Kylo Ren has been in the bacta tank for three days, and every night, General Hux dreams of him dying.
He is still in the snow, broken, bleeding out a deep crimson stain, and Hux doesn’t get to him before the ground breaks open.
He is crashing, unresponsive to the bacta, black ooze and terror spilling out of his gut wound.
He is staggering through the woods, each step leaving behind a bloodied bootprint, but the fire takes him before he can make it to the ship.
Hux wakes in a cold sweat, fingers clutching miserably at his off-white regulation bedsheets, and tries not to think about what will happen if Ren dies.
If Ren dies, he may as well take his officer-issue, desh-plated DL-44 model heavy blaster, and feed it down his own throat, for all the good that’ll do him. The map to Skywalker lost, Starkiller lost, Ren lost; General Hux knows the meaning of the word expendable quite well, and right now, he’s teetering on the precipice.
He calls up the medbay camera feed on his holopad, and stares at Ren’s tall, gangly body, awkwardly suspended in the gel, naked except for the tank’s opaque modesty panel, positioned strategically below his waist. His side looks grotesque -- dark red and purple, mottled with worse, the grafted skin refusing to settle. What a surprise; something of Ren’s not doing as it should.
The medics have cut his hair. If he wakes up, he is going to be livid, Hux thinks. It’s really not that bad, but it makes Ren’s long face look even longer, and with the breathmask covering most of his nose and jaw, the end picture he presents is bordering on the absurd. Hux’s finger hovers over the holopad menu, and after a moment of deliberation, he presses ‘save’ and sends the captured still to his encrypted storage -- it’s unlikely he’ll get the opportunity again.
That night, he dreams of the bacta in Ren’s tank turning poison, and Ren struggles and chokes and sweats blood from his pores as he dies.
On the fourth day, Ren is worse. There is a medic checking the tank’s stats, another injecting fluids into the intake tubes, yet another punching code after code into the control panel. A small medical droid is in the tank with Ren, scaling his clammy starfish body, digging its metal limbs into Ren’s gut like a mechanical parasite.
Hux unceremoniously marches down to medbay, and doesn’t bother with acknowledgements or salutes.
“If he dies, every single one of you will be joining him. Is that clear?”
If Ren dies, they’ll all be joining him, Hux thinks, because he’s going to have to scuttle the ship. Pick a camp on D’Qar, or whatever other pathetic hell-hole in the Outer Rim the Resistance calls home, and smash all three kilometres of the Finalizer right into the gooey center. What a way to go, and undoubtedly far less painful than whatever Supreme Leader Snoke will have dreamed up.
On the seventh day, Dr. Yasim reports that they are ready to try bringing Lord Ren out of the artificial sleep, and asks whether he is planning to observe. Hux declines and hangs up the comm, considering. They’ve been handling Ren; prodding, stitching and rearranging his pale, graceless flesh, touching him where he has been muted and weakened. He thinks of a parable he’s read as a child, a petty story about a petty king of Telos, a possessive tyrant who had a healer blinded after she’d safely delivered his pregnant wife. He is no king, and Ren isn’t his wife, thank all of his mother’s little gods, but maybe there’s something to it. The medics have seen Ren like no one else has, and they’ve done so without his permission; Hux doesn’t want to be there when Ren is awake enough to grant it.
When he’s been stirring the cold dregs of his caf and staring at the same report for thirty minutes, Hux concedes he is going to be useless for the rest of the morning. He takes the turbolift down to the officers’ level, and lets himself into Ren’s quarters with his security override.
Ren’s rooms are cramped and dark, and smell stale, dusty, despite the air scrubbers working full-time, much like anywhere else on the ship. Hux brings up the lights and stares at the sparse furnishings: a desk, bolted to the wall, housing little more than a stack of storage drives, an empty bottle and what looks like a remote control for a PK series mining droid. One chair. An old, battered footlocker without an overt lock, probably meant to respond to something like Ren’s palmprint. The door to Ren’s bedroom is shut, and Hux hesitates a moment before sliding it open. Ren has never let him inside, and he is almost surprised that nothing happens when he puts his hand on the door; no mysterious Dark Side curse, no secret poison injected into the flesh of his palm.
Whatever else he might have expected, this isn’t it. Ren’s narrow bed is little more than a pallet, and it barely looks long enough for his full height. There is a small square plinth in the corner, up against the wall, and atop it, a bulky case made of a dark, polished metal; for some reason, it makes a shudder go through Hux’s belly, and he quickly turns away, back towards Ren’s bed. He swipes a hand over Ren’s blanket, the coarse cloth cover, the same regulation off-white sheets as his own peeking out from underneath. This isn’t a room fit for a convalescing patient; it’s barely fit for a monastic, a penitent, though, Hux supposes, in a way, Ren is both.
