here but not reaching out to him. Pulling back, in fact, when Kylo tries to focus on Luke’s location as he climbs higher, closer.

Footsteps at the back of the house. A heavy door creaks open and then closes again. There’s a key in a lock. Kylo scoffs.

Observation, in young Ben’s voice, small and secret and angry: As if a locked door could really keep me away from whatever it is you’re hiding.

Luke pauses at the back of the house, the closed doors of several rooms still between them. Rey is bouncing on her heels, her arms crossed over her chest. She keeps glancing at Kylo like he’s an animal she sneaked into the house, something she wants to keep but doesn’t know how to care for. She’d need Luke’s help with that.

Another door opens, and Luke walks through the adjoining room. Kylo turns, sucks in his breath, and prepares himself for the last door that remains between them to open. He’s so glad to not be alone here that he wants to grab Rey’s hand and squeeze it, but she’s too far away and doesn’t want him grabbing her, anyway.

The door opens. Luke wears a hooded robe, his eyes concealed. He has a heavy beard now, and he’s aged more than he should have in the fifteen years since Ben-- Kylo --last laid eyes on him.

Luke doesn’t look at Kylo or at Rey. He moves through the room and stops in the doorway to the kitchen, adjusting his hood so that he can stare at Hux, who is still slumped onto the table in a fitful sleep.

“I’m sorry,” Rey says. “But you must have known I’d bring them here. Luke, please, don’t be angry. I know you think I’m foolish to trust him--”

“You’re not foolish, Rey.” Luke moves into the kitchen and Kylo takes an instinctive step forward, wanting to protect Hux. Luke freezes, sensing this, and Kylo goes just as still, waiting. “What is this man doing in my house?” Luke asks.

“Me or him?” Kylo asks, making his voice hard.

Hux wakes up then, and the pained sound he makes when he lifts his head, his neck in absolute agony now, pulls something ragged and fragile out of Kylo, too. It’s inaudible, but he knows Luke and Rey have both felt it. Hux cries out again when he puts his shoulders back, his eyes pinched shut tight against the pain. Rey has lit a few lamps in the kitchen, but the light is low, and Kylo feels Hux’s terror in his own chest when Hux looks up and sees Luke staring at him from beneath that hood. Hux shouts and scrambles away, falling onto the floor when the chair tips over.

Objective, directed to Rey, begging: Please, help him, please.

“He’s got information about the First Order,” Rey says, as if Luke doesn’t already know this. She squeezes past Luke and into the kitchen, giving Luke a shoulder pat and a nervous smile as she passes. “There, there,” she says when she kneels down to Hux, unwilling or unable to hide the sarcastic disbelief in her voice. She gathers up the blanket that Hux dropped onto the floor and pulls it onto him again, lets him hide beneath it. “Have you got any more of that tea you gave me when I hurt my wrist?” she asks, speaking to Luke.

“You intend to heal him with it?” Luke asks.

“Snoke hurt him,” Rey says. Again, Luke must know this. Kylo wonders if Luke gets frustrated, too, by Rey’s hesitation to use her powers as fully as she could when communicating with a fellow Force-user. “Snoke used Ben to hurt him,” she says, still kneeling beside Hux.

“Is that what he’s told you.”

“It’s true!” Kylo barks. “Luke-- Uncle, I-- Can’t you see the truth of it?”

“I don’t presume to go looking for the truth in your head any longer, Lord Ren.”

Observation: That title sounds like an insult, like the most viciously personal slur, when Luke pronounces it.

Luke goes into the kitchen and opens one of the high cabinets. He pulls down a fat clay jar with a stopper stuffed into its lid and calmly begins making some sort of tea, his hood still blocking Kylo’s view of his face. Kylo shifts his gaze to Rey and she stands, shrugs.

Feedback from Rey, directly sent: This is going better than I’d hoped, actually.

“It would be absurd for me to try to apologize for what’s been done,” Kylo says when the silence grows uncomfortable. “That’s not why I’ve come here. I only ask for your help in defeating Snoke. I’ve-- Removed him, from-- My mind, now. From myself.”

Luke is quiet, mixing something from another jar into the brew he’s concocting at the stove. He’s going to respond: Kylo can feel it.

“You think it’s that easy, huh?” Luke says.

“I don’t-- No, of course not, it wasn’t easy.”

Kylo glances at Rey. She lifts her hand in a dismissive wave.

Feedback from Rey, very appreciated: He always takes a bit of time to respond, don’t worry.

“Have you realized, then,” Luke says, “What Snoke meant to do with you?”

“Yes. He wanted my body. Needed it, to continue the line of what he calls his immortality. He’s done it before. Many times. I’m not sure how long he’s been alive this way, moving from body to body. A thousand years, perhaps.”

“Longer, I suspect,” Luke says. “But then, I can’t really know. Snoke never revealed himself to me. He hid masterfully, right under my gaze.”

Unspoken, the rest of Luke’s feelings on the matter are nevertheless heard, and Kylo knows Rey has heard them, too:

Perhaps he’s hiding still, in the same fashion, inside you this very moment.

“Luke,” Rey says. “Does he really not feel different to you? He does to me, since our confrontation in the woods.”

Luke considers his response, using a spoon to stir the tea that’s beginning to boil, the stove’s fire stoked by his power. Kylo tries to see Luke’s mind and finds only what he expected: that Luke’s thoughts are very closely and carefully guarded, in general and specifically against him, appearing only as a kind of gray fog despite Kylo’s fiercest concentration.

“Ben Solo was masterful, too,” Luke says. “At hiding his true intentions, feelings, allegiances. I suspect Kylo Ren is even more skilled than Ben was, in this way.”

“Oh, but he is Ben!” Rey says. “You must feel it, like I do. You’ve told me not to let myself think that I know better than the truth I find in the Force, not to fight the feeling that comes when something genuine reveals itself. I think you’re fighting it now.”

Rey feels guilt for saying so. Luke doesn’t respond. He finishes the tea he’s brewing and retrieves Hux’s cup from the table, dips it into the steaming pot and brings it to Rey, all without glancing at Kylo, the hood shadowing his eyes.

Observation: Kylo wants that brutal gaze on him now. Wants the pain of it.

Analysis, tentative: That’s precisely why Luke won’t give it.

“Here,” Rey says, squatting down to Hux. She pulls the blanket away from his face and offers the tea. Hux just stares at it, hating all of them. “This will heal your throat,” Rey says, sharply. “It’s very fast-acting and it gives you a brief sense of euphoria, even. So maybe don’t look at me like that and just be grateful, yeah? Drink.”

“His voice is like yours,” Kylo says, idiotically, wishing he could stuff the words back in when Rey and Hux both look at him like he’s out of his mind. It’s the first time Hux has looked at him with anything other than utter terror, at least. Luke remains impassive, staring out the window that looks onto the covered patio.

“Whose voice?” Rey says, frowning “What?”

“Never mind.”

Kylo watches Hux take the tea and drink from it. He can’t resist checking Hux’s feedback when the relief of it floods into him, along the length of his aching throat. It doesn’t erase the pain as fully as Kylo’s healing might have, but it soothes more than just the bruises and sore muscles. Hux has to swallow down an appreciative noise of something nearing pleasure when he drinks more.

“Yeah,” Rey says, standing to refill his empty cup when he passes it to her. “It’s the good stuff, right?”

Kylo is tempted to ask for some himself. He can feel a spark of renewed disgust emanating from Luke when he senses Kylo’s desire to have some of the tea.

“Snoke left me weakened,” Kylo says, defensively. Rey winks at him and takes a tiny sip from the teacup before bringing more to Hux, who reaches for it greedily and drinks it in gulps this time. Kylo refocuses on Hux, wanting to feel more of his relief. His want is too strong: Hux notices Kylo’s attention on him and freezes in mid-gulp, frightened, sputtering. Kylo pulls his thoughts and his gaze away, staring instead at Luke’s back.

“If you won’t help me, we’ll leave,” Kylo says, though this is disingenuous. Rey and Luke are already helping. Hux drinks from the cup again, feeling almost human for the first time since Snoke’s attack. It’s only a fleeting effect of the tea, but it’s something. At least he’s drinking it on his own, and asking for more. It’s an improvement over what went on in the shuttle on the way here. Kylo is ashamed of himself when he recalls it. He wonders if Hux even remembers that he was under Kylo’s control before he came back to himself.

Observation: That’s just what Snoke did to you. You’ve taken Snoke’s weapon and used it against Hux. You’re like Snoke. He transformed you into his puppet, and even now that he’s gone, you’ll always be shaped like him, because he formed you from nothing, because there’s nothing left of Ben. Luke is right to reject you.

“I see your staggering ability to cultivate self pity has survived into adulthood,” Luke says.

You’ve changed. Kylo doesn’t say it out loud this time.

Luke hears it anyway, and finds this observation just as offensive and absurd as Rey did. Of course they’ve changed. Kylo changed them. He threw them into the wind like a handful of seeds. They found far off lands where they took root and grew into new people. It’s unconscionable for Kylo to feel betrayed that they’ve hardened without him, against him, that they’ve grown thorns and won’t hesitate to use their sharpest edges to to keep him away. But he feels it anyway.

“I’ll need to recover some of my strength before I go after Snoke,” Kylo says.

“Ben,” Luke says, before he can catch the impulse to call him that. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“You intend to stop me?” Kylo regrets the volume of his voice when he feels Hux flinch in fear.

“What’s there to stop?” Luke says, and he coughs up a joyless laugh.

Observation: He’s laughing at Kylo.

“Do you even know where Snoke is, presently?” Rey asks, maybe to cut the tension that tightens and tightens between Kylo and Luke.

“No,” Kylo says. “I’ll meditate. I’ll find him.”

“You lack vision,” Luke says, his voice sharpening. “You might find Snoke-- I don’t doubt that you’re still connected to him enough to do so, no matter how well you might think you’ve cleared him from your mind, but you don’t even see yourself, Ben.”

