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Kylo is dressed in a wrap-tunic and loose trousers of a soft, lightweight fibre. His outfit is a deep red colour, cinched in with a wide, intricately embroidered belt, and his hair is gathered back in a tie. He looks like a cross between a Jedi knight and a Nabooian courtier and he hates it beyond words or even coherent thought. 

Kylo is being punished. That was more or less how Hux had put it (“Planet-destroying ordnance doesn’t grow on trees, Ren. You just stood idly by while the Resistance planted explosives all over the Starkiller’s thermal occillator – it’s only fair that you come along to do your fair share of glad-handing.”). Kylo thinks it unbecomingly petty of Hux that he is still not over the destruction of his little pet-project even though it has been months and the First Order has tightened its grip on countless worlds since then. Kylo considers this fundraising expedition beneath his dignity, and still stews with resentment that the Supreme Leader took Hux’s side on the matter.

So now all Kylo can do is punish Hux right back by being as unhelpful as possible. He knows that Hux has drastically underestimated his reserves of sullen resentment – a mistake the general would not soon make again. Kylo narrows his eyes and scans the room, filtering through the voices in his mind until he locates his fellow prisoner. Tonight, Hux is wearing a civilian suit of dark blue and he looks unfairly good in it.

The piercing laugh of a nearby partygoer takes Kylo out of himself with a start. Mother of moons but he hates the Core Worlds. They haven’t even gotten to Coruscant or Corellia yet, and Kylo is already sick of grimy, overpopulated cities which all have a sort of underlying sameness born of gaudy franchises, mindless bustle, and a misguided sense of metropolitan superiority. More than the cities themselves, he hates the old guard, the industrialists who prospered under Palpatine and found much to keep them in their comfortable surroundings while their fellows (who had fought and bled for the Empire) languished in exile, scraping together a living in the Unknown Regions.

It leaves a sour taste in Kylo’s mouth – their snobbishness, the avid greed that they barely bother to veil. Their self-importance – daring to act magnanimous even while they wheedle for more favourable import rates and higher offices for their idiot progeny. These people have never known loyalty, they have never known sacrifice.

It is an old, old anger – little Ben Solo-Organa had sat swinging his feet on high chairs in stuffy reception rooms as his mother went begging for the New Republic, in its more precarious days. He watched her shrug off their condescension and could not understand why or how she did so.

Now Hux does it, his sleek hair burnished auburn by the room’s soft yellow lights. He laughs at moronic jokes and accepts pats and buffets on the shoulder. A man who has destroyed planets, his eyes silver in the glare of that arcing beam of solar energy. Kylo has only seen this in a holo recording – he wasn’t there, of course. He couldn’t be, not and stay upright; no-one attuned to the Force could. He sometimes envies that Hux can’t feel it – he thinks how freeing it must be, to navigate life in isolation rather than constantly surrounded with competing voices and impulses. To be a cold little comet tracking its own course across the galaxy.

It gives him some satisfaction to know that Hux hates it here too. Kylo was almost afraid Hux belonged here – Hux, with his clipped accent and fondness for brandy, cigarras, and mannered, neatly metrical late-Imperial verse (“It was an artistic renaissance, Ren.”). But Hux is no more comfortable here than Kylo is – they attend lavish dinners where Hux picks disinterestedly at the rich fare and then lies awake half the night with shooting stomach pains.

There is Core and there is Exile and they occasionally flatter themselves by imagining they are the same, but only occasionally. It has been just thirty standard years, after all, but the cracks are there. The man Hux addresses now catches the slight flatness to the general’s vowels, the occasional ‘r’ that is vocalised rather than left tastefully unstated, and he thinks yokel. He sees that Hux’s neat haircut is military, lacking the soft finesse of a civilian barber. He sees that Hux’s clothing, though costly and still just about in fashion, is store-bought, not bespoke. He sees that Hux does not lift his pinky finger when he drinks, does not wear a house insignia ring to display by doing so. He sees all these tiny myriad failings and thinks less of Hux for them. He even thinks more highly of himself by contrast – as if being born into a pile of credits and having his home world’s meaningless customs off pat makes him greater than a man who clawed his way up to general of the most technologically advanced army the galaxy has ever seen.

Kylo is glad he was not permitted to bring his lightsaber. Hux would definitely shop him to the Supreme Leader if he mowed down a significant contingent of the First Order’s benefactors in one spectacular cocktail party massacre.

The partygoers seem to be under the impression that Kylo is Hux’s bodyguard. Kylo does nothing to dispel this, despite Hux’s oft-voiced annoyance at his tendency to stand in corners and glower (“I might as well have left you on the Finalizer, though stars only know what would be left of it by the time I got back.”). When they return to their rooms Kylo will find that he has barely spoken all day, beyond the ‘no’ and ‘yes’ required of him by service droids. He is bursting with all the withering comments he has been forced to keep to himself, but Hux waves him away and retires to bed or behind a datapad (“I’m not in the mood for your prattling, Ren.”).