Ren’s bed is as uncomfortable as it looks; when he sits down, the hard, thin mattress slides a little under his weight. Just as he suspected, his head almost hits the wall when he stretches out, and the mattress feels bunched, uneven; it probably needs to be flipped, if Ren concerns himself with such things.
He closes his eyes and turns his head to the wall, into Ren’s pillow, and inhales deep, smelling soap and spice. By the rules he’s set for the medics, he, too, should be blinded, he thinks, as Ren is as unlikely to have granted this permission as any other.
When he opens his eyes, Hux finds himself face-level with a small shelf, recessed into the wall above Ren’s bed; three carved little baubles -- puzzle boxes? -- set out on a strip of red cloth. He reaches for one without thinking, a black one, shaped like a tiny pyramid, and almost drops it when it proves to be hot to the touch, the base of it suddenly lit up scarlet. A voice grates unpleasantly through his hearing, and it sounds uncomfortably like Ren himself when he wears that damnable mask with its mechanical filter, though the guttural, throaty speech is nothing he understands --
kam j'us noret, woyunoks.
taral. vexok, yunoks taral, savaka dary
-- his personal comm rings, and Hux abruptly drops the pyramid.
It’s Security Officer Virki. “General, Sir, my apologies. But there’s been a situation in medbay.” Virki sounds like she is picking her words very carefully. “Your presence would be, uh, most welcome.”
A situation. In medbay. Of course. Hux checks his chrono. It’s a wonder the call didn’t come sooner. He yanks his coat sleeve down over his fingers before picking up the little pyramid and depositing it back into its place on the shelf; this time, it stays blessedly silent.
When he gets to the medbay level, Virki is in the hallway outside with two other security officers and a medical droid that is looking significantly worse for the wear.
“Sir!” she snaps, head angled towards the double doors; there is the sound of a crash from inside, like so much glass shattering on the alusteel floor, and a sharp, high cry, suddenly smothered. Hux squares his shoulders.
“At ease, Officer Virki. Dismissed,” Hux says, and walks in.
Through the doors, he expects to see Kylo Ren tromping around like a bull rancor, mindlessly, needlessly destroying everything in sight. He is almost surprised when he finds Ren sitting on a bed instead, half-dressed in medbay issue: a pair of thin trousers and an equally inadequate shirt, one sleeve still hanging empty, uselessly to the side. He is barefoot, and holding himself up on one arm with a painful scowl, the other hand pointed, fingers outstretched towards the wall like claws. The bacta tank is on its side on the floor, a few shards of glass still hanging on to the twisted metal frame, and Dr. Yasim is hanging pressed on the wall, almost to the ceiling, legs twitching, gurgling and clutching his hands to his throat.
Ren’s rage is palpable, heavy in the air; Hux can almost taste its sharp, ozone tang in his mouth. A sudden trickle of sweat makes its way down his neck, settling soggy somewhere below his collarbone.
“You are awake,” he says through gritted teeth, and Ren’s face whips towards him, the burn scar vivid, glaring, against his too-pale, washed out skin, despite all the days he’s spent in the bacta.
“General,” Ren rasps, his voice hoarse from disuse, from the feeding tube they would have undoubtedly snaked down his throat. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” Behind him, Yasim slides down the wall, lands with a dull, meaty thud, and scrabbles, hands and knees, across the filthy, bacta-splattered floor, metal and glass crunching wetly all the way to the doors.
Before I scuttled the ship, Hux thinks, I should have vented the medbay airlock, and Ren laughs suddenly, a gravelly, arid bark that chokes off into a cough.
“You can still do that, General,” Ren says, catching his breath, and wipes his hand over his mouth. “You can call the bridge and give the order right now. Unless you think they might override you.” Ren’s tongue swipes over his lips, once, twice, dark pink and vaguely reptilian. “If you do it, give Dr. Yasim a few minutes to get to another floor. He did impressive work; it would be unfortunate to lose him.”
“I don’t answer to you,” Hux grits out again, fingers digging into the meat of his palms. Get out of my head, Ren remains unspoken; it’s a toss-up whether Ren will or can stop intruding on his thoughts, if it’s as natural to him as body language, intonation or breathing.
