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all that you love will be carried away

Chapter Text

In stories, the killing blow is painless. At least at first, when the nerve endings are numbed with shock; later the pain may come in a flood too vast and comprehensive to describe, whose only merciful quality is the fact that it is brief.

General Hux, watching from the shuttle as the planet beneath them shuddered in its death throes, was waiting for the pain.

A day ago he had stood before the massed ranks of the First Order, in the moment he had been working for ever since he could remember, the fate of worlds resting in his hands, and given the order to fire the superweapon--and part of him had lit up almost as brightly as the scarlet fire tearing up the sky. A day ago he had tasted triumph, and now he could see through the shuttle’s viewport that great ravines were opening in the snowy terrain as Starkiller Base began to tear itself, and everything Hux had worked for, apart--and he felt numb.

Supreme Leader, the oscillator is failing. The collapse has begun. There is nothing that can be done.

The words should have tasted bitter as aloes, bitter as ashes in his mouth--I have failed you--but he had felt nothing other than a vague irritation that so much work, so much expense, so many forms filled out and supply chains managed and rotas organized, so much effort and so much time had been wasted. Years ago in the Academy he had seen a line of graffiti scrawled in a refresher stall that had stuck with him for its sheer unexpected poetry in such a setting: All that you love will be carried away. The line came back to him now, as they sped over the snow, over the cracks appearing in his planet’s hide. Hux did not love anything, except perhaps the abstract concept of achievement, of duty fulfilled, but even that was being borne away from him as the world began to die.

You will leave Starkiller at once and come to me with Kylo Ren, Snoke had said. It appears that he may have been right about the girl.

Girl or no girl, Hux thought, he was wrong about practically everything else, and even as he watched the red dot of the tracking beacon on the screen in front of him, marking Ren’s position, the thought flickered through his mind of leaving this particular last duty undone. Of returning to Snoke empty-handed. We were unable to locate Lord Ren in time, Supreme Leader. It is doubtless that he perished with the implosion of the planet. That would be one good thing about this whole unimaginable foul-up, the thought of never again having to deal with Ren’s tantrums or the damage he so enjoyed causing to bits of expensive equipment. Never having to hear that voice, slick with disdain even through the mask’s modulator, or put up with the amateur theatrics of that idiotic, unstable weapon. The lightsaber did not so much irritate Hux as offend him.

“There he is, sir,” said one of the troopers. “He’s--he’s down.”

Hux’s fingers tightened on the back of the seat. Kylo Ren was nothing more than a featureless blot of blackness against the snow, but even from this height they could see a smear of red staining the white surrounding him.

“Take us down,” he said, and he did not recognize his own voice.

The cold bit through his uniform, through his greatcoat, as he hurried down the shuttle’s ramp and out into the snow. The ground was shaking in great unpredictable heaves, trying to tip him off his feet, like the deck of a ship in turbulence, and there was a sharp nose-tingling smell of ozone in the air, over the acidic tang of snow. Hux was aware of all of this through the numbness, as if it were beginning to thin and tear apart under strain, and he wondered how he would bear it when the full weight of this disaster had made itself real to him. Everything seemed to be happening very slowly, cold and clear, but he still could not quite feel the pain.

Ren was lying in a patch of bloody snow marked with the signs of footprints, of a battle. His mask was nowhere to be seen, and the slack closed face turned up to the sky had no color in it at all other than the ugly slash across his forehead and down one cheek. Snowflakes starred the blackness of his hair.

It is doubtless that he perished with the implosion of the planet, Hux heard himself say again, inside his head, and knelt down beside the body of his co-commander, suddenly furious. How dare Ren look so human, now? How dare he lie there all white and black and red with something approaching peace on his unacceptably young and vulnerable face, when everything Hux had worked for was dying all around him?

“No,” he said, out loud, and did not care if the troopers who had gathered around them gave him an uncertain glance. Hux stripped off one black glove--his exposed fingers hurt sharply with the cold, beginning to go numb almost immediately, and he had time to wonder just how long Ren had been lying here in this bitter temperature--and felt for a pulse. Faint and thready, but there.

He nodded at the troopers, who had brought a stretcher, and followed them as they carried Ren back to the ship. Blood spotted the snow. That was Hux’s last image of Starkiller Base: blood, slow and appallingly dark, amid the endless whirling whiteness of the snow.

 

~

 

It was a long way back to the Finalizer, especially since one of the transport’s sublight engines decided to quit on them, and Hux had time to think--a luxury which he did not appreciate. When a trooper disturbed him with news of their passenger, he welcomed the interruption. To an extent.

“He’s what?”

“Refusing to cooperate, sir. The medical droid requests that you try to reason with him.”

Hux closed his mouth with a snap and stood up. That was Ren all over: stupidly, inconveniently, counterproductively dramatic. On the one hand he supposed it was good that Ren was capable of consciousness in the first place, but Hux could have done without this wrinkle.

The words he had been about to say died half-formed as soon as he got a good look at Kylo Ren. In the lights of the transport’s tiny medbay the blood was shockingly bright, and there seemed to be much too much of it, much more than there should be. The ship’s single medical droid was red to its elbows. It looked up as Hux stood in the doorway, and he was tired enough to imagine he saw relief in its optics. “General, sir,” it said. “Thank you for coming. I simply must insist that Lord Ren allow me to sedate him, his injuries are severe and the work I must do to stabilize him is impossible without analgesia.”

On the bunk Kylo Ren was a very nasty shade of shiny pale grey everywhere he wasn’t covered in blood. Apart from the facial wound, something significant had hit him in the side; under the blood a vivid bruise stained most of his ribcage and the exposed tissue looked unpleasantly pulpy. No lightsaber did that, or even a blaster, Hux thought. That looks like a bowcaster’s quarrel wound. He remembered the Wookiee, Solo’s companion, and wondered how the hell someone without the Force could have got far enough past Ren’s guard to make that shot. He didn’t like Ren, but he could respect the man’s abilities, when they weren’t standing directly in his way.

Hux looked down at him. He was breathing in ragged rapid gasps through his clenched teeth, face slick with pain-sweat. Ren’s eyes were dark, but not so dark he couldn’t tell how hugely dilated they were, wide and shocky. How he must hate being seen like this, Hux thought, aware that he himself was nearing the stage of exhaustion when serious mistakes began to be made; he wondered vaguely if he had ever been this tired in his life, or if it were possible to be this tired and still be walking. He had actually taken off his uniform tunic before the trooper had come to fetch him, and now stood there staring down at Ren in just his shirtsleeves. His hair needed combing. Everything was broken and everything was ruined, and his hair needed combing, and here was Snoke’s pet Sith being stupid.

“Stop it,” he said out loud.

It sounded much harsher than he had intended, and he was a little amazed to notice that Kylo Ren actually flinched, staring up at him with an expression he could not read in those glittering eyes. Some of the sweat on Ren’s face wasn’t sweat at all, Hux realized, but tears. “Stop it,” he said again.

“Stop...what?” Ren rasped, still staring at him with that unsettling expression.

“Stop behaving like a child,” Hux said. “We get it, you’re terribly brave and pain means nothing to one who is strong in the Force, or with the Force, or whatever it is. Now stop being an idiot and let the droid do its damn job, I have had a very long day and frankly, Lord Ren, I am not up to dealing with your theatrics just at the moment.”

Ren did a bit more staring. He can’t be more than four or five years younger than me, Hux thought. He looks barely out of his teens. I can see why he wears that stupid mask, and a moment later an even more unwelcome thought followed: I wear mine, don’t I?

He was saved from having to look at that one very closely by Ren’s voice, unsteady and strengthless. “You think...this is...theatrics?”

“When have you ever given me a reason to suspect otherwise?” Hux snapped.

Ren shut his eyes for a moment, opened them again. The blackness of his eyebrows and eyelashes stood out starkly against the grey pallor. Hux tried not to notice that the lashes were wet with tears, drawn together into heavy points. “You make...a valid point, General,” Ren said, and while Hux was still trying to assimilate that, he added “You came back for me.”

“I had orders,” Hux said. “Here’s another one: stop being stubborn and let the bloody droid shoot you full of sophamine, nobody is impressed.”

“Actually, General, sir, sophamine and its related narcotics are counterindicated in this case--”

“When I want your opinion I will ask for it,” he said, almost dizzy with exhaustion, and the droid shut up. “Well?”

“I can’t,” Kylo Ren rasped, looking as if he were about to be sick. “Okay? I can’t have the drugs. They don’t...go together well with the Force. I can’t...lose control. Not on a ship this small.”

It was Hux’s turn to stare. Faint hectic color appeared for a moment high on Ren’s cheekbones and faded again, and he closed his eyes; Hux could see their darkness through the delicate skin of his eyelids. Something about that, about the utter lack of Ren’s usual haughty superiority, washed through him and put out the heat of anger, taking with it most of Hux’s remaining drive to stay upright with his eyes open. Abruptly he dropped into the chair beside the bunk, startling both the droid and Kylo Ren, and ran his hands through his hair--completing its disarray.

“Fine,” he said.

“...What?”

“Okay, fine, no drugs. But you need something.”

Hux had no idea where in his mind the suggestion came from, somewhere unbidden and unexamined; but he was too tired and too worn and too miserable to question it very much before reaching out and taking Kylo Ren’s hand in his.

Ren froze, staring at him harder than ever, and then looked down at their hands. His skin was hot, slick with sweat, and Hux’s was cool and dry. After the first moment of shock, his fingers closed around Hux’s with panicky tightness, hard enough to hurt, hard enough to make Hux draw in his breath with a stifled curse. With the contact came an intense, disorienting sensation of mingled fear and panic and desperation, and he realized he was feeling an echo of Ren’s emotions. He set his jaw and held on despite the pain and the dizzying awareness of being in two heads at once, and thought as hard as he could hang on.

Ren’s hand tightened further, and he could feel the bones of his fingers grind together, but he didn’t move, and after a moment a thought came into his head that was not his own: I’ll try.

Don’t try, do, he told Ren, and closed his eyes. A moment later he heard the droid’s manipulators click back into action, and the echo of pain made him grit his teeth, but he held on.

He held on, and somewhere along the line he stopped being aware of very much other than Kylo Ren’s hand in his and the need to go on taking one breath after the other. Time dilated, lost meaning. Hux had no idea how long it had been when someone calling his name finally broke through the haze.

“--ux? General Hux? Sir?”

He blinked and found the little medbay full of people--more droids, and troopers, and men and women in the blue-edged uniform of the Finalizer’s medical personnel. “General Hux?” one of the women said. “It’s all right. You can let go now. We need to take Lord Ren.”

Ren was apparently unconscious, or nearly; he lay on the bunk beneath a silver shock blanket, the wounds hidden under dressings. “What…” Hux began, dazed with fatigue.

“We’re on the Finalizer, sir,” said a trooper. “We got back. We’re safe.”

He tried to make his hand uncurl, but it wouldn’t obey him. “Can…”

It was nice that he didn’t have to finish the thought, because he wasn’t sure he could string words together coherently just at the moment. Two of the medbay officers gently but firmly unpeeled Kylo Ren’s fingers from his own, and Hux gasped in pain he couldn’t conceal. Red bruises were already beginning to darken on his hand where Ren had been holding on, and the hand itself felt stiff and frozen. “You should have that seen to, sir,” someone said. He paid no attention.

It took Hux an embarrassingly long time to realize they were waiting for him to move out of the way before they transferred Ren to the stretcher, and he had to hold on to the back of the chair when his legs didn’t seem to want to support him. He watched as Ren, limp and insensible, was wheeled away, and it wasn’t until he had been escorted to his own quarters and was trying to decide if he could face the task of taking off his clothes before lying down on the bed that he realized what felt so different: it was the silence of being once again alone inside his own head. It was like the numbness that had enveloped him ever since the inevitable fate of Starkiller Base had become evident, only this numbness was smaller and more specific.

On the whole, General Hux thought, even as he fell headlong into sleep, he had preferred the pain.

~

In stories, the killing blow is painless. At least at first, when the nerve endings are numbed with shock; later the pain may come in a flood too vast and comprehensive to describe, whose only merciful quality is the fact that it is brief.

illustration by kassna