This time Luke uses that name deliberately, and he turns from the window, looking into Kylo’s eyes at last. Luke’s are shaded by his hood but visible, bright with grief and accusation that strikes Kylo with knifing energy.

“You think you’re anywhere near ready to take on an enemy who lived within you for fifteen, twenty years?” Luke asks, his eyes narrowing. It’s not a real question. “You’re barely standing upright among us.”

“I’m weak right now, I admit that freely, from Snoke’s attack, but once I’m--”

“The amount of work you must do on yourself before truly defeating Snoke would take many, many years.”

“I don’t have many years,” Kylo says, forcing himself not to shout, for Hux’s sake. “Snoke will have found another victim by then. I won’t let him keep doing this. I won’t let him survive what he’s done to us.”

“Us?” Luke shifts his gaze to Hux. Kylo wants to step in front of Hux, to protect him from Luke’s scrutiny. Hux has finished three cups of tea now and is leaning against the wall with his eyes closed, letting it soak into his system with relief. The bruises on his neck are still there, but they’re lighter, and the burst blood vessels in and around his eyes have gone from angry red to faint pink.

“You can’t fault Ben for clinging to whatever human contact he could scrape together,” Rey says when she senses Luke’s disdain. “Luke,” she says, more softly.

Feedback from Rey, to Luke, overheard by Kylo: This is what shook him free of Snoke at last, however strange it seems to us. This attachment.

“No,” Luke says. “This man who calls himself your cousin is not the sort of person you’d want holding on to an attachment like this. Kylo Ren is ruthless. He will do anything to get what he wants. The word itself is important to him-- I feel it even now. Whether he wants unlimited power or the company of another person, he will corrupt any desire he latches onto before long, and this particular partner in crime would have no objections to destroying anything that stood in their way. No, this is terribly dangerous.”

Everyone is silent in the wake of this observation. Kylo can hardly disagree with Luke’s assessment. He would hurt more people if it meant helping Hux. He would do worse than that to fix Hux, heal him, save him.

Observation: But you wouldn’t hurt these people for him. Not even for Hux. You wouldn’t let Hux bring Rey to harm. Nor Luke.

Observation, related and only a small comfort in light of the other: Hux wouldn’t want to hurt Rey or Luke. He doesn’t operate like that. Anyway, they gave him that tea.

Feedback from Hux: I’d rather die than listen to another word of this inane nightmare of a conversation.

Analysis, hasty but concrete: Hux doesn’t mean that literally.

“What do you propose I do now?” Kylo asks, speaking to Luke. “Rather than going after Snoke?”

Luke’s shoulders sag, and he turns to brace his hands on the counter, one on each side of the sink. He pushes the robe’s hood down. His hair is messy, gray.

“Go home to your mother, Ben,” Luke says, sounding now like the uncle he remembers. “She wants you back.”

“No.” Kylo looks at Rey, but she’s staring into space, her jaw tightening as her mind returns to the same moment that Kylo is remembering now. “You know,” Kylo says, to Luke. He hears himself sounding like Ben: small, weak, afraid to voice what must be said. “What I did. To my father.”

Luke goes very still. He pulls the hood of his robe back up and moves toward the patio, opens the door.

“Where are you going?” Rey asks.

“For a walk,” Luke says. “I can’t-- Continue to be around him. It’s excruciating.”

Feedback from Hux, inadvertently overheard: That makes two of us.

Kylo leaves the kitchen and moves blindly into the room with the fireplace, finds a dark corner and sinks to his knees there. Rests his forehead against the wall. Realizes only then that he’s so tired. That he’s shaking just from exhaustion.

Observations, unwanted: Also from fear. Heartache. Hopelessness.

“Hey.” Rey’s voice is soft, but she still manages to startle him. Kylo turns to her, lacking the energy to hide the expression on his face or anything he’s feeling. Rey is feeling it, too. She shows it to him openly, on her face and in her mind, as she hands him a cup full of the special tea. “There was some left,” she says, whispering. “Go on, have it.”

“I don’t deserve any.”

“Nobody gets what they deserve in this life. Don’t you know that yet? Please, Ben, do it for me.”

Kylo takes the cup and drinks, finishing it all in three gulps. It sinks into him fast and unsettles him. He’s wary of giving up control to anything now. But when he lets his weight rest against the wall he allows the weight inside him to lift, too, and the tea seems to make good memories pour into him like sunlight: Hux with his little hat half-covering his face, peering up at Kylo with such unexpected trust, Hux exhaling with relief when Kylo leaned in to kiss him over his helmet, Hux safe in his arms in the house on the cliff, laughing at him in the shower, pressed against him to hide from the cold, Hux grabbing his face while the speeder idled beneath them and kissing him like it might be the last thing either of them ever did so it might as well be what they both wanted more than anything.

When Kylo opens his eyes he’s not in the little room with the fireplace, not on Luke’s island, not looking at Rey. He’s on the roof of the Tower. Cold, terrified. Hux is standing across from him, wearing an oversized coat that’s a poor replacement for the neatly pressed one he wore over his shoulders when he strolled the halls of the Finalizer. Hux is smoking a cigarette, keeping his distance. But he’s not afraid. Not offline, and not afraid of Kylo anymore.

The vision fades when the effect of the tea fuzzes away. Kylo is breathing hard, clinging as hard as he can to what he saw.

Observation, solid enough to keep him alive until it comes true: That was the future. It was real.

“Oh,” Rey says, because Kylo’s eyes are wet. When they were kids, when Ben had a rage that turned around on him and broke him down, left him sobbing, Rey had sometimes cried, too. Sometimes even if they weren’t in the same room. Sometimes even if she was across town, in Wedge’s apartment, barely understanding what had upset her. Ben didn’t know that then, but Kylo feels it now.

“It’s okay,” Kylo says when Rey’s eyes well up. “I saw something good. Something real, I-- I’m okay. It’s all going to be okay. I think.”

“I know,” Rey says, and she chokes out a kind of half-sob anyway, smiling through it. “I feel it, too.”

Kylo puts his head against the floor and she leans over him, sighs, rests her cheek on his back and hugs one arm around him. It’s a comfort, and so terrifying, to begin to hope she could be his ally and to feel her wanting the same thing from him, and knowing that same terror.

“I wish I had known how to tell you how wrong you were back then,” Rey says. “Wrong to believe anything that foul beast said to you.”

“I wish you could understand how true it all was to me then,” Kylo says.

He feels her eyes squeeze shut, feels her swallow a sob that hurts to hold in. She takes a deep breath, sits up. Kylo sits up, too.

“Want to hear something amazing?” Rey’s smile is real, even as she wipes at her wet eyes.

“Yes,” Kylo says, sincerely. Needing that.

“Did you notice those chimes hanging from the roof?”

“You know I did.”

“Well.” Rey laughs and wipes her eyes again, still smiling. “I made them, as a test for myself. That part of the roof is sheltered a bit, by the fence, but they were still fully assaulted by the wind when I first hung them, clanging horribly. I keep them as calm as I can, against the wind, all the time, just with my mind-- even when I sleep! It’s, it’s-- like a barometer, a test of my own ability to connect to the Force, and I invented it myself, you know? That’s why it matters.”

“I know,” Kylo says, barely able to form the words, because yes, he does know: his healing. He knows. He shakes his head, feels something break in his chest. It’s soundless but also much bigger and harder than a sob, something he won’t be able to put back together. “You called me a monster after you saw what I’d done,” he says, thinking of the way his father’s body just fell. As if Han was nothing. As if Kylo had made that true. “You were right.”

“I know,” Rey says. “But I was wrong, too. You can be both, at once. That’s the hell of it. That there is no pure Light and no complete Dark. They’re always together, always struggling.”

“But there’s no darkness in you. And no light in Snoke.”

“Well, regarding Snoke I agree, but only because he squashed whatever light was ever in him long ago. And as for me, don’t presume I can’t be dark.”

“How do you know that?” Kylo asks.

“Because I know myself! You can’t tell me--”

“No, I meant about Snoke. You spoke confidently, saying he had squashed the light in himself. I think you’re right-- I think it’s something you’ve sensed about him, a true vision.”

“It’s more like a guess, I’m sure. You said Snoke has been stealing bodies for perhaps thousands of years, and something like that would require the squashing of all things in the light, I assume.”

Kylo lets the discussion drop, but he knows he’s right. Rey sees things without trying. Not always, but when she allows herself to do it, without even knowing. He sends his thoughts to Hux, checking on him.

Feedback from Hux, cycling internally as he curls further into himself: Pathetic, you’re pathetic, just sitting on the floor, under yet another fucking blanket, waiting for them to do whatever they have planned. At least your brother died a hero.

Further, smaller: You’re alive and Brendol Jr. isn’t. You’re still winning. Stay alive, stay ahead of their plans, do the only thing you’ve ever known how to do. Survive.

“I’ve got a message from Luke,” Rey says, pulling Kylo from Hux’s mind.

“You-- Okay?”

“He’s going to spend the night outside, and if the weather grows too harsh he’ll shelter in your shuttle. So don’t be alarmed if you sense him there. He’d only be using it as a kind of tent, not stealing it from you.”

“He--” Kylo closes his eyes and shakes his head. “He thinks I can even sense where he is on this island?”

“He has no idea what you’re capable of,” Rey says, whispering this, as if Luke might hear. “After what you concealed before, when you were even younger and had less training.”

“You can reassure him that his attempts to keep me out of his head are working.” Kylo stands, using the wall for traction.

“Fine,” Rey says, rising to her feet. “Anyway, he offers you his bed. You and the Starkiller can sleep there. I’ll be on my bed roll out here.”

“He--” Kylo allows himself to wallow in the torment of knowing what he can’t have, imagining what a comfort it would be to climb into any bed with Hux after what they’ve been through, to hold Hux against him and whisper to him in the dark, to stroke his fingers through Hux’s hair and feel Hux taking some measure of comfort from that, from him. He sends his mind to Hux’s again, desperate and needy and knowing what he’ll find.