“Fine,” Ren shrugs, and winces as he begins to settle back down into the bed. The roiling, seething fury Hux feels at that moment is so immense that he knows if he had but a milligram, a speck of Kylo Ren’s ability, Ren would be pinned to the wall, a clumsy caught bird, uselessly struggling his broken wings until Hux finally relents and snaps his neck.
“What do you think you are doing?” he hisses, taking a large step towards Ren, the glass crackling under his boots. “You can’t stay here; there’s nothing they can do for you here now, you miserable reprobate! You are like a child ripping the wings off ant-flies; do you truly need someone to hold your hand at the doctor so you aren’t tempted to do any damage?”
He is expecting pain before he is finished, his throat crushed like Yasim’s or something worse, but there is nothing.
“General Hux,” Ren says calmly, quietly, “are you trying to tell me some ant-flies are more important than others?” He leverages himself off the bed, leaning stiffly on his arm as he goes. He winces as his bare feet touch the floor and gestures heavily with his off-hand; Hux watches the shards of glass, the twisted metal, the dollops of drying bacta sweep aside to the wall, a little path cleared in the center. “I’ll be in my quarters.”
“You will not,” Hux tells him, the rage still snaking around his guts. “You need to recover. Your quarters are unfit for that purpose. I’ll arrange for a clean room, somewhere where a new medic can check on your progress, and -- what?”
“My quarters,” Kylo Ren says, “are precisely where I will recover best. If you’re quite finished?”
“No,” Hux repeats, hating himself more with every passing second. “I am not. I’ll give you a choice. Clean quarters on deck C, with a camera feed and a medical droid, or my rooms. The Supreme Leader needs you in a fit enough state, and I will not have you damage any more of my ship or my staff for the sake of it.”
Ren seems to deflate at that, his dark eyes going narrow.
“Fine. Lead on, General. I’ve never liked deck C.”
The walk is slow. Hux does his best to match his pace to Ren’s sluggish, unsure gait, watches his clenched jaw and the throb of the vein in his neck. A kingdom of the blind, he thinks, and comms Virki.
“Clear hallways A10, B10 and B11. No one in, and no one using the starboard turbolift until you hear from me again. Yes, starting now; get it done.”
He expects Ren to lash out, say something biting, maybe break something, when they’ve finally arrived at his quarters, but Ren does none of those things. He bypasses the couch in the outer room, pushes his way into Hux’s bedroom, and deposits himself on Hux’s wide bed.
“I’ll be in here,” he says petulantly, stretches out on his back and looks asleep within minutes. Hux takes a deep breath, and calls down to medical storage for Ren’s prescribed pills, ointment and bandages, and to the security post to rescind the off-limits. Thinking about it for a bit, he also calls in dinner, and settles on the couch with the reports he’s been ignoring since the morning.
The couch is not large enough for sleeping, and Hux regrets every decision he’s made this day as soon as he tries stretching out and feels resistance against his foot. When he finally closes his eyes, Kylo Ren is on hands and knees, crawling through twisted metal and broken glass, shards of it slicing through his palms, his bare feet, and then Hux is holding him pinned against the wall, head lolling broken on a twisted neck. Dying.
He wakes up with an undignified gasp, and almost falls off of the couch. His arm is bent awkwardly against his side in the too-small space, and he rubs at it futilely for a moment, waiting for the pins and needles feeling to pass. Ren’s presence is an overwhelming pull in the back of his mind, a weight crushing at his chest, massive and unremitting, and Hux has to push against it to stand, to walk to the half-opened bedroom door and slide it all the way undone. The only light inside is the small bedside bulb set to the lowest setting, and in its dim blue glow, Ren looks unreal, like a hologram, or a ghost, if such a thing could be sitting in Hux’s bed with its ever-present scowl, a bedsheet pulled over its hips, unwinding a sticky bandage from around its waist.
“It looks -- better,” Hux says when Ren’s finished undoing the bandage; it feels like the thing to say, and maybe it is better, although it’s hard to tell. In the low light, the red rawness stretching down Ren’s side appears disturbingly grey and black, and Ren bites his lip as he touches the darkest spots, gingerly at first but then harder, pressing his fingers down. Hux watches him apply a thin coat of ointment and retrieve a fresh bandage from the pack, his pulse jumping uncomfortably against his ribcage, and feels his hands shake when Ren says, “General, if you would?”
Ren’s skin radiates heat under his fingers; Hux wraps the bandage around him, pulling tighter than Ren perhaps would like, going by the slight hitch and stutter in his breath. The bandage adheres smartly to itself, and to Ren’s damaged flesh, and Ren tests at it when Hux is done, worrying the material with his thumb. When he is satisfied it won’t budge, Ren sits up a bit, and pulls his bedsheet down.
