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Last Order

Chapter Text

There is no wind in space. But the howling of the engine almost sounds like the winds on a stormy day on Coruscant. He misses the wind. He liked the wind. If he ever were to take homestead on a planet it would have to be one where the wind blows every day.

 

The face of a Resistance official appears on the communications screen. He looks less than enthusiastic when he recognizes who has called upon them.

“This is General Hux of the First Order,” Hux says. “I need to speak with General Leia Organa.”

The man motions him to wait and activates the waiting screen. Hux leans back. He makes sure the lines of his face are perfectly void of any expression. This will be quick and painless, one way or the other.

The communicator hums and General Organa’s face appears on the screen.

“General Hux,” she says curtly.

“General,” Hux replies, straining each syllable as much as he can. “How do you do? Republic matters are well, I presume?”

General Organa’s stern face does not even twitch. “What do you want, General?”

Hux leans forward a bit to make sure he holds her gaze. “I have your son.”

She blinks. It is just one blink but Hux is sure he has seen the pain flash behind her eyes.

“And I am willing to return him to you.”

“My son is lost to me, General Hux. There is nothing to return for you.”

Hux smiles a soft smile. “Don’t be so sure. If not for the sake of him being your son, you will still have to acknowledge him as one of the most important warriors in the fight against the Republic and the Resistance, not to mention the best link to Snoke you could hope for. Now, here I am, hand-delivering him to you, how could you say no to that?”

He can see her hesitating. She senses a trap and she isn’t wrong. She also knows that this is an unexpected opportunity, maybe the last one she will ever have.

“Besides,” he adds, “if you don’t help him he will die in a matter of days.”

Leia Organa lowers her gaze for a moment, before she returns it on his face. This woman has excellent self-control, he has to give her that. Wherever Kylo Ren’s disposition for disaster has come from, it is certainly not his mother.

“Let me guess,” she says. “Your conditions are full amnesty for you. You want us to give you your freedom and our blessing.”

“You guessed well, General,” Hux retorts, allowing his smile to widen. “Although I will not expect you to let me out of your sight again. I am fine with that. All I request is fair treatment. What do you say, General Organa?”

“This is preposterous. What does Snoke expect to get out of this scheme?”

Hux leans forward a bit more. “This isn’t one of Snoke’s schemes. This is me. Only me. I offer you this opportunity once and one time only. If you don’t take it, your son will die and I will return to the First Order.” And face my certain execution, he adds for himself, but there is no reason why she should know about that.

Leia Organa’s mouth has become a thin line. For a few brief seconds there is silence while she evaluates his words. Finally, she lets out a hint of a sigh.

“I cannot decide these matters on my own, General,” she says. “I will have to confer with my council and get back to you. Will you at least wait until you have our answer?”

“I will wait,” Hux says and presses the disconnect button.

When the screen has gone blank, he puts his hands together and rests his chin on his fingertips. Through the front screen he can see the planet below him, blue and green, with the Resistance base in its capital. The Resistance certainly does know how to choose a nice place. Not for the first time Hux starts wondering what in all blazes compels the Supreme Commander to always find the coldest, most unwelcoming planets to establish his bases. Almost like them being on the dark side forces them to commit to an uncomfortable lifestyle. As if being the bad guys – in the grand scheme of things – couldn’t possibly come with a few perks.

Hux snarls. It is Snoke and his incessant rambling about the dark side, as if it is an actual place, something to touch and surrender yourself to, not a poor and childlike justification for the cruelties they commit. And Kylo Ren isn’t even slightly better than Snoke. They’re both insufferable.

This will take a while. Hux stands to stretch his legs. They will talk and talk and Leia Organa will beg, he is sure of it. And then they will decide whether to sacrifice her son to kill Hux.

It was the same with his sister. When she decided to return to the Republic and turn her back on the First Order, foolish woman that she was. She went back and promised them information, inside knowledge on the First Order’s higher ranks in return for her freedom and permission to return to her parents. They shot her down. Literally. One single, well-aimed shot and his sister’s ship burst into flames. They never even found the body.

Hux dreamed of it, after that. Not the fire or her, but his parents, standing in front of the council, being delivered the news Your daughter is offering to return and them, both of them, shaking their head, the exact moment they decided to give up on their golden child, to sacrifice her. A clean break. Golden children always crash and burn. His father has died for that.

It might happen again. Even if Leia Organa is ready to beg for her son’s life they might decide it isn’t worth the risk and just kill them both. They are in range, after all, barely, but they are. It was a well-calculated decision. A portrayal of his surrender, of laying their lives into the hands of the Resistance. If it means they both get executed in a few minutes, well, that is something he won’t have to worry about anymore, then.

Kylo Ren is not his sister, though. He is Kylo Ren, the one everybody makes exemptions for, everywhere he goes. They might decide to kill a lesser man, but it isn’t coincidence that he has made it this far despite all his tantrums and disobedience and his tendencies to fuck everything up.

Hux presses the door button to the lower deck. The heavy durosteel door slides open and permits him through. He doesn’t close it, to make sure he hears when the communicator calls for his attention.

Kylo Ren lies on the lower plank bed in the corner, hands bound behind his back, an old rag of oily cloth in his mouth. For nearly two weeks Hux has successfully resisted the urge to gag him, but there are only so many cries of “Kill Me! Kill me now!” a person can bear until it becomes insufferable.

Hux stops short in front of the man, staring down at him. His skin shows an even paler shade than usually, his hair hangs in streaks and clings to his head instead of forming the usual cascade of black curls, the wound on his face is as red as fresh blood and looks hideous. He is sweat-soaked – again – and seems to be fighting against the urge to retch his own stomach inside out. Only his eyes have kept some of their initial burn, staring straight at Hux.

“I have spoken to your mum,” he says, dropping into the chair opposite the bound and gagged man. “She is quite the nice lady. Now, I wouldn’t complain getting a little head from her.”

From somewhere deep within, Ren actually manages to growl.

“Oh don’t be so protective of her. Your relationship with your family is disgusting enough already. You must have known that at least your father was fucking her, right? Or didn’t they tell you that’s how they made you?” He interrupts himself to laugh. “Or was that it? Your father tried to give you the birds and the bees talk and the realization that he fucked your mum was such a great shock to you that you had to run off to the dark side?” He shakes with laughter now, mainly from the looks Ren gives him and the pained sounds that escape his chest and that are probably meant to be intimidating growls. “Is that why you stayed a virgin? Oh I know, I know, you’re not a virgin. Being fucked in the arse by one of your uncle’s underlings in the training academy doesn’t count, you know that, right? Did you want to make sure your mum is the only woman you have ever been inside of? That’s mighty sweet of you. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it if I tell her.”

He leans on his elbows resting on his knees. For a while he scrutinizes Kylo Ren’s face staring at him, unable to spit some insult back at him. It’s almost too easy.

“Now they might still kill us,” Hux says. “Shoot us down like my sister. You might just realize that your mother has taken your killing your father a little bit too much to her heart. But then at least you’ll meet your grandfather, finally, after all this time. Given there is a special hell for Force-sensitives who have strayed to your beloved dark side. What will you do, Ren, when you meet him, your idol, the personification of all you strove to achieve and never even came close to, when he stands before you and tells you what a fucking disappointment you are? When he tells you what a complete and utter failure you have been, tells you to get out from under his sight and never return? But you can’t because this is hell, your own personal hell, and now you will never be able to escape him. Poor Ren, will you then finally be able to admit that all you ever did was waste everyone’s time? When you finally know that you have truly disappointed everyone, will you be able to admit that killing your father might have been the one last straw that broke the bantha’s back?”

Hux reaches down and pulls the rag from Kylo Ren’s mouth. This one-sided conversation is too boring.

Ren spits out little scraps from the cloth and some of his own blood. He draws in as much air as he can for a few breaths, coughing up more blood.

“You should have died with the Starkiller. You sadistic bastard, it was your mistake! You should have taken responsibility for it.” His voice is coarse and shaky. Another man would pity him. Three more days would probably be enough for him to kick it.

“The Starkiller was your little Jedi girl, the one you couldn’t take care of because you were too busy murdering your father and then crying about it like a baby.”

“And now you can’t even bring yourself to kill me. I swore I’d never go back there and if you try and make me, Hux, I swear I’ll see you burn alive.”

“Stop being so dramatic. It’s your mum, not the devil. Just tell her how bad you feel for killing your daddy and all will be well again.”

“Do you say that because you regret killing your own father so much?” Ren asks.

Hux freezes. “Careful.”

Ren sneers. “Or what? You’re gonna gag me again? You’re gonna tell on me to my mother? I have listened to your constant self-involved whinging for days now, Hux, and do you know how often you mentioned your father? Sixteen times. Yes. I counted. I know the story, everyone knows the story, he was leading the attack on the First Order base and you shot him down, shot you own father down, and you’re damn proud of that. How come you can’t let it go, then?”

Before he can control himself, Hux stands up and buries his foot in Kylo Ren’s abdomen. The man curls like a ball, hissing in pain, but he doesn’t say word.

For a few seconds Hux towers over him, fists clenched, blood and murder in his mind, but then he has regained his control and he sits back down.

Ren slowly lifts his head back up. “You know whose name I haven’t heard you utter once?” he asks with a shaky breath. “Your mother’s. Why is that, I wonder? Maybe because thinking about her is something you want to avoid at all costs?”

Hux leans forward, fingernails digging into his hands trying to rip away the parts of him he doesn’t want anymore. “My mother is dead,” he says through clenched teeth.

Kylo Ren doesn’t even blink. “Come on, we both know that isn’t true. Your mother is alive, slaving away on one of the First Order’s labour planets. You just don’t know which one, do you?” He gives a little chuckle and Hux has to suppress the urge to kick him again, this time with full force. He might tear open that wound again but who cares? “You could have found out, anytime, but you never did. Safer to not know, isn’t it, Hux?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Ren,” Hux says coldly.

“Actually I do.” Ren looks at him defiantly. “Better than you even. Because I have done it. Ages ago, to tell the truth. I have located her, I know exactly where she is.”

Hux turns away to leave the room. There is no reason he should listen to this. This pathetic attempt to aggravate him, so he might kill his prisoner before they set foot on the planet below. Ren has made it more than clear to Hux that he’d prefer death to being delivered to his mother. Now he is resorting to lies that are supposed to hurt him, as if anything about his parents could even hurt him anymore.

He doesn’t leave, though. He just stands in the doorway, listening to the ragged breath and the retching coughs behind him.

“But that’s not all,” Kylo Ren continues. “I have sent someone, one of my personal men, to the planet she is working on, to keep an eye on her, make sure she doesn’t die, or worse, escape. Then I destroyed her records. You could turn the whole Order upside down searching for a scrap of information on her and find nothing. The only person in the whole universe who still knows where your mother is, is me, Hux.”

Hux turns and stares into his opponent’s face, trying to force it into giving up, concede it was a lie, admittedly a clever one but ultimately nothing but a lie. Kylo Ren’s face is open like a book. He isn’t lying, Hux knows that. The smile on his face spells triumph, even while he is lying there on the floor, helpless, bound, and unable to use the Force. Even while he is completely at Hux’s mercy, he still manages to look triumphant.

“Turn around, Hux,” Kylo Ren says quietly. “Go to your mother. Leave the Resistance behind, leave the First Order behind. If you hand me over now you will lose your last hope. You will live out your days on a planet of the Republic, a prisoner trapped under the illusion of freedom, unable to return to First Order territory. And even if you did you’d have to search thousands of planets. It’ll take more than a lifetime. Certainly more than she has left. All you have to do now is find your mum and spend the rest of your miserable life with her.”

His voice is quiet, alluring, he has waited until now to deliver his biggest blow and now he knows the cards are on the table. Now it is for Hux to decide. He stays silent. All he can do is stare.

Go to your mother.

The communicator hums. Slowly, without turning his gaze from Kylo Ren, Hux steps towards the exit. Only at the last moment he turns around, walks through the door into the cockpit and presses the connect button.

General Organa’s face appears on screen. She looks tired and somehow ten years older than thirty minutes ago.

“General Hux,” she says. “We accept your conditions. You have permission to land your ship. You will hand my son over to the Resistance. You will be taken into custody and cede all your weapons but you will not be harmed and we will decide in the following days on which planet we will permit you to take homestead. Do you agree?”

Chapter Text

“Bring me Kylo Ren. It is time to complete his training.”

The moment Hux set foot outside onto the planet he knew he should just make up a lie and leave. At that point the temperature was only slightly below freezing point, but the atmospheric stabilizer shield was dissolving quickly. Once it was gone the temperature on the planet, now without a sun, would quickly drop to absolute zero, extinguishing all life immediately. Besides, the one responsible for the destruction of the Starkiller and Hux’s utter failure had been Kylo Ren, who, instead of staying on the base and assisting the First Order in their fight against the Resistance, had to run off into the wilderness alone to chase after some girl. He deserved to die. His negligence had cost them everything.

The planet was so unstable that their need for survival alone would have been a sufficient reason for Hux to abort his search, return to the Finalizer, and leave the walking disaster out there to die with the planet.

But when he found Kylo Ren much sooner than he had anticipated, all those plans went out the viewport. If he left now, Snoke would know and Hux would never survive that.

He had received extensive training in withstanding Force mind-probing in the Academy, everyone had. Most hadn’t come far of course, but Hux had been exceptionally good at it. Even more importantly, he had learned a number of tricks to veil his real thoughts and intentions with certain deflection techniques. Searching for somebody and returning empty-handed after five minutes while making it seem like he had taken much longer was easy. Finding what he was searching for, staring down at him lying in the snow, burning red gash across his entire face, guts ripped open, and then turning around to leave him dying, on the other hand, was something not even Hux could cover up. Especially in front of Snoke.

When he found Kylo Ren, Hux knew he had to try and bring him to Snoke, whatever the costs. He might still die on the way there, though.

The station was empty when Hux returned to it, dragging Ren along. Those who had been able to flee had fled. The rest was dead. There were still emergency evacuation pods, though, and that was what they ended up in. It was small, barely enough space for two passengers, with a pilot’s area and a lower area, a sonic refresher and a bunk bed. It also had (barely) sufficient food supplies and medical supplies. He heaved Kylo Ren, who in his unconscious state was heavy as fuck, into the tiny ship and flew them off the planet, just in time to escape the explosion of the Starkiller. The project that had been Hux’s pride and his biggest accomplishment.

He didn’t even have time to grasp everything that had gone wrong. His fleet set course to get away from the Resistance, but Hux’s destination was different. He was to appear before Snoke. It was going to be a long flight.

He should at least make an attempt to not let Kylo Ren die. He might deserve it, hell, he deserved it fifty times over. Ever since he had first set his foot on Hux’s ship he had been nothing but begging Hux to off him with every single one of his actions. Nobody on the ship was allowed the insolences Kylo Ren could get away with. There was a reason the Finalizer had incinerators for their trash in addition to the recycling stations. If anybody had dared even make one move resembling the insubordination the Force-sensitive had displayed every single day they’d have ended up as a pile of ash, right along the rest of the non-recyclable waste.

Not Kylo Ren, though. Not the golden child, stomping away on Hux’s ship like he owned it, using excessive displays of the Force as a way to intimidate everyone except Hux.

As soon as Hux had set the autopilot on their destination, he went into the lower part of the ship and took out the medical supplies. Cutting open the twenty layers of black fabric revealed several deep bowcaster wounds tearing through Ren’s abdomen. The wound on his face had already cauterized but these ones had ripped half his stomach open and wouldn’t heal so easily. It was a miracle Ren wasn’t dead already. Every normal man would have been.

Hux, cursing through his gritted teeth, covered the wound in bacta pads and connected Kylo Ren to an IV line, supplying him with nutrients and medic fluid.

Then Hux shoved the Force-suppressor down his throat.

It was a funny little thing, that Force-suppressor, no bigger than his thumb. It had arrived directly from Snoke at the same time Kylo Ren had. A small, oval shaped piece of smooth metal, it had come without any instructions on how to use it. In a one-on-one conference with Snoke Hux had learned about its function (to take a Force-sensitive’s ability to use or even connect to the Force) and the way to use it, which was, plainly, stupid.

“Once it touches the skin of a Force-sensitive it will switch on, latch onto his flesh with metal claws and disable the carrier to use the Force. Be careful whom you let touch it.”

“How do I get it off again?” Hux had asked.

“Only a Force-sensitive can separate it from its host once it is activated. You will have to bring him to me.”

“Or he could just rip it off himself? Because technically, he will still be a Force-sensitive and we’ve all seen Jurassic World.”

The ensuing silence was proof enough that Snoke hadn’t really given his design any thought and that he himself didn’t know whether that was possible.

“Make him swallow it.”

“Won’t the acid in his stomach make the electrics go all funky?”

“Nothing can damage the Force-suppressor. It is built to withstand extreme temperatures and all kinds of environment.”

That had been their first discussion. One week later, one single week with Kylo Ren on board his ship, already brought Hux right to the edge of using the damn thing and then ‘accidentally’ getting him killed.

He had decided to ask Snoke at their next private meeting.

“How many pieces of equipment does he have to destroy before I can deliver him back to you?”

“Do not speak to me of equipment. These things hold no interest for me. You are to make sure that Kylo Ren remains on the right path.”

If it were up to Hux, destroying First Order property was as far off the right path as anybody could go. He had to make several enquiries to discover that Snoke, who seemed to have a natural aversion to abandoning his vague, ominous answers for the sake of even one line of clear instruction, didn’t see Kylo Ren’s tantrums of violence as reason enough to detain him, no matter how bad they got. The only thing that justified subduing his golden child in his own eyes was if that golden child ever decided to turn towards the path of light.

If there was one thing General Hux hated more than Kylo Ren, it was his and Snoke’s incessant babbling about the light and the darkness. In Hux’s eyes they were a child’s attempt at justifying everything they did. Using mind control, forcing a man’s personal thoughts right out of his brain, subduing an entire army with nothing but the Force, all these things were pretty damn far on the downside of morality. Hux himself had never experienced any troubles or feelings of remorse at what he and his men did. He didn’t need a justification for his actions. But then again, he wasn’t so blue-eyed to see the First Order as an incorporation of evil and the Republic as one of good. He knew what the Republic was capable of. He knew of their imperialist endeavors – all in the name of the greater good – that left many underdeveloped civilizations devastated beyond repair and their resources depleted to fuel Republic technological ambitions. He knew of the state of affairs on many of the outer planets that were under so-called Republic protection and that teemed with traffickers, black marketers and a spice cartel network that was unrivalled in the Galaxy. He also knew of the killings and the torture that had taken place in the fight against the First Order. The sole (unofficial) reason the Resistance had formed had been to have an army operate outside the official regulations for warfare the Republic had set into place. This was war and Hux knew that, regardless of light or darkness, there was no right side in war.

No use discussing that with Snoke, though. He had taken the Supreme Commander’s words as permission to use even the faintest display of softness in Kylo Ren as an excuse to neutralize him.

Apart from the fact, though, that Ren was about as soft as a block of permacrete, Hux also had no idea how he would ever make the man swallow a little piece of metal. It had become the one question he couldn’t find an answer to.

One night, after a long and exhausting battle, when Hux had decided to join his officers in the bar for the higher ranks, he had been drunk enough to ask that question aloud.

“How do I activate something that only reacts to naked skin on somebody who is clad in several layers of fabric from head to toe? There is literally not a single inch of Kylo Ren that he ever leaves uncovered.”

He had quickly learned that asking a question like that in a squad of drunk, horny men who had just returned from a full boost of adrenaline and testosterone (aka a battle), led to a torrent of suggestions that quickly went below belt and evoked in Hux the urge to gag.

“Take him to your room, get him drunk until he can’t stand, then just rip his clothes off. Bet he’s full of boils and sores from head to toe, that’s why he keeps himself covered at all times.” – “Riiight, like that’s even necessary. That poor kid is probably so deprived of a good fuck, you just have to offer to suck his cock to send his pants flying into the air.” – “Don’t assume everything you’d do goes for others as well.” – “Don’t suck his cock. Tell him to suck yours. He’s probably so famished for somebody to touch him, he looks like he’d totally go for it.” – “Make him lose the helmet. You wanna see that face when you fuck him, watch his eyes go all big when he sees your cock and his mouth go all no, no, please don’t put it there!” – “Or go yes, Daddy, put it there, yes!” – “Jim, you’re a fucking faggot, you know that?” – “Besides, he’s probably seen enough cock in his life to be just like, yeah, I’ve had bigger.” – “That boy? He trained to be a Jedi. And then he went to Snoke. If there’s one virgin on board this ship, it’s Kylo Ren.” – “You’re saying that because you have no idea what Snoke has done with him. Have you seen that bald face? That’s the face of a pervert if I’ve ever seen one.” – “Your face is the face of a pervert.” – “Well, that’s probably why he’s clad in a dozen layers in the first place. Because the minute he shows an inch of skin that old geezer’s all over him.” – “Hell, I’d be all over him!”

When Hux had made the mistake to point out Snoke’s advice to make Ren swallow the thing to them, they had roared with laughter. “Everything goes down better with a little cum.” – “Did you find that out for yourself? Or who told you that?” – “Your wife told me that.” – “You know there are other places to shove it in but his mouth.”

They had proceeded in this manner for about thirty minutes, until one of the officers had laughed so hard that he almost choked to death on a peanut. Everyone, including Hux, had whirled around as soon as the man had started choking, convinced to find Kylo Ren stand behind them, using the Force to punish the man for his insolence. As it turned out, he had really just inhaled a peanut. They had made him spit it out and Hux had bumped him down several ranks. No one who behaved like that, even if it was in a bar in the middle of the night amongst collective drunkenness, deserved to be a higher ranking officer.

Eventually, getting Kylo Ren to swallow the Force-suppressor was unexpectedly easy. The results were immediate. The wound in his abdomen started bleeding violently. Within minutes it had soaked the bandages and Hux had to compress the wound properly and pile on more bacta pads. For several hours after that Hux was certain Kylo Ren would die. Snoke wouldn’t be thrilled, but then again, he’d get over it. Hux remembered only too clearly the tone in which Snoke had spoken his last command to him. It had been more of a threat than an actual order. The Supreme Commander had been furious, with both of them probably. He had wanted the girl and Kylo Ren’s insubordination had cost him not only her but also the Starkiller Base and a huge chunk of their troops.

When the medical scanner finally showed a slight improvement in Ren’s vital signs, Hux bound his hands and tied him to one of the pipes along the wall. He wouldn’t take any chances. Just as he wouldn’t fly with a triggered time bomb on board he wasn’t going to fly with a free Kylo Ren on board, even if he was badly wounded and unconscious.

Kylo Ren stayed unconscious for several days. Hux spent most of that time working on his report. He had all the necessary data of the Starkiller with him, he always carried it on his datapad. He typed the whole fucking thing up and then he changed it all again and sometime in between all the typing he began to realize the full extent of what had happened.

The Starkiller was gone. For good. They had blown their budget wide up to make the weapon possible, building it a second time was out of question. They had spent years on the plans. Snoke hadn’t cared much, he rarely cared about any of the military decisions. He was content with leaving them to Hux and his subordinates. All Snoke cared about was the Force but the Force hadn’t saved them. In fact, the Force had run off once again, following his own agenda, proving his complete uselessness once and for all. Of course Snoke would refuse to see that. As long as Hux brought Kylo Ren to him so they could complete his training, Snoke wouldn’t trouble himself with all the rest. The First Order had received a terrible blow by the Resistance and parts of its fleet was strewn all over the nearby solar systems. It would take weeks to rally them, months to develop a proper new plan of action. They had dealt one powerful strike against the Republic only to be pushed back into the shadows.

And now, because he had to babysit Snoke’s personal pet, Hux wasn’t even able to take command over his own troops. They needed him. They needed to know he was still there, that he was still their leader, willing to battle on, even through their moments of failure. Instead, he had fled and left them alone. He didn’t have a choice of course, but that didn’t make this any less bitter.

He stood up, unable to continue with his report just now, and went to the lower area. Kylo Ren still hadn’t woken up, which didn’t particularly bother Hux. He didn’t look forward to his travel companion’s bitching, especially once he realized that Hux had taken his Force-connection from him.

His lips were half parted. The deep cut on his face had started healing, but it would always leave a visible scar. Kylo Ren’s soft, boyish face was destroyed, torn apart by his own inability to keep his willfulness in check.

Hux frowned. Where was his helmet? He never took it off. Hux and several other officers had a bet running that he even wore it while sleeping, but so far no one had been able to confirm or deny that. He hadn’t worn it when Hux had found him, which in retrospect was the stupidest thing he could have done. He went everywhere with the thing. He wore it indoors when there was no threat to his safety in a hundred light-year radius. But the minute he had run out onto a dark, cold planet, heavily wounded, to chase after a powerful Force-sensitive girl he had decided to leave the damn thing on the base. He could have avoided that ugly cut if only he had for once in his lifetime used his brain before acting.

Kylo Ren taking his helmet off seemed to be a formula for disaster. He had taken it off in front of the girl when he interrogated her and in consequence had let her escape her chains that were supposed to be fool-proof. He had taken it off again when the Resistance had attacked Starkiller Base and now the Starkiller was gone and Kylo Ren was half dead.

He should just rip the IV out of his arm. Wait until he was dead, report back to Snoke that his pet had died and return to his troops. But Hux had never disobeyed an order and he wasn’t going to start now.

Every day he thanked whomever had invented sonic refreshers for their existence. Getting the unconscious man clean with a normal water shower would have been more than a hassle, but the sonic refresher was simple and thorough and saved Hux a lot of time and discomfort (Hux himself preferred water over sonic any day).

Even after the wounds in his abdomen had begun to heal, Kylo Ren continued to cough up blood on a daily basis. When Hux scanned him the results revealed that it was the Force-suppressor that had latched itself onto the walls in his stomach and ripped deep cuts into it. The medic fluid kept it from getting worse but Hux began to wish they’d reach Snoke sooner than the travel time calculator estimated. Of course Snoke hadn’t mentioned that this might happen. Don’t leave it to a madman to design a mechanism that works in a usable way.

The problem with Snoke was that he never brought a thought to an end. His vision of what he wanted to accomplish with the First Order was so blurred that Hux suspected if he ever had to summarize it in an understandable way he’d fail glamorously. He didn’t seem to care about losses, no matter how big they were. His sense of the direction in which he wanted them to proceed was shaky at best. It had been due to Hux’s untiring efforts that they had managed to increase the size of their troops, to give them a structure and a purpose, a goal to strive for.

Snoke might be Supreme Commander but he was no leader. He was an entity, so powerful that nobody could deny him the place at the top, but power didn’t make a leader. He didn’t understand how the soldiers functioned, what drove them to leave their homes and their families and to join the First Order to fight for a greater cause. He didn’t understand that while most of the regular Stormtroopers had been raised from childhood to obey Hux’s wishes and had never been given the freedom to develop much of their own will, the entire upper ranks that were crucial for the success or failure of the First Order were men who had at some point in their lives made the conscious decision to join their regime. These men didn’t follow an ominous leader hiding behind holograms and Force-sensitives. These men followed their own. Hux was one of their own. Snoke and Kylo Ren weren’t.

Hux understood, better than anybody else, how to use the desires and dissatisfaction of his men for his advantage. Like any fascist leader he didn’t bother to believe in anything he stood for. But he knew only too well, that by keeping his men discontent with the current system and by inspiring their will to change things he was able to manipulate them. Nothing bound men together so quickly and effectively as a common enemy, something new that forced them to change (in this case the Republic), and a sense of belonging to something greater (that’s what strict rule enforcements and public executions of traitors were for).

Even their name, the First Order, was a testament of Snoke’s shortsightedness. Nothing good ever came from a first. No successful leader had ever build a first empire and kept it for long. The firsts were the first ones to fall. The Empire had fallen, but the First Order had risen out of its ashes, had learned from its mistakes and built itself more resilient and more powerful than any empire or order before them could ever hope to be. Hux didn’t intend his order to be the first. He intended it to be the last. The one that wouldn’t be succeeded by anything more powerful because nothing could be more powerful than what he intended to build. He intended to build an order that would never fall and never decline in its significance and it would be the last order the Galaxy would ever see.

 

Several days after the end of the Starkiller and the beginning of Hux’s inner journey to a state of mind in which he wished the plague on every single Force-sensitive in the Galaxy, Kylo Ren’s wounds from the bowcaster had healed enough for his pulse and the medic scan results to return to a somewhat normal human range. The only thing that still troubled Hux was the Force-suppressor, but he couldn’t change much about that. They’d reach Snoke soon enough, though Hux honestly couldn’t claim to be looking forward to that.

Hux was finally done with writing up the happenings on Starkiller Base and sent a short summary of his report to Snoke. He didn’t dare send the entire thing, though, because it contained a lot of classified material (such as the entire blueprints for the Starkiller) and the communications channel on this ship was far from secure. The last thing he needed was some Resistance intelligence officer to intercept his transmission and relay all of it to their general.

After that there really wasn’t much left to do. There wasn’t even alcohol on this ship. The best luxury Hux could indulge in was a can of caf and a few hours away from the monitors in the cockpit. He left the pilot’s seat and stepped through the door into the lower area. He dropped against the only comfortable seat in the entire ship, opened his caf can and stared at the unconscious man in front of him.

He had been right about the wound in his face. It wouldn’t heal entirely. Admittedly, Hux hadn’t done much to help it along the way. The medicine cabinet kept cream to treat skin irritations and scars (Hux himself used it for his own scars), but he would rather face a rathtar by himself than spend any more time than necessary applying stuff to Kylo Ren’s skin. He would carry the deep, red cut for the rest of his life.

Eyelids fluttered and Hux leaned forward. He stretched out his foot to nudge Ren’s shoulder with his boot. A sigh escaped his lips, then his eyes opened for a moment, closed again, and then opened again.

Slowly his gaze focused on Hux.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Hux said.

“You!” Kylo Ren spat. He wanted to say something else but a coughing fit took hold of him and shook him through. Hux watched him silently while he started retching out blood and what could only be acid. Ren hadn’t eaten in days. The nutrition fluid via the IV line kept him alive and well enough, but Hux knew from experience that it was still a terrible feeling. The hunger and the thirst didn’t just stop because the body received nourishment.

“Bravo,” Hux said when the wretched noises finally died down. “You survived. I am very proud of you. How does it feel, killing your own father in cold blood, chasing after a little girl and incidentally destroying a super weapon and an entire base on the way?”

“What happened?” Ren finally managed to ask. His voice sounded as rasp as a metal grater.

“What do you think happened? The Resistance bombed the Starkiller. It exploded. I saved you, because I am such a nice guy. Snoke isn’t happy. And that’s an understatement.”

Ren apparently needed a while to let that sink in. Hux couldn’t see his face, it was hidden behind his ridiculously long girly hair that had fallen all over the place.

“But he doesn’t want me dead yet?” Ren finally asked with a voice so faint Hux had to strain his ears to hear him.

It was a sudden thought, just a little idea to vent his anger on the one man who was responsible for everything. “Oh, he does,” Hux said. “Can you blame him? You’ve disappointed him across the board.” He took a fistful of Ren’s hair and lifted his head until he could see his eyes. They were burning furiously, staring at Hux with pure hatred. “He wants you dead, Ren. Which is funny, because he was literally the only person in the Galaxy left who still bothered with your life.”

“You’re lying,” Ren whispered but Hux could hear the failing hope in his tone. Ren’s glaring eyes scrutinized his face, trying to get the truth from him, growing more confused the longer he couldn’t tap into his Force. Hux held his head tilted back to make sure Ren could see the expression he chose to show him. The thing with Force-sensitive people was that they (especially Ren) relied so heavily on their techniques of Force mind-probing that they lost all abilities to read a person’s face once they had to pick up on the normal signals like everyone else.

“You know I am speaking the truth,” Hux said while he was lying through his teeth. “You thought killing your father would bring it? Would finally make you worthy of your granddaddy’s love? You fucked up, Ren. You made the First Order lose everything. Look around you. Do you see anyone else? You lost it all. You lost the girl. She is back with the Resistance already, back with her friends, probably welcomed by your mother.”

Ren’s whole body began to shake. He tried to scream but his breath got stuck somewhere in his throat. It wasn’t a pretty sight. His face turned red and he twitched so heavily that Hux dropped his head and retreated a few inches.

If he were free he’d be smashing things by now, Hux thought. He is trying to throw a tantrum but he can’t even do that anymore. He really has no control over this.

It was Snoke’s fault. Had he made the effort to train his disciple properly he would have taught him some damn self-control. But just as everything else that Snoke did, Kylo Ren’s training had been half-assed at best. Hux would never have allowed a trooper with such bad discipline on one of his fleets.

He watched Ren, fighting against himself until he got into another coughing fit.

“She is your mother’s golden child,” Hux said lazily. “The one you could never be. But relax, there’s still hope that she’ll fail. You were Snoke’s golden child, after all. And look at you, now you have crashed and burned. Golden children always do.”

“Untie me!” Ren finally managed to growl. “Untie me or kill me! Why do you even want me alive when Snoke has ordered you to kill me?”

“Because I still want answers from you, Ren,” Hux replied and used his foot to shove Ren on his back. “And as long as you keep me happy you might just live.”

There was not much talking after that, at least for a while. Kylo Ren kept demanding water and Hux kept denying it to him.

“You’re getting everything you need,” he said and pointed at the IV line still clinging to Ren’s arm. “What do you need water for?” He knew of course that Ren’s mouth was probably parched and that the coughing had left his throat sore. But right now he didn’t care. Ren was using all their medical supplies, he wouldn’t grant him any of their limited water supply as well.

He drank his caf, watching Kylo Ren slowly grow more silent. Finally he stood up and returned to the cockpit. Torturing a man who couldn’t fight back wasn’t much fun. Eventually he would have to feed Ren.

 

“Wondering where your Force went?” Hux asked.

Kylo Ren seemed awake and when Hux came into the lower area and squatted down in front of him he lifted his head and gave Hux a cold stare.

“What have you done with it?” he finally whispered.

“Why me?” Hux showed him a condescending smirk. “That was all Snoke. I could never have invented something that evil, just a little piece of metal that is gnawing away on your insides, keeping you nice and agreeable for a change. He gave it to me for the sole purpose of having me use it on you. You can’t use the Force anymore, so don’t even try. For once in your life you’re just a normal man, like the rest of us, Ren.”

Ren let out a low howl, struggling once again against his ties trying to break free.

“You liar, he didn’t, he didn’t give you that! Give it back to me, you can’t take the Force from me…!”

“I just did,” Hux replied. “And stop with the tantrums already. They’re getting old. Has nobody ever taught you to handle yourself properly?”

“Release me!”

“Like hell I will. You’ll trash the entire ship.”

He watched Ren exhaust himself with his futile attempts to get out of the ties, then grabbed his head and shoved it against the wall.

“Stop squirming. You’re a nuisance, do you know that? Even as my prisoner you’re nothing but a nuisance. You should have left with your father. The only people in the Galaxy who will still be able to stand you would probably be your parents. Only that bridge is burned now isn’t it? You killed your father, how happy do you think your mother would be to welcome you back into her arms.”

Ren didn’t answer. His eyes were closed, only a twitch in his face revealed to Hux that he was still conscious and listening.

“I killed my father,” Hux continued. “When the whole battle against the Resistance started. He was a captain of theirs, commanded one of their best ships. I shot it down. We found it on the planet later, I don’t remember which one it was. I killed my father, too, Ren, not for Snoke, not for Darth Vader, not for anyone but for me.”

That day they had taken everyone on the planet as prisoners. They had divided them onto the labour planets of the First Order. Hux remembered seeing his mother’s face in the crowd when every single person got loaded onto one of the transport ships. He hadn’t tried to reach her and he didn’t know onto which planet she had been sent.

“If you want to cry about it, go ahead,” Hux said. “You look like you want to break into tears every minute now.”

His eyes opened for a moment and Hux almost recoiled. He knew Ren couldn’t use the Force anymore, but if there ever was a man capable of using a stare as a weapon it was Kylo Ren. His lids were heavy and his eyes the most boring shade of brown but the spark that burned in them was downright terrifying.

Hux let go of Kylo Ren and took a few steps back. “No crying then?”

“Release me,” Ren hissed. “Or kill me.”

“See, you're making it very easy right now to know exactly what not to do. Just keep on telling me what you want, come on, beg for it. I want to see how far you'd go.”

Ren just kept staring his burning stare at him.

“You suck at this game. Honestly, has no one ever taught you any good behaviour? You’re making it so very easy to hate you. You're willful, you never care about anyone but yourself. You keep antagonizing people, make them hate you simply by being the egoistic little bitch that you are. No wonder everyone, including Snoke, wants you dead. Your own mother probably wants you dead after what you have done. That's one of the perks of killing your father, believe me, I know. Look at you, you failed. You failed so utterly and completely that not a single person in the Galaxy will mourn your death.”

“Kill me, then.” Ren lowered his head and sweat-soaked strands of hair fell over his eyes. “Kill me and get rid of me.”

“See, now I can't do that. It would be too easy. You have never in your life received any sort of discipline and it's making you act like a spoiled child. Every man should know how to conduct himself before he dies.”

“What do you know about my life?”

“Surprisingly little. Tell me, then. What was it like to train under our Supreme Commander? Did he give you sweets and tell you, you did well whenever you were being a murdering little piece of shit?”

“If I ever were to tell a living soul about my training with Snoke,” Kylo Ren hissed, “it wouldn't be you.”

“Fine then. What about before that? Didn't you use to train with your uncle before you killed all his disciples and made him run away to the end of the Galaxy? You did a bang-up job there, Ren. Make another one of your family members despise you so completely they give up on humanity altogether.”

“Luke Skywalker gave up on me long before I killed the other Padawans,” Ren muttered. His breathing was becoming ragged again. Thin streaks of dried blood ran from his mouth to his chin. His face was getting stubbly because Hux had better things to do than shave him. He seemed to stay upright by sheer willpower.

“Can you blame him? Yoda himself would have given up on you. You're insufferable. Tell me, Ren, has there ever been a single person who freely chose to stand you and your whining?” He bowed lower, making Ren flinch back. “Has there ever been one who has allowed you to touch them?” Brown eyes flared up. “Tell me, Kylo Ren, are you a virgin?”

Silence. Lots of wheezes. Even his breathing was annoying. Finally, very reluctantly: “No.”

“Is that so? Now I am pretty sure several officers owe several other officers on the Finalizer a lot of credits for that answer,” Hux said. He stood up. “So what is it? Men? Women? Both?”

Ren didn't answer. Hux didn't really expect him to. His coughs were getting worse, as always when he got upset. Then again, there was barely a moment Kylo Ren wasn't getting upset over something.

“I am almost inclined to take pity on you and let you have some water. But I haven't heard you beg for it yet, so you can't want it that badly.”

He stared down at his prisoner who had bowed his head too low for Hux to see his face. Just black curls and shaky breath.

“Please.”

Hux laughed. “Who'd have thought I'd ever witness the day Kylo Ren learned to say the word please? I feel like I should reward you. Then again, I really want to know what else I can make you do. Now tell me, Kylo Ren, would you suck my cock to get that can of water?”

He half expected another desperate attempt by Ren to break free of his ties and lunge himself onto Hux, but Kylo Ren barely moved.

“...yes...”

Hux turned towards the supply cabinet and took out a can of water.

“So that's it,” he said. “That is what's necessary to make Kylo Ren, master of the Knights of Ren, break down and beg for the honor of sucking my cock. It's just that you don't deserve it. You don't deserve to suck my cock, you're such a failure, in fact I don't want you anywhere near my cock.”

He threw the can in Kylo Ren's direction. When Ren only lifted his head and looked at him, he kneeled down.

“That’s right.” He opened the ties around Ren's wrist until one of his hands was free. “You can't even do that. Now I am going to open the damned thing for you but I'm not going to feed you. You can do that yourself, understood?”

He watched Ren empty the can of water in a matter of seconds and retch it back up immediately from his stomach that wasn't used to fluids anymore, then he took the can away from him and tied him back up. Ren didn't try to resist.

 

Sleeping soon proved to be a problem. As it turned out, Kylo Ren was plagued by nightmares. Not occasionally, either. Every time he fell asleep he would soon start whimpering and tossing (as far as possible) and eventually cry out and jolt awake. Whenever it became too annoying Hux would kick him awake. But there was not much else he could do. Nightmares weren't something he could just order Ren to stop.

“What are you having nightmares about, anyway?” he finally asked him. “Dreaming about your daddy dying?”

“None of your business.” Ren looked tired. He wore deep circles under his eyes and even though Hux dragged him into the sonic refresher each day his clothes always seemed soaked in sweat and there was a waxen film over his skin. He was still coughing up blood.

“Now be nice to me and I might just get you something to eat. Not just IV fluid, real food. There's no shame in admitting he's haunting you. I expected my father to haunt me after I had shot him down.”

“I don't dream about my father.”

“What else could possibly give you nightmares? You were as sheltered as they come.”

“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Kylo Ren hissed. He tried to sit up. His wrists were chafed bloody from his attempts to struggle free of the ties. “Telling me how good I've had it. Every night I get reminded of what Snoke did to me. I can’t sleep. I can’t find rest. It’s just the same, night after night after night!”

Hux sat down. He grabbed Ren's shirt collar and pulled him up. “What did he do to you then?”

“You wouldn't understand.”

“Oh, it's one of those Force-sensitive things, isn't it? Because you're too special for any normal person to understand your pain. That's exactly why the troops don't follow you, Ren. Why did you put up with him if he was so terrible?”

“Because I was too fucking small to fight him!” Ren spat. He twisted his face in anger. The coughing started again. It had gotten worse.

“You're a grown man, Ren. Being too small isn't really a valid excuse.”

“Fuck you, Hux! Seriously, just fuck off and leave me to die! You fucking bastard!”

And that marked the end of that discussion.

A few days later Hux still hadn't managed to establish a connection via the communicator with his troops. It was one of his biggest worries. He tried to comm them each day, until now to no avail. He cursed the little evacuation pod that proved so unreliable. He'd need to have a word with the radio technicians as soon as he was back with his troops.

Even though he couldn't reach his troops, he found that Snoke had sent him a hologram message. Sitting in the cockpit, checking the coordinates, he played it. Then he sat in silence for quite a while, pondering what he had just heard in his head. Then he played it again. He didn't bother with the coordinates anymore, he was too occupied with the message from Snoke and what it meant and what he had to do. He stared out into the Galaxy before him, not really seeing anything, while he tried to piece together the plan that had begun to form in his mind. He didn't succeed entirely, but eventually he had enough to know what to do next. After two hours of sitting motionless he turned towards his consoles, drew up a star map, chose a new set of coordinates and reprogrammed the autopilot.

Then he stood up and went into the lower area.

Kylo Ren looked up as Hux entered. Nothing about the hatred in his eyes had changed but the burn had diminished to a faint glint and he looked beyond tired. He didn't speak much anymore.

“I've got news from Snoke,” Hux said. “Now, remember when I told you that he ordered me to kill you?”

“It’s not easy to forget,” Ren replied quietly.

“Well, I lied.”

Ren stared at him, eyes wide. “What?”

“He told me no such thing. In fact, he ordered me to bring you to him to complete your training.”

For a minute there was only silence. Then the screaming began.

“You lied to me, you bastard, you fucking piece of shit! You lied, I'm going to kill you! I swear I'll rip your guts out and make you eat them...”

“You really thought I'd keep you alive if Snoke hadn't ordered me to?” Hux asked. “Like I wouldn't gladly have offed you the minute I received permission.”

“You bastard!” Ren howled. “As soon as we’ve landed at Snoke's I'll burn your fucking skin alive...”

“Ah,” Hux said. “See, here's the thing. I have just received another message from Snoke and things have gotten, well... I'll just play it for you so you'll believe me.”

He took out his datapad, placed it onto the floor and replayed the message from Snoke.

“My plans have altered. Kill Kylo Ren. Return to me with your report and be ready to deliver all your information on the Starkiller events to me. I shall expect you within five days.”

For a minute both of them just looked down onto the datapad. Neither of them said a word.

“So,” Kylo Ren finally said and sounded nothing but exhausted. “Snoke wants me dead after all.”

“You don't seem surprised.”

“I have just spent the last few days believing he wanted me dead. It's not much of a surprise anymore. The other part is new, though.”

“So you've noticed.”

“He needs your report. Once he's done with you he will kill you.”

“Yes,” Hux sighed. “So it's not just me.”

“Does it surprise you? You destroyed the Starkiller. You completely fucked up.”

“That wasn't my fault. He just needs somebody to blame. The more interesting question is, why does he want to get rid of his golden child? You were his prodigy. The master of the dark side of the Force. Shouldn't he be welcoming you back into his arms?”

Ren shook his head, still staring down at the datapad between them. “I was getting too willful. He couldn't control me that easily anymore. Tell me what to do and watch me jump through hoops. I did things he didn't like, like go after the girl by myself. And finally I killed my father to extinguish the light in me and it didn't work. I am not a safe bet for Snoke right now. It's easier to just find a new child and make it obey him.”

It was the most Kylo Ren had spoken since he had awoken. He must have thought about this a lot these last few days. And now he really didn't seem to care anymore.

“So there you have it,” he continued. “Now get it over with. You’ve got your orders. I know how much you love following orders. Kill me and run to him. Tell him everything. Die for the cause, your name will live on, I’m sure.”

“Are you kidding me?” Hux said. “I am not ready to die yet. Especially for such a stupid thing. Fuck Snoke. We’re changing course.”

Ren gave a short, rasp laugh. “There is no us. There is only you.”

“Stop playing the victim. Two days ago I would have gladly offed you. But as things stand I might need you a bit longer. Thing is, you’re dying. Making you swallow the Force-suppressor might have been a bad idea.”

“That is entirely your fault.”

“Snoke told me it would be all right. Of course he was talking about his technical device not about you. Anyway, I give you a week. Not even the medic fluid will be able to save you after that.”

“I’m practically in tears. This must be so hard for you. Nearly killing me and then having to watch me die.”

Being so close to death really seemed to put Ren into a sardonic mood.

“I won’t watch you die. Now, I must admit I have honestly thought about just cutting out your whole stomach. It’s not like humans actually need it to survive. But to get the thing off you all I need is another Force-sensitive.”

“Too bad we don’t grow on trees.”

“Yes but there is still one of you left whom I know exactly where to find. You’ll have to put up with me for a bit longer, Kylo Ren, because we are going home.”

“You’re delirious,” Ren said. He leaned his head back against the durosteel wall and closed his eyes. “We don’t have a home.”

“I don’t, you do. I’m taking you to your mother.”

Chapter Text

They take Kylo Ren away, Leia Organa rushing by his side. For a moment she manages to forget what he has done since he has left them and becomes his mother again.

Hux is left with a battalion of fighters around him, waiting for somebody to take care of him. His weapons have been taken away. All of them. They were quite thorough. He sees the glances people shoot at him. They’re afraid. Good.

The hangar is bustling with troopers, pilots and technical staff. Everybody seems busy except his welcome party, who simply stand there, surrounding him, motionless. They do not have their weapons drawn but doubtlessly they’re twitchy. The moment he makes an unexpected movement they will have him down on the floor.

He lazily scans the room. A loud shriek makes him and the men around him jump. They spin around and at the exit the general took with Kylo Ren see a giant furry creature struggle against several men who try to hold it back. It keeps shrieking and one of the men gets thrown across the floor.

“Take the bowcaster from him!” someone shouts. “I will not be responsible for him killing an unconscious prisoner!”

Eventually the shrieking dies down into a whine. Somebody leads the creature away. The man on the floor scrambles up and shoots an angry glance at Hux who returns the stare coolly.

“Let's get you to the medcenter, okay?” One of his comrades supports him and he limps towards the exit. The hall quiets down a bit.

Finally a captain meets him to show him to his room. It’s partially a room, partially a holding cell. It doesn’t leave him wanting, though; large bedroom, large screen and training equipment in the sitting room, a bathroom, and a food dispenser. Certainly bigger than any quarters on a Star Destroyer, definitely more comfortable than his quarters on the Finalizer. He does, however, have no connection to the outside world and he doesn’t need to check the door to know he won’t be able to open it. There are probably several guards stationed in front of his rooms. The windows don’t open. He is still a prisoner, albeit in a very comfortable cell.

Over the next few days, people come to ask him questions, about the First Order, about Kylo Ren, about the Supreme Commander. The very first thing Hux has done after landing, was explain to General Organa about the Force-suppressor. She didn’t seem surprised, only nodded, and he hasn’t heard from her since. He decides that his duty towards the Republic is done so he doesn’t indulge his visitors much. His answers are short, cynical, and sometimes straight out lies. They don’t give up and try to come back but they can’t do much to make him talk. General Organa’s orders, Hux assumes.

He in turns uses their ludicrous attempts of interrogating him to try and coax some information about the Republic's and more importantly the Last Order's state of affairs out of his visitors. They remain wary around him, but some are not as careful as others and Hux manages to make them let things slip.

He learns that the Republic has granted the Resistance a larger pool of subsidies after they displayed their usefulness on the Starkiller Base. He learns that most of the First Order is in disarray since the Starkiller has been destroyed and Hux has left, but that a small fleet is nevertheless carrying out strikes against the Resistance, keeping them on their toes. He also learns - and this comes as somewhat of a surprise to him - that not only does the Resistance have no idea who the Supreme Commander exactly is, nor do they know the least bit of his whereabouts. Findin Snoke apparently is one of their most urgent goals and the one that causes them the most headache. Hux decides not to help them with that, very much to the frustration of his interrogators.

Several days after their arrival he is finally graced by her majesty herself. Determined to remind her that he is very much capable of basic courteousness, he invites General Organa to his couch, pouring her and himself a drink, before he sits down opposite her.

“How is your son?” he asks. There really is no talking around it.

“He rests,” she answers. “He will be better in a few days. His wounds heal well and the Force-suppressor is discarded of.”

“Aren’t you afraid that he will use the Force against you?” Hux asks. “Or do you have a secret Jedi hidden up your sleeve to keep him in check?”

General Organa’s mouth twitches. “Snoke is not the only one who is versatile in building technology that keeps the environment around a Force-sensitive safe, General Hux. We have our own ways. Granted, they are not as cruel as those of the Supreme Leader, as you like to call him.”

“Ren will be delighted to hear that,” Hux drawls.

“Ben,” she corrects, out of habit it seems. “And I am not sure why you even care. According to him, you two haven’t exactly been friendly.”

“Oh, did he tell you I was mean to him? Did he cry?”

“He did not cry, General Hux. And I am afraid, my son does not like talking to me much anymore. He simply informed me that it was you who saved him from the collapsing planet and that you held him captive for the time between then and now. It was not hard to see that you treated him less than gently. His wounds were torn open again and he was basically skin and bones.”

“He wouldn’t stop screaming and throwing fits, I had to do something.”

“You are a cruel man, General Hux. But then I assume you did not reach your position because of your forgiving heart.”

“So,” Hux says, settling into the soft cushions, “what is going to happen to Ren – Ben – now? Will you ground him? Please tell me he is grounded, it would be so befitting.”

“Your jests are highly inappropriate, General,” Leia Organa retorts, the slightest hint of irritation in her voice. “My son will stand trial like any man who has committed such atrocities as he has. I presume he will not be a free man in his lifetime again. Being trained in the ways of the Jedi it would be too dangerous to send him away, so we will have to keep him close, where we can keep an eye on him. But believe me, he will not get his own suite and live his life in comfort.”

“So…,” Hux watches her face through his half-closed eyelids. “In other words he is grounded.”

She sighs. “If you must insist, General, yes, my son is grounded.”

“For the rest of his life.” Hux grins. “Has he thrown a tantrum already? We always so enjoyed his tantrums on the ship. He always seemed to assume that the First Order had a bottomless well of money to replace the damage he caused and never seemed to notice the way everyone avoided him after one of his fits.”

“A pity,” she says. “He used to be such a gentle child. Anyway, about you, General Hux…”

Hux opens his eyes and leans forward. “Yes? Have you decided on which beautiful planet you want me to live out the rest of my life?”

“It isn’t as easy as that.” General Organa rubs the back of her nose. She looks tired. Fighting the First Order must be exhausting business. “Right now our routes are being severely disrupted by a group of rogues. We cannot risk sending you on your way just now when every larger ship that leaves the capital is at risk of being ambushed. I am afraid you will have to stay with us a little longer, General.”

“No worries,” Hux says, spreading his arms on the backrest of the couch. “This is not exactly the worst place to be at, even if I cannot leave this room.”

“Please understand that this is as much to your protection as to ours. There are too many people who want to see you dead both in the Resistance and in the Republic.”

“I understand. I am not complaining.”

She nods and stands up. “I will leave you to your matters, General,” she says as if he had any matters to attend.

Hux stands up and follows her to the door. “If I wanted to see him…,” he tentatively asks, just before General Organa leaves the room.

She turns around, eyebrows cocked. This is where he’s got it from, Hux realizes. “See whom, General?”

“Kylo Ren – your son.”

She gives him a long look, then firmly shakes her head. “I am afraid I cannot permit that, General Hux. You handed my son over to our custody. Your matters with him have ended. Seeing as you two have a bad history I can only congratulate you.”

She walks out, leaving Hux behind. The door closes, locking him in. Hux returns to the couch, lost in his thoughts. She has given him exactly the answer that he expected, which only means he will have to find another way of getting what he wants. He does not intend to meekly go wherever the Republic points him in the end and he does not intend to leave Kylo Ren locked away somewhere where his talent will go to waste. Snoke has been wasting his powers for far too long, and now his mother is doing him one worse. It is time somebody new lay hands on the matter, somebody who knows how to direct this heated, angry mess of a nuclear reactor pressed into human shape in a way that efficiently channeled his energies and properly controlled them.

His chance comes about a week later when the branch of the First Order his interrogators have told him about launches a direct attack on the Resistance base. Not with a weapon as beautiful as the Starkiller but with ordinary old Stormtroopers. It is enough, though. The whole facility quickly turns into a panicked chaos, as everyone hurries to man the defenses. Hux can hear them on the corridors, hustling by, shouting commands.

He presses his door opener, to no avail. He knocks a few times until the door slides open. Only one of his guards is left and he looks stressed, like he wants to bolt away every second.

“What is going on here?” Hux asks, taking a small step outside.

“Everything is under control,” the guard replies, when somebody yells at him. He turns back and forth, obviously overwhelmed by the situation, then he presses the button to shut the door again. “Please, Sir, just stay inside for now.”

Hux retreats and the door closes. He can hear more feet running away, then silence. Then he presses the button again. This time the door opens reluctantly. Hux yanks the fork out of the lock, into which it has been wrenched and tosses it back into the room. He steps into the empty corridor and the door slams shut behind him.

In a small side corridor he encounters one of the fighters who is approximately his height though much broader. It is almost too easy to strangle him and break his neck. He takes the man’s clothes and his gun and makes his way to the medcenter. The helmet is tight and constricting but for once Hux decides to bear with it. His red hair is too flashy and he is certain too many men already know what his face looks like.

It takes him a while to find the medcenter. Fighters and technicians run past him, bumping into him, but nobody pays any attention to him. Finally a glowing sign above a door tells him he is at the right place. He steps through and finds himself in a large wing, blindingly white and sterile, with busy personnel stocking the cabinets with gauze and disinfectant to prepare for the aftermath of the battle.

One of the beds is occupied with a young black man. Hux frowns slightly. He feels as though he has seen that face before. Then he remembers. It has been on the screens of the Finalizer a few weeks ago. He’s the traitor, the young Stormtrooper who defected after what happened on Jakku. FN-2187. So this is where he ended up. Next to his bed stands a man in the ugly orange-and-white uniform of the Resistance pilots.

The traitor seems agitated. “Take me with you, please, I can't just rest anymore. Look at me, I'm fine!”

“There will be enough battles to fight in the future,” the pilot replies. “I'll be back in no time.” He presses the traitor's hand and smiles.

So that’s what he’s left the First Order for? His boyfriend? Hux resists a snort. They do not allow personal relations amongst the troopers so he comes here to fuck another guy instead. It doesn’t seem such a great loss to him now. Then again, they were involved in the destruction of the Starkiller. Them and the girl. Hux hasn't seen her around yet.

A nurse bumps into him, staggers back and apologizes. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Ben Solo,” he says. “General Organa sends me.”

The nurse just shakes her head and makes her way to one of the storage units. “He has been transferred,” she says. “The general’s orders. Don’t you know? He’s in the containment unit now, lower levels.”

“Right,” Hux says, irritated. It already took him way too long to find this place, how is he to get into the lower levels and find Ren in some unspecified containment unit in time? “My bad.”

It takes him another thirty minutes or so to reach the ‘lower levels’ the nurse has spoken of, and almost as long to get pointed into the general direction of where Kylo Ren is held.

As Hux steps in front of the cell complex, two guards straighten their backs. They look at him expectantly, awaiting orders of some kind. Hux shoots them. The first one falls so quickly he doesn’t even have time to cry out. The second one startles and his hand jumps to his weapon, but before he can do anything else, he, too, is dead.

Kylo Ren looks up as Hux, still in fighter uniform and helmet, comes to a halt in front of his cell. It is a clean, white space, not unlike the medcenter upstairs. It is small, though, barely large enough for the plank bed, on which the man sits, with a front made entirely of unbreakable transparent panes.

He barely affords a look at the two corpses, bleeding out not ten feet away from him. His gaze rises, until it lingers on Hux’s helmet. For a minute, Hux enjoys the irritated expression on his opposite’s face. There is nothing more vexing than having to look at a helmet all day without knowing what the face behind is doing or what it is looking at. It is time Ren learned this very valuable lesson. He doesn’t have the time to be smug, tough, so he opens the clasp at the back of the helmet and takes it off.

Ren’s eyes widen for a split second, before he leans back and tilts his head. “Miss me?”

He looks better. Still thin, still pale, especially in the fluorescent light, but he doesn’t cough up blood anymore and the wound on his face heals nicely. Sure, he will always have a huge scar, nobody will be able to prevent that, but it doesn’t ooze anymore and it doesn’t look like it’s about to tear open any second.

“Come with me,” Hux offers.

Surprise flashes across Ren’s face. It’s basically made for looking surprised, with the droopy eyes and the thick reddish lips that always seem heavily burdened by gravity. “Why should I do that,” he snarls.

“Because you don’t want to stay here.”

“That’s true. Then again, you’re the one who brought me here, if I remember correctly.”

“To save your life.”

“After you almost killed me.”

“Yes, well, we can’t all be perfect, can we?” Hux squints, looks at the other man more closely. “Can’t you open this door by Force?”

Ren doesn’t look pleased at that remark. “No. My mother’s made sure of that.” He gestures vaguely toward his throat. Something that looks suspiciously like a metal collar winds around his throat, a broad crystal embedded in its middle, shimmering softly. “It seems I am doomed to never regain my connection to the Force,” Ren says dryly.

“You can get rid of that,” Hux says.

“Not in here.”

“Well, I am offering you a way out.”

Ren looks at him curiously. “Where do you plan to go, Hux? The First Order will shoot you on sight. The Resistance will shoot you on sight. There is no place for you to escape to. You can’t run anymore.”

“I do not intend to run,” Hux says coolly. What a short-visioned man. “I intend to take back what’s mine. A lot of the First Order is still loyal to me. Snoke might believe he controls them but he will never be their leader. I will win them back. I will take the whole First Order from Snoke and I will expand it beyond everything he has ever imagined. My troops will return to me and we will not shrink, neither from the Republic nor from Snoke.”

Ren stares at Hux as though he has lost his mind. Then he shrugs. “Fine,” he finally says. “What do you need me for?”

“You’re powerful. Isn’t it time you finally had the opportunity to put that power to good use? I offer you a spot by my side. You will wield the Force and I will command the troops. Together we can subdue the entire known Galaxy.”

Ren rips out a short, cold laughter. “You are insane.”

Hux glances around. He has already wasted too much time. They should be on their way soon. “What do you say, Kylo Ren? Do you want to rot away in here, under the pitying eyes of your mother who will never not see the man who killed your father in you? Or will you come with me and have another shot at greatness?”

Kylo Ren watches him with his heavily lidded eyes. He seems to silently debate whether Hux has actually lost his mind or whether this is a trap. Hux does not know on which answer he decides, but finally Ren says, “I will come with you. Get me out of here.”

Hux doesn’t waste any more time. He turns toward the opening mechanism. It is a fingerprint scanner with a number pad.

“The guards don’t have clearance to open the doors,” Ren says. “Only my mother and other high ranks can open them.”

Hux shrugs, lifts his gun and blasts the mechanism away. A hole is left in the transparent door, big enough to push his fingers through. He pulls the door open with brute strength.

Kylo Ren steps outside and towards one of the dead guards. He grimaces at the sight of the blood on the clothes, but takes them anyway. The gun as well. The way he moves, more slowly than usual with sweat building up on his forehead immediately, makes it obvious that his wounds are still taking their toll on him.

As soon as he is dressed, completely with headgear, they make for the exit and run towards the hangar. Starfighters are starting and landing. The attack has lost some of its force but it is still going on. It isn’t hard from here on. They take one of the pilots by surprise and steal a long-distance Fighter to make away with. Clearance lets them through before somebody can report the break out. As they leave the orbit of the planet they hear the news on the intercom. The deliverer literally shrieks and orders all ships to return to base. It doesn’t matter. They are far enough away and there are hundreds of other ships around them all identical to theirs. The ship is fast, it jets out of the orbit and in between the stars, faster than anybody will follow.

 

For a while they fly silently. They stay in faster-than-light (FTL) drive to get away from the Republic as fast as possible. They fly into contested area. There are more warships here but less chance of being recognized.

“So,” Ren finally says, looking up from the consoles. “Now that we have safely escaped, tell me, o great General, how do you plan to reclaim your throne?”

“Keep your sarcasm,” Hux counters. “This ship is flying under my command.”

“You bastard,” Ren hisses. “You think you can torture me for weeks, almost killing me and the minute we’re back on board a ship you can just return to your old habits? Things are going to change.”

Hux raises an eyebrow. “I do not intend on torturing you, Ren.” Too much, he adds in his thoughts. “But we both know that you’re volatile. Leave the strategizing to me.”

“I. Am. Not. Volatile!” He sounds volatile. “As soon as I get rid of this thing…” He tears at the collar around his neck but of course it won’t come off this easily.

“We will find a way to get it off of you,” Hux reassures him with no intention of getting Ren out of the collar anytime in the close future. “Once we find a planet to land on where they have the necessary equipment. We could have just taken one of their technicians with us, now that I think of it. Make him open the collar."

“Fool, a regular technician can't open something like this. You need somebody with at least a hint of Force-sensitivity to do that.”

“Like the girl who kicked your ass? I must say, I was surprised we didn't see her while we were at the base. Shouldn’t she be with the Resistance?”

“She has left,” Kylo Ren presses through his clenched teeth. “My mother has told me. She has completed the map and is making her way to my uncle at the first temple.”

Something seems to strike him; he lifts his head and for the first time since their reunion he stares Hux straight into the face. “And we can track her.”

“Can we?” Hux asks and lets his doubt seep into his voice. “How?”

“She has taken the Millennium Falcon. It has a tracking device, you just have to know how to tune in.”

“And you know how to do that?” Hux leans forward. He is actually a bit impressed. Maybe the man isn’t completely useless apart from his Force usage.

Kylo Ren has already turned towards the console, flipping switches and furiously typing in coordinates. “Of course I do. We will find them. We will find Luke Skywalker and the girl at the first temple of the Jedi. And we will end them both.” He looks up and for the first time since their defeat at Starkiller Base his eyes seem to burn with the old flame. “This will be our first destination.”

“Alright,” Hux says, unsure whether it is a good idea to give in to this man’s zealous determination. He does not, however, have a better plan. “Let’s do it. Let’s find the girl and Luke Skywalker.”

Chapter Text

The first time Kylo Ren loses his temper is a few days after they have fled the Resistance. It happens when he tries to correct their coordinates and they lose the signal to the Millennium Falcon for an hour. One hour.

He has been on edge ever since Hux has gotten him out of that cell. Basically a bundle of nerves, loosely held together by sheer will-force, he has been a pain to be around. He barely speaks. He never enjoyed talking to Hux, but now that it’s just the two of them on the ship, he shuts up completely. He trains. Hux can hear him in his room until late into sleeping hours. He tries to get back to his old shape, but the wounds still take their toll and from his face and the way he walks, as if he carries a heavy weight on his back, Hux can only assume he is straining himself unnecessarily hard against his physical boundaries. That or he spends the whole night wanking off.

One hour is enough to send him into a tantrum. Or better, five minutes. The signal dies off with a sad bleep and doesn’t turn back on, leaving Kylo Ren furiously hacking away on the keyboard, cursing under his breath. Five minutes later, he has corrected his mistake and the little wheel, turning in its undeterred rhythm, indicates that it is searching for the signal. Which takes a while.

At first, Hux leans back as Kylo Ren starts howling at the screen and slamming his fists onto the console. If he had his lightsaber with him, he’d probably be hacking the room apart right now. Luckily, it is lost somewhere in space, left on the disintegrating planet when Hux saved him.

“Do you want to take a minute to step outside?” Hux asks. “The air is a bit thin but the stars are shining exceptionally bright tonight.”

Ren wheels around and growls at him. He’d be back against the next wall in Ren’s Force choke-hold by now, but just as the lightsaber the Force is still lost to the man. He has spent hours trying to pry the collar from his neck, until now to no avail.

Ren grabs one of the portable communicators and Hux stands up. He will not have the man throwing around equipment in his Fighter. He has put up long enough with his childish tantrums, because of Snoke’s orders and Ren’s Force-prowess, but both’re gone. It is long time somebody taught this man some self-control.

He grabs Ren’s wrist with the communicator and twists it, forcing him to drop the equipment. Then he apprehends him in a tight grip, turning his arms on his back, forcing him onto his knees with a hard push. Kylo Ren growls and struggles against his grip, so Hux takes a strap of leather out of his trouser pocket, that he has kept in there for exactly this purpose, and ties him up. Ren is strong and he is bigger than Hux, but he is not back to his full strength yet. His wounds are still taking their toll on him. Subduing him is an easy matter.

“Let me go,” he hisses.

Hux grabs a fistful of the black hair and slams his head into the wall. He takes the collar to yank him halfway up and stares straight into his eyes.

“Snoke might have been willing to have patience with your destructive behavior, I am not. You will control yourself on this ship or I will make you.”

“You are not my superior!” Ren howls. He tries to get his hands free.

Hux shoves him back into the wall. He places a well calculated punch into his abdomen and Ren doubles over, gasping for air.

“I should just have sold you to the fucking slavers. Make them deal with you. You would’ve brought me a nice little sum. But I didn’t, fool that I was. Instead I am the one who still has to put up with you. You want to be equal to me? Start behaving like my equal. Right now you are not even worthy to suck my cock.” He squints at Kylo Ren, who is licking blood from his lips where he bit himself. “In fact, why don’t you?”

Ren raises his face, staring at Hux with wild eyes. “What?”

“Suck me. You’re worth nothing else, I might as well teach you a thing or two about obedience.”

“Fuck you, Hux,” Kylo Ren spits out.

“No, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Hux says slowly. He takes hold of the collar again and lifts Ren’s chin. With his other hand he undoes his trousers, bringing out his cock. He can see Ren’s eyes go wide. He can almost hear his thoughts, no Force-sensitivity needed. He is being serious. Fuck yes he his.

“No,” Ren growls. “No.”

Hux rubs himself to get it going. “Come on,” he says. “Open up. And don’t you dare bite, I want you going nice and soft. You offered once before, remember?” He pushes his boot between Ren’s legs and applies a tiny bit of pressure. Ren whimpers. “Or else I’ll crush your balls and fuck you up your arse until you cry like a baby.”

If stares could kill (Force-suppressed stares that is) he’d be dead by now. As it is, he pushes his hard cock against Kylo Ren’s lips and the man obediently opens his mouth to take it in.

“Come on,” Hux says. He gives his hips a thrust until Ren starts gagging, then he relents a bit. He doesn’t fancy him retching up on his cock. “It’s called sucking for a reason, not going limp.”

Ren is pitifully bad at this, but he does as Hux tells him, closing his thick, soft lips around his cock, sucking hesitantly. Hux tangles his fist into the silky streaks of hair and pushes deeper into Ren’s mouth, until he hears a wheeze. He gives his boot a jolt and Ren whimpers again. His eyes that were shut close, open and flicker towards Hux’s face.

This is so much better than the tantrums. This is exactly where he wants Kylo Ren, powerless and obedient for once in his life.

It takes ages and Hux almost takes pity on Ren and lets him go. He could finish this up himself within a minute. Then again it’s worth it, be it just for the view of Ren’s lips around his cock, eyes brimming with tears.

Finally he manages to get off, forcing Ren to swallow, and pulls away. Ren immediately goes limp, coughing and gagging on the floor. Hux expects him to retch up everything he just swallowed, but he doesn’t.

Hux zips his trousers back up, then he leans down to untie the strap around Kylo Ren’s wrists.

“Calmed down a bit, have we?” he asks. Ren doesn’t answer. “Get out and clean yourself up.” He turns around towards the consoles, checking the screens for anything noteworthy. He hears the other man get up and press the door button. “And the next time you lose control like that,” Hux adds and hears him freeze, “I’m going to strip you naked, wank off on you and make you clean it up with your tongue.”

When Ren comes back, Hux is slouching in his pilot’s chair. He lazily lifts an arm and points towards the blinking white dot on the console they have been following for days. “Look at that. The signal is back on. We didn’t even come off the way more than a few hundred miles.”

Kylo Ren stares at the console for a few minutes. He shoots Hux a glance. He looks like he wants to say something but instead he sits down in his chair and turns his eyes back onto his screens.

 

The next time it happens is when Ren is having a nightmare. Their quarters on the small Fighter share a wall that is anything but soundproof. It is impossible to decide day and night when flying through space so they live off the clock. According to the clock, it is night. The ship, once set on course, doesn’t need a pilot all the time, especially not so far away from any inhabited system, where there is nothing for several hundred thousand miles around them to crash into.

Hux awakes when Ren cries out. He listens quietly for a few minutes, heart thumping against his chest. Maybe he will just fall asleep again.

Tough luck. He hears Kylo Ren get up, rummaging through his room, cursing, screaming. Finally, Hux sits up with a sigh. Once he gets going there is no stopping him until things get broken.

Hux opens the door to the adjacent room and dodges a can of water that comes flying past his ear.

“Don’t come in here!” Ren cries. He slams his fists onto the desk, sending things flying everywhere. He grabs the chair but it is bolted to the floor.

“You really don’t leave me any choice, Ren,” Hux says and steps forward. “You’re destroying the ship again and I can’t sleep while you’re in here squealing like a kicked dog.”

He lays his hand on Ren’s shoulder and tries to shove the man onto the chair. Ren grabs the collar of Hux’s shirt with one hand, with the other he meets Hux’s face with a punch that sends him flying.