Feedback from Hux: He wants to die or to run, to go back in time maybe. Doesn’t want to be in the same room with Kylo, let alone the same bed.

Further, a knife down Kylo’s chest despite that new vision of the Tower: Hux specifically never wants to be in a bed with Kylo again. Nothing that has ever happened to Hux has been worse than that was: that betrayal, in that bed, in the house on the cliff. It’s the kind of shock that can’t be healed, that long-wanted feeling of peaceful surrender met with what looked and sounded like Ren’s mocking laughter when Hux tried to cry out in pain and couldn’t even get the sound of it past his lips.

“Let him have the bed,” Kylo says, forcing the words out past his clenched jaw. “I’ll sleep out here, or in the kitchen. On the floor.”

Kylo sits near the fire and averts his eyes when Rey brings Hux through the room. Hux has the blanket folded under his arm, refusing to walk through this house with it draped around his shoulders as if he’s some kind of refugee. Hux doesn’t look at Kylo, but he’s hyper-aware of Kylo’s presence as he passes, going tense with dread just from being so near to him.

Feedback from Hux, once he’s under the blanket again, in Luke’s bed: Well, here I am in a fucking Jedi’s bedclothes. Ren’s fucking uncle, terrific. Don’t sleep, idiot, think. Think of some way out of here, fast.

Despite assigning himself this objective, Hux is too tired to remain awake once he’s comfortable, the remaining ache in his throat very faint now. Kylo feels it when Hux allows a restless sleep to take him. He wants to go into the room and brush the windblown hair from Hux’s forehead, wants to watch over him throughout the night, but doesn’t dare it.

“Here,” Rey says when she returns from Luke’s room with a pillow and a blanket. She hands them to Kylo and pulls her own bedroll from the trunk that sits against the opposite wall.

“What will happen now?” Kylo asks.

“I don’t know,” Rey says. She stretches out on her bed roll. Though she looks her age, she has an energy that makes her seem younger than nineteen, and she’s somehow still so hopeful. Every move she makes reveals this, even the way she folds her arms behind her head. “But I wasn’t saying so lightly when I told you that I believe things will be okay,” she says. “We might go through hell again, Ben, but there’s something on the other side of that. I do feel it. It feels real.”

She smiles and rolls away from him then, toward the wall, tucking in for sleep. Kylo puts the pillow down and rests his head against it, rolling over to face the opposite wall. He holds the folded blanket in his arms, brings his face down against it and pretends that it’s Hux.

Observation: This is foolish but somehow helpful.

He sleeps.

He longs to dream of the roof on the Tower, wants to see Hux again in a future where he isn’t afraid anymore, of Kylo or of anything else, but those dreams don’t come. Kylo dreams of the cave. It isn’t the cave that sits behind Luke’s house. This cave waits for him on another planet. Snoke waits within it. Laughing. Believing that he’s already won.

It’s more important than anything to identify the ways in which Snoke underestimates you. Those are the strengths you have that he cannot see, weapons you can hide from him no matter how clearly he thinks he sees your attack coming. This is what will save you.

Kylo awakens to the echo of this voice from his dream, which was somehow both familiar and new. He turns and sees that Rey is gone, her bed roll tucked away. A quick mental search of the surrounding area reveals that she’s in the cave behind the house, which Luke has made into a kind of Temple. Rey is meditating there. Luke is elsewhere, his location still concealed from Kylo. Hux is--

Hux is not in Luke’s bed.

Hux is outside, standing at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the ocean, wondering if he would feel it when he struck the rocks below, or if death would come too quickly for his dashed-apart mind to process any pain.

Kylo slams out of the house, runs.

It’s raining outside. Hux is not visible when Kylo enters the clearing. Kylo is going to have to calm himself enough to do a mental search for Hux again, but what if there’s no time, what if--

He closes his eyes, swallows a whine that might have come out as broken begging if there was anyone to hear it. He sees Hux sitting down, letting his legs hang over the edge of the cliff while the rain continues to soak him. He’s nearby. He’s not going to do it, not really.

Feedback from Hux: Only an idiot would want to go on playing this game, but I’ve certainly proved to be one of those. What’s next, what now? Somehow I still want to know.

Kylo wants to send his voice into Hux’s mind, resists. He walks around the side of the boulder that conceals this cliff from the clearing, along a very narrow path. Hux feels him approach but doesn’t turn.

“Careful,” Kylo says. He could move Hux back himself, away from the edge, but he doesn’t.

Feedback from Hux: He’s frightened, doesn’t want Kylo to come any closer. His posture is very stiff. But the alarms in his head aren’t as loud as they were the day before.

“So you see I’m too much of a coward to do anything about this corner you’ve painted me into,” Hux says, turning his cheek in Kylo’s direction. “I suppose I knew I wouldn’t, but I wanted to have a look. Wanted to see how far down it is to the bottom, I suppose.”

Kylo doesn’t know what to say. Isn’t sure Hux would be able to stand hearing his voice. Hux’s voice is mostly recovered, thanks to that tea. It’s still a bit scratchy, maybe just from disuse.

They call him General Husk. He hasn’t spoken in years, they say.

But no. That vision conflicts with Kylo’s more recent trip to the future, to the roof of the Tower. General Husk wouldn’t bother with cigarettes. They’re in combat with each other already, those two potential outcomes.

Objective: Do anything. Just as Luke fears. Anything to save Hux, whatever you can.

“Please come back inside,” Kylo says. Keeping his voice very soft, almost inaudible.

“Do you know what happened as soon as I walked out here?” Hux asks, turning back toward the ocean. “It started fucking raining. Go figure.”

“I’m glad to hear your voice,” Kylo says, unable to hold this in.

“Are you. Well, I expect this is one of the last times you will.”

Feedback from Hux: Hearing your voice is like torture, meanwhile. You screamed that you would kill me. That you should have already. After your eyes were yours again.

“I was talking to Snoke!” Kylo says, his voice too loud already. “He wouldn’t let me look away from you when I said it, but I was talking to him, you must know that--”

“I don’t know anything. Except that I was bait, a trap set for you. That’s all I ever was. I wonder if Snoke arranged to have me promoted to General because he’d done some light mind-reading and found me to be the candidate who was most likely to roll over and offer his ass to you as soon as you’d asked for it?”

“Shut up,” Kylo says, without meaning to. He winces. “Sorry, I--”

“Don’t fucking say that to me ever again.”

Observation: Hux is forbidding him from saying ‘sorry,’ not ‘shut up.’

They both remain silent for a long time after that, both unwilling to move. The rainfall softens and then stops. Hux is cold. He suspects he’ll be cold for the rest of his life.

“I’m going to save you,” Kylo says, hoping that Hux will laugh at him, needing to hear it. “I don’t care if you believe me or not.”

“Save me from what? The time for that has passed, Ky-lo.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“I don’t even blame you,” Hux says. He stands, moves back from the edge of the cliff but doesn’t turn toward Kylo. He can’t look at Kylo-- Doing so hurts, physically, like a gut punch. Even having Kylo this close, over ten feet away, is like feeling ice coat every bone in his body, all of Hux’s energy going toward suppressing the primal fear that tells him to run, run, or risk being attacked again. “I pity you, really,” Hux says. “He took me from you. I can’t-- Look at you, I can’t-- Be whatever I was for you before. He accomplished that, even in failing to kill me. I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough to undo it.”

“You are,” Kylo says, gritting his teeth against the shake that wants to jump into his voice. “I’ve seen it. In the future.”

“Oh, Ren. You never really saw anything there that helped us, did you?”

The truth in this statement lands against Kylo so hard that he has to turn away from Hux, as if he’s been knocked sideways by a strong wind. Kylo startles when he sees Luke standing on the narrow path beside the boulder, watching them.

“Ben,” Luke says. “Come with me.”

Kylo turns back to Hux when Luke walks away, expecting him to follow. Hux remains in place, wet and cold, wondering whose old clothes he’ll be asked to put on next.

“Go on,” Hux says, still not facing him. “I won’t kill myself. You must be able to sense that. You’ve done what you could for me, Ren. Don’t torture yourself with what’s been lost to us. Go and listen to your uncle tell you how to destroy the one who took it. That’s all we’ve got left. I’ll thank you for killing Snoke, if you manage to do it, and if they haven’t already executed me by then.”

“That was quite a speech,” Kylo says. He moves away from Hux, wanting to give him the relief of not having to stand there shaking in fear because Kylo is too close. “I almost believed it,” Kylo calls back as he walks away.

Feedback from Hux: Fuck you, Ren.

Observation: Kylo is smiling, his steps light as he hurries after Luke, his battered mind briefly lifted into the clouds.

Analysis: Hux can’t look at him, can’t hear his voice without fear. That will be true for a long time. But Hux’s anger feels like the sweetest kiss on the lips after feeling nothing but fear in his feedback since Snoke’s attack.

Kylo’s elation fades when he considers what Hux said more seriously. If they haven’t already executed me by then. Where will Hux go from here? Where will any of them go?

Luke is waiting for him at the very top of the hill. Kylo supposes it could be considered a mountain, now that he’s scaled it. The house and the clearing are thirty feet below. Kylo watches Hux return to the house and hopes that Rey will help him find some dry clothes to put on.

He turns to Luke, who has his back to Kylo as he watches the clouds thinning over the water. The idea that the sun might come out seems like a childish fantasy.

Observation: Luke’s energy is different today. He’s still sad, but less angry.

“I spent the whole night meditating,” Luke says. Apparently he doesn’t want to look at Kylo while they speak any more than Hux did. “Also walking,” Luke says. “And thinking, in a less organized way, about all that has happened.”

“That’s admirable,” Kylo says. “I slept.”

“Well, you were right to. You were wounded by what happened. It sapped your power-- I felt it. I’ve felt other things about you, too, and Rey is right that I don’t want to believe them. That I’m afraid to.”

“Such as?”