He’s naked underneath, cock half-hard, lying thick against his thigh, and for a moment, Hux wonders if he is about to hear another snide General, if you would?
Ren mutters something he doesn’t understand, instead, his voice low and guttural, and then again, like he’s waiting for something, until Hux feels like he has to say, “What?”
“Nwul tash,” Ren repeats, “shasotjontu chatsatul nu tyuk,” and for some reason, the sound of it makes Hux hesitate, hand halfway to Ren’s lap, like a cadet caught in the ‘freshers.
Ren glares at him, the scar tissue pulling as he screws up his face. “Is this not what you meant earlier, General? When you offered your ridiculous choice?”
I don’t know, Hux wants to say, desperately wishing again for the ability to stop Ren with a gesture. I should have --
“Yes, yes,” Ren says irritably. “You should have scuttled the ship. Stop being so unnecessarily dramatic.”
Hux wants to strangle him.
In the morning, Ren is gone, and Hux’s bed neatly made, the vague scent of soap and spice lingering in the sheets. Hux looks through the night’s reports, conferences with an envoy from Dathomir and a representative from VulcaMinerals. He eats in the officers’ mess after the daily briefing, and meets separately with three of his troop captains for additional evaluation. A transfer request from Dr. Yasim arrives in his inbox late in the afternoon; Hux denies it without reading it all the way through.
His rooms are unusually dark when he keys open the door later that evening. In the rectangle of light from the hallway, Hux can just make out Ren’s hulking form, perched on his couch like a hungry rock vulture. He is twisting something in his hands; the puzzle-box --holocron-- from before, rubbing his thumb in small, delicate circles over the little pyramid’s carved side.
“Lights,” Hux says as the doors shut behind him. “You’re here.”
“I’m recovering,” Ren intones, and hops off of the couch, closing the distance between them. There is a barely visible jagged line embossing his jaw, where the breathmask had been attached for a week, and the burn scar he has sustained is faded slightly, but is still very present, thick and ropy tissue splitting his face like a carnival mask. His new, shorter hair is curling around his ears; it really is an awkward length, Hux decides, although it will likely look better in a few weeks. Not that Ren won’t be stuffing it all into whatever new metal contraption he has probably already had made.
“Sarin says you were concerned, General. That you came to my rooms and you lay on my bed and you worried. For me. She thinks I should bleed you for the intrusion.”
“Sarin was the Shadow Hand of Darth Zannah,” Ren states, like the answer should be obvious, and Hux’s need to ask reveals an unforgivable hole in his education.
A long-dead servant of a long-dead Sith hates him, apparently. However that works. “Delightful,” Hux says, and Ren steps closer, until he’s brushing up to Hux’s front, the polished buttons of Hux’s uniform coat clinking, muffled, against Ren’s belt.
“Don’t take it personally, General. Sarin thinks I should bleed any number of people,” Ren says softly, almost tenderly, and swipes his thumb over Hux’s mouth, digs his thumbnail, short and blunt, into Hux’s upper lip. The holocron is gone, probably concealed somewhere within Ren’s robes, and Ren slides his hand around to the back of Hux’s neck, pushes his long, thick fingers up into Hux’s hair and yanks a generous handful, hard, almost making Hux’s eyes water.
He goes when Ren pulls him closer, opens his mouth to Ren’s, the harsh press of his lips and the scrape of his teeth. Kissing Ren is like fighting, even when he allows it; it hurts almost as much as it feels good. Ren’s grip on his neck is bruising; Hux sucks Ren’s lip into his mouth and bites down until he tastes iron in retaliation.
He feels more than sees Ren wince, shuffle stiffly from foot to foot; it’s most likely hurting him to keep standing. Ren doesn't say anything, but he lets Hux walk him, slowly, backwards into the bedroom, lets himself be drawn down to sit on the bed, belt and robes undone to his sides.
“So you can behave; you just choose not to. Lucky me,” Hux says, going down to his knees.
He mouths at Ren’s cock, deliberately slow, drags his tongue, sloppy, on the underside. He’s never quite sure if he likes it, having his mouth filled like this, spit trickling embarrassingly down the corner of his lip, but it sends an uncontrolled, tingling shiver down his spine all the same. He leans heavily on Ren’s thighs, feels the coarse fabric of his robes flattened under his palms, the quiver of muscle underneath, and slides his lips down, hollows his cheeks as he tries to get as much of Ren into his mouth as he can.