Kylo knows Hux as someone who rises before the sanitation crews have finished their overnight shifts, who strides the length of his domain issuing orders late into the evening with no sign of flagging. Something about this mission (which the other officers cattily referred to as ‘that cushy Core junket’) exhausts him. The uncertainty, perhaps: of having to react in the moment, each moment, with no real plan besides the broad strokes of ‘be charming, secure funds’. Hux believes he is not charming. Capable, yes, persuasive, yes – but he suspects that while people respect him, they do not like him. He does not usually require people to like him – he prefers it if they don’t, in fact – but here, things are different.

“I’m telling you, he’s a general.” It is a woman’s voice, shrill and well-bred. She is standing with her back to Kylo a few metres away. Neither she nor her companions are aware of his presence.

“A general what?” Another woman; this one Kylo can see in profile. She wears a ground-sweeping robe, the fabric artfully slit in places to reveal an even richer one beneath.

“Of the army! General Hux of the First Order,” the first woman replies.

“What, that red-head who looks like a stiff breeze would blow him away?”

“Mmm.”

“Is he even old enough to be an officer?”

“His father was somebody in the old days.” The first woman’s voice turns wry, knowing: “just goes to show how they do things out there.”

A third voice chimes in; a man who has approached with a confident, proprietorial air. “Oh yes, they’re a bunch of bloody savages out there, let me tell you.”

Ren clamps down on his first impulse, which is to slam the man against a wall and remotely throttle him, and navigates his way through the crowd, heading towards the fresh air and relative seclusion of the balcony. There he finds Hux, who is leaning against a pillar and smoking what has to be his fifth cigarra of the night. He has taken off his civilian jacket and draped it about his shoulders in the fashion he is accustomed to wearing his greatcoat.

“Having a nice time, Ren? I do hope you’re not working too hard.”

“This is absurd,” Kylo spits. “These people are all traitors and cowards. We shouldn’t be courting their favour, we should be tearing out their throats as a lesson to the others.”

“Now, just simmer down.”

“Don’t you care how humiliating this is?”

“What’s the matter?” Hux furrows his brow in an expression of false sorrow. “Did someone make fun of your man-bun?”

“No, but—”

“Look. There will come a day when the shoe is on the other foot, but for now, just smile and make nice. Or at least keep not murdering them, that’s a good start – I appreciate it, Ren, I do.” Hux pats him on the arm in a comradely fashion.

“They’re making fun of you,” Kylo blurts out. “Your accent and your clothes and where you come from.”

“Do you imagine this is news to me?” Hux sighs. “Honestly, Ren, don’t be a child. Just because we put all that bantha fodder in the First Order handbook about how the Core is our destiny and birth right, and we will all be welcomed home as conquering heroes—”

“He called you a savage.”

“Who did?”

“I don’t know. A short, fat man with a beard. In the purple tunic.”

“Ah. The host.” Hux takes another drag. “Yes, well, he would know. He’s a Dajaal. They all sent theirs out to the exile academies to be ‘finished’.”

“And were they,” Kylo murmurs, “finished?”

Hux returns his conspiratorial smile. “Oh, they were so soft – can you imagine? It was like punting a lap-dog into a pack of wolves.”

“Were you one of the wolves?”

“I was the worst one, Ren. What, do you think I graduated top of my class by playing nice and keeping my head down?”

“What about your teachers?”

“What about them?”

“Didn’t they try to intervene?”

“Oh, you think it was all the best men that went West?” Hux laughs. “You think they all said to themselves ‘the children are our future, so we’d better set them up with our finest resources, make sure they’re nurtured and teach them about good sportsmanship’? No. Best case scenario: your commandant was negligent and just let the cadets get on with it – ‘it’ being the rule of the jungle. Worst case scenario: your commandant was a sadist – or, stars help you, of an experimental bent.”

Kylo absorbs this information carefully. He has always assumed that Hux’s love of order and discipline was inculcated through his military upbringing, that it is something familiar and natural to him. Now he knows it is really a longing for something the young Hux sorely lacked. He reaches into Hux’s mind and sees the hard-faced exile cadets, pale and sickly as they eke out an adolescence within an imperfectly terraformed ghetto; he hears the stories whispered under cover of threadbare blankets: stories of the Empire, and the Core, and what should have by rights been theirs.

“Didn’t your father care? I thought he was some kind of legend on Arkanis.”

“On Arkanis. Before the Galactic Concordance did him out of a job. He didn’t want anything to do with the new ramshackle operations. He considered them beneath him.”