“You have truly returned to us.”

Luke turns then. His gaze is still brutal, still full of the pain that Kylo put there. Kylo holds it, accepts this.

“I also know that you won’t heed my warnings,” Luke says. “Just as you never have. I know you will go to Snoke as soon as you can and attempt to kill him.”

“And? Have you foreseen the result?”

“No. There is no future firmly in place, where this goal of yours is concerned. Too much depends upon what happens next. Between now and then.”

“What do you-- Do you propose to train me?”

Luke laughs. There’s nothing joyful or amused in it.

“No,” he says.

“Then what--”

“You must have sensed that your time here is already drawing to a close. The Resistance has already sent a ship here to retrieve you. To bring you home to your mother.”

Kylo shakes his head. He had sensed that, but he didn’t want to let himself know it.

“What will they do with Hux?” he asks.

“I’ll get to him in a moment. Right now, before they arrive, you and I need to talk about the realities of Snoke. How he operates. This will be our last chance to communicate before you face him, most likely.”

“What-- Why? Won’t you come back with us?”

“No, Ben. That path is closed to me.”

“No, it’s not.” It’s disturbing to realize how much he’d been counting on having Luke back, for good. Despite everything. “Why should you stay away?”

He consults Luke’s thoughts. Finds only the gray fog. Luke’s eyes have hardened when Kylo refocuses on them.

“Stop prying,” Luke says. “You’re not as a good at it as you once were. Snoke has taken so much from you. He’s made everything harder for you by building himself into your very foundation, and now he’s taken those support beams away-- Or you’ve disposed of them. Either way, you need to protect yourself for as long as you can. He will try to enter your mind again, as soon as he’s able. Don’t assume that you’ve already done the work it will take to keep him out.”

“How do you know I haven’t?” Kylo asks.

Luke shakes his head. “Perhaps I don’t. Perhaps you were always right to assume you know more than me, Ben.”

“Luke--”

“Regardless, these are my feelings at present. Shall I continue, or would you prefer to go down to the house and wait there until the Resistance arrives?”

“I--”

Kylo thinks of his mother. Sends his thoughts to the craft that is already approaching. Relief overwhelms him when he senses that she’s not aboard it. Nor is Chewbacca.

“Well?” Luke says when Kylo’s attention returns to him. “What will it be?”

“Tell me your concerns.”

“I don’t know what powers Snoke has precisely,” Luke says. “But his need of a powerful physical body may be telling. Also that he focused on you, with your innate balance of Light and Dark, and that he seemed to want you to experience this interlude of freedom from his control, either as a test or for some other purpose, I can’t be sure. You need to do some research when you’re back home. There are some books that I left behind-- Very old, paper bound in leather. There may be information there that is relevant to how Snoke intends to gain some sort of ultimate access to control of your body, and the methods he might use to force his way back in, now that you’ve begun to deny him permission. Snoke has invested himself in this scheme for over twenty years, and he’s not going to give up easily. There’s got to be some reason why he didn’t move on to another victim after you threw him out the first time, when you were fifteen, when you saved Rey. These books in my collection contain information about the oldest Jedi and Sith customs, but the text can be hard to parse. Enlist Rey’s help. She denies the power of her own intuition, but it’s uniquely complete when she allows herself to access it.”

“My mother has these books of yours?” Kylo says, mumbling. Studying old books wasn’t in his original plans for preparing to vanquish Snoke. Luke shakes his head.

“Wedge,” Luke says, tightly. “He has them.”

“Oh.”

Kylo looks down at the house again. Feels Luke’s scrutiny of him shifting.

“And now to the other matter,” Luke says. “Your attachment to that man.”

“It can’t be helped.”

“Perhaps not, but what you choose to do about it might matter a great deal. People like us weren’t meant to have certain comforts, Ben. I never wanted to have to say that to you, or even to admit it to myself, but it’s clear to me now. I did such damage by trying to deny it.”

“What do you mean?” Kylo asks, though he thinks he knows.

“I’m not concerned about what happens to that man they call Starkiller,” Luke says. “But you might continue to be. Overly so, and in vain. I destroyed someone by loving him, once. The strength of our connection had no chance against the weight of what was thrust onto me at birth. If you foster this attachment, it could cost you the energy and focus required to destroy Snoke, and that could lead you to inadvertently destroying the very person you want most to protect. Sometimes the price we must pay to keep the ones we care about safe is keeping clear of them.”

Kylo wants to argue against this, but he knows Luke won’t listen. Luke thinks that Wedge is destroyed, and that Luke’s return, alongside Rey, would make no difference in undoing the damage done to him.

Memories like daggers that flick across the back of his neck: Realizing what Wedge was to Luke happened concurrently with Ben’s own realizations about himself and what he wanted. There was a young pilot a few years older than Ben, a prodigy who idolized Ben’s mother and was suddenly always around, infuriating Ben with his-- Everything. The things Ben began to feel for that pilot made some of what Wedge and Luke had together clearer to him. Some years later that same pilot was in the interrogation chair aboard the Finalizer, and Kylo was his torturer.

“I can’t do this,” Kylo says when he turns back to Luke, his chest getting tighter and tighter as he senses the approach of the New Republic ship that will soon land on the other side of the island. “I can’t go back. I can’t face my mother. Luke-- Uncle, I’m. Too weak, I’ve done too many things that can’t be undone--”

“That is precisely why you must face them now, Ben.”

“Won’t you come with me? Please? I need you, I need--”

“You need Rey, and she will be with you. My role in your life is over. I’ll remain here, where I can do no further damage. Call on me through the Force only in case of emergency. And don’t expect me to know what to do if that comes to pass. I didn’t, when you called out to me yesterday. Rey knew, however. She was right.”

The word ‘yesterday’ weighs on Kylo until it sinks him to his knees. He puts his hands in the mud, closes his eyes. It’s impossible but true. It was just yesterday that everything changed.

He thinks of his first night alone in his room in Snoke’s fortress, when he was fifteen, after what had been done. After he’d been ordered to kill Snoke’s previous apprentice upon arrival, the rattling relief in that boy’s death cry still ringing in his ears. Ben had used all the energy he had left to keep from crying that night, the impulse to break into sobs shuddering through his chest with every painful exhale.

Observation: Ben. He was still Ben that night, whatever Snoke said.

Observation, related: He doesn’t know who he is now. Not Ben, unless Luke or Rey looks upon him. Not Kylo, with Snoke on notice as his enemy now.

He sends his mind to Hux, wanting Hux to answer this question for him.

Feedback from Hux: He’s dressed in some of Luke’s old clothes, baggy and shapeless things given to him by Rey. Hux is half-listening to Rey’s nervous chatter about the instant meal she’s making, something from a packet that tastes like cardboard until you add some dried herbs from Luke’s garden, according to her.

Further, when Hux tunes her out: This girl is nothing like Ren. I suppose he did say they’re not related by blood.

Observation: Ren. That’s who he is now, as decided by Hux. He’s only whatever Hux needs, from now on. And Hux needs him to kill Snoke.

Remember: Take special notice of the things about you that Snoke underestimates. Such as when he thought he could kill Hux and it gave you the strength to rip Snoke from your mind.

Observations, further: Thinking of himself as Ren will take some getting used to. All of this will. He’s still not sure he’s strong enough for any of it as he lifts his head to watch the small Republic ship appear in the sky, breaking the atmosphere. He feels a hand on his shoulder and assumes it must be a ghost.

Correction: It’s Luke.

“You’re lucky,” Ren says, watching the Republic’s ship draw closer. “You can choose not to go back.”

“It doesn’t feel like a choice. Not any more than your need to return does.”

“You didn’t fail me.” Ren thinks of turning to Luke when he says this. He can’t. “I failed you. And-- Everyone.”

“You were a child. We couldn’t comprehend what was happening to you. We missed all the signs, because we were naive about that kind of darkness. We didn’t know such a hideous thing could even be real, to prey on a child that way, that secretly. That’s not your fault.”

“But what happened, later--”

“Yes, Ben. You have much to atone for, as yourself. Go and do so. Be strong for your mother. She needs you.”

Ren stands. Wipes his muddy hands on his robe. Who will wash it when he arrives at the place where that ship will take him? Not his mother. The idea of her doing it is obscene.

I underestimated you, Ben. I’ll always regret it.

That’s Luke’s voice in his head. Ren turns and meets Luke’s gaze. Luke’s eyes are like the ocean at the base of the house on the cliff. Almost never clear of some variety of rainfall. The pain there is in constant motion.

“Rey will be angry when she learns you’re not coming with us,” Ren says, in lieu of anything so ridiculous as an attempt at an apology for being the thing that Luke will always regret.

“I know,” Luke says. “I’m taking the path behind us, down the back of the cliff. There’s an entry point to the cave there. I won’t emerge until you’ve gone. Tell Rey goodbye for me.”

“That’s cruel,” Ren says, surprised by him.

“Perhaps. I attempted to be kind to those I love, once. It was the ruin of all of them. Goodbye, Ben.”

Ren turns from Luke and returns to the house, unable to suppress his renewed anger with Luke for again doing something that Ren feels he can uniquely understand. Ren wants to run, too. To hide until everyone is gone.

Rey has emerged from the house when Ren reaches the patio. Hux is inside, frozen again with terror, though this is a more resigned, conscious sort than what he felt the day before. Hux saw the Republic ship as it came down for a landing. He thinks he knows what it means for him.

“Where’s Luke?” Rey asks. Her eyes are hard, because Ren is to blame for the answer to this question. She already knows. Ren shakes his head.

“We’ll see Luke again,” he says, wanting to believe this. “But he’s not ready to go back.”

“So he gives himself that luxury when we don’t--” Rey senses something then, cocks her head and lets her mouth hang open.

Feedback from Rey: The pilot who came to collect them is not alone. He’s in the company of--

Further, striking through Ren with a peel of unfiltered joy that jumps from Rey and into him, though this realization means nothing to him and everything to her: Finn.

