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Falling Back

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The ship rocked with the explosions from the planet below, and as he ran through its tight corridors Kylo had to reach out with the Force to steady himself. Stormtroopers and crew alike flung themselves from his path as he barrelled down the levels. The sound of blaster fire grew stronger as he approached the battle decks, and the screams and moans of the wounded rose in counterpoint. The medbay was already full to bursting with casualties. Judging by the periodic reports in his earpiece, they would be leaving over half of their troops dead on the ground. What should have been a simple mission to quell a small contingent of subversives had become a rout. Not for the first time today, Kylo wished fervently that the level-headed and capable Phasma had been dispatched to command the ground units. The strong silver fist of the stormtroopers, unbeaten on the battlefield. Too valuable to be sent to put down a petty rebellion and so now, too far away to be of any assistance.

Instead, shipboard command had been stripped to a skeleton crew and their troops divided between half a dozen untested lieutenants. A little seasoning for those officers who had not yet tasted combat. On any other day, that might have been a sound strategy, but something had gone terribly wrong. Was it intel? Misinformation? An answer would be found, or at least, someone would eventually be found to blame.

Kylo himself was on the ship for no reason other than to reach a certain space station, under Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal command. It had been pure chance that the first available vessel was captained by Hux.

But his journey was of no consequence now; his training was needed. He had done what he could from an observation deck high above the battlefield, but their troops were scattered and he needed to get closer. Snoke’s directive that he not risk his person could not be disobeyed. It could be stretched though, just a little. The definition of ‘risk’ was surely malleable, at times like these. So he ran, boots pounding on the metal floors, long legs eating up the distance. The vast troop bay, its doors open to disgorge men, smelled like a charnel house. Kylo’s boots slipped on bloody grating. The dead and dying lay around him. Even through his mask, the stench of it was enough to make him nauseous. He tried to be hard. He reached out for the Force.

‘Kylo,’ he heard, and he froze. He followed the voice, picking over the fallen bodies of stormtroopers. Clinging to a railing at the side of the cavernous space was Hux, bloodied and in disarray. His right eye was caked shut with blood from a scalp wound, and his hair fell over his forehead. His jacket was gone, and his belt. His black shirt clung to his left side, shiny and slick with blood. One knee showed through his ripped pants and his boots were more mud than leather. Folded over, one hand on his wounded side and the other grasping the rail, but nonetheless he had a blaster in his waistband and a broken comms piece in his ear.

‘Kylo,’ said Hux again in a horrible scrape of a voice. He looked up at Kylo with his top lip pulled back from his teeth. ‘Haul your useless carcass over here and assist me to the bridge.’

‘The medbay,’ said Kylo. He slung his arm around Hux’s back.

‘The bridge,’ gritted out Hux between his teeth, and they lurched into motion, stumbling across the floor to the stairs. ‘We are to make a tactical retreat.’ He spat out the words as though they were poison.

‘The elevators are half out,’ Kylo said. He looked at Hux. The General's face was grey and he was staring at the ground a few feet in front of him. Kylo could feel the warm blood soaking across the back of Hux’s shirt and into his own robes. Too much blood. Hux didn't waste his breath replying. He dragged his feet up the stairs, refusing to lean on Kylo any more than was necessary to keep him from falling on his face. His bloodless lips were set in a thin line.

Kylo wanted to carry him, but the scraps of stilted intimacy that Hux allowed him would not stretch that far. In private, Hux might once have permitted him the occasional brief assignation. To take a hand in displaying his weakness in public could not be countenanced.

Hux was breathing in an appalling rasp, the wound in his side sucking audibly as they moved. By the time they reached the command levels, shuffling along with agonising slowness, he was bleeding down the outside of his right boot, leaving a thin smear of blood on the floor. They crested the final few steps, and then the command deck was in sight. Hux’s face was set in a snarl. His remaining subordinates rushed forward to assist him, chattering like a flock of birds, but Hux waved them away with the hand hanging around Kylo’s shoulders.

‘Sound the retreat,’ he ordered. ‘We have been commanded to immediately pull back and leave orbit. General call, all external speakers. We depart in ten minutes.’ He slid his arm free of Kylo and braced both his hands on the rail in front of him. Kylo’s hands hovered near him for a moment, and then he withdrew and took up position behind Hux and to his right. Very carefully, aware of the dangerous turbulence of his thoughts, he grasped hold of the Force and gently extended tendrils around Hux, supporting him with invisible threads. Hux stood rigid and motionless, his arms locked out at the elbow, until the bay doors closed and the ship began to shudder and come to life. They launched, leaving behind thousands of dead and the smouldering wreckage of a battle.