He crashes into the corner, cheek burning. He lifts his hand to his face and stares at the blood. Ren’s fist has cut his skin.

He jumps to his feet and punches back, catching Ren by the chin. He staggers and Hux follows, grabs his arm and twists. When Kylo Ren’s legs give in, he pushes him onto the bed, takes him by the neck and presses his face into the sheets.

“Careful, Ren,” he says calmly. “Or you might just end back in a cell, bound and gagged and this time for good.”

“I’m going to kill you!” Ren howls. He tries to fight Hux off and lands a kick against his hip.

Hux turns him around, wraps both hands around his throat and bears down on him. He pushes one knee into Ren’s abdomen, right where he knows the wound is still not completely healed, until the whole body beneath his fingers begins to cramp up and shake uncontrollably. When Hux lets go of Ren, he gasps for air, too fast and too greedily. He is seized by a coughing fit. Hux doesn’t wait until it’s over.

He strikes Kylo Ren’s face several times, until his cheeks are burning bright. Then he tears open his shirt, without a thought on the buttons that pop off and roll onto the floor with a clattering sound.

“I warned you before,” he reminds Ren. “One more fit like that and you’re gonna beg your mummy to take you back.”

Hux strips Ren’s upper body naked and unzips his own trousers. It doesn’t take him long to rub himself off. At some point during those minutes of silence Kylo Ren has caught his breath again, but he doesn’t move. He lies motionless, fingers tangled into the sheets, black curls around his face. His brown eyes stare intensely from beneath the heavy eyelids, follow the motions of Hux’s hand. When Hux comes over him, he flinches slightly.

For a minute Hux stands there, marveling at the sight of his whitish cum glistening faintly on Ren’s pale skin, dotted with tiny moles. It slowly trickles down his chest hair and into his belly button. A few drops have landed on the scar on his abdomen that tears through his skin like several lightning bolts. The sight is mesmerizing to Hux. When he lifts his eyes up to Ren’s face, he notices that Ren is still looking at him. The gaze is unnerving. As if all the rage has gone out of him, and what’s left feels like a threat. A distant pressure of a will fuelled by pure hatred.

Without moving his head, Ren dunks his fingers into the glistening mess on his chest and lifts his hand before his eyes. He stares at his fingers, sticky with Hux’s cum, rubs his thumb and his index finger together. Then he lowers his hand to his lips and licks it off. Hux watches him repeat the motion until he feels sickness rising in him. He turns around without another word and leaves the room to clean himself in the sonic refresher.

Hux stays awake for hours after that, lying in the darkness, listening intently. But not a single noise comes from the room next to his.

The next morning (if one could call it that), Kylo Ren has gotten rid of his collar. Hux doesn’t know how he’s done it. But when he stumbles into the cockpit, worn out from a sleepless night and disgruntled, he finds Ren sitting in his chair, with choke marks from Hux’s hands on his throat and bruises on his chin and cheek but no collar. He has one hand lifted and lazily pointed in the general direction of a can of caf that is twirling slowly in midair, defying the on-board artificial gravity.

“Morning,” Ren says. “Sleep well?”

Hux spends several minutes just staring at him, at the enigma that is Kylo Ren, who has somehow managed to be beaten down, choked and fucked up during the night and to reappear in the morning, master of the goddamn Force, looking like he came fresh from his vacation.

Finally, Kylo Ren turns back to his screens, presses a few buttons without touching them and points toward the rotating hologram of a beautiful green planet that has popped up between them.

“We’re close,” he says. “Every day now.”

 

They cut back their speed as they are closing up on the Millennium Falcon. It is still flying, but the planet it is clearly heading to, is not far anymore. A few days fly by without incident. Not one of them passes without Kylo Ren making sure Hux knows he is in full control of the Force, but not once tries he use it against him, something, Hux was certain would happen the instant Kylo Ren regained his powers. Luckily, the outbursts seem to have stopped for the time being, as well.

Then the Millennium Falcon lands. Ren and Hux make sure to stay away far enough not to arouse suspicion. They take a day to plan their attack. They have talked about it several times already. They have also talked about what will happen after their encounter. What to do next if they win. What to do next if they fail. Either way they agree it was good to come here. Now they at least know the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker and they have found the first temple of the Jedi. It is a good start. It is something they can entice the troops with and more importantly, it is something Snoke doesn’t know yet.

They have a night again. The Fighter is close enough to the planet (though far enough from the place where the girl landed the Millennium Falcon) to witness sunrises and sunsets. To get accustomed to the day-night-turns they decide to actually sleep during the night.

Hux has laid down already without extinguishing the light yet, when he hears a soft rap at his door. There are only two people on board this ship, including himself, so it isn’t hard to guess who is knocking.

He gets up and opens the door. Kylo Ren stands outside, dressed in nothing but a shirt and a pair of grey trousers. Since they fled from the Resistance he hasn’t found a way to dress in his usual twenty layers of black yet, instead he wears the uniform they have stolen from the dead guard. He cleans it every day, even though the blood stains are long gone. The gunshot holes are still there, right at the chest.

Hux stares at the man, slightly taller than him, black curls tumbling into his forehead, face pouty. As always. Droopy eyes and heavy lips. Kylo Ren doesn’t say anything.

Hux raises his hand, then, hesitantly, touches Ren’s chin. His thumb rubs Ren’s lips that slightly part. He pushes through, into his mouth. A wet, hot tongue curls around his thumb.

Hux withdraws his hand. He grabs a handful of Ren’s shirt and pulls him into the room. The door slides shut behind him.

He undresses them both, first Ren’s shirt, then his own, then Ren’s pants at which point Ren gets impatient and unfastens the belt around Hux’s hips. Their clothes drop in a heap on the floor.

Hux pushes the other man onto his bed. Before he lowers himself down on him, he grabs the cream out of his medicine cabinet that he uses to treat his scars. He places it onto the edge of his bed and kneels on top of Kylo Ren, hips locked between his knees, who looks up at him with an almost soft expression. Hux doesn’t waste time. He closes his hand around Ren’s cock and has it standing upright with a few bold strokes. Ren draws in the air through his halfway parted mouth. He bites down on his bottom lip until it turns a dark shade of red. He is a sight to marvel at.

Hux flips open the cream and takes out a chunk with two fingers. He hears Ren suck in his breath and turns to look at his face. His brown eyes are big, as he stares at Hux’s hand, his lips quivering. Hux takes his face with the other hand, pressing his thumb against Ren’s mouth. A thin trickle of saliva makes its way down to his wrist. He lowers his mouth onto Ren’s throat and pushes his fingers inside him, licking and sucking the delicate skin on his throat, shoulders and chest until it burns bright red. Ren whimpers. Hux draws in his breath in anticipation of being Force-thrown against the wall any second, but nothing happens. His fingers keep pushing and stretching while he licks both of Ren's nipples raw. Ren’s hands find their way around his neck. They crawl down his back, clawing into his skin, drawing blood. He doesn’t care.

Hux withdraws his fingers and wipes them off on one of the shirts lying on the floor. He lays his hands on Kylo Ren’s hips and Ren lets himself be turned around, knees on the floor, face pressed into the sheets, soaking wet from his sweat. His fists are clenched into the blanket, knuckles white. He is shivering slightly. Hux kneels behind him, reaches around and starts stroking Ren’s cock with slow, deliberate movements, until the other man relaxes. When he breaches him, Ren gasps. When he starts thrusting, Ren cries out, voice muffled by the bed sheet. Hux keeps thrusting, feels the muscles working nicely around his cock, keeping Ren’s hip in place with one hand while the other massages his cock and balls. He keeps working Ren against his own hand, spurred on by the incessant cries that alter between sounding pained and ecstatic.

To Hux’s surprise, Kylo Ren comes first, messily, in Hux’s hand. He follows shortly after, allowing himself a deep grunt which is more noise than he has made throughout their whole encounter so far. Panting, he stands up and drops himself onto the bed, next to Kylo Ren. For a while, the only sound audible (except the humming and clicking of the engines) is their heavy breathing. Hux stares down at his hand glistening from Ren’s cum. He licks it off a finger and grimaces at the abhorrent taste. He gets up and switches on his sonic sink to clean the rest off of his hands.

When he turns around again, Kylo Ren has stood up and donned his underpants. He picks up the rest of his clothes and makes for the door.

Hux reaches him when he opens the door, grabs his arm and spins him around. He takes Ren by the neck and pulls him down onto his lips in one quick, messy kiss with too much saliva. Ren doesn't respond much. He bites down on Ren’s lower lip, just hard enough to draw a noise from his throat.

“Hey,” he says as they’re standing, facing each other.

“What,” Kylo Ren asks.

“What do you say once we’ve conquered them back, we change the name from First to Last Order?”

Ren snorts out a short laugh. “Why’d you want to do that?”

“It sounds better. We’re not the First Order. We build on their ruins, better and stronger. I think it sounds better.”

Kylo Ren laughs again, quietly. Finally he says, “Sure, why not.”

 

They bring the Fighter into the atmosphere the next day. Kylo Ren has lost his lightsaber and his helmet, but he still refuses to use a normal weapon.

“I have the Force with me,” he says. “That’s enough.”

“They have the Force, too,” Hux reminds him. “And there’s two of them. Just take the fucking gun, Ren.”

Ren clenches his jaw. He is irritable, which in turn is wrecking Hux’s nerves.

“The dark side of the Force is more powerful than the light,” he says. “Weapons would only hinder me.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it. All this talk about light and dark side is just your way of bitching about each other. Take the weapon.”

“No.”

Hux suppresses the urge to strangle him. Why can’t there be any Force-sensitive dogs? Human companions are weak and stupid and since he’s really out of luck right now they’re Kylo Ren.

“As you wish,” he says. Maybe he’ll be lucky and they’ll kill each other. Kylo Ren and the girl. Or even better, Luke Skywalker.

 

Once they’re back between the stars, the whole thing seems terribly stupid. The ship’s right accelerator is badly damaged. The girl has hit it with her blaster gun. Why does she even have one of those? Isn’t she supposed to be all Jedi, using the Force and everything? If she can use a gun, why can’t Kylo Ren?

It was his hubris that got them beaten and chased away. His believe that the Force alone would be enough to overpower Luke Skywalker and the girl. Now the ship is damaged, Hux has his arm in a bundle of bandages to stop it from bleeding and Kylo Ren has received a blow to the shoulder that would have knocked out any other man. He has also been slammed hard on the stones at the coast of the isle. Hux has to admit, he is impressed Ren can even still stand.

He is steering the ship out of the star system towards the north. It is still fast, though not as fast as before and it has gotten jumpy. Hux can feel the steering pad tremble between his hands.

The girl was good. She didn’t even try to use the Force, but instead brought out her blaster gun and immediately fired not at the two men but at their ship. Then Kylo Ren hit her, admittedly, pretty hard. Hux opened fire. But when Luke Skywalker joined the fight, things turned from bad to worse pretty fast. Hux's blaster gun stopped working and when he tried to fire anyway it almost exploded in his hands. He dropped it quickly enough to keep his hands but a shot went off and hit him right in the arm. The girl’s blaster, meanwhile, worked just fine because apparently Kylo fucking Ren could not be bothered to work the same trick on her gun Skywalker had done on Hux’s.

They have been beaten, no chance to argue themselves out of that. Hux stares out of the frontal pane into the vast space stretching out around him. An enemy ship would be more to his liking than the nothingness. Something he can blast into pieces. He needs to find a vent to his anger, his irritations have been going on for far too long now.

Hux doesn’t yell. He doesn’t slam his fists or throw things across the room. In fact there is nothing he detests more than such childish displays of anger. He still feels it, though, churning away in his insides. He channels it, that’s what he is good at. Uses it as fuel to direct against planets, enemy troops and if need be his own people. He will not lose his head, not over this, not over anything. It is a setback. He can work with that. He never cared about the Jedi, anyway. Most of the Galaxy is completely unconcerned by the Force and that is the part of the Galaxy he has to conquer.

The north is their best chance for a quick start. Hux knows the troops there better than the lines on his own hands. He has taken them into countless battles and they have always emerged victorious. He trusts them and, more importantly, they trust him. Snoke is nothing more than a distant figure to the men, something closer to a legend than to an actual leader. They don’t follow Snoke. They follow Hux. It is time he reminds them of that.

When they have finally brought enough distance between the planet and their ship, Hux puts the flight control on autopilot. It will be a quick trip, no more than a few days, which is good, because their supplies are diminishing and the ship will need repairs as soon as possible. Reecee, heavily contested and finally conquered by the First Order several years ago, seems like a good place to start.

Hux gets out of the pilot’s seat and opens the door to the common room. He has ignored the screaming and the noises of things being thrashed around for the last two hours but he can’t anymore. He will gladly put Kylo Ren down like a sick dog before he endures this rampage any longer.

Ren is standing in the middle of the room, chaos around him. His hands are bloody from the smashing, his shoulder is bleeding out as well. His shirt is soaked in red.

“Ren, if you don’t stop your tantrum right now, I will lock you up.”

He doesn’t even seem to hear him.

“She’s just a kid!” he screams. “How could a kid be better than me?!”

“Maybe she doesn’t whinge around all the time. You can’t blame them for trying to kill you. I’m close to trying to kill you.”

He receives a glare that makes him take a step back. Ren’s eyes in anger are like pits of fire. They seem to burn him up and everyone who stares into them for too long. Every bit of sense is gone from them. Hux braces himself, expecting to be thrown across the room at any time. He can feel the Force radiating off Kylo Ren as pure pressure. It is painful to stand so close to him, but to Hux’s surprise he hasn’t yet become a victim of Ren’s lack of self-control. In fact, the man doesn’t even seem to be aware of Hux, not really.

Interesting.

Just to find out what will happen, Hux decides to spur Ren’s ire a bit more. “None of this would have happened, if you’d just taken the gun I offered you, you know,” he says. “The girl has no problem using a gun, why do you have to be such a fucking dramatic? Clearly you’re not good enough to take on one, let alone two Jedi by yourself.”

Kylo Ren lets out an ear-shattering cry and his hands flash around in one smooth movement. One of the reinforcing pillars at the wall comes crashing down heavily, catching Ren at the injured shoulder. It throws him down, into the corner. He doesn’t get up.

Hux steps closer to inspect him. He is holding his shoulder with his one hand, the other is hiding his face. Twitches, like an electrical current, bolt through his body and shake it.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Hux hears Ren mutter to himself. “I can’t be weak. I can’t… I can’t fail.”

“We didn’t fail,” Hux says. “We had a minor setback. It isn’t important. You’ve learned a valuable lesson. Take a gun next time. We’re on our way to Reecee and from there on things are going to run smoothly.”

“I can’t win,” Ren whispers. He doesn’t seem to hear Hux, or he doesn’t care. “I can’t be as good as him, ever, and he wants me to…”

“What?” Hux asks. Suddenly, Kylo Ren’s head snaps upward, wild eyes staring at Hux. His whole face is twisted and the hideous scar winding its way through his skin like an angry red snake doesn’t make it better.

“It’s the light,” Kylo Ren croaks. “It’s still the light. I keep burning it out of me but it won’t go, I can’t let it go and now he is gone and I am…”

He doesn’t make any sense, but then again, he was trained by Snoke. Not making sense was probably part of his curriculum. Also, not finishing his sentences.

“Snoke’s history,” Hux says. “Screw Snoke. Right now, our equipment is much more important. We can’t just replace it like on the Finalizer so how about you shut the fuck up and start behaving like a reasonable adult again?”

Ren takes a look around the room. He shudders. Lifts his uninjured hand from his shoulder and brushes his hair out of his face. He draws in his breath a few times. The Force pressure has grown weaker. At least for the moment the will to throw pointless tantrums seems to have gotten out of Kylo Ren. Good. Now if only there was a way to make this state permanent.

“Just fuck me already,” Ren says.

Hux does. It’s not as good as blasting planets to pieces or ripping somebody’s guts out but it still beats going to bed early and resting his arm.

He orders Ren into the cockpit of the Fighter and fucks him against the consoles with a view over the Galaxy stretched out before them. Stars are blinking in the distance, while the rear monitor shows the sun and the planets of the system they are leaving behind become smaller and smaller. His left arm hurts like hell which means he only can use his right one, but it’s enough. For once, Ren is obedient as a lamb. He cries out whenever he moves his badly damaged shoulder, but he doesn’t resist when Hux pushes him down.

Hux takes his time to sweep his gaze and his fingers across the slender body arched against him, shivering under his hands (he is not exactly trying to be gentle).

The jagged scar on his abdomen indicates where he has been shot by the animal on the Starkiller. His bleeding shoulder is turning an ugly shade of dark violet right now. The scar on his face seems to literally tear him into pieces. Kylo Ren is marked on his whole body by his moments of failure. It is just like him, to punish himself by letting his body be desecrated, enduring pain and humiliation rather than come to terms with his defeat. As his hands follow the curve of Ren’s body, Hux can’t help but think about the man who has made him this way and why the fuck he thought it was a good idea.

“Kylo,” he says, “open your eyes. Look at me.”

Ren obeys. His eyes are pits of darkness, swallowing every bit of light around them. There’s pain, and hidden behind the pain, self-hatred. Hux has never been big on the self-hatred but he knows how to recognize it.

“God, you’re so fucked up,” he says.

“No more than you,” Ren gasps.

“Maybe, but I’m not the one getting fucked right now. Look at you I can make you cry out with a single movement” and he does “and all you’re doing is begging for more. You are completely in my hands, Kylo Ren, and it feels good. If I’d known I could make you shut up simply by fucking you I’d have done that ages ago.”

“Fuck you, Hux,” Ren hisses and Hux punishes him by pushing him hard against the consoles.

“All right,” he says after he is all done. His hands are smeared with the blood from Ren’s shoulder. The sweet, metallic smell has become overwhelming. “Get yourself to the medical cabinet. That shoulder needs some treatment.”

Ren doesn’t move. “I can stand the pain,” he mutters.

“Sure you can,” Hux replies. “But it’s stupid. Just get yourself a bacta pad and make sure your arm doesn’t get compromised.” He is dressed again, the cockpit is no place to be naked. He picks up Ren’s shirt from the floor and throws it over his body.

“Go on, then. I need you fully functioning. Just swallow your damn pride and take care of your wounds.”

He enters the refresher to wash off the blood and sweat and cum and when he returns to the cockpit Kylo Ren is gone. The door to his bunk is closed.

“Did you get a pad?” Hux calls through the shut door.

Silence. Then, reluctantly, “Yes”, deep voice muffled by the door.

“Good boy,” Hux says. “You have three days to recover. Then we will hopefully reach Reecee.”

Chapter Text

They make it to Reecee in three and a half days. When they reach orbit their supplies have shrunk to some paltry scrapings. They are running low on fuel. The engine stutters each time they pick up speed because neither of them has managed to repair the blasted accelerator. It is high time they exchange this piece of junk for something more functional.

The troops stationed here are the 15th and the 16th unit. They have served under Hux and Kylo Ren before and have been sent as relief to Reecee just before the Starkiller Base exploded.

“We could simply get emergency clearance and land,” Hux says. “But then what? We need to find a way to reach the entire troops but the communication channels are closed off except for the official entry point.”

“What are you planning on saying to them anyway?” Ren asks. He is sitting in the copilot’s seat, playing with the wavelengths of their radio transmitter. If it were up to him they would probably just land in the spaceship port and then force the stationed troops to join them at gunpoint (without using any actual guns).

That is why Hux is the one doing the speeches and Kylo Ren is the one lingering in the background, looking gloomy.

“Nothing you have to worry your pretty little head about. Things they want to hear. I’m very good at knowing what my men want to hear from their leader.”

“They’re not your men yet,” Kylo Ren says.

“See and that’s why I’m the general whom the troops follow and you’re the lone wolf. Because you think you need to hear them consent before you can call them yours. I already know that they are mine and have always been and that’s why they’ll listen to me."

“Alright,” Ren says. He leans over the console and starts typing wildly into the communicator panel. “Prove yourself.”

After a few minutes he leans back and gestures towards the microphone. “Push the button and start talking.”

“What did you do?” Hux asks.

“I connected you to every radio station on the planet.”

Hux raises an eyebrow. He hates to admit it but he is impressed. “The things you can do with the Force,” he says.

“This has nothing to do with the Force. This is purely mechanic. I simply hacked into the wavelength distributor.”

So Kylo Ren has more talents than just whirling his lightsaber around and looking into people’s minds. Who would have guessed?

Hux leans towards the microphone and presses the button.

“This is General Hux, leader of the First Order,” he begins. “And Kylo Ren, master of the Knights of Ren. We are requesting entry onto the planet.

“As you will already know the Supreme Commander Snoke has abandoned his troops – us – at Starkiller Base to leave the greatest weapon mankind has ever seen destroyed. We all have worked hard for that weapon and we have seen it wield a force nobody had witnessed so far. This weapon could have led us to victory, however strong our foes' armies may be.

“Snoke chose to let it get destroyed to serve his own ulterior motives. Motives that benefit the Sith, those who play with the Force, but not his men. Not those soldiers who have fought every battle for him so far. He let me and Kylo Ren take the fall for his greatest mistake. He has given up on us. He has given up on his own men.

“But I believe we are destined for far more greatness than Snoke can ever help us achieve. It is time we remembered that the Galaxy belongs to us soldiers and it is our duty – our calling – to make it great again. Without you the Galaxy will succumb to complacency and it will be ruled by Force-wielders who know nothing of us men.

“Do you want to be ruled by Snoke who hasn’t spent a single day of his life on the battlefield? Or do you want to join me who has fought with you side by side as your comrade? Who has led you into countless victories as your commander?

“We owe it to our people, our families and ourselves to fight on. I am offering you a new side. A side where soldiers will be valued for their determination and their dedication. Snoke has betrayed you. We will make him pay for that. I promise you here and now that I will personally force him down and destroy his First Order to establish a new one. A new Order more powerful than anything this Galaxy has seen before.

“Snoke will fall! The Resistance will fall! The Republic will fall! Our Order will rise and with it will every single man who joins me today!”

 

They are received by a welcome committee headed by a rather young captain named Drake and led into the base headquarters.

“We were so relieved to hear word from you, General,” the captain says. “We have heard rumors that Snoke has killed you but we didn’t want to believe it. The troops are in disarray. We hear Captain Phasma is rallying them in the northeast, but they have lost their sense of unity. It is about time that we start the real fight again. The men are yours, General Hux.”

“I knew I could count on you,” Hux says. “We have urgent matters to discuss but first we need to freshen up. We have been travelling for far too long.”

Drake provides his highest chambers for them as is befitting for a general and a – what? They haven’t talked about this yet. Kylo Ren has little interest in military procedure, having been allowed outside the ranks and the rules so far. Hux has promised him a place by his side but what does that even mean? Is he still the master of the Knights of Ren? Is he a lord? A general? They will have to decide that and soon. Hux cares little about giving Kylo Ren more power than is absolutely necessary but he knows it is important for his troops to know his rank to respect him.

There would probably be nothing wrong with having two generals.

It's nothing but an empty title, after all. The real power will still lie with Hux who will see to it that Kylo Ren serves his needs.

After Hux has thoroughly cleaned himself up and revived his spirits with the meat and wine provided for him, the captain leads him and Kylo Ren back to their conference room.

They receive a thorough briefing on what has happened in the Galaxy these last few weeks. The Resistance has withdrawn to the Core for the moment. The largest part of the First Order is still around the Braxant Sector, spreading out into the south and southeast, with a large number of valuable mining planets in the southern Rim. There has been a nasty skirmish between a Resistance exploration convoy and troops of the First Order that have been scattered in the aftermath of the disaster with the Starkiller somewhere around Quelii. The Resistance has won the fight. Morale among the troops of the First Order is at a low point. It is almost too easy.

Since Kylo Ren does not seem in any mood to talk, it is on Hux to inform the captain about the first temple. He leaves out details about their fight, but he emphasizes that Luke Skywalker has been found and is expected to join the Resistance and his sister soon.

"He has begun training a young girl in the ways of the Jedi," he explains. "We will have to get our guards up."

The captain motions towards one of his officers who leaves the room. “Nobody has believed in the first Jedi temple anymore. Rumours suggested Luke Skywalker has been long dead. Hearing your report I think we will have to prepare for the fight against the Jedi once again. Luckily we have our own fighters apt with the Force."

Heads turn towards Kylo Ren who is sitting next to Hux doing a kick-ass job at looking gloomy in the black First Order uniform the servants have procured for him. He acknowledges the men's interest with a short nod, not moving a muscle in his straight face.

"We will compile a list of nearby troops that should be willing to join forces,” Drake suggests.

“Very well,” Hux says. “And we need a new ship. Something bigger and better suited for long flights. After all, the long-distance Fighter is still nothing but a Fighter.”

“Not at all suitable for two generals,” Drake agrees. Hux doesn’t correct him. Neither of the men tries to coax any word out of Kylo Ren, but his tall, dark figure certainly makes an impression on the men.

“None of them will betray us,” Kylo Ren says when they are alone. “They all sucked up what you were spitting out and sincerely believe in your cause.”

“Good,” Hux says. “There is nothing wrong with that. It is a great cause.”

“Even you don’t believe in it.”

“Of course I do. Getting rid of Snoke, crushing the Republic, this pathetic excuse for a Galactic government, how could I not believe in that?”

“These men believe you are doing it for them. They believe they will reach glory. You intend for them to die for you.”

“Stop being so dramatic, Kylo. It’s a war. People die. You can’t win a chess game without sacrificing a few pawns. And sometimes even the Queen,” he adds and gives Ren a cool stare.

“Until at the end you are alone,” Ren retorts and walks out of the room.

Hux sighs and lets himself sink into the soft cushions on the couch. From his window he has excellent sight over the city beneath him. It feels good to walk on earth again. The feel the pull of natural gravity. To see a sky again and a horizon. He leaves the couch and steps out onto the balcony. The wind tears at his clothes. He has missed the wind.

 

Reecee is just their first station of a long voyage. They stay a week and nurse their healing wounds, especially Hux’s arm that has begun to stiffen during their travel. He had it checked and treated at the medcenter on the very first day. The abrasions heal, skin grows back, but a painful strain in his elbow resides.

Meanwhile they organize their small army that nevertheless grows each day and work on their plans. They agree to fly north first but end up arguing about their route for most of the time. Hux knows the men and he knows the strengths and weaknesses on their mobile and planetary bases. He can predict who will be won over easily and who might turn against them. None of that seems to impress Kylo Ren.

“Base Iota 27 first,” he keeps insisting.

“Iota 27 is too big. If we run into trouble they could blast our entire fleet apart.”

“We won't run into trouble. What's the use of picking up all the small pieces if we could go big immediately?”

“Those small pieces combined make a greater part of the army than everyone stationed on Iota 27.”

And so forth. In the end Hux enforces his plans, partly because Kylo Ren, whose mood seems to run in cycles falls into one of his cranky phases and suddenly stops caring about routes and conquest plans.

There is not much talking to him at the beginning of their voyage, this time in a proper Star Destroyer provided to them by Drake.

“We are in luck that one of the newest models is stationed here right now,” Drake, who will join them on the ship, says. “It is still a struggle to get clearance to dock one of these things.”

Luckily, it also has two identical commander’s chambers, an improvement from the earlier versions. (Also, showers with water, at least for the two commanders.) This way there will be no argument about who takes the superior chamber and who will have to take the second best. Hux takes No 1, Kylo Ren No 2.

During the time of their voyage Hux doesn’t see much of Kylo Ren. He is locked in his chambers, as always without the slightest interest in establishing a connection with even a single person on board. It is a hassle to even drag him to their commander’s meetings every morning and evening (living off the clock, Coruscant time). Things only improve slowly once they reach the first troop bases and have to start separating the wheat from the chaff.

There is no one better for this job than Kylo Ren. Clad entirely in black he strides along the lines of every single person that has a say on the bases, subjecting each of them to mind invading scrutiny. They feel it, too, he makes sure of that. Hux can see them flinch when Kylo Ren walks past them. Their eyes go wide and they hold their breath. Some break down screaming. Kylo Ren is ruthless. He seems to revel in the fear these people bring towards him. When he discovers disloyalty in one of them he doesn’t even need to give orders for their execution. With a flick of his wrist they crash against the ceiling and slide down the wall, blood gushing out of their mouths and noses and dripping off their crushed skulls. It is brutal but effective. The men who watch it happen will be sure to never even think about betraying them in their entire lifetime.

Not everything goes as smoothly as Hux has predicted. Some troops turn against them after years of loyalty towards Hux. He has to get rid of several captains he has firmly counted on. Those losses are the hardest ones to swallow. But then again, some confrontations that he is certain to end in battle surprise him with pleasantly cooperative officers. He can’t deny that having Kylo Ren by his side, who can simply will certain officers into obedience with nothing but his mind, is a definite advantage.

The further they proceed into First Order territory the bigger their army gets. Soon Hux has reconquered enough units to establish bases on his own. They don't hear a single word from Snoke. The Supreme Commander seems to hold his breath for the moment, not yet sure how seriously to take the uprising. Hux will show him.

 

“Do you think he can still reach you?” Hux asks. “Can Snoke still see what you’re doing?”

“God, I hope so!” Kylo Ren answers under his heavy breath. “The knowledge alone that his disciple is getting fucked by his biggest traitor must drive him insane.”

He hasn’t even begun, yet. Still completely in uniform, Hux sits atop Ren and straddles his hips, one hand at the belt around Ren’s waist. He bows deep over Ren who lies beneath him like his prey, arms lifted above his head, bound together at the wrists by Hux’s belt (he still wears his suspenders). He strokes his fingers across the soft piece of cloth used as a blindfold over Ren’s eyes with his other hand and the hips between his thighs curve up against him. He trails it lazily along the scar appearing from beneath the cloth, and pushes index and middle finger between the red lips. His cock, still snugly tucked away in his tight uniform trousers, stirs, as Ren’s tongue, hot and wet, licks along both fingers until they have reached his knuckles. Hux allows him to lick and suck them until he can’t hold back any longer.

“Are you trying to let him in just so you can give him his own peepshow?” he asks while getting rid of Ren’s trousers and pants and his own uniform.

“I am not letting him in. I am not letting anyone in.”

“So I noticed,” Hux says. He reaches for the lube he has ready next to his bed (saliva alone won't do) and gets to work with his fingers. “Have you ever tried it? Connecting with someone while fucking them?”

“No,” Ren moans.

“Why not? Shouldn’t that be an interesting experiment?”

“This is intimate. I don’t want anyone rummaging around my brain while I’m like this.”

Hux withdraws his fingers and wipes them on the handkerchief on his nightstand. He bows deep over Ren, draws his tongue over his chest and licks up the thick sweat. “Are you kidding me? You’re okay with getting fucked by me but opening up a Force-connection would be too intimate? Stop playing coy with me.”

“No.”

“Open up, Kylo. What else do you have the Force for?”

“Still no.”

He pushes himself deeper and deeper inside, one hand on Ren’s spread thigh, the other pressing him into the sheet, hard enough to leave marks. He likes leaving marks on the pale flesh. The only pity is that Ren with his full body wear never displays any of them during the day.

“Besides,” Ren adds, gasping so loudly Hux has trouble catching his words, “I don’t need to read your mind to know watching me execute people gets you off.”

“Is that so?”

“You like watching me display my strength. Crushing those who can’t be convinced, Forcing those into obedience whose minds are weak. It makes you feel more like a man when you get to fuck me afterwards.”

“Admittedly, watching you kilgrave people has a certain allure to it. This is not what I was talking about, though, and you know it.”

“The answer is still no.”

Hux lowers himself deep enough to catch the soft skin on Kylo Ren's bared throat with his teeth and bites down. He can feel the pulse beating forcefully against his veins.

“I’m thinking of you crushing that poor guy right now,” he says, carefully licking off the tiny drop of blood that escapes from the skin beneath his teeth. Ren’s body twitches as he is arching himself towards Hux, his thighs crushing Hux’s hips. His voice is stuck in his throat.

“And they’re all staring at you, Kylo, each and every one of them. I’m taking you right there, in front of all of their eyes. Make you bend down for me and scream for me while you’re still wet from that guy’s blood. You know, we can just execute all of them after I am done with you.”

He reinforces his tight grip on Ren’s body as Ren’s hips buck against his own, crying for him to thrust harder. He does. He knows he won’t be able to keep this performance up for much longer. Eventually he pulls out and finishes over Ren's chest.

He drops himself onto the bed next to Kylo Ren, barely able to hear his own panting over the sound of Ren’s whimpering gasps for breath. He pushes the blindfold away and turns Ren’s face towards his own. Burning brown eyes, half hidden under heavy lids, hold his gaze.

Hux lowers his hand onto Ren's chest until it is wet from his own cum. He lifts it back up and rubs his fingers against Ren's lips that open obediently and lick his fingers clean. Ren’s arms are straining against the belt around his wrists that keeps him from jumping up and running out of Hux's room as usually. (Ren must hold a record for the speed with which he can leave any room – or commander’s bridge – after they’re done.)

“You want me to untie you?” Hux asks, reaching for the belt. “Say it then. Come on, beg me.”

Ren’s eyes flicker angrily. “You're an asshole, Hux.”

“That’s the opposite of begging,” Hux says and loosens the belt. “Next time you behave like that I’ll whip you bloody.”

“Do it,” Ren says defiantly as he sits up, rubbing his chafed wrists. He’ll have marks for days. “What do I care?”

Hux shakes his head and gets off the bed to wash himself off.

When he returns from the shower cell (real water) clean, Kylo Ren is sitting on the edge of his bed and rummaging through the heap of clothes on the floor. They’re all black which isn’t helpful with the sorting.

Hux can hear him mutter under his breath while he searches for his underpants. He leans against his closet, unbothered by his own nakedness, and grins.

“Maybe you should start wearing whites,” he suggests. “Or is that too much light side for you?”

“Shut the fuck up, Hux.”

“In all seriousness, though.” Hux approaches the desk, bows down, and snatches Ren’s pants from under it. “Are you sure Snoke can’t reach you anymore? Giving him new material for his spank bank is one thing, accidentally revealing all our military positions and plans to him something entirely different.”

“I shut him out,” Ren replies, reaching for the pants. Hux holds them just out of reach. “He can’t come back in as long as I don’t let him. And I don’t intend to let him back in ever again.”

“Shouldn’t that make you happier? You still have that whole frowny-sulky thing going on. Or maybe that’s just your face.”

“I’m fighting a war, not trying to have a good time. There is no need for my face to show any more joy. Now give me my underpants.”

“Go commando.”

“What do you even intend to do with these? Keep them as a trophy of your conquest to sniff them later?”

“Honestly, Kylo, if you had any less sense of humor you’d make a clown cry.” He throws the pants at Ren. “Now get out. I have reports to finish.”

 

The Resistance has reappeared. They deal some nasty blows to the First Order, chasing them out of the Colonies and driving them directly into Hux’s arms. Every new unit that joins them provides them with reports of these skirmishes. Hux doesn’t even need to get somebody to try and intercept the First Order transmission lines (he has it done anyway). They receive any important information on their enemies’ troop movements with no more than two or three days delay.

Hux knows it is still much too early to attack the Resistance. The longer the Republic doesn’t know where the First Order ends and their little rebel group begins the more time they will have to prepare for the tougher fights ahead. When they reach Ansion they are joined by Admiral Khal, an old man with blue streaks on his skin, who has, as Hux remembers vividly, been one of the first to join the First Order. There are rumors that he is a genius at blocking out Force-intrusion and since he has never been a big talker (few remember to have heard him utter more than two sentences in a row) it is impossible for Hux to tell whether the man is really fed up with Snoke or whether he is Snoke’s cleverest attempt to infiltrate them so far. Khal, however, agrees to let Kylo Ren search his mind without hesitation.

It takes a while. Khal doesn’t move a muscle throughout the whole procedure, even when Hux sees Kylo Ren’s eyes get wider and his outstretched hand begins to shake. Finally, Ren lowers his hand and turns his head towards Hux without looking at him. He gives Hux a flat nod.

Inside the conference room Khal gives them a report of the recent developments. The most interesting bit of news yet is their capture of a Resistance pilot two weeks ago.

“He tried to play tough guy but we tortured him until he sang like a nightingale,” the younger, chattier lieutenant of Khal reports. “Apparently the Resistance is dead set on stealing Snoke’s secret plans but they don’t know where to turn. So they branch out. They’re still trying to find Snoke, but hell, even we’re not sure where he is right now. They’re also trying to find you, Sir, and Kylo Ren.”

“What secret plans?” Hux asks. This is the first he has heard of any secret plans. Then again, Snoke is always planning something stealthy and half the time Hux had to draw his own conclusions about the nature of those plans. Many involved some kind of connection to the Force and Snoke never cared to let the military in on his Force-centric plans. As if they weren’t the ones who ultimately had to carry out the execution.

“We can’t tell you much,” the lieutenant replies. “We weren’t on the development team. Apparently some kind of super-weapon that uses the Force.”

Of course that’s what it is. What else?

Snoke will never be able to make it work properly, Hux knows that. Not with a war on two fronts going on. He should allocate his resources to his troops but instead he throws them out the star ship to build a new weapon. Half of his plans never made it past the developmental stage. Not even Snoke can just shove a piece of Force – or a sun – into a weapon and launch it into the Galaxy. But apparently the Starkiller disaster hasn’t taught Snoke anything.

“Put everything you have on that weapon into your report,” he nevertheless instructs the lieutenant. “I don’t think we need to be worrying yet, but just in case. Is that all the Resistance pilot has told you?”

“There is some news regarding Luke Skywalker,” the lieutenant says. Hux briefly flashes his eyes to Kylo Ren. The man’s face is expressionless. Hux isn’t even sure he has heard the lieutenant’s words. Ren stares straight ahead, eyes hard as stone. At least he doesn’t seem to be in a mood to smash the conference table. Or somebody’s head.

“He is traveling with the girl called Rey. She is showing great promise to become a Jedi, General. They are putting a lot of hope in her. The Supreme Commander has apparently tried to establish a connection with her, too. It is said he failed, that the girl cannot be shaken. But after that, Skywalker has decided to take her on a trip towards Naboo. He seems to be trying to put as much distance between her and Snoke as possible.”

“So Snoke has finally made his attempt of establishing contact with the little Jedi,” Hux muses. “And the Resistance is trying to keep her to themselves.”

Drake clears his throat. “She might be promising, but she is still just one girl,” he says. “Let her try her luck against the First Order. If she actually manages to weaken them, we can still take care of her.”

“Or we don’t wait until she has mastered the Force and get her out of the way immediately,” another captain suggests.

“She is all the way down to the south, beyond the Core,” Hux says. “We are not going to send a part of our fleet on a journey throughout the whole Galaxy just yet. Jedis have been overpowered before. That’s what we have a Force-sensitive for. Kylo, what do you think?”

He turns towards the man next to him, who looks startled as he hears his name. “Yes,” he says, distress in his voice. “Let her run. Eventually, she will come back and we will kill her, one way or the other.”

He seems to be completely lost in his thoughts. Hux can see a thin film of sweat on Ren’s forehead. He turns back towards Khal and his assistant.

“Where’s the pilot now?”

“He is dead.”

Hux nods. “Very well. Welcome on board, Admiral. We will receive your report and the status of your troops and then decide where to put you in charge.”

 

“What about his men?” Hux asks later, when they are alone in his rooms. He draws up lists of all the troopers they haven’t yet assigned to a specific unit. “Are they trustworthy?”

“No one is trustworthy,” Kylo Ren replies, face still white as snow. “That is why you have me read their intentions. Most of them are loyal enough, but I am not sure with these.” He points at the list displayed in front of him. He has spent the last ten minutes staring at it blankly. Whatever is going on with him, it seems to have knocked him half out of his senses. “We can add them to the long list of units I wouldn’t entrust myself to. We should just kill them off. It would be a loss, sure, but what use are men who might turn their backs on us in a tight situation?”

“Let’s stock the 83rd unit with them instead,” Hux suggests. “We can’t just lose several hundred men on a hunch of yours, even if your hunches might be good. We’ll put them in the front instead, right at the place where the most casualties incur. When they fall in battle at least they will have served their purpose.”

“Fine,” Ren says. He stands up and turns towards the door.

Hux stretches out an arm to stop him.

“What is going on?”

Ren blinks. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t try to fool me, Kylo, something is twisting your brains. You look and behave like a ghost.”

“Nothing. Let me go.”

“Is it the girl?”

His eyes go wide and his lip twitches. Bull’s eye.

“Is it because she has taken up training with Luke Skywalker? Because you already knew that. It shouldn’t come as such a shock to you.”

“It doesn’t.”

“What is it, then? Snoke’s attempt to contact her?”

The lights flicker. Hux has to take a step back. The air gets sucked out of the room, literally.

“Calm down, this is getting too far,” Hux huffs. “You should have known something like this would happen. Snoke wanted to get rid of you, did you think he’d never find a replacement?”

“She is not my replacement,” Ren hisses. It is getting hard to breathe. One of the screens cracks. “She will never even come anywhere near me! Snoke can have her if he wants. One more Padawan he can snatch out of my uncle’s hands.”

“Great.” Hux staggers backwards to get away from the Force-pressure. “No need then to overreact. Get a hold of yourself, now.”

It takes a few minutes, but eventually Ren calms down enough for the pressure to subside. He straightens his back and inhales deeply.

“Whatever your issues are, find a way to deal with them,” Hux says after he has regained his breath. “A way that doesn’t involve broken equipment. Our coffers aren’t deep enough to afford the luxury of your tantrums, Snow White. Go and eat some chocolate or something.”

“Did you just call me Snow White?” Ren asks, voice dark.

“Yes. It fits you perfectly. Ebony hair, face white as snow, blood-red lips. You’re practically begging for someone to shove a poisoned apple down your throat.”

“Hux,” Ren says slowly. “I give you my word right now, I will witness the day you die and I will make it into a celebration day.”

He walks out of the room.

 

Kylo Ren’s sulky phase might have passed but he is quickly developing new ways to bother Hux and the captains. He becomes restless. Which is good on the one hand, because he spends his entire time drawing up plans for their battles, restructuring their troops and single-handedly developing a new assignment program that handles the troops’ rosters automatically (the old one was very flawed).

But then there are the other things. He is determined to lead every campaign of conquest himself which usually results in higher death tolls than when one of the captains is leading. He also insists on taking a trip to a nearby planet to find a new kyber crystal. When Hux refuses because they lack the time he gets angry and stays angry until Hux relents. His tantrums have returned as well. More than once Hux has to stop him from destroying the expensive data systems on the bridge of their Star Destroyer. Hux is the only one who dares even do that. Whenever he is busy somewhere else on the ship and receives a distress call from his men, it is usually too late. Punishing Kylo Ren for his behaviour has little to no effect whatsoever.

There are also the things that are more difficult to notice. Ren pushes himself too hard again. He spends almost every minute of his free time on the training decks of the Stormtroopers. It is not only the physical training that leaves him with new bruises and strained muscles every day (he cries out a lot). The soldiers inform Hux that he is also taking up his training with the Force against the normal men who have begun to avoid him at all cost.

Then there is the time a faulty air pressure alarm wakes Hux up in the middle of the night. He searches for his com-link to call a technician only to remember he left it in the conference room. He can turn off the alarm himself, but he hates not having his com-link by his side so in the dead of the night he makes the trip to the conference room where he is surprised to find the lights still burning.

Inside, Kylo Ren is bowed over a map of the nearby solar systems, writing down numbers on the datapad next to him.

“It’s three in the morning,” Hux says. “What are you still doing here?”

“I could ask you the same.”

“I left my com-link. I am not here to work on calculations I could just as well leave to the lower officers. Why aren’t you sleeping?”

“I don’t need sleep. I have the Force.”

“Of course you need sleep, you’re human after all. Or at least I think you are. How often do you work through the night?”

“Irrelevant,” Ren says. “What do you think you’ll get out of acting as though you actually worried about me?”

“I do worry,” Hux says. “I need you sharp. Your concentration is waning. You’re getting more irritable. I can’t do your job as well, Kylo, I’m busy enough. Get your act together.”

Chapter Text

They’re in orbit around a dwarf planet with the beautiful name of Tau 9513. Nobody in the whole Galaxy has cared much about the dwarf that made habitation barely possible for most of history. It is constantly covered in a thick layer of ice and doesn’t have a natural vegetation, which in turn means it doesn’t have an atmosphere. The First Order had to establish an artificial atmosphere around the planet to create a sphere in which humans and humanoid life-forms could survive. This kind of technology, while having witnessed a drastic upsurge in the last half century, is still ridiculously expensive and a hassle to maintain in a balance. Nobody would bother to waste it on an icy dwarf planet with no strategic advantage whatsoever if the First Order hadn’t discovered three years ago that the planet contained huge quantities of rare metals hidden beneath its surface. It quickly became clear that those metals justified the high costs of installing cutting-edge atmospheric technology around the entire planet and deploying several units of their workforce and a proper garrison for defence on the dwarf.

It is also crystal clear to Hux that under no circumstances they can pass up on Tau 9513. Cutting the First Order off their supply of high-value resources while securing those same resources for their own cause is at least as important as reinforcing their troops, or so Drake keeps insisting. They have already known that the commanders of the garrison stationed here are highly unlikely to betray Snoke. When Kylo Ren took his Stormtrooper unit to take control over the dwarf, the orders were clear. Wipe them out if necessary and install new, loyal troops in their stead.

But when Hux sees the sudden surge of red lights flash up on the unit control panel on the bridge, it nevertheless nearly makes him lose his calm. He doesn’t need to wait for Kylo Ren’s return to count their losses. Every Stormtrooper has a life signal transmitter in their vest. The moment they lose signal, the bridge gets notified.

“Ninety-eight!” he barks at Ren the moment he sets foot on the bridge. His face is covered in blood (as probably are his clothes, which is unnoticeable since they’re all black) and even his hair is slick from it. “There are a hundred men stationed on this planet, how the fuck did you manage to lose almost as many on a simple conquering mission, Kylo?”

“Explosives,” Ren answers, eyes burning. “They saw us coming and tried to blow up the whole station. The moment we set foot onto the ground they set it off. There was no way we could have foreseen that.”

“You look quite unscathed to me for someone who has just been blown up.”

“I stood in the centre of the explosion, Hux, I shielded myself. Everyone around me was ripped to shreds. Be glad we managed to keep the rest of the place intact. They had set four bombs and only one went off. I used the Force to disable the other three. You were the one who insisted it was too expensive to use explosives tracking devices on every one of our missions. These men are as much on you as they are on me.”

“You shielded yourself from the explosion?” Khal asks, obviously sufficiently impressed to break his usual silence.

Ren casts him a glance. “I used the Force. Don’t you dare complain about this, Hux. The mission was a success. The planet is secured, the atmosphere is mainly intact. We can repair everything that has suffered damage from the explosion. The garrison that was stationed there is dead. I finished them and since most of our troopers were dead already, I had to do it myself. I don’t think I’ll be able to use the Force for the next three days after that exercise. I even detained a few prisoners for you for questioning.”

Khal leans forward in his seat. “I’d like to read the report on that, General.” Everyone here has seen enough displays of Kylo Ren’s abilities with the Force to be sated for a life time. This, however, manages to shut even Hux up. Nobody else would have been able to subdue a whole planet, albeit just a dwarf, almost on their own, not even Hux himself.

“You will have your report tomorrow, Admiral,” Ren says. “Now if you excuse me, I need to get the dead soldiers off of me.”

Hux follows him towards the commanders’ chambers. “How many prisoners?”

“Three,” Ren replies. “Although one might not make it. They weren’t just set on killing us, Hux. They were prepared to die for Snoke, all of them. They blew up almost as many of their own men as they caught of ours.”

“That is something we have to expect from Snoke’s men,” Hux points out. “He has a gift for turning people into fanatics. Hell, you’re a fanatic, Kylo.”

“If I were, I would have died for him instead of becoming a traitor.”

“Very well, a converted fanatic, then.”

Ren pushes open the slide door to his chamber, grabs Hux by his collar and drags him inside. The moment the door closes behind them he draws Hux onto his mouth in hungry, wet kisses. The smell of sweat and smoke and blood fills Hux’s nose, so thick and sweet it’s enough to make him feel intoxicated. He brushes one gloved hand over Kylo Ren’s cheek where the blood is still glistening wet, smearing it across Ren’s face.

“Get out of these clothes,” he says and Ren does. Hux himself doesn’t bother to strip. He is almost laughing at the eagerness Ren displays. “You want to be fucked so badly?” he asks as Ren drops onto the bed, rock hard, beckoning Hux with his whole body to join him.

Instead of an answer Ren bares his throat and growls.

“Look at you. You’re covered in blood and you were just responsible for the death of almost two hundred men. Killing makes you horny, Kylo.” He kneels on top of the naked man, still fully dressed. “You’re disturbed as hell, aren’t you?”

“No more than you,” Ren growls. His voice, naturally deeper than Hux’s, has dropped to a husky low that vibrates in Hux’s groin.

“You know, we could just have one of those traitors brought in here. You can crush him while I fuck you. Force him to watch until it’s the last thing burned into his retina when he dies.”

Ren’s reaction comes so quick and powerful that it makes Hux almost reach towards his com-link to order a trooper bring up one of the poor souls rotting in their prison cell right now.

Instead he takes a fistful of Ren’s hair and leans forward to bite down on his delicate throat. When he removes his gloved hand, it is slick with blood.

“Tell me,” he says and trails the bloodied hand down Ren’s chest, leaving traces of rusty red on the white skin, “What did you do in the old days? Before I started fucking you, did you just take one of the junior officers to vent off these sick urges of you?”

“No.” He is moaning now, even though Hux hasn’t come anywhere near his groin yet. His fingers trace the ridges of Ren’s abdomen and linger over the scar torn by the bowcaster of that animal. It has burnt itself into his skin like a forest fire into a mountain slope.

“What else, then? Just wank it off in the shower?”

“What else was there to do?” He is right. The First Order was rigorous with enforcing their no-fraternization policy. Things were a bit laxer for the upper ranks, of course, though probably not for Snoke’s personal pet. Who is now lying stretched out under Hux, quivering under his touch, his voice begging for more.

“Fair enough.” Hux follows a hairline branch of the scar down into the valley below Ren’s hip bone, hidden beneath a forest of black curls. Then he withdraws his hand. “Show me.”

“What?”

“You want to get off, do it yourself. I’m not going to do it for you. Show me.”

Ren obeys. Hux watches him get to work on his own cock with a precise routine he can only achieve on himself. There is a certain appeal to watching his movements.

“Tell me what you were thinking about,” he orders.

“Their faces,” Ren replies under his heavy breath. “The moment they realize they are going to die. When their lungs are already crushed and their hearts give out, that exact moment there is no denying anymore. It’s the most intense thing you will ever see on a man’s face.”

Pearly white cum mixes with the dark red of the dried blood. Hux bows deep over Ren’s body and stems his left hand next to Ren’s head to keep himself propped up. He watches Ren straining himself to reach Hux’s mouth lingering above him and keeps himself just at the right distance. Part of him wants to lick the blood and cum off Ren’s white body, but he doesn’t even know whose blood this is (not necessarily human), which makes it slightly disgusting.

“Does it make you feel alive?” he asks quietly. “Watching them die, knowing they can’t touch you?”

“It makes me want to feel what they feel,” Ren answers in the same hushed voice. “That one short moment between life and death, when they know it’s over but they’re still hanging on.”

Hux raises himself back up and stands up. “Bloody hell, Kylo, you’re even more disturbed than I could ever have guessed. Get yourself cleaned up. I’m expecting that report in an hour.”

“You’re not going to fuck me?” Ren asks, a pleading undertone in his voice.

“Not today. If you get me one of the poor souls you brought from the base with you up here tomorrow, I’ll fuck you as long as it takes you to Force-crush him into a bloody pulp. You’ll have to kill him to make me take mercy on you.”

 

Shortly after their annexation of Tau 9513 they reunite with Phasma.

“I knew you’d come,” Hux says, as the captain walks on board, delivering the entire units 23 to 25 and the young Lieutenant Mitaka to their doorstep.

“I knew you’d drop the Commander one day,” Phasma says. “And finally ensure the Order does what it is destined to do. When I heard you were rallying the troops I set out to join you immediately. It took a while because I had to stop to pick up a few things on my way. For instance, I have brought you the Battlefront. She is the twin ship of the Finalizer, that I am sad to say has been destroyed beyond repair.”

“You are sent by the heavens themselves as a sign that we are on the right path,” Hux says. “I know it. This ship has been getting too small. Now that you have brought me this beauty there is nothing that will stand in my way for long anymore.”

Phasma is an invaluable asset. Not only is she his most able colonel (they bumped her up immediately. They need more high ranks), she is also brilliant with his men. She knows how to keep them in check but still they all seem to worship her. In the conference room she assumes the seat to his left side (his right side is occupied by Kylo Ren) as if she takes it for granted and no one dares question her.

They move into the Battlefront two days later. Phasma leads Hux and Kylo Ren into the storage units to show them the weapons she has looted off the Resistance and the First Order.

“Tracking equipment as well,” she says. “State-of-the-art. If you decide to set course directly to Snoke, nothing will guarantee your success to find him like these babies.” Technical equipment gets Phasma almost as excited as battles.

“And there is something else I have brought with me from the Finalizer,” Phasma says and leads them to a heavily locked metal box. She opens it and takes out Kylo Ren’s helmet. It looks battered, the weird silver lines on the forehead are bent on one side, and it shows several deep scratches that weren’t there before.

Ren accepts the helmet with big eyes, speechless. “You found it,” he finally says.

“It was still lying on the bridge,” Phasma replies. “I hope this is to your satisfaction.”

“Yes!” Kylo Ren says.

“No!” Hux says.

Both heads turn in his direction.

“You have done so well without the helmet. You should show your face to the troops when you talk to them.”

“You do most of the talking, anyway,” Kylo Ren says. “I need this.”

“No, you don’t. Put the helmet away for good, Kylo.”

“No.”

“Kylo, I’m serious.”

“So what?” Ren hisses. “You’re not my superior. You don't tell me how to dress or whom to talk to.”

And with that he storms off, helmet in his hand.

“So,” Phasma notes, apparently feeling cheeky. “He hasn't changed much, has he.”

“Nothing ever changes much,” Hux mutters.

“But it has,” Phasma says, facing him. “You are our leader now, Sir. No orders from Snoke anymore who knew nothing about warfare whatsoever. I was immensely relieved to hear that you were back on the playing field, Sir. Things will move so much more smoothly from now on.”

Hux meets her eye and allows himself a thin smile. She is right. Things have changed for the better.

“Now since I have just found out that there are several officers on board who’d owe me quite a sum of credits if that is the case,” Phasma says, “has anyone found out yet whether he wears that thing in bed as well?”

“Not yet,” Hux replies. “I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

He leaves the storage units before Phasma has time to recover.

 

There is an addictive allure to having Kylo Ren ride on his hips, guiding Hux’s cock with his movements. Maybe it’s the way his hair falls in black waves over his face (mask-free) and clings in streaks to his forehead drenched in sweat. He had it cut when they started collecting troops but it grows back at light speed. Maybe it’s his heavy breath that falls on Hux’s face, neigh-on burning his skin, or the way Hux can see every motion in his face, when his thick lips curl as he gasps for air and the twitch around his eyes when he is pulling himself down onto Hux’s cock. Maybe it’s the way he can watch his throat work when he swallows or the muscles in his stomach, glistening from his sweat, working at a rhythmic pace. The only drawback is that for once, Hux isn’t in control but he can live with that in exchange for this sight.

“You should get rid of that helmet, you know that,” Hux says and Kylo Ren groans deeply.

“Fucking hell, Hux, what is your fucking problem!”

He shifts, leaving Hux jolting involuntarily and gasping for breath as he reels dangerously close to getting off much sooner than he has planned. For several minutes he has to concentrate on regaining his control and steadying his panting before he can speak again.

“People should be able to connect with you. They can't when you're wearing that thing.”

“I like that thing,” Ren growls. He leans forward to look Hux straight in the eye, brows furrowed, snarl on his lips.

“You don’t need it. Darth Vader needed it to breathe. You don’t need it for anything.”

“I do need it.”

“For what?”

“None. Of. Your. Fucking. Business.” Ren’s fingernails tear into his skin until they draw blood. Hux clenches down on his thighs to return the pain.

“People like you without your helmet on.”

“Do you like me without my helmet on?” Ren asks. He licks his lips. Black curls almost hide his eyes, glaring at him from below his heavy eyelids. His cheeks and lips are flushed dark red, contrasting sharply from the pale skin of his body. A single drop of sweat runs down the entire magnificent curve of his nose and vanishes in the valley of his scar.

“I don’t even like you right now,” Hux says. He can feel Ren’s body tremble as he hardens his grip on his thighs.

“Then why do you even care,” he mouths breathlessly.

“Kylo, I swear to the stars, if you start wearing that stupid helmet again, I will tie you up and melt it into metal chips in front of your eyes.”

Kylo Ren’s hiss cuts through the air like a whip. He moves a hand and Hux’s head almost explodes under the sudden pressure. He is filled with a blinding rage as Ren’s emotions come crashing down on him. Fucking Force-sensitive.

When the rage subsides, Ren is already standing in front of the bed, leaving Hux utterly unsatisfied, throwing on his clothes with record speed.

“Fuck you, Hux. Seriously.”

He leaves the chamber without a second glance.

Fucking child.

The struggle is drawn out over the next weeks and Hux has half a mind to punish Phasma for dragging the helmet all the way to their base in the first place, but eventually he gets Kylo Ren to leave the thing off, at least as long as they’re on the ship.

The troop numbers rise weekly. Since Phasma has joined them, more and more units decide to take the same step and they bring valuable assets with them. Within barely more than a year, several of the most profit-yielding northern planets of the First Order are under their control. Those commanders who choose to fight face a humiliating end. They execute most of them. They cannot afford traitors.

It doesn’t take Hux long to wonder how exactly they have ever been able to fight this war without Phasma by their side. As second-in-command on Kylo Ren’s conquest missions (that he still refuses to leave to anybody else) she manages to achieve something no one else has done so far. She gets him to avoid unnecessary deaths and cuts down the expenses by introducing new strategies. She also seems to know every single Stormtrooper under her command, not only by number, but by nickname as well. She knows their rosters, she knows when something is not working right, she even seems to sense when somebody might be causing trouble in the future. Moreover, she knows the exact layouts of all the bases and planets in their line of advance. Add to that the skill with which she handles all of their officers and it is not hard to see why she rose through the ranks with such ease.

Apart from that she proves herself, as always, to be much more pleasant company in the senior officers’ bar than Khal, whose communicativeness ends at ‘nothing unusual to report, Sir’. She will listen to any one of Hux’s complaints, be it incompetent staff, trouble with their budget, or Kylo Ren.

“I mean, who runs out in the middle of a discussion about taxation issues because they’re in a bad mood?” he asks her after several glasses of wine. “It’s almost as though he doesn’t care at all.”

“Are you sure you didn’t say anything to upset him, Sir?” Phasma doesn’t even bother to look concerned.

“What would I have said to upset him? Sure, I may have mentioned that Darth Vader’s helmet looks like a giant black penis and questioned who’d keep something like that as a reminder of their grandfather. But he practically set himself up for that.”

Phasma sighs. “The loss of the helmet has been very hard on him. And he has always been sensitive to jabs at his grandfather.”

“Still no reason to run out of a meeting,” Hux says bitterly. “Tell me, Phasma, how do I get someone as stuck up as Kylo Ren to take things a bit more lightly?”

“Get him drunk,” she suggests. “It works wonders with Admiral Khal – did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t,” he admits. “But I tried that already. He never drinks enough to actually get drunk. Even about that he is stuck up. Admittedly, there are some things he agreed to while sober that I thought nobody would agree to unless completely battered, so there’s that…”

“What sort of things?”

He ventures as description. He watches Phasma pale and her eyes go wide, until they become almost too large for her face.

She shakes her head. “With all due respect, Sir, but nobody in their right mind would agree to that even while drunk.”

“See? What am I supposed to do with somebody who is that unpredictable?”

He reaches for the bottle with his left hand, flinches, and drops his arm. Attempting to pour with that hand usually leaves the table drowning in spill.

Despite several visits to the medbay and daily exercises, Hux’s left arm never entirely recovered from his encounter with Luke Skywalker. It remains stiff at the elbow and especially in the mornings a dragging pain creeps up into his shoulder and down into his wrist. It doesn’t affect his right hand shooting skills, but it still manages to bother him every single day. When he, for instance, reaches for a wine bottle, convinced that pouring wine can’t be that hard a job, it immediately makes itself felt and his hand begins shaking.

Phasma takes the bottle instead and pours for them both.

“One day I’m going to make Skywalker pay for this,” Hux mutters.

“Hopefully it will be the day I make FN 2187 pay for defecting,” Phasma responds. “And for locking me into the garbage compactor.”

The first time Hux heard that story he had to work very hard not to laugh and might not have entirely succeeded. Eventually Phasma was found and freed by one of the service droids, just in time to flee the Starkiller in one of the escape pods.

“It was almost a relief compared to his whinging, though,” Phasma continues. “He called my helmet a bucket! And he stood there for five minutes, repeating ‘I’m in charge now’ again and again and again. What have I ever done to him? I was a great boss. He had no reason to treat me without any respect. I could have groomed him into a fine leader. But no, he had to run away and connive with that lot. After years of faithful service, what could even have caused him to suddenly behave like an irrational madman?”

“Maybe he spent too much time around Kylo Ren,” Hux suggests.

At least her anger with the Resistance drives Phasma into an ambitious fury in which she works and fights relentlessly for the Last Order.

They have officially changed their name. It turned out to be a brilliant idea. They do not run the risk of confusing the two First Orders and it speaks to the spirit of the troops. They are the ones that arouse from the ashes of the First Order, stronger and more determined. Besides, it has a doomsday sound to it that greatly resonates with the soldiers. Everybody loves the sense of near-apocalypse.

 

Several months pass in which they follow the First Order’s expansion into the Mid Rim. At some point they will have to turn north again, into the outer borders of the Galaxy. That is, after all, the region in which Snoke tends to concentrate his troops.

Hux continues fucking Kylo Ren. It becomes his addiction, his release, and at the same time the source of his greatest frustration.

Something in the man seems to have changed. The tantrums are almost gone. He still tends to get angry at the most ridiculous things, sure, but he doesn’t lose control anymore, nor does he start smashing things with his lightsaber. The lightsaber is new. Kylo Ren has built it from scratch, just like the last one, having taken a two weeks detour to collect himself his new kyber crystal, and he keeps tinkering around on it. The troops, however, don’t get twitchy around him anymore, they even seem to like the tall man with the stern eyes and the pouty lips. At times he almost seems cheerful or at least emotionally stable.

But this means that, where Hux has so far been able to walk into Kylo Ren’s chamber and take whatever he wanted, he suddenly finds himself dependent on Ren’s mood. It is wonderful when he is feeling playful. Fucking someone who is as adept at handling the Force as Ren is has its definite perks. Getting wanked off from across the room by nothing but expertly applied Force-pressure or having his cock sucked while locked to the wall in a (artificial) gravity-defying position opens up a whole new world of pleasure for him. (He himself has to use shackles or his belt. Ren says he doesn’t like them but he rarely protests.) The same Force-prowess, however, will block all access for him when Ren doesn’t feel like giving in. Sitting at his desk, simply exuding waves of pressure through the room without so much as a twist of his hand, he doesn’t even look up.

“Not now,” is all he affords to say, his eyes fixed on one of the many screens he likes to surround himself with. All Hux can do is retreat.

The first time this happened, it led to a nasty little fight.

“What do you mean, no?” Hux demanded. “You have never said no before.”

“It’s about time then,” Kylo Ren countered, lifting his head to show the disdain on his face. “Go and contemplate over the meaning of that word.”

“What is going on, Kylo?”

“Why does it matter? I said no, isn’t that enough?”

“No it isn’t,” Hux said, taking a step closer – and having to reel back, unable to keep a stand against the overwhelming pressure of the Force. “Fine,” he snapped. “Have it your way.”

Just when he turned towards the door, the pressure subsided.

“Force too much for you?” Ren asked, a dangerous edge in his voice. “What would you have done if I was still unable to use it?”

Hux froze, sensing the anger emanating from Kylo Ren, even after he’d toned the pressure down.

“Would you have just accepted the no?” Ren continued. “Or would you have tried to beat me down, get in a few good punches, before you can be sure I can’t fight back anymore and you can simply take what you want?”

Hux turned to face him. “You want to say something, Kylo, say it.”

“Come on,” Ren whispered, eyes glistening, a cruel smile edged in the corners of his mouth. “Do it. Just hold me down, choke me until I see stars from the loss of air, pound on me until my arms are too heavy to lift. Force your cock into my mouth or into my arse until you’re satisfied. Stop listening to what I have to say if you don’t want to hear it.”

Hux turned around and went straight out the door. Part of him thought Kylo Ren was tricking him into doing something that justified an excessive use of Force. The other part wondered whether Ren actually wanted him to force him down and rape him. But he was in too deep already to risk playing this game so he left.

The next night, Kylo Ren came to his chamber (which is right next to his own once again) without saying a word and sat on the bed. And Hux did something he had never planned on doing. He went down on his knees in front of Ren, unzipped his pants and took his cock into his mouth. He went the entire way into sucking him off, lips and tongue and a little bit of teeth working away almost too eagerly. It took him ages (Ren must have wanked off before coming here, the tosser) and he started feeling his jaw cramp up without getting much more than a soft sigh out of Ren. His pride took a serious beating through the whole ordeal. When he decided to speed things up by pushing a finger up his arse and Ren finally came in a violent jolt, he swallowed it down like a parched man the first drops of water, which didn’t exactly make things better.

Kylo Ren took Hux’s chin into his hands and lifted it up. A hint of a smile darted across his face. Then he leaned down and placed a single kiss on Hux’s mouth, biting down on Hux’s bottom lip hard enough to leave a sharp pain and a smear of blood. He stood up, zipped his pants back up and left the room. After he was gone, Hux realized neither of them had uttered a single word throughout the whole thing.

After that, things begin to get complicated. Hux doesn’t like to admit it, but more and more it becomes clear to him that Kylo Ren is the one who dictates the conditions of their encounters. His “yes” or “no” decides everything, while, whenever he appears at Hux’s door, Hux will immediately take him to bed, no matter how many times he attempts to hold back and be it just for the sake of feeling as though he is still in control.

He finds out that Ren’s lightsaber is a good way of indicating his current mood. He spends hours tinkering with the thing. If Kylo Ren is Hux’s toy, the lightsaber is Kylo Ren’s. (Hux once suggested using the – switched off – lightsaber as an actual toy. It sent him crashing into the consoles and brought him two whole days of utter silence from Ren and was the end of their discussion about repurposing weapons as sex toys.) Sometimes it burns strong and evenly, which is normally a good sign. Other times it flickers like a torch flame, emitting a hissing sound and being so volatile that everyone will make haste to find a safer place to be at. On days like these Hux doesn’t even try.

He also finds that Kylo Ren won’t just give in to his touch anymore. He practically has to beg to fuck him, has to ask for the things he wants to do. It rarely seems to matter what he has to say to influence approval or denial, though, just that he says anything. Be it “I want to suck your cock” or “I want to bend you over and fuck you raw until you scream, then come on your chest” doesn’t make much of a difference. Ren never recoils even from his more violent suggestions, simply tilts his head in thought and finally says “yes” or “no” with that little half-smile.

He finds out that he can make Kylo Ren’s whole body tremble by kissing, licking and biting the back of his neck and that running his fingers through the black hair, rubbing the skin underneath calms him down like a charm. That it sends him into a frenzy when he forces his fingers against Ren’s tongue. That licking or biting the scar on his abdomen from the bowcaster or the one on his shoulder from the girl’s blaster melts him away into perfect docility. That as long as he is in a good mood he will gladly face Hux, show off his face and his marvellous body and let Hux be witness of every little reaction his movements evoke. He will become so vocal Hux starts switching on music to drown out his voice. Only he can still hear it over the music, the little cries and the deep-throated moans.

He is also the only one who knows that when things go wrong Ren will practically beg him for punishment. Hux can tie him up and release his anger on the taller, stronger man with his hands, his belt, or whatever else he finds lying around. Half the room might explode from the pressure of the Force, but Hux remains unscathed. He can fuck Ren until he has reached his physical limit, until he is fully sated and Ren won’t move anymore, until he is just lying on his bed, and his voice has died out ages ago, changing from crying to whining to silence. Until all of Hux’s anger is gone and all that is left is disgust for the man in front of him, covered in sweat and blood and cum, and for himself for his urge to bow down and lick him clean.

All the while they continue their conquest of First Order bases and planets, only occasionally encountering a ship of the Resistance on their way. They're still in the wrong part of the Galaxy for that. Their intel tells them about several more clashes between Snoke and the Resistance but little about the alleged super-weapon Snoke is planning.

Hux is in conquest mood. He spends the nights his pet doesn't want to play working on new regulations for his planets and speeches for the troops. Once he has seized power over something he doesn't intend to let it go. His troops will not defect. They will believe in him, believe in the cause (to bring order back to the Galaxy and return pride to the men that have earned it, that is) and they do not need to be kept in check by some ugly old Sith that hasn’t talked to a normal soldier in at least two decades.

When they reach the next major base of the First Order, Hux prepares to take it in storm, Phasma by his side. The second fleet is commanded by Kylo Ren, clad in black robes and black helmet. For once, Hux doesn't pester him about it.

Chapter Text

“My father was a man who knew exactly who he was and what he was meant to do. His determination and his loyalty made him one of the most exceptional men his era has seen. It was his raising that made sure that from the very beginning there was never a grain of doubt in me about my obligation to the Galaxy. Fate guided my way and gave me everything I needed to reach the place from where I am now speaking to you. She made sure I heeded the signs and never erred from the way she had chosen for me. She led me to the Academy when I was a young child, gifted with my father's determination and his wisdom. From the very first day it was obvious that this was where I belonged. When I studied at the Academy I felt that I was at the right place. When I learned to fight for my people, to lead my troops, to fend for those who would stay loyal to our nation no matter the hardship, I knew what I was called for to do.

“But then my father bent his knee to the New Republic and for the first time in my life my path felt wrong. I knew, this was not the order that could lead us to greatness. We had fought for decades to unify the Galaxy, to make every planet part of a system that had the duty to help mankind achieve more than they ever had. How furious was I to find a system ruled by complacency, by abandoning the old values and forcing their new ideas of a feeble order upon us.

“I was not the only one, who could not content themselves with the second-best solution, with compromise where a strict hand was due. I had learned to stand up and fight for what I knew in my heart and stomach was right, even if that meant fighting against my own father, who refused to see the errors of his way. I will never forget him and that which he has bequeathed onto me, but there and then I knew what I had to do. There was no time for hesitation and hesitate I did not.