Rey exhales in disbelief and pushes around Ren, dashing for the path down the hill. Hux remains inside the house, dejected, hating that he’s wearing Luke’s ratty old clothes and not his uniform when facing these conquering enemies. His sense of allegiance to the Order is gone, but he still hates the Republic, the Resistance, and he’s still wistful about the uniform he wore when he had power over them.

“Come on,” Ren says. “We should walk down to meet them.” They’ll appear less threatening that way. Ren doesn’t want Hux further traumatized by any rough handling upon arrest.

“They’ll kill me, Ren,” Hux says, still not looking at him. “Or worse.”

“No. I won’t let them.”

Hux turns his cheek. There’s a moment when he seems to consider meeting Ren’s eyes. Then he leaves the house without doing so, hurrying around Ren and shuddering in fear at needing to pass by him so closely.

Ren waits until Hux has reached the head of the trail before following, leaving enough space between them so that Hux won’t feel threatened. It’s strange to leave the house knowing that Luke won’t be coming with them.

Observation: There is nothing about what is currently happening that isn’t strange.

Hux heads down the trail slowly, confident that every step brings him closer to his death. Ren keeps back and tries not to focus too intently on Rey’s glee as the traitor called Finn runs toward her, matching the gleeful pace of her approach, both of them laughing like children.

Ren is too connected to Rey’s emotional surges to ignore what comes next, though he would like to. He feels it when she imagines jumping into Finn’s outstretched arms, and when she stops herself just as Finn does, both of them talking at once.

“You’re okay,” Rey says, grabbing Finn by his elbows, her eyes shining up into his. “You’re okay-- You’re here!”

“Rey, you’re-- They made me afraid you’d be some kind of monk, all stoic and wearing a robe--”

“Well, it is a robe, technically, just without sleeves and without a hood--”

They make themselves stop talking and beam at each other. Rey finally can’t resist: she jumps into Finn’s arms, knowing he’ll catch her. He hugs her and laughs, spins her around.

I was so afraid I’d never see you again.

It’s mostly feedback from Rey, but Ren is fairly sure Finn had this thought at the same time, because he heard it in one voice layered over the other: his and hers. They’ve both been desperate to be clung to like this for months, having only ever had it from each other, as far as they could remember, before being parted.

Hux has stopped walking, ahead on the trail. Ren stops, too, remembering why he’d sometimes hated Rey, though she never deserved it: because this is her destiny, this pure fucking joy. Even after everything that’s happened to her. Nothing diminishes it, and if there wasn’t another Resistance soldier walking up behind them now, she would already be kissing Finn, both of them preemptively pretending to believe that they’d know how to do it.

Observation: That’s not just some Resistance soldier. It’s Poe Dameron. The man Kylo Ren tortured. Also the first boy Ben Solo ever dreamed about kissing.

“Fuck,” Ren says.

Observation: He can’t even handle this. He’ll never be able to face his mother.

Poe says hello to Rey, gives Finn’s shoulders a friendly shake and moves past them. Toward Hux. The smile Poe had for his friends drains away, and when his eyes flick to Ren’s there’s nothing but righteous anger in them. The worst kind of anger, in Ren’s view.

“This-- This is really him?” Poe says, turning back to Finn and Rey when he’s standing before Hux. “This is the General? The Starkiller? Him?”

“Yes,” Rey says, pulling herself from Finn and walking to Poe. “He’s, ah.” Rey’s gaze shifts to Ren’s. He’s begging her for something important but indistinct, not even sure how to put what he needs into words within his own mind. “He’s not well,” Rey says. “But he’s surrendered, willingly.”

Feedback from Hux, who keeps his eyes as hard and colorless as he can but makes no move to get away, aware that it’s hopeless: That’s debatable.

“Well, then,” Poe says. He tucks his flight helmet under his arm and pulls something from his belt. Durasteel binders. It seems like a strange approach, as if such a simple method of restraint can’t hold a man like Hux. “General Elan Bartram Hux,” Poe says, clicking the binders open. “It’s my great pleasure to inform you that you’re under arrest by order of General Leia Organa of the New Republic.”

Hux doesn’t put his hands out, but doesn’t resist when Poe grabs his wrists and slaps the binders on, adjusting them so that they fit tightly.

Everything in Ren wants to protest, to use the Force to rip the binders off of Hux and throw everyone here far away from him. Though Ren is well aware that Poe Dameron has no Force sensitivity, as sensing this was once a great relief to Ben, it still feels like Poe has sensed Ren’s fury with complete clarity when their eyes meet, and like Poe relishes doing something that enrages Ren, and something that Ren can do nothing to stop.

“They told me it was you,” Poe says, his voice as hard as it was when he fought Ren’s intrusion into his mind, during his torture. “Behind that mask. I didn’t want to believe it.”

“What happened was regrettable,” Ren mutters, half-sincerely. The backs of his ears are hot, as if he’s Ben again, making some smug, condescending comment about Poe to hide his real feelings. Poe scoffs and grabs Hux by his bound wrists, tugs him forward.

“C’mon, General,” Poe says. “There’s a sentencing committee on Gailea that’s real eager to make your acquaintance. Rey, maybe you could do the honors on your cousin. And take that lightsaber off his belt while you’re at it.”

Rey looks to Finn. He makes a sort of queasy face and hands her another pair of binders. She takes them and looks down at them like they’re a knife she’s been asked to insert into Ren’s ribs.

“This is ridiculous,” Ren says. “I could rip those things off in a blink.”

“I know.” Rey gives him a pleading look. “Don’t make a scene,” she says, whispering, as if she’s more embarrassed by this than he is. Ren takes the saber off his belt and slaps it into her hand. When she clips it onto her belt Ren notices that she’s got Luke’s there already. Rey takes a deep breath and opens the binders. “It’s symbolic, Ben. For them. To show them you can be trusted.”

Ren looks away from her and watches Poe leading Hux toward the shuttle, Poe’s hand around Hux’s arm.

Feedback from Hux: I’ll be tortured again. I’ll do better this time. They won’t get a single fucking scream from me. They won’t-- They won’t do what-- Those traitors did, probably, so-- I can-- Handle this, I’ve had worse--

Further from Hux, like a sunbeam that breaks through the cloud cover, even as Rey sighs and locks the binders around Ren’s wrists: Maybe Ren will raze the entire city when he finds out they’ve hurt me. That would be something. We could go down in a kind of blaze of-- Not glory, but something fierce and deadly. That would be all right.

Observation: Hux is comforting himself with this fantasy, imagining a New Republic city in flames, Ren enormous and crashing through buildings, transformed into a real monster by his rage. Hux envisions himself as a dust-sized speck that sits on Ren’s massive shoulder, hidden against his neck, bloodied and laughing and watching it all burn, cheering Ren on.

Ren smiles. Rey seems concerned about this when he refocuses on her.

“Oh god,” Rey says, wrinkling her nose when she’s consulted his thoughts. “You really do love that little monster.”

“And you--”

Don’t say it,” Rey snaps, because Finn is walking toward them. Finn stands behind Rey and glowers at Ren.

“Who’s the traitor now?” Finn asks.

“Still you,” Ren says. “I never swore my allegiance to the Order.”

“Oh no? Only to the one who called himself our Supreme Leader? How does that work, exactly?”

“Enough,” Rey says. “We need to go.” Her gaze shifts back to the hillside, the house not visible from where they stand on the trail that leads down from it. Luke is no longer standing atop the hill’s highest peak. He’s in the cave. Ashamed of himself. Letting even Ren sense this.

“He just needs time,” Ren says.

“Don’t lie to me,” Rey says, that fire flashing in her eyes when she looks at Ren again. “It’s pointless.”

“He loves you,” Ren says, unable to abide the pain she’s in now, the sense of abandonment. “He just--”

“Who?” Finn asks. He frowns, looks from Ren to Rey. “Who loves you?”

“The father I’m returning to,” Rey says. She swallows her grief, steadies her shoulders. “The only one I’ve got left, it seems.”

“I’m confused,” Finn says.

“I suspect that’s not a new feeling for you,” Ren says, annoyed already by Finn’s asinine interruptions. He’s so common, really just a grunt.

“Oh, sure, sure,” Finn says. “But you wouldn’t know about confusion, huh? Light side, Dark side, First Order, Republic-- you’re Mr. Decisive, is that right?”

“Don’t mind Ben,” Rey says, grabbing Ren’s arm. “He thinks it makes him feel better to get angry and be rude to everyone, always has. Let’s go.”

“It does make me feel better,” Ren says, glad that the path to the ship is too narrow for Finn to walk alongside them. He trails behind. Rey groans.

“I asked you not to lie to me,” she says.

When they board the ship that will bear them into Republic custody, Ren senses the first inkling of Hux being relieved to see him as opposed to horrified, though the horror is there, too, and Hux doesn’t turn to look at Ren when he’s placed into a seat on the same restraining bench that Hux has been strapped into. There’s about six feet of space between them, the most the bench will allow, and Ren is grateful for this as Rey straps a restraint across his chest. He catches Rey’s gaze. Despite present circumstances, it’s a relief to now be the only two people present who can freely read each other’s minds.

Don’t take me to my mother. Not right away, please. I’m not ready.

Feedback from Rey: The men in your family certainly aren’t shy about avoiding the realities they’re not ready to face.

She sits across from Ren and Hux, beside Finn. Poe is speaking to someone at the Resistance base through the cockpit console, announcing that both prisoners are on board and he’s beginning the journey back. It will only take five hours, according to him.

Observation: In five hours, Ren will be on the same planet as his mother.

Further, and somehow even harder to believe: In five hours, Hux will be taken away from him. Hux will be taken to the Tower, where all the possibilities for his future will begin to bear down on him.

Ren shifts his gaze, stares at Hux’s knees.

Feedback from Hux: I can’t do this again, I can’t, I was wrong, I can’t--

“Can I speak to you?” Ren asks, muttering.

Feedback from Hux: Are you talking to me?