Only once they were locked into their new course would Hux consent to visit the medbay. Kylo took him there, step by painful step. This time, Hux leaned on him until Kylo’s shoulders screamed. Harried medical personnel moved crisply to take him from Kylo, attaching all manner of tubes and monitors and laying him down on a gurney. It floated off, guided by a grey-clad orderly and two doctors, and Kylo trailed uncertainly after. Hux lay very still, one arm hanging over the side.

They drew the curtains around him and told Kylo, in no uncertain terms, that he was in the way and no, they didn’t care about his rank or his training. The medbays on battlecruisers of this class were impressively equipped, but the arrays of bacta tanks were full and the wounded were being cared for as best they could on whatever flat surfaces could be cleared. Kylo had no doubt that special provision would be made for Hux, and yet the compulsion to go back and sit with him tugged hard. He left the medbay and stood outside for a moment, considering.

Nominally, Kylo was now in charge of the ship. Although he was outside the formal chain of command, there were few enough officers left that, in the usual course of things, he would adopt the position at the command deck and supervise their escape. He made his way there, through the unnatural hush of a half-empty battlecruiser. The defeat had cast a pall over the ship and when he arrived at the command deck, everyone was conducting their business in silence.

‘Honour to serve, Lord Ren,’ said one lowly officer with a curt bow. ‘What do you need?’ Kylo composed himself, drawing together the disordered fragments of his public persona, and stood tall.

‘With the General indisposed, I am here to take command,’ he said. He held out his hand for a datapad and the officer hurriedly gave Kylo his own. Reports on casualties, losses, ship damage and orders scrolled slowly down the screen. Kylo gave it a perfunctory glance, opening a few documents as if checking. It was hard to know what to prioritise. His training had rarely touched upon the fine art of command. Of logistics, he knew practically nothing. Hux would know in a heartbeat what do to; Kylo suspected that at present, his best choice was to simply do nothing.

Under Hux’s capable hands, the ship had become a well-oiled machine. The enemy had chewed through two-thirds of the ship’s officers, ripping them apart with their cleverly-disguised gun emplacements, luring them into a bottleneck to die. And yet, back on board, all of the remaining crew had known immediately how to slot together to put them back up in the air, back up in orbit, and away. Kylo handed the datapad back.

‘Continue,’ he said, and turned on his heel. He made for his quarters. The old rage was building up in him, ringing in his ears, rushing, roaring. As soon as he reached his quarters it burst out of him, ugly and uncontrolled. His lightsabre was ablaze before he realised he'd drawn it, and he smashed his comms screen with a messy, two-handed swing. He screamed through his mask and it sounded muffled, stifled, so he pulled off his mask and yelled again. The crossbar of his weapon caught the edge of his sleeve and the air filled with the smell of burning cloth. It was too close to the smell of the troop bay, everything burning and stinking and sickening.

Kylo dropped the hilt of his weapon on the floor and it rolled, clacking against the wall. He sat in the wreckage of his quarters. On the floor, his legs crossed. He released the mouthpiece of his mask but did not remove it. With his eyes closed and his palms resting on his knees, he tried to attain a semblance of calm.

It eluded him for a long time.


 Much later - hours, perhaps, or even as much as a day - Kylo stumbled to the side of his quarters on stiff and painful legs, removed his mask, and gulped down water until he felt sick. His stomach flipped over. His muscles still hurt in every inch of him. Meditation had temporarily made him forget his physical pains but the thought of Hux was a different kind of agony, dragging low in his chest and welling up in his throat like acid. He made himself eat a little, forcing down the dry protein food and drinking more water, before he checked the ship’s infobanks and found the medbay records.

Hux lived. He yet lived, and the relief made Kylo sag at the knees.

Replacing his mask and donning fresh robes made him feel stronger. It hid his grainy, red eyes and his deathly pale skin. With his lightsaber hilt in its holster at his belt, he was almost Ren, almost a Knight again. Nobody bothered him as he left his quarters and made his way up a deck and towards the front of the ship. There was nobody left to bother him. Everyone who had made it off the planet was either dying, recovering or working to keep them moving. There wasn’t even a guard at Hux’s door. It was trivial to reach out a hand, feel the infinitesimal vibrations in the door locking mechanism and drag the bolt across. He slipped inside, into a darkened room that smelled like disinfectant and blood and Hux.