“Snoke promised us dignity where the New Republic had promised us a life as neutered dogs, unable to prove that we were men not mice. Snoke promised us honour and a life devoted to leading the Galaxy into a new era of greatness. And how many of us have heeded his call, gravitated towards him because he promised power not submission, discipline not complacency? He made us believe that we were on the right path once again, that we could achieve anything, if we followed him.

“Snoke has betrayed us. He intends to hand this Galaxy over not to us, his men who fought and died for him, but to a new generation of Force-sensitives to subdue us soldiers to make way for his own people. Snoke proved, time and again, that he was never one of us. He tried to use us. We were but pawns in his greater game of power. But we are not pawns! The role we play in this battle for the Galaxy is far greater. It is time we reminded Snoke of that. It is time we showed the so-called Supreme Commander exactly how far he will come when we don't follow him anymore. It is time we return to the right path, that we follow the certainty in our hearts and our stomachs instead of a weak old man who hides himself away at the border of the Galaxy. Snoke will receive no mercy from us! We will strike him down! We will reveal our true strength against him and make all our enemies tremble in fear!

“The battle of the last three days has shown us exactly of what we are capable. It has shown us the direction in which we are meant to proceed. Losses have been incurred, but the gains we have made are even greater. Our army has doubled in size. Not even the Supreme Commander himself will be able to deny us equal standing anymore. We have grown into a force to be reckoned with.

“This is only the beginning. As I stand before you today and gaze into your hopeful faces, we have only just set out onto our journey and we have barely taken the first two steps. Already it is proven, again and again, that we have finally found the right path. It is now our duty to follow this path. In little time we will have surpassed Snoke. He will scramble to evade us but he can never escape our just wrath. What little will remain of his troops will soon learn that they have chosen the wrong side to bet on. Death and defeat is the fate of every one of those traitors who chose their own petty goals over the greatness of all.

“And when we have obliterated Snoke and shown the First Order once and for all that amateurs can't rule a Galaxy, we will finally unite this Galaxy and free it from the New Republic. The Last Order will arise from the ashes of all those who were unworthy and weak and we will rule for a thousand years to come!”

 

“You disgust me.”

Kylo Ren is leaning his back against the wall of the shower cell in Hux’s room. The air is heavy with steam from the scalding hot water. It runs down in currents from his shoulders and chest to the hips, making working on his cock not necessarily any easier.

Hux interrupts himself for a moment to say (or rather, splutter), “It's a little too late to come to that conclusion now, don't you think?”

“I mean your speech,” Ren says. He winds his long, slender fingers into Hux’s wet hair. “You fill them with blatant lies and they just suck it up. You don't believe a word you're saying yourself.”

Hux takes his mouth off Ren’s cock and lifts his head. He blinks heavily to keep the water out of his eyes. The shadows in the badly lit cell make it almost impossible to see the expression on Kylo Ren’s face. His lips are probably curled, though, and his fingers dig into Hux’s skull. “They’re not lies. I merely tell them the truths they want to hear.” He finishes sucking Ren off, ending up with a diluted mixture of almost boiling water and bitter cum in his throat. At some point he has grown much too accustomed to the thick taste that is Kylo Ren.

Within mere seconds the water temperature changes from steaming to ice cold. The tap is turned to the lowest temperature setting because leave it to the sodding Force-sensitive to create a sauna out of a glacier when he is getting aroused.

“Besides,” he says after he has stood up. He reaches for the shelf with the shower soap. Of course they have lube stashed in the shower (They have lube stashed everywhere, including the bridge, the rear cargo compartment and, as of recently, the high security holding cells). “It’s not about what I believe it’s about what they believe.”

He pulls Ren down onto his mouth and pushes his tongue between his lips. Ren responds. He wraps both hands around Hux’s waist and pushes himself against Hux’s body until not even the water, heating back up slowly, finds room between their skin anymore. He hitches one leg against Hux’s hip to grant his fingers access. Their tongues touch, coil back, and return with more rigour. At some point Hux has pushed Ren’s shoulders back into the wall. When they split apart, the icy rain between them has turned into steam again and they have both stopped shivering.

“You're believing too strongly, that’s your problem. If you ever held speeches you’d probably babble on about light and darkness and your grandfather and bore everyone to death. Kneel down and turn around.”

“Make me.”

Hux shoves his left elbow against Ren’s throat, slamming the slightly taller and considerably stronger man against the wall of the shower cell.

“Either you do as I say now or I’ll chain you against the wall and let you sit in here under the cold water for the next few hours, until you’re shivering and sodden to the bone. And then I’ll fuck you with a caf can instead of my nice, hot, very well lubricated cock. Your choice.”

Ren’s eyes flash and the currents of water running down Hux’s back nearly melt his flesh. When he eases up his arm, Ren obediently sinks to his knees and allows Hux to turn him around and kneel behind him, both hands on Ren’s hips to guide them. The downside of the tiny shower cell is that it is the only and simultaneously the worst place on the ship for shower sex. Standing up is impossible because Ren is too tall. Lying down is impossible because of the square footage of less than a meter. Kneeling is the only option that works, but the rough bathroom tiles leave Hux grateful that no one will see the state of his knees in the next few days. He doesn’t care about Kylo Ren. More than enough men will see him every day during his excessive training sessions. Let them see what Hux has done to him.

“I could just make a speech about Darth Vader you know. Tell everyone what a great leader he was. I’d have you lick the words from my mouth. Make you so hard you’d beg me to fuck you right there in the assembly hall in front of the troops. I don’t think they’d be surprised and after all, you live for the joy of making them feel uncomfortable.”

Ren’s hips bear against his own, his muscles closing tight around Hux’s cock and for a minute Hux revels in the traction. He keeps his pace slow. He can afford to take his time. He removes the dripping curls from Ren’s neck to lap up the streams of water raining down onto them. His fingers push into Ren’s mouth and against his tongue that responds with a shove.

“It might actually make you more relatable,” he continues, “If the men knew you like to be fucked by me.”

He moves his dripping fingers from Ren's mouth to his hair and grips it tightly. It swallows his hand in a mess of slick blackness.

“Doubt it,” Ren moans under half breath. He keeps swallowing down the hot water raining into his open mouth and licking the droplets off his dark red lips. His left palm, propped against the wall for support, tremors. “Not all men want to be fucked by you. They're just following you because between Snoke and you, you’re the lesser nuisance.”

“Like you’re such a great judge of character.”

“I can read minds, remember?”

Hux rams into him hard until Ren cries out.

“What do you want me to tell you instead?” Ren hisses. He arches back until his shoulders rub against Hux’s chest and allows his body to be taken over by the rhythm of Hux’s thrusts. His hand glides against Hux’s waist and clasps into his skin, nails ripping painfully into his flesh. “That they will follow you to the death? That you are their god, that you cannot be defeated? Come and claim your empire, oh great Emperor, the last one in a long line of men reigning their realms with oppression and cruelty. Come show me your power and your riches, make me kneel in front of you before all their eyes, shower me with both your gold and your cum to demonstrate to your men what awaits them if they just suck up to you long enough.”

“You sound more like a whore than a general.”

Ren raps out a breathless laugh. “Isn’t that what I am? You pay me with the title of general so I allow you to do to me however you please.”

“If only you actually allowed me to do that.” He has to raise his voice over the pattering of the water and the moaning of his companion who is shivering against his skin despite the hellish temperatures surrounding them.

“I’d rather they believe I am your whore than…”

“Than what, Kylo? Than having them know that you allow me to fuck you because it’s the only kind of human touch you know how to get?”

“And what about you?” Ren asks. He tilts back his head and turns it until he can look into Hux’s eyes. “Wouldn’t you rather have them believe you pay me instead of having them know that you beg me for the pleasure of fucking me?”

Hux slams him into the cell wall and Kylo Ren responds with something between an outcry and a laugh.

Their flow of insults slows down to a trickle when they’re done and then dies out completely when Hux turns off the water and they reach for the towels.

Hux, dressed in a loose robe, has poured himself a glass of scotch (just himself) and leans next to his flight data monitor in the corner of his room, sipping his drink and watching Kylo Ren get dressed. It’s a sight. Ren has somehow gotten hold of his former twenty layers of black again and discarded the First Order uniform that looked splendid on him. He throws them on in swift motions, following a long-practiced pattern. Black underpants first. Then his black trousers. Black socks. Black boots. Then the black shirt that falls nicely around his muscles. Then the black jacket that hides them almost completely but gives him a marvellous angular shape. It is custom made. Kylo Ren is too tall for the Last Order standard edition. Or rather, too tall and too slender. The jackets that come in his size are made for larger men and hang on Ren like a burlap sack. Nobody gets Kylo Ren to wear a burlap sack, even when it’s black. He finishes with his black robes, the black belt and the black gloves.

Hux has no idea why he even bothers with the gloves, since he is going literally next door and he knows that Ren can’t operate his tiny door panel with the gloves on. They have done away with the fingerprint scanners that are too easily fooled but have replaced them, at least in the chambers of the higher officers, with voice recognition and typing pattern recognizers. Type in literally anything between thirty and one hundred characters (blanks excluded) and the panel will recognize the person with a probability of 99.9%. (Only Hux and Kylo Ren know that the panel saves everything that is typed in there into the main database and sends a copy to both of them. The secrets they have learned that way have already led to more than one execution. They also find it a convenient way to send each other insults without having to say them out loud. For example, tomorrow Ren will read “Your loud breathing during my speeches makes me want to push you off the podium”. But then again, he already tried that. Pushing a Force-wielder off any kind of ridge is about as effective as slapping a Stormtrooper against the helmet.)

After Kylo Ren is gone, Hux turns back to his plans. He has trouble concentrating. Whenever he reaches for his scotch (only the upper ranks are granted the luxury of permanent glass for drinks instead of the distasteful metal cans) his sleeve slides back and reveals bite marks on his wrist that have finally – after several days – begun fading. Concealing the ones on his throat has been a hassle. Today he has been determined – once again – to turn Kylo Ren away the minute he appeared at his door. Once again, he has failed miserably. He still isn’t sure how he has allowed to happen whatever has happened from sucking Ren’s cock to the orgasm that left him panting and shivering in the water that slowly turned back to freezing. He doesn’t like where this is going and he cannot see what he is supposed to do. He ought to end it, he knows that. But even he knows that is something that is not going to happen any time soon.

 

The further they travel east from the northern expansion region, the more trouble they have with the Resistance fighters. A lot of the planets are highly contested between Resistance and First Order. Conquering anything here will cost more than a few encouraging words to potential defectors and a few executions.

Hux is positively brimming with anticipation. He has been waiting for proper obstacles for far too long. Finally he will be able to test his fleet in real battle. What better way to prove that his men made the right choice in abandoning Snoke and choosing him as commander?

The further away from Snoke and the closer to the Republic they get the more Kylo Ren’s mood changes. He constantly seems to look for something to keep busy and proves a wilful but eager commander. He never misses a meeting and keeps up to speed with every development with ease. Once the day business is done he appears, reliable as a clockwork, at the door of Hux's chamber. Something about the change of scenery (figuratively speaking. Literally they’re usually drifting somewhere in space hundreds of thousands of miles away from anything, rarely coming down on one of the planets) has created a change in Kylo Ren that has rendered him insatiable in bed and busy as a bee out of it. He seems absent-minded a lot of the time, though, as if he is just going through the motions without actually caring for anything that happens. Not even teases about his helmet will get him to react much anymore.

Even though there’s no real need for it Hux has their fleet advance further into Republic territory. The resistance (and Resistance) they encounter still proves no real challenge for them. He knows they risk drawing too much attention from the Resistance toward their fleet. He also knows that even though they have grown into a considerable force they still won't stand a chance against the full power of the Resistance, especially combined with the Republic Standing Army. The troopers wouldn't think about complaining, though. After all, raiding and occupying planets is what they’re here for. The captains voice more concerns but silencing them with phrases about the cause and their duty doesn’t prove too difficult. Hux almost starts believing it himself. He knows he is getting reckless but then the day passes and he allows himself to forget his concerns for an hour with Kylo Ren in his bed – who seems just as eager to switch off his thoughts for a while – and suddenly it seems worth the risk.

“You know, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of this,” Ren says one night, standing in front of Hux’s desk stark naked, studying the map that shows in different colours the Last Order territory, the First Order territory and the Republic planets, as well as marking all the stationed troops and bases they know of. Hux is lying stretched out on his bed, a glass of scotch in his hand. He follows Ren with his eyes, unwilling to move. Attempting to get Ren to stay down in bed with him after fucking him is about as fruitful as attempting to get the flies away from the livestock.

“But this is pretty good I think.”

“What is?”

”This,” Kylo Ren says and points towards the map. “We're making progress. We’re getting somewhere. Snoke, the Republic – they can all kiss our asses.”

Hux huffs out a laugh. “You’re in an inexplicably good mood,” he notes.

Ren shrugs. He brushes his hair out of his face and massages his neck, all the while studying the maps like there's some kind of treasure hidden within. Watching the tall, slender body stretch in the dim light that flickers against his sharp edges is enough to make Hux grow hard again. “Can you see the end?” Ren asks.

“What end?”

“The end of all your endeavours. That which lies beyond the struggle.”

It’s Hux's turn to shrug. “I guess I rule the Galaxy and everyone has accepted me as their leader. I finally make the universe the place I envisioned it to be.”

“Hmm.” Ren smiles quietly. “Must be nice.”

Something in his smile makes Hux sit up and straighten his back. “What about you,” he asks. “Can you see the end?”

“Maybe.” Kylo Ren bows down and picks up his robes. “It depends on the kind of ending somebody like me gets.”

A few days later they have a late night meeting with Phasma.

“It’s a larger fleet than we have encountered ever before,” she informs them, using a laser pointer to show their enemies’ estimated positions on the map screen. They confer in Ren’s room which has the best equipment apart from the conference room. Which they do not want to use so in order to avoid arousing questions amongst the other officers. Kylo Ren, sitting at the desk opposite Hux, waves his hand and a hologram lights up, showing them a twirling 3D model of the Galaxy. He waves again and it zooms into the sector they’re passing right now. Poser.

“Are they larger than we are?” Ren asks.

“It’s difficult to say,” Phasma answers. “This is a rough estimate, they could be ten percent smaller, but they could also be fifty percent larger. If I may voice my opinion, Generals, I think it would be wise to avoid a direct confrontation just now. The troops are in good mood but morale can change quickly with one bad loss.”

Hux curls his lips disapprovingly. He doesn’t like to run from a fight. “We haven’t come here to avoid other fleets,” he says. “We have come here to eradicate them.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will eradicate them eventually,” Phasma says quickly. “But there are still a lot of Snoke's troops stationed around the Delta 40 bases. Those are not far away. If we could get to them first, make sure we can’t be overpowered...”

“We won't flee from them,” Hux says. He turns his thoughts in his head for a while, until he finds the one he wants to voice. “But we will not confront them directly, either. Turn the fleet towards the northeast. Let’s see if they follow us.”

Phasma excuses herself to give orders to the officers, leaving the Galaxy map twirling alone in the air.

Kylo Ren stands up. With a flick of his hand he switches off his screens. The sudden darkness in the room leaves Hux almost blind until Ren turns up the light switch with another wave.

“Aren’t you going to tell me that I’m reckless?” Hux asks.

“Do you want me to?”

“I want you to get out of these robes.”

“Would you ever even listen if I tried to tell you you’re doing things wrong?” Ren ignores his remark completely.

“I’m not doing things wrong.”

“See? What’s the point in telling you anything?”

Hux stands up and strides over until he can look the other man in the eye. He hates that he has to look up to do it. “What are you not telling me, Kylo?”

“Enough,” Kylo Ren says. “I won’t tell you that you’re reckless. I don’t mind. I think that you’re arrogant and hateful, what difference does reckless make?”

Hux seizes his arm and shoves him against the screens. “Are you trying to piss me off?”

“It’s not exactly hard,” Ren counters, eyebrows cocked. “What’s the matter, you should be satisfied. You're getting everything you ever wanted.”

Except you.

“Fuck, Kylo, just stop talking. Fucking hell, I should just go.”

“But you won’t,” Ren says quietly. Something glints in his eye, something that only manages to piss Hux further off.

“What makes you so sure of that?”

Instead of a reply, Ren unties his belt, kneels down, and draws out Hux’s cock. He cups it with his lips, tongue grazing its underside, flicking playfully. His lips close around the tip and Hux slumps against the screen table with an involuntary moan. Ren continues his play, drawing lines with his tongue, pushing it against the rim of his tip, then sucking and massaging him with the entire breadth of his tongue. Hux lets himself be overwhelmed by the rush of blood that suddenly leaves his brain and upper body and concentrates downwards. He doesn’t try to muffle his groans, all the while cursing Ren under his breath. When the fuck has he gotten so good at this?

Within five minutes Ren has him quivering at the edge of coming, only held back by the short breaks Ren takes between the licking and the sucking, just enough to make him inhale sharply a few times and feel the flow withdraw from the painfully strong pleasure. For a while it ebbs forth and back within his body, minutely guided by Ren’s lips and tongue. When Ren finally decides to finish it he does it so quickly that the sudden rush takes even Hux by surprise. He reels back into the screen table, for a minute unable to use his own legs. Ren carefully licks his cock clean, then stands up.

He walks towards the drawer beside his bed and takes out a bottle of wine and one glass. The message is clear. Before Kylo Ren has sat down on the table pouring himself the wine, Hux has rearranged his clothes and leaves the room.

 

He should have known it wouldn’t last for long. At some point he got complacent in the belief he’d have it forever. The conquests going so well. Kylo Ren being for once a reasonable human being, not screaming, not throwing fits, not trying to push his own stupid agenda. He should have gotten suspicious ages ago, should have started questioning his decisions again, closing himself off distractions to stay on course. The course that led to Snoke. Instead he has let himself get tangled up in the comfort of the ship, of his obedient underlings, and of the bed of a man he knew was volatile like a dying star.

The next day they pass the Resistance fleet and run into trouble with one of their Destroyers encountering an adversary ship. The Destroyer gets completely crushed and Hux is left to deal with the clean-up. It takes ages and his co-general is nowhere to be found nor reached via com-link. In search for Kylo Ren he finally goes to his chamber. The green light on the access panel indicates that the door is open. He presses the button and enters.

He finds Kylo Ren inside, letting himself getting fucked by one of the lower officers. He isn’t even shy about it. Hux freezes, staring at the scene of that bulky man kneeling on Ren’s bed, firmly connected at their hips, mid-thrust, both hands around the white ankles he is holding at his shoulders in his thick, hairy paws. Ren’s face is hidden in the black cloud of hair but the noises he emits are unmistakable.

When the officer sees Hux he jumps up like a bouncing ball, sliding out of Ren, letting him fall onto the bed with a harsh thump.

“General,” he stammers, searching for his clothes. “I didn’t know… the door, I thought it was…”

Hux stares at Ren who has turned his head upwards until he can see Hux. A languid smile creeps over his face.

“Don’t worry, Riley,” he drawls. “General Hux is used to worse sights.”

When the officer tries to push past Hux to escape out of the door, Hux grabs his arm. The man yelps. His spine cracks as Hux pushes him into the wall, then his nose as Hux smashes it with his fist. He doesn’t think. The anger clouds his gaze and guides his fists that keep pounding on the man, hitting every vulnerable spot, his face, his throat, his abdomen. Seeing blood come out of his nose and hearing him whelp in pain gives Hux some satisfaction but it is not enough.

Blinding pain lashes through his shoulders and head and he hears a crash. He blinks and realizes he is pressed against the opposite wall.

Kylo Ren has raised himself on his elbow, holding the other hand outstretched towards Hux, keeping him pressed against the durosteel wall by Force.

“Go,” he commands the officer through clenched teeth. The man doesn’t need to hear that twice. He scrambles towards the door, clothes in his arms, and is gone within seconds, wheezing from his broken nose, leaving splatters of blood as a trail.

The Force pressure subsides and Hux slides down the wall until he hits the floor.

“The fuck, Kylo!” he yells, trying to stand up. He ends up getting slammed against the wall once more. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

“Does it bother you?” Ren asks quietly. He stands up, drawing the sheets around his hip, without yielding the Force for a second.

“You’re fucking another man, how in all blue blazes am I not supposed to be bothered, you little whore…”

“How in all blue blazes do you assume the right to burst in here and start behaving like a raving lunatic?”

“Fuck you Ren, fuck you, you little piece of shit…!”

“I don’t belong to you,” Kylo Ren says coldly. “If I choose to fuck somebody else it is entirely my business.”

“You wanted me to see this, you left the fucking door open…”

“An honest mistake.” Ren comes closer, until he is standing in front of Hux, looking down on him. “What’s the matter, Hux? Where’s your prided self-control?”

“I’ll kill you, I’ll fucking kill you…”

“Not so arrogant now, are we Hux? Look at you, is that who you truly are? A little boy crying because he had his favourite toy taken away? You spent so many years building your successful persona and now? Suddenly you’re that loser again. The little kid nobody cared to bother with.”

Hux struggles for breath. The pressure Kylo Ren emits bears down on his bones and presses onto his lungs. But even worse is what he seems to be alluding to. He couldn’t know… nobody knows. Hux has made sure of that.

“The boy his parents gave away,” Ren continues. He lowers himself to his knees until he is on eye level with Hux. His black curls stick to his forehead. He hasn’t even bothered to dry the sweat off yet. He stinks. Of sweat and of fucking and of that worthless officer who won’t see the end of next day and of Ren. Fucking Ren. “Military school, from the age of eight. On Coruscant, wasn’t it? Ah yes, the best academy in the Galaxy. You didn’t want to go, though, and right you were. Your father didn’t listen. He got rid of you. When you called him to tell him of the other boys he didn’t answer. When you came home during summer, bruises and broken skin on the whole body he didn’t look. He didn’t care to learn of those boys, no matter how many times they chased you over the grounds, beat you down, or locked you into the trash compactor. It gets better you’d think. Next year they’ll have new children to bully, they’ll forget about you. But they didn’t, did they? Until the very last year you were their favourite target. Begging didn’t help, doing whatever stupid, degrading things they thought of making you do didn’t help.”

Hux can’t speak. The Force has grown weaker but something else holds him down. He has buried those memories years ago, shoved them deep into a corner of his mind where he didn’t have to give them his attention. He was sure they’d faded. He was sure they couldn’t cut anymore. That time would heal everything. Now they come back, as fresh as the first day, the fear, the humiliation, the screams of laughter droning out the crying of the little red-haired boy.

“When your parents decided to send your sister to the same school,” Ren continues relentlessly. “You tried to stop them. You begged them not to. You didn’t want the same fate for her that had befallen you. But not even your mother could be moved. You feared for your sister, it’s heart-warming, really. You were so sure she would be bullied and beaten and you were sure she wouldn’t be able to take it. But they didn’t. They loved her. Everyone, they all loved her. She was so good and so pure and everything you had failed to be. Her entire school time was a bliss, beloved by her classmates, cherished by her teachers. She was the golden child. You were trash.”

Kylo Ren stretches out a hand and touches Hux’s cheek. His touch is burning hot against Hux’s cold skin. He can’t avert his eyes. He can’t speak. Nobody is supposed to know this, least of all Kylo Ren.

“So when she left your parents’ home to join the First Order of course you had to go with her. After all she was the only one who could save you. She’d rise in the Order like she’d risen at school, dragging you along with her.” He chuckles. It’s a terrifying sound. Hux shivers. Chills run down his spine. “But things changed. Oh, how they changed. She didn’t rise. She didn’t succeed anywhere, instead suddenly it was you. For the first time in your life it was you not her, who was chosen for promotion, who was revered by their men, who proved apt in every task imposed on them. When she left,” Ren’s fingers travel down Hux’s cheek, nails scratching his skin, “you wanted her to crash and burn. You knew you couldn’t forgive your parents for killing her, but imagining her back in their arms, safe and loved – that was even worse.”

His fingers dig into Hux’s neck. He is so close, Hux can see the little irregularities in his skin. Pouty, half-parted lips, the crooked bow of his nose, the dark red line of his scar. Intense brown eyes that get overshadowed by brows that always seem half-furrowed. All Hux can see is Kylo Ren’s face.

“You weren’t supposed to know,” he whispers. His head hurts to the point of bursting. “Nobody knows. How did you find out?”

“I can read minds, remember?”

“Not mine.”

“Oh you think you always keep it closed up so firmly? You let yourself slip more often than you think, Hux. You’re fucking weak. And a fucking loser. I should just kill you, here and now. Get it over with. Rip out your throat, crush your ribs, tear your black, shrivelled heart out of your chest.”

He tries to grab Kylo Ren by the neck. He wants to hit him, hurt him, hold him down and fuck him until he has imprinted himself into every fibre of his body and nothing of that other man is left. He wants to carve his name into Kylo Ren’s back so everybody knows they can’t touch what is his.

Instead he gets slammed into the wall once more. His hands grasp thin air as Ren stands up.

“Carve your name into my back?” he asks, eyebrows arched high in his forehead. “I didn’t know you were such a romantic.”

“Get out of my mind, you fucking...”

A thunder shakes the whole ship and almost throws Ren off his feet. An alarm goes off, then a second one.

They stare at each other for a second, then Hux jumps up and heads out the door. Kylo Ren follows him shortly after, back into his black robes, lightsaber in his hand. Hux barely notices that he has left the helmet.

 

They don’t even make it to the commando bridge. Phasma comes rushing towards them in full armour as they leave the upper ranks quarters.

“The Resistance, Sir,” she says. “They had a part of their fleet cloaked. They have launched a pre-emptive attack against us.”

“Where?” Hux asks, already tuning in his com-link onto ship-wide communication.

“They are attacking the fleet around unit 83, Sir. And our freight-side is badly hit.”

Hux bellows orders into his com-link. He orders the rest of the fleet into defence formation, has the freight-deck sealed off, then commands the on-ship army to move their asses to the contested area.

“Alright, Kylo, Phasma, you’re coming with me. I’ll personally make sure not one of our attackers makes it off this ship alive.”

Phasma lingers after him, fidgeting. “Sir, there is something else.”

He is going to strangle someone. “What?”

“The girl, Sir, the Jedi girl... She is inside the ship.”

He hears Kylo Ren draw in his breath. “So that’s her,” he whispers. “I knew I felt something.” Brilliant. Fucking brilliant. Fucking worth having a Force-sensitive on board when he needs his colonel to inform him that one of the Jedi is invading their ship.

“She is on the second deck, around the service droid storage unit. We think there’s a faulty airlock there that has allowed her inside.”

“This is unbelievable. How am I supposed to run an army when nobody fucking does their job?!”

“Is she alone?” Kylo Ren asks.

“Hard to say. They can’t be many, though. The problem is, the airlock is for the huge cleaning machines on the exterior. It is big enough to allow small vehicles to pass through…”

The lightsaber ignites with a sharp hiss. “I’ll take care of her.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hux says. “The last time you said that she kicked your ass. Every time you say that she kicks your ass.”

“Not this time,” Kylo Ren says. “This time I’ll make her play by my rules. Go kill the Resistance. I’ll meet you later.”

“At least take a blaster with you,” Hux calls after him as he heads off. Ren doesn’t even bother with an answer.

Chapter Text

The incinerators burn. They’ll have to work for at least 72 hours. They had to bear losses (Officer Riley is one of them), so did the Resistance. Since the troopers have cleared the corridors, technical staff for repairs and cleaning droids have taken their place.

The Resistance has weakened them, but in the end they were driven off the ship. The 83rd unit is lost but the rest is celebrating their first real fight. The adrenaline of the battle has whipped them into a frenzy.

Hux is bleeding from his ear, his head is still humming from the grenade that went off too close to him. He will have to go see the medical staff after Phasma has finished her preliminary report. It is still too early to calculate the exact losses. They have blasted away one of the few heavy Shooters from the Resistance, an excellent mission by one of his lieutenants. It’s the kind of excellence Hux would wish to see every day in his troops, but to his frustration, they all seem dead set on mediocrity most of the time.

The worst part is the way they lost the 83rd unit. It would be a considerable loss if the troops had actually been exterminated, but they haven’t. They’re still alive and well. Just not as part of the Last Order anymore. Who could have foreseen that General Leia fucking Organa herself would man (woman?) one of the ships and practically woo his men away? They were supposed to die on the forefront of battle, now they’re fighting on the other side. Nothing makes Hux more furious than traitors.

We should have gotten rid of them.

The clock switches to daytime before he is done with the captains. Phasma promises to have a detailed report ready for him by the end of day. The men look tired but Hux isn’t going to let them take the day off. They have to regroup and reach the Delta 40 bases as soon as possible. There they can repair the larger damage and take on new supplies before they venture deeper into First Order territory. The Resistance will pay for this attack, but not now.

Finally Hux manages to drag himself to the medical bay and to go see Kylo Ren.

One of the health droids scans his head and provides him with water and painkillers. Hux puts them aside.

Then one of the nurses comes and bandages his ear.

“There is no permanent damage,” she says. “You will just have to rest for a few days. Especially when you are feeling dizzy or experiencing headaches. Don’t strain yourself.”

“What about General Ren?” Hux asks.

“They have cleaned up his wound, Sir. I think they are about to wake him up. He received a pretty heavy blow to the chest, it will take a while before he will be restored to full health.”

“Bring me to him,” Hux says.

It’s a small wonder Kylo Ren is still alive. The small wonder is one of the fighters from their on-ship troops who will have to receive a promotion after this night. She has already delivered her report to Hux who almost dropped his caf can when he listened to the trooper’s tale.

Because apparently Kylo Ren had been a fucking monster battling the girl. Amazing enough to make the trooper swoon or something, at least she stood to watch them from one of the bridges towards the second deck long enough to see the tiny airborne vessel with the most famous Resistance pilot and his traitor ex-Stormtrooper boyfriend speed towards them with neigh-on impossible precision. (What were they even doing protecting the girl? Shouldn’t they be off humping each other into oblivion on some nice Republic planet with lots of beaches?) And while Kylo Ren had delivered blow upon blow against the Jedi girl, forcing her into a defence stance, the agile little X-Wing had sneaked up on him and opened fire when it dashed by.

It had missed him, just barely. At least the first time. But the second time – and this is the part Hux is refusing to believe – it hit him right into the chest. Because Kylo Ren, instead of doing something smart with the Force or an actual weapon, just stood there, back straight, facing the Fighter full frontal, waiting for its blast without a move.

This second round knocked him down. The third round would have killed him, had it not been for said Stormtrooper who fired against the X-Wing, damaging one of its turbines. She called on reinforcements and kept the girl and the traitor at bay from a distance until other troops arrived. All three intruders have escaped, but they haven’t managed to kill Kylo Ren just yet.

He is wearing large bandages around his chest. The ammunition hasn’t torn too deep into his flesh, somewhere among the many layers of black there is actually some pretty strong protective fabric. He is still hanging on an IV bag and a blood transfusion line, though.

Hux stands by the door, taking in the pale face with the closed eyes. It’s bloody rare to see Kylo Ren’s face so peaceful. Then the nurse pushes a syringe into the IV line and Ren’s face twitches.

He wakes up slowly, blinking confused at the chaos around him (he doesn’t have a room for himself as would befit a general. There are too many injured troopers, they are lying and dying everywhere.). Hux can almost watch how his brain recommences its function and reconstructs the events from yesterday.

“No!” Ren says, when he has finally realized where he is. “No, this is impossible, I’m not supposed to be here – let me go!”

He begins tearing at the needles in his arm. The nurse hurries towards him and is thrown across the room before she can reach him. Hux can feel the pressure emanating from Ren from the place where he’s standing. Ren has gotten rid of the IV and the blood transfusion line but he is too weak to stand.

“Stop it, Kylo,” Hux says. “You’re badly injured. Just give it a few days and you’ll be back in the saddle.”

“No,” Ren cries again. “No, it wasn’t supposed to be like this! It wasn’t supposed to go on, I don’t want to go on, why can’t you just let me go?!”

Hux steps closer, as close as he can with the Force field wavering around Kylo Ren.

“Were you actually planning on killing yourself today?” he asks incredulously. How could he have missed this?

“No, I wasn’t!” Ren yells. He is still struggling against his own body that refuses to obey him. “It just presented itself! It was perfect, I have to go, Hux, I can’t stay anymore!” He breaks into a mixture of sobs and screams. A floor light explodes and rains down sparks on him and the floor around him. “I can’t, it won’t stop, it will never stop!”

“What won’t stop, Kylo?”

“His voice,” Ren sobs. “I can still hear his voice, every day, every night. He keeps calling for me! I can’t stand it anymore!”

Hux takes another step. The Force has grown weaker, or maybe Ren is just exhausted. “Snoke? But you told me you had shut him out months ago.”

“I lied! Haven’t you figured that out yet? I lied, I can’t shut him out, he is me, he is everything and I…” He lifts both arms to his face and pulls down strands of hair. His fingers dig into his skin, leaving red marks. “He told me to come back,” Ren finally whispers. “He told me he wants me back. All I had to do is kill you and return to him and everything would be forgotten.”

Hux is standing at the bed now, staring down at the shaking man below him who is trying his best to gouge his own eyes out. “He told you to kill me and go back.”

“Yes. I wanted to give in, I wanted to give in so badly…”

“So that’s what has been going on in you recently… I’m not sure I should thank you that I am not actually dead.”

“I would have killed you gladly.” Ren’s sobs die down into a soft whine. “I was so close to doing it. But… the thought of going back… it made me so sick, I couldn’t breathe anymore. I can’t go back, I can’t do that again. And I can’t resist him. If I just go on like this he will get to me. He will make me kill you. He will make me return to him and … please… please, just kill me. Please…”

The nurse has stepped next to him and pushes another syringe full of fluid directly into his neck.

Hux can feel the shatter. He can hear it in Ren’s voice when his breath is drawn out of him. He can see it in his eyes before they close. Something shatters and breaks into pieces and Hux is left with a bitter aftertaste.

“He will calm down,” the nurse says. “Maybe it was too soon to wake him up.”

When Hux visits again in the evening before finally allowing himself a night of rest, Kylo Ren is awake. Or something like that.

He doesn’t scream. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t even move. His eyes are open but they don’t look at anything. Hux doubts that Ren even notices his presence. He looks like a droid that is running on standby mode because somebody has forgotten to connect it to the power charger.

The nurse from this morning walks past.

“What is going on?” Hux asks.

She glances over towards him. “I’m sorry, Sir. His wounds will take some time to heal. We cannot release him yet.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Hux points at Kylo Ren. “He doesn’t even react. Shouldn’t he be shouting and breaking things? You’ve had him in your care before, isn’t he usually in a rage at this point?”

The nurse shrugs. “Usually yes,” she says. “Maybe he has given it up. I mean, it was rather pointless, anyway.”

 

Dealing with the aftermaths of the attack requires a lot of work. Phasma has diligently collected reports from every unit and delivered them to Hux. He takes his time to go through them, tries to find out what has been their mistake. He has Mitaka question their prisoners before they kill them. Mitaka reports back that the whole attack was more of a mix-up.

“They don’t seem to understand yet that we aren’t a part of the First Order, Sir,” he explains. “Apparently the Resistance has located the core of the First Order and is preparing to strike an attack there. They thought we were an outpost. They know that a split occurred between you and the Supreme Commander, but they don’t have enough information yet to distinguish us.”

“That’s not necessarily bad news,” Phasma notes. “Striking directly against Snoke will exhaust them. We could use that to our advantage.”

“There is also the issue of Snoke’s Force-driven weapon,” Mitaka continues. “It seems near completion and they say while its firepower can’t compete with the Starkiller, its range is almost double. The Resistance will have to take care of that soon.”

“Let them,” Hux says. “All the better if they succeed. The lower the morale on Snoke’s troops the better for us. We need better intelligence on the Resistance, though.”

Half their fleet is stretched out between their bases to appear larger than they are right now. The other half moves slowly towards Snoke. The smaller TIEs and the newer Destroyers have camouflage shields which means that enemy troops have to be close to detect them. The Battlefront on the other hand is almost impossible to shield. They employ intelligence units to ensure they don’t accidentally run into the Resistance again. Simultaneously, Hux orders a unit of his special forces into the Resistance territory for a more hands-on approach at intelligence-gathering than the old-fashioned interception of their communications.

According to reports Snoke’s new toy is not yet fully operational, mainly because he refuses to operate it himself and lacks a Force-sensitive sufficiently apt at handling the Force to operate it.

He shouldn’t have gotten rid of his black puppet.

 

After one week there is still no word from Kylo Ren. Hux has instructed the staff to inform him the minute he is ready for release. He hasn’t decided yet what to make of Ren’s confession. He knows punishment would be in order. But then again, he is not dead. And he has to admit, if Ren had attempted to kill him, there would have been more than enough opportunities that left him completely defenceless, so there’s that.

When Hux inquires at medical bay, the chief of staff, a dark-skinned woman half the height of Hux but twice his waist, tells him that they have decided to delay his release.

“We are keeping him for psych evaluation,” the doctor explains.

Hux frowns. “We don’t do psych evaluation. If people look like they’re in need for psych evaluation, we execute them.”

“Would you like us to execute General Ren, Sir?” the woman asks.

“No, of course not.” Hux sighs and rubs his forehead. The doctor (Penn, according to her nameplate) watches him.

“Sir, just because we don’t do psych evaluation it doesn’t mean that we didn’t receive the training. We have the expertise and the necessary programs in our database.”

“Fine,” Hux says. “Whatever you need to do. How is it going?”

The doctor shakes her head. “Not really going anywhere right now, Sir. He doesn’t talk.”

“At all?”

“Not one syllable the whole week, Sir. And we can’t scan him. Our equipment isn’t designed for scanning a brain that is connected so strongly to the Force, Sir.”

“Where can we find equipment that is?”

“Nowhere, Sir. It doesn’t exist.”

Hux clenches his jaw. “That doesn't sound right.”

“It’s the funding, Sir. There are simply not enough Force-sensitive people out there to make it worth the high costs. It’s hard enough to get research grants for anything as it is, especially with the war.”

“Can I see him?”

“As you wish, General Hux.”

Kylo Ren has a private room at the back of the ward. He doesn’t lie in bed anymore, he sits in a huge armchair in front of the window, staring at the scenery outside. An IV line connects his arm to a machine standing next to him. He looks thin, haggard, and even paler than usual. A halo of black curls frames his face that has become all sharp lines, sharp enough to cut skin. When Hux enters he turns his head for a moment, then looks back out of the window.

Hux sits down opposite him and follows his gaze. It takes him a while to realize that it’s not a window but a large screen. They’re in deep space, no way can he actually look at a planet and its rich, green woodsy landscape drift by slowly.

He doesn’t know what else to say so he starts with a report.

“We didn’t come out too bad. We lost twenty-one TIEs, and unit 83, of course, but we dealt them a nice blow. They won’t be coming after us again too soon. It seems like they thought we’re colluding with Snoke. They stroke an attack against him at the same time. We think we can use that to our advantage next time. We’re working on infiltrating their base so we know when they’ll make their next move.”

Kylo Ren doesn’t even look at him so Hux just continues talking. “We can man the Battlefront with the battle droids and strike when their bases are depleted. Besides, they must have weakened Snoke. We haven’t had one major interference by him the whole week. I have bumped up Phasma temporarily to your position. She’s handling herself well, though she isn’t you, of course.”

“How?” Ren suddenly asks, turning his head so sharply Hux fears his neck will snap. His voice is rasp from lack of use. “How is she not me? Doesn’t she let you fuck her?”

His eyes don’t even seem to look at Hux. They stare right through him. His lips are as pale as the rest of his body.

“Or is it,” he continues, “that she can’t wield the Force?”

“Well, both, really,” Hux admits. “But that isn’t what I...”

Kylo Ren’s stare shuts him up. Hux tries to meet his eyes but it’s painful. His pain seems to be radiating from his body, latching itself onto everyone who comes too close. It probably is.

Finally, Ren turns his head again and stares at the scenery on the screen without following it with his eyes. “I wish I could tear it out of my body,” he mutters. “Get rid of it once and for all so it doesn’t keep roaring in my ear anymore.”

“Do you still have the collar?” Hux asks.

Ren shakes his head. “I had to destroy it. It wouldn’t help anyway. It just suppresses the Force, it doesn't really free me from it.”

“Do you still hear him?”

“Sometimes. It has gotten weaker. I think he has given up for now. I must have scared him. They’re giving me something that helps me shut him out.”

“So you don’t want to kill me and abandon the Last Order anymore?”

“I always want to kill you. But seeing as I’m not even strong enough to kill myself you probably don’t have to worry right now. As long as I don’t hear him I am at least strong enough to remember that they’re all lies. To reason that the minute I follow his orders and return to him he is going to punish me for my treason. It keeps me sane enough to shut him out before it gets too much.”

“So he wanted you back, huh?”

Ren blinks but he keeps his eyes fixed on the screen. “He never wanted to get rid of me. At least that’s what he told me. He expected me to kill you when he ordered you to dispose of me. He wanted to make sure I was strong enough after my disappointing failure with the Jedi girl. He never expected you to go against his order.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Ren turns his head, gives Hux a brief glance and looks away again. “He wanted you dead, not me. All he wanted to do was punish me for my behaviour. Since that didn’t work as planned he tried to get me to betray you and the Last Order.”

“Since when?”

“Ever since I got out of that collar. He tried all the time at first.”

“And you didn’t decide to go running to him, after Daddy finally called you home?” Hux asks. He curses his own blindsidedness. He should have noticed that something was off with Ren. But he is Kylo Ren, something is always off with him.

“Sometimes I wanted to,” Ren replies. He leans back his head and closes his eyes. “At first I didn’t because I was furious. He actually ordered you to kill me. He would have risked my death just to make sure I hadn’t gone soft. But the more time passed the more I dreaded the day I had to return to him. All the things he had done to me, I couldn’t just go on like that. As long as I was away, as long as I was letting myself get fucked by you, it was easier to shut him out. He really didn’t like that, you see. Sometimes he started screaming and raging, that was bad. As soon as I returned to him I knew he would never again let me out of his control. More than once it got so bad that I wanted to be dead just to be free.” He takes a few sharp breaths.

Hux keeps his eyes on Ren's face. “And now?” he asks. “What about now?”

Kylo Ren opens his eyes. They are dull, nothing of the old gleam is left. “I don’t want to go back. I really don’t. Between you and him, you are still the more tolerable monster. I want to fight him. I’m just so tired. I want to shut him out, but it is so exhausting. If I could I would just sleep, all the time, but that doesn’t make it better. I still dream about it every night. At least I think they’re dreams. Sometimes I’m not sure.”

“When did it start?” Hux asks.

“The nightmares? I don’t know. I don’t remember a time without them.”

“No, everything.”

“You mean, when did I hear his voice in my head for the very first time?”

Hux nods.

Kylo Ren is silent for a while. Just when Hux thinks he has decided to sink back into his non-responsive state, he answers.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can give you a date, place, and his exact first words. It’s not like he started suddenly with ‘Greetings, I’m Snoke, I’d like to invade your mind and violate your every thought until you’re brainwashed into my obedient little puppet.’ I think it started much earlier, long before I was even aware of it. And when I began to realize there was somebody there, he was already part of me, whispering to me, not like a hostile foreign invader, but like something that was just supposed to be there. He was so nice at first, gentle and caring… the bad stuff came much later.”

He lifts a thin hand and tugs on one of his curls, until it falls in front of his face, blurring his features. It is instinct, Hux realizes, to hide his face and show a mask instead. He doesn’t need a helmet to breathe. He needs it to keep himself together. But he left it back in his room when the fight started and now here they are.

“It was always the same, the things he used to tell me,” Ren continues. “That I was his chosen one, that I was born for the darkness, that I would continue my grandfather’s path. I would become greater than he ever was, I’d surpass Darth Vader and conquer light and darkness in ways he never did. For a while I tried to shut him out but I was only a child, what could I do? And my father, he just left it to Uncle Luke to take care of me, because he couldn't handle my connection with the Force. Uncle Luke, he was supposed to be the one to help me, right? He was supposed to make me strong enough to protect my mind, but he didn’t, he couldn’t even protect his own fucking nephew...”

He interrupts himself as he starts choking on his words. Hux watches a tear roll down his cheek. The temperature in the room drops to a chill. Ren doesn't bother to wipe the tear away. He inhales harshly for a few times, until the twitching around his lips calms down.

“I wanted to be what he promised me,” he continues after a while. “I really did. Light or darkness, what did it matter, as long as I didn’t have to think about it? I wanted to believe him so badly, that I could become something more, more than Darth Vader, more than anybody before me, finally get rid of the weakness once and for all. I thought I could shut it out if I just worked hard enough. Become a monster, kill enough men, eventually you’ll kill the man in you. But it kept crawling back inside, tearing on me, trying to pry me apart... the light doesn’t give up on you easily, even after your own mother has.”

“I never really believed that crap about the call to the light or the dark anyway,” Hux admits.

“That’s because you haven't felt it. You haven’t felt the light burning you, droning against the voices in your head. Still better than the silence, I assume.”

“Maybe it’s not the light,” Hux says. “Maybe it’s just you.”

Kylo Ren rasps out a shrill laugh. “There is no me.”

“Sure there is. You just don’t listen to him.”

“Shut up, Hux, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Hux hesitates. Ren is probably right. What does he know about the battle of light and darkness? He never once regretted his decision to join the First Order. Even when Snoke decided to drop him he knew it was nothing but another obstacle to overcome that would ultimately serve his final victory.

“Ben...”

“No, fuck you, Hux, you don’t get to call me that!”

“Ben is part of you. You can’t just take on a new name and suddenly be a new man.”

“Watch me. Ben is dead.”

“I have watched you. And Ben is very much alive.”

“Ben was just a boy.”

“Then maybe it is time you let the boy grow up.”

Ren snarls at him and Hux realizes he might have taken the metaphor too far.

“You’re angry at Ben,” he says.

“I’m not angry at Ben, Hux, don’t be ridiculous. You’re acting as though Ben is actually a person I could direct my anger at.”

“You started it. And you are. Angry at him. I’ve seen that anger, enough for a lifetime.”

“Enough.” Kylo Ren leans back and his face closes up. “Stop trying to shrink me, Hux, it doesn’t suit you.”

His expression makes it clear that Hux won’t get one more word out of him. He rises from his chair and leaves the room. He passes the doctor at the administration and halts.

“This is better than anything we have gotten in a week,” she says. “Thank you, Sir.”

Hux flashes a glance inside the bureau that’s staffed with screens of every room in the medical ward. One of the screens shows a still of himself, sitting opposite Kylo Ren.

“You record everything?” he asks.

“Yes,” the doctor replies. Then, hesitantly, “We can delete it, of course, if you want this to be private…”

“No,” he says. “Don’t. I don’t care.” He gestures towards Kylo Ren’s room. “Can you help him?”

The doctor tilts her head. She doesn’t look very comfortable. “Not everything can be fixed that easily, General Hux. We are not sure what results you expect us to bring to you. We don’t even know how General Ren would react to suggestions from us.”

“Right,” Hux says. “I can’t really tell you that either.”

“As long as General Ren has no interest in cooperating with us to change things there is only so much we can do.”

“Right,” Hux says again. He smiles sourly. “I wish you patience.”

 

They proceed further into First Order territory. Things start getting messy. Not everyone around here is keen to betray the Supreme Commander. They battle through several heavy fights with squadrons of Snoke’s fleet, but their number has risen considerably. Nobody proves challenge enough to deter them for long. They execute half of the officers who surrender. The rest won’t dare to make a wrong move for the rest of their lives.

The further they progress, the more Hux worries. The regular reports he receives from the newly implemented psych ward with their one and only patient notify him that Kylo Ren doesn’t take the proximity to Snoke well. His nightmares are getting worse. He spends most of his days in half trance, drifting on and off into a fitful sleep. Bringing Ren closer to Snoke seems like a terribly bad idea to Hux, but there is only one direction in which they can proceed. He has to continue.

Eventually he consults with Doctor Penn again. He knows what he wants to do and the doctor agrees.

“We will send him away,” Hux says. “Far away, somewhere into the eastern Outer Rim. There are lots of planets there where he will be safe. As soon as we’re done with Snoke we can pick him up again.”

“I will arrange a medical team to go with him,” Penn promises. “I will join them myself, to make sure he receives the best care possible.”

Hux eyes her sharply. “You seem rather strongly invested in his case.”

She gives him a weak smile. “I have seen a lot of victims of mind-control working for the First and the Last Order, Sir. And I have been watching General Ren for quite some time now. Watching his emotional responses, I can’t help but wonder for how long…” She sighs. “I would simply like to know what would happen if he was actually granted some peace of mind.”

“I’m not sure that’s possible,” Hux mutters. Penn nods.

Preparations go swift. Meanwhile Phasma proves an exceptional co-general and manages to bring over the first one of the Delta 40 bases all by herself.

The day before Kylo Ren’s ship is scheduled to leave, Hux receives note from Doctor Penn.

“What is it,” he asks upon arrival. “Is he refusing to go?”

“No, he has agreed to leave,” Penn reassures him. “But he said he would like to speak with you.”

The scenery on screen has changed to a waterscape. Kylo Ren looks even thinner than before. He could almost be a ghost, were it not for his luscious black hair reaching down into his neck. He allows the nurses to shave him but obviously not to give him a haircut. He is still connected to the IV line that sustains him with nutrition.

“You should eat something,” Hux says as he sits down.

“I don’t need to eat.”

“Sure you do. You’re human after all.”

Kylo Ren shrugs. His eyes have sunken deep. He looks as though he hasn’t slept in years. His fingers drum on the armrest of his chair but Hux isn’t sure whether he even notices it.

“You wanted to speak to me,” he finally says.

“I just wanted to speak to somebody,” Kylo Ren answers, without taking his eyes off the screen. “It’s getting too quiet in here.” He doesn’t mean the noise level in the room and Hux knows it.

“How do you feel?” he asks.

“I’m not dead.”

“Well, that’s something.”

“Dead would probably feel better.”

“Stop that. You’re still insufferable.”

“You wanted me dead,” Ren says, for the first time turning his head and laying his eyes on Hux. “Don’t think I didn’t feel it. Why’d you even keep me alive, just to fuck me and beat me down when you felt like it? Your toy is broken, Hux, let it go.”

“You’re a commander on this ship,” Hux says. “I value your abilities.”

Ren snorts. “Right. You rape me, again and again and again, then you make me commander of the fleet. You value my abilities.”

Hux sighs. “Okay, you know what? Let’s talk about it.”

“About what?”

“Me raping you.”

“Why should I want to talk about that?”

“Because it is you who keeps bringing it up. Every single time we speak.”

“So I’m supposed to keep my pretty little mouth shut?” Ren asks. He pushes his tongue against his bottom lip. “Because you don’t want to hear my whining? Be a nice little boy so Daddy doesn’t have to get angry anymore?”

Hux flinches. “No. That’s why I said let’s talk about it not told you to shut up.”

“Well,” Ren says. “You want to talk, talk.”

They fall silent for a moment. “I’m not going to apologize,” Hux says.

Ren closes his eyes. “I don’t want your apology.”

“Besides, I didn’t force my cock up your arse, Kylo. That was you.”

“There’s a thin line between knowing you raped someone and believing you didn’t because they couldn’t voice their refusal,” Ren says with an almost wistful smile.

“You came to me.”

“Indeed I did.”

“Why’d you do it?” Hux asks.

“Didn’t hear you complain back then.”

“That’s not an answer, Kylo.”

“Hmm, who knows? Maybe because it was the only way I knew how to regain control.”

“Over whom? Yourself or me?”

“Both, I guess,” Ren says quietly. “Do I have to spell out for you the things that Snoke said to me after you had first raped me? Because of course he knew. What was I to do but act as though I wanted it? Besides, I knew it was a good way to get you under my thumb.”

“I am not under your thumb.”

“I could have you kneeling at my feet if I wanted to.”

“Well, that’s a perk of having Vader-like abilities I guess.”

“I wouldn’t need Force of any kind. I’d have you begging for me, my mouth, my arse, my cock, whatever it is you need right now. You’ve done it before.”

He had.

“That’s a huge sacrifice to make.”

“Is it?”

“You let yourself get fucked simply to screw me over.”

“It’s not that hard,” Ren says quietly. “If you aren’t anybody, it’s not hard to give yourself up. I’ve done it countless times before.”

“You are not nobody.”

“Who am I then?” He leans forward, grasping the armrests for support. “Tell me, Hux, who am I?”

“You’re Kylo Ren, master of the Knights of Ren, General of the Last Order.”

“Yes, very good. That is my title. Now, who am I?”

“Fine then. Ben Solo.”

“Do not. Use. That name,” Ren hisses through his clenched teeth.

“Why? Because your mother uses it?”

“My mother has nothing to do with this!”

They glare at each other. It is impossible to get through a conversation with Kylo Ren without having him start yelling like a madman at some point.

“Did you talk to her?” Hux asks suddenly. “When we were with the Resistance.”

Ren flinches away and turns his head. Hux can see the sweat building up on his forehead. His brows, burrowed into his eyes, slacken a bit.

“Barely.” Kylo Ren leans back again and closes his eyes. “She was there when I awoke. She asked me about Snoke and I told her that Snoke had ordered you to kill me and that you brought me to her. She didn’t ask any further. She just stood up and left. She came back the day before you showed up to sign the release papers and have me brought into the containment cell. She told me that they had completed the Star Map and found Uncle Luke. She told me that the girl, Rey, had just left on the Millennium Falcon to meet him. That’s it.”

“They sent the girl all by herself.”

“She is their golden child. The one I never was.”

“And golden children always crash and burn.”

Kylo Ren smiles softly.

“So she didn’t try to, you know, get you to make up with her?”

“I think she gave up on me after I had killed my father. Quite right, too. She asked me whether I wanted to speak to Uncle Luke if he returned.”

“Did you say yes?”

“Of course not. I never wanted to talk to any of my family anyway. That’s why I started murdering them. You were then one who dragged me there.”

“I saved your life.”

“After you put me in a life threatening position in the first place.”

“Yes, well, we can’t all be perfect, can we?”

“It doesn’t matter anyway. I burned that bridge for good.” Kylo Ren opens his eyes and shoots Hux a curious glance. “You never asked, by the way.”

“Asked about what?”

“Your mother. I could just tell you, you know. You could go and see her, bring her on this ship.”

“I don’t intend to do any of that.”

“Why? Because then you’d have to face up to the fact that you killed your father?”

Hux clenches his teeth. He doesn’t answer.

“Because she doesn’t know yet, does she,” Ren continues. “Does she even know he is dead? Did anybody tell her anything?”

“They killed my sister,” Hux growls. “It’s not like they were innocent people.”

“Yes and you stood by and did nothing to save her.”

“She betrayed the First Order.”

“You make a lovely family, all of you.”

They stare at each other for a few seconds and suddenly Hux laughs.

“We do have a disposition to family troubles, don’t we,” he says.

His com-link bleeps. It has been doing that for several minutes now. He has half a mind to switch it off but instead he stands up.

“When we’re done with Snoke…,” he says.

“You’ll call me back,” Ren finishes the sentence. “And I’ll come running like an obedient dog, if I’m still alive by then.”

Hux turns to go when he hears Ren call out to him.

“Come here,” he says.

“I don’t follow orders,” Hux replies as he steps in front of Ren’s armchair.

Kylo Ren reaches up and pulls Hux down by the collar of his jacket. He takes him by the neck and draws him onto his mouth. He is feverishly hot and he keeps sucking on Hux’s lips like he intends to draw blood.

“You know they’re recording this room,” Hux says after a while, pulling away, catching his breath.

“What is it with the sudden shyness,” Ren breathes into his mouth, an evil smile curling around his lips. He grabs Hux’s belt and pulls him down onto his lap. “Come on, let’s give them a show to enjoy for a change.”

 

Hux passes the doctor smiling at him calmly on his way out. He stops.

“You’re not going to berate me?” he asks. “First I rape him, then when he asks me to fuck him I do it again.”

“It is not on us to tell General Ren what he needs for his healing process right now,” Penn answers without changing her expression.

“That is not a healing process, that is the path to self-destruction,” Hux says pointing in the general direction of Ren’s room.

The doctor smiles ruefully. “You are not wrong, I fear.”

 

Hux himself gives instructions to the crew of the ship that will fly Kylo Ren into the eastern Outer Rim. He has given them a list of planets, all of them under Last Order control.

“Don’t choose a planet before you have taken off,” he instructs them. “Don’t talk to anybody about this. Don’t tell them that you’re leaving with Kylo Ren and whatever you do, don’t tell anybody where you’re going. Wait until you have passed our last base before you program the coordinates. The ship is untraceable. Not even I will know where you are. Don’t tell me.”

If you spend enough time around mind-readers you develop a healthy dose of paranoia.

“How will you be able to contact us?” the crew leader asks.

“When Snoke is dealt with we will broadcast a message to every planet on this list,” Hux says. “Just make sure you have a radio with you.”

He also commandeers several men of his own special forces to join the mission. Men he knows are reliable. “If Kylo Ren shows any signs of attempting to return to the First Order, detain him. If necessary, kill him.”

After everybody has received their instructions the ship leaves and then Kylo Ren is gone, Doctor Penn leading his medical team. The Battlefront is Hux’s.

They advance further, more slowly now. Expanding their ranks but more importantly destroying everything that doesn’t surrender.

They close in on Snoke. For a while it almost looks like his troops have given up the fight.

Then they encounter the Knights of Ren.

Chapter Text

It is only supposed to be a small base of the First Order. Phi 124, a tiny, uninhabitable moon. Phasma has managed to get herself into medbay with a smashed leg. It makes her grumpy and keeps the entire medical staff on their toes.

“Let me lead this mission, Sir,” she pleads when Hux visits her. “I can still sit in a Destroyer. I can still command the troops. Please do not condemn me to utter uselessness. I am going insane in here.”

“Yes, and you’re dragging everyone down with you,” Hux replies. “I have actually been wanting to join a mission myself for a change. How about you sit this one out and let me take the lead?”

“But Sir…”

“Are you trying to tell me you could do better than me?”

“No Sir, of course not. It’s just… things are getting dangerous. You are more important for the Order than me. You shouldn’t stand at the forefront.”

“Now what kind of message would I send to my men if I just stayed behind all the time? Stop objecting, Phasma. There will still be countless missions you can lead.”

And that is how Hux ends up in one of the smaller, more agile Destroyers, ready to take over the moon. Things are running smoothly enough, the troops on the moon don’t seem to be up for much of a fight, until suddenly sirens announce an incoming hostile fleet. They look like Destroyers, but they are much, much smaller and their cannons are more powerful than anything Hux has ever seen on such small fighters. He has the men request backup from the Battlefront and a swarm of TIEs makes their way to the moon.

They decrease altitude and the small Destroyers follow them. All their defence shields are up, but when the first blast hits the ship, the jolt sends Hux to the floor. They load the cannon and return the favour, but it quickly becomes clear whose ship is faster at dodging. They rush past the ground at maximum speed and back into the air, leading their attackers right into the cloud of TIE-Fighters. Hux bellows orders to the other Destroyers as a second blast hits them from below.

“Sir, they’re shooting from the moon base,” one of his officers cries.

A few seconds later they receive notification that their fuel tank has been hit.

“We have to land, Sir.”

They don’t land at the base, they land a bit further away where they don’t risk any additional attacks from the troops stationed at the base. This did not go as planned.

“How come nobody noticed these Fighters approaching?” Hux asks. “They are not part of the normal troops.”

“They must have followed us from above orbit, Sir. They must have been camouflaged.”

"No, we would have noticed them sooner, even with camouflage. This reeks suspiciously of trap.”

“Then maybe they have waited on the moon somewhere until we were lured deep enough. The TIEs should be able to take care of them, but…"

Then the front machine that has tailed them from the skies lands right behind them. The cannons are unusable while in landing. The air on the moon is not breathable which means they have to stay on the ship and wait until their attackers come to them or don oxygen masks. They choose to wait.

They ready their unit. The good thing about the small Destroyer is that there is exactly one spot from where their enemies can come. The minute they pass through the second airlock they will be received by a wall of fire to send them straight into hell.

At least that is the plan. Hux is standing behind the troopers, gun in hand, the voice of the pilot in his ear that warns them of a group of men, clad in black, coming across the surface of the moon.

“They are wearing helmets, Sir. They must have a breathing mechanism. And, Sir, they have swords. They have reached the first airlock now.”

So Snoke has finally decided to take them seriously.

The door opens and the captain cries out to open fire. Inadvertently Hux has lowered his gun. He knows very well that regular weapons won’t bring it. The troopers fire, the deafening noise of blaster guns echoes through the hall. Even with ear protection they are still painfully loud. And completely useless.

There is exactly one group in Snoke’s army that uses swords. Not just swords, actually. One is carrying a mace, another a large staff. At least they’re not lightsabers. Only their master carries a lightsaber. Nevertheless, the close-combat weapons are Force-powered. These men might not have their leader’s aptitude in Force-sensitivity, but to erase a whole group of Stormtroopers it is more than enough.

They are trapped. Up in the air they might have been able to get rid of the little Fighter eventually, or forced it into a spot where they could overpower the men with sheer number. But down here in a broken ship, the TIE-Fighters above their heads busy with the rest of the group – they must have separated onto at least three different ships – there is little they can do. The fire doesn’t even reach the men. They fend it off with Force-shields and their swords and then they retaliate.

Hux knows he should turn around and lock himself into the bridge with the pilot and the remaining officer. He doesn’t. He hears the pilot in his ear, crying for backup that won’t arrive fast enough. He watches his men die, one by one, screaming but at least not begging, smashed apart by fucking swords, as if these were appropriate weapons in a space fight and the only person in the Galaxy who could rival them, maybe even bring them over to their side, is far, far away. The Knights of Ren only answer to Snoke himself and to Kylo Ren.

Their new leader, Kylo’s second in command, walks across the remnants of Hux’s men towards him, sword lowered. Hux lifts his gun and fires. The shots ricochet off the helmet and the breastplate. He can feel the pressure in his head and for a while he manages to withstand it, but eventually it becomes too strong. Fighting against his own muscles and his own will he lowers the gun, then drops it. This is A1 mind-control.

They stand in front of each other, Hux struggling to regain control over his body, feeling an overwhelming Force drill into his brain. He can’t even see his opponent’s face. Then the Knight lifts his unarmed yet heavily gloved hand and strikes Hux twice in the head.

After that only blackness.

 

When Hux awakes, everything around him is dark. A dull ache has taken tight hold of his head and the whole room seems to be spinning. If this is a proper room at all. He doesn’t know where he is or even what is up and what is down. He feels the sickness rising from his stomach and tries to lift a hand to his mouth, only to discover that apparently his hands and feet are bound.

I’m a captive.

Before he can expand on that thought, oblivion takes hold of him again.

The next time he awakes, somebody entirely in black, with a black mask over his face, kneels in front of him and forces water down his throat.

“Kylo…”

The black man doesn’t answer and Hux needs quite some time and effort to clear the fog in his mind enough to realize that this isn’t Kylo Ren.

He drifts in and out of consciousness for the rest of the flight. The ties around his hands force his arms into an unnatural position behind his back. The pain in his left elbow that is never far grows stronger the longer the flight lasts. It radiates into his wrist and his shoulder. From time to time the whole arm convulses in violent spasms that die down into uncontrolled trembles after a while.

When they finally land it takes Hux a while to realize the sound of the engines has stopped and the pull he feels is real gravity, not the artificial one of the star ships. His stomach, weakened from days of nothing but water and thin soup, reacts badly to the sudden change.

They bring him before Snoke.

The Supreme Commander is much smaller in reality than he likes to make himself in his holograms. In fact, he is smaller than Hux, except that now Hux is kneeling, hands still bound behind his back, head light from the hunger in his stomach, an ache in his stiff shoulders and neck that grows worse the farther it reaches into his left arm.

Snoke doesn’t bother to open his mouth. Blades, sharp and hot, pierce through Hux’s brain, until they have reached the deepest depths, and twist.

He screams, even though he has sworn to himself not to. Having Kylo Ren invade his mind is like touching fire. Having Snoke invade his mind is like being burned alive. He tries to fight back, but fighting fire with bare hands will eventually leave him in ashes.

Snoke is everywhere. He doesn’t leave a single thought unviolated. Every single captain that has chosen to join them, every single planet they have taken from him, every single thought Hux has ever directed against the Supreme Commander is brought to light.

In the end, he gives it up. He doesn’t know how much time has passed. Probably barely more than a few minutes, even though it feels like days. He has lost all sense of self, can’t tell anymore where he ends and Snoke begins because there is nothing of himself left. Snoke’s voice is droning in his head, laughing over his weakness, until only one thought in his head remains.

Kill me.

But Snoke won’t kill him. Because there is still one thing left he doesn’t know. One thing he tries to make Hux give up, refusing to believe that it is the one thing Hux can’t tell him, even though, if he knew, he’d have spilled it already fifty times over.

Where is Kylo Ren?

I don’t know.

Where is Kylo Ren?

His answers don’t satisfy Snoke. When he keeps probing and no answer turns up, he gets enraged. There is nothing in Hux’s stomach that could come back up, but he keeps retching anyway. There is no telling the physical pain from the torture in his mind. He is certain this can’t go on any longer. He will be dead in a few seconds. There is no way his body can take any more than this. It will give up and release him and everything will be over.

Finally Snoke relents. There is nothing more to get out of him right now.

One of Snoke’s minions tries to pull him to his feet but his feet won’t stand, so they drag him away, lock him in a cell somewhere. They untie him because they know there is nothing he can do. Eventually someone brings something that roughly resembles food and water.

There is no silence. It takes a while for Hux to realize, but Snoke is still there. He is still in his mind, in every one of his thoughts, watching him, whispering to him.

Where is Kylo Ren?

I want to give him up, I really do. Take him back, make him yours again, what do I care? Torture him, make him pay, make him do whatever you want. I won’t stand in your way. I wish, I wish so badly that I could tell you, that I knew. I should have asked. I should have had them tell me. But I don’t know.

Snoke doesn’t believe him, which, in the end, is probably the only thing that keeps Hux alive.

Every day he is dragged in front of the Supreme Leader and subjected to the same treatment. Every night he is locked away again. Had he enough control over his body, he’d have killed himself in a matter of seconds. But Snoke is not willing to let him die so he won’t.

His body is not his own. It belongs to somebody else, somebody who doesn’t care about pain and terror, and the desire to end it all. From time to time the old will to fight resurfaces and he struggles for the control over himself again, but he soon learns that all he does with that is play in Snoke’s hands. He can feel the pleasure the Supreme Commander takes in pushing him back down, crushing his will until he lies in pieces, punishing him for his impudence. There is sadist and then there is Snoke.

It is during those times, when Snoke relents for a brief period of time, when Hux’s defiance raises its head again and he can think almost coherent thoughts, that Snoke speaks to him of Kylo Ren.

So you thought you could take him from me? You thought you could make him yours? Amateur! I have possessed Kylo Ren years before you even knew him. I know every single one of his thoughts and his desires. I know what he wants and what he needs. I know he will never grant you what you want from him. You may try to claim his body, but you cannot claim his soul. It is mine. You tried to defile him with your impurity. For that I will make you pay.

It’s called sex, Hux retorts against his own better judgement. Look it up. You are the one he ran from. He tried to kill himself, just to get rid of you. If that isn’t telling I don’t know what is. Yet he keeps returning to me, every night, asking for more. It’s been almost two years now. I have built quite the collection. You want to take the grand tour of memories of how I fucked your disciple? Be my guest. Let’s start at the Oh god, Hux, yes, Hux, Hux, please section. You ever heard him moan so deeply the whole bed vibrates? Had him gasp so violently the convulsion of his muscles sends jolts through your cock? We can move on to his face next, quivering lips and coiling tongue and fluttering eyelids, cheeks flushed so red he looks as though he has bathed in blood. Throat bared, working heavily while he can’t even speak anymore. That’s his face right before he’s about to come, but does his best to hold himself back. Because he knows I won’t relent on him just because he is over and done. So he keeps prolonging the moment. At some point he starts whimpering. Just whimpering. It’s mouth-watering, really, I have to keep myself in check not to drool over him. And then he starts begging, quietly at first, but louder after a while. And that’s when we have reached the point of Hux, please… oh, you like that image? Where he stands up to leave after I have pumped my defiling seed into him? You see it glisten as it trickles down his thigh. See how he winces ever so slightly when he moves. He will do that the entire next day. With every move he makes the pain between his legs will remind him of what I did to him, I made sure of that. And each time it does, you can see the arousal build in his eyes…

Snoke’s rage courses through his veins like liquid fire. It wrenches the breath right out of his lungs and sends him doubling forward, all his muscles contracting in searing pain. He gasps for breath in the short second Snoke draws back, only to bear down on him once again with renewed ire. His bones threaten to snap under the pressure of his own muscles. The dark prison cell goes black. Stars flicker before his eyes. The loss of air sends his thoughts tumbling until they don’t resemble any sort of coherence anymore.

You will pay for this! You will pay for everything you did to him! He is mine! He has always been mine!

You disgust me. It takes every ounce of strength he has to gather enough thoughts to string the words together. You make me sick. I might have hurt him, even broken him. But you were the one who destroyed him. You twisted him, you made him into what he is. I can’t wait for the day when he finally kills you.

Because then he will be free of me and will be able to turn his full attention to you? Snoke’s laughter echoes through his head. What do you expect to happen then? Do you honestly think you can control him after I am dead? I am the only thing that forces him to stay at your side. His fear of me is the one thing that keeps him from realizing his true strength. Once I am dead, do you think he will look at you ever again with the same eyes? He will realize that you are nothing. That you are weaker than him, that you are but a mere speck of dust to his feet. If he ever truly manages to overpower me, do you truthfully believe that you will be powerful enough to control him? You need me. You need me to keep him in check. Without me he will squash you or force you to do his will and there is nothing you can do against that. Against him, you are nothing. You are powerless. You are obsolete. Do you think he will still need you after I am gone? What can you offer him? Tell me, General, what can you truly offer him? He already detests you. He wishes you dead. I have seen his thoughts, I know what he wants. It isn’t you. It will never be you.

The pain has long passed the threshold of unbearable. He might have passed out from the lack of air already, but Snoke doesn’t want him unconscious. He keeps Hux breathing, barely, just enough to make sure he can hear every word Snoke directs at him. He doesn’t know whether the dread rising through his chest is his own or is forced upon him by Snoke. Not that is matters, anyway.

Do you honestly think you and him will be equals forever? When I am dead, he will lead and you will have to follow. Pick up the crumbs he drops for you. You know it already. You have felt it. His power. You have been so desperate to make him your pawn that you completely missed the point when you became his. Right now I still control him. But what happens after I am dead? You already need him more than he needs you. You want him to give himself to you so badly. Not only his body. You want everything. He will never cede to you what you desire. He will leave you crushed. Your greed will be your downfall. He is the sun and you have already flown too close. You try to touch him and you burn. You need me. You need me to control him so you will at least be able to keep the pathetic illusion of his affection. That is the best thing you can ever hope for. You need me, because without me you cannot even hope anymore!