Yes. Can I speak to you like this? So that they won’t hear?

Feedback from Hux: Why ask my permission when you’re already doing it?

Further, humming below the direct response: Hux is not terrified by Ren’s voice in his head now. In fact, he’s surprised by how comforting it is, hidden from present company, though he still can’t make himself look at Ren.

I won’t let them hurt you. I will raze their cities to the ground if you come to harm.

Feedback from Hux, shuddering with humiliation that borders on fear: Fuck, you saw that? Of course you did.

It was beautiful. I hate this, too. I wish I could knock it all over, take you and go.

Feedback from Hux, furious: You could have, you complete fucking ass. Instead you hand-delivered me to my enemies when I was too weak to stop you.

You know we wouldn’t have gotten far on our own before Snoke caught up with us again. I need them. I can’t defeat Snoke without this first step. I’m--

He squashes the thought before the word can fully form, but Hux hears it anyway: Sorry.

Feedback from Hux: Gray fog. He’s thrown Ren from his thoughts. Ren could get back in, but he’d have to press at Hux’s mind aggressively, and he’s not willing to do that now, no matter how much the quiet in his own mind disturbs him, without the sound of Hux’s voice to warm the ravaged pits and valleys Snoke left behind.

“What are they doing?” Finn asks Rey when he notices her eavesdropping on this conversation. “They’re doing something weird, aren’t they? Plotting?”

“The General can’t use the Force,” Rey says, not really answering his question. She smiles at Finn and takes his hand, holding it between hers. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she says, speaking softly. Ren wonders if she’ll try to speak to Finn without words. Ren would hear if she did, maybe. Possibly she would guard it too closely. Ren had thought he’d done that when speaking to Hux, but apparently not.

“Where’s Luke?” Finn asks. “We thought he was with you.”

“He was.” Rey glances at Ren. He doesn’t bother to pretend he’s not listening, since she helped herself to his conversation with Hux, possibly just for security reasons. “Luke-- He’s staying behind because he can’t face my father.”

“Your father?”

“Mhm. My adoptive father-- My biological parents died when I was three years old.”

“Rey. I’m so sorry.”

Feedback from Finn, read by Rey and then by Ren: Finn wants the Starkiller to tell him how he might find his parents. He’s worried they might be dead, killed when he was taken from them.

Rey doesn’t let on that she’s sensed this, but she holds Finn’s hand a bit tighter.

“It’s all right,” she says. “I mean, it’s not, but I barely remember them, except through the stories my dad told me-- He’s my biological uncle. His name is Wedge.”

Finn laughs.

Feedback from Finn, directed at himself: Idiot, stop-- Why are you laughing?

“Sorry! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-- It’s just kind of a funny name.”

“It’s fine,” Rey says. She’s laughing, too. Charmed by this fool, for some reason. “I know, it’s-- It’s strange to even say his name out loud again, after all this time. It will be so good to see him, but also sort of awful, incredibly awkward? I’m actually quite terrified. We’ve been apart for almost fifteen years. He remembers me as a five-year-old.”

“How did you end up on Jakku? Your dad left you there?”

“No, um.” Rey glances at Ren. “Do you want to explain?” she asks, her voice sharpening. “Since you’re so interested in this conversation already?”

“I had to hide Rey there,” Ren says, speaking loudly as he tries to sound confident about this. Hux flinches, perturbed by the volume of his voice. “It was necessary,” Ren says, more quietly. “To keep her safe from Snoke.”

“Snoke was after you?” Finn says, turning back to Rey. “The Supreme Leader, that Snoke?”

“As a Force user, I’m a threat to him,” Rey says. “And I think-- It sounds silly, but I have this feeling that me and Ben are the only ones who can defeat him.”

“That doesn’t sound silly,” Finn says. “Except for the part where he helps,” he adds, glancing at Ren.

“You don’t know shit about me,” Ren says.

Hux snorts. It sounds like a choir of angels to Ren, and he fights the urge to turn abruptly to Hux, not wanting to scare him.

“I know plenty,” Finn says. “I know I have a scar on my back from when you almost cut me in half, for example.”

“Are you fucking serious?” Ren resists the temptation to glance at Hux to see if Hux also can’t believe this clown. “That cut was too shallow to even reach bone. You should be thanking me for not killing you.”

“I should be thanking you?” Finn starts to stand, but Rey holds him in place. “Sorry,” Finn says, to her. “I just--”

“Don’t apologize, please,” she says, and she gives Ren that fiery look. “I completely understand the occasional desire to throttle him.”

Additionally, from Rey: Has anyone ever told you that you still sound like a fifteen-year-old boy at times?

Hux thought so once-- maybe more than once --but Rey doesn’t need to know that. Ren closes his eyes and tips his head back against the wall of the shuttle, trying to tune them all out and focus instead on what awaits him upon landing.

“Everything all right back here?” Poe asks, coming to the cockpit doorway, when the shuttle is on autopilot. Ren leaves his eyes closed. Pretends to sleep. It’s not as if anyone but Rey will be able to tell it’s an act.

Observation: It is possible that Hux knows him well enough to see through this pretense without needing the Force to do so.

Observation, related: Ren likes the idea that Hux could see through him that way. Still likes being weak for Hux. Probably always will.

“We’re fine,” Rey says when no one else answers. “Um. Do you have any idea who plans to meet us when we land?”

“A transport team from the prison in the south,” Poe says.

“Okay. So-- Not Leia?”

“No, it’s too dangerous to have her there when we still don’t know what he’s capable of-- Do we?”

“Ben? Oh, ah. No, I suppose not, though I’m confident he wouldn’t hurt Leia. In fact, I need to speak to her about Ben’s incarceration. It would be incredibly dangerous to house him in the Tower where the normal criminals are held.”

“Yeah?”

Though his eyes are still closed, Ren can sense Poe looking at him, wary.

“Well, yes,” Rey says. “He’s too strong in the Force-- He can’t be held in a physical prison, for one thing. Haven’t they taken this into account?”

“All I know is that Leia said to bring him home. I guess I thought she’d figure out the logistics of-- Him, once we got there.”

“I’ll defer to her, of course,” Rey says, “But I think it might be better for me to handle the logistics at this stage. He’s unstable-- The emotional impact of facing his mother, after everything he’s done, might set him off down a dark path again. Whereas I remind him of something good he did, for the most part, and I think, um, well, I’m still relatively untrained, of course, but when we were kids they used to say my powers were comparable to his, in-- In terms of our potential, so. What I’m asking, that is-- What I hope you’ll confirm with Leia, is if it would be all right if I take him to my father’s apartment in the city. If I oversee Ben’s imprisonment myself, I mean.”

Ren keeps his face as still as possible when he feels Poe’s eyes on him again. He thinks of Hux’s stormtrooper with the sweet face, the one who talked her way into the Resistance base and got so cozy there that she decided to stay indefinitely. Rey is fidgeting, sincere, not attempting to manipulate Poe on any conscious level. But it’s her sweetness that might actually sell this plan, to Poe and to Leia.

Observation: There’s also no real alternative. Ren is still powerful enough to defy them, on their planet or elsewhere.

Feedback from Rey: But you won’t. Right? Ben? You won’t make a fool of me for trusting you?

Response, to Rey: You’re too powerful to need to ask questions like this. Trust your intuition. It’s brought me this far.

Rey looks annoyed when Ren peeks at her with one eye before closing it again.

“Will Captain Antilles be okay with hosting a Force-wielding mass murderer in his apartment?” Poe asks. “I mean, I know Wedge has a reputation as a freakishly nice guy, but--”

“Captain?” Rey says. “I thought. I mean, I’d sensed that, um. Isn’t he retired?”

“Oh, yeah, I just. Old habits.”

Trust your intuition. Questions like that are redundant and you know it.

Feedback from Rey: Shut up, Ben.

I thought you wanted training.

Feedback from Rey: Yes, and my intuition is telling me I’ll live to regret that request.

Ren doesn’t appreciate her use of the word ‘regret’ in this context, though he supposes she’s not privy to his conversation with Luke. Not all of it, anyway.

Regardless, observation: She was being facetious. Mostly.

“I’ll talk to Leia on the comm,” Poe says. “It’s-- An interesting idea?”

“Leave the audio off,” Rey says, whispering, as if she’s not well aware that Ren can hear this. “He, um. I don’t even think he’s ready to hear her voice.”

I’m not. Thank you.

Feedback from Rey: I don’t mind helping you ease back into their world-- I can certainly relate to how daunting that can be. But you can’t avoid her forever, Ben.

Ren closes his mind to her then, still feeling a shade of attentive observation over the surface of his thoughts. Neither of them can completely block the other out.

Observation: That’s comforting. Strangely. He would have hated the thought when he was fifteen and she was five.

Observation, related: She’s far more powerful now than she was then, even untrained like this.

Observation, tentative: The isolation on Jakku was like a kind of informal, non-traditional training. It both hardened her and allowed her to remain pure in some ways, concentrated solely on what she had to do in order to survive, unflinching in her steadfast desire to do so and in her belief that she would find another, better place in the world someday.

Ren opens his eyes. Rey is looking at him, still holding Finn’s hand. Possibly she heard some of that.

“I would have preferred traditional training,” she says, sharply.

“I’m sorry.”

Ren feels stupid for voicing that aloud, so simply, and guilty for drawing the attention of Hux with that word.

“Are you two, um--” Finn looks back and forth between Ren and Rey, uneasy. “Talking, in your heads?”

Rey looks at Finn and smiles. Ren can’t hear the message she sends to Finn, using the Force, but he can feel the delighted shock in Finn when he hears it and smiles back.

“Luke told me it’s rare,” Rey says. “That it takes practice-- I didn’t expect you to be able to hear me so well right away.”

“That’s wild,” Finn says, moony, still smiling at her.

“What’s rare?” Hux asks, surprising everyone. Ren almost turns to him when Rey and Finn do, then remembers that he shouldn’t.