Kylo quickly closed the door behind him, and without the light from the corridor his eyes adjusted slowly. Hux’s face resolved itself into form first, pale and angular, his bloodless lips a little open in sleep. He had been propped up slightly on an extra pillow and he lay flat and stiff on his back, his hands resting palms-down on the sheets. A loose, white shirt with short sleeves covered him, crisp and clean and barely whiter than his skin. There was still a trace of blood in his hair, matted dark on gold. Kylo crept closer, knelt down by the bunk. Hux’s breathing was barely audible. A tiny sensor on his inner arm glowed amber, a sure sign that he should still be in the medbay. Some facet of his body’s function was underperforming, and the sensor was picking that up. Hux would have demanded to be moved, though, perhaps to free up a bacta tank or a bed, perhaps because he craved solitude in times of weakness.

Kylo sat down against the bed and removed his helmet. He felt around under the bunk for the spare bedding that he knew must be stored there. A heavy wool blanket served his purpose - he pulled it out and sat on it, leaning back against the bunk with his head against the mattress. Finally, he could sleep.


 The nightmares woke him, as always; Kylo shuddered awake, sweating and grasping at his belt for his lightsaber. His breathing rasped in his ears as he panted out his panic. In a moment, he remembered where he was. He turned slowly, carefully, trying not to make more noise. Hux’s eyes were half-open, his head tilted on the pillow, and he was looking at Kylo.

‘Hux,’ Kylo whispered, in case he was still half-asleep or - or worse. Hux tried to lick his lips, looking like he was about to speak. His tongue looked painfully dry. Kylo fetched water, cradled his head and helped him sip. Each time he sipped, Hux’s eyelashes fluttered down against his cheeks. He didn’t try to take the cup. He just trusted Kylo, let him hold the cup to his lips and trickle water between them, a few drops at a time. Kylo’s hands shook to be allowed that intimacy.

He set the cup down and reached for Hux, one hand hovering by his face. A sudden chime interrupted him and he jerked back as though burned, cracking his head on the top of the bunk with a strangled cry. The comms panel spoke in a robotic voice.

‘Administer painkillers: 05 00 hours.’

‘The dresser,’ said Hux in a soft rasp. Kylo found the green box and pressed a perigen patch to the inside of Hux’s arm, smoothing it over his skin with gentle fingers. He curled back down at the side of the bed again, resting his face on the mattress by Hux’s shoulder. This close, he could smell Hux’s skin. It was only after he closed his eyes and hid his face in the sheets that he could make himself speak.

‘Why did you make me leave, back on Ganthel?’ Kylo asked, knowing that this would be the only time he would be able to ask, and receive an answer. ‘I wanted you so badly.’

‘It was wrong,’ said Hux. Kylo turned his face just enough to see Hux’s expression. His face was relaxed, his eyes hazy and unfocused with the painkiller starting to take effect. Inhibitions lowered. Kylo would never see him like this again.

‘I don’t care about the prissy morals of Core worlds. Keeping up appearances .’ Kylo let his lips brush across Hux’s bare bicep.

‘Fraternisation,’ began Hux, carefully articulating the word, but Kylo interrupted him.

‘We share no chain of command.’

‘Even so. The implications—’

‘I’m not leaving you and you can’t make me go,’ Kylo said with emphasis, and he turned on his hip so he could lean his head against Hux’s shoulder. Hux didn’t reply; he was already falling asleep again.

Kylo slept too, disabling the quarter’s programmed lighting cycle which mimicked the rhythms of day and night on the Core worlds. He woke with Hux’s hand on his head, limp but reassuring, and slept again. Woke, and ate a package of savoury crackers from Hux’s shelves. At 17 30, the comms panel chimed and Kylo peeled the perigen patch from Hux’s arm, winced as it tugged his skin, and replaced it with a fresh dose. Hux watched him with sleepy eyes, which Kylo did not meet.

Minutes later, a doctor pressed the control panel outside, requesting entry. Hux reached for his comms screen with a pained expression and let the doctor in by entering the correct code.