“But if it was as terrible as you say, didn’t he care about your welfare?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. I never thought to complain – that was part of the game, you see. How much you could bear. Whiners and tattle-tales got what was coming to them.” Hux’s lip twitches and his eyes burn with terrifying zeal.

“You make it sound like you miss it.”

“What, a miserable boarding school on an inhospitable rock? Hardly. But there were moments. Moments of pleasure and triumph.”

Ren reaches forward again and learns that the first time Hux was called ‘the general’ it was a nickname, one he richly deserved. “Did you have lovers there?” he pushes, feeling something coil tight in his belly.

“Oh Ren, you’re not jealous? Hmm? Of fumbling schoolboys who wanted to suck my cock for some faint taste of power.”

“Did you let them?”

Hux laughs again, a high, cruel sound, and flicks his cigarra butt over the balcony. “Oh Ren, really? You are so gauche I’m actually embarrassed to associate with you.”

Kylo imagines Hux as he must have been then: fox-faced and openly malevolent, before he ever had cause to mask his ambition. He thinks of Ben Solo-Organa, awkward and sulky among the other little Force-sensitives, and the burn of injustice he felt for always having to consider other people’s emotions before his own. Uncle Luke’s warm, patient voice: “how would you feel if–” and “that’s not very friendly, is it?”

“You wouldn’t have liked it,” Hux tells him, as if he is the one who can read minds. “We’d have made mincemeat of you.”

Kylo tosses his head, hates the pull of the hair-tie at the nape of his neck. “I had powers as a child, you know.”

“Even still,” Hux smirks. “A big cry-baby like you would have been easy pickings. Still, if you were useful I might have kept you around.”

Kylo moistens his bottom lip. “Useful for what?”

“Not that, Ren, you terrible pervert. Well…” he amends, looking Kylo up and down, “perhaps a little of that.”

Kylo feels his chest go tight and the tips of his ears reddening – something about the way Hux looks him over in that lazy, appraising way makes him lose what’s left of his tenuous self-control. He surges against Hux, clacking their teeth together in his desperation to taste that tabac-bitter mouth. Hux pushes back, rough fingers at his jaw, and Kylo can’t be entirely sure if he’s responding to the kiss with aggressive enthusiasm or just trying to shove him away.

“Let’s get out of here,” Kylo says, whispering it into the space between their mouths when the kiss breaks. People are staring, he can feel their idiotic disapproval and consternation lapping over him in waves of no better than thugs and well I never.

“Dinner hasn’t even been served yet.”

“So what? It’s not like you’ll enjoy it.”

“Fair point,” Hux says and leads the way, shoulder first, through the crowd.

*~*~*

They return to the Grand Orodin (formerly Grand Imperial) Hotel, where they leave their itchy civilian clothes in a trail across the suite. When they reach the bedroom, Hux does not switch the transparisteel from clear to opaque, just puts Kylo on his knees and has him suck him there with the city spread out below them, the streets delineated in blurring paths of light and movement. Hux yanks out Kylo’s hair-tie and it hurts like hell, then he winds his fingers in the messy dark strands and presses his short, neat fingernails into Kylo’s scalp.

“We should undercut them,” Hux says, voice just a little ragged. “Offer another planet more favourable terms.”

Kylo finds it very difficult to think clearly with Hux’s perfect dick in his mouth, hands gripping the cradle of his hips. He makes a quizzical sound, gazes up at Hux looming vertiginously above him, outlined in the city’s neon. He takes Hux deeper into his throat, flexes his tongue, tastes salt.

Hux gasps, pushes at his shoulder so Kylo rocks back onto his heels, Hux’s cock slipping from his mouth entirely and smacking against his cheek. “The Kuats are moving back into heavy industry and shipbuilding,” Hux explains, breathing heavily now. “Perhaps we can’t show the Brentaalans violence, but we can show them the coldness of our disfavour.”

Kylo isn’t sure if ‘our’ here refers to the First Order, himself and Hux, or is Hux making premature use of the royal ‘we’. “Ok,” he says, stupidly.

“Good. Get on the bed.”

Kylo obeys, lying on his back with his knees raised and his arms hooked around his thighs. He knows that Hux likes it when he humiliates himself like this, and the bed is just the right height for Hux to fuck him standing.

When Hux approaches the bed he is holding a tube of lubricant. Kylo wonders if that means he always intended they would do this here, or if it was just a facet of his obsessive ‘be prepared’ mentality. He toys with Kylo for some time before he condescends to give him his cock and Kylo wanders between his own mind and Hux’s; between immediate, grounded sensation and loud thoughts of look at him and yes, mine.

By the time Hux breaches him, Kylo is already far gone. He clings to Hux’s waist with his knees, one arm flung over his head on the rumpled bedclothes. Kylo moans at Hux’s thought of lazy slut, but he wants more – something visual – and pushes in to the other man’s mind to locate Cadet Hux, as he was then: acne-prone and easily winded, but just as sharp and dangerous as his future counterpart. Cadet Hux had a minion, a dark-haired boy who was the first to ever call him by his future title. Kylo reminds him of this boy, whose surname, ironically enough, was ‘Knight’. Knight had freckles and a bumpy spine that Hux would watch shift under his skin when the other boy pulled off his undershirt in the dormitory. Hux never quite put it all together, though: he didn’t understand his own desires as keenly as he does now.

“I can feel you in there, you know,” present-day Hux hisses. “Flipping through my mind for jerk-off material, you horrible little creep.”

Kylo gasps, tilts his ass up to meet the vicious snap of Hux’s hips. “Hux!”

“What, you greedy child – what?”

Kylo doesn’t know – something, anything. “Harder,” is what he settles for.

*~*~*

In the opulent refresher, Kylo lifts the mechanism to start the water running through a sluice and into the sunken tub. After a minute or two, the noise brings Hux to the doorway. He is naked, his hair a little rumpled from their tumble on the bed.

“You’ve never seen a bath before,” Kylo says, amused by Hux’s narrowed, suspicious eyes.

“It’s a criminal waste of water, whatever it is.”

Kylo looks through the complimentary cosmetics laid out by the counter, retrieves a bottle and pours its contents into the stream. A green, herbal scent rises with the steam. Hux is still staring.

“Are you really going to get into that and lie in your own filth? A sonic shower would be so much faster and more sanitary.”

“It feels good,” Kylo promises. “Relaxing.”

“Like being in a bacta tank?”

Kylo laughs. “No, not like that.” He groans with pleasure as he lowers himself into the hot water. He hasn’t done this since he was a child on – where? What planet was it that the native people still took baths? Somewhere verdant with a lot of rainfall. He opens his eyes and beckons Hux with a twitch of his fingers. “Come here and join me.”

“We’re not here to enjoy ourselves,” Hux reminds him, sternly.

“I won’t tell the Supreme Leader on you, General.”

Hux sighs and crosses the room, easing down to perch himself on the tub’s rim. He enters the water with some trepidation – one toe, one foot, one ankle; draws back with a hiss, then returns with more determination. He slides into the water with his back to Kylo, sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest for a long moment as he acclimatises to the heat. “This feels unnatural.”

Kylo stretches out, planting his feet either side of Hux’s beneath the water. “Humans are supposed to find it comforting. Like being back in the womb.”

Hux makes a noise of disgust and Kylo laughs, leans forward and winds an arm around Hux’s middle, pulling him back against his chest. Hux wriggles in his grasp, then settles into a comfortable position with his head on Kylo’s shoulder.

“Don’t get accustomed to this,” he warns Kylo, who is kissing his damp temple, scooping up a handful of water to trickle down his chest. Kylo wonders briefly if he means the luxury of hot running water, or Hux’s pliancy. A quick flit across the forefront of the general’s mind confirms it is both.

Hux closes his eyes and goes to a place Kylo has never seen before. It is hazy – so hazy Kylo knows it is not a true memory, but something cobbled together out of faintly recalled images, dreams, and other people’s stories. Hux is standing on a grassy dune and it is raining. Below him is water – a sea – and he is gripped by dread. There is something in the water, something old and incomprehensible. Hux is small, his body feels light and unsteady.

“Is that Arkanis?” Kylo asks.

Stars, Ren, don’t you ever stay in your own head?”

“I know what’s in my head. Yours is more interesting.”

Hux sighs, put-upon. “Yes, it’s Arkanis.”

“Was there really a monster out in the ocean?”

“I think so. I don’t know. Sometimes I think I imagined it – maybe it’s just a clumsy metaphor, who knows?” Just then, Hux’s stomach rumbles insistently and he flinches as if it pains him. The brandy and cigarra diet is not without its hardships, it seems.

“Do you want me to order something?” Kylo asks, more amenable to helping now that they are alone. He trails a damp fingertip along Hux’s collarbone, kisses his dappled roan shoulder.

“No,” Hux says with an air of resolution, “let’s go out.”

*~*~*

Down an unprepossessing alley they find a food stall run by a Calamarian vendor. Kylo feels Hux’s mind positively light up with interest as they approach: the familiar scent makes his synapses fire and bring forth a memory: the first meal Hux ever bought with his own credits, on leave from his first commission. It’s a hot, sour soup made with some kind of sea vegetable, a puffy dumpling sits like a floating island in the centre of the bowl.

The rain patters the torn, dirty awning above their heads as they huddle together on a rickety bench and eat. Kylo watches Hux tearing into the soft dough with all the vicious hunger of a predator sinking its teeth into the belly of some hapless animal. He thinks, fondly: savage.