“Um.” Rey glances at the cockpit, as if she’s not sure she has clearance to speak to the Starkiller now. Poe is distracted, typing something into the console. Probably a message to Leia. “I meant this sort of ability to talk to someone without speaking,” Rey says. “Especially someone who isn’t Force sensitive. It’s not supposed to be, you know, easy. Supposedly it normally takes years to cultivate.” She squeezes Finn’s hand when she says so. He squeezes back, apparently unable to wipe that stupid smile off his face.

Ren dares a look at Hux when he senses that Hux has closed his eyes.

Feedback from Hux: Still a gray fog. He’s keeping Ren out. Getting better at it, maybe.

The next four hours are agonizingly uneventful. Rey and Finn lean against each other and fall asleep. Poe hums to himself in the cockpit and eats toasted yarum seeds from a packet in the front pocket of his pilot suit. Unperturbed by the fact that his once-torturer is part of his cargo, it would seem. Ren is tempted to check Poe’s feedback but also afraid to, for some reason.

Memories, like knife wounds when they come now: Poe grinning and calling him Benny, always asking to be shown ‘something cool’ that Ben had learned to do with the Force recently. Ben had indulged this happily until he became resentful of his solidifying feelings for handsome Poe the pilot, and then he had often told Poe that the Force didn’t exist to amuse people with parlor tricks. Poe would just laugh-- Sure thing, buddy, I get it. Ben had been afraid to read Poe’s mind back then, too, but he had dared it once or twice, burning with shame before he even saw anything. Poe was only eighteen but had already been with both women and men, Ben found. He’d retreated from Poe’s thoughts before he could see anything specific, too embarrassed by his curiosity to continue. The information about Poe having sometimes gone to bed with men didn’t give Ben any real hope for his own chances.

When they enter Gailea’s system, Ren feels it like a shove against his back. He reminds himself that his mother won’t be there waiting. Not on the landing strip, anyway. Then reminds himself that Hux will be ripped from him as soon as they disembark.

Feedback from Hux, who sits up and leans forward to try to see the cockpit’s viewport when the planet they’re headed toward comes into view: There it is, Elan. Your prison, your grave. His salvation. This is where he leaves you. Back to Mummy he’ll go, while you go to the gallows. This is what your indulgence has finally cost you.

Observation: Hux only thinks of himself as Elan when he’s reprimanding himself in something that resembles his father’s voice.

Ren opens his mouth, but further feedback from Hux, offered freely, indicates that Hux would rather tear his own ears off than hear from Ren right now, verbally or otherwise.

“Wake up, kids!” Poe calls back, presumably talking to Rey and Finn, since his tone is friendly. “We’re home.”

Rey wakes first, and Ren feels it when she thinks of the wind chimes back on Luke’s island. She’s too far away, too inundated with stimuli. She’s lost control of the chimes. They clanged so terribly in her absence that Luke took them down as soon as he returned to the house, before the wind could break them.

Rey turns to Ren, her eyes getting wet when she senses, like he has, that Luke broke down when he held them silent in his hands: the little knots she’d made around the sea glass, Rey’s chimes.

“He’ll comfort himself with the knowledge that you’ve returned to Wedge,” Ren says, accidentally out loud. He’s tired. Disoriented, terrified. Hux turns and looks at him, also by accident, also very tired. Hux turns away quickly, though not before observing that looking at Ren didn’t stab at him this time, not at first.

Finn wakes up at the sound of Ren’s voice and glares at him before noticing how fully he’s allowed himself to slump onto Rey while he sleeps.

“Sorry,” Finn says, sitting up. She smiles at him, shrugs. Maybe communicates something to him without speaking. She’ll guard those thoughts from Ren most closely, of course.

“This is shuttle TR-37 coming in for a landing on the backlot strip at Delta base,” Poe says, speaking to the control tower when they’re drawing close. There’s a city visible in the distance, not far from the base where they’ll land. The city is Femon, this planet’s capitol. The Tower is far away from here, on the southernmost tip of this planet. A half day’s journey even in the fastest civilian craft.

Observation: The last time Ren was among these people and all they represent, he was surrounded by dead children.

From Rey: I was with you that day, too. Stay calm. You’re not alone.

Hux sits up straighter when the shuttle comes in for a landing. The only feedback available from him is that he still wishes dearly that he wasn’t wearing a hobo’s rags while facing down this fate.

“Do you want my robe?” Ren asks, not looking at him.

Hux considers it. Ren resists the urge to consult his thoughts more deeply.

“No,” Hux says, still staring ahead at the cockpit. “They would just take it from me.”

“All right,” Poe says when they’ve landed, powering off the shuttle. Rey and Finn are already out of their seats. “If you two will be so kind as to unbuckle our prisoners,” Poe says, emerging from the cockpit, “I’m going to head to the administrative building and have a talk with Leia.”

“What did she say about Ben coming to stay with me?” Rey asks as she removes Ren’s restraints, leaving the binders around his wrists when she helps him up.

“Leia told me she has a transport waiting to take you two directly to Wedge.” Poe lifts his eyebrows and holds out both hands. “I guess great minds think alike. She said she already had this plan in place when I told her your idea. Your dad is okay with it, to no one’s surprise.”

“Did she have any message for me?” Ren asks, before he can stop himself. He doesn’t look at Poe after asking. Just goes on staring at Rey’s boots.

“No,” Poe says. “Sorry, Ben.”

He means that, somehow. Ren looks up at him, but Poe averts his eyes and walks past, pretends not to notice.

Finn marches Hux out of the shuttle behind Poe. Rey looks up at Ren. She puts her hand on his chest, over his pounding heart.

“It’s not because she doesn’t want to speak to you,” Rey says. “She does, desperately. When you’re ready. And not with Poe as a middleman.”

“I’ll never be ready, I-- Let’s go, let’s-- I can’t stand this, I want these fucking binders off of me.”

“I’ll take them off as soon as we get to Wedge. The transport driver will be nervous if we don’t keep up appearances.”

“Well, we can’t possibly allow some grunt driver to be nervous while he follows orders.”

“Shut up, Ben,” Rey says, fondly. She pats his chest and takes his arm, leads him off the shuttle.

Observations, barely able to form against the rattle of his pounding heartbeat: It’s far too bright on this planet. There’s civilian transport noise in the distance, and some military ships hovering overhead, waiting to be cleared for landing. It’s hot here, dry. Everything seems to sting against Ren’s skin, eyes, against his entire consciousness. Hux is being lead toward a waiting transport. A different transport waits for Rey and Ren. Ordered to move in the opposite direction.

Feedback from Hux, as he’s marched toward the waiting guards by Finn: Funny. I was so desperate to get away from Ren, and now I’d do anything not to leave his side.

“Hux!” Ren didn’t mean to shout. Didn’t mean for any of this to happen. Finn and Hux both turn back to him.

Observation: Hux meets Ren’s eyes, holds his gaze. Hux is afraid, so terrified that he worries his legs will give out, but it’s not Ren he’s afraid of now.

Observation, so uniquely harrowing that it’s somehow almost precious: Hux looks different in the sunlight. Assaulted by it, almost, squinting, so small.

It’ll be okay.

That’s all Ren can come up with. Even I promise seems like too much, and too little.

Feedback from Hux, as he’s turned around by Finn and nudged into the transport that will take him to the Tower: Like hell it will, Ren. Goodbye.

“Tell-- Tell him--” Ren’s voice is shaking. Rey shushes him, doesn’t need to hear it out loud.

“Just be still,” she says, holding up her finger as she walks toward Finn.

Ren closes his eyes. Hux is in the shuttle, but Ren can’t see him. Not with his eyes, anyway. Finn has shut Hux in with the prison guards, and the shuttle’s windows are blacked out. Ren concentrates on Rey and Finn’s conversation rather than sending his mind to Hux, who has already slipped into a kind of offline mode, too tightly focused on keeping his expression neutral and his breakfast from coming up to really have much of a thought process.

“Are you going with them?” Rey asks, holding Finn’s arm.

“Yeah,” Finn says. “But I’ll be back as soon as I can, I promise.”

“Good.” Rey smiles. “Look, um. I need you to speak to the management when they process him at the Tower. Or whatever you call it-- Just, speak to the person in charge. The Starkiller is traumatized. Make sure they handle him with care, or he’ll have a complete mental break and we’ll get nothing from him. He was very high up-- We need to keep him in as pristine mental condition as possible if we want to learn what he knows about the Order and what they’ll do next.”

“Okay,” Finn says, nodding. “Yeah, of course.”

“I’m serious, Finn, it’s very important.” Rey leans up to whisper the rest against Finn’s ear. “Ben is extremely attached to that man. It’s the whole reason he’s come back to us, even after fifteen years of relentless conditioning-- because Snoke tried to separate him from the Starkiller. If anything bad happens to him while he’s in our custody, Ben will sense it, react terribly, and we’ll lose him forever. I can’t do that to Leia. I hate that this vile First Order officer is important, but I can’t change the fact that he is. I need you to personally see to it that he’s not, um, abused.”

“Okay,” Finn says again, differently now. Everything in his feedback hums with a kind of strangely innocent longing as Rey leans back, her face still close to his.

Observation: FN-2187 will do anything Rey Antilles asks him to. He’ll lay down his life to follow this order she’s given him, with the feeling of her lips against his skin still buzzing on his ear.

“Thank you,” Rey says. She smiles: loves him, truly, somehow. “I’ll see you soon?”

“Def-- Definitely, yes.” Finn squeezes her shoulder. “Be careful with that guy,” he says, whispering, meaning Ren. “If he hurts you, I’ll--”

“He won’t. The truth is-- I could handle him if I had to. I’ve done it before.” She winks. Finn beams at her. When they part, they’re both already thinking about the next time they’ll meet.

Ren tries to imagine what that must be like. Being free to meet the one you love when the day’s duties are done, to go where you want with them, to stay with them for as long as you choose. Ren will never know that freedom again. He never really has.