‘General,’ said the man with brusque respect. He looked at Kylo. ‘The general should be left alone to rest,’ he said. It had the flavour of an order. Kylo still wore his robes, but perhaps without his mask and sleep-rumpled as he was, the doctor did not recognise him.

‘The general should be in the medbay,’ Kylo snapped. ‘The general should be receiving the care and attention that his status demands. The general is—’

‘Kylo,’ said Hux from the bed, checking him as he always had. The rage simmered just under Kylo’s skin and his right hand itched for his lightsaber. The doctor glared at him and then pushed past to examine Hux, pulling down the sheets without waiting for permission and rolling the thin shirt up to expose Hux’s belly. He peeled back the wad of gauze.

The wound was vivid on Hux’s fair skin. It was a jagged gash, running from the crest of his hipbone and up his slender side to the bottom of his ribcage. Hours in the bacta tank had begun the healing process and prevented infection, but it hadn’t been enough to properly seal the wound. The sight of it, livid and dark and spreading a heavy bruise over Hux’s midriff, made Kylo want to personally dismember the culprit. And the doctor, for seeing it - for baring Hux’s body so unceremoniously. For touching him.

Kylo paced as the doctor worked. Hux had to sit up, breathing hard through his nose and stifling obvious pain. The doctor made him lift his arms, move his legs, suffer through hard fingers against his stomach. A fresh sensor was applied; still amber, although the doctor appeared to be unmoved. He pulled down Hux’s shirt as though Hux were a child to be briskly and efficiently dressed, and covered him with the sheet.

‘Another twenty-four hours of complete rest,’ said the doctor. ‘I’ll be back to examine you again at 17 30 tomorrow. Stay hydrated.’ With those callous, inadequate orders, he turned and left the room without so much as a nod to Kylo. Kylo flew to Hux’s side, knelt.

‘That pathetic excuse for a doctor,’ he said through his teeth. ‘You should be under supervision. Look at you.’ He clamped his lips together to shut up. Hux was— he could remember things. He had a good memory. Perigen and pain would only dull Hux’s faculties so far. It was a weakness to care. It was a weakness to want. He was exposing himself, all over again.

‘Kylo,’ Hux breathed again, chiding but too tired to be stern. Even sitting half-up in bed and being examined had exhausted him. As Kylo turned, Hux’s eyes rolled back and he drifted back off to sleep or unconsciousness.

Kylo wavered. He slid over and sat on the bunk, trying not to jostle Hux but wanting to be closer. He bent to remove his boots and kicked them under the bed, and he let the thick, outer robe he was wearing slip off his shoulders and to the floor. His shirt and fitted pants weren’t exactly casual wear, but without the robe he could carefully lower himself down to lie next to Hux. He touched Hux’s cheek, his lips. Hux’s skin was cold, and Kylo eased himself under the sheet and moved in close. He felt down Hux’s hip, holding his breath as if breathing might damage Hux, and his fingers touched the loose pants from the medbay. Hux’s cold foot was resting on Kylo’s ankle, just above the line of his sock.


Even cold and stiff and hurt as Hux was, Kylo wanted him badly. It was a visceral feeling, pulling on him like a first around his heart. Perhaps he was especially beautiful like this, disarmed and helpless. Perhaps it was the distance, and the time, and seeing him again, and touching him; Kylo didn’t know, and didn’t care. Despite his fatigue and his worry, Kylo was getting hard and the lightest brush of his cock against Hux’s side made him shudder. Hux let out a sigh of breath. It stirred Kylo’s hair against his cheek and Kylo cracked.

He leaned down and touched his mouth to Hux’s, his right hand on Hux’s face and his left fumbling at his pants. If he was— if he— or, no ifs, nobody could stop him. Nobody could come in unexpectedly. His hand brushed his cock, skin on skin, and Kylo gave a broken whimper into Hux’s mouth. The angle was awkward, but propped on his side like this he could fuck his own fist in careful strokes so that the head of his cock brushed against Hux’s hip. If he was careful, it was enough. If he concentrated, he could almost imagine Hux kissing him back like before. He made a noise that might have been Hux’s name and then—

Oh.

— and then Hux was kissing him back, sleepily, slowly, uncoordinated but letting his tongue play over Kylo’s. Kylo opened his eyes just in time to see Hux come awake and register what they were doing. Hux let out a low, stifled sound and opened his mouth to Kylo, grabbed at his shirt with weak fingers to hold him there. Pushing away the covers, Hux managed to find Kylo’s cock and take him in hand, stroke at him so that Kylo thrust into his fingers, gasping and overwhelmed.