The last scream is the last push necessary. Blackness engulfs Hux. He awakes hours later with skull-splitting pain in his head. He tries to press his palms to his temples to find some relief, but his left arm won’t bend anymore. The cold of the cell and the bad treatment have taken their toll. That is the last time he tries to challenge Snoke. After that he doesn’t dare to defy him, even throughout those short periods of relief when Snoke decides to withdraw from his mind. Mostly they are too short to sort his thoughts, anyway. Hux has no idea what Snoke does the whole day and night, but it cannot be much of an endeavour, since he still manages to torture Hux the entire time.

Until one day it stops. For a moment, Hux is utterly convinced that he has died. That he is free now and has left his body and entered hell, because even hell must feel like a release after what Snoke has done to him. It takes him a while to understand that he is still alive, but Snoke just isn’t there anymore. Nobody is there. He is enshrouded in absolute silence.

Hux lies in his cell and listens intently, trying to figure out what has changed, but there are no tell-tale signs. Has Snoke given up? Has he left? Or is this another one of his tricks, let the hope in Hux lift its head again only to crush him all the more effectively later? It is quite a task trying to find his way in his own mind again after it has been violated for days. Thinking thoughts, not knowing when they will be torn from him or whether they really are his.

The silence drags on. Eventually Hux’s inner clock and the grumbling in his stomach tells him that it should be time for one if his guards to appear to shove one of the trays with barely edible food into his cell. But nobody appears. There is nobody here except Hux. The entire prison seems to be built for him alone.

Eventually he calls out. Nobody answers. He tries again, dragging himself towards the cell door. But there is no telling what might be going on outside, none whatsoever.

Time passes. The hunger gets worse, but at least it is his feeling. It is his alone, belonging to his body to be shared with no one else. He is alone again. The stronger his grasp on that realization becomes, the more his fear grows that Snoke will come back. He can’t do it again. He can’t give it up again, have that monster in his thoughts again. The fear of Snoke coming back becomes so strong, it starts shaking his body in loud sobs and sickness. Never again, never ever again.

He doesn’t hear the steps in front of his door until the last second. When he yanks up his tear streaked face, he hears a blaster get rid of the lock on his cell door for good. The heavy durosteel door opens. Rays of light come streaking into his cell and amidst them a figure, gleaming more brightly than a sun itself. It takes him a while to realize that it’s the chrome reflecting the lights in the hallway.

“Phasma!”

“There you are, General,” Phasma says. “People believed you dead but I would have none of that. Are you ready to be rescued, Sir?”

“Phasma, what are you doing here?”

“The Resistance has launched a direct attack against Snoke. They are fighting him right now. We had a small secret envoy hitch a ride to bring us here. We couldn’t just let you rot, Sir. Can you stand?”

He can’t so Phasma lifts him up to carry him out of the cell. She is strong. Her leg seems healed completely. How long was he gone from his troops?

“You mean the Resistance is ridding the Galaxy of Snoke right now?” he asks, unable to ban the exhaustion from his voice. It is weird, speaking out loud. His voice sounds rasp in his ears. For days on end he has led every conversation – if one could call it that – solely in his head. It’s a small wonder he hasn’t gone completely mad, yet.

“They are trying to, Sir.”

“And you… you sneaked on board?” The more he tries to concentrate on stringing words together in a way that makes sense, the more the meaning of his words slips away from him.

“Yes, Sir. We don’t have the troops yet to participate in a strike against Snoke and the Resistance simultaneously, but they’re all so busy with tearing each other apart that they don’t even notice our little rescue mission. Are you the only one they captured?”

“I don’t know… I think so. I think they slaughtered the rest.”

“Just as I thought, then. We will have to hurry. We don’t know how much longer this base will stand.”

“Phasma, I love you a bit right now.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Phasma, are you married?”

“I have a wife, Sir.”

“I see. Well, if you’re ever interested, let me now.”

“Yes, Sir.” She pauses while she carries him through several heavy metal doors. Two of his Stormtroopers have joined them to guard their escape. He can hear noise in the distance, but they are getting further and further away from it. Then Phasma adds, “Kylo Ren might be interested, though, if I may say so, Sir.”

Hux breaks into a rasp laughter until the pain in his stomach makes him stop. “Have you received any news of him?”

“No, Sir.”

“Good. That’s the way it should be.”

They reach the ship. It has landed on the outside of whatever stronghold they have been inside until now. Snoke must have changed bases since the last time Hux spoke to him. Apparently this planet has breathable atmosphere. Phasma lowers him into the most comfortable seat in the ship and orders the pilot to take off.

“The monitor shows the Resistance troops, Sir,” Phasma says to him as the ship shoots out of orbit. “And Snoke’s weapon. I don’t think it will ever fire a single shot. The Resistance seems determined to destroy it. So many resources out the viewport.”

Before Hux can even take a look at the monitors to check the state of the battle for himself, he feels his senses dwindle and darkness gets hold of him once again.

Chapter Text

Snoke is gone. Not dead, not even with full force did the Resistance accomplish that. His weapon is destroyed, though, and he had to give up the planet. His remaining troops are scattered across the Outer Rim, just waiting for the Last Order to gather them up.

Snoke himself has fled without a trace and he has taken a large chunk of the remaining First Order with him. The intel they intercept from the Resistance tells them that no one has succeeded in locating him so far. He keeps silent for now, apparently weakened enough to take a break and gather his strength. The number of troopers he has taken with him is still considerable. The fight is not over, yet.

The Last Order stays clear of the Resistance. A few skirmishes southwards, nothing more. They are getting big enough now to become a real threat to the Republic, but even though the last fight has left the Resistance weakened, their victory over Snoke – albeit not complete – has left them with new motivation. They become daring.

A few weeks after Hux has returned to the Battlefront with Phasma several of their outer bases on the eastern border of the Rim become embroiled in a takeover mission by the Resistance. The planets they lose were mostly low-value, but it still stings. Hux sends reinforcements to their surrounding bases. He shortly debates with his upper ranks to turn the fleet towards those planets to win them back, but they have to go where the First Order troops are and nobody is keen on stirring up the Resistance right now. Besides, there are more important planets that they need to bring under their control.

He and Phasma begin to talk about a mission to the southern border of the Rim. It is the region with the most valuable planets under First Order control. High on natural resources that are necessary for weapons-building and rare earths for their technological equipment these planets are essential for expanding the Last Order beyond a rebel group into a legitimate empire.

“If we bring the south under our control, we have taken over all the important bases from the First Order,” Hux says. “We will have bitten out a huge chunk of the Galaxy from the Republic. All that’s left to do then is to collect his scattered troops and deal with Snoke himself and the First Order is done with.”

“Who will lead the mission, Sir?” Phasma asks. The new admiral’s badge looks splendid on her chrome uniform. After saving her general from the enemy there really was no more objecting to her being promoted to the highest rank below general.

“I was thinking about you.”

“Me? But Sir, you need me here.”

“I need you where you can use your talents the best. With a mission this big I would have to entrust half of our fleet to your command. We estimate that the whole thing might take several months, maybe even a year to complete. There really is no one better than you in my army, Phasma. Do you think you’ll be able to live without me for a while?”

“I have to admit it does sound like an intriguing task.”

They decide to have the strategy department draft an estimate for the costs, troop numbers and time frame.

“What about Kylo Ren, Sir?” Phasma asks at the end of the meeting. “Should we call him back?”

He had to be lying if he said he hasn’t given that matter much thought so far. Especially with the state Kylo Ren was in when they parted, not knowing what is happening to him right now is making Hux anxious.

“It will be a while before we will be coming close to Snoke again,” he muses.

“And just in case one of Snoke’s special units shows up again having General Ren on board might be a good idea,” Phasma points out.

“Mitaka,” Hux calls to his lieutenant, “have the message sent to every one of our planets. Call Kylo Ren back.”

 

He returns to his rooms earlier than he used to do. It has been eight weeks now since Phasma rescued him from the Supreme Commander, eight weeks of complete silence in which Hux’s mind belonged to nobody but himself. Eight weeks in which he finds himself questioning every thought he has, double- and triple-checking every time a new idea appears in his head, trying to get rid of the distinct feeling that somebody is still influencing him, watching him, ready to take over and control him any second.

The first few days he did not sleep at all. Sleeping was impossible. Sleeping meant returning back to that cell, being dragged out and thrown in front of the Supreme Commander again every night. His mind was in a state of high alertness around the clock while he tried to sort out his thoughts and find his own way back into his mind. He felt as if somebody had yanked out every drawer in his brain and emptied all of them into one big heap, leaving empty drawers and complete and utter entropy. Now Hux had to find out what belonged where again.

Returning to business as usual proved much harder than expected. Concentrating became an ordeal in its own. Matching the people in a room to the voices he heard speaking, muffled and far away, sometimes seemed impossible. Sensations of floating alternated with sensations of falling and sometimes he had to contain himself not to cry out suddenly. He got tired quickly but at the same time sleep did not come easily.

It still doesn’t. He still tires after only a few hours. Every night he goes to bed early, every morning it takes all his strength to leave the bed. The heavy drag only loosens its grip slowly, reluctant to allow him some peace of mind.

He did not expect the nightmares. He did not expect waking up every night, screaming and drenched in sweat. He did not expect Snoke to return every night, all night. Whenever he awakes there are those few terrible minutes when he is without orientation, convinced he is back in his cell, convinced that he can still hear Snoke’s voice in his head. Only when he turns on the light in his room and begins to see where he is does the heavy pounding of his heart slow down to a normal rhythm and his tensed muscles relax. Drinking helps, but his thought process is already terribly sluggish as it is and he has to stay sharp at least during the day.

Eight weeks later things have slightly improved but hiding his constant state of wariness from his men has become an onerous task on its own. On top of that is the stiffness in his arm that has worsened since his capture. Medbay set him up with drugs that got rid of most of the pain after a couple of weeks, but bending the elbow has become almost impossible. There are days when he thinks about having the whole arm cut off and replaced with a prosthesis. Ren would probably like that. He’d be just like Darth Vader in his early days, when he was still Anakin Skywalker.

“Have you sent the signal?” he asks Mitaka the next day.

“Aye, Sir, we have. There is just a slight problem with it. Some of the planets you named us… well, they were among the planets annexed by the Resistance a short while ago.”

Panic begins to rise in Hux. “Are you telling me Kylo Ren could be on a planet that is now controlled by the Republic?”

Mitaka looks anything but happy with the situation. “That might just be the case, Sir. We don’t know yet, we haven’t heard back from any of the planets. We have sent the message to every base still under Last Order control. It might take them a while to answer. In a few days we might already have found Kylo Ren, Sir.”

“Have every planet send an answer,” Hux instructs him. “So we know which ones we can rule out.”

As if he wasn’t already strung out completely this new anxiety takes hold of him. Waiting for an answer quickly becomes an ordeal. His intelligence unit informs him that none of the intercepted communication lines of the Resistance speak even a word of Kylo Ren. At least that is good news.

Several days later every planet they have contacted has transmitted a negative reply. Kylo Ren is on none of their bases.

“It doesn’t look like the Resistance has found him yet,” Phasma says. “They most likely keep a low profile. What do you want us to do, Sir?”

It’s a new nightmare. “We cannot leave him there. If they find him things could end badly. We have to get Kylo Ren back.”

“We could reconquer them, Sir,” Phasma says. “It will take some time and we might have to compromise the mission to the southern border at least for a while, but it is not impossible.”

“That is too risky,” Khal interjects. He has spent the entire meeting, like every meeting, in complete silence, contenting himself with listening to everyone else talk. Now he finally seems to have found something worthy of his opinion. “If anything goes wrong we will just drive General Ren into their arms. The Resistance has responded to our reinforcements of the surrounding planets with armaments of their own. If we begin a battle there now, we risk turning a rescue mission into a trench war, so to speak.”

Khal is right and Hux knows it. “Send another message to the planets. See if anything new turns up. Also, try and establish covert communication with the bases we lost. Maybe we can still find a way to contact them and get them out of there in secret.”

The next few days bring nothing but frustration. While Phasma continues preparing her mission to the southern border, every attempt of the Last Order to get in touch with the planets that might hold Kylo Ren proves futile. The planets of the Republic are heavily guarded by the Resistance and ward off any attempts to contact potential loyal liaisons within their borders.

The nightmares that have recently relented a bit return. After he has awoken the third night in a row crying out from the voice droning on in his head he decides he has had enough.

“We’re going to try a different approach,” he says to Mitaka as soon as he arrives on the bridge in the morning. “If the Resistance are stealing our planets they will at least have to return our men to us. Establish contact with the Resistance and get me their boss on the line in the conference room.”

“What are you planning to do, Sir?” Mitaka asks.

“I am going to speak to General Leia Organa. I will ask mum if Kylo Ren can come out to play.”

 

General Organa isn’t happy to see Hux’s face on her screen and this time she doesn’t even attempt to hide it.

She looks ragged, her hair has lost a lot of its colour since he has last seen it. She is wearing a freshly healed cut on her cheek and the state of her clothes indicates that she hasn’t had time to change them lately. There are new lines in her face. If she looked like she has aged well before, she now looks beyond her age. The steely glint in her eyes, however, is unchanged.

“If you come to offer me my son again, General,” she says, “I must disappoint you. I am not willing to do any more bargains with you.”

Right in medias res then. Okay.

“Actually, it is more of the contrary. I need your help to find Kylo Ren.”

She frowns. “If he chooses to abandon you, General Hux, it is not for me to catch him and bring him back to you.”

“He did not abandon us, General Organa. We might have somehow lost him, though.”

She closes her eyes for a second. Takes a few deep breaths. “You have lost him. That sounds rather… unusual.”

“It is your fault, really,” Hux says.

“How in the Galaxy could this possibly be our fault?”

“The planets in the eastern region,” Hux says. “The ones you took from us. We suspect he might be on one of them.”

“This is ridiculous, General Hux. What do you mean, he might be on one of them? How can you not know? Why would he even be in that region, there is nothing of any interest there.”

“Exactly,” Hux says. “You have to understand, we had to get him out of Snoke’s reach. Things were getting… complicated. So we sent him to one of those planets. The only problem is, we don’t know which one.”

“Have you lost his itinerary, General Hux?”

“It was on purpose,” Hux says. “If any one of us got caught by the Supreme Leader, we couldn’t risk him finding out where Kylo Ren is hiding.” Which has proved highly effective, he adds to himself.

Leia Organa studies him thoroughly. Where in the Galaxy did Ren get those dreamy eyes from? The pair scrutinizing him right now is as sharp as razor blades. If they ever wore a dreamy expression, they have lost it long ago.

“Fine,” she finally says. “That doesn’t even sound too incredible. But if Kylo Ren really is on one of those planets, we will have to apprehend him and this time for good. What makes you think we will just deliver him to you, General?”

Kylo Ren. Never has Hux heard this name out of Leia Organa’s mouth before.

“Because you do not want him.”

“This is not a matter of want, General. This man is dangerous. By your side, he is even more dangerous. We can never allow you near him ever again.”

“He is your son,” Hux says, because clearly she needs reminding. “Should you not want him to return to you of his own free will?”

“I am a mother, General Hux, but I am not delusional. My son will never return to me by his own. I sent his father to get him back and Kylo Ren killed him. I saved his life when you brought him to me and the first chance he got he ran off with you and abandoned me again. It might have taken me a while to accept the truth, but at some point I just can’t ignore it anymore.”

“How do you know I didn’t just abduct him out of your cell and force him to come with me?” Hux asks.

“The video recordings of every part of the containment area, General Hux.”

Right. Of course they had surveillance. She must have seen their little talk and known about their plans before they even left the solar system.

“Fine,” he says. “I didn’t drag him out of there. I will still ask you to allow me to send a message to those planets and to let me land there and pick him up.”

“And I will still have to refuse your request, General.”

“You can’t help him. I can. I can help your son, General Organa.”

“My son is gone. Kylo Ren has killed him.”

“Your son is very much still there. I have seen him.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I do,” Hux says. He realizes his voice has grown louder. Adrenaline is pushing against his skin. He clenches his fists to keep himself from twitching. “He is lost and frightened and he is trying to kill himself. And if you let that happen now, Leia Organa, then his death is on you.”

Anger flashes across her face. Good.

“You don’t get to talk to me like that,” she hisses. “I have tried everything to save my son! Everything! My whole life there is nothing I have done that wasn’t ultimately for his sake! I have tried, time and again, and I have failed every single time!”

“Then try again!” he bellows. “Your husband might be dead, but your son is still alive and as long as he is you still have a chance! Try again and fail again but don’t give up on him as long as there’s still something, anything, you can do! You don’t give up, you’re not allowed to give up, people have been giving up on him his entire life and I won’t let it happen again!”

She recoils, taken aback by his anger. It’s just a screen but he can see his words have hit her. He tries to rein himself back. Leia Organa stares at him as though she has never seen him before.

“What are you trying to do, General Hux?” she whispers.

Suddenly the anger is gone. He feels exhausted. Every muscle in his body cries for rest. He is tired and he has been for a long time. “I am trying to save your son. Because he is worth it. If the universe were to end and there’d be just one person that deserved to be saved, it would still be Kylo Ren.”

 

The sun is burning down on them. Hux wishes he had thought of bringing some kind of shade along, but he hasn’t and now it’s too late to return to the Battlefront and get something to hide under.

The Battlefront is in orbit, they have landed with one of its shuttles. It’s a small thing, barely large enough to carry the whole party. General Hux. Two captains. A squadron of escorting Stormtroopers. And the men they are about to pick up.

Much too close for his taste hovers the ship of the Resistance. They have agreed on the exact number of soldiers both sides are allowed to take to this encounter and for once, both of them have actually kept their word.

General Organa is not on board. Again something they have agreed upon. He might have persuaded her to let him pick up Kylo Ren, but she is still not willing to see him herself. Which is probably for the better.

It wasn’t cheap. Getting the Resistance to agree to the temporary ceasefire has cost them several of the bases the First Order annexed from the Republic barely a year ago, only to lose them to Hux’s troops in a matter of months. Hux had to haggle with a very determined General Organa for hours and he feels very much as though he has gotten the short end of the deal, but it still comes a lot cheaper than having to reconquer every one of their lost planets.

The girl is there, in white rags with a staff on her back, having a round orange-and-white droid trail in her step. She has taken off, dragging the traitor Stormtrooper on one hand behind her. They have made their way to the pathetic little scrap market that takes up most of this village. It’s a scrap planet, after all, almost worthless to both the Last Order and the New Republic. Huge piles of waste tower in the distance between dunes of sand. All of them former star ships or weapons or droids, now they are corroding away in the sun on this sorry excuse for a planet. Scavengers find what little is left of any worth and bring it to the market. It is almost as though they are back on Jakku where this whole mess began.

Fifteen minutes until rendezvous time.

They have greeted the envoy from the Resistance and now their soldiers are standing opposite each other, unwilling to approach any further. Everybody seems nervous, but nobody has drawn their weapons yet.

One of the pilots steps up and stands next to Hux. Hux has seen him before. He is the pride of the Resistance, a real daredevil, and as chance will have it, the traitor’s boyfriend. Poe Dameron.

“You know, Kylo Ren tortured me once,” Dameron says. He is smaller than Hux and his pilot’s jacket makes him look like a human version of the round droid.

“Kylo Ren has tortured a lot of people,” Hux replies. “Don’t take it personally.”

“He had his mask on, back then. Which is a real pity, because Rey later told us that he is rather easy on the eyes.”

Would it be frowned upon if he just strangled the pilot here and now? Probably.

“I thought you have a boyfriend. Or did the girl steal him away from you already?”

Dameron laughs. “Rey isn’t interested in Finn or any other man. Or woman for that matter.”

“You just said she called Kylo Ren easy on the eyes.”

“Yeah, but not in a wants-to-jump-his-bones kind of way. She still has eyes, you know. She can still call a man pretty and she was very surprised to find such dreamy eyes and boy group lead singer hair in the higher ranks of the First Order.”

“Fine.”

“And just because you couldn’t keep my boyfriend it doesn’t mean I can’t. Still can find other men pretty, though.”

He gives Hux a broad grin. Somebody will have to pay for this.

“The next time I see you,” Hux says and turns away, “and I am sure I will see you, I will personally shoot you out of your ridiculous little Fighter and watch you go up in flames.”

“Fair enough,” Dameron says.

The girl returns, still having the robot trail behind her. Both she and the traitor carry heaps of trash metal in their arms as if it’s some kind of treasure.

“It’s all still so valuable,” she says to Dameron when they are close enough. “I can build half a star ship out of these parts alone.”

“If you say so,” Dameron replies in a tone that evokes the impression that he has given up on arguing with her about her shopping habits a long time ago.

“And I bought it directly from the scavengers. No distributor who will rip them off. I paid them a fair price, too.”

This seems much too important to her.

“That’s great, Rey. Go back to the ship now. I don’t want to accidentally forget you on this planet because you had to run after some shiny piece of metal.”

She leaves and the droid and the traitor, careful to avoid Hux’s eyes, follow. Just as he passes them by, Dameron takes him by the shoulder and draws him in for a long, affectionate kiss. It is clearly meant to be a performance for Hux and it makes him want to hurl. Couldn’t the Resistance have sent someone with something at least resembling a professional attitude?

Time draws closer and then he sees them. A small hover mobile speeds towards them, comes to a halt and opens its doors to spill its passengers out, all the time rattling on with deafening noise.

Hux hears the pilot next to him whistle faintly out between his teeth. “Holy Stars…”

Kylo Ren is wearing robes in the fashion of the eastern regions. They’re plain, brown not black, nevertheless they look well cared for. He has cut his hair, though it still exceeds military standard length by a mile. The sun gives it a shine Hux hasn’t seen before. Rays of light bounce off the cascade of curls and form a halo around his head. He has almost managed to get a tint of bronze on his face, or maybe that’s just because he is illuminated by sunlight instead of the usual cold electric lights of the ship.

Also, he has grown a beard. A beard that makes Hux’s uniform suddenly feel way too tight around his groin.

“I’d tap that,” Dameron mutters as the group walks towards them. “Do you tap that? Does anybody tap that?”

Hux closes his eyes for a second. “Please shut up.”

“Fine, but you don’t even have to be gay to find that attractive. Like, you basically just need eyes.”

Thankfully, Kylo Ren and his group have reached them. He stops in front of Hux and gives him a look. Then he proceeds into the shuttle, taking his escort – mainly Doctor Penn and Hux’s own men ordered to keep an eye on him – with him. Some of the tension between the troops seems to leave the air.

“We are done here,” Hux says. “We will leave and I suggest you do the same.”

“Orders from General Organa demand that we stay on the planet until you have left,” Dameron says. “Also, I need your signature that everything has gone according to your agreement and the ceasefire will be over at midnight tonight.”

Hux signs on the little pad Dameron holds out for him, then turns around and strides back into the shuttle. They cannot leave this planet and this sorry excuse for a Resistance representation fast enough.

Back on the Battlefront he and Kylo Ren meet the officers in the conference room. Ren gives a brief report on the events on the planet, how it was annexed by the Resistance Army and how they have hidden among the normal populace giving their best efforts to draw no attention whatsoever to them, changing towns every few days.

“We didn’t dare stay in one place too long, especially when the attacks by the Resistance started,” he says. “We must have covered half the planet with our constant moving, including the makeshift capital. We have tried to find a cargo ship that could bring us out of there. One time we almost made it. But then the captain was arrested for tax evasion and we had to keep our distance to the port for a while. I must say, the small towns might have been safer. But I think I will be grateful if I don’t have to set foot into sand again for the rest of my life.”

After he is done Phasma sums up their battle against the First Order and the Knights of Ren. She explains about Snoke and their plans to collect his remaining troops that have been strayed over the entire Galaxy. She also mentions their plans to send half the fleet to the southern region to take possession of the mining planets there.

When the meeting is over, Kylo Ren stands up. “I need to freshen up,” he says. He looks at Hux. “Can we talk in private?”

 

“So Snoke captured you,” Kylo Ren says and picks up the wineglass on the bed stand next to him. He takes a slow sip. (Hux has filled it with water, not wine. “No alcohol for people on meds,” he said.)

“Oh, is that what we’re doing, jumping right into the tough part of the conversation?” Hux asks. He is standing at his desk, leaning his bare ass against its cold plate, a glass of wine in his hand (for him it’s actually wine).

Ren stretches an arm above his shoulder and rests his head on his hand. He has drawn Hux’s blanket up to his chin. Even at normal room temperature he always seems to freeze. (Ren’s room is always at least five degrees warmer than Hux’s. Even without clothes it makes Hux sweat like a pig. He refuses to turn the thermostat up for Ren even if it means he doesn’t get to enjoy the full sight of his body stretched on his bed.)

“We have never been anywhere but at the tough part of the conversation,” Ren says. “How would you like me to start instead? Did you paint your walls in a new shade of metallic? I like the display of expense reports on your desk, it really brightens up the room. Have you been eating enough, darling?”

“Fine,” Hux says. “I get it. Just stop. I was captured by Snoke. I was tortured, then freed by Phasma. Snoke has fled. In the end it is still a victory for us.”

“A victory we owe to the Resistance,” Kylo Ren muses.

“Yes, well, less lost soldiers for us. I won’t complain if our enemies manage to effectively blow each other up.”

Ren sits up straight, leans his back against the wall and draws the blanket back up. “But he tortured you. I know what he’s capable of. How are you doing, Hux?”

“Fine,” Hux says again. “I’m fine. I’ve been tortured before. I mean, it was beyond comparison to everything I have experienced so far but I survived. I didn’t give up anything important. I’m okay.”

Ren shakes his head. “Stop lying to me. It takes a while to lose its grip on you. It’s hard to shake the feeling that he is inside your head messing with your thoughts.”

Hux puts down the glass, pushes himself off the table and sits down on the bed next to Kylo Ren. “Sure it left a bad aftertaste for a while. But he wasn’t there long. Barely two weeks. It’ll pass. He didn’t do it every day for years. Not to me.”

Ren returns his gaze. He doesn’t answer.

“How are you feeling?” Hux asks.

Ren shrugs. He lets his eyes travel down Hux’s chest. His slender fingers intertwine with the blanket and grip it so hard his knuckles go white. “I guess I have postponed the whole wanting to die thing, at least for a while,” he finally says quietly.

Hux cups Ren’s cheek with his hand, brushing his beard, and kisses him on the mouth. All lips, no tongue. Ren leans into the kiss, draws Hux’s mouth onto his lips again and again until they break apart, breathless.

Hux leans his forehead against Ren’s. He brushes his thumb over Ren’s temple, stroking single strands of hair out of his face.

“I have spoken a lot with Doctor Penn,” Ren murmurs. “And I have decided to try out the whole getting to know myself thing. She has begun teaching me things – strategies to close off my mind from Snoke. They’re not Force-related, they are much simpler than that. But I think they might work.”

“Good,” Hux says. “I am glad.”

“Are you?” Ren asks. “I would have expected you to be pissed. You don’t like people with issues. You execute people the minute they show the slightest signs of having issues.”

“Kylo, if I had wanted to execute you the minute I realized you had issues I wouldn’t even have let you set foot on the Finalizer.”

Kylo Ren chuckles. Neither of them moves their head. Their noses rub against each other. Their breaths mingle. Hux lets his fingers trail across the bearded jawline into Ren’s hair and gently massages the skin on his scalp.

“Do the meds help?” he asks.

“Hmm,” Ren makes. “I’m not sure. I don’t really like them. They keep interfering with the Force. And they’re supposed to help me sleep but they just make me drowsy. Doctor Penn however says I should try a bit longer, so I do.”

“Okay,” Hux says simply. He lifts his mouth and places kisses on the scar cutting brutally through Kylo Ren’s face. He trails it from his forehead along his right eyebrow down the wing of his nose onto his cheek. Ren lets out the tiniest sigh. Hux kisses the beard that has been tickling his skin all night. If it were up to him Ren would never get rid of it ever again.

I finally have you back.

“Thank you for not giving up on me,” Ren whispers as though he has read Hux’s thoughts. (He might just have. Hux isn’t as careful with shielding his thoughts from the Force-sensitive as he should be.) He lays both hands on the side of Hux’s face and draws him into another kiss, a pushy, desperate, passionate kiss, like it’s their first one and their last. Bittersweet.

Then he drops both hands on Hux’s shoulders and gently pushes him off until he has brought some distance between them.

“Here’s the thing, though,” he says and reality tears between them with an ear-shattering screech. “If I am to be serious about this whole healing thing, I can’t do it here. You can’t be a part of it.”

Fuck bittersweet. Reality tastes like iron and milk gone bad. “What?”

Ren looks nervous. He is clearly avoiding Hux’s eyes. His hands have left his shoulders and clamp down on the blanket again. “See, Doctor Penn thinks that you’re part of the problem. And I agree with her,” he adds hurriedly before Hux can rail against the doctor in anger. “She thinks being in your presence will draw me back into a state from which I can’t make progress. Hux, you can’t be part of the solution.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Hux snarls.

Ren looks up, brows furrowed. He is biting his lip. This is what he has come to say. Not the “Thank you”. Not the “How do you feel?”. This. “I’m leaving,” he says. “The mission you want to send Phasma on? To the south of the Galaxy? I will take over this mission. Phasma can stay by your side. She will prefer that anyway.”

“You will do nothing of that sort,” Hux growls. He won’t let it happen. He’ll tie him up and force him to stay on the ship if need be.

“This is not open for discussion, Hux. I have made my decision and you will have to accept it.”

“No I won’t! I’m not letting you leave! I’m not letting you just take off and run to the other side of the Galaxy! Fucking hell, Kylo!”

“Kriff, Hux, it’s not like I’m abandoning you and the Last Order. I am just going on a mission. A mission you wanted done in the first place. I’ll take over all the bloody mining planets for you, I’ll subdue their defences and make sure none of them thinks about betraying us for the rest of their lives. The mission is perfect for me.”

“To get away from me. What does that even mean, trying to heal?”

“I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to find out. I finally feel like I have a chance to become free of Snoke. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go soft. I’m still part of the Last Order.”

He is right with one thing. The mission really is perfect for Kylo Ren. Hux could keep Phasma and just let him go onto his stupid self-finding trip to the other end of the universe. Because Ren clearly wants to go. Because Hux is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

A thousand arguments why he shouldn’t go pass through his head, none of them convincing in any way.

“The mission is scheduled to launch in three days,” he finally says. “You just got here. Do you really think you have the time to prepare for it?”

“Three days are plenty of time to prepare,” Ren answers. “I’ll talk to the officers tomorrow. Phasma can fill me in with everything I need to know. I don’t even have to settle down at all, I’ll just move into the main ship, get to know it before we take off.”

“The mission is estimated to take six to ten months,” Hux says.

“I know.”

“That’s too fucking long.”

“It is not. I am prepared for six to ten months. Hux, I need it. And I’ll take Doctor Penn with me and be it just so you don’t execute her.”

He just might.

They are done. Hux knows it. He didn’t intend to sleep that night and he still probably won’t, but now for different reasons.

They were all kisses as soon as the lift door closed. They crushed into each other’s mouths so frantically, they cut each other open with their teeth, breaking apart to catch their breaths and getting pulled into each other again and again, desperate, burning their tongues with every touch that felt like fire and tasted like smoke. They were so quickly at each other’s clothes that the door to Hux’s room didn’t have time to slide shut before they had dropped every single piece of fabric into a heap, all hands, everywhere, making sure the skin they felt was still the skin they had to abstain from for so many weeks. They missed the bed in their attempts to make their bodies melt, were forced to break apart, came together again, still not even nearly close to their destination, only to break apart again and try anew. They covered every inch of each other, until Hux’s entire body tingled from the sensation of Ren’s beard against his skin and red marks covered Kylo Ren’s body like a star map of the Galaxy. They made each other gasp and moan and yelp and at one point, laugh. They ended up with sore joints and strained muscles and raw throats, lying next to each other on the cold floor, breathless and half delirious. When the stars before their eyes vanished, they finally managed to heave themselves onto the narrow bed and started from the beginning. They whispered promises they could never keep to each other with their lips, swore oaths they were bound to break within not time with their hands, all for the fleeting beauty of those few moments when they might have been more, more than nothing, more than everything. Eventually, Ren begged for water and Hux craved wine and that’s how they decided to take a break, or at least Hux was sure it was nothing but a break.

He stands up and starts dressing himself. In the corner of his eye he can see Kylo Ren do the same.

“We will talk to the officers tomorrow,” he says. Because there is nothing else he can say. Kylo Ren has told him what he has come to tell him and now they’re done. Somehow the end has crept up on Hux without him realizing it and now he berates himself for his own stupidity. How could he expect himself to be the saviour of a man he has tortured and raped? Why would he even want to be his saviour? They cannot be saved anyway, neither of them. They have both been damned so long ago the thought of them making their way into the deepest pits of hell together began to seem nice to him. Comfortable. But those were his own personal desires and Kylo Ren doesn’t care about Hux’s ego. He has flown too close to the sun and now he has burned himself. His left arm hurts.

“Thank you,” Ren says before he leaves the room.

It’s a weird thing to be grateful for. Kylo Ren is leaving. Hux is letting him go.

Because I am part of the problem.

 

The beard is gone. Kylo Ren has shaved it off that same night. He has moved into the Starchaser, the little brother of the Battlefront, that will bring him to the other end of the Galaxy.

The nightmares are gone as well, at least Hux’s. Somehow the return of Kylo Ren has triggered the final push necessary to free himself from Snoke’s mental grip.

“Don’t go soft,” Hux says as they are standing at the docking port for the shuttles, one of which will bring Kylo Ren to the Starchaser. Phasma stands next to him. She has spent the last three days preparing Ren for the mission and now he is ready.

“I never do,” Ren replies. He lifts his helmet and fastens it over his head. “Don’t blow up all our troops while I am gone.”

After he has left, Hux returns with Phasma to the bridge. They set their course to west. There are still a lot of Snoke’s old troops cruising the Galaxy aimlessly. And then, of course, his special forces. Enough to keep them occupied for a while.

Chapter Text

Snoke might have fled but he has far from vanished entirely. His presence is still tangible throughout the Galaxy. The Last Order can feel it and their intelligence unit informs him that the Resistance still has plenty of troubles with him, too.

Every single planet north of the Core the First Order has ever conquered or persuaded to change allegiance is in Last Order hands. South of the Core the other half of their fleet is working tirelessly at securing the rest of the planets. Star ship bases, though, are an entirely different matter. They are mobile and they are usually better defended with much less surface area that provides an easy target to Destroyers.

They have entered a competition with the Resistance on the remaining bases of the First Order, but Snoke’s men don’t cede their last territory easily. Conquests have become costly and the periods between encounters grow longer and longer.

When Snoke’s special units launch an attack on their westernmost base, Gamma 12, they suddenly have to handle a situation they haven’t had in a long time.

“We lost the base,” Phasma says in their emergency meeting, still completely fazed. “We lost a base to the First Order. We didn’t even know they were still annexing things. We thought they were in pure defence mode.”

“They have become more active again in the west,” Mitaka remarks.

“Which is exactly why we had decided to reinforce our borders there,” Hux says, rifling through the deployment changes on the data screen. “Kylo, didn’t you send several units to the base just a few weeks ago?”

Silence. Hux looks up into the blank faces of his officers.

“Right,” he says. It has been six months now. He still slips up sometimes. “Who was responsible for sending the reinforcement troops?”

One of his captains clears his throat. “I did send them, General,” he says nervously. “They got held up by the Resistance. I wrote a report on that.”

“Not enough,” Hux says. He tries to swallow his irritation. Things have been bumpy lately. “Now we have to deploy more men than we had planned on. We need the Gamma bases, especially the foremost ones. We will have to get it back.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And what about the Mid Rim? Have we finally secured the eastern transport routes against Resistance interference?”

“Actually, we have had an interesting development in the Mid Rim, Sir,” Drake informs him. Hux tenses. He doesn’t like the phrase ‘interesting development’. It’s euphemism talk for complications. “It seems as if our route crosses paths with one of the exploration bases from the Resistance. That is why the First Order gave up parts of the route so easily. They have had problems there for years.”

“I remember,” Hux says. “Snoke wanted us to blow up all Resistance bases but we decided that would have been a waste of the power of the Starkiller. What about it? Do they still pester us?”

“They have requested a meeting, General. They use the exploration base to keep tracks on Snoke’s movements. I think they are trying to suggest a ceasefire in the Mid Rim. If we accept we would have to let them operate their base without hindrance but it means we could finally secure the transport routes.”

Hux frowns. A truce with the Resistance in the Mid Rim? “For how long?”

“They did not say, Sir. Do you want to agree to the meeting?”

“Send me the request,” Hux instructs him.

“What do you say?” he asks Phasma as they leave the conference room together to inspect their on-board troops. “Are peaceful transport routes worth a truce with the Resistance?”

“It might relieve us to allocate forces to more urgent areas, Sir,” Phasma replies cautiously. “If the First Order becomes pesky again and we have to reinforce our borders, striking a truce with the Resistance might be a reasonable price to pay. Right now we remain on the defensive on the southeast frontline of the Resistance. But while that certainly leaves us reasonable scope for the main body of our fleet to strike attacks against the First Order bases, the risk that the Resistance upgrades their defence lines is high. Arranging a ceasefire with them might mean we can avoid being pressured into an unnecessary arms race with the Resistance and leaving our frontline exposed, at least for now. ”

They pass the captain’s quarters and move deeper down into the ship to the lower ranks. Phasma still spends every day checking on the troopers, but it has been a while since Hux has found the time to join her in her rounds.

“It was unfortunate that we got ourselves involved in a war on two fronts before we were big enough to lead such a war,” Hux muses, half to himself. He knows Phasma is right about avoiding an arms race with the Resistance. Luckily, the Resistance itself has been occupied with finding Snoke, so much so that they have responded to the lack of aggression from the Last Order with a rather lenient stance so far. By now it has become clear that Snoke is nowhere to be found in the known Galaxy, which doesn’t necessarily make searching for him any easier.

“Maybe postponing the war on one of the fronts for a while is not such a bad idea until we have obliterated the First Order,” Phasma ventures.

Hux doesn’t object however much he wants to. Since she has been appointed to vice-general she has been of indispensable assistance to Hux.

They come to a halt on a bridge hanging over the common area. It is filled with the troopers who are off duty right now.

“Look at them,” Hux mutters. “Dissatisfaction is rising. Even I can sense it. The battles aren't enough to occupy them anymore. Things were easier when Kylo Ren was still here. He’d snatch up things that bothered the regular troops. Small stuff, such as the time when the water quality dropped because one of the tanks got infested with mould, or when we switched fabric manufacturers and everybody started complaining about itching underwear. They didn’t say anything to us, of course, but he’d know anyway. He constantly dropped hints that told us what to do to keep morale up. I need another Force-sensitive. Find me one. I feel anxious when I don’t know what the troops are thinking.”

“We could just install a suggestion box in the common area, Sir,” Phasma points out. “Make it anonymous. It would be just as effective as General Ren tapping into our troops and probably a much more efficient use of our resources.”

“We will do nothing of that sort. We are a military force not a preschool. I will have discipline amongst my troops, not some kind of anthroposophical nursery.”

“But you listened to General Ren when he brought you suggestions, Sir.”

“Yes, to make sure the men knew their grievances were taken care of.”

“What would be the difference to listening to their actual suggestions, Sir?”

“Our intention. We can’t give them the power to know that they actually have the option to complain.”

“Yes, Sir,” Phasma says, without changing the completely flat tone of her voice. “So you want us to find another Force-sensitive?”

“Yes.”

Phasma hesitates, then says, “Sir, we could search the entire Galaxy until we find another Force-sensitive with the same abilities as Kylo Ren. Or we nail a tin box to the wall of the common area and place a pile of flimsi and a pen beneath it.”

Hux turns towards her and gives her a disdainful look. She is wearing her chrome helmet, though, and it is impossible for him to guess the expression on her face.

“Fine,” he says. “Do that. I have more important things to take care of, anyway.”

 

The conference room is almost empty. Besides a reluctant Phasma (who doesn’t like negotiations) and Khal only Hux attends the conference the Resistance requested. Their technician gives them a sign and the holo projector switches on. They have removed the wall panels that separates the actual conference room from a smaller chamber that is constructed next to it, suitable for hologram projections. Now they have an entire group of people sitting in that chamber, all of them captains of the Resistance. In the middle sits General Organa, turning towards Hux as if they actually occupied the same space instead of being separated by several thousand light years.

“General Organa,” Hux greets her. “It is always a pleasure to see your face in the midst of so much unpleasantness. And the captains.”

“How do you do,” Leia Organa responds and continues, without giving him a chance to ponder that question, “I presume you know why we are calling upon you?”

“You have never been one for many pleasantries, General,” Hux remarks with a smile. “Then again I assume that is why you established the Resistance in the first place. Because the Republic was all pleasantries and no action. I have heard your request and I am willing to listen to your proposal.”

Instead of General Organa herself one of her captains reads the proposal for the ceasefire to Hux and his small assembly. It is a long text, covering every inch of the part of the transport route necessary for the Resistance. They have been quite thorough, listing every eventuality Hux’s advisors have brought up. The period for the truce, finally, is proposed as “indefinitely”, meaning until Snoke has been defeated.

When the captain is done with reading the proposal Hux exchanges a glance with Phasma and Khal. Phasma has removed her helmet for a change and both give him a slight nod.

“Send the written version of the proposal to us,” Hux says to General Organa. “We will have our legal advisory team look it through.”

“Very well,” Leia Organa says. “When will you be able to give us a reply?”

They agree on 72 hours for the first draft.

“I must say I was quite surprised to hear from you,” Hux says after they have received the files. “I did not expect you to concede your pride so far as to make common cause with us. Aren’t we the enemies in your book, General Organa?”

“We like to think of you as more of an adversary,” Leia Organa replies. “Currently our most urgent enemy is Snoke and you have given us the impression that you see it the same way. We will still have time to sort out our differences once we have gotten rid of the biggest threat in the Galaxy, don’t you agree?”

Once the official meeting is over and the captains of the Resistance, as well as Phasma and Khal have left the room, Hux stands up and walks over to the line on the floor that indicates the limit of the holo camera.

“If you are hoping to get your son back I must disappoint you,” he says to General Organa. “He is not with me right now.”

“But you know where he is this time?”

“I do. We are receiving his reports daily.”

“Yes, I have heard that you are quite busy in the southern region,” Leia Organa says, her eyebrows cocked. So she knows. Of course she does.

“Don’t worry, currently our only targets are the planets of the First Order,” Hux says. “Although I cannot promise you anything as long as this truce only applies to the transport routes of the Mid Rim.”

“Let’s just see how it goes,” she replies. “I am not yet convinced that you are even capable of holding a proper partial ceasefire, General Hux.”

 

Apart from the daily written reports delivered by Kylo Ren’s second-in-command, Hux holds a weekly face-to-face conference with the man. In the beginning, these talks were very short, partly because progress was scarce, partly because the man was obviously terrified both of Kylo Ren and of Hux and tried to convey their bumpy developments in as few words as possible. His attitude began to change after their mission had established their first planetary base. His reports became longer and more detailed.

Now, six months into the mission, most planets are under secure Last Order control.

“I think they have given up, Sir,” the man says, apparently in a good mood. “Ever since General Ren convinced the captain of the Psi 70 bases to give up his troops, the rest has been following. There is only the problem of organization. The Supreme Commander has left them in a terrible state. General Ren estimates that it will take a while to establish a new system that makes sure the planets stay valuable to us.”

The first time the second-in-command used the word convinced, Hux was sure he had misunderstood.

“And by ‘convinced’ you mean Force mind-tortured him until he ceded, then died, I assume,” he confirmed.

“Ehm, no, Sir. I mean convinced. General Ren held a conference with the officer in charge and, well, convinced him to change sides. I really don’t know what better word to use.”

“Kilgraved him?”

The man shook his head. “I don’t think he used any kind of Jedi mind-tricks, Sir. They really just talked. Our force, our fleet that is, is much more powerful. It would have been madness for the captain to engage in battle with us, anyway.”

Hux frowned. “Don’t try to fool me. I have known Kylo Ren for several years now. He doesn’t talk with people and he doesn’t simply convince them.”

“But he did, Sir. He said he learned a lot from you, General Hux.”

Hux burst out laughing which left the other man utterly confused. “Now I am sure you are jesting. How would he have learned anything from me?”

“Sir, you two have been the Generals of the Last Order for over two years now. Is it so hard to imagine that he has been able to absorb a thing or two about controlling his troops?”

“Does he allow you to talk to him in that tone?”

“He does, Sir. He values my input.”

Maybe one day ortolans would learn to fly after all.

“Fine,” Hux conceded. “Let’s just assume for a second that he is actually making an effort to lead this mission to a success. What happened with the captain? I hope you are not telling me Kylo Ren is stupid enough to leave him in charge?”

“No, Sir. He incorporated him in his on-board fleet and put one of our older captains in charge. I will send you the report in an hour.”

Since then reports like this have been the norm. The conquest mission Kylo Ren is leading must be the least bloody one in the history of the First and the Last Order. He still does what he is best at, which is excessive displays of strength and keeping up the appearance of being completely inaccessible. Somehow along the way, however, he has managed to figure out how to use those traits to convince people that they would prefer fighting on his side rather than opposing him. As a result, he completely ignores the time frame he was given for each station of the mission, but he manages to stay far under budget.

Apart from that, both Hux and Phasma, who makes sure to keep herself up to date, are baffled to find out that his troops like him. He might spend little to no time with them, but he proves himself to be a considerate leader and they respond well to his sincere efforts not to turn too many of them into cannon fodder.

“He has gone soft,” Hux complains to Phasma one evening in the senior officers’ bar over a bottle of scotch. “I feared this would happen. It was too soon after his breakdown, after all.”

“Soft he might have become, General, but you always knew that was a risk. Kylo Ren always had a disposition for kind-heartedness in him. It didn’t take a genius to notice that his displays of cruelty were his attempts to make up for that.”

“He calls it call from the light,” Hux says bitterly. “He said it was tearing him apart. Where is the tearing apart now, Phasma?”

“Well, at least he still achieves good results, Sir. The mission might take longer than estimated, but it goes well enough. You were right to leave him in charge.”

He knows she is right. He also knows that he – obviously while being possessed by the spirit of utter abandonment of all rationality – was the one to encourage Ren to try and be more himself instead of still listening to the things Snoke whispered in his ear. If that means that Ben Solo resurfaces that is something he will have to blame on himself.

When he talks to Doctor Penn she confirms these thoughts.

“You agreed to let him go on this mission with the main purpose to create an environment in which he can get out from under all the burdens Snoke and his own mind have placed on him and find a new, less self-destructive path,” she reminds him. “If that means he abstains from cruelty against others as well as himself, you ought to do well to accept that.”

They don’t talk often, mainly because it leaves Hux frustrated each time. Placed under direct command of Kylo Ren, Penn doesn’t have to answer to Hux’s commands the way the rest of the troops do. She takes doctor-patient-confidentiality very seriously and simply refuses to release even a hint on Ren’s mental status unless he has allowed her to. All Hux has managed to coax out of her so far is that they meet three times a week and that he is trying, but “these things take time and patience. Relapses are absolutely normal.” Whatever that means. It is not hard to see that she is worried but Hux has given up trying to bring her to sharing these worries with him.

Checking up with several of the other medical staff still on board the Battlefront has quickly revealed that Kylo Ren is, in fact, not the first person Penn has treated for psychological damage. Unbeknownst to Hux, the Supreme Commander, or any of the other officers, she has apparently taken to the shell-shocked soldiers that came to her bay for years. Be it the war itself or exposure to Force mind-control by Snoke or Kylo Ren, his chief of staff has acquired experience of over ten years working cases of PTSD in the medical bay of the Finalizer and the Battlefront. On the one hand it makes Hux want to send an army of battle droids after her. On the other hand it means that he won’t find anybody more suited for treating Ren than her, at least not in their immediate proximity.

They have begun looking into ways to shut out the Force, at least temporarily. Penn explains to Hux that they are experimenting with constructing a closed circuit in a small room that enables the person in the room to completely break the connection with the Force outside of it.

“That way he will have brief breaks in which he can be sure that Snoke can’t come near him.”

“Does he still hear him?” Hux asks.

“He says sometimes. But even the mind-controlling abilities of the Supreme Commander have a spatial limit. He might be too far away for proper contact to be established. As soon as he comes closer again, however, things will return to worse.”

“Can such a room be built?”

Penn gives a small shake of her head. She doesn’t look confident. “We are not sure. The problem is that we have very little knowledge about how the Force works and how a mechanism like this could be constructed. General Ren is trying to help, but he has too many other things on his mind right now.”

Apart from her reports on the (rather unsuccessful) attempts to build a Force-shielding room there is only one thing he learns from her.

“He has started wearing the helmet again,” she informs him. Apparently Kylo Ren has requested her to convey that to Hux. “And he will continue to do so until he feels ready to take it off.”

“Why is it even that important?” Hux moans.

“It is part of the Kylo Ren persona, just as much as the black robes and the lightsaber. In order to understand what is part of his persona and what else might be there it is important that he has the chance of exploring this persona safely. When he takes it off, he has to be able to tell the difference. What better way to achieve this than a mask?”

Eventually Hux accepts her explanation. It is better than nothing. Because nothing is what he gets otherwise. The only thing he receives from Kylo Ren himself is utter silence. They have agreed on this before his departure. Hux would receive the reports and Ren’s second-in-command would keep him updated and if necessary convey Hux’s orders to Ren. But except for absolute emergency there would be no direct line of communication between the two generals.

Not even the ceasefire negotiations constitute an emergency severe enough. After Phasma has sent the proposal from the Resistance with their own annotations to Kylo Ren and his staff, all they received in response was “Sounds reasonable. Keep us updated.” So that is what they do.

The ceasefire itself experiences a rocky start with some unpleasant encounters between the Resistance and the Last Order cargo ships. Shots are fired. Things are blown up. Feathers are ruffled. Compensation is demanded, on both sides. But after a while all problematic parts of the ceasefire agreement have been smoothed out and the two sides get used to each other.

When notification comes from the south that the mission is considering a similar agreement for their mining planets and transport routes to the north, nobody is surprised.

“A lot of the troubles among Snoke’s troops were due to regular disturbances with the Resistance,” Kylo Ren’s second-in-command explains. “The Supreme Commander insisted on retaliating these disturbances with maximum force, without considering the cost of their losses. Since the Resistance has noticed that command has changed there has been an effort on both sides to keep violent confrontations to a minimum.”

While unsurprised by the development Hux isn’t exactly happy about it, either. “We do not fight this war to make friends with the Resistance,” he complains, once again, to Phasma. “They seem to think that just because Snoke is our common enemy we have switched over to their side.”

“We could launch a full attack against the Resistance, Sir,” Phasma suggests. “Make sure they take us seriously.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Phasma. Our army is split. We are busy enough with cleaning up after Snoke. If we attack the Resistance now and unleash their full force against us in retaliation, they will push our entire fleet into defence. Nobody has ever emerged victorious from a defensive position.”

“Then it might not be the worst idea to make them believe we are on the same side as they are, Sir, at least for a while,” Phasma says. “To make sure that all our troops are ready for use against the First Order. Right now we are experiencing severe delay on all transport routes. Drake is trying to fix things from here, but as General Ren has mentioned in his last report, things might run much more smoothly if they don’t have to deploy quite as many troopers with the freight ships and don’t have to defend their intermediate bases against the Resistance all the time.”

“Fine. I will notify Kylo Ren. Let them accept the damn truce.”

 

It doesn’t stop there. Several months later the troops of the Resistance have ceased all attacks on the Last Order. They keep out of Last Order territory – except the transport routes – as well as the remaining First Order territory that continues, albeit slowly, to fall into Last Order hands. In exchange, the Last Order forces do not cross over into the territory of the New Republic that concentrates mainly around the Core regions. They allow Resistance reconnaissance ships around their western bases as the Resistance ventures further and further into the Unknown Regions in their attempts to locate Snoke.

Meanwhile Hux becomes impatient with the southern mission.

“Aye, the planets are under our control, Sir,” Kylo Ren’s second-in-command informs him. “But we still have to implement a new defence structure and streamline the supply chain. Most of our units have not yet been deployed and General Ren wants to make sure that things are running smoothly before he leaves them to themselves.”

“The time estimate was up to ten months,” Hux reminds him. “Those ten months are up. It’s been a year. None of this is new territory where we have to handle unrest from the population. Those planets were already under First Order control.”

“We are trying to cover all eventualities, Sir. We are still within the budget. A few more weeks and things will look much better.”

 

A few days later they make a stop on one of their planets to refill on fuel and supplies. Hux and Phasma leave the Battlefront in orbit and descend onto their land base. They barely have time to enjoy the scenery (mostly small mountains with little vegetation) and the natural gravity (which is rather strong on here), before the base operator receives a distress call.

“A Starfighter is requesting permission for an emergency landing, Sir,” he informs Hux.

“Last Order?”

“Resistance, Sir.”

“Shoot them down.”

The man stares at him.

Phasma clears her throat. “General, we are under a truce.”

“He is in our territory. We have every right to shoot him down.”

“Sir, they are sending a distress signal. Shooting them down might be received badly by the Resistance.”

“Fine,” Hux says and only partially manages to hide his vexation. “Grant them permission to land.”

He has Phasma receive the two pilots on the landing deck.

“They are women, Sir,” she says when she returns. “Both of them have been badly injured. I had them taken to medcenter.”

“Injured by what?”

“By First Order forces, Sir. Their entire unit has been hit by a squadron of TIEs. I have contacted the Battlefront and we have them on radar. They are coming closer.”

“Surely they wouldn’t be stupid enough to attack the main fleet,” Hux says, frowning.

“I don’t think they will attack it directly, Sir. They could still try to land a hit against one of the outer units, though.”

“Get them ready, then,” Hux instructs. “Let’s wipe out those TIEs. And bring the medical staff down here. The Battlefront has never been a good place to treat a larger number of injured people. Tell them to do it on the planet.”

Phasma clearly isn’t satisfied with having to command the mission on ground. She keeps pacing the base, bellowing orders into her com-link, running back and forth between several screens that show their outer units clash into the TIE-Fighters. Hux contents himself with watching her and the screens, ready to cut in if need be. But Phasma, as always, makes sure that there is no need.

After they have fended off the attack by the First Order Hux leaves the clean-up to Phasma and her staff and visits the medcenter. The soldiers in need for medical attention have arrived and the whole ward is bustling with medical personnel.

“This is chaos,” Hux says as a nurse leads him past a dying trooper to the two Resistance pilots. “Shouldn’t the chief of staff have organized the rooms before?”

“Interim chief of staff, Sir,” the nurse replies. “This is the first time in ten years he is handling a larger situation on a planet instead of a star ship.”

“What about the chief of staff?”

“Doctor Penn? You sent her into the south, Sir, with General Ren, didn't you?”

“Right,” Hux says. He tends to forget that Penn was his chief. It explains her impudent behaviour during their rare comm sessions. Because obviously she could have afforded to treat her general that way. Hux already had to learn that things in medbay run less smoothly since she has left.

One of the pilots is awake as he enters her room in intensive care. She looks badly hit, though not as hard as her comrade, who has lost her entire right leg.

“Your Fighter is destroyed,” Hux says and looks down on her. She looks as if she is about to burst into tears. Her eyes don’t leave her pale comrade’s face. “You are lucky you even made it here.”

“Thank you,” she mumbles. Her voice sounds coarse. “We didn’t expect the attack. The TIEs were cloaked. They hit us badly.”

“You will be pleased to know that they have been taken care of.”

She turns her head a bit and a smiles creeps in her face. “That at least is good news.”

“You will need somebody to pick you up from the base.”

“If you let me borrow a communicator I will request pick-up from the Resistance.”

 

The pick-up arrives several days later after the second pilot has woken up. She doesn’t take the realization that her leg is gone for good well. She will have to do with a prosthesis, but even though prostheses for pilot’s use have long been developed, a surprisingly large number of soldiers takes much longer than it takes for their bodies to heal before they are ready to accept the artificial limb to return to duty. If they return at all. None of this concerns the Last Order in this case, though.

They grant clearance to the ship that was sent to return both women to the Resistance.

“No,” Hux says as he spots the pilot exiting the ship and coming towards them in long strides (despite his small stature), with a confident look on his face. “I’m out. You take care of this.”

His officer blinks confused. “Sir?”

“I really wasn’t expecting to see you here, General Hux,” Poe Dameron grins upon approaching. “Does this feel quite like fate to you, too?”

“I am inclined to believe the Resistance has exactly one pilot to take care of their business,” Hux replies, lifting his head to better look down on the smaller man. “What will happen if one day you aren’t available to save the day?”

“You tell me,” Dameron retorts. “Rumour has it you have lost your co-general once again, General.”

“Rumour betrays us. I know exactly where Kylo Ren is. A pity he is not available to your entertainment.”

“See, I wanted to bring my boyfriend, too, but he didn’t want to come. He still doesn’t feel comfortable with you guys.”

“Get your pilots and leave,” Hux says, turning on his heel to stride off the deck. “Your clearance is valid for an hour, after that you are not welcome here anymore.”

“Is it already time to exchange presents?” Dameron calls after him. “Okay, me first.”

Hux pauses and turns around, frowning. “We do not exchange presents,” he says. “I am simply returning your pilots to you.”

“So you don’t want this, then?” Dameron has opened a container slung over his shoulder and removes a sheet of flimsi. Behind him two of his men push wheelchairs towards the two women the medical staff has brought out.

Hesitantly Hux accepts the sheet. It is a certificate of one of the planets on the eastern Rim. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“It’s yours,” Dameron says, nodding at the pilots that are being wheeled past him. “Courtesy of General Organa. It’s one of the planets we annexed from you guys a few months ago. We give it back. Regard it as a thank you for saving our wounded pilots and as a symbol of goodwill for future relations. As you will notice it is the one we let you pick up Kylo Ren on.”

“You are ceding a planet to us for two of your soldiers?” Hux shakes his head. “I didn’t know the Resistance was that cheap, Dameron.”

“This isn’t the Resistance, the Resistance wouldn't have given you squad,” Dameron replies. “This is the New Republic. Truth is, the representatives of the planet requested to be reinstated as part of the Last Order. Now, this will forever remain a mystery to me, but they say they have never received medical care as good as when they were under Last Order control. They quite like you.”

“The one to which we sent Kylo Ren. That would have been Doctor Penn, then. She is our chief of staff. We will most certainly not send her back to that scrap wasteland.” Except on exile maybe.

Dameron shrugs. “That is not really for me to rack my brain about. I just know that they have voted and they have voted for you. Crazier things have happened. Probably.”

“I will speak to General Organa about this,” Hux says as he pockets the certificate. “Is that all?”

“I thought I have an hour. How about a tour around the base?”

“You can stay on this deck until your sixty minutes have run out,” Hux responds and turns away. “But I have more important things to do.”

 

Back on the Battlefront two days later he calls upon General Organa. Confirmation with their local units has revealed that the Republic have in fact removed their officials from the worthless little planet and only left a small defence corps to keep the planet safe from the First Order and space rogues.

“I have expected your call,” Leia Organa says when she appears on the screen in the conference room. “Both pilots were returned safely to our base. We owe you our gratitude.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“No, it is very important to me that I mention it. Because at the end of the day we have still suffered more damage from the First and the Last Order than you from us. So let’s get the gratitude out of the way before things become too cordial, shall we?”

“As you wish,” Hux says. “But if you are convinced that we owe you so much, how come the Republic has ceded one of their planets to us?”

“We are a democracy, General Hux,” General Organa replies. “Not a dictatorship. If one of our planets decides to exit the New Republic we cannot stop them from doing so.”

“Funny. I should think you can. You haven’t even recognized the Last Order as a legitimate government yet. If on paper we do not exist how can we establish rule on planets?”

“A valid point,” she sighs. “As it goes things may change a bit. As the recent attack has demonstrated, we aren’t entirely prepared for handling Snoke’s forces. You may have taken his planets from him, but his strongest units still stand by his side. We have the entire Unknown Regions to explore in search for your Supreme Commander. We would have expected you to have begun your own search by now, General Hux. Or do you already know where he is?”

“I do not see any reason to share our information with you,” Hux responds. “We have been quite busy on our own. The Resistance is not the only one continually harassed by the First Order.”

“Which is the reason I wanted to speak to you,” Leia Organa says and shifts slightly. “I have spent quite some time with the Senate of the New Republic recently. Things have been going well since we entered the truce, wouldn’t you agree?”

“They could be worse,” Hux replies carefully. “But the truce is between us and the Resistance, not the Republic.”

“Exactly. Now, I know you and our government do not see eye to eye but then again, when do two different governments ever really do that? We are both fighting a war on two fronts, General Hux, and resources are depleting quickly. I think we can both agree that right now the Supreme Commander Snoke is the biggest threat.”

“What are you playing at, General Organa?”

“An alliance,” she says. “Between the New Republic and the Last Order, to take place as soon as we have reached an agreement and to remain in effect until we have located and neutralized Snoke. If you want to return to your war after that we cannot keep you, but, well, there is also the option of turning the ceasefire between you and the Resistance into a proper armistice. See where it leads us.”

Hux stays silent for a few minutes. Nothing would please him more than refuse her proposal here and now. Never will the Last Order commit to an alliance with their greatest foe. And armistice sounds much too close to peace negotiations for him to feel comfortable with it. But he knows this isn’t a decision he can make by himself. He should at least propose it to his own officers and send it to Kylo Ren. Of course, Ren will be even more disgusted by this idea than Hux. He has made it abundantly clear in the past that he has no interest in establishing a relationship with his mother.

“An alliance,” Hux finally says. “What a creative idea. What exactly would that look like, General Organa? You would have to recognize our authority.”

“Indeed we would,” she replies. “In exchange you would have to commit to certain universal rules that guarantee the rights of the people in this Galaxy. But don't you think, General Hux, that at this junction it would be a better path than the one leading to utter mutual destruction?”

“Are you so afraid of our forces, General Organa?”

“Be careful not to fall off your high horse, General Hux. You have lost quite a number of your men to us before. Do you wish to see the rest of them converted or eradicated as well?”

“Is that a threat, General?”

“It is a reminder not to underestimate us. You have your part of the Galaxy. We will recognize your rule, even though we might not be pleased with it. The Senate is even willing to grant you a seat at our assembly if you wish.”

“One seat? For two generals?”

“Don’t get greedy.”

“No, I was merely wondering who would have to sit on whose lap. Now is this indeed something the New Republic wants, or is it something you, General Organa, have enforced against their reservations?”

“This is not me, General Hux. This is several other Senate members who do not like the idea of the war being dragged on. I am simply delivering their suggestions to you. If it were up to me the Resistance would fight the Last Order to the last man.”

“Ah, yes,” Hux says and cannot suppress a sardonic smile. “And yet it is you to whom I once again have the pleasure to speak. What does your brother have to say about this? Making common cause with the dark-side enemy cannot be something he takes lightly. No pun intended.”

General Organa looks daggers at him. “My brother is not part of the Senate. He merely advises us.”

“And what was his advice in this situation?”

She sighs. “Do I have to say it? He doesn’t like the idea. Then again, he puts his heart and his mind into training his young Padawan. He really has other things to do than bother himself with Senate matters.”

“How is the training going, then?”

“It really is none of your business,” she says but he can hear something in her voice catch. “Or are you afraid that one day we will have a Jedi again who is strong enough to rival Kylo Ren?”

“Believe me, that is nothing we will ever have to be worried about,” Hux replies. So she doesn’t believe in her own son at all anymore, does she?

“General Hux, I am proposing a meeting between representatives of the Senate of the New Republic and the upper ranks of the Last Order. We will talk. If the meeting goes well we can think about entering negotiations for an actual alliance. One with the aim to find Snoke and rid the Galaxy of him once and for all. Whatever happens after that we will still have time to discuss.”

The idea of having to hold a meeting with the old geezers of the Senate does not exactly fill Hux with delight. Especially since he already knows what his answer will be.

“This is not something we can simply pull out of our sleeves,” he says. “You will have to wait. General Ren is expected to return from his mission in a few weeks. Once he has returned to our ship we will be able to sincerely discuss your proposal. Until then you will have to content yourself with the ceasefire. Is that something you can live with?”

“I suppose it is enough for the beginning,” Leia Organa replies. “I will hope for the best.”

That evening Hux brings up the proposal of the Republic at the general briefing with his officers.

“Are you thinking of accepting, Sir?” Drake asks.

“No,” Hux replies. “I am really not. Giving up part of our rights and our autonomy to gain little to no advantage from the Republic is a terrible idea. Our goal has always been to eradicate them.”

“And things have been going well so far, Sir,” Phasma says calmly. “But quite some arduous tasks lie ahead of us. Operations have been running more smoothly, concerning transport and conquest of Snoke’s bases since we do not have to worry about the Resistance attacking us anymore. But do we know where Snoke is actually hiding?”

“The Unknown Regions,” Drake responds. “That is all. We don’t know anything else. The Resistance has excellent tracking equipment and they have proven their prowess against Snoke before.”

“We have tracking equipment, too,” Hux objects. “Phasma, you brought it with you. We can use it to find Snoke, you said so yourself.”

Phasma shakes her head. “That was back when he was still hiding in the known Galaxy, Sir. It will certainly be possible to track Snoke with that equipment deep into the Unknown Regions, but it will not work as well anymore. We would have to calculate new influences of the systems in the galaxy beyond ours. Tuning the machine into finding Snoke for us will take quite a while.”

“But it is doable,” Hux says. “I do not intend to simply collude with the New Republic, much less the Resistance. We will have to wait for General Ren’s opinion, though. Until he has come back there really is nothing else we can do in that matter.”

In the following weeks the topic of the alliance comes up frequently in their briefings, but Hux is set on his decision not to do any more common cause with the Republic. Admittedly, the truce has given them much needed space to breathe and to concentrate on the First Order, but Hux did not enter this war to become complacent in the comfort of peaceful relations. He has entered this war knowing only too well that it would be hard and it would be bloody and sacrifices would have to be made. Eventually, none of his men, not even Phasma, dare object to that notion.

He has included his conversation with Leia Organa in his report to the southern mission, but apart from a few follow-up questions he hasn’t received an answer so far.

Then Kylo Ren’s second-in-command requests an unscheduled conference.

“The troops have been positioned, Sir,” he informs Hux after his usual greeting. “The situation has stabilized enough to be managed by the stationary captains. What remains to be sorted out can be done from afar, so General Ren has ordered the mission to return to the Battlefront.”

“Finally,” Hux says. He has been waiting for this update for weeks now. “What about Kylo Ren himself? Does he plan on staying in the south longer?”

“No, Sir. Especially since you have informed him of the alliance proposal of the New Republic he has been working day and night to be able to return as soon as possible. Kylo Ren is coming back.”

Chapter Text

Slowly the Starchaser and the Battlefront approach each other. They stop when they are about three kilometres apart. The powerful thermal exhaust ports of both ships as well as the massive pull of the artificial gravitation fields mean that bringing them any closer than that would lead to great technical and mechanical disturbances, especially on the side of the smaller Starchaser.

The screen at the docking port where Hux is standing, flanked by Phasma and Khal, shows the small shuttle leave the Starchaser and make its way over to the Battlefront. A special force-shield around the docking stations ensures a secure landing for the tiny vessel. The airlocks open and allow it to pass. It comes to a hovering halt in the slot right in front of Hux and his entourage, then slowly sinks onto the floor. The engine ceases its roar and one of the ground personnel opens the door.

The tall figure clad entirely in black, black helmet over his head, black hood over the helmet, is the first one to exit. His second-in-command follows, then the rest of the captains. He strides over to his welcome committee, leaving his subordinates to hurry after him.

“Welcome back,” Hux says, when they have arrived.

“Thank you,” Kylo Ren replies, voice distorted by the mechanism in his helmet. “I assume you want the final report at once?”

“If you’d like to rest first…,” Hux says, but Kylo Ren shakes his head.

“That won’t be necessary. Let’s talk.”

Hux turns around and leads them towards the conference room. “What about the rest of the men?” he asks.

“They will be reincorporated into the fleet over the next few days. Right now they are still positioned with the Starchaser.”

Hux nods. “Alright then.”

And that’s it. Just like that, after one year, seven weeks and three days of absence, Kylo Ren is back.

 

They take their seats around the conference table, Kylo Ren naturally assuming his former place on Hux's right side, Phasma on his left. He doesn't take his helmet off and as much as Hux wants to berate him for it he keeps himself in check.

They start with the mission report, even though all of them have been keeping up with the progress anyway. Their chief of inventory is the only one who seems interested in the final report at all and continues asking questions about the transport routes and the progress on countermeasures to the constant delays. Ren's second-in-command continues answering until they decide to get together after the meeting to discuss details.

They turn towards the ceasefire and the alliance talks.

“There is no way to proceed,” Hux says. “We’d be giving up our autonomy and for what? The New Republic is not our ally, that’s the whole purpose of the Last Order. I mean, that is literally why we formed it in the first place.”

“No,” Kylo Ren says through his mask. “That is why the First Order was formed. We were the ones who wanted to get out from under Snoke’s control. Our primary goal was to take over Snoke’s army and for that to be finalized the Supreme Commander needs to go.”

Nobody says a word. Hux can see, however, from the corner of his eye, how one or two of the captains nod slightly.

He leans forward. “Are you saying,” he asks in disbelief, “That you want to agree to their negotiation offer?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Ren says. “Not in this phase, at least. All I’m saying is that Snoke is weaker than ever before. If there ever was a time to rid the Galaxy of him it is now. The Resistance and us both want the same thing. Sooner or later we will have to collide or collude. We might as well at least listen to their offer.”

Hux shakes his head. He expects a storm of protests rain down on Ren from the captains but no one speaks. They all avoid looking at Hux.

Are they fucking serious?

“We swore to crush the Republic,” he says. “Have you all forgotten that? Now you want to play by their rules? We can still destroy them.”

“Maybe, but at what cost?” Kylo Ren asks. “Have you looked at the expense reports and the accounts of casualties during encounters lately? The costs are rising. In the beginning most of our new troops were easily won over, with minimal losses. Now our army might be bigger, but the troops that are left are more often hardliners of Snoke’s doctrine. We sacrifice more soldiers and our yields are minimal. You have to kill the entire senior rank and even the simple Stormtroopers are often more trouble than gain. The results, Hux, do not justify those costs anymore. And that is only the First Order. To fight the Resistance, we would have to split our army and take them on with half our force. We would risk high casualties and even if we did manage to beat the Resistance that doesn’t mean the New Republic simply falls into our hands. They still have their Standing Army, after all, as well as the private armies of the wealthier industrialized planets.”

“So what are you saying?” Hux asks because clearly nobody else wants to weigh in. “That this is as far as we get?”

“For now it just might be. We can go further southwest, but that means putting unnecessary distance between us and Snoke. We have grown big enough for the Resistance to be forced to take us seriously. But that means that we have manoeuvred ourselves into a serious war on two fronts. We don’t have the resources for that. And neither does the Resistance. Their war against the First Order and their search for Snoke is exhausting them. All we’re doing right now is depleting the Galaxy. Neither can destroy the other. This war could drag on for decades.”

“General Ren is right,” Drake says. “We are receiving weekly levies from our planets but they’re just barely enough to keep this war going. Since we have agreed to the truce, things have been looking up a bit but that will change as soon as the battle against the Resistance starts again.”

Hux looks around the table. This is unexpected. He didn’t expect all his captains to agree to the negotiation offer so eagerly. Even worse, he didn’t expect all of them to look so damn relieved. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that his men have been thinking the same things as Kylo Ren has for quite a while now. There just wasn’t anybody who dared tell him straight to his face. But Kylo Ren, of bloody course, doesn’t care to spare his feelings. They have the one man who doesn’t see reason to fear Hux on their side.

“Does everybody feel like this?” Hux asks aloud.

Phasma clears her throat. “Sir, many of the things General Ren says sound rather convincing. Maybe we should consider agreeing to at least one noncommittal meeting before we shoot them down.”

Nobody else says a thing. The cards are on the table. Now it is Hux’s turn to make a move. Only that there is just one possible move left.

“We will talk,” he says. Exhaustion creeps into his bones. “Kylo Ren and I, in private. We will inform you tomorrow on what we have decided.”

Nobody dares protest.

 

They walk into Kylo Ren’s room. Nobody except the cleaning droids once per week has entered these chambers in a year. They look accordingly, as if no one has ever lived here. All the surfaces are sparkling, the bed is made with unnatural precision and there are no personal belongings anywhere. The few things Kylo Ren actually possesses are locked away in the closet. The room smells differently, too. Of cleaning agent, clinically sterile. There aren’t even any towels lying around on the floor. (Because for someone able to lift up things with the Force and drop them into the laundry chute, Kylo Ren is a sodding slob who can’t pick up after himself.)

Hux sits down at the empty table and drums his fingers on the surface. Ren drops the robes, then reaches up to his helmet and takes it off. He hasn’t changed a bit. Still his much too long black hair and pale face, ripped apart by the red scar. Still his brown eyes, hitting their unprepared target with a soul-searching stare. Still the little draw on his red lips, giving them a pouty look.

“I need to freshen up,” Ren says. He puts the helmet away and vanishes into the bathroom. When he returns his hair is damp and he is wearing a loose shirt and trousers (still black). He walks toward the small cabinet next to his bed and takes out a bottle of scotch and two glasses. He brings them to the table and sits down opposite Hux.

“Rituals,” he says as he pours the scotch. “They help separate Kylo Ren the general from whoever I am when I let go.”

“Should you be drinking when you are on meds?” Hux asks.

“I’m not on meds anymore,” Kylo Ren says. “There were some nasty disturbances with the Force. I’m not going to bother you with the details but I had to stop taking them.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Hux asks and accepts one of the glasses.

Ren shrugs. “I didn’t really have a choice.” He leans back and twirls the scotch in its glass, watching the golden liquid swirl.

“You kept popping up,” Hux says.

Ren looks up and affords a crooked grin. “I was at the other side of the Galaxy, Hux. If you kept seeing me you might want to get yourself checked for hallucinations.”

“I didn’t see you, moron. But there were all these times when I could have needed you. Just look at them tonight, they were basically thanking the stars for having brought you back. All that time not one of them dared protest against me, not even Phasma, and the minute you appear they side with you.”

“Well, that’s because you're a conceited idiot whose head is so far in the clouds that he thinks he doesn’t have to bother with anybody else’s opinion.”

“Yes, thank you, you can dial back the honesty now.”

“No way. I have a whole year to make up for.”

“What I am trying to say is,” Hux says and shifts uneasily in his chair, “will you stay? At least for the moment? Or do you plan on running off with the next ship again?”

Kylo Ren shakes his head. “I’m staying,” he says. “At least for the moment. There is only one direction to proceed in right now.”

Hux relaxes in his chair. The anxiety he hasn’t even noticed until now seeps out of his muscles. He slowly sips the scotch, keeping his eyes fixed on Ren.

“But…,” Ren begins and Hux tenses up again, “here’s the thing, Hux. I can’t do that anymore.” He motions his head in the direction of the bed. “None of it.”

“Okay,” Hux says. Nothing he hasn’t expected. No reason to give in to the disappointment.

Ren blinks. “I’m serious, we have to stop.”

“Okay.”

“I can’t let you touch me. At all.”

“Okay. If that’s what you want.”

Ren leans forwards with a look of urgency. “It is.”

“Okay then.”

Silence.

“I didn’t think you’d agree to this,” Ren says quietly. “I know it’s not what you want.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really, no.”

“See? I’ve managed a year, I’ll manage now.”

Ren looks up. Tries to draw out of Hux’s face what causes him to relent so easily. Hux returns his look calmly.

“If it means you’ll stay,” he finally says. Tries to make it sound casual. Not a concession to the year he’s had. No use in saying I’ve missed you.

“I’ll stay.”

They drink. They don’t touch. They haven’t touched yet and apparently they won’t. It definitely beats a year of silence.

“So you really want to team up with the Republic?” Hux finally asks.

Ren grimaces. “No, I don’t want to. There’s just no other way, Hux, and if you’re being completely honest with yourself you know it, too. We could keep fighting this battle on two fronts and obliterate most of the Galaxy in our wake, because that is what would happen. Now, Snoke never cared about the Galaxy. He would have been content with winning even if he extinguished every bit of life in it. But you don’t want to win to rule over nothing. You want to win to rule over planets and people and everything. You need planets and people and something to do that.”

“Fair enough,” Hux reluctantly admits. “I still can’t believe I am hearing these words from you. You’ve gone soft, Kylo.”

“So what?” Ren cocks his eyebrows. “I’m not even sure what I am doing this for anymore. Everything I have believed in has betrayed me. The truth is... I am tired, Hux. We have conquered half the Galaxy. What do you want to do once we have destroyed Snoke? Keep on fighting and risk losing everything we’ve won so far?”

Hux leans forward, frowning. “What are you saying, Kylo? Are you saying half the Galaxy is enough for you?”

“Maybe. At least for now. Hux, I have seen the planets we brought under our control on my way here and back. We have been so busy with conquering that we forgot that after the conquering comes the ruling. We’re not prepared for this. We don’t have order, we have nothing. We don’t have a unified currency. We don’t have a common language. We don’t have an economic system. We tax every planet differently and we have no rules concerning interplanetary trade. Half the products in our system land on the black market. We spend so much on armament that the commodity costs have skyrocketed. You might be fine with bleeding the small people but these small people have to carry the war. We cannot afford to exhaust them completely. We don’t have any market rules. We don’t even have a judicial system. We just execute, without trial, without separating small cases from bigger ones. People don’t like that. Half of the planets are republics, the other half are kingdoms. How are we going to treat those differences? If a cattle herd on one of our planets steals a bantha from their neighbour, do we just execute them or do we leave that to the local authorities? How much freedom of reign do we give the planets and what kind of universal rules do we want to establish?”

“Sounds like you have been thinking about that a lot,” Hux says.

“Yes, I have. This is important. If you want to rule the Galaxy, you will have to be able to rule it during peace times as well. Which reminds me, what do we do if one planet declares war onto another?”

“Fine,” Hux says. “You want to ask the difficult questions. Okay, here is one for you: When we kill Snoke – and I am saying when not if on purpose – what do you want to do? Because you sound like you want to actually establish the armistice with the Resistance. When Snoke is gone, you can’t use him anymore as an excuse to go soft on anybody. What do you want to do them?”

Ren stares into his glass without saying a word. As if Hux didn’t already know exactly what his answer will be. When he finally looks up, his eyes are tired.

“It’s an option,” he says quietly. “I could use a break, Hux. We both could. I can’t go on like this anymore. I can’t justify to myself anymore that what I’m doing is what the darkness in me commands me to do. Isn’t half the Galaxy enough? If it means we don’t have to serve a madman to conquer the rest?”

Half the Galaxy. It’s a compromise. Hux doesn’t like compromises. But he made the ultimate compromise when he accepted Kylo Ren as his co-general and now he has to live with the consequences.

“Are you hoping you can make up with your mother?” Hux asks.

“Hell, no. Nothing can make me do that.” Ren tilts his head a bit and raises an eyebrow. “Do you want to make up with yours?”

“Do I look like I do?”

“I’m just wondering. You never asked me about her whereabouts.”

“And I never will. I don’t want to know.”

Kylo Ren studies him for a while, refusing to turn away even as Hux gives him an icy stare. Finally, he draws out a sheet of paper (an actual sheet of real paper) and writes something on it. He folds the paper up and pushes it over the table towards Hux.

“In case you ever want to know,” he says.

It lies between them, a single piece of white paper. Neither of them touches it. Finally, Hux takes it and reluctantly puts it into his breast pocket. “You have changed,” he says.

“So have you,” Kylo Ren replies. “You’re just too stubborn to admit it.”

“I haven’t changed at all.”

“See? Stubborn. Yes, you have.” Ren casts him a glance through half-closed heavy lids and then laughs. “You’ve gone soft.”

“You’re out of your mind. I never go soft.”

“Yes you have,” Ren repeats with a glint in his eyes. “You listen to other people’s opinions. You’re willing to content yourself with half the Galaxy. You’ve gone soft, General Hux.”

“Say it once more and I’ll snap your neck.”

“No you won’t. You need me.”

They glare at each other.

“You’ll have to come to the meetings, you know,” Hux says.

“What meetings?”

“The negotiation talks. Since we’re obviously doing that now. You’re a general, you’ll have to sit in. With your mother and probably your uncle and the entire Senate of the New Republic…”

“No!” Ren says, his eyes gone wide. “No, I can’t, Hux. I can’t face my mother.”

“You’ll have to.”

“I’m serious, I’m not ready for that. You’ll have to go, take Phasma…”

“Phasma isn’t a general. You are. It is your duty to appear at these meetings.”

“I don’t care. I won’t go. I won’t face her. I’m facing you, that’s all I can do for now.”

Hux can feel the irritation rise inside his guts. “Don’t be ridiculous, Kylo.”

“I am not.” He doesn’t look it. His eyes are big and full of panic and he has turned even paler, if such a thing is possible. “This might be hard for you to believe, Hux. For you it’s just another meeting, another duty you don’t like but you have to do anyway. Something that needs to be done to reach your goal. But for me…” Ren shakes his head. “Hux, I’m barely holding on here. Most days I don’t even want to get out of bed. But I know it will be worse if I don’t so I have to anyway. People keep piling things on me and it’s getting too much… I can’t, please don’t make me.”

Hux watches him push the empty glass far away from him, then run both his hands through his hair. Strands of black get stuck between his fingers and suddenly Hux feels the urge to take his hands and untwine his fingers from his hair and hold them tight to stop them from shaking.

Fine,” he says. “I’ll take Khal. Phasma hates negotiations.”

“Thank you,” Ren whispers.

“You won’t be able to partake in any of the in-meeting decisions. And you can’t veto. All I can do is give you the protocols to read and ask your opinion and whatever the outcome is, you’ll have to accept it.”

“Fine by me.”

“Even if we decide that all generals have to switch to a pink dress code. That includes you, Kylo.”

Ren looks daggers at him but he has stopped shaking. “And you,” he says. “And it will look so much better on me.”

“Yes, Cinderella.”

 

Things return to normal. Hux and his upper rank hold a short hologram conference with the Senate, which is purely ceremonial, and they set the first meeting for the alliance negotiations at two weeks from now. Both sides draw up points they deem necessary to discuss. Hux has their legal staff compile the list. They might not have a universal judicial system or even trials right now, but there are always things they need legal advice for. Issues with the traders, disputes between the officers and so on.

He sits down with Doctor Penn.

“Some light activities,” she says. “To keep him occupied. But he seems ready to take a break so we should give that to him.”

“About the Force-shielding room…”

She shakes her head. “We don’t know how to make it work. The technicians tried but they don’t have the necessary expertise. It would need somebody much more apt in Force-driven technology to construct such a thing.”

“Kylo Ren couldn’t help either?”

“Not enough. The whole project ended up stressing him out a lot of the time. We gave up. General, if you can’t find anyone who has more profound knowledge of how the Force works, I am afraid there is nothing we can do.”

“Would you say he could still benefit from such a room?”

“Oh, definitely. Even if it’s just an emergency solution, simply knowing that it’s there and that if things get too much he can withdraw in there…”

“Do you think Snoke is really still speaking to him?”

“I can’t say,” Penn says. “There is no way to tell for sure. But I am suspecting that at least most of it is himself. He is very good at blocking Force-probing, after all, he should be able to close himself off. These voices, though, he can’t shut them out. On good days they don’t bother him, but on bad ones…”

Hux gets used to seeing Kylo Ren in his helmet again during their briefings and out of it whenever there is no need to assume his role as general. It makes it easier to predict his reactions, he finds. General Kylo Ren is all business; sharp, distanced and tough on the staff. The Kylo Ren whose face he can actually see is much more sensible: He seems absent-minded a lot of the time, but things that catch his attention stress him out easily. He has stopped destroying equipment. Instead he has taken up frantic pacing, which drives Hux half-insane, and he has the tendency to simply vanish from a room, sometimes mid-conversation, to remain nowhere to be found for hours. (Coincidence – or rather an alert in the door panel database – reveals one day that he spends most of that time in the observatory, a room that Hux deemed utterly worthless since usually no one ever uses it.)

Two days before the meeting Hux receives word that Luke Skywalker will participate. The Jedi has been on some secret mission for the last few weeks and nobody, not even his sister, could say whether he’d be back in time for the talks or whether he was at all interested in participating. Funnily enough, he seems to have undertaken that mission alone, without his young Padawan accompanying him. Hux is still debating with himself whether he should tell Ren or not when he returns to his chambers in the evening.

He types his breakfast, lunch and dinner menu from today into the typing pattern recognizer and the door opens. He enters his room and stops dead.

“How did you get in?”

Kylo Ren is sitting on the narrow bench in front of his large communication screen. The screen is switched off. Ren has his knees drawn to his chest and hugs them with his arms. His head is resting lightly against the monitor. The 2,000,000 credits monitor. He turns his head briefly to acknowledge Hux’s entering, then turns it back to stare into nothing.

“I added myself to your acceptance pool ages ago,” he says flatly. His face is void of any expression.

“Kylo, that’s a huge violation of privacy. How did you even do that?”

“I know all the passcodes of the mainframe. It really wasn’t that hard.”

“What are you doing here?”

Ren shrugs. He looks numb. Hux doesn’t like Kylo Ren numb. He is worse than screaming, tantrum-throwing Kylo Ren. “I didn’t want to go back to my room.”

“What’s wrong with your room?”

“Too silent.”

“Switch on some music.”

For the first time Ren looks at him. “Just let me stay here. I won’t say a word. I just need to be around somebody.”

Hux sits down at his desk and opens the files the legal team has sent him. He is determined to read. But even though Ren holds promise and doesn’t make any noise, his presence is unnerving to Hux. Something is clearly wrong but Ren clearly doesn’t intend to talk about it. Hux keeps staring at the pages, taking in all the terms and conditions his lawyers seem to have conjured out of thin air, without actually keeping any of it.

A loud crack makes him jump. He whirls around, heart pounding.

“Kriff, Kylo, what are you…?”

Ren has buried his fist deep into the wall he has been leaning against (the non-screen wall, thank the stars). There is a dent in the wall, in the fucking durosteel wall. Hux gets up and hurries towards him. He doesn’t think when he lifts his hands to grab Ren’s hand.

“Don’t touch me!”

Hux flinches and stops dead a few inches before Ren. He drops his hands. A thin trickle of blood appears between Ren’s fingers.

“What the fuck were you trying to do?” he bellows. “You probably broke your hand! Come on, I’ll take you to medbay.”

“I didn’t break my hand. I’m not going.”

“Of course you are, look at you. What were you trying to achieve, Kylo? Has the wall insulted you?”

“You can’t make me go,” Ren presses through his clenched teeth.

“Fine. Have it your way.” Hux activates his com-link to call a nurse. Then he draws one of his chairs in front of Ren and sits down.

“How much does it hurt?”

“Not that much.”

“Don’t play the hero with me. You broke your damn wrist, it must hurt like hell.”

“I didn’t break it. And I’m not playing the hero.”

“Then what?”

Kylo Ren stares at the hand in front of him, bleeding, shaking, with red dots around the white knuckles. It’s already swelling up. “I just had to check whether I still feel something.”

Hux tears his eyes from Ren’s hand and looks into his face. He still doesn’t show any expression, not even anger or pain. “Do you?” he asks. “Still feel something?”

Ren blinks slowly. “It hurts a bit.”

“Good. How long has this been going on?”

“It has been on and off. Sometimes I’m not even sure what’s real anymore. I’m scared that if I don’t do something drastic I can’t return one day.”

Hux has to resist the urge to grab Ren by the shoulders and shake him. He looks like he could use it. Then again, he looks like his head would just roll back and forth until his neck snaps. “Does it have to be punching walls? Have you talked to Penn about this?”

“She says I should tell someone if it starts getting bad. But what if I…” Ren closes his eyes. His breath quickens. “What if I call out and nobody hears me?”

“I’ll hear you,” Hux says. Because there’s nothing else he can say.

“No you won’t,” Ren replies.

The door slides open. Medical staff have emergency access to all rooms. The nurse hurries in and takes Kylo Ren’s hand. She cleans off the blood and sprays something on the cut. Then she scans his wrist.

“It’s not broken, it’s just sprained.” She fastens a compression bandage around it without even asking how it happened. The dent in the wall speaks for itself. “There’s a cooling mechanism, use it. It will relieve the pain. Keep it on for at least a week, better two. Don’t put any strain on that hand.” She repeats that a few times, everyone from the medical team knows Kylo Ren too well. “Have it checked at your next session.”

“I’ll be fine,” Ren says, which earns him an earnest glance from the nurse.

After she has left, Ren returns to his old position on the bench, knees drawn up, head resting against the screen. Hux is close to giving up trying to coax some further explanation from him when Ren finally decides to speak.

“It’s coming back to me,” he says almost inaudibly. “All the things I’d forgotten. The entire time when I was training under my uncle, everything that happened back then, everything Snoke did… I had forgotten it all. It’s suffocating me. I’m drowning in memory.”

Hux stands up, gets a can of water, opens it and puts it next to Ren. “At least drink something.”

Ren takes the can with his uninjured hand but he doesn’t drink. He just stares down at it. “I forgot how much I hated having Snoke in my head. How badly I wanted someone to notice that I was screaming for help inside.”

“They didn’t notice.”

“No one did.”

“Have you never tried telling him? Your uncle, that is, about Snoke.”

Ren’s eyes go wide. It’s the only reaction he has shown so far. He is still not looking at Hux, though. “I should have, shouldn’t I? That would have been the smart thing to do. Just tell him, one word, say something, anything, and everything could have been avoided. You’re absolutely right, that’s what I should have done.”

“But you didn’t.”

Ren puts the can down without taking one sip and buries his hand in his hair. He tugs it loose and it falls down over his face. “He talked about the light and the dark every day. He kept telling us about Darth Vader, about how he was tricked into joining the dark side, because he didn’t shield his mind well enough. He talked about the duty of every Jedi to keep their mind guarded at any time, because the darkness is lurking everywhere and is just waiting to creep in and plant its seeds. He talked about how a true Jedi withstood every lure of the dark side and keep his heart true and stalwart. How mind-control only worked on those who were too weak-minded to withstand it. He had been so young when he had to fight Darth Vader and Sidious and he had won. He had defeated the darkness, not only within himself but also within his father. He expected the same dedication for the fight against darkness from his nephew. Especially since I was so good at everything he taught us. He kept saying how one day I’d surpass him.

“And all the while Snoke kept invading my mind, whispering to me day and night. He told me that I was already stronger than my uncle, how I was meant for more greatness. He kept insisting that if I was meant for the light there was no way he could even connect with me. That the darkness in me was strong, stronger than the light and that was why I kept inviting him in. Once I gave in to the darkness I’d find strength no one has ever dreamed about. I’d surpass Darth Vader and finish what he couldn’t. The thing that made me weak was the light, I just needed to tear it out and all weakness in me would be gone. He could sense the anger in me, so much anger against my parents, my uncle, myself… and he fed it.

“So how was I supposed to tell Uncle Luke that for years I had let the evil inside me, had allowed it to speak to me, that I wasn’t able to shut it out by myself? That it was hurting me so damn much because I didn’t find enough strength to fight it. I was training to become a Jedi, this wasn’t something I was supposed to have troubles with. I couldn’t come crying to my uncle about losing to Snoke, I wasn’t supposed to be this weak. I wasn’t supposed to fail. He told me to suppress my anger, to not let it overcome me. Have you ever tried suppressing your anger when your insides are filled with nothing but seething rage? I was terrified he’d cast me out and at the same time angry at him for not realizing I needed his help.”

There is still not a single motion in Kylo Ren’s face. His voice is completely flat. It sends shivers down Hux’s spine.

“I remember one summer he sent me back to my parents,” Ren continues. “I went there every summer to have a break, but this time he told me to stay longer. I must have been fourteen years old and I was becoming complicated. Defying his words, losing my temper during training. I hurt some of the other kids and when Uncle Luke berated me for it I became defensive and yelled at him. So he sent me to my parents for a few weeks. He thought the change of scenery might do me some good.

“About three weeks after I got there, Dad finally showed up from one of his stupid trips. We sat down for dinner and he tried talking to me about the training and Uncle Luke. And he made this joke, this stupid joke about me better not going Vader on them and turning all dark side just to be a little rebel. Then and there I decided to tell them. They were my parents, after all, they couldn’t kick me out. They’d have to help me. But before I could open my mouth, Snoke began raging inside my head, screaming at me, pouring all his anger down on me, telling me how they’d never understand, how they’d lock me away and take away the Force from me and I’d be nothing, my entire life I’d be nothing. His rage was so intense it made me sick. Physically sick. I started throwing up everything I had just eaten.

“And then my father starts getting angry and asks me if I have been drinking with the Senate boys. The Senate boys, you see, they were the sons of the other Senate members. The ones that weren’t sent to Jedi academy to endure hardship and training but went to the local academy to be groomed into future leaders. Mostly they went drinking and partying. Dad detested them. They kept showing up for me and it drove him furious. So when I couldn’t answer he started berating me about being only fourteen and too young to drink. I was hanging on to the toilet bowl at that point, shaking, my stomach turning inside out until there was nothing left to come up but acid that burnt into my throat and my mouth. I was crying by then and he just yelled at me how it served me right, how I should know better and show some responsibility and how he was sick of hearing from Uncle Luke about all the shit I had done because I was making Mum cry. And I yelled back, between the crying and the retching, and accused him of not being there for me, that he didn’t understand me at all, that he had no idea what I was going through. I think he said something in the manner of ‘Right, like being a teenager is the worst thing in the world’.

“Later when I was lying in bed I heard them talk outside. Mum told Dad to calm down, I was just a teenager and they do stupid stuff, he had been the same way, after all. She came in and she stroked my hair and told me not to be angry with Dad. He was just worried about me. Sure he was harsh, but they were my parents, after all. They had to set boundaries for me. One day I’d understand. And I wanted to tell her. Snoke had calmed down, I just wanted to tell her everything and have her take me into her arms and tell me everything will be okay. But my throat was burning like fire and I was so tired, so very tired and I didn’t find the words. So she left and that was the last time I ever thought about telling anyone.”

The worst part is that he can’t even do anything. He can’t touch the man in front of him who looks so small and fragile that he is sure he’ll break him into pieces if he makes a sudden movement. All he can do is sit and listen and hate every second of it.

“The things is, I had forgotten,” Ren says and suddenly his face twists into a mask of pain. “I had forgotten all of it, Uncle Luke and Mum and Dad and everything that had happened there. Even Snoke, how many times I just screamed at him, how many times I tried to fight back, until I gave up and just accepted the darkness. I had forgotten everything and now it’s back and…” He is crying now, real tears, running down his face. He doesn’t make any attempt to wipe them away. Seeing him cry is the biggest relief Hux has ever felt. Everything is better than the complete numbness he has displayed before.

“And he’s still there,” Ren explains between sobs. “He is still trying to draw me back, even after he has abandoned me.”

“No, he isn’t. Shhhh, it’s okay. You made it. You made it through, he can’t reach you anymore. You're safe here, no one can hurt you now.”

Kylo Ren turns his head and for the first time looks at Hux. “You can still hurt me.”

“I won’t. Not anymore. Believe it or not I actually don’t want you to break down again.”

“And Snoke can.”

“I won’t let him. We’ll build you a safe room. He can’t come in there. You can live there if you want.”

“It didn’t work. We tried to build it, we can’t.”

“We’ll find someone who can. Don’t worry about that now.”

“You’re not going to involve my mother, are you?”

“I said don’t worry about it. You don’t have to do anything. I’ll take care of everything. I promise you, you’ll get a place where you can feel safe from the damn Force.”

Hux goes into the bathroom and comes back with a towel. “Here, clean off your face. It’s teary and snotty and hideous.”

Ren obeys. After he has calmed down he says, “Go back to your work, Hux. I need time to think.”

“You sure you’re going to be okay by yourself?”

“I am not by myself. If I have to, I’ll speak up, promise.”

“Do you just want to keep sitting here?”

“Yes.”

“Fine. But no punching walls anymore.”

The evening drags on and turns into night. Which, since they are still in deep space, only gets indicated by the digits on the clock and by the fact that at 22:00 the lights dim and have to be turned back to normal brightness manually. Hux keeps working through his pile of conditions, typing notes on every inch of blank page. On the screens around him he has drawn up statistics about their troop movements, their expenses, and every single planet and space base they control.

From time to time he shoots a glance at Kylo Ren, who doesn’t seem to have moved a single muscle in hours. Then he sees Ren drift off into sleep, his head slamming hard against the large screen. Hux flinches.

“Go to bed, Kylo,” he orders.

“No,” Ren replies faintly. “I hate that room. It’s big and it’s empty and it still smells of cleaning agent.”

“Take mine, then.”

Hell, no. You’re going to attack me in my sleep.”

“I am not going to attack you in your sleep.”

“It’s too small, anyway.” He is right. It’s almost too narrow even for one person.

“Just take it. I won’t sleep for hours anyway. If I need it I’ll wake you up and throw you out.”

Eventually Ren takes his bed. Working with a sleeping Kylo Ren in his room is like working next to a lift that people keep using. At least once per hour he is torn out of his concentration by tossing, whimpering, and sometimes cries, followed by Ren awaking with a startle to stare at his surroundings in utter confusion. Briefly Hux considers taking his work into Ren’s room instead – he has the better data system anyway – but something keeps him from leaving the sleeping man alone. When he is finally finished, around 04:00, he decides to sleep – fitfully – in his armchair. It is not made for sleeping and his neck starts cramping up immediately. In the morning it is so stiff he can’t even shake his head. His shoulders ache.

 

“He was supposed to get better,” Hux says. He is sitting in the chair opposite Doctor Penn. “If anything I’d say he’s gotten worse.”

“Yes, I have heard about the wall incident,” she sighs. “What happened?”

“He said he wasn’t sure he could feel anything anymore.”

“He is experiencing dissociation, General Hux. It is a rather common way of the mind to deal with trauma. He will get past it.”

“It’s not like the trauma has happened to him yesterday,” Hux protests. “He has been traumatized from early childhood on, why should this be happening now?”

“Because now he is ready to accept it, General,” Penn replies. “That is always a hard step. Yes, things are getting worse and they will stay worse for quite a while. But believe it or not, General Hux, this is progress. This is something he has to work through if he ever wants to get past it. It means he will remember a lot of things his brain has stored away to keep him safe. It means he will have to fight against his depression. You will need a lot of patience and a lot of tolerance, General. Do you think you can muster that?”

“I really can’t say I am looking forward to it.”

“And yet you are the man he keeps returning to. You have a responsibility here, General.”

“It was supposed to be your responsibility.”

“I am his doctor, there is only so much I can do. He still needs a support system.”

“There is no support system on this ship. His own family has abandoned him. He doesn’t make friends.”

“Yes, the conditions are far from ideal.”

Hux lets out a frustrated sigh. Why did he have to let himself get dragged into this mess? “Just… do what you can, will you?”

“Of course, General Hux. What about you?”

“It’s not like I have a choice in that matter, now, do I?”

 

The next night Kylo Ren is deeply concentrated on the negotiation documents as Hux finally returns to his room. It is close to midnight and he is feeling exhausted. He walks to the desk and casts a glance over Ren’s shoulder.

“You’re writing over everything I annotated,” he complains.

“Because it needs overwriting. I’m doing it in red on a new layer, so they’ll still know which is yours and which is mine.”

“It looks like you’re checking my homework. Have you eaten?”

“Not yet.”

“I thought so. I have ordered something up. Eat.”

Ren doesn’t even look up. “I’m fine.”

There is a soft knock on the door. Hux goes to open it and has the servant bring the tray with soup and bread to the table.

“Penn made me promise that I’d try to get you to eat more,” Hux says after the servant has left. “Don’t give her cause to be disappointed in me, Kylo.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be a disappointment, no matter what you do,” Ren replies, but he pulls the tray closer and takes a few spoons of the soup. Then he grimaces and pushes the tray away again.

Hux sits down next to him, facing him.

“I read Phasma’s report on the last base raid,” Ren says without looking up. “You’re not playing around anymore, are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re all dead. Even the normal Stormtroopers. Each and every single man from the First Order. You’re not even trying to give them a chance anymore.”

“Does it bother you? You can afford to fight your battles unbloodied. You know what your men are thinking. I won’t take that risk.”

“I noticed. You could’ve asked for my help.”

“You were the one who wanted a break. I’m giving it to you. Nobody is going to miss these men, anyway. They were scum. Besides, one of them is still alive.”

“Yes, their captain, is it? Are you hoping he’ll tell you where Snoke is?”

“Beats searching the entire Unknown Regions for a lucky strike.”

Ren lifts his eyes from his datapad and shoots Hux a glance. “Has he talked yet?”

“Oh, he has talked plenty. Just not about Snoke. I’m pretty sure he has no idea where Snoke is. Doesn’t mean we’re going to give up that easily, though.”

“You want me to take a shot?”

“Be my guest. He doesn’t look like he has enough mental capacity left to put up a fight, anyway.”

Kylo Ren shakes his head. “Just promise me, once I’m done with him you’ll kill him quickly.”

“What, you’ve developed a conscience all of a sudden?”

“I’ve always had a conscience. I simply chose to ignore it. I’m not you, Hux.”

He returns to the screens in front of him. Hux watches him silently for a while. Ren drums his fingers against the desk surface and pushes his tongue against his lips whenever he concentrates on something, just before he starts scribbling over Hux’s notes.

When Ren reaches for his water glass, Hux leans forwards and decides to speak. “So about Snoke…”

Ren sighs and lays the datapad down onto the table. He reluctantly turns towards Hux. “What about him?”

“I’ve been thinking. Shouldn’t it be about time he tried to get you back again? He ought to be panicking by now. Most of his men are gone and the Resistance has chased him to the rim of the Galaxy. Now we and the Republic are seriously talking about entering an alliance. He should desperately be trying to win you over again.”

Ren raises an eyebrow. “Are you afraid that he’s going to order me to kill you again?”

“Maybe a bit. I’m more worried that he is going to drive you back into one of your bad places. Last time he tried to lure you, you ended up attempting suicide just to escape him. I don’t want that happening again.”

Kylo Ren reaches out towards the tray of food he hasn’t touched in half an hour. He pushes the spoon through the soup that has built a yellow skin over its surface. Finally he looks up. “You’re worried about me?”

“Of course I am. I can’t deal with that again. I don’t want you breaking down and ending up in psych for the next few months because Snoke had to play Kilgrave and violate your mind.”

Ren scrutinizes his face as if he is trying to coax his ulterior motives out of Hux. “I don’t want that either,” he says quietly. “I am doing the best I can to shut him out, to not let him get to me. Believe me, I don’t want to return to that place.”

“But if it happens,” Hux says, “if he tries to get to you again, don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t just bottle it all up until it becomes too much. Tell me. I will hear you, I promise I will hear you, and I will listen. Even if you’re not sure whether it’s real. Even if you’re pretty sure it is not. Just tell me.”

Ren winds his fingers into his curls and tugs. “What are you going to do?”

Hux shrugs. “Something. Anything. Anything is better than you having to solve everything by yourself. I’ll listen and I’ll drag you to Penn or whatever. Whatever you need.”

He meets Ren’s eyes and looks away again. Ren’s eyes are brown and open and soft, and soft eyes of Kylo Ren are too much to look at for a longer time.

“I don’t know if I can,” Ren finally says in a voice that is barely more than a hum. “I tried that once before, I have told you yesterday. When Snoke doesn’t want me to talk, I don’t know if I have the strength to do.”

“Don’t talk, then,” Hux says. “If talking’s too much, use another way.”

“Like what?”

He thinks about that for a while. Finally something resembling an idea surfaces. He stands up and opens his closet. He pushes aside his shirts to get to the stuff he doesn’t wear anymore. After fumbling about for a bit he finds a small piece of cloth and brings it back to the table.

It’s a cuff, cut off from his old uniform, mainly for the shining button. It bears the First Order seal and the general rank insignia. The only tiny piece of nostalgia he has allowed himself. The cuff is black on the outside, red on the inside.

“Wear it,” he says. “Black side up. All you have to do if you’re feeling like calling out, is turn it inside out. Once it’s red I’ll know. No need to say a word. You think you can do that?”

Ren stares at the cuff. He frowns. “This is stupid.”

“I know. You’ve got a better idea?”

Kylo Ren shakes his head. He gives a tiny smile and reaches for the cuff. He manages to unbutton it, but his left wrist is still in the bandage. He looks at Hux. “I can’t put it on myself.”

“You want me to do it for you?”

Ren nods.

Hux takes the cuff and Ren stretches out his right hand, long black sleeves and gloves and all. Very carefully Hux fastens the cuff around Ren’s wrist. Then he lowers his hands and they both look at the small black band that is nearly unnoticeable among the rest of the black. Only the silver button twinkles in the light.

“Look at that,” Hux says. “Your hands are bigger than mine. This is supposed to fit tight, but it doesn’t. That’s because you don’t eat, Kylo.”

“Hush,” Ren says, but he hasn’t dropped his smile yet. He turns the cuff onto its red side with his bandaged hand, then returns it to black. “This is good. I think I can do this.” He says it almost to himself. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Hux says. “Seriously. I need to keep the last shred of my dignity somehow.”

The smile widens a bit. “Fine, I’ll eat. Stop watching me, though. Go do something important. I can’t stand people watching me eat.”

Hux stands up. “I am going to sleep. The negotiations tomorrow will be exhausting enough as it is. I really envy you for weaselling your way out of that. At least I’ll see your mum again. She’s been coming on to me pretty strongly. I’ll finally be able to find out whether those sparks flying between me and her could lead to anything real.”

Chapter Text

“Thank you, gentlemen,” General Organa says. She gives them a nod that clearly shows they’re released, and turns towards organizing her documents. Everyone in the room, including Hux, stands up. A few people give a sigh of relief when they finally get to stretch their legs and blood comes flowing back into their feet.

The conference has taken five hours and the only thing they have been able to agree on so far has been a second meeting. Hux’s staff have tripled their notes since they have arrived, with annotations, refinements and corrections to their original conditions. The Republic officials don’t look any less crammed. They kept insisting on intergalactic rules about ridiculous things such as no torture, no killing of prisoners of war, and so forth. The Last Order has insistently declined. They have, however, started an exchange of information about Snoke and the First Order. Hux has given them an estimate of the positions of the remaining First Order bases. General Organa has informed them of their attempts to find Snoke by radar, sonar, and by Skywalker’s Jedi-powers. The Last Order has offered to share the tracking equipment Phasma brought with her from the First Order base. Neither attempt at locating Snoke has brought them any closer so far.

“General Hux,” Leia Organa acknowledges him as he crosses the room (they have been sitting opposite each other at the round table) to meet her.

“General Organa,” he replies. “I was hoping we could talk some more in private.”

She sighs. “If this is about the alliance it will have to wait, General. I really need to confer with my advisors before any more can be said about that matter.”

“This is not about the alliance. It’s about your son.”

Leia Organa squints at him. She proceeds to pack up her notes with unnerving calmness. Finally she says, “Let’s go somewhere else. I can’t breathe the stale air in this room anymore. There is a bar on the first level that rumours say has excellent beer.”

Hux suppresses a snort. He has given up beer as soon as he has outgrown his teenage years. They take the lift to the first level of the high tower. Myrkr is a beautiful planet. Contested between First Order and New Republic for a long time it has now been chosen as a neutral zone for the alliance negotiations. The bar of the hotel they have booked is vast and elegant. Too elegant for beer. But a quick glance at the adverts on the wall confirms to Hux that this place, as well as the whole region, prides itself in a fine assortment of locally brewed beers.

It is a sunny day and the view from the hotel over the valley with its lake and the tall waterfall in the distance is stunning, so they sit down on the terrace hanging right over the lake. The light blue water reflects the sunlight and throws a cascade of sparkles every time the wind ripples its surface. Hux leans back in his chair, orders a scotch (no one will get him to desecrate his palate with any sort of hops derivate) and allows himself to enjoy the feeling of the wind on his face.

“Well,” General Organa says after their orders have arrived, “you wanted to talk about Kylo Ren. What is it this time? Did you lose him again?”

“He stayed on the Battlefront,” Hux replies. She is never going to let him live that down, is she. “Please excuse his absence today, he hasn’t been feeling very well.”

“I am sure he hasn’t,” she says in a tone that resembles one she would use on a child hiding from her because he doesn’t want to admit to his mischief.

“He sends his regards, though.”

“Cut to the chase, General Hux, my advisors and my brother are waiting for me. What is it you want?”

“I need your help,” Hux says.

She cocks an eyebrow. “For a man determined to rule the Galaxy by himself the number of times you have come running to me for help is quite astounding.”

“This is not about me,” he says.

“Here is a sentence I thought I would never hear from you, General.” She clearly isn’t in a mood to butter up to him.

“Make your snide remarks as much as you want, General Organa, but please answer me this. The person who made the Force-suppressing collar, who was it?”

“That would have been my brother.”

“Could he build something similar again?”

“Has my son been troubling you, General Hux? Do you need to lock him away again?”

“Nobody is trying to lock him away. I am asking this for Kylo Ren’s own sake. Now is it possible?”

“I presume so. What did you have in mind?”

“A room,” Hux says. “A room that is completely cut off from the Force. No external influences. No one to be able to connect with whoever is staying in there.”

Leia Organa studies his face. She looks slightly confused. “What use do you have for such a room? Are you trying to hide my son away again?”

“I am merely trying to give him some peace of mind,” Hux replies. “If we want to find Snoke before he gets wind of our plans, we need a way to keep Kylo Ren out of his reach.”

“You could just send him away again.”

“Impossible. We need him.”

“So once again you are putting your own selfish goals before the well-being of your subordinates. I cannot say I am surprised.”

“Kylo Ren is not my subordinate. Look, I do not desire to defend my motives against you. Make what you want of the situation. But you know as well as I do that research about the Force and its applications are still scarce apart from the whole Jedi-training deal. Think about what you could do with a technology that controls the flow of the Force and allows you to cut it off or change its direction, if need be. If your brother is the one building such a mechanism, the entire knowledge about its features could be at your disposal. We are providing the space, the material, everything you need. This is not something you can pass up on lightly.”

He has caught her interest, he knows it. There is a sparkle in her eye, but also still a lot of doubt.

She heaves a deep sigh. “General Hux, I want to try to help you, against my own better judgment. But I am fairly certain that my brother won’t. He has never been able to forgive Kylo Ren for what he did to the other Padawans in training. Can you blame him?”

“Then at least give us the plans he has drawn up for the Force-suppressor,” Hux says. “Please.”

Leia Organa frowns and turns her head. For a few minutes she simply stares at the lake, slowly sipping her beer right from the bottle. She seems deep in thought and Hux decides not to interrupt her.

Finally she says, “I can try one better. I can speak to Rey. She is a genius mechanic and she has trained under Luke. She might have an idea about what to do.”

“The girl?”

“She is not a girl, General Hux. She is a grown woman and a powerful Jedi. Now, I can’t promise you anything. Her past encounters with Kylo Ren were far from pleasant. But she is a good-natured soul and she might just agree. There will however be conditions.”

“Name them.”

“If she is to stay on your ship we need some kind of collateral. I will not simply entrust her safety onto you.”

“I will send Admiral Phasma. I trust you will treat her as a guest as long as necessary. Believe me, her loss would be painful.”

“If you say so, General. Also, she will have an entourage. She may decide on her own who it is but I will not let her onto your ship all by herself.”

“As you wish.”

“Finally, you will have to swear one thing to me here and now. There will be no contact whatsoever between Rey and Kylo Ren. They will not meet, they will not talk, he won’t even be on the same floor as her. If word reaches my ear that he is trying to establish contact with her in any way, you will have to face the consequences.”

Hux gives her a long, taxing look. He feels the urge to tell her his mind, to let her in on the last few weeks, on the softness he has been catching glimpses of, the sensibility, the nightmares and everything Kylo Ren has told him so far about himself. He doesn’t, of course.

“It’s a big ship,” is all he says. “We will find a way to make that possible.”

 

Hux is getting sick of sleeping in the armchair. His whole back aches. He is tired, from sleeping too little and too badly. Finally he resigns and has his senior technician install a second plank bed in his room. It is right next to the first one, but with a night stand between them as separation. After that sleeping gets easier. He is still awoken in regular intervals by Ren’s outcries, but he learns to sleep through the smaller noises and the tossing.

At least having Kylo Ren in his room means he can keep an eye on him. It has become a habit, the first thing to do when he arises in the morning and again when he comes back at night after his work is done, to cast a glance at Ren’s wrist. Ren keeps wearing the black cuff with the silver button and until now Hux has never seen it turned to red. Sometimes Ren catches him checking on the cuff and gives him a quick half-smile.

Something keeps bothering Hux about the way Kylo Ren acts around him, though. About the way he finally seems to have found a calmness he has never displayed before whenever he is speaking to Hux. For quite a while he can’t put his finger on what it is, until one evening when he walks through his room to the consoles of the data system, he accidentally brushes Ren’s arm. Ren flinches back and reels around. The sudden push of the Force sends Hux staggering away. Ren’s eyes are wide open, staring at Hux like a cornered lynx. He is almost hissing.

When he realizes Hux didn’t try to touch him he exhales audibly and the pressure of the Force relents a bit. That is when realization hits Hux. For a split second, Ren has shown him the way he sees him. That he still remembers everything Hux has done to him and it still tortures him.

But Kylo Ren, the man who usually can’t even stub his toe without breaking into a tantrum has never even once displayed any anger towards Hux. He should be angry. Hux says so.

“Why aren’t you yelling?” he asks.

“Why should I be yelling?” Ren retorts, squaring his shoulders. His voice sounds like nothing at all happened just now.

“Because clearly things are not all right between us. I can’t even touch you without you panicking. What I did to you was bad. Yell at me. Scream. Hit me. Do something.”

“No,” Ren says coldly.

“Why the hell not? It might just relieve you.”

“No, it will relieve you. You don’t want me to get angry at you for my sake. You want it for yours. If I start yelling at you you’ll be able to get absolved for the things you did. You don’t deserve to receive absolution and I am not going to give it to you.”

“That’s bullshit, Kylo. Come on. Explain it to me, make me understand. Because it wasn’t all me, you know. You wanted to be punished. You hated yourself so damn much that you basically begged me to fuck you.”

“Yes and you didn’t lose any time, did you,” Ren hisses. “If I was to choose between being tortured by myself or by you, you still seemed the safer choice. I had to do it, to keep you from living out all your cruel whims on me. Letting myself get fucked by you was still less painful than you just beating me up and taking what you want.”

“You are stronger than me. You’re a godforsaken Force-sensitive! Why didn’t you just make me stop?”

Kylo Ren stares at him, his whole face a mask of disdain. Yet he still refuses to raise his voice. “You’re saying it as if it’s my fault. Instead of waiting for me to fight back, why didn’t you just, you know, not torture me? Did that thought even occur to you? For once in your lifetime not do the worst possible thing to another person? Because you could clearly see that you were breaking me apart.”

“How could I see that?”

“It’s called being a human being, Hux.”

“So you are angry at me.”

Ren lets out a frustrated sigh. “Of course I’m angry. I’m fucking furious, Hux.”

“You don’t look like it.”

“Oh,” Ren says and huffs out a laugh that is completely devoid of any amusement. "Do I have to show my anger now for you to believe me? I am not angry for your sake, I am for mine. You’re so fucking conceited, it’s hilarious. Do you really think I need you to validate my emotions for me?”

“No,” Hux says, taken aback. “Of course not.”

“Good,” Ren says.

They fall silent. It is more difficult for Hux to grasp than it should be. This isn’t about him. He has never felt the need to care about that. Being the general of his own imperium doesn’t really compel him to be considerate of the people around him. But this doesn’t work anymore. Because he feels that he is losing and he can’t lose. Not this.

Ren looks tired. Hux doesn’t know how he does it. How he just keeps his anger to himself as if it’s the one thing he can’t let out. As if he needs it.

“I’m working on it,” Ren says, rubbing his scar. “I won’t forgive you, but I might just be able to be okay with it for myself someday.”

“Okay,” Hux says. And then, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Kylo Ren blinks at him, clearly surprised. He seems to sincerely deliberate on the question for a while. “Just… try to remember that your needs are not the only ones that matter from time to time,” he finally says. “Because I’m right here and it’d be nice to know that somebody is being considerate not because they are forced to be but simply because they want to be.”

Somehow these words sound incredibly lonely.

“I can’t promise anything,” Hux says. “But I can try.”

Kylo Ren glances at him with a look that clearly questions whether Hux has lost his mind.

 

Hux is standing in the middle of the main bridge, back turned towards the flight consoles. The actual viewport panes are only slits, most of the imagery they get from their surroundings (which is literally a huge sea of nothingness most of the time) is on screens. Radar signals next to sonar ray scanners, next to the regular cameras. The ship isn’t flying, yet. It is still in orbit around Myrkr from where they will depart for their nearest base as soon as their guests have arrived. Both pilots are in their seats already, along with the control personnel. If there is one place on the Battlefront where Hux can feel relaxed because at least it seems like everyone knows what they are doing, it is in here. A technician is reading aloud their fuel capacity status to the engine controllers next to her. They respond with their corrections as they are trying to allocate the fuel as efficiently as possible. After both the New Republic and the Last Order sent their fleets to Myrkr, its fuel stock has been noticeably diminished.

Phasma was less than enthusiastic about having to stay with the Republic.

“I don’t doubt that they will treat me well, Sir,” she said before leaving. “I just think I could do so much more by your side.”

Hux agreed. He hated to see her go. He already regretted answering General Organa without pondering his words before. He could have said any name. Khal is more than well known amongst the Republic big shots and would have made a fine hostage (Because there is no beating around the fact that this is what Phasma is supposed to be. It doesn’t matter how many times both sides emphasize her guest status.). But he had said Phasma’s name so it had to be her.

“Nothing much is going to happen in the next weeks,” Hux replied to her. “Consider it a well-deserved vacation. Myrkr is quite beautiful, you might even enjoy yourself.”

“I quite enjoy myself fighting by your side.”

“Give it two or three weeks. Either this works or it doesn’t. You can beat up Resistance scum in the pubs down in the city when you’re feeling bored.”

“That sounds more like a vacation I’d enjoy, Sir.”

Now he is waiting for the girl and her entourage and because she has no manners she is late. Hux tries his best to not look impatient. He never waits. People don’t make him wait. People who make him wait have little else in their lives left to do.

The door opens and two Stormtroopers escort her in. She is wearing a robe that closely resembles that of Luke Skywalker. Apparently someone has finally persuaded her to replace the rags she has been in so far. As a result, she looks more like a Jedi than ever. There is a tool belt around her hip with a retainer for her lightsaber. Her eyes sparkle as though she has just seen a unicorn.

“Sorry for the delay,” she says. “I got a bit fascinated with the docking area. You have an engine of the old Terminus-class in freight down there, do you know that?”

“Yes,” Hux replies. Whoever has raised this savage clearly hasn’t bothered with teaching her basic greeting skills.

“It’s beautiful,” the girl says with a dreamy look in her eyes. Then she holds out her hand. “Anyway, I’m Rey. General Leia Organa sends me. I don’t think we have been properly introduced before.”

Hux looks down at her small hand, undecided whether he should be annoyed by her fearlessness or impressed. He takes the hand with his own gloved fingers and gives it the quickest squeeze before he lets go of it again.

“General Hux,” he says. “We have prepared the room. Would you like to see it?”

Even before arriving the girl has already left instructions for a suitable room: small (because working a Force circuit will be hard enough in a narrow space), connected to a good power conductor, with stable walls. She has also given them an order of the crystal she will need and that has turned out to be more expensive than any small star ship.

“Actually, I’d like to get to know her a bit better, before I start on the room,” Rey replies.

Hux blinks in confusion. “Her?”

“The ship. I need to know how she runs before I can tap into her bloodstream. May I see the engine room?”

“Which one?”

“You have more than one?”

“We have four.”

“Okay… the biggest one.”

“They’re all identical.”

The girl rolls her eyes. “Then it doesn’t really matter, does it? The closest one.”

Hux leads her towards the stairs into the lower levels. “Where is your entourage?” he asks. “General Organa informed me she wanted to give you bodyguards.”

She shrugs. “She did, but I declined. I really can’t use somebody trailing behind me all the time. They’d distract me from my work. General Leia said that you would supply the technical staff. That should be enough.”

“Very well. All men on this ship are informed about your stay. None of them will give you any trouble and if they do, I will take care of them.”

“I can take care of myself,” she replies. “But thanks. It was quite a fight, actually. Poe wanted to come but Finn didn’t and Chewie tried to insist but I couldn’t bring him. He’d go mad here. If he ever saw a glimpse of Kylo Ren he’d probably lose all control and just pound him into the floor…”

“You won’t see a glimpse of Kylo Ren,” Hux informs her. “General Organa and I have an agreement about that.”

“Sure, but just in case we run into him at lunch or something…”

“The room we have chosen is next to the medical bay. You will be eating with the medical staff. Kylo Ren is eating with the upper ranks. There is no running into each other at lunch.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I must say I am a bit surprised that you agreed to assist us. Last time you came here wasn’t exactly on cordial terms.”

She glances up at him. “You were the one asking for help,” she says. “I figure you have more to lose than I do. I have to admit, I like that thought. Besides, building a Force-shielding room sounds like a pretty fascinating project. If I manage to do this, who knows what other Force-driven technology might be possible?”

The engine room gets her ridiculously excited. She completely submerges herself in studying the engines, stroking parts of them and muttering cheesy terms of endearment towards them. She keeps asking questions at the technical staff who immediately seem to take a liking to the girl and proceed to open up parts of the wiring covers for her to marvel at whatever lies beneath (wires, probably).

After she has had her full of lube oil and shiny metal parts Hux shows her to the medical bay. She takes her time inspecting the room. She immediately starts taking off the wall panels to check the wiring and runs her hand over every inch of the room she can reach.

Eventually, she nods. “This will do. Alright, were are my mechanics?”

“They will appear first thing in the morning,” Hux replies. “Let me show you to your chamber. For today you should get yourself acquainted with the outline of the ship. It is quite big, you could easily get lost.”

Her chamber gets her excited again. They have decided to accommodate her with the senior technical staff. Not only will she have her advisors nearby, it also happens to be on the wing opposite the one that holds the generals’ chambers. Less chance for her to accidentally run into Kylo Ren.

“This is big,” she says. “I didn’t know rooms this big were possible on a star ship.”

“This is standard size,” Hux says. “Anything smaller would be a shoe carton. Have you never travelled on a proper ship before?”

She shrugs. “I usually just take the Millennium Falcon. Are there any vending machines around? I always imagined a ship of this size to have vending machines with fizzy drinks everywhere.”

Hux closes his eyes for a moment. What in the blue blazes has compelled him to undertake the task of welcoming this girl on the ship himself? There is nothing whatsoever likeable about her.

“These are senior staff quarters. If you want vending machines you will have to look for them in the regular staff canteen.”

“Of course. Thank you. This will be great.”

“I hope so,” Hux replies and withdraws himself to leave her alone for the night. “Welcome on board, Miss Rey.”

 

When he comes to check on the girl the next afternoon, she is alone. Tools, cables, and blueprints are lying around her in a big mess. She seems to be an entropy-magnet, just like Kylo Ren. Having too many people like them on board a star ship is dangerous.

“Shouldn’t the mechanics still be working with you?” Hux asks.

She looks up. She is sitting right within her chaos, deeply concentrated on winding a copper wire around a thick cable. “I sent them away for today. There is nothing more to do, at least for now. I just have to finish some small stuff. I can’t have several people clutter around me and distract me.”

“Whatever you think is best,” Hux says. “Is there anything you need or would like changed?”

She shakes her head. “Everything is fine,” she says.

“Does it look like it can be done?”

Shrug. “Sure. It will take a while. And I might have to try a few times, but I absolutely think that it can be done.” She studies him with her big, slightly slanted eyes. She obviously wants to say something more.

“What is it?” he eventually asks, irritated.

“I was just wondering what you need the room for. General Leia couldn’t really give me an answer to that question. I know it has something to do with Snoke, but what exactly…”

“It doesn’t concern you,” Hux replies, which she doesn’t seem to like.

“Look, I am building you this room,” she says in a pissed voice. “You could at least give me a proper answer to my question.” The way she immediately flares up as he tries to shut her down reminds him so very much of Kylo Ren that it almost makes him smile.

“He is trying to shut Snoke out,” he confides against his better judgment. “You heard him, too, didn’t you? Well Kylo Ren is hearing him all the time.”

The girl frowns. “Why doesn’t he just shut him out by will?”

“It’s not that easy. For you, maybe. Not for him.”

She still doesn’t seem satisfied with that answer.

“Listen,” Hux says. “You and me we are both not Kylo Ren. You will just have to trust me, that there are good reasons we have this room built.”

She looks as though she would like to add a thousand things, but eventually she just shrugs. “I guess that’s good enough.”

“I will let you get back to your work, then. If there is anything you need, tell one of the mechanics. They will inform me.”

She nods and lowers her head back over her cables.

 

Rey is lost. The ship is big, so terribly, terribly big. She is good at finding her way, at remembering little clues and directions to make sure she doesn’t end up in the completely wrong place. But she kind of cast that to the wind when she ran around the corridors, searching frantically for a bathroom. At some point she clearly took a wrong turn because this isn’t the way back. She has been straying through the corridors for too long now. She would be asking someone for directions, only that the hallways are entirely empty. It’s like the whole place is dead. She shouldn’t have left her com-link in the safe room.

Finally she decides she can’t go on like this and she has to check one of the rooms she is scurrying past. Most of them blink red, which means, as she has already learned, that they are locked. But eventually she finds a door with a green light and presses the open button.

She enters the room and finds herself among the stars. For a minute she just stands in the entrance, staring up at the ceiling, only that there is no ceiling, just the vastness of the universe with its billion dazzling lights blinking in the distance. It takes her a while to understand that she must have hit upon an observatory.

She looks around the room. A single man is standing at the far end of it, right before the universe begins. It looks as if he has to take one single step to drift off the edge into the stars.

Rey takes a few steps towards him until she realizes who he is.

She freezes. Luke has warned her, more than once. Do not talk to him. Under no circumstances engage in conversation with him. He is dangerous and he will use all his abilities to force his will upon you.

She takes a step back and wants to leave the room when he turns around and looks at her.

His face is void of any expression. He doesn’t move to attack her, he doesn’t even change his posture into something more threatening. She feels herself hesitating, returning his gaze.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he says.

“I didn’t mean to be,” she hears herself answering. “I got lost. I just need to get back to the medical bay.”

He raises an eyebrow. “The medical bay is on another floor.”

Right. She remembers running up stairs in her search for the bathroom. Lots and lots of stairs. “Yes, well. I was just looking for a bathroom.”

“They have bathrooms in medbay.”

Of course they do.

He lifts an arm – Rey’s shoulders square – and presses the button on the communicator on his shoulder. “I will have someone fetch you and get you back to the bay.”

“Not necessary. I will just go.”

“You are going to get lost again. Just wait.”

Right. Rey keeps standing where she is. She can see the scar on his face shine faintly in the light of the stars. Before she can stop herself she says, “I’m sorry.”

“About what?”

She lifts her hand and points towards the scar. “I did that.”

“Don’t apologize.”

“I found a teacher, though. Like you told me. It just wasn’t you.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed that.”

“I’m guessing you’re not very much into the teaching me anymore, anyway, are you?”

“No, I’m more into the killing you.”

“Why do you have to be like that?” she blurts out. “Like, all the time, why do you have to be so antagonizing with every single word you say?”

“It’s a dark-side-of-the-Force thing. Just know that I mean every word I say.”

Rey shuts up. There is no talking to this man. It’s like he’s a different species. They have nothing in common, absolutely nothing.

Finally, though, her curiosity gets the better of her. “Why do you want to build a safe room?” she asks. “I’ve seen you handle the Force, you’re amazing. You’re so good at controlling it, why do you want to shut it out?”

His lips draw down at the corners. It’s impossible to imagine him smiling. “None of your business.”

“Is it true that you hear his voice?” she asks.

His face turns into a wild expression and Rey flinches back. “Who has told you that?”

“Uhm, General Hux mentioned something.”

“General Hux talks too much. Stop thinking about things that do not concern you.”

“I’m sorry, you know. If it's so bad that you want to shut out the Force… well, that sounds bad.”

“Don’t pity me.”

“I’m just saying,” she says. “I think I can kind of see why you’re so unhappy. When you feel like no one else will be there for you, you kind of cling to the things you know are bad for you.”

“What do you know about bad things?”

“Quite a lot, actually,” Rey says. “I have been lonely my whole life. I’ve always had to fend for myself. If you had found me before I met Finn and Poe and Luke, I probably would have come with you, just to have someone who appreciates me.”

He gives her a long, taxing look. With his eyes half closed he doesn’t even look angry anymore. Stern, but not angry.

“Come here,” he finally says.

Rey doesn’t move a muscle. Memories of every single time they have encountered each other before swirl through her mind.

“I am not going to hurt you,” he says. “Just come here and take a look.”

Hesitantly, she strolls closer until she stands beside him right in front of the transparent pane that separates them from the universe outside.

“You see that tiny dot over there, next to the cluster of four stars?” he asks, pointing with his gloved finger.

Rey nods.

“That is the last explored planet before the Unknown Regions. Beyond that, there is nothing. In fact, there is more nothing than this Galaxy holds. Just a vast space where nobody has ever been before. And somewhere in all this nothing the Supreme Commander Snoke is hiding and plotting against us right now.”

She has heard quite a lot of this Supreme Commander in the last few months. And from him.

“So how good of a Force-wielder is he really?” she asks.

“He is the best there ever was,” he replies. “He is more powerful than you and I combined. It’s not so much that he uses the Force and more that he seems to be the Force in approximately human form.”

Rey shudders. “Sounds like a delight to be around,” she says.

“He was my teacher.”

Rey lifts her head too look at him. It’s not the first time she has heard that. But somehow these words suddenly carry a lot more weight. He turns his face towards her and meets her eyes.

“It’s because he found me early on that I am what I am,” he says. “And it’s because he hasn’t found you that you are what you are. We are never going to be on the same side, you and I. But I wish you luck, I truly do. The Force seems like a wonderful thing when you first discover it. But sooner or later it will reveal itself to you and you will have to learn what it means to be connected to its power.”

It’s a Skywalker thing, she is sure of it. The whole Don’t-underestimate-the-Force-it-will-tempt-you-with-its-darkness-thing.

Somebody calls from the entrance and she finds a nurse waving at her to take her back to the medical bay.

Rey shoots one last glance at Kylo Ren and walks out of the room.

 

“Have you been stargazing again?”

Kylo Ren is wearing his helmet as he enters the bridge. It is impossible to see the expression on his face but if Hux had to guess he’d put some credits on pissed. “How do you even know about that?” he asks.

“Your identification code on the door panel. Rarely anybody ever goes into the observatory. Us normal people are much too busy for that. But I guess you’re a romantic at heart, Kylo. Did the stars tell you their secrets?”

“They told me they’re still furious with you for burning up one of them and then blowing up several planets. One day they’re going to roast you for that.”

Hux grins. “Come here,” he says. He waves Ren to his side and points at the little dot that has shown up on their radar screen a few hours ago. “Do you see that?”

Ren bows down over the console but he refuses to take off his helmet. “It’s a Fighter, I’d say. First Order or Resistance?”

“First Order,” Hux says. “But take a look at this.” He motions towards the radar technician with his gloved hand and the woman draws up a blurry picture on one of the upper screens.

“We had to construct this with sonar ray,” she says. “The Fighter is still too far away and right now it doesn’t seem to try and come closer. It’s fast, though, faster than your regular TIE, and it’s very well shielded.”

“Of course it is,” Hux says. He is feeling a bit giddy. The last few weeks have just been too boring. “Can you discern the sign on its wing?”

Kylo Ren stands silently for a few minutes, apparently taking in the picture. It really isn’t the best, but apart from Hux he is one of the few people who knows the sign on the Starfighter well enough to recognize it even on such a low-quality image.

Drake enters the bridge, sees them and comes closer.

“That’s the Monks,” Ren finally says, voice completely flat.

“Who are the Monks?” Drake asks.

“Ah, the Monks,” Hux replies and gives the technician another command with his hand. “Official name Alpha 99. Snoke really is a pretentious bastard. They prefer calling themselves the Monks, because they fight without weapons.”

The screen shows the picture of a tall man in hideous yellow robes, breastplate, pauldrons, bracers and shin guards. He is ripped as hell, so much so it disgusts Hux. Not only his face but also his head is shaven completely. Another image appears, of a Starfighter. It’s a small thing, glistening with a metallic shine.

“Their Fighter is infamous,” Kylo Ren says. “It is almost impossible to pick up on radar.”

“We had the latest model installed only last month, Sir,” the technician says with a certain pride in her voice.

“Exactly,” Hux says. “Anything before that would probably have missed them. And it’s not just hard to detect. It’s indestructible, too. I am serious. They are using some kind of permanent fibre that can’t be damaged by any cannon. Their defence shield is so effective, you’re more likely to hit yourself with the shots that ricochet off their shield, than to land a strike against them.”

“What shall we do then, General?” Drake asks. “Do you suggest we don’t try to shoot them down?”

“They're assassins. Since they fight without weapons, they need to come aboard if they want to take it up against us,” Hux says. “Keep them under observation. The moment they land and that door opens, they’re vulnerable. After all, they’re still part human.”

“Shall we use the tractor beam then?”

“What, and go out of our way for them? The last time I encountered them the tractor beam was completely ineffective against their shields. Keep them under close observation for now. At some point they will have to come closer.”

“I will alert my best troopers, General,” Drake says. “We will not let them get off landing bay.”

“I doubt they’ll try to enter at the landing bay,” Kylo Ren says. His voice is distorted by the helmet’s mechanism, but he nevertheless manages to sound annoyed. “They’re too sly for that. Be ready to move at short notice. These men are dangerous. They are not only the best close-combat fighters you will find in the Galaxy, they are also specially trained to build a certain immunity against Force-techniques. Snoke himself selects and trains them. The minute they find a way to board the ship, find me. Don’t let the regular troopers take them on themselves.”

“Aye, General,” Drake replies. He waits for Ren to dismiss him with a wave of his hand before he salutes and leaves to instruct the on-board troops.

Kylo Ren stands straight, keeps his head tilted towards the radar screen for a bit longer, then turns around and walks off the bridge.

“Keep me informed when they come closer,” Hux orders the technician. “They will probably take a few days to collect intel on our ship and search for possible spots for them to break through our defence. They like to be thorough. Maybe we can find a way to lure them right into the garbage compactor. They’d look very appropriate down there.”

He walks back to the generals’ chambers together with Ren.

“It’s been a while since I have seen the Monks,” Kylo Ren says.

“Is there any chance they like us so much they’ll want to join in?” Hux asks.

Ren shakes his head. “Not in a million years. They’re as devoted to Snoke as they can get. We’ll have to secure every weak spot on the exterior.”

“We can keep them alive when we catch them,” Hux says. “Isn’t that on the list of things the Republic demands from us, anyway? No killing of helpless prisoners? Snoke is probably connected to them, let’s give him a taste of the pain that awaits him as soon as we catch up to him.”

“No torture is on the list, too,” Ren reminds him.

“Well, nobody can be perfect.”

They walk silently for a while.

“I saw Rey today,” Ren suddenly says.

Hux turns to him, frowning. “The Jedi girl? How did that happen?”

“Relax, I didn’t sneak up on her or anything. She came into the observatory.”

“What in all of Malachor was she doing there?”

“She said she got lost.”

Of course she did.

“So did you gaze into each other’s starlit eyes and suddenly the whole universe made sense again?”

Kylo Ren tilts his head and Hux would bet his right hand that he’s cocking his eyebrows underneath that helmet.

“Something like that,” he says dryly.

“Did she manage to pull you back into the light with her womanly ways?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what she did.”

“Great. I’ll tell your mother. She’ll be delighted to hear you two got it on in our observatory. You might just have forfeited Phasma’s life but what a small price to pay for true passion.”

“Stop it with the jealousy, will you?” Ren says with irritation in his voice.

Hux stops dead. He glares at Ren. “I’m not jealous.”

“Yes you are, and it’s ludicrous. Why do you feel so threatened by her? You honestly have neither reason nor right to that, you know.”

“I am not feeling threatened.” Hux starts walking again, faster this time. But of course Ren has the longer legs and no problem to keep up. “But isn’t that what you Force-people do? Eventually you’re drawn to your own kind and leave us normal folk behind.”

“My mother married a smuggler,” Ren reminds him.

“What a relief that I’m not a smuggler. Your mother was a princess. She is supposed to marry the scruffy-looking bad boy who saves her from the evil overlord. Who is the prince supposed to marry?”

“I’m not a prince.”

“No, you’re more like a dark angel. Everything you touch eventually burns. You will have to live out your life in solitude.”

“Sounds like paradise compared to a conversation with you,” Ren retorts.

Hux can’t help but grin.

“But listen, you didn’t do anything that might cause her to run to your mother and cry her eyes out, did you?”

“No," Ren says. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“I didn’t even try to lure her to the dark side.”

Hux eyes him, a smile twitching in the corner of his lips. “That’s a first, I think. You’re really going soft, aren’t you?”

 

Eight days later, the Fighter of the Monks draws closer. One of the fleet captains tries to shoot it down, but just as they have predicted, the shiny little machine proves invulnerable.

 

Rey pushes the switch and the lights flicker. For a moment she can feel a barrier going down between her and the world outside the room. Then the mechanism begins to hum, sizzles, and switches itself off again. Rey sighs and rubs the sweat from her forehead. She has sent her mechanics away because they kept distracting her. But now she is officially at the end of her wits.

She takes her wrench and loosens the burnt-out conductor out of its fastenings. She will try a new one. A stronger one. She pushes the door open to get to the rest of her tools and walks right into the tall, dark person coming out of medbay.

“Sorry,” she says before she realizes who it is.

Kylo Ren stares at her without a reaction. He seems completely absent-minded. He is tightly gripping his black mask in his hands.

“What are you doing here?” he finally asks, confused.

“Uhm.” She points towards the door she just exited. “I’m building the room. Remember?”

“Right.” He shakes his head and brushes his long hair out of his face. “Is it working?”

“Almost,” she says. “I can’t really figure out where the problem lies. I think the heat conductor is too weak, but I have tried several strengths now and it’s never enough.”

He still looks like he is working on returning to reality.

“What are you doing here?” she asks, her curiosity getting the best of her.

“Had to discuss something with the chief of staff,” he responds curtly. His answer doesn’t satisfy her at all but his expression makes it clear that this is the most she will get out of him. “Let me see the wires.”

He walks into the room and inspects the panelling. “You can’t connect it so closely to the crystal. Of course it will get fried. You need some kind of isolation, a secondary circuit might work.”

“You’re good at this,” she says, as she follows his advice. “Why didn’t you try building it yourself in the first place?”

“Reasons,” he answers, even more ominously than before. “The more important question is why you didn’t think of that. Have you never built your own lightsaber?”

“No,” she admits. “Luke just gave me his. He says it failed him and now he doesn’t want to use it anymore.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” Kylo Ren mutters. “My uncle always finds something to blame and give up on.”

Rey shoots him a glance. She wants to protest but she also really doesn’t want to be drawn into the whole Skywalker family drama. She closes the panel.

“Shall we try?” she asks. He nods. Rey pushes the switch. The barrier comes down. This time it stays down. Suddenly her connection is lost. There is nothing anymore, no outside world, no flow, no pulse. It makes her realize how strongly she has been feeling connected to the Force and everything it touches since she started her training. She looks at Kylo Ren.

He is standing in the middle of the small room, head tilted back, eyes closed. And then she notices that she can feel him. She can feel his presence, softly, faintly. They are still connected. She can feel the pain she has felt once before, only it has changed. It is sharper than before, but somehow it doesn’t seem as overwhelming anymore. She can feel the darkness. But there’s more. Not everything is darkness. In fact, it doesn’t really feel like darkness at all. Not like the one she felt when Snoke tried to establish contact with her. It doesn’t feel like light, either.

He lowers his head and looks at her.

“This is kind of intense.” he says.

Rey couldn’t agree more. “I’m going to switch it off,” she says.

He nods. She pushes the switch and the barrier vanishes. Things come flowing back to her and she takes a deep breath. This is much better.

“But it worked,” she says. She removes the panel and inspects the circuits. They seem fine. She turns back to Kylo Ren and grins.

He doesn’t smile back. But maybe almost. “It works.”

A nasty howl rises up and echoes through the hallway. It pierces Rey’s ears and she instinctively raises her hands to cover them.

Kylo Ren whirls around and storms out the door. “They’re here,” he says.

“Who’s here?” She has to yell against the noise.

“Snoke’s secret unit. They have been trailing us for days. Seems like they finally found a way in. And they’re close.”

“Who now?”

He doesn’t respond. A Stormtrooper is running towards them.

“They’re right on the level below, General, by the thermal regulation chambers.”

Kylo Ren puts on the mask, then draws out his lightsaber and ignites it. It’s a slightly different design from before. The colour is still red, but the cross-guards are smaller and the flickering is less volatile.

“About time,” he says with a growl. His deep voice assumes a metallic undertone in the mask. “Inform General Hux. They won’t stay long. And take her back to her room,” he adds into Reys direction.

“Hell, no!” she protests and attempts to follow him. “I can fight!”

“Take her back,” he orders again, then strides off.

The Stormtrooper tries to take her arm but she shakes him off. “Don’t touch me!” she bellows. “Just go, find General Hux or whatever it is you want to do.”

She draws her own lightsaber (or Luke’s to be precise) and runs after Kylo Ren. He is fast. She almost trips over the stairs in her attempt not to lose him. She ends up hanging halfway in the air. At least the bridges here have railings. There are several of them, thin metal bridges, leading over huge metal caskets below them. Hot air is rising towards them. Above her head, Rey can see and hear giant turbines whirr. Up there the soft hot wind is neigh-on turning into a storm.

She can see the attackers. They are clad in the most obnoxious shade of yellow and they seem to be completely unarmed. Stormtroopers on the railings above them incessantly fire shots at them, which leaves them completely unbothered. The moment they see Kylo Ren and Rey they attack.

Two of them leap at Rey, coming at her from both sides, edging her onto one of the bridges. She uses her Force-shield to keep one at bay, while she raises her lightsaber to fend off the other. He dodges and lands a kick at her arm that almost makes her drop the weapon. Instead, she goes with the force of the kick, spins around, and Force-throws him against the railing. The second one darts at her and barely escapes her lightsaber. She brings it around and he instinctively raises his arm to block it. Bad idea. The blade cuts through his flesh and bone with ease. She can hear him howl in pain, then she lands a hard kick in his face and snaps his neck. The other one is coming back, more careful now. She doesn’t manage to keep him away entirely with her Force-shield. He seems to have some kind of immunity against it. But after dodging several of his blows she manages to bring him off balance long enough to pierce him with the lightsaber. She stares at him as he dies. She didn’t even know who these people were. Snoke’s secret unit. She is panting heavily. If she hadn’t stopped them they would have killed her.

She looks up. Nobody else is coming after her. Kylo Ren seems to have been their primary target, which makes sense, since this is his ship. Rey runs back to the stable part of the floor and for a moment she considers joining Kylo Ren in his fight against the remaining attackers. Then she sees him and realizes why that might be a bad idea. The Stormtroopers above them have obviously drawn the same conclusion as they have ceased their shooting and instead just watch. Several are coming down and have started encircling the fight without making an attempt to intervene.

They’re five men and another one who is obviously their leader. His armour is flashier than that of the rest, with bracers and shin guards, and also, he is terrifying. Never has Rey seen a living being move with such ferocious speed and strike with such deadly precision. Every strike should leave his victim dead and certainly would, but not Kylo Ren. He keeps the five men away with sheer Force. They attack and miss and one after the other they fall. Once they’ve fallen they don’t stand up again. He is playing them out against each other, she realizes. Meanwhile, their leader lands blow upon blow on Kylo Ren. He slowly edges backwards, blocking each of the blows with his lightsaber which doesn’t seem to harm the attacker. He doesn’t make any attempt to strike back, but even moves that are too fast for Rey’s eyes to see don’t hit him. From Rey’s position it looks like he has built a wall of red light between himself and his attacker. Then, after the last of the five men has fallen, he drops the lightsaber, lifts his hand and the other man is suspended in mid-air. He lets out a howl and tries to hit Kylo Ren, but he can barely move his arms. Then he crashes into the bridge. Rey realizes she has held her breath and releases it.

“I do not intend to kill you,” Kylo Ren says, head lowered towards his attacker, the mask hiding his expression. The man jumps up, darts forward, and is hurled across the bridge. The railing catches him.

From above, a Stormtrooper fires several shots at him and Kylo Ren yanks up his arm. The blasts stop mid-air, quivering in suspension. Ren flicks his wrist and sends them flying against the far off wall.

“Who the hell didn’t listen to me just now?” he roars at the Stormtroopers. “I said I want him alive! And why are the ray shields not working? Get down here, all of you! Take them down to the cells. If even one of them ends up dead I will have you all executed. Somebody check on the shield mechanism. And search the area. Make sure we have apprehended all of them.”

The rest of the Stormtroopers shuffles from the higher level and appears on the stairs opposite those Kylo Ren and Rey came from. They all seem very keen to keep their distance to the still angry Ren. Slowly, Rey comes closer.

“That was amazing,” she says, as Ren picks up his lightsaber, switches it off and reattaches it to his belt. “You didn’t even have to kill them. All the Stormtroopers were completely powerless against them.”

He turns to her, lifts the mask from his face, and gives her a deadly stare. “What are you doing here?” he growls. “You were supposed to return to your chamber.”

She points at the two dead attackers behind her. “You’re welcome.”

“I didn’t ask for your help. This wasn’t your fight.”

“Did you really think I’d miss out on all the fun?”

He spins around and strides off the bridge towards the stairs, mask back in his hand. “You’re not part of this crew. We’re responsible for returning you to the Republic safe and sound. If I allowed even a scratch on you, my mother would never forgive me.”

“I kind of think that ship has left the port when you killed your father,” she says.

He stops dead and she almost bumps into him. She looks up at his face. His lips twitch and the glint in his eyes abruptly seems to have darkened. Suddenly the storm is all around them, burning hot and freezing cold.

She almost wants to say sorry but she doesn’t. She wasn’t the one who killed Han Solo.

“You’re right,” Kylo Ren finally says. “I should let you die just to show her that I haven’t changed.”

He starts walking again, albeit more slowly. Rey doesn’t let him out of her sight.

“You know,” she says tentatively. “She’d still take you back. If you wanted to …”

“I don’t want to go back,” he says. “I really don’t.”

“I feel like at least half of your reason is stubbornness,” she suggests.

They have reached the stairs again. Kylo Ren halts, turns to her and slowly lets his eyes trail over her face.

“The reason is that she couldn’t save me,” he says. “Neither of them could.”

“But here, you think in this place you can be saved?”

His mouth twitches, but this time upward. “It’s a funny thing when you reach the deepest pits of hell. At some point there is no going lower anymore. All that’s left to do is claw your way back up. And when you have somebody down there with you, somebody who has crashed and burned and fallen just as deep as you have, they might just be able to give you the support someone somewhere up there in the heavens cannot. No matter how far you try to reach up your hand, they can’t grasp you and yank you back up. The path out of hell is long and it’s hard and those who aren’t down there with you, well, they simply aren’t close enough to do anything. Most of the time they don’t even see the demons.”

“But you’re strong,” she says. “You’re stronger than anybody I have ever seen. Do you think you will be able to kill Snoke?”

“No.”

She didn’t expect that. “But you’re still going to try?”

“Yes.”

General Hux appears on the stairs, several Stormtroopers trailing behind him.

“Kylo,” he shouts. “What the hell happened down there? We had an attack on the communications system and I just had to shoot dead one of the Monks before he beheaded Mitaka with his bare hands. You know how much I hate saving people.”

Kylo Ren looks at Rey. “You’re just as strong as me, little Jedi,” he says. “You merely haven’t figured out how to use that power properly yet. You’re getting better, though. If there is one person in this Galaxy who can kill Snoke, I think it’s you.”

With those words he turns and walks towards General Hux. “Everything is fine,” he says. “You’re terribly late, though. You missed the exciting part.”

General Hux points his chin at Rey. “What is she doing here? She is not even supposed to be on this floor. Your mum is going to kill me, Kylo. I’m not ready to die for you yet.”

“Relax,” Kylo Ren says. “If she tries to kill you, I’ll beat her to it. You should take her to medical, see if she’s hurt. I’ll have a little chat with our intruders.”

Rey really doesn’t want to come near General Hux. He doesn’t have Kylo Ren’s aura but it’s not hard to see that he doesn’t like her. He gives her a glare, face all hard and angular. There is no friendliness anywhere hidden in his features.

“I have finished the room,” she says to distract him. “It’s working.”

That at least seems to impress him.

“We’ll talk about it later,” he says. “One of the men will take you to medbay.”

“But I’m not hurt,” she protests,

“Still,” he says. “Just let yourself get checked and then we can speak about the room. For now I have to take care of that.” He nods towards the bridge. The Stormtroopers have taken away the prisoners and the dead bodies and are now swarming out, probably to make sure that no one has escaped them.

Reluctantly Rey allows one of the Stormtroopers to take her back to the medical bay.

 

“What took you so long?” Kylo Ren demands, when Hux returns to his chamber a few hours later. He has been pacing the room. Hux can feel the energy stir, waiting for an outlet. With some caution he steps into the room and lets the door slide close behind him.

“We had to sweep the whole ship to make sure there was no one else,” he says. “And we had to take care of the Starfighter. Our mechanics are dismantling it right now. They’re trying to figure out how the defence shield works. Then there was the breach in our security. That was a hassle. Why? Did I miss anything up here?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Ren replies and takes up his pacing again. He seems determined to create a hurricane with the circles he his walking into his own Force. “I was already done with the Monks when you finally decided to show up. They got to the girl, Hux. They attacked her.”

“Yes, I’ve heard about that,” Hux says. “She seems to have handled herself pretty well, though. If you didn’t want her to get hurt, you shouldn’t have brought her into the fight.”

“I didn’t bring her,” Ren snaps. “She followed me.”

“From where?”

“Medbay. I had to talk to Penn, I didn’t consider that she’d still be working next door.”

“Anyway, it doesn’t sound like you had too much trouble,” Hux says. “I’m impressed. Everyone is impressed. You’re the talk of the hour. I came as fast as I could, but they had jammed our communications channels. We had to take care of that first. I had a Stormtrooper run onto the bridge, completely out of breath because he decided to rush all the way from the thermal regulation area to the bridge instead of taking the lift. None of the communicators worked. It was chaos.”

He walks right into Ren’s path to interrupt his pacing. It works. Ren stops dead in front of him. He stares at Hux with an expression that makes Hux expect to be thrown across the room any minute. He stares back without blinking.

Kylo Ren lifts his hand and clenches his fingers into Hux’s uniform. Hux freezes. The buttons pop as Ren tears at the uniform with brute strength.

“What are you doing?” he demands. Instead of an answer, Ren lowers his head down on his exposed neck and Hux can feel his mouth on his skin, sucking and biting down on him desperately. Ren takes his hand and draws it between his own legs.

He pulls away. “Stop that, Kylo.”

“Why?” Ren follows him, pulling open his own robes. “You want it. I can feel it, Hux, you’re brimming with the desire to fuck me, so come on, do it.”

“No.”

Ren gets hold of his hands again and presses them onto his own body. Hux can feel himself getting hard. Ren’s moves are growing more frantic. He is tearing at Hux’s clothes, trying to get them off and to pull him towards the bed at the same time.

“Come on, you’re not raping me, I’m saying yes, don’t you hear me, I say yes, so please, please, just…”

Hux takes Ren by the arms to push him back, not very successfully. Ren is stronger than him, after all. “No you don’t,” he says. “I’m not stupid, Kylo, I won’t make that mistake again.”

Kylo Ren lifts his face and Hux recoils a bit from the mask of desperation he sees. “You think you can save me?” Ren snarls. “You can’t save me, you’re just as fucked up as I am.”

“Maybe I am.”

“So what are you trying to do here, playing the hero? You did it before, what’s the problem? Just fuck me already!”

Hux grabs a fistful of black hair and pulls him down. It isn’t hard to make Ren sink to his knees. He takes a step forward, between Ren’s legs, and pushes him further down. “Fine. Let’s get it on, then. You want me to fuck you, I can do that. How exactly do you want me to do it?” He kneels over him, straddling the slender waist between his legs. “You’ll have to tell me, so I know exactly how hard to punish you. Do you want me to make it hurt? Because you know I can do that.” Hux tears away the black robes. He gets a hold of the jacket underneath, zips it down, and pushes his hand under Ren’s shirt, against his stomach. He can feel the panting now, jolting violently through his body. “You want me to fuck you raw? Make sure you won’t be able to walk for the next three days, reduce you to screams and tears and blood? I can do that.” His fist closes around Ren’s belt. “I can do anything you want me to do to you. Tie you up, tear you apart, shove my cock into your throat until I make you choke and gag and...”

“Stop!”

Hux raises both eyebrows and withdraws his hands. “Oh?”

He stands up and sinks into the chair next to the desk. He stares down at Kylo Ren who is lying stretched out on his floor, arms covering his face. His whole body is shaking while he is trying to choke down his sobs.

“Come to our senses, have we?” Hux asks. He will have to take care of the very disappointed growl from his groin later, once again, by himself. “We’ve been there before. Stop trying to punish yourself for whatever it is you think deserves punishment.”

“I’m not punishing myself.” His crying is muffled by his arms, but it is still audible enough.

“Sure you are. That’s all you ever do. Punish yourself to make sure nobody else is able to hurt you.” Hux eases out of the chair and sits down next to Ren. He stretches out one hand and gently rakes it through the black curls emerging from underneath Ren’s arms. Slowly, Ren turns towards him and pulls himself up, until he can lower his head against Hux’s chest. Hux rests his chin onto the cascades of feathery soft hair and breathes in its scent. It’s been too long.

“Stop trying to save me.” Slender fingers clench his shirt until they’re shaking. The wet fabric rubs against Hux’s chest.

“Stop doing stupid things and I don’t have to. Is it the girl?”

Ren freezes in his arms. “What makes you say that?”

“She tends to get you upset. She is done, by the way, she’ll leave tomorrow anyway. I don’t really get what’s so upsetting to you, though. You smashed the Monks. She was in complete awe, wouldn’t shut up about you. It’s not like you had to have your ass saved by her or anything.”

“She is so much light,” Ren whispers. “It’s painful. I feel like I am getting burned alive. I can never win against her.”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to. You don’t have to fight her.”

“I have to fight her every time I see her. Or else she eradicates me. I am weak, Hux, I am so fucking weak.”

“No, you’re not. Stop saying that. You made it until here, nobody else could have done that.”

“She has everything. She has the light, she has a family, she has a future. I have nothing.”

“Wow,” Hux says, inhaling sharply. “Way to deal a blow to a man’s ego.”

“Yes, well.” Ren starts fidgeting and Hux releases his grip. Ren pulls away, wiping his own face frantically. Hux stands up and fetches a towel. He kneels back in front of Ren to offer him the towel. Ren accepts it and takes a few deep breaths. “You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t. You have half the Galaxy kneeling before your feet, Kylo. You got here by yourself. Everything you’ve accomplished, that was you.”

“They kneel because they fear me. They don’t do it because they love me.”

Silence hangs between them heavily as Hux stares down onto the blotchy face with the deep red scar and the heavy lids. His lashes are glistening with tiny diamonds of tears, and his red lips are drawn between his teeth to stop them from quivering.

“What do you want me to say?” he asks, feeling the sudden urge to stand up. His knee begins to ache.

“Nothing.” Ren lifts his head, a pleading look on his face. “Nothing, you don’t have to say anything. I just want to stop thinking for a while. Can’t you just… make it stop for a while?”

“There are simpler ways to accomplish that, you know,” Hux says.

“I’m not getting drunk with you, Hux. That’s your issue not mine.”

“I don’t have an issue with drinking.”

“You burn through your scotch faster than through the budget for super weapons.”

Hux flinches. Of course he has to bring up the Starkiller. Leave it to Kylo bloody Ren to lash out the minute he is done sitting on the floor, sobbing like a child. He stands up.

“You’re getting nothing of my scotch. Tell me of the Monks. You talked to them, didn’t you? Come on.” He drops himself onto one of the chairs at his desk and motions his hand towards the other one. Reluctantly Kylo Ren takes the seat.

“They were dead when I got there,” he says. He is still holding on to the towel, rubbing it against his eyes from time to time. “I can’t even blame it on the guards. They poisoned themselves the minute I let them out of sight. It’s one of Snoke's favourite tricks. He knows that even with their special training the Monks will not be able to withstand my mind-probing forever. So he makes sure they get disposed of the moment their being alive poses a risk for him. They can’t give us anything anymore.”

“We should have foreseen that.” Hux rubs his forehead. Dealing with the aftermath of the assassins’ attack was exhausting enough, and now all they have left are nine corpses who won’t talk.

“I know. I shouldn’t have let them out of my sight. I'm pretty pissed at myself right now.”

Hux looks up. Ren has grabbed a fistful of his own hair, burrowing his head into his palm. “Don’t,” he says. “It doesn’t matter. At least they’re dealt with. The girl was pretty ruthless though. I’ve seen the bodies, one was sliced right up.”

Ren’s eyes flicker up and he gives one of his little almost-smiles. “She told you she could take care of herself.”

“I am almost inclined to believe her now. You were still better.”

Ren shakes his head. “I just had many more years of training. She’s unpolished and still a bit rough around the edges.”

“You are, too. It’s what makes you so fascinating.” Hux stands up. “Enough talking for today. Come down to the assembly hall. They’re showing the Jungle Book.”

Ren glances up and gives him a look that clearly questions Hux’s sanity. “They’re showing vids in the assembly hall?” he asks incredulously. “On the huge screen that you use to project your own disgusting face during all your boring speeches?”

“Yes, that one exactly,” Hux replies and chooses to ignore the insults. “It’s the old one, too, the one that looks like it has been drawn by a child.”

Ren shakes his head. “You want to take me to the theatre?”

“I’m not taking you, you’re just going. Everyone is. Seriously, have you never been there before? Even Khal goes there. Come on, Mowgli, get a whiff of civilization from time to time.”

He turns towards the door, stops, and looks back at Ren. “And Kylo, just to make that absolutely clear. I do not fear you.”

Chapter Text

Finn’s face appears on the communicator screen. He breaks into a broad smile as soon as he sees Rey.

“You’re still alive! I’d have expected the Order to have eaten you by now.”

“Of course I’m still alive,” Rey replies. “How are things going over there?”

“Oh, you know, same old, same old. Poe has taken the X-Wing out for a spin. He has been terribly bored since you’ve been deployed on that ship and we’re just sitting here, waiting. I think he half wishes you’d tell him we have to rescue you again, just so he has something to keep him busy.”

“Well, I am sorry to disappoint.”

Finn shakes his head, still grinning. “Maybe you’re just saying that because they’re forcing you to. If that’s the case, blink SOS in Morse code.”

“Nobody is forcing me to do anything, Finn.”

“Forcing then, with a capital F. Did Kylo Ren brainwash you already?”

She shrugs. “I don’t think he even wants to. He seems pretty occupied with his own stuff right now.”

“That’s just diversion. Don’t fall for it. Have you seen him, though? I thought you weren’t supposed to.”

“Accidentally, yes. I have watched him fight. He is wicked good.”

Finn lifts a can with something fizzy to his mouth and takes a sip. “Your eyes are glowing. That’s the dark side, I think. Are you in love already?”

“I’m not in love. He’s just so… good.”

“You have beaten him three times in the past. Admittedly, the first time Chewie and I helped and the second time you had Luke by your side and the third time Poe and I saved your butt, but…”

“But that’s just the thing,” Rey says and she can’t contain the excitement in her voice. “That was pure luck each time. Today I have seen what he can do when he is really one hundred percent into the fight.” She hesitates. What she plans say next is not going to amuse Finn, or anyone else for that matter. “And I think – well, I know – that he knows more about Snoke than anyone else. Finn, I think I could learn a lot from him.”

Finn frowns and immediately a suspicious glint creeps into his eyes. “What are you trying to tell me?”

Rey squares her shoulders. They will protest, but she is determined to get her way in this. “I am not yet coming home, Finn. I want to stay a while longer, see what I can learn here.”

He stares at her in pure disbelief. “You’re not serious! He has gotten to you, hasn’t he?! What has he promised you, unlimited power? The souls of one hundred virgins? Don’t take it, Rey, whatever he’s promised you, it’s a lie!”

“He hasn’t promised me anything. In fact, he doesn’t even know what I want to do. I haven’t asked him yet. I don’t think he cares much for having me around, but right now we are working towards the same goal and I think we might have a better shot at success if we work together than if we both go separate ways.”

“There is no working together here, Rey! He is evil. He is dark and cruel and he tortured you, for Edge’s sake!”

“I know. Things are different now.”

“He killed Han Solo. Have you forgotten that already? You watched him kill his own father. What makes you think he’d go easy on you?”

“I don’t want him to go easy on me,” Rey says. She clenches her jaw. She knows she doesn’t have much of an argument. She also knows that she has to trust her guts in this. “Listen, I can defend myself. And I’m not going to go dark side on you. I’m not a fool, I know this is risky. But right now I have hit a wall in my training with Luke and you know that. I have been feeling frustrated for months. Maybe I’ll find a way to change that here.”

Finn shakes his head. He really isn’t pleased with her words. “You sound pretty dark side to me right now.”

“Stop that,” she snaps. “This is how far your trust in me goes? I am gone for a few days and suddenly I can’t judge right from wrong anymore?”

But Finn has stopped paying attention to her. “There is Luke. Luke, come here, listen to this! Your Padawan has completely lost her mind.”

Finn scoots over and Luke Skywalker’s face appears. Rey has to repeat everything she has just said. He gets even angrier than Finn. She lists all her arguments again. He isn’t really interested. Things are becoming very frustrating, especially as Rey slowly gets the feeling that they both stopped actually listening to her after they have heard her plan.

“This isn’t up for discussion,” Luke finally says. “You’re coming back home. I will get over there myself and drag you back if that’s what is necessary. We agreed, we let you build the mechanism and you take the blueprints back with you. We never agreed to your ridiculous plan to train with that psychopath.”

“He is not a psychopath,” Rey replies. She knows she has raised her voice. She knows she is not supposed to. Right now she doesn’t care.

“He has killed every one of my Padawans. He has killed countless other people. He is dangerous!”

“Doesn’t make him a psychopath. But that’s not the point. The point is that this is something I want to do. I really, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart think that this is important for me. And I’ll be careful. I won’t let myself get tricked. I’ll stay me. I am strong enough to do this.”

“How can you even suggest this? You know what he has done! What he has done to you, or have you already forgotten that?”

“No, I haven’t,” Rey says, frowning. “And I won’t. But that’s not the person I have met here anymore. I can sense it, you taught me that. He is changing, shouldn’t you welcome that?”

“It’s too late, Rey. Even if you’re right, his changes come too late. You are young, you haven’t witnessed the atrocities the First Order has committed. You cannot judge this situation the same way I can.”

“You say that like it's a bad thing. You only see what has happened. I am still able to see what is possible to happen. You guys were the ones who decided on the alliance, now you will have to accept that we might have to deal with these people. Nobody tells General Leia that she should stay away from General Hux.”

“This is different. Leia knows how to take care of herself. He will brainwash you. You won’t even realize it until it’s too late. You can shield your mind as much as you want, Rey, but eventually he is going to get to you. Do you think the other Padawans at my school were complete idiots? All of them were skilled Force-sensitives and still he murdered them without even breaking a sweat. He is going to do the same to you.”

“He is not. He said so himself. I am just as strong as he is.”

“He is fooling you. He wasn’t even supposed to speak to you and now listen to yourself, repeating his words as though he has already put you in his thrall. You can’t win this, Rey, this can only end badly.”

Something inside her snaps. “You know, Luke,” she says coldly, “If you put the same trust and confidence into Ben that you are putting in me right now, I kind of understand why you didn’t manage to reach him anymore.”

There are things she just shouldn’t say. Times when she knows she should shut her mouth and get away and wait until her anger has receded enough for her to know that she is going too far. This was one of those times. But the damage is done and right now she is still too agitated to really care.

After that Luke Skywalker doesn’t have much more to say to her. Once he has left the room, she turns back to Finn.

“That was cold, Rey,” he says.

“I know. And I’m sorry. I’ll apologize next time. Look, I don’t want you guys to be all mad at me. And I don’t want you to worry. I think it’s great that you worry, it’s really sweet of you. So how about we meet up? Twice a week, on Myrkr. Neutral zone. You can scan me for dark side material, if that’s possible, and you can tell me everything you have done and I’ll tell you everything that’s been going on here. As long as I come you’ll know I am still me. And if one day I’m staying away you’ll know it’s time for you to send the rescue mission.”

“This isn’t funny, Rey,” Finn says, still scowling. “We should be coming right now. Stay with you on that ship and make sure no one lays a finger on you, especially not Kylo Ren.”

Rey shakes her head. “General Leia needs you guys. Listen, Finn, I haven’t even talked to Kylo Ren yet. Maybe he doesn’t want me. Maybe he’ll say no. If he does, I’ll be home tomorrow. If I stay, we’ll do the meet-ups. Every week, twice a week.”

Finn lets out an exasperated sigh and she knows she has won. “If you go all dark mistress on us,” he says, “I’ll personally drag your ass back to the light side.”

Rey grins. “I know.”

 

Kylo Ren says no. Even though Rey knows that has technically been a possibility it still leaves her speechless.

“Why?”

“Because I say no.”

“But why?”

“Stop asking the same question again and again. Why do you want to train with me? I can’t imagine any one of your Resistance friends would agree to that and quite right so. There is nothing you can gain from this. And more importantly, there is nothing I can gain.”

They are sitting in the safe room, switched off. Rey knows she is supposed to take the ship back to the Resistance. It is already waiting for her. The staff has cleared out her chamber this morning.

“Of course there are things you can gain,” she says. “And more importantly, me. I need a teacher.”

“You have a teacher. You told me so yourself.”

“I know I did. But the truth is, I’ve been making little to no progress recently. I don’t know what it is, I think Luke’s and my methods may just be too different. I feel like you and me could be more on the same page.”

“Careful. That’s dark side talk.”

“No it’s not. I think you’re not as dark as you’d like me to believe and you know it.” His eyes flash and his face twitches lightly. “This has nothing to do with the dark or the light side. More with the way you handle the Force. I want to learn that. I’ve seen you control your emotions perfectly.”

“The fact that you think that alone shows how little you understand of the whole matter.”

“Well, at least while you fight. You seem perfectly Jedi while you fight.”

He frowns at this. “It’s called channelling. It’s not Jedi, not at all. It’s basic coping techniques. When you feel as much anger inside you as I do, it’s something you learn sooner or later.”

Rey shrugs. “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad to me. Besides, right now we want the same thing. You want Snoke dead. I want Snoke dead. You told me yourself, you’re afraid you can’t beat him. You also told me I could beat him. Well, right now I am not sure I could. But together…”

“There is no together. I’ve told you before, we are not on the same side. What if I bring you over to the dark side? Are you willing to risk that?”

“Well, you’ve forsaken Snoke… talk about channeling your anger… you refuse to kill unarmed foes… I’m just saying, if you want to show me the lure of the dark side, I think you might want to try a bit harder.”

Judging from the shadow across his face he really doesn’t like that. “What are you trying to say? You do understand that I cannot teach you any more about the light side than my uncle. What is it that you seek?”

She furrows her brows. Chews on her lip while she thinks about that. Lifts a tentative shoulder and drops it again. “Balance maybe?”

That earns her a groan.

She tries another way. “Look. I’ll be honest here, we know close to nothing about Snoke. You have met him. You have trained under him. If there is one person in the Galaxy who can prepare me to fight him, it’s you. Luke can’t do that. Please, won’t you at least consider it?”

Kylo Ren is still shaking his head, but he doesn’t look so dead set anymore. If Rey had to choose, she’d say he looks pained. “This is nonsense. Have you talked to my mother about this?”

“I have talked to Luke and Finn. That should be enough.”

“Neither of them are a general. They can’t make that kind of decision.”

“Neither can General Leia,” Rey says, slightly irritated. “Eventually this is my decision. And I have made it. The one who has to agree to this is you, not Luke and not even General Leia.”

Kylo Ren gives her a long, thoughtful look. “Talk to my mother.”

“Why, are you afraid of her? Luke will tell her what I have decided. Besides, this is on me. You don’t have to be afraid of anything.”

“I am not afraid. But I am beginning to think you don’t want to talk to her, because you know she’ll disapprove. Are you trying to sidestep her by making Uncle Luke take the fall for you?”

Rey can’t help but grin. “Maybe a little.”

Kylo Ren sighs. “I have tried that once before. Of course, I was eight and trying to sneak out with Chewie after midnight to count the stars. You’re too old to do this.”

“Which means I am old enough to make my own decisions. Come on, let’s at least try. One session, pure Force, no lightsabers, no other weapons. See how it goes.”

It takes a while but eventually she knows she has persuaded him. He doesn’t look happy about it but Rey doesn’t care. After all the shit he has put her through she feels she has a right to be selfish about this.

He takes her down to the training area and shows her into a room encased in heavy durosteel panels.

“It’s not Force-blocking,” he says. “But it’s sturdy. We probably won’t break anything.”

Fighting without weapons is weird. She has done it with Luke before, simply using the flow of the Force, to not let him reach her and to try and push him into defence. It didn’t work well and when they begin, she quickly feels like it is going down the same path. But then she gets used to the sensation of Kylo Ren’s movements and things begin to change. Contrary to Luke he doesn’t go easy on her. He has trapped her into a corner in a matter of minutes, but that’s when she realizes, fighting back is fun. It doesn’t feel stiff or awkward like it did before. She can get into the fight and she has at least as much power as him. She also quickly detects that he is much, much better at controlling it. He knows exactly what he is doing, he doesn’t waste too much power on small strikes and he seems to be acutely aware of every movement she makes.

If this were serious she knows she’d be done for already. But no matter how hard Kylo Ren is on her he obviously has no intention of hurting her. Within an hour she is completely out of breath and too tired to even lift her arm. She can see that he is sweating as well, but he doesn’t seem nearly as exhausted as her.

Finally, he relents. “Fascinating. You are immensely powerful, but you still have a lot to learn. There is so much untapped potential, it’s a real shame.”

“That’s exactly what I’ve been talking about,” Rey pants. She follows him out of the training room and accepts the can of water he offers her. “You can teach me. Make me as good as you are.”

He squints at her. “What’s in it for me?”

“I’ll help you kill Snoke.”

For quite a while he doesn’t say anything. But he seems to ponder everything she has been saying and showing him so far. Eventually he shakes his head, but it’s more of a giving in than a refusal. “Fine. Let’s try it. I’ll train with you. Maybe it’ll actually help.”

Rey doesn’t even try to suppress her broad grin. “Yes. Thank you. Can I get a room again?”

Ren sighs. “Are you satisfied with the one you had before? It is quite far from the training area.”

Rey grimaces. “Sure. I mean, it’s fine.”

He gives her a look. “What is it?”

“Nothing, just… well, the air ventilation system has been acting up. Normally I’d fix it myself, but they’re out of filters and they say the order has been delayed. There are only guys in the rooms next to mine and to be honest, I am not sure whether they value the use of the refreshers too much.”

He raises his eyebrows. “That bad?”

“It could be better. But I’ve had worse, too. I’ll live.”

“You don’t have to move back in there, you know,” he says and leads her to one of the lifts. “There is no need for you to just endure the stench of ten unwashed mechanics for the next few weeks.”

“Okay…?”

“Come along, you can have my rooms. I don’t use them anyway.”

He takes her three lift rides (upwards and sideways) to the quarters of the higher ranking officers.

“Why don’t you use your rooms?” she eventually asks. “Don’t you need a place to sleep?”

“I am sleeping in the adjoining room,” he responds. “If you need anything, just come knock.”

They walk the long hallway until Kylo Ren stops at the last door. Rey casts a curious glance at the door next to it when she passes it.

“Those are General Hux’s quarters,” she says.

“Yes.”

She frowns. “You’re sleeping in General Hux’s room?”

“Yes.”

“But why… oh. Oh. Okay. I understand.”

“You don’t understand anything.”

“No I do, I mean, that’s perfectly okay. I have been around Finn and Poe for quite a while, you know. I do know about this stuff.”

“You don’t know anything,” he says and opens the door. “Come on, I have to grant you access to the room.”

“Typing pattern recognition software,” she says as she follows him into the room and then stops dead as she sees the interior. It is huge. Sure, it’s tiny for a room in a normal house, but for a star ship it is the largest room she has ever seen. It doesn’t just have a plank bed and a closet and a shower (not a sonic refresher, but an actual shower with water), but also a large desk and an entire wall with a cutting edge data system.

Kylo Ren sits down in front of it and fires it up. It makes a lot of whirring sounds and the screens start blinking. He activates the database for the typing patterns, then turns to her.

“All right, what do I have to do?” she asks.

“Just type something in here so it can develop an algorithm for your pattern.”

“How long do I have to type?”

“Until it tells you to stop.”

He stands up and Rey sits down. When she is done, she turns to him. “Do you safe the stuff people type in there?”

He tenses. “What makes you think that?”

“Because that’s totally what I would do. Just imagine the kinds of secrets you could find out when everybody just types the first thing that comes to their mind.”

He gives her a long, taxing look. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you would make a brilliant villain.”

Rey grins. “Oh, I know.”

 

“She wants to what now?” Hux takes off his coat and hangs it in the closet. Then he drops himself onto the chair next to Kylo Ren and reaches for the scotch. “Stay here and train with you? For how long?”

“We haven’t decided that, yet,” Ren says quietly. He is working on the most recent reports from the southern planets. Ever since he has returned from there he is anxious to get the shipment routes to work smoothly. “Probably until we’re ready to face Snoke.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Hux leans toward Ren, frowning. He checks the cuff around Ren’s wrist. It is turned to black. Still, he doesn’t like what he is hearing. “It could take months. Yesterday after you encountered her I had you on my floor sobbing. Is this what’s going to happen every day now?”

Ren shakes his head. “I will be fine. Fighting her properly might actually help.”

“What will you do if you accidentally hurt her? You were the one who wanted to do the alliance talks with the Republic. Now you’re risking everything, just to train with that girl?”

Ren clenches his jaw. He lays down the datapad to look at Hux. “I didn’t ask her to. She talked me into it. You’ll have to work it out with her, not me.”

Hux groans. “This sounds like a lot of trouble. What did your mother say to this?”

“Nothing.”

“Now, see, I refuse to believe that.”

“Rey hasn’t talked to her yet. She has talked to my uncle.”

Hux shakes his head. He lifts his glass and drains it completely. His left arm rests in the table surface. It has been getting stiffer lately. “This won’t do. I’ll have to talk to General Organa about this. Phasma won’t be pleased. She already hates it over there. I have promised her that she can return today, now I have to tell her that her stay has been extended indefinitely. I don’t like this one bit, Kylo. Are you sure this is worth it?”

“No,” Kylo Ren admits. He lowers his eyes and bats his lids. Impossible to stay angry at. “I am not sure about anything. But I have to be free of Snoke one day. Once he is dead, maybe the pain will lessen. Maybe everything will become clearer. I have to believe things will get better, Hux, otherwise…” He doesn’t finish the sentence. His slender fingers rub his wrist, play with the cuff.

“Fine,” Hux says. He pours himself more scotch. “One day you’ll be the death of me. I’ll talk to General Organa. And to Phasma. If you think you can handle it…”

“I will,” Ren says. “I have to.” He ventures a half-smile. “It’s kind of my punishment, isn’t it? The people that I need the most right now are the people that are capable of doing the worst to me.”

“I have a feeling that includes me,” Hux says.

“Naturally. You’re topping both lists.”

“Shouldn’t Snoke be topping your do-the-worst-to-you-list?”

“Maybe. But he’s not the one making me feel the best and the worst at the same time.”

Ren glances up and holds Hux’s gaze for a second, before he returns to his reports. “It’s the third intermediate base,” he mumbles. “They’re having issues with the clearing process, but that’s automated. Maybe they're just incompetent. I should replace all of them.”

Hux stands up. “You do that, pet. I’ll be in the conference room. Is there anything you want me to tell your mum?”

Kylo Ren shakes his head. “I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to hear from me.”

He is wrong, of course, Hux thinks as he walks to the lift. The moment he decides to speak with her again she will welcome him back, regardless of anything that has happened between them before. Then again, this is none of Hux’s business and he will make sure not to get dragged into the issues between mother and son.

General Organa does not seem surprised to hear from him.

“My brother has informed me of Rey’s decision,” she says, giving him a slightly exasperated look. “He is confounded as to what has possessed her to choose Kylo Ren as her teacher. Maybe you can enlighten us, General.”

“I wish I could,” Hux replies. “I am just as flabbergasted as you are. The girl is as much a mystery to me as she is to you.”

“You promised me you would make sure those two never met.”

“And I held promise as far as it was in my powers to do so,” Hux defends himself. “But eventually, this is still just a ship and unintended meetings happen. Now if there is anything you would like me to do to help you feel more at ease…”

General Organa sighs. “I am afraid I can control Rey as little as you do, General. She does have a mind of her own. Her friends tell me that she has expressed her wish to meet with them twice a week on Myrkr. I expect you to provide for her transport and ensure her safety the entire time.”

“As you wish,” Hux says. “I hope you’re not fed up with Admiral Phasma yet.”

“I don’t think she enjoys city life much, but she will manage.”

Hux nods. He hesitates. It is not hard to see the worry in Leia Organa’s face. She will not tolerate one bad blow against the girl and she is clearly unsatisfied with the situation.

“I should let you know that he does not intend to hurt her,” he finally says. General Organa frowns at him. “I don’t think he even could. This is harder on him than it is on her. Whether you believe it or not, General Organa, your son is not lost to the dark side. He is merely very, very lost.”

“And you think Rey can help him find his way again?”

“No. I think he will be able to do that all on his own. He just doesn’t believe that yet. Having someone by his side who is strong enough to fight Snoke might just give him the support he needs. Because this might come as a surprise to you, General, but Kylo Ren’s worst enemy – apart from himself, but that goes without saying – has never been you or the Republic. It has always been Snoke and the moment he manages to finally free himself of him… well, that might just be the moment you will get your son back.”

Leia Organa shakes her head. Her mouth is a thin line. “What is your gain in all this, General Hux? You have bet on Kylo Ren the ruthless killer to help you achieve your goals. If you allow him to turn his back on the dark side and return to the light… how does that further your cause?”

“It doesn’t,” Hux replies. “Then again, I do not believe in the light and the dark side. Those are nothing but children’s excuses. I have nothing whatsoever to gain from this. But I will not lose anything, either. Whether you like it or not, I am the person who has seen the most of your son in these last few years. And even for someone like me, who has witnessed and caused his share of cruelty in the Galaxy, there is only so much suffering I can watch a person endure. This will have to end eventually. One way or another, Kylo Ren has to go.”

 

The negotiations drag on. Neither side is satisfied with the progress. Naturally, the New Republic demands reparations for the planets destroyed by the Starkiller and naturally Hux refuses. For quite a while their main issue becomes the distinction between the First and the Last Order, because, as Hux doesn’t tire of pointing out, technically the Starkiller Base was built by the First Order, which is just as great an adversary to the Last Order as it is to the New Republic and the Resistance.

General Organa will have none of that.

“It was still you, General Hux, who built the Starkiller to begin with. You will have to answer to the lives lost. You have eradicated several entire civilizations, not to mention indigenous races.”

“I was following orders,” Hux replies. “If you want the one responsible for those deaths, you will have to find the Supreme Commander.”

“You cannot simply deny your entire responsibility in that matter. The New Republic will need reparations from you. One of our capitals was destroyed. Cultural heritage that will be lost forever. And on top of that the obliteration of two entire star systems.”

Eventually they decide to postpone the reparation demands for the time after Snoke’s defeat, because the Resistance detects a signal of Snoke’s whereabouts deep inside the Unknown Regions.

They begin to scan the Regions which soon proves to be a tremendous task. The negotiations turn to troop allocations. Neither side is willing to reveal too much information on their deployment plans. Their debates drag on.

Luke Skywalker has stopped participating in their meetings. He is leading the reconnaissance units in the Unknown Regions, trying to locate Snoke by the Force-signals both Rey and Kylo Ren swear are getting stronger each day. Neither Hux nor Khal have failed to notice that the Jedi has been far from content with their alliance. Clearly he believes his sister is making a grave mistake in colluding with the Last Order and sometimes Hux can’t help but wonder whether he might be right. Once they have established the actual alliance, the war will be over, at least between the New Republic and the Last Order. They will have to pay reparations which won’t come cheap. In return, the New Republic will have to cede a large part of the Galaxy to their government. A government that has not yet been properly established, as Kylo Ren likes to remind Hux. It will be up to them whether that peace will be lasting, but it is clear already that there will be great opposition to these steps.

Many people in the Republic think the appeasement politics of the Senate are the wrong approach. Most fighters in the Resistance think continuing the war would be the better solution. Luke Skywalker himself thinks that allowing the Last Order to exist will open up the Galaxy to more darkness. Hux, finally aware of the fact that many of his officers do not believe this war is worth fighting on, still dreams of extinguishing the New Republic government once and for all. He doesn’t like the rules they impose on their acts of war and from what he hears of Phasma at their weekly holo-conferences, she doesn’t approve, either. But Kylo Ren and Khal insist they abide to the demands made by the Senate of the New Republic (and that have to be followed by the Resistance now as well, which they don’t welcome, either). Since they can afford to go easy on the First Order troops remaining in the known Galaxy for now, Hux has decided to let Ren have his way, comforting himself with the knowledge that they will dump all those regulations the minute they take up arms against the Resistance again. If he can ever convince his wayward co-general to agree to that.

“Sometimes I think it is mainly Kylo Ren and you, General, that make this alliance even happen,” he mentions to General Organa one evening as they are sitting on the terrace of the conference hotel, sipping beer and scotch. “Maybe you should simply come together, the two of you, and settle this once and for all.”

It has become a thing, he isn’t even sure why. Visiting the bar after the meeting has ended, sitting on the terrace, mainly to relax a bit before returning to their ships and to enjoy the view. They rarely talk about anything important. They avoid the topics of the negotiation talks and they usually make every effort to steer clear of mentioning Kylo Ren. But today has been an exhausting day with hours upon hours of fruitless discussions and right now Hux doesn’t care anymore.

“Tell that to my son, General Hux. He is the one refusing to see me.” She looks tired. He knows he does, too.

“I have tried telling him that, believe me. He is as stubborn as a zabrak. Where does he get that from, anyway? You? His father? His grandfather?”

“Both of us, I presume,” she replies. “Han and me. We should have compromised more. There would probably have been much better communication in our family if we had been willing to concede to each other all the times it didn’t even matter. What of his grandfather, I really can’t tell you that. I have never had the pleasure of getting to know my father properly. All for the best, I believe.”

It is a painful subject to her, Hux knows that. Yet, at the same time, she doesn’t seem too eager to change it. After years of silence and nothing but terrible news, hearing some mundane bits of info on her son must come as a relief to her.

Easy enough to provide. “He has your smile, you know. Although I must admit, I haven’t seen you display it very often.”

“I didn’t know my son still smiled,” she muses.

“He has taken it up again a while ago. Half-smile, rather.” More of a smirk than a smile, really. “You share it.”

That comment rewards him with one.

“So the thing where he starts eating and then stops after a few bites, to stare down at his food as if it has turned into slime, only to chew on his lip like it’s a proper substitute, how long has he been doing that?”

Leia Organa’s gaze lingers on him. “You watch him that closely, General Hux?”

“I really don’t have much of a choice. If nobody tells him to, he doesn’t eat at all most of the time.”

She frowns. “He doesn’t?”

Hux leans back and takes a sip of his scotch. It is not the best, not even in the top rank. This entire planet seems determined to push all of its tourists towards its beer selection. So far, he has resisted. “Still enough to stay well, I’d say. And enough to keep up his training with Miss Rey.”

“How is that going, by the way?”

“You tell me. She is the one meeting with your troops twice every week. Kylo doesn’t tell me much. He seems happy enough with it, which is more than I have anticipated, to be honest. Nobody has ended up in medbay so far.”

“Rey seems to take it well. I know that my brother is worried, though. She keeps exploring a side of the Force that only leads to destruction.”

“Well, you tried to keep your son away from that side and look how that turned out,” Hux reminds her. “Maybe it is not such a bad thing that she tries to explore her options so she will actually be able to make an informed choice instead of being kept in the dark – the light? – about half the things she could do with her powers.”

General Organa clearly isn’t pleased about his words, but she doesn’t reply. Neither of them says much after that. As the sun begins to set and the winds cool the air down to a chill, they leave the table and part ways.

Chapter Text

Hux awakes first, which is a, well, first. He lies on his sheets for a minute, staring at the closed eyes, shaded by black curls, and the relaxed features opposite him. Kylo Ren’s lips are half open and a little bit of drool has trickled onto the sheet, tempting Hux to lick it up.

Instead he gets up and decides to take a shower. Nothing like a bit of privacy to get rid of the pent up feelings that come with having to share the room with the one person who can get his blood boiling at any time (both in the best and in the worst way). Granted, having Ren happen upon him on his bed wanking, feeling the all too familiar fiery hot gust against his mind, and then being asked “So that’s what you’d have me do, huh?” hasn’t been exactly unpleasant. But the bastard didn’t even offer to assist. Only added: “Your thoughts might be free, your actions are not. Next time I catch you defiling my bed I’ll have you spend the night in mid-air. See how comfortable that is.” (As if it hadn’t been Hux’s bed until a few months ago.) So back to the showers it is.

Afterwards he rubs the ointment the medcenter has provided for him into the joints of his left arm, gets dressed, and intercepts the servant bringing the breakfast at the door before the man can knock.

“I’ll take it,” Hux says, motioning towards the tray the servant is carrying.

The man shakes his head, wide-eyed. He is certain he has made some unforgivable mistake, yet has no idea what it could have been. “Sir I can’t...”

“You’ll rummage around and make noise,” Hux says. “Just give me the damn tray.”

He puts the tray on the table and takes off one of the breakfast sets. He eats the other one while reading through the nightly report Phasma sends up to him each morning.

Finally he picks up the second caf can and shakes it. The heating mechanism that is built into the can sets into motion and heats the caf back up.

Hux sits down on his bed, facing Kylo Ren, takes off the lid and fans the aromatic steam towards Ren.

Brown eyes snap open and focus onto Hux.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Hux says.

Ren pushes himself up and takes the caf can. “What time is it?”

“Fifteen minutes until briefing,” Hux replies. “You might want to get dressed.”

“Fifteen minutes... No, that can’t be right. I overslept!”

“So I noticed,” Hux says.

“I never oversleep! You should have woken me up.”

“Like hell I’ll wake you up when you finally do some actual sleeping. Stop stressing, you’re a general. You can make them wait. I’ll reprimand you in front of the whole room but no one else will dare to complain.”

Ren downs the caf in one go (he’s always been good at swallowing quickly) and jumps out of bed. “I won’t make them wait.”

“That's my shirt you’re wearing,” Hux says.

Ren frowns. “No it’s not. It’s black.”

“I wear black. The whole upper rank wears black. You didn’t invent the wearing of black, Kylo. Look at the tag, I have an H on all my tags.”

Ren pulls the shirt over his head. “Why do you write your initial onto the tag? You’re not in middle school.”

“I have started to ever since you’ve moved in here and keep wearing my damn clothes,” Hux says.

“Fine.” Ren crumples up the shirt. “It’s yours. I’ll put it to laundry.”

“Hell, no. I need it. You have already used every single one of my shirts.”

“I have slept in this. It’s used and sweaty and wrinkled. Just wear one of mine.”

“They’re too long,” Hux says. “I look ridiculous in them.”

Ren shrugs and drops the shirt onto Hux’s bed. “Suit yourself, then.”

He walks over to the closet and opens it. He lifts one arm over his head and the muscles in his shoulders shift. His fingers gently massage his own neck, trailing slowly over each vertebra. His other hand rests on his hip, its heel digging into his slim waist. He takes out his robes and turns around.

“What?” he asks into Hux’s direction as he throws them on.

“Nothing,” Hux replies. They’ll be late for the briefing.

Late in the afternoon Kylo Ren has already returned to their room when Hux comes in. He is leaning against the desk, datapad in his hand, all lean black shades and bold lines.

“No training with the girl tonight?” Hux asks and takes out his scotch.

“She’s out, meeting up with her Resistance friends,” Ren replies. “I think I’ll get down there later anyway. I need to stay in shape.”

“You are in shape,” Hux says. “You’re all shape.”

“Now I have to stay in it,” Ren says with the hint of a smile.

“You’re pushing yourself again.”

“There’s nothing wrong with pushing.” Ren looks up from his datapad. “Mitaka has returned from Delta 51. He has taken the base and deployed one of the units there. That’s it. The First Order is officially done for.”

“And yet they keep attacking our western border,” Hux says. He sits down and pours himself the scotch. They did not bother to send the entire fleet to the outer bases and as it turns out, they didn’t need to. They have taken over all First Order territory in the Galaxy. “There’s still enough of them left to defy us, just not in any of the explored regions. I wonder how many troopers Snoke has hidden away with him.”

“Well, as long as he is not trying to build another super weapon, we can deal with those gangs. I’ve got to hand it to Mitaka, he was pretty low on casualties. Very clean.”

“You were the one who insisted that we don’t result to unnecessary killings.”

Kylo Ren lays down his datapad and faces Hux, eyebrows raised. “And you actually listened to me?”

Hux calmly returns his gaze. “Does it surprise you that much? I don’t have to be a hard-ass all the time. Makes it more effective when I do decide to clamp down on them.”

“Sometimes I can’t decide whether you’re a brilliant strategist or simply don’t care enough to waste any more thoughts on your men,” Ren says and pushes himself off the desk.

“Both,” Hux counters. “Simultaneously.”

Ren walks in front of the mirror and brushes his hand through his hair a few times. Then he ties it up to reveal his neck, white and slender with a mole right below the hairline. It is too white, really, practically begging for bite marks and hard sucking that will leave blood-red spots on the perfect skin. He pushes the last strands of hair behind his ear and lets his hand trail along the scar on his face. He seems completely lost in thought.

“Does it bother you?” Hux asks.

“What?”

“The scar. You could get a proper surgeon to try their luck, you know.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” Ren replies, bringing his face closer to the mirror, fingers still on the scar. “I always felt like my face didn’t look threatening enough.”

“That’s because it didn’t,” Hux says. “In fact, it didn’t look threatening at all. I thought that’s why you wore the helmet. Because you didn’t want people to know that you had the prettiest face in the whole upper rank. Everyone would have been pining after you.”

Ren cocks an eyebrow and turns to Hux. “Is that your way of saying you’ve been pining after me all that time?”

“It really isn’t,” Hux says. “I hated you. Big time. Harry-and-Malfoy-style. I wanted to see you dead so badly. You were such an annoying little ponce, I couldn’t wait to get you off my ship.”

“Thank you,” Ren says sardonically. “That’s mighty sweet of you to say. Now that I come to think of it, the torture and the abuse should have tipped me off.”

“Why do you ask?” Hux asks. “Have you?”

Silence.

Hux looks up at Ren. “Kylo, have you?”

Ren has drawn his bottom lip between his teeth, refusing to meet Hux’s eyes. Hux begins to laugh.

“Well, you effectively ruined it when you raped me,” Ren finally says and Hux suppresses the laugh.

“I guess I can see that.”

“But maybe a little,” Ren confesses. He takes off the robes he doesn’t wear for training and sits down opposite Hux.

Hux shakes his head. He laughs again. “I never would have guessed. You’re terrible at flirting.”

“I wasn’t trying to flirt. I wasn’t trying anything. I just found you... interesting. I guess I’ve always had a thing for gingers.”

“I’m blushing, Kylo, I really am,” Hux says.

“No, you’re not,” Ren says, blushing.

“So you’re telling me I could have totally had you and I ruined it?”

“No, you couldn’t. I still detested you. Besides, you said it yourself, you hated me.”

“Oh, I still would have shagged you, I’m sure.” Hux smirks.

Ren rolls his eyes and stands up. “I’m going. I probably shouldn’t come back.”

“Okay,” Hux says. “You want to take a lock of my beautiful ginger hair with you, pet?”

He doesn't receive an answer.

When Kylo Ren returns from his training session, drenched in sweat, Hux is at his third glass. He doesn't even feel a buzz.

Ren drops his clothes and vanishes into the shower.

“Kylo, pick your damn clothes off the floor,” Hux yells after him. No answer.

Ten minutes later he reappears, towel around his waist, hair still damp. Shiny black curls are clinging to the side of his neck. Little droplets of water glisten in the black trail of hair that points towards his navel and that gets brutally interrupted by the large jagged scar on his abdomen. It’s not the only one. There is the one on his shoulder from the time they ambushed the two Jedi on the island and the one stretching faintly across his chest from the time he tried to throw his life away. Every scar is like an X on a treasure map; kissing it will melt him into docile obedience, biting it will reduce him to mewling helplessness. No use knowing that now, though.

He stoops down, picks up his clothes and shoves them into the laundry chute. He takes a fresh shirt and pants out of the closet and dresses.

Then he turns and walks straight towards Hux sitting at his desk. He stems both hands against the armrests of Hux’s chair and bends forward until his face is mere inches from Hux’s. Scowl and a glare in his eyes. “You’re staring.”

“So what?” Hux replies without moving a muscle. A single droplet of water emerges from one of Ren’s curls and falls onto his lap. “You’re parading in front of me like a wild cat. It’s impossible to concentrate with your constant pacing.”

“Right,” Ren says. He stands up straight and takes a few steps back. “I’m basically a lion just waiting for my prey to turn their back on me. I can feel your gaze through the whole room. You’re undressing me with your eyes. Stop undressing me with your eyes.”

“Yes, Scar.”

Kylo Ren studies him for a while, tongue pushed against his bottom lip, then he says, “Come here.”

“Stop ordering me around,” Hux says as he stands up. He follows Ren’s motions to come closer until they’re separated by no more than hair’s breadth. He can feel Ren’s breath on his face and see the skin on his throat tremble with every beat of his pulse. He smells of soap and laundry detergent und somewhere underneath all that, of Kylo Ren.

Hux lifts his head, enough to see the supple red lips and the light skin on his cheeks, spotted with tiny moles. The skin under his chin shows a slight black hue from where his shaving got sloppy. The red scar still looks painful and seems to beg for somebody to touch it and make it better. They don’t touch, though. That’s the deal.

“I miss it, too, you know,” Ren says almost inaudibly.

“No, you don’t. You hated it.”

“I liked quite a lot of it. I really liked some of it.”

“You said it was bad for you.”

“It was. You can know something is bad for you and still like it, even need it. You and your scotch for instance,” he motions with his head towards the table. “You know it destroys your liver and your brain and yet you drink it.”

“Fine then,” Hux says. “You miss it. But you’re not ready to get back into it. I get it. I’m not saying anything. I’ll wait.”

“It might take years,” Ren says quietly.

“Then I’ll wait years.”

“It might never happen.”

“I’ll deal.” Somehow.

Neither of them moves. They don’t make eye contact, but it’s not uncomfortable. They just stand and breathe and he's close, so close Hux can feel him through the thin layer of air that separates them.

“I might be okay, though,” Ren finally mumbles, “with you holding me.”

“Holding you?”

“Yes. Just – don’t move.”

And slowly, cautiously, Ren lets himself sink against Hux’s shoulders. His head comes to rest against Hux’s neck. His feet take the final step that closes the gap between them. His body leans heavily against Hux’s, touching every inch he can reach. Very carefully, Hux lifts his arms and wraps them around Ren’s hips. The left one doesn’t quite obey him but it’s enough. He turns his head just enough for the cascade of black curls to engulf his mouth and nose.

“Is that okay?” he whispers.

“Yes,” Ren murmurs.

They keep standing there, eyes closed. An iron hook seems to have taken hold of Hux’s guts and draws him into Kylo Ren, yanking painfully at him. He tries to ignore it.

“Hux,” Ren finally mumbles against his neck. “I’m not trying to complain here but you’re getting pretty… excited.”

“So sue me. It’s been a while.”

“Can’t you ... take care of it yourself?”

“Doesn’t help.”

“...okay.”

“Do you want to stop?” he asks, slowly inching away.

Ren grabs his shirt and pulls him back. “No. I don't mind. It’s kind of flattering, isn’t it?”

“Just shut up,” Hux says. He keeps breathing into the silky hair. After a while he asks, “So those things you really liked…”

“Hmm…”

“Care to elaborate on that?”

“It’s not that easy to say,” Ren mutters.

“Why? Because it’s too kinky?”

“No. Because I tried to avoid them.”

“The good things? You’re not making much sense right now.”

“It’s just how it is. The things that got me off the easiest were usually the things that felt the worst. I wasn’t supposed to like it. It wasn’t supposed to feel good. It was supposed to hurt and make me feel like shit. Besides, that’s what made it easiest to shut Snoke out. Sometimes I’d make you angry on purpose so you’d get more violent.”

“You did, huh?”

“Yes,” Ren says and nuzzles his nose against Hux’s neck. “Because when you were in a good mood you’d begin to actually pay attention to how I reacted and become gentler.”

“No way in hell I did that.” He lifts his hand and rakes it through Ren’s hair.

“Oh, but you did. And suddenly having you in me felt really, really good, because truth is you know exactly how to hit the right spots if you want to. Or what you’re doing right now.”

“What? Stroking your hair?”

“Yes. It’s all tingles and it’s soothing. I wasn’t ready for that.”

“You want me to stop now?” Hux mutters into the black curls.

“No. I’m realizing now that getting you to do terrible things to me might not have been the healthiest way to deal with my problems.”

“Right.”

“Yes.”

“So what was the terrible part?” he asks, gently trailing his fingers across Ren’s scalp.

“Hmm. When you tied me up, that was pretty bad.”

“Seriously?” Hux takes a small step back and lifts Kylo Ren’s chin to look at his face. “That was the worst part? You did that with me, too, it was just part of the play.”

“For you maybe,” Ren replies. His heavy lids rest half closed over his eyes that stare somewhere at Hux’s shoulder. “For me it was hell. You had me chained up for weeks when you rescued me from Starkiller Base, tortured me, raped me… Am I making you uncomfortable saying this? Because then I’ll just continue saying it. You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable.”

“You’re making me uncomfortable.”

“Good. And every time you did it again, it brought me back to those moments.”

Hux allows Ren’s head to sink back against his shoulder. “I had no idea.”

“Sure you did. You just didn’t care. I told you I didn’t like it.”

“You never really said no.”

“Because I couldn’t. I really couldn’t.” He shudders. “Part of me needed you to do it again, because then at least I could feel like I regained control.”

“Have I ever told you how messed up you are?”

“I know.” He rubs the palms of both of his hands against Hux’s chest. “I’m messed up as fuck. But it’s not like I deserved any better. After everything I did myself…”

“Don’t say that,” Hux says. “If you deserved that then what about me?” He gently pushes Ren away and frees his shirt from Ren’s fists. “Sit down.”

He goes to his cabinet, takes out a second glass, fills it with scotch, and pushes it towards Kylo Ren. Then he sits down opposite him.

“Tell me.”

Ren stares at the glass in front of him. “Tell you what?”

“Everything.” Hux lifts his own glass to his lips. “The good, the bad and the ugly. Let me have it.”

“I might be too sober for that.”

“That’s what the scotch is for.”

Kylo Ren takes up his glass, takes one sip, and puts it back down. “Everything.”

“Yes.”

 

The pub is small and cramped but Rey doesn’t really care. Neither do Poe and Finn who are waiting for her at one of the small tables. It is already loaded with food, but when Rey drops herself into the spare chair she nevertheless grabs the menu and begins to list her order to the waitress until the waitress starts squirming over the sheer amount of it.

“Did you gain weight?” Poe asks after heaps of dishes have been placed in front of Rey. “You’re eating even more than before. Are they trying to fatten you up, so when they finally devour you, you’re all nice and juicy?”

“Muscle weight, maybe,” Rey retorts with her mouth full of something crisp and surprisingly sour. “I am the one exercising every day. If anything has grown fat it’s your butt, locked in the pilot’s seat all day. Also, try to take one bite from my dishes and you lose your hand.”

Finn snorts. He has one arm firmly locked with Poe’s and keeps snuggling up to him. At least those two appear to be unchanged.

“You’re probably right,” Poe says. “All I’m doing is fly around all the time and risk my life saving the Galaxy from the minions of evil overlords.”

“How’s that going by the way?” Rey asks and bites into a round cake that tastes of oats and nuts und honey.

“Well, to tell you the truth, it’s rather boring. The skirmishes with the First Order have decreased significantly since their bases have vanished and we aren’t allowed in Last Order territories anymore. They still have Fighters left, though. We have had three suicide missions in the last month that almost blew up the base. Those guys aren’t joking around anymore. Finn and I are still flying out every other day to check the routes.”

“The more troublesome issue has become the distinction between the First and the Last Order,” Finn says. Rey offers him one of her cakes and he takes it. Both of them ignore the indignant glare coming from Poe’s direction. “In the last three days alone I had to stop my men from shooting down one of the Last Order ships several times. We try to get them to adhere to our clearance guidelines, but even our own guys are being sloppy with announcing their take-offs and arrivals.”

Rey frowns. “Don’t be the ones to disturb the truce first, Finn. We’re supposed to be the good guys here. Let them do it to make sure we keep the moral high ground.”

“I’m doing my best,” Finn defends himself. “I try to stay alert all the time, but we’re sending more and more units into the Unknown Regions. The remaining men are getting anxious. They don’t want to take any risks. None of them cares that I am the one who has to answer, not only to General Organa, but as of lately to the Senate as well. I feel like I am spending more time down here than up there with my men, trying to appease the Senate.”

“You’re not happy with that, huh?”

Finn grimaces. “It’s the new regulations, they’re too restricting. But they’re trying to make the Last Order adhere to them, so naturally we have to lead by example.”

“Is it that bad? I heard it’s mainly to reduce the number of war crimes committed, like torture and killing prisoners of war, military strikes against civilians and so forth…”

“In theory, yes. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But to me, it mainly means that I am entrapped in a jungle of red tape. The amount of paperwork I have to fill out for every hostile encounter has quadrupled. You’d think I could have one of my men do it, but no, they have to submit their own reports. If I had known commanding the Second Fleet was that much desk work I’d never have accepted the post.”

“You’re doing fine,” Poe cuts in and ruffles his hand through Finn’s short black curls. “Everybody says so. At least you don’t have to answer to that old captain of yours anymore.”

“Phasma,” Finn replies. “She’s an admiral now. And she’s here, which makes it so much more awkward to come down to this planet. Each time I’m here I think I’ll run into her. I really don’t want that. Last time we met I stuffed her into the garbage chute. Rey, isn’t it weird for you to be on board a ship that is filled to the rim with former enemies of yours?”

Rey shrugs. “It’s not that bad. The mechanics are quite nice, you know. They never complain when I visit them and sometimes I help them with their work just for the fun of it. The Stormtroopers don’t really talk to me. I think they have been instructed to stay away. But once one of them thanked me for training with Kylo Ren because it meant that they didn’t have to anymore.”

“Yeah,” Finn says. “I can imagine. He didn’t exactly go easy on us.”

“You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing. Now, General Hux on the other hand I really don’t enjoy being around. I am one hundred percent sure he hates me and has anyone else noticed that he’s a real arsehole? His troops seem anxious around him, too.”

“That’s because they are,” Finn says. “Don’t get me wrong, they all love him. He manages to inspire them like no one else. But everyone is happier when they get to admire him from afar. Each time he’d come down to our quarters you could feel the tension rising. Everybody felt so much more at ease once he was gone.”

“What about Kylo Ren?” Rey asks and stuffs the last piece of a raisin pie into her mouth.

“He never came down there if not for the training. And that certainly wasn’t a blast for us. He really isn’t much of a people person.”

“You tell me,” Rey sighs.

“Still better than Snoke, I suppose. Everybody who has ever been called before him returns shaking and pale, but nobody wants to talk about what happened. I am quite grateful that I wasn’t deployed into the Unknown Regions to search for him.”

Rey leans forward and reaches for the jug with the bubbling green liquid. She remembers the feeling when Snoke contacted her. Several times. When she told Luke he panicked and did everything to shield her from future attempts, but it took her quite a while to shake the feeling of those pale, thin fingers probing inside her mind and his piercing voice whispering ominous things into her ear. “Did they find anything yet?” The liquid almost dissolves her tongue when she chugs it down. Perfect.

Poe shrugs. Finn lowers his eyes onto the table. They look uncomfortable.

Rey sets down the jug. “What is it?”

“We’re not supposed to talk about it,” Finn admits. He scratches his ear. “Because, well, you know…”

She knows. “You don’t trust me.”

“No, we do! Everybody trusts you, Rey, completely.” Finn lifts his head and meets her eyes. She returns a suspicious scowl. “It’s not about trusting you, it’s about trusting him.”

“You think I can’t shield my mind from Kylo Ren?”

“They just don’t want to take any risks, that’s all.”

Rey shakes her head. She tries to push down the irritation rising up her throat. “That’s crazy. They were the ones who insisted on playing nice with the Last Order. The Senate. I wasn’t the one suggesting that, I didn’t even think of that.”

“Yeah, but that’s the Senate,” Poe points out. “You can’t expect them to apply the same standards to you they have for themselves. Besides, are you absolutely sure you can keep him out?”

“Yes,” Rey snaps. “I am absolutely sure. I know how to shield my mind, for Edge’s sake, Luke has taught me time and again. He was terribly anxious about that. Do you really think I’d just let my guard down? I’m shielded all the time. I meditate each day before we start the training and again once we’re done. No one will be able to invade my mind.”

“So you don’t trust him entirely, yet?”

“I don’t trust him as far as I could throw him. Which isn’t very far at the moment. I am not stupid, you know. But I am not afraid, either. I can sense his intentions and if you had felt what I have felt…”

Poe sets both elbows on the table and gives her a broad grin. “Tell us what you have felt, Rey. You know, that dread you feel when his burning eyes lock into yours and he licks his lips as though he has spotted his prey and he has his hands around your neck pretending to choke you but actually caressing you, that’s not fear, that’s arousal.”

Finn spits out his drink. “Stop that, Poe!”

“You know,” Rey says, grateful that she is done eating. “We should introduce a jar and every time Poe says something disgusting we make him pay. At the end of the year we’ll probably have enough credits to buy our own planet.”

Poe doesn’t drop his grin. “Do I have to take it into the bedroom with me?” Finn actually manages to blush deeply.

Rey shakes her head. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about what you do in the bedroom. But what I mean is… he isn’t even trying to get into my mind. I know how it feels when he does and you know it, too, Poe. And it’s more than that. The first time I met him I could sense the fight he was going through. He had this battle of light and darkness raging inside him. It felt so painful. When he killed Han Solo I was certain the darkness had won. But it hadn’t and now… now it feels less and less like a fight, and more as though the light and the darkness within him are ready to make their peace with each other. All he has to do is let them.”

“Well,” Poe says. He leans back and folds his hands behind his head. “In a place of absolute darkness, even the tiniest ray of light might seem as bright as an entire sun.”

Rey snorts. “Who has taught you that pseudo-philosophical blather? I refuse to believe you thought of that yourself.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be philosophical, it was supposed to be a pun. Get it?” Poe wiggles his eyebrows. “Rey of light? Because you’re the light to his darkness and you fill him with so much…”

Finn shoves his elbow in Poe’s side.

“That’s it,” Rey says. “Fifty credits in the disgusting jar.”

“That’s robbery,” Poe protests. “Are you trying to force me into poverty?”

“No, it’s justified,” Finn says. “Fifty credits, now.”

“Wait, you’re siding with her instead of me?”

“Of course I am. I’m disgusted by you.”

Rey leans back and watches the two of them squabble, then snog, then squabble some more. She realizes she has a big smile on her face. She likes it here. She misses spending time with the two of them. She has missed the natural gravity of the planet as well. She has spent most of her life on a planet. The artificial gravity of the star ships still makes her feel uneasy. Each time she returns to the Battlefront from Myrkr she has to deal with several hours of unrest until she becomes used to the feeling and her stomach settles again. She will have to spend a few more hours on this planet just to make sure her stomach is stable enough to manage the transition.

She doesn’t mind, anyway. It’s a beautiful planet. It’s even a beautiful pub, filled with the noises from the other patrons and the kitchen, with the smell of hot food and fizzy beverages, and it is warm and safe and sturdy. Wood instead of metal.

Poe and Finn have made up. They are in each other’s arms again. They can’t spend a minute apart. Poe whispers something in Finn’s ear and both of them start giggling. For a minute it’s not hard for Rey to forget the fight and submerge herself in the untroubled faces of her two boys. Suddenly the desire not to let it end resurfaces. She doesn’t want to leave them. She doesn’t want to go back to the ship without her boys. She wants to see Chewie again and check on BB-8. She wants to talk to General Leia and Luke without a screen separating them.

“How’s Chewie, by the way?” she asks and both turn their attention back to her.

“Okay, I guess.” Finn shrugs. “He is staying with General Organa, as always.”

He has done that a lot since Han Solo died and Rey and Luke have returned from the First Temple. Rey is not sure whether it’s for the General’s sake or his own.

“Especially after the First Order attempted to take Senate members hostage last month,” Poe adds. “He really didn’t like that.”

“Small wonder,” Rey mutters.

She could stay with them, of course. She is not a prisoner. She was the one insisting on the training, not Kylo Ren. She could simply inform him that she has chosen to end her training and return to the Resistance and he wouldn’t even try to object. General Hux would probably cry tears of joy if she left. She could just stay with Finn and Poe right now.

But then she remembers her training from yesterday. She remembers every single stupid mistake she made. Every time she tried to land a hit and suddenly found herself empty-handed because the Force wouldn’t obey her. Every time she pushed forward and the sudden lash made one of the wall panels crack because she had overestimated her own impact. Each time Kylo Ren had sent her to the floor because she had failed to guard her flanks or her back or her feet. She remembers every resolution she has made not to make the same mistakes again. She remembers her frustration when Ren decided to end the training because she couldn’t lift her arms anymore and her lungs were burning.

The feeling of anticipation returns, because tomorrow she won’t be beat. Tomorrow she will be perfect. She can’t leave yet. She can’t return to the Resistance, wait for Luke to return from his trip and face the same old frustration when he tries to teach her patience and becoming one with the Force and strengthening the light inside her, when instead she could have this.

Is that the dark side? Have I already crossed over without noticing? What decides whether I am light or dark anyway? Are there certain requirements I have to meet?

These are the kind of thoughts she can’t let Finn or Poe hear. The wondering, because she doesn’t feel any strong pull, neither to some light nor to some darkness. According to Luke he feels it. According to Kylo Ren it is nearly tearing him apart. She hasn’t felt anything similar to that, ever. All she feels is the constant uncertainty about where the light side of the Force ends and the dark side begins.

Eventually she persuades Finn and Poe to leave the pub for a walk. They stroll along the lake towards the waterfall. They walk through the soft, high grass and pass a patch of flowers with light pink blossoms and bright yellow bells. Trees are whispering above her head. They paint the world in a thousand shades of green and slowly her whole anxiety about the light and the darkness loosens its grip on her, as always when she walks through the forest. Out here it sounds like a child’s nightmare, wondering whether the darkness will catch up to her one day.

Birds are chirping above her head. Something rustles through the shrubs. Rays of sunlight cover the ground in golden patches and Rey is filled with the certainty that she will be okay.

A creature in the lake jumps and lands back in the water with a loud splash. Finn makes a high-pitched noise. Rey grins. For being a former Stormtrooper and the current commander of the Second Resistance Fleet his heart is still gentle like that of a child. Poe points to something in the water and they both aww. Tomorrow they will return to General Organa’s base and return to the fight. Gentle heart and all, Finn would give his life for the Resistance, Rey knows that. He doesn’t hesitate anymore, even though he knows very well that he is risking everything each day. Sometimes she envies him for his conviction that he is one the right path.

Something jumps again. Finn squeals again and Poe laughs. Rey’s heart contracts painfully in her chest. She doesn’t want to see him die. She doesn’t want to see either of them die. The thought of losing them makes her want to grab them both and hold them tight and vanish into the rich forest around them to re-emerge only once the fight is over. She’ll have to be stronger. If she wants to protect her boys she will have to become even stronger. She’ll continue to train with Kylo Ren until nothing and no one can beat her anymore.

I am so done with watching people die in front of my eyes.

Wind comes up, a cool breeze ruffling her hair and rippling the surface of the lake. It breaks into a thousand sparkling pearls of light.

And I think he is, too.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for supper?” Poe asks when they have returned to the star ship port in the evening.

Rey nods. “I’ll eat once I am back on the Battlefront and my stomach has settled.”

“Promise you’ll be careful,” Finn says. He gives her his worried look, soft puppy eyes and a draw on his broad lips. “Don’t let him hurt you.”

“I never let anybody hurt me,” Rey assures him.

“You’re kicking his ass, right?” Poe asks. “Every day in training, you’re making him eat up his stupid Force-tricks that he thinks are so much better than anybody else’s.”

“I am working on it.” Rey grins. “It’s only a matter of time. Oh, that’ll be so much fun. I can’t wait for it.”

 

There is nothing Rey is looking forward to as much as her training each day. Training with Luke Skywalker was a revelation in many ways and has taught her to control and use the Force in ways she would never have deemed possible. But eventually, Luke Skywalker was, well, Luke Skywalker. This is different. For one, Kylo Ren doesn’t hold back. He goes all in, always, which keeps Rey on her toes all the time but also means that her learning curve is shooting upwards steeply into the sky. Secondly, he is unorthodox. Luke would ramble on about the path of the Jedi, about choosing the light and suppressing everything else and never succumbing to any temptation. Kylo Ren doesn’t give a rat’s ass about rules or the ways things have been done in the past. He makes things up as he goes, uses every open spot he can find, and he doesn’t concern himself with the light or darkness. At least not when they’re fighting. Outside their training sessions he seems dead set on his dark-light dichotomy, but once it’s all about kicking Rey’s ass, those ideas go out the viewport. All he cares about is the fight and the more she proves to be his equal the more he seems to enjoy finding a way to beat her.

Finally, there is the connection. It was faint at first and it is not always there, only when they’re really getting into the fight. But sometimes, when nothing in the world counts anymore but the Force flowing through them and the blows, dodges and blocks they use, they both begin to feel it. The fight turns more into a dance, as they sense each other’s movements before they carry them out, and the flow of the Force between them becomes so strong, that Rey begins to experience emotions that she is sure aren’t her own. Mostly they are connected to the fighting: the will to win, the determination, the joy of having an equal opponent. But sometimes other things mingle as well. Loneliness, confusion, anger, pain. The old struggle, not yet ready to give up its grip on him. She doesn’t like feeling them. She doesn’t like feeling empathy towards Kylo Ren. But at the same time they make her begin to understand what is driving him.

There are other things, as well. He knows Snoke exceptionally well, as Rey has predicted. He constantly drops hints about Snoke’s use of the Force and his army. Rey soon learns that Snoke is even more adamant about the polarity of dark and light than Kylo Ren and Luke, but that he is also dead set on his goal of ridding the Galaxy of the New Republic, so much so that nothing else exists in his line of vision. She learns that Snoke, while being the Supreme Commander of the First Order, never gave much thought to the soldiers that weren’t Force-sensitive. They were a means to an end and burning through them wasn’t something he ever spared a second thought for.

The other thing she learns is that Kylo Ren, while being an excellent fighter, is also terribly reckless. He will do anything to use a weak spot to his advantage, even if he risks hurting himself in the process. He will go for dangerous blows just because there is a slight chance they might deal a lot of damage to his opponent, while exposing himself to the very same. Also, he pushes himself. At first, Rey wonders whether he can actually feel physical pain, but after a while she finds out that he simply ignores it.

When she remarks her findings on his risky fighting style to him, he sneers.

“I fight to win. If you want to battle risk-free, go play chess.”

“Great. Then we’ll know who plays which part against Snoke. You’re the bait and I kill him while he hacks you into little pieces.”

He gives an annoyed groan. “Fine. I’ll try and be more careful.”

He is also a quick learner. Rey constantly has to be on her toes because the minute he learns one of her fighting habits he mercilessly turns it against her.

She tries to stay on edge. She tries to remember Luke’s words every time she encounters him. She tries to remember that he is dangerous, that he knows how to use the Force to put unsuspecting people in his thrall and use them without them even realizing it. But even with all her alertness and with her determination to not let herself get fooled she can’t help but get more and more convinced each day of what she has already told Finn and Poe. He is neither the person Luke and General Leia made him out to be, nor the person Rey encountered the first time, when he captured her. He has changed. She can’t tell where this change is coming from, but it’s there and it’s obvious.

Clearly, Kylo Ren isn’t showing her everything about himself. Outside of training she rarely sees a glimpse of him. She might be occupying the rooms next to him and General Hux, but most of the time he seems out on important Last Order stuff and when he is in his room he doesn’t make any attempt to contact her.

Another thing that keeps bothering her, is his name. Most of the people on this ship don’t seem to know his real name. She isn’t even sure General Hux knows it. They constantly refer to him as Kylo Ren, while General Leia and Luke insisted on calling him Ben until just a while ago.

Insignificant as it may be it still bothers her until one day after training, encouraged by the rush of adrenaline, she decides to ask.

“Why Kylo Ren?”

He wipes the sweat off his face with a towel and blinks at her (she refuses fighting him while he is wearing his mask). “What?”

“Why did you change your name to Kylo Ren? What’s wrong with Ben? It’s a nice name.”

His face goes dark. Another thing she has witnessed happen several times. Whenever she approaches a topic he doesn’t want to talk about, he begins to scowl and his answers become one-syllable words.

“Ben was weak. I am not Ben anymore.” Rey stares at him blankly. “I needed a new name.”

“Because Ben was weak,” she repeats. “You’re acting like he’s a whole different person.”

“He is.”

“But he is literally you from the past.”

“You sound confused,” he says quietly.

“I am just trying to understand.”

“It’s not that hard. Ben was tearing me apart. I had to get rid of him. He was drawing me towards the light. But I have chosen a long time ago. I have chosen the darkness and I will stand with that decision.”

“Seriously?” Rey asks, feeling irritation rise inside her. “You going with that whole darkness-or-light-bullshit again?”

“You wouldn’t understand. You are clearly made for the light. You don’t even feel the lure of the darkness.”

“That’s because there is no lure of the darkness. Don’t try to make something up simply to excuse your actions. Just as there is no call to the light.”

He frowns, clearly confused. “But if you didn’t choose the light, how did you decide what to become?”

“I haven’t decided anything. All I’m trying to do is what I think is right.”

Kylo Ren shakes his head. “It’s not that simple.”

“Says the man who tries to paint the world black and white. I’m not saying it’s simple. I’m saying you can’t just decide to do something and then say it was the light side or the dark side. Nothing you do is purely good or purely evil.”

“You clearly don’t know half the things I have done.”

“Maybe,” she admits. “But you constantly talk about the call from the light side. Have you ever considered that it’s not the light side that’s calling you, but yourself? The person you so desperately tried to shut out, but can’t, because clearly you’re trying to be someone you’re not?”

“Bloody Malachor,” Kylo Ren groans. “Not you too.”

“So I’m not the first person to say that to you?”

“Two wrong people don’t make a thing right.”

“You say you had to get rid of Ben because he was so weak. Now, I know a thing or two about wanting to be strong.”

“You know nothing.”

“Oh, don’t be so conceited. You’re not the only one with a difficult childhood. I had to fight for everything. When the same gang of scavengers has been stealing your loot for the past three days and once again you don’t have anything to sell to your distributor and you know you’ll go hungry again for the third day in a row and you’re lying beaten up and face-down in the sand cursing your entire existence, there’s no way you don’t wish you could be stronger. Wish you were bigger, more muscular, more ruthless, wish you could just beat them all up and steal what you need and know, just know, tomorrow they’re not going to beat you up again and you won’t go hungry. Instead you’ll be able to buy yourself some food and no one will dare to bother you and you’ll be happy and content for once in your life. Believe me, I know. Being weak sucks. Here’s another thing I’ve learned: You can push down the parts you don’t like, you can act like they’ve never existed in the first place, but that’s not gonna make them vanish. They’ll come back one day, to bite you in the ass and that’s when you learn, you have to live with them. It’s not ideal, it’s not how you envisioned your life, it’s most definitely not how I envisioned mine, but there’s just no way around it. I live with all this shit and I had to make damn sure that no one, not even the biggest bully, can use it to my disadvantage. ‘Cause no one will ever know my weaknesses as well as I do.”

Rey looks up at Ren, who is staring down, motionless. For once in his life he doesn’t have a snide remark to counter her words.

“And that’s why I think you’re being unfair to Ben. You’re not even giving him a chance. You just lock him away and keep him small and ignore that all the time he is screaming at you, begging you to listen to him. Acknowledge that he matters.”

For a long time Kylo Ren doesn’t answer. He doesn’t look at her, either. He just stares into the space between them, his brows furrowed, his brown eyes flickering.

Finally he says, “I chose the dark side. I can’t turn back. It’s what makes me strong.”

Rey exhales a frustrated sigh. “Oh, enough with the dark side already! The world isn’t black and white, in case you haven’t noticed. It’s full of colours, amazing colours. What’s keeping you from trying on every single one of them?”

“The Force doesn’t have colours,” Ren protests.

“Of course it does.”

“What am I supposed to do with this? I can’t just betray every choice I have ever made and decide that darkness and light don’t exist anymore.”

Rey shrugs. “You don’t have to. Of course they exist. Just try green for a while.”

He stares at her and for a moment she thinks he’ll burst into laughter. Instead, he just shakes his head.

“You sound like you have no idea whatsoever about the Force.”

“You sound like you have stayed too long away from the sun to even recognize a rainbow. Most people don’t choose, you know. Most people just live life as well as they can without ever thinking about light or darkness.” And sometimes she wishes she had been allowed to stay one of them.

“Well, I’m not most people.”

“But you also aren’t only your mother’s son. You don’t just come from a line of Jedi. You’re not just Darth Vader’s grandson and Luke Skywalker’s nephew. You also happen to be the son of Han Solo, a man who, as far as legend goes, never gave a rat’s ass about good or evil and who nevertheless ended up on the right side of things. There’s not just Force in you, you know. There’s also quite a lot of space rogue in you.”

Kylo Ren bristles, as always when she mentions his father. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says and Rey’s stomach drops. They have gone a full circle and have ended up back at the beginning. “You never really knew my father. Training is over for today. Go back to your quarters.”

And that’s that.

 

Hux enters his room happening onto Kylo Ren standing in the middle of it, a broken bottle of wine to his feet. He is staring at it with an expression that is either confused or completely dazed. Or both.

“Light side of the Force strike again?” Hux asks.

“Huh?” Ren looks up, utter bewilderment in his eyes. “No, I was... I’m not sure how this happened."

“You're bleeding,” Hux says and points at Ren’s hand. He has cut himself on one of the glass shards that are now lying scattered across the floor.

Ren stares at his hand as if he is seeing it for the first time. He hasn’t even noticed.

Hux opens the medical cabinet he has been keeping in the room since Kylo Ren has moved in and takes out disinfectant spray.

“Come here, pet,” he says. He takes Ren’s hand and cleans it up. The cut is smaller than it seemed with all the blood around it and luckily only superficial.

“Don’t cut your hands, Kylo,” Hux says. “If you hit a nerve it could end badly.”

“I wasn’t doing it on purpose,” Ren says. “Honestly.”

“So, light side, then?”

Kylo Ren rubs his scar with his uninjured hand. He seems to be returning back to the here and now from wherever he has been before. There are too many things that have messed up Ren’s life for Hux to tell what it was this time.

“I’m not sure,” Ren says. “I’ve been talking to Rey and... well, she doesn’t really believe in the light and dark side.”

“Doesn’t she, now?”

“She thinks it’s less about which side you choose and more about who you’re trying to be.”

“You know, I could swear I’ve been saying the exact same thing to you ages ago. You sneered at me.”

“I sneered at her, too. But now I don’t know... she does know what she’s talking about. I’ve never seen a Force-sensitive as determined as her. And it’s not as though I’ve never been thinking about this, myself.”

“I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall here, Kylo.”

“Fine,” Ren snaps. “Let’s talk some more about your feelings. Because we wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable with this, would we? God forbid this is about anybody but you. Fuck you, Hux!”

He storms out of the room, black robes flapping behind him. Hux stares at the spot on his floor where the wine is forming a red puddle, surrounded by sharp edges and little droplets of blood.

When the hell have I gotten myself into a relationship with a drama queen?

 

“You promised you’d be more considerate,” Doctor Penn reminds him as Hux comes by the medical bay to pay her a visit.

“I promised I’d try. I do have my limits.”

She raises both eyebrows. “Is that your limit, then? Is this how far you are willing to go to show your consideration?”

“Are you supposed to be this reproachful?” he asks. “I thought all you’re supposed to do is listen and understand.”

“I am trying to understand,” she says. “That is why I have asked you that question.”

“Your tone sounds reproachful.”

“Maybe you feel it sounds reproachful because you think that’s the way it should sound. Are you under the impression that you have acted in a way that deserves reproach?”

“Don’t shrink me.”

“Isn’t that what you came here for, General?”

“No. I don’t know.” He doesn't even know why he came by in the first place, much less why he has told Penn about his little falling out with Kylo Ren.

“You know,” she says, “this kind of thing usually works much better when both partners participate. Does General Ren even know that you are here?”

“He most certainly doesn’t,” Hux replies. “And he isn’t going to find out. This isn’t couples’ therapy.”

Penn puts both hands against the side of her desk and pushes herself the slightest bit away from the data screen she has been studying when he arrived. “General Hux,” she says and her voice doesn’t allow any interjection from his side, “I have a ton of things to do, some of them life-saving. I do not have the time to add more counselling sessions to my schedule and even if I did, quite frankly, it wouldn’t be you I’d accept. You wouldn’t even make it in the top fifty. And don’t give me your I-am-your-general-speech. I am the best doctor you have. You cannot afford to lose me. So listen very carefully. If you are going to be all half-assed about this, stop wasting my time. The person I am trying to help is not you. If you want to be a part of Ren’s healing process you will have to get his consent, not mine. Until you’re willing to do that, please, let me get back to my work.”

She returns to her data screen, clearly indicating that this conversation is over, at least on her part.

Hux stands up and leaves the room.

 

“I might have been slightly wrong.”

Kylo Ren, bowed deep over his southern Rim troop deployment plans, lifts his head with the most confounded look. “What?”

“I shouldn’t have made it about myself,” Hux says. His jaw is clenching. Words like these don’t feel natural in his mouth.

Ren doesn’t need any more explanation. “Damn right you shouldn’t,” he says.

“And I guess my jealousy about the girl was pretty far off.”

“It wasn’t even in the right star system,” Ren says, eyebrows raised. He looks at Hux for a minute without saying a word. Then, “Can I get back to my work now?”

“I thought maybe you’d want to continue our conversation,” Hux says.

“No,” Ren says, head already lowered over his screen again. “I want to find out what the hell is wrong with this scale. I will decide when to continue the conversation, not you.”

And that is the most Hux gets out of him for the rest of the evening.

Kylo Ren decides to continue their conversation a day later, when he returns into Hux’s chamber after his training with Rey.

“I was thinking about my father,” he says. “It wasn’t just that I had hoped killing him would finally set me free of the light. I had also hoped to get rid of Ben, of being his son, once and for all. I didn’t expect anything of what has happened since then. That's all I want to say about it but now you know.”

“Thank you,” Hux says. He watches as Ren takes off his sweat-drenched clothes and drops them into the laundry chute. He waits until Ren is done showering and comes back into the room with fresh clothes, his hair still damp. Only then he decides to try. “Look. I know you think I am part of the problem and I am not going to argue with you about it. But if there is any way I can help you with this...”

Kylo Ren picks up his lightsaber (switched off) from the desk and locks it into the weaponry. He looks down on Hux with both eyebrows raised. “What way do you think you can help me with this?”

He should just bolt. But now there is no way out of this conversation any more. “Well, I have been talking to Penn...”

“You have been talking to Doctor Penn?” Ren asks incredulously. “About me?”

“Yes,” Hux replies very carefully. “And she said I’ll have to get your consent. So that’s what I’m attempting to do here. Look, I am just trying to understand you.”

Ren looks at him for a minute as if Hux is a riddle he has to solve. Then he suddenly laughs. He doesn’t sound angry. “Fine.” He nods. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Hux stands up to be at least somewhere near eye-level with Ren. “Are you sure you’re going to be comfortable with this?”

“No,” Kylo Ren says, still laughing. “But you have been talking to Doctor Penn. Did she give you a piece of her mind? She always tells me the next time she speaks to you she is going to give you a piece of her mind.”

“She did.”

Ren laughs even harder. “Good. You deserved it.”

“So this is what you want?” Hux asks again. He searches Ren’s face for some clues on the reason he suddenly changed his mind.

“Yes it is,” Ren replies. “I like it. I feel like somebody is actually taking an interest in my life and for the first time it is not ultimately for them to enforce their own agenda.”

A chill runs down Hux’s spine. How little love must you have received your entire life to cling to each straw of affection you’re offered so desperately?

“So that’s all that’s necessary?” he asks. “For somebody to say I care for you and suddenly you go soft like a lamb?”

Ren shrugs. “It’s just a nice change.”

“Your father cared for you, you know,” Hux says and Ren’s mood switches from pleased to furious within a second.

“Fuck, Hux, how do you always choose the most inappropriate words possible? I allow you a way in and that is how you start? No, fuck you, I do not want to talk about my father!”

 

“Let's talk about your father,” Penn says.

Kylo Ren turns his face away and stares stubbornly at the wall. “Pass.”

“No, I think it’s a great topic,” Penn says. “You had a very complicated relationship with your father, to say the least. Let’s just jump to the most important question first. How do you feel about his death?”

“Great,” Ren says. He is glaring and scowling and it’s obvious he doesn’t allow himself to think about that question. “You do know that it was me who killed him right? And if presented with the same choice again, I’d do exactly the same. He deserved to die. He was a terrible father.”

“Stop lying,” Hux says.

Ren snaps his head around to him and tries to stare him down. The lights in the room begin to flicker. “I am not lying,” he says.

“Sure you are. You don’t freeze in the middle of a room with a bleeding cut on your hand because you are thinking of somebody you don’t regret killing.”

“How often do you think about him?” Penn asks.

“Never. One time, that’s it. Sod it, I don’t want to talk about him!”

He stands up and strides toward the door.

“You can’t just walk out of a session,” Penn calls after him.

“Make me stop then.”

“Ben Solo, sit back down!” Hux bellows.

Kylo Ren freezes. He slowly turns back, giving Hux a stare that he can feel pierce right through his skull to the back of his head. Literally. It is beginning to ache. Finally Ren returns back to his seat, sits down and stares into his lap.

“Thank you,” Doctor Penn says. “Now, Ren, a conflicting relationship with your father is completely normal. Growing up you might have felt a distance to him from early on, especially if he hasn’t been around much. This is nothing uncommon. There are probably many issues between the two of you that you have always wanted to address but never could.”

“He was a terrible father,” Ren repeats.

“Okay. He was a terrible father.”

He is staring at her desk. Eyes so dark they seem to swallow the light. He draws his bottom lip between his teeth and gnaws on it. “I have no reason to feel remorse. I did it because I had to. I did. I had to. There was no other way. And even if I did feel remorse about that…”

“There is nothing wrong with that,” Penn says softly. “Just because your feelings are conflicting with each other it doesn’t mean you should try to shut some of them out."

“I am not shutting anything out!”

“Kriff, Kylo,” Hux says and he fails glamorously to hide his irritation. “Each time you talk about your parents you sound like a twelve year old.”

“I do not!”

“Interesting observation,” Doctor Penn says. “Do you think your parents didn’t enable you to feel like you have grown up?”

“I am grown up,” Ren says stubbornly. Hux could swear he is making pouty lips. Very kissable pouty lips.

“We know you are,” Penn replies with the patience of an angel. “But that wasn’t the question. It is perfectly normal to return to an earlier emotional state of your life when you think about your parents or are around them. Did you feel like they have ever acknowledged who you are now?”

“Of course not,” Ren says. “They’ll never acknowledge who I am now. They see somebody who doesn’t exist anymore. Everybody does. It’s like I don’t even exist under all the things people are trying to see in me instead.”

And suddenly, without having given it a second of thought, Hux’s hand is reaching out and covering Kylo Ren’s. “I see you,” he says.

Ren looks up and meets Hux’s gaze. His eyes are wide open and brown and soft like a very small, very frightened animal. His teeth are mauling his bottom lip, have been for a while now, and Hux has to resist the urge to push his thumb between Ren’s teeth to stop him from doing that.

“Wonderful,” Penn says. She is jotting down notes like she’s on fire. “Let's keep that for another session, okay? For today I’d really like to stay on the topic of your father, Ren.”

He gives a loud, frustrated sigh and releases his lower lip. “Fine. I feel like I want to grief but I can’t. Because if I grief I am admitting that what I did was terrible and painful and if I do that I don’t...” he falters. “I just can’t,” he finally finishes.

“Okay,” Penn says. She makes a pause, waits until he has recovered a bit. “Do you feel as though killing him has been an inevitable outcome for you? Or do you think there is any other way you could have worked things out?”

Ren shrugs. He stares away from both of them at the wall again. He shrugs again. His hand feels cold to the touch. “It’s not like we talked much these last years. We didn’t have anything to say to each other, anyway. I mean, there really wasn’t much of a relationship with him left. I couldn’t expect anything to change. It’s just that now… now it’s set in stone. There is nothing I can change anymore. It is what it is. I mean, even if I had ever intended to change things, I’d probably have failed. He talks about wanting me back, about missing me… if I’d gone with him, he’d probably have vanished a few days later because he couldn’t be bothered anymore. Like always. And it wasn’t just me, you know. He’d leave mum alone, too. She never cried in front of me, but it’s not as if I couldn’t hear them arguing over his constant need to run away. Why should it have been any different just because he came to me this once? Do you really think they’ve been leading a marriage of pure bliss since I’ve left?”

“Are you afraid of that?” Penn asks softly.

“No. I know my dad. Blissful marriage is not exactly within his scope of abilities. That wasn’t me. I just made it harder for mum to let him go.”

“How do you think she feels about his death?”

Ren shifts uneasily in his chair. He brushes his other, his uninjured hand through his hair. Several curls fall over his forehead. “Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? If he’d died in battle she probably would have grieved and moved on. But it was me. How could she ever forgive that? She had a monster for her father and a monster for her son.”

“Do you think she has ever forgiven her father for what he did?”

“Highly doubtful.” Ren pulls his lips into a humourless smile. “Absent fathers kind of run in the family.”

“Would you want her to forgive you?”

He lowers his eyes. “No.”

“If you could apologize, would you want to?” Penn asks, changing nothing in her soft, emphatic tone.

Kylo Ren furrows his brows deep over his eyes. “They never apologized to me,” he hisses through his gritted teeth.

“Do you want them to?”

“Yes!”

“It sounds like there is a lot of things you want them to take responsibility for.”

“I could write you a whole list.”

“Why don’t you, then?”

Ren blinks. “What? Write a list?”

“Yes. You don’t have to show it to anyone, not even me. Just try to write it. Sometimes writing things down is a great tool to sort out our thoughts. It might just help you come to terms with the things you would have wanted them to do.”

The little communicator on her desk beeps and she picks it up. “I have to go,” she says. “But this was good. Thank you for coming. Both of you.”

 

They quietly walk back to Hux’s room, both of them lost in their thoughts. A servant has laid out dinner for them. Hux eats. Kylo Ren doesn’t. Since he wouldn’t change his mind anyway Hux decides to keep his mouth shut about it.

Suddenly Ren lifts his gaze and stares at him.

“What?” Hux says.

“You said you see me,” Ren says.

“I do.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What do you see?”

Hux shrugs. “The prettiest man in the Galaxy.”

“Fine,” Ren spits. “Don’t say it then. Forget I asked.”

Hux leans forward. He lays down his fork. “Also, a man who would do anything to escape insignificance, so he continues to push himself too far. Someone so sensible, he constantly walks the fine line between hero and villain and all it takes is a small push to throw him out of balance. A man who is doing everything to find out who he is while he completely ignores the fact that most of the people around him do not have a single clue of who they are and what they’re supposed to do with their lives. Stubborn, easy to anger, with the ability to switch from one extreme mood to another in a matter of seconds. But if you do know how to appease him he becomes soft and docile and very, very kissable. And a fucking nerd.”

“I’m not a fucking nerd,” Ren says.

“Pet, you wired yourself into the radio transmitter of an entire planet. You constantly rewrite our mainframe code. You know the network system of this ship better than anyone else. You built your own lightsaber. Twice. You’re the hugest fucking nerd I have ever met. Also, you hate people. Can’t stand them. Avoid them at all costs. But the few you actually choose to like, the handful of people you deem worthy of your time and energy…”

“…well?”

“Well, I think those are the luckiest people in the Galaxy.”

Chapter Text

The next meeting with the Republic has Luke Skywalker participate again. He doesn’t direct a single word towards Hux personally, but he reports that their map on the neighbouring galaxy has grown detailed enough for them to rule out the systems that are inaccessible to Snoke and that they have begun compiling a list of the regions in which he is most likely to be found.

“The reconnaissance troops will have to move closer than they have done until now to determine whether the planets show any signs of life at all,” he says. “But we have met upon Star Destroyers of his twice during our exploration so he has to be close. We are currently trying to track their signals back. Have there been any more disturbances around here?”

“Nothing the Last Order could not handle,” Hux replies and sees the eyes of the Jedi flicker towards him with an obvious attempt to hide his irritation. Not so much in equilibrium right now, are we?

“Rey says his signals are getting stronger,” General Organa remarks.

Skywalker frowns. “I haven’t felt any of that kind. Are we sure it’s Snoke and not some other Force-sensitive?”

He doesn’t name any names but it isn’t hard to guess what he is hinting at. Involuntarily Hux exchanges a glance with the other general. Leia Organa’s expression mirrors his own inner reaction.

“Luke, Snoke has never made any attempt to contact you,” she says. “It doesn’t mean that Rey can’t feel him. If she says she does, we ought to believe her.”

“Besides, she is not the only one who can feel him,” Hux adds. He doesn’t look at Skywalker and he knows that nobody else in the room (except General Organa maybe) can feel it, but he has been living with a Force-sensitive for long enough now to sense when one is suppressing their anger as they are trying to stare holes into his head.

“Maybe she should come with me, then,” Skywalker suggests. “If she can sense him, she could be of much more use exploring the Unknown Regions with me than wasting her time on board your ship.”

“I won’t send Rey into Snoke’s arms without knowing what awaits her there,” General Organa protests before Hux can lose his temper over the Jedi. “What about the tracking equipment you promised us, General Hux? You said it should be ready by now.”

“Miss Rey is working on tuning it in,” Hux replies. “I had my men do it, but she insisted they were doing it all wrong and it needs more fine tuning than that. I trust she will tell me when she is done.”

He keeps his eyes on Leia Organa so he catches the quick smile that flashes across her face. Does everybody find this girl adorable?

Skywalker gets called out of the room as they turn to dryer subjects and he doesn’t return.

“You do not like my brother, General,” Leia Organa remarks after the meeting when Hux escorts her back to her ship. (No drinks today. Apparently her brother is waiting.)

“He doesn’t like me,” he replies. “I tend to reciprocate aversion against my person when I encounter it.”

“He has a hard time trusting you. Is that so difficult to believe?”

“It seems he has a hard time trusting anyone, including his own Padawan. Is not Miss Rey supposed to be everything he has ever hoped for?”

“My brother gave up his hope into a new generation of Jedi a long time ago,” she says. “I am sure it is not hard for you to guess when exactly.”

“No, tell me,” Hux replies sardonically. “Please. Because according to Kylo Ren your brother gave up on him long before the incident you are alluding to.”

Leia Organa stops dead in her tracks and turns towards Hux. For the first time since he has known her she doesn’t make any attempt to hide her grief. “That is not fair, General,” she says, but she fails to sound as harsh as she tries to sound.

“No, it isn’t. None of this is fair.”

“My brother tried his best.”

“I am sure he did. Snoke was simply better.”

“It wasn’t all Snoke, you know. The one killing those kids was still Kylo Ren.”

“Indeed. And when you’re done blaming the fifteen year old for the cruelties of a monster and the failings of your brother, maybe you can tell me tales of how at the age of ten he was already the embodiment of pure evil.”

Somebody calls from the ship. They blink as they both realize that they have been standing still, facing each other, for the last few minutes.

“He is not a child anymore, General Hux,” Leia Organa says, but she sounds tired. Tired and sad.

“No he is not. You’d be surprised at the person he has grown into since he has actually been allowed to grow up.”

“Well, I won’t be able to see that since he still refuses to speak to me. I will have to take your and Rey’s word for it.”

She turns and walks to her ship. Hux follows her. Luke Skywalker is waiting on the stairs towards the airlock. He doesn’t look pleased when he sees who is accompanying his sister. Leia Organa hesitates in front of the stairs. She turns her head halfway to Hux.

“Please, General…” She doesn’t finish the sentence. Hux looks after her as brother and sister vanish in the inside of the ship.

He returns to his own shuttle, unsure what he was even attempting to achieve by talking to General Organa about Kylo Ren. He only knows that Luke Skywalker’s holier-than-though-attitude pisses him off.

 

The tracking equipment Phasma has stolen from the First Order is finally done tuning. It reacts incredibly sensitive to the flow of the Force. With both Rey and Kylo Ren in the room the humming has risen to an unnerving screech.

“Let’s get it out of here,” she says to Ren. He calls his troopers instructed to deliver the machine to the Resistance who will send a new exploration squad into the nearby galaxy the next day.

For a few weeks after that there is little else for Rey to do but train with Kylo Ren and regularly check on the safe room to make sure everything still works as it is supposed to. She keeps up her meetings with Poe and Finn (and sometimes Chewbacca). She tells them about the mechanics chief of staff she has befriended since she doesn’t have to live next to him anymore. They become so jealous it makes her laugh.

“What about Kylo Ren?” Poe asks, pushing his fries towards Rey. He has recently found out that feeding her is a much healthier thing for him to do than stealing her food. “Are you guys sweethearts yet?”

“You wish,” Rey retorts, her mouth full of fries. “He rarely even talks to me outside of training. Once I was so bored I actually considered knocking next door to find out what he was up to. But then I thought what if he was in there with General Hux, you know, and I disturbed them… and then I couldn’t muster up the courage to knock anymore.”

“I still think you’re imagining things,” Finn says. He looks embarrassed, even with Poe’s arm around his waist.

“Just go in next time,” Poe says, grinning. “And then tell me the details.”

“Does he still hear the Supreme Commander?” Finn asks. He is fidgeting. Either because he doesn’t like to think about Snoke or because he doesn’t want to talk about his former superior’s love life anymore. Or both.

Rey shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s not like he tells me anything.”

“What about you?” Poe asks, eyeing Rey sharply. “You say you can feel him but you don’t actually hear him, do you?”

“Of course not,” Rey lies. “Not ever.”

 

He won’t help you.

She is sitting on her bed, arms around her knees. The training has left her exhausted, not just physically (she can’t move a single muscle and her left knee will have turned blue in the morning) but also Force-depleted. Fighting against Kylo Ren for the last three hours had her take some serious damage to her mental guards.

He knows that.

You think he can protect you? You think the light in him is getting stronger again? I have raised him, moulded him. There is no light left. You trust him now, gullible little girl, but you know that in the end he will crush you. Against him you are powerless. He will destroy you and he will return to me. He knows it, too, he is simply biding his time.

She shuts her eyes as tightly as she can. She tries to bring distance between her and his voice, tries to conjure pictures of Finn and Poe and General Leia in her head, people she trusts, people who will never let her down.

Merciless laughter echoes through her head. You think they will save you? You who has been left to rot by her own family? They did not look back once! They left you on a planet with no love, no light, no hope! Do you think anything has changed since then? You are still the lonely little girl, clinging to the first person to grant you a moment of their time. Until they leave you, too. Exactly like that scavenger you trusted. Remember her? You thought the two of you would protect each other till the end of the world. Until she stole your loot, all of it. She beat you up so badly you couldn’t move for two days.

She buries her head in her arms. Get out of my mind! These are not your memories, they are mine! Leave me alone, I am not listening to you! You tried your luck now leave me alone!

It will be the same again, he continues, unperturbed by her attempts to fend him off. They won’t come. Luke Skywalker? I have been stealing Padawans from under his nose for years. Do you really think he can help you when you can’t even tell anyone that you are still allowing me to speak to you? They won’t save you from Kylo Ren when he tortures you, takes everything from you and leaves you crushed. Only this time you will not recover. You think I am lying? He knows. He knows how to do enough damage to a person’s body and brain to put them in hell forever. Do you want to know what he did to people? To children? To girls your age and younger? I can show you and…

NO! She wants to scream out but her body is frozen. He fights her, fights to gain control over her body writhing on the bed. Her fist slams against the durosteel wall. Sharp pain twists through her wrist and her arm. It jolts her out of her stupor and suddenly she can push him away. She jumps up, out of bed, flees out of the room to the next door and pounds her fist (the one that doesn’t hurt) against it. Then she changes her mind, turns around and runs back to her room. She doesn’t go inside, though.

She hears the door behind her open. “Rey?”

She turns around. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb…” She gestures towards the towel around his waist. “…this.”

“I was taking a shower. Come in.” He steps away from the door and pushes it open a bit wider to let her through. He raises both eyebrows when she hesitates. “Hux isn’t here right now.”

Slowly she follows him into the room. It is the same size as her own (it used to be his, after all), but with a less elaborate data system and two beds. It smells of men’s cologne and is at least five degrees warmer than hers.

“Sit down,” he says, gesturing towards the desk. He vanishes in the bathroom and returns in loose black robes. He goes to a cabinet to take out a can of water. “I heard the thump. Is your hand okay?”

“Yeah.” She wiggles it. “The wrist hurts but I don’t think it’s anything serious.” She lifts her head as he sits down opposite her and offers her the water. “You’re not going to ask me what happened?”

He meets her eyes, his gaze much softer than she has ever seen before. “Does it need asking? You know, if it gets too bad you can use the safe room. That’s what it is for, after all. What did he say?”

She reaches for the water and takes a sip. She can still feel him in her bones. Her muscles tense in her anticipation for him to return any minute. “He told me you’d betray me. That nobody would ever come to save me and that you’d destroy me and return to him eventually.” She realizes she is still shivering. She can feel Kylo Ren’s eyes on her. Her fist (the uninjured one) clenches around the can. “He showed me images. Images of you and…” She bites down on her lip. She looks up into his face. His brows are furrowed deeply and his lips pressed tightly together. “They weren’t true, though, were they? What he showed me…”

“They probably were,” he responds quietly.

Rey inhales sharply. She tries to ban the images out of her head, but they won’t go easily. “How could he make you do that?”

“It’s not that simple. It wasn’t all him, you know. A lot of the things I did were my own choice. Because I tried to prove to myself that I wasn’t affected by them.”

“Were you?”

“Not after a while. Eventually nothing affects you anymore. Eventually you go numb. Do I frighten you?”

She returns his gaze. She shakes her head, firmly.

“I don’t do any of that anymore. I haven’t in quite a while now and I don’t intend to return to that. But it doesn’t change the past. I cannot undo what I have already done. I cannot deny that what he showed you was true.”

Rey empties the can of water. She thinks of Han Solo.

“Are you afraid that he is right?” Ren asks. “That one day I will destroy you and return to him?”

Rey bites down on her lip. Saying no would be easier if all she felt was distrust. Take care of herself in a fight she believes she could. Bearing witness to the amount of work he has already put into dragging himself out of hell, only to watch him getting pushed back in there, though… She doesn't want to end up as another dead body, another stepping stone for Kylo Ren's descend into darkness. Which is clearly what Snoke intends for her to be.

Kylo Ren stretches out his right hand, palm up. “Take my hand,” he says. She does and immediately can feel the connection between them grow. “Find out. I am letting you in. Snoke is a master at telling lies but I can’t hide the truth from you within myself.”

She stares at their hands for a moment, then shakes her head. “No. I won’t search you. I believe you.”

He frowns and leans towards her. “You have no reason to trust me.”

“You’re right. I really don’t. That’s not how trust works, though. You have never been very subtle with what you wanted to achieve. If you tell me now that you won’t return to him I choose to believe you.”

His eyes open wide. Suddenly there is warmth flowing between them, expanding in the air around them until it enwraps them in a dome of comfort. Every little residing feeling of Snoke leaves Rey’s mind. What’s left is the certainty that he can’t reach them here. They are untouchable.

“I am not afraid,” she says quietly.

“I am,” he replies, not much louder.

“I know.” She flashes him a smile. “It’s quite reassuring, actually.”

She hears the door open.

“Oh, excuse me,” General Hux’s voice sounds through the room. “Am I interrupting something?”

“Yes,” Ren replies without taking his eyes off Rey. “Go away.”

“Remember when this was my room and I was the one calling the shots in here?” General Hux asks and throws his large overcoat onto the anterior bed. “Good times. I’ll go comm Phasma. I’ll be back in thirty minutes. By that time she better be gone and you’re on my bed, naked and ready.”

Rey lets out an involuntary little gasp as the door slides shut behind General Hux.

“Don’t listen to him,” Ren says, frowning. “He is trying to throw you off. He’s just grumpy because he has to lead all the troop exercises in Phasma’s absence.”

“If you say so…”

“Listen,” he says and squeezes her hand a bit. “It’s good that you came here. If he tries to connect with you, you should tell somebody. There is nothing wrong with calling for help. Talk to your friends, explain to them what’s going on. Believe me, the longer you try to keep it to yourself, the harder it will get to open up. Snoke feeds off loneliness and isolation. If you tell your friends, if you trust them with your fears, he won’t be able to get to you so easily anymore. I know it’s a hard thing to talk about, but believe me, the more you do the weaker his grip on you becomes. And you can call me for help anytime, just ignore Hux.”

“Do you?” she asks. “Call for help?”

“Yes.” His left hand reaches for his right arm. His fingers stroke over a black band with a bright silver button, winding around his wrist. “But I had to learn it the hard way.”

“Okay,” she says, eyes fixed on the shiny button. “I will talk to Finn and Poe.”

“Good. And remember, they’re all lies. Everything he tells you about yourself is a lie. You’re not letting him in because you secretly wish for him to invade your mind. He is not following your invitation, telling you what you want to hear. This is nothing you are allowing to happen. This is something he is doing to you. Don’t take the blame for the things he does.”

Rey looks up. His face has lost something of its usual rigidity. It’s not hard to guess he is speaking from experience.

“You are not weak. His being a monster doesn’t make you weak.”

“You are quite good at this,” she remarks.

“I have help. Besides, telling you and believing it myself are two entirely different things.” He pulls his hand away and the connection dissipates. “Will you be okay?”

Rey nods. She stands up. “I should get some rest. And food. And I guess you’ll have to get rid of those clothes again.” She gives him a suggestive grin.

Kylo Ren groans. “That sodding piece of lying shit. One day I’ll take him out of the acceptance pool to his own room. Let’s see what he’ll do then.”

“You’re much better at the technical stuff than he is, aren’t you?” she says.

“Because Hux doesn’t care about even knowing the data system of his own ship. He leaves that to me and then he calls me a nerd.”

“Poe kept calling me that,” Rey says. He escorts her to the door. “Until one day I changed the picture on his pilot’s license and in the Resistance database to one of his baby pictures. He didn’t laugh at me after that.”

“I’ll have to remember that.”

“Thank you,” Rey says before she leaves the room.

Ren shakes his head. “Any time.”

 

It isn’t easy but eventually Rey gathers up her courage to tell Finn and Poe about everything she hasn’t dared talk to them about until now. They get very, very anxious.

“We’ll come with you,” Finn says immediately. “We’ll live with you on the Battlefront. As your bodyguards, to make sure the minute he tries something shady again we punch his lights out.”

“His voice is incorporeal, you do get that, don’t you?” Rey asks. “Besides, you can’t come on board with me. You have to command the Second Fleet.”

“I’ll go, then,” Poe says. “Finn can live without me for a few weeks, right Baby?”

“Don’t even think about it,” Rey cuts him off, showing him her stern face. “One week with you trailing me and I’ll voluntarily run over to the dark side. I am telling you so I don’t have to feel ashamed anymore. I’ll continue telling you, that I promise you. But there is nothing you can actually do.”

“You should get out of there,” Finn says. “Get together with Luke.”

Rey presses her lips together. Luke, who has never even once heard Snoke’s voice. Who hasn’t managed to notice when she heard him the first time. Back then she told him and he panicked, which did not exactly leave her feeling confident. He gave her several meditation techniques to close off her mind, but once she got rather exhausted, those techniques stopped working.

“I built the safe room on the Battlefront for exactly that purpose,” Rey says, because she can’t voice those doubts about Luke to her friends. “Kylo Ren uses it, there is nothing that keeps me from using it. He has quite a lot of experience with shutting Snoke out.”

“Yeah and that worked so well for him all the time,” Poe snorts.

Right.

“I have you guys,” Rey says. “As long as I know you’ll support me, I’ll manage. But you have to trust me.”

“We trust you, Rey,” Finn responds immediately. “You know we do. If you say you can fight him, I believe you. But at least take BB-8 with you.”

“Fine,” she groans. “They can’t help me with the training, though.”

And that’s how BB-8 ends up with her on the Battlefront. To her surprise, just as Kylo Ren has promised her, Snoke’s grip on her becomes weaker after that. She manages to push him out and close herself off with her basic techniques. In addition to meeting Finn and Poe on Myrkr twice a week they talk every day via comm. Sometimes she can still feel Snoke pulsating furiously in the back of her mind, but she doesn’t allow him to talk to her anymore.

General Hux has begun rallying his forces, ordering special training sessions each day. He insists that Kylo Ren participates in their exercises which means they have to push their own training to late evening for a few days.

After their talk in his room, Kylo Ren doesn’t seem to mind spending time around Rey that much anymore. Finally, one evening – it is almost 22:00 when they are done with the training –, neither of them has had supper yet so he takes Rey to the senior rank cafeteria (BB-8 is waiting in her room for her). At this hour it is almost empty.

“You seriously still eat with the medical staff?” Ren asks her. “That’s three lift rides from your room.”

Rey shrugs. “I feel more comfortable there.” She lets her eyes sweep across the room. Nobody looks at her directly, but she can sense that people are strongly aware of her. Then she sees the food counter and all other people are forgotten. “They have blueberry cakes. I didn’t know they had blueberry cakes here!” With this being an organisation of evil and all. She starts loading her tray, then pauses and looks at Kylo Ren. “Is there, like, a limit to how many one person is allowed to take? I’m not stealing anyone else’s cakes, am I?”

“Relax,” Ren says. “Just take whatever you want. It’s not real blueberry, though, you know. It’s synthetic.”

Rey turns around and walks towards one of the tables, then hesitates again. “Is there a special table? Like, do you normally sit at the far end of the room, or…”

She hears a soft sigh. “Just sit down somewhere.”

She does. “We don’t have different cafeterias in the Resistance,” she ventures an explanation. “Even General Leia just eats with everyone else.”

“Yes, that does sound very much like my mother,” Ren says. The amount of food he has on his tray wouldn’t even suffice as an appetizer for Rey.

“It works just fine that way.”

“It works fine this way, too.”

“Except for a while Poe kept stealing my food,” Rey says while shoving bread into her mouth. “Until one day I punched him in the face. That was the first time I made Finn cry because he thought it would leave a scar and Poe’s pretty face would forever be ruined… and I realize now that I probably shouldn’t tell that to a man with a huge scar on his face.” That I might or might not have caused.

Kylo Ren doesn’t even move a muscle. “It’s fine. I don’t mind the scar.”

“It’s really not that bad, you know. It doesn’t look half-bad.”

“I don’t care how it looks. I didn’t know a pretty face was a requirement for Resistance pilots, though.”

“It’s not. Finn is just a cry-baby.”

“We can be glad we have gotten rid of him, then.”

“You’d be lucky to have him,” Rey says, waving her fork at Kylo Ren. “He is the gentlest man in the Galaxy.”

She doesn’t mention that this is the same thing General Leia once said about the man sitting in front of her now.

“He was the gentlest child in the Galaxy,” she told Rey. “He would cry whenever he saw a dead bird. And when his dad came home after weeks of travel he would run to Chewbacca first, completely ignoring Han. He wouldn’t relent until Chewie picked him up and carried him around. It made his dad terribly jealous. It was quite a sight, the giant fur-ball and the small child almost vanishing in all the fur, both of them chatting away in Wookiee for hours. I wasn’t allowed to call him fur-ball, though, not in front of Ben. ‘He’s not a fur-ball he’s a real person,’ he’d say. ‘You can’t call him that.’”

But since Rey can’t tell Kylo Ren that she decides to change the topic. “You know what I’ve been thinking? We should built a new Starfighter. One that is Force-controlled.”

Ren frowns which isn’t exactly the reaction Rey has been hoping for. “How would that work?”

“You know, you have one of us navigate. But instead of using manual controls, they steer we by Force. We connect it somehow. You just sit inside and Force-connect with the controls. It’ll react to even the slightest command. It’ll be faster than any Starfighter that has been built so far. No risk of pressing the wrong switch. You become one with the machine.”

Kylo Ren shakes his head. “What if something breaks your concentration? You’d just drop out of the sky.”

“Well, we’d have to take precautions against that. Sure, it’ll take a lot of practice to fly the thing, but once you get the hang of it, I’m sure it’s doable.”

He doesn’t look convinced yet. “It’d be terribly vulnerable. You just need somebody from the outside influence the Force-field and there is no telling what will happen.”

Rey rolls her eyes. “Then we put up shields. Make it possible for the pilot to get a good sense of the surroundings without letting anything in. Like a data monitor. You merely see what’s on there but it can’t actually get to you.”

Ren lays down his fork. He is done with eating. Rey isn’t even halfway finished. How does he survive? “Nothing of that kind has ever been built. Besides, even if we did build it, there is only a handful of people who could actually use it. Who would fly that thing?”

She shakes her head. “I feel like you’re just disagreeing with me for the sake of it. If we worked together, we could easily build it. And the one flying it would be me, of course.”

Ren cocks his eyebrows. “What would I do?”

“You can man the guns.” She takes aim with her fingers at the men sitting on a table across the room. “Pew, pew, pew.” She looks at Ren and grins. “Dead.”

“Aren’t you a bit chipper for the superior ranks quarters?” a voice behind her asks.

Rey turns around and flinches as she realizes General Hux is standing right at her chair. He has his usual look of disapproval, thin lips slightly curled, and even at this late hour he is still in uniform. There is not even a single crease in his black attire. His red hair is slicked back and under the fluorescent lights of the cafeteria he is as pale as a ghost. Rey is still pretty sure she will never like him. Her insides coil painfully every time she sees him. But then, she isn’t the only one. In fact, everyone around him, except Kylo Ren, always looks slightly tensed.

“We were talking about a Force-driven Starfighter,” Ren says as Hux sits down next to him and lays his tray on the table. He stretches his left arm a bit, the one that never seems to flex properly.

General Hux sneers. “Nonsense. We’d have to spend millions on the development and there is not even a handful of people in the Galaxy right now who could fly such a thing.”

“You spent quite a lot of credits to build a Force-resistant room,” Rey ventures against her better judgment.

“We had reasons to build the room. There is no reason why we – or the Resistance for that matter – should ever need a Force-driven Starfighter.”

“You just hate the thought that the Force might actually be of military use,” Ren says and Rey has to look twice because for a moment she almost thought she could see a smile on his face.

“Don’t paint me pettier than I am, Kylo. What will you do if you build your little toy and Snoke takes control over it?”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Ren replies. Maybe it’s just her imagination but he seems much more good-natured since General Hux is around.

“Why are you all so scared of Snoke?” Rey asks and fails to ban her frustration entirely from her voice.

“I am not scared,” General Hux replies between two bites. At least his manners are impeccable. “But then, I am not the one who’d have to fly that thing. Do you really want to see Kylo handle a machine that can be taken over by Snoke?”

“You’re acting like it’s such a big joke,” Ren hisses and the good-naturedness is gone. “Neither of you has ever witnessed his true power. I have. I know what he is capable of and I know I do not want to be in a position where he can use all that power against me!”

“But you’re frighteningly powerful yourself,” Rey protests. “You cannot seriously still believe that you won’t be able to beat him. Especially if we work together.”

Kylo Ren lowers his head and rubs his scar. “I find it hard to believe anything else. I have felt his power since I was a child. It is overwhelming.”

“Or maybe,” Rey says and braces herself for the immediate backlash, “You’re so convinced that he is more powerful than you because he has made so damn sure of that. You just said it yourself, you were nothing but a little child when he first got in touch with you. You had no idea how to shield yourself, or of your own strength. Of course his power would feel overwhelming to you. I am certain he did his best to make you feel like you could never stand up to him.”

Ren frowns deeply.

“You know,” General Hux suddenly says. “That actually makes a lot of sense.” Rey has to hide her surprise. She’d never have expected this man to side with her and admit to it freely.

“It doesn’t,” Ren says, shaking his head. “I am an adult now. I am very aware of my own strength. He couldn’t simply trick me anymore like a child.”

Rey leans forward. She is excited now. “But that’s exactly what he is doing. I have felt him, too, and he wasn’t exactly subtle. I mean, sure, he is tough but… you and I we could totally beat him. I do think he uses his very sly ways to trick you into still seeing the monster in him you saw as a child. It’s like when you meet someone from your childhood years later, and you think you have changed completely, you’re a whole different person now. But then you see them and suddenly you feel like that stupid little kid you were back then and once again you feel inferior, even though now you know you’re not. You know what I mean, right?”

Ren shakes his head.

“You do,” General Hux says. “That is very, very you, Kylo. You turn into a child every time someone mentions your parents.”

“Snoke has gotten under your skin before you managed to put up a proper shield,” Rey continues. “And he is still there. Until you’re able to see the man behind the monster you won’t be able to get him out of there.”

Kylo Ren looks up. His face is still dark, brows furrowed, lips pressed together. Suddenly Rey realizes that General Hux has one of Ren’s hands in his own and that Ren grips it so tightly that both their hands are shaking.

“You’re saying I have been scared of a shadow all that time?”

“I am saying,” Rey replies, “that, sure, Snoke is powerful and no, I don’t believe it’s going to be an easy fight. But he is no god. In the end he is still mortal and he is still beatable. And if I don’t believe that you and I can beat him then there really is no point to anything we’re doing here.”

She can feel General Hux’s inquiring gaze on her but she keeps her eyes on Kylo Ren. He yanks away his hand and stands up. “I have to go.” And with that, he practically bolts.

Rey halfway raises herself out of her chair, not really sure what to do, when General Hux lifts a hand. “Stay. Finish your tremendous amount of dessert. I’ll go, I am done here anyway.”

Rey watches him walk away. She is not really sure whether the things she has just said were actually such a good idea. But they have been churning inside her for a while now and someone just had to say it.

 

They don’t talk. When Hux knocked on the door of the safe room, Kylo Ren let him in without saying a word, then closed the door back up and turned the switch on the wall. To Hux there is absolutely no difference, but it is obvious that Ren can feel it.

He keeps his eyes closed, head tilted back, a slight tremor on his lips. He must have used the sonic refresher in the training area, because the usual smell of sweat that he brings from his workout with the girl and that isn’t all unpleasant doesn’t cling to him.

Hux contents himself with watching Ren for a while. Eventually, when he is sure the other man has calmed down, he says, “That girl isn’t half as brainless as I made her out to be.”

Ren shakes his head, eyes still closed. “She has no idea what she is talking about.”

“To me it sounds very much like she does. You simply don’t allow yourself to admit it, because then you’d have to give in to the hope that maybe, just maybe, not all is lost. Scary, isn’t it?”

Ren opens his eyes and scowls at Hux. “You have no idea what you are talking about.”

“You know, I probably don’t. I don’t get you Force-sensitives and your constant rambling about some intangible power that exists only in your minds. But I have seen your mind, pet, I have seen with my own eyes what you are capable of. I have also seen with my own eyes how small you make yourself when you are frightened and how far you’ll go to punish yourself in your self-hatred and how determined you are not to believe that you can do this. If you are not ready to believe, fine. But I believe and so does Rey. And that’s something.”

“You have seen nothing,” Ren replies. “You have seen nothing of me.”

Hux shrugs. “Show me, then. I am all open doors. Hit me.”

Ren bites down on his bottom lip as though he is determined to chew it off. Finally he says, “Close your eyes.”

Hux does.

It is soft at first, barely a wisp. Then it becomes stronger as Ren taps into his mind and allows their connection to grow. First comes the pain. It is sharp and hits Hux like a punch into the chest, knocking the air out of him. Then comes the anger and the fear and the loneliness, strong enough so he has to take a step back and breathe deeply to prevent his tears from flowing. He has spent half his life pushing all of those emotions down until they don’t bother him anymore. But receiving them now in their rawest form from Kylo Ren almost makes him believe they have come back up again.

His instincts tell him to use the techniques he has learned to bring his defence shields back up. He tries to silence them.

After a while, the emotions become dulled as they turn into background noise. He becomes more keenly aware of Kylo Ren himself now, his attempts to connect with his environment, which fail because the room is shielding them well. He can sense Ren’s breathing, and his heartbeat, as strongly as his own. Images flash up and disappear. The Supreme Leader. Skywalker and Solo, much younger than they look now. Han Solo older, eyes wide in dismay. Blood and the violent red flicker of Ren’s lightsaber. This must me the moment of his death. A beautiful young woman with a warm smile and a twinkle in her eyes. It takes Hux a while to realize that she is a much younger, much more carefree Leia Organa. It is her picture that lingers, and with it a sorrow and a longing that pulls his breath right out of his lungs. When her face vanishes, only darkness follows.

He can sense Ren’s steps as he comes closer, until he is standing right in front of Hux. He can feel his hand before Ren’s fingers touch his chin to lift it up. He follows the motion before he feels their slight pressure.

Then Kylo Ren’s lips touch his and Hux almost recoils. The backlash is so strong it turns his stomach upside down and forces his muscles to tense up. All of a sudden pain and loneliness have changed into sheer terror. Terror and helplessness. His first instinct is to push back, to fight against everything Ren is laying onto him. But this is nothing Snoke did and it is nothing Ren is doing to himself. This is Hux.

And he lets go.

He opens all the doors he has kept close to protect himself from the storm. He pushes down every urge to fight back. He takes it in, everything Ren keeps throwing at him, the fear, the helplessness, the humiliation. He takes it up, lets it seep through him, into his veins and his bones and the last corner of his mind. Until slowly, almost unnoticeably, it begins to change. Until the painful feelings subside and he receives different signals, more subtle ones but just as clear.

He lets Ren guide his movements with those signals. He raises his hand and slowly trails it along Ren’s arm, upwards, toward his shoulder. The response is immediate, shooting into his own arm, up into his head and down into his groin. Strong hands grasp his uniform and graze his stomach. Hux’s fingers caress through the thick black hair, stroke it gently out of Ren’s face, and entangle themselves hopelessly into the curls. He can feel tingles trickle through his own scalp and neck, making him feel elevated.

When Ren starts moving his chin against Hux’s mouth he responds. He draws Ren’s bottom lip between his own, sucks gently, then lets it go, and licks it with his tongue.

Forget breathing. Screw consciousness. He can’t decide whether he has lost the entire feeling over his body or whether it is too intense to be contained in his skin. Every movement he makes against Ren’ skin, every time they touch, the response gets amplified, rippling through the connection he has no way of fighting anymore. He is drawn into Ren, not sure which sensation is him and which is Ren, drawing kisses from him, breathing into him, returning every lick and tug and push, the pain gone, the fear gone, even the self-hatred gone.

When they break apart, there is not enough air in the room left and his heart is racing at light-speed. Ren slams his fingers against the switch on the wall and then the connection is gone.

Still fighting to catch his breath, Hux paces the room to get the tingles out of his legs and the high out of his head.

Fuck,” is all he manages to say.

“Yeah”, Ren replies.

“Holy stars, that was…”

“Intense,” Ren finishes for him. “Yeah.”

Hux stops. They look at each other. “It wasn’t bad, though, was it?”

Ren shakes his head, ruffling his hands through his hair. “Bad isn’t the word I’d choose.”

“But hell, I thought I’d be ripped to shreds.”

Ren flashes him a smirk. “Hey, remember the time you wanted me to do this while we were about to shag and I refused?”

“Good call,” Hux says, shuddering. “It would have probably made my brains explode.”

Ren shakes his head again. “It wouldn’t have worked.”

“Why not?”

“I told you. This is intimate. I can’t just turn it on, you know. I wasn’t sure it’d work this time.”

Hux takes his time to study Ren’s face. “But it did,” he finally says.

“That was you.”

“How was that me?”

“If you’d pushed back, even a bit, that would’ve been it. End of line. Truth is, I wanted to know what you’d do.”

Ren meets his eyes. He doesn’t smile, but there is a softness in the lines of his face Hux rarely gets to see.

“Fine,” Ren says. “I’ll think about it. About everything you two said about Snoke. Even if it’s nothing but wishful thinking. I’ll indulge you.”

“Fair enough,” Hux says. “Better than nothing I suppose.” He gestures around the room. “Do you want to try this again? Not now, of course, another day, see how it goes.”

Yes,” Ren says and then he bites his lip and turns away and it’s back. The moment is over and everything that was there before has returned and there is nothing Hux can say to that so he keeps his mouth shut.

Ren walks to the door and pushes it open. Hux follows him towards the lift.

They return to their room in silence. They go to bed in silence. Separate beds.

“I have another meeting with the Republic tomorrow morning,” Hux says, as Ren switches off the light with a wave of his hand.

“I know,” Ren replies quietly.

“She asks every time, you know. She tries to make it as inconspicuous as possible, but I think she knows as well as I do that it doesn’t work. She asks me whether everything’s well with my fellow officers and I tell her that things are going well enough. I don’t think she is satisfied with that answer but she won’t allow herself to ask any more than that.”

“It’s fine. It’s enough. There is nothing else to tell her.”

“I think she knows. Or at least she has begun to suspect. That you’re not avoiding her because you hate her but because you’re feeling guilty as hell for killing your father.”

“Where’d you get that from? I do not feel guilty for killing my father!”

“If you say so.”

“I say so.”

 

Kylo Ren is standing in the observatory, his back turned towards Hux. The light of the stars in the sky illuminates his outline and makes him glow.

Hux calls out to him. His own voice sounds weak in his ears. Ren turns towards him. His pale, beautiful face is perfectly still. He seems calmer than ever before.

“Hux,” he says and beckons him forward.

They stand in front of each other, starlight glistening between them.

“Where are you going, Kylo?” Hux asks.

“I have to leave,” Ren says. His face is silver and his hair is black. “I have to go, there is something I must do.”

“Don’t leave,” Hux pleads.

“I have to.”

“Take me with you then. Wherever you go, I will go with you.” He sinks to his knees and buries his face in Kylo Ren’s stomach. Cool, soft fingers rake through his hair.

“I can’t.”

“Don’t leave me. Please.” He is crying.

“You can’t follow me.”

“Then I will go in your stead.”

“Hux,” Kylo Ren says quietly. “I am the darkness. Don’t you see it?”

“I see your light.” He lifts his head and stares into Kylo Ren’s face. “It is glowing within you. You look like an angel. You even have wings. They are huge and black. They stretch over the entire universe, extinguishing every star. I can see your dark wings, Kylo.”

“Hux.” The cold fingers touch his chin. He shivers. “Will you do this for me?”

“Everything.”

“Hux.” His voice sounds more urgent. “Hux, you’re crying. Wake up, you’re freaking me out.”

His eyes snap open. He can’t move, his whole body is frozen. He feels the terror slowly withdraw from his limbs. His face is wet.

Ren’s face lingers over him in the dim light of the bedside lamp. His brows are drawn deep over his eyes.

Hux props himself up on his elbows. “What happened?”

“I think you were dreaming. You were crying. I have never seen you cry. What the hell did you dream about?”

Hux wipes his face. “I’m not sure. You were there and…” But the memories have already faded away. “I don’t remember. It was just a nightmare.”

Ren stares at him with furrowed brows.

“Now, don’t look at me like that. Everyone is allowed a nightmare once in a while. You are the one awaking every night crying.”

“Exactly,” Ren answers. “I do it every night. I have never seen you like this. You frightened me.”

“Well, it’s gone now,” Hux says. “What time is it?”

“Half past two. You still have two and a half hours until you have to get up.”

Hux drops himself back into the sheets and groans. “That’s right. The meeting. Just let me get back to sleep then.”

Ren continues staring at him, biting his lip.

Hux rolls his eyes and lifts the blanket. “Get in, then.”

Ren squints his eyes. He bites down harder on his lip. Finally, he draws it out from between his teeth and squeezes into the bed. The good thing about the second bed is that it’s slightly broader than the standard edition. Just slightly, but it proves to be enough. They lie on their backs next to each other, until Ren turns to his side and rests his head against Hux’s shoulder.

With a sigh, Hux stretches out his hand to extinguish the light. He rakes his fingers through Ren’s hair and continues to caress it until they fall back asleep.

 

Whoever has decided to schedule their meeting for 08:00 deserves to be shot. Several times, in places that will make them bleed out but will only kill them slowly.

Hux has three hours left before their next round of alliance negotiations starts, but he will need at least two of them to get from orbit down onto Myrkr and through clearance. He is standing in front of his mirror, not even dressed yet, slicking his hair back to get it in a place where it won’t bother him the entire morning.

“Do you sometimes get sore shoulders from the weight of all the product you put in your hair?” Kylo Ren asks from his bed. The bastard hasn’t even bothered to get up yet. He is just lying there, in one of Hux’s shirts (he is ninety-nine percent sure it’s his), watching Hux get ready.

“Seriously?” Hux asks and raises his eyebrows as high as he can while turning to Ren. “You want to talk to me about hair obsession, Rapunzel?”

“I use nothing but standard Last Order soap.”

“Yes, but the amount you use is impoverishing, pet. Ever since you’ve moved in here I’ve had to order at least three tubes per week.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“And could you at least try to look like you have anything else to do than lying around and watching me work my ass off?” Hux asks while throwing on his uniform, ignoring the pain that shoots up from his left elbow. He immediately begins to sweat. It’s too fucking hot in this room.

“No. I like watching you work your ass off.”

Hux sits down on his bed to tie his shoes. “So that’s what you do when I’m not on the ship? You spend your mornings in bed reading magazines about hair styles and villainous fashion choices?”

“Actually, Rey and I have moved our training session to morning,” Ren replies. He turns sideways, pushing his elbow into the pillow to rest his head on his hand. “This way I have the entire evening for your protocols about the meeting.”

“Because otherwise you’d miss me too much?” Hux grins.

“You wish.” Ren sniffs the air and scrunches his nose. “Is that Eau de Toilette I smell?”

“Yes. I am a civilized man. Besides, it makes your mum go all crazy over me.”

“You’re a disgusting pig, Hux.”

“And that’s one of the many things that make me utterly irresistible to you.”

“One more word and I have to hurl. Please never procreate. Your genes have to go extinct with you to save future generations the shame of having to deal with them.”

“What, you don’t want kids?” Hux takes his coat out of the closet and uses the opportunity to admire himself in the mirror. “I was thinking two. And a house in the countryside, with white garden fences and a cherry tree. Or maybe at the sea to have a nice breeze.”

“I’d rather live in a colony of Gungans. We could get a Wookiee, though. At least they’re useful.”

“I don’t speak Wookiee.”

“I do.”

Hux turns around to stare at Ren. “You do?” Why would anybody bother to learn that abhorrent language?

“Chewie taught me when I was a kid.”

“Who the fuck is Chewie?”

“Not important,” Ren says, but Hux could swear he sees a shadow cross his face. “Go. You’ll make them wait.”

Hux grabs the datapad with the most essential files on it from his desk. His advisors will bring the rest of the documents. He leans down to Ren.

“I still need a kiss to pass on to your mum,” he says. “She’s insatiable and we need an excuse for the crowd.”

“Touch my mother and I’ll rip your guts out,” Ren says, but he lifts his head and allows Hux to hurriedly brush his lips. “And believe me, I’ll know.”

Once the door closes behind him, Hux takes a moment to lean his back against it. He touches his lips with his fingers. Kylo Ren’s scent lingers overwhelmingly on him because in his rush and his only half-awake state of course he has mixed up their cologne. Nobody will notice the difference but Hux himself, which is bad enough.

When have I gotten myself so fucking domesticated?

He slowly walks down the corridor towards the lift. Two and a half hours until the meeting.

Chapter Text

“We have located Snoke,” is the first thing General Organa says when Hux enters the conference room. Most of the Senate representatives have not even arrived yet. “He is deep within the Unknown Regions, but we are absolutely certain that it is him.”

“Bravo,” Hux says. About time. “What now? Do you nevertheless want to hold the meeting? Or do you want to deploy the troops at once?”

“The Resistance would prefer to deal with Snoke as soon as possible,” she replies. “I propose we discuss the troop formation and then we depart immediately.”

“Fine by me,” Hux says. “You haven’t given us any maps of your explorations yet, though. We don’t even know where we are going. Where is Snoke hiding?”

“On a planet,” one of the captains of the Resistance responds, as if that were a satisfying answer. He turns towards the controls and a few seconds later a rough sketch of a map appears on the screen. It shows systems and constellations Hux has never seen before. “In this star system.” The captain zooms in on one of the suns. “It is quite a big star with quite a lot of planets. The one we found Snoke on is rather close to the sun, but is seems they have made it inhabitable. It is very well shielded, though, we haven’t been able to collect any closer intel.”

“How many men?” Khal asks.

“Difficult to say. We are estimating one to one-and-a-half thousand. It is not an army, but the scanning devices suggest that there are several units with at least rudimentary knowledge of the ways of the Jedi, and like I said, the weapons and defence system they employ seems to be state-of-the-art.”

“Snoke has always had a soft spot for big weapons,” Hux remarks. “Stationary defences can be blown up. That is what the new series of Destroyers is for. Glass-cannons. Their defence system is weak but they deal more damage than any series before them. Even if they are defeated they will leave the enemies’ defences wide open for subsequent strikes. As long as we get through that shield and he doesn’t hide anything nasty on the planet… Can’t you scan for energy sources?”

“We did, Sir. We didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. However, our recon units are not strong enough to come any closer. We don’t know what he might be hiding from our scanners. And the planet is too close to the sun for us to detect other traces of radiation. He really has chosen the perfect hiding spot.”

The meeting takes less than an hour. They decide on the number of ships and men each side will provide. They agree to leave the larger parts of both armies behind. A smaller fleet will be more agile and the more Fighters bear down on one single target the higher the risks of mutual obstruction. General Organa promises to deliver all necessary coordinates to the Last Order at once. They estimate that the voyage will take about two weeks.

“Will you take the Battlefront, General?” she asks.

“For the larger part of the way, yes,” Hux replies. “But the Battlefront is not made for invasion of small planets. At one point we will have to transfer to one of the smaller warships.”

General Organa nods. “Very well. Will you lead the mission alone?”

“Of course not. Kylo Ren will have to come, too. He is the Force-sensitive, after all. Which reminds me, we will need Admiral Phasma back immediately. She will be indispensable for operating the fleet.”

“And we will need Rey back. My brother has to prepare her for the mission.”

“As you wish. I will send her right down.”

Shortly after that they part ways and Hux takes his shuttle back to the Battlefront.

“Where is Kylo Ren?” he asks as soon as he has landed. The captain points him into the direction of the training area where he is apparently still fighting with the girl. Hux instructs Khal to inform the rest of the captains to hold an emergency meeting in one hour and makes his way to the training area.

They occupy one of the close combat training rooms for themselves. Outside, the girl’s droid is waiting obediently as a dog, sporadically emitting those infuriating little binary noises it makes. They don’t use lightsabers today, which makes the fight rather hard to follow. From Hux’s perspective, watching through the transparent pane that covers one entire wall, they look mainly as though they are just pointing fingers at each other and sometimes get hit by a very strong gust. They are both sweating and panting heavily, though, the tight training wear clinging to their well-formed muscles.

Hux raps his knuckles against the panel and a confused Kylo Ren opens the door for him.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. “The meeting was supposed to take hours. Did you ruin it?”

“I need to speak to Miss Rey,” Hux says, ignoring the insinuation. Ren shoots him a questioning glance when Rey walks past him towards Hux. She is immediately greeted by the excited droid. Hux has to suppress the urge to kick the thing down the hallway.

“Close the door,” Hux instructs her. She briefly looks at Kylo Ren who hasn’t exited the room yet, then she shrugs and closes the door. Hux leads her several steps away. He can see Ren standing behind the pane, following them with his eyes, but he makes no attempt to leave the room.

Hux turns to Rey. She is still drenched in reeky sweat, hair tousled, with dark strands clinging to her forehead. “Snoke has been located,” he says. “We will depart in a few hours. General Organa orders you to return to the Resistance and to Luke Skywalker immediately. Take your droid with you.”

The girl’s eyes flash up. “We are going to fight him?”

“Yes.”

“What about him?” She gives a slight nod towards Kylo Ren.

“I will talk to him. For now you are to return as quickly as possible.”

She doesn’t take her eyes off Kylo Ren. “Okay,” she says. “This is it, then.”

“This is it.”

After she has left Hux opens the door. “Come on,” he says to Ren. “We have to talk.”

“Can I at least shower first?”

“No. You can shower later.”

“I am all sweaty and I stink.”

“Yes, you do. It’s quite intoxicating.”

Hux leads Ren to the safe room and closes the door behind them. “Switch it on,” he says.

Ren obeys, all the while watching Hux closely. “What is going on?” he asks. “Where did you send Rey?”

“Back to the Resistance. They are sending Phasma up here. We have a meeting in forty-five minutes. Kylo, they found Snoke. He is deep in the Unknown Regions, as we suspected.”

He can see Ren’s eyes go big. Otherwise his face is a mask, completely unmoved.

“We will set course there as soon as Phasma is back and we have divided the troops. In about fourteen days we will arrive at the planet he is on and we will have to fight him.”

Ren nods slowly. “Good,” he says in a strained voice. “It’s about time.”

Hux doesn’t take his eyes off Ren. “Are you sure? Do you think you’re ready?”

“As ready as I will ever be. We will crush him.”

Kylo Ren absentmindedly lifts a hand to his hair and buries his fingers in his curls. They have been tied up, but now he tears them loose and several strands fall into his forehead. He blinks a few times, walks a few steps, stops dead, then takes up his pacing again. Eventually he leans against the wall and slowly sinks down onto the floor. Slender fingers play with the black-and-red cuff around his right wrist. The air is getting noticeably tighter.

“Kylo, are you panicking right now?”

He looks up. “Yes. Will you hold me, please?”

Hux kneels down next to him and pulls him into a tight embrace, the inflexible arm around Ren’s hips, the other around his shoulders, gently stroking his hair. He is engulfed by the smell of Ren’s sweat. He has to resist the urge to lick it off of him.

For a while nobody talks. Kylo Ren has his face nuzzled against Hux’s neck, both fists clenched into Hux’s uniform.

“What if,” Ren starts, falters, then tries again. “What if we forget the rules just for once and have sex right here and now?”

What if?

“No,” Hux replies quietly. “Now, don’t get me wrong. If you were actually craving for my expert love-making skills, I wouldn’t give it a second of thought. I’d have you naked already, right here on the floor, legs above your head. I’d be inside you so deep, I couldn’t even see the stars anymore, hitting all the right spots, have you scream my name until…”

“Alright,” Ren says. He shifts. “I get the picture. You’re not going to do that, though.”

“No. I can already feel you tense up. You’re doing it again, pet. You’ve done it tons of times before and you’re doing it now. You’re using me to paint over everything you don’t want to feel right now.”

Ren lifts his head and stares into Hux’s face. “Are you kidding me? I am using you?”

“Yes, you are. Don’t deny it. Now, I am not complaining, but it’s your thing. Instead of destroying equipment you let yourself get destroyed by me, sometimes until you couldn’t even move anymore. Might be cheaper on the budget, but honestly, I thought we were past all of these things. Shouldn’t you know better by now?”

“I should,” Ren mutters. He lets his head sink bank against Hux’s shoulder, tightening the grip of his fists. “Sometimes it’s hard to escape from there.”

“Sounds like it.”

They stay silent for a while. Hux keeps stroking his head while he listens to Kylo Ren’s breathing slowing down and to his heart beat returning to a normal rhythm.

“Hux,” Ren eventually says, voice muffled by the fabric of Hux’s uniform. “Please never say yes. Regardless of what I tell you, don’t say yes, don’t push me back there. Because I don’t know how many more times I can return from there.”

“I can probably manage that,” Hux replies. “I can’t speak for Snoke, though.”

“That’s why he has to go.”

“Look at you, pet.” Hux trails his fingers over the slender neck, brushing the black curls away. “Out there you’re such a hard-ass. They’re all trembling in terror, because they can’t see your face and even if they can, they think you are cold as ice. You’re so powerful it is intimidating everyone. But as soon as we are in here you become so small and vulnerable that I am afraid I might crush you if I make one wrong movement.”

“I know,” Ren mutters. “It’s horrible, isn’t it? I can’t believe I am letting you see me like this.”

“Nothing makes me happier than seeing you like this. You could Force-crush everyone, including the girl. But inside you are the most sensitive soul I have ever encountered. You will always remain a bit of a mystery to me, Ben-Kylo Solo-Ren.”

Ren lifts his head and lets Hux see his smile. He slowly sits back until they are facing each other.

“Speaking of which, how is the training going?”

“Very well, I think. We are making a lot of progress. I am not necessarily becoming stronger, I have been strong enough to begin with. She is, though, it’s almost frightening. It’s still a huge difference to train with a real Jedi than to just bear down onto the normal troopers.”

“Yes, they have been quite unhappy about training with you, too.”

“But it’s not just the technique,” Ren says and pushes a strand of hair out of his face. “Recently the connection between us has become so strong that we can sense each other’s power in a way that makes us predict exactly which way it will move and how to influence it. It makes fighting each other almost impossible, because the two currents simply merge with each other. But when we direct it onto another target instead, it becomes so powerful, I feel we could explode the entire base.”

“Please don’t do that.”

“We won’t. We can still control it, perfectly. I just feel that if we ever got to unleash our entire power combined, there is nothing that could stand in our way.”

“See, now you’re making me jealous again.”

Ren smirks. “Seriously? Tell me more. It’s just the fight, you know.”

“Maybe. But it’s still a side of you I will never be a part of.”

“You get this.” He lifts Hux’s hand and interlocks it with his own fingers. “Which, frankly, is more than you ever deserve. Would you want to exchange this for being able to use the Force?”

“Hell, no. I want nothing to do with the Force. It sounds like quite the burden. Never a moment to myself, with bald madmen trying to get involved with me all the time. No, thank you.”

“What a relief. I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if Snoke had taken you as his disciple instead of me. You’d probably have destroyed the entire Galaxy by now.”

“You’re saying that like you haven’t destroyed quite a few things on your own, yourself included.”

“That’s not fair,” Ren says, frowning. “I haven’t destroyed anything in quite a while.”

“I’ve noticed. I had to do all the hard work for you. You’ve gone soft as a puppy.”

Brown eyes try to scrutinize him, but they are too open to have any strong effect on Hux.

“Which is a real pity,” Hux continues. “Because I am still convinced that if you set your mind to it you could conquer the Galaxy easily. You are by far the most powerful person I know, softness and all.”

“I know,” Ren says. He looks down onto their hands, bottom lip drawn between his teeth. “That’s what Snoke saw in me. So what? Maybe I am powerful. Are you telling me I am going to waste if I don’t spend every day using that power? Am I nothing but a resource to be depleted?”

“I reckon you’re not. You can do with that power whatever you want. No one says that you have to actually use it. I am just saying, if you wanted to…”

“I don’t know what I want.” His bottom lip is getting seriously mauled now. “But I don’t think I want to sacrifice everything, including my own soul, to destroy the Galaxy. That’s not me. That was Darth Vader, that is Snoke. For now I’d be quite content with simply knowing nobody is trying to use me as a weapon anymore.”

“Duly noted,” Hux responds. He lifts their hands to his mouth and presses Ren’s knuckles against his lips. “No turning you into a weapon.”

Kylo Ren looks up. “How long did you say until the meeting?”

“Forty-five minutes. Although, now it’s closer to twenty.”

Ren stands up. Hux follows him. “I still have to shower and change clothes.” He walks to the switch on the wall and turns it off.

“Don’t,” Hux suggests. “Go as you are. I like it.”

“The rest won’t.”

“What do I care about the rest?”

“Just go ahead,” Kylo Ren says and opens the door. “I will be there in a minute.”

Hux takes the lift straight to the conference room. He loads the map – still a very rudimentary one, since the Resistance is refusing to release their more detailed information – onto the screen. The rest of his officers come trickling into the chamber, Kylo Ren last.

“Shouldn’t we wait until Admiral Phasma has arrived?” Khal asks, but Hux shakes his head.

“She has informed me that she has just now left the planet. It will take a while until she is on board.”

He informs his officers of everything they know about Snoke so far and about the agreement they have reached with the Resistance. He will leave it to Phasma to appoint her troop leaders for her airborne mission while Hux and Kylo Ren will lead the ground mission to fight on the planet on which Snoke has built his base.

Phasma arrives as soon as the meeting is over and is not too happy to find she has missed everything.

“At least I am back on board,” she remarks.

“It’s good to have you back,” Hux agrees. He brings her up to date and then instructs her to assign her TIEs and the Destroyers. A few hours later they have divided the fleet into the larger part that will remain in the known Galaxy and make sure that there are no disturbances on their planets, bases and transport routes, and the smaller part that will voyage into the Unknown Regions, equipped with their best weapons and state-of-the-art defence technology.

The girl has left the Battlefront with her droid and arrived safely on Myrkr. Before the clock switches to night shift the Battlefront leaves the orbit of the planet and makes her way towards the Unknown Regions, closely followed by their troop ships and the Resistance fleet.

They keep their communication channels open.

 

Phasma keeps trying to coax the fully explored star map out of the Resistance. They hold several hologram conferences over the next days, but the Resistance is still reluctant to entrust that much information on them. Eventually they promise to deliver the star map before the encounter with Snoke.

The voyage itself turns out to be completely unremarkable. While Luke Skywalker has mentioned several armed encounters with the First Order during their exploration missions, none of that sort happens to them this time. General Organa assumes that Snoke has withdrawn all of his ships to the base to greet them with full force.

Unable to continue his training with Rey, Kylo Ren spends several hours each day at medbay with Doctor Penn, who, since she doesn’t have to look after any wounded troopers at the moment, seems to have cleared most of her schedule for him. From time to time, when he is allowed, Hux joins him, listening in on stories Kylo Ren tells of his parents, of Skywalker, and, most importantly, of Snoke. More often than not listening to him is almost physically painful, but Penn seems delighted by their sessions so Hux decides to keep his mouth shut.

“Once we are done with Snoke, I would really like to turn the subject towards the two of you,” Penn says one day, triggering in Hux the almost overwhelming urge to bolt. “I think it would be immensely helpful if you could speak openly with each other.”

“We are speaking openly with each other,” Ren says, turning his head towards Hux, making it impossible for him to get out of here.

Penn raises an eyebrow, clearly surprised. “Would you be willing to give it a try in here?”

Ren shrugs. “Sure.” And just like that, all of Hux’s hopes to get out of this session unscathed are gone. At least he will have time until they have killed Snoke before he has to face that.

 

Once they have neared the star system in which Snoke is hiding, Hux holds a conference with General Organa to discuss their further approach.

“You said you wanted to transfer onto one of your warships, General,” she confirms.

“Yes. It would be easiest if we could leave the Battlefront in orbit of one of the other planets in the system. How will you travel, General Organa?”

“I wanted to propose you transfer to our ship,” she replies. “Only the leading ranks, of course. It is the fastest and the safest ship you can find and it will give us time to plan our strategy upon advancement. Besides, I would prefer it if we didn’t have to yell at each other via com-link every time something unexpected occurs.”

Hux watches her face closely. As always, she doesn’t give him anything. “That might be the smart thing to do,” he finally cedes. “Will your brother be part of your command?”

“My brother will not be on the ship. He will support the airborne units. He would like to confer with your Admiral Phasma before they depart.”

“A Jedi in charge of the Starfighters? That is rather unusual.”

“It is always helpful to have one Jedi in the air. Besides, he will have support from my Second Fleet commander. That reminds me, Rey wanted to speak to you.” She turns her head and calls for the girl. “She is still eating,” she says, turning back. “She will be here in a few minutes.”

“No hurries,” Hux replies. “Where do you propose meeting? Do you have any bases around here?”

“There is a planet not too far from Snoke’s hiding spot. It is inhabitable. I would suggest we rendezvous there once tomorrow and make it our interim base.”

“Very well,” Hux says. “Which reminds me, you still haven’t provided us with a proper star map. My admiral is getting impatient. We are flying mostly blind here, General Organa.”

“Our technicians are working on the final version right now. You will have it in your system this evening. There is Rey, now.”

She excuses herself, stands up and leaves the screen. Instead of her, the Jedi girl takes the seat.

“How is he doing?” she asks, without any greeting. “Will he come?”

“Do you miss him so much already?”

“I am anxious. It’s not easy out here. Snoke’s signal has gotten quite strong. I don’t want to face him alone, but I am afraid that Ren will not be able to handle it.”

“He is handling it. Of course he will come.”

“Good. I have to admit, it feels weird. Being so much in sync with another person’s Force for so many months and then to suddenly have that much distance between you and them. It feels like something is missing.”

“You make quite a couple, the two of you.”

“Jealous, General Hux?” She smirks.

“Not at all,” he replies. “You will see him tomorrow.”

After he has switched off the communicator he returns to the bridge. Everyone is here, Phasma, Khal, Mitaka and Kylo Ren, wearing his helmet, staring at the image of the system on the screen in front of them.

“That is quite a large sun,” Mitaka remarks. “And we still don’t know more about Snoke’s stronghold?”

“Only that it is very well guarded,” Hux replies. “We will find out tomorrow, I suppose.”

“Snoke always liked to shroud himself in mystery,” Phasma says. “The less anybody knew about him the more pleased he was.”

“Tell me about it,” Hux sighs. “He was insufferable.”

He takes Kylo Ren by the arm and leads him away from the rest. They come to a halt at one of the side screens.

“So if you had to choose between facing Snoke or your mother, who’d you pick?”

Ren stays silent while he ponders the question. “Snoke, I guess,” he finally replies.

“I somehow expected that. We’re meeting your mother tomorrow. We will continue the flight on her ship instead of taking one of our Destroyers.” He looks up, but he doesn’t receive any reaction from the helmet. “You’re not protesting?”

“I knew this moment would come sooner or later,” Ren replies quietly. “No point crying about it now, is there?”

“Indeed. Well, at least once you’ve dealt with your mother, Snoke will feel like a piece of cake in comparison.”

“Probably.”

“Are you planning on apologizing to her?”

Ren squares his shoulders. He doesn’t turn away from the small screen. “No. I can’t change what I have done. I can never make it up again. What good would apologizing do?”

“You said you wanted them to apologize to you for not helping you,” Hux reminds him. “What’s done is done. But I still think she would like it if you said sorry. Then at least she knew that not all is lost between you and her and that you’re trying.”

Ren turns his head towards Hux, which doesn’t have much effect since he refuses to take off the helmet. Hux can do nothing but stare into the darkness of the mask over Ren’s eyes.

“Don’t act like you’re an expert on apologies,” Ren snarls. “When was the last time you apologized for anything, Hux?”

“Only last week,” Hux retorts. “Out of old habit, when I stepped on Phasma’s toes. Of course, she was wearing armour and I was wearing boots and the whole thing hurt me much more than it hurt her, but it still counts.”

Ren keeps his head unmoved for a while. “You said sorry for stepping on Phasma’s toes,” he finally repeats.

“Yes. Out of habit.”

Ren turns away again, arms crossed behind his back. “So that of all things is where you think an apology would be in place,” he mutters.

Before Hux can respond to that, Mitaka calls for his attention. He walks over to his lieutenant. When he turns around, Kylo Ren has left the bridge.

 

Kylo Ren is sitting on his bed, datapad in his hand, as Hux comes back to their room late at night.

Ren looks up. “Come here. The Resistance has finally transmitted the entire star map of the area they have scanned. It’s crazy how many systems are still out there that we know nothing about.”

Hux has to climb over his own bed to reach Ren. He drops himself next to Ren and stares at the datapad. “That’s tiny,” he says. “Why don’t you throw it onto the holo projector?”

Ren shrugs. “It’s switched off and I was too lazy to get up.”

“Kylo, you’re master of the star-forsaken Force. I have seen you operate a whole flight system without touching a single switch.”

“Oh. Right.” Ren waves his hand into the vague direction of the projector. The room darkens and the projector starts up with a whirr. Two minutes later they have a whole new galaxy circling around them in tiny dots of light.

“How can you forget something like that?”

“I didn’t forget. I just didn’t think of it right now.”

Ren puts the datapad aside. They spend a few minutes looking at the tiny suns and planets swirling through the air. A large cluster in one corner, probably consisting of several hundred stars, comes slowly closer, passes by and floats towards the closet.

“Look at that,” Ren says. “There must be a thousand planets, all still unexplored, many probably inhabitable. Just imagine what life forms we might find there if we just gave it a try. I almost feel like we should be grateful to Snoke for making us come out here.” A sun floats by right in front of their faces, a couple of small planets in its orbit. One of them is deep-sea blue with several silver rings. “Rey tells me that Finn has begun naming new constellations,” he continues. He lifts his arm and points somewhere into the mess of lights. “I think that’s supposed to be BB-8.”

“Traitor would be a more fitting name I’d say,” Hux retorts.

“That’s what Snoke keeps calling me,” Ren says quietly.

Hux turns his head to look at Ren’s face. The lights of the stars reflect in his eyes, giving them a soft shine. “How bad is it?” he asks.

Ren keeps his eyes on the swirling system. “It could be worse, I guess. I don’t think it’s really him. I think I have managed to shut out the real thing. The room helps. Penn told me to try certain things when I’m in there. Remember the lyrics to a song, list every single thing I have eaten that day, those kinds of things. Anything that helps me shut it down. That way, whenever I am out here, I can repeat that. If it gets better, it’s not really Snoke.”

“Does it? Get better.”

“It does. But it’s exhausting. Sometimes I have to do it twice every hour.”

“It’ll get easier,” Hux says.

Kylo Ren turns his head until it rests against Hux’s shoulder. He trails his slender fingers along his hand and laces them through Hux’s fingers. “I feel like all I’m doing is wait for things to get easier.” He lifts their hands into the shimmering galaxy. “Look at that. You’re even paler than I am. You keep talking about how white I am, but you’re even worse.”

Hux rubs his thumb against Ren’s skin. “It’s the ginger,” he says. “We don’t come in bronze. We’re either snow-white or fire-red, there is no in-between.”

They both stare at the reflections of the light dots travel over their intertwined hands.

“What will you do if he kills me?” Kylo Ren whispers after a while.

Hux turns his head back at Ren. “Do you want him to kill you?”

Ren lets their hands sink back onto the sheets between them. He follows them with his gaze, face perfectly still. Finally, he shakes his head. A tiny movement.

“Then don’t let him kill you,” Hux says.

“I just want to be free.”

“You’ll get there.”

“Even though dying might be easier than dealing with what comes after that. If we kill him. If everything is done. I still don’t know what to do after that or who I am even supposed to be.”

“Don’t say things like that,” Hux says. “Not knowing is not necessarily a bad thing. Snoke is not your due date for your ‘What do I want for my future’ report. You don’t have to look ahead all the time and you don’t need to know the answer to everything.”

“You’re one to talk,” Ren says. He turns to look at Hux. “You know everything. You know exactly who you want to be and want you want from your life.”

“Yes,” Hux replies. “I am a genius. I know all there is to know. So how about you stop disagreeing with everything I say and simply trust me?”

Ren lets his head drop back against Hux’s shoulder. Hux allows his chin to sink into the sea of black curls. “I will never trust you.”

“See, I love that you can be so open, without ever even taking my feelings into consideration,” Hux says sardonically.

“You don’t have feelings. You have a rock in your chest where your heart should be.”

“Well, maybe one day the Wizard of Oz will take pity on me and give me a real heart.”

“You can have my heart,” Ren murmurs. “It keeps hurting me anyway.”

“I don’t want your heart, pet. It’s too damaged. I’ll just break it.”

Kylo Ren doesn’t answer. He is leaning heavily against Hux, head and shoulders and arm.

“Kylo, don’t fall asleep against my shoulder. I’ll drop you like a hot potato.”

Still no answer. Hux tries to reach the datapad to switch off the holo projector, but Ren has trapped him.

Eventually he gives up, leans back and listens to the soft, slow breathing next to him. It must be past midnight. They are flying through the exact galaxy that keeps tumbling around the room. By tomorrow they will have reached the star system in which Snoke has been hiding for over two years now. They will transfer onto the ship of the Resistance, allegedly with an unbeatable defence system. They will fly right into the dragon’s den and they will cut off its head.

Chapter Text

The planet they have agreed to rendezvous on doesn’t have a name yet. None of these planets do. It has a number assigned by the Resistance, but according to Kylo Ren, Rey has begun calling it Purple Woods – ignoring Dameron’s proposal to name it Gallifrey – because that is exactly what it is made of. It is mainly covered in jungle, perforated by large lakes and broad streams instead of oceans. The jungle isn’t green, though, it is blue with several shades of purple. According to one of the astrophysicists, that is due to the difference in the light waves the sun is emitting.

They have established the interim base on a sandy riverbank that is mainly free of vegetation. The Resistance has already landed and risen up several large tents. The sun, according to the reports of the Resistance, is not necessarily dangerous, but exposed to it over a longer period of time it can cause skin irritations.

The troops stay in orbit, ready to depart. Only Hux, Kylo Ren, Phasma and Khal descend onto the planet in one of their smaller shuttles.

“The water is still blue,” Hux remarks when they have almost arrived.

“The sun can’t change colour on a molecular level,” Kylo Ren responds. “It can only influence the colour in the plant cells that allows the most efficient light absorption.”

“And where do you know that from?”

“I have read the report. It’s all in there.”

Fucking Nerd.

Hux turns around to look at Kylo Ren. “Do you have everything?” he asks. “Lightsaber? Any other weapons? You still don’t use any other weapons, do you?”

“I don’t need any other weapons,” Ren replies.

“This time I am almost inclined to believe you. But only because we are up against another Force-sensitive who is just as stubborn about using nothing but the Force as you are. Where is your helmet?”

Ren looks at him calmly. “I chose to leave it.”

Hux returns his gaze. He takes his time digesting that information to grasp the implications of Ren’s decision. “You did, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Hux turns towards the door.

The shuttle comes to a quivering halt. The engines shut down. The door opens. They step onto the planet and walk towards the tents. Rey, flanked by her orange droid, Poe Dameron, and his traitor boyfriend, waves at them.

“Over here, boys.”

“Did you just call us boys?” Ren asks when he meets her.

Rey bumps her shoulder into his arm (she doesn’t reach his shoulder). “Yeah, I did. General Leia is waiting inside the ship.” She points at a sleek, glistening Destroyer sitting a few meters away from the tent, emitting a loud humming sound.

Hux looks at Dameron. “You are riding with the Destroyer? What about your X-Wing?”

Dameron shrugs. “Only hitching a ride. Finn is the commander of the Second Fleet, after all. He’s needed on board. Once we’re there we will switch to the smaller X-Wing. You know already fully well that it is agile enough to manoeuvre inside large structures.” He grins. His boyfriend doesn’t seem inclined to speak one word or even look at Hux and Kylo Ren, leave alone Phasma.

“Where is Luke Skywalker?” Phasma asks.

Rey points to the tent behind her. “In there. He is expecting you. Chewie will join you, too.”

Phasma turns towards Hux. She is already wearing her chrome helmet so it is impossible to guess her expression.

“I will see you when this is over,” Hux says. “Don’t accidentally kill Skywalker.”

“I will do my best, Sir,” Phasma responds. “Don’t let Kylo Ren get killed.”

Then she is gone and Rey leads them towards the Destroyer. On the stairs they almost bump into a wall of fur. Hux looks up into an animal mouth with sharp teeth and tiny dark eyes. The animal is huge, towering even over Kylo Ren by at least a head.

Ren slowly lifts his gaze until he has reached the creature’s face.

“Hi Chewie,” he says voice straining with tension.

The animal makes a shrieking noise and pushes past them, towards the tent in which Phasma and Luke Skywalker are conferring. Ren turns around and watches it leave, lips pressed tightly shut.

“Now that was just unnecessary and rude,” he finally mumbles.

“So that fur-ball was Chewie,” Hux says as they ascend the steps towards the airlock.

Ren frowns. “He is not a fur-ball, Hux, he is a person. Don’t call him that.”

“Yes, Pocahontas.”

“Chewie has had a hard time these last years.” Rey is waiting for them at the top of the stairs. Dameron and the traitor have already vanished inside. “It’s no wonder. I think he is the one who misses Han Solo the most.”

“Yes, he made that quite clear when he shot me,” Ren replies, lifting his hand to his abdomen.

They enter the ship and follow Rey into a conference room with a large desk, bolted firmly to the floor, and several data screens on the wall. Leia Organa is standing at the table, two of her captains and Poe Dameron next to her. His boyfriend, the insignia of a Resistance commander on his arm, stands next to the general. She looks up as they enter the room.

“Welcome, gentlemen,” she says. “I hope you had no trouble finding the rendezvous spot. Now, the ship is mostly the same build as your common Republic-class Destroyer, albeit with some additional features.” She points upwards. “There is the pilot’s cockpit where you can find me for most of the flight. Down there is the common area. That’s about everything you need to know.”

She doesn’t take her eyes off Kylo Ren and a brief glance sideways confirms to Hux that Ren does the same. For several minutes none of them speaks. Hux and the rest watches both of them as they take in everything about each other, unable to speak a single word.

“Thank you,” Hux finally says. “How’s the situation on Snoke’s side?”

At last General Organa tears her gaze away from her son and faces Hux. She signals to one of her captains, who opens several images on the data screens. They show the star system, the planet, and a large, blurry structure that has been erected between two mountains.

“We assume that this is the stronghold where we will find Snoke,” the general explains. “We haven’t managed to get a better sight on it yet, because we will need to break through their defences to do that. But it is to be expected that the whole thing will be very well armed.”

“How many ships?” Khal asks.

“About two hundred TIEs and a few larger ones for the defence. Nothing we can’t take care of. It is impossible to say how many troopers are inside the stronghold, though. Our men have ventured a few estimates, based on its size, but we don’t know how much of that space is designated for the ground forces and how much is something else.”

“Snoke values strength over number,” Kylo Ren says quietly. “The troops he will have with him will be small, but they will be tough. They have been specially trained by him.”

Leia Organa lifts her head and looks at him. He returns her gaze.

“Will the Knights of Ren be there?” Hux asks before they can enter another staring contest.

“Most likely,” Ren replies.

“We can deal with the Knights of Ren,” Rey says. “They have swords. We have swords. Works out well.”

They go through their entire troop deployment plans and when Hux and General Organa have received notice from Phasma and Luke Skywalker that they are ready for take-off, they depart from the planet.

The little Destroyer shoots out of orbit with maximum speed below light-speed. They have decided not to jump into hyperdrive, since they don’t know when they will have to expect their first encounters.

General Organa has left for the cockpit. The traitor commander has made for the lower deck. Kylo Ren keeps staring at the exit through which she has vanished.

“You can just follow her, you know,” Rey suggests. He shakes his head.

Hux has sat down on the desk, working through the images the Resistance has taken of Snoke’s stronghold. He tries to find any clue as to what is waiting for them once they have arrived. Something about the shiny metal structure leaves him with an uneasy feeling in his guts. He tries to pin down the feeling, but he comes up with nothing.

“So, Kylo Ren,” he hears Dameron say. Hux lifts his head. “We meet again.”

Ren looks down onto the much smaller man without any expression on his face. “I have never met you before in my life.”

“You tortured me.”

“I have tortured many people. You cannot honestly expect me to remember all of their faces.”

“Seriously? The star map? The little droid on Jakku? The droid that is here on this ship right now?”

Ren lifts an eyebrow. “That was over four years ago.”

“Yes, well, you left quite the impression. As if torture had even been necessary. If you’d just bothered to take off that helmet, have dinner and maybe some wine… I would have told you my own mother’s secrets in a minute.”

Ren turns around on his heels and wordlessly walks away through the exit that leads to the cockpit.

“Seriously, though,” Dameron mutters towards Hux. “Somebody has to tap that.”

Hux stands up. “Go bother your boyfriend instead of harassing the generals,” he says.

“General Organa doesn’t mind me harassing her.”

“Go harass her, then.”

“No, I think I’ll prefer my boyfriend.” He winks.

“I need scotch,” Hux mutters. “Or at least caf.”

“They have a caf dispenser down on the lower deck,” Rey says. She stands up. “I’ll show it to you.”

“I thought you don’t like me,” Hux says following her.

“I don’t,” she responds. “I’m merely trying to be civil.”

After he has gotten his caf, Hux visits the cockpit. Two pilots are manning it. Between them General Organa leans over a screen, Kylo Ren standing next to her.

“We think it must be some new kind of durosteel,” Hux hears Leia Organa say. “One that is much more heat-resistant than any we have seen so far.”

“Maybe he is connecting it to a Force-driven weapon,” Ren replies. “He has tried that before, hasn’t he?”

“Well, that has failed completely. It didn’t even survive the trial phase. He would be a fool to try it again.”

“You might be giving him too much credit for his long-term planning.”

They fall silent. Leia Organa straightens herself up again, eyes still on the data screen.

“How are you doing?” she asks quietly.

Ren’s answer is even less audible. “Managing.”

“You look pale.”

“I don't get much exposure to sunlight.”

“You should. You look like you're not taking proper care of yourself. Are you eating enough?”

“Mum, please.” Hux can’t help but grin. They are looking at each other now, drawn towards one another, as though they have finally given up any last resistance.

“Don't you have anybody who takes care of you a bit?”

“I do.”

“You do?”

“Yes.”

“Are they treating you well?”

“Most of the time.”

“Most of the time?” Hux can hear the frown in her tone. “And that's enough for you? You know, you deserve somebody...”

“I don't deserve anybody,” Ren interrupts her. “Don't tell me I deserve anything better.”

He turns around and sees Hux standing in the entrance.

“Come here,” Ren motions him with his hand to come closer. “Take a look at that.”

Hux follows him and looks down onto the screen. He can see the planet far away in the distance against the giant sun. Closer than that, though, is a line of ships, obviously the first line of defence.

“We will send the air fleet ahead,” Hux says. “Once they have broken through the defence we can use that breach to enter orbit.”

“They are just waiting for us,” Leia Organa says unwillingly. “They don’t even attempt to come any closer.”

“The closer they are to Snoke the better he can control them,” Kylo Ren says. “If we want to strike, we will have to approach them.”

He looks at Hux. “Where’d you get that from?” He points his chin towards the caf can.

“Lower decks,” Hux replies. “It’s not even that bad.”

“Just the one?”

“Yes, what else?”

Ren frowns. “Nothing. Forget it.” He exits the cockpit.

Hux stares at the door. “Seriously?” he calls after Ren, but he receives no answer.

“Don’t bother, General Hux,” Leia Organa says, eyes back on the screen. “If my son chooses to sulk, there is nothing much you can do.”

“You tell me,” Hux replies sourly.

“It will still take a while until we encounter the first line,” she says. “I have to speak to my brother. Try not to cause an upheaval in the common area, okay?”

In the end Hux decides to bother after all. Because he has promised he’d try. He finds Ren alone on the lower decks, standing in front of the caf dispenser without showing any interest in actually using it.

“You’re sulking,” Hux says.

“I am not sulking, Hux, go away.”

“Yes, you are. I know your face when you’re sulking. You have pouty lips.”

“Those are just my lips.”

“Maybe. You’re still sulking. Come on, pet, look at me.”

Ren looks up. “Why do you even bother?”

“Because somebody has to take care of you a bit.”

Next thing he knows his back gets slammed into the wall next to the caf dispenser and he suddenly has two tongues in his mouth (one of them his own). He pushes back, but before he can properly return the kiss, Ren has broken away already. Strong hands dig into Hux’s shoulders. He looks up into a face that is either very, very angry or just about to burst into tears.

“Why you?” Ren snarls. “Why does it have to be you? After everything you have done to me, why do I keep returning to you? Why can’t you just stop this, stop being nice to me, stop making me need you!”

“I’m sorry!” Hux bursts out, choking on his own words. “I’m sorry, Kylo, you hear me? For everything, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so fucking sorry…!”

Kylo Ren stares at him, eyes blazing. “Stop that. I won’t forgive you. You don’t deserve forgiveness.”

“I know. You don’t have to. I’m still sorry. If I could change it all, I would. If I could return to the day I met you for the first time, I’d take you away, far, far away, into another galaxy, somewhere he can’t reach you, somewhere where you don’t have to go through any of that, through any of what I put you through!”

“I’d have killed you if you had tried that back then.”

“Doesn’t matter. I would have tried anyway. You don’t have to forgive me, but please know that I am sorry. Kylo, I…”

“Alright,” Ren says. “Just shut up.” He kisses him. This time he leaves Hux time to respond properly. “You can’t hurt me,” he whispers after a while. “You can’t ever hurt me again.”

“I won’t,” Hux whispers back.

“I mean it. I need you. I won’t be able to leave, even if you hurt me. So please, don’t hurt me, please.”

“I will never hurt you again.”

They kiss again, kiss the tears from each other’s faces, without saying another word. At some point Kylo Ren’s hands have found their way past Hux’s Uniform and press against his stomach.

After a while, Hux pulls away. He is panting. “We should get back.”

Ren opens his eyes to look into Hux’s without lifting his head.

“I know,” he murmurs against Hux’s lips. “So what?”

“This is still a common area. And I can’t believe I am saying this, but your mum could walk in on us any minute.”

Ren chuckles. “Fine. Coward.”

“Stubborn git.”

Both of their com-links bleep. Hux sighs. Perfect timing.

They make their way back to the conference room, only letting go of each other’s hands shortly before they step through the door.

 

Finn and Poe are back, sitting on the bench by the wall, holding hands. Rey rolls her eyes. She is trying to meditate. How can they expect her to meditate when they’re being sweethearts? Very, very sweet sweethearts.

“You can’t ask me that now, that’s unfair,” Finn whispers. Rey pricks up her ears.

“Why not? What’s there to wait for? Just say yes, please.”

“You’re only asking because we’re about to die. You don’t do this right before a huge battle, everyone knows that.”

Rey jumps up and scrambles between the two men, forcing Poe to scoot over.

“So he finally proposed?” she asks Finn. Suddenly she is excited. “I thought I was going nuts over this! He’s been talking about it for months!”

“See, baby?” Poe cranes his neck around Rey to look at his boyfriend (fiancé?). “It wasn’t out of the blue. The battle has nothing to do with it.”

“Look at this!” Finn says and holds out his hand with a plain silver band around his ring finger to Rey. “I can’t say yes now! Ask me again when the battle is over and we have both survived, okay?”

“If you insist.” Poe shakes his head, making sad puppy eyes. “But wear the ring, okay? That way if we die at least they’ll know we belong together.”

All of their com-links go off at the same time, saving Rey from more mushy talk. She stands up and shoos them into the small conference room. The captains of the Resistance, as well as the old admiral with the blue streaks on his skin from the Last Order are already there. General Leia enters from the cockpit side, General Hux and Kylo Ren from the lower decks.

Rey almost has to hurl when she senses the unsettled whirlwinds of Ren’s Force, thick with emotions. Does everybody on this ship have to be soppy today? Why does nobody take the asexual Jedi into consideration? Battles bring the insufferable out in people, she decides.

“Our air troops have encountered their defence,” General Leia says and tries to continue, when a sudden impact shakes the whole ship, sending everybody flying. Finn grabs Rey and keeps her from slamming against the desk.

“We’ve been hit!” one of the captains screams.

“We’re okay,” General Leia replies, gripping one of the railings along the wall tightly. “The defence shield around this thing doesn’t get blown so easily. That was just the suspension.”

The only one who didn’t hit the floor and is still sitting calmly in his chair is Khal, the admiral of the Resistance. Everybody else scrambles to get back into a more dignified position.

Kylo Ren waves his hand towards the switch on the other wall and the data screen lights up, showing them their exterior surroundings. Another jolt, almost as forceful as the first one, runs through the ship when the cannon loads and fires. On the screen they can see Admiral Phasma’s units crash into the TIE-Fighters of the First Order. X-Wings whirr past them as the Destroyer manoeuvres through the breached line of defence. Then the air unit of the Resistance with Luke Skywalker on board sweeps in from the left.

The cannon fires again. Rey can see one of the First Order TIEs crumble and tumble down towards the planet. It passes the defence shield without harm, but when one of the Last Order TIEs tries to follow it, it crashes against an invisible barrier and breaks into flames. Several Destroyers take position along the shield and start firing.

Poe grabs Finn’s hand and both of them vanish towards their X-Wing. General Hux keeps bellowing orders over his com-link to Admiral Phasma, General Leia does the same with her air unit captains.

“They can’t breach the shield,” she eventually says with a strained voice. “It’s too strong.”

“Can we find the source?” Rey asks Kylo Ren.

He nods. “It’s emitting a huge amount of energy. That shouldn’t be too hard to trace back.”

He takes her hand and immediately their Forces mingle. Her senses expand and without having to exchange another word they concentrate on the shield and trail it back to its source. Snoke’s presence is already so strong it makes Rey recoil.

“Alright, we’re in the air,” Finn’s voice sounds from Rey’s com-link. “But we can’t destroy the defence shield and we can’t pass through.”

“It’s got a few weak spots,” she says. “There’s one in the east. You might be able to penetrate it there. There’s a mechanism on the ground that feeds it. It’s pretty well hidden, but if you destroy the mechanism it should break up the shield.”

“Where?” Finn asks.

Rey tries to describe it to him, but it’s hard to describe what she sees through the Force-connection.

“I can’t find anything,” Finn says.

“Hold on,” she says. She lets go of Ren’s hand and concentrates solely on Finn. She tries to conjure up a picture in her head of the area below them, as detailed as possible. She adds the structure of the defence shield, like a net encompassing the entire planet, with its two blind spots to both sides of the mechanism that feeds it. Then she connects with Finn as strongly as possible and pushes.

She hears him yelp over the com-link.

“Geez, Rey, warn a bloke before you do that! I almost shot one of our own Fighters!”

“Sorry,” she says. “But you got it?”

“I’ll have a headache for the rest of the day but I think I got it.”

“Can you transmit the data from Poe’s X-Wing?” she asks their technician. He nods and switches over to the view the little Fighter is receiving right now. They watch them come down onto the hole in the defence shield with full weapon force, several of the Fighters under Finn’s command in their trail. They pass it, just barely. One of their wings sparks up, but they get through. They pick up on velocity as they speed towards the ground, aiming at the exact spot Rey has shown Finn through her Force-connection. Flashlights blaze up and the sound of their guns firing at the small mechanism hidden in the rocky ground roars deafeningly through Rey’s com-link.

The technician throws the transmission onto one of the small screens, returning to the wide view of the scene before them on the big screen. The air sparks up, showing them a seizure-inducing rain of blinking lights all around them as the shield below them crumbles and dissolves. The Fighters of the Second Fleet pass through without harm, closely followed by several Last Order TIEs.

Finn’s screams of triumph sound in her ear and next to him she can hear Poe yell, “Suck my dick, Supreme Commander!”

She grins and turns to General Leia who nods.

“The air force have driven the First Order defences into the west,” General Hux says. He turns back to his com-link. “Is the ground fleet ready?”

“I think we can try to land,” General Leia says.

They approach the planet. It is completely made of dark rocks, rugged and jagged and not at all welcoming. In the distance they can see an open pit of lava burn away, untroubled by the rain that comes lashing down onto the ground from heavy, dark clouds in the atmosphere.

The large metal structure glistening faintly in the few rays of sunlight that pass through the clouds almost looks like a castle. Two high towers reach far into the sky, between them a tall structure, hanging over the gate. It looks like a cannon but it doesn’t seem to shoot anything. The gate is enormous, too, and tightly closed. Nobody from the First Order is visible down here.

“Weird,” Admiral Khal remarks as they descend through the clouds. “From this angle the sun almost looks smaller than on the first images.”

“A visual trick I assume,” General Leia responds. “Is there anybody outside on the ground? I would have expected ground troops to welcome us.”

Finn and Poe’s little X-Wing zooms towards them as they land. The minute they touch ground, they can feel the tremors. The whole earth is shaking vigorously. The rocks around them creak loudly as the constant movement pushes them together.

“Is this a volcanic planet?” General Hux asks in disbelief. “Who in all of Malachor builds a stronghold on a volcanic planet?”

“Snoke has always been one for the dramatic effect,” Kylo Ren says. He sounds stressed. Down here it is impossible to escape the sensation of Snoke’s presence.

A few hundred meters in the distance the earth erupts and jets a huge cloud of steam into the air. Beneath them the ground continues to grumble. It is a perpetual effort for all of them to keep their balance and not be thrown off feet.

The technician checks the atmospheric scanners that take probes of the air around them.

“Gravitation is all right,” he finally says and switches off the artificial on-board gravitational field. “And you can go outside without protective wear. The pressure is within a reasonable margin and the sunrays aren’t dangerous yet. The rain is not acidic. Your skin should remain intact. The air isn’t breathable, though. No oxygen but lots and lots of dust. You will need breathing masks and something to protect your eyes.”

“Do you already wish you had brought your helmet with you?” General Hux asks Kylo Ren as they accept the masks and the eye-shields.

“A bit,” Ren replies. “I assume they will have air filters inside the stronghold, though. If we find a way to enter. The gate looks sturdy.”

The rest of the ground force has landed around them. They send the reconnaissance troops ahead and follow slowly. Nobody has shown their faces yet and there don’t seem to be any weapons to defend the gate. The rumbling becomes stronger as they approach the huge durosteel structure.

Above them the battle between the air force of the First Order and the fleets of the Resistance and the Last Order still rages. Finn and Poe have joined them for the time being to assist Luke. Doubt begins to rise in Rey whether the Supreme Commander, hiding in his impenetrable metal stronghold, will even bother to fight them or simply wait until the two fleets have exhausted each other. Their side is stronger, that much is obvious, but Rey doubts that any of their cannons will have enough fire power to blast open those gates.

Obviously Snoke has different plans, though. With a high-pitched screech the doors in front of them begin to open, just wide enough to allow a person in. The generals send in the reconnaissance units first, to secure the entrance. Rey can hear gunfire, followed by silence. Then General Leia signals them with her hand.

They enter the stronghold. Behind them the door slams shut and emits a hissing sound as it seals the air. One of their captains checks his portable scanner and gives an affirmative signal with his hand. They take off their masks. The air in here is fresh and the wind is strong. Above their heads Rey can hear the air turbines roar. Nevertheless, the air is still hot enough to make her sweat heavily.

The rumbling hasn’t subsided within the building, far from it. Above their heads the supporting durosteel pillars creak painfully. Somewhere in the distance Rey can hear a loud crash. Tremors run along the walls and make the lights flicker.

The generals have sent out their troops to secure the area. They stand in a vast hallway with narrow side aisles leading away, presumably towards the two towers. The hallway stretches straight forward. It ends in a gate, a bit smaller than the one they have just passed. Railings above their heads indicate another floor, but the lights are too dim to make out anything specific.

“I don’t like this,” General Leia says. “We appear to be standing in the spotlight.”

That’s when somebody opens fire on them. Lights along the upper railings flash up and for a split second Rey can see heavy guns stocking the balcony. Immediately, with perfectly synchronized movements, she and Kylo Ren send out a wall of pure Force that shields the people around them from the shots. Blazing rays of light linger quivering in the air all around them. The soldiers around them return the fire, but it is literal shots in the dark. Somebody somewhere screams. With another push of effort Rey and Kylo Ren send the fire back to where it came from, but most of it hits the railings that are much too sturdy to yield under the impact.

Out of the corner of her eye Rey can see General Hux lift the sleek gun he is carrying and suddenly one of the cannon explodes, then another one. The operators who have manned the cannons shriek as they get caught in the explosion.

“Not bad,” General Leia admits and follows his example on the opposite railing.

Kylo Ren grabs General Hux’s arm and spins him around. “Fuck, Hux, you’re a beast!” he says, laughing. It’s the most unexpected sound Rey has ever heard. The sudden currents of joy she receives from him leave her grinning involuntarily.

“Good thing you’re such a beauty,” General Hux replies and that is the moment Rey decides to temporarily break the Force-connection before she gets the second-hand hots for one of the worst criminals in the Galaxy.

The shooting has stopped. The door on the far end of the hallway has opened. They see Stormtroopers and at least two Flametroopers step through.

“Let’s meet them halfway, shall we?” General Leia suggests.

Rey activates her com-link. “How are things going out there?” she asks Finn. The Fighter, albeit as small as possible for an X-Wing, was still too large to fit through the door.

“We have tried getting in through the thermal exhaustion port and the trash compactor.” Finn’s voice comes in a stutter. There must be something in the stronghold that disturbs their transmission. “But I don’t think there is a way for us to join you. We will hold the line out here, okay? That makes it much easier for me to keep an eye on my men, anyway. The whole thing’s shaking like crazy, by the way.”

“You tell me,” Rey replies. The quakes running through the ground seem to be getting stronger by the minute.

They face the Stormtroopers. Rey decides to leave the lightsaber for the moment and draws her gun instead. She reaches out for Ren again, to make sure they will be able to pull up another Force-shield as soon as it becomes necessary.

Then she hears his voice.

 

At first, when both Kylo Ren and Rey freeze and jerk up their heads towards the ceiling, Hux has no idea what has gotten into them. And then he hears it, too. It is not merely in their heads, it is everywhere. A powerful voice, booming through the hallway, resonating along the already trembling walls. For a few minutes nobody is able to move from their spots.

Hux can see the confusion on the faces of several Resistance officers. Even General Organa seems to have a hard time to grasp what is happening. Hux himself, though, has heard this voice enough times to immediately understand where it is coming from.

“Snoke,” he says.

Fools! Do you sincerely presume that you can beat me, to whom you look like mere worms, in my own residence? I shall destroy you all as punishment for your insolence! I am older than any of you and I have seen emperors rise and fall that were ten times as powerful as you! Come nearer if you dare and bear witness of the true power of the Force!

And so forth. Eventually the intense pressure relents a bit and they find they can move again.

“He’s quite insufferable, is he not?” General Organa remarks.

“Quite,” Hux replies.

They have come dangerously close to their enemy line. The Stormtroopers open fire. Kylo Ren jerks up his unarmed hand and every single one of the troopers skids backwards across the floor, blasters flying out of their hands. Obviously, hearing Snoke’s voice again has put him in a bad temper. In the ensuing stunned silence the ground beneath them emits a pained roar and begins shaking violently enough to make them stagger.

“Come on,” Ren says. He keeps his eyes on the hall in front of them, brows furrowed deeply. He is practically baring his gritted teeth.

They leave the First Order Stormtroopers for their troops to take care of and press forward. Meanwhile, the heat levels around them rise to almost unbearable. The turbines above their heads become louder but they can’t win the battle against the relentless pressure. Meanwhile the earth rumbles incessantly with violent shocks that force them to fight for their balance every few minutes.

They have reached a large hall with several doors, one of which– the one at the farthest end of the hall – is engraved heavily. It’s not hard to guess where their destination lies. Something about the interior design puts Hux off, but as hard as he tries to figure out why, he can’t put his finger on it. The markings on the walls, the arrangement of the braces along the ceiling, the layout of the hallway, he has the distinct feeling he has seen all of this before. If only he could remember where.

Several special force units swarm in from all directions. The Force-shield Ren and Rey have erected enables them to take full aim before shooting. Hux can’t help but notice that he has found a rival in General Organa, who handles her gun better than any expertly trained Stormtrooper. When one of the attackers breaks through the Force-shield, aiming at a highly concentrated Rey, she guns him down in one shot.

All the while Snoke’s voice keeps droning on in their heads, impossible to ignore. It takes its toll on Hux and he can see the others struggling as well. The longer the fight lasts the more he catches himself casting anxious glances at Kylo Ren, whose movements – he has ignited his lightsaber – are almost mechanical. His face is completely blank. Just before one of Hux’s own men shoots him in the head, the last of Snoke’s special forces manages to land a heavy blow against Ren’s temple. He doesn’t even flinch. When the man drops dead at his feet, Ren stares at him.

To his left General Organa calls out for them to advance.

“Stop!” Hux yells. Everybody freezes. He signals for his men to advance without him and turns to Kylo Ren. He doesn’t even look up.

So you have ended up back in your mother’s lap, Kylo Ren. The further they advance the more personal Snoke becomes and the person he chooses as his target is, naturally, Kylo Ren. How does it feel to have tasted real power, to have beheld what true greatness looks like and to have nevertheless chosen a life devoid of any worth and meaning?

Hux takes Ren by the arm and turns him towards himself. He knows this face. He has seen enough of it to recognize its look. He holsters his gun and takes Ren’s face in both of his hands. He tries to get Ren to meet his eyes, but he won’t focus.

“Oh no, you don’t,” he says. “Look at me, Kylo, look at me. You are not going to break down now. Do you hear me? You can do that later, when this is over. You can take as long as you want. I will hold you tight and I will let you cry and I will kiss your tears from your face and let you tell me everything that is wrong with you. I will go to the deepest pits of your own personal hell with you and hold your hand so you know how to return. I will let you sob like a child, I will let you scream and curse and I will even let you throw a little rage fit if you want to.”

Slowly, Kylo Ren lowers his gaze onto Hux’s face, a faint glimmer kindling in his eyes, turning into a flicker.

“Fuck you, Hux,” he growls. “Seriously.”

Hux gives him a smirk and strokes several black curls out of his face. “Finish this. You have come this far, all you have to do is finish him. You can break down later. But not now. Now you fight.”

Ren meets his eyes. His face, completely slackened until a moment ago, has regained some of its tension.

“Promise?” he whispers. He draws his bottom lip between his teeth.

Hux places his thumb on Ren’s chin and pulls his lip free. “Promise, love.”

Kylo Ren inhales sharply. He nods. Hux lets go of him and turns to the rest of their little group.

“Go on,” he says.

From the corner of his eye he sees the look General Organa gives him, but she doesn’t say a word.

Ren faces the door and starts walking, leading them forward. Around them their units swarm out to secure the other entrances.

Before they reach the door it opens and several men clad in black step through. The door closes again with a loud crack. The men lift their weapons.

“Finally,” Rey mumbles. She holsters her gun and draws her lightsaber. It ignites with a hiss, flaring up in a radiant blue.

Kylo Ren strides forward, robes flapping around his ankles. He has lowered his lightsaber, but his posture clearly indicates that he is ready to strike any second. The group of masked men opposite them raise their own weapons in anticipation.

“Knights of Ren,” Kylo calls out. “Do you really want to fight your master? This is not a fight you can win and you know that. Lay down your weapons and join me. The Supreme Commander has promised you greatness. I promise you freedom.”

Hux expects them to charge immediately. What he hasn’t expected is the sudden overwhelming pressure coming from all sides, knocking the air out of his lungs. His heart rate jumps into a painful frenzy. His muscles strain against the waves of pure white rage that comes crashing down on all of them. Nobody can even lift a finger anymore.

Kylo Ren! Snoke’s voice pierces his head and he recoils from the searing pain and the sickness that get hold of him. You still dare to defy me? I have given you everything! I have shown you the path you were destined to follow! You could have become the master of the Galaxy, of all galaxies. You could have had Darth Vader bow before you. Armies would have trembled in your presence. Instead you let your weaknesses determine your fate. In the end you prove how pathetic you really are. You cannot even conquer yourself, yet you think you can conquer me? Come and find out! Once I have shown you my true power you shall forever be my slave! Anything you have had to endure until now will feel like child’s play compared to the torment through which I shall put you. I shall force you to wipe out every single one of these humans you cling to so desperately. I…

“Shut up!” Ren roars. A blinding bolt of pure Force sears through the hall and suddenly the pressure relents. The air begins to hum as Kylo Ren’s Force bears against Snoke’s. “What do you think you can accomplish with your self-involved ramping? You can’t control me anymore! I will never again bow before you! You think you’re so powerful? Face me and I will crush you! I am not yours to do with as you please! I will not listen to your lies anymore!”

Rey grabs his hand. He holds it so tightly his knuckles turn white. Suddenly the pressure dispenses and a lightness takes its place. They can breathe again. The air around both of them begins to shimmer.

“I am not Darth Vader!” Ren yells. “I am not a child anymore you can simply feed your hatred. The times are over that you could convince me the world is black and white! I have seen the shadows, I have seen the colours! I am not Darth Vader!” His eyes burn like fire. “And I am not you.”

The room explodes. Neither Hux nor Leia Organa nor any of their captains receives a single blow, but several pillars around them shatter. The Knights of Ren get seized high into the air and come crushing down into the ground. The doors behind the Knights slam open. One of the wings is torn out of its hinges and crashes onto the floor. The pressure is gone. Snoke’s voice is gone. The heat returns in a storm and the earth beneath their feet shakes so violently, that they grasp into thin air in their struggle to stay on their feet.

“Holy shit,” Hux hears one of his soldiers behind him whisper. The Knights of Ren don’t move anymore. Hux takes a few steps forward, towards Kylo Ren, when he sees the symbol on the floor right on the threshold of the door. And suddenly he realizes.

“It’s the Starkiller,” he says.

Everybody turns to him, questioning looks in their eyes. Hux curses his own stupidity. If he had taken Phasma along, she would have recognized it ages ago. The design, the markings on the walls, the ill-boding earthquakes.

“This is the Starkiller Base,” he explains. “Snoke took the core design of our blueprints and turned it into a stronghold. It is not as powerful as the one we built. It couldn’t destroy even one planet. But it would most certainly be strong enough to blast away any incoming fleet with ease. That is why the sun seemed to have decreased in size when we arrived. He has tapped into its power.”

“You’re right,” Kylo Ren growls. He hasn’t spent half as much time with the project as Hux, but enough to recognize it once Hux has pointed it out.

General Organa frowns. “But it didn’t blast us away. Why build a weapon of this power scale and load it only to abstain from shooting at the right moment?”

“He didn’t abstain,” Hux replies. Suddenly everything becomes crystal clear. His stomach turns. “He tried to shoot. This is the faulty design.” Snoke had never received the final blueprints. They had been on the Starkiller Base itself and on Hux’s datapad, but nowhere else. Letting them course around freely would have been irresponsible. There was another design, however, an earlier one. They filed it in the database. In a trial round with a prototype, small enough to be built on a regular Star Destroyer, they realized a flaw in the heat recirculation system in the barrel that caused a trigger malfunction. The heat built up in the fuel chamber until it overcharged. The Star Destroyer exploded, leaving the entire weapon a mess of molten metal. Snoke must have followed that design instead of the corrected one and what he has unwittingly created is a giant weapon of self-destruction.

“These aren’t earthquakes. The entire stronghold is about to explode.”

“How much time?” General Organa asks, suddenly paler than her son.

Hux shakes his head. “Ten minutes? Fifteen maybe.”

“That’s not even enough time to leave the planet!”

“We have to try,” Khal presses through clenched teeth.

“No!” They turn to Kylo Ren, who stares at the dark cave stretching beyond the door. “You go. I will finish this.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rey urges. “You will get yourself killed. That’s not worth it. If he survives, we will try again next time.”

“There is no next time,” Ren replies. His voice doesn’t allow any objection. “This is it.”

“They really followed the design to the last detail,” Hux mutters. “Which means they will have built in the emergency switch, probably without even realizing.”

“Emergency switch?” Rey echoes.

“Yes. Of course there is an emergency switch. And I know where to find it.” The markings on the wall make it impossible to miss the door leading down to the underground level, built for maintenance, granting fast access to the intestines of the beast. “If I get to the emergency switch I can put it in reverse mode. The energy will be safely released back to the sun. The stronghold probably won’t survive it, but it will buy us time. Enough to finish him.”

He takes a step towards the small door. A hand grasps his arm and he turns around to look into Kylo Ren’s face, brows furrowed. “Don’t go alone.”

He looks worried, but his eyes are still blazing. Hux can feel Ren’s Force. It radiates through his own body, strong and confident. Rey is still holding his hand, both of them supporting each other.

He might just be able to do this.

“Go kill Snoke,” Hux says and frees himself from Ren’s grip. “I’ll meet you later.”

 

The air down in the tunnels is even hotter than up in the hallways. The pressure is almost unbearable. The emergency lighting flickers, throwing dancing shadows against the walls. Hux takes a breath and feels the tiny hairs in his nose singe.

A tremor runs through the ground. Behind him he can hear something crash down. Making his way back will be a hassle. He staggers and slams his left hand against the durosteel wall to keep his balance. Bad idea. He yelps as the hot metal burns into his hand. The pain effectively eradicates the sensation of discomfort that shoots through his elbow. When he withdraws his hand the fabric of his glove has molten into his skin in a blistering mess.

He curses and makes his way deeper into the belly of the beast. It can’t be much longer. What use would an emergency switch be if he had to run for miles to find it? The numbers on the wall panels tell him that he is close. His boots begin to sizzle. He begins to feel light-headed because he can only take shallow breaths.

He reaches the right panel and presses the opening mechanism, ignoring the pain searing through his hand. A bunch of wires appears. The emergency switch is not an actual switch. It’s a short cable, to make sure that nobody can decide to press the big red button and stop the weapon. Only Hux and Phasma know of its existence and exact location. But just as he expected, it is there, properly connected to the reversal mechanism. Another tremor shakes the ground.

Hux grabs the cable and tears it loose. For a minute there is silence. Then the structure emits a relieved groan when the energy starts flowing backwards, easing the stress on the joints. It worked.

A burning hot wind rises in the tunnels and suddenly all the air is gone. Hux slumps against the wall. He becomes dimly aware that his uniform has caught fire, but he doesn’t feel it. He doesn’t even feel the singeing hot durosteel against the melting skin on his back. The pressure rises as the energy of the star rages through the tunnels, eating away everything it finds, be it steel or fabric or flesh.

Bloody hell. I am going to die a fucking hero.

Chapter Text

The wild goose is torn right out of the sky, pulled towards the earth by an invisible hand. It doesn’t even have time to struggle. Before it hits the ground it is dead. Feathers are flying everywhere, covering the ground and trailing lazily through the air.

Rey stoops down and picks it up. She makes her way across the island until she arrives back at the temple. She climbs the stairs to the elevated meditation circle. It is made of stone, small pillars at its edges. It is high enough to evoke the feeling of sitting in the sky, clouds and wild birds drifting by, the grassy slopes and ocean waves beneath. Up here the wind is strong.

“Ben,” she calls out as she reaches the top of the stairs. She starts walking towards the man sitting in the middle of the circle. Or rather, floating, as he is hovering several inches above the ground. His hands lie in his lap and his eyes are closed. The wind tugs on his long black hair and the dark green robes he is wearing. The black band with the shiny silver button winds around his right wrist. Rey can’t remember seeing him without it since they came here. He is growing a beard, too, since they have reached the island.

It must be another Skywalker thing. The whole Grow a beard as soon as you set foot on the island of the first Jedi temple thing. It makes him look older. Or rather, it makes him finally look his actual age.

Aunt Leia tried to stop her from coming here.

“It has only been a few months since we killed Snoke,” she said. “You could stay a bit longer. And you shouldn’t take him with you. He is still too unstable.”

But Rey would have none of it. “He was strong enough to fight Snoke,” she said. Admittedly, it had been a joint effort. But she knew that neither of them could have possibly done it alone. On the planet of fire and rain, amidst destruction and death and an exploding Starkiller stronghold they had fought Snoke. In the end they didn’t need lightsabers. Hand in hand they had fought back against the pressure of his Force, dodged every single one of his blows, of the lightning strikes he had sent against them, and finally disarmed him. They had overwhelmed him, because together they had been stronger than Snoke. And when the power of their Force combined had left him utterly defenseless, unable to move or to use the Force anymore, Aunt Leia had shot him in the head. With her gun. One single shot. Perfect aim.

“What in the name of…” Ben had screamed, reeling around, staring wild eyed at his mother with the smoking gun in her hand, her face hard as stone.

“Nobody hurts my son,” she had said.

And that was that.

 

They had known it was only a matter of time now until the metal structure collapsed and the whole planet crumbled so they had withdrawn their troops as fast as possible and rushed back to their ships. The troops of the First Order had scattered around them. They had lost their will to fight. Aunt Leia had accepted on board all those who laid down their weapons.

In the middle of running and the building crashing down, Ben had stopped.

“Hux,” he had said, “we need to get him.”

“I have told him to leave,” Aunt Leia had answered, tapping her finger at her com-link. “We can’t go down there now, it must be over a thousand degrees. He is probably at the ship already.”

Aunt Leia herself had flown them out of the collapsing planet. Poe and Finn’s agile little Fighter had whirled around them. Rey could hear Poe’s howling laughter of triumph through the communicator.

She hadn’t let go of Ben’s hand. They had sat at the back of the ship, battered, bleeding, and too exhausted to lift even a finger. They hadn’t counted their losses yet. Not even the obvious ones.

After they had escaped the disintegrating planet and set course on Myrkr, Aunt Leia had come into the common area. She had stood in front of Ben. Looked down on him. Lifted a hand to his face and brushed the blood-streaked hair back to reveal a gushing wound on his temple.

Ben had looked up, without any attempt to hide the pain.

They had just looked at each other for a few minutes. Then, almost inaudibly, “I’m sorry.”

Aunt Leia had stared him down. “It’s not enough.”

“I know.”

“You can’t just say you’re sorry and expect everything to be forgiven.”

“I know.”

“I know we made mistakes as parents, but he was your father, for god’s sake!”

I know.”

“Seven blazes, Ben, you know I love you.”

 

And that was that.

 

“Maybe he isn’t really gone,” Finn had worried after they had returned from the Unknown Regions, but both Rey and Ben had shaken their heads. Snoke was dead. They had felt him die. Afterwards, Ben had gone very quiet. He had a heavily grieving Phasma take over the command of the Last Order for the time being and even agreed to the New Republic’s demand to subject themselves to an intergalactic war tribunal. The Republic Senate had tried to indict Ben, but since he was technically still a general of the Last Order and the Senate had manoeuvred themselves into a corner when they acknowledged the Last Order as a legitimate government, they had not been able to subject him to New Republic jurisdiction. Establishing an intergalactic regulations system would take years. Eventually Ben had agreed to voluntary house arrest, more for his own safety (too many people still wanted to see him dead) than because he still posed any danger.

Aunt Leia held several long talks with him, behind closed doors. Neither Rey nor anybody else learned anything about those talks. More than once Aunt Leia would be in tears when she left and when Rey walked into Ben’s room she found him crying as well, but it didn’t look like bad tears.

When he expressed the wish to go to the first temple to finally find balance, Rey immediately offered to join him.

After Rey had shot down Aunt Leia’s concerns, it was Uncle Luke’s turn.

“At least let me come with you,” he said. “I can’t possibly expose you to him all on your own with good conscience. What if he starts getting violent again?”

Rey would have none of that, either.

“This is for me as much as it is for him,” she said. “I need this. And I need to do this by myself. I’m sorry, Uncle Luke.”

Luke sighed. “You’re my old teacher’s granddaughter, I can’t help but feel I have a fatherly responsibility towards you.”

She hugged him. “I know. And I will be eternally grateful to know that you’ll always be there for me when I need you. So don’t worry for me now, okay? If anything happens, I’ll come running to you, I promise.”

“It’s just not fair,” Uncle Luke said. “I know how it feels to find out your parents are both dead. I really wish you didn’t have to go through that.”

“Well, now at least I know they didn’t abandon me. I know they gave me away to save my life. They died protecting me, so now I don’t have to feel left behind anymore.”

They had found out shortly after the battle against Snoke when old documents of the First Order had turned up. It had come as a shock to both Leia and Luke and as the most wonderful and terrible surprise to Rey. To learn that her mother had been the daughter of Obi Wan Kenobi, Uncle Luke’s old teacher. That she had inherited his strong Force-wielding abilities. But then Snoke had grown stronger and Rey’s mother and father had started fearing for their daughter’s life, so they had hidden her in the least suspicious place they could think of. Then they had gone to fight against the First Order. They had died at the hands of Snoke himself, but he had never found Rey.

“You know, Ben once said to me that it was Snoke finding him that made him what he is,” Rey told Luke. “And that it was Snoke not finding me that made me what I am. If he had found me as a child, I’d probably have become his disciple and ended up as Kylo Ren’s dark mistress or something. Everything that has happened is so terrible and yet I feel so very blessed now.”

“Ben is trying to excuse his actions off as somebody else’s,” Uncle Luke said. “He is still responsible for everything he did, Rey. Don’t let him convince you otherwise.”

“You’re still refusing to believe that he is trying,” Rey said. “I can feel him struggle. I know he has done a lot of bad things. I have watched him kill Han Solo, remember? But he has a chance now. And you have to give it to him. One last chance.”

Eventually no one could prevent her from leaving. They took the Millennium Falcon and flew off onto the island, where they have been living for the last few weeks. There is no place in the Galaxy that makes her feel so much at peace as this one. But conveying to Uncle Luke how safe she feels here, even with Ben at her side, has proven impossible. Now she has a brand new communicator lying around in the Falcon that she had to promise to carry around with her at all times to alert the New Republic and Uncle Luke as soon as things with Ben go downhill. She still remains in firm contact with Finn. Ben still uses the communicator to talk to his psychiatrist, Doctor Penn, twice a week. She keeps trying to get grants for research in Force-sensitive minds from the New Republic Medical Association, until now to no avail.

This morning their provisions ran out. Rey knows they could just send for a supply delivery but she doesn’t. She likes the idea of being self-sufficient.

She is standing in front of the meditating man now. He has spent most of his time up here (especially the bad days, which still outnumber the good days) since they arrived.

“Ben Solo,” she says, stressing every syllable.

He opens his eyes and sinks back onto the ground.

“You broke my concentration,” he says.

She holds out the goose to him. “I got us lunch.”

He eyes the dead bird with disgust. “That’s not lunch, that’s a health hazard.”

Rey rolls her eyes. “You have to clean it and roast it, doofus.”

“What do you know about roasting birds?” he asks, cocking his eyebrows.

“Not much,” she admits grinning. “Probably still more than you, though. We will learn.”

He stands up and they slowly walk back towards the temple. Behind the old building stands the slick, breathtakingly beautiful machine they have been working on, its chrome exterior glaring in the sunlight. (At least Rey thinks it’s beautiful. Ben calls it a formless mass of metal.) The Force-steered Fighter still doesn’t work but Rey is sure she can figure it out with enough time and patience.

“You know,” Ben says as Rey starts tearing feathers out of the bird’s skin, “I have been thinking. We should open another school here. A new Jedi school. There are enough Force-sensitive kids out there, we just have to find them.”

Rey sneezes through a lung full of goose feathers. “Yeah, right. Like that turned out so well the last two times.”

“This time will be different,” Ben says. “We will make it different.”

“How so?”

He draws out a knife, takes the bird from her hand, and cuts off its head and feet with quick strokes. “We don’t force them into the dichotomy of light and darkness. We end this stupid old struggle. And I have found that this place actually has an old shielding mechanism. We can activate it and make sure that the kids won’t be influenced by some evil, powerful old Sith somewhere at the other end of the Galaxy without anyone noticing. We will protect them. We won’t teach them how to use the Force, especially not on others, until they have grown up and, you know, developed people skills. Until they know how to guard themselves and how to detect whether somebody is trying to influence them.”

“And teamwork,” Rey says. She starts rummaging through the kitchen board and takes out salt and spices. They season the goose and stick it in the fireplace. The fire is burning all day and night. Its heat is conducted to the living quarters. Ben freezes easily. “We couldn’t have killed Snoke if we didn’t work together. We’ll teach them to rely on each other so they don’t start running off all of a sudden because they didn’t feel supported.”

They sit outside the temple in the high grass, bathing in the warm sunlight. This place must be the most peaceful and quiet place in the Galaxy. Even the noises they hear are calming; the rushing of the ocean, the howling of the wind, the cackling of the wild geese and the whispers of the grass. They are the only two people on the planet.

“You know, it sounds kinda nice,” Rey says. She leans against Ben’s shoulder, more as support for him than for herself, staring up into the sky. “Open up a Jedi school here, train the Younglings. Make sure nobody abuses them for their power.”

She can feel the connection between them. Since the fight against Snoke it is always there. It must be built on trust, she has found out. It gets stronger when they’re feeling close to one another and weaker when they’re arguing. They can’t actually read each other’s minds, but they sense emotions. Rey can feel when Ben’s anger is stirring up; Ben feels when she is getting lonely. They can comfort each other. It is almost as though she has gotten herself a big brother. A very messed up, deeply complicated big brother who has done some stuff he won’t talk to her about and whom she has to defend against his mother and his uncle all the time. Still, it is nice.

“Except of course if you want to return to the world, marry a rich husband, have a dozen kids and live your life in wealth with as many blueberry cakes and fizzy drinks as you want,” Ben says with a tiny smile.

Rey shakes her head vigorously. “I’m never going to marry and definitely never going to have children,” she says. “Yes to the fizzy drinks, though.”

She looks up into his face. “We don’t have to do the whole stay-unattached-thing, you know. I mean, I know it’s only been a few months since your boyfriend died…”

“Hux was not my boyfriend,” Ben says.

“… but who knows, maybe someday you’ll want to give it another try,” Rey continues, ignoring his protest. “I’m sure there are tons of men out there who’d be more than happy to be your boyfriend.”

“I don’t want another boyfriend,” Ben says. “I’m done with boyfriends for the rest of my life.”

Rey carefully decides not to point out the “another” to him. “Girlfriend then,” she suggests.

Ben rolls his eyes. “You know what, let’s just do this school, with mandatory chastity.”

“Fine by me,” Rey grins.

They are silent for a while. They watch the distant waves and listen to the birds overhead.

Eventually, Rey asks, “Do you think you will ever go back?”

Ben shakes his head. “No. I have done too many things that can’t be forgiven… that shouldn’t be forgiven. I can’t change what I have done in the past, but here… here I feel like I can do something good. Something that is me and no one else. Not Snoke, not Uncle Luke, not even Hux.”

Rey searches his face. His eyes look ahead. There is still the old pain in them and there is still the harsh line around his mouth. But he is smiling more often and sometimes he can actually crack a joke.

“So I’ll have to go to Finn and Poe’s wedding by myself?” she asks.

God, yes.” He shudders and Rey grins.

“Do you miss him?” she asks tentatively. They haven’t talked about it much, yet.

“Whom, Snoke? Not even a little bit.”

“Not Snoke, you dork, you know that. Hux.”

“Even less.”

She tries to get him to meet her eyes, to no avail. “You do.”

“No. I’m glad he’s gone. He deserved to die. Fucking monster.”

“Ben, stop lying to me. I can feel your grief. Sometimes it’s so strong it makes me want to cry.”

He presses his lips together, still refusing to look at her. “If you knew, why did you even ask?”

“Because I wanted to know what you would say.”

She doesn’t press further. Aunt Leia has told her that all was far from well between the two generals. Nobody knows any details and the Last Order people keep their mouths shut, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess that General Hux could be freaking cruel. Even Rey has heard the story of him shooting down his own father in flight and selling his mother into slavery. Ben contacted her after the battle and offered to bring her to Coruscant to live out the rest of her days there. But when she learned about the fates her husband and her son had met she refused.

“Are you sure you’re going to be content here?” Ben asks. “You have just found a family. You always wanted people who were there for you and now you’re leaving them behind to live on a desolated island with a man who carries your grandfather’s name.”

“I am sure,” Rey says. “I may not have them with me right now, but I don’t feel left behind anymore. Besides, I know that if I miss them, I can just call for them and Aunt Leia and Uncle Luke and Poe and Finn and Chewie and even BB-8, they will all rush on board the next ship and they will come back for me. Come back for us.”

 

The wind is howling like the engines of a spaceship. It tears on their clothes and their hair, rushing over the island and out onto the ocean, very much like the winds on a stormy day on Coruscant.