He sends his thoughts to Hux but only senses more steadfast determination not to crack, Hux’s perfectly straight posture maintained with a great effort now. As Hux moves away from him, his transport heading off toward the main road to the south, it’s harder and harder to get any sense of what he’s thinking, in part because Ren’s own thoughts and fears have become overwhelming.

“You’ve been in the sun for five minutes and you’re already starting to burn,” Rey says, blinking up at him.

“I hope you’re not being metaphorical.” Ren knows she’s not, or at least not entirely. He can feel it, too: an uncomfortable sting across the bridge of his nose.

“I guess you already know this,” Rey says, hooking her arm through Ren’s as she leads him toward their transport. “But I’m terrified, Ben.”

“Of-- Wedge?”

“Yes. Well, not exactly, but-- We talked on a holochannel before I went to Luke. It was strange. I still didn’t have my memories back, really. He was crying. I was so awkward. I kept doing this stupid, nervous laugh. Now that I remember him, I feel terrible.”

“Rey. He’s your father. It doesn’t matter what you--”

He catches himself before he can say the rest, feels her staring at him and thinking of Leia, wanting him to hear what he’s saying and take note.

“Shut up, Rey,” Ren says. She pushes him into the backseat of the transport.

And then they are somehow moving out of the base and into the city. Amid civilians. Rey conversing with the transport driver in irritating exchanges of inane small talk. Ren closes his eyes and puts his his forehead against the viewport that looks out on real people living their small lives in a New Republic city, going about their days, unaware that the monster they’ve heard whispers about is among them again.

“It’s so strange to be in a city at all,” Rey says, tapping Ren’s knee to get his attention. “Look,” she says, holding up her hand. It’s shaking.

Ren turns back to the window and stares glumly at the shops that line the streets, the people on the sidewalks, the sunlight that bakes down onto all of it, cutting through the buildings that tower overhead. Without looking at her, he reaches across the seat and finds Rey’s shaking hand, holds it.

One memory that’s terrible and somehow also good: When Ben was fourteen he had some kind of tantrum during training. It wasn’t uncommon. Glass broke, younger kids were frightened. Luke was frustrated, his voice raised. Ben ran, blocking everyone out so he couldn’t be found, and went outside to a landing platform. He was in tears, digging his teeth into his bottom lip to try to keep it from shaking, trying to ignore the sound of Snoke’s congratulations for this latest defiance of Luke, loss of control, capitulation to the unstoppable anger that was already driving Ben toward the day when he would do something that would take him away from all of this: for good, Snoke said.

Rey found him that day. The sun was setting, painting the glittering city that could be seen from the landing platform with an orange glow. Ben was right at the edge, the toes of his boots almost poking over it. The streets below were miles away. He didn’t want to jump. He just wanted to stay there and be left alone while he thought about the fact that he could, and how they would all be so sorry for how they’d treated him if he did.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked when he sensed Rey standing behind him. Four years old and already able to sneak away from the others successfully and find Ben when no one else could. He’d made his voice as mean as possible, his teeth grit and his tears almost successfully held back behind the tight clench of his jaw. Rey wasn’t afraid of him, however. Not like the other kids. Not even like Luke and Leia were sometimes.

Rey didn’t say anything to him that day. She walked to the edge of the platform and took Ben’s hand. Something in Ben-- Snoke --hissed in horrible satisfaction at the idea that Ben could just push her over the edge and be done with it. Ben sucked in his breath, horrified by the thought, and took three big steps backward, Rey’s hand still in his. When they were far enough from the edge that Ben couldn’t hear Snoke’s cruel laughter in his head anymore, Rey clutched at Ben’s leg, kept hold of his hand. Wanted him to feel better. She hated it when Ben was sad. It made her sad, too.

He remembers thinking, At least Rey loves me. Even if it’s only because she’s too young to know better.

He looks down at her hand in his as the transport draws to a stop in front of a residential building on the quieter end of the city. Rey’s hand is still shaking, but she’s brave, smiling at him.

“Here we are,” she says. “Home at last.”

Ren follows her out of the transport in a kind of daze. This building they’ve arrived at is not shiny and impressive like some they passed: there are only three stories, with a white stone exterior and porches off of each unit, flowering vines growing over wooden trellises. The street is quiet, only a few happy shouts from children playing on the patio of another building audible. Rey thanks the transport driver and he drives away, trusting Rey Antilles to wrangle Kylo Ren on her own. They’re no longer holding hands. Rey walks up the stairs that lead toward the unit on the third floor where Wedge lives. Ren follows.

“Oh,” Rey says when they’re standing outside Wedge’s door, her feedback a mess of nervous energy that makes Ren’s stomach ache even when he doesn’t attempt to read her thoughts specifically. Rey’s hands shake as she removes the binders from Ren’s hands. She frowns and thinks of putting them in her pocket, or in the pocket of his robe, but neither seems right. There’s a grouping of three potted plants to the left of the door. All the plants are dead-- They were abandoned by the former occupant of this apartment. Wedge has been living elsewhere for years and is only renting this place in anticipation of Rey’s arrival. Rey stashes the binders behind one of the pots and looks at Ren, shrugs.

“Ready?” she asks.

“Yes,” Ren says, because she needs him to say so. She nods, knocks on the door. There’s a data pad with a button for requesting entry, but on Jakku knocking was more common, and Rey can barely think straight right now.

There are footsteps from behind the door. Ren tries to imagine anticipating this reunion if it was Leia on the other side of the door. Can’t.

The door opens. Wedge seems older than he should, too, though he hasn’t aged as visibly as Luke. With Wedge this tiredness is more evident in his energy, though it changes when he sees Rey and a smile that matches the brilliance of her own breaks across his features, making Wedge seem as young as Ren can ever remember him being.

Rey and Wedge start crying at the same time. They both make a wordless noise of relief at the sight of each other, and they fall together in a clinging hug that Ren can feel in his own chest, as if he’s being squeezed like that, too.

Feedback from Rey: There’s nothing awkward now, no fear, just this joy that breaks out of her in sobs that feel like shedding weight. Even in Leia’s arms, in Luke’s house, even with Ben’s hand in hers again, nothing has felt as much like a return to her family as this.

“I knew it,” Wedge says, eyes closed, rocking her in his arms. Ren isn’t sure if Wedge has noticed him darkening the doorway of this reunion. “I always knew, I told them--”

“You searched for me,” Rey says, laughing as she continues to sob in a kind of quake that feels like years of dead weight leaving her bones. “You left the fleet just to--”

“Of course I did, Rey, oh--” Wedge rubs his palm across his eyes and smoothes the stray hairs from Rey’s forehead before he blinks his tears away enough to focus on Ren, who keeps his mouth shut tight when he has the urge to open it, to speak. He can’t say he’s sorry again. It’s like an insult to everyone he still cares about, after everything he’s done. “Ben,” Wedge says. His smile is real. There’s no anger in his eyes. Nothing but gratitude and acceptance. He’s reaching for Ren, motioning him closer. “You saved her. They told me, Ben. They told me what you did for my-- Come here.”

Ren hesitates. Rey lifts her wet face, smiles at Ren and pulls him close. She and Wedge both wrap their arms around him when he stumbles toward them.

Observations, muddled: It’s alarming, being suddenly surrounded by their affection. Alarming that it’s so unconditional.

Further, important: Such things are dangerous.

Wedge is like Rey, on the short side. Ren feels ridiculous, hunched over him. He huffs out his breath when he drops his forehead to Wedge’s shoulder, wanting to be angry about this. Feels his face pinching up, shakes his head, but can’t forbid one sob from breaking in his chest, hitting him like a fist. They both hold him tighter when they feel it.

“It’s okay,” Wedge says. Such an absurd lie, but Ren wants to cling to it. He puts his arms around both of them and pulls them closer when Rey laughs and tucks her head to his shoulder. Ren can feel the heat of her tears even through his robe and his shirt. He can feel their insane, incomprehensible forgiveness of him like ten cups of that tea he gulped in Luke’s house, every good memory he’s ever had circling around him like protection from the bad ones.

Observation, not really useful but also like medicine, like a cure: What he felt on his face before was just the burn of some star. There are billions of those, their piercing light interchangeable. This is the sunlight he remembers.

“Come in, come on,” Wedge says, wiping his face when they all reluctantly separate. “I, ah, I know you’re both grown up now, but you used to love hot chocolate when you were kids, so I made some. Don’t laugh! I have beer, too,” he adds when Rey does laugh.

Hot chocolate. Ren hasn’t had anything sweet for as long as he can remember. He can smell it from the kitchen as Rey follows Wedge there, both of them talking at once and drying each other’s wet cheeks, arms around each other again.

Ren turns away from them. Looks at the door. It’s hanging open. He could just walk out. Go anywhere. No one could stop him. Not even Rey, if he really wanted to go.

The smell of that hot chocolate and the sound of their laughter is comforting, but it’s also a reminder that this life always felt like a prison to him. Now he’s here under formal house arrest.

Far away, to the south, Hux’s transport draws closer to the Tower. Hux hates the thought that Ren is getting away with something, being allowed to stay here while Hux is taken there. Hux doesn’t understand that the kindness Ren will be shown, that which Ben could never allow to fully reach him, is the most severe punishment Ren can imagine for what he’s already done to that same kindness.

“Would you mind shutting that?” Wedge asks when he turns back to see Ren lingering at the door. Rey turns back, too, and meets Ren’s eyes. She doesn’t bother to beg, knows she doesn’t need to. Just smiles and lifts her hand, beckons him to follow.

Ren closes the door. He follows them into the kitchen, toward the smell of hot chocolate and the sound of their voices when they both start talking again-- They both talk a lot, even now, after everything. Rey and Wedge don’t carry the same inborn sorrow that Leia passed on to Ben. He follows them anyway, though he can’t ever know that kind of light. He follows them, moving as if over hot coals, toward the only path he’s ever been shown that might not lead toward ruin.

 

**