The thickness, the weight of Ren’s dick on his tongue makes his jaw ache. He wants to help himself with his hands, curl his fingers around under the smooth head, hot and spit-slick, but he knows Ren likes this, watching him struggle, hips snapping up to force it deeper. He shudders a little when Ren’s cock hits the roof of his mouth, and digs his fingers into the meat of Ren’s thigh, satisfied when Ren finally lets out a small breathy noise.
He knows how obscene he must look, how debauched, kneeling on the floor at Ren’s feet, uniform still done up proper, but sweat beading on his face, his neck, mouth stuffed full and feeling stretched, bruised, around Ren’s dick. He feels Ren grab at the sides of his face and help him move faster, wetter, a sticky mess of saliva and precome leaking steadily down his chin, but Ren’s hands are on the bed, fisted into the coverlet, fingers clenching, white-knuckled, and Hux can’t quite figure out what it means as he bobs gracelessly up and down. He doesn’t bother pulling his lips in, lets his teeth graze over the crown, down the side, tongue following them down. Ren lets out another half-stifled groan, shudder going through his whole body, and then he’s coming, the thick, hot wad of it filling up Hux’s mouth. He swallows reflexively, almost gagging on it; when he pulls back, Ren is watching him, motionless, eyes almost all pupil, like he can’t stand to look away. His face is unexpectedly flushed, two points of pink burning high on his cheeks; Hux feels his hands on him again, pulling at his clothes, wanting, insistent, and it takes him a few moments to realize Ren still hasn’t moved.
The soft, phantom touch that follows unsettles him more than if Ren had choked him. It feels like fingertips sliding feather-light down his cheek, his sore jaw, his swollen mouth. He is the only one Ren’s ever allowed to see this; he is almost sure of it. A possessive sort of anger flares up briefly in his chest as he yanks his shirt open, pulls impatiently at the buttons of his trousers. He’s been hard for what feels like hours, and he is embarrassingly close to coming moments after he’s got his hand wrapped around his cock. It’s been building in him all this time, and it sweeps through him, fast, rough, leaves him wrung dry and hollowed out as he unloads on his belly, his thighs, Ren’s spectral fingers still lingering on his face.
After he’s done washing up in his small bathroom, he reapplies Ren’s ointment, but hesitates with the bandage. Ren is lying back on the pillows, eyes closed, lethargic and sated, one bare arm stretched carelessly over the side of the bed. He almost looks like a still from a decadent holo, except for the way his body is mapped in scars, the ones that must be the oldest nearly faded. There are more of them now than last time, and there will likely be more the next. Hux traces his fingertip over the one he knows best, the jagged spiderweb that starts at his shoulder and zigzags down, to the hollow of his collarbone. He digs his fingers in as hard as he dares there, feels Ren go tense and then slack, listens for the inhale, the exhale, Ren’s bottom lip hitched between his teeth. He follows the pattern down to another, a gouge three fingers wide under Ren’s pectoral, like someone had tried to scoop out a chunk of his flesh but didn’t manage to finish. Lower still is the fresh mess on his side, and the vibrosword slices on his hip and thigh. Hux presses his knuckles into the sawtooth grooves and thinks that if he had a drop of Ren’s power, every person who’s left their mark would die screaming. As it is, he’d settle for watching Ren rip them to bloody shreds.
“Such sweet things you say, taral,” Ren rumbles without opening his eyes; Hux forgoes pointing out he hasn’t said a word.
“What does that mean, taral,” he asks instead, and Ren sighs languidly, turns his head on the pillow.
“It’s Sith,” he says finally. “The Sith language is -- nuanced. Much depends on context.”
“And in this context?”
Ren opens his eyes, fixes him with a dark stare.
“Trust me, General. In this context, it’s not unflattering.”
“Fair enough,” Hux says, not even bothering to be annoyed. There is no point; let Ren keep his dubious secrets, his posturing command of a dead tongue. He reaches over to the nightstand and picks the fresh bandage back up. “Come over here if you want this on you. I won’t ask twice.”
When he drifts off, he is walking towards a great black pyramid lost in a crawling forest, tree roots gnarled over the scarlet path inside. Kylo Ren stands at the entrance, masked and armored, bloodied vibrosword raised in victorious salute. It’s a ridiculous dream, Hux knows even before he wakes, but he reaches out in the dark anyway, feels for the scar on Ren’s shoulder, the ladder of his ribs, his chest rising and falling. He finds the top of the tightly wound bandage and leaves his hand there until he falls asleep for the second time, and does not dream.