Hardly a minute later Kylo was coming, tensing and moaning and grasping at the wiry muscle of Hux’s thigh because he didn’t know how else to touch him without hurting him. His orgasm, the first in so many lonely months, wracked him. Hux watched his face, committing it to memory. Kylo had no secrets from Hux like this.

Shaking and lax-muscled, Kylo slipped his hand into Hux’s pants. The loose sleeping clothes hid nothing. Hux’s body was coming alive for him, his cock hardening under Kylo’s hand. He still smelled a little of bacta, and sleep sweat. The smell of Kylo’s spunk was in the air too, and his unwashed hair. Kylo shifted his leg between Hux’s and braced himself over Hux’s body.

Hux rested a hand over Kylo’s, keeping him gentle. Showing him how to stroke him gently, caress the head of his cock in such a way that Hux didn’t have to move. Hux’s cock was flushed pink and hard - or hard enough, and Hux had his head tipped back on the pillows, letting Kylo have his way. It was almost like the last time. Kylo moved down and bowed his head to take Hux in his mouth. It wrenched a sharp noise from Hux and made his cock twitch a little, eager for Kylo’s tongue. Hux had taught him how to do this back on Ganthel, guided him with gentle hands but a stern voice. Put him on his knees and showed him how to move his tongue, what to do with his hands. Kylo knew how Hux’s body responded to the right stimulus. He rolled his tongue over Hux’s cock, relaxed his mouth and took it in. Salt and smooth and the smell of Hux’s body, the intimate warmth of him.

Hux tangled his hands in Kylo’s hair and Kylo moaned, thinking yes, yes, and he wants me and trying to be gentle. And then it was over, and Hux gave a pained, hot gasp and came without warning.

‘Kylo,’ said Hux again, low and fierce, and Kylo came to lie by him, pressed his face into Hux’s neck with his pulse hammering in his ears, and thought that the only thing he needed in life was for Hux to say his name in that hungry, possessive way. Or, really, in any way at all.


 A week had passed, and Hux still looked desperately pale and drawn when he reached the bridge. He was stiff in his uniform, almost as though it was the only thing holding him upright. He acknowledged the ripples of salutes and bows with curt nods, and took up his customary position. Today, however, he rested his hands on the railing. It looked casual, but Kylo could see the almost imperceptible whitening of his knuckles. He needed the support. Perhaps those who only knew him as an untouchable commander would be fooled, but Hux’s colour was unhealthy, far beyond his usual pallor. He had regained most of his poise and control, and yet Kylo knew, he knew, and he wanted to reach out with the Force and cradle him. Give him the dignity of strength when he had precious little of it.

He walked over, as calm as he could be, and stood by Hux as if about to give him a report.

‘Hux,’ he murmured. ‘I could help, if you wanted.’ He lifted his right hand demonstratively. Hux gave him a short glance down his nose and then looked away.

‘That won’t be necessary, Lord Ren,’ he said, in his distant tone of command. ‘I thank you for your concern.’

‘It’s more than concern,’ said Kylo under his breath. ‘We have—’

‘Please don’t misinterpret polite conversation as an overture. That would be unfortunate.’ Hux turned his pale eyes towards the communications array, observing his officers at work. Kylo stifled the urge to reach out and forcibly turn Hux’s face to look at him.

‘The other night - I felt it. We were falling back into how we were.’ Kylo wished, not for the first time, that he was more eloquent. And that he could take his mask off publicly without causing a scene. Causing a scene was something Hux said a lot, and with derision. Kylo was speaking very softly through his mask to avoid just such an outcome.

‘Lowered inhibitions are a common effect of many painkillers,’ Hux replied smoothly.

‘We’ll be at the station soon, and I’ll be leaving. I don’t know where I’ll be sent next.’

‘We are making excellent time, all things considered.’ Hux cut his gaze across to Kylo. ‘Was there anything else, Lord Ren, or are we going to gossip all day?’ His smile was polite, well-practised and utterly impersonal; it shut Kylo out, forbade all further attempts to get through to Hux. Behind his mask, Kylo knew what he looked like. Wide-eyed, his stupid, full mouth soft and quivering, looking young and naive and wounded. Weak.

‘That will be all,’ Kylo managed to say. He turned, stumbling over his feet